Christmas, fests, friends, Germany, markets, Wiesbaden

Wiesbaden Christmas Market 2021

My friend Priya, her husband Ron, and our new friend, Heather, came up to Wiesbaden from Stuttgart yesterday. They asked Bill and me to join them at the Wiesbaden Christmas Market. The markets down near Stuttgart have mostly been cancelled, due to rising COVID-19 infections, but there are many towns in other states that are having smaller versions of their markets. Priya and Ron have been making their way to a number of them.

I was glad they invited us to join them. I had been wanting to to go the market, but was having trouble with motivation. The weather hasn’t been nice lately, and the COVID rules can be onerous. But thanks to our friends from Stuttgart, we managed to have a great time. It was quite a shock to hang out with people again. We were all laughing about the erosion of social skills that has happened since March 2020.

After a few hours and too much wine and beer, we said our goodbyes. Priya, Ron, and Heather went on to visit the market in Mainz. Bill and I went home to feed the dogs.

For some reason, the connection on this site is excruciatingly slow today. I’ll have to keep the commentary to a minimum. I also can’t delete the photos, so there are a few that look like repeats. I’ll try to fix these glitches later.

A good time was had by all!

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anecdotes, dogs, friends

Make new friends, lose the old…

This weekend has been a bust in terms of fun stuff. Although Christmas markets in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg have been canceled, the one is Wiesbaden is apparently still on. We got some sun yesterday, but I was waiting for a package that didn’t arrive until late afternoon. Also, I had a feeling that attending the Christmas market would be more of a hassle than I cared to experience. Even before COVID-19 was an issue, I was never one to enjoy crowded fests. We did attend a lot of them in the past, but I am not a freak about them, like some people are.

A lot of places in Germany are now employing 2G plus measures, meaning that a person has to be either fully vaccinated or proven recovered from the virus, and even then, they have to get tested. I am fully vaccinated, but it’s about time for a booster. So we stayed home yesterday. Today, the weather is crappy, so I don’t feel like walking around outside, and I don’t feel like dealing with face masks indoors. I don’t know if we’ll go out today, but I tend to think we won’t. It’s already two o’clock, and it’s dark and cloudy outside. I can stay in my warm house, listen to cheesy soundtracks from 80s animated films, and write blog posts… no need for vaccine certs or face masks… or a bra.

Last night, a topic entered my head that I thought might be a good one for this blog. Originally, this blog was supposed to be a travel blog, but COVID-19 has made traveling harder. So now, it’s more of an American’s “life abroad” blog. And there’s something I’ve noticed after living abroad a few times. It’s that friendships don’t always survive the move back stateside.

At this point, Bill and I have lived in Germany this time for just over seven years. During that time, I’ve only been “home” once. Because we’re here with the U.S. government/military, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. I sort of made “friends” with some people. And the vast majority of those friendships have now ended as those people have moved on with their lives.

I noticed the same thing happened in Armenia. I made friends with people there– other Americans– and once we no longer had Armenia in common, the friendship fizzled. Now that I think about it, this happens a lot even if you don’t live abroad. How many people were you once friends with at a job or in school that you never talk to anymore? Before social media existed, it happened all the time. Then, when we had Facebook, or its predecessor, MySpace (which I rarely used), suddenly we were “friends” again with people we hadn’t seen since 4th grade. Gradually, some of those connections faded for any number of reasons.

I guess it seems stranger that it happens when you meet people while living abroad. For many people, it’s a life changing event to move to another country. I know that every time I’ve done it, I’ve changed and grown in immeasurable ways. In some cases, it’s made it hard for me to relate to people with whom I used to identify a lot more strongly. For instance, there are certain friends and relatives with whom I probably can no longer discuss politics or religion. In the case of my relatives, they’ll always be family. There’s always a chance we’ll meet again… maybe at a funeral or a wedding or something. Friends, on the other hand, are more likely to fade away permanently.

I’m always a little bit sad when I lose contact with someone I once called a “friend”, even if they were just a social media friend. Maybe younger people have less of a problem with it than I do. I grew up at a time when friendships meant more. Or maybe it just seemed that way. We had fewer friends, because those relationships had to be cultivated in person. Now, you can be “friends” with anyone, anywhere in the world. In some ways, that’s a great thing. I have some dear friends that I have never met offline. And I have other friends I used to party with who are now in my past.

I decided to write about this today because I realized, with some sorrow, that I don’t even really want to try to make friends with people anymore. I don’t want to connect with someone, only to have the relationship eventually fizzle out. That’s kind of a bleak way to look at things. I’d rather not be so cynical. But I also really try to be a good friend, even if I can sometimes be a bit slow to trust people. That comes from being burned multiple times. It also comes from the idea that a lot of people don’t know how to take my personality. Maybe that’s why I’m so much more comfortable with dogs and horses.

Speaking of dogs… our Noyzi has really started to integrate into the family now. He likes to hang out with me on a little rug by our bed. I had originally put it there for Zane, to give him traction when he jumped on the bed. Now, it’s Noyzi’s little spot when I watch TV, as you can see in the featured photo. Sadly, the man who rescued him got angry with me a couple of months ago, because I didn’t want to get involved in a fundraiser he was trying to organize. I felt it was not a wise thing for me to do, because he didn’t seem to have the fundraiser set up completely, and some of his practices seemed kind of sketchy to me. He got angry with me and blocked me on Facebook, which makes me sad.

Even today, I was thinking about what a miracle it is that Noyzi was found by this man in Kosovo. If it wasn’t for him, Noyzi would, at best, still be living on the streets in Pristina. But he’s here in Germany, giving and receiving a lot of love. He was even named by this young man in Kosovo and I kept the name, though I would have made a different choice if I had been the one to name him originally. I would have liked to have been actual friends with this man, who gave us such a gift. But it didn’t work out, because I didn’t want to bend to his will. He accused me of “playing games”.

I realize I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but I truly don’t go out of my way to screw over anyone. I don’t try to annoy or offend people. I’m just who I am, which is apparently too much for some people.

Lately, I’ve realized that living over here can be kind of lonely. I do miss some of my family members, although I doubt most of them miss me. I don’t know if or when we’ll be going back to our roots, but even if we did, I don’t think it would be the same… and I would probably just want to move again. Moving to the States with Noyzi would be quite a project, so I am hoping we can put it off for awhile.

Anyway… this turned out to be more of an introspective and joyless post than I intended it to be. I guess I’ll close this post and go hang out with Bill, who has already been in here twice to talk to me, even though he knows I’m writing. We have chicken and homemade rolls to eat. Last night’s dinner was definitely a better effort than our Thanksgiving dinner was. Hopefully, the holiday spirit will kick in… maybe I will even be arsed to go to a Christmas market before they all get canceled.

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Christmas, Germany

Our halls are decked again…

I didn’t do any writing yesterday because I wanted to put up the Christmas crapola. I usually put them up around Thanksgiving, but one of our neighbors already has up their Christmas lights. I like the way the lights look and didn’t feel like waiting. So I hauled our two trees up the steps from the basement and did the yearly decorating ritual.

Christmas in Germany is usually kind of a magical time of year. There are usually markets, which have rides, ice skating, food, and lots of unique gifts for sale. This year, thanks to COVID-19, the markets won’t be happening. Wiesbaden won’t have its adorable market in the big square, pictured above. Our little town of Breckenheim won’t have its one night event where everyone gathers for Gleuwein (hot mulled or spiced wine) and Lebkuchen (gingerbread). I suppose some people will still do that privately, but one of the nicest things about living in Germany is the community spirit here. I love going to fests and seeing people enjoying themselves. Thanks to the virus, we can’t this year. Just across the Rhein River in Mainz, though, there is hope for a new vaccine that will help us get back to living.

I have not left our neighborhood since early October. I don’t even remember the last time I was in downtown Wiesbaden. I’m reminded of the first time we lived in Germany and almost never visited downtown Stuttgart. I never even got a good look at that city during the first two year stint we spent in Germany from 2007-09. Now, I know Stuttgart pretty well, thanks to all of the traveling and exploring we did when we lived there the second time.

Last night, I told Bill that I would probably spend some money this year on Christmas. Last year, we spent money because we traveled to Nimes in France to see my friend Audra, and her family. This year, we can’t travel, so maybe it’s time I bought some stuff that make being at home better. I’m sure the economy could use the stimulation.

Here are a few photos from yesterday’s decorating drill…

Why do I have two Christmas trees? It’s because when we moved to Germany in 2007, I somehow forgot to pack our Christmas decorations. We ended up buying a fake tree at the PX in Stuttgart. That little tree, which really should be plenty for a couple like us, has followed us around ever since. I remember it was pre-lit with 220 bulbs, which I cut off when we moved to Georgia in 2009. Then when we moved to Texas, we got rid of our original tree, which I bought from Rose’s discount store in Fredericksburg, Virginia (we were broke in 2002). I got the new tree– the lovely fake Costco version which is so much easier to put together because the branches don’t detach.

I have never had a “real” Christmas tree. Mom didn’t like them because they were messy. I also used to love decorating for Christmas, but now I can see why Mom gave me that job when I was growing up. It’s tiresome, especially when it’s only for us. However, I do like to look at the lights. Mom also ran her own cross-stitch, needlepoint, and knitting business in Gloucester, Virginia, which she’d have to decorate for Christmas. She’d get a florist to come to our house and put up real pine garlands on our porches and hang pine wreaths. It was very pretty, but I’m sure it was expensive and exhausting, too. Incidentally, my mom made our stockings, too, although we never bothered to hang them when I was a kid. I can remember some years, my mom had me wrap my own presents! And I actually suck at wrapping presents, so they looked pretty terrible.

I guess it makes sense that I’d be kind of spiritless at Christmas. My mom always treated the holiday like a chore. She was also a musician, so she’d be busy playing Christmas music at church or with other ensembles. My dad was always in different singing groups, too. The holiday season was very busy for them, and probably wore them out, thanks to their businesses (dad’s picture framing and art selling business complimented mom’s). I would like to enjoy Christmas more, but for many years ,it was a source of angst for a lot of different reasons. But I do like the music and the lights… and this year, I will miss the markets very much.

Well… I may not catch the Christmas spirit this year, either… unless you count the spirits in Harris Gin. But at least the lights are pretty to look at, and we have Noyzi to help us celebrate. Noyzi was more upset about the unfamiliar boxes in the living than the trees. Go figure that dog!

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Christmas, France

Our first French Christmas, part three…

Sunday morning, we awoke to rainy skies and wind that made the shutters clatter against the gite. I am not a fan of walking around in rain, but when the skies finally cleared, Bill and I decided to head into town. Arran protested loudly when we tried to leave him alone, so we took him too. Au Miracle du Pain Doré is a very short walk from town, so we enjoyed a good stroll to Beaune’s center. A small Christmas market was going on, and we got to try salami and Bill tried cheese. I was tempted to get some of the salami, but Bill worried about how it would fare during our trip to Nimes. I think if the market is still going tomorrow, maybe we’ll pick some up.

Arran met a couple of dogs who appeared to be truffle hunters. The market actually had a small booth dedicated to truffles and they had pictures of the dogs they use to find them. I don’t get the appeal of truffles at all. I wish I did, since people who love them make them sound so good and worth the money. Unfortunately, most things fungal make me want to run away screaming.

After we walked around, admiring the cheeses, homemade sausages, breads, and mulled wines, we noticed some stores were open, even though it was Sunday. Then, we ended up eating at what, according to Trip Advisor, might be one of Beaune’s worst restaurants. Fortunately, we had a good experience there. The weather wasn’t too bad, so we sat outside with Arran at La Concorde, which offers all meals at apparently most times.

This song was playing at the market. I first heard it on National Lampoon’s European Vacation circa 1985. 80s music was big last Sunday.

I was surprised to read the poor reviews of this restaurant. I had fish n’ chips and Bill had a burger with Epoisses cheese, and we shared a carafe of wine. The waiter was a bit slow to greet us, but he was charming and charmed by Arran. I think a lot of complaints seem to come from a three course deal they offer and confusion over the bill. We didn’t have a problem, although perhaps the prices were higher than they should have been. I was just glad Arran behaved and wasn’t freaking out about the other dog sitting at the table next to us. The French lady enjoying lunch, complete with escargots, was complaining about the bill.

Beaune is very cute, easy to walk, and has lots of food and retail shopping… and I think we’ll be back again, despite the asswipes at the rest stop who fucked up our tire. I noticed some wine stores I wanted to check out last week. Now that we are stranded, maybe we’ll drop in tomorrow… if they’re open this week, too.

Another discovery I made just now is that Aldi has partnered with Trader Joe’s, which I guess must be part of the Aldi group. We got cashews with the Trader Joe’s logo. If Trader Joe’s is in France, it would be worth it just to come back for that. I’m dying for some of their frozen “crack” n’ cheese, which is even better than mine is.

On Monday last week, we checked out of Beaune and made our way to Nimes… what this whole trip was about… to see my friend and “sista” Audra. But clearly, our adventures in Beaune are still going. More on that as the story evolves.

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Christmas

Wiesbadener Weihnachtsmarkt 2019

Bill and I were determined to get out of the house today, even though the skies were cloudy. It was a bit warmer today than it was yesterday and we wanted to pick up a few Christmas gifts and get some lunch in town. After a quick walk around the market and the weekly farmer’s market, we stopped by Ristorante Comeback, an Italian place on Wiesbaden’s “restaurant row”. Having tried La Cantinetta, the Italian place next door, we were eager to try a new place.

Ristorante Comeback was pretty busy, and it was warm enough that some people sat outside. We decided to sit inside, although it was pretty crowded in there. The waiter offered us English menus after hearing us speaking our native tongues, but we told him we could manage with the German menus. After five years, we can do that much, right? Here are a few photos from lunch. We both had special pasta dishes that were heavy on foam.

The waiter spoke English well and took good care of us. We rewarded him with a generous tip, for which he offered sincere thanks. I’d go back to Comeback Ristorante, although on a busy day, I think I’d rather sit outside. It was pretty chummy in the dining room. Our bill came to 55 euros and consisted of the pasta dishes, a bottle of San Pellegrino, and two glasses each of red wine. They also brought out hot, homemade bread, which was very nice.

After lunch, we did our shopping, enjoying the festive sights and sounds of Wiesbaden during the holidays. I think I prefer the market up here to the one down in Stuttgart, which was always very crowded and zoo-like. Here are some photos from our visit. We got some gifts for friends, but I saw quite a few things I wanted for myself. We may have to go back next week with more euros.

I’m not usually all that keen on Christmas markets because they’re so crowded and people don’t watch where they’re going. I like Wiesbaden’s market, though, because there’s a big space for it and the crowds aren’t so obnoxious. It’s also very festive and people are upbeat. There were quite a few buskers out, too, including one band that appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent. They played “Feliz Navidad” (which Germans seem to love for some reason) and a not quite accurate version of “Jingle Bells”. But what can we say? I don’t think it’s their holiday. I give them mad props for effort and being entertaining. I hope they brought in some euros!

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Poland

Big business in Poland, part ten

At last, it was Friday… the last day of my husband’s big Polish business trip. It promised to be a weird day, since our flight didn’t leave until 7:00pm and check out at the Sofitel was at noon. Fortunately, the staff at the Sofitel granted Bill’s request for a late checkout, so we had use of the room until 3:00pm, even though the hotel was booked. As it turned out, I didn’t need the room beyond noon. The weather was nice, so I decided to walk around the main square and check out the Christmas market, which opened that day. I dropped off a bag with the hotel staff and set out on my last Polish adventure.

First, I was going to have lunch. Originally, I thought I’d go back to the Doctors’ Bar, but for some reason, they appeared to be closed on Friday. Maybe they had a special event, since it looked like it was open, but the door was locked. So then I decided to find another place, which took some time, since I couldn’t decide what I wanted. I hate eating in restaurants alone, because I feel awkward. Eventually, I ended up at a place called Steak ‘N Roll, which appeared to be a steak joint loosely modeled after the Hard Rock Cafe.

There wasn’t any rock star memorabilia on the walls or gimmicky cocktails on the menu, but they were playing rock music on the sound system as they showed unrelated muted rock videos on the monitor. The music and videos were reminiscent of Hard Rock Cafe… and, in fact, I think the music was my favorite part about the experience, which ended up being kind of disappointing.

A tall young man invited me to sit down and handed me a menu in English. I asked him for a large draft beer. He said all they had was dark beer, which was fine with me. He went to get the beer and set it down, then asked if I was ready to order food. I wasn’t, because I was having trouble deciding what I wanted. I kind of didn’t want another burger, but it was either that, a Reuben sandwich, or a steak. They had other stuff on the menu that didn’t really appeal… salads, soups, fish bowls, and such.

I wasn’t sure I wanted a steak for lunch, and didn’t know if I had enough cash, although they do accept credit cards. I don’t really care for Reubens because of the sauerkraut, which I knew would result in a very windy flight. I just wanted a sandwich, and nothing jumped out at me as especially appealing. I asked the guy for another minute or two, which seemed to put him off a bit, even though there was only one other party in the dining room.

After a couple of minutes, the waiter came back and asked for my order. I decided to have the Classic BBQ burger, which consisted of a patty with cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, BBQ sauce, and mustard seed mayonnaise. This is not really the way I like my burgers, but the only other regular burger choice was the Alamo Burger, which came with mustard seed & mayonnaise sauce, nachos, cheddar, bacon, tomato salsa, jalapeno, and lettuce. That sounded like a recipe for indigestion. Or I could have had a vegan burger, which came with goat cheese, lavender mustard, rucola, beetroot, and nuts… and that didn’t appeal to me, either. Side note: wouldn’t goat cheese render that burger non vegan?

Once I ordered, the waiter came back with a basket of grilled bread and a side of truffle spread. I’m sure a lot of people love the truffle spread and, in fact, Bill probably would have eaten all of it if he’d been with me. Unfortunately, I have a demonic hatred/phobia of mushrooms and truffles. Just having that spread near me was giving me the willies. I don’t enjoy the aroma of truffles, either, so I left the spread untouched and pushed it far away from me. I know a lot of people think this is crazy. Believe me, my life would have been so much easier if I didn’t hate fungus so much.

Finally, the burger arrived, along with a side of steak fries, which looked really good. However, just like the burger I’d had earlier in the week, the sandwich was too big to bite into. I had to cut it, which made a bit of a mess. Also, they had really slathered on a ton of the mustard seed mayonnaise, so much so that it was dripping copiously from the side in big glops. I don’t know what the deal is with mayo in parts of Europe, but I’ve found that people over here seem to love it and really load their burgers up with it.

I didn’t think the burger was as good as the one I’d had at Doctors’ Bar. The patty didn’t taste very fresh and had been molded, rather than hand shaped. The steak fries looked appealing, but had kind of a weird aftertaste, like maybe the were fried in old oil or something. As I was finishing up, the waiter asked me if I wanted dessert. They had a three items that looked appealing, but I decided I’d rather have another beer. By that point, they also had a lager, which the waiter offered. I told him I wanted another dark beer. I got up to go to the bathroom and when I came back, I found that he’d left me a small beer, even though I’d said I wanted another one and meant I’d wanted one just like the one I was drinking.

So I decided to just finish up and get out of there. I asked for the check, which the guy brought to me. The total was 61 zloty, so I put down a 100 zloty bill and asked him to bring me 30 zloty back. Instead, he brought back the whole amount and said, rather curtly, “Here’s the rest of it.” I kind of sighed and gave the guy a ten zloty note and went on my way. He did kind of smile at that. It occurred to me that he probably didn’t want the coins… who knows? The experience left me in kind of a bad mood, though. I wished I had just eaten shashlik at the stand in the Christmas market that was set up just outside. I probably would have had a better experience.

After I ate, I had a couple of hours to kill. I walked around the main square and took pictures of the Christmas market stalls I’d watched workers constructing all week. I’m glad I got to see them open before we left, although I didn’t end up buying anything. There was nothing there that I couldn’t live without and/or couldn’t buy in Germany. Still, the Christmas markets are kind of cool, and it was interesting to see one in Poland. Here are some photos.

I went back to the hotel a little bit before three and parked myself in the lobby to wait for Bill and his co-worker, who would be sharing a taxi ride to the airport. They got to the hotel at just after 3:00, and we started our journey back to Germany. Our cab driver turned out to be an older Polish guy who spoke broken English and wanted to bond over rock music.

We got in the car and he proceeded to speak to the men and ignore me. Actually, if I had been in a slightly less irritated mood, I probably would have enjoyed talking to him. He told us about how he’d grown up in Poland during the communist era and went to university when Americans weren’t friends. He studied German, because although English was available, learning it wasn’t all that encouraged. What a difference a few decades make. We ran into so many English speakers in Poland. I was shocked by the difference between 2008 and 2019.

Anyway, the guy kept listing all of his favorite English speaking rock bands… Rush (which he noted is Canadian), Metallica, Journey, and curiously, he even mentioned Blondie, but he wasn’t sure if Debbie Harry was American. He had no way of knowing that I was probably the biggest music buff in his taxi. Bill asked me about Ms. Harry’s citizenship, and I confirmed that she’s from the United States. The taxi creeped along, because Wroclaw has terrible traffic during rush hour and the roads are in the process of being expanded into two lanes. My mood was still slightly sour, mainly because I felt like a third wheel sitting there while Bill and his buddy chatted up the taxi driver.

We finally got to the super nice airport in Wroclaw, and this time, I did not get bumped from business class. I was allowed to use the lounge, but ended up hanging out with Bill and his co-worker at a restaurant. The co-worker turned out to be interesting to talk to, since he’s from Georgia and has a strong accent, but is quite liberal. We were lamenting that Trump is our president, and he told me about his plans to buy homes in different European countries and just rotate from house to house every ninety days. He’s already bought a house in Italy and is looking to buy ones in Germany and England. I’m not sure how well his plan will work, nor do I think it’s very practical, but I can understand the attraction of simply hanging out in Europe for awhile. I’m inclined to do that myself.

Our flight was okay. I was seated in 1A, which was not any more comfortable than any other seat on the small airplane, but had an empty seat next to it. I also got food, which on Lufthansa is at least somewhat edible. Actually, it wasn’t bad at all. We had some kind of guacamole like salad, hummus, panna cotta, chocolates, bread, and red wine. One thing I didn’t like about my seat, though, was that it was right next to the lavatory. At one point, a woman got up to use the toilet and neglected to close the door after herself when she was finished. I happened to be eating when this occurred, so I had a nice view of the toilet while I was chowing down on hummus.

But there was also a very kind flight attendant on board who was very solicitous to me. When I mentioned her to Bill, he knew which one I was talking about, because he’d also noticed how good she was. I’m always heartened when I run into flight attendants who are genuinely pleasant and seem concerned about giving good service as well as maintaining safety. I wish I could have seen her nametag. She’s one for whom I would send compliments to Lufthansa– a true credit to her profession.

We were quick to retrieve our luggage and on our way home before too long. Bill was smart enough to park in “business parking”, which is well worth the expense, and actually comes out cheaper than regular parking, anyway. On Saturday, Arran came back home and was delighted to be with his people again.

I wish we could have done more while we were in Wroclaw. It’s a great city, and I didn’t get to see enough of it. However, I think there could be a chance we’ll come back on our own terms, bringing our own vehicle with us so we can get out and about and try some of the city’s tourist attractions. I particularly would have loved to have sees Hydropolis, which is a museum about water near Wroclaw. And, of course, there are still some places in the area around Wroclaw that I’d like to visit, but with Bill in tow. It’s just a lot more fun to visit these places with someone else.

Next up– ten things I learned in Wroclaw, Poland.

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Poland

Big business in Poland, part three

We landed in Wroclaw a little bit late on Sunday afternoon. Our flight was delayed by about a half hour. I was feeling grouchy because, once again, we didn’t eat before we traveled and I wasn’t wanting the cheese sandwich being passed out on the plane. Fortunately, getting out of the local airport was a breeze. Wroclaw has a small but very modern airport, and it was super quick getting out of there. The cab driver spoke English and whisked us to the Sofitel Wroclaw, which was one of the hotels authorized for this trip.

As we drove into town, Bill and I marveled at how much more upscale things are looking in Poland. We knew they were coming up in the world during our last visit in 2008, but we were especially impressed by how clean and modern things are looking in 2019. It’s hard to believe that when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1995-97, Poland was a Peace Corps country. I could have easily spent two years in Poland teaching English which, by the way, just about everyone seems to speak almost fluently! We did not have that experience in Poland even in Wroclaw back in 2008. In fact, Bill and I still laugh about how, while visiting Jelena Gora in 2008, we stopped at a McDonald’s and no one there spoke any English. We had to use a picture menu to get what we wanted. This time, I have yet to encounter anyone in this town who doesn’t speak English as well as I do. Here’s a link to a story by an older Peace Corps Volunteer who served as an English teacher at the end of the Peace Corps’ time in Poland. I must admit, I could relate to his experiences, even though I was in Armenia and quite a bit younger.

Another thing I noticed, besides the excellent English skills, is that this town is full of Americans. I’m not sure if all of them are here at the same conference Bill is, but I have heard plenty of folks speaking English with an American accent. In fact, a lot of them were on the same flight we were on Sunday afternoon.

A Polish soldier was sitting at a table checking people in to the conference, so Bill approached her after he checked us into the hotel. Our room this week isn’t nearly as luxurious as the Jumeirah Hotel was, but it’s also not nearly as expensive.

After we dropped off our bags, we headed across the street for food. Wroclaw has several Georgian restaurants, including one called U Gruzina, which is supposedly fast food. I adore Georgian food, so Bill and I went in there for some substantial eats. The place was packed, so we sat at a low level table in the corner, ordered a bottle of Saperavi, and some Georgian specialties. I had Chinkali, which are basically sack shaped dumplings filled with spiced meat or cheese. They’re also very popular in Armenia, as is Khatchapouri, which is what Bill had. They had several varieties at U Gruzina. He chose one stuffed with cheese, potatoes, and bacon. I am a little shy when it comes to cheeses from Transcaucasia, since a lot of them are strong. The cheese at U Gruzina was mild… almost a bit like mozzarella.

Dinner was surprisingly economical I think we spent 125 Zloty before the tip, which is about $32. Tips are appreciated here. Most folks give at least ten percent for good service.

We walked around the big square after dinner, where preparations for the Christmas markets have been going on all week. They’re just about finished setting up as of today. Too bad we’re going to miss it. I did get some pictures on Sunday night, as well as a street performer who was eating and breathing fire most impressively. When I am back at my big computer at home, I’ll make a video and share part of his performance here.

After we walked around a bit, we stopped by a bar called Literatka. They seem to specialize in coffee, cocktails, and vaping. Fortunately, the vaping and smoking went on behind a glass wall. We had a few cocktails and listened to 80s era music. For some reason, they seemed to enjoy using passion fruit in their drinks. They were okay, but I was more impressed by the heavily pierced and tatted out waitresses, as well as the rather disappointing toilet. Ah well, it was a nice welcome to Wroclaw. The bartender spoke English and was very cute and elfin looking. She probably makes good tips.

More in the next post!

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Christmas, Germany, restaurant reviews

Christmas in the air in Wiesbaden…

We went back to Hainerberg on Sunday to pick up a few American items at the commissary.  Before we went to the commissary, we decided to have lunch in downtown Wiesbaden.  The Christmas market was in full swing and we walked through it on our way to the Ratskeller, which is a German restaurant underneath the Rathaus in Wiesbaden.  Below are a few pictures of Wiesbaden’s market, followed by my thoughts on Ratskeller.

The Christmas market in Wiesbaden has a different vibe…  

I heard a lovely choir singing carols as I took this picture.

As we were leaving the area later, there was a children’s choir singing “Let It Snow”.  We got rain instead.

They had a puppet theater set up.

And a ferris wheel!  I kind of wish Bill and I had gotten on this, but Bill isn’t a fan of heights or rides.

They had names of all the local areas, like Mainz.

And Winter BBQ… which appeared to be burgers and hot dogs.

Ratskeller enjoys a very advantageous location in Wiesbaden’s Rathaus.  I was surprised by how large the restaurant is.  It’s heavy on beer and heavy German style food.  Oddly enough, that was exactly what Bill and I were in the mood for on Sunday.  Sometimes, we are uncannily in sync with our thoughts and desires.

Bill peruses the choices.  They had a number of Bavarian specialties.

The inside of the restaurant reminded me a little of the Hofbrauhaus in Munich.  There was no band, though.

I had a Doppelbock and Bill had a Dunkelweizen.  I really enjoyed the Doppelbock, which was flavorful, but not too cloying.  It clocked in at 7% ABV, while Bill’s dunkel was a bit lighter and less alcoholic.

I had a small portion of duck.  This was one quarter of the bird.  I could have had half a duck, but I wasn’t hungry enough for that.  I didn’t finish this, although I did enjoy the Rotkohl– red cabbage with apple.  It went very well with the duck and the potato dumplings.  I can never eat more than one dumpling, which may surprise those who get a load of my dumpy backside.

Bill had a pork Schnitzel breaded with pretzel and served with brown gravy.  It came with really good steak fries.  Seriously, those potatoes were excellent.  They had a fabulous flavor.  A lot of fries are kind of tasteless and filling, but these had a great rustic character to them.  The Schnitzel was also well prepared and just the right size.

 

Our waiter spoke perfect English and was reasonably friendly.  I liked the atmosphere in the Ratskeller, although I imagine it probably gets busy and noisy in there.  It’s not often I want German food, but this was just what we were in the mood for on Sunday.  I had a dark wheat beer for dessert, while Bill had coffee.

Dessert prompted us to need the bathroom…

If you aren’t a guest and you need to pee, you’re supposed to pay one euro.  No Nette Toilette here!

A couple more shots of what appears to be a rather historic building.

Wiesbaden is sure pretty…  

On the way back home, we stopped by the commissary and picked up some American items.  I didn’t take the time to really explore the commissary, but it did appear to be somewhat nicer than the one at Patch Barracks.  Of course, Stuttgart is supposed to be getting a brand new commissary soon.  I don’t know that we’ll visit the one in Wiesbaden more than once or twice a month, now that we’ve become so accustomed to German stores.  However, I did notice there’s a nice view from the commissary…

My camera didn’t really do this justice… there were sunbeams coming out of the clouds as if they were sent straight from Heaven.

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Germany, restaurant reviews

Lunch at Vapiano in Wiesbaden…

The first time we visited Wiesbaden, back in October of this year, we stayed at the Town Hotel Wiesbaden, which is located in the heart of the city.  While we were there, I noticed an Italian chain restaurant called Vapiano.  Last time I visited Stuttgart, I noticed that Stuttgart has a Vapiano outlet, too.

I was weirdly attracted to the Wiesbaden Vapiano when we were downtown for our first visit.  I’m not sure why.  I usually prefer individual restaurants to chains.  Saturday afternoon, we were hungry and not wanting to search for a particularly special place.  We stopped by Vapiano in Wiesbaden and had a rather different restaurant experience.

The view from the parking garage at the theater in Wiesbaden…  They had the ice skating rink set up for the Christmas market…

The first thing that happened when we walked through the door is that a smiling woman behind a desk– the cashier– handed us each a plastic card.  Having never been to Vapiano before, I didn’t know what the hell was going on.  Then I saw that people were ordering at a counter.  You get into the line that corresponds with what you’re eating.  If you want pizza or lasagna, you get in one line.  If you want pasta, you get into a different line.  Salads are in still another line.

Bill decided he wanted pasta with spicy tomato sauce.  I wanted lasagna.  Since we didn’t know how things worked, I stood next to him while a line cook prepared his dish for him.  You can actually watch the guys boil the pasta and put sauce on it for you.  They scan your item on the plastic card.  If you want a soft drink, they’ll get that for you, too.

Bill an I wanted wine, so after we ordered my lasagna in a different line, he went to the bar and got us a couple of glasses of Montepulciano.  This is also where you get your desserts.

Bill’s pasta was ready before my lasagna was, so he was about halfway through his lunch when the beeper went off for my lasagna.  In retrospect, we should have ordered the lasagna first… not that I think we’ll be regulars at Vapiano.  It was a little too busy and noisy for my liking, although I noticed the workers were good about picking up plates and keeping things reasonably clean.  If I were about twenty-five years younger, I probably would have liked it a lot more.  The food was good and reasonably priced, but I’d rather eat at a place where there’s table service and less noise.  Vapiano is very kid friendly, so it has that going for it.

As we were leaving, we stopped by the cashier, handed her our cards, and paid.  This is also where you can leave a tip, if you like.  I’m pretty sure Bill paid with a credit card and I did notice they were equipped for that.

Below are some photos…

Vapiano has outlets all over the world, including in the United States.  This was our first visit.

 

Go up to the counter with the plastic card they give you.  Get in the appropriate line.  Order what you want and have the cook scan it.  They’ll cook your food and you’ll take it to your table.  You pay at the cashier as you leave.

Go to the bar for your adult beverages and desserts.

Bill’s ravioli with meat sauce.  It wasn’t bad, though it was done a lot sooner than my lasagna was.  Bill liked that the portion size wasn’t huge and the sauce was spicy.

 

My lasagna.  This was very cheesy and it took some time to actually get to the pasta.  My first few bites were all melted cheese, not that I minded.  It wasn’t a huge serving, which was a good thing.  I have had better lasagna, but this wasn’t too bad.  I just felt sorry for whomever has to wash the lasagna dishes.  A lot of the cheese was stuck to the pan.

Bill had cheesecake for dessert.  It wasn’t very sweet or creamy, but it kind of hit the spot after the pasta.

I went with their version of “Death by Chocolate”.  I used to work at a restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia had a far different and vastly superior “Death by Chocolate”.  Vapiano’s version is basically a rather dry, plain, chocolate cake.  I wouldn’t get it again.

On the way back to the car, I took some pictures of Wiesbaden’s holiday finery…

I am kind of tempted to ice skate, but it’s been about 40 years since my last trip around the rink.  I’m not sure why I never noticed the ice rinks in prior years.

We stopped by our local Rewe for provisions.  I was surprised to see a whole lot of condoms on sale…  As a former public health worker, I’m glad to see them selling condoms.  I just think it’s funny that they do it so openly.  I don’t remember seeing a display like this at an American grocery store.  Not that I mind, of course…

For when you’re feeling festive…

I think we’re going to like living in Wiesbaden.

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Germany

Blind booking #4: Berlin! Part 5

Yesterday was our last day in Berlin.  Our flight did not leave until 5:55pm, so we had all day to spend in the city.  The Adina Apartment Hotel Berlin Mitte is very accommodating.  We were able to leave our bags at the hotel while we visited Berlin’s TV Tower.  I have visited Stuttgart’s TV Tower twice so far.  I expected that Berlin’s tower would be similar.  Actually, it was a bit different in that the whole thing is enclosed indoors, whereas Stuttgart’s tower allows visitors to go outside.

Berlin’s TV Tower has a restaurant and a bar and, if you pay extra, you can reserve a table in the Sphere restaurant.  Naturally, it costs more to sit on the outside ring, next to a window.  We were going to do that, but the first available reservation was at 4:15pm and that was too late for us.

We took the tram to the tower, which allowed us to see more of Berlin’s inner city.  As we were passing the neighborhoods, it occurred to me how much we were going to miss on this trip.  Bill and I will have to try to go back and see more sometime, if we stay in Germany.  Berlin is a very impressive city.

A bike messenger stopped near us while we were waiting for the tram.  I liked his vehicle.

The tower was somewhat crowded when we got there, although it’s possible to skip the lines and book tickets online or purchase them from vending machines.  We walked around the sphere, looking at the very spectacular views of Berlin that would have been even nicer had the sun been shining.  After a few looks at the city, Bill, Parker and I stopped by the bar and had a drink.

The many scenes of Berlin.

Part of the bar area.

The whole inside of the tower is like this.  You can’t venture outside.  But the weather was crappy anyway, so it was no big deal.

 

Time for a beer break.  They had local craft beers available, which made Bill happy.

 

After our pit stop at the bar, Parker and I went to the ladies room.  I was not surprised to find a line, as there had been a line when we first arrived.  This time, it was two women, one of whom was pregnant.  As we were waiting, I happened to notice that the first three of the five stalls were open.  I could tell by the white display on the lock.  If the door had been locked, it would have been red.

Just at the time I was about to point out the availability of the stalls to the chattering women, they noticed the first open stall.  They went to the first one, which had a changing table in it that apparently made it unavailable for normal use.  I went to the one next to it, but just as I was about to enter the stall, one of the women said, “Sorry!” and quickly jumped back in front of me, thwarting my attempt to pee.

I swear, I must be turning German, because my reaction was decidedly pissy… it was the kind of response I’ve gotten myself from Germans.  I then pointed out the other normal stall, which the other woman quickly took.

Parker said, “Aggressive!”

My response was, “No, it’s stupid!  Pay attention and fucking go!  Luckily, I don’t have to pee that badly.”

Even I was surprised by the sharp tone of my response, although I think those two women both kind of deserved it.  Both of them lit out of there pretty quickly.  I don’t even think they washed their hands.  Normally, I try not to be bitchy in these situations, but I was feeling exasperated and spoke too soon.  We left the tower and decided to have lunch across the street at the Block House, which is a chain steakhouse.  We’ve eaten there in Stuttgart and knew the food to be decent.

I had a cheeseburger.  This was ground beef sitting on a piece of baguette with some kind of tomato relish and covered with Edam cheese.  It was pretty good, although I really wanted a proper burger.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the stretchy cheese, though.

Bill’s mom had a small steak with a baked potato and bread.

And this was Bill’s lunch.  

Block House has a lot of American appeal.  It reminds me of American chain steakhouses.