“Be welcome here…”

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Tomorrow, Bill and I will celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. Normally, we travel for our anniversary. This year, we can’t go anywhere, thanks to COVID-19. I decided to buy a few new attachments for the air fryer I purchased at the beginning of the pandemic. We don’t use it very often, in part, because the noise from it seems to bother Arran somewhat. But we have discovered that we can use it in the laundry room and Arran doesn’t mind.

Last night, Bill made air fryer brownies that turned out great. This morning, we had a sausage, egg, spinach, sun dried tomato and cheese casserole made in the air fryer. Noyzi is getting braver and now hovers near me at mealtimes, hoping I’ll share with him. I don’t mind doing that because he’s so polite, and it does help him be less fearful.

After breakfast and starting another load of laundry, Bill and I put leashes on Arran and Noyzi and started on our walk. The sun is shining and the temperature is mild. It’s the perfect day to enjoy fall weather. As we were heading down the “Weg” to the main drag, a tall, slim, older German woman approached. She was wearing black slacks, a purple blouse, and a big black sweater. I noticed she also wore black gloves. Bill and I had just been talking about how Germans seem to bundle up a lot more than we do, even when the weather is nice.

I noticed the woman’s face as she looked at Noyzi, who is a very handsome and striking specimen. Noyzi was shying away from her noticeably. He was nervous enough that he dropped a single nugget of poop, but then he calmed down while Arran hung nearby, eager to keep walking. I fought the urge to pick up the poop as the German woman started talking to Bill. She quickly ascertained that we weren’t German when Bill opened his mouth to speak. She switched to careful, halting English, asking if we were the “new Americans”. It so happened that we were standing right next to a house that reportedly contains Americans. I guess native Breckenheimers talk about who’s who, and who’s new.

Bill explained that no, we weren’t “new” here. We moved to Breckenheim in late November 2018, and we live at the top of the hill. The woman wore no makeup. Her straight, silver hair was pulled into a ponytail. I don’t know how old she is. She appeared to be older than we are by some years, but she was very fit looking. In her hand, she held a bundle of some type of herb– perhaps thyme. I’m not sure, because I stood farther away from her than Bill did.

The woman didn’t wear a face mask. Neither did we. It’s probably a good thing, as she was very soft-spoken and I’m not sure we would have been as able to hear and understand her. She was very intent on sharing a message with us. She told Bill that today is a special worldwide holiday. She didn’t know how to say it in English. Bill thought maybe she meant it was like Remembrance Day, but having looked up holidays for November 15th, I don’t think so. I have no idea what she was talking about. She said it was a worldwide holiday, but is especially recognized in Europe. It was the first I’d heard of it after living here for several years.

Edited to add: My German friend Susanne tells me that today is Volkstrauertag (people’s day of mourning), and the lady was probably on her way to the cemetery or church, both of which we have in our area. I kept thinking maybe she was referring to Advent, but it’s a bit early for that. Volkstrauertag happens two weeks before Advent starts, and it commemorates members of the armed forces of all nations and civilians who died in armed conflicts, to include victims of violent oppression..

Regardless, of what the actual holiday is today (now I know– Volkstrauertag), she seemed very keen to talk to us about world peace. She spoke about how there’s no such thing as an enemy. We’re all people and we all deserve peace. Bill told her that he’d been to Iraq. I heard her say, “And you survived.”

She went on some more about having regard for our fellow man, avoiding war, and remembering those who died at war. And then, as she started to walk away, she said “Be welcome here.”

Bill turned to me and I could see the tears in his eyes. He was clearly moved. He said, “Well… that was a message.”

It’s not the first time we’ve run into someone who has imparted a message to us in an unusual way. Five years ago, I was stunned into peace and calm by a Buddhist monk we happened to run into at an Italian restaurant near Munich. It turned out he was a famous Japanese peace crusader named Toyoshige Sekiguchi. He was traveling the world, promoting peace and nuclear disarmament. I didn’t even speak to him, and yet he had a profound effect on me just by being who he is and being in my presence.

We lost Bill’s father a week ago and, naturally, Bill wasn’t able to attend his dad’s funeral on Friday. He was emotional about that last night. We spent some time talking and I was doing what I could to assuage his guilt and soothe his grief. He was still pensive and a little moody this morning. Perhaps that’s why got our special message as we walked the dog.

Bill is normally a very approachable person, but he was especially open-hearted today, which may have been why that woman felt the need to speak to us. Or maybe she stops everyone to talk about peace and loving everyone. It was a good message, though, and seemed kind of appropriate under the circumstances. Maybe she wanted to tell us her message because we represent Americans and most Americans around here are with the military. She might have thought Bill was a war monger, although he’s definitely not your stereotypical military man. In fact, I’d say Bill is not even like the typical guy. He’s unusually in touch with his feelings about most things. Maybe she figured we support Trump, though we definitely don’t.

I think a lot of people, with good reason, think that everyone in or affiliated with the military is a war monger. Most servicemembers I know want war less than anyone does. And anyone who knows Bill knows that he’s a gentle, caring, considerate, and kind man. I, on the other hand, graduate of social work and public health master’s programs and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, tend to be a bit feisty. Go figure that!

Anyway, we had a good walk. Noyzi has really come to love the daily walks. He still won’t let Bill put his leash on him, but he will let Bill walk him. And today, since I came along, I got a special treat in the form of butts. As I was putting on my shoes, Noyzi came up behind me and stuck his big nose right in my ass, as if he was greeting a new canine friend. Then, he came around as I was tying my laces, stuck his butt in my face, and backed up, swinging it side to side as if he wanted to use my nose to scratch his behind. He didn’t actually reach my nose, thank goodness, but he did seem to offer me his butt for sniffing. I guess he’s getting more comfortable here. I may have to teach him not to goose me in the ass when I’m tying my shoes, though.

A couple of nights ago, we ordered Greek takeout from Akropolis Restaurant in nearby Delkenheim. Bill wasn’t feeling like cooking, probably because he’d lost his dad and couldn’t go to the funeral. I was tickled because they sent him away with a small bottle of ouzo! I’ve had better gyros, but the rest of the food was pretty good. We had plenty leftover for lunch yesterday, too.

I wore my favorite dog walking shirt today. On the back, it says in German “Life is too short to drink shitty beer.” I was kind of glad it was covered up with a sweater today, after talking to that very deep and spiritual lady.

I’ve got the lockdown blues…

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It’s November, and in November, Bill and I typically plan a Veterans Day weekend trip. Our wedding anniversary is November 16th. This year, it’s number 18, which is nothing to sneeze at. Unfortunately, this year we aren’t going anywhere because we’re in lockdown lite status, thanks to the stupid coronavirus.

Before everything shut down again, I had been toying with the idea of going somewhere local. Actually, months ago, I bought tickets for Keb’ Mo’, who was scheduled to play in Mainz on our big day. Mainz is only about twenty minutes from where we live. But Keb’ Mo’ rescheduled for April, thanks to the pandemic. Hopefully, the show will go on, because I miss live music and I’ve been wanting to see Keb’ Mo’ for ages!

I think of this song as our theme… especially when there isn’t a pandemic.

So then I thought maybe we could do what we did last year. Last year, we booked a really nice room at the Jumeirah Hotel in Frankfurt and had a nice dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Then, the next day, I accompanied Bill on a TDY trip to Wroclaw, Poland. I hadn’t actually wanted to go on that trip because when I tag along on TDYs, I tend to get kind of bored. But since it was our anniversary and I do like Poland, I relented. And we flew to Wroclaw and had a pretty good time there. I’m now really glad I tagged along. Wroclaw is a cool city, and I didn’t know then that this year would end up being such a cluster fuck.

Frankfurt does have nice hotels and restaurants. We could have stayed in another one this year and given Noyzi the chance to meet the people who take care of our dogs when we travel. But COVID-19 has ramped up so much in Europe that restaurants aren’t allowed to do dine in service and hotels can’t accept travelers for tourist purposes. Shops are open, but everything is stricter than it was a month ago, and if the infection numbers don’t go down, they will lock down even more.

I think about how I wanted to move to Germany because of the travel opportunities. I have to admit that we’ve been able to take advantage of a lot of them over the past six years. Prior anniversary trips included Baden-Baden, Ireland, cruising in Scotland, the southern Caribbean, and even an amazing meal at the Alte Post in Nagold, which was a town near where we lived before we moved to Wiesbaden. Unfortunately, the Alte Post is now closed, but it was a wonderful place for food. This year, we’ll have to make do with each other.

Oh well. We have a lot to be grateful for, especially in 2020. Germany has been so good to us. We have gotten to see and do so many things, most of which I’ve chronicled in this blog. And now we have a new dog who is rewarding us every day by being awesome and sweet. I’m sure we’ll get to travel and eat good food again someday.

Thanksgiving is coming up, too. I was thinking this year, maybe we’ll order a meal from a restaurant. Cem Klein, which Bill and I tried before it moved locations, is offering a Thanksgiving deal this year. And we like to do our part in keeping the restaurants going. In fact, I think I’m going to nag Bill into getting some takeout today or tomorrow. I’m getting tired of his cooking, anyway. 😉

I’m kidding… This week, he got really daring and made injera, a type of east African sour bread. Here are a few photos and a link to the recipe. Bill likes exotic stuff more than I do, and his time working for AFRICOM really introduced him to new cuisines. Of course I’m grateful that I have a husband who cooks and does it so well. But I do miss the dining out experience and trying new and exciting dishes. I especially miss the desserts.

Well… maybe instead of planning a fancy trip, I’ll buy an electric guitar. That’s the next big purchase I’d like to make in my quest to be a pandemic era guitarist. We’ll see what happens. One thing is for certain, though. This year, we’re going nowhere fast.

Big business in Poland, part one

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Hi folks. Sorry it’s been awhile since my last post, but Bill was away for most of last week and this week, we are in Wroclaw, Poland (otherwise known as Breslau to Germans). Bill and I visited Wroclaw for a few hours back in 2008. We were impressed by it then, but it’s come a long way in eleven years. In fact, Poland as a whole seems to be in better straits than back in 2008.

I hadn’t actually wanted to come with Bill on this trip, mainly because when I tag along on his business trips, I usually spend a lot of time bored. I don’t enjoy dining alone in restaurants and I’m kind of hesitant sometimes to visit local attractions by myself. I’m not sure why I’m like this, since I was single for a long time. Wroclaw is a pretty great city… It’s much underrated and you get a lot of bang for your buck here, since it’s Eastern Europe. I should probably be more adventurous, too, since so many people here speak English. Seriously, eleven years ago, Poland was NOT like this… One thing that has not changed, however, is the wonderful, whimsical artistic spirit here… so many great musicians, artists, dancers, and performance artists. We really need to spend more time in Poland if we can manage it.

Anyway… our trip began on November 16th, which was our 17th wedding anniversary. Since we had to put Arran in the “hunde pension” on Saturday anyway, we decided to spend a night in Frankfurt and have a nice dinner. I chose the Jumeirah Frankfurt Hotel, located in the big shopping district downtown. And because we’re old and don’t feel like wandering around the city, we opted to have dinner at Max On One Grillroom, which offers excellent beef, lobster, and other dishes. I was curious about this hotel chain, since it’s based in the United Arab Emirates and only has three hotels in Europe– Frankfurt, London, and Mallorca.

Before I get too cranked up with a review, I’ll just say that Jumeirah is a lovely place in Frankfurt. I booked us in a gorgeous skyline king room that offered views of the city that didn’t disappoint. Service was mostly impeccable; the food was outstanding; and we had a very nice evening at the hotel, though definitely not without a price. After we left the oasis of Jumeirah, we had to deal with the hellish Frankfurt Airport. Wroclaw is a great city and we like this week’s business hotel, the Sofitel, but it kind of pales in comparison to Jumeirah. If we can swing it again in another city, we definitely will.

I will start writing up this trip very soon… perhaps starting tomorrow or the day after. For now, I need to sleep off the beery lunch I just had at the Doctor’s Bar across the street. Like I said, Wroclaw has come a long way in the beer department since 2008. I also never knew about the 600 gnomes in this city… and I have managed to spot a bunch of them so far. Stay tuned for more in the coming days, after I’ve had a nice nap.

Part two

Things aren’t bad in Baden-Baden… Part one

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Bill and I have just arrived home after our latest and last trip from the Stuttgart area.  One week from today, the movers will come and pack up our stuff.  I recall the last time we moved out of the Stuttgart area.  It was September 2009, and we were set to move on September 15th.  The weekend before our departure, we took advantage of the long Labor Day weekend in Budapest, Hungary. We had an amazing time in that spa town, where Bill had his very first deep tissue massage.  On that trip, we stayed in the beautiful Hotel Corinthia, which at the time, was probably the most luxurious hotel we’d ever experienced.

It seems only fitting that we’d do our last trip from Stuttgart in another famous spa town, Baden-Baden.  I had been meaning to visit this splendid German town for years, but never managed it because we’ve lived so close.  On a normal day, meaning with no construction or traffic, we could get to Baden-Baden in about 90 minutes taking the scenic route.  Since there’s always the threat of having to move back to the United States unexpectedly, we’ve always opted for trips further afield.

As I was planning our 16th anniversary celebration, I wondered if it wouldn’t be better to fly to an exotic place for our four night trip.  I’ve been itching to get to a more exotic location that I haven’t yet seen.  But when I asked my well-traveled friends on Facebook where we should go, more than a few recommended Baden-Baden.  Both one of my former English professors from Longwood University and another friend, who loves historic, stylish hotels, recommended Brenners Park Hotel and Spa.

The truth is, I had been eyeing that hotel myself.  The many times I thought about taking a trip to Baden-Baden, I considered booking a room at Brenners.  But then I checked out the prices, which are eye-wateringly expensive, and thought again.  Indeed, even when I had made the final decision to visit Baden-Baden, I originally planned to book a room at the ever popular Aqua Aurelia Hotel, which seemed more modern than Brenners, but was also less expensive.  But then when I went to book, the room I wanted, upgraded from their basic room, was not available.

So then I went back to Brenners, and realized you only live once.  I booked us a deluxe double room via Expedia.com for four nights, cringing a bit at the final cost.  We made the reservation through Expedia, but paid at the hotel.  Luckily, my husband is very indulgent and has acquired a taste for luxury after sixteen years with me.

Fast forward to November 15th…  

A few shots from the road.  For most of our drive, we had lots of clouds, but there were a few sunny spots. 

Since we didn’t know where we’d be going for our trip, Bill arranged to drop our dogs off with Max early in the morning.  That left us with plenty of time to make the relatively short drive to Baden-Baden.  Check in at Brenners Park is at 3:00pm.  I thought maybe we’d stop somewhere on the way have lunch.  However, we ran into some road construction on B28  that forced us to take a couple of detours.  One detour took us on a somewhat scary mountain pass with a pretty bad road.  By the time we got to the other side of the mountain, it was about 1:00pm and Bill was a bit shellshocked.

We reached Brenners Park at just after 1:00.  Bill attempted to park the car in the hotel’s garage (26 euros per day), but was blocked by a truck that was unloading.  Frustrated, he pulled out of the garage and was quickly met by a valet, who happily unloaded the Mini and parked it for us.  We approached the check in desk, where a handsome young man greeted us.  I mentioned that we were in town to celebrate our anniversary.  He congratulated us and upgraded our room.

I wasn’t quite sure I’d heard him right when he told us we were getting a junior suite.  That was quite a leap in the rack rate.  But then he escorted us to our palatial suite, where our bags were delivered and set in an enormous changing room.  I was absolutely shocked at the opulence.  It really set the tone for a marvelous stay.

A hallway inside our 70 square meter suite.

The alcove where our bed was. 

Sitting area.

Beautiful writing desk and armoire with a television.

Huge dressing room with wardrobes.

Bathtub.  The bathroom was also huge.  I didn’t do it justice with these pictures.

The mirror had a lamp and its own light.  There was also a beautiful marble shower.

Balcony overlooking the park.

Bill collapses on the royal bed.  

Well stocked minibar.  Water and soft drinks were included in the room rate.  Alcohol and snacks were not.

A daily fruit plate with macaroons, also included.

Turn down service.

Another desk and TV.

 

A handy doorway from the bedroom through the changing room to the bathroom.  

After the shock of the upgrade wore off, we decided to go to the Wintergarten restaurant in the hotel and have some lunch.  Brenners Park has two restaurants.  There’s the Wintergarten, which is in a really pretty solarium, and Fritz and Felix, which is their new restaurant concept of “casual fine dining”.  We didn’t have a chance to try Fritz & Felix, but really liked our experience in the Wintergarten restaurant.

Bill enjoys a glass of Riesling.

Bread with pistachio spread and butter.  I liked the pistachio spread!

For lunch, I had a salad made with greens, cherry tomatoes, and huge sea scallops, seared to perfection.

Bill had a citrus cured lobster salad with melon.  This was the first time either of us had ever had lobster that was cooked without heat.  Instead, it was “cooked” chemically with citrus juice.  I really liked the tangy dressing that came on this salad and, I must admit, raw lobster has an interesting texture.  It reminded me of jelly.

For dessert, I had a Black Forest cream puff with chocolate, vanilla, and cherry.  It came with a scoop of cherry ice cream.

Bill had a lemon tart with basil ice cream and meringues.  This lunch set us back about 159 euros.

 

I grabbed a shot of these desserts on display.

After lunch, we took a short walk around Baden-Baden to get a feel for the place.  It’s quite a ritzy town.  I couldn’t help but notice how international it is, too.  We heard lots of French and British English spoken, but most of all, we noticed Russians.  Russians are everywhere in Baden-Baden!  Quite a lot of them were staying at Brenners Park, too.

Insane 15th anniversary celebration at the Alte Post in Nagold!

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Edited to add: Alte Post has sadly closed.

Yesterday, Bill and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary.  Although last year, we went on vacation to Ireland for about ten days, this year we needed to stay in town because Bill is still earning time off from his new job.  At the very least, it’s always been our habit to go out to dinner on our anniversary.  We’ve enjoyed some wonderful anniversary meals over the last fifteen years.  However, last night’s glorious repast will definitely be a tough act to follow!

Initially, we considered finding a really nice restaurant in Stuttgart, like we did two years ago.  In 2015, we tried the “surprise menu” at Five.  As cool as that restaurant is, I think Bill and I have determined that we don’t always like surprise menu concepts, mainly because there are a few things I can’t abide, like truffles and mushrooms.  Also, the prospect of driving all the way from the edge of the Black Forest to Stuttgart was unappealing to both of us, since Bill is working today.  After trying and failing to find the right place to eat, I finally said, “Why don’t we go to the Alte Post’s gourmet restaurant again?”

I have written about Nagold’s Alte Post a few times.  This beautiful former hotel is now split into two restaurants.  There’s the more casual and less expensive Luz Bistro & Bar, which is on the first floor and open daily (except Sundays and Mondays) for lunch and dinner, and then there’s the more formal and expensive Alte Post Restaurant on the second floor.

Bill and I eat at Luz Bistro somewhat regularly, and you’ll find many posts about those experiences in this blog.  Last night was only our second time in the gourmet restaurant, Alte Post, which takes eating to a whole new level.  The Alte Post gourmet restaurant is only open Wednesday through Saturday nights from 6:30pm until 11:00pm.  The “deadline” for coming in for dinner is at 8:30pm, although I recommend making a reservation rather than just walking in.

We tried Alte Post’s gourmet restaurant for the first time in March of 2017 and had some very interesting and expensive new food experiences.  I really broke some boundaries on that visit and was eager to try it again.  I am so glad I did.  Although we dropped a large load of euros on our anniversary dinner, it was money well spent.  Every course was positively orgasmic and I say that as someone who can be picky and isn’t necessarily impressed by culinary gimmicks.

We only live about four miles from Nagold, so getting there is usually easy.  However, last night there was a very bad accident on B28, which is the road that usually takes us to Nagold.  We were met by the police, who directed us to detour.  We drove back through our town and went via Mötzingen, a little village adjacent to Jettingen that we usually only see when we’re being forced to detour.  Even after the detour, we arrived about fifteen minutes ahead of our reservation time of 7:00.

Although there was a function going on in another private dining room in the restaurant, we were the first of two couples to arrive for last night’s multi-course extravaganza!  Yes, that’s right… one of the lovely things about Alte Post’s gourmet restaurant is that your table will be relatively private.  There’s one dining room with a large table in it and the smaller room with four tables set for two.  Only two of the four were used last night, so you get plenty of room to spread out and enjoy.

We were personally attended to by Marina Hentsch, who along with star Chef Stefan Beiter, runs the whole operation.  Every time we’ve visited the restaurant, we’ve seen her waiting tables or otherwise attending to guests.  Besides providing stellar front of the house service, she is also a wine expert (sommelier).  Thankfully, Hentsch does speak some English (and French, apparently), though she claims her English isn’t good.  We found her very charming as she seated us and offered us an aperitif.  Since it was our anniversary, we started with a round of champagne.  And she brought us a little snack, pictured below…

This is tuna rolled in a little “cone” and topped with radish slices and caviar.  Although I was a little timid at first, this set the tone for a perfect evening of fine dining.

Bill looking sharp as we decide how we’re going to do things…

 

The first thing to know about Alte Post’s gourmet experience is that a set menu is offered.  You can have up to seven courses, but you can’t simply pick the courses you want.  Last night, there were courses featuring tuna, lobster, quail, salmon, beef, duck, and dessert.  We opted to have five of the seven courses because the quail included truffles, which I knew I wouldn’t like.  The other couple who came in later (and spoke French the whole time) apparently had the full seven courses.

We also had the wine pairing, which I highly recommend if you like tasting different wines with foods.  Marina Hentsch does a great job choosing wines and explaining them, although it helps to know a little German in that case.  I surprised myself by understanding a fair amount of what she said.

The menu is offered in both German and English.  You can also check it out online and outside the restaurant’s front door.  If you have any food idiosyncrasies, I recommend checking the menu before you book your table.  Otherwise, you may find yourself trying and enjoying calves’ brains, as I did the first time we tried the gourmet restaurant!  The menu does change regularly.

Not the best lighting, but this is an example of one of the tables.  

Last night’s menu in English.  Bill took a German menu.

 

Once we ordered our five course feast, Marina Hentsch went back to the kitchen and returned with the amuse, pictured below…  It was actually in two pieces.

These little bites were mindblowing.  There was a tomato and tuna bite, sushi with goat cheese and shrimp, and a tempura fried shrimp on a rice cake.

They were followed by hollowed out eggshells, painted black, and filled with a warm curry spiced soup.  It had a bit of a kick to it, which Bill especially loved.  Our hostess also brought us delicious potato bread with salted butter.  It was so good!

Our first course– fresh tuna with beetroot and green apple.  The beetroot reminded me of a very dry Fruit Roll Up.  It crackled and was very sweet, almost like candy.  I don’t normally like beets much, due to their earthy flavor.  I have to admit this was kind of a treat.  Under the beetroot curl, there was a little dollop of what tasted like apple flavored ice cream.  You wouldn’t think this would go with tuna, but it all worked surprisingly well.  It was paired with a steel aged chardonnay that was crisper than I was expecting and delightful.

Bill’s reaction thus far…

Next, we had Norway lobster served on top of mashed potatoes with bouillabaisse (fish stew) and beautifully decorated with a flower petal.  This was served with another chardonnay which was aged in oak and imparted buttery notes.  Sorry this photo is a little blurry.  I took two shots and they both turned out this way.  🙁

It was followed by my favorite of all of the courses, the salmon.  Salmon is one of those dishes that I tend to love or can take or leave.  A perfectly cooked piece of salmon is a delight to me, but when it’s dried out or dull, it leaves me underwhelmed.  This particular presentation was very exciting.  The chef paired it with sweet potato curry, avocado, and mangos.  I don’t usually like sweet potatoes much, but paired with the curry and Asian spices, this course practically exploded in my mouth.  I loved it!  This was served with a locally produced Riesling, that had a lovely essence of peaches that married beautifully with the curry.

Next, we had the duck, which was Bill’s favorite course.  It was served medium rare in pepper sauce with Preiselbeeren (cranberries).  I told Bill that I think I’d love a Thanksgiving dish of duck with cranberries and he immediately started talked about getting out his Anova precision cooker.  Again, beautifully done, though the duck had the misfortune of following the spectacular salmon.   

Finally, we enjoyed dessert… a panoply of chocolate.  There was a truffle that was full of warm chocolate “lava”.  I don’t really go for lava cakes much, but this was nicely done.  There was a little cloud of foam on top, along with a smidge of chocolate ice cream topped with mousse and garnished with walnuts, grapes, and something that reminded me of very high end Cracker Jacks minus the peanuts.

 

Once we finished dessert, we were offered a digestive.  Bill declined, since he was driving, but I tried a locally produced Mirabelle (made in Nagold for the restaurant).  I had a Mirabelle last week in France, so it was interesting to try it here in Germany.  It was not served chilled, as it was in France, which I think made it easier to detect the subtle flavors of plums.

Then we had a round of espresso, which was served with yet another two part treat, pictured below…

Four little candies– a marshmallow, a peanut chew wrapped in edible “plastic” (which I still peeled off, but didn’t have to), a very intense spiced jelly gumdrop, and a little chocolate cookie.

And this amazingly exquisite half lemon filled with light cream and topped with crispy, curry flavored flakes that reminded me a little of shredded wheat.  It was surprisingly delicious.

 

So, by now, you may be wondering how much this dinner set us back.  Well, folks, I will confess that hospitality at Alte Post doesn’t come cheap.  Our bill came to 346 euros before the tip.  However, I think it’s important to bear in mind that we were two of only four people in the dining room and both the service and the food were impeccable.  We were both raving about how excellent everything was as we walked back to the car, still bowled over by some of the exotic flavors we encountered last night.  It all worked so amazingly well!

As I mentioned, this was only our second time in the gourmet restaurant.  It really should be reserved for special occasions or nights when you just want to sit for a few hours and enjoy very fresh food creatively prepared.  Yes, it’s very expensive, but I think of it as one of life’s little experiences… ones that make putting up with all the bullshit worthwhile.  I can see why Chef Beiter is a “star”.  If you like gourmet food, I highly recommend visiting Nagold and trying Alte Post.  Bring a credit card and an open mind, and be prepared to spend a couple of hours.

A bonus was that last night, I managed to wear my contact lenses without pain, although you can see my eyes are pretty irritated…  By the way, we did dress up because we like to, but there is no need to do that if you don’t want to.  The other couple who joined us were wearing jeans. 

Next week, we will be visiting Delice in Stuttgart.  I understand that will also be a culinary adventure.  I look forward to returning and reporting!

Twenty years ago today…

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I wasn’t going to blog again today, but thanks to Timehop, I realize that today is a very important anniversary…

Most of the people I joined the Peace Corps with in 1995…

At about 5:30 pm on May 31, 1995, I boarded a United Airlines flight from Dulles Airport in the Washington, DC area to Paris, France.  I remember that flight very well.  It was years before 9/11, so it was a relatively laid-back experience.  There were 32 of us together; we’d just been through a briefing at the State Plaza Hotel in Washington, DC.  I remember being excited about going to France, even if we were only going to the airport.  It was my first time abroad since my dad retired from the Air Force.  In fact, that was the first flight I had taken since we came back from Mildenhall Air Force Base in 1978.

I was 22 years old… just weeks from turning 23.  As the lone Peace Corps Trainee from Virginia, I was the only one who hadn’t flown in.  My parents drove me to my sister’s apartment and she dropped me off at the hotel.  I wanted to get the hell out of Virginia and my parents’ house.  I was ready for an adventure.

I was excited to have been accepted to the Peace Corps.  I joined at the right time.  I’m not sure if they would have taken me at a time other than the mid 1990s, when the Soviet Union and all the satellite countries that had been communist during the Cold War were becoming “free”.  A lot of spaces were open for those who wanted to be Volunteers.  I didn’t have a particularly impressive academic or volunteer record, but I did have a sister who had served in Morocco in the mid 1980s.  I qualified medically and legally, even though I got a nastygram from the medical office about being overweight.  I also managed to find six people who were willing to recommend me.

I joined the Peace Corps hoping to launch and wanting to do something worthwhile… something more than selling chocolate and menswear and temping in offices, which is what I’d been doing prior to joining.  I had a degree in English with double minors in speech and communications.  I went to a fine public school in Virginia, but not one that most people had ever heard of.  It was the kind of place where people tend to go to “grow up”.  I was the only one in my group who originally hailed from a southern state and one of the few who hadn’t attended a prestigious private university.  I was also one of the few who didn’t have politically liberal leanings, though I have become a lot more liberal since 1995.

Though I felt grown up when I decided to go to Armenia for two years, some might say I still needed to mature when I arrived in Yerevan at 3:30am on June 2, 1995.  We had spent twelve hours in Paris and because I wasn’t a seasoned traveler at that point, I just hung around terminal 1 all day.  Some of my new friends chose to venture into the city.  Hanging out at CDG for twelve hours while jet lagged was a pretty dreadful experience.  To this day, I can’t hear “Driver’s Seat” by Sniff In The Tears and not think of being stuck at CDG on my way to Yerevan.

I remember the flight to Armenia being rather scary.  We were on what looked like a Soviet era plane with a lot of flight attendants wearing what looked like Soviet era uniforms that were too big for them.  People stood in the aisles during the whole flight and smoked.  There was no assigned seating and they passed out warm cups of water and warm beer.  The plane shook for much of the flight and I seriously worried about crashing more than once as we flew over the Black Sea.

We landed in Yerevan at about 3:30am and there was little power in the airport.  In Armenia in 1995, the infrastructure was pretty poor.  The only places that had power 24 hours a day were hospitals and metro stations.  I’m sure the landing strip at Yerevan’s airport had power, but I remember walking through darkened hallways when we got off the plane, right there on the tarmac.  Thank God I didn’t need to use the ladies room.  You could smell it before you saw it.  Members of A-2, the second Peace Corps group in Armenia, were waiting for us, cheering us on, and passing snacks to us.  Remember, it was before 9/11.  It took several hours for everyone to get their luggage and get cleared by customs.

I remember my first glimpse of Armenia beyond the airport.  I was struck by the huge, concrete, ugly buildings. I saw lots of laundry strung up on balconies, lots of dust, trash, and Soviet era tackiness.  I wondered what the hell I had signed up for.  It wouldn’t take long before I was very accustomed to all of those previously foreign sights.  Even today, when I go to a former Eastern bloc country, I feel at home.

We arrived at Hotel Armenia at about 9:00am, which at that time was not affiliated with any first world hotels and was divided by the “old side” and the “new side.  Hotel Armenia is now owned by Marriott.  Naturally, we were all exhausted and just wanted to go to bed.  Once we got to the hotel, we had to endure a briefing and a strange meal.  If I recall correctly, our first meal included salty mineral water from Jermuk, hot tea, terrible tasting Pepsi that reminded me of brown Alka Seltzer and only reinforced all the Soviet era stereotypes I’d heard of in the movies, salty fish, fruits, vegetables, and stinky cheese.  I remember lots of grandiose chandeliers only outfitted with a couple of light bulbs that shone dimly.  I also remember immediately learning the words for cucumbers, tomatoes, apples, apricots, and eggplant.  They were all in season when we arrived, so we were fed a lot of them.

We stayed on the “old side” of Hotel Armenia, because it was cheaper than the new side.  I remember hot showers were only available for about two hours a day– one hour in the morning and one in the evening.  I remember the floors in the bathroom at the hotel were covered with brightly colored linoleum.  There were very fancy looking crystal light fixtures in the room, but not all of the lights worked.  The beds were twin sized and not particularly comfortable.  When we left the hotel, we had to leave our keys with the dour looking women who sat in the hallway, as if on guard.  The keys were all attached to heavy “keyrings”, which made it difficult to walk away with them.

I saw so much change over the time I was in Armenia.  I wonder how it must seem to people today.  I know there are many things that haven’t changed since the 1990s, but I know for a fact that Yerevan is different.  I lived in Yerevan during my tour.  At that time, it wasn’t all that cushy.  The first year, most people endured life with no power a lot of the time.  I remember reading a lot of books by kerosene lamp.  I had running water everywhere I lived, but a lot of my friends didn’t.  To get hot water, I had to put a bucket of water on a kerosene heater or my propane stove.

I never got as good at speaking or reading Armenian as some of my colleagues did.  I didn’t work very hard at it.  But I ended up enjoying a very unique experience full of music, food, and fun.  I got to use a lot of the talents I was born with, and people were actually glad I was using them.  I was not just plugging away at some job that paid enough to live on, but didn’t really excite or interest me.  Peace Corps was the one place where my talents– all of them– were truly welcomed.  When I later became an Army wife, it was a surprise to me that my husband, who had been an Army officer, recited the very same oath as I did on the day I swore in.  I recently told some of the folks in our local Facebook military group about swearing in.  Some of them were surprised that as a PCV, I swore to uphold and defend the Constitution, just like they did.

I interacted with a lot of people and many locals knew who I was, even though it was a large city.  There were very few Americans in Armenia in the mid 90s.  A lot of people knew me because I sing and being a very white, blonde, American woman who sings in a place like 90s era Yerevan can get you noticed.  I used to go to the jazz clubs in Yerevan and sometimes I’d sing with the band.  During training, a few of my friends and I would sit at the bottom of the Cascade Steps, drink beer, and play music.  We put on quite a show for the locals.  I’m sure it’s totally different now, though I haven’t had the chance to go back, despite all my travel since then.  I see now the Cascade Steps have been spruced up and there are now bars there.

When I left Armenia in 1997, I flew business class on a new airbus being leased by Armenian Airlines (which no longer exists).  I had a whole row to myself and it was a very pleasant experience.  It’s hard to fathom how different my flight into Armenia was from my flight out in 1997.  One of my sister’s colleagues went to work with the USDA in Yerevan not long after I left.  They all knew and remembered me.  I was one of a very small group of Americans in a place where Americans had previously been forbidden for decades.

A view of Mount Ararat from my school in Yerevan.  It was a clear day.

Armenia really changed my life… not in the way I hoped or expected it would, but in other ways.  My Army officer husband was impressed by my service and the fact that I am also an Air Force “brat”.  It was one of the things that made me attractive to him.  In fact, there were some things about Peace Corps service that were similar to military service.  For one thing, I too had a pair of hideous government issued “birth control glasses”.  I also had to endure a very thorough physical, though maybe not like the ones Bill experienced.

Thanks to the circumstances of his career, I have continued to travel abroad, though not to places like Armenia.  I have been visiting many decidedly first world countries since my Peace Corps days, unless you want to count a couple of brief trips to the Caribbean.  But those trips were on all inclusive cruises with SeaDream Yacht Club.  I have to admit, I almost felt embarrassed to be taking such an expensive cruise when I visited some of those islands in the Caribbean.  There is a lot of poverty there.

My husband, on the other hand, has gone to many austere countries due to his work.  When he went to the Republic of Georgia in 2008, right after the South Ossetian conflict with Russia, I warned him that he would get sick on arrival.  I told him to bring back some wine.  He did get very sick and he did bring back wine, which we both enjoyed.  Since that trip, he’s worked with at least one person who knew me when I was a Volunteer and was once, in fact, my colleague.

I remember this so well…

I won’t lie.  I left Armenia on August 21, 1997 and I could not wait to get out of there.  I had had it with living the Peace Corps lifestyle and dealing with the problems I encountered when I lived there.  I was ready to go to Europe for a month, travel by train, go home, get a job, and live the typical American lifestyle.  At age 25, I thought it would be easy, especially since I had all this great “international” experience.  It didn’t turn out that way, since I have never had a job that has paid me by the year or offered generous benefits.  I was preparing for that career when I met Bill, having gotten into grad school in part because of my Peace Corps service.  I doubt I would have gotten in on the strength of my rather average college grades and GRE scores.

My life has not worked out the way I planned it to– I thought I’d have a career and a family of my own.  I never thought I’d live abroad again, let alone twice again.  I never thought I’d be someone’s second wife… the wife of an Army officer whose constant moves made it difficult for me to practice the profession for which I was trained.  My husband’s career has made it possible for me to do what I always wanted to do, which is write.  And sing… and travel…  Fortunately, he doesn’t mind my dependence on him since I keep him entertained.  I don’t have kids of my own, but I do have dogs.  They annoy my German neighbors with their rambunctiousness and worry me when they fight.

The phone number at the end of this PSA is the very same one I used to call over and over during the lengthy application process…

I was not one of those people who ever planned to join the Peace Corps.  I mainly joined because I needed to escape.  My sister had done it and flourished.  I thought it might be a good thing for me to do, too.  But I wasn’t one of those people who planned for twenty years to be a Volunteer.  My decision to join was sudden and impetuous.  I filled out my application the night my aunt died of brain cancer and sent my application as I was on my way from Virginia to Georgia for her funeral.  My acceptance was surprisingly seamless.  As if I were in a dream, I successfully completed my Peace Corps assignment.  I never expected to be accepted, let alone finish the two years.  But I did it and it did change my life.  I know I got a lot more out of the Peace Corps than I put into it.

The Peace Corps wasn’t necessarily the “toughest job I’ve ever loved”.  I did enjoy a lot of it.  I made a few friends who I think will be friends until I finally die.  I learned a lot and there isn’t a day that passes that I don’t remember those 27 months I spent in Armenia as part of the third group to serve in the Peace Corps in that country.  It’s hard for me to fathom that it’s 2015 and they are now on group A-23.  I was a member of A-3, most of whom are pictured above at our “close of service” conference held in April 1997 in T’sakhadzor.

I have had the good fortune to run into people I used to know twenty or more years ago.  I’m happy to say that we mostly still get along, though I know there are some people from that time who would just as soon forget I exist.  I don’t expect many people who shared 90s era Armenia with me will ever read this, but if they ever do, I want to offer a virtual handshake and a hearty congratulations.  We did it.  It wasn’t easy.  And it was well worth doing.  Shnorhavor!

A more recent Armenia volunteer’s video about her time in Hayastan…  Makes me feel very old…  On the other hand, those apartment buildings are so familiar.

Another visit to The Auld Rogue…

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I seriously think The Auld Rogue could end up being a regular stop for us when we do our Sunday shopping.  It’s convenient to Patch and Panzer, has good service and food, and a great variety of beers.  We went there yesterday at around 2:30 or so because we were hungry.  Yesterday also happened to be our 12th wedding anniversary.

Bill and I enjoy a round.  I had a Murphy’s Red and he had his usual Guinness.  A couple had an adorable, sweet, and well-behaved golden retriever with them who came over to say hi.  I wish our dogs were calm enough to go to restaurants.

Bill had Shepherd’s Pie, which was very good, but huge.  I wouldn’t have liked it because it had mushrooms in it.  Bill did note that since it was served with fries, he got two servings of potatoes.  I guess to a guy with as much Irish blood as Bill has, that’s not a bad thing.

 

I had fish and chips.  I enjoyed the chips especially.  They were just about perfect.  Once again, I eschewed the spare ribs in favor of something else.  I’ll get to them eventually.  The fish was good, though the breading was less batter and more bread crumbs.  It was very enjoyable and the portion size of the fish was about right.  I still had plenty of fries and salad leftover.

And because it was our anniversary, I had a large pour of Oban 14 year old scotch…  It was quite nice.  8 euros for .4cl and worth every euro cent.  Smaller pours go for 4 euros.

As we were having lunch, I got caught up in watching a rugby game on one of the large TVs.  I don’t usually enjoy watching sports, but I think I could get into rugby.  Ireland and Georgia were playing, which made it especially interesting for me.  Since I once lived in Armenia, I used to live near the Republic of Georgia.

I think the bartender recognized us.  He may have spotted us as new regulars.

Wonderful French food in San Antonio!

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Today is our 11th wedding anniversary; so Bill and I decided to go out to dinner.  We did the same thing last year on our anniversary.  Of course, last year, we were in Glasgow, Scotland!  This year, we are in San Antonio.

As is his custom, Bill had me find an appropriate restaurant.  First, I went to OpenTable.com, which is where I usually go when I want to find a good place to eat.  But none of the restaurants I was finding were really thrilling me.  Frustrated, I soon found myself on TripAdvisor.com, where I stumbled across a review for a relatively new French restaurant in downtown San Antonio called Saveurs 209.  The reviews I read were very compelling.  I looked up their Web site, which is currently offline.  Fortunately, Saveurs 209 is on Facebook.  I liked their page and Bill called for reservations, since they have no need for OpenTable.  It turns out this little French place, owned and run by French people, is an intimate venue.

We arrived at the restaurant at 7:00pm, just in time for our reservation.  

Bill was happy to be there.  He had just chosen a lovely Bordeaux to go with our meals.  The wine list at Saveurs 209 is exclusively French.  We did not notice liquor on offer, though there’s plenty of good wine and beer.

Saveurs 209’s menu is brief, with just a few starters and entrees to choose from.  I did not see much of anything on offer for vegetarians or vegans.  I saw no salads to speak of, either.  However, of the few selections on offer for each course, I had no trouble finding things I liked well enough to try.  I can be reluctant to eat things outside of my comfort zone, but I found two out of four starters I’d be comfortable trying and three out of five or six entrees that looked very appealing.

A tasty amuse of phyllo pastry with chicken, green onions, and red onions was offered just before the delightful bread.  

Bread seems to come out non-stop at Saveurs 209.  It was crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and served with insanely delicious butter (I am a freak for good butter).

Bill opted for a mushroom tart, which came on phyllo pastry.  He said the mushrooms were meaty and not earthy at all.  I do not eat mushrooms, so I don’t know.  I had the butternut squash soup served with hazelnut mousse and a quail’s egg.  The tiny, delicate, quail’s egg was *perfectly* soft boiled.  The soup came in a small pitcher, which one of the owners, dressed in a stylish wrap dress, poured into the set up.  Very classy and very delicious!

I had seared scallops for my entree.  It came with fantastic mashed potatoes, which were very well pureed and no doubt loaded with bad things.  But wow, they were so scrumptious.  The sea scallops were perfectly prepared– done just enough to be cooked but not at all dried out or rubbery– and topped with gremolata, an herb condiment.  The scallops were atop a poultry jus and three were plenty.

Bill had halibut with cannellini beans and a clam ragout and citrus emulsion.  The fish was covered in froth and tasted heavenly.  This was one of the dishes I had my eye on before I decided on the scallops.

We really enjoyed this red wine.  I told the waiter I wanted to snap a photo of this Bordeaux because we might want to buy some locally if we can find it.  He told us if we couldn’t get it, we could buy it for $20 a bottle from the restaurant (quite a break from their wine list price).  Later, he told us how to find it in San Antonio.

For dessert, I had a sinful chocolate soufflé served with orange sorbet.  It took about 15 minutes to make and was worth the wait.  Bill had a dacquoise with hazelnut cream, coffee and chocolate layers, and a side of coffee ice cream.  Bill could finish his dessert, but I cried “Uncle” about halfway through mine.  I noticed the lady near us had ordered the soufflé and also had to quit.  You could easily split this dessert and since it costs $12, that might be the smart thing to do.  Other options included a cheese plate and fruit inspired creations.

Bill and I enjoyed a nice round of espresso while we reflected on the delightful meal.  Our bill was about $181 before tip.  Service was excellent and there were only a few couples in the place, though a couple of folks stopped in to inquire.  Saveurs 209 seems to be relying on word of mouth to get themselves on the map.  Bill and I really enjoyed the low key atmosphere and lack of a huge crowd.

Saveurs 209 is run by a French couple and their daughter, who is a wonderful chef.  I read several accounts of the creative way she creates food.  Indeed, she was there tonight, in all her French chef glory, wearing the tall French chef’s hat and everything.  We could see her work from the small dining room.  Each item that came from the kitchen was exquisitely prepared, but what I loved about the experience was how European it was.  No one rushed us.  No one dropped the check as we were halfway through dessert.  Service was excellent and very professional, yet friendly and personable.  It was very civilized and, yes, reminded me very much of one of the bistros Bill and I enjoyed in Paris back when we visited in May 2009.

One thing to know is that parking near the restaurant is either on the street or in a public lot.  There is no valet parking.  But we thought it was well worth the $7 we spent on parking and the short walk, which helped us digest a splendid meal.  Also, portion sizes are not huge at Saveurs 209.  Personally, I found that refreshing.  We didn’t leave hungry, but we also didn’t leave feeling stuffed.  Prospective diners should be aware that they won’t be given a trough of food to eat that will last several meals at home.  The only leftovers we had were my chocolate soufflé, which we didn’t attempt to take with us.

We liked Saveurs 209 so much that we made reservations to return for Thanksgiving dinner.  They will be offering their regular menu and special Thanksgiving inspired options.  Lunch will be offered from 11:00 until 2:00, while dinner is from 6:00 until 9:30.  I can hardly wait to see what this charming French family does with the traditional dishes served on our very American holiday.  And when I inquired about Thanksgiving, they were delighted to know that we would be joining them!

Here’s is a link to another review written by a San Antonio based blogger.

I got all dolled up…

Our anniversary is around the corner…

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November 16, it’ll be 11 years with Bill.  We usually go away for our anniversaries.  Last year, we went to Scotland.  The year before that, we were in the southern Caribbean.  The year before that, we went to Asheville, North Carolina.  This year…  nothing.

We didn’t plan anything because we just moved to Texas and we knew we would have less cash flow here than we did in North Carolina.  And the eleventh anniversary isn’t as big of a deal as the tenth is, right?

Travel has become really important to me, though.  I miss getting to see the world, even though we’ve only been in Texas since late July.  We have been getting to know San Antonio, but I still long for a change of scenery.  At the very least, a trip would give me something to write about in my travel blog.

I’m sure we’ll have a dinner out or something…  It sort of pales in comparison to Scotland, though.  I still need to figure out what to give Bill.  A friend of mine wrote that Hallmark says the gift should be made of steel.  My response?  Handcuffs it is!  Of course, the very first gift I ever bought Bill was a pair of Smith & Wesson handcuffs.  I bought them because he dared me to.

He rarely uses them.  😉

A blast from the past…

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For some reason this afternoon, I decided to look up a haunt I used to know about when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Armenia.  During training, we were introduced to a restaurant in Yerevan owned by an Armenian-American named Gerard.  It was called The Chicken Coop.  Gerard also owned a small upscale food store that carried a few odds and ends that Americans would most likely be interested in.

For some reason, I thought of The Chicken Coop today.  I only ate there one time during the entire two years I lived in Armenia.  But I wondered if it was still operational.  I looked it up on Google and didn’t really find anything about the restaurant that suggested that it was still open.  But I did find a photo that mentioned it.  I clicked on the photo and suddenly found myself looking at a whole gallery of pictures taken by a man who had served in the Peace Corps with me.  The pictures were posted in 2008 and it doesn’t look like he still maintains the album.

As I looked at the photos, I was suddenly transported back in time about 18 years.  In fact, today is an anniversary of sorts.  On May 31, 1995, the 32 people in my Peace Corps training group boarded a United Airlines flight to Paris, France, where we would spend the whole day waiting for a 7:30 flight  to Yerevan, Armenia.  Since Armenia is two hours ahead of Paris, we would be landing in Yerevan in the middle of the night.  As I recall, it took many hours for us to get out of the airport.  The public restrooms were filthy and disgusting and the place was poorly lit because there was little electricity back then.

I remember how the group that came before us, A-2, showed up at the airport to say hello to us.  I think they gave us drinks and snacks as we passed through.  Seems to me we were headed to Hotel Armenia just as the sun was rising.  We had breakfast there and a meeting, then went to our rooms on the “old side” of the hotel.  I think I slept all day and regained consciousness sometime that evening.  The next day, we had another meeting and then got shuffled off to our host families.  I remember my name was the first one called when we were getting our host families.

I was 22 years old then… and would be turning 23 about three weeks later.  It was my first big adventure and really quite a daring thing to be doing.  Back then, I was quite a mess and probably had no business going to Armenia.  But I got through the 27 month commitment in one piece and came back profoundly depressed, yet stronger than I was before.  I learned a lot during that time.  Being in the Peace Corps made me braver and awoke the travel bug that I was probably born with.

I wish I could say that I was an exemplary Volunteer or that I joined for altruistic reasons.  I joined the Peace Corps mostly because I wanted to break out of the life I was in at the time.  I was actually very surprised the Peace Corps accepted me, since I didn’t have a particularly exciting resume at the time.  I went to an average college and wasn’t involved in that much service work.  I’d had average grades in college, too.  Maybe it was because my sister was also a PCV at one time.  My overachieving sister had also been a Volunteer, back in the 1980s.  She went to Morocco and the proceeded to embark upon a successful career working for an non-profit organization.  I thought maybe I was headed in the same direction, but fate intervened.

Looking at Zach’s photos, I learned that one of the Peace Corps Volunteers who served in A-5– they had come two years after my group– died in a car accident just as she was on her way to start a new job in Nigeria.  She’d done her time in Armenia, plus worked there for three more years.  I’m ashamed to say that I barely remember her, though she apparently did some really great things for the people of Armenia.  What a tragedy that she lost her life so young.  She sounds like a remarkable young woman.

I pulled down my own photo albums, which are full of a lot of pictures that aren’t as artistic as Zach’s are.  In a way, those photos are kind of painful to look at.  It was an exciting time and I learned and grew a lot, but I was really depressed and unsure of myself back then.  I don’t think I really lived up to my potential.  I can’t say it was wasted time… but I’m sure the time I put in there could have been more wisely spent.  I wish I had spent my time there being more productive than I ultimately was.  I did accomplish some things, though, and I can honestly say that the Peace Corps affected my life in a profound way.

I still talk to some of the people I knew at that time in my life, but it all seems kind of like a dream now. I mean, the years have flown by very quickly and it seems like yesterday… and yet it also seems like a lifetime ago, almost like it never happened.

The group that had survived up until four months before our service ended…  I was really ready to go home by then.