Uncategorized

Arran update…

Arran went in for another Vincristine chemo treatment yesterday. I think we might be at week #16, but I’m not positive. I told the vet about his swollen lymph nodes, which have gotten bigger since I first noticed their enlarged sizes on Saturday. She looked dismayed and we made plans to come in after a week, rather than in two weeks. When we got home, there was a small traffic jam in our cul-de-sac. Our neighbor’s daughter had left her car running next to her parking spot. The car and a trash can prevented me from getting to our house. Someone else was behind me, too.

I put Arran in the house, then came out to move the car to the driveway, only to be confronted by our neighbor, who was trying to park her car in the spot next to ours. I finally just turned the car around and parked in front of the house. Maybe I’ll move the car later today, while no one is home.

Aside from the larger lymph nodes, Arran has mostly been his usual, bright, colorful, spotted self. He happily took a walk yesterday and woke me at 3:00 AM for his breakfast. Then, he wanted his dinner twelve hours later. He got it at 4:00 PM, as that was an hour before our appointment. He wolfed it down.

All was fine after the chemo, until sometime around 9:00, when I suddenly smelled the familiar stench of dog shit. It was a rather messy pile he’d left for me in the living room. This isn’t actually that unusual for Arran. He’s never been 100 percent perfect at housetraining, in spite of my best efforts to teach him the right way.

I cleaned up the mess and went back upstairs to chat with Bill. At about 11:30 PM, Arran woke me up with a concerned look on his face. He was trembling a bit. I asked him if he wanted to go out. He eagerly jumped off the bed and ran downstairs. I let him go outside and he immediately pooped again. Then, he acted like he still needed to go, but nothing was coming out. He ran back inside and tried to go again in the living room. I shooed him outside, where he tried a couple more times for a moment. Finally, the compulsion seemed to have passed. We went back to bed.

Of course, by that point, I was freaked out and wide awake. I was wondering if I’d need to load Arran into the car and take him to the Tierklinik Hofheim, a high speed veterinary facility nearby that we’ve used a few times over the past four years. The funny thing is, when we still lived near Stuttgart and our dog, Zane, was the one with health issues, our vet down there suggested the Tierklinik Hofheim as one of the best vet hospitals in Germany. At that time, it was over two hours away by car. Now, it’s maybe 20 minutes away.

I don’t really know exactly how to get to the Tierklinik Hofheim, because Bill always takes the dogs there without me. And although the car has a GPS, I never use it. I don’t even know how I’d turn it on. I do know kind of where it is, and I have an excellent knack for finding things. But that doesn’t mean I want to go hunting for it in the middle of the night during an emergency. Looking at their Web site, I see that face masks are now optional at the Tierklinik Hofheim. The same isn’t true at our regular vet’s office.

I laid next to Arran and stroked him. He sighed and relaxed, and soon he was sleeping peacefully. It took me a bit longer to drop off, so I read more of my latest book before finally falling asleep.

I woke up at about 4:15 AM. Arran woke up a few minutes later, and was keen to eat breakfast. I fed him and Noyzi, then went back to bed to try to sleep a bit more. I ended up dry heaving, for some reason. I didn’t drink a lot of alcohol last night. I suspect it was an attack of GERD, which tends to strike when I don’t eat right, drink too much, and experience stress. I have to admit, it was pretty stressful dealing with Arran last night.

At about 6:30 AM, I finally turned on Alexa Thunderstorm, which worked surprisingly well… I dozed for about an hour before I finally got up to make some coffee. I probably would have actually slept, if Arran hadn’t repeatedly been licking his asshole.

He’s now lying in my office, just like he usually does when I’m writing… Noyzi has started doing that, too. At least I’ll always have a doggy buddy when I blog.

The vet said she would look to see if there were other drugs we could try, how expensive they would be, and how onerous administering them would be. I told her that we are not in a hurry to lose Arran, but we’re also not expecting miracles. Zane had lymphoma, too. We know how this will end.

But, amazingly enough, Arran still seems very interested in living. His eyes are bright; his ears perk up; and he’s still got his indomitable personality. The vet tested his blood yesterday, and aside from having slightly low platelets, the results weren’t too alarming. He got a dose of Endoxan this morning, which seems to make him sleepy.

Arran is a very special dog, and we don’t want to lose him. I know we will, and it likely won’t be too much longer. He needs to stick around until tomorrow, when Bill comes home.

My computer is in a death spiral and won’t play music without hanging up repeatedly. Since I make music on my computer, this is a fireable offense. It also freezes up randomly, even after I quit unnecessary processes and dump large files. I ordered a new computer a couple of days ago. Hopefully, very soon, I’ll have my snazzy new machine.

He’s still such a scrapper.

Standard
churches, customs

A visit to St. Elizabeth’s Church, the Russian Orthodox Church in Wiesbaden…

Although we will have lived in Wiesbaden for four years at the end of November, there are still a lot of places in Hesse we haven’t yet seen. A big reason for that is COVID-19. Things have really only been somewhat normal since April of this year. There are a few other reasons, too… one of them being sheer laziness and feeling slack because not that many people read my travel blog anymore. Nevertheless, I still enjoy writing it and taking photos, and I know there will come a day when I’ll look back on these memories with fondness. So, with that in mind, I let Bill talk me into another excursion today.

St. Elizabeth’s Church is also known as the Greek Chapel. It was built between 1847 and 1855 by Duke Adolf of Nassau, to pay respects to the death of his 19 year old wife, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mikhailovna of Russia. The couple had only been married a year when the duchess died in childbirth, as did their baby daughter. The duke was so bereaved that he decided to build the church around the duchess’s grave in her honor, using money from the duchess’s dowry. It is now the site of the largest Russian Orthodox cemetery in Europe, outside of Russia itself.

I had long been wanting to visit St. Elizabeth’s Church, a beautiful golden domed Russian Orthodox church on Neroberg, a hill overlooking one of Wiesbaden’s most tony neighborhoods with very grand homes owned by wealthy people. This church is the only Russian Orthodox church in our fair city, and besides being lovely, it offers some beautiful views of the city. There are also other things on Neroberg, to include a vineyard, a couple of restaurants, a pool, a climbing forest, and lots of walking paths. To get up to the church, one can either drive and hope to find a parking spot, or hope to find a spot at the bottom of the hill and take the Nerobergbahn, which is a funicular that goes up and down the hill. It’s also possible to walk or bike up there, but that’s definitely not for people like me. šŸ˜‰ Especially in August!

Bill had warned me that today there would also be a large climate change protest in Wiesbaden, with many people riding bikes to rally for Earth friendly policies. Remembering last week’s Stau on A3, I was hoping we wouldn’t be hindered by the crowd. Fortunately, as you will see in the photos at the end of this post, we were leaving Wiesbaden, as they were coming in. Based on what we saw in Wiesbaden itself, there’s going to be quite a party going on. I know there was a food truck festival going on, too, but after last week’s shenanigans at the wine fest, we decided the church was a better bet today.

It took us a few passes to score a parking spot near the Nerobergbahn, and when we did find one, Bill had to parallel park. That shouldn’t have been hard in a 2020 Volvo with parking assist, but I don’t think Bill trusts it. Fortunately, he was able to park the SUV, and we made our way to the funicular, where we purchased tickets going up and down the hill. It’s important to note that the current 9 euro train passes don’t work on this funicular. You have to buy tickets, which at this writing, cost 5 euros per adult. If you just want a one way ticket, it’s 4 euros. They also have special rates for groups, families, and kindergarten groups with children. The ticket can also be combined with tickets for the climbing forest, which appears to be an adventure/tree climbing/zip line park for people more fit than I am. šŸ˜‰

The funicular runs until 7:00pm at this writing, and there are two wagons that continually go up and down. The car is enclosed, so face masks have to be worn. As much as I hate masks, it makes sense, since it gets kind of chummy in there. If you score a standing place on the caboose, you don’t have to wear a mask. The ride is about three minutes or so, and you don’t see much as you go up and come down. Still, it beats walking.

When we got to the top of the hill, we went to a nearby Biergarten and had a snack, since I was a bit hangry and needed a bathroom. There were lots of people there, and I heard several different languages. I felt a lot less grouchy after Bill and I shared a Flammkuechen (Alsatian pizza) and washed it down with beer. I don’t even like Flammkuechen much, but I didn’t want a Schnitzel or a piece of cake. It was just enough, and after we ate, we walked around and got photos. I really just wanted some pictures of the view of downtown Wiesbaden, and the beautiful Russian church.

I already had Russia kind of on my mind, thanks to an advice column I read yesterday in the Washington Post. A woman wrote about how she’d married someone from Eastern Europe, and his family shows love by pushing food on guests. She explained that she has a lot of food issues, and isn’t comfortable eating a lot. I noticed a lot of the comments from Americans, most of whom either have no experience with Eastern European cultures, or no appreciation for other cultures. I commented that I empathize with the letter writer, since I had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Armenia, which is a formerly Soviet country. Food is a big part of their culture, which is all about hospitality. One of the first phrases we learned as Peace Corps Trainees was how to say “I’m full.” in Armenian. We were also taught how to signify that we were appeased, so the host(s) didn’t feel the need to keep bringing out food. Leave a little food on the plate.

Someone else commented that they had also been an Peace Corps Armenia Volunteer, years after I was there, and was going to write the very same thing! And I had also mentioned that Armenians would always comment when I lost or gained weight, too. That was another aspect of that culture I remember with somewhat less fondness. Sigh…

Anyway, I thought of that exchange as we decided to visit the inside of the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s two euros per adult to go inside. One thing I had forgotten was that Orthodox churches don’t allow people to go inside with bare legs. Bill and I were both wearing shorts, so the lady behind the counter apologized and asked us both to put on wrap around skirts. It was a little embarrassing, but then I remembered the Armenians (and Greeks, now that I think about it) were the same. We had to cover our legs to enter the churches and not wear revealing clothes. I also told Bill to be careful not to cross his legs. That was another caveat we got in Armenia, lest some little old lady chastise us for being disrespectful. I smiled at Bill and said, “It’s taboo.” And now that I have looked it up, I see that my memory serves me correctly. Of course, it didn’t come up anyway, since the church doesn’t really have anywhere to sit. I mean, there aren’t any pews or anything. Maybe a couple of chairs.

Photography isn’t really allowed inside, but I snuck a few photos anyway, since I had to wear a skirt. No one noticed. I did appreciate the smell of incense and the beautiful Russian choral music. St. Elizabeth’s Church really is a very lovely church and well worth a visit. I’m glad we finally made the trip to see it.

After our visit to the church, we walked back up the hill to the overlook, where we saw a World War I memorial and gazes at Wiesbaden from the vantage point of the hill, in view of the vineyards. It was very beautiful. I might have liked a few fewer clouds, but given how dry it’s been here this summer, I’d say the clouds were probably Heaven sent.

Here are today’s photos…

Well, that about does it for today’s post. I’m glad we went out today and got to know our city better. It sure is POSH.

Standard
booze tourism

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtensteinā€¦ part fourteen

Back in Florence for one last night…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standard
churches, holidays

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtensteinā€¦ partĀ four

Parma on Liberation Day…

As I mentioned in part three of this series, I chose to stay at our castle location near Parma because I knew there were several places of interest nearby. There’s Parma, Italy, where Parma ham and Parmesan cheese come from, Modena, which is known for wonderful balsamic vinegar, and Bologna, which is just alleged to be a beautiful city with great food and sightseeing. Bill did some research about Bologna and decided not to visit there, because parking was too much of a hassle. I definitely wanted to go to Parma, and Modena was interesting enough for a visit, too.

On the day we visited Parma, which was Monday, April 25th, it was Liberation Day. We did not know it was going to be Liberation Day before we planned our visit. We have a habit of being in different countries on their major holidays. We did the same thing last fall when we visited Wels, Austria. Anyway, Liberation Day was first celebrated in Italy in the year 1946. It was to commemorate the 1945 victory of the Italian resistance to Nazi Germany and the Italian Socialist puppet state. Because it was a holiday, the streets were crowded; some shops were closed; and there was a parade.

We managed to visit Parma’s beautiful cathedral and monastery, followed by lunch at a really cool restaurant where blues were accompanying the delicious food. Below are some photos of our day. Again, masks were required at that time, but as of May 1, 2022, masks are mostly only needed on public transport, in medical settings and nursing homes, and in sports venues, concert halls, or theaters. I note, once again, that Italy is stricter than Germany is right now. One of these days, I’m going to make a video of all the beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen in Europe.

A busker entertained us with Bach. He made me cry.

The monastery is located very close by the Parma Duomo. We had to wear FFP2 masks to see the library.

After more walking around, and more photos taken, we found our way to a quiet little plaza where we had lunch at a restaurant called Osteria del Teatro. This was a cute and popular place where excellent blues music paired with really nice local dishes and wines. Old vinyl records were used as placemats!

Below are some more photos from our day in Parma. Some decorations are in honor of the holiday.

By late afternoon, we were ready to go back to the B&B and drink more wine… which we did.

After our wine break, we watched old American shows dubbed into Italian… The Dukes of Hazzard, The A Team, and Walker, Texas Ranger! No wonder I saw so many Confederate battle flags in Italy.

Standard
booze tourism, tours

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

How did we end up in Italy and Switzerland again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standard
Uncategorized

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

The featured photo is of a sign in a German restaurant… I share the sentiments of the person who drew the sad face. That’s why we went to France.

Ever since we moved to Wiesbaden in late November 2018, we have used visits to the dentist in Stuttgart as an excuse to get away for a few days. Or, at least that was the original plan, before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the planet. Thanks to the pandemic, we haven’t been back as often as we had originally planned. We did combine a trip to Stuttgart to see the dentist in May 2019 with Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road concert. We went to the Spring festival, saw Elton, and got our teeth cleaned. We also stayed at the Wald Hotel, which is our favorite Stuttgart area lodging. We even brought our dogs down to stay with their Stuttgart area pet sitter.

Then COVID struck, and we couldn’t get back down there again until August 2021. I had planned another trip to the Wald Hotel, but it was totally booked during that period. So I decided we’d visit Baiersbronn, which is a little Black Forest town known for its excellent restaurants. We loved visiting Baiersbronn when we lived near Stuttgart, so it made sense to go stay in the area for a few days, see the doc, and eat some really excellent food for a few days.

A few weeks ago, Bill reminded me that it was time to see the dentist again. We had appointments for March 2. I thought maybe I’d find us a little rental home or a cute hotel in a different part of the Black Forest, since we had so much fun in August. There are still so many places we’d like to see there. But then I noticed how strict the COVID rules are, down in that part of Germany… and I realized that having been triple vaxxed and never venturing out much at all for months, I’m pretty damned sick of COVID rules.

Or, at least I’m sick of the super strict ones. Baden-WĆ¼rttemberg has been requiring people to use FFP2 masks, which I find very oppressive and obnoxious. I know… I know… they’re supposedly “better” masks, and all, but I still hate wearing them. I am not a rule breaker, but if I can go somewhere else where I don’t have to wear the fucking things, I’d prefer to do that.

I noticed as I searched for places in the Black Forest, I was also getting suggestions for Strasbourg, France, which is really close to the Black Forest. I didn’t really want to go to Strasbourg, though, because that was where we went during our last trip to France in February 2020. I enjoyed Strasbourg, but I wanted to go somewhere different, especially since the wine expo is set to go on at the end of March and we may end up going there for that. We haven’t yet decided if we will go.

It was at that point that I remembered Soufflenheim, which is a little French town known for its pottery. We have a few pieces from there that we bought in Ribeauville a few years ago, but we’d never actually been to the town itself. I realized that since it was just a little bit north of Strasbourg, it would be on the way back to Wiesbaden, anyway. And this would be a great chance for us to get pottery for ourselves, and Bill’s younger daughter, who is expecting a baby boy soon.

So I searched for a place in Soufflenheim, and soon noticed ads for a Michelin starred restaurant that also has four hotel rooms. Auberge au Boeuf is located in adorable Sessenheim, which is right next to Soufflenheim. A quick peek at the reviews on Google and Trip Advisor, as well as Booking.com, told me that this was a nice play to stay. Better yet, the cost of the room in France was about half of what I would have paid at the Wald Hotel, a nice hotel in a city I’ve been to many, many times, and will no doubt go to again at least once in the future… and probably more often than that. Maybe my next Wald Hotel visit should wait until I need a dental procedure.

Then I realized that France is not nearly as uptight about COVID-19 as Germany is… the latest rules changes in Germany notwithstanding. Those changed while we were away, plus I was booking before they were still being considered. I ran the idea of going to Sessenheim by Bill. Not surprisingly, he was all about it. The fact that the great German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, spent so much time there clinched the deal. Bill and I are literature lovers, too… Bill is more so than I am, in spite of my English degree.

So I booked our room at Auberge au Boeuf for March 2-6. I also booked their restaurant for the third and fourth nights of our stay. I eagerly looked forward to the trip, as I warily watched Vladimir Putin’s increasing aggression toward Ukraine. I don’t normally do this for short trips that don’t involve flights or cruise ships, but I was nervous enough about Putin that I even booked travel insurance in case Bill had to cancel and go to work. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and now I have lots to report!

Stay tuned for my latest multi-part series about the many wonders of France! Boy, was it great to be back there! But first, it’s time for lunch.

Standard
Austria, coronavirus, Germany, Poland

Austria is locking down… will Germany be next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standard
Health

Germany’s new mask rules…

I actually hate to write about this subject again. I am sick to death of reading about face masks. I hate looking at them, and I definitely hate wearing them… but I feel compelled to write this post, if only because if I weren’t an overeducated housewife, I’d probably have a job in public health. This morning, I was reading comments on an article about face masks that was posted by The Atlantic. The article, entitled “Why Aren’t We Wearing Better Masks” was originally published on January 13th. I read it the first time it popped up on my feed. It’s back again this morning.

The article is about how homemade cloth masks were supposed to be a “stopgap” measure until better masks could be made available to the general public. Ten months into the pandemic, a lot of us are still wearing the cutesy face masks that we bought on Etsy. Well… actually, if I’m honest, I only wear the medical surgical masks. From the beginning, I decided I would not indulge in wearing fashionable face masks because I do not want face masks to be permanent fashion statements. I really don’t. I think they cause a lot of problems for people, even though for now, they are necessary. But— now, thanks to a new mutation of the COVID-19 virus that is more contagious, though not necessarily more dangerous– experts are saying we need to ditch the cloth masks and wear medical grade masks.

As I was reading the comments, I noticed that a comment from someone who claimed that Germany is now requiring everyone to wear N95 masks. And they were presenting that fractured fact as if Germany is doing COVID-19 better. Well, if I’m honest, Germany IS doing COVID-19 better than the United States is; however, N95 masks ARE NOT currently required here.

The current rules stipulate that in most areas, medical grade masks are now required in shops, on public transport, and in crowded areas where social distancing isn’t possible. Bavaria is the only state that currently requires everyone to wear a FFP2, FFP3 or N95 style mask on public transportation, in shops and supermarkets, or in crowds. Bavaria has been hit harder by COVID-19 than other states, hence the stricter rules. Everywhere else, disposable surgical masks will still suffice, except in nursing homes, where the FF92 masks are also required to be worn by staff. Also, the FF92 masks are only required on Bavaria’s local trains and buses. On long distance trains, the medical/surgical masks are still okay. Face shields and visors without masks are not.

And, while I know many people think the masks are required everywhere outside someone’s home, I’m here to tell you that in my neighborhood, no one wears a mask of any kind when just walking around outside. They do wear them at bus stops and there are signs reminding people to don them, but I hardly ever see people hanging around the bus stops.

This is not to say that the FFP2 masks won’t eventually become required everywhere in Germany if the COVID-19 numbers don’t improve soon. Despite the effective response here last spring, Germany’s currently having a lot of problems with COVID-19… though not as many as in the United States. There aren’t as many sick people here, and not as many people are dying… but enough are, which is why the better masks are now being mandated.

Incidentally, I have also read that the government is going to make the masks freely available to people over age 60 and chronically ill people, so they won’t have to shell out a lot of money to acquire the better quality masks. But since I’m neither chronically ill, nor over age 60, nor a regular German resident, I can’t comment too much on that.

I’m really hoping that we can get a handle on COVID-19 soon. This lifestyle sucks, and I want to get back to enjoying Europe and writing fun articles about food and travels. The vaccine should help… or, I sure hope it does. We did enjoy some takeout Italian food last night, but I really miss sitting in restaurants and seeing other people.

Standard
Uncategorized

My own little Gitarzan…

Yesterday, the weather was kind of iffy, as it has been today. In retrospect, maybe it would have been a good idea to go out yesterday. Maybe there would be fewer people out and about, and we could pump some euros into the local economy. But we decided to stay in, and I spent a rather angsty day reading more and more about the state of U.S. politics and the stupid face mask controversy. I got into a couple of pointless arguments, too.

I also played guitar. I brought my new blue one downstairs and turned on some music. Before I knew it, I had picked it up and was strumming along to Tom Petty’s live version of “I Won’t Back Down”. It has a pretty easy chord progression– E-D-G, E-D-C… easy enough for a rank beginner to follow along with somewhat, although I’m still too slow at changing chords. It was kind of fun trying to figure out the songs I can sort of play, although I still have a long way to go. I even tried “Every Breath You Take” by The Police and was almost successful at it.

Bill picked up his guitar too, although he’s only been playing for a week. Maybe there will come a day when we can jam together.

The title of today’s post comes from a song by Ray Stevens. I have always thought Ray Stevens’ talent was a bit underrated. He’s a wonderful singer and pianist, but he’s best known for singing comedic novelty songs, with the exception of his 1970 hit, “Everything is Beautiful”. Even though some people might think of it as a “schmaltzy” song, I’ve always thought of “Everything is Beautiful” as an anthem of tolerance and kindness. I find it oddly comforting to listen to it today.

A silly song… but I relate. I doubt my guitar playing will make me a celebrity, though.
This song always makes me smile, even though it’s kind of corny.

Since we aren’t traveling or exploring as much this year, music has become a lot more important to me. I’ve been making more videos, all of which include photos or videos from our travels. In a way, it’s made me miss traveling more, although making music brings me joy. I don’t have a lot of people listening, but it’s still a pleasure to make it and explore new and creative ways to express myself. Making music is mostly uncontroversial, and it doesn’t beg philosophical discussions or arguments. I’ve about had my fill of those lately, too.

I doubt we’ll go out today… the sky is full of rain clouds and the wind is up. I welcome the rain, since our rain barrel in the backyard is pretty parched and has dried out so much at the top that it’s warped a bit. Maybe with more rain, the wood will swell and seal up the cracks in the wood. The garden is liking the rain, too. Our cucumbers have blossoms, which I know means that the fruits will be on the vine soon. I’m starting to sound like a Handmaid… and with the constant hammering about face masks, maybe I’ll soon look like one.

Anyway… this weekend has so far not been as exciting or fun as last weekend was. We really enjoyed ourselves, but we also recognize that it’s best not to jump back into the way we were in previous years. Not until the coronavirus scourge has been vanquished a bit more. Hopefully, that won’t take the rest of my life.

Here’s a video I made this week. I shared it on my original blog, but since this post is about music, I’ll share here, too. I’m much better at singing than playing guitar. But with time, practice, and luck, maybe I can even things up a bit.

And just to keep things topical, this video includes footage from our visit to Ireland in 2016. Boy, do I wish we could be there now…
Standard