art, Champagne Bucket trips

Live music, art, and another familiar face… part four of our Armenian adventure!

Sunday morning, we were still a bit jet lagged. We didn’t get up until about 9:00 AM (Armenian time). That’s unheard of for us, although it was 6:00 AM in Germany. After we got dressed and I put on some makeup, we went to the rooftop restaurant and sat outside again, mainly because the sun was very intense inside the restaurant. A tall, broad shouldered, European looking Armenian waiter was very attentively maintaining our table and seemed surprised when I asked him for “shakar” (sugar).

We had plans for Sunday evening. Stepan had bought tickets to see Mexican tenor, Rolando Villazón, and harpist, Xavier de Maistre. We would meet him and his wife, Lilit, that evening. To be honest, I wasn’t that sure about the concert. I had never heard of Rolando Villazón or Xavier de Maistre, and I’ve never been particularly excited about harp music. However, I am a music lover and a singer myself, and I know Armenians have great appreciation for the arts. I had a feeling it would be a good concert, and in the interest of wanting to do something new and unique, we agreed to attend. Stepan later told me he hadn’t been sure about the concert either, since he also wasn’t familiar with the musicians.

With our evening plans set, Bill and I decided to walk around a bit. We headed down Abovian Street, which is a major Yerevan location. In the 90s, it was the place one was most likely to find shopping or a decent cafe or two. I’ve always liked Abovian Street, as even in the 90s, it was tree lined and kind of elegant. In 2023, it’s still a hot spot, with a whole lot of restaurants and hotels, including The Alexander, which Stepan says is the best hotel in Yerevan. I see it’s owned by Marriott, and is considered “luxury”. Personally, my idea of luxury is less about posh looking properties and more about good service. But it did look like a very nice hotel when we passed it.

A little ways down Abovian Street, we ran into Northern Avenue, which is a street that didn’t exist in the 1990s. Stepan told me that there were some “shabby houses” that were demolished in order to create this very posh shopping district. My mouth dropped open as I took it in… Yerevan has come a long way since 1997, but this “walkplatz” is all new construction that definitely doesn’t match the many Soviet era buildings that are still in Yerevan. I noticed that there were quite a few new buildings constructed and little by little, they were replacing the ugly, cookie cutter Soviet buildings.

I did wonder about what happened to the people who had been living in the “shabby houses” off Sayat Nova Avenue. I also wondered how much it cost to live in one of the apartments on that avenue. No doubt Northern Avenue is an address for Yerevan’s wealthiest. But it’s also very handy, as that’s where we found a place to buy new SIM cards for our phones. It also makes it quicker and easier to get to the Opera House.

VIVA-MTS is a chain in Yerevan where you can get a new SIM card and pick up any accessories you might need for your phone or computer. I actually did need a new USB-C cable for my computer, but as soon as we walked into the store, we were summoned to sit near a young woman who set us up with new SIM cards. We just had to present a passport– one was enough. I should have bought a cable while I was in there, but it slipped my mind.

We walked out of the VIVA-MTS store and continued on to the Opera House. I showed Bill where I used to go when I attended rehearsals with the Opera Choir back in the 90s. That was a rather weird situation that developed when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. My second Peace Corps Armenian teacher, Rousanna, had once been a ballet dancer at the Opera House, and she knew people there. She declared that I had singing talent.

In those days, I did sing opera songs a lot, because I had studied voice (for fun) in college and those were the types of songs we sang in our studio. Anyway, I met the conductor of the opera choir, whose name was Karen (in Armenia, it’s a man’s name). He said I could come to rehearsals and sing. So I did. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have let Rousanna introduce me to Karen, because I think it caused some problems with the school where I was working. It wasn’t really why I’d come to Armenia, either. Rousanna insisted, and I was genuinely interested… and at 23 years old, I wasn’t all that assertive.

On the other hand, it was a golden opportunity to get involved with the arts in Yerevan, and I did end up meeting some interesting and very talented people. I learned new music, too. Maybe with a little more engagement, I might have been able to help the opera choir with some grants. I did learn a couple of new operas, thanks to that experience. I can’t say I’m sorry I worked with the opera choir in Yerevan, although I am sorry for any issues it caused at my school. But then, I usually had to “wing it” at the school, anyway. Many times, I would show up expecting to teach one class, only to be sent to a different one. So maybe it didn’t matter that much, in the long run.

During that same visit in 1995, Rousanna and I also visited the then conductor of the Armenian Philharmonic, Loris Tjeknavorian. Mr. Tjeknavorian surprised me by knowing who I was. He even knew where I lived! Back then, there weren’t many Americans in Armenia, and I stood out with my blonde hair. He knew my name was Jenny, that I sang, and that I lived in the part of Yerevan called Zeytoun (although I didn’t live there for long).

Mr. Tjeknavorian is apparently still living; he’s 86 years old and now retired from the Philharmonic. In retrospect, he might have heard about me because I was in the AUA Choir during training, and that choir had an honest to god maestro. But there wasn’t enough money for sheet music, so we were singing Christmas carols in July! We also did a few Armenian nationalist songs, and a folk song named “Im Chi Nare Yare.” I was supposed to do the solo for that song. The Philharmonic conductor might have also heard of me because of the accompanist for the AUA Choir, Anahit, who was one of the very best pianists I’ve ever met… and I’ve met quite a few. She was a graduate of the Yerevan Conservatory, and she even got me hooked up with a Russian voice teacher there, who later introduced me to her Armenian protege. Who knows? Anyway, it was an interesting experience at the time, meeting and working with real, professional musicians in Yerevan.

Today, next to the Opera House, there are a few cafes and other amusements. As we were passing, we noticed little kids driving toy cars around the grounds. There was also an electronic game with a punching bag. A couple of young lads were amusing their friends by seeing how hard they could punch. They were trying to beat the record. Although the young man who threw the punch was impressive, he fell far short of the record. I guess that’s one way to keep people pumping in drams. They pay for another chance, even though they’ll probably just hurt their hand and fall short of the goal. It was fun to watch the guy’s friends cheering him on, though. He was one of a few young guys we saw punching that bag as we passed the Opera House over the course of the week we were there.

We crossed Mashtots Avenue. On the other side of the street, there’s a tree lined park where people sell art. When I lived in Yerevan, they only did it on the weekends, but now they do it every day. I wanted to see what was available, because I wanted to buy new paintings for our house. I never had the money to buy art in Armenia when I lived there. It’s also a cool place to visit, because you’re sure to see old guys sitting around playing chess or nardi (backgammon), drinking coffee, smoking, and holding court. That was as true in 2023 as it ever was in the 90s.

There was some stuff there that was either not my taste or kind of “cheesy”. Some people had signs up requesting no photos to be taken. The funny thing is, the artists who made that request were selling art that I wouldn’t have been interested in, anyway. One guy had what looked like black velvet art, which I’ve just learned actually originated in Kashmir and usually depicted religious icons from the Caucasus region. I’m sure there are some beautiful black velvet creations, but whenever I see them, I just think of Elvis Presley.

Toward the end of our stroll through the park, I spotted some art that made me pause. The artist cautiously approached. I didn’t want to start talking to him until I’d seen everything, so we walked away. But a few minutes later, we came back and struck up a conversation. The man said he is a printer who lives in Ashtarak, a village northwest of Yerevan. I knew some Volunteers served there, and had visited there myself. I could picture where he lived.

When he asked me why I could speak Armenian, I told him about how I’d lived in Yerevan 26 years ago and taught English to kids in an Armenian school. I apologized for not being able to remember a lot of the language, but we were able to carry on a conversation. He told me his son lives in Switzerland as I admired two similar paintings he was selling. One was a church in Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city in the northwest, and the other was a landscape of Yeghegnadzor, which is a city to the south of Yerevan. We decided to buy both paintings, which really excited the guy. He offered individual prices, but came down when we offered to buy both. I could tell he wanted me to haggle, but I hate haggling. So he kind of haggled for me, and we ended up settling on a price of about 110,000 AMD for the two paintings… Maybe an Armenian would have paid less, but I know a lot of work went into that art. And the conversation was also worth something.

Bill went to get some drams from an ATM, and I stayed and talked to the guy some more. He had a beautiful painting of Mount Ararat that was very unique. I wish I’d bought it, because I later decided I wanted a painting of the famous mountain, but most of the ones I saw were kind of representative of “bad art”, or there was nothing interesting or unique about them. Unfortunately, we didn’t run into the guy again before we left. But we did buy two very nice paintings from him, which he put in a rather well used plastic bag. This really distressed Bill, who spent the rest of the week worrying about how we were going to get the paintings home to Germany. More on that, later.

After we bought our paintings, we headed back to the hotel to drop them off. We walked down Mashtots, and I showed Bill some places of interest. Mashtots is one of the most important avenues in Yerevan. Back in the Soviet era, it was known as Lenin Avenue. At one end, the Matenadaran stands– it’s a museum full of some of the oldest books in the world. At the other end is the overlook to the Hrazdan Gorge. It’s where you’ll find the entrance to the Blue Mosque, the one mosque in Yerevan, and what used to be the Pak Shuka and is now, sadly, a supermarket.

After we dropped off the art, we took another walk, and I took more photos…

After all the walking, we were a bit hungry. I was a little unsure about my restaurant skills, though. I speak decent restaurant German, but I never had the ability to do the same in Armenia. We went to a place very close to our hotel, Кавказская пленница (Caucasian Captive– apparently named after a 1967 Russian film). It was a nice place that offered a lot of different options. It was also a bit campy in its decor…

Our waitress, name of Arev (sun), was surprised by my Armenian skills. Then she offered us “Khash”, to which I blurted out was “disgusting” and I didn’t like it. Amot indz (shame on me). Khash, for your information, is a very garlicky soup that is made with boiled cow or sheep parts, including the head, hooves, and stomach. It was a food historically made by poor people, who used all of the least desirable parts of an animal to make themselves a nutritious meal. I did try it once, when I was in training, even though it’s something that is usually only served during the “ber” months. Most people eat it in the morning with a lot of lavash and vodka. It’s supposedly a good hangover cure.

I ended up having chicken and fried potatoes that were absolutely delicious. Bill had some kind of stew that he loved. I don’t remember what he had… but he’s a more adventurous diner than I am.

After we ate, we went back to the hotel for a rest. We had plans to meet Stepan and Lilit at about 7:00 PM. We had purchased a couple of gifts for them, both because they were so kindly hosting us, and because it was Stepan’s birthday on the 15th. I said I thought it would be good to give them the gifts at the concert. Bill, being the consummate overthinker, worried that we wouldn’t be allowed into the concert hall with them, because they were wrapped. I had to laugh at that… He’d forgotten that the night previous, we had just walked into the school where I used to teach. I said, “Stop overthinking this. It’ll be fine.”

So we walked to the Opera House and met Stepan, then enjoyed the concert put on by Mr. Villazón and Mr. de Maistre. I found out that Rolando Villazón is my age. He was very entertaining, and I have a feeling that if we’d known each other as kids, we would have traded fart jokes. He and his wife now live in France, and my friend Susanne says he speaks excellent German and is often on German talk shows. She was impressed that we got tickets to the concert. Stepan, of course, was greeting his many friends. I swear, he knows so many people in Yerevan! More on that, later. Below are some photos…

And a video…

A short video from the concert. They got a bunch of encores! People kept trying to leave, and they came back for “just one more”. It was hilarious!

We had a wonderful time at the concert, and being exposed to the talented musicians would have made the evening special enough. But something else happened that really made our night forever memorable. During intermission, Stepan went outside to smoke a cigarette. While he was out there, he ran into his classmate and another of my former students, Sima. He told her she needed to come inside to meet someone.

Sima blurted out, “Is it Jenny?”

Stepan said yes, I was indeed in the house. Sima said she’d actually recognized me outside, but was sure it couldn’t be me, back in Yerevan after so many years. She didn’t approach me. That was probably a good thing, since I would not have recognized her. The last time I saw Sima, she was about fifteen or sixteen years old, and she had long, brown hair. She was very glamorous, and reminded me a little of a young version of the actress, Fran Drescher, who was very popular in the 90s.

Since then, Sima has cut her hair into a very short, spiky haircut, and it’s now jet black. Sima is still very beautiful and glamorous, but she looks quite different now than how I remembered her. However, she’s still very tiny, and I felt like a mama bear when I gave her a hug. I was so moved that she not only remembered me, but actually recognized me, after so many years. I seriously wanted to cry! It was more validation that my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer wasn’t a waste of time. I was finding out that what I did meant something to people besides myself. It wasn’t unlike seeing the end results of planting a seed and coming back years later to find a fruit bearing tree in its place.

After the concert, Stepan, Lilit, Bill and I went outside. We were trying to decide what to do next. Lilit wasn’t feeling well, but Stepan was still trying and succeeding in being an excellent host to us. I decided to make politely parting easy by asking Bill if he was tired. Bill, trying to be a good guest, said he was “okay”. And I said, “Do you mean it, or are you just being NICE?” Then I turned and smiled at Stepan, who laughed. He asked if I minded if he opened the gifts at home, so his kids could watch. I was fine with that, and we parted ways… after I, once again, expressed shock at all the lights on in Yerevan!

Below are a few photos from our walk back to the hotel…

Sunday was a full day, and we were tired… so after our concert, we decided to enjoy some wine, watch a little TV, and go to bed. However, there was a lot of noise outside from traffic and a nearby nightclub, so actually falling asleep was an entirely different matter. More on that in a later post. 😉


Mr. Bill and I celebrate 20 years of marriage… Part five

When we woke up in Ribeauville on Saturday, November 19th, I looked at Facebook to see if there were any announcements about James Taylor’s show. I didn’t see any emails from the ticketing venue, or on James’s social media. That meant we’d be going home a day early.

I was a little sad to be going, since I really had wanted to go to Riquewihr at least once, if only to get macaroons. Bill didn’t want to go to Riquewihr, because it was in the opposite direction of home, even if it was just two miles. He said he’d go look for the macaroons in Ribeauville. So he went out, picked up more croissants, and FAILED to find the cookies I wanted. Instead, he bought three bags of other cookies.

Maybe I should be ashamed for feeling this way, but I was a little disappointed. What he brought back were not what I wanted. Then it occurred to me that I could probably order the macaroons, which is precisely what I did (they arrived this morning). So I got over my disappointment, and we started packing up to go home. As I was walking the dogs to the car, my hands full of whatever else I could carry, a French woman approached me, speaking rapid fire. I said in English, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak French.”

She nodded and smiled, then backed away. I soon realized what she wanted. It was mid morning and the parking lot was already pretty full. She wanted our parking spot. I saw her lurking in the lot, just waiting for us to move. I always hate it when people do this, even though I understand why they do it. I wasn’t the one driving, and we weren’t quite ready to leave. She finally gave up at some point, after Bill had done a sweep of the Riesling gite, and came back to the car. By then, there were a couple more lurkers, just waiting…

It was probably a half hour later when we were on our way home, after a quick stop at the Daniel Stoffel Chocolatier outlet on the way out of town. Bill went in and picked up some goodies for us, and his daughter’s family.

Our drive home was almost totally uneventful. Arran went to sleep, and Noyzi was a perfect gentleman in the back. Maybe we have finally broken him of his habit of barking in the car. The only strange thing that happened was that, as usual, I witnessed public urination at a rest stop. I vented about that here. Below are a few shots from the drive home. As you can see, Arran was relaxed.

When we got home, our landlord came over to tell us our off kilter dishwasher, which had come off its foundation, wasn’t fixed yet, because the repair guy needed a part. Yesterday, he said the repair guy was sick, but would be able to fix the machine when he was well again. He said we should just be careful using the machine. When I told him we hadn’t been using it, because the dishwasher had given me an error code last time I ran a load, he said if the repair guy couldn’t figure it out, he’d just get us a new one. I am still stunned by how different he is, compared to our former landlady. They are like night and day!

I did the requisite load of laundry and a few other chores, then we got ready for the show in Frankfurt. We had to pick up our tickets at the box office, I guess to thwart scalpers. I pictured a long line of people, but when we arrived at the Jahrhunderthalle, we were pleasantly surprised by the ease of parking, the short distance to the venue, and the short line to get our tickets. Then we enjoyed some libations while we waited for the doors to open.

James Taylor had a stripped down band for this show. There was no keyboard player, and no opening act. We had second row seats, which was a first for me. I saw my first James Taylor concert in 1990. In fact, that show, when I was almost 18, was my very first “rock” show– if you could call it that. I remember I went with my parents and one of my sisters, and I paid $18.50 for nosebleed seats.

For this show, I paid 82,50 euros which I thought was very reasonable to see a guy who has won 6 Grammys and spent more than 50 years enchanting people all over the world with his wonderful guitar playing and angelic voice. While we waited for the show to start, I noticed the music that was playing. I recognized songs from albums by James’s daughter, Sally, as well as backup singers Kate Markowitz and Andrea Zonn. I downloaded Kate’s album from the concert hall. I already had Andrea’s.

This was the fourth time I’d seen James Taylor play, but there was a difference between this show and the others. For one thing, there weren’t drunken, idiot women standing in front of us, dancing and shrieking the whole time. There were no huge screens showing close ups of James and his band. And while he forgot a few words, he still played and sang beautifully. I was charmed by his efforts to speak German to the crowd, as well as the encouraging message he had for anyone “in recovery” from drug and alcohol addiction, as he has been since the mid 80s.

James told us some of the stories behind some of the songs he performed, including “That’s Why I’m Here”, from his 1985 album by the same name. I remember that he had dedicated that album to Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Imagine going to an A.A. meeting and seeing James Taylor there! But anyway, “That’s Why I’m Here” was a song he wrote in memory of his friend John Belushi, who died of an overdose in 1982. James was a pretty serious addict back in the day. He’s still addicted, of course, but no longer indulges. Before he started singing, he said, “If you like getting fucked up, that’s okay. I just can’t handle it myself anymore!” Everybody laughed.

At the beginning of the evening, I thought James looked a little pale, perhaps because he’d had COVID. But as the show went on, he was more and more animated, at times jumping around the stage. I enjoyed watching him interact with his band, most of whom had been with him for many years. Dorian Holley was the only one on stage I had not seen with James before. I suspect he’s the replacement for Arnold McCuller, James’s longtime backup singer who just retired from life on the road. I enjoyed Dorian’s singing. He has quite an impressive resume. James listed the people Holley’s sung with, which includes the late Michael Jackson. That actually surprised me, because he didn’t look old enough to be one of Jackson’s backup singers… but then, Michael was well known for enjoying and employing young performers for his shows.

James’s long time guitarist, Michael Landau, was well within view of us on the right side of the stage. He stood up and flexed his legs, I smiled at him, and he smiled back. That was kind of a cool moment. One thing I love about European concerts is that I seem to have a much easier time scoring good seats here. Another thing I love about European shows is that most people don’t act stupid at them… at least not at the shows Bill and I attend. And you can get a beer or a glass of wine without mortgaging your house.

At one point, James was introducing a song from his 1971 album, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon. A man in the audience held up a vinyl copy, which James immediately offered to sign and bite. The guy rushed up to the stage with his album and presented it to James, but then they needed to find a pen. Another guy came up and said he had something that had been signed by a bunch of famous singers, including Johnny Cash. He requested an autograph, which James was happy to oblige. In fact, at the break, I ran out to go to the restroom, and when I came back, James was still on stage, signing autographs and shaking hands. I was very impressed. I wondered if he needed to pee as badly as I did! It struck me as a very humble and generous gesture toward his loyal fans.

I decided not to try to get an autograph myself. I would be honored to have James’s signature, of course, but autographs don’t really mean that much to me. Earlier in the show, someone yelled out that his dad loved James. James made a comment reminiscent of what he said on his Live album from 1993. Basically, he reminded the guy that they don’t know each other. It made me think how strange it must be for performers to be “loved” by people who don’t know them. James himself reminded us that he is a deeply flawed person, as we all are… but what impresses me about James Taylor is that he’s clearly worked very hard to become much better. He’s clearly not the same person he was in the 70s or early 80s.

At the end of the show, of course there were encores… and James and his band encouraged people to get up and come close to the stage. It was one of the most intimate concert experiences I’ve ever had. I think the only one who topped that was James’s somewhat less famous brother, Livingston, who puts on a FABULOUS live show and is extremely approachable. I remember seeing Liv in 2003 at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, a couple of months after I saw James at Wolf Trap in Bristow, Virginia. James’s show was MUCH bigger than Liv’s was, and we had those drunk women in front of us, careening around sloppily as they slurred the lyrics of James’s best songs. I remember thinking Livingston’s show was so much better, if only because there weren’t any obnoxious drunks there. But Liv also engaged the audience and was thoroughly entertaining. This most recent show by James, while slightly pared down, was akin to Liv’s show, only it was in a much larger, yet still intimate, venue.

In any case, we obviously had a wonderful time! I’m so glad we went. It was the perfect ending to our 20th anniversary weekend. And yes, even though James will be 75 years old in March, he’s still a hell of a great performer. I think the money we spent on this show, even with its delays, was well worth euro cent.

Dorian and Kate dance!

Getting out of the Jahrhunderthalle was very easy. Bill was happy about that. But then we hit a Stau, so Bill went through Hofheim to get us home. And when we got home, we were confronted by a big mess caused by Arran. He got into the basement and raided our dry goods, and peed and pooped on my rug. Fortunately, he was no worse for wear. We have thoroughly dog proofed down there, as we’re going to someone’s house for Thanksgiving dinner today. Noyzi had nothing to do with the raid. He was tucked in bed when we got home. He’s very classy for a street dog.

Well, that about does it for this series. It wasn’t a super exciting trip, but we had a good time… and it was great to have Arran and Noyzi with us. I’m so grateful to be here on many levels, and for so many reasons. I’m glad James Taylor is still with us, too. And before I forget, below are a couple of clips from the show.

The magical ending.
Auf Wiedersehen…

Mr. Bill and I celebrate 20 years of marriage… Part one

I’ve been looking forward to November 16, 2022 for twenty years. That’s the day Bill and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. As some readers already know, I am Bill’s second wife. On some levels, I would say he and I have had a fairly easy time of marriage. We get along very well, and we genuinely love spending time together. We aren’t just husband and wife; we are best friends. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our share of dramas.

All year, I’ve been thinking about what we should do to celebrate our big milestone. Normally, I would come up with a fancy vacation of some kind, or at least a trip to somewhere we’ve never been, even if it’s not a luxurious destination. But then in September, I discovered that our beloved dog, Arran, had swollen lymph nodes. The diagnosis was B-cell lymphoma. We are now in our last days with Arran, who is a very special family member, and has a particularly close bond with Bill.

Originally, we thought it would be best to ease Arran into palliative care, but he’s repeatedly showed us he wants to fight. So he’s now undergoing chemotherapy, which has been kind of miraculous. He started treatment October 13th, and on November 20th, he’s still happy and spunky. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to board him. For one thing, we’ve come to realize that Arran doesn’t enjoy being boarded anymore. He’d much rather be with us. For another, I didn’t want to burden the Hund Pension with dealing with his medications, which aren’t that complicated, but do involve some risk. He takes a drug that requires gloves to dispense safely, and it’s not safe for his poop to be accessible to other dogs.

Finally, when we were celebrating our tenth anniversary in Scotland, Arran’s predecessor, MacGregor, had an undiagnosed cancerous spinal tumor that caused an emergency while we were traveling thousands of miles away. I didn’t want anything similar to happen this time. We lost MacGregor a week before Christmas 2012, just a couple of weeks after our return from our big anniversary trip. Arran, who joined our family on January 12, 2013, is named after a Scottish island we saw on that first trip to Scotland.

I decided we’d spend our big day in Ribeauville, France, which is about a three hour drive from us. We have been there half a dozen times since 2017, staying in apartments owned by Yannick Kopff, a Alsatian native and excellent host. Yannick is extremely dog friendly, and since our favorite of his apartments, Riesling, was available for our dates, we decided that was a good place to celebrate. I booked four nights– from Wednesday, November 16th until Sunday, November 20th, at Yannick’s Gites au Coeur de Ribeauville.

Meanwhile, we were also looking forward to seeing and hearing James Taylor perform a concert. Originally, the show was supposed to go on in February 2022. But COVID-19 numbers were too high at that time, and there were many restrictions in place. So James decided to reschedule his European Tour dates for later in the year. In our case, the Frankfurt show was rescheduled for November 8th. Perfect– a Tuesday night, over a week before our anniversary trip.

On November 7th, we got the news that James had to postpone several concerts, including ours. He finally got COVID, and was advised to rest in Zurich, Switzerland for a few days. We watched anxiously, as four shows were eventually canceled because they couldn’t be rescheduled. However, Frankfurt’s venue was open for November 19th… last night. We were supposed to be in France last night, but we decided to come home a day early to catch James’s show… and I’m really glad we did that, because it was a great show, in spite of James’s brush with COVID.

I don’t have a lot of exciting stories to tell about our most recent trip to Ribeauville. November, just before the Christmas markets, is the “off season”. A lot of places were closed in preparation for the frenzy that is about to hit the village. I don’t know how big their market was in 2021, but I’m pretty sure it was canceled in 2020. I have a feeling this year’s markets will be bigger, and I could see that people were preparing. But, in terms of having a lot to do while we were there… I can’t say that we did. On the other hand, we did try a couple of restaurants we had never tried before, and Bill tried a dessert that is a local speciality that we never had before.

This was also Noyzi’s very first trip with us, aside from when we went to Slovenia to pick him up in 2020. Ribeauville was a good choice, because it wasn’t too far away, and because Yannick is so good with dogs in his properties. It was a fruitful trip for Noyzi, too, since he finally learned to poop while on a leash. This is a big deal, because it will make traveling with him much easier and less worrisome. Eventually, we may have to take him back to the States, which means for his own health, he needs to know how to relieve himself when he’s not frolicking in the backyard. He did seem to learn the lesson on our trip.

Aside from taking pictures of the always beautiful village of Ribeauville, binge watching Netflix and cheesy French game shows, eating lots of French comfort foods, drinking Alsatian wines, and being together, we didn’t do much on this trip. It was a good opportunity for Bill to sleep. We also picked up some gifts for his daughter and grandchildren. The beauty of Ribeauville is that we’ve been there so many times that not doing anything doesn’t seem too much like a hardship. By now, the village feels like a second home, even if our last visit was in January 2020.

So… over the next couple of days, I’ll write up this trip and James Taylor’s concert. I don’t think I’ll binge write today, because frankly, I just don’t feel like it. The weather is kind of crappy and I feel like hibernating. But we had a great time, and I’m grateful we could do it. I hope we can do it again.

If you’re interested in reading about our latest trip to France, I hope you’ll watch this space for updates… Meanwhile, here’s a video I made a few days ago in honor of our anniversary and James Taylor’s show. He didn’t do “Secret O’ Life” last night…

This song has really grown on me over the years. It seemed like a good one for 20 years of marriage…


Beef ‘n Beer… A new spot for us in Hofheim…

We woke to a foggy morning, which made us less interested in going to a wine tasting in the nearby hamlet of Hofheim. We did need to go out, though… or really, I needed to go out. So we decided to stop by a Hofheim burger joint called Beef ‘n Beer, which is right next to a mall called the Chinon Center. Two hours parking there cost one euro!

The restaurant’s Web site tells me that there are two locations, the one in Hofheim, and one in Kelkheim, which is a place I have yet to visit. With a name like Beef ‘n Beer, we were thinking maybe they’d have a list of beers to try, but alas, the beer selection was not that impressive or expansive. However, the restaurant doesn’t take an afternoon pause, has a full bar, and offers a variety of salads, sandwiches, burgers, and main dishes.

We ended up having to search for parking, because a lot of people were out today. We managed to snag a spot on the top level of the parking garage at the Chinon Center, then it was easy to walk to the restaurant. An attractive waitress invited us to sit anywhere we wanted. She didn’t speak English to us, but I did hear her speak perfect English to another patron. I’m not sure he was American, either. He could have been from Sweden, for all I know!

I ended up ordering an Avocado Burger, which was a burger with bacon, cheese, onions, lettuce and avocado slices. Bill had The Original Australian, which was a sandwich on a sub roll with Argentinian beef strips, fried onions, tomatoes, pickles, and lettuce. Both sandwiches came with steak fries and cole slaw.

The Avocado Burger was good, but I couldn’t finish it. It also had a molded patty, which I don’t usually like the texture of, though it wasn’t too off putting at Beef ‘n Beer. Bill loved his sandwich. I think I might order that next time, or come hungrier and try one of the main courses. They have steaks, salmon, dorade, and even spare ribs.

I enjoyed the chilled out ambiance in the restaurant, which included comfortable bench seating and cool music. It’s also a dog friendly place. One guy brought his two dogs with him, and I almost tripped over his sweet black Labrador as we entered the place. In warmer months, there’s a small Biergarten area, too. Bill and I both commented that we expected more of a beer selection, but they had stuff we were happy to drink. I’m sure it pleases the local clientele.

Lunch came to a little over 36 euros, which Bill paid for with cash. He could have used a card, too, an option I see is spreading rapidly in Germany. For the longest time, paying with a card wasn’t such a common thing to do here. I guess COVID changed that somewhat.

After lunch, we walked downtown to see if anything was going on. We ended up stopping in a little hole in the wall Fair Trade shop, which offered coffees, teas, condiments, soaps, baby clothes, and wines, all of which came from Fair Trade sources. We bought some coffee, soap, almond butter, wine, and chocolate. How many times have we walked past the Weltladen without noticing? I don’t know, but I will make a point of stopping in again. They have some cute stuff! I love Hofheim, too. It’s a nice town.

Then we completed the loop around Hofheim and took a short rest near the Wine Chalet. For once, we didn’t partake of any wine. We just sat there, enjoyed the change of scenery and lovely cool fall temperatures and colors, as well as a little irreverent graffiti. I feel like I’ve almost missed the fall this year, as worried as I’ve been about Arran.

Speaking of Arran… below is a video of how he and Noyzi welcomed us home…

That chemo is good stuff.

Wednesday, we’re going to Ribeauville, France for our 20th wedding anniversary. Originally, our plan was to stay until November 20 (Sunday). However, we were supposed to see James Taylor in concert in Frankfurt on November 8. He came down with COVID and had to cancel several shows. Poor guy has been stuck in Zurich all week… which is not such a bad place to be stuck. He was able to reschedule Frankfurt for November 19th. So, if the show is still going on next Saturday night, we’re going to come home a day early and see him play. We have second row seats, after all. Not sure that will ever happen again! If he has to cancel again, we’ll stay in France for another night. Either way, we’re paid up, and we have appealing plans.

It’s nice to have first world problems.


An evening with wonderful Keb’ Mo’… our first concert since 2019!

In 2003, when Bill and I were first married, I bought Lyle Lovett’s then newly released CD, Smile: Songs From the Movies. In those days, we didn’t have much money at all, so it was kind of a big deal when I bought things, even when they were as seemingly insignificant as CDs. On the other hand, I’m a frustrated musician myself, so CDs have never really been insignificant to me.

I loved that CD. I was a pretty new Lyle Lovett fan back then, but it wasn’t long before I became a real admirer of his music. On that CD, there was a collaboration Lovett did with noted blues singer, Keb’ Mo’. They had covered “‘Till It Shines”, a song Bob Seger wrote in the 1970s. I actually owned Bob Seger’s album, Stranger in Town, on cassette tape. I’ve since replaced it at least twice. I instantly recognized the song, and I loved what they did with it. I think that was the first experience I had with Keb’ Mo’.

Never saw the film this was used in, but I love this pairing of musicians.

Some time passed, and I encountered Keb’ Mo’ a few more times. One time, I bought a compilation put together by Martha Stewart, of all people. Yes, that Martha Stewart– the one who went to prison for insider trading! She marketed a CD for new parents called Sleepytime, and it included a collection of soothing songs that were meant to inspire babies to fall asleep, yet didn’t annoy their parents. Keb’ Mo’ contributed a lovely song called “Infinite Eyes” to that CD, which was released in 2004. I see Martha’s Sleepytime CD is no longer available, even on Amazon. That’s a shame, because it’s a really nice CD. I still have it, although it’s in storage now. I hope the extreme heat in Texas hasn’t ruined it. I do have it downloaded to my computer. Additionally, you can find it uploaded on YouTube.

Then came the day when I became a confirmed Keb’ Mo’ fan. Bill and I were having a weekend lunch at Austin Grill, in Springfield, Virginia. They were playing some really great music in there, and I was enjoying my burrito and pink lemonade to some righteous blues. Suddenly, there was Keb’ Mo’s unmistakable voice, covering Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”. After we finished lunch, Bill and I went directly to a Border’s store and I bought three of his CDs. None of them had his cover of “Folsom Prison Blues”, but the spell was cast. I was soon hooked, and started buying his music regularly. Years later, I found and downloaded his version of “Folsom Prison Blues”, but by the time I found it, I had discovered so many other great songs by him!

It’s hard to believe that about twenty years have passed since the first time I heard Keb’ Mo’s voice. It’s ever harder to believe that last night was the first time I ever saw him play live. Especially since Keb’ Mo’ seems to love Europe and has played over here several times in the almost eight years we’ve lived here. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be in Germany, but I am sure last night won’t be the only time we see Keb’ Mo’ in concert. He was so wonderful last night at the Frankfurter Hof! Thanks to the pandemic, the show, which was originally planned for November 16, 2020 (our 18th wedding anniversary), had been rescheduled three times. It was well worth the wait!

Last night’s concert was the first one Bill and I had been to since July 2019, when we saw Mark Knopfler in Leipzig. I remember Knopfler’s show was memorable for a lot of reasons. The most memorable thing about that show, though, besides the fact that it was the last one after a string of concerts Bill and I attended, was that we were staying in the same hotel where Knopfler and his band were. And all of them came to the hotel bar, so I got to gawk at them from afar.

Something similar actually happened last night. Bill and I were eating dinner outdoors at a place called L’Angolo, an Italian restaurant near the Frankfurter Hof, in Mainz. Bill had ordered a half bottle of wine, and just as our waiter was dropping it off, I looked up and there was Keb’ Mo’, walking down the street, completely unbothered and unfazed by anyone! I didn’t have the chance to take a photo then, but I got plenty of them last night, along with some video. I don’t usually like to take video at concerts, but he was pretty open to it, and everyone was doing it. So I got a few minutes from last night’s intimate show, which included opening act, Anthony D’Amato, who was equally great. I had not heard of Anthony D’Amato before last night, but he was very entertaining. His style reminded me of Springsteen’s or maybe Bob Dylan. He’s also been compared to Josh Ritter, but I’m not familiar with Josh Ritter (yet), so I can’t say for sure.

One of Anthony D’Amato’s songs. I don’t think he did this one last night.

I was pleasantly surprised by last night’s show. I had been a bit worried about it, given the COVID-19 situation. Germany only did away with mask requirements in most places just a few weeks ago. I didn’t look forward to having to sit in an auditorium wearing a mask for hours. Fortunately, people in Europe are pretty good about letting people make their own choices, as long as there aren’t official rules. There were some folks who wore masks at the show, but the vast majority of people didn’t. And I didn’t see anyone giving anyone a problem, either way.

The Frankfurter Hof is a small venue that seats a maximum of 480 people, and offers standing areas on the sides. I would guess there were no more than 600 people at last night’s show. We were in seats one and two in row four, which offered a great view of the stage, even without using the zoom function on my camera. I would not hesitate to attend another concert at the Frankfurter Hof, especially since it’s so close to where we live. My only caveat for the uninitiated is that it’s not so easy to find the entrance to the venue, which is between two restaurants/bars.

As usual, the audience was well-behaved and appreciative, which made for a nice atmosphere. People were singing along and clapping, and for the most part, being very considerate of each other. I haven’t been to a whole lot of US based concerts, but I have noticed that I much prefer the shows in Germany to the ones I’ve attended back home. People are expected to act like adults. Those who don’t will be called out. At the same time, if you want to enjoy your adult beverages, you can do that without harassment or price gouging. It’s refreshing to be treated with dignity and respect, without worry that some idiot will ruin the mood for everyone. Last night was also memorable, because we ran into one of Bill’s colleagues. Before she started working for the US government, she used to do sound and lighting for concerts. She even did them for Joan Jett, at some point before she switched careers. 😉

Below are some photos from our evening, and last night’s delightful show. I’m so glad we were finally able to go! I hope Keb’ Mo’ will be back soon. If he follows his usual modus operandi, I expect it won’t be long before we have another chance to enjoy his music live. And if you like blues and haven’t seen him play yet, you’re missing out. We only paid about 45 euros per ticket to catch that show. It was one of the better concerts we’ve attended! Overall, it was a fantastic evening; he played all of the songs I was hoping to hear, plus some I really need to listen to again! If I don’t wind up with COVID-19, that is a bonus!

I was surprised by how humble and down to earth Keb’ Mo’ seemed. He was so funny and obliging, engaging with the audience and sharing entertaining stories with the audience. I also noticed that there were a lot of English speakers at the show, and they were getting his jokes. Bill and I saw the aforementioned Lyle Lovett in Stuttgart in March 2009, and he spoke English and made jokes. Bill and I seemed to be the only ones laughing! That is not what happened last night. The audience loved him! And most of them were very well behaved, save for a couple of squabbles over seats, and dirty looks due to empty beer bottles falling. For once, they weren’t my bottles, either. 😉

Below is a video I got from the first song in the encore, a sweet rendition of “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. I wish I had gotten the very last song, which was one of the highlights of the show, in my opinion. It was an upbeat gospel number his late mother had loved. Keb’ Mo’ delighted me by quipping, “Germans go to church, too!” And indeed, they were clapping, stomping, and singing along, just like they had been raised on that homespun southern gospel sound. Once again, I missed my own southern roots, especially when he mentioned southern food. But I can’t help but realize that Bill and I shared a bond with the locals last night… and at this point, Germany will always be one of my homes, too. <3

“Lean On Me”
Austria, coronavirus, Germany, Poland

Austria is locking down… will Germany be next?

The local news in Germany has been all abuzz about the COVID-19 situation in Austria. Fed up and frustrated by the ever increasing numbers of people falling ill with the coronavirus, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced that Austria would be locking down for at least ten days. The lockdown will apply to everyone, vaccinated or not, and it means that Austrians will be asked to work from home and non-essential shops will close. Schools will remain open for children who require face-to-face learning. The measure will apply until December 12, and then the COVID situation will be reassessed at that point to determine if there should be another ten days of lockdown.

As I read the news yesterday, I realized how lucky Bill and I are that we managed to take our recent vacation and get through all of the countries unscathed. Croatia and Slovenia are considered “high risk” areas– higher risk than Austria was– but we didn’t interact with many people at all during our time there. I think the risk is mainly because fewer people are vaccinated, but the reality is, there aren’t that many people congregating in Slovenia or Croatia at this time of year and social distancing is actually super easy. That may change as winter approaches and people want to ski, at least in Slovenia.

Austria, on the other hand, was like 2019. During our trip, it wasn’t considered a “high risk” area. Masks were only required in grocery stores, on public transportation, and in healthcare facilities. I won’t lie. It was really nice. And, in fact, Salzburg and, to a lesser extent, Wels, were sort of “alive” with people, which was a morale booster. I’m not sure if the lax masking is the reason why this surge is happening. Germany is a lot stricter about masks, but people are still getting sick here, and the hospitals are full. Personally, I don’t think the masks are going to be what saves us. What needs to happen is mass immunity, and that will come as people get vaccinated and boosted, and others manage to recover from the illness. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people may get very sick and/or die in the process. The only way to avoid the risk is by staying away from other people.

Austria has also taken the unusual step of requiring everyone to get vaccinated by February 2022. Frankly, I don’t think that’s a bad decision. It’s certainly groundbreaking. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t agree with forcing people to do things, particularly when it involves healthcare. However, communicable diseases are different. With my background in public health, I already know that there are some public health situations that require detaining people who put others at risk. On my main blog, I have written about how I think COVID-19 could eventually become an illness like tuberculosis. If you get TB and you refuse to get treated, you can and will be detained so that you don’t threaten other people. Many of us are really sick and tired of COVID-19, and the way it’s disrupting normal living. It’s also costing the world’s economies a lot in lost business, and like it or not, money matters. I don’t think people should be surprised if the rules become more draconian in an effort to get rid of the scourge.

Bavarian state premier, Markus Söder, who is a champion of the dreaded FFP2 masks for everyone, everywhere, has already declared a “de facto lockdown for the unvaccinated”. All of the Christmas markets have been cancelled, and all bars and clubs will be closed for the next three weeks. In areas where “weekly incidence rates top 1,000 per 100,000 people – restaurants, hotels, sport and culture will also close.” I believe the rules in Germany recently changed, as Angela Merkel plans to leave office. Now, they’re letting the states decide, rather than the federal government. I think I might enjoy the incoming government. I read that they’re also considering making recreational cannabis use legal. I never thought I’d see the day. I have limited experience with pot, having only tried it in The Netherlands a few years ago. But I did enjoy the experience…

I will not be the least bit surprised if other countries take a similar approach against the virus. It really sucks that this is happening, since Christmas is approaching. I do have some hope, though, because this year, at least there are vaccines. Some medications are also being developed to treat COVID-19– legitimate ones, rather than hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin. Historically speaking, pandemics always end at some point. So I continue to hold out hope that this one will end eventually… COVID-19 is a terrible illness, but it’s probably not even the worst humankind has faced, and nowadays, we have a lot more and better technology, which will continue to evolve out of necessity.

But yes… I sure am glad Bill and I managed to take our trip, enjoy ourselves, and emerge unscathed. We were very lucky. If there’s one thing COVID-19 has done for me, it’s make me a lot more appreciative of being able to travel.

Bill has been in Warsaw, Poland all this week, sadly missing our 19th anniversary at home. He brought home a few things for me last night. It would have been nice if I could have gone with him, but the COVID situation makes it dangerous. In fact, we were supposed to see James Taylor in Frankfurt in February, but he had to postpone his stop in Frankfurt until next November. With any luck, we’ll still be here and alive in November 2022. We’re supposed to see Keb’ Mo’ in May of 2022… but the tickets I bought were for a show that was supposed to happen on November 16, 2020– our 18th anniversary. So far, it’s been postponed three times. So we’ll see if we manage to see James in November 2022. I hope so. We have second row seats.

I was thinking maybe we’d go somewhere to celebrate our anniversary, now that Bill’s home… but I think we’re going to be locked down again very soon. So maybe we’ll just stay home and fuck or something. Just kidding… it’s more likely that we’ll turn on music, light a fire, and drink wine.

concerts, Germany, live music

A musical breakthrough!

This morning Bill and I got up with the best of intentions to get out and do something fun. Although I’ve been feeling pretty good about staying home, even though I ALWAYS stay at home, Bill was feeling restless. Yesterday, at about 1:30pm, he came to me wanting to go out and do something.

I looked at the clock, realizing that a lot of restaurants would be closing very soon, and said, “It would be a lot better if we planned these things more. You slept until 8:00am, did a bunch of chores, and now that it’s the afternoon you want to go out… and do what?” Bill is usually the one who notices the time, particularly as it relates to eating in restaurants. And thanks to the coronavirus, it’s even more important to plan outings ahead of time.

Bill sighed, agreed, and we spent our Fourth of July in the backyard, drinking beer and listening to music. I did also hear fireworks going off, no doubt on the local military installations, but I didn’t see them. Poor Bill is going stir crazy, even though he goes out for work and grocery shopping. I just can’t be arsed to deal with the coronavirus, though. It’s easier to stay home.

Last night, Bill suggested that we go take a ride on the Seilbahn today. The Seilbahn is a cable car that takes people on a scenic ride over the grape vines of Rüdesheim and to the Niederwald Monument and the Rhein River. We noticed it the first and last time we visited Rüdesheim, in April of last year. We didn’t ride the Seilbahn on that day, though, because we did a wine tasting, where I ended up singing for an elderly couple.

Anyway, Bill wanted to go back today for a scenic Sunday Seilbahn ride… but then we noticed the cloudy weather and high winds. They’re going to be up to 16 miles per hour, which doesn’t make for the most reassuring cable car ride. So we decided to postpone our trip. I went to my computer and pulled out my trusty turquoise guitar and took a couple of lessons on Fender Play. Today’s topic was alternative finger picking of bass notes. I learned “Tom Dooley”, and it occurred to me that the chords were kind of like a really pretty song called “Dreaming My Dreams With You”. It’s been done by a lot of people, but the version I like best so far is the one done by Alison Krauss, who had backup help from Dolly Parton and Lyle Lovett.

Such a pretty song!

I realized I needed to change the chords, though, since I had figured out the song in G and I needed to play it in F#. So I went looking for a chord chart, put the capo on the third fret, and before I knew it, I was playing along with the recording. I still stumble a bit on the chord changes, but I think with some practice, I’ll be ready to post a video. I can definitely sing the song… it’s just my guitar playing that needs a lot of work.

I have been making some significant progress. A couple of times, I’ve played along with a song and it’s been okay until it was time to change chords. Today, I was able to play along and change chords without too much trouble, relatively speaking, although I’m still slow and unsure at times. Anyway, this was the closest I’ve gotten to being able to actually play a song. I even figured out the solo guitar riff, although it’s going to take a little more time before that’s perfected. I probably won’t be able to include it in a video until I’m a bit more advanced.

So, although I would have loved to have gotten out this morning and done some sightseeing, the weather defeated us again. However, I scored a major victory on my guitar! Incidentally, I also got to teach Bill how to properly play an E minor chord, which isn’t hard. He was having trouble making it work because he had one of his fingers on the wrong string. It was a problem that was easily fixed, so now he has a new chord to play with, too!

Incidentally, Facebook tells me that a year ago, Bill and I saw Mark Knopfler performing in concert in Leipzig. He and his band were also staying at our hotel, and we saw him hanging out with his band in the bar. Boy, do I miss bars… But anyway, seeing him in concert was on my bucket list, and then being in the bar with him was also a thrill. And no, we didn’t bug him. I just gawked from afar. The next morning, as we were packing up to go home, the bellman told us Sting was also at our hotel, taking a brief break from his tour having just done a show in Brussels, Belgium. I miss 2019.

I sense Bill still would like to go out today, though, even though the Seilbahn was a bust… maybe I’ll let him take me out to lunch somewhere. Maybe we’ll do the Seilbahn next week, if there’s sunshine and no wind. The week after that, we have another short trip planned. It’s another Germany trip, not too far from home, but further away than our trip to Hofheim for my birthday. Bill is determined not to let me get agoraphobic. Stay tuned.


Weird June weather…

I thought maybe we’d go out yesterday. The weather has been nice lately, and it’s been awhile since I last had a proper outing. But then the sky opened up with rain, so we decided to stay in…

It’s sad when a Saturday is messed up by rain, but we do actually need the rain to fall. It’s been pretty dry lately. Our rain barrel was so depleted that I put in a few buckets of water from our tap. We use the rain barrel water for the plants Bill is trying to nurture into bearing fruits and vegetables, since there isn’t a spigot in the back yard (but there is one in the garage).

Bill went to the store yesterday to pick up a few things. He says the plexiglass barriers remain, but the cashiers aren’t wearing masks anymore, nor is there anyone “standing guard” to enforce wearing them among shoppers. We also got our tickets to FINALLY see Keb’ Mo’, who is scheduled to visit Germany again in November. He’s doing a show on our anniversary. I’ve been wanting to see him for ages. Hopefully, this will go on as planned and we’ll have our chance. We’ll see. At least Mainz is close to home for now.

Our landlord says he’s going to send in his work crew to check out a piece of siding that came off during a windstorm last year. He asked Bill about our plans, especially since Trump is making noises about reducing the number of troops in Germany. As far as we know, we will be here for at least another year and probably longer. On the other hand, one never knows about these things. Personally, I think Trump is full of hot air, especially right now. Our landlord also worries that we’ll leave Germany for Poland, since Trump has been building up our relations there and there had been talk of a “Fort Trump” (God help us). When we visited Poland a few months ago for Bill’s work, the landlord wondered if it was to house hunt (it wasn’t).

Honestly, I don’t know if a move to Poland would ever happen. I guess I wouldn’t be opposed to moving to Poland if it ever came down to it. Poland has been steadily improving since our first visit in 2008, and I have heard that Americans are moving there to work. But we did reassure the landlord that we like Germany very much and don’t want to move unless we have to. We didn’t want to leave Stuttgart, either, but that turned out to be a the best thing that could have happened, if only because it got us out of an abusive living situation. Our current landlord is a much better fit for us, treats us with respect, and leaves us in peace.

I’ve been reading a lot about the new rules regarding flying. To be honest, as much as I hated flying before COVID-19, I think I’ll hate it even more now. I am not on the mask wearing bandwagon. I know a lot of people think they are helpful, and wearing them is the considerate thing to do, but to be very honest, I think their effectiveness is limited, especially since many people don’t even wash their hands when they use the bathroom. I do know how masks are supposed to work, in theory. In fact, one of my degrees is in public health, so I probably know more about this subject than a lot of people do. I just think the masks are mostly more about comforting the masses than actually preventing infections. When it comes down to it, social distancing and hand washing are a lot more important, and we’re hearing much less about that because they are impossible to monitor or enforce. Simple, loose fitting masks do not stop viruses from spreading, especially when people are constantly touching and fidgeting with them, although they might slow the viruses down a bit if they are worn properly and laundered or replaced regularly.

Masks are inconvenient and uncomfortable, and the idea of being forced to wear one for hours on a plane is very unappealing to me, especially given that air travel is already unpleasant and expensive. Being glared at, judged, and harassed by strangers over the wearing of masks is also unappealing, especially given how expensive it is to fly. I will wear a mask if I have to for essential travel (say, if my mom dies while we’re in Germany or we have to move), but I will not be happy about it, even if it makes other people *feel* safer, *judge* me less, and *think* I’m more polite.

And so, this blog is probably going to be less interesting to most people for the foreseeable future. That makes me sad, since we really had a great time a couple of years ago, visiting places near Stuttgart. I enjoyed writing and taking pictures, too. Maybe I’ll get back to writing about local spots again, but I doubt we’re going to be taking as many great trips, although Bill definitely wants to. I probably won’t be updating this blog as often, either, since no one wants to read about our life at home. It was fun while it lasted.

So sad.

Speaking of things that are going away. It was announced the other day that our neighborhood restaurant, the Alt Breckenheimer Stübchen, has been forced to close. Bill and I only ate there once, in January 2019, because it was always packed and reservations were essential. Now, thanks to the coronavirus, it looks like yet another great local haunt is being forced to close its doors. This virus has really screwed things up for a lot of people. I also read that the wine stand is going to be dismantled at the end of June. That is especially tragic, since we really enjoyed attending last year, and getting to know our neighbors.

But people are trying to keep up their spirits. Kids in Hofheim and apparently other communities, according to my German friend near Stuttgart, are making painted rock snakes. Here’s a screenshot from our local group about that.

Anyway… I try to keep perspective. I’ve noticed that the kids at the local school seem happy and are still playing. Some wear masks and some don’t. I’m grateful that people where I live are sensible and reasonable about mask wearing, and don’t freak out if people leave their residence without one, since it is entirely possible to stay more than six feet away from others in our neighborhood. I also realize that this is certainly not the first or last time humans have been confronted by pandemics. They always eventually pass or become controllable. This particular pandemic has only been a thing for a few months, so people are still very scared. Some are downright panicky. That’s understandable, given the horror stories about people who have come down with COVID-19. However, I think most of us will eventually be exposed to it and most of us won’t die. Some will die, and some will be left debilitated. And hopefully, there will be some semblance of normal life and travel again at some point in the future.

We’ll see what happens. This blog has been slowly dying anyway, since we left Stuttgart and I quit promoting it and left most of the Facebook groups (which was really a smart thing to do, but that’s a rant for another day).


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

Friday morning, we got up and had breakfast.  The Steigenberger has a pretty good buffet offered, though I somehow missed half of it on the first morning.  My only complaint, besides the coffee being kind of bad, is that some of the chairs were a bit narrow.  I don’t have a skinny butt by any means, but I can’t help but think of those larger than me trying to sit down.  Even Bill, who isn’t a large man, commented on the “snug” feel of the mauve colored chairs in the breakfast room.  However, on the last day, we sat in the black ones, and they were a lot more comfortable.

After breakfast, we walked around Leipzig, enjoying the energy of the place.  I wish I had done a bit more research before we arrived in town, since there are some interesting churches and museums there that we missed.

A big day in Leipzig’s history.  Once behind the East German borders, Leipzig is now a freewheeling, vibrant city.  Although the first demonstrations happened the previous month, it started to become that way on October 9, 1989, when there was a huge peaceful demonstration among the people of Leipzig.  It was just after the 40th anniversary of the GDR’s existence.  For two years, there were Monday demonstrations in Leipzig, demanding change for the people.


This was just outside St. Nicholas Church, which is a Lutheran church where protesters gathered.  We didn’t get a chance to look inside the church, since they were doing renovations.

Like Rostock, Leipzig also has a university.  It’s one of the world’s oldest universities and the second oldest in Germany, having been founded on December 2, 1409.  Leipzig University was one of the first in Germany to allow women as “guest students”.  During the Nazi era, many Jews had their degrees “cancelled”.  Some were reinstated during the East German era.


Leipzig’s “Hochhaus”, a 36 story skyscraper…  probably the only real one in Leipzig.  The building, which was erected between 1968 and 1972, was designed by architect Herman Henselmann to look like an open book.  It was originally part of Leipzig University, but was later sold to the city, which then sold it to the U.S. investment bank, Merrill Lynch.  The offices are rented to tenants and the top floor has an observation platform, as well as a restaurant called Panorama.


After strolling through some of Leipzig’s beautifully constructed passages, we had a nice Greek lunch at Alfa Restaurant.


Bean soup… I guess it came with the meal.


Obligatory shot of Bill.




Bill had gyros with fries and t’zatziki.


I had “surf and turf”, which was gyros with fried calamari and tomato rice.  This was a lot of food, but it was well prepared and the waiter was very nice.


The sun briefly came out, so we decided to go back to the wine fest, where we tried more wines… In retrospect, we probably should have gone to museums instead.  But what can I say?  We like our wine.

But soon the clouds were out again…

Most of the wines were German, but some weren’t.  The ones above were from the lone Hungarian vintner who attended.


Although I got us a parking spot for the Mark Knopfler concert, Bill decided he’d rather hire a cab to take us to the show.  We also wanted to get there early, remembering what happened when we saw Elton John in Stuttgart back in May.  I had ordered “special tickets”, which got us assigned seats, a wurst and a beer at the snack bar, and a parking spot.  I didn’t actually know where we’d be sitting, since the seats were assigned by the ticket outlet.  Well… it turned out we were on the third row on the ground floor.  They were AWESOME seats, especially since there weren’t any big screens.  Here are a few pictures from Knopfler’s show in Leipzig.  I see I can also order a recording of the Leipzig show in a few weeks.  Genius!

The arena.

The view before the show started.

There he is…


He had a wonderful band… although Knopfler himself looked a bit tired at first.  He perked up as the show went on and put on a great performance.  


I could not keep my eyes off of these two guys, who were playing multiple instruments so well.  They looked and sounded like they were plucked from some lovely meadow in Ireland or Scotland and recruited to follow Knopfler.  


I did not record any part of Knopfler’s show, but I want to mention that he has no objections to people audio recording or taking pictures, so long as they are for personal use.  I think that is a very generous and ultimately smart policy, because people are going to do it anyway and it’s pretty much impossible to police.  Hell, even at The Eagles’ concert, where they specifically asked for no cameras, people were openly recording.  Knopfler does state that iPads and video recording isn’t allowed.  People ignored that rule.

The sax player was badass, too.  He was so good… especially on “Your Latest Trick”, which is one of my favorite Dire Straits songs.


I loved that Mark Knopfler was showing off the band and obviously really appreciating what they can do.  I also liked that he shared a couple of personal stories about the songs he played… just a sampling of his amazing catalog of Dire Straits and solo efforts.  I’d been wanting to see him for years and this show was worth the wait. 


Security was mostly very good at this show.  I noticed a lot of them sitting on the floor, making sure no one misbehaved or sneaked into areas they shouldn’t be.  This was how it went until the very end of the concert, when a huge swath of people suddenly surged to the stage.  Everyone was forced to stand up.  I can deal with that and expect it… but not this.

This barefoot tall twit got up on her chair…

and started dancing while filming… and I couldn’t help but hope she fell into an open manhole on her way home…  Seriously, I was really pissed.  She could have fallen and hurt someone (namely me), plus who can see when people do this shit?  It’s just very inconsiderate and potentially dangerous behavior.  I was half tempted to yank her chair out from under her.  But while I may fume a lot, I have pretty good control of my physical impulses.

 After the show, Bill was unsuccessful in getting a cab.  We ended up walking all the way back to the hotel.  I was really pissed about that, too, since I wasn’t wearing the best shoes for walking.  My feet were burning and I was still really incensed about the idiot in front of us at the concert.  As a consolation, Bill suggested we go to the bar for a nightcap.  So we did…  We sat down at the bar.  I was still in a crappy mood.  The bartender suggested gin and tonics.  I looked up and…

“Don’t look now, but that’s Mark Knopfler’s band…”

Apparently, they decided to stay at the Steigenberger, too.  I was tempted to tell them how much we enjoyed the show, but decided not to approach them.  They worked hard and deserved a break without someone bothering them.  So we sat there and sipped our gin and tonics…  then…

Mark Knopfler himself showed up.  He sat in the back of the bar and did not call attention to himself. He passed right by me on his way to the elevator after spending about forty five minutes in there, hanging out with his band.  They appeared to be a tight, friendly group.


I said goodnight to one of the vocalists, who said he was on his way out to party.  It was very surreal. Apparently, that hotel gets its share of star guests.  As we were leaving, another well known rock star– Sting– was in the sauna taking a day off from his European tour, even though the star in the sauna hadn’t played there.  I guess he decided to stop in Leipzig precisely for that reason.  This sauna loving rock star is one I saw in Stuttgart a few years ago and has himself appeared on one of Dire Straits’ biggest hits.

Once again… special thanks to my dear husband, Bill, for making this dream come true.  One of the very first albums I ever owned was Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits.  I had it on cassette and used to listen to it on my Walkman as I rode my bike to and from the barn where I boarded my horse back when I was a teenager.  It’s an excellent album regardless, but I have some great memories of it thanks to the association I have of listening to it during my horsey days.  I miss them so much now.


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

For the past week, Bill and I have been engaged in an epic road trip.  What started out as just plans for a long weekend in Leipzig over the Independence Day holiday, eventually turned into a car buying odyssey in Sweden, with stops in Copenhagen, Denmark and Rostock, Germany.  Our road trip will end on Sunday, but since this is going to be a long story with lots of pictures, I’ve decided to start writing about it today.

If you’ve been following my blogs, you may know that over the past couple of years, Bill and I have been attending a lot of concerts.  Although I really love music, it’s not that often that I go to concerts.  I don’t like crowds, spending lots of money for uncomfortable seats, or having people’s armpits in my face.  However, even though I don’t enjoy being in huge crowds, I also realize that a lot of my favorite musicians are getting old.  A few have already died before I ever got the chance to see them live.

I didn’t have a lot of money or generous boyfriends when I was younger and more tolerant of crowds, so I missed a lot of my best concert going years.  Likewise, for Bill, it’s only been recently that we’ve been able to afford to get tickets for good seats.  I don’t like paying a premium for seats in the nosebleed section.  I can just as easily listen to a live album at home.

In any case, 2018 and 2019 have been unusually active concert going years for us.  Since a year ago, we’ve seen The Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Roger Hodgson (of Supertramp), Scottish Music Parade, The Irish Folk Music Festival, Elton John, The Eagles, and tonight, Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits).  In 2017, we saw Sting, and in 2016, we saw Van Morrison…  or, at least I think it was 2016.  I can’t keep the dates straight anymore.  In 2015, we saw Diana Krall, and in 2009, we saw Lyle Lovett.

I like going to concerts in Europe.  People tend to be more considerate here, for the most part.  Also, they don’t seem to have as many rules.  At American concerts, it costs an arm and a leg to buy a beer.  People lose their shit and have less regard for people around them.  Although I may be proven wrong tonight, I’ve found that people aren’t like that so much on this side of the pond.

I bought the tickets for Mark Knopfler last fall, as we were preparing to leave the Stuttgart area.  I decided to get them for the Leipzig show, even though Knopfler is playing in Mannheim tomorrow, and Mannheim is much closer to where we live now.  I chose Leipzig because I’d been wanting to visit there.  Also, the date for Knopfler’s show in Leipzig seemed to make better use of the long weekend.  Originally, I had just planned for a three night break.  I was excited about this show, especially, because I’ve been wanting to see Mark Knopfler for years.  I missed him when he came to Germany in 2015.  His music means a lot to me for a lot of reasons.

Bill booked our dogs at the Tierpension Birkenhof in Darmstadt, and I got us a nice room at the Grand Hotel Steigenberger, which is one of Leipzig’s nicest hotels.  Had we not been able to book the dogs, we planned to find a self catering place where they could hang out while we went to the show.  Fortunately, the dog sitting situation is less severe in Wiesbaden than it is in Stuttgart.  We had no issues getting them a place at their new boarding facility.

For months, we waited for our trip to Leipzig, planning for just the three nights.  Then, in the spring, Bill decided he was ready to get a new car.  Our thirteen year old Toyota RAV 4, which was an excellent vehicle that served us very well in many countries, was beginning to need costly repairs.  It was time for a new car.  Bill wanted a luxury SUV.

In late April, we visited Capitol Motors Volvo in Kaiserslautern, as well as the BMW dealership, to see what kind of wheels we were going to buy.  Volvo won, so we ordered a beautiful 2020 XC 60 SUV in denim blue.  It’s a T6 Inscription, which is the top of the line trim.  Our dealer told us the car would be ready to pick up on July 1st.  Realizing that it had been way too long since our last proper vacation, I proposed to Bill the idea of flying to Gothenburg, Sweden, picking up the car at the factory, then driving it back to Germany.

Some readers may be aware that U.S. based Volvo dealers offer a great program for people who want to fly to Sweden, pick up their new cars, enjoy a European vacation, then fly home and have the car shipped to them.  Well…  over here in Europe, Volvo buyers, even through military sales, don’t get the same love.  If you are reading this from the United States and are thinking of having a Volvo sponsored European vacation, I recommend that you read this guy’s blog about it.  It’s not that I don’t want you to read my account, too.  It’s just that because we purchased our car in Germany, our experience was somewhat different.  However, we did get a very nice military discount.  I think Bill said we got our new Volvo for about $8,000 less than we would have paid if we hadn’t bought from military sales.

Since the car was going to be ready so close to when our Leipzig concert was planned, I proposed turning our car delivery into an epic trip.  Since Volvo was not going to be paying for our flight to Sweden and would only put us up for one night in a Gothenburg hotel, we decided to just come up to Sweden on our own, spend two nights in Gothenburg’s best five star spa hotel, pick up the car, and make our way to Leipzig.  I did some research and determined our itinerary.

We’d spend two nights in Sweden, since our only other visit there was at the end of a four night Baltic cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas.  We ended in Stockholm, and Bill had to fly right back to Germany to go to a meeting in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  Consequently, we really didn’t see more than the port and the airport in Sweden.  I wanted to do better than that in Gothenburg, which is on the west coast of the country.

Next, we’d spent a night in Copenhagen.  We were able to see Copenhagen on that same Baltic cruise.  I would have liked to have done more than one night there, but we had to make our travel plans fit so that we’d be in Leipzig by July 4th.  After Copenhagen, we’d take the ferry across the Baltic Sea to Rostock.  I had wanted to visit a former East German prison museum there.  Since it looked like a cool town near the beach, we’d stay two nights in Rostock.  Then, we’d make our way to Leipzig for the three nights I planned there months prior to our decision to buy the car.

It’s all worked out seamlessly, so far.

As usual, I’m going to write a blow by blow account of this adventure and will include lots of pictures and TMI commentary.  I hope you’ll follow along, if I manage to capture your interest.  Otherwise, this will just serve as a diary of one of our more interesting trips as a married couple.

Somewhere over Gothenburg, just as we’re about to land…