Champagne Bucket trips

Onward into Czechia… part four of our 2023 Czech tour!

At last, we arrived at the day I’d been eagerly anticipating, Tuesday, October 3rd. One of the reasons we decided to visit the Czech Republic is because October 3rd isn’t a holiday there. German holidays are great if you’re German, because you get a day off work. But if you’re not German, it usually means a lot of things are closed. Our hotel was closed, after all. They said it was due to a lack of staff, and I believe that’s true. But I also think it was because of German Unity Day, which is, of course, a big deal and should be celebrated.

I’m old enough to remember when there were two Germanys. I even wrote about East and West Germany when I was in the sixth grade, having been shocked to find out that the country was then divided. What can I say? We had no Internet in those days, so I spent a lot of time playing outside instead of surfing the Web, learning new things about the world. I don’t know that today’s kids have it better than we did in the 1980s, but they sure do seem to be more articulate and world savvy.

Of course, forty years ago, when I was eleven years old, I had no way of knowing that in just six years, the Berlin Wall would start to crumble. Bill was actually in Germany when it happened, and every time we go to the Czech Republic, he tells me at least once about how he used to guard the German border and mess with the sometimes female Czech border guards. 😉

We packed up our bags, enjoyed the leftover croissants and juice, and Bill got some cappuccinos to go from the bakery. Once we were all set, we loaded up the car and dropped the room key in the mailbox, where the proprietors had told us to leave it. I was kind of glad to be on the way to Czechia, although overall, we enjoyed Hotel La Casa. The people who run the hotel are very nice. I hope they get some new colleagues soon, so they can get back to being fully functioning.

Our drive to Cesky Krumlov would take several fun filled hours. I can’t say that the drive was particularly exciting, although it was quite pretty in some areas. Bill and I are pretty familiar with the German part of the drive, since the beginning of it is the same way one would go to Austria, Slovenia, Italy, or other points southeast from Stuttgart. We broke up the trip by stopping at a pretty awesome truck stop, where I had a really delicious chicken burger and Bill had a Pfännle, which is hard to describe. Luckily, I have photos.

After lunch, we were back on the Autobahn. We had no need to stop at a Rastplatz, because Bill had gotten an electronic “vignette” for the car. This is a cool new thing the Czechs are doing, making it possible to pay to use their highways without having to put stickers on the car. I hope the rest of Europe follows suit. He had pre-paid for the electronic vignette to last for our full time in Czechia– about a week or so.

The countryside on the way to Cesky Krumlov was as beautiful as I remembered it, as the roads were as loaded with potholes. There’s a definite drop off in road quality as one exits Germany. Here in Germany, we have constant road construction projects, but very few shitty roads. In Czechia, it seemed the opposite was true. Our route took us through some scenic areas, albeit with a few aggressive drivers on our tail. Below are some photos I took of the landscape as we headed east toward our destination.

I had pretty vague memories of Cesky Krumlov, as the last time we were there was on my birthday in 2008. It happened to be during their Five Petalled Rose Festival, and everyone was dressed in medieval garb. They had medieval games, too. I seem to remember we parked in a dirt lot near the town after visiting the old town of nearby Cesky Budjovice, where Czech Bud is made. I remember climbing the castle tower, seeing the bears, and noticing how pretty the town was.

Arriving there in 2023 was surprising, as they had parking lots designed for tourists and busses. We had booked two nights at the delightful Monastery Garden, a small lodge near the castle gate. The manager had helpfully sent me instructions on where to park and how to find the place. Unfortunately, we had a lot of trouble finding “P2”, the parking area where we were instructed to park. We finally ended up parking at the bus station and walking into the town to find the Monastery Garden, which we did after about twenty or thirty minutes of searching. Below are a few first looks of the beautiful town of Cesky Krumlov.

As we were checking in, Bill realized that one of his colleagues was also there. They had just spent a week working together in Bavaria. She had her aunt, uncle, and mom with her, and I got the sense that maybe she was delighted to see us. Bill called her by name as I went to get us checked in by the very friendly and English speaking receptionist.

Cesky Krumlov is a very charming medieval town, recognized by UNESCO. Very limited driving is allowed in the town, and you have to pay a fee to legally do so, even just to drop off luggage. Bill paid for the permit to drive into the town, but ended up just parking in P2, once he found it, and trucking in our luggage. Poor guy. He’s such a mensch.

Monastery Garden in Cesky Krumlov is a wonderful place to stay.

We booked Room 6, which was one of their “Signature Suites”. It was a very large room, beautifully decorated, with a very cool looking armoire with a door that opened into the bathroom. The bathroom had a clawfoot tub, with a handheld shower sprayer. The place also had an “honesty bar” in the lobby, where guests could help themselves to food and beverages and just report what they had the next day. The lobby is also where they serve their incredible breakfasts that are as beautifully presented as they are delicious. Below are some photos from Room 6.

After we settled in, we started trying to plug in our various electronics. This was when we realized that using a typical adapter doesn’t work in the Czech Republic. Every outlet has a metal post that sticks up. Fortunately, I have a bunch of electronics with European specs, making it possible for Bill to connect his phone and get charged via my laptop computer. The whole time we were traveling, he kept saying he wanted to stop in an electronics store and find a new adapter. He never did, though.

Finally, once we got the electronics sorted, we headed out in search of dinner. I believe this might have been the only night. we went to a restaurant for dinner, which surprised me. I guess we’re just getting old. In the evenings, we were usually not hungry and too tired to go out for an evening repast. So we’d watch TV, drink wine, and eat snacks. It probably saved us money and calories, to some extent.

The place we visited was called Papa’s, and it served very typical heavy Czech fare. I had a duck leg with gravy and heavy dumplings. Bill had pork with a mustard sauce and dumplings. We both had beer. The food was pretty filling. I can never eat more than one dumpling, at most, but they usually give you at least two. I think there were four on the dishes we ordered! We were too full to consider having dessert, so after we ate, we walked around a bit more and stopped at a bar called Apotheka, which used to be an apothecary (druggist). There, we had several interesting designer cocktails. It was a nice way to cap off the evening, even if we did drop quite a few Czech crowns there.

One of the cocktails I ordered…

When we got back to where we were staying, Bill’s colleague and family members were at the big breakfast table playing cards. We stopped to chat with them for a few minutes, but I got the sense we were crashing a private party from the older folk. Bill’s colleague, by contrast, seemed eager to chat with us some more. I can’t say I blame her! As much as I love my family, the idea of traveling with them makes me a bit weak in the knees. I might do okay with my mom, if she was more up to traveling. She’s pretty low maintenance.

Anyway, aside from a rather adventurous “shower” in the fancy bathtub, everything was in order for our night’s slumber. We went to bed and rested up for our big, active day in Cesky Krumlov.

More on that in the next post!


And a few more photos from the bar area in our hotel…

We’re staying in a “design hotel”, so naturally, things are designer here. We decided to skip dinner and just have drinks. You can get some very good cocktails at Nobis Hotel, for a hefty price…

The bartender was a bit negligent at first, but he woke up when he caught a look from Bill. He was an excellent barkeep and made great drinks, but he was doing a lot of bullshitting with the three ladies at the bar. He seems pretty young, though, so I guess he’ll grow up. 😉

That was basically our dinner, since we had a big lunch. Tomorrow’s lunch will probably be on the Splendor! We leave the hotel promptly at 11:00 AM.


Arran is everywhere…

We had good weather yesterday, so Bill and I decided to go to Wiesbaden for lunch. I had a few places in mind where I’d like to go, but they were all pretty crowded. We ended up at Scotch N’ Soda, which is an Irish pub that is popular with the American community in Wiesbaden. In retrospect, I realize there’s another Irish pub near there that we have never visited. Maybe we should have gone there… but we were destined to go to the place we knew from prior visits.

One reason we like Scotch N’ Soda, besides the fact that they have a lot of scotches, is that they don’t take a midday pause. We have a tendency to get started late on the weekends, especially on Saturdays. But as it turned out, we were well within the bounds of the lunch hours when we arrived. A lot of people were sitting outside, because it was relatively warm and sunny. We went inside, where there were several tables available.

Bill ordered us a round of beers, and I looked up and noticed a reminder of Arran… We have twice been to the distillery that makes Arran Malt whisky, and it’s a good product. We didn’t have any yesterday, but it was a reminder that our dog, Arran, will always be popping up in unexpected places.

Arran’s memory lingers.

Lots of people were watching rugby on the televisions while Bill and I enjoyed comfort food. He had cottage pie, and I had fish ‘n chips with mushy peas. I actually got the small portion (one piece of fish)– they also offer medium and large. I couldn’t finish it. In fact, we didn’t even eat dinner last night. Say what you want about British and Irish food, it does stick to the ribs!

Before we got to Scotch N’ Soda, we walked around Wiesbaden a bit. I noticed something I’d never seen before. There’s a really cool city model near the main drag. Four years, we’ve been living here, and we never saw it before yesterday.

This was constructed in 2010 and even has Braille translation. I’m always struck by how pretty the city of Wiesbaden is. It’s so graceful and genteel, compared to Stuttgart.

And no visit to Wiesbaden would be complete without a photo of the Evangelical Market Church in downtown Wiesbaden. It is such an imposing and beautiful structure. Every time I see it, it takes my breath away.

To see this huge, majestic church in person is an experience. It always makes me feel small and insignificant. Maybe that’s the point… to remind Christians of the vastness of God. I’m not particularly religious, but I can appreciate that sentiment.

Well, it’s our first weekend without Arran… and we do miss him. This is the first time since 2002 that we haven’t had a beagle in the family. Noyzi is a wonderful dog and we love him very much, but he’s definitely different on many levels. It’s hard to get used to not having a warm doggy body on the bed with us. Noyzi probably would oblige, but he’s really too big to share the bed, even though it’s a king.

On the other hand, there are some things about Arran I won’t miss… like the fact that he was never 100 percent housetrained. He was good about 90 percent of the time, but we had to watch him, especially at night or in the early morning. Sometimes he had a habit of relieving himself on my rugs, rather than telling us he needed to go outside.

On Friday morning, Arran actually DID alert me, even though he could barely walk, and he did his business outside. But as recently as a couple of weeks ago, I found a big wet spot in his favorite place. Noyzi, on the other hand, almost never goes potty in the house. He’s always been like that, even when we first got him. It’s a definite plus!

I don’t know if or when we’ll get another beagle. We do love them… but they can be rascals, and they require a lot of diligence to make sure they don’t get into trouble. On the other hand, they’re cute, snuggly, friendly, and hilarious. And they’re also not quite as common in Germany as they are in the southern United States. I have noticed they’re much more popular here now than they used to be, though.

I suspect our next dog could be another Eastern European or Balkan immigrant… and smaller than Noyzi is. We shall see. For now, I think we’re going to enjoy having a little more freedom. It’s time to start planning a vacation. I definitely need one, and this blog needs some fresh material. So stay tuned for that.


Baiersbronn in the Black Forest– Bareiss Style! Part seven

Ah Sunday… our last full day at the luxurious Hotel Bareiss in Baiersbronn. Once again, I wondered if we might be able to venture to the waterfalls. Once again, I was disappointed by wind, rain, and the occasional teasing from the sun. Oh well. Now we have a reason to come back to Baiersbronn, or some other fancy resort in the area.

So what did we do on our last day? That was another pool day for us, and since I’ve already posted my pool photos in part four, I don’t have much to write about that, other than we discovered that the Bareiss has a really cool swimsuit dryer that wrings the water out of your bathing suit in eight seconds flat. I hadn’t noticed it during our first visit. Also, this was the day that I saw the nude lady in the jacuzzi, informing me that the sauna and steam room area at Hotel Bareiss is obviously clothing optional. I didn’t see any signs about that, although it’s well known in Germany that you don’t sit in a sauna or steam room while wearing a swimsuit. You will be properly bitched out for it, if you do!

Bill and I weren’t really interested in the saunas or steam rooms, anyway. After a few more turns in the indoor and outdoor saltwater pools, we just enjoyed the awesome outdoor hot tub in the sauna area, which we had all to ourselves. The sauna world also had a Kneipp walk pool, an icy cold plunge pool, foot baths, and an exit to the outside, where I assume one could walk around au naturale if they wanted to. I’ve heard being nude in public isn’t necessarily illegal in Germany, although it certainly would be noticed and frowned upon. But I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong. 😉

After we came back from the pool area, we decided to walk into town and have lunch at a restaurant at Hotel Lamm, another lodging facility located across the street from Hotel Bareiss. Hotel Lamm isn’t as fancy as Hotel Bareiss is, but it does have a pretty nice restaurant. As we were walking in, we noticed a large group of young folks in Trachten– traditional German clothing– and they were obviously headed to the Volksfest in Stuttgart. Or maybe they were going somewhere else, but they sure looked like they were going to party, and they could get the train and enjoy themselves safely.

The restaurant at Hotel Lamm is called Wipfel (Treetop), and it is staffed by young folks dressed in traditional Trachten. Our waitress switched to English as soon as she heard us speak, then apologized for not having a menu in English. It was okay, as we both speak German restaurant lingo pretty well.

I was still perturbed about the unpleasant reactions to my trout dish on Saturday, so I ordered another one! That one didn’t attract as much attention. Bill had beef with horseradish sauce. We shared a bottle of locally produced Riesling, a bottle of mineral water, and more farmer’s bread. I was impressed by the Wipfel, and the hotel itself looked nice. I’m sure it is a hell of a lot less expensive to stay there, too!

We walked around Baiersbronn a bit after a late lunch, then walked back to the Bareiss, gawking at all the Porsches, Mercedes, BMWs, Teslas and Volvos… I never thought we’d stay in such a place. When we married 20 years ago, we never went anywhere for fun, because we were broke. It wasn’t until we were married 3 years before we finally went on a trip that didn’t involve staying with family. We’ve come a long way.

Dinner at Bareiss on Sunday night was a more casual affair. I didn’t visit the buffet, but I believe vegetables was the theme. As it was, I just had one course from the menu, a filet mignon with roasted potatoes, and dessert. I wanted to try another steak, and was pleased that this time, the temperature was right. I also loved the dessert, which was a pistachio parfait.

Because it was our last night, and because I was thinking of Arran, who was named after a Scottish island in the Hebrides, Bill and I visited the bar one last time. I drank a couple of drams of whisky, while Bill had a cocktail and a wee dram of scotch. I was glad to see they had Glen Scotia from Campbeltown, but they didn’t have any Springbank!

The bartender, who had been a little aloof, was genuinely kind when we said we were going home. It was nice to hang out in her bar for a few days. But going home is better for the wallet! And, to be honest, as much as I enjoyed our visit, I was ready to come home. I think long trips are kind of hard for us, especially when things are structured, as they tend to be in resorts. I don’t know if or when we’ll be back to the Schwarzwald “on holiday”, but I would love to find a really nice self-catering house with great views of the mountains and the freedom to try different places for dinner.

On the other hand, of course I would also love to go to the Bareiss again. Stay tuned for part eight, which will close out this series.


Baiersbronn in the Black Forest– Bareiss Style! Part five

Friday night is a bit of a blur. Why? Because the moody weather outside made me want to drink beer. We went to the bar at 5:00pm so I could do that. I started with a pilsner, but then asked for a Hefeweizen, which they didn’t have on tap. When I was finished with those, it was time for dinner, and we met our new server. She was a lovely young woman who appeared to be very professional and seasoned.

Bareiss has its own professional academy, where its employees are trained. The young lady who had been our server on the first two nights was very personable and friendly, but she didn’t quite have the polish of our next waitress, who seemed to have a calmer disposition and slightly more poise. The difference was very noticeable. She must work more on weekends and holidays, when business is up. Her English was very good, and she was better at keeping up with pouring wine. Not an easy feat when I’m around. 😉

On Friday night, we also had company in our little section. The tables at Hotel Bareiss are grouped by twos, with barriers that kept them together. For our first two nights, no one was occupying the table next to ours. Friday night, an older couple appeared. According to their nametag on the table, they were both doctors. I looked them up, and see that they own a general practice in Ulm, and are joined by their daughter, who is also a physician, and another young male physician, who didn’t seem to be related.

The couple didn’t really talk to us much, except to say hello and goodbye. I noticed they were very sensible about their diets, but not totally health conscious. It dawned on me that this must have been a rare weekend of rest, as yesterday was German Reunification Day, so they had a long weekend.

Below are some photo from Friday night’s repast, which I believe was fish based. I see from the photos that I didn’t try every course.

After dinner, we went back to the bar and proceeded to try a bunch of cocktails, some of which were invented by the hotel staff. Let’s just say we really ran up a bill that evening, and put the bartenders through their paces. One of the barkeeps was a pretty young woman who reminded me of the actress, Shelley Long, in the 80s. She was cool and professional, but Bill must have tipped her well, because on our last night, she said she’d miss us. 😉 She probably says that to everybody, though.

One of many rounds!

There are live musicians that perform every night at Hotel Bareiss. I saw two– both were men who played the electric piano in the bar and were much better players than singers. But I did appreciate that the music they played in the bar was from the 70s and 80s instead of the 90s, which is what they played at Hotel Engel Obertal. 90s music reminds me of how old I am, while music from the 70s and 80s is just better overall, and reminds me of being a kid. And I especially appreciated that there weren’t any panpipes!

We staggered back to our room at about 11:30 pm, which is a late night for us. I somehow managed to drop my iPad in the crevice between the two beds, which put me in a temporary panic, until I finally found the right mode on Find My iPad and located the thing. Yep… Friday was a night of excess. That’s for sure! But we had a good time. It’s not very often that we get to enjoy bars anymore. And Bill likes cocktails, but rarely gets to have them, because he usually does the driving. So this was a nice treat for him.

I always admire bartenders who can keep their cool and keep the drinks flowing smoothly. Before it got too crowded, I asked the bartenders if they have to remember all of the drinks in their very extensive menu. They said that a lot of drinks are repeated, and if there’s one they don’t know, there’s an app for that. Okay, then! I did get to try some new cocktails, which was fun. But I don’t think I found any new favorites.

I liked the bartenders at the Hotel Bareiss, but I can think of ones I enjoyed more at other hotels. The Waldhotel in Stuttgart had an awesome bartender named Angelo who recently retired. And the Excelsior Hotel Ernst in Cologne also had a great bartender who made excellent suggestions, was very personable, and taught Bill a few tricks. He also complimented his taste. A good bartender is worth his or her weight in gold at a hotel! Those other hotels don’t have some of the wonderful amenities that Hotel Bareiss has, so I guess it’s an even split.


Turning 50 in Antwerp… part six

We woke to cloudy skies and cool temperatures on Sunday morning. My German friend told me that “back home” in Wiesbaden, the temperatures were pretty high. But in Belgium, I had to put on a pair of pants. I’m glad I thought to bring them. Bill was wishing he’d brought a long sleeved shirt or a light jacket.

Because of the inclement weather, we ate breakfast inside the hotel’s breakfast room, instead of outside in the courtyard. We deliberately ate less, even though we were paying 30 euros per person to have breakfast. I was hoping to enjoy lunch somewhere interesting.

After breakfast, I did some writing, and then Bill and I walked to the Scheldt River, where we explored Het Steen, a castle like structure that now houses the tourist office, but was once used as a gatehouse and a prison. Het Steen is Antwerp’s oldest building, and it’s been used as a saw mill, residence, and museum. Until 2008, it was the site of the National Maritime Museum. According to a sign outside of Het Steen, a “striking detail above the Steen Gate is the Semini statue, an ancient fertility statue. The Jesuits maimed the statue in the sixteenth century, hacking off the penis.” I have to admit, I didn’t notice that!

More loud guys singing, pedaling, and drinking.

After we walked around Het Steen, we walked along a boardwalk next to the Scheldt River, then made our way back into the Grote Markt. On the way there, we encountered a processional of religious folks, led by a brass band! I managed to get a video!

Religious parade!

By the time the parade passed us, it was about time for lunch, at which point we soon found ourselves sitting outside at a restaurant called Elfde Gebod (The Holy Place), which is billed as Antwerp’s oldest and most reviewed restaurant. This is one place where I would have liked to dine inside, as it was very cozy and cute, with tons of religious relics and angels. Alas, we sat outside, where I was downwind of a smoker. About five minutes, later, we were joined by a group of twelve young men who were pretty rowdy. Some of them were smoking, and most were drinking Australian Rose wine. I got the sense it was a “fraternity” thing.

Elfde Gebod had a pretty good selection of beers, as well as comfort food. I love comfort food, so it was my kind of menu, and I had some trouble deciding what to have for lunch. I ended up having Apostle Fish Stew, which was a very nice concoction made of cod, mussels, and shrimp, and it came with a side of mashed potatoes, which went very well with the stew. It was more of a chowder than a stew, to me… and it reminded me of what I found in Dublin a few years ago. I loved it. Must be all that Celtic heritage I have.

Bill had rabbit stew, which came with excellent frites and mayo. I didn’t try his stew, because even though I’ve had rabbit before and it “tastes like chicken”, I’m not trying to develop a taste for other kinds of meat. It’s bad enough that Bill introduced me to duck, which I love. I ventured inside the restaurant to use the facilities and was surprised by how interesting it was inside. If we ever get back to Antwerp, I would definitely try to dine inside Elfde Gebod. The decor is something special.

As we were eating lunch, the weather took a turn for the worse. It started to rain. The restaurant staff turned on heaters, which was very welcome! By the time we finished lunch, it was time to find somewhere else indoors. I said I was in the mood to find a bar, listen to good music, and drink some exotic suds.

Bill suggested a cozy bar called Billie’s Bier Kafétaria, which got great reviews on Google. That turned out to be a very successful stop. The bartender was a pretty young woman who knew her beers, and they were playing good music. In fact, I even downloaded an album as we were sitting there. I can see why Billie’s is a popular place. I would happily visit again, especially since the bar carries a lot of beers one will likely never find in Germany. I was particularly happy with the excellent Kriek (cherry beer) I had.

We didn’t feel like looking for dinner, so we stuck around Billie’s for a long time, and eventually ordered some snacks to tide us over through my very last night of being in my 40s. Then we went back to the hotel and turned on the TV… and it was TLC! We watched Dr. Pimple Popper, again in English with Dutch subtitles. Somehow, I didn’t throw up. I had forgotten how gross that show is!

Silliness at Billie’s! If you click the link, you can see the video.


My pandemic birthday… part two

At last, it was Friday. I was not wanting to pack a bag to go on our trip. I felt nervous, and it seemed like a waste of time and money to go anywhere. I even wrote about my apprehension on my main blog, which I will warn is a hell of a lot rawer, less positive, and more political than this blog is. Because I’ve been watching the news a lot, I got the sense that this trip would not be any fun. I had visions of people watching everyone else, giving them the side eye for any face mask infraction and maybe even engaging in shaming.

Having been called out by strangers on more than one occasion when we lived near Stuttgart, I figured things could easily get hostile in Hesse, even though it seems like Hessians are somewhat friendlier and less in your face than some of their southern brethren are. I’ve seen people get yelled at, for example, when they cross the street before the “green man” is showing. One time in 2007, when I was still very new to Germany, I mistakenly walked through a children’s playground with my dogs, and some lady yelled at me for that. I didn’t understand her German shouting and didn’t know it’s forbidden to walk dogs in playgrounds, so I got very upset.

I know it sounds silly… Some people would tell me to grow up. I will admit that I don’t like confrontations and I tend to get highly pissed off when people get in my face. It takes me a long time to get over it, too… I have a long memory and a tendency to hold grudges, which I know isn’t the best way to be. But that’s how I am. It’s a hang up from my childhood. I prefer to avoid situations that will be triggering, even though I know a lot of people would make fun of me for that. And I, in turn, will hold grudges against them for the ensuing trauma caused.

One of the reasons I felt inclined to stay home was that, at home, I don’t have to worry about dealing with other people. I can do what I want, eat when and what I want, and sit around in my nightgown. But that’s not healthy, nor is it necessarily the right thing to do to people who are trying to restart the economy. If everyone felt like I was feeling the other day, a lot of businesses would fail in a hurry. It’s kind of a duty to go out and spend money and see things… and I think that as much as some people complain about tourists, once this pandemic has reached its end, more people will appreciate tourists and the business they generate.

I grew up near Williamsburg, Virginia, and that is a very heavily populated tourist area. I used to do a lot of bitching about the tourists… but I also know that without the tourists, a lot of people would not have jobs. When I was younger, my own livelihood depended a lot on tourists. Tourism is also good for the soul, and it helps curb ignorant thinking. If you go out and see the world, you will open your mind.

So… with all of that in mind on Friday afternoon, Bill and I loaded up the Volvo with our overnight bags and headed off to Hofheim. Hofheim is a whopping twenty minutes away, and also where the famed Tierklink Hofheim is. Our former vet in Herrenberg said that is one of the best veterinary hospitals in all of Germany. Having taken Zane (RIP) there a couple of times, Bill and I concur. I remember when she told me about that clinic, I worried about how I would manage taking Zane there when we lived so far away. Now, we’re just a twenty minute drive from there, and the place where I turned 48 (gulp).

The Vital Hotel is located in a suburban area, with lots of hardware stores nearby. There’s an Aldi very close, although it’s separated from the hotel complex by a large field. I think it usually costs to park at the Therme, but when we left, the arm to the lot was open. Anyway, we were able to drive right into the parking lot, grab our bags, and approach the front desk. Everyone was wearing masks and there were signs like this one, reminding us to stand back.

These signs were everywhere, so you couldn’t forget.

We signed into the hotel. The receptionist took our contact information, since contact tracing is being done here. You tell hotels and restaurants your name and phone number and they keep track of the times when you are in an establishment. If a coronavirus case is detected and you’ve been exposed, they will contact you. If not, your information will be destroyed within four weeks. I know a lot of Americans don’t like this because they think it’s an invasion of privacy. Personally, I’m not bothered by it, because Germany has very strict privacy laws.

The “watch”… you get these at most water parks/Thermes in Germany. They’re very handy!

The receptionist handed us “watches” that served as our key to our room and allowed access to the Therme. Bill and I are familiar with the “watches”, since they are used at a lot of Thermes in Germany. They keep track of your time, allow you to access a locker in the changing rooms, and you can use them to pay for things so you don’t have to carry money in the Therme or the rest of the hotel. She also gave us hand sanitizer and a list of rules we had to follow because of the virus. Masks were compulsory in common areas, especially when it wasn’t possible to keep a distance. I think they also gave out disposable face masks to those who didn’t have them, but Bill and I didn’t need that. We were asked to tell the receptionist when we thought we’d want breakfast. I’m sure that was done to prevent too many people coming into the restaurant at once.

Bill booked a “deluxe” room, so we were assigned room 134. Here’s what it looked like:

The room was pretty clean, although the duvets looked a bit dingy. I was surprised it was a deluxe room, though. It seemed a bit small, and I thought the regular double sized rooms must be tiny. Bill said the difference between the double rooms and the deluxe rooms was a mere two square meters. They also have junior suites, but Bill wasn’t offered the choice to reserve one of those when he did an online booking.

Once we checked in and Bill brought everything in, I was still feeling anxious. In retrospect, we probably should have just hit the pools. Our room was right near the elevator that goes directly to the Therme and the Panorama Bar, which is on the third floor and slowly rotates so that patrons get views of the Taunus and Frankfurt city skyline. We had to take a different elevator to get to the room from the hotel. Getting to the room actually took some walking. The hotel isn’t tall, but it is kind of spread out. I get the sense, based on the construction of the Therme, that the Therme existed before the hotel did by a number of years. Consequently, they aren’t exactly seamlessly or conveniently constructed.

It wasn’t long until dinner time, and dinner was included in our rate. We went down at about 6:00 and were presented with the daily specials. The restaurant also offers a la carte items like steaks and burgers, as well as a kids’ menu. Here are some pictures of what we had in the restaurant, as well as the vending machines that were on the hall…

Cash is not being accepted at a lot of places. That’s kind of weird for Germany, which took a long time to get on the credit card bandwagon. The wine was not included in the half board plan, so Bill had to sign for that. Then we put on our masks and headed to the very cool Panorama Bar. I think that was probably my favorite thing about our weekend, despite the very loud Euro dance music. The bar slowly rotates, so you can sit in a very high backed booth and watch the scenery or sit outside on the terrace. The staff is friendly and attentive, and it was just a lot of fun to be in a bar after weeks of lockdown… I drank many cocktails! Luckily, they weren’t very strong.

I know it seems funny to be so excited about a bar, especially one that plays music I would never play at home. But– I have really missed going out, and I have missed being in bars. I also enjoyed the panorama, even though the view wasn’t so awesome as we passed the machinery on top of the hotel’s roof. It really allowed me to forget about the pandemic for awhile, even if I had to strap on a mask to go to the bathroom. But that wasn’t really rigidly enforced, either.

One of the songs played in the bar. I actually hate this kind of music, but I got a kick out of the lyrics of this song, some of which I easily understood. I ended up Shazaming it.

An afternoon at Sixties in Mainz…

We had amazing weather yesterday. It was so nice outside that I couldn’t bear to stay at home. I thought maybe we’d hunt for a festival or something, and we would have found one if we had gone to Frankfurt. There are several going on right now. But, for some reason, we decided to go to Mainz. Bill missed a turn to go to the downtown area, and we ended up in a part of town we hadn’t seen before.

As we were passing through, I noticed an interesting looking bar called Sixties. It advertised a lot of craft beers, which is kind of an unusual thing in Germany. So, although our plan had originally been to go downtown, we wound up parking and trying out Sixties, which also advertised music. When we walked into the bar, there was no music. Instead, all of the televisions were tuned to football– aka soccer– and the waitress warned us that pretty soon, a bunch of people would be crowded in there to watch the game.

I took a look around and noticed that the bar looked kind of “Irish pub-ish”, with low tables and stools, stained glass windows, and booths. We found a table with no reservation card on it and ordered a couple of beers. I had a Leffe Blonde and Bill had a Eulchen Marzen made in Mainz. Then we ordered snacks. Sixties has a rather limited menu. They have bar food, pizza, a couple of pasta dishes, and schnitzels, but it’s really more of a place to drink rather than eat. We had chicken strips, jalapeno poppers, and pretzels with Spundkaese.

One thing I noticed was that the waitress brought us wet glasses, complete with a little bit of water in the bottom. I can’t say I liked that very much, but at least the glasses were clean. We were impressed by how many beers they offered, too. They even had a beer from Sweden, as well as a number of British and Irish beers. I was surprised they didn’t have more Belgian choices other than Leffe, but a lot of German bars don’t even have that, so it was cool.

Here are a few photos from our visit:

After a couple of hours at Sixties, we paid the kindly, English speaking waitress, and headed down the street to our car. On the way there, we stopped in a fancy looking grocery store that appeared to have all natural “whole foods”. Of course, we were there to buy wine and look for Calvados, since the neighbor’s apple tree has been dumping apples in our yard and we need to do something with them. We didn’t find Calvados in that store, but we did pick up some wine.

We enjoyed Sixties. I don’t know how often we’ll visit there, since there are a lot of other places in Mainz we haven’t yet tried. It did look like a popular hangout for the locals. If you want to watch football and drink beers that aren’t German, it’s a good bet. I can’t comment on the music, but I did notice that there was a lot of memorabilia on the wall, particularly regarding the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. So it does look like they have good taste when it comes to music, anyway…


Hello again to the Holzkrug!

Back in August 2014, around the time Bill and I moved back to the Stuttgart area, we paid a visit to the Holzkrug in Vaihingen.  I had fondly remembered the tiny little eatery from our first tour in Stuttgart, from 2007-09.  For the first six weeks of our stay, we lived at the Vaihninger Hof, a run down hotel within walking distance of Patch Barracks.  Because it was a no frills German hotel, we only had a little dorm sized fridge in our room.  We had to eat out for most of our meals.  As a consequence, I got to know the restaurants circa 2007 in the Vaihingen area very well.

I remember liking the Holzkrug because of its local style charm and the fact that they sometimes serve roasted chicken there that is to die for.  I see by my last Holzkrug post, Bill and I both had chicken the last time we were there.  Today, we stopped in for lunch because we stopped by Patch to gas up my car.  They weren’t serving any chicken today, but we still had a nice lunch.

The door was open and the German pop was playing…


Holzkrug offers hot food from 10:30am until 2:00pm on Saturdays.  They also offer lunch with specials from 10:30am until 2:00pm and then dinner from 4:30pm until 8:00pm all during the work week.  On Sundays, they are only open from 10:00am until 2:00pm.  Dinner is not offered on weekend nights.

The Holzkrug is the only restaurant in this area that I’ve been to that sometimes offers roasted chicken.  The only other time I’ve seen it has been at fests or from “chicken men” with food trucks.  If there are other local restaurants that have chicken, I haven’t run into them yet.

Bill checks out today’s limited menu.


Today’s offerings.  Bill originally settled on “Forelle” (trout), but they were out of it.  They did, however, have fried fish of some sort.  That’s what he ordered.  I ordered “Cordon Bleu und Krokettes”, basically a fried schntizel stuffed with ham and mild melted cheese.


The Holzkrug has a very local vibe, even though it’s close to Patch Barracks.  Although I did see a plaque with an American flag on it, I don’t know that they get a lot of Americans in there.  We had to share a table with a guy who was clearly a regular and kindly made room for us at the “Stammtisch” (a table set aside for regulars).  I think it’s mostly a bar, though we’ve always gone there to eat and have enjoyed every experience.

“Stammtisch”– if you see one of these signs in a German or Austrian restaurant, it means it’s reserved for regulars.  However, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen too many regulars taking advantage of one.  Maybe it’s because I make a habit of trying so many different places that I haven’t really become a “regular” at many restaurants here.  The Stammtisch is different than a table that’s “reserved”.  


The view of the bar from where I was sitting.  This is a small place, but it’s very quaint and kind of charming.  I’m pretty sure they have English menus if you ask for them.  Sometimes the servers speak English, though today’s didn’t really.  I like the interior of the Holzkrug.  It’s the kind of place I wish we had in our own little town… you could go there and soak up the atmosphere over a couple of beers.


Here’s a picture of our deep fried goodness…  Bill had the fried fish special, which came with potato salad.  He washed it down with a Hefeweizen.  I had the Cordon Bleu and fried potato croquettes.  It was a lot and we brought home leftovers from my dish!


The guy sitting next to us was humming off key.  It was driving me nuts.  I happen to be a very musical person with “perfect pitch”, which means that when things are off key, it’s like nails on a chalkboard.  I felt badly about being annoyed, though, because he was nice enough to share his table with us.  The guy sitting behind Bill, also clearly a local and a regular, kept shooting glances at us.  But the wait staff was very kind and attentive.

This is a decidedly dog friendly place.  A large Doberman was enjoying a visit while we were there.  It’s also kid friendly.  I noticed the bartender gave a little boy a little bag of popcorn while he was waiting for his Oma to finish up.  There are also a couple of kid-sized choices on the menu.

After we ate, I noticed the sign on the wall.  It basically translates to “If you’re the type to forget to pay when you drink, pay beforehand.”


A Pilsner…

After lunch, I had a Pils.  I don’t usually drink Pils, but every time we visit the Holzkrug, I am reminded of our first time here.  Bill ordered a Pils at this restaurant and thought they had forgotten about his beer when I got served my Hefeweizen first.  He asked the barkeep where his beer was.  The bartender chastised him and told him that a proper Pils can take up to seven minutes to pour.  A quick Googling tells me that she was telling the truth about that, but truth be told, I have yet to ever visit a bar in Germany where it’s taken that long…

At about 2:20pm, it was time for our server to clock out, so she asked us to settle our bill.  It came to about thirty euros before the tip.  I finished my beer and visited the ladies room.  Here’s a handy tip for anyone who happens to be in Vaihingen and needs to pee.  The Holzkrug will allow non-guests to use their restroom if you pay 50 cents.  Yeah, I know paying to pee is the norm here, but at least you know there’s a place to go if the need strikes.

Anyway, we like the Holzkrug.  I like them even better when they have roasted chicken, which they also sell to go.  This is a nice local hole in the wall with typical German food, friendly service, and very reasonable prices.


The Esquire Tavern of San Antonio… what a pretentious shithole!

I wasn’t going to write more tonight because I’m in such a foul mood.  But then a friend of mine, who read my latest TripAdvisor review of the Esquire Tavern of San Antonio, said I could have “scathed” more.  And since I’m in a shitty mood tonight, maybe it’s a good time to write an expanded review of this bar, which disappointed the hell out of me and Bill.

Yesterday was Bill’s 49th birthday.  Late in the afternoon, we were hoping for a couple of celebratory cocktails.  Bill loves a good martini, but rarely gets to have them when he’s not at home because he does most of the driving and does not wish to drive while intoxicated.  Since we were staying in downtown San Antonio and there are a lot of bars in the area that we could walk to, we figured it would be no problem finding a place that could hook us up, even though it was a Sunday.

Originally, we were going to go to the Mexican Manhattan Restaurant, which we know has excellent and inexpensive margaritas.  But that place was closed…  and then I spied the steps leading up from the Riverwalk to the Esquire Tavern, which promised lots of interesting beers on tap.  We walked up the metal steps leading to the second storey of the building and entered the bar, notable because it has the longest wooden bar in Texas and has been operating since Prohibition ended in 1933– the year my dad was born.  Actually, we heard that the bar closed for a few years in the 2000s, then opened again.  It has a young chef who is supposedly really good at her craft.  Not that we’d know.  No one gave us a menu or anything.

Our initial impression of the place was decent.  A couple of people said hello as we walked in.  We nodded a greeting.  I liked the bar’s ambiance, which was kind of dim and elegant.  We sat down at the very long bar on leather covered barstools with backs.  So far, so good.  I noticed a lot of really interesting looking gins, which I knew Bill would like.  He loves trying new things and doesn’t mind paying a premium if it means he gets to taste something unique.  Curiously, I didn’t see any beer taps, but in a pinch, I like cocktails too.  The barkeeps at the Esquire Tavern could have easily made me happy and earned a nice tip for their troubles.  Alas, they couldn’t be bothered.

We sat there and waited.  And waited.  There were at least three bartenders behind the bar– so far as I could tell, anyway.  One guy had a beard that resembled Rasputin’s and appeared to be trying very hard to impress a couple of young ladies with his flare bartending skills.  I know he saw us.  He looked right at us.  But he didn’t even say hello or kiss my ass or anything…  and neither did any of his colleagues.  Time passed and we were feeling more and more stupid by the second.

I could tell Bill was getting really pissed.  He’s usually a very mild mannered guy and rarely gets upset with people.  Being ignored the way we were was making him feel foolish, which is one thing he can’t abide.  Since it was his birthday, “foolish” was definitely no way for him to feel.  We waited over ten minutes for some sign that these people wanted our business and could make us a decent cocktail or two.  We got nada.

I was very puzzled by the reception we were getting in this place.  I mean, all they had to do was say hello and let us know they’d be with us shortly.  I don’t mind waiting if the staff is really busy.  But it was like we were invisible.  The reception we were getting was very cold and felt deliberately unwelcoming.

When another couple came in after us and the bartender spoke to them and continued to ignore us, I just looked at Bill and said, “Let’s go.”

Poor Bill.  It’s bad enough turning 49 without being completely dissed in a bar.  I was shocked by how rudely we were treated.  I can’t remember an experience in a bar or restaurant quite as awesomely shitty as what we experienced at the Esquire Tavern.

We walked out of there feeling really low and embarrassed.  And we had NO REASON to feel low or embarrassed.  I mean, we’re normal people…  or at least we appear that way.  But it was like they had no need for our business.  I am generally pretty lenient when it comes to people who work in restaurants.  I worked in one myself for awhile and I always figured no server or bartender in their right mind would purposely give someone bad service… not when they typically get paid practically nothing by the bar or restaurant and depend on tips.  There were times when I unintentionally gave bad service when I was weeded out of my mind.  I might have been much more patient had the Esquire Tavern been really crowded or busy.  It wasn’t, though.  There were plenty of empty tables and it looked like there were a lot of people on duty.  I see from reading Yelp! and TripAdvisor that people other than us had complaints like ours about terrible service.  Do they not like tourists?  Hey– in a few weeks, we won’t be tourists; we’ll be residents!

Bill was still fuming about it as we walked down the street.  We went to the Menger Bar, which was at our hotel, and mentioned what happened to us to the bartender on duty.  The bartender dished a bit about the place.  He said he went there once and they tried to talk him out of the drink he wanted.  He also told us that the bar was a bit hyped.  Granted, he was a bartender at a competing bar, also very historic since that was where Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders hung out back in the day.  Maybe we should take what he said with a grain of salt.

Bill and I are good drinkers and good tippers.  We like good food.  We shower regularly.  I was even wearing makeup, for Chrissakes!

It doesn’t really matter, I guess.  We are moving to San Antonio in a little over three weeks and we’re both pretty sure we won’t be giving the Esquire Tavern another chance.  In fact, I think we’re both a little sick of the Riverwalk and probably won’t be hanging out there much anyway.  But if we do go downtown, it’s extremely unlikely we’d try that bar again and knowing how much I like to chat, I imagine I’ll be bitching and writing about it a lot.  I’m good for that.

Bill has lingering issues with embarrassment and shame and that was how he felt when these people failed to recognize him as a paying customer.  And that embarrassment turned to anger… especially on my part.  I have a very long memory when it comes to these things.  As a matter of fact, I still hold a grudge against a place that dissed me over twenty years ago, when I was still a college student.  They surely don’t care…  and back then, we had no outlets like blogs or TripAdvisor for public venting.   But I remember… and I’m still pretty bitter.  😉

I don’t have time for people who don’t have time for me; certainly not when it involves money.  Besides, Bill is my favorite bartender.  I know his prices are a hell of a lot less expensive than any I’ve encountered in a bar.

We won’t be darkening their door again… despite the loads of liquor…

Edited to add… a friend of mine read this article and passed along this link, which may shed some light on the subject.  Perhaps the Esquire Tavern is one of those new “hip” bars where the bartenders have a snotty attitude about the libations they sell and their clientele.  The author of the article uses a word that describes exactly how it feels to be ignored the way we were… “degrading”.  What a damn shame!