German Christmas #9

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I just counted the number of Christmases Bill and I have spent together in Germany. We’re now up to nine. That’s 2007, 2008, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and now, 2020. Bill spent a few more Bavarian Christmases here before we knew each other, when he was a lieutenant in the Army. Technically, we were in France last year for Christmas, but we still put up the tree at home and opened presents in Germany… so I count that as a German Christmas, too.

Yesterday’s Christmas was very nice. The best part of it was the lack of drama, which is a feature in almost all of the holidays I’ve spent with Bill. We really get along well, so being together on Christmas is a pleasure. There’s no fighting. Bill and I have both experienced enough holiday fights to last us the rest of our lives.

Anyway, our day went like this. Arran woke us up at 5:30am, as he always does, to go out for a pee and have his breakfast. Bill came back to bed and Arran snuggled into my arms. I slept until about 8:30am; these days, that is unheard of for either of us. We got up and had breakfast, then opened presents. I always get Bill more presents than he gets for me, so our gift exchange is always lopsided. This year, I decided to get him some really silly things. Here are a few photos.

There were other gifts, of course. I got Bill new shirts, a singing bowl (got one for myself, too), an Anova vacuum sealer and bags for his sous vide (a gift from several years ago that he uses a lot), and a really cool puzzle from Thailand made of wooden shapes. Bill got me a guitar repair kit, a couple of music books, a couple of t-shirts from Prairie Artisan Ales (in Oklahoma), and a guitar amp, which he gave me earlier this month to use with my new guitar.

My mother-in-law sent me a digital picture frame for the computer and, for both of us, a very interesting looking cookbook by a TV chef from eastern North Carolina. I was not familiar with the chef, but the pictures in her book make me think we’ll have a lot of fun with her southern recipes. We got so many new books that I am going to have to buy a new bookshelf.

My favorite gift of all, though, was a video Bill had sent to me by Vartoush Tota– otherwise known as Mary Basmadjian. Mary Basmadjian is the “Funny Armenian Girl”, and her videos are all over Facebook. I happen to love her comedy because I lived in Armenia for two years in the 1990s, teaching English as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I haven’t been back there since 1997, but I’ve been wanting to go. So Bill requested a video shout out from her, including a script that he wrote. It was a total surprise and I loved it! I didn’t think I would get such a kick out of a “shout out” video, but I totally did!

This was my FAVORITE gift!

After we opened gifts, Bill went to one of our favorite local restaurants, Villa Im Tal, and picked up our Christmas dinner. We usually like to cook for holidays, but since COVID-19 has impacted restaurants so much, we’ve ordered food for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. I’m not sure what we’ll do for New Year’s, though. Maybe that holiday will be a bit low key.

Anyway, this was our fabulous meal… Bill broke out the china and fancy silverware for it, too.

I’m not sure why Bill ordered duck for me. I think I would have loved the prime rib just as much. I did taste it, and it was sinful! I liked the duck too, and we do have leftovers for today. The biggest surprise for me, though, was the soup. I didn’t find the color of it very appetizing. I have a weird thing against beige foods, I guess. But– after the first spoonful, I was eager to finish the rich, velvety soup. The croutons were surprising. Some of them managed to stay crunchy even though they were saturated. There was also salmon in the soup, which balanced the base. It was delicious. I’d love to have it when it’s not take out. I also liked the dessert very much– cubes of chocolate cake artfully arranged with fruits and cream. God, I miss dining out, but this was a nice compromise. I think Bill said it cost about $160.

Villa Im Tal is also offering a New Year’s Eve dinner, but the choices for that don’t look quite as appealing. They involve a lot of liver and caviar. If we did order one (and I guess they still have availability, since they included an ad for it in our order yesterday), we’d probably go for the middle choice.

We finished off the evening by watching a few Rankin & Bass children’s specials from our childhoods. These were classic Christmas shows that came on TV every year. They probably still do…

If you were an American kid in the 70s and 80s, you’ve probably seen this.

We watched three specials, but had to quit after the third… There’s only so much Rankin & Bass I can take in one sitting. I switched to reading more of John Bolton’s book, which I hope to have finished very soon. I’m ready to start a new book that has nothing to do with politics.

All in all, it was a great Christmas. Noyzi and Arran had fun, too. Especially at dinner time! Bonus– I also got some housework done, so I don’t have to do it today.

One last thing… I made a music video the other day. It’s a pretty Christmas song that Olivia Newton-John did for the collaboration effort, Liv On, with Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky. I thought it was a moving and unusual holiday choice, so I decided to cover it. I used photos and video from our 2016 Ireland trip… Wish I could be there now.

Hope you had a nice holiday, too!

Crosspost: Christmas Eve already!

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This post also appears on my main blog, because I have different audiences…

I know a lot of people think this year has dragged on. For me, it’s flown by. It’s hard to believe that a year ago, we were in Nimes, France, celebrating Christmas 2019 with my good friend Audra and her husband. Audra and I grew up in the same small town and attended the same small college. We have both ended up living in Europe, although Audra has gone native and will probably stay in France. I, on the other hand, will probably leave Europe at some point. Or, I’ll probably leave Germany, anyway. I don’t know when, and I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere.

I like living in Europe. I’m grateful we were able to move here well before the pandemic started. We’ve had a lot of fun over the past few years, despite some of the hassles. I don’t really miss life in the United States. I do miss a few people and some of the conveniences of living in my homeland, but the German lifestyle appeals to me. I like that life isn’t just about working. I like that the leaders seem to care about the citizenry. I like that our town is clean and the people are nice.

So homey… but Noyzi sure sheds a lot!

The weather could be better, but it’s not bad here. It’s noticeably milder these days than it was during our first time here. Of course, that’s probably because of global warming, which is kind of depressing. But in the meantime, global warming makes winters less snowy and icy, on the whole. We do have lots and lots of rain, and that’s turned our backyard into a sloppy mess. But it’s fenced in, and we have plenty of privacy. The dogs get to enjoy a few minutes out there to do their business without the need of a leash. We also have a really nice and considerate landlord. He likes dogs, and yesterday brought us three bottles of bubbly and a box of chocolates, as well as free firewood.

Bill and I have a lot to be grateful for, even if 2020 has been a most unusual and horrifying year for so many people. We did have some losses, but we’re both still basically healthy and happy… and a few genuinely great things happened, too. The highlight was Bill getting to see his daughter again after fifteen years and meeting his son in law and grandchildren.

He’s getting braver.

Also… I think Noyzi the Kosovar street dog was meant to be our dog. He’s settling in well and enjoying being a pet with his own big, hairy bed, and his own private water bowl, because he doesn’t like drinking from the one in the kitchen. Noyzi and Arran aren’t buddies yet, but I have seen a few sparks of playfulness. He’s becoming a goofy clown. I notice he sniffs the air when something is cooking and he silently sneaks up behind me when it’s time for us to eat. I’ll feel his big nose tap me on the back as if to say, “Don’t forget the Nozyi snack tax.” It’s been very rewarding to watch him adapt and enjoy things that so many dogs love… like walks and treats and belly rubs.

Arran, lying on what used to be Zane’s rug. He’s finally the boss.

Arran is still very spry and engaged with life, despite being about eleven years old. He still loves his walks, food, sleeping with us, and cuddling with Bill, who is his favorite person. I’m grateful that I caught him heading downstairs last night before we went to bed. He needed a potty break, big time!

Bill and I are also learning guitar. A year ago, I didn’t own a guitar. Now we have four of them, and Bill is shopping for an electric version. I was even talking about picking up bass guitar last night. If this pandemic goes on for much longer, I might have to go for it. I’ve managed to make some nice vocal recordings, too, even if they aren’t as popular as my blog is (which isn’t saying that much).

I’m also grateful to all of you who continue to read and comment on my stuff, even when I go a little off the rails. Thanks for giving me a reason to write. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas. I may or may not write tomorrow. Depends on how bored I get, and if inspiration strikes.

Our neighbor is giving stuff away. I was tempted by the wine pitcher. It doesn’t match the ones in my collection, though. In this neighborhood, it’s not uncommon to see people putting stuff out for the taking. One lady had a small library on the outside of her window sill for many weeks. If my German were better, I might have taken a couple of books. I don’t remember seeing people do this in BW.

My online shopping life… or, the pandemic has made us learn new things.

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It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, Bill and I were preparing to journey to France to see my friends Audra and Cyril and celebrate Christmas with them and their family. This year, we don’t go anywhere. I’m serious. I haven’t left our neighborhood in over two months. It’s getting old.

But I’m trying to keep my spirits up. The other day, I ordered chocolates from Neuhaus. I was a victim of Facebook advertising, which kept showing me pictures of Belgian chocolate. Then I remembered that once upon a time, when I was still a working woman, I actually used to sell Neuhaus chocolates.

I worked at a place called Henry Street Chocolatier, which was located in Williamsburg, Virginia. They sold high end chocolates from Neuhaus and Joseph Schmidt, a now defunct confectioner out of San Francisco, California that specialized in making chocolate truffles. They also had locally produced pastries and coffee by First Colony, an outfit out of Norfolk, Virginia. I think First Colony as I knew it went out of business, but they also used to sell coffee to The Trellis, a restaurant where I worked a few years later. It looks like First Colony was sold, so the brand still exists, but it’s not the same people running it.

I ended up buying a shitload of chocolates. I bought a 500g ballotin of Neuhaus truffles, a 500g ballotin of regular chocolates, and a wine tasting chocolate set. Neuhaus also has champagne and coffee tasting sets– those are chocolates specifically selected to be tasted with wine, champagne, and coffee. Wine is not included in the sets, but you do get a nifty booklet in several languages.

I also bought wines from Georgia, Croatia, and Hungary, but they haven’t arrived yet.

Friday night, Bill and I discussed my desire to buy an electric guitar. I showed him the one I wanted, which is quite pricey. I ended up ordering one of those yesterday as my own Christmas present. I tried to get it through its manufacturer’s Web site, but the sale wouldn’t go through. Like, it wouldn’t even attempt to go through at all. So I found the guitar I wanted on another site and did successfully order it. I don’t think the charge has been processed yet. Hopefully, it will go through. Sometimes the credit card companies are very cautious when you live in Europe and have an American billing address. If it actually gets to me, I’ll post a picture of it.

I have about half the cash needed to pay for the guitar waiting in a savings account I usually use for traveling. We aren’t doing any of that, so it makes perfect sense to just get the guitar I want. It will give me incentive to keep practicing. Not that I need incentive. I made some real progress with my guitar playing yesterday, finally managing to awkwardly play several difficult chords in the same shape. No, they aren’t perfect, but a few months ago, I couldn’t even attempt them. Now, if I’m very careful, I can actually make them ring out somewhat. Anyway, Bill is going to buy me an amp, and once he’s learned a bit more on his guitar, he’ll probably buy one he likes, too.

We also ordered sushi from Tam’s Kitchen. It was a cold, rainy night, and didn’t really seem like sushi weather, but I was dying for some. And here in Breckenheim, we happen to have a really great sushi guy who does deliveries. I think he’s actually a caterer. I don’t think he has a restaurant, per se. But you can order sushi and it will be super fresh and delicious. So that’s what we did Friday night. I think Tam is actually from Vietnam, but he sure has a way with raw fish.

Last night, I watched the memorial service done for my cousin, Karen, who died a couple of weeks ago. She was the third family member I’ve lost since mid October. I learned some new things about my cousin, who was eighteen years older than I am. We weren’t very close, but she was very much beloved by her family and our extended family. Watching the video made me miss being at home somewhat, although I think during this pandemic, I’d rather be in Germany.

And Noyzi and Arran are doing fine. Noyzi is particularly adorable these days. He has a new habit of silently showing up, ghostlike, when it’s time to eat. I slip him a little snack from the table, which is probably not a great thing to do… but he’s so sweet and basically well-behaved that my heart melts a bit.

I suspect today will be more of the same stuff. It’s cold and wet, and Germany is still locked down. Oh, I guess they call it Lockdown Lite, since stores are still open, and it’s been extended until January 10th. But there’s nothing to do anyway, and the weather is icky. So we’ll stay home, listen to music, and buy stuff online. 2020 has mostly sucked… but in some ways, it’s been kind of awesome. I miss traveling, but it’s also been nice to find new ways to occupy my time and spend money. And we are grateful we still have the money to spend. Maybe it will help some people stay in business.

Our halls are decked again…

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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!

Our first French Christmas, part eight…

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Our hosts at Au Miracle du Pain Doré were out in the vineyards when we arrived at their gite the second time, so they left the front gate unlocked and the keys by the front door. Checking in was simple, especially since we’d been there the week prior. Bill was pretty rattled about the car and even worried the people who punctured our tire might have even put something on the car to track it. Fortunately, they were complete amateurs. We found nothing on the car and it was totally safe outside of the gite, under a streetlamp.

Bill went to the supermarket, which was within walking distance of the gite, and picked up essentials for Friday night’s dinner and Saturday’s breakfast. The next morning, he got to work on reporting the crime. First, he called USAA to tell them about the tires, which apparently weren’t covered on our policy. Even if they had been, we have a $500 deductible, and today is New Year’s Eve. USAA took down our info and Bill later got a call from the German USAA liaison working out of Frankfurt, who was sympathetic.

Next, he called ADAC (German auto club) to ask about where to locate tires. He went to two places on Saturday. One couldn’t help at all. The other “fixed” the tire by patching the sidewall and advising us not to go further than 100 kilometers. Germany is, of course, much further than 100 kilometers from Beaune. Still, he made it so we could at least drive around the city if we needed to. The hole in the tire was near the tread, but still in the sidewall. We learned that driving on a patched sidewall, especially at high speeds, is a recipe for disaster. Bill is usually super safety conscious, but I think he was worried about getting home for work. Fortunately, good sense prevailed and he axed the idea of trying to drive on the patched tire.

Our poor tire.

ADAC was very communicative and helpful. They called us a few times to coordinate where to find tires. Yes, that’s right. We had to buy two of them, because French law dictates that unless you find the exact same brand of tire, you must buy two tires that match per axle. We couldn’t find a single Pirelli brand tire that was damaged on the Volvo, so we had to buy a pair of Bridgestone tires. That was 470 euros yesterday, when we finally found a place that had them in stock.

Bill then went to the local police station in Beaune, where he was told by the one English speaker working there that he’d have to go to the Gendarmerie, since the crime hadn’t happened in Beaune proper. So Bill drove the Volvo to the Gendarmerie office and spoke to two sympathetic but non English speaking ladies who used Google Translate to take his statement. They seemed shocked and relieved that we weren’t robbed and told Bill that there are gangs of people doing this… not just in France, but in places all around Europe. Hell, I think it happens in the States sometimes, too. It’s a well-known crime that probably doesn’t get reported as often as it happens.

Since it was clear we weren’t going to be able to leave Beaune on Sunday, as we’d planned, we asked the owners of the gite if we could extend our reservation. Much to our surprise, they let us stay Sunday night free of charge! That was really nice of them and completely unexpected.

Unfortunately, due to all the time spent running around Beaune trying to get the tire mess sorted out, our plans to shop were thwarted. But France doesn’t totally close down on Sundays the way Germany does, so we were able to get a few bottles on the “Lord’s day”. We walked into downtown Beaune and Bill bought a few nice bottles from one of many wine shops in Beaune. Then we stopped at a cafe and had a glass as the sun went down. Yes, it was cold, but they had outdoor heaters going… and Arran was mostly good until he met a female bulldog in a pink jacket who apparently said something he didn’t like. He raised a little ruckus, but everybody just laughed at him and kept drinking their wine or coffee. It was kind of nice not to be scowled at. Here are some pictures from the weekend.

Our first French Christmas, part seven…

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December 26th was our last full day in Nimes. Audra was pretty much free all day after the morning. We could have gone to see the sites, but really, I just wanted to hang out and chat. I live a pretty isolated lifestyle these days, and it was so nice to talk to someone who has known me since way before electronics. Besides that, having the dog kind of cramped our style a bit.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Arran made a lot of friends on our trip, and I am so grateful that we brought him with us. For instance, I think Arran may have played a part in us not being robbed the other day. But although he is a good traveler, I do worry about him being a good guest and not bothering people. Even though he’s about ten years old, he’s not above howling a lot or the occasional accident.

So Audra, Bill, Cyril, and I did more walking and talking… until Cyril started looking a little under the weather and bowed out. We still had good food, though. For lunch, we had fougasse, which is a delightful pastry filled with bacon and cheese. Reading up on fougasse, I see that it’s a specialty of Provence, although it’s also featured in other regions. Audra says some versions are sweet and some are savory.

For dinner, we had roasted pork loin and more root vegetables– carrots and parsnips– and lots of wine. The cheese lovers had their course, too. Cheese is another food I wish I loved more, although my ass sure doesn’t need the help. It was really a great day, with yet another walk around the neighborhood and more reminiscing about the old days… and more wine.

We decided not to visit on Friday, the 27th, because we had made arrangements to be in Beaune between 3:00 and 4:00. In retrospect, maybe it would have been better if we had taken more time heading north. Maybe if we’d said goodbye to Audra and Cyril on Friday morning instead of Thursday night, we might have missed the bastards who fucked up our tire. But at least checking out of Chez Pepito was relatively easy, aside from the lack of parking in the area. We just put the keys back in the lockbox and got on our way. I did get some cool photos on the way up, too. Too bad I didn’t get any of the jackasses who spiked our tire.

Our drive to Beaune was mostly uneventful until we got to the rest stop just south of the city. It was well-connected, with several fast food restaurants, a bathroom, a gas station, and even a shower. You’d never think scumbags looking to do harm would hang out at such a well-traveled place with so many visitors. But unfortunately, there they were, and they had us squarely in their sites.

We stopped at the rest stop only so we could tell our hosts we had arrived and so I could pee. In retrospect, I really wish we had just kept going and called from just outside the front door, like we did when we came in. Our stop at the rest area has so far cost us over 1400 euros. We had to buy two new tires; Bill has missed two days of work; and although the first gite owners gave us a free night, we’re paying another 120 euros for tonight at La Maison de Maurice.

For those who don’t want to read my other vents on this subject, here’s a quick and dirty recount. After I got back into the car post pit stop, a swarthy looking guy stepped out in front of Bill as he was driving out of the lot, forcing him to stop. We think this is when his accomplice punctured our tire and ruined a perfectly good pair of wheels. I say “pair” of wheels, because in France, one must purchase tires in sets of two if there isn’t a tire identical to the one being replaced. So both of our rear tires, just six months old, had to be replaced. It cost almost 500 euros. Such a waste!

Ultimately, the fuckwads who did this didn’t get anything for their efforts. They weren’t able to rob us. I suspect they saw Arran and me and changed their minds about shaking Bill down for money or relieving us of our luggage. Also, Bill immediately got on the phone instead of going for the jack. I think the guys who were doing this must be amateurs.

ADAC told us to call 112, which is equivalent to our 911. A highway assistance guy came and put the spare on… the little donut tire that comes with most new cars these days. We weren’t allowed to drive it on the French highway, but we were headed to Beaune anyway. We went to our gite and decided what to do next. More on that in the next post.

Our first French Christmas, part six…

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We slept late Christmas morning, mainly because we didn’t bring presents to open. Audra and her family exchanged gifts while we had breakfast in our gite. Then we went to their house for lunch, which was being hosted by Cyril’s charming and very French parents. I had made a couple of baskets to give to our hosts. One was for Audra and Cyril and had some German, Polish, and southern/Virginia delicacies in them. The other was for Cyril’s parents, in which I skipped the Virginia delicacies.

Cyril’s mom’s face lit up as she uncovered the little gifts in her basket. I included a couple of star shaped bottles of liqueurs from Wiesbaden, a wine stopper and beer stein bottle top, gingerbread in a pretty tin, a Polish pottery magnet and Christmas ornament, and a few other things. It was so sweet to watch Cyril’s mom open those gifts and genuinely appreciate them. She gave me a big hug, and even though I don’t speak French and she doesn’t speak English, I felt like I had made a friend.

Then we had lunch… and there on the table were salads loaded with mushrooms. I had just told Audra and Cyril about my “mycophobia” the previous night. Being phobic of mushrooms has caused me so much embarrassment over the years. But Audra handled it perfectly and made me a salad without any fungus. It was delicious, too… with quail eggs, bacon, and a light vinaigrette. I’m going to have to learn to make that salad at home. It’s not the first time we’ve had it in France, and it’s always a hit with me. I need all the hit salads I can get. We also had foie gras, which I gave to Bill. Next, there was rice, and monkfish served with a delightful lemon sauce. And, of course, there was also plenty of wine.

After lunch, we took a walk through the neighborhood, and once again, I was reminded of Texas. Audra says it gets very hot in Nimes during the summer. Maybe it even gets as hot as Texas does.

Cyril made a delicious pot of French onion soup for dinner, minus the usual cheese and bread. It was just what we needed to come down from Christmas Eve’s big spread. I noticed that the meals we enjoyed, except on Christmas Eve, were very simple and served with lots of love and companionship. Bill and I usually eat together when we can, but I get the sense that Audra and Cyril enjoy a lot of fellowship with his family. It’s nice to see and something that more Americans should embrace.

At some point during our trip, I developed an annoying cough that is still plaguing me now. I am hoping we can get home sometime today so I can do some laundry and sleep in my own big, warm bed. Here’s hoping for a phone call from ADAC.

Our first French Christmas, part five…

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On Christmas Eve, Audra and Cyril were busy preparing for the huge meal traditionally served on Christmas Eve in France. Because they were busy with the food and family preparations, Bill and I hung out in Nimes and, after enjoying a lunch of Hawaiian pizza made by a local pizzeria, we walked around the city. It was unseasonably warm, so I didn’t even need a sweater. A small Christmas carnival was going on, and shops were open and blaring Christmas music. I got some pictures of the festivities, as well as a few sites we saw the first time we visited Nimes. I really like it there. It has a laid back Mediterranean vibe, as well as a bullfighting ring. Not that I like bullfighting, per se… it’s just a very cool looking structure. Here are some photos from our walk around Nimes:

I was glad Bill and I had brought “nice” clothes, since the Christmas Eve dinner was more of a formal affair. Okay, so I had to tell Bill to turn his sweater vest right side out, and my dress has been a go to “dressy” outfit since 2010 (God bless forgiving modal and ruching). But I did have new jewelry.

We got to Audra’s and Cyril’s house at about 6:00pm. They were kind enough to invite Arran, too, so their cats went hunting while we hung out. Audra and Cyril built their house right next door to his parents’ house. When Bill and I visited in 2014, we were invited over to Cyril’s parents’ house for lunch. Bill was overwhelmed by their hospitality. Every Sunday, they all gather and eat lunch, visit, and enjoy each other’s company. Cyril’s parents, brother and sister-in-law, and their dog, Merlin, and Juliette joined us for the Christmas Eve feast, which commenced with raw oysters! Bill surprised me by trying and enjoying two of them! Personally, I like oysters… it’s like a taste of Tidewater for me. Audra also had some grilled oysters for the squeamish. They were also delicious.

I didn’t get a lot of pictures of the food, since I didn’t want to be tacky. Here are a few shots I did get. I had to get one of the oysters, right? We don’t see them much in Germany!

Dinner went on until after 11:00pm, then we stayed up talking until almost 2:00am! Audra and Cyril very kindly served as a taxi service for us, so we didn’t have to worry about losing our parking spot in the garage.

Cyril’s parents don’t speak English, but they were very warm and gracious to Bill and me. I can tell that they’ve really embraced Audra and her children as true family. It’s lovely to see. They made us feel like family, too.

Our first French Christmas, part four…

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Monday morning, we got up, loaded up the Volvo, and as we were about to check out, met our hostess– the wife of the guy who had given us the grand tour of the gite we rented. She was very young and charming as she told us about how they’d only recently bought their house/gite. It turns out she’s familiar with Wiesbaden because she studied winemaking near there at Weinbau Geisenheim.

Our hostess had told me in an email that she and her husband were a Franco-German family. Originally, I figured she was German, but after having met her, I think maybe she’s French and he’s German. I don’t know… but she said that the gite was a side business, as they are opening their own winery here in Beaune, having moved from Dijon. Dijon is a much larger city than Beaune is, but if you’re wanting wine, Beaune is the place to be– for making, buying, and selling it. Perhaps in a year or so, the gite will come equipped with a bottle of their very own wine!

We said goodbye and told her we’d see them Friday. Originally, we planned a two night stay, but now it looks like it could be at least another day or two before we can get out of Beaune. We must first locate either a tire or a tow truck.

The drive to Nimes was mostly uneventful, except for some dramatic scenery and traffic in Lyon, France’s second largest city and land of exotic eating. Seriously… everybody raves about Paris and the cuisine scene there, but Lyon is supposedly even more exciting. I wouldn’t know from experience, unfortunately, because the one time we stayed near there, we were in a suburb and ended up eating Moroccan food one night (delicious!) and Domino’s Pizza the next (drunk). Ah well, maybe sometime we’ll get to stay in Lyon proper and have some really fancy French food… as long as it doesn’t have any offal, strong cheese, or fungus in it.

The landscape really changed as we approached Nimes. It started to remind me of Texas. The sky opened up, the land began to look browner and scrubbier, and there were low slung trees and cacti dotting everything. I had arranged to stay at Chez Pepito, which I learned was on the edge of the Arabic quarter in Nimes. The gite supposedly came with a parking spot. Pepito had written to tell me he wouldn’t be able to meet us personally, but gave us instructions on how to find the keys and let ourselves in.

Bill and I visited Nimes in 2014, but it was by train. We stayed in a cheap hotel near the train station… very no frills, but kind of charming. The hotel has since changed hands, so I don’t know what it’s like now.

Pepito’s gite, likewise, was kind of no frills. It was on the second floor (which is really the third floor), and that meant schlepping our stuff up a few flights of stairs. Since the “parking spot” was actually a very tiny garage that would never fit our SUV, let alone a normal sized car, Bill had to go find a parking spot. He dumped our stuff on the ground floor, and I hauled it all upstairs. That was quite a workout for me. I really should call myself the Fatass and Breathless Housewife… I had some trouble getting the door open, because I didn’t realize that two locks, of the total of three on the door, needed to be unlocked.

I contacted Audra and she and Cyril came over to welcome us. Bill managed to score a rare spot at the parking garage a block from the gite (four nights was 52 euros, but our car was safe). Pepito charges 10 euros a day for his spot, but seriously, if you have anything bigger than a Twingo or a Smart Car, don’t bother. Your car won’t fit.

Chez Pepito has another bedroom, but there was a sticky note on the door asking us not to use it. My guess is that Pepito didn’t want us messing it up, since there were just two of us. That’s fine, although we probably would have closed the door to that room anyway. That’s what we usually do when the gite is bigger than what we need. It was a really small room, so we wouldn’t have chosen it over the other one. WiFi worked well and there were plenty of heaters, although they did a poor job of heating the drafty apartment. I’ve noticed the French are very fond of tile floors, which keep things chilly even when there’s heat. Nimes was not cold at all, but that gite was. Fortunately, there were plenty of blankets.

We had a slight mishap within two hours of our arrival. There was a vase of dried flowers on the fireplace mantel (and no, we were not allowed to use the fireplace). Bill got too close to one of the sprigs coming from the dried flowers and the vase fell and shattered. It was on the edge of the mantel and a bit top heavy, so that was an accident that was definitely going to happen at some point. I just wish it hadn’t happened when we were staying there. Anyway, I messaged Pepito to let him know we’d made it and report the breakage. He was cool about it, which was really nice. For that, we left him the 40 euros we were going to pay for the failed parking spot.

Chez Pepito also features a “rooftop terrace”. It’s kind of cool, I guess. One floor up from the gite, you can unlock the door and hang out. There are a couple of loungers and lots of plants. I think it’s probably nice up there during the warmer seasons, although the furniture is a bit worn out looking. I can’t complain, though, since Pepito’s prices are very reasonable. For four nights, I paid about 312 euros before the “parking” charge. Not bad at all! And the gite is only about ten minutes from where Audra and Cyril live, and very close to shops and restaurants, including a huge food market that makes Stuttgart’s Markthalle look puny.

After we settled, Bill, Arran, and I were picked up by Audra and we went to her house for dinner. Cyril made a lovely dinner of duck and pureed celery, and I got to see Audra’s daughter, Juliette, who is VERY French and speaks excellent English. Arran made fast friends with Audra and we all sat up and talked until about 3:00am! It’s been a long time since I last stayed up that late simply chatting with an old friend!

Our first French Christmas, part three…

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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.