art

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part eight

How great the art….

One of the reasons Bill really wanted to go on this trip to Italy, besides to indulge his love for fine wines and good food, was the chance to visit the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. When we visited Florence in 2013, we were only there for two nights. We stayed in a hotel outside of town. For some reason, we didn’t make time to go to the Uffizi Gallery during that trip. I think it was because he hadn’t booked ahead, and either couldn’t or didn’t want to stand in line at the ticket office. So, on this trip in 2022, we made a point of seeing the art gallery.

Bill loves to look at art. I am less interested in it, although I will admit that some of the paintings I’ve seen in art galleries amaze me. One would think I’d love to look at art, since it’s been such a big part of my life. I have a sister who is an artist, and after his career in the Air Force, my father made a living selling and framing art. But when it comes to museums, I tend to find interactive ones– science and natural history museums– more interesting. During the COVID era, I’ve not been that interested in going to many indoor activities at all. We did go to the Lindt Chocolate Museum in Zurich last year, and that was fun. Especially since tasting chocolate means taking off the damnable face masks. ūüėČ Below are some photos from breakfast and our walk to the museum.

The Uffizi requires booking a time in advance. Bill got us an appointment for 10:00am. After a simple continental breakfast at Hotel Firenze Capitale, we walked to the gallery. On the day of our visit, the Uffizi was still requiring everyone to wear face masks. I’m not sure if that’s still required as of May 1. There were a lot of people there when we were there, so I would imagine that anyone who is very concerned about contracting COVID-19 would want to wear a mask, even if they aren’t required. On the other hand, my guess is that people will get the virus whether or not they wear a mask, especially if they don’t cover their eyes. That is one thing I did notice in Italy. Many people in Italy wore glasses with their masks, which would make it less likely that they would get the virus.

We picked up our tickets, stood in line, and went through security. Then, we walked up several long flights of stairs that left me breathless and lightheaded at the top. I did notice that some people used the elevator. Before I knew it, I was among hundreds of people walking through rooms of beautiful art… with many depictions of mothers and babies, Madonnas, and marble statues of naked men with small penises. There were exhibits featuring Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci, as well as many lesser known, but very impressive, artists. I took a lot of photos.

At one point, Bill wanted to walk into a very crowded room. I demurred and said I would see him later. He thought that meant I was leaving the museum altogether, but I meant I was going to go to a less crowded place. I don’t like crowds, even when COVID isn’t a thing. Later, Bill sent me a private message on Facebook, asking if I was still in the gallery. Yes, of course! And I did enjoy my visit. I went back later to see the paintings I missed when the rooms were full of people. Uffizi has a cafe, for those who need a moment with some coffee to process everything.

All in all, I found the Uffizi more manageable and less overwhelming than the Prado in Madrid was, when we went there in 2014. I haven’t been to the Louvre yet. Bill and I didn’t go there when we were last in Paris, back in 2009. We’ll have to fix that at some point. Below are many photos from the Uffizi.

There’s more to come, but I needed to break up the group. I wish we had spent a little more time around the Uffizi. I wanted to buy some art while we were in Italy, but didn’t get a chance. I noticed some artists near there when we were in line. We did visit the gift shop at the Uffizi and bought a few gifts for Bill’s daughter and her kids.

After we bought gifts for Bill’s daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren, we walked out of the museum. I heard a British guy say, “Yea! Now it’s drinks time!” Man after my own heart. I spotted a beautiful silk scarf in a shop window and decided to go in there and purchase it. And now I have another cash drain, because the designer, Massimo Ravinale, has a Web site, and I loved their stuff. May be time to order Bill a spiffy new necktie.

The huge photo load in this post has made loading much too slow. It necessitates closing this one and starting a new one. Sit tight for part nine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Volvo, Mark Knopfler, and East German adventures… part three

Sunday morning, I woke up at about 3:00am.  I couldn’t help but notice the sun was already rising.  Sweden is a bit weird for the uninitiated, especially in the winter and summer, when days are either really short, or really long.  A few hours later, we got up for real, enjoyed the awesome rainfall shower, got dressed, and headed to the 25th floor for breakfast.  At Upper House, breakfast is always included in the rate.  You get a very nice buffet, as well as “small plates”, which are prepared by the chef.  Most people get two or three of the small plates, as well as whatever they want from the buffet. Below are a few photos of items we enjoyed over the course of our two night stay.

The menu.

Awesome scrambled eggs with chives and bacon.

 

Roast beef…

 

Chocolate filled cream puff.

Delicious strawberry crumble with cream.  I think this one was my favorite.

 

A beautifully set table.

 

A view of the city.

On day two, Bill had the royal and the shakshuka, a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, and garlic.

 

At 11:30am, we headed to the spa for our massages.  One thing I want to mention about the spa in Sweden.  It seems that when it comes to nudity, the Swedes are more like the Brits and us Americans.  We were advised to come dressed in our bathing suits.  Even in the locker room, there really weren’t any places to change in privacy.  So, if you’re reading this in Germany and you want to visit the Upper House spa, be advised that it’s NOT textile free, even in the sauna.  In fact, we even had our massages while wearing bathing suits, although they were rolled down.  We were fully covered the whole time.

Our aromatherapy massages went on concurrently– Bill and I were in the same room with two female therapists.  We spent 80 very peaceful minutes getting the knots knocked out of our tired muscles, although the bed at the Upper House was the very best of all four hotels we stayed in this week.  Then, we checked out the amazing spa area with its views of Liseberg.

Heated lounges overlooking the amusement park.

The view.

Bill in his snazzy robe.  I brought mine from home.

 

This pool is 18 floors up and has a glass bottom… Yes, it’s very secure, and yes, you can see to the street when the water isn’t bubbling.  

 

A saltwater pool…  It had jets.

A peek at the pool from the ground floor of the towers.


After a few pleasant hours in the spa, we were hungry.  We got dressed and went looking for food.  Unfortunately, just as it is in Germany, a lot of Swedish restaurants also take a “pause”.  Consequently, we ended up at Ristoria, an Italian eatery in the towers.  They had a Sunday brunch, which didn’t really please me much.  The food wasn’t bad, but it looked like it had been sitting for awhile.  Also, the chairs were uncomfortable.  But it satisfied my hunger well enough…

From the buffet at Ristoria.  It should be mentioned that cash isn’t accepted anywhere in the hotel or restaurants, so bring your credit cards.

 

Not too impressed.

One drawback to Gothia Towers’ location is that it’s not close to downtown, nor is it in a particularly walkable location.  Moreover, while we were in the spa, I overhead a guy telling the staff that he was robbed.  So after we finished lunch, we went back to the room.  I proposed a visit to Liseberg to Bill, but he wasn’t interested.  He doesn’t like rides, particularly ones that are extremely high or just plain extreme.  I will admit, while I wouldn’t have hesitated to ride most of the rides at Liseberg when I was younger, they did seem a bit extreme, even to me.  And I don’t like crowds or being part of a captive audience… so we decided to hang out and talk.

At about 5:00pm, we went to the Upper House’s bar and proceeded to spend the evening drinking… and talking to a British woman named Janet who lives in Doha, Qatar and works in the airline industry.  Bill struck up a conversation with her when she said she wanted to sit out on the balcony.  The wind up on the 25th floor was extreme, but Janet said she had been dealing with 50 degree weather for weeks and she wanted some fresh air.  Dopey me… I thought she meant 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Nope… 50 degrees Celsius.  That is some HOT weather!  No thanks!

Janet was a total stranger prior to last Sunday, but she turned out to be a lot of fun to talk to.  She also reminded me a lot of my sister, Becky.  She said she was going to have to get up very early on Monday morning to fly to Stockholm for business purposes.  Then, I guess, she was going back to Doha…  We had a lot to talk about, though, since it turned out we liked the same kind of music and had lots of travel stories to share.  We found ourselves talking about everything from 9/11, Princess Diana and where we were when she died (I was in a sleeper care with a Chinese family on a train from Vienna to Venice) to her trip to Vietnam and, of course, religion and politics.  She even kissed us goodbye!

This was dinner… two small plates.  Pork belly and some kind of sea scallop soup.  I was partial to the pork, but that probably surprises no one.

The next morning was the day we picked up our new car.  Things got off on the wrong foot, when the elevators wouldn’t work.  We had to climb a tight spiral staircase to get to the restaurant.  Then, while we were eating, our waiter came over and said Volvo had sent a taxi for us.  Bill was upset, since he was told they wouldn’t come until after 9:00am.  But he never got any confirmation one way or the other and, I guess, trusted that things would go according to plan.  He was pretty upset that we weren’t ready for the taxi and they hadn’t told us it was coming.

After breakfast, we went to the reception and explained what was going on.  A very beautiful blonde woman with delicate features and big blue eyes was running the desk.  She offered to call Volvo for us and find out what to do.  Meanwhile, we went back to our room to wait.  While we were there, I noticed the below sign.

This is pretty awesome!  If you smoke in your room, they’ll charge you a lot to clean it.  Then, they’ll donate half of the fine to Sweden’s Heart and Lung Foundation.  I love the sense of social responsibility the Swedes have.

One more view of the dining room.  Next time, we’ll be sure to reserve a table for dinner.  Upper House has a restaurant with a Michelin star.

Volvo agreed to send us another taxi at 10:40am, so we waited in our room, checked out, and hung out in the lobby to wait for yet another taxi driver driving a Volvo to take us to our new wheels.  I prepaid for the room, so the only bill to be settled was for our dual massages and drinks in the bar.  It was about $400.

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Things aren’t bad in Baden-Baden… Part four

On Saturday, we decided to find a cheaper place to eat breakfast in Baden-Baden.  This was not a problem, since the town is loaded with cute little cafes that serve breakfast.  We opted to eat a Cafe Koenig, which looked like a very quaint little cafe, but is actually part of a chain.  Bill says they have a location in Tokyo, although I never would have guessed it by its very cute decor.

Signage…

Bill decides on how he likes his eggs.

 

He settled on scrambled.

 

I had fried… ¬†Both eggs came with ham and bread. ¬†We had cups of coffee, but I decided I needed hot chocolate, too…

 

And I’m happy to report that they do it right at Cafe Koenig, which is more than I can say for a certain five star hotel in Switzerland… ¬†This was also about half what we spent at the hotel.

 

As we were enjoying breakfast,