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More favorite European luxury hotels…

Happy Saturday, blog fans. I usually try to update my travel blog on the weekends with reports on restaurants, fun activities, or travel. This weekend, Bill is recovering from two back to back TDYs, some kind of respiratory infection that isn’t COVID, and irritable bowel syndrome. He is out shopping for food right now, but I have my doubts that we’re going to get out and about today.

Although we have lovely fall weather, we’re both kind of tired… Bill from sickness, and me from tending to Arran all week and repeatedly getting up in the middle of the night. Arran is doing okay today, except for his rancid, atomic farts, and being a little sleepy from his chemo. He did get a chemo pill today, as well as Prednisolone; the Endoxan pill makes him want to snooze. And two days post Vincristine infusion is also when the side effects tend to kick in. He was a little low energy this morning, and threw up a little of his food.

This is actually kind of a bummer, though. I’d rather Arran not be dealing with side effects on Saturday, which is the one day Bill and I can go anywhere and things will be open. Maybe we should try to change the day of the infusions. We’ll have to do that anyway, if Arran is still with us next month. We still have plans to visit France, starting on Wednesday, the 16th, which is our anniversary.

But maybe it’s not so bad that we aren’t going out today. I’ve been wanting to write another post about some of my favorite European luxury hotels. We’ve been to some good ones since the last time I did one of these posts, in February 2017. Our fortunes have improved since that time, five years ago, when I wrote about our favorite luxury digs. These aren’t necessarily ranked in order, nor are they even my favorite lodgings of all time. They’re just luxurious European places we really enjoyed and haven’t forgotten. So here’s another post about some of my favorite hotels when we want to drop a load of euros. Here goes.

10. Grand Hotel du Lac, Vevey Switzerland

From the very first moment, we were impressed… until we ate in the restaurant and our waiter sold us 40 CHF glasses of Cristal Champagne, and waved a truffle under my nose!

Bill and I stayed at this five star hotel in Vevey, Switzerland in December 2015. I went with him on a business trip to Vicenza, Italy, and we decided to stop in Switzerland on the way home, so Bill could visit the Giger Museum in Gruyeres. I noticed the Grand Hotel du Lac the first time we lived in Germany, but in those days, our finances made it impossible to book such a place. Switzerland is expensive no matter what, but a five star hotel there is quite a splurge. Still, I decided to go for it, and even sprang for a lake view, as the hotel is right next to Lake Geneva. The lake view was a waste of money, though, because there was fog the whole time we were there during waking hours. The one full day we were in the area, we spent in Gruyeres. Still, the hotel is absolutely beautiful and comfortable, and I remember our stay there fondly– with exception to our experience in the restaurant, which was not as impressive. Vevey is a pretty town, too. I’d love to go back! And I would definitely stay in this hotel… though I might go elsewhere for dinner.

9. Merrion Hotel, Dublin Ireland

Merrion Hotel is wonderful! And it’s close to lots of authentic Irish pubs, too…

In 2018, I whimsically bought tickets to see a bunch of concerts, one of which was in Dublin, Ireland, and featured Paul Simon, James Taylor, and Bonnie Raitt. Yeah, that was a great show, and it lasted about six hours! We obviously needed good digs, so we could get proper rest. I decided to book Merrion Hotel, which is supposedly Dublin’s best… or, at least it was when we were there in 2018. Anyway, we didn’t have an upgraded room, but the room we had was nice enough. Bonus was that they gave us lots of chocolate– like three huge bars of it– milk, dark, and white. I remember loving the breakfasts at this hotel, which were cooked to order and absolutely amazing. Plus, there was a beautiful pool area, and top notch service. Highly recommended!

8. Europäische Hof Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany

This was a very tastefully decorated and comfortable room. The owner of the hotel obviously takes great pains to make her hotel special.

In June 2021, Bill and I decided to pay a visit to Heidelberg, Germany, a city not that far from where we currently live. At the time, COVID-19 cases, and the restrictions that accompanied the pandemic, were in full swing. We decided we wanted to stick close to home. I booked a few nights at Europäische Hof Heidelberg, a beautiful five star hotel with a long history and high service standards. The hotel has been family run for generations, and the attention to detail and care for guests are obvious. The owner of the hotel was very attentive and visible during our visit. Afterwards, when I wrote a review on TripAdvisor, she responded personally, and even sent me an email. We had a gorgeous, comfortable room, and the location was very convenient to the downtown area. I still get email offers from this hotel, and I’d love to go back sometime. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s not a rip off.

7. Park Hotel Sonnenhof, Vaduz, Liechtenstein

The view from our patio. What a beautiful place! I could stare at those mountains all day!

Bill and I visited Vaduz, Liechtenstein in May 2022, on our way home from a trip to Italy to taste wines. Originally, I had planned to stop in Lugano, Switzerland, but determined that Lugano wasn’t close enough to home. We had visited Liechtenstein once, back in 2009, and I thought it might be interested to visit the tiny country one more time. When I saw that it had a very highly regarded hotel with beautiful views, I was definitely onboard with booking. We had a lovely time in Vaduz, and delighted in tasting even more wines there! Park Hotel Sonnenhof is a very restful hotel with an excellent restaurant. It’s great for a splurge.

6. Hotel Bareiss, Baiersbronn, Germany

The view from the hotel. So pretty!

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you might know that Bill and I only recently stayed at the Hotel Bareiss in Baiersbronn, Germany. It’s probably the most expensive hotel we’ve ever stayed at, but it’s important to remember that the price of the room includes breakfast and dinner, as well as an afternoon cake buffet. At this hotel, food is front and center, but it also offers classic, quaint Black Forest inspired rooms, a petting zoo, daily activities, walking trails, several restaurants, and a first class pool and spa area. I LOVED the pool and spa areas, actually. We were there at a great time to enjoy them, too, because it wasn’t crowded at all! I wish we’d had a chance to try the a la carte restaurants, because the items that we had that weren’t part of the board menu were truly very special. Service is also outstanding at this hotel! Baiersbronn is a great town for foodies, as there are quite a few exquisite Michelin starred restaurants there. It’s also a fine place for hikers, especially if they want to see waterfalls.

5. Upper House, Gothenburg, Sweden

Coolest pool ever! This is jutting out from the building on the 18th floor, and has a glass bottom.

In late June 2019, Bill and I went to Gothenburg, Sweden to pick up our brand new Volvo at the Volvo factory. Although we could have stayed at a hotel chosen by Volvo, I wanted to go to the Upper House, a hotel in Gothia Towers. Why? Because of the pool. It juts out from the side of the building on the 18th floor! Also, the hotel is very swanky and beautiful, and offers beautiful views of the amusement park next door. Bill and I both loved the breakfasts, which were very unusual and cooked to order with fresh ingredients. If you’re going to Gothenburg and looking for something special, The Upper House is a good bet. The spa area is dreamy, but so is the bar… and I distinctly remember loving the bed. I wish I’d thought to find out where the mattress came from. That was a pretty epic trip. We combined it with stops in Copenhagen, Rostock, and Leipzig, and saw Mark Knopfler, both in concert, and at the bar in the Leipzig hotel where we were staying!

4. Auberge au Boeuf, Sessenheim, France

The pastries alone were worth the trip! The room was nice, too!

In March 2022, we had to go see our dentist in Stuttgart. At that time, COVID-19 rules were in full effect in Germany, and things were feeling a bit dystopian. We decided we wanted to get out of Germany for a few days, so I looked for a place just over the border. That’s when I discovered tiny Sessenheim, a little village near Soufflenheim, where a lot of French pottery is made. Sessenheim boasts a marvelous Michelin starred restaurant called Auberge au Boeuf, which also has four rooms to rent. This isn’t a big hotel, but the room we stayed in was the only one I have ever stayed in my lifetime that had its very own private sauna. It also had a jacuzzi bath. But the most impressive and memorable part of our stay at this hotel was the breakfast, which included the most delicious pastries I’ve ever had! They were obviously made on site, and served on special pottery that appeared to be locally made. Breakfast also included cheeses, smoked fish, cold cuts, and a variety of other goodies, all of which were brought to us. No breakfast buffet!

3. Hotel Oberwaid, St. Gallen, Switzerland

Beautiful pool area. There are also great spa facilities on the ground floor.

If you ever feel the need to feel “safe”, Hotel Oberwaid is a good bet. This hotel, located within sight of Lake Konstanz, is also a health sanitorium. There are physicians on staff for people who go there for health reasons, but it’s also a very comfortable hotel. From June until December, children are not allowed at the hotel, so it’s a very restful, adult oriented place. The restaurant serves excellent local cuisine, and there’s a fantastic pool and spa area. What I loved most about this hotel, though, was that they went to great lengths to make guests comfortable. After four nights at a noisy resort in Italy, I was definitely in the mood for a peaceful, quiet couple of nights at a place that was climate controlled and had good beds. Hotel Oberwaid had that, but it was also a very classy place. I can see why people go there for their health, even though I didn’t feel like I was staying in a hospital. The focus is on health and wellness, but in a comfortable, visually appealing setting. I’d like to go back sometime, if the fates allow.

2. De Witte Lelie, Antwerp, Belgium

A birthday surprise!

This is the hotel Bill chose for us when I turned 50 in June. It’s not the most luxurious of the properties where we’ve stayed. It doesn’t have a spa or a pool. However, it is beautifully and stylishly furnished, and offers every comfort, and it’s very convenient to downtown Antwerp. What I loved most about it was the service, which was very warm, personal, and professional. They brought out a beautiful strawberry tart and some fizz for my birthday morning, and we stayed in the funkiest room I’ve ever seen. I like this hotel because it’s so hospitable; we were so pleased with everything! One caveat I would mention is that if you have mobility issues, you might want to call the hotel for advice on which rooms are best. Our room required climbing a couple of flights of stairs. The other side of the hotel has elevator access for that part. The featured photo is of the hotel’s iconic red front door!

1. Brenner’s Park Hotel & Spa, Baden-Baden, Germany

A room truly fit for royalty…

In November 2018, Bill and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. We were also preparing to move to Wiesbaden from the Stuttgart area, in what would turn out to be a very stressful relocation, particularly considering that we were moving within Germany. I wanted to find us a really beautiful place to spend our anniversary, and I found it in Brenner’s Park. One of my former professors from Longwood University recommended this hotel, calling it “a little slice of Heaven”. Indeed, that’s what we found when we got there, especially since they upgraded us from a deluxe room to a junior suite… and that room was palatial! Brenner’s Park has a resident cat named Kleopatra, a fantastic spa, beautiful pool area, delicious food, and a classy bar. I would LOVE to go back there, even though it’s not very far from where we live now. Maybe on a future dentist excursion, we’ll book Brenner’s Park… but I don’t know if we can spring for a junior suite, and it’ll be hard to downgrade after staying in one. In a word… WOW.

I won’t deny it. Bill and I have been living a pretty sweet life over here… and I am very grateful we’ve had these opportunities to enjoy some of Europe’s loveliest hotels. I hope we can visit a few more before it’s time to retire and settle somewhere permanent. For now, we’re going to keep splurging for as long as we can. You only live once!

If you’re curious about any of these places and want more details of our visits, be sure to search the blog. I have done extensive review series of each place listed in this post!

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Turning 50 in Antwerp… part six

We woke to cloudy skies and cool temperatures on Sunday morning. My German friend told me that “back home” in Wiesbaden, the temperatures were pretty high. But in Belgium, I had to put on a pair of pants. I’m glad I thought to bring them. Bill was wishing he’d brought a long sleeved shirt or a light jacket.

Because of the inclement weather, we ate breakfast inside the hotel’s breakfast room, instead of outside in the courtyard. We deliberately ate less, even though we were paying 30 euros per person to have breakfast. I was hoping to enjoy lunch somewhere interesting.

After breakfast, I did some writing, and then Bill and I walked to the Scheldt River, where we explored Het Steen, a castle like structure that now houses the tourist office, but was once used as a gatehouse and a prison. Het Steen is Antwerp’s oldest building, and it’s been used as a saw mill, residence, and museum. Until 2008, it was the site of the National Maritime Museum. According to a sign outside of Het Steen, a “striking detail above the Steen Gate is the Semini statue, an ancient fertility statue. The Jesuits maimed the statue in the sixteenth century, hacking off the penis.” I have to admit, I didn’t notice that!

More loud guys singing, pedaling, and drinking.

After we walked around Het Steen, we walked along a boardwalk next to the Scheldt River, then made our way back into the Grote Markt. On the way there, we encountered a processional of religious folks, led by a brass band! I managed to get a video!

Religious parade!

By the time the parade passed us, it was about time for lunch, at which point we soon found ourselves sitting outside at a restaurant called Elfde Gebod (The Holy Place), which is billed as Antwerp’s oldest and most reviewed restaurant. This is one place where I would have liked to dine inside, as it was very cozy and cute, with tons of religious relics and angels. Alas, we sat outside, where I was downwind of a smoker. About five minutes, later, we were joined by a group of twelve young men who were pretty rowdy. Some of them were smoking, and most were drinking Australian Rose wine. I got the sense it was a “fraternity” thing.

Elfde Gebod had a pretty good selection of beers, as well as comfort food. I love comfort food, so it was my kind of menu, and I had some trouble deciding what to have for lunch. I ended up having Apostle Fish Stew, which was a very nice concoction made of cod, mussels, and shrimp, and it came with a side of mashed potatoes, which went very well with the stew. It was more of a chowder than a stew, to me… and it reminded me of what I found in Dublin a few years ago. I loved it. Must be all that Celtic heritage I have.

Bill had rabbit stew, which came with excellent frites and mayo. I didn’t try his stew, because even though I’ve had rabbit before and it “tastes like chicken”, I’m not trying to develop a taste for other kinds of meat. It’s bad enough that Bill introduced me to duck, which I love. I ventured inside the restaurant to use the facilities and was surprised by how interesting it was inside. If we ever get back to Antwerp, I would definitely try to dine inside Elfde Gebod. The decor is something special.

As we were eating lunch, the weather took a turn for the worse. It started to rain. The restaurant staff turned on heaters, which was very welcome! By the time we finished lunch, it was time to find somewhere else indoors. I said I was in the mood to find a bar, listen to good music, and drink some exotic suds.

Bill suggested a cozy bar called Billie’s Bier Kafétaria, which got great reviews on Google. That turned out to be a very successful stop. The bartender was a pretty young woman who knew her beers, and they were playing good music. In fact, I even downloaded an album as we were sitting there. I can see why Billie’s is a popular place. I would happily visit again, especially since the bar carries a lot of beers one will likely never find in Germany. I was particularly happy with the excellent Kriek (cherry beer) I had.

We didn’t feel like looking for dinner, so we stuck around Billie’s for a long time, and eventually ordered some snacks to tide us over through my very last night of being in my 40s. Then we went back to the hotel and turned on the TV… and it was TLC! We watched Dr. Pimple Popper, again in English with Dutch subtitles. Somehow, I didn’t throw up. I had forgotten how gross that show is!

Silliness at Billie’s! If you click the link, you can see the video.

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We went Dutch for MLK weekend 2019! Part one.

One of the best things about living in Germany is being able to access so many great countries so easily.  When we lived near Stuttgart, it was super easy to get to France and Switzerland.  Now that we live in Hesse, we live much closer to BeNeLux… that is, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

It’s our habit to take quick trips over holiday weekends and, boy, was I ready for a trip.  We hadn’t had a good one since September, when we visited beautiful Lesa, Italy on Lake Maggiore.  Although we’ve had long weekends since September, we spent Columbus Day weekend house hunting in our new town of Wiesbaden.  We spent Veteran’s Day weekend celebrating our anniversary in beautiful Baden-Baden.  We had good times on both of those trips, but sometimes I just need a break from Germany.  Fortunately, it’s easy to cross borders in Europe.

A couple of days before Christmas 2018, I started looking for places to go over Martin Luther King weekend.  I went on Booking.com and started looking at my list of bookmarked places.  Bill and I narrowed our choices down to two– the Netherlands or the Czech Republic.  We flipped a two euro coin and the Netherlands won.

We haven’t yet found a local boarding facility for our dogs, nor have we found our local vet, although we do have ideas for both.  We decided this time, as usual, to bring our dogs, Zane and Arran, with us.  Wherever we went would have to accommodate the dogs.  As I’ve mentioned before, when I look for rental houses or apartments, I look for places that don’t charge extra for dogs.  I’ve found that people who don’t charge pet fees tend to be much more laid back about the dogs and welcome them, rather than simply tolerate them.

I had been curious about the eastern Dutch city of Maastricht, especially since it’s not too far from where we live.  Adding in all of my other criteria, I ended up finding very dog friendly accommodations in a little hamlet called Vijlen, which is just fifteen kilometers from Maastricht and only a few kilometers from the German city of Aachen.

The apartment I found in Vijlen, which is connected to the hostess’s house, is called Hoeve Nelderhof.  It’s within walking distance to the St. Martinus boutique winery, as well as the city of Vaals, which is very close to the highest point in the Netherlands as well as the three country border of Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands!  I love booking trips near border towns, too.  You get more bang for your travel buck when you can access two or more countries.  Vijlen offers access to three!

I had good feelings about our hostess when I let her know we were coming with two beagles.  Her response was that we’d be very welcome.  And indeed, she made it so.  We had a great time in Vijlen, although the weekend was a little too short.  If you’re searching for a dog friendly place to visit, I hope you’ll come along with me on this multi-part series.  As usual, I’m going to start at the beginning and will include links at the bottom of each post.

Cute shoes!

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Mail order goodies…

Living abroad can present a person with certain first world problems.  When you live in a country that isn’t your own, you tend to miss certain food items from home.  The same is true when you adopt another country, even just temporarily, and then go back to where you came from.  Wherever you are, you learn to like certain things.  Then, when you move, you miss them.

Like a lot of Americans in Germany, there are a few things I miss from home.  For instance, I miss things like really good barbecue, American style burgers, American style pizza (yeah, I know), and certain southern delicacies.  Since my husband has access to the commissary through his job, I can get some things I miss, although a lot of what I can get at the commissary are not necessarily things I can’t live without.  I can do without Cheetos and Dr. Pepper, even if I like having them once in awhile.

Likewise, when we moved back to the States in 2009, I came to miss certain German products.  It was bad enough that I would try to find them online and order them for a taste of Europe.  I expect I will do that again when we finally give up this globetrotting existence… if we ever do.

Anyway, today’s post is about things I miss when I’m in Germany and things I miss when I’m in America.  I’m sure a few people can relate.  By the way, I realize that these things are definitely luxury items that aren’t particularly good for me.  But what the hell… you gotta take your joys where you can find them!

A few favorite American goodies…

Coffee

Yes, it can be expensive and annoying to have American coffee sent to you “legally”… 

Although one can easily get Starbucks in Germany and lots of people have told me about the “wonderful” German and Italian coffees I can get here, I do have a favorite American brand.  And I like it enough that I go to great lengths to get it here in Germany.  I’ve even gone as far as paying an exorbitant duty on coffee, just so I can get my beloved Peets.  When we lived in Germany the first time, somehow I missed the memo that it’s forbidden to have coffee sent to Germany through the APO.  I used to order it all the time.  When we moved back here in 2014, I heard that the post office was cracking down on coffee contraband.  So I got used to drinking Starbucks.  A couple of years ago, I decided I had to have my Peets.  So now, I have it delivered, high costs be damned.  And, by the way, I don’t agree that German or Italian brands are better.  Tastes differ, though.

This is a consistently excellent brand, available through Amazon.

Grits

Although some people disagree that Virginia is a southern state, I grew up there and consider myself a southerner.  Even if Virginia weren’t a southern state, I still married a guy from the South who grew up in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas, which are definitely southern states.  We love good grits.  When I say, “good grits”, I mean the kind that have to be boiled for a half an hour.  Consequently, we order grits from South Carolina.  I buy several bags at a time and we enjoy them every Saturday morning.  They are so good!

Best peanuts I have ever had.

Peanuts and peanut butter

Yeah, I know I can buy peanuts and peanut butter at the commissary.  I am very picky about my peanuts, though, and love to get them from a vendor from my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia (near Williamsburg).  I order them from Whitley’s Peanut, which not only sells peanuts and peanut butter, but also stocks the best cashews and pecans I’ve ever tried.  They also sell sinful chocolate peanut clusters that are too fabulous for my ass.  I like their peanut butter, not so much for myself, but more for my dogs.  Whitley’s makes peanut butter that consists solely of crushed peanuts.  It’s excellent for pilling my dogs because not only does it not contain sugar or xylitol, which can be poisonous to canines, it’s also not sticky.  It’s easy to put a pill in the peanut butter, roll it into a neat ball, and feed it to Zane and Arran without making a mess.

Chile sauce

I actually started enjoying Tio Frank’s Chile Sauce after we moved here when a guy from New Mexico mentioned it.  I’ve never actually been to New Mexico, but I do like this chile sauce, which is great for adding zing to favorite snacks or even a batch of chili.  I have to admit, though, it’s been too long since my latest order.  You can find it on Amazon or through Tio Frank’s official Web site.  Their official site is down now, but you can check out their Facebook page.

Beer

When we first moved back here, I used to regularly order American craft beers from Saveur-Biere in Belgium.  Recently, I have gotten out of the habit of doing that, although I have to admit missing certain American favorites, like Deschutes and Prairie Artisan Ales.  Sometimes I find them locally and other times, I order them and spend a lot of money.  What can I say?  Sometimes I need more than a garden variety German wheat beer.

And now for a few of my favorite European goodies.

I haven’t actually tried this flavor (though I’m ordering it today!)…

Drinking chocolate and other chocolate

When Bill and I lived in Germany the first time, I picked up a canister of Dolfin drinking chocolate from Belgium.  This stuff was unlike any chocolate I’d ever had.  It comes in flakes that melt in hot milk.  I loved it so much that when we were in the USA, I ordered some from a retailer that specializes in importing chocolate.  I don’t drink a lot of hot chocolate now, although every once in awhile, I get the urge… and when I do, I have some of this at the ready.  I will admit that I also bought special Ritter Sports that weren’t available in the States.  For awhile, you couldn’t find coconut Ritter Sports, which were my favorite when we lived here last time.  Now, they’re available again and I don’t love them as much as I used to.  I also love certain British brands, like McVittie’s Club Bars and Penguins.

Careful… these are addictive!

Peanut “Flips”

My German friend, Susi, who lives in North Carolina, introduced me to this German snack food when I visited her house one time.  Basically, it’s like our Cheetos, only it’s peanut flavored instead of cheese flavored.  Totally not something I should be eating, but I do admit to loving it… and buying it when I’m in the States.

The Italians do tuna right.

 
 
Italian or Spanish tuna
 
This ain’t no “Chicken of the Sea”.  I don’t know how or why, but Italian and Spanish tuna is absolutely fabulous.  It’s a real treat to find it and something I miss when I’m back in the States.

Speaking of Italy…  

Bucatini noodles
Bucatini noodles are available in the USA, but they aren’t necessarily stocked at every grocery store.  I love these fat noodles that are hollow on the inside.  I think they appeal to the kid in me, who has fond memories of eating Franco-American Macaroni and Cheese.  Of course, I can now make my own version that is vastly superior to the canned stuff I used to eat all the time.

Believe it or not, we used to have this in the States.

 

Ice cream

Ice cream is a big deal in Europe, especially in Germany and Italy.  Even the stuff you buy at the grocery store looks fancy and comes in yummy adult flavors like Black Forest or bourbon vanilla.  Back in the 1980s, you could purchase Viennetta ice cream desserts in the States.  Those have gone away there, but they’re still available in Europe.  I miss them when I’m stateside, but it’s hard to ship ice cream without it melting.

Potato croquettes

 

I’m sure I could get these in the USA, but they’re more like tater tots than what we have in Europe.  I love these little potato nuggets.  I’ve encountered them often in the Czech Republic, but Germans also have them.  I may have to learn how to make them myself.

Certain wines and liquors

 

Lately, I’ve been ordering Armenian wines from vendors in Europe.  That’s a thrill for me, since I lived in Armenia for two years and it’s not easy to find Armenian wines in the United States.  Europe is closer to Armenia, so I can get them here, mostly through a Belgian supplier.  Ditto for certain European liquors like Isle of Harris Gin, which is an up and coming brand that hasn’t gotten international coverage yet.  I also buy a lot from Master of Malt, which also ships to the United States.

I’m not sure what the future holds for Bill and me.  For one thing, I don’t know when we’ll be finished in Germany.  For another, I don’t know if we’ll be heading back to the States after we’re finished here or moving on to yet another European country.  Either way, I’m sure to expand my palate wherever we go… and probably my waistline, too.

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European pet friendly lodging I have known…

Zane on a road trip to Belgium!

Arran begging for a belly rub.

Sometimes I get inspiration for blog posts from people in local Facebook groups who have a need.  I think the many travel bloggers in the Stuttgart area each offer different things to our readers.  I don’t have children, so generally speaking, I’m not the one to come to for advice on where to take your kids.  However, I do love good food, wine and beer, unique places that are off the beaten track, and, most importantly, pet friendly lodging.

We didn’t used to take our dogs on our trips.  When we lived in Germany the first time, we had Flea and MacGregor, two high maintenance beagles that didn’t travel well.  Flea would get car sick.  MacGregor was deathly afraid of people he didn’t know.  Both of them barked incessantly.  MacGregor would also howl when we left them alone.  In those days, we’d take them to Hunde Hotel Haase, which was at the time being run by a woman named Kirsten.  Kirsten was awesome, and she took great care of our dogs.  Unfortunately, sometime in the five years between our Germany tours, Kirsten left, and took the Hunde Hotel’s good reputation with her.  I started hearing some very disturbing stories about dogs who were left there.

We started using Dog Holiday for our current dogs, Zane and Arran.  Dog Holiday is great, but it’s frequently booked, especially on holiday weekends.  When we want to take a dog free break, we book Zane and Arran at Dog Holiday months or even as far as a year in advance.  Since we don’t know how long we’ll be in Germany, that can be problematic as well.

In 2016, we decided to start taking the dogs with us on our trips.  We started with a one night experiment in Riquewihr, which is a lovely French town in Alsace, not too far from Stuttgart.  Although Zane and Arran had stayed in hotels before, we decided it was time we trained them to be good in hotels.  I booked us a deluxe room at Best Western Le Schoenenbourg.  Although the dogs weren’t on their absolute best behavior, the trip was a success.  We even managed to enjoy a delicious gourmet meal in Riquewihr with our dogs in tow!  After that victory, I started looking for other pet friendly accommodations.  I’ve found some good ones, which I am sharing in this post.

Before I get started, I want to list my criteria for booking pet friendly accommodations.  First, I look for parking– particularly free parking.  That’s because we don’t take our dogs on trains, at least not yet.  We have to have a place to park our SUV.  Next, I look for free WiFi because I’m addicted to the Internet, but also because you never know when you’ll need to find an emergency vet or something.  And finally, I try to book places that don’t charge pet fees.  It’s not that I don’t want to pay pet fees or that I don’t think property owners are right to be concerned about pets staying in their rentals.  It’s more because I’ve found that people who don’t charge for pets tend to be less nervous and/or anal retentive about having them in their rentals.  I prefer to rent from people who like my dogs rather than just tolerate them.

So here goes with my list of nine pet friendly properties we’ve enjoyed so far.  They are not ranked in any particular order.

1.  Best Western Hotel Le Schoenenberg in Riquewihr, France

This will be the only hotel listed in this post.  I am mentioning Hotel Le Schoenenberg because they were exceptionally pet friendly.  When we checked into our deluxe room (the only one they had left), we found it outfitted for our dogs’ arrival.  They had included pet bowls and treats for Zane and Arran and they were super understanding when my dogs started baying on the way downstairs.  My one concern about this hotel is that it’s pretty pricey.  We paid just under 200 euros for one night with breakfast.  However, we were also in a suite and it was during the high season.  Also, I don’t think you need more than a couple of days to see all of Riquewihr, although there is much to see in the surrounding areas.

Hotel Le Schoenenberg was very welcoming to our dogs!

2.  Chalet Montana in Barvaux, Belgium

We booked Chalet Montana in Barvaux, Belgium for Labor Day weekend 2016.  I found this house on Booking.com.  It was larger than what we needed and kind of pricey, but it has the distinction of being our very first experience renting a vacation home.  I see on Booking.com that Chalet Montana *may* charge for pets, but I don’t think they charged us when we stayed there.  There are two master bedrooms with two trundle beds.  Bring your own linens.

This property is near the charming town of Durbuy and within range of towns like Rochefort, Bastogne, and Dinant.  We visited each of those towns while we were in Barvaux.  I was particularly enchanted by Dinant, which is where Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone, was born.  We found the area very dog friendly and the house itself is very nice and extremely kid friendly.  Additionally, it boasts a still water hot tub (fueled by a fire that you have to build) and a sauna.  There’s an adventure park in the area, as well as golfing.  We also found great beer and good restaurants nearby.

Apparently, Durbuy has a problem with human stealth shitters.  However, we never encountered human poop and, in fact, thought the area was lovely!  It smelled good, too. 

3.  Villa Moretta in Domaso, Italy  (ETA: This property no longer accepts pets as of 2020)

You’d rather head south for a trip to Italy?  I can’t blame you for that.  We found Villa Moretta in Domaso, Italy on Booking.com and stayed there for Memorial Day weekend.  I notice that the name has changed since our stay.  In May of last year, it was called Casa Oliva di Domaso.  I don’t know if that means the place has new owners, although I note that when we stayed there, there were no pet charges and now it looks like they *may* charge for pets.

The owner was doing work on an apartment on the first floor during our stay.   It looks like he’s now offering two apartments, one of which is one bedroom and the other is two bedrooms.  In any case, the two room apartment was pet friendly when we stayed there and offered stunning views of Lake Como, as well as access to some great Italian food.  I will warn that this apartment requires walking up steps for access because it’s situated on a hillside.  Also, there is one tiny parking space that was a challenge for Bill to fit our small SUV.  However, I have very fond memories of Domaso and would love to go back!  It’s a very chilled out town, perfect for relaxing and dog walking.

View from a trail going up the hillside.

I loved the donkey!

Watching storm clouds roll in from the balcony.

4.  Vila Verunka in Senec, Czech Republic

We stayed at Vila Verunka in Senec, Czech Republic just last weekend.  It’s a little two room house on the edge of a forest, located in a residential suburb of Plzen.  This house features pet friendly floors and a large, fenced in yard.  The owners are very nice and did not charge us extra for Zane and Arran.  Also, this accommodation was extremely inexpensive.  For three nights, we paid 288 euros.  The one caveat is that the tap water is not potable.  It’s fine for washing and watering your dogs, but not for human consumption.  The owners didn’t explain why, except to say that the house isn’t hooked up to city water.  My guess is that they use a cistern to supply water to the house.  Drinking bottled water is no big deal for us, but I thought it best to mention it.  There’s a swing set in the yard for your kids and the house is set far enough away from other properties that noise from dogs is less of a problem.

Plzen is a great place for beer lovers, as well as aviation lovers.  There is a huge, unique Air Park near the house that offers a rare chance to look at Cold War era airplanes, tanks, helicopters, and missiles.  Also, Plzen has a zoo and several museums for Cold War history buffs.  It’s a city that has a special fondness for America, which is evident in its street names.

Zane was very much at home at Vila Verunka!

5.  Gîtes de la Maison Vigneronne in Ribeauvillé, France

This property is probably my favorite dog friendly property on this list.  In 2017, Bill and I stayed at Yannick’s “wine house” three times!  The three links in the description lead to my series about each stay, all of which have been fun for us and the dogs.  Yannick names his apartments after different wine grapes.  So far we’ve stayed in Pinot Noir (one bedroom) once and Riesling (three bedrooms) twice.  Four apartments are in his wine house and the other two are located in a building on the main drag through town.  I have actually seen all but two of the apartments.  I have a feeling Yannick is counting on me to pitch them to my American friends in Germany.

I can vouch for how dog friendly Yannick’s apartments are.  He doesn’t charge extra for pets and welcomes ours whole-heartedly, even bringing them treats.  While we did encounter a cranky neighbor on our last visit, by and large, the people in Ribeauville are very dog friendly.  It’s a super cute town with several great restaurants and shopping opportunities, as well as free parking.  It’s also a great place to go wine tasting and visit other cute little towns in the vicinity.  We like Ribeauville more than Colmar and Riquewihr because it offers a nice balance between touristy and homey.  Also, it’s a relatively short and pretty drive from Stuttgart.  I don’t know when we’ll be back to Ribeauville, but I’m happy to share the wealth with those who want to go.

Zane loves Yannick’s Riesling apartment, too.

6.  Holiday Home Bonjour Clara in Alveringem, Belgium

Are you interested in being close to a beach?  Like good Belgian beer?  Have a big group?  You might want to consider Holiday Home Bonjour Clara in Alveringem.  This large old house is located in a rural area about a half an hour from the North Sea.  It takes about nine hours to get to Alveringem from Stuttgart, but you pass through a few beer towns to get to it.  Bonjour Clara has four bedrooms and is usually rented to crowds.  We paid 760 euros in cash for four nights, which we thought was very reasonable given how many people can stay there.  Besides being close to the beach, this house is within driving distance of Ghent and Bruges.  There’s a dairy farm next door, where you can buy fresh milk, and the hostess, Marianne, has chickens that provide fresh eggs.  We really enjoyed this property in Belgium with its huge kitchen and swimming pond.  I wouldn’t mind a return trip.

This beach is maybe thirty minutes away.

The boys in the kitchen.

Bill enjoys the pond.

7.  Hexagonal Tower for Two in Semur-en-Auxois, France

I’m adding the Hexagonal Tower for Two, although this property is probably the least pet friendly on my list.  First of all, the owner did charge us for Zane and Arran.  I think it was 20 euros or so, but I’m not absolutely certain of the exact amount.  Secondly, this house is strictly for two people.  Although it’s pet friendly, it would be best if your pet was on the small side.  Why?  Because it’s a tiny house.  However, it’s also a very cool place to stay.  The owners are a British woman and her French husband, who is a master stone mason.  They built this cool tower a few years ago so they could host guests.  For two people, it’s probably the perfect size.  For more than two people, it’s a squeeze.  However, the town of Semur-en-Auxois, situated in Burgundy, is a very quaint, French town surrounded by more quaint French towns.  The area is absolutely beautiful!  If you need a break from Germany, it’s a great place to be.

Look how cute the town is!

This is about the size of the downstairs room.  Note no handrail on the steps, which could be a problem if you have small kids.  My dogs were leery of it.

The tower!  For couples or singles only!

 
8.  Gite de la Maison Bleue in Saint Marcelin de Cray, France

This is another one of my favorite pet friendly spots so far.  Located in Burgundy, a bit further south of Semur-en-Auxois, is Gite de la Maison Bleue, a beautiful old farmhouse in Saint Marcelin de Cray.  The owners of this property run a snail and rabbit farm and they have lots of friendly animals, including a spunky donkey named Antoine.  When Zane and Arran barked at Antoine and his friend, the Friesian horse, Antoine brayed right back at them.  It was hilarious!  Not only is this property beautiful, the owners are also very nice and accommodating, especially to our dogs, who were made very welcome.  It was no problem at all if the dogs pooped in the yard since there were pigs, llamas, alpacas, sheep, rabbits, geese, snails, and other dogs there.  I am dying to go back to this area, too, since it’s in the heart of wine country and, quite honestly, offers a look at “the real France”.  Cluny is a nearby town where you can shop, eat good food, and mingle with the locals.  There’s also an interesting abbey open for tours.

This tower is part of the rental property and offers a great view from the top.

Antoine the donkey!

View from the balcony.

Zane and Arran are feeling at home.

Of all the pet friendly rentals we’ve tried so far, I think Anno 1499 in Rothenburg ob der Tauber may have impressed me the most.  This house was not only dirt cheap to rent, it had every comfort you could want.  Located on the main street into the walled city, this house had two full bathrooms, two bedrooms with double beds as well as a crib and daybed, and a full kitchen.  The owner works across the street and was super friendly and welcoming to Zane and Arran.  There were no extra charges for them.  She also showed us where we could park for free.  We had an absolutely trouble free stay at this house.  I’m probably going to be sorry I shared it!

The house!

Tower in a walled city.

So there you have it… nine places Bill and I have taken the dogs and had a good enough time that we’d book again.  Actually, I’m not sure I’d book the Hexagonal Tower again with the dogs, but I would for just Bill and me.  If your dog doesn’t have to sleep with you and is pretty small, it would be okay.  For us, it wasn’t quite enough space.  However, we loved the town and enjoyed our hosts.

I hope this list is helpful for those of you who are seeking pet friendly digs while you’re in Europe.  I will keep searching for new places and will probably write a sequel when I have another good sized list of pet friendly accommodations.  Happy traveling!

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Favorite hotels in Europe… the luxury lodging edition

Good morning, readers.  After a solid week of sickness, I’m feeling better today.  I think it’s because I managed to get a couple of hours of extra sleep after my husband left for work.  Those extra winks have left me energized and inspired.

Since our first Germany tour, Bill and I have been lucky enough to stay in some really great European hotels.  They’ve run the gamut from budget friendly accommodations to luxury digs.  I know people look for different things when they’re booking hotels.  Personally, I tend to like really comfortable places.  If it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, so much the better.  Here are a few of my favorite luxury hotels in Europe… the kind of places you might book if you’re looking for a splurge.

5.  Hotel Suitess zu Dresden-  Dresden, Germany

Bill and I visited Dresden in November 2008.  We were celebrating our sixth wedding anniversary, so I planned a trip to Dresden, Bolaslaweic, Poland, and Prague.  At the time, we were not as flush with cash as we are now, so money was more of an object.  Nevertheless, I love to splurge.  Hotel Suitess was one of the suggestions I got from Expedia.com and it was ranked number one on Trip Advisor.  The price was right, so I booked us.  I think it might have been our first five star hotel.

Things got off to a good start when a valet unloaded our bags and parked our SUV.  As we checked in, we sipped on a welcome glass of sekt.  I believe I booked a standard room, which was outfitted with a huge, comfortable bed, Hermes toiletries, and had a marble bathroom outfitted with gold fixtures, fresh flowers, and a television.  Donald Trump might have felt at home with all the gold in that room.  The service at Suitess was impeccable, even if it didn’t come cheaply.  I still fondly remember the very expensive but incredible Eggs Benedict I had for breakfast there.

That bed was the stuff of dreams.

 

Dresden is a fantastic city and we had a marvelous time there.  The fact that we stayed in a beautiful hotel just steps away from the famous Frauenkirche made it all the more memorable.  I would definitely recommend Hotel Suitess to anyone looking for a luxury lodging experience in Dresden.

4.  The Chester Residence- Edinburgh, Scotland

Our visit to Edinburgh in November 2012 came at the end of our fabulous tenth wedding anniversary trip to Scotland.  I booked us four nights at The Chester Residence, a swanky apartment hotel in downtown Edinburgh.  I booked The Chester Residence on the strength of many positive reviews I read about it on Trip Advisor.  Indeed, our experience there was excellent.  Located in a quiet neighborhood close to the action, The Chester Residence offers guests spacious apartments complete with kitchenettes.

We had spent the previous ten nights on the Hebridean Princess, where we were pampered non-stop.  The Chester Residence was only a slight step down from that.  It was a great way to end an amazing trip.

Plenty of room to stretch out…

 
3.  Hotel Corinthia- Budapest, Hungary

We took one last trip before PCSing from Germany in September 2009.  I decided I wanted to go to Budapest because I figured it would be harder to get there from the United States than some of the other cities I was considering at the time.  It turned out to be an excellent choice for a final hurrah before we’d leave Germany for good…  or not.  I booked us at the Hotel Corinthia, which is a fabulously comfortable luxury hotel right on the main drag through Pest.  I booked us in a junior suite, which gave us access to the excellent Executive Club.  I don’t know if things have changed since 2009 (and I’d love to find out), but a person could literally sit in that club all day and eat and drink to their heart’s content.  A lot of people seemed to be doing just that.

The very beautiful foyer at Hotel Corinthia, Budapest.

 

We were very impressed by the service at this hotel, as well as the awesome spa.  I even talked Bill into booking a treatment, which he enjoyed immensely.  I later recommended this hotel to my mom when she visited in 2015.  I think she was just as happy with it as we were.  I hope we can visit again soon.

2.  Hotel Miramar- Barcelona, Spain
 

In April 2009, Bill and I enjoyed our second blind booking trip, courtesy of the airline formerly known as Germanwings.  It was Bill’s first trip to Spain and my second.  We still talk about that trip today in reverent tones, mainly because we had one of the best meals of our lives there.  Bill also fell in love with La Sagrada Familia, a place he had never heard of until he met me and I showed him a picture of it.  I also booked us at a fabulous hotel, Miramar, which overlooks the city and offers huge, fabulous rooms.  The one I booked had a jacuzzi and an enormous terrace.  The bathroom was big enough to move into.

This hotel has a very unique outdoor pool, but it was too cold for us to use it during our visit.  No matter, because there’s also an indoor pool and a whirlpool, which we did get to use.

A lovely park in front of the hotel, complete with orange trees.  Just beyond the grove, you can enjoy a fantastic view of the Mediterranean Sea.

 

The one drawback to Miramar is that it’s not located in the thick of things.  If you want to be close to the action in Barcelona, this hotel might not be for you, since it’s located in the Montjuic area of the city, which is kind of on the outskirts a bit.  It’s possible to walk to the city, but that involves walking down a steep hill.  Alternatively, you can either take the funicular, which has a station very close to the hotel, or take the bus.  I recommend both methods.  The funicular offers stunning views of the sea, while the bus offers hilarious cross-cultural experiences.  There is a funny story to go with that last comment, but I probably ought to save it for another blog post.

1.  Hilton Molino Stucky Venice- Venice, Italy
 

Venice has the distinction of being the city where I had one of my poorest lodging experiences, as well as one my very best.  In August 1997, I arrived there with two friends and we stayed in a hostel run by a convent.  I shared a communal room with a shy French woman while my friends, dating at the time and now a married couple, got a private room.  They ended up with bedbugs.  I didn’t get bedbugs, but we did endure being locked out all day.  Incidentally, the day we were there also happened to be the day Princess Diana died.

When Bill and I visited Venice in May 2013, we were on our way to Rome to catch SeaDream 1, a luxury mega yacht, that would take us to Athens via the Corinth Canal.  Because Bill had never been to Venice or Florence and we didn’t know if we’d be able to get back to Europe after he retired from the Army, we decided to get to Italy a few days early and work our way down.  Bill had tons of Hilton Honors points, so he booked us a room at the Hilton Molino Stucky.  On the day of our arrival, we took a private water taxi to the hotel, which is located on the island of Giudecca.  The lobby was positively bustling with people, mostly British.  The place was fully booked, with the exception of the Tower Suite, the second best suite in the hotel.  And that was the room we got.

The bed…  This was a first class experience!

 

Sitting room.

The view from the window.

 

That suite was amazing.  It was located in a tower and had a bedroom, two bathrooms, and a sitting/dining room with views on two sides.  The main bathroom was palatial.  A generous breakfast buffet was also included.  But the best part of all was that we didn’t pay a cent.  The room was entirely paid for with Bill’s Hilton Honors points.  They really rolled out the red carpet for us.  Now, I know we totally lucked into that room and we’ll probably never be that lucky again.  But it was definitely a memorably luxurious experience for us.  While the Hilton may not be Venice’s best hotel, it was definitely one of the best we’ve ever stayed in simply because of a visit from the upgrade fairy.

So there you have it– five of my most memorable luxury hotel stays.  I hope to update this list sometime with five more fabulously luxe hotels.  Until then, I’ll keep searching for the best in uniquely awesome places to visit.

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Germany, shopping

I just bought a dirndl of my very own…

I swore I wouldn’t do it.  For four summers, I worked in the Germany section of Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Two of those summers, I wore hideous fake lederhosen that weren’t really lederhosen as much as they were ugly culottes with shirts and suspenders.  The second year, they sewed all the suspenders to the shirts.  In a way, that was a good thing.  When the suspenders were loose, they’d catch on things.  I once got one caught on the yogurt machine that never worked in any of my four summers there.

Then, during my third year, the powers that be decided all the females should wear dirndls.  I didn’t mind that at all.  For one thing, dirndls are fairly flattering, especially if you have big boobs, which I most certainly do.  For another thing, it was a lot easier to use the bathroom when we were wearing the dirndls.  The fake lederhosen culottes fastened in the back, which made dropping trou kind of awkward.  With the dirndl, all I had to do was hike up my skirt.  I wore shorts underneath so my thighs wouldn’t rub all day and it was great.

After the summer of 1992, I thought I’d seen the last of my dirndl days.  Then, the other day, I got a wild hair up my ass and decided I wanted to have a dirndl of my own.  I do have German ancestry, even though it’s buried under a lot of Scottish and English ancestry.  And we are planning to go to the fest next weekend.  Why the hell not?  Germans wear them.  Why can’t I?  I must admit there was a fair amount of peer pressure from Facebook friends, too.

So yesterday, I ordered my dirndl and a blouse off Amazon.de, of all places.  I know I probably should have gone to a store; but I hate shopping in stores, especially for clothes.  And I saw one on Amazon that I absolutely loved, even though it was more expensive than a lot of the other ones I saw offered.  I based my German size on what I normally wear in America; then I went a size higher.  I figured it would be better if it was too big than too small.  Turns out the size I chose was just right, if not a little big, with just a little extra wiggle room for my boobs.  ETA: My German friend Susanne says many people buy dirndls smaller than their regular size, but I figure I’d rather have more room for beer.

My new German garb arrived today, just one day after I ordered it.  I must say, I am very pleased with it, even if I do wish I could wear a smaller size…

I should mention that some dirndls come with blouses and some don’t.  My new dirndl was made by Krueger and the blouse was sold separately.  The apron came with the dirndl.  I thought about buying a matching sweater, but then realized I have a shawl in this color that will work fine.

I had to take these pictures myself… Maybe when Bill gets home, I’ll have him take one so people can see how long it is.  The necklace is a Novica find that just arrived a couple of weeks ago!  I must say, it’s perfect for this outfit!

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anecdotes, international moves

The Internet has made travel books obsolete…

This morning, I was in the bathroom thinking about how I planned my monthlong trip to Europe back in 1997.  I had a book about Europe written by Rick Steves.  It came with the Eurailpass I bought which, at that time, entitled me to travel 30 consecutive days on trains in 17 different countries.  I was 25 years old at the time, so I was able to buy a second class pass.  If I recall correctly, in 1997, that 30 day pass was selling for approximately $560.

I went to Europe without much of a plan.  I was going to meet a couple of friends in Zilina, Slovakia on one date, and my sister in Madrid on another.  Other than that, I was free to go wherever my heart desired.  Armed with my trusty travel book, I decided to visit Bacharach, Germany, an adorable little town on the Rhein.  It was my first stop and I probably never would have heard about it had I been left to my own devices.  Rick Steves made it seem like such a cool place.  He was right.  It is a great little town and I was delighted to get to go back there last month. 

But then, after that, I kind of quit using Rick Steves’ book.  Once I got more comfortable with riding the trains, I started getting on and off whenever I felt like it.  Often, I ended up in major cities, but sometimes I ended up in suburbs or small towns.

Nowadays, I have a lot of travel books, but I rarely take them with me when I travel.  Now I have an iPad and an iPhone.  They are easier to carry and have a wealth of information that is updated more  frequently and accurately than books are.  A travel book comes out yearly with marginally new information.  Much like a textbook, it’s a resource that can’t be easily or inexpensively updated, but must be up-to-date in order to be worth anything.  Good luck selling your used copy of a 2012 travel guide, even if you’ve never opened it.  You won’t get near what you paid for it… thought that could probably be said for just about any book unless it’s a very rare title.

With an iPad, I can research a city and make hotel reservations without leaving my seat, as long as I have access to WiFi.  I can read descriptive passages and look at photos without having to turn pages or lug heavy volumes that take up precious space in my luggage.

As someone who loves books– even heavy travel books– this realization is kind of sad to me.  However, as someone who purchased Rick Steves’ 2008 guide to Europe and realized that much of the same information was in it that was in the 1997 edition, I think this development could be a good thing.

We’re still waiting to find out if our future has Europe in it.  I’m hoping something happens soon…

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Another outstanding meal at Saveurs 209…

Yesterday, I was really bored and wanted to go out to dinner.  I thought about all the new dresses in my closet and how badly I needed a new Facebook profile picture.  I usually replace my profile photos when I put on makeup and look presentable.  Bill came to my office and asked if I’d be okay with burgers for dinner.  I blurted out, “I want to go out!”

Bill looked a little chagrined.  I think he was thinking about the cost of a nice meal and the fact that he’d pulled the ground beef out and didn’t want it to turn.  Bill asked where I wanted to go out and I said I wanted to go downtown… perhaps to Saveurs 209.  I saw Bill cringe as he considered the traffic involved with going downtown.  Then I said, “I want to put on a dress.”

Bill and me, dressed to the nines…

Bill relented and made reservations.  I got all pretty.  We went downtown and much to my delight, when we stepped into the restaurant, were immediately recognized!  The last time we went to Saveurs 209 was for Thanksgiving!  I told our host, Sylvain, that we’d been meaning to get back to their restaurant.

We were seated and proceeded to enjoy a wonderful authentic French meal for the third time in San Antonio.  Here are some photos from our delightful dinner!

Bill peruses the menu…

I had a glass of champagne– Piper Heidsieck, to be exact.  Bill ordered a very nice chenin blanc to go with our seafood heavy meal. The wine had a strong mineral taste, kind of like a chablis.  It was a good choice.  We enjoyed very fresh baguette bread with equally fresh butter…  

A velvety smooth chilled gazpacho amuse– avocado, green pepper, green onion, cucumber and, I would swear lime, though I didn’t hear that mentioned in the list of ingredients.   It was very refreshing!

My asparagus salad.  It was served with Parmesan cheese and San Daniele Proscuitto.  I love how this salad looks, but it also tasted very good.  The asparagus was firm and flavorful and the Parmesan and prosciutto added a delicately salty flavor.

Bill was eyeing a fish soup, but I talked him into the Comte cheese soufflé, which came with a small salad with walnuts and vinaigrette.  I would have ordered this myself, but cheese is kind of a hit or miss thing with me.  Very strong cheeses are a turn off.  I’m happy to report that this starter was delicious… not too strong and very comforting.  I would order it if it’s available during our next visit (but I bet it won’t be– they change the menus frequently!)

For dinner, I had lobster with green peas, tomatoes and mint pesto.  The lobster was very generously portioned and delicious…  It was garnished delicately with roe.  The mint and peas complemented the lobster very well.  I’m not a huge fan of tomatoes, but the two included with this dish were flavorful and succulent.  They also added a dramatic dash of color to the dish, making it look like a work of art.

Bill had halibut with asparagus and roe…  I tasted the halibut, which seemed delicately poached.  It was tender and moist, cooked to perfection.

Dessert!  Bill ordered for me while I was in the restroom and I ended up with a dreaded lava cake…  Actually, it was a nice dessert, served warm with vanilla ice cream.  I have nothing against lava cake, except that everyone is doing that now!  I was hoping for a chocolate biscuit with raspberry ganache and chocolate chips.  Oh well… I didn’t refuse the dessert!  Bill had a very interesting streusel with strawberries and pistachios.  

 

Bill and I finished with a round of espresso.  We basked in the afterglow of a delightful meal.  Afterwards, we chatted a bit with Sylvain, telling him how much we love Europe and that we hope to be there next week.  Where exactly we’ll end up is still “up in the air”, but there’s a good chance we could go to France.  If we do, this meal will make an excellent kick off to our vacation.  In all, our meal cost just under $200.  It was definitely worth every penny.  Bill tipped 20%, which brought our total to about $240.

I also told Sylvain that if Bill doesn’t get a job soon, I might have to approach him for a job waiting tables!  I was half kidding.  His eyebrows raised when I told him about my experiences working at The Trellis, restaurant that for over 30 years, was owned by Marcel Desaulniers, a French American chef who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.  I told him how stressful it was to work in that place, because we learned how to serve food properly.  It took me a long while to get it right, but I finally did… and now, thanks to Marcel, I appreciate good food and good service.  And thanks to Europe, I appreciate the fantastic unhurried experience one can have at Saveurs 209.  If we can’t live in Europe anymore, we can at least enjoy European people.

I think Saveurs 209 is probably the only authentic French restaurant in the San Antonio area.  It is also the only “nice” restaurant Bill and I have visited three times.  And if we don’t move out of the area, we’ll definitely be back.  If you are inclined to dine on French cuisine and you happen to be in San Antonio, I highly recommend Saveurs 209.

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rants, restaurant reviews

My review of Outback Steakhouse…

No, I didn’t like it…  and in fact, I haven’t been back in the four years since I posted this review.  I am rehashing it because it was an entertaining review that sparked funny comments.  Wish I could import the comments here, but maybe someone will come along and contribute new ones.

Outback Steakhouse… why an Australian themed restaurant makes me passionately miss Europe #1200

Jan 19, 2010 (Updated Feb 2, 2010)
Review by   

Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating:Very Good

  • Food and Presentation: 
  • Ambiance and Decor: 
  • Quality of Service: 

Pros:Good food. Serving size was fine.

Cons:Obvious rushing through the meal coupled with constant upselling.

The Bottom Line:Although the food was good, the service was mediocre.  Way too much pressure to eat and run.

My husband Bill and I just had a very disappointing meal at Outback Steakhouse. We are on the road this week, so I expect to be writing a slew of restaurant reviews. There happens to be an Outback Steakhouse in the depressing sea of parking lots and strip malls behind our hotel in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Bill and I decided to swing by tonight for dinner.

This was not our first trip to Outback. Bill and I visited a location in northern Virginia a couple of times and found the place crowded, but basically okay. The food was always good, anyway. And the food tonight was basically good, too. So why was I missing Germany all the more after we were finished? Because our experience at Outback Steakhouse was yet another reminder of just how plastique and rushed the experience of dining out in America can be, especially at chain restaurants.

On your mark…

We arrived for dinner at about 6:15pm. The Outback was jumping, with most tables occupied by ordinary folks out for a steak or a bloomin’ onion. The dining room was brightly lit and I could hear music over the din of the crowd. A hostess led Bill and me to a booth near the kitchen. We had barely been seated a minute when our server approached us and asked us what we wanted to drink. She chirped about the drink specials, let us know that happy hour was going on, and suggested her favorite drink– a Mai Tai– though she added that it would be charged at full price. I was in the mood for a beer and so was Bill. I got a Yuengling on draft, while Bill opted for a Foster’s Lager on draft.

Get set…

Our waitress was back in a flash with our drinks. She was pitching appetizers, but having dined at Outback before, we knew we’d never be able to eat an appetizer and an entree. I decided on a ribeye steak while Bill opted for a 9 ounce sirloin. Our meals came with two sides. I had a baked potato and a Caesar salad while Bill had garlic mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. Our waitress brought us one of Outback’s trademark little pumpernickel loaves with whipped butter. Before I’d finished the first tiny slice of bread, a food runner was dropping off my Caesar salad, which had the distinct appearance of having been pre-made and chilled.

Go!

After I’d had a bite or two of my salad, our waitress came back and asked how the salad tasted. While still chewing on a leaf, I said it was fine.  We hadn’t finished half of the loaf of bread when the server dropped off another one for us, which we didn’t have the chance to touch. I managed to finish most of the salad just in the nick of time, for another food runner was back with our meals. Once again, our waitress asked how the food was when I was mid bite. A couple of bites later, the manager stopped by for an obligatory visit, asking us how everything was and letting us know we could call on her if we needed her. Thanks, boss.

Now… Outback meals, like so many other meals at American casual dining restaurants, are quite large. It takes time to eat them and not get indigestion. But apparently, nobody informed our waitress of that fact, since we were halfway through our dinner when she asked us about dessert! Bill and I knew we’d never be able to eat dessert, but even if I had been inclined to partake of a sweet ending, the waitress’s insistence on rushing us certainly killed the urge. She seemed to be in a big hurry to get rid of us, though she somehow managed to smile the whole time. She even smiled as she cleared Bill’s plate while I was still chewing and had about a third of my steak left. If that wasn’t a clue for me to hurry the hell up, I don’t know what was.

Lasting impression…

Our tab came to just under $45.  Our waitress had decorated it with a smiley face and a cutesy “Thank You” with the total circled. As she set the check down on the table, she mentioned a survey that Outback Steakhouse had going on. All we had to do was go online and fill out the survey and we’d get a free bloomin’ onion on our next visit. Now, although I’ve tried and enjoyed bloomin’ onions before, I’ve come to realize that they’re basically nothing but balls of fat, so I never order them. But I did want to fill out that survey, because I definitely had something to say.

The survey

Less than an hour after Bill and I had sat down to dinner, I was back in my hotel room booting up the computer.  I took Outback’s survey and suddenly saw the root of all the turnin’ and burnin’ that was going on at that restaurant tonight. The survey had questions like whether or not the server had suggested an alcoholic drink to go with our meals (what if we were teetotalers?), whether or not the manager had stopped by (what if we’d rather talk to each other than have a forced convo with the manager?), and if our server had suggested dessert (oh yeah, she definitely did… at an inopportune time). I left a detailed comment, acknowledging that I had once been a waitress myself and understood the concept of turning tables. I know that restaurants make a lot of money on alcohol. I understand that somehow corporate America thinks it’s important for the manager to stop by every table for an obligatory and forced greeting. But when I go out to dinner, I’d like to be able to taste my food and enjoy my meal without having to satisfy the corporate powers that be. Having another ten or fifteen minutes to enjoy my meal would have made a big difference in my overall experience. Moreover, I didn’t understand the need to rush. The restaurant wasn’t even full.

Why casual American chain restaurants make me miss Europe

One of the wonderful things about European dining is that servers get paid a living wage. So there’s no need to turn n’ burn and no pressure to GTFO as soon as the last bite is swallowed. Some folks might be sitting there reading this review, thinking we asked for it by going to a chain restaurant like Outback. Chain restaurants do exist in Europe, but servers there seem to understand that dining out is a luxury and people are paying for the pleasure of being able to have a nice meal without being rushed. And turning and burning goes on in nice American restaurants too. I know this because I worked in a fine dining establishment and was encouraged to get people in and out ASAP.

Another thing that turns me off of American chain restaurants– hell perhaps even a lot of Americans in general– is that there’s a lot of fake niceness. People asking how your meal is… people asking if they can do anything for you… all the while smiling and talking in a sing songy voice with an undercurrent of passive aggression. And it smacks of insincerity.  At least in Europe, most folks are honest about how they really feel, even if they sometimes come off as uncaring or even blatantly rude.  I would rather deal with someone who’s real about their feelings than someone who tries to snow me with BS.

Come on, corporate businesspeople, I know most of the servers/salespeople/managers don’t give a flying fig about how I’m really doing. They want to get me in and out; sell me a product and get me to part with my money; and hope I don’t return anything. Most of the time, I try to oblige them because I try to be a nice person and, having worked in retail and food service myself, I understand where they’re coming from. But tonight’s experience really pushed the limits of my tolerance.

It’s not just Outback

I had lunch at the Olive Garden today, yet another popular American chain restaurant. Actually, even though it was lunch time and I was dining alone, I had a much nicer experience there, though there was still a lot of fakeness. The food was good; I was visited by the manager but I wasn’t nearly as rushed and nobody tried to ply me with liquor. But it still smacked of corporate American malarkey…

Please forgive the rant from an American…

I guess my two years in Germany really spoiled me. Four months back in the States has me plotting to go back to Europe, if only for the excellent food and wine and the ability to actually taste my food before I shovel it down my gullet, even if I’m not in a fine dining establishment. No wonder there are so many heavy people in the US (myself included). We don’t even get the chance to digest anything before we’re being hustled out the door. Thankfully, I brought antacids with me for when the heartburn invariably kicks in.

To sum up…

I thought the food at Outback was fine, but the service and attitude of the staff needs some work. When I go out to eat, I don’t like to be herded in and out of the restaurant like cattle. I’m a person, dammit, spending precious disposable income on what amounts to a luxury.  Of course, having taken Outback’s online survey, I can see that just like sh!t, bad attitudes roll downhill and, unfortunately, ultimately rub off on the customer.

For more information: http://www.outback.com

Recommend this product? No

Kid Friendliness: Yes
Vegetarian Friendly: No
Notes, Tips or Menu Recommendations Steak
Best Suited For: Large Group

Here are the comments from that review.

Here are the comments from Epinions.  One comes from an Italian native who got a kick out of my rant.

Re: Re: Re: from an OB waitress
by tennis_player
Jenny,

“Good on you” for becoming truly sophisticated enough to enjoy the ways of Europe and fine dining in a leisurely manner!

I, too, waited tables as well as tended bar, janitored, hosted, cashiered and even cooked for about 15 years in my early life so I can well appreciate this whole thing about not being rushed from the customer’s side and the table turns from the management side – but there is no question that the European way is so much better.

There, everybody wins! And waiting tables is a noble profession!

Jim Feb 2, 2010
10:35 pm PST
Re: THAT was an excellent lunch!
by vicfar
Yes Bill, European life can begin to redeem even the worst sociopaths…look at me, I am on my way to redemption after only three years in Belgium. And it’s not the Campari with soda on the side. I think it’s the Westmalle beer and the divine chocolate…..Hell, I even stopped harassing the waitresses!

Vic
Feb 2, 2010
10:53 am PST
THAT was an excellent lunch!
by cuculuain
And, Jung be praised, it was blessed Synchronicity to see those fresh-faced, albeit ignorant, “Sons of Helamin” walking amongst us heathens! That was a fine bottle of wine from the Languedoc…a region well known to all us self-respecting Gnostics!

I did, of course, skip the “liver, fava beans and big Amarone!”. Not much of a sociopath I’m afraid… Feb 2, 2010
10:06 am PST
Re: Re: from an OB waitress (Delete your comment)
by knotheadusc
Vic,

We did visit France a few times… and… believe it or not, Bill liked it even more than I did. The sociopathic American soldier is a Francophile! Imagine that! I think it was the wine that did him in, coupled with foods that he loves and I don’t so much.

I think you would have gotten a kick out of watching him at a Parisian restaurant we found for lunch one day. I started with a glass of champagne and a smoked salmon appetizer. He ordered a bottle of lovely red wine from southern France to go with his chicken and mushroom dish. And while we were eating a couple of harried Mormon missionaries walked past our tableside window. Bill had to laugh because he was once a Mormon, though he was never a missionary… and he knew those poor young lads in France would never be able to enjoy a meal like the one we were having that day.

I think when we finished, I had a chocolate dessert, while he had some outstanding coffee and a plate of French cheeses…

Yeah, I’d say we sort of became European snobs! Feb 2, 2010
5:20 am PST
Re: from an OB waitress (Delete your comment)
by knotheadusc
Yep, that’s what I figured! I used to wait tables too, so I do understand the concept of getting people in and out. And now that I know for sure that’s Outback’s philosophy, I’ll be sure not to go there if I want to enjoy dinner. If I need to eat fast, then I might consider it… the way I’d consider any fast food restaurant. Or I’ll order takeout. Feb 2, 2010
5:13 am PST
Re: from an OB waitress
by vicfar
If I can intrude…honey, you are doing great. Most Americans are quite happy to fill their oversized belly in 45 minutes and get the hell out. They lead busy lives. Jenny has become a decadent European snob: after all those months in Germany (can you imagine if she’d been to France??), she is beginning to sound just like me 🙂

Vic Feb 2, 2010
3:21 am PST
from an OB waitress
by cmhsr
Hello! I am a waitress at an Outback Steakhouse and from the looks of it, your server was everything the company trained her to be! Haha. We are told to ALWAYS suggest an alcoholic beverage, recommend upsells (horseradish crumb topping? Like to add stuffed shrimp?), and to ask about dessert halfway through the meal.

Yes, halfway. I too thought that was ridiculous when they emphasized that during training. In fact, I still don’t ask about dessert until I see my tables are finished eating or close to it. I have learned through experience that, though it may slow my rotations, I get better tips if I allow people to eat at their own pace. And it also makes my job that much less frantic. But I digress.

About your waitress hovering, we are told to always check back immediately after each course goes out. The time frame is 2 bites to 2 minutes. So she definitely was on top of that! In fact, you’d be amazed at how precisely the dining experience at Outback is laid out. We have target times from everything from greeting customers to turning tables, and trust me, we are pressured from managers to always speed it up. Right now the average goal is 45 minutes. Feb 1, 2010
10:16 am PST
Re: Re: Re: This was a riot…. (Delete your comment)
by knotheadusc
;D is a smilie. My name is Jenny. 😉 Jan 25, 2010
7:19 am PST
Re: Re: This was a riot….
by vicfar
D(?),

if you had waited on me, you would have taken the Campari back to the bar with a smile, and then told the bartender about an as*hole European who’s going to get a Campari in his face if he does not cut it out!

My mission in the US was to teach American bartenders how to serve a Campari, and I must say I have failed after 25 years of efforts.

My mission in Belgium is to teach people how to be nice (and even smile). This isn’t any easier….

Cheers V. Jan 25, 2010
3:34 am PST
Re: I agree! (Delete your comment)
by knotheadusc
On the flip side, Bill and I have run into some European servers in America who were awesome… and very interesting. Not surprisingly, they worked in fine dining establishments. Jan 21, 2010
2:53 pm PST
I agree!
by tennis_player
You said it right and hit most of the right buttons!

One issue that I really appreciate about dining in Europe is – THE CUSTOMER/DINER IS THE ONE THAT DETERMINES WHEN THE MEAL IF FINISHED – NOT THE WAIT STAFF OR MANAGEMENT.

I hate the feeling of being rushed in order to get their table turns!

I have a slightly different take on the European wait staff. He is right about being able to joke around with American wait staff but I think the difference is the more casual aura in the U.S., where it is more formal in Europe so the kidding and having fun may be frowned upoon as being unprofessional.

I found that if we dined at an off hour and could engage the wait staff in fairly lengthy dialogue, they, too, could be quite interesting and less formal. We learned a lot about the local culture this way as they are quite proud and pleased to share information about their town, their family and local traditions.

Jim Jan 20, 2010
11:34 pm PST
Re: This was a riot…. (Delete your comment)
by knotheadusc
Vic, somehow I knew I’d hear from you on this issue. Don’t get me wrong. There are some wonderful restaurants in America, complete with excellent food AND free parking. But these damn chain corporate restaurants where everything is done on an assembly line are for the birds.

LOL… If I had waited on you in the USA, I may not have told you to stuff it in words, but you would have surely seen it in the expression on my face. I’m not very good at faking it in ANY situation… one of the many things my husband loves about me.

;D Jan 20, 2010
12:21 pm PST
This was a riot….
by vicfar
you do sound like a snobbish Schicke Deutsche Frau. Indeed, you sound like my German girlfriend when we eat in the US, except she does not possess your colorful vocabulary (not even in German)!

I agree with you, but see, with American waitresses you can have fun: you can correct the spelling on the menu, correct their pronunciation of the (foreign) dishes, which they always butcher, or send back your Campari three times because it’s not correctly prepared. They are good sports, and mostly afraid to argue with you, whereas Europeans tell you to stuff it. I know I am bad, and these people are only doing their job the way their stupid boss tells them to, but that’s me. At least I am having fun…

Indeed the experience where I miss the US the least is…DINING!

Where I miss the US the most is: PARKING!

I wish you plenty of happy parking experiences in Atlanta….:-)

Cheers

Vic

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