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Another weekend shot to Hell, thanks to COVID…

I was hoping we could go out this weekend, since there was a wine festival going on near us. Unfortunately, I’ve been sick this week, and I didn’t feel like going out yesterday. I wasn’t wanting to walk around in the hot sun. This morning, I decided to do a COVID test, and sure enough, it was positive. So I don’t have anything fun to report on this week, since now I have to stay home.

I suppose I could write a travel related post… maybe something about living in Germany or a retrospective of some of our best trips. I might do that in the coming days, if the energy strikes. For now, I have to wait until the COVID has passed before I can go out and experience German culture again. This is a bummer, but I knew it was coming. At least I’m not very sick, and I haven’t gone out anywhere since last weekend, when I was feeling okay. Vaccines work!

Bill doesn’t have any symptoms of COVID, even though we haven’t been isolating from each other. He’s going to see if he’s asymptomatic, or doesn’t have the sickness yet.

I did hear a series of repeated sneezes coming from our landlord’s house yesterday. But he came over a little while ago with a bag of fresh cherry tomatoes he grew in his garden. That was nice of him!

Bill is getting ready to brew a fresh batch of beer, using the new equipment he bought from a Belgium based retailer called Brouwland. He was planning to do that today, anyway, but since I have COVID, it’s just as well that he breaks out his new toy. It’s so funny that Bill was a Mormon when I met him. Now he makes his own beer. I guess I drove him to drink. 😉 Below are a few photos of his new gear, and a video of him telling us how it all works.

Fancy.

Well, that about does it for today. I hope I’ll be done with this crap soon. It’s cramping my style. I look forward to trying Bill’s latest brew. I’m glad he can now pursue this hobby in Germany, because there was a time when homebrewing wasn’t legal here.

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Turning 50 in Antwerp… part eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 got pretty hooked on 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”
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Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part fourteen

Back in Florence for one last night…

We arrived in Florence in the early evening. Tom pulled his van into the parking area where he had originally advised Bill to park. He wasn’t able to park there, though, because it was full when we arrived. Consequently, Bill had to go get the Volvo from the garage. While he was doing that, I said goodbye to the other group members, who all headed off in different directions. Tom, very kindly, stayed with me while I waited for Bill. He asked what I thought of the tour.

I’m afraid I might have been more blunt than necessary, but that was mainly because I really needed to pee, and we didn’t stop on the way back to Florence. I know I should have said something… I’m sure the others might have even been grateful. I know Bill would have. He always needs to go, because he takes blood pressure medicine that makes him have to urinate a lot. I told Tom that, if I was honest, I hadn’t really wanted to do a tour. That’s certainly not because of his services, though. It’s because, like I said, I’m just not very good at “the group thing”. I know some people find me annoying, and I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m annoying people, simply for being myself. I was also concerned about COVID-19 policies, but thankfully, that didn’t turn out to be a problem. My lifestyle probably makes me less appreciative of strict schedules, even though I know they’re necessary. But, that’s just me. Some people are great in a group situation. I fully own that I’m less so, especially since I’m out of practice since we’ve been dealing with COVID life since 2020. I don’t hang around people much, and it probably shows.

In spite of my comments in the previous paragraph, I genuinely enjoyed this wine tour. I’m really glad I did it. 😉 I would not hesitate to book another tour with Tom. I thought the price, especially for what we got, was very reasonable. It was 875 euros per person. We owed him more than the 1750 euros, since he booked two extra nights for us at the Hotel Firenze Capitale. But, for the base price, considering that it included two nights in hotels, four meals in restaurants, tours at four different wineries in several different towns, and Tom’s professional services, I think it was a pretty good deal. I really liked the places where he took us, and I was impressed by his language skills and business connections. He’s also very knowledgeable about the wines in Tuscany, and the region itself. The payment was easily handled by bank transfer after the tour.

Bill and I talked about it, and we were a little reminded of our very first cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship in 2009. It was a four night Baltics cruise that went from Oslo to Stockholm on a ship that carried 1500 passengers. We had a very good time, but by the end of the cruise, Bill said “I would happily take another cruise, but I think I’d rather do an all inclusive luxury cruise.” Those words were, of course, music to my ears. Since then, we’ve cruised three times on SeaDream I and five times on Hebridean Princess. Both ships are small, luxury vessels. I know… I know… high maintenance!

In spite of my years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I am definitely not a “no frills” traveler. At least not anymore. Maybe roughing it for two years in a developing country does that to a person. 🙂 I’m also getting older, so I would probably prefer a tour that happens at a somewhat slower pace. Bill said he would really like to do a private tour with Tom, which I know can be arranged. We would consider doing another regular tour, too, although I think it might be better to do it with people we know. That way, people are forewarned about my unorthodox sense of humor and many personality quirks. Again, that’s easily arranged, since the tours are pretty small. I appreciated that Tom made the logistics relatively easy, which I know can be a real feat. He was very professional and, again, it was nice of him to wait with me. I didn’t expect him to do that.

It took Bill awhile to get back to the parking area, so we moved my bags to the other side of the road to make it easy to load the bags and get on our way. Bill picked me up, and we headed for Hotel David, which at this writing, is Florence’s #1 ranked hotel on Trip Advisor. After our one night there, I can see why it’s so popular. I booked Hotel David because I was looking for a hotel with parking. Hotel David’s rates include free parking. However, besides parking, the hotel offers a free social hour with wine, beer, and other beverages in the hotel’s yard. Breakfast is included in the rate, as is the minibar. And our room was beautiful and very comfortable, and beautifully appointed. I would say that now, after having stayed in four Florence hotels, Hotel David is easily my favorite, even though the somewhat stern message they sent ahead of our arrival put me off a little bit.

I’m glad I didn’t cancel. This warning message turned out to be a non-issue.

We arrived on May 1, though, and that was the happy day when the mask mandates in Italy were lessened somewhat. We only had to wear a mask when we were at the buffet at breakfast. I really enjoyed the aperitif hour in the garden. We met two other American couples who were very friendly and nice to talk to. It reminded me that people outside of the American military community can be very refreshing company. One lady we talked to was from Boston. I found her utterly charming. I could tell she was a good friend and loving family member. She was so excited to be in Italy, and it was really nice to talk to someone who was so happy to be in Europe and not jaded. Below are some photos from our stay at beautiful Hotel David. I would not hesitate to stay there again, although again, the elevator is TINY. I always cracked up when I saw signs advising only four people were allowed in the elevator at a time. I don’t know how four people could possibly fit!

Total cost for a night in the superior room we booked was about $270. Cheaper and different sized rooms are available, and if you book on their site, you get 15% off your rate. I booked on Expedia, so I didn’t get the discount. If we book there again, I’ll know better. They even have a quad room, and singles. We had a very restful night, and it was so easy to load up the next morning and get on our way to the next destination, Vaduz, Liechtenstein, where we would be relaxing and decompressing a bit before coming back to Germany. More on that in part fifteen.

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

Onward to Italy!

When I originally started planning this trip, I looked at hotels in Modena, Bologna, and Parma. I finally decided on Parma after reading a couple of blog posts written by other people and looking at the lodging available there. Originally, I chose a highly rated B&B in a suburban part of Parma, but then I read some of the reviews and changed my mind. The place was called “beautiful”, but people complained that it was in a boring suburb of Parma. I had some other doubts when I read the owner’s responses to some of the more negative comments she got.

Then I spotted what looked like a very beautiful place in Torrechiara, which is about ten miles from Parma. La Locanda del Borgo is a B&B located on the grounds of Torrechiara Castle, a manor that dates from the 15th century and sits atop a hill. For a very reasonable price, you get a tiny room with a shower and breakfast. Next door to the B&B is a restaurant, and across the cobblestoned passageway, there’s a shop where you can buy Parma ham, Parmesan cheeses, and some very delicious locally produced wines. If you want to, you can sit outside of the shop and enjoy a bottle of wine while you eat slivers of Parma ham and nuggets of Parmesan cheese. This property was significantly less expensive than the other one was, and Bill loved the idea of staying at a castle. So I booked it on Booking.com, and looked forward to our visit.

I see now, from looking at the official Web site, we were in the Bianca Room, which is a “double room” priced at 110 euros per night. I don’t know why I didn’t book a superior room, which was only 20 euros more per night. I usually splurge when I can. Maybe it was unavailable. If we ever stay at La Locanda del Borgo again, I will definitely go for the superior room, because the double room was tiny.

On the way to Italy, we stopped at one of the ubiquitous Autogrills. The one we chose was not one of the better ones, as it had an Italian fast food restaurant called Old Wild West. We should have been smarter and driven a little bit further, but we stopped there for lunch. I was reminded that not all food in Italy is delicious. But that was one of the very few places where our “green passes” were checked. On May 1, the green pass check became obsolete.

We arrived at the castle on April 24th, a Sunday. There were many people there, visiting the castle for the day, which can be toured every day except Mondays. Consequently, parking was a challenge. There are a few public lots at the bottom of the hill, but given how much luggage we had, it would not have been feasible to haul our bags up the hill. Bill actually got quite a workout when he was forced to park down there once because there simply wasn’t any parking near the castle. As it was, the day of our arrival, we had to park around the back of the castle, where lots of people’s cars lined the dirt road. On the positive side, once the castle closed, people cleared out of there and Bill was able to move the car closer.

The views at the castle are absolutely beautiful. We did try to tour the structure on our first arrival, but COVID rules were still in place, and there were too many people were already in the castle when we wanted to go. So, we decided to hit the bottle shop, instead. That turned out to be a great use of our time. The shop owner was blasting fun music from the 70s– think ABBA, the Bee Gees, and Chic. We drank two bottles of beautiful wines… I know, I know… my liver and kidneys are crying uncle just from the memory. But it really was nice wine. I wish we’d bought some to bring home with us. Below are some of the photos I took of the castle before we started drinking…

As you can see, Bill was loving the wine and freedom from work!

Breakfast at the B&B was served from 7:00am until 10:00am. On offer were cream filled cornettos (like Italian croissants), plain cornettos, Parma ham sandwiches, boiled eggs, fresh fruit, cereal, yogurt, coffee, tea, and juice. During our visit, COVID rules were still in place, so we wore masks when we were inside, except for when we were in our room.

At the bottom of the hill, there was another restaurant that wasn’t open during our visit. There was also a little plaza where there was a bar, pizzeria, and shop. Not far away was a grocery store, where Bill found us some snacks. I’d say my favorite part about our stay at the castle was the wine we drank. It was outstanding. I’m going to see if I can order some to come to our house!

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

How did we end up in Italy and Switzerland again?

Yesterday, Bill and I got back from our eleven night food and wine odyssey, which mostly took place in Italy, but also included a night in Andermatt, Switzerland, and two nights in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. We also spent three nights in a castle in Torrechiara (near Parma), three nights in Florence, a night in Cortona, and another night in Florence. Our trip was busy, as it included a very intense, but brief, wine tour, as well as visits to places we’d never been, and a revisit for lunch in the coastal town of Viareggio, which I had last seen in 1997.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had initially demurred when this trip was proposed. We hadn’t been planning to go to Switzerland and Italy for our spring vacation, but had to be convinced that it would be a good idea to go there. Left to my own devices, I probably would have chosen to go somewhere else, mainly because I like variety, and we’ve been neglecting other countries because of COVID-19. We are way overdue for a trip to Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Poland, for instance. We went to Switzerland and Italy in 2020, and we visited Zurich, Switzerland last summer, so it seemed too soon to be going to those places again.

I also wanted to go somewhere where COVID-19 policies were less onerous, because frankly, I’m really tired of the rules and restrictions. I know this might not be a politically correct thing to admit. Many people still think we should be wearing masks and locking down, but having been in Germany the whole time COVID has existed, I am, quite frankly, fed up with the rules. In fairness, the rules have been much stricter in Europe than they have been in the United States. And yet, in spite of the stricter rules, people have still gotten the virus.

Anyway, Tom De Vries, a Florence based member of the Facebook wine group I run, owns a business selling beautiful Tuscan wines and leading wine tours in Tuscany. We’ve purchased a few wine boxes from Tom’s business, Sommelier’s Choices. While the boxes are not inexpensive, Bill and I have genuinely enjoyed the wines he’s sent to us. One day a couple of months ago, Tom sent me a private message, asking if Bill and I would be interested in joining his tour starting April 28th.

I have to confess that my initial reaction to his query wasn’t particularly positive. At the time Tom made his pitch, there were still a bunch of people arguing about COVID-19 and what should be done about the rules. I don’t always do well in groups, because I have the kind of personality that people tend to love or hate. I like to do things at my own pace, and I can be particular about food and accommodations. I also didn’t want to be stuck in a vehicle or touring wineries wearing a face mask. I legitimately hate wearing masks, and I go out of my way to avoid situations in which I have to wear them.

If anyone is offended by that statement, keep in mind my comment that I do my best to try to avoid situations in which masks are necessary. I do wear the masks when I’m required to, but I don’t like having to do it, and would much rather not. I figure that I don’t have to like wearing masks, as long as I comply with the rules. Vacations that require face masks aren’t fun for me, and I was afraid they would be required for the wine tour, either due to local laws, or because of other participants who preferred to wear them and imposed their preferences on everybody else.

I’m happy to report that face masks weren’t an issue at all on the tour, though masks were required for a good portion of our time in Italy. I’ll get more into that further into the series, since I did make some observations about COVID prevention measures in Italy that I haven’t seen in Germany. I was also surprised that Italy did away with masks in most public places later than Germany did. I would not have expected that, since Italians seem to be more laid back about a lot of things than Germans are. In some ways, Italy’s mask rules are stricter than Germany’s are, although to be fair, Italy got hit really hard with COVID-19 when the pandemic began.

I finally changed my mind about taking the trip because it was very obvious that Bill wanted to do it. He has become quite the food and wine aficionado, and he really has enjoyed Tom’s wine boxes. Bill also BADLY needed a vacation. He had leave to burn up, and was really jonesing for a trip somewhere. Before COVID, we used to do a lot of short breaks, which gave him a chance to recharge. We have been doing less of that over the past two years. But, I have to admit, for many reasons, I actually kind of wanted Bill to drive us in our own car on the tour. Again, I’m not very good at groups… Of course, now I know that wouldn’t have been a great idea. 😉

In spite of my initial misgivings, this trip turned out to be a good one, because we went to some places I’ve been wanting to see for a long time, and we returned to a couple of places to where I’ve wanted to return. I also finally got to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which I know many of my fellow military community friends have visited. In spite of my years living abroad and extensive travel, I had not had a chance to visit Pisa before last week. It was also great to walk around Viareggio, which I had the pleasure of visiting back in 1997, at a time when I thought I might never have a chance to see Europe again. And we spent two nights in Vaduz, which we had previously visited very briefly in 2009. Since Liechtenstein is technically a country, I was happy to add it to the itinerary– even if it does bear a strong resemblance to Austria and Switzerland.

So yes, even though I had some doubts about this trip when it was initially proposed, we did have a great time. I would also highly recommend Tom De Vries as a tour guide, especially if you’re into wines. He did a great job introducing us to some wonderful small wineries and great food. Again, more on that as the series progresses. This will probably be a long series, due to the length of the trip and its many facets. We stayed in SIX different hotels. I hope some people will follow along, anyway. I know of at least a few who will. So, let’s get down to it, shall we?

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

On Wednesday, March 2nd, we loaded up the Volvo with our bags and our pooches. I can’t say “beagles” anymore, since Noyzi is definitely NOT a beagle. Our first stop was the Tierpension Birkenhof, where the dogs stay when we leave town. I dug out a FFP2 mask for the brief time we would be inside, settling up with the Hunde Pension. Noyzi was absolutely delighted to be back at the doggy hotel. He barked almost the whole way there. Arran, on the other hand, was pretty cranky and kept barking back at Noyzi, probably telling him in dog language to STFU. I was doing the same.

Once the dogs were taken care of, we made our way to Stuttgart, with one quick pee stop at a rest station. I noticed they already had their Easter display up. I wasn’t able to get a picture, which may be a blessing. On the other hand, I don’t remember ever seeing an Easter display put up by a rest stop in the United States.

I had to pee again as we arrived in Stuttgart, so we decided to go into a McDonald’s. As I was making my way to the restroom, I heard someone behind the counter yelling “Entschuldigung!” Ahh… she wanted to check my COV-Pass to make sure I’ve gotten jabbed. The restroom in that McDonald’s was on the second floor, so it wasn’t like I could just duck in and out. I showed my credentials, did my business, and Bill handed me a very small Coke that he bought me for the privilege of using the can.

We got to downtown Stuttgart a couple of hours early, so we decided to have lunch at the Paulaner am alten Postplatz, a German restaurant on Calwer Strasse, the chic street where Dr. Blair’s office is located. Ever since COVID hit, I’m never quite sure of what I should be doing. We went inside, and a waitress checked our COV-Passes and IDs… a step further than what the lady at McDonald’s did. I was shocked, since the first floor of that restaurant is for smokers, and plenty were doing that when we visited! Fortunately, there was a non-smoking area upstairs.

Bill and I both opted to have daily specials. I had duck leg with red cabbage slaw and a bread dumpling. Bill had pork goulash. We had beer– the only beer we had all weekend. It was our first restaurant visit in months, and, I must say, it was great. The food was good, as usual, and it was kind of nice to be around other people. I especially got a kick out of the lady with a large puppy she carried in.

After lunch, we headed over to Dr. Blair’s office for our cleanings and waited, dutifully wearing the oppressive FFP2 masks. Bill got a stern lecture about his flossing habits. I got a lecture about my hesitancy in seeing doctors. I have an area of chronically red gum tissue under my front teeth. Dr. Blair always asks me about it. Then he ribs me about being anxious. He’s a very good dentist, and I think he truly cares about his patients, but I also think he takes my anxiety personally. He really shouldn’t. I had a terrible experience with a physician years ago that has left me very reluctant to see medical people. Dentists are, generally, an exception. I do get nervous before procedures, though. He has never forgotten it, even though it’s been years since he put in my implant.

After our appointments, we made our way toward Sessenheim, which is located just inside the border of France. Even Dr. Blair knew about Sessenheim, correctly identifying it as very close to Baden-Baden. But once you cross the border, everything changes! From the beginning of our trip, checking into Auberge au Boeuf, until the end of our stay, COVID rules were much less inconvenient. We walked into the hotel wearing FFP2s and immediately removed them for the rest of our stay after we were confirmed vaccinated. The same conditions applied at every restaurant we visited. We showed our passes, and it was like 2019 again. The FFP2s were also not required. Regular surgical masks were perfectly okay.

Auberge au Boeuf only has four rooms, and each one has a name. We rented L’Idylle, which is one of the larger rooms. It has a balcony that overlooks the beautiful church next door, it’s own private sauna, a jacuzzi, a rainfall shower, and an impressively stocked minibar. Below are some photos of L’Idylle.