holidays

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

On Wednesday afternoon, Bill and I loaded up the car with a couple of small bags and lots of supplies for our two dogs, Noyzi and Arran. Both dogs were excited at first, because they enjoy going places. But then Arran got decidedly sullen. I could see that he was upset, because he noticed Noyzi was in the car with us, and probably figured we would be taking him to the Hundepension. There was a time when Arran didn’t mind being boarded. Bill and I have noticed that lately, he’s a lot more interested in hanging out with us. So, he looked pretty sad at the beginning of our trip. Depressed, even. Noyzi, on the other hand, was barking and carrying on. He likes car rides, and loves going to the Hundepension. Last time we took them there, Noyzi actually banged on the gate to be let in!

I noticed that Arran’s countenance was decidedly less dour when he realized we weren’t on the familiar road to the Hundepension. He knew that he was going on a trip with us, something he and Noyzi’s predecessor, Zane, used to do fairly regularly. Zane was a lot smaller than Noyzi is, so it was easier to take them on trips. We could even get the two of them in my Mini Cooper. Noyzi won’t fit in my Mini by himself, let alone with Arran. He takes up the entire back of our Volvo. So traveling with the dogs is more challenging than it used to be, and, for that reason, we don’t do it as often.

When we got to Ribeauville, Arran knew EXACTLY where we were, even though it had been about 4.5 years since his last visit. We used to go to Ribeauville fairly often, but we didn’t bring Arran on our last visit, back in January 2020 (before we had Noyzi), because we had Bill’s mom with us, and we wanted to be free to take her to different places without worrying about Arran making a fuss. I watched in amusement as Arran pulled Bill toward the Riesling Gite, where we always try to stay when we visit Ribeauville. I had to remind myself that it was our 20th anniversary, as I played Keb’ Mo’s song, “France”.

This could be our theme song when we go to France…

Noyzi had never been to France before, so he was a bit bowled over by everything. I let our host, Yannick, know that we had arrived, and he said he’d be coming over in about an hour. We set up in the apartment, and fed the dogs, as it was time for them to eat. Yannick came over with treats, which impressed both dogs. He told us that he loves dogs, but his wife doesn’t like them because their hair gets all over everything. I can see why that would be annoying, but I don’t think I could be married to someone who didn’t let me have a dog. 😉 They are the best company, as far as I’m concerned.

After Yannick left, Bill and I went looking for dinner. We ended up at a restaurant we had never tried before. The Cheval Noir is at the edge of the main drag, and while the outside of it is very cute and quaint, it has a decidedly unromantic ambiance. We ate there because there were only a few restaurants open in Ribeauville, as many places closed in preparation for the upcoming Christmas market. They had space for us, although there were lots of people dining there on Wednesday night who had made reservations. We sat in a corner, where we perused the very Alsatian menu. They had all of the usual stuff one finds in Alsace– Choucroute Garni, pork knuckles, potatoes with Munster cheese, and faux filets. Alsatian food is a lot like German food, just with a French accent. I ended up ordering one of the specials, a salmon fillet with Beurre Blanc sauce and roasted potatoes. Bill had a faux fillet with Munster sauce and roasted potatoes. Both dishes came with side salads.

We ordered a bottle of local wine, giggling that it was our 20th anniversary. The waitress, who spoke English, promptly wished us a “happy birthday”, which only made me giggle more. The food was good, but very basic stuff one can find at a lot of the local places. It wasn’t the kind of special dinner I expected to have on our 20th anniversary, but I found that I wasn’t upset or disappointed about it. Maybe that was the point. We’ve had a pretty wonderful 20 years, with many special evenings and occasions. It somehow made sense to have a somewhat run of the mill 20th anniversary. At least we were together, which is more than I could say about our 19th anniversary, which Bill spent alone in Poland.

We did opt for dessert, which was also nothing special. We’re big on desserts, as one can tell just by looking at us. I had profiteroles, which are ice cream filled pastries with chocolate sauce. Bill went with, torche aux marrons, a local speciality we never saw before, but saw twice on this trip. Basically, it’s a dessert that is support to look like a stork’s nest, as storks are very prevalent in Alsace. Or maybe it looks like a torch. Nearby Colmar is the birthplace of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the artist who created the Statue of Liberty.

Torche aux marrons consists of meringues topped with chestnut cream squeezed out as if through a grinder. Bill said it was interesting, but he probably wouldn’t order it again. I enjoyed the profiteroles. I think we spent about 70 euros, which is pretty reasonable.

When we got back to the gite, we found that Arran had raided the trash can. Yannick’s treats came in packages, which we threw in the trash and forgot to lock in the bathroom. We cleaned up the mess and went to bed, as we were both tired. Of course, Arran needed potty breaks and snacks in the night. Below are some photos from our first night. As you can see, 20 years of marriage leaves a mark on the ol’ ring finger.

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holidays

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…

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Germany, restaurant reviews, Wiesbaden

BrewDog in Wiesbaden!

We had beautiful weather again yesterday, so Bill and I decided to go to Wiesbaden and have lunch at the new BrewDog restaurant. BrewDog is a Scottish craft brewery that claims to be the #1 craft brewer in Europe. Bill and I both like beer very much– that could be an understatement, actually. Bill is a big fan of India Pale Ales (IPAs), too, so he was especially interested in trying the place, which is situated in what used to be a Maredo outlet.

Maredo is a well-known German steakhouse chain, and if you search this blog, you’ll see that Bill and I have visited them a few times, although I don’t think we ever went to the one in Wiesbaden. Looking at their Web site, it appears that they closed a lot of locations. Stuttgart used to have two of them within view of each other, but now it looks like there’s only one. And I remember going to one at the Bonn-Cologne airport back in 2012, and it looks like it’s no longer open, either. There is still one in Frankfurt, so I guess we could go there if the spirit moved us.

In any case, I’m glad to see that there’s a new restaurant in Wiesbaden and it offers unique offerings, for Germany, anyway. Wiesbaden is actually pretty well served by different cuisines, but sometimes one can get stuck in a rut eating Italian, Greek, and German food here, and drinking hefeweizens, pilsners, and the like. BrewDog’s menu is very American friendly, but it also offers vegan choices. And, according to its official Web site, it’s a child friendly place every night until 9:00pm. It’s also dog friendly, as are a lot of German restaurants. We didn’t see any four legged guests yesterday. In fact, when we got there at about 12:30pm, there weren’t many guests at all. The door was wide open, but I didn’t see anyone enjoying lunch. I even wondered for a minute if they were open. It was busier as we were leaving.

We took a seat at table near the front of the restaurant, enjoying plenty of social distance. The barkeep checked our COVID vaccination statuses, but that formality will probably go away next week. The beer menu included a lot of BrewDog’s offerings on tap, but there were also bottled beers. Not too many of them weren’t of the IPA variety, though, which later turned into a problem when Bill’s co-worker saw us and decided to join us for a round. She ordered a pale ale and sent it back, because it was too bitter. I don’t mind IPAs in small doses, but like our friend, I would probably choose a lager or weizen over a bitter brew. I did enjoy my “Elvis Juice”, though, and afterwards, I had a Kokosnuss Porter for dessert.

For lunch, I had a Patriot burger, which was 100% beef with cheddar, pickles, onions, bacon, baby gem, and barbecue sauce. It came with pretty good fries. Bill had a Buffalo Chicken Burger, which was buttermilk fried chicken, hot sauce, honey glaze, gorgonzola cheese, and honey gem. It also came with fries. I was pretty happy with the burger, especially for Germany. It’s been nice to see the burgers get better in this country since our return in 2014. I almost went with the Chuck Norris, which was buttermilk fried chicken on a bun with avocado, red onion, cajun mayo, and coriander. I decided against it because I’m not a big fan of coriander. Next time, maybe I’ll try it… or maybe I’ll get brave and try one of the many vegan selections offered. They also have snacks, chicken wings, bowls, and salads, and for kids, there’s even a “Hoppy Meal”.

I really liked the interior of the restaurant, which offered views of the exposed bricks of the old building, which was perfectly located right near the main square in Wiesbaden. We probably should have sat outside, given the location. It was such a nice day, and the place is primely suited for people watching. There was a Muslim wedding going on out there yesterday! But I also enjoyed the music they were playing indoors. All told we spent about 53 euros before the tip. Food is not too expensive, but the beers were a bit pricey, as were the gooey looking desserts. BrewDog is Lieferando friendly, although I think their delivery area is fairly limited to downtown Wiesbaden. They don’t deliver to our neighborhood, for instance. You can also get beer growlers and canned beer to go there.

One word of caution for anyone with mobility issues. The restrooms are located upstairs, just as they are in a lot of European restaurants.

Below are some spring photos from our lunch date and stroll around Wiesbaden. It was a real pleasure to get out and about! And, on another note, I was glad to see Nora again, Bill’s colleague!

We have nice weather again today, but today is the first day of the DST time change. It’s already 1:19pm, and I am not dressed. I don’t know if we’ll go out or not. I did just send Bill out to drive my car, which hasn’t been out in weeks. I have heard the weather is going to be crappy again next week, so maybe we should make an effort to go out. We’ll see.

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Our pandemic dog rescue story… part four

I have mentioned before that I think Austria is an extremely beautiful country. We haven’t spent enough time there, which is a shame, because it’s a small country that has huge things to offer. I love the scenery there. There are enormous mountains, babbling brooks, Dirndl clad ladies and men in Lederhosen, and lots of great food. I like Austrian food more than German food. Yes, there is a difference.

It seems like Austrian food has a little dash of Italian to it… and it also seems like there’s more variety to it. It’s not just Schnitzel, sausages, Spatzle, potatoes and cabbage. And yes, I know I’m inviting criticism from my few German readers for writing this. But I also know that some of them are reading because they want to know what things look like from an American point of view. Well, I am American, and this is my point of view, even if it’s not entirely accurate. You know what they say about perspectives. I know Germany has a variety of different specialties throughout the land, but for some reason, Austrian food just seems slightly different to me. Not that we had much of a chance to eat it during this whirlwind trip.

I was expecting Bill to stop for lunch. He never did. I don’t know how he hasn’t learned in almost eighteen years of marriage that it’s good to take a break. On the other hand, there weren’t that many appealing stops on the way down to the Slovenian border. We did stop at one place so I could pee. It was pouring down rain, though. I also remember having to pay a toll of 12,50 euros before we could go through Katschburg Pass. Bill was freaking out because the toll was done by machine and it wouldn’t accept his Bar (cash). I told him he should just take his time. People would have to wait. It’s not like they don’t make us wait when they have business to attend to.

Anyway, as we approached the border, we ended up on a narrow mountain road behind some guy who didn’t seem to know which was was up. There were many wrong turn signals, a few weaves and bobs in the road, and slow speeds. The drive over the mountain was very beautiful. The leaves are turning, so the colors were dramatic against the stormy skies. There’s a bunker museum on the mountain road. We saw a lot of signs and had we not had Arran and it hadn’t been raining, it would have made for an interesting stop for Bill. It was built during the Cold War to make sure no one from former Yugoslavia would cross into Austria and raise a ruckus. Again… I would love to visit Kransjka Gora again, so maybe someday we’ll get a chance to visit.

Here are some photos from our drive down from Salzburg.

We rented an “apartment” for our night in Slovenia. I didn’t realize it was really more of a hotel apartment. We told the proprietor that we’d be there at 2:00pm, since they told us they needed an hour to get to Kranjska Gora. We actually arrived earlier than 2:00, but for some reason, it didn’t occur to me to message them through Booking.com. We just waited for a car. Well… first, Bill went to a tiny grocery store near the apartment and picked up a few essentials. Kranjska Gora is very close to both the Italian and Austrian borders. It must have been interesting to live there when Slovenia was still part of a closed society.

After we picked up a few items, we went back to the suite hotel and met the young lady who showed us our digs for the night. For about 86 euros, we got a little place with a bed, a sitting room, basic kitchen facilities, and a bathroom with a tiny shower. It was very clean and had what we needed, but it wasn’t quite as nice as our place in Salzburg. The floors were tile, which makes for easy cleaning, but chilly quarters. Still, it was just fine for a night and the price was right. Checking out was equally a breeze. All we had to do was dump the trash and leave the keys on the kitchen table. That was perfect for our purposes. The place we stayed was called G&F apartments on Booking.com, but it was in the Hotel Klass building, which is very close to the town center. I prepaid for the room and we had to pay four euros for the tourist tax. There wasn’t a pet fee and Arran was definitely not the only dog there.

Our original plan was to get Noizy at about 8:00pm, as that was when Meg was supposed to arrive with him and two other dogs who got new homes. Another American couple, based at Ramstein, I believe, were coming down to pick up a dog for themselves and transport another to a German family in Bavaria (I think). That other couple turned out to be a godsend. More on that in the next part.

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Strasbourg’s annual wine extravaganza! Part six

Sunday morning, we had breakfast and headed back to the wine expo to pick up our wines. I was a little nervous about how we were going to pull it off, since the venue had few parking spaces locally. Bill found a parking garage a short distance from the convention center… short distance, that is, if you’re not carrying a lot of stuff.

There was a guy selling little wheeled “chariots” made in China. We bought a blue one, which helped us a little. The guy warned Bill about not putting his wallet down, since pickpockets abound. I laughed at that and the guy said he was being serious. I didn’t explain that back in December, we were victims of a tire slashing scam at a French rest stop. So unfortunately, we are all too aware that there are crooks in France, although fortunately no one managed to steal from us after vandalizing our tire.

Our “chariot”. It says Paris on it, but it’s really from China. You can take the pouch off and it will take five boxes. With the pouch on, it will take three.

Saturday night, Bill managed to break one of our souvenir wine glasses, so we only had one with us yesterday. We stopped by the Loire Valley guy’s booth, got our two boxes, which took up most of the room in small wheeled chariot we bought. Bill decided to take the Loire wines and the wines from the Languedoc to the car while I waited. When he came back, we were going to go pick up the wines from southwestern France and get out of there. It wasn’t quite as crowded as it was Saturday, but I wasn’t sure how long I could take the crowds.

We hadn’t really intended to buy more wine, but I spotted another booth that was offering Pommard wines from Burgundy. We discovered Pommard a few months ago, when we went to Beaune on our way to Nimes for Christmas. Although it’s not a cheap wine to purchase, the flavors are wonderful… spicy, complex, tasty reds are my favorite. So although it was a splurge, we ended up buying another box of six wines. Then we bought three more from Corsica… all of which fit nicely in our new chariot. We took it all back to the car at the distant parking garage, marveling at the huge hauls some other people had. One lady in the wine group I run said she bought 131 bottles!

All in all, I enjoyed our visit to the wine expo. If we’re still here next year and don’t have somewhere else we want to see even more, maybe we’ll go next year. We did have a good time, and I really enjoyed Strasbourg! I can see why people make day trips from Stuttgart, though. If you stay the weekend, you can wind up with a huge haul. One other useful but of information– the wine expo is dog friendly. I saw at least two people with their four legged friends with them. I’m not sure I’d want to bring Arran to such a chaotic place, but if you are inclined to bring your dog with you, apparently it’s alright to do so.

After our wine expo adventure, we went back into Strasbourg for lunch. I was thinking maybe we’d go to a restaurant outside of town, but Bill parked at the museum near Petite France, a charming area of Strasbourg where all the tourists hang out. We parked and walked toward the area, catching the aroma of garlic outside a Venetian restaurant called Marco Polo. Once again, according to reviews, it’s a mediocre place. We managed to have a good time, anyway.

A slender woman invited us to sit down and we ordered a couple of large draft beers. The menu consisted mostly of pizzas and pasta dishes. I thought I’d order grilled fish, but I would up with tagliatelle con salmone. Bill had basil pesto risotto with grilled shrimp. I had read that the service in this place is mediocre, but we didn’t have that experience. And the food, while nothing earth shattering, tasted fine. I’d go back, although I think next time we go to Strasbourg, we’ll make an effort to make reservations at some of the notable restaurants.

We took a brief walk around Petite France to burn off lunch. It really is a cute part of town. In some ways, it reminded me a little bit of Tuebingen in Baden-Wuertemberg, Germany, although I didn’t see any punters.

After a little more walking around, we went back to the hotel and I guess I was more tired than I realized, because I was soon sound asleep. I took a nice long nap while Bill did some reading. Then, we ordered room service from the hotel and I watched yet another crappy 80s era movie on YouTube starring Kristy McNichol, and her brother, Jimmy. I guess we’re getting old.

Our drive home was pretty uneventful. After we checked out, we headed back to Germany in the rain. The border was maybe ten minutes from our hotel, and we were back home well before lunchtime. I think we’re going to have to visit Strasbourg again, even if it’s just for a few hours. It really is a very charming city and it has a different vibe than Germany does, even though it’s so close.

As for the expo… we learned a few things about that, too. I think if we go back, we’ll bring a nice heavy duty dolly and several bungee cords with us. Maybe even one that folds up. I don’t see us buying 100 bottles or more at a time, but I could have done with a few more stops on the wine tasting trail. I also think I might plan well in advance and maybe even stay at the Hilton, even though where we stayed this time was very charming and service oriented. For serious wine buying, you can’t beat the convenience of the Hilton! Besides, we’re HHonors members and could use some points.

And finally, I think it might be time to look for another wine rack for our house… I guess I’ll do that while Bill enjoys his latest TDY!

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Strasbourg’s annual wine extravaganza! Part one

Well, we finally did it. After a total of 7.5 years of living in Germany, Bill and I finally visited Strasbourg, France, for more than a couple of hours. And we finally went to the annual wine expo I’ve been hearing about for years, now. Although I run a local food and wine group on Facebook and I’ve never made a secret of my love for wine and beer, Bill and I have somehow always missed Strasbourg’s big wine convention, which takes place every February. This yearly event, which has been going on since 1994, brings together hundreds of vintners from all over France. And since we never know when our time in Europe might end, Bill and I decided this year we’d attend.

We weren’t sure we were going to make the expo until the last minute. Bill has to go away this week and will be leaving in a few hours, after he picks up Arran from the Birkenhof Tierpension, which has become our go-to dog hotel since we moved to Wiesbaden. Then I was concerned about where we were going to stay, since I wasn’t at all familiar with Strasbourg and I worried that hotels would be full. But it all came together nicely and I am happy to say we had a great weekend, complete with extraordinarily warm, sunny weather. I had originally given some thought to staying on a house boat in Strasbourg, but I figured the weather wouldn’t be good. As we were leaving this morning, I told Bill that we could have had a great time on the boat. We had sunny skies and balmy temperatures in the 60s! I didn’t even need to wear a sweater!

The first thing we did to prepare for our trip to Strasbourg was order a sticker for the car. France, like Germany, now requires stickers for cars traveling in certain cities. Strasbourg is one such city that requires the sticker. It costs 7 euros, and comes in the mail, but since our trip was coming up so soon, we had a printout of our proof of purchase on the dashboard of the car.

Bill took Friday, Valentine’s Day, off from work, dropped off Arran at the Hunde Hotel, where he was left in capable hands and the promise of hanging out with a beagle girlfriend he’s had since we lost Zane. I was glad to hear she’d be staying at the pension, too, since they make good roommates. Then we loaded up the Volvo and got on our way. Strasbourg is only about 2.5 hours from Wiesbaden, which makes it a super easy place to get away to for a weekend break. We were actually closer to Strasbourg when we lived near Stuttgart, but always wound up being lured by Alsatian wine country. Now that I’ve spent a weekend in Strasbourg, I think it’ll be hard to choose between the two areas when we need to get out of Germany but don’t want to travel too far.

Our trip to France mostly took place in Germany. We made just one stop, at a truck stop that was a lot closer to France than we were expecting. In retrospect, we probably should have just continued to France and had ourselves some Alsatian goodies. But we did stop, and I took a few photos…

Our lodging…

I booked Hotel des XV for our three night stay, a four star establishment on the east side of town. I booked the hotel because it got really excellent reviews on Trip Advisor and Booking.com, but it also had more of what I was looking for than other places I researched. Since Bill and I not getting any younger, we like to stay in nice hotels with good service. We don’t mind paying a bit more for better quality.

Hotel des XV is located in a quiet residential area, very close to the Orangerie Park and several consulates. It’s not in the thick of town, and there aren’t any restaurants closeby, although there is at least one grocery store within reasonable walking distance and, in fact, it’s possible to walk into town in about 30 minutes or so. There’s also a bus stop right outside the hotel’s gate, although the bus stops running at 9:00pm.

Hotel des XV has just ten rooms. There’s a free parking lot next to the hotel, although I think it’s for the neighborhood, and not just for guests. I read that the hotel also offers a private garage where one can purchase the right to park, but we never needed to use it.

Breakfast costs 19 euros per adult and includes a buffet with the usual fruits, cereals, breads, cold cuts, and cheeses. They will also make bacon and eggs, if you like. Breakfast for children is 9,5 euros. It’s served in a lovely front room that also serves as a fully stocked bar, which also offers small plates and room service.

Two classes of rooms are available, superior and deluxe. I booked us a deluxe room, and we were in #3. It was not a big room, but it was nicely appointed with a king sized bed, desk, free WiFi, and a flat screen TV. The bathroom had a good sized glass enclosed shower with a wide head. We were very comfortable there for three nights.

From the moment of our arrival at about 3:00pm on Valentine’s Day until our departure at about 8:30am on President’s Day, we got mostly friendly, attentive service from the staff at Hotel des XV. I was even greeted in a welcome card, written in German. I guess they thought I was German because we booked from Germany. All of the staff members spoke excellent English, though, so kudos to them for that!

The only hiccup in service was when we came back late on Friday night and couldn’t get into the hotel. They had changed the code to the lock since we’d checked in that afternoon. Consequently, the door wouldn’t open and we had to call reception at about 10:30pm… it made a racket and took the guy several minutes to respond. Edited to add: I see now that they sent me an email about the new code, but it went to my spam folder.

I was already pissed because Bill made me walk back from town, so I was a bit irritated about having to wait outside for the door to be opened. More on that in a later post. For now, here are some pictures of the property!

For three nights with breakfasts each morning and room service last night– a bottle of wine and two small plates– we paid about 630 euros. Not cheap, but it was cheaper than the houseboat would have been, and a very comfortable stay. I’d definitely book there again. This hotel, by the way, is also pet friendly, although pets don’t stay free of charge. Fair enough… and maybe someday Arran can come with us to Strasbourg, which is as dog friendly as the rest of France is.

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Our first French Christmas, part nine…

Yesterday morning, Bill got a phone call from ADAC. The person who called him wasn’t a very good English speaker and made it seem like we might have to wait another day for tires. The owners of our gite told us they had a booking for Tuesday night and I knew that if tires had to be ordered, we would possibly be stuck in Beaune for a couple more days. Then, just after ADAC called, the owners of the gite told us that they’d gotten a last minute booking and needed us to check out. In retrospect, I probably should have just booked the two nights myself through Booking.com, but I hadn’t expected them to give us a free night. I thought we’d just book directly.

Since we didn’t know if we’d be able to get our tires in time, I hastily decided to book a night at La Maison de Maurice, another dog friendly property in downtown Beaune. It was a non-refundable booking, so we were committed. Then ADAC called and said they had tires for us. Bill took the car to a tiny French garage and we were set to go by 11:30am. Figures.

We could have just eaten the cost of the hotel room and gone home yesterday, but Bill and I were a bit exasperated and in no mood to travel. Another night in Beaune would give me the chance to see and review another lodging, and we could just relax and unwind.

La Maison de Maurice turned out to be a really nice place. It’s an “apart-hotel”. I think they have a couple of apartments and a suite/loft. They also sell wine and offer tastings. For 120 euros a night, it wasn’t quite as economical as the other gite, which was pretty much a whole house with a couple of bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room. But it was in a great location and the owners were very friendly. The female half of the brother and sister team greeted us and spoke very limited English, but managed to get us set up.

We stayed in a loft, which was very comfortable and kind of cool, except for the very tight spiral staircase. I wondered how in the world they got furniture in that room! It was really tight and steep. Anyway, here are a few photos from yesterday… which proved to me that we missed a lot of Beaune. There’s a whole ‘nother section to the town that we didn’t get to during our tire fiasco or the weekend prior.

As you can see, La Maison de Maurice is right in the thick of town, while Au Miracle du Pain Dore is more on the outskirts. Both are good places to stay for different reasons. La Maison de Maurice is perfect if you want to stay right in town and be near shopping and restaurants. Au Miracle du Pain Dore is great if you need more room and don’t mind walking a few hundred meters to town.

Bill went around the corner to a burger place called Gaspard. It gets dreadful reviews on TripAdvisor, but we were actually very pleased with the burgers. They were served hot and promptly, were fresh and juicy, and tasted good. I’d go back for sure. I’m going to have to write them a positive review to counteract all of the one star ratings they have. I’d love to have a Gaspard in my town, although next month, we’ll be blessed with a Five Guys in Wiesbaden (Stuttgart is getting one too).

Bill took the dog out for a walk last night and was pleasantly surprised by a light show. The tall metal columns that I thought might be toilets were projectors scattered around the city. And they were shining beautiful, colorful holograms on certain buildings. Here’s a link to one woman’s pictures, which are a lot brighter and prettier than the one Bill shared with me– the featured photo. Now I wish I’d gotten up and gone walking with them. I bet I could have gotten some shots with my real camera, which rarely gets used thanks to how easy the iPhone and iPad are to use and carry.

I ended up watching ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and a weird French series that involved a French woman going to St. Petersburg, Russia and working for a circus at Christmas time. I don’t speak French at all, and all three of these shows were in French. I had seen the ER episodes, but never watched Grey’s Anatomy, and was mostly guessing with the French series, which was oddly entertaining.

This morning, we got up and enjoyed a very fresh French breakfast of croissants, bread, yogurt (for Bill), fresh fruit, coffee, butter, jam and juice. The proprietor seemed very taken with Arran, who was a perfect gentleman. I was so proud of him. We went to check out and he didn’t ask for my credit card, which was surprising to me. Booking.com had not given me the chance to pre-pay for the room; I could only reserve it. But it said if we didn’t show up, we’d still have to pay. I was under the impression that they had my card info, since he seemed to be saying goodbye to us, but the guy came running after us after we left. So Bill went back and paid the hotel, then we got on our way.

It was about a six hour drive, completely uneventful… we made a stop in Moselle, where we found a KFC and had no problems with tire punchers. KFC in Europe isn’t as good as it is in the States, not that it’s all that good there, either. But at least it wasn’t a burger… I meant to take a picture of the Bob’s Big Boy statue a restaurant on the outskirts of Beaune had out front. It was very campy! Those of us who remember Bob’s Big Boy in America will get a kick out of it. Maybe next time!

By the way, straws in France are now made of paper. But they don’t seem as gung ho about recycling their bottles as Germans are.

Anyway… that about does it for my French Christmas series. I will follow up tomorrow with my usual top ten things I learned post… and this time, although we didn’t go to a lot of restaurants or visit a lot of sights, I sure as HELL learned a lot. I might have to make it a top fifteen things I learned post. Stay tuned!

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The Netherlands

We went Dutch for MLK weekend 2019! Part five.

On Sunday, we decided to visit Maastricht.  I really didn’t know what to expect, since I had never been to the city before.  I did know that there aren’t any “coffee shops” open to foreigners in Maastricht.  It’s one of the areas in the Netherlands that has chosen to restrict pot sales to people who aren’t locals.  If you want marijuana, you have to go west.

It was no big deal, though.  Maastricht proved to be entertaining without the benefit of pot.  Not only is the city beautiful, it’s also wide open on Sundays.  Yes, you can go shopping, have lunch, or simply people watch.  There was some kind of race going on there Sunday, so there were several brass bands playing along the route, along with a drum band and a group of violinists.  As a music lover, this really appealed to me.  Despite the bitter cold, I stood there and listened to a group of musicians play “Canon in D” and Vivaldi.  I’m not ashamed to admit that their version of Pachelbel’s masterpiece had me openly weeping.

We parked in a huge lot on the outskirts of town and walked in…

Right off the bat, we heard the thundering sound of drums.  An awesome drum band was beating an infectious rhythm and had attracted a crowd.  The music would be a theme in Maastricht on Sunday, as we ran into a number of bands playing in the street.  

What’s that sound?

 

You can also load up on cheese!  I wish I liked cheese more.

We rounded the corner, just out of earshot of the drummers and promptly encountered a quartet of string musicians.

I often get choked up when I hear really well played live music.  I was listening to these people with tears streaming down my cheeks.  They played so well out in the cold and their music went straight to my heart.

As you can see, other people were affected by the music, too.  

We reluctantly moved on, because it was so cold and Bill needed to get some cash.  I managed to get a few more pictures as we searched for an ATM.  We were looking for lunch and a place to pee.

Our route took us past the runners and several more excellent brass bands!

We walked through one area near a mall and several very touristy looking restaurants.  One alley smelled distinctly of cheeseburgers, which was kind of strange.  But then I noticed we were near a McDonalds.

And these guys were playing jazz… I loved that they had a tray of empty beer glasses nearby.

 

Just as we encountered our fifth musical ensemble of the day, I turned to the left and we found a place to have lunch…

 

I have a knack for finding good places to eat.  There are a few things I look for.  Mainly, I like places that aren’t either too crowded or too empty.  I prefer them to be off the main drags.  And it doesn’t hurt if it smells good outside of the restaurant, too.  A lot of people were sitting outside, despite the cold weather.  I didn’t want to sit outside, but Bill was about to bust.  So we walked inside De Twee Heeren, which turned out to be a pretty awesome bar/restaurant.  They were playing good music and had menus in English, as well as places to sit.  We ended up spending a couple of hours in there, enjoying lunch, good Dutch and Belgian beers, and fun music.

Obligatory menu shot of Bill.  They had a number of appealing choices, everything from steaks to falafel.

 

Bill had what amounted to a “sauerbraten stew”.  It came with a big basket of frites and a salad.

 

I had fish and chips.  I considered a few of the other choices and actually had some trouble deciding, but since the Netherlands is a sea faring nation, I figured the fish and chips would be good.  And they were!  I even tried the fries with mayonnaise.  That’s how they eat them…  Not bad at all, though a little bit of mayo goes a long way.

 

Bill had a double espresso while I enjoyed an excellent Belgian brew suggested by the waiter.

And one more for the road.  It’s probably a good thing German beers aren’t this interesting.

 

It was late afternoon by the time we were finished at De Twee Heeren, so we decided to get some cheese for Bill and head back to the dogs.  I might have liked to have tried another restaurant later, but I just can’t eat as much as I once did.  You’d never know it to look at me, though.

This place had lots of free samples, which Bill was happy to try.

Here he’s trying the gouda with garlic.  I think he brought some home.  I found us some beers and waffle cookies, too.  If it turns out he loves the cheese, we can order more.

We headed out of the city and I took a few more photos.

The grand looking building houses the visitor’s center, which sadly, does not have a public toilet.  Fortunately, I found one at a bustling looking hostel with a huge bar.  It was nothing to duck in, which was a huge relief.

So long, Maastricht.  We’ll be back!

 

I missed the lunar eclipse, but did manage to get a picture of the huge full moon.

 

Yesterday morning, we got up bright and early, had breakfast, let the dogs have one more romp with Yogi, and loaded up the car for the drive back to Germany.  Nel was the most awesome hostess and invited us back.  I think she said we were her first real American guests, although she has hosted Canadians.  I’m hoping a few of my American readers living in Germany might visit Vijlen.  I have a feeling we’ll go back, especially if we stay in Germany for much longer.

I love visiting small towns and talking to locals, getting a feel for the real culture.  While we always enjoy visiting big cities, I find that it’s harder to get a feel for the culture, mainly because so many other international visitors are also there.  So, if there’s anything to be learned by this trip, it’s that small towns are worth a look.  They tend to be less expensive, safer, and the locals are more likely to make a connection.  I felt like we’d made a friend when we left Nel’s place yesterday.  I hope this series will inspire a few others to visit her in lovely Vijlen!

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The Netherlands

We went Dutch for MLK weekend 2019! Part three.

Saturday morning, we woke to beautiful sunny skies.  The weather in Wiesbaden has been so yucky lately that the sunshine was especially energizing.  The dogs went a little nuts when they saw Yogi prowling around outside, but then Nel invited us to let the dogs play with her in a little paddock.  Zane and Yogi got along beautifully, but Zane gets along with everyone.  Arran needed to warm up a bit, but he also had a great time.  They rolled around in chicken shit and ran like a couple of youngsters.  It’s been awhile since I last saw them play so hard, especially Zane!

Adorable Yogi is eight months of unbridled puppy energy!  She was jumping up to give me a kiss when I took this photo, even though it looks like she’s on the ground.  Who could resist that smile?

Yogi was a great canine hostess!

Yes, the chickens were tempting, but fortunately, they were well protected.

The horses looked on in amusement.

They were so happy that they came running to me when they saw me with the camera.

Arran checks out the henhouse.  No hens were harmed.

I think Zane wanted to play with the chickens.

I already miss Yogi.  She’s so cute!

A picture of the outside of the house.

 

After an extended play session, we brought the dogs inside and went on a short excursion, starting with the St. Martinus boutique winery.  The winery is literally steps away from Nel’s house.  We could have walked there very easily, but we wanted to make a purchase and we didn’t know how much we’d be buying.

The entrance to the winery.  It’s a rather small vintner, but they have a beautiful tasting room.  In the summer, they offer group tours of the facility.

When we arrived at the winery, the parking lot was pretty empty.  Bill parked far away anyway.

By the time we left about thirty minutes later, the lot was fuller.  We even ran into an American couple who appeared to be affiliated with the military, but we didn’t chat them up.  The male half had the air of an up and coming officer.  My guess is that they were Air Force.  😉

 

The very friendly lady behind the counter spoke perfect English and let us try several of the wines, which included several whites, a red, a rose, and a couple of sparkling wines.  They also had beer that had been aged in wine barrels.  We bought several bottles of wine and a couple of the beers.  I had one of the beers last night, and it was surprisingly good.  I was expecting it to be sweet and cloying, but it was actually much drier.

The tasting room, which offers a lovely view of the surrounding countryside.

Bill tastes a sparkling wine.  I never knew the Dutch made such good vino.  The whites were good, and we bought a bottle of red, which was unusual but interesting.  The biggest surprise to me was the rose, which was dry and had a finish that reminded me of buttered popcorn with a little zing at the end.

Beautiful scenery!  This is one thing I miss about our former house near Stuttgart.

 

After we visited the winery, we headed to Vaals.  It’s just a few miles from Vijlen.  There’s a park there where you can visit Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands at the same time.  Although it was sunny on Saturday, the weather was quite cold.  Still, lots of people were visiting and, if we’d wanted to, we could have had lunch there or visited the labyrinth.  There’s also a tower to climb where visitors can get a look at three countries at the same time, hiking trails, and lots of playground equipment for kids.  I expect it gets busy there during the warmer months.  We could have spent more time there and not been bored.

Parking is two euros a day.  When you leave, you deposit your coins into the green machine.

 

A commemorative rock.


Someone brought her horse.  I was jealous.  You can bring your dogs, of course.  We did not bring ours.

 

Bill gets his bearings by looking at the sign.

The entrance to the labyrinth.  If it had been a little warmer, we might have tried it.  I read that it’s a pretty challenging maze.

 

The big tower.  It was too cold for us to consider climbing up, although there is also an elevator.  Maybe next time.

A picture of the labyrinth… again, an activity we might try next time.  

This sign was in Belgium.  It was in French.

 
 
 

And here it is…  three countries, no passports required.  This may not seem like a big deal to some folks, but I’ve never even been to Four Corners in the United States.

 

The Netherlands…

Belgium…

Germany…

 

And one more photo for the road.  The border itself isn’t all that exciting, but there are a few family activities available.

 

We probably should have gone up the tower.

 

We didn’t have to pay for anything besides parking, although there are a couple of restaurants there and I think there is a fee to climb the tower.  The labyrinth is also not free.  I noticed a couple of other restaurants in the area, including one that had its own tower.  We decided not to eat at the park, since there was a Cuban restaurant in Vijlen I wanted, and failed, to try.

Bill took a wrong turn and we took a short jaunt through Belgium, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I’ll post pictures in the next installment.

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We went Dutch for MLK weekend 2019! Part two.

 

Off to the Netherlands!

I had let our hostess, Nel, know that we would be arriving sometime between four o’clock and five, since we needed to check our APO box on post.  Bill is going to be out of town for the rest of the week and I can’t be arsed to go to Clay Kaserne to check the mail.  I don’t even have the combination to our mailbox.  That turned out to be a good plan anyway, since we had a few chores to do before we could head for the Autobahn.  From Wiesbaden, Viljen is about a three hour drive, but most of it is on high speed highways.  And unlike Stuttgart, it appears the the Autobahn up here is pretty well appointed.  There are probably more people here than down there, but traffic isn’t as bad.

We had a mostly uneventful, yet beautiful, drive to the Netherlands.  Here are a few pictures I took on the way.

As we got closer to Aachen, I noticed these signs on the side of the Autobahn.  They were names of trees and years.  My German friend explained that they are “trees of the year“.  The count started in 1989 and every year, a new tree and year is erected.  On the Autobahn, you can see the signs from 1989 to 2014, although I saw no evidence of actual trees planted there.  However, they are planted at the Berlin Zoo.  Since 2010, a German “tree queen” is also elected to represent the project.


Another tree…

 

I also noticed this interesting truck, which had artistic depictions of the Crusades painted on it…  

The art was pretty cool looking, although I wouldn’t be surprised if some people were distracted enough to have a wreck at the sight of it.

We stopped here for a little late lunch.  This rest stop has a Nordsee, which had pretty good food.  Since we had the dogs with us, we ate in the car.

I always enjoy the reading material on the stall doors in German rest stops.  They’ll let you charge your phone, but you still have to pay 70 cents to pee.

Thanks for being there, Serways.

We arrived in the Netherlands at about 3:40pm and arrived at our apartment less than 20 minutes later.  Our hostess was waiting for us.

I like how some places have a canopy of trees formed by lines of them on either side of the road.

 

Pretty country on the way in, with rolling hills…  this is the most “mountainous” part of flat Netherlands.

One of the reasons I like border towns is that you can see how countries change.  You cross the border and the signs change, the language changes, and the laws change.  In the Netherlands, I noticed a difference in architecture, with many brick buildings and painted shutters.  And yet we were really just minutes away from Germany.

I remember enjoying our first trip to the Netherlands in 2015 and wanting to go back there, but it was so much easier to go to France from Stuttgart.  Now that we’re in Wiesbaden, I predict a lot more trips to Benelux, where the beer and the chocolate is better.

Below are some photos of our accommodations, which were very reasonably priced.  I paid just 336 euros for three nights in this two room apartment in rolling farmland.  We also paid 9 euros taxes in cash on the way out today.

The living room area… note the very steep stairs.  Our dogs had a little trouble with them at first, but then got used to them.  The bathroom is on the first floor, which makes our middle of the night pees a little less fun.  We left a light on in the living room for safety, although there is a hall light, too.

A washing machine, but no dryer.

The master bedroom has what I presume was a queen sized bed.  This room also has a TV.

These are two twins pushed together, I think.  There is no TV in this room.

Steep!

It’s a little like climbing a ladder.

The dining area is adjacent to the living room and kitchen.  It does not have a traditional oven, but there is a microwave that has a convection setting.  There’s also a dishwasher.

Another view of the bedroom.  It was a bit chilly during our visit, but the bed linens were warm enough.

 

There is a TV in the living room and a broken DVD player.  The are also a few board games like Rummikub and Yahtzee.

This was a hit at our family reunions when I was growing up.  Nice to know the Dutch like it too.

 

But probably my favorite part about the accommodations was the big fenced in paddock.  Our dogs were welcome to run around in the paddock to their hearts’ content.  They were also allowed to play with Nel’s dog, Yogi, an adorable Shiba Inu.  These Japanese dogs look just like foxes and are bred to hunt birds.  Yogi is just eight months old at this writing and she had a good time getting my 9 and 10 year old dogs to play with her.

Nel also has chickens, which were kept very safe from the dogs and foxes, and she offers boarding for two horses who made Zane and Arran bark.  In warmer weather, we could have walked a route around town, stopping at different restaurants and bars for refreshment every few kilometers.

We decided to stay in on Friday night after Bill made a quick run to the grocery store.  After a good first night’s sleep, we did some exploring on Saturday.  More on that in the next post.

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