An afternoon at Sixties in Mainz…

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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…

Le Petit Belge– your source for Belgian beer in Wiesbaden!

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One major part of settling in a new town is locating a source for good suds.  I like German beer fine, but I’m really partial to Belgian beers, which tend to be more interesting to my aging tastebuds.  Last weekend, probably after our awesome Cajun food extravaganza, I went looking for a place to buy Belgian beer.

When we lived near Stuttgart, we used to go to Heinrich’s 3000 drink market in Kornwestheim, which had a pretty good sized Belgian section.  I’m sure such a place exists near Wiesbaden, but when I went Googling, the first place to come up in Wiesbaden was a place called Le Petit Belge.  Le Petit Belge is located in the heart of Wiesbaden, right near the big red church in the big square.  It’s kind of awkwardly laid out, with a shop/cafe on the edge of the square and a bakery/chocolate shop two doors down in a passageway.  Between the two shops is a tiny Italian restaurant.

Le Petit Belge plays 80s music on its sound system and sells beers to take home.  It also offers frites, crepes, waffles, buckwheat crepes (which are gluten free), soups, and other specials.  It’s a tiny place, with room for just fourteen people in the cafe and room for a few more folks in the bakery area, which is also where you’ll find the restrooms.  You will need the restrooms after a couple of hearty Belgian beers.

A shot of the outside facade.  When it’s warm you can sit outside.  You can probably sit outside when it’s not warm, too.  They have little blankets.

 

Outside the bakery, where you can get beer, baked goods, and chocolates.  It’s also where my frites were cooked.  This is where you pee.

Bill peruses the menu, where there are many beers listed, then looks at the wall of beers.  

It’s pretty impressive, especially for such a small venue.  I wish we’d known about this place when we were househunting and staying in downtown Wiesbaden.

This is where they make the crepes, waffles, salads and such.  I went with a Caprese, which was a fresh crepe made with tomatoes, herbs, and mozzarella.  It came with a salad.  Bill had a crepe full of Trappist cheese (which smelled like ass) and smoked ham.  He said it was delicious, and ate every bite.  You can also get sweets made… waffles, crepes, or fancy hot chocolate or coffee.

One of the two beers I enjoyed.

This is a small portion of frites at 200 grams.  You can get them with “dips” included, or you can pay a la carte for things like ketchup, mayo, or something else.  They also have medium and large frites.  As it was, Bill and I struggled to finish the small one, and we were sharing.

My crepe.  It arrived with cold mozzarella, but most people don’t care about that.  I just pulled the crepe over the cheese to melt it a bit.  It was good, but I only managed half.  Those frites were deadly!

And a little salad.  I actually enjoyed this– especially the crisp, zesty red peppers.

Bill’s crepe… he enjoys things that smell like ass.  Maybe that’s how we’ve lasted 16 years.  I’m just kidding…  Actually, he said the Trappist cheese was only slightly more pungent than Gruyere, which I can handle somewhat easily.

This was my dessert.  

Bill shops for beer to bring home.  He’s flying back to the States on Sunday, so I’ll be at home alone.  I usually try to stay on the wagon when he’s out of town, but Belgian beers are tempting, I must admit.

This was our modest haul.  Next time, we’ll have to get more.

 

I can see this little eatery is much beloved by the local community.  It’s really kind of cool to have a Belgian restaurant nearby, even if I’m really mostly interested in the beer, frites, and chocolate.  You can get plenty of all three at Le Petit Belge.  I’m sure we’ll be back again and again.

 

 

 

We went Dutch for MLK weekend 2019! Part five.

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On Sunday, we decided to visit Maastricht.  I really didn’t know what to expect, since I had never been to the city before.  I did know that there aren’t any “coffee shops” open to foreigners in Maastricht.  It’s one of the areas in the Netherlands that has chosen to restrict pot sales to people who aren’t locals.  If you want marijuana, you have to go west.

It was no big deal, though.  Maastricht proved to be entertaining without the benefit of pot.  Not only is the city beautiful, it’s also wide open on Sundays.  Yes, you can go shopping, have lunch, or simply people watch.  There was some kind of race going on there Sunday, so there were several brass bands playing along the route, along with a drum band and a group of violinists.  As a music lover, this really appealed to me.  Despite the bitter cold, I stood there and listened to a group of musicians play “Canon in D” and Vivaldi.  I’m not ashamed to admit that their version of Pachelbel’s masterpiece had me openly weeping.

We parked in a huge lot on the outskirts of town and walked in…

Right off the bat, we heard the thundering sound of drums.  An awesome drum band was beating an infectious rhythm and had attracted a crowd.  The music would be a theme in Maastricht on Sunday, as we ran into a number of bands playing in the street.  

What’s that sound?

 

You can also load up on cheese!  I wish I liked cheese more.

We rounded the corner, just out of earshot of the drummers and promptly encountered a quartet of string musicians.

I often get choked up when I hear really well played live music.  I was listening to these people with tears streaming down my cheeks.  They played so well out in the cold and their music went straight to my heart.

As you can see, other people were affected by the music, too.  

We reluctantly moved on, because it was so cold and Bill needed to get some cash.  I managed to get a few more pictures as we searched for an ATM.  We were looking for lunch and a place to pee.

Our route took us past the runners and several more excellent brass bands!

We walked through one area near a mall and several very touristy looking restaurants.  One alley smelled distinctly of cheeseburgers, which was kind of strange.  But then I noticed we were near a McDonalds.

And these guys were playing jazz… I loved that they had a tray of empty beer glasses nearby.

 

Just as we encountered our fifth musical ensemble of the day, I turned to the left and we found a place to have lunch…

 

I have a knack for finding good places to eat.  There are a few things I look for.  Mainly, I like places that aren’t either too crowded or too empty.  I prefer them to be off the main drags.  And it doesn’t hurt if it smells good outside of the restaurant, too.  A lot of people were sitting outside, despite the cold weather.  I didn’t want to sit outside, but Bill was about to bust.  So we walked inside De Twee Heeren, which turned out to be a pretty awesome bar/restaurant.  They were playing good music and had menus in English, as well as places to sit.  We ended up spending a couple of hours in there, enjoying lunch, good Dutch and Belgian beers, and fun music.

Obligatory menu shot of Bill.  They had a number of appealing choices, everything from steaks to falafel.

 

Bill had what amounted to a “sauerbraten stew”.  It came with a big basket of frites and a salad.

 

I had fish and chips.  I considered a few of the other choices and actually had some trouble deciding, but since the Netherlands is a sea faring nation, I figured the fish and chips would be good.  And they were!  I even tried the fries with mayonnaise.  That’s how they eat them…  Not bad at all, though a little bit of mayo goes a long way.

 

Bill had a double espresso while I enjoyed an excellent Belgian brew suggested by the waiter.

And one more for the road.  It’s probably a good thing German beers aren’t this interesting.

 

It was late afternoon by the time we were finished at De Twee Heeren, so we decided to get some cheese for Bill and head back to the dogs.  I might have liked to have tried another restaurant later, but I just can’t eat as much as I once did.  You’d never know it to look at me, though.

This place had lots of free samples, which Bill was happy to try.

Here he’s trying the gouda with garlic.  I think he brought some home.  I found us some beers and waffle cookies, too.  If it turns out he loves the cheese, we can order more.

We headed out of the city and I took a few more photos.

The grand looking building houses the visitor’s center, which sadly, does not have a public toilet.  Fortunately, I found one at a bustling looking hostel with a huge bar.  It was nothing to duck in, which was a huge relief.

So long, Maastricht.  We’ll be back!

 

I missed the lunar eclipse, but did manage to get a picture of the huge full moon.

 

Yesterday morning, we got up bright and early, had breakfast, let the dogs have one more romp with Yogi, and loaded up the car for the drive back to Germany.  Nel was the most awesome hostess and invited us back.  I think she said we were her first real American guests, although she has hosted Canadians.  I’m hoping a few of my American readers living in Germany might visit Vijlen.  I have a feeling we’ll go back, especially if we stay in Germany for much longer.

I love visiting small towns and talking to locals, getting a feel for the real culture.  While we always enjoy visiting big cities, I find that it’s harder to get a feel for the culture, mainly because so many other international visitors are also there.  So, if there’s anything to be learned by this trip, it’s that small towns are worth a look.  They tend to be less expensive, safer, and the locals are more likely to make a connection.  I felt like we’d made a friend when we left Nel’s place yesterday.  I hope this series will inspire a few others to visit her in lovely Vijlen!

Paul Simon or bust… Our Dublin getaway! Part seven

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This place looked like it had potential…

 

Saturday afternoon, I was thinking I really wanted to find a nice Irish pub to hang out in.  I hoped for a place with good music.  Too many bars were playing shitty dance music.  I know the Irish have good taste in tunes and I was hoping to find a place where I could Shazam a lot and find new stuff to listen to at home.  Taking heed of my advice to look down alleys and alcoves, I spotted McGrattans Bar, which looked like it had promise.  We approached the door and I stood there for a second, listening for shitty dance music.  I didn’t hear any, so we ventured in…

Unfortunately, what they were playing was almost as bad as dance music.  The TVs were all tuned to football.  I know a lot of people love to watch sports.  I find it pretty boring.  I’d rather watch football/soccer than golf, though.  Watching golf, especially on TV, is kind of like watching flies fuck.  Still, it wasn’t so bad that we couldn’t have a couple of rounds.  We tried a couple of Irish lagers and enjoyed the deadpan bartender.  McGrattans appears to be a somewhat popular place.  It even has pool tables.  Maybe Bill and I should have tried our hand at billiards, but neither of us really plays pool.

Bill enjoys beer…

The inside was pretty quaint.  It was missing music, though.

I remember liking this beer pretty well.

 

After a couple of rounds, we moved on.  The area around Merrion Row has a lot of pubs to choose from, most of which featured football and crowds of young men eagerly staring at the TV screens.  We passed one bar that appeared to have a lively outdoor area, but it was super crowded.  So we went back to Chambers Pub and Cocktail Bar, where our red haired bearded friend was back on duty.  We had a couple of whiskeys, since they didn’t have any draft beers we hadn’t already tried.  I did switch back to beer when we decided to have dinner.

Chambers was playing sports on their TVs, but they were also playing some great old 70s and 80s music, which satisfied my needs quite nicely.  I was also enjoying people watching.  I thought we might make it until 9:15pm, when the music was supposed to start, but we were too tired… beer drinking will do that to you.  I think we left about an hour before the band was supposed to show up.

We went round the corner from the bar for some grub.

Bill had a burger and fries.

 

I had an open faced steak sandwich with bearnaise sauce.  It was just the right size and the fries were delicious.

 

Total bill for our evening at Chambers was about 69 euros, which was less than I was expecting.  Next time we’re in Dublin, we’ll definitely visit Chambers again.  I think it was my favorite of the pubs we visited.  After we ate, we stopped by the Spar to pick up some water and a bottle of wine in case we wanted to stay in Sunday night.

Cheap thrills in the Czech Republic! Part six

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We woke to sunshine and slightly warmer temperatures on Sunday morning.  I was glad to see it.  After breakfast and a walk with the dogs, we started to plan our day.  We were about to leave for Plzen when Bill looked out the window and noticed a couple of guys doing yard work, blocking the gate to the yard.  I guess it’s not a problem to do yard work in the Czech Republic on Sundays.  They were done soon enough, so we headed back to Plzen, parking in the same garage we used on Saturday.  Bill discovered a handy footbridge from the garage to the other side of the street.  Like I said in an earlier posts, things are surprisingly civilized in the Czech Republic these days.

Cathedral of St. Bartholomew.

We wandered around the Main Square in Plzen and I noticed people were climbing the tower at St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral.  I am in piss poor physical shape these days, but somehow I can’t resist climbing a tower, even if I’m sore for days afterwards.  So that’s what Bill and I decided to do.  We walked up 301 steep, narrow steps to get to the highest point in Plzen and the highest church spire in the Czech Republic itself.

I paused to take pictures of the bells… and catch my breath.

It costs 50 Czech crowns to torture oneself in this manner.  You pay at a station about a third of the way up.  Once you get to the top, you are treated to views of the city, which can be exhilarating, depressing, or terrifying, depending on your point of view.

Yes… it’s a very steep climb!  There are pictures of the views from the top at the bottom of this post.

I found it harder and scarier to go down than to come up the stairs.  Yes, climbing the stairs up was harder work and got me more winded, but coming down was really scary.  You’re already tired from the climb up and the steps are really narrow and steep.  I found myself holding on to the bannisters for dear life as I slowly made my way down each step, praying I didn’t miss one and take a fall.

On the way down the tower, we ran into a couple of police officers.  I wondered why they were going up there– although they did look pretty fit.  Bill said maybe they were taking a “break”.  Or perhaps they were checking for snipers?  I don’t know.  If I had to walk up those steps every day, I have no doubt I’d be in shape in no time.  However, two days later, I’m still a bit sore and the climb itself was kind of hard on my knees.  I’m glad I did it once, but I’m not sure I want to do it again!

Just as an aside about Czech cops… I happened to catch a TV show that appeared to be inspired by our own Cops TV show in the United States.  Although I didn’t understand anything that was being said, it was interesting to watch how Czech police officers handle their arrestees.  I noticed the guys being arrested were cuffed, put in the back seat, and strapped in with a seatbelt.  The cops didn’t bother buckling up.  Somehow, I figure the seatbelt was used less for safety reasons and more for security.  Or maybe they don’t wear seatbelts because they need to be able to react quickly.  Who knows?  Personally, I hate the damn things, but if I don’t wear mine, Bill turns into Pat Boone.  Besides, cars today are like nannies and will beep at you incessantly if you don’t use them.

Inside the cathedral.

After the tower experience, we walked into the cathedral.  Supposedly, you have to pay to see it, but I never saw anyone collecting money for admission.  Anyway, there’s a gate at the front of the cathedral, so you can only peek in there.  I’m not sure it’s worth the 35 Czech crowns they supposedly collect for that.  I did manage to get a few photos.

Then we went searching for lunch.  I thought we might try Buddha, an Indian and Nepalese restaurant I noticed near the Brewery Museum.  It smelled delicious and they had an English menu.  I also knew Bill would get a thrill because he loves Indian food and I don’t.  Alas, they were closed on Sunday, despite their sign signifying otherwise.  Oh well.  If we go back to Plzen, we’ll have to try it.  It gets great reviews on TripAdvisor.  Even without the reviews, my nose told me it was a good place to eat.

It was okay that we missed Buddha, though, because I found another fabulous restaurant.  I had actually noticed it as we walked into town.  I am naturally attracted to alcoves when we travel.  I like to explore things that aren’t on the main drags.  This restaurant was actually on the main drag, but had its entrance in an alcove.  Called U Makicke Brany, the outside of the restaurant looks distinctly Eastern European.  The inside is very inviting, with cavernous ceilings and an upscale bar area.  I was especially attracted by the great music they were playing… lots of classic rock!  Good music, excellent beer, and delicious food is an invitation for me to pig out, which is exactly what I did.

Bill looks at the menu.

 

U Makicke Brany offers menus with German and English translations, which was a huge help.  I can often figure things out in local languages, but Czech is a mystery to me.  Our waitress and the bartender also spoke English and/or German, which was also helpful.  Actually, speaking some German is useful in the Czech Republic, because even if someone can’t speak English, chances are they will know some German.  I have noticed it on all of our visits.  Bill can speak basic conversational German and it does come in handy when we go to the Czech Republic.

I loved the bar!

And the beer…

But I especially loved the garlic soup!

 

As we were looking at the menu, I noticed the restaurant offered garlic soup, which is apparently a popular hangover cure in the Czech Republic.  I noticed the Brewery Museum restaurant also had it on the menu.  I was intrigued by the ingredients, which looked really good to me.  There was garlic, potatoes, barley, bacon, and croutons.  It sounded perfect for cold weather.  But I also knew I wanted dessert and I knew the main course would also fill me up.  Thankfully, Bill was happy to order it with two spoons.  Our waitress was adorable and beamed when I enthused about that soup.  I think she and the bartender had some chemistry going on.  I noticed they seemed to be enjoying each other’s company.

This garlic soup was delicious!  I need to find a recipe.  It wasn’t too garlicky, but had just enough of an essence.  The croutons tasted homemade and buttery, which really added to the comfort level of the soup.  It smelled amazing, too.  

Bill sensibly followed up with a chicken Caesar salad.  It also had bacon in it.  Bacon makes everything better, right?

I went with smoked duck breast and gravy.  I told you, I love duck… even though they are so cute and cuddly.  I wish my tastebuds hadn’t evolved before my ethics did.  The duck came with baked potato discs that absorbed the gravy in a most appealing way.  Or course, I was thinking to myself that green vegetables had been missing from my diet while we were in the Czech Republic.  I’ll have to make up for that this week.

For dessert, we shared cheesecake with blueberry sauce.  This was just the right size.  Not too big, heavy, or rich.

And I had one more dark beer for the road… a Master, which packed a good punch.  Between us, we had five beers, a bowl of soup, a salad, an entree, and dessert.  It set us back less than $40.  Cheap!

A few shots of the outside.  In the summer, they also have outdoor seating.

I noticed the street name as we waited to cross the street.

Views of Plzen on a sunny day.

Inside the tower as I recover from the climb.

We decided to go back to the dogs and watch more of the Olympics, since by the time we were finished with our sumptuous lunch, it was mid afternoon.  Once again, we were too full to go looking for dinner.  Instead, we had more croquettes.  Even as I was cursing myself for being so lazy on this trip, I realized that with better planning, we could really fill our days up in this part of the Czech Republic.  Not only is there Plzen, which in and of itself offers a lot to do, there’s also Karlovy Vary, which is a beautiful spa town, and of course, Chodova Plana, which offers Chodovar.  If we’d wanted to, we could have spent a week and not done the same thing twice.  Maybe that’s why we didn’t go out as much as we should have.  There were so many choices that we were overwhelmed with making decisions.

Bill and I mostly stay low key on our trips, anyway.  We kind of like to soak up the atmosphere, people watch, and do the odd activity, sandwiched with good food, beer, or wine.  We also love meeting new people on our trips.  We almost always have something interesting happen to us, if only because we’re less focused on seeing things and more attuned to simple experiences.

Sunday night, Bill discovered where he could find Chodovar beer in Plzen.  It was available at Billa, a grocery chain in the Czech Republic.  On Monday morning, as we were leaving Plzen, we drove to a really seedy looking part of the city, complete with communist era apartment buildings.  I remarked that it will take a long time before those vestiges of communism will go away.  Those buildings are ugly, but functional.  I used to live in a couple of them myself, when I lived in Armenia.

I enjoyed a Chodovar last night!

Bill scored seven bottles of Chodovar and a few bottles of the awesome flavored sparkling water from there.  I found myself planning another trip in my head.  Next time, maybe we’ll return to Chodovar, which offers a good centralized location for notable cities in the area.  Maybe we’ll spend a few more days, just wandering the beautiful countryside, touring breweries, and hitting the spas.  That’s the life for me!

Those buildings aren’t going away…

Sunday afternoon at the Cannstatter Fest…

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I think I may be getting the hang of the selfie biz…

Yesterday, Bill and I decided to visit the Cannstatter Fest by ourselves.  This is actually kind of a big deal, because although we have lived in this area for a total of five years during two different stints, we have only attended the Cannstatter Fest three times.  Both times prior to yesterday, we went to the fest as part of a group of Bill’s co-workers.  We had never before attended the Wasen as just a couple of people looking for a meal and live music.

Yesterday, I put on the pretty blue dirndl that I bought last year off Amazon.de.  I was feeling a little sheepish, since I wore my dirndl to the Weindorf last month and ended up feeling out of place.  I needn’t have worried, though.  Since it was Sunday, a whole lot of people were headed to Bad Cannstatt.  I watched in amazement as a whole bunch of young Germans decked out in their traditional finery boarded the S1 train to Stuttgart.  And this brings to mind another point I want to make.  Bill was under the impression that the fest would be quiet on a Sunday.  He was very wrong.  It was packed yesterday with people in a partying mood.

We pushed our way through huge crowds of people and made our way to the tents, deciding to enter the first one we saw.  This year, we ended up at the Fürstenberg tent, which was different than in prior years when we went to the Schwaben Bräu tents.  Spotting an open table, we plopped down and Bill ordered us a couple of Maßkrugs of beer.  I got busy filming and taking pictures.  I probably should have gotten up to dance, but it was a lot more fun watching other people.

ETA: Part one FINALLY uploaded!

This is part two of yesterday’s fun…  Part one refuses to upload properly and I may just give up on it.  I actually think this video is more interesting because it focused on what people were doing on the outskirts of the action.  I caught one guy being hustled out of the tent by security for whatever reason.

The band we encountered was decent.  They kept the music upbeat and I noticed they knew most of the words to the English songs they sang.  One of the singers was perpetually flat, but he played a mean guitar.  I was surprised they didn’t play “Take Me Home Country Roads” or “Looking for Freedom” by David Hasselhoff.  Maybe they did play those songs earlier and we missed them.

My computer is being very wonky this morning and it may be time for a new one.  I’ll do my best to share yesterday’s fun, anyway.

This was the first thing we saw as we entered the fest… The people on that ride must be true adrenaline junkies!

That thing went almost all the way up with people dangling on it…  Maybe twenty years ago, I would have tried this, but I wasn’t interested in peeing myself yesterday!

Here’s a wine tent for those who prefer vino to beer.  We should have stopped in.  The weather was perfect yesterday.  No clouds and a very crisp, not cold, temperature.

 

But we were more into the beer scene.  I was surprised by how busy the tent was, but I will admit to being naive.  Of course people will show up for the fest on a Sunday, especially when the weather is so great!

I said something dirty to make Bill laugh…

And he did his best to make me laugh.

Bill limited himself to one of these.  I had two.  Last year, I had four over several hours and that was a disaster.  Never let it be said that I don’t learn from my mistakes.  Fortunately, the involuntary personal protein spill happened after all the people we knew had left.

 

Although I didn’t do any dancing or kiss any strange German men, I thoroughly enjoyed watching other people dance.  Some of the people I was watching were quite inebriated.  I saw one guy marched out of the tent by security.  I don’t know why they were kicking him out.  I doubt it was because he was loaded, though.  Lots of people were drunk yesterday.  I was not among them!

We had wonderful chicken for lunch, although they also had pork knuckles, roasted duck, sausages, and sweets.  We saw a lot of people enjoying the pork knuckles and quite a few folks ordered what looked like high tea.  It was served on a tiered dish.  We read that that was basically dessert for the whole family, capped off by sparklers.

Not the greatest photo, but you can see the sparklers lit up on top.

Second round.  They always think the coffee is for me!  The coffee mug Bill drank from was included in the price of the cup, so we got a little souvenir of this year’s festivities.

One thing I did notice about the tent we visited this year was that the bathrooms were spotless.  Yes, we had to pay to pee, as usual, but the Klofraus did an excellent job cleaning.  I don’t mind paying if the toilets are stocked and clean.  Bravo!

After a leisurely lunch and a couple of hours spent watching people dance, sing, and stagger about, Bill and I decided to head home.  We did notice that as the sun began to sink, the crowd got wilder.  I’m sure last night’s festivities were a lot of fun.  Our table was reserved by the fire brigade at 5:30pm and I bet they were dancing on the benches!  I don’t actually enjoy big crowds, though, so it was okay that we were leaving.  If you like a lot of action, you might prefer visiting the tents at night, when people really go wild.

One lingering shot before we made our exit.

 

If I thought it was crowded when we arrived at the Volksfest, I was mistaken.  The grounds were positively congested with people, many of whom were wearing dirndls and lederhosen.  It was really packed, so much so that it was actually hard to walk back to the train station.  I thought about visiting the WC one more time, but there was a big line of women waiting.  I ended up using the one in the station, which again requires 50 cents.  It was mainly clean, though not as clean as the one in the tent.

A few more thrill rides!  The last three pictures were taken when we arrived.  It was comparatively peaceful at that time of day.  You can see that there are plenty of food options available for those who’d rather get on the rides than sit in the tents.

 

I think Deutsche Bahn was running extra trains yesterday to deal with the extra crowds.  We got on a relatively empty train to Vaihingen, although we were ultimately headed to the last stop in Herrenberg.  Actually, I didn’t mind the extra stop, since it gave me a chance to whiz again.  I encountered the dirtiest toilet of the day in Vaihingen.  It was in one of those coin operated public toilets.  Let’s just say it was pretty gross, although I have experienced worse by far.

Well… that’s probably gonna do it for us and festing, at least until the spring.  We haven’t been to the spring fests yet, so that’s something to look forward to if we survive the winter.  The Volksfest runs until next Sunday, so if you’re local and want to party, head on over to Bad Cannstatt before the fun ends.

My Belgian Birthday! Part five

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Since we were sort of in the area, Bill and I decided to visit Ghent (or Gent) on Monday.  Ghent is a bit further away from Alveringem than Bruges is, but I had heard it’s a beautiful city.  Another frequently recommended Belgian city is Antwerp, but that wasn’t convenient to us on this trip.

Bill went to town again for more croissants.  The lady who sold him the croissants asked, “English?”  Bill said yes.  So she laughed and said, “Ta ta!”  We both had a laugh over that– since it’s kind of an antiquated Britishism.  I guess it would be hard to tell where an English speaker is from if it’s not your native tongue.  Like, I would have trouble telling Schwabish from Bavarian.  It was pretty funny just the same.

We said good morning to our animal companions before we left.  The bunny came back, as did the cows and chickens.

Marianne told us that they were doing some extensive roadwork in Ghent.  That turned out to be true.  Bill was a bit white knuckled as he searched for a parking garage.  Ignoring my gasp and warning of “Look out!”, he managed to drive over a couple of… well, I don’t know what they were, but he wasn’t supposed to drive over them.  He was focused on the construction, while I was focused on the things on the road that he was supposed to drive around as opposed to over.

Once again, we were pleased by the parking garage, which was very clean and offered a relatively pleasant unisex bathroom.  This one was free and came with its own mood music.  In our case, it was a new song by Phil Collins.

The parking garage in Ghent even had its own Breathalyzer!  First time I’ve ever seen one of these.  I think it’s very progressive.

Our first stop was in a cathedral in Ghent, which turned out to be even more beautiful than the one in Bruges.  We walked through the crypt and checked out the artifacts as well as the ornate interior.  Once again, Bill was moved to tears.  Bill frequently gets overcome by beautiful art or places.  With me, it’s music.  Had a choir been singing, I probably would have been bawling like I was in Haarlem two years ago.

Our next stop was a bank.  One snag we hit on this trip was USAA erroneously thinking Bill’s debit card was compromised by fraud.  He managed to make a purchase at Johnny Rocket’s at Ramstein.  Then the card quit working.  He had to call USAA to straighten it out.  While we were Ghent, he needed to replenish his cash.  For some reason, we had a hard time finding a bank.  But while we were searching, I was able to get some nice photos.

Ghent is actually a very beautiful town, though perhaps not as quaint as Bruges is.  It was also pretty crowded, but not as obnoxiously so as Bruges was.

I think this was once the post office, but it now appears to be a mall.

I didn’t take a lot of photos in the Ghent cathedral, but I had to get one of the choir loft.  On the other side, there was identical seating.  That must be quite a choir!

American themed clothing store.  

Bill and I thought it was funny that the Marriott was offering “High Wine”… especially since it’s historically tied to a high profile Mormon family.

We stopped for lunch at a little restaurant called de Grill.  There was a lot of outdoor seating under umbrellas and they were offering an attractive special involving steaks.  Bill and I went for seafood, though.

And beer…  I had a tripel and Bill had an amber by Gentse.  Again, it was good enough that we bought some to bring back to Germany with us.

We watched people in boats passing… many of them had rainbow colored parasols.  Actually, both Bruges and Ghent appeared to be very LBGT friendly.

I had a fish brouchette, which included salmon, shrimp, and whitefish.  It was excellent!  I was especially pleased by the salmon, which was perfectly cooked.  And of course, there was a trough of fries and Bearnaise sauce.

Bill had croquettes made with shrimp and cheese.  He said it was good that I didn’t order the croquettes because the cheese was pretty strong.  He loves his strong cheeses.  

I had a Gentse Gruut Inferno for dessert.  I think it annoyed the waiter, who was clearly in a hurry to shut down. 

He closed the unused tables at 1:45pm and was happy to bring out the check for us.  Bill says lunch was just under fifty euros.

I could have spent a little more time in Ghent.  I’d like to go back sometime without the dogs and walk around for awhile.

Ubiquitous Coca-Cola!

We stopped at the store again on Monday to stock up for our drive back to Germany.  We stocked up on beer, cheese, and hair products.  After another low key evening at our rural hideaway, we were well-rested for the very long drive back to Stuttgart.

My Belgian birthday! Part three

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On our first morning, Bill headed into the very small town and picked up some croissants from one of the two local bakeries.  He also bought a loaf of very fresh farmhouse bread, which we didn’t end up finishing.  It was huge!

As we enjoyed eggs from Marianne’s chickens and milk from the farm next door, we discussed what our plans were for the day.  Although I hadn’t expressly planned it, our location put us very close to the beach.  Since I grew up near the beach and miss the water, I decided we should head there for lunch and a stroll along the shore.  It turns out Koksidje, located on the North Sea, is maybe about a half hour’s drive from Alveringem.  I was impressed by the beach.  The sand was really nice and the water was warm and inviting.  I wished I’d brought a bathing suit!

The tide was way out when we visited.

Bill checks out the long walk to the water.

I thought this was a crack pipe at first.  Gotta stop watching cop shows.

I took a picture of this house because it was cool looking.

We found a parking spot in a shopping area right next to the beach, took a short stroll around the neighborhood, and stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Rimini.  There was plenty of outdoor seating, but I preferred an inside table.  I like to spare my skin from too much sun if I can .

Bill looking severe.  I’m not sure why.

 

The menu was in French and Dutch, but our waiter spoke perfect English.

I took a picture of this so I wouldn’t forget the name of the restaurant.

I decided to have shrimp croquettes.  It turns out croquettes are very popular in this part of Belgium.  I saw them offered everywhere.  These reminded me of crabcakes.  I have never been a fan of crabcakes, but I did enjoy the shrimp croquettes.  They were very flavorful and kind of moist.  I’m not sure if they were going for moist, but it wasn’t a bad thing.

Naturally, we also had frites.  Frites are everywhere in Belgium!

Bill had a skewer of grilled shrimp seasoned with curry and served with tartar sauce.  He really enjoyed the shrimp, but I think I liked my moist croquettes more.

I saved room for dessert.  This was called the Grand Dame.  It was bourbon vanilla ice cream with warm chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and a waffle cookie.  How Belgian can you get?  I usually don’t have ice cream for dessert, but I had a craving.  This hit the spot nicely.

Bill had chocolate mousse, which was also very satisfactory.

After we finished eating, we encountered the first of many unisex public restrooms in Belgium.  I actually found that kind of refreshing.  I mean, the stalls were totally private, so it was no big deal.  Of course, I made a mistake and accidentally used the men’s stall.  I guess the urinal should have given me a clue.

Outside of the restaurant.

 

Bill was concerned about our two hour parking limit, but I was dying to walk on the sand and test the water.  I convinced him no parking authorities would come running out to ticket him if I took a few minutes to enjoy the beach.  He relented and I went down to the water, which had very gentle surf and was pleasantly warm.  I could have stayed there all day.  It was just lovely.  The sand was lovely, too… no pebbles or rocks.

On the way back to the car, we got mooned by a statue.

The Hokey Pokey perhaps?

One last shot of the sand.  I think we may have to come back and do this beach properly.

On the way back to the house, we stopped by the Carrefour.  It’s a very nice place to shop with high quality groceries and home goods.  I liked it because it had a public restroom and nice lighting.  And if I had wanted to, I could have bought a bike.  Like their northern Dutch neighbors, Belgians in Flanders are very partial to biking.  Bikes are everywhere!  And I saw everything from tandem bikes to tricycles!

They even had an electric bike for sale.

You’d never guess this picture was taken next to the Carrefour.  It’s a very pretty area.

 

Although it was only mid afternoon, it was hot out and Bill and I felt like hanging out with the dogs and drinking beer.  So that’s what we did.  We went back to the house and watched American TV on Belgian cable, drank some excellent Belgian brews, and hung out with Zane and Arran.  Bill cooked dinner and we turned in early with big plans to visit Bruges on Sunday.

My Belgian birthday! Part one

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Yesterday was my birthday.  I turned 45.  I am definitely not living the life I thought I would live at this age, but I can’t complain.  Bill and I learned our lesson the last time we were in Germany.  You have to take all the opportunities you can to see Europe.  Last year, we stayed in town for my birthday and visited one of our favorite local restaurants, Osteria da Gino (Nagold).  This year, Bill decided to take a few days of leave so we could go somewhere.

Although I have enjoyed most of the countries I’ve visited so far, Belgium remains one of my favorite places.  I love the frites, chocolate, and beer.  Also, any country that has a statue of a little boy peeing wins points with me.  Belgium evidently has a number of such monuments, but the most famous one is, of course, Mannekin Pis, which is in Brussels.  Bill and I visited Brussels in 2008.  I would actually love to go back there for the beer scene alone, but we were going to be bringing our dogs, Zane and Arran.  When the boys are with us, it’s better to be out in the country.

Off I went to Booking.com to find a rental house.  To be honest, although we ended up in Belgium, I also considered places in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands.  I finally settled on Holiday Home Bonjour Clara, located in Alveringem, Belgium.  I picked this house because it offered everything we needed and was in an attractive location near Bruges, Ghent, and the beach.  It had free WiFi, free parking, and was pet friendly.  Somehow, I failed to notice that it also sleeps at least 10 people!  The house is HUGE.  Moreover, besides being very large, it boasts a “swimming pond”, which I also thought was pretty cool.  More on that later.

Anyway, for four nights, we paid 760 euros in cash.  We were actually supposed to do a bank transfer, but the hostess never sent the information to me.  I guess that makes sense, since we booked it just a few days before our arrival.  We usually spend less on our vacation rentals, but again, for some reason I didn’t realize just how huge the house was.  For as many people as it can accommodate, it was definitely priced fairly.  I will review the house in the next post.

On Friday morning, we loaded up the RAV4.  I was feeling a little out of sorts because I ordered coffee from the States again and it hadn’t yet arrived.  Just my luck, the post did try to deliver it on Friday… or so that’s what the mail tracker says.  We have to pay a duty for the coffee, so I was wanting to hang around long enough to take care of that.  Bill, being ever practical and wary of long drives, noted just how far Alveringem is from the Stuttgart area and nixed my idea of waiting for the mail.  It’s a good thing he did that, since it took all day to get to where we were going.  I had initially told our host, Marianne, that we would arrive by five o’clock.  We didn’t actually get to her house until seven.  In all, I think it took about 8 or 9 hours to get there!

On the way to Belgium, we stopped at Ramstein Air Base to gas up the car, buy a top up for my phone, and get some lunch.  Although I had heard about the Burger King fire at Ramstein, I had forgotten about it and was shocked to see the charred skeleton of the building.  The fire happened in mid April.  It must have been quite the inferno!  We spent a lot longer at Ramstein than we should have, although I will admit to being impressed by the facilities there.  It’s like a little America!  I hadn’t been there since our last Space A trip in 2014.  We had burgers from Johnny Rocket’s for lunch.  I think I can safely say I don’t need to have another one of those for awhile.

Our drive to Alveringem was mostly uneventful, though very long.  Just getting out of Germany seemingly takes forever.  We ran into the usual staus and had to stop a few times for potty breaks.  Like Germany, Belgium’s high speed freeways are apparently free (for now, anyway).  But the roads aren’t in the best condition in some areas.  I also noticed both on this trip and our last Belgian holiday that free rest areas aren’t as plentiful.  Lots of “rest areas” in Belgium are really just places where you can pull off on the side of the road.  If you have to pee, it seems you just do it outside.  We saw lots of men doing just that.  And if you go to a rest area, you’ll most likely have to pay for the privilege of peeing.  I actually don’t mind that, since it allows me to get rid of change and usually ensures that the toilets will be clean and stocked with toilet paper.

As we got closer to our destination, I noticed the aroma in the air.  It smelled of manure, then ripe cheese.  I said, “Ugh!  That really stinks!”

I looked over at Bill, who had a big smile on his face.

“You like that smell, don’t you?” I asked.

“Yes!” Bill sighed.  He loves stinky cheese.  Maybe that’s why we’ve managed almost fifteen years together!  I am kidding, of course.  I don’t actually smell like stinky cheese… Do I?

The long trip was worth it…

We finally made it to the Schwabengarten…

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I know… I know… in August, we will have spent a total of five years in the Stuttgart area– two years with the Army and three with contractors.  You’d think with as much as I love beer, I would have scoped out a permanent spot at the Schwabengarten, a large biergarten near Leinfelden.  I am sad to say that today was my first visit.  However, I don’t think it will be the last time we go there for suds and spareribs.

We had nearly perfect weather today in Germany.  The sun was out; the clouds were minimal; and it wasn’t too hot.  I sprayed sunscreen all over myself, determined not to burn to a crisp.  As it turned out, we got more sun while riding in my convertible than sitting at the Schwabengarten.  There is a large covered area as well as plenty of tables under umbrellas.

We chose a table under the covered area, which may not have been the best choice.  Not long after we sat down, we were joined by a bunch of chain smoking locals who made me wish I’d clipped an electric fan to my mighty bosoms that I could aim their way.  You may think I’m joking about this, but I once went on a cruise where a woman did just that.  And I did manage to snap a photo…

See?  I’m not kidding.

Anyhoo… the weather was fine, the beer was cold, and the pork was good.  I had ribs and Bill had the pulled pork sandwich, which was pretty good, even if it was covered in sauerkraut.

We arrived at a little past one… it was busy, but not totally overrun.  There were plenty of tables free and we had no problems finding parking.

The Schwabengarten is self-service.  You go up to the counter, order what you want, and take it back to your table…

Bill was ordering us a couple of mas krugs…

He kindly delivered them…

And spent about two hours drinking them.  In retrospect, maybe I should have gotten a smaller beer.  They don’t warm up when it takes less time to drink them.   

Bill’s pulled pork sandwich.  This was pretty good.  It came with kraut, lettuce, and tomatoes.

I got the ribs.  You can get this dish sans fries.  I probably should have, because I couldn’t finish this.  However, I will say that the ribs were very good– they may have been among the best I’ve had here, outside of the Auld Rogue!  Next time, we’ll get one order and split it.  I only wished I’d had Handi-Wipes by the time I was done!

 

Bill grooves to the music.  This was one area where I think the Schwabengarten can improve.  It’s weird hearing a dance version of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

Empty tankard, sans cover.  When you’re finished with your dishes, it’s likely a young lad will come along and clear them for you.  Bill tried to clear our table and was quickly corrected by a flustered young man who seemed puzzled he’d bother with that!

This lady was featured on all of the Schwabengarten’s ads.  She reminds me of Sandra Bullock.

But I was feeling more like this cow.

 

I’m pleased to report that the restrooms were very clean and functional.  They even had Dyson hand dryers and an actual changing room for babies.  Actually, I’d say this particular venue is very kid friendly.  I saw lots of kids today having a good time while the adults drank beer and ate pork products.  I also heard plenty of my countrymen.  Lots of Americans hang out at the Schwabengarten.

Awesome Maypole in the parking lot.

Sandra Bullock’s twin again.

 

We spent about 35 euros today and had a good time enjoying the weather and the atmosphere.  We don’t live that close to Leinfelden, which is probably why today was the first time we visited.  Now that I’ve been, I’d go again, although I’m still partial to biergartens closer to home.  Anyway, I think it’s a good bet if you need a kid friendly place to go, especially if you’re with a group.  In fact, you can even reserve online if you have a group.  I’d recommend doing just that, especially if the weather is good.

This bus has handy advertising on its tail end…