It’s been seven days since my last post on this blog. I haven’t written because I haven’t had too much to write about this week. We had extremely cold weather last week. It lasted until Monday, when the snow we got last week turned into black ice. Sure enough, I slipped and fell on my ass, bruising my left buttcheek. Since I also did something to my right hip, that was an even less welcome development than it might have otherwise been. My butt recovered after a day, but my right hip is still painful. I might even have to break down and see a doctor about it.
Arran had his latest chemo treatment last night. He’s now in the second phase of his treatment. Bill took him in, and said the vet was impressed by Arran’s resilience. He is still doing very well. I think she thought maybe he wouldn’t take to chemo, because of his age, and because he was getting sick when we got his first treatment. His red blood cells have improved, while his white blood cells are still elevated. But they would be elevated anyway, due to the treatments. Because he’s in the second phase of chemo, he doesn’t take as much medication. He goes to the vet every other week for IV push meds, and takes less of the Endoxan (chemo pill). However, he’s still on Prednisolone, which makes him more of a stinker than usual.
We have plans to go Villa Im Tal on the afternoon of the 26th. It’s one of our favorite fine dining restaurants. I look forward to it, although I worry that Arran will try to break into the basement while we’re gone. He’s regressed in his behavior since he started chemo. I ordered a new gate– one that’s sturdier and taller– to try to prevent him from invading the basement. Other than that, he’s mostly himself… taking walks, eating like a champ, sleeping, cuddling, and being cute. We’re really cherishing this time with him.
We had a new dishwasher installed yesterday. The old one was twelve years old and broke. I’m glad we got both things done before Christmas, which is pretty much going to shut everything down for a few days. Our landlord is slowly but surely upgrading our house. He says he wants to install new windows and a heat pump, too. As he was leaving yesterday, he asked Bill if we needed more wood for the fireplace or salt for the dishwasher. We’re fine, but it’s nice to have a landlord who cares about our well-being and happiness. I’m sure he likes having the house occupied, and after four years with us, he knows we won’t disturb him unless it’s really necessary.
Getting new windows will be like deja vu, since new windows were installed in our last house as we were moving in. It was kind of a painful process, but the windows were really nice. Maybe we’ll get electric shutters, too. 😉 Ex landlady put in electric shutters on the windows in the living room. They were very nice, but sometimes they didn’t work properly. She also lectured us about not losing the remote control, which of course we didn’t. That was probably one of the only things we did right in that house. :eyeroll:
Other than that, it’s been a pretty boring week. Although January and February can be pretty bleak in Germany, I kind of look forward to being done with the Christmas season. It’s so dark over here during this time of year. And because I don’t really want to leave Arran alone unless it’s necessary, I’ve been a bit “fun deprived” lately. With more light and warmth, we might be able to take him with us more often.
The only other thing that happened this week was our neighbor had a bunch of us over for Gluhwein. It was frigid outside, so when we came back into the house, I ordered a new parka. It probably won’t get used much, but it might be the last parka I will ever buy. Oh… and my neighbor thought I was an 80s baby, which was a nice compliment. I am very much a card carrying member of Generation X, though… born in the 70s.
Breckenheim sure is a friendly little village. It’s a lot of fun to bond with the neighbors. Funny enough, several of the ones who live near us are from Baden-Württemberg! They seem to like Hessen more. It’s probably because there’s wine… and people are a little warmer. I do miss the beautiful sights down in BW, though. It will always have a piece of my heart.
The featured photo is of Arran near our wine barrel table. He was obsessed with the framed photo of my husband’s daughter’s family, because it smelled like the treats she sent in a box to us!
We’ve spent the past few days in Baiersbronn, again, and will be finishing up our trip and coming home tomorrow morning. If you’re one of the handful of people who looks for posts on this blog, I would encourage you to come back tomorrow. I plan to have some fresh content hot off the presses.
As for now… we’re going to enjoy the final hours of this trip before we go home and face everything that will be waiting for us, to include sweet Arran and his big, younger bro, Noyzi. Arran has been ailing lately, so we’ve been concerned about him. But, as far as we know, at this point, he’s okay. So we’ll see him tomorrow at about this time.
It sure is pretty in the Schwarzwald. We should probably come here more often than we do. This is the one thing I miss most about living near Stuttgart.
A couple of weeks ago, our next door neighbor, Uli, told Bill she was going to have a barbecue, and we were invited. At the time she made her invitation, we were thinking we might be going to see our dentist in Stuttgart. But we couldn’t arrange boarding for Arran and Noyzi, so we postponed our dental appointments until later this month. That freed us up to attend last night’s festivities.
I’ll be honest. I was a bit apprehensive about this event. You see, I’m not that great in groups. The older I get, the worse I seem to be. I tend to say more than I should. But Bill is a very friendly, jovial guy, and he wants to be neighborly. Plus, he just brewed some beer, and mentioned it, which automatically excited our hostess. Of course, the beer Bill makes, while very good, is not German style beer. He makes British style ale, mainly because the yeast required for lagers is more fragile than ale style yeast is. But, over the past twelve years or so, he’s gotten better at his craft. Maybe he’ll delve into making lagers eventually. I would like that.
I did tell Bill to go to the commissary and pick up some Bubba Burgers and American style burger buns for Uli. I know she likes them, and I have a feeling the people before us used to pick them up for her on occasion. Bill gave her the burgers and buns and she seemed quite delighted. Personally, I’m more of a fan of handmade burgers with German buns. But if Bubba Burgers help facilitate neighbor relations, I’m all for giving them out sometimes. Uli seemed surprised when we told her we don’t shop at the commissary very often. We prefer German markets.
We had a nice gathering of about twenty people, with plenty of food and libations. There were sausages, salads, a couple of burgers that Bill contributed and I was too full to eat, and breads. There was lots of wine and beer, including a few bottles of Bill’s brews. At the end of the evening, a lovely Italian man who lives across the street brought out a round of espresso and an Italian digestive. He gave Bill some homemade limoncello, too, and said he would teach him how to make it.
Noyzi and Arran complained loudly at first, but then we brought them outside to see what was going on. Arran was over it quickly. Noyzi was feeling friendly, but he still gets freaked out by people he doesn’t know. So after they came out for a few minutes, we brought them back inside. Our neighbor’s lab, Tommi, spent most of the evening being a host. He is adorable.
Our host’s English speaking mother, Margot, was also there. She lives in the house that borders ours on the other side. I have often seen her walking Tommi, but she told us she had to stop, because he’s too strong for her. Last summer, Tommi got away from her while I was walking our dogs. I happened to have an extra leash, because Noyzi was still pretty skittish. Tommi didn’t have a leash, so I was able to give Uli’s mom the extra one so she could capture her pooch. I even wrote about it, because last year, pandemic restrictions made travel blogging more challenging.
Margot said, “Your dogs make so much noise when you go out.”
Without missing a beat, I said, “Luckily, I almost never go out.”
Bill later mentioned that he thought that was a sign of progress. When we first came to Germany and people would remark about my dogs, I would get nervous and offended. I was still a little put off, but then I said, quite reasonably, that they are seldom alone. Moreover, I know they don’t bark the whole time we’re gone, because they’re never still barking when we get home. I don’t think they would necessarily know to shut up when we were driving up to the house. We do keep our outings short, though, precisely for that reason.
Later, Margot said she wanted to talk to me, simply because she says people ignore the elderly. I told her that I would love to talk to her, because I enjoy having conversations with older people. They always have interesting stories to share. She brightened quite a bit, and told us about what it was like in Breckenheim in 1945, when the US Army came in. She said the Germans all had to give up their homes for the soldiers, and her brother wasn’t allowed to live with her and her mom. They somehow got to stay in their house.
Now… consider that 1945 was World War II… and who was in charge at that time. Yes, I would love to talk to her about that era! I think it would be fascinating. And she said she wants to practice her English, which is already good. But she reminded us that if you don’t use it, you lose it. Then she chastised me for not speaking very much German. LOL… But if people want to speak English to me, how can I speak German? I do understand a lot more than I did in 2007, when we moved here the first time… and 2014, when we moved here the second time. However, I am more successful singing in German, than speaking it. 😉 That’s not saying much… although I really can sing quite well. It’s just that I can memorize the lyrics and learn to pronounce them without necessarily knowing what all the words mean, even though we did have to translate the foreign songs when I was studying voice. Margot also told us that she only drinks Grauburgunder wines. She doesn’t even like Rieslings. And beer is out!
Toward the end of the night, I think I kind of horrified Uli, when I told her that we had to sue our ex landlady. Although lawsuits in Germany are pretty common– in fact, I think Germans are more litigious than Americans are– they don’t seem to want to talk about them. Uli is a landlady, too, so this was probably something that made her blood run cold. She probably thinks I’m a little crazy, and I bet she tells our current landlord. But if he says anything about it, we’ll just tell him that he’s nothing at all like the ex landlady. He’s courteous, reasonable, and respectful, and he’s done things legally. Uli was probably just shocked that we knew about legal insurance (and liability insurance and pet liability insurance– all things that Americans really should buy in Germany)… but she shouldn’t be, because we’ve lived here a long time, we’re older, and she knows how much our house rents for. Of course we’d be smart to have legal insurance. We had to pay two month’s rent as a deposit. It was a lot of money.
The topic of suing came up, though, because the neighbor was showing off their kid’s school Tute, for the first day of school. Uli kept talking about how much she hated “suing”. I realized that she meant “sewing”. I was very confused at first! Then I confided that I don’t like sewing, either, even though my mom is a master at needlecrafts. I don’t have the patience or dexterity for it. Another lady talked about how her daughter spent the school year in Michigan, and got to attend the prom and football games. I said, that must have been very interesting for her, given how different American schools are. German schools don’t usually have school sponsored sports teams or big, fancy dances… or, at least that’s what I’ve heard. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.
Anyway, we enjoyed hanging out last night, and meeting some of our neighbors. Uli’s new tenants are moving into their place in October. I especially enjoyed the wife, who hails from Böblingen, in Baden-Württemberg. She said that she taught math, and met her husband in Karlsruhe, while they were at the university. She likes Hesse better. She flat out said it, without any prompting. Why? Because people are much friendlier up here. It’s funny, because she’s not the first German, even from Baden-Württemberg, who has mentioned that Swabia is a very “special” part of Germany. But I actually like Baden-Württemberg very much, in spite of the different culture. It was the first part of Germany I really got to know, and it is legitimately a very beautiful place– even if Stuttgart is kind of a homely city. I look forward to going back down there at the end of the month.
Again… I’m not very good in groups. I speak my mind too much, and am not one for small talk. Some people love that about me. Other people hate it, and think I’m an obnoxious freak. And that’s why I have dogs. At least Tommi likes us… the featured photo is of him, knocking on our door. He doesn’t do it often, but when he does, it’s super cute. He also jumped up on Bill and gave him a big smooch, which seemed to horrify Uli. Yes, our dogs bark, but so does hers. And we keep ours on leashes, although we did talk about maybe letting Noyzi and Tommi play sometime. I think they’d love it. If we didn’t turn her off too much, maybe they’ll finally have the opportunity.
Uli says in a few months, we’ll have to share some Gluwein. That is, if the temperatures get low enough to enjoy it. We did get some rain today, which is a great thing. I’m not sure if we’ll venture out today. We were both kind of tired after last night’s festivities. Also… I don’t want my dogs to disturb the peace.
It’s another cold, grey, drizzly weekend in Germany. Christmas will arrive next weekend. I suppose I should be more into the spirit of celebrating the season, but I just can’t seem to find my mojo. I don’t really like going out in yucky weather even when there isn’t a pandemic. The spiking COVID numbers aren’t inspiring me to get out there and mingle with the masses.
But not everyone feels the way I do. My German friend, Susanne, shared with me some news out of Reutlingen. It seems there was a riot/protest there last night, consisting of Nazi sympathizers and COVID deniers, most of whom weren’t masked and ignored the rules against congregating. Things got pretty out of hand in some places, so the Stuttgart police showed up to maintain order.
Germans are usually pretty tolerant of peaceful protests and strikes. They’re usually scheduled ahead of time and announced, so people can choose not to be involved… or, if they’re into it, they can participate or observe. I believe one has to get a permit to protest legally. I have no idea if this group followed the rules. The protests I’ve seen are usually pretty chill… afterwards, everybody breaks up and has a beer or something. But every once in awhile, people do get their hackles up. Such was the case last night.
Ein Verschwörungsideologe tritt mit einem Polizisten in Dialog und bezeichnet ihn an „Faschisten“. Daraufhin wird dieser festgenommen. #b1812pic.twitter.com/sLJ5hHUul2
This video was shared on Facebook by Matthias Kipfer in the public group, 99,99 % (Filder) vs. R.E.S.T.. I’m not sure where this particular incident involving the man screaming about fascists took place. It might not have happened in Reutlingen, although I can see by the photos and videos in the group, there was plenty of action there last night. I see the guy screaming about fascists was originally posted on Twitter by Stadtrand Aktion. As you can see, the cops weren’t amused. This guy was promptly arrested. I suspect he will get a nice big fine, as outlined in the trusty 2022 Bussgeldkatalog. Edited to add: Susanne thinks the fascist cop incident might have happened in Berlin, since the cop has a B on his uniform.
I think it’s funny that there’s a catalog of fines people can consult to find out about laws and fines. I especially get a kick out of the section on the fines for insulting people in traffic. When they are translated into English, they are both hilarious and nonsensical. Below is the list of fines as of 2022.
In all seriousness, these protests were pretty bad. Apparently, some people were using children as human shields against the water cannons cops tried to use to disperse the agitated crowds. I was impressed by how the cops managed to keep their cool. German police officers don’t seem to be as violent as American police officers often are. But then, they probably pay better and offer more training.
My German still sucks, but I do find myself picking up words and understanding more, especially when my friend shares interesting German articles with me that include juicy tidbits about current events. If I have gained anything from the past seven years, besides a massive beer gut, it’s a rudimentary understanding of basic German. My Armenian is still better, though. That isn’t saying much.
The above photo basically translates to “People who think vaccinations change their DNA should consider it an opportunity.” Who says Germans aren’t sharp witted? Not I!
In other news… I hope the new blog design is welcomed by the few regular readers who have been keeping up with me during these COVID times. I decided to play around with it a few days ago, and when I went to change it back to the theme I was using, I discovered that the “wandering” theme was retired. So now I have a new but similar theme, and a new color scheme. I think it’s easier to read.
A few weeks ago, Bill finally decided it was time for us to get our teeth cleaned. Actually, it was long past time. We hadn’t seen our Stuttgart area dentist in over two years. I’m usually really regular about my dental visits. In May 2019, when we went to Stuttgart to see Elton John, I had every intention of coming back in November for a six month visit. But Bill ended up being very busy in November 2019, so we never did get back down there. Then, COVID-19 shut everything down. Going to the dentist seemed like it could even be unsafe.
We finally got vaccinated a few months ago. In July, Bill tried to get us appointments to see the dentist. He was booked solid through July, and then would be on vacation. The earliest Bill could get us in was August 26th. I tried to get us a room at our favorite Stuttgart area hotel, but it was fully booked. Then I remembered how much we had enjoyed visiting the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) when we lived in the Stuttgart area. I remembered a day trip we took to Baiersbronn, which was located just 40 minutes or so from where we lived. I recalled how I ate quiche there after having read about the many gourmet restaurants in the sleepy, but pretty town in the forest. I remembered a wonderful article I read in the New York Times Magazine about Baiersbronn. Then I started searching to see what kinds of accommodations were available there.
It turned out that a lot of the hotels in the Baiersbronn area were booked, but I did find us a room at the Hotel Engel Obertal, a five star property in a tiny hamlet called Obertal. The property had just about everything I was looking for in a hotel, as well as a few special extras, like the salt pool. I decided to book us a superior room with a balcony facing the countryside. I paid in full ahead of time and waited eagerly for the big day.
On Wednesday, August 25th, we made our way from Wiesbaden to Obertal, having dropped off our dogs at their usual accommodation. The drive down was mostly on the Autobahn and took about 3 hours. I sighed with contentment as we turned onto a two lane state road that took us into the countryside. I had forgotten how much I love the Schwarzwald. When we lived in Jettingen, we could easily visit on the weekends, spending a few hours enjoying the scenery and relaxed mood. Now that we’re in Wiesbaden, it takes a bit longer to get to the forest, but it’s still not a super long drive. We did get stuck behind a truck, which was pretty annoying. It’s not easy to pass on the tight roads into the idyllic German countryside. But we weren’t in a hurry. We were hoping to relax.
We arrived at the hotel at about 1:30 or so. The receptionist who checked us in easily found our reservation and checked our COVID status. Obertal is located in Baden-Württemberg, which recently passed an ordinance that requires everyone to show that they have been fully vaccinated, have a recent negative COVID test, or have successfully recovered from the illness. Not all German states are doing this yet. I suspect it’s just a matter of time. But Baden-Württemberg was the first to implement this new rule, which perhaps will make new lockdowns less likely to happen.
We were assigned room 109, but it wasn’t ready for us. Check in wasn’t until 3:00pm anyway, so we went to the restaurant for lunch. The hotel offers free breakfast, buffet lunches, and fancy multi-coursed meals that are preferably booked ahead of time. On Wednesday, the hotel was offering penne pasta with ratatouille, chicken breast, potatoes au gratin, salad, breads, and dessert. They also had several lovely cakes available. We also had some beer vom fass as we enjoyed the sunshine and mild temperatures. This was the only day we had lunch at the hotel. It was worth it just for the cake!
After lunch, our room was ready, so we completed the check in, and the receptionist led us to our accommodations. I wasn’t expecting a super modern room, and my expectations were met. But the room was very large, with a comfortable bed, huge balcony, and sitting area. Bill ordered a split of champagne and pralines. I’m not sure why he did that; he doesn’t usually spring for extras. But it was all set up for us when we walked into our room, along with a bowl of apples and a bottle of complimentary sparkling water. The room also had a mini bar, which offered, beer, wine, soda, and extra water at customary minibar prices. The room had a TV, CD player (how retro), free WiFi, and a phone.
I enjoyed the shower. It got great pressure and was generously equipped with Molton Brown toiletries, as well as plenty of large towels, slippers, and robes.
The room wasn’t air conditioned, but the weather was cool and pleasant, so we didn’t miss climate control at all. And it was so quiet and peaceful that the first thing I did was take a nap while Bill booked dinner at the hotel. The hotel offers regular rooms, but it also has chalets and apartments for rent. There’s a free parking lot and limited street parking, as well as a garage that costs ten euros a night. We only used the parking garage last night, because the parking lot was completely full when we came back to the hotel.
Obertal is a tiny little village, but there are a few other restaurants that are within walking distance of the hotel. There’s also a small convenience store and a few shops that appear to cater to the wealthy spa crowd. Across the street is a large Asian spa hotel, complete with a sign in Chinese and a mural of a beautiful Asian woman.
After our one lunch, we ate all of the rest of our meals at the same table. That was also true for dinner on Wednesday night. We weren’t very hungry after the big pieces of cake, but I am glad we stopped in for a dinner, just to see what they had on offer.
The restaurant offers vegetarian selections and heartier fare, like Schnitzels, as well. We found the food quality at the hotel to be fine, especially washed down with a locally produced Spatburgunder, but it would pale in comparison to the two gourmet meals we planned for Friday. Still, we were too full for dessert, so we decided to head off to bed after dinner. We had a big day planned for Thursday. More on that in the next post.
The featured photo is of our crowded, but quaint, village of Wallau, located near where we live. This was where we got our vaccines registered.
I am delighted to write another travel blog series. It’s been AGES since I’ve been able to write an actual travel post for my travel blog, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Things are finally opening up here in Europe. Infection numbers are falling; fewer people are being hospitalized or dying; and people are breaking out of seclusion for some fun. I have been waiting impatiently for the ability to have fun. It’s been too long.
As of June 16th, I became fully inoculated with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. That was enough of a cause for celebration… but today also happens to be my birthday. Bill and I usually try to do fun things when we have birthdays, and this year we needed a break more than other years. We also needed to introduce Noyzi to the Birkenhof Tierpension, since we haven’t been anywhere since we adopted him in October of last year. Since it was Noyzi’s trial run at our boarding facility, we decided to keep the weekend short and close to home.
I’d been wanting to visit Heidelberg again for ages. We went there in October 2008, when we lived in the Stuttgart area the first time. That visit was decidedly friend heavy, as at the time, there was still an active Army installation in Heidelberg. We had several friends who were living there, so during that visit, we hung out with them and went on post. I remember touring Heidelberg Castle one day, eating at Vetter’s, and then the next day, we went to nearby Schwetzingen and visited the palace and castle. We even took a tour in German. The hotel we stayed in then was Appartment & Hotel Kurpfalzhof Heidelberg, which was then, and still is, the number one traveler ranked hotel on Trip Advisor. It was an extremely clean and nice hotel, with friendly owners who were obviously very Army friendly. For some reason, they aren’t taking reservations right now.
For this occasion, I was wanting to stay somewhere fancier and in town, anyway. I found two likely candidates: Heidelberg Suites and Der Europäische Hof Heidelberg. Both properties were extremely appealing for different reasons. I ended up choosing Der Europäische Hof Heidelberg because of its downtown location and parking availability– there’s a garage right next door. They have a pool, and thanks to the heat wave, I knew I’d be wanting to swim. They also have a beautiful bar area, and Bill and I were hoping to enjoy that, too… (and we certainly did).
So, with the hotel booked for Friday and Saturday nights, and the dogs set up for their stay at the Birkenhof, it was time to deal with the next part of the process of breaking back into traveling. We needed to visit an Apotheke (pharmacy) to register proof of our vaccinations with the German government and pick up QR codes that can be uploaded into an app that is easily shown at restaurants, hotels, and shops. I was a little worried about that process, having read a “horror” story in The Local: Germany about an American guy in Cologne who went to six different places until he finally found a place that would recognize his American CDC vaccination card.
Bill and I didn’t have any trouble like that. We followed the link for mein-apothekenmanager.de to find a local pharmacy that had the ability to register people in the system. Not all pharmacies are participating, and some are participating, but don’t have the system set up yet. It turned out a pharmacy in the next village was participating. Bill sent them an email in German explaining that we’re Americans who need the QR codes for the app and asking if they could help. To our delight, the answer was a yes. Bill stopped by on Monday and dropped off copies of our vaccine cards, and the very pleasant druggist told us that she’d have them ready for us in a few days. It took time because so many people were trying to sign up that the system crashed!
On Friday morning, we took the dogs to the Hunde hotel. Noyzi seemed alright when we left. There were several nice dogs there who seemed eager to play! I think it helped that Arran was happy to be there and very relaxed. Arran has been many times and always has fun. We’ll go pick them up in a few hours. Hopefully, everything went alright!
After we dropped them off, we went to Wallau to get the proof of vaccination. There was a long line of people waiting outside of the pharmacy, many of whom were waiting to register. Others just needed to get some drugs. It’s good that we brought in the papers before Friday, since it’s routinely taking the pharmacist a couple of days to get people’s credentials loaded. If we had not had that paperwork, we probably would have needed to be tested for COVID-19 while we were in Heidelberg. Below is a picture of what the papers look like.
Unfortunately, the apps available in Germany aren’t available to us yet. We both tried to download the CovPass app, but that requires a German iTunes account and we have American ones. When I tried to change my location to Germany in the App Store, I got this message:
One of the other two apps is only for Android users. The other one, for some reason, just refused to work at all. I was able to download the Luca app, though, which is used for contract tracing and test results. Supposedly, we will eventually be able to load the vaccine passes into that app, too. I’m sure the German government will hear about this issue soon, or they’ll get used to the American CDC cards. In any case, the paper from the pharmacy worked alright, even though we don’t have the yellow European version of the the vaccine proof card. I suppose we could have gotten one at a pharmacy and had them stamped by the American vaccination center where we got our shots, but we didn’t know about them when we got inoculated. Phew… so much work to get legit before we can take a weekend out of town!
After we got the vaccine paperwork done, we packed a couple of bags and loaded the Volvo; then we set off for Heidelberg, which is about 50 miles– 70 kilometers from where we live. Although it only takes about an hour or so to get there, it’s in another state– our old home of Baden- Württemberg– where Bill and I spent a total of six mostly happy years together. It’s always a pleasure to go back! The drive was easy and fun… I spent the whole time making jokes about Sinead O’Connor’s new book, which I hope to be reviewing on my main blog very soon!
Once we found our way to the beautiful, grand, five star lodging where I had booked a junior suite for two nights, the celebration was primed to begin. More on that in the next post!
Five more days to go before I’m fully “street legal”, as Bill puts it. I don’t know what we’ll do this weekend, but if we stay home, it may be the last time for awhile. Next weekend, we will be going to Heidelberg for the weekend. I’ve booked us a beautiful hotel which has a (hopefully) great bar, a spa, and gourmet food. Since Bill is now considered fully vaccinated and I will be by the time we check in, I don’t expect we’ll have to take COVID-19 tests. I have yet to actually be tested for COVID, because I have spent most of the pandemic holed up in our house.
It’s been a long, monotonous stretch since last October, which was when we had our last trip. That was when we picked up Noyzi, the Kosovar wonder dog. I look forward to interacting with people again. I think it will help Bill and me a whole lot. Bill needs a vacation. He’s been working non-stop, as have all of his co-workers. So this planned trip to Heidelberg will be a welcome taste of freedom, and it will give Noyzi the chance to try out the Tierpension. The next trip after Heidelberg will probably be to Stuttgart, so we can see the dentist.
Bill and I have visited Heidelberg before, back in October 2008, when we lived in Stuttgart the first time. In those days, there was still a functioning Army post there. We had several friends who were posted there. After we left in 2009, two more of Bill’s former co-workers moved to Heidelberg. I think they both left when it came time to move their offices up to Wiesbaden in anticipation of Heidelberg’s closure in 2013. It will be interesting to check out the city without the Army flavor that existed there for decades. It really is a nice place, and I look forward to relaxing, eating good food, and taking lots of new pictures.
This morning on our walk, I went the “old” way, rather than the new route we’ve been doing. It’s a slightly shorter route to go the old way, but it doesn’t really change where we go much. I just wanted to avoid disturbing a hardworking farmer who was tending his field on the newer route. I’m glad we went the old way, because we were treated to sounds of a neighing horse. There have been a few times we’ve walked on our route and run into a lady with a couple of bay mares she hitches to a wagon. I think she might actually have a barn for her mares on our walking route and puts them out to pasture in one of the fields nearby. Sometimes, when we’re walking through there, I can smell the heavenly scent of horses, but today was the first time I actually heard one neighing.
And we were also visited by a special feathered friend…
It’s not that uncommon to see these birds in Europe. I have seen them a lot in Alsace, but also down near the Swiss/German border. I have never seen a stork in Breckenheim, but obviously they exist. I didn’t see a nest anywhere, and stork’s nests are pretty easy to spot. Wonder where this bird flew in from…
Wiesbaden is already notable because there are wild parakeets/parrots here. Sometimes people who don’t know about them spot them in trees and think someone’s pet got loose. I haven’t seen any of the special birds yet, but maybe I will before we leave here someday. Below is a video someone posted of the parakeets copulating.
Well… just a week before I can bring this blog back to its original function of being a “travel” blog. Looking forward to it! And on the occasion of our planned trip to the next state, here’s a plucky song about Heidelberg a German friend shared with me today.
Now… off to go turn off the lawnmower, have some lunch, and take a nap.
As I have mentioned more than once in my main blog, 2020 has been a hell of a year for a lot of people. Between us, Bill and I have lost three loved ones in less than two months. I lost a cousin and a different cousin’s spouse. Bill lost his father. My cousin and Bill’s dad both died in November. Last night, we found out that we also lost a good friend in a guy we have been calling the “Mad Scientist” since 2008.
I found out about the Mad Scientist’s death by chance last night, as I was looking up his Greek restaurant, Agais, in Entringen, Baden-Württemberg, a place where Bill and I enjoyed many meals and lots of wine. It was where I tried retsina for the first time, and learned to enjoy t’zatziki, a yogurt and cucumber sauce much beloved by anyone who enjoys Greek food. It was also where I learned the Greek word “γιαμας” (pronounced “giamas”), which is roughly equivalent to the English expression, “cheers”.
I became a late convert to Greek cuisine, having tasted it for the first time in Vaihingen (a part of Stuttgart near Patch Barracks) at a little place called Taverna Faros. Taverna Faros had wonderful food, and we ate there a bunch of times during our first six weeks in Germany back in 2007. At the time, we were living in the Vaihinger Hof, a rather crappy but cheap hotel located in Vaihingen, which, over the years, has hosted many people moving to Stuttgart. I’m not sure the Vaihinger Hof is still open these days, since Air BnB has provided alternatives to living in hotels. But we were there for six weeks, and got very familiar with the restaurants in Vaihingen, since there were no kitchen facilities at the Vaihinger Hof.
Taverna Faros was where I tried dorade and gyros for the first time. Unfortunately, the proprietor was rather abruptly forced to shut down because he allegedly didn’t pay his taxes. The place where Taverna Faros once was is now known as The Auld Rogue. It’s a very popular Irish pub, and if you explore this blog, you’ll see that Bill and I visited there many times when we lived near Stuttgart from 2014-2018. Every time I went in there, I remembered that it was once a Greek place, and later became a disco, which we never visited.
Anyway, in the fall of 2007, after six weeks in the rather dirty but lovingly staffed hotel, we finally found a house in a little town called Pfäffingen. It was just a few miles west of the great city, Tübingen. Agais is located in a little village called Entringen, which we frequently drove through on our way to the military installations in the Stuttgart area. It was about 2 kilometers north of Pfäffingen.
Since I had recently discovered a love for Greek food, I told Bill I wanted to try Agais. We kept passing it every time we had to go to Patch or Panzer Barracks, and I was very curious about the food. So one night, we stopped in for dinner. It was probably in 2008, since we moved to our house in November 2007 and it took us awhile to get acquainted with the area. I remember when we walked in, there was no one there. But then a smiling Greek guy with wild, curly dark hair appeared.
At first, he thought I was Greek. If you were to see me in person, you might be as baffled as I was by that. I’m short, blonde, and very buxom, with blue eyes. Personally, I think I look very Celtic, which stands to reason, since my people were mostly from the British Isles. But the Mad Scientist initially spoke Greek to me. When I reacted with a baffled expression, he realized we are Americans and switched to English. He welcomed us heartily, and we sat down at what would become our usual booth (the only one in his restaurant, actually). He turned on Greek music– from Zorba the Greek. The walls, painted white and bright blue, were covered with personal mementos.
I remember after enjoying our first nice meal at Agais, I told the proprietor that I thought we’d be regulars. He said, “I think you should.” When we got home that night, Bill said the guy reminded him of a “Mad Scientist”. So that’s what we’ve called him ever since. His wife, Renate, is German and cooks the food.
Of course, the Mad Scientist had a name. I think he went by the name John in Germany, but I found out last night his real name was Ioannis. He was born December 27, 1938 and died on November 9, 2020, just one day after we lost Bill’s dad. I don’t know what ended John’s life, but in recent years, I did notice that he was not as vibrant as he once was. I don’t know for certain, but I suspected that he might have had a stroke during the five years we were out of Germany. I say this because when we first met him in 2008, he spoke perfect English. When we saw him again for the first time, back in 2014, he struggled to speak English and, in fact, may have even had some trouble with German, which he’d also previously spoken perfectly.
During our first two years in Germany, we stopped by Agais many times. We also brought visitors there. Those first couple of years, John was quite healthy. He told us that he used to work in Canada as an engineer. He moved there with his first wife, whom I think was Greek. Their marriage broke up, so he married a German woman, who brought him to Germany to live. That marriage broke up, and he married another German woman, the one we know as Renate. They had a son who, during our first tour, was attending the university in Tübingen. Sometimes, we’d see him in the restaurant, helping out. He looked a lot like his dad, complete with the wild, curly black hair.
Although I’ve had Greek food I’ve liked better, Bill and I loved to visit Agais because we could always count on an entertaining evening. John loved to chat about all subjects, and we’d talk about everything from American politics to Greek/Turkish relations. He learned how we liked our food, and we could always count on getting pistachio nuts and candy at the end of the meal, as well as ouzo. John was also famous for giving out eucalyptus drops, which will clear out your sinuses and are great to have around whenever you’re sick with a cold or the flu. I carried them around in my purse for years after we moved the first time.
In 2009, we had to leave Germany a year earlier than we expected. We never got the chance to say goodbye to John and his wife. I always regretted that, since they’d shown us such a good time when we were in Germany the first time. The five years we were back in the States, I thought about them a lot.
Just before we moved, they had opened up a “vacation apartment”. It still operates today. I remember on one of the last visits we had before we moved “home”, we happened to dine there at the same time John and his wife were hosting several obnoxious German couples. I wrote about that incident when it happened and the story can be found on this blog. The short version is, these couples were staying in Entringen and had been dining at Agais all week. They had sort of taken over John’s restaurant, dictating which music he should play, and running him ragged. I noticed they were casting derisive looks at Bill and me.
I understood much less German then than I do now, but I could tell at least one of them was making fun of us. And we also heard them disparaging the Swiss. When they finally left, John asked us if we understood what they were saying. Bill said we hadn’t. Chuckling wickedly, John said, “Those people have been here all week for marriage counseling. They’re here in a last ditch effort not to get divorced!” Apparently, there is or was a marriage counselor in Entringen of some renown, and the annoying jerks at the table near us were there to receive services.
When Barack Obama got elected, I remember John was excited. He said he was glad to see a black man in the White House. Then he added, “But I think he might get shot.” We were shocked at the time, but given the fact that John was an older man who had lived through the Kennedy administration and watched America from afar, I could kind of see where he might have gotten that impression. Fortunately, Mr. Obama survived his time as our president.
In September 2014, Bill and I finally visited our old friend again. We walked into his restaurant, and it was unusually busy. His wife saw us and recognized us immediately, giving us a huge grin and a welcome. It took John a couple of minutes, but then his eyes widened and he smiled and said, “You are back in Germany!” It was at about that time that we realized that he was not the same man he was in 2009. But we made a point of visiting him occasionally when we were living in Jettingen, which was probably a 15-20 minute drive from where he was.
I wish we’d had a chance to see him once more before we left the Stuttgart area about two years ago. I would have liked to have been able to say goodbye. Unfortunately, we never got around to it. The last time we saw him was in September 2018. I noticed that over the years, the portion sizes were smaller and the prices were a bit higher. And he’d stopped handing out pistachios. I don’t think it was necessarily because he was trying to be stingy. I think business had gotten rough for him, especially after he got sick (and he did confirm that he was sick for awhile). But his English did improve, even if it wasn’t as fluent as it once was. And we still loved to visit his restaurant, remember old times, and make new memories.
It looks like his wife is carrying on with the restaurant and apartment, although Germany is now back in lockdown mode until at least next month. On their Web site, it says they’re doing some renovation work. I hope she can keep the place going during these tough times.
Agais is the one place that bridged our two stints near Stuttgart. It’s the one constant of both time periods, a place where we were always warmly welcomed. A lot of the restaurants we used to love to visit during our first stint went defunct long ago, but not Agais. And we could always count on John and Renate to show us a nice time. I will always remember the “Mad Scientist” fondly. He was a very good man.
When I was planning our trip, I knew we were going to visit Italy. Bill and I both love Italy, and it had been way too long since our last visit over Labor Day weekend in September 2018. I remembered visiting Bolzano on a day trip I took on our last business trip to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, back in 2009. I thought it was a nice city. So I started looking for places around there to go… and my German friend suggested Merano, which isn’t too far from Bolzano. But I wanted somewhere outside of the city– somewhere that was likely to be cooler and prettier. When we finally settled on Parcines, I looked for places to stop on the way there and back.
Bill and I went to Lermoos, Austria in September 2015, when we did our much heralded “Beer and Fucking Tour” (Fucking is a place in Austria, as is Fuckersberg– we visited both on that trip, as well as two beer spas). I knew I liked that part of Austria, but I wanted to go somewhere different. I ended up choosing Hotel Kristall in Leutasch, mainly because I got pretty fatigued trying to look through all of the hotel choices. What I didn’t know is that Leutasch is very close to Seefeld, Austria, which is another place we visited back in December 2015. I’m glad I didn’t realize it until after I booked because I would have probably chosen another place. That would have been a shame, because Leutasch turned out to be a great choice for us.
I didn’t know it when I booked, but Leutasch is home to a very beautiful and supposedly haunted gorge. There’s a very secure path that allows visitors to see the gorge and even walk into Germany if they have the stamina. Leutasch is literally just over the border in Austria, but it definitely feels different there. The gorge is a great activity for kids and there’s no admission charged. All you have to do is pay five euros for parking if you visit from the Austrian side. If you visit from Mittenwald, on the German side, you park in a public area and can pay three euros to see the waterfall (well worth the money and the short walk), or you can skip the waterfall and walk up the steep path that takes you to the Austrian gorge walk and the panorama bridge. All along the path are fun activities for children, although the signs are in German. The gorge turned out to be the highlight of our time in Leutasch.
But– I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to write about our journey to Austria, which started on Friday, August 7th. We dropped off Arran at the Birkenhof Tierpension, and headed south, which took us through our familiar former stomping grounds near Stuttgart. It was just as full of traffic as ever, although we did notice that some of the road work we thought would never be finished was finally done. We stopped at a truck stop near Kirchheim Unter Teck. It had a KFC, which we thought we’d like better than McDonald’s or Burger King (seriously, these are pretty much your options in Germany, unless you want schnitzel). That particular truck stop also had a regular German restaurant, though, so we decided to eat there instead of dining with “the Colonel”.
The waitress seemed surprisingly calm about masking. She wasn’t wearing a mask and actually asked us to remove ours so she could understand our orders. Then, while we were waiting, we filled out the contract tracing forms now required in Germany. It was nice to be in Baden-Württemberg again. It still feels kind of like home, even though it’s not ours anymore.
After lunch, we got back on the road. I happened to be experiencing the last death throes of August’s visit from Aunt Flow, which made the journey somewhat less comfortable than it could have been. But we were in beautiful Austria before we knew it. And boy is it BEAUTIFUL there! The scenery is just insane. I kept craning my body to take pictures of the magnificent Alps, limestone colored streams, and green meadows.
It was about 4:00pm when we reached our hotel. I was in dire need of a shower, thanks to Aunt Flow’s death throes and the heat of the afternoon. I was feeling rather cranky and irritable as Bill parked the car in the free lot outside of the hotel’s entrance. But then, as we approached, I noticed two awesome things. First, there was a table outside with a bottle of housemade Schnapps and shot glasses and hand disinfectant. And second, no one was wearing face masks except for the people running the hotel.
Austria has so far had very few COVID-19 cases, particularly in the Tyrol region, so the rules there are pretty relaxed. I know a lot of people will disagree that anyone should be without a face mask right now, but personally I thought it was great. We checked in, and were assigned room 36, which is a junior suite.
Our rate, which I prepaid, came with half board. We got breakfast and dinner included. I actually liked the food at Hotel Kristall. They did have interesting rules for the buffet, though. No masks were required, but everyone had to don disposable rubber gloves. After we checked in, I took a shower, and by then it was about time for dinner.
I noticed the people sitting next to us giving us curious side-eyed looks. I’m sure they realized we’re Americans and most Americans aren’t currently welcome to travel to Europe at the moment. However, if you’re American and live in Europe, it’s okay… A lot of people figured we were Dutch, since Dutch people will often speak English in countries where they can’t speak Dutch.
Anyway, I mostly enjoyed the food at Hotel Kristall, although being American in Europe when Americans aren’t supposed to be in Europe was a little stressful. But the service at the family run Hotel Kristall was friendly, professional, and welcoming. And I genuinely felt like the people working there enjoyed their jobs. That made for a very pleasant stay.
Sunday morning, we got up, had breakfast, and started loading up the car. Bill was sidelined for about twenty minutes because he misplaced his car keys. I had to laugh at that, because one Christmas, he got me “Tiles”, which are little things you can put on your stuff that make them easier to find when you misplace them. They beep when you clap your hands or something. However, I notice that I’m a lot less likely to misplace things than Bill is. I don’t think I’ve ever bothered putting the Tiles on my stuff because my stuff is always in my gargantuan sized purse. Bill, on the other hand, is constantly losing shit. Incidentally, I found the keys under a dish towel by the sink. Bill had put them there while he was washing the dishes.
I kind of shooed Bill to the car and he complained that we were going to be early for our 11:30 appointment. I told him I didn’t care and we could drive around the area if we were too early. Off we went to a town called Breckenheim, which is a borough of Wiesbaden. Sounds fancy, right? Well, it appeared to be kind of fancy, although it was very congested, just like most of the other towns we looked at. Even the ultra modern house was on a busy corner with a lot of traffic, although at least the street wasn’t packed with cars.
We found the little private drive where the house was located. It was crowded with parked cars. It appeared that there were a bunch of people at the little school on the road, so this might not be a constant condition of the street. On the other hand, it probably is always that crowded. It seems to be a familiar state in the areas near Wiesbaden.
We were about twenty minutes early, so Bill parked the car. We were just going to wait, but the prospective landlord spotted us and welcomed us to tour the house. We left the dogs in the car and they were very good, for once. They didn’t make a peep. I almost went to the landlords’ house, which is located next door. Ordinarily, having the landlords next door would be a huge red flag, but we were running out of time and options. Neither of us has any desire to go back up to Wiesbaden for more house hunting.
We walked inside and I noticed that the layout was very normal. The house was clean and has no carpeting or nightmarish tiles on the floors or walls. It has a really cute kitchen that is at least twice as big as the tiny one we’ve been enduring for four years. There is no dorm sized refrigerator in the kitchen that doubles for counter space. Instead, there’s a normal sized fridge with a small freezer. We already have a standing freezer and a small fridge, so that’s no problem. I’ll probably finally get my “fridge of sin” back for beer and wine.
There’s a living room with a charming fireplace. The bottom floor appears to be a mother-in-law apartment/hobby room. The house has a nice laundry room with a vent for my dryer. Most of the other places we saw would require condensation dryers, which I’ve heard are a real pain in the ass and take forever to get the job done.
The floors were just redone and look nice and, most importantly, the house can accommodate our furniture. There’s a dining room for my Eckbank Gruppe and the two bedrooms on the second floor have a shared balcony and sloped ceilings, but they’re big enough to take the king sized beds, or we can put one bed in the downstairs area, where there’s another shower, and use one of the bedrooms for office space. There’s also another room that has a balcony and can be used as an office. I noticed the house has curtain rods, so I can easily hang my drapes.
The bathroom has a rainfall shower and a tub… and most importantly to me, the toilet was recently replaced with a modern version that will probably be able to handle any toilet paper I throw at it.
The backyard is small, but it has a high, secure fence. Finally, we can sit outside with the dogs and not have to worry about them escaping. Also… there was no awning to be found or broken. Instead, it appears that the terrace has a roof. There’s a garage and small parking spot for my Mini and another parking spot right in front of the house. Tanja, the real estate lady showed up on time, just as we were finishing our walk through of the house.
When I asked the real estate lady about the landlords living next door, she immediately realized my angst. But she said they’re laid back… and I did notice that not only did they allow the previous tenant to put up a fence and remove some of the doors from downstairs, but the previous person lived there for seven years. That tells me he or she must have been relatively happy there. I don’t love the idea of living next to the landlords, but who knows? They might turn out to be people who can appreciate or at least tolerate my odd sense of humor and lack of cleaning related OCD. I did notice that the husband has a sense of humor, which is always a good thing. Like our very first German landlord, the owner of this house also worked at IBM in Böblingen at one time. He understood why Bill and I are being forced to move, because the same thing had happened to him.
Bill was fretting about the price of the house, which is by far more than we’ve ever paid for housing anywhere. It’s 3100 euros plus “other costs”. It comes out to over $4000 a month. But… Bill is going to get a small bump in his housing allowance, and we’re mostly debt free now. Bill heard a rumor that pretty soon, the company he works for will only offer the money for actual rent instead of a lump sum, which would defeat the purpose of finding a house that costs less than what he’s paid. And while I would have liked to have found something less expensive in a less busy neighborhood, Bill will get to enjoy a very short commute of less than ten minutes. That has never happened in our sixteen years of marriage. He’s always had to sit in traffic. Maybe he’ll save money on gas.
Speaking of traffic, there was slightly less of it as we made our way home. We did encounter one traffic accident, so we detoured through some cute towns near Pforzheim and Karlsruhe. I was thinking about how much I am going to miss BW. As pretty as Mainz and Wiesbaden are, I enjoy Baden-Württemberg’s country charm. I won’t be surprised if we wind up living here again at some point.
Anyway, after a few hours of hemming, hawing, adding and subtracting, Bill finally realized that we can afford the house. He didn’t need to tell me that, since I knew we could. He just didn’t want to spend so much, for which I really can’t blame him. He sent a note to Tanja, the real estate agent, who immediately got back to the owners. They said they’d love to have us, so now we have a home right next to theirs. Wish us luck.
The simple fact is, free standing houses are apparently in short supply in Wiesbaden. Most people are paying a lot for apartments and duplexes. I saw more than one apartment offered at over 3000 euros a month and plenty of duplexes were going for at least 2500 euros or more. The house we toured yesterday had almost everything we needed and a lot of what we wanted. Although I will definitely miss living in dog heaven and the beautiful views we’ve enjoyed in Unterjettingen, I think this house in Breckenheim will be alright. I don’t know how long we’ll live in Wiesbaden, but it’s good to know we’ve found a place to hang our hats. And a bonus is that the new house is within walking distance of a grocery store, bar, bus stop, and bakery. So if I get depressed, it’ll be easy to drown my sorrows.
But I will admit, I’m going to miss the best part of living in Unterjettingen, pictured below…
Sigh… I will truly miss this.
I will also add that in spite of all my bitching about this house in Unterjettingen, this process of looking for a new house in Germany has taught me that we were lucky to find our current place. Not only was it very reasonably priced, it also accommodated our bulky American furniture without too much trouble. Although we were also lucky during our first Germany tour, I am now realizing that finding German houses that work with American tastes can be difficult. And finding really affordable houses that also work with American furniture can be almost impossible. So thanks very much to our current landlords for that.
We should be getting the contract sometime today. If everything checks out, we’ll officially have our new home and will probably already be in residence as soon as a month from today.