Weekly market in the dark…

Yesterday was Thursday, so that meant the weekly market was going on in the Dorfplatz. I also neglected to walk the dogs yesterday morning, mainly because the weather was so cold and damp. When Bill got home from work, we decided to see what was being offered at Breckenheim’s weekly market.

The weekly market is a new thing. It started in September, and now that Daylight Savings Time is over, it now runs partly in the dark. Every Thursday, the market starts at 1:00pm and closes at 6:00pm. Bill doesn’t get home until about 5:00, so now when we venture out to the market to shop for produce and local goodies, we have to do it in the dark. Last night, we brought Arran and Noyzi with us, because we didn’t feel like “Arran proofing” the house, to prevent him from raiding anything remotely resembling food while we were out.

Last night’s market was pretty sparsely attended. Or, at least there weren’t many people there by the time we got there. Bill ended up buying some shrimp and scallops from a fish monger who shows up regularly. We also enjoyed a glass of Riesling.

While we were having wine, we ran into an American neighbor, who was down there with her two kids. Meanwhile, Arran was insistently trying to get under one of the benches. Someone had dropped some bread there, and he desperately wanted to eat it. In spite of his age and cancer diagnosis, Arran is surprisingly strong and, when it comes to food, he’s very determined. When I told him “no”, he started to loudly and indignantly howl, causing the locals to laugh at him. I suppose that’s better than the scowls we usually got in Baden-Württemberg, whenever Arran or our sweet Zane (RIP) would misbehave in public.

Our neighbor had new running shoes and wanted to take a quick jog in them, so she basically told her son to hang out with us. She wasn’t gone long, but we were reminded of an incident that happened to us on a train to Nice, back in 2014. Basically, we (really Bill) got tasked to watch a single mom’s child on the train for a few hours. That was a bit strange, as the woman was a perfect stranger. Last night’s encounter wasn’t really, since our neighbor was only gone for about fifteen minutes and we had met her before. It was the first time I had ever talked to her son, though… a very bright, polite, and adorable eight year old chap. After his mom came back, he came over to us and said, “I’m going to go over there, if you don’t mind.” Hilarious!

His mom laughed and said, “I guess he really thought you were watching him.” I guess he did, since she told him to stay with us! But it was not a big deal. She was back before we were halfway done with our wine.

We had a brief chat with our neighbor, and then our landlord came up and said hello. Noyzi was pretty nervous at first, but then he submitted to petting by a couple of people. I could tell he was delighted, as his little stubby tail was going a mile a minute. Yes, indeed… I think that eventually, Noyzi will be less nervous around people and he’ll be able to join us when we’re out and about. He doesn’t bugle like Arran does. Arran likes people, but he gets tired when he’s out. He’s also loud when he wants to complain about something. Noyzi genuinely loves people, especially women. He’s just been traumatized by abuse in his past. He’s also a street dog, and they’re stealthy.

Once we finished our Rieslings, we went back home and had biscuits and gravy for dinner. Bill had a date with his Jungian therapist, while I did some Christmas shopping. A good night was had by all.

Again… I love this about living here– weekly markets, getting to know our neighbors, and bonding over dogs and wine. I suppose that could happen in the USA, but our neighborhoods aren’t usually as perfect for this kind of community fellowship. I’m glad we’ve been able to experience this… and I’m so glad we moved to Wiesbaden.


Onward to Inverness! ScotRail’s first class comes with boogers…

We woke up Sunday, August fourth, to lots of rain. We weren’t in the mood to look for breakfast under those conditions. We also had a train to catch. Originally, we were going to leave Edinburgh at about 10:00am, but Bill was fretting that we’d have to switch trains in Stirling. With a tight connection and rain, he worried that we’d have trouble. On Saturday, before he picked up dinner, Bill stopped by the train station and spoke to a very helpful man who told him that if we took the 9:29am train, we wouldn’t have to switch trains. Unfortunately, since it was less than 24 hours before the train was due to run, we couldn’t reserve our seats. But, he said on a Sunday morning, we’d have no trouble getting seats… Yeah, right.

Bill and I decided to brave breakfast at the hotel. We took the elevator to the breakfast area. I immediately noticed that it had a smell reminiscent of French Residence Hall at Longwood College, circa 1991. Longwood is now Longwood University and French is no longer a dorm, but the smell of stale beer and puke tends to leave an indelible mark on the ol’ olfactory organ. To be fair, the elevator smelled more like stale beer than vomit, but I couldn’t be certain. I think someone might have spilled beer in the lift and neglected to tell someone. The floor was sticky and, yes, smelled a bit like a frat house after a raucous party. I wasn’t impressed.

Breakfast is not included in the room rate at the Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel. However, in addition to the usual buffet offerings, they do have cooked breakfasts at the hotel. It looked like the main waiter was training someone new. Everyone wore jeans and t-shirts with aprons and, having once waited tables myself, I could tell the new girl was doing a “trail”. Unfortunately, as her trainer was teaching her, he failed to notice us sitting there neglected for several long minutes. I finally shot a cranky look at a busser, who kindly clued in his colleague.

I went with the Bacon Butty, which is aptly named. It was basically a soft bun with a bunch of back bacon in it. It tasted okay, but wasn’t the most imaginative dish. Bill had scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, which he seemed to enjoy.

After breakfast, we checked out. I probably sounded irritated as I told the receptionist about the condition of the elevator. She quickly made a note of it, and again, told Bill about their air conditioning woes. I suppose we could have made more of a stink than we did, but I think we were just ready to get on our way to Inverness. The staff called us a cab and we were soon whisked off to Edinburgh’s huge Waverly train station.

We got to the station at just the right time, as a huge flood of Asian tourists showed up minutes after we did. We were able to find benches to sit on, since there was no track assigned to the Inverness bound train. I passed the time by people watching and reading all of the stuff on the walls. I get a kick out of British nannyism signs, as well as the historic notes one finds everywhere in Scotland… even in the train station!

We finally hauled our bags to the correct track and waited for what seemed an eternity for the doors to open. In Germany, when the trains pull up, they let people get on and wait on the train. In Scotland, they don’t open the doors until just before the train leaves. Lots of folks were standing around, peering into the cars. It looked like many people had seat reservations. We did on our original train. At one point, as we waited impatiently for the go ahead to board the train, a recorded female announcer requested that everyone leave the station due to an emergency. It was a false alarm, but some people were noticeably confused and annoyed. I was among them.

The doors finally opened and everyone rushed for a seat. Fortunately, eagle eyed Bill spotted two seats facing the direction of travel that weren’t claimed. Bonus, they were right next to the WC and there was plenty of space for our bags. We were lucky, though. Not everyone managed to score a seat. One American couple got on the train and the wife peevishly said that she couldn’t sit backwards or she’d throw up. That turned out to be a prophetic statement.

I couldn’t help but wonder what second class was like on ScotRail, as the window had an enormous booger stuck on it. It was grossing me out, and I was reminded of the old school bus we rode on in Islay on a previous Hebridean cruise. There were boogers on that, too, but at least they had a good excuse. It was a school bus, after all, and there’s no class system on a school bus.

The loudspeaker on the train was also kind of messed up. It kept cutting in and out, making it sound like we’d landed somewhere in India or Pakistan instead of Scotland. I got a raw video with the sound in it. I’ll have to turn it into something shareable at some point. We had a good laugh about it, though. I posted on Facebook that as long as no one vomited, I’d be okay. Again… I tempted fate.

The first stop after Waverly Station was Haymarket. A young mom with three little girls took the two free seats facing Bill and me. I was immediately reminded of my good friend, Julie, whom I met at Longwood College in 1991, when she was a freshman and I was a sophomore. Julie is a very maternal person. She teaches school and has two sons and, I swear, the Scottish mom who joined us could have been her twin twenty five years ago.

The mom, whose name I later learned was Iona, was amazing. Her eldest daughter looked to be maybe eight or nine years old. She was pretty independent. The other two girls I would guess were about five and maybe two or three years old. The middle aged one sat opposite me. She had big brown eyes and long, luminescent red hair that gently curled down her back. I thought she was adorable, even though she was a little grumpy at first. Iona asked her what was wrong and the redheaded girl, I’ll call her “Em”, said she needed the toilet. Iona asked her why she wasn’t “using her words”.

Over the course of our three hour journey, I watched Iona lovingly tend to her little girls. Em, especially, needed help, since she suffered not one, but two bouts of motion sickness. Iona came equipped with food, games, and even a tiny portable fan that she directed on Em after one bout of vomiting. She never lost her temper and took every opportunity to correct her daughters’ behavior. I thought they were very well-behaved, for the most part. Iona told us they had another long journey once they got to Inverness. They were headed to a northern island to see relatives and would be traveling until at least 5:00pm.

I could not help but be reminded of an experience Bill and I had in France back in 2014. We were on a very full train going from Marseille to Nice. A mom on that train brought her two little girls with her. One girl was about eight and the other was a toddler. Mom basically sized up Bill and me, noted how kind and helpful Bill is, and just left her daughter with us while she took care of the little one in a different car. Iona was a refreshing change of pace. She never let the girls out of her sight and really impressed me with how good she was with them. We should all have a mom like Iona.

We were seated in first class, but ScotRail is decidedly low class regardless of where you sit. There was no dining car and though the WC functioned, we watched person after person fail to lock the door properly. Consequently, quite a few people got interrupted mid whiz, including Bill. Next time, instead of taking the train to Inverness, we’re renting a car. However, I am glad we took ScotRail this one time. The ride up to Inverness was pretty, if not a bit crowded. I also enjoyed meeting Iona and her adorable girls.

We arrived in Inverness in the early afternoon and found a taxi to take us to Rocpool Reserve, the best hotel in Inverness… or so we’ve heard. Stay tuned for the next post for my impressions.


France and Germany… a send off from the Army– Part 7

From Nimes, Bill and I decided we’d head to Nice.  I was last in Nice in 1997 and frankly I had forgotten how beautiful this city on the French Riviera is.  In 1997, I was decidedly broke and had been on vacation for awhile…  maybe I was jaded.  Truly, it is a great city and I’m glad Bill and I had the chance to visit.  Getting there, however, turned out to be quite the ordeal.

It started with buying tickets in Nimes.  We got to the station about 45 minutes before the train to Marseille was due to leave.  That was where we’d be picking up another train that would take us to Toulon and then yet another that would go to Nice.  There was a train that went directly to Nice from Marseille, but it was full.  Bill knew this before he approached the ticket agent, a rather surly woman who wasn’t all that polite as she issued our tickets.  We waited about 20 minutes or so just to be able to speak to her, since there happened to be a shitload of people trying to buy tickets that morning.

As we were waiting, I kept hearing banging on a piano.  It turns out that a lot of train stations in France have a piano in the foyer.  Anyone is welcome to bang on it or play…  the vast majority who played that beleaguered instrument in Nimes did not possess any discernible musical talent.  Needless to say, the banging did little to boost my mood.

Piano playing in the Nimes train station…

We got on the train to Marseilles, fortunate enough to score a fold down seat facing backwards, since the train was packed.  The Marseille train station, much like the one in Lyon, was a bit of a madhouse. Actually, it wasn’t quite as bad as the Lyon station, but it was a very busy, noisy, crowded place… and yes, there was another piano.

This guy, playing the train station piano in Marseille, was actually pretty good.

The gare…

Bill and I rushed to get the train to Toulon, which turned out to be pretty full.  We managed to find two seats, but there was nowhere to store our bags.  Given that this was a two week trip, we had a few of them with us.  We watched in amazement as the train filled up with people until the aisles and spaces between cars were completely full.

We happened to be sitting across from a French woman and her father.  She spoke English and asked us where we were from and where we were headed.  She apologized for the fact that France’s trains aren’t “comfortable”.  For the record, I didn’t think the trains in France were that uncomfortable.  Just that particular one was very, very crowded… it reminded me of being in Armenia, where all forms of public transportation are liable to be completely stuffed to the gills with people, safety standards be damned!  And unfortunately, there were a couple of people standing in the aisle who really needed a shower.

At one point, there was an announcement asking anyone who could take a later train to get off, but of course, very few people chose to do that and it did nothing to alleviate the problem.  Then there was an announcement that they were going to add more cars, which would delay us and cause us to miss our connection in Toulon.  Then, the trip was cancelled altogether.  All of these developments were kindly translated for us by the English speaking French lady sitting near us.

Bill went to find out what we needed to do and we were advised that there was a train going directly to Nice at 2:30.  It was about noon, so that meant we had time for lunch at the train station.  We went to McDonald’s.  It was very packed, so we sat outside, where it was sunny, but actually very chilly because of a high wind.  McDonald’s offered free WiFi, which entertained me for a bit.  I took a couple of photos of the view into Marseille.  It actually looks like a very nice city, even if getting in and out of there was hellish.

The view of Marseille from the station…

Bill checks things out.

The Golden Arches!

After McDonalds, we went back into the train station and visited a little cafe.  It was a rather dirty, no frills kind of place, but the people who ran it were friendly and they had beer.  While we were sitting in the cafe, an older black woman and young black man came in and took a table near us.  Based on the way they were dressed, I guessed they were from somewhere in Africa.  They wore very colorful, exotic clothes that appeared to be the style of some place other than France.  They spoke French and the man drank rose wine, while his companion (maybe his mother?) drank coffee.  They were loud, but happy and frankly very entertaining to observe.  Before too long, they were joined by two other women, similarly dressed and similarly boisterous.

These folks unwittingly entertained us…

I enjoyed watching how people reacted to this group, who seemed to be having such a great time in this dingy little cafe.  Quite a few people seemed bemused, while others appeared to be annoyed.  I kind of liked it that they were there, because I love it when I’m near interesting or entertaining people.  I have no idea what they were talking about, but I appreciated the fun they were obviously having.

Our train to Nice was also very crowded, though not nearly as much as the train we’d tried to take to Toulon was.  Once again, we got seats that faced two going the other direction.  I got up to use the bathroom, but found the toilet hopelessly clogged with paper towels and cigarette butts that some asshole had left there.  I hate it when people do that, just because they need to satisfy their nic fit.  It really messes things up for other people.

An Australian woman with two small children quickly claimed the seats opposite from us.  Inwardly, I kind of sighed, since I figured the kids would make the trip more stressful.  One of the kids appeared to be about seven or eight, while the other, a toddler, was still breastfeeding.  I only know this because the kids’ mom boldly walked up and down the aisle with the girl under her shirt.  I don’t blame her for doing that, by the way.  I’m all for breastfeeding.  I guess it was just kind of different to see someone so totally unabashed about it.  You don’t see that very often in the United States.

Anyway, the mom sat with her kids for a little while and talked to us.  Bill was very solicitous, helping her with her bags, offering her Wet Naps, and chatting with her.  After awhile, mom got up and sat elsewhere with her toddler, leaving her older daughter with us.  The girl was actually pretty well behaved, even though she’d been on the train all day.  Her mom told us that they’d come from Bordeaux.  She played with an iPad most of the time.

The Australian lady had a French woman with her who had a little boy.  At first, we thought maybe the French woman was a nanny, since she seemed very solicitous toward the Australian woman’s kids.  But it later came out that they had met during the Aussie lady’s travels.  You could have fooled me.  They really seemed like they were traveling together.

Scenes from the train to Nice…

As the long train trip wore on, I was enchanted by the scenery out the window… lots of very blue water, charming towns, and palm trees, along with quite a few mountain tunnels.  I was also enchanted by Bill, who proved that he was born to be a dad.  When the girl unsuccessfully tried to open a packet of sunflower seeds, Bill took the packet for her and opened it.  He kept his eye on her the whole time.  I couldn’t help but think that maybe Aussie lady talked to us to make sure we weren’t weirdos and then totally hoped we’d babysit her kid for her.  She correctly assessed that Bill is good with kids and, while I’m not as gentle toward tykes, I’m relatively benign.  I suppose if you’re traveling for weeks alone with little kids, you have to take help whenever you can get it.

Toward the end of the trip, Mom came back to where we were sitting.  Her younger daughter, an adorable child who appeared to have a different father than her sister did, was jumping up and down on the seat and squealing in very shrill tones.  Aussie mom asked the toddler to stop jumping, since she “had a very full nappy”.  She pulled the tyke’s diaper away and peeked in to confirm her suspicions.  I was just hoping there wouldn’t be another big mess on the already messy train.  Older girl was getting restless, jumping up and down, and flipping over the seat behind her, which had been vacated.  I just tried to stay calm and quiet.  People were looking at Bill and me, as if these kids belonged to us.  Most of them looked a bit annoyed even though, truly, the older girl in particular had been very well behaved under the circumstances.

When we got to Nice, Bill helped the lady with her bags again.  I was in a hurry to get off the train and have some peace and quiet.  It had been a long, difficult day of travel and I was ready for a rest.  I also didn’t want to get drafted into more babysitting duties!

Nice was a lot bigger, busier, and more crowded than I remembered it.  It took a little time to find our lodging, a two star establishment called the Star Hotel.  Once we got there, we were warmly welcomed by a receptionist with a remarkable American accent.  It turned out she was American and had married a Frenchman while in France learning French.  I guess this was her hotel, since she told us (and we observed) that she was there most of the time.  She gave us a triple room on the top floor, with a nice little balcony that overlooked the street.  The hotel had some strange rules, like you weren’t supposed to eat or drink in your room.  Bill asked about that and the lady at the front desk explained that the hotel used have a different owner who was strict about such things.  She just asked us not to be messy and thanked us for being considerate enough to ask.

Nobody up here but us and some seagulls…

Since we were tired, we went across the street to a Lebanese restaurant for dinner.  I think we were the proprietor’s only guests.  The food was good, and we enjoyed some wine on the little balcony.  After a full night of comfortable sleep, we spent a great day in Nice.  More on that in the next post!

Lebanese food in Nice…