holidays

New Years Eve 2022!!! We’re bracing ourselves.

I fully expect tonight will be an awesome display of German style pandemonium. For the past two years, the customary neighborhood fireworks displays have been prohibited, because of the COVID pandemic. This year, Germans are once again allowed to purchase fireworks for New Year’s Eve. And as Bill has just come back from the local Rewe, where he bought sparkling water, beer, and laundry detergent, he noticed that a lot of people were at the grocery store, stocking up on bottle rockets, firecrackers, sparklers, and other assorted pyrotechnics.

I suspect the fireworks will upset Noyzi, who has been spared the armageddon like New Year’s tradition for the past two years. Last night, he happened to go outside as someone set off a firecracker. It totally spooked him, and he tried to run back inside before he took a much needed whiz. I made him stay outside and do his business, even though so far, he’s been very reliable about not relieving himself in the house. Noyzi is still very frightened of a lot of things and will jump or try to flee at very little provocation. He has gotten a lot better, though. It’s been very rewarding watching him evolve into a much beloved dog who has a family and a home.

Arran doesn’t care about fireworks. I suspect he’ll sleep through the whole spectacle, as he usually does. He’ll probably fart a few times for good measure. In that way, he is decidedly unlike his predecessor, MacGregor, who was terrified of fireworks. I remember poor MacGregor, the first year we lived in Germany (2007). The people in our neighborhood were all out in the streets, lighting explosives like there was no tomorrow. MacGregor found a spot under my desk and shivered until it was over, hours later.

Even though fireworks were prohibited for the past couple of years, some local Germans still had a stockpile from years past. New Year’s is the only time of year fireworks are allowed to be sold, so I know those were explosives that weren’t spent in earlier years. For New Year’s 2020, we still got a short show. In 2021, it was even shorter still. But this year, I will be very surprised if the fireworks aren’t erupting for a very long time and in high concentrations. I’m glad we have a balcony, so we can watch them. We don’t set them off ourselves.

Hell, I would probably not be too upset if there wasn’t a fireworks show… as they are loud and disruptive, and they upset animals and people with PTSD. And the reason they weren’t allowed in the past two years is because every year, people get hurt. I read one article today that mentioned how it’s customary for people to start showing up in German hospital emergency rooms at about twenty minutes after midnight. Germans are, on the whole, careful and law abiding people, but something about Silvester makes some of them lose their fucking minds. 😉 Alas, some of them also lose digits and limbs, or wind up with severe burns, because they handle fireworks improperly on New Year’s Eve.

I usually get quite tired before midnight these days, anyway… and Bill definitely does. But I know I can’t sleep through tonight. It will be impossible, unless I drug myself. And because my stomach has been giving me issues lately, I don’t want to take that risk. I’ll probably stick with my usual bubbly and call it a night… maybe read more of Jamie Lynn Spears’ book, which I started yesterday. I gotta say, after reading Paulina Porizkova’s book… or even Matthew Perry’s book… she comes off as a kind of a twit. I’ll probably enjoy writing my review. 😉 I predict it will be pretty snarky. If you want to read my thoughts on Paulina’s and Matthew’s books, you can find my reviews on my main blog. The link is at the top of this page (or right here).

Today, we’re taking care of some “honey do” chores. I managed to get a new bookshelf for the cookbooks I keep buying (and rarely using) at Christmas. I put it in our living room, where it makes the room look better furnished. I was going to buy another one for Bill’s Jung books, but after I moved some of the cooking/boozing books from our upstairs shelf, I discovered a whole shelf was available for the Jung books. That’s probably enough for now, although I might get another one anyway, just because I also need to buy new bathroom rugs.

As I write this, the duvet covers are being washed, newly washed sheets are on the bed, a load of clothes have been washed, and Bill is cleaning out the kitchen cabinets. He’s looking for a moth infestation, after I noticed two tiny holes in his favorite wool sweater on Monday, when we went to Villa Im Tal for a Christmas lunch. I figure the holes come from moths, because I’ve noticed a few of them flying around, and I know we have old stuff that needs to be tossed. I’ve already thrown out a couple of things, to include a package of Jello pudding that dates from 2017. 😀

It will be nice to have a slightly less cluttered and cleaner house. Since I got a new vacuum for Christmas, I took the old vacuum to the basement and used it to tidy up a bit downstairs. I’ll probably move that machine downstairs permanently, at some point. It will live with my Tineco wet vacuum, which I’ll probably use after I finish writing this post. That vacuum is good for getting rid of muddy paw prints on the parquet floors. I don’t do it very often, though, because frankly it’s a waste of time and energy. The dogs are constantly tracking mud into the house, because this time of year it rains a lot. Today, we have pretty warm weather, especially for this time of year… but it’s a bit cloudy.

Anyway… wish us luck. I wish you a safe and happy new year. I look forward to some exciting and more frequent travel experiences in 2023, God willing. Of course, that will probably mean losing Arran, which will be very sad… On the other hand, as sad as it will be, it will also present opportunities that we’ve been missing. Much like the Germans have been missing their fireworks. 😉 And, just like the Germans sometimes get into trouble when they set off explosives, so do Americans who travel in Europe. The silver lining is, those kinds of fiasco experiences lead to some epic travel tales. So stay tuned! Happy New Year! And tune in tomorrow, because I’ll probably have photos and video of whatever happens!

The featured photo was taken in Natural Bridge, Virginia, at my family’s homestead during our Thanksgiving 2014 celebration (last time I was home)… My cousin and his son are fireworks experts (seriously) and put on these shows for a living. A few years ago, they put one on for my cousin’s daughter’s summer wedding and pissed off half of Roanoke, Virginia. This is funny to me, because my dad never set off fireworks. I guess some of my relatives get their adrenaline rushes by lighting things on fire and watching them blow up.

Standard
Italy, Liechtenstein, Switzerland

Ten things I learned in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein…

Now that my latest travel series has been completed and up for a few days, it’s time for my usual “ten things I learned” post. I like to do these posts after most trips, if only to offer a quick recap of our travels and make myself feel better for all the money we spent. 🙂 I also think these top ten posts are a bit easier for the casual reader to get through than the heavily detailed, blow by blow accounts. So, here goes…

10. Italy was actually stricter about COVID rules than Germany was!

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Italy was strict about masks and “green passes”, since Italy was one of the first countries hard hit by COVID-19. However, Italy is typically “slacker” about a lot of things than Germany is, so it was a bit strange to be allowed to visit a rest stop maskless in Germany, but not in Italy. By the time our trip was over, the mask rules and green pass rules were dropped, anyway, in most places.

9. But Switzerland and Liechtenstein were both pretty “slack” about the COVID rules.

I wasn’t that surprised that Switzerland and Liechtenstein were liberal about masks. In 2020, when the pandemic was just getting started, we visited Italy, Austria, and Switzerland, and were very surprised that of the three countries, Switzerland’s rules were the least strict. Since Liechtenstein is basically a tiny country akin to Austria and Switzerland, it’s not too surprising that their rules were more like those in Switzerland.

The drive was breathtaking!

8. Modena and Parma are refreshingly non-touristy.

I was especially surprised by Modena, which really felt like an authentic Italian town. I didn’t hear any other American accents during our visit there. Parma was maybe a touch more touristy than Modena, but we didn’t get the sense that a lot of Americans were there during our trip.

7. Cortona is a super cute town, perfect for Tuscan getaways and fans of the film, Under the Tuscan Sun.

The 2003 film, Under the Tuscan Sun was partially filmed in this very lovely town, which also boasts at least one excellent winery.

6. Liechtenstein is a fine place to be if you want peace and quiet… and if you have money.

Like neighboring Switzerland, Liechtenstein is very sedate and civilized. It’s also expensive! But it was nice to be there for a couple of nights, if only to decompress a bit and gaze at the Alps. You can also find some nice wines there, with grapes from Austria, Switzerland, or even locally.

5. Andermatt may be halfway between Wiesbaden and Florence, but it’s not easy to get there!

We had to climb a mountainside with our Volvo to get to the ski town. I saw so many bikers who looked like they were in the seventh ring of Hell, trying to get up the steep incline. I alternately felt sorry for them, and felt glad I no longer have to ride a bike to get from point A to point B. It’s a pretty place, but not what I would call super beautiful. I probably wouldn’t make an effort to go back, although we did like the hotel we stayed in.

In Liechtenstein, you might see cows from your office.

4. If you need to pee in Switzerland, you can use euros at the rest stops.

I probably already knew that, but we so seldom go through there, I might have forgotten.

3. It’s possible to have a bad meal in Italy.

Avoid fast food joints called Old Wild West at all costs! Or, maybe just avoid fast food joints altogether.

2. But if you need to buy groceries or gifts, the rest stops in Italy have you covered.

And you will have to run the gauntlet when you leave the rest stops, too. There’s no other way to exit without walking past all the wines, olive oils, vinegars, and whatever else.

Italy is always beautiful!

…and .1 Bo and Luke Duke are still famous in Italy.

Actually, we saw a lot of 80s era TV shows in Italy, but were especially surprised by The Dukes of Hazzard. No wonder we’ve seen the rebel battle flag in Italy so many times! It obviously doesn’t mean the same to Italians as it does to us Americans. Back in the 80s, it was everywhere in the US, too. Maybe Italy is still kind of stuck in a previous era.

Sure, there were other things we learned while we were on our trip. But, this particular journey involved drinking a lot of wine, and my memory is probably a little fuzzy due to that. We had a wonderful time during our travels. I’m already looking forward to our next trip, which will probably be next month when I– gasp– turn 50.

It still snows in late April in Switzerland.

Standard
Uncategorized

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”
Standard
booze tourism, hotels, Italy, road trips, wine

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!

Standard
booze tourism, Italy, Liechtenstein, road trips, Switzerland, tours, wine

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?

Standard
Uncategorized

Spring lunch at Villa Im Tal, and more travel plans!

Bill decided he wanted to go out to lunch again this weekend. Villa Im Tal, one of our favorite restaurants in Wiesbaden, was closed last weekend, so we went to Landhaus Diedert. This weekend, however, Villa Im Tal was open. Bill noticed that their menu appeared to be leaning more toward Italian cuisine. We are planning a big trip to Italy at the end of this month, so we made reservations for 1:00pm. Villa Im Tal is easily booked on OpenTable.de.

Some readers might recall that on April 2, Hesse dropped most of its COVID rules. However, I remembered that last weekend, when we dined at Landhaus Diedert, everyone was wearing masks in the restaurant. Although I threw out all of the masks in my purse, I made sure to carry a new one for today, just in case. On the way down the country road where the restaurant is, we passed a lady on a beautiful piebald pony who looked like he was about to start shedding his winter coat. He was still fluffy, like a teddy bear. SIGH.

We showed up right on time and donned masks, since the hostess/server was wearing one. She checked our vaccination statuses, which I understand that a lot of places are no longer doing, since it’s no longer required by law. Once we proved that we are up-to-date on our shots, she led us to our table. We noticed people were a lot more casual about masking this week. Some people wore them, but most people didn’t. The dining room is very spacious and there was plenty of room.

We usually sit in the front dining room when we visit Villa Im Tal. The one exception was in 2020, when we ate outside on a beautiful spring day. Today, it looked like the front dining room wasn’t set up. We were seated in the back, which was kind of interesting. It has a different ambiance, and offers a nice view of the lovely meadow that made me long for the days when I still had a horse and could go trail riding. Or, barring that, I would just like to hang out in a meadow with horses and smell their intoxicating aroma. Maybe someday…

In any case, Villa Im Tal is in the thick of “Spargel season”. It’s time for fresh asparagus, and they offered plenty on their menu. They also had their own version of the wonderful wild garlic soup so prevalent in Germany in the spring. Bill decided to have an asparagus heavy lunch, while I went with surf and turf. And we both had the garlic soup for our starters. Dessert consisted of a strawberry rhubarb tart with white chocolate ice cream for Bill, and an almond “cannelloni” filled with chocolate mousse and a small scoop of blood orange ice cream for me. The ice creams were house made.

Total damage for today’s lunch was about 215 euros, but it was well worth the cost. Service was, as usual, excellent. We were enjoying the space with a number of happy locals and a couple of very well behaved dogs. One dog was so good that we didn’t even notice her until the end of the meal, when her people led her out. Maybe someday, Noyzi will be good enough to go to a restaurant.

Below are some photos from today’s lunch. It’s always a pleasure to visit Villa Im Tal. It was funny, though, because the young woman who waited on us wished us a “pleasant journey”. I kind of laughed and said, “You mean, back to Wiesbaden?” She was surprised to find out that we live here. I guess they don’t get a lot of Americans in that part of town.

This week, we also made some decisions about our upcoming vacation. I hadn’t been really wanting to take this deal, offered by a member of my wine group on Facebook. He’s a sommelier in Florence who offers tours and sells wine. We’ve bought a number of his monthly boxes, which don’t come cheap, but are of excellent quality. He hit Bill up for a trip to Florence. I had originally said no, but then in the wake of the loosening COVID rules, decided what the hell. So, on April 23, we will be off on our next trip.

So far, our itinerary is this: One night in Andermatt, Switzerland, on the way down to Italy. Three nights in Torrechiara (near Parma) for three nights. Three nights in Florence, with one night incorporating the wine tour we’re taking. We will get there early because Bill wants to go to the Uffizi, a very famous art museum. He had wanted to go during our last visit, back in May 2013, but we weren’t able to arrange it. This time, we will make a point of making a visit happen. The third night, we will be having dinner and a wine tasting, and the weekend will consist of the rest of the tour, which will include visits to wineries and castles, and lots of wine tasting and probably a fair amount of wine buying. We will spend a night in Cortona, then come back to Florence, where we’ll spend another night before heading northward to Vaduz, Liechtenstein, where we will spend two nights before coming home again.

I had originally planned for us to go to Lugano, but I realized that it was too close to where we were coming from, and the timing might be tricky. Also, I have a feeling that we’ll be kind of ready for some quiet and decompression. Lugano will probably be a little too happening for us at the end of the trip, when I know I’ll be anticipating coming home. Vaduz is very beautiful. We went there for a few hours in 2009, with Bill’s mom, and we ended up literally getting trapped in Italy later. In any case, Vaduz is closer to home than Lugano is, and it’s not so close to Florence that we have to kill time before check in.

We WILL get to Lugano at some point. I do still want to visit there. I just want to do it at the beginning of the trip instead of the end. Maybe we’ll spend my birthday there in June.

We still need to nail down the hotel situation in Florence, but that will be sorted out soon. I hope to come home with lots of cheesy comestibles, wines, hams, olive oils, and pasta. I always look forward to Italy, so I think this will be a great trip. This will be my third time in Florence. The first time was in September 1997… and in fact, I was there when I heard that Princess Diana had died. I actually saw her picture on an Italian newspaper with the headline that she’d died. I thought I was looking at a tabloid. I am probably one of the few people in the world who heard about her death on September 2, 1997, rather than the day it happened. Ahhh… the days when we weren’t plugged in all the time. I remember listening to her funeral on French radio while riding a train through the South of France, en route to Spain.

Anyway, I think it will be a great foodie trip, and I look forward to writing it up. Stay tuned.

Standard
dental, France, Germany

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.