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Turning 50 in Antwerp… part eight

On the morning of June 21, we got up and packed everything, and Bill took it to the car, which was buried deep under the hotel in their tiny parking garage. We went down to breakfast and enjoyed the other half of the delicious strawberry tart. It was even better the second day! I was sorry to leave De Witte Lelie, as it was such a welcoming and homey hotel. The staff is so friendly and helpful, and the accommodations are stylish and comfortable. Alas, we had to leave Antwerp and go home to our dogs. So, after we settled the bill and said goodbye, we got in the Volvo and took about half an hour trying to maneuver out of the garage, which has a steep incline to the door. Kudos to Bill and the many fancy sensors on the Volvo for getting us out of there unscathed!

We also had much less trouble leaving Antwerp than entering it, as Bill didn’t make any wrong turns. I was sorry to leave without a new diamond, but I think I’d rather get one at a place where I’m not a tourist. There were a couple of Trip Advisor horror stories that advised me against shopping for a new rock in Belgium.

First on our agenda was to stop at a Belgian supermarket to pick up some beers for home. We stopped at a little co-op market and loaded up a cart with suds, as well as a few other items. Bill went to pay, and it turned out they didn’t take Visa. They also didn’t have an ATM. So the cashier was kind enough to watch our cart while we searched for a cash machine. That took about an hour, even with a GPS… but eventually, we got our euros, gassed up the car, I unloaded the breakfast beverages, and we went back to the store to make our purchase. The cashier had kept the cart safe for us. Next time, we’ll bring cash.

Then, we headed eastward, stopping at a typical German Rastplatz for lunch at McDonald’s. I had to laugh when Bill ordered two Royales and one of them came with the bun that is usually reserved for plain cheeseburgers (no sesame seeds). I guess McDonald’s in Europe are also suffering from supply chain shortages.

Our drive home was completely uneventful, and we arrived in the mid afternoon. I got started on my blogging, and Bill went to get the dogs, who were very happy to come home after four nights away. I always worry about Arran on our trips now, as he’s an old guy and would rather hang out with us. Noyzi was also very glad to be back home in his bed.

I was feeling okay… maybe there was a little scratchiness in my throat. I didn’t know that Wednesday, I’d be legitimately sick for the first time in several years and wondering if I finally got COVID-19. I have so far tested twice, and got negative results both times. I also feel a lot better today than I did yesterday. So… I’m thinking this was a cold. But, I will confess that this trip was maskless and restriction free. I might have gotten COVID-19, but so far, the tests say no… However, I don’t interact with people anyway, so I’m just riding it out at home. Today, I feel like I am about 85% normal. Yesterday, I was probably 60% normal. Wednesday night and Thursday were the worst, but even they weren’t as bad as the last time I had the flu. I haven’t had a fever, body aches, or exhaustion. I have had a runny nose, coughing, vomiting (from coughing), headache, sinus pressure, and mild fatigue. In other words, this sickness feels like a cold.

So ends my 50th birthday celebration. I must say, it was a lot of fun turning 50 in Antwerp. Belgium is a great destination for me, mainly because it has beer, frites, chocolate, and friendly, unpretentious people who are funny! I hope we can visit Antwerp again, and I would encourage you to visit, if you have the time and the means!

Stay tuned for my usual ten things I learned post… if you’re interested, that is. ūüėČ

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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. ūüėČ 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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Our Heidelberger Birthday Holiday! Part one

The featured photo is of our crowded, but quaint, village of Wallau, located near where we live. This was where we got our vaccines registered.

I am delighted to write another travel blog series. It’s been AGES since I’ve been able to write an actual travel post for my travel blog, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Things are finally opening up here in Europe. Infection numbers are falling; fewer people are being hospitalized or dying; and people are breaking out of seclusion for some fun. I have been waiting impatiently for the ability to have fun. It’s been too long.

As of June 16th, I became fully inoculated with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. That was enough of a cause for celebration… but today also happens to be my birthday. Bill and I usually try to do fun things when we have birthdays, and this year we needed a break more than other years. We also needed to introduce Noyzi to the Birkenhof Tierpension, since we haven’t been anywhere since we adopted him in October of last year. Since it was Noyzi’s trial run at our boarding facility, we decided to keep the weekend short and close to home.

I’d been wanting to visit Heidelberg again for ages. We went there in October 2008, when we lived in the Stuttgart area the first time. That visit was decidedly friend heavy, as at the time, there was still an active Army installation in Heidelberg. We had several friends who were living there, so during that visit, we hung out with them and went on post. I remember touring Heidelberg Castle one day, eating at Vetter’s, and then the next day, we went to nearby Schwetzingen and visited the palace and castle. We even took a tour in German. The hotel we stayed in then was Appartment & Hotel Kurpfalzhof Heidelberg, which was then, and still is, the number one traveler ranked hotel on Trip Advisor. It was an extremely clean and nice hotel, with friendly owners who were obviously very Army friendly. For some reason, they aren’t taking reservations right now.

For this occasion, I was wanting to stay somewhere fancier and in town, anyway. I found two likely candidates: Heidelberg Suites and Der Europ√§ische Hof Heidelberg. Both properties were extremely appealing for different reasons. I ended up choosing Der Europ√§ische Hof Heidelberg because of its downtown location and parking availability– there’s a garage right next door. They have a pool, and thanks to the heat wave, I knew I’d be wanting to swim. They also have a beautiful bar area, and Bill and I were hoping to enjoy that, too… (and we certainly did).

So, with the hotel booked for Friday and Saturday nights, and the dogs set up for their stay at the Birkenhof, it was time to deal with the next part of the process of breaking back into traveling. We needed to visit an Apotheke (pharmacy) to register proof of our vaccinations with the German government and pick up QR codes that can be uploaded into an app that is easily shown at restaurants, hotels, and shops. I was a little worried about that process, having read a “horror” story in The Local: Germany about an American guy in Cologne who went to six different places until he finally found a place that would recognize his American CDC vaccination card.

Bill and I didn’t have any trouble like that. We followed the link for mein-apothekenmanager.de to find a local pharmacy that had the ability to register people in the system. Not all pharmacies are participating, and some are participating, but don’t have the system set up yet. It turned out a pharmacy in the next village was participating. Bill sent them an email in German explaining that we’re Americans who need the QR codes for the app and asking if they could help. To our delight, the answer was a yes. Bill stopped by on Monday and dropped off copies of our vaccine cards, and the very pleasant druggist told us that she’d have them ready for us in a few days. It took time because so many people were trying to sign up that the system crashed!

On Friday morning, we took the dogs to the Hunde hotel. Noyzi seemed alright when we left. There were several nice dogs there who seemed eager to play! I think it helped that Arran was happy to be there and very relaxed. Arran has been many times and always has fun. We’ll go pick them up in a few hours. Hopefully, everything went alright!

After we dropped them off, we went to Wallau to get the proof of vaccination. There was a long line of people waiting outside of the pharmacy, many of whom were waiting to register. Others just needed to get some drugs. It’s good that we brought in the papers before Friday, since it’s routinely taking the pharmacist a couple of days to get people’s credentials loaded. If we had not had that paperwork, we probably would have needed to be tested for COVID-19 while we were in Heidelberg. Below is a picture of what the papers look like.

Unfortunately, the apps available in Germany aren’t available to us yet. We both tried to download the CovPass app, but that requires a German iTunes account and we have American ones. When I tried to change my location to Germany in the App Store, I got this message:

One of the other two apps is only for Android users. The other one, for some reason, just refused to work at all. I was able to download the Luca app, though, which is used for contract tracing and test results. Supposedly, we will eventually be able to load the vaccine passes into that app, too. I’m sure the German government will hear about this issue soon, or they’ll get used to the American CDC cards. In any case, the paper from the pharmacy worked alright, even though we don’t have the yellow European version of the the vaccine proof card. I suppose we could have gotten one at a pharmacy and had them stamped by the American vaccination center where we got our shots, but we didn’t know about them when we got inoculated. Phew… so much work to get legit before we can take a weekend out of town!

After we got the vaccine paperwork done, we packed a couple of bags and loaded the Volvo; then we set off for Heidelberg, which is about 50 miles– 70 kilometers from where we live. Although it only takes about an hour or so to get there, it’s in another state– our old home of Baden- W√ľrttemberg– where Bill and I spent a total of six mostly happy years together. It’s always a pleasure to go back! The drive was easy and fun… I spent the whole time making jokes about Sinead O’Connor’s new book, which I hope to be reviewing on my main blog very soon!

Once we found our way to the beautiful, grand, five star lodging where I had booked a junior suite for two nights, the celebration was primed to begin. More on that in the next post!

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Mr. Bill gets rare Indian food on his birthday…

Slow news day here in Wiesbaden? Perhaps…

Yesterday was Bill’s birthday. He wanted Indian food for his birthday dinner. I don’t eat Indian food, as a general rule. A lot of it is too spicy for me, plus there’s a lot of cilantro and cardamom used. Cilantro tastes a little soapy to me. Still, there are some things I can eat, and I trust Bill to know what I like. So he ordered some Indian food from Tandoorian, which is a restaurant located in Wiesbaden Mitte, right across from the Nassauer Hof. Bill visited there with his mom a few months ago, when she visited us. I needed some time to myself, so they went out for lunch together. They were raving about it when they got back home. Little did we know in January that we’d be locked down for weeks on end…

Actually, we could have gone out last night. Germany’s doing alright in terms of the virus. I keep reading news from my American friends and it makes me feel depressed and panicky, even though we’re fortunate enough to live in a place where the sickness isn’t so widespread. God bless Angela Merkel for her excellent handling of the pandemic. She’s been an excellent leader throughout this mess. I wish America could boast similarly good leadership.

Anyway, Bill ordered Tandoori Chicken for me, which is pretty basic grilled chicken pieces that have been marinated for twenty-four hours in yogurt and spices. For himself, he ordered Dhal Makhni, a vegetarian dish made with Indian lentils with butter, fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, cream and fine spices. We also had naan and Garlic Kulcha, which was basically garlic flatbread. Lots of sauces accompanied this feast. I have to admit, it was very good and an interesting change of pace. It wasn’t too expensive, and it was delivered right to our door. We washed it down with a fine Armenian red wine.

Here are some pictures…

I really enjoyed the chicken. The spices were delightful, perhaps because they went so well with being grilled and they were novel to my tastebuds. Like I said, I don’t eat Indian food very often. I have to hand it to Bill… he’s introduced me to all sorts of foods I never ate before we met… stuff like sushi and guacamole and Chinese food. Seriously, I grew up on a bland southern cuisine diet, with a lot of stuff coming from cans and boxes. I got to be a pretty good cook as I came of age and even when I was single, I didn’t use a lot of boxes and cans. But my parents never took me to places with different cuisines, even though they were kind of adventurous themselves. I was a picky eater when I was a kid. I still am, to some extent.

Anyway, Bill had a nice birthday. He worked at home, and besides getting a lot of birthday wishes from his friends, he also got them from a lot of my friends. I think he’s pretty popular among my friends. He kind of balances me out a bit.

Perhaps we’ll pay a visit to Tandoorian sometime soon and try their cuisine in house. It’s getting easier to do that, thanks to “Mutti”. On another note, it’s weird to be an American in the European Union, as Americans are not currently welcome to visit. We are living in very strange times.

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My pandemic birthday… part one

Why did we stay twenty minutes from home?

A few weeks ago, Bill and I went to nearby Hofheim to visit the Birkenhof Farm for some fresh products from their 24/7 fridge. I wrote about that experience here. While we were picking out strawberries and farm cheese from the fridge, I couldn’t help but notice the unmistakable dome of a “Therme”. Germany has several areas that are noted for their natural hot springs where the water is rich with healing minerals. Stuttgart and Wiesbaden are both hot springs “hot spots”. Hofheim has the Rhein-Main Therme, that is connected to a hotel, which I spotted as we passed it in May. I mused that I would like to visit.

When we lived near Stuttgart, I loved visiting the Mineraltherme in B√∂blingen. I see it’s currently still closed due to COVID-19, although it looks like it will be opening again soon. Wiesbaden and the surrounding areas in Hesse have not been as badly affected by the coronavirus as Baden-W√ľrttemberg has been. Granted, the pandemic is still going on right now, but things have loosened up a bit. I think Bill was also a bit worried about my mental health, because I sometimes suffer from anxiety and depression and was starting to become a hermit. Until this weekend, I had not left our neighborhood since that short trip to the Birkenhof farm on May 17th… and I wasn’t really wanting to go anywhere.

Bill loves to travel, and so do I… but the whole COVID-19 thing and the constant social media uproar about it was making me very reluctant to venture out. So he decided to book a “surprise” weekend away for me. He didn’t tell me where we were going, but I kind of figured it out. The Rhein-Main Therme is located only twenty minutes away from our home in Breckenheim, but it’s connected to a comfortable hotel that offers half board options and room service. He figured that even if I didn’t want to leave the hotel, we could still get room service. And being the thoughtful guy he is, he even brought Yahtzee and Trivial Pursuit, in case I wanted to play board games. Fortunately, those measures weren’t necessary. I ended up consenting to going out, despite my hatred of face masks… so my 48th birthday turned out to be pretty epic.

After arranging for Arran to visit the Birkenhof Tierpension, where he’d get to hang out with his old friend, Celene, who always takes great care of of him (and Zane, when he was still with us), Bill booked us two nights at the Vital Hotel, which is connected to the Rhein-Main Therme. He decided to go for the “Happy Weekend” package, which included half board (breakfast and dinner in the restaurant), free admission to the Therme, and two nights in the hotel. Right now, because of the pandemic, the Therme is limiting day visitors to three hour stays, but if you’re staying in the hotel, you can go directly to the Therme and stay as long as you want.

Meanwhile, as Bill was planning my birthday retreat, I was eyeing new guitars. I started learning to play guitar a few weeks ago. I bought an acoustic guitar on Amazon.de and signed up for Fender Play, an online service offered by the Fender guitar company that uses videos to teach people the basics of the instrument. The lessons have been going so well, and Bill has been enjoying hearing me play so much, that he decided he wanted to learn, too. So, even though I had a new Ortega acoustic guitar that I picked up on Amazon, I decided I wanted a better guitar with steel strings… and I bought Bill a basic guitar, too. Since we haven’t been traveling, I had some money stockpiled.

Fender Play isn’t available worldwide, but it is available in Germany. And there is also a Fender shop in Europe. My instruments got to me by way of The Netherlands in just three days! I love my pretty blue guitar, although I like the other one for teaching me the basics! As Bill was unwrapping his birthday gift (his is on July 7th), I said I felt like Oprah… “You get a guitar, and you get a guitar, and you get a guitar…” I’m still a lot better at singing than playing guitar, but I’m making progress, and my fingers are getting tougher by the day!

I worked on my new guitar skills as I nervously awaited our first trip away from home since coronavirus fucked everything up…

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Early birthday present…

These arrived yesterday…

My birthday is Saturday. Father’s Day is Sunday. Bill has a birthday in July. That’s why I decided to buy expensive Ass Clown Brewing Company insulated travel tumblers.

Ass Clown Brewing Company is located in Cornelius, North Carolina, which I think isn’t too far from Charlotte. I see from the map on their Facebook page that they’re in an area not too far from Interstate 77, which I used to travel somewhat often when I lived in South Carolina. I became aware of their company when Bill and I lived in North Carolina seven or eight years ago, but we were never able to visit their brewery to try any of their beers. I love the name of their company, though, so I followed them on Facebook.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed they were advertising the above tumblers. I asked them if they would ship them to APO. They hadn’t heard of APO, so I had to explain it to them. Those of us affiliated with the military or U.S. government get APO access– meaning we can receive mail at a post office box as if we were still in the USA. That means we can buy stuff on Amazon.com and other sites without having it sent to our German home address. It saves a lot on shipping and duties. Not all U.S. businesses will ship to APO, because it’s a bit of a hassle. The package has to go to the post office and the sender has to fill out customs forms. That’s a pain in the ass.

So I asked the good people at Ass Clown Brewing Company if they were willing to ship to APO. After a somewhat lengthy chat on Facebook messenger, they said they would. I think I ended up paying about $72 for these two tumblers, mainly because they’re large and we had them personalized. We also had to pay sales tax and shipping, of course. But I’m pretty excited by them because they look great, and I love getting new gear from craft breweries. We kind of collect this stuff. The beer cozies and stickers were extra schwag they threw in. I don’t know how often we’ll use these. I prefer drinking beer from glasses or stone mugs. On the other hand, they might make my next road trip more fun.

Now, I kind of wish I’d ordered t-shirts, too. I have a feeling I’m going to need them as the temperatures rise here in Germany. I do still have my two air conditioners that kind of work… I have noticed more places in Germany are installing air conditioning as global warming becomes more of a problem. Twelve years ago, it never got that hot here, but I can remember some truly brutal recent summers. I’m just glad the house we’re in now has rolladens on all of the windows. It’s definitely cooler in this house than it was our last one.

Tomorrow, Bill is taking me away on my birthday getaway. It’s just two nights, and we’re not even leaving Hesse. I kind of don’t want to go… but I kind of do want to go, because I’m tired of being bored. I just dread the hassle. Anyway, I should have a somewhat more exciting blog post when we get back from our little “staycation”. Maybe soon, we can venture down to Stuttgart for a trip to the dentist. God knows, we both need a good cleaning.

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Trip forthcoming?

Saturday is my birthday. Bill wants to go somewhere. Germany opened up yesterday, as did much of the rest of Europe, although we are still forbidden to leave the country under General Order #1… or whatever they’re calling it now. We are allowed to do overnights, though, and we can go anywhere in Germany. I suspect we won’t go far, since Bill is only planning two nights. I’m kind of dreading/looking forward to it, if that makes sense. I mean, I want to go somewhere, but I dread the hassle of life in a pandemic.

I wrote in my main blog about the new hobby I picked up in May. I’ve been playing guitar. Bill wants to learn too, so I’ve ordered two new guitars. One new one for me, because I wanted one with steel strings, and one for Bill. I hope they get to us before the weekend. I can hardly wait to try the new instrument, although I have been enjoying my Ortega guitar, too. It’s just that it’s a classical guitar with nylon strings and I want something a little edgier.

And finally, while we didn’t go anywhere on Sunday, we did order some food. Bill had to go on post to pick up something on Sunday, so he decided to stop by the Bamboo Asian Restaurant, which is located on the installation in Wiesbaden, meaning that it mostly caters to Americans. They do delivery on post, but I doubt they’d come all the way out to where we live. He wanted Thai food. It was the first time we’d ever had anything from there, although I was kind of curious about it.

He got me duck with peanut sauce, and he had crispy fish in red curry, which was supposed to be spicy. I didn’t try the crispy fish. The sauce was loaded with mushrooms. However, I did notice that they packaged everything separately, so if I had wanted to try the fish by itself, I could have. I liked that a lot. I enjoyed the duck with peanut sauce, too. In fact, l like peanut sauce very much, because I never see it loaded with mushrooms.

He also got some appetizers– Japanese dumplings, pork spring rolls, and shrimp sticks. They came with a sweet and sour sauce that was very gingery. I think there was a little too much ginger for my taste, although I liked the appetizers. They were nice and fried, which suits me fine! Here are a few photos:

I think Bill is going to keep our trip a secret… we could just end up in Frankfurt, which would be alright with me. I still don’t really feel like dealing with the world due to the coronavirus mess. But it would be good to get a change of scenery, I guess. And it would definitely wake up my sleepy travel blog.

It’s amazing. Every day, I look at photos from years past and remember all the fun we had, and took for granted. I hope this mess will be behind us at some point soon. But I’m not holding my breath.

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Michelin starred birthday dinner at Ente in Wiesbaden!

Thursday, June 20th, was my birthday.  It was also Corpus Christi, one of the many religious holidays celebrated in parts of Germany at this time of year.  And, it was also a work night for Bill, who needs his beauty sleep as much as possible these days.  Consequently, we celebrated my birthday last night instead of on my actual birthday.

Ever since we moved to Wiesbaden a few months ago, we’ve heard many great things about its only Michelin starred restaurant, Ente.  Actually, the first time I heard of Ente was last fall, when Bill and I had “top flight” cuisine at Stuttgart’s high class airport restaurant, Top Air.  That night, we enjoyed the services of a very particular sommelier who fussed over us all evening.  He got his training at Ente many years ago.  Ente is affiliated with the Nassauer Hof, a beautiful hotel in downtown Wiesbaden.

Ente is the German word for duck, and yes, you can have duck there if you wish.  They’ll cook a whole bird for you, complete with heart, liver, and everything else that comes with a living creature before it gets slaughtered.  Bill and I like duck, but we weren’t feeling that adventurous about eating organ meats.  Besides, Chef Michael Kammermeier, who joined Ente in 2008, had other delights to choose from.  There was a menu that featured a dish from each of the chefs, and we had a choice of four to six courses.  Ente also has a “bistro”, which looks less formal and expensive and serves French and Italian cuisine.  We’ll have to try it sometime.

Originally, we were going to take a cab to and from the restaurant, so Bill could relax and enjoy more wine.  But when Bill called for a cab, the closest one was in Frankfurt and would take about thirty-five minutes to get to us.  We decided to take our 2006 Toyota RAV 4 for its final spin as a datemobile, as today we’re driving it to Kaiserslautern and trading it in at the Volvo dealership.  Next week, we fly to Sweden to pick up our new ride.

Here are some pictures and light commentary about last night’s birthday bash.

As we approached… we ended up entering through the bistro, which caused us to take a quick tour through the interior of both restaurants.

Our reservation was for 7:00pm, but we got there a little early.  We were the first ones seated.  The weather was absolutely perfect!  We had a nice view of the Kurhaus, too, where Elton John recently performed.

A smartly attired young woman was our sommelier.  She poured me a glass of vintage rose Champagne.  Bill had an expertly prepared Campari with soda.

Next came the welcome amuse– a raspberry gazpacho with olive oil that tasted like raspberry tomatoes…  a truffle falafel (which I actually ate), duck liver that tasted like cherries, and… I’m not sure I remember what was in the little bowl.  I’m pretty sure it was fish.

Butter with salt and a duck shaped mold of duck “schmalz” to go with…
four kinds of wonderfully fresh bread… Bill liked the duck fat, while I mostly stuck with butter.  I did love the duck shaped mold, though.  We ordered a lovely bottle of Kessler Riesling from the Rheingau that tasted eerily of a sour apple Jolly Rancher, minus the sweetness.  The sommelier was very good about keeping our glasses filled.

I started with the asparagus salad, which had a delightful dollop of sorrel flavored ice cream in the middle.  That was a surprise!  The asparagus was so beautifully arranged, in perfectly cut green and white stalks.  This was a nice beginning.
But I think I liked Bill’s first course even more.  It was king fish ceviche with mango salsa and peppers, along with little “chips” on top.  It popped with flavor.  

Next came the pea ravioli, which was served with coconut foam.  The peas were very fresh and sweet.  Several were in their pods to go with the three homemade raviolis stuffed with pea puree.
Bill’s next dish was tiger trout, which looked a whole lot like salmon and was served with a beautifully presented medley of vegetables and foam.

We each had a scoop of Champagne flavored sorbet to cleanse the palate…

Then it was time for the main courses.  Bill had Loup de Mer, which is basically European sea bass.  It was served with deconstructed ratatouille and jus.
I had Spanish dry aged entrecote.  Originally, this would have been a tri tip of Waygu beef, but they did not have Waygu beef available.  My dish came with a Caesar salad, served on a heart of Romaine with black olives and tomatoes, mashed potatoes, jus, and of course, Bearnaise.  Yes, it’s a tiny portion, but remember we were eating four courses.  The steak was mostly cooked to medium and, to be honest, I’ve had better beef.  I think I liked Bill’s main dish more.

We both had the Strawberry Fields dessert, which was probably my favorite of all of the courses.  It was basically like a very thin layer of chocolate cake with cream, crumbles, and very sweet strawberries.

Just before they brought out the bill, we had chocolates and fruit.  I had a glass of Chianti with it.
Bill ponders the bill…  Glad he brought his credit card.

They brought me a little gift to take home…
A little cake!  And look, it has candles, too!

Total damage for this meal was about 359 euros.  Bill rounded up to 400 euros.  For any Americans reading this who think that was a crappy tip, remember we’re in Germany, where wait staff actually get paid by their employers.  They don’t require or expect a 20 percent tip.  
Overall, our experience at Ente was a very pleasant meal coupled with excellent service.  It was not the BEST I’ve ever had… Actually, I think my favorite restaurant experiences in Germany so far have both been at the now defunct Alte Post in the little Black Forest town of Nagold, of all places.  I had the pleasure of dining in their formal dining room twice and left there both times absolutely floored by how wonderful the meals and service were.  Unfortunately, Alte Post, and its more casual sister restaurant, Luz Bistro, had to close last fall due to a lack of qualified service personnel.  I was sad to see it close, even though we’ve since moved away from the Nagold area.  It really was a fantastic restaurant.
I’ve also had meals in Wiesbaden I liked more than what we had at Ente.  Martino Kitchen immediately comes to mind.  The presentations at Ente were exquisite and the service was divine, but I guess my selections last night just didn’t thrill me as much as some at other places have.  However, I would definitely visit Ente again and try other selections, which very well could shock me like Alte Post did.
A kid doing cartwheels nearby.
A view of the terrace as we were leaving.
Kurhaus.  

Manic looking ad for a dentist who does implants.
Big ass van parked next to us…  Look, it’s a Ford!  Donald Trump was wrong about Germans not owning American cars.  This was a model produced in Europe.
Glad our new car has parking assist.  It’s not easy getting out of a parking spot with something this huge blocking one’s view.
The dogs were delighted to see us!
Well, that’s another birthday down the tubes!


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Celebrating 46 years circling the planet at Osteria da Gino’s in Nagold and drinking “crispy” wine!

Yesterday was my birthday.  It was a great day, even though I’m now officially even closer to turning 50.  Bill and I usually try to do fun things on birthdays, although last year, when I turned 45, we spent a rather hellish day driving home from Belgium and got caught in multiple traffic jams.  The upside is that we came home with a lot of great beer, chocolate, and fantastic memories.

This year, Bill went to work, and I enjoyed a rare imported CD on which I spent lots of cash.  I also listened to my landlords cut the grass and the road workers repairing the street that runs in front of our house.  The duplicate tickets I ordered for Paul Simon’s concert in Dublin next month also arrived, so I can breathe easy that we won’t be going to Dublin simply for the Guinness.

When Bill’s work day was over, he came home, presented me with a new iPad, and took me out to dinner at my FAVORITE restaurant in the entire Stuttgart area.  I’m writing, once again, about Osteria da Gino in Nagold– not to be confused with the Osteria da Gino in Herrenberg, which is also a great place to eat.

If you check this blog, you will see that I’ve written about Gino’s awesome restaurant in Nagold many times.  We discovered it in the spring of 2015, when I read glowing reviews on Trip Advisor.  Nagold is very close to where we live and it’s a super cute town, so it’s always a pleasure to go there in any event.  Dinner at Gino’s is always a treat, and not just because the food is amazing.  Gino and his wife are simply awesome people, richly endowed with the gift of hospitality.  I never feel like I’m a customer when I eat at their restaurant.  I always feel like family… albeit family that pays a check at the end of the meal!

Below are some pictures from last night’s glorious birthday dinner!

Obligatory shot of Bill, reacting to one of my crude jokes.  He’s always good for a laugh!

He gives me this look when I’m on the hot tamale train, which doesn’t happen very often these days.  I did decide to get “dolled up”, though, since it was my birthday and my former English professor, who is now a Facebook friend, wanted me to post a new profile picture.  I was happy to oblige.

We did not make Gino or his wife aware that it was my birthday when we made the very necessary reservations.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because they always treat us like family.  But I did tell the chef that I was “older”…

So Gino’s wife brought me a flower!  

 

It’s not a good idea to visit Gino’s without making a reservation.  In the colder months, people dine in his very small dining room, where it’s very likely that you’ll be sharing a table with another couple.  In fact, two years ago, Bill and I celebrated my 44th birthday at Gino’s and we shared a table with a French and German couple.  The wife was from the Nagold area and they had come to town to visit her family.  It was their first time at Gino’s and, since it was raining, we ate indoors.  I remember how much fun we had getting acquainted with the couple, who were raving about the food.

Last night, we had beautiful weather and a perfect temperature, so we ate outside at a two top.  When outside tables are available, it’s more likely that you’ll have a table to yourself, although that’s not a given.  We saw at least three couples sharing a four top in the course of our dinner.  I have yet to be presented with a menu at Gino’s.  He usually just offers us what he has, although I know he does have a menu.  I kind of like to let Gino take the wheel.  I have never once been disappointed.

Antipast!  The usual orange and fennel salad and a new offering– a mixture of sausage, cheese, carrots, and red peppers…

Fresh bread…

And the rest… beautifully grilled peppers, zucchini, and eggplant, as well as burrata with fresh tomatoes, salami, prosciutto wrapped cantaloupe, cheese, and dried ham.  

 

We washed this down with prosecco, then Gino’s wife asked us what kind of wine we’d like.  Neither Gino nor his wife speak English and though we’re doing better than ever with German, we still have a long way to go.  So when Bill was describing the kind of white wines we like, I said I enjoy “crisp” wines. Dutifully, Bill described it in German–  knusprig– which does mean “crispy”.  But really, it’s more of a word for “crunchy”– kind of akin to the cracklins on a Schweinshaxe or maybe a bowl of Rice Krispies.  Who drinks crunchy wine?  Well, I might try it once!  Anyway, although there is really no such thing as “crispy wine”, our order of “knusprig wine” got a big laugh!  The wine Gino’s wife brought us was less “crisp” and more “toast”, but it went very well with our fruits of the sea inspired dinner.

Followed by warm, lemony octopus…  I do like a little octopus, but I can’t eat too much of it because it’s very dense and protein rich.  But this was a nice prelude to what came next.

 

Normally, after we have the long antipasti phase, Gino brings out a simple pasta dish, then we have either a meat or fish main dish.  Last night, Gino had fresh lobsters.  He brought one out to us before he turned it into our dinner.  It was still alive!  I was so shocked, I didn’t get a picture of the poor, doomed soul.  Nevertheless, I can’t deny that I love lobster and I am not a vegetarian.  And if I hadn’t had him for dinner, someone else would have.

This was the main event… lobster with pasta and a pleasantly spicy tomato essence.  While my Texas husband could stand more heat, this was just perfect for me.  It was just a notch hotter than the preferred German level of spiciness, to remind us we were eating at an Italian restaurant.

 

Not everyone had lobster last night.  We noticed some people were served clams.  Some people had pasta with black truffles and perhaps a main course of osso bucco or a steak.  I noticed one couple enjoying pasta with Seeteufel (a type of fish).  You just never know what Gino will surprise you with… although the antipasti is pretty standard and you will never get pizza because Gino doesn’t do pizza.

I couldn’t finish all of the pasta because I knew I wanted dessert.  When Gino chided me for not finishing the pasta, I said “Dolci!  Dolci!”, which made him laugh.  One of the ladies who works in the kitchen brought out what is pictured below…

Fresh strawberries, panna cotta, hazelnut chocolate cake, blueberry ice cream, and something very coffee flavored…  Again, you never know what’s coming!  We were also treated to many happy football fans, driving around Nagold blasting their horns when their teams won.  The atmosphere was truly joyful.

As you can see, lots of people were enjoying Gino’s magic last night!  We had such a wonderful time!

 

Total damage for last night’s dinner was 147 euros.  We always pay cash, although Gino does take credit cards.  I should mention that you don’t have to have as many courses as we did.  One couple brought their tiny baby with them and only had a main course and wine.  When they left the unfinished bottle on the table, the chef chased them down and corked it for them.  They seemed very appreciative.  One other thing I noticed was that most of the people dining last night either seemed to know each other or knew Gino well.  But then, I don’t think Gino has ever met a stranger.  He is really a very gregarious guy who was born to throw parties.

It’s safe to say that this is my favorite restaurant in the area and I’ve tried a lot of them.  No one else offers quite the experience Gino does.  We need to visit him more often.

Well… here’s my new selfie.  I’m sure my English prof and everyone else who didn’t like my WTF face is happy now.

Last night’s dinner was definitely a rip roaring success.  If you’re looking for a very different kind of Italian meal, I would highly recommend Osteria da Gino’s in Nagold (not Herrenberg– though again, that’s also a nice place.)  Just call first, come with an open mind, and don’t be intimidated by the language.  I promise, Gino will take good care of you!

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My Belgian birthday! Part one

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…

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