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Turning 50 in Antwerp… part seven

At last it was Monday, June 20th… the big day. It was still cloudy and chilly in Antwerp, although it wasn’t like that in Germany. We went down to breakfast, where I was presented with a beautiful strawberry mascarpone tart and champagne. Bill also gave me a birthday card, which for once, wasn’t mushy. Bill and I managed to finish half of the tart; the rest was kept in the fridge for us. The hotel manager was very friendly, telling us about an upcoming trip she had planned to Africa. It sounded very exciting and exotic. I’m still not ready to brave airports, thanks to COVID-19, but I love to hear about other people’s trips to distant lands. Maybe we’ll get back into that at some point, if the fates allow.

After breakfast, we took another walk to the old town, this time to do some shopping. Whenever we travel, Bill likes to pick up little gifts for his grandchildren and his younger daughter. So we visited a tiny chocolatier near the church and bought a bunch of stuff. Bill picked up a pallet, incorrectly assuming it was a basket for putting stuff in. The shopkeeper laughed and explained the pallets were for the chocolates, and he was the first person who thought they were shopping baskets! We also bought some magnets, one of which I dropped and broke as I pulled it off the display. Bill paid for it anyway, and the cashier thanked him for being honest. I love being married to such a mensch.

We took the chocolate back to the hotel, since it’s June and the weather can get hot and sticky. The proprietor was kind enough to pack our goodies in an insulated bag. The gifts we got for my husband’s daughter are not meltable, but we did pick up some chocolates for home because, well, chocolate makes life worth living.

We walked around some more before stopping by a coffee store, where we found several pounds of coffees from different African countries. I still miss my Peet’s coffee, but it’s fun to try new beans from different producers. I also saw a magazine shop advertising “tasty and delicious” American candy, which seemed kind of crazy to me, given that we were in Belgium, where the very best chocolate in the world is made. We eventually went in there looking to see if they had an English version of A Dog of Flanders story. I had seen a cute children’s book in Flemish and thought it would be a great gift for Bill’s grandkids. Unfortunately, we were unlucky in our search, even on Amazon.

When it was time for lunch, we walked around a lot looking for the “right” place. One guy at a touristy looking Italian place tried to get us to come in, promising extra mushrooms. I turned to Bill and said, “Did he just say what I thought he said?” Bill answered affirmatively… and I said, “That’s the best way to get me NOT to come into a restaurant!”

We finally noticed a mysterious looking door next to another big restaurant that appeared to cater to tourists. The people going into the door were obviously more local than we were, and I saw a tour group being told about this strange alleyway we encountered… where we also found a fabulous “secret” restaurant called ‘t Hofke. Somehow, we had stumbled upon the oldest alley in Antwerp, which is very well hidden and easy to miss if your eyes aren’t open. I love to explore alleys and alcoves, so that’s probably why we found ourselves there on my birthday, enjoying excellent shrimp croquettes for me and Thai inspired chicken pasta for Bill. I noticed everyone in the place was local, which is usually a good sign. And, once again, it appeared to be a family/couple run place, with food that was made with love and care, rather than a mind for profits. Bill’s only complaint was that we asked for water that we never received, and the charge showed up on the bill.

After lunch, we went back to the hotel to drop off our second round of shopping and have a short rest. Then, as the afternoon continued, we found ourselves at Wijn Bar Bette, a little outdoor cafe run by an obviously gay friendly proprietor who had many local friends. Since it was my birthday, we decided to split a bottle of prosecco and people watch for awhile, which is always a treat. You never know what you’ll see… and that particular location was nice, because it was shady and unhurried. I really liked the relaxed ambiance and the obvious friendship the proprietor had with some of the locals. However, based on Trip Advisor reviews, we got lucky… apparently, a lot of people have gotten bad service at this place.

Finally, it was time for dinner, so we walked around to find the right place and eventually ended up at De Peerdestal. This place was obviously meant for meat lovers, as they had several different types of steaks and meat dishes available. They also served horsemeat and lobster. I like lobster, but we ended up sitting near the lobster tank. Seeing the doomed lobsters in there with rubber bands on their claws made me think of Leon the Lobster on YouTube (a guy rescued a lobster from the grocery store and turned him into a pet). I realize that it’s not much better to eat cow, but at least I didn’t have to see it before it died.

The waiter was curious about where we were from and what we were doing in Antwerp. I casually mentioned that we are Americans who live in Germany and we came to Belgium to celebrate my birthday. I should not have been surprised when dessert was brought out with a mini flamethrower. 😉 They also played a birthday song over the soundsystem, so everyone clapped. It turned out the husband of an American couple sitting near us was also having a birthday. I’m not sure if he told the waiter. Someone celebrating an anniversary got the same flaming dessert and a recorded rendition of “Love and Marriage” by Frank Sinatra. All in all, it was a pleasant celebration! The restaurant was cute and comfortable, though very heavy on meat choices and a bit touristy. However, service was friendly and kind, and the food was good.

In the next part, we head home.

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Reunited with France… and it felt so good to be back! Part three…

ETA: I had a real problem with uploading pictures for this post. The second set of photos is actually several galleries. If you notice “repeats” when you scroll through, just move to the next gallery.

Before we went to sleep the first night, we were visited by one of the restaurant staffers. She bore a slight resemblance to the actress Elisabeth Moss, who plays June on The Handmaid’s Tale. That was how we found out that our room had a doorbell! She came bearing fresh baked treats from the kitchen, which were scrumptious. She came to ask us about our breakfast preferences and reconfirm our reservations at the restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights.

The breakfast at Auberge au Boeuf was absolutely something to behold. But as it was our first time visiting, we didn’t know what to expect and we were decidedly overfed on the first morning. The lady from the restaurant asked us what we wanted from the list of offerings, which included boiled eggs, ham, fruit salad, cheese, smoked fish, juice, coffee, tea, yogurt, jam, butter, Museli, and fresh baked pastries and bread. This breakfast, which costs 12 euros per person, is served “family style”. But we didn’t know that on Wednesday night, when we were asked when we wanted to eat, and whether we wanted breakfast at the big “Stammtisch” table, or in our room. So, we ordered two of some things, not knowing how big the portions were.

The next morning at 8:00am sharp, a tiny lady who spoke French and German brought out tons of food for us… two servings of the things we both liked. I will admit, we were able to eat a lot of it, but some things went to waste. We had two big trays of smoked fish, two big trays of ham and salami, two of three kinds of pastries, and two butters… I was grateful we were the only ones eating at 8:00am, which is when breakfast starts. It was embarrassing to get that much food! We noticed a couple who ate later got less food. Now, we know better.

However… I must admit that the breakfast at Auberge au Boeuf was one of the best I have ever had anywhere. And, at twelve euros per person, it was very reasonably priced. The pastries alone were worth the price of admission, as it was obvious to me that they were very fresh and probably house made. They were exquisite! Below are some pictures from breakfast in the Stammtisch room.

The Stammtisch is something else I must mention. The restaurant offers less fancy and expensive meals at the big table in their gorgeous breakfast/dining room. We didn’t try the Stammtisch, since we didn’t know about it before we came and decided not to have dinner on Wednesday and Thursday nights. The food offered there is mostly beef and Alsatian– and looking at their menu, I might have had some issues with it, since there are many mushrooms! I see that the Stammtisch is offered for lunch and dinner on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. On the other hand, if we go back to that hotel, we may have to try it. The Stammtisch room has a very different vibe than the gourmet restaurant does. I think if I could have found something without fungus, I would have loved it.

The big “Stammtisch” table is made from a tree– in fact, I was blown away by how beautiful that room is. It looked like the plates, cups, saucers, and serving platters were all locally produced by a potter. They were very cool looking and original. They also have a cool wine cave, as well as a museum devoted to Goethe, that I didn’t see open during our visit.

After our first night at the hotel, we took a walk around the neighborhood. First, we passed a small market, where vendors were selling local produce, rotisserie chicken, and cheeses. I noticed that the hotel even had a kiosk set up, probably so people could pick up their catering orders. Patrons can order things via the restaurant’s Web site.

During our walk, I met a very sweet and social “European style” beagle who was super friendly and wanted to chat with us. He was so cute! I wanted to take him home with me, but I know if I bring another dog home, Arran will shit on my pillow! I have noticed that beagles are getting more popular in Europe, but they look a bit different than American beagles look. They’re a bit stockier, and have jaws that look kind of square. Whatever… I think they are adorable! Below are some scenes around Sessenheim.

We also saw some pygmy goats who were hanging out in someone’s yard, enjoying the nice weather. And we visited Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s memorial, which is open and free to the public. If we’d wanted to, we could have planned a day’s activities around Goethe. There’s actually a lot around Sessenheim and its environs about Goethe, who fell in love with Frederique Brion, a French woman from Sessenheim, when he was studying law in Strasbourg. Goethe immortalized her in his memoirs.

We strolled through the neighborhoods, noticing a couple of places for sale. I started talking to Bill about whether we should look for a house in France when he retires. I noticed how beautifully the gardens are kept there, including someone’s well tended kale plants. Dr. Blair, the dentist, used to practice in the Black Forest, and he said a lot of Germans buy homes in Alsace, because it’s supposedly cheaper. And, as we can attest, it’s more laid back, too.

After we took a walk, we made our way to Haguenau, which is a small, pleasant city known for pottery. There are museums, spas, and churches, and even a microbrewery there. The city is located near the famous Maginot Line, so it attracts people who are interested in “Remembrance Tourism”. There is also a lot of Jewish history in Haguenau. There’s even a museum dedicated to baggage in Haguenau! There are also some interesting looking restaurants, bars, and retail establishments. Since we’re still a bit COVID wary, we kept our activities outdoors, with the exception of visiting one cathedral, where Bill lit a candle for his father, who was a devout Catholic and died in 2020.

For lunch, we visited a tiny Moroccan restaurant called Restaurant Côté Sud. We lucked into finding this place, which offered a few French items like faux filet, as well as tajines, cous cous, and some intriguing salads. I’ll write more about Haguenau and our Moroccan lunch in the next post. Uploading photos is problematic for some reason.

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Dining out with a former lab dog named Tony!

Last night, Bill and I took his mother, Parker, out to Villa Im Tal, a fine dining Austrian restaurant on the outskirts of Wiesbaden. It was Bill’s and my third time dining there, and we were sure Parker would enjoy it as much as we have. It’s set in the woods in a beautiful timbered building surrounded by a spring and lots of trees. Even at night, it’s gorgeous. Best of all, parking is a breeze and costs nothing! This restaurant is also easily booked on OpenTable.de.

We had a 7:30 reservation, but arrived a little bit early. We were seated at a corner table for four. At first, I was a little perturbed by where we were sitting, mainly because the lighting was so dim and it was hard to see the menu (they kindly provided English versions for us). But then, maybe twenty minutes after we sat down, a couple came in with an adorable beagle. They sat near us.

Ordering dinner was easy. The waiter spoke perfect English. Parker and I started with champagne. I had a rose and she had a brut. Bill had Campari and soda, then ordered a lovely local white wine that tasted of honey, yet was dry on the palate. We each had the special seafood menu, which consisted of five courses. Below are some photos of the grand culinary event that was last night’s dinner.

I enjoyed all of the courses, although my favorites were the scallops, which were perfectly grilled and very tender and went beautifully with the gnocchi, and the lobster cappuccino. Honestly, I was worried that the flavor would be too earthy for me, as the initial aroma smelled slightly of truffles, which is a turn off for me. What can I say? I am one of those weird people who thinks truffles are gross.

But when I tasted it, I was amazed by how delicious it was. The soup had the very essence of lobster finished with a little sherry. The single ravioli was just enough. And we paced the meal so that it wasn’t too much. All three of us loved the seafood menu and would order it again. It was priced at about 68 euros each.

So… about Tony, the adorable beagle…

We noticed that his people, who both also enjoyed the seafood menu, were very friendly with the waiter. He had brought out a bowl of water for Tony, and they spent several minutes talking and laughing. I got the sense that they were regulars. Eventually, I told the couple that we have beagles, too… Right now we just have Arran since we lost Zane to lymphoma a few months ago, but we usually have two beagles at a time. We hope to find Arran a playmate soon, whether or not he wants one.

I got up to use the ladies room, and when I came back, Tony came over to say hello. He was so sweet and friendly. His owners told me that he was born in a lab and participated in experiments until he was about sixteen weeks old. They adopted him when he was still a puppy, and he’s now 12.

I was very surprised Tony was that old. He didn’t look or act like he was twelve years old. In fact, at one point, he got on his hind legs and put his paws on me. Then, when my voice went into “baby mode”, (as it always does with dogs), he pricked his ears up and gave me a look of pure delight. I wished I’d had my camera so I could capture it for this post. It reminded me of our late dog, MacGregor, who was very shy around people he didn’t know, but loved to be on camera.

Tony’s people were very friendly and spoke English beautifully. I told them about how we’d had five beagle rescues so far and showed them a picture with Arran, living the high life snuggled up next to my mother-in-law. They laughed in recognition, because apparently Tony is a couch snuggler too. And we shared a laugh about how much beagles love to eat, don’t obey commands very well, and sniff everything while they bay. I told them about how the first time we lived in Germany, we had a couple of different beagles and they would bay in our quiet neighborhood, prompting many dirty looks from the locals. Back then, the dogs were referred to as “Jagdhunden” (hunting dogs). Now, it seems that beagles have become a lot more popular. We’ve seen many more of them during this stint.

The couple seemed surprised when I told them I hoped to get another dog. They cited their love for travel as to why they just have Tony. I didn’t want to tell them that sometimes our dogs go to the Hundepension… in fact, Arran is going to the Tierpension Birkenhof today, because we’re taking Bill’s mom to Ribeauville, and hoping to visit some places we missed on previous trips. It’s easier to visit places when we don’t have to worry about taking care of the dog, and we have found excellent caregivers in Stuttgart and Darmstadt. But Arran has been to Ribeauville a few times… we have a very pet friendly source of lodging in that town. That’s one of the many things I love about living in Europe. Dogs are allowed in a lot of places here, especially when they are as well mannered as Tony was.

I think having dogs has really helped us break the ice in so many situations in Germany. We’ve met some cool folks that way, because everyone loves to talk about their dogs. Up here in Wiesbaden, people are a lot friendlier, too. When I told the couple that we’d lived in Stuttgart, they kind of laughed and said Stuttgart is a “very special part of Germany”. Yeah… I’d have to agree… although it will always have a special place in my heart. I figure if we can make it there, we can make it anywhere in Germany. And it has the distinction of being the place Bill and I have spent the most time living since we were married.

Villa in Tal has become a favorite!

Anyway, dinner was a success, if not rather pricey. I think Bill paid about 380 euros for the three seafood menu meals, two bottles of San Pellegrino, our round of aperitifs, and a bottle of wine. It was well worth the cost, though, because I have a feeling we’ll be talking about last night’s dinner for years to come… and today, we’ll start making even more memories in France!

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Another long walk in the woods…

Bill and I took Zane and Arran for a walk this morning with the intention of wearing them out so we can go somewhere fun this afternoon.  They usually nap when we go out, but there can be a big production as we’re leaving.  We figured if we got them to burn off some steam, they might make less of a racket in the first few minutes before we leave.

We ended up taking a different route than the one we took two weeks ago and ended up in an area unfamiliar to us.  Rather than trying to search for a way to make a loop, we went back the way we came.  As we were walking through the woods, Zane and Arran got on a scent and started baying.  There was a German lady standing at a fork in the road.  She, too, had a beagle.  His name was Rudy and he was a bit bigger than Zane and Arran, as if he had some other kind of dog in his heritage.

The lady was telling us about how Rudy runs and bays… and she had obviously trained him, since he was in the down position as we approached.  But he came over to meet Zane and Arran as she was telling us about how Rudy once got loose in the woods and she waited two hours for him to come back.  Suddenly, Rudy attempted to mount Arran, who was having none of that.  A short fight ensued and we decided to part ways.

It was actually kind of cool meeting her, though.  I’m sure we’ll run into them again.  It’s nice to know there’s someone else near us who has a hound and knows their nature.  They like to run, hunt, make noise, and eat.  German dogs are usually very well trained, but hounds can be a challenge…

This is about right…

I took my camera with me again, so here are some new photos…  Some are blurry because I was trying to be all fancy, walking while shooting.

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