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

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

How did we end up in Italy and Switzerland again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Italy, Switzerland, weather, wine

April snow and new travel plans…

We didn’t have much snow to speak of all winter. Unlike down in the Stuttgart area, we don’t seem to get much winter weather up here in Wiesbaden. I have missed snow, although I enjoyed last week’s beautiful spring weather. Mother Nature obliged us yesterday with one last winter blast. It snowed for most of yesterday and part of today, although it wasn’t cold enough to stick around. I did use the opportunity to build a fire and use up some of the logs from the tree we lost on New Year’s Day, when the myrtle fell in the backyard. That will probably be the last fire until the fall… although it’s still chilly here today.

Because of the weather, we opted not to go out today. Instead, I spent some time looking for places to stay in Switzerland and Italy. I run a wine group on Facebook, and one of the members is a wine seller in Italy. We’ve bought several of his curated boxes of Italian wines. He also organizes tastings and trips. He proposed to us that we go down to Florence and Chianti for a three day wine trip.

At first, I didn’t really want to do it. I don’t like guided tours, and I don’t want to deal with COVID rules. But as of today, Germany has loosened restrictions. And it also occurred to me that the way things are in Russia, we might not have the chance to travel again for awhile. So we’re going to drive to Florence, stopping at some location yet to be determined in Switzerland for the night of April 23, then spending three nights in Parma, where we’ll visit Modena and Bologna. Then we’ll go to Florence for two nights, and hopefully, Bill can visit the Uffizzi. I’ll go with him, of course, but I care less about it than he does.

We’ll meet our guide a couple of days later, have dinner and a wine tasting at a hotel in Florence, where we’ll also spend the night. We may go there for the nights before our tasting. Then we’ll go to Cortona for a night, tour wineries and visit places, spend the night, do a little more touring on Sunday, then come back to Florence, where we’ll probably spend another night. On Monday, we’ll make our way north, stopping in Lugano before getting home on Wednesday.

I think we’ll have a great time. At the very least, we’ll probably come home with lots of wine, cheese, ham, and prosciutto. Maybe we’ll even make friends. I hope the dogs will also be okay. I know it’s hard for Arran when we travel, though Noyzi loves being boarded.

This will be my third time in Florence and Bill’s second. He loved it last time we went. I love it, too. It’s a beautiful place. Maybe we’ll even run into the enchanting Polish guitar busker we met there last time, Piotr Tomaszewski. I bought a CD by him after hearing him play. He made me cry. I even made a video, back in 2013.

Piotr’s music. Hope he’s still busking in Florence, so I can make a new video.
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France, hotels

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

ETA: I had a real problem with uploading pictures for this post. The second set of photos is actually several galleries. If you notice “repeats” when you scroll through, just move to the next gallery.

Before we went to sleep the first night, we were visited by one of the restaurant staffers. She bore a slight resemblance to the actress Elisabeth Moss, who plays June on The Handmaid’s Tale. That was how we found out that our room had a doorbell! She came bearing fresh baked treats from the kitchen, which were scrumptious. She came to ask us about our breakfast preferences and reconfirm our reservations at the restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights.

The breakfast at Auberge au Boeuf was absolutely something to behold. But as it was our first time visiting, we didn’t know what to expect and we were decidedly overfed on the first morning. The lady from the restaurant asked us what we wanted from the list of offerings, which included boiled eggs, ham, fruit salad, cheese, smoked fish, juice, coffee, tea, yogurt, jam, butter, Museli, and fresh baked pastries and bread. This breakfast, which costs 12 euros per person, is served “family style”. But we didn’t know that on Wednesday night, when we were asked when we wanted to eat, and whether we wanted breakfast at the big “Stammtisch” table, or in our room. So, we ordered two of some things, not knowing how big the portions were.

The next morning at 8:00am sharp, a tiny lady who spoke French and German brought out tons of food for us… two servings of the things we both liked. I will admit, we were able to eat a lot of it, but some things went to waste. We had two big trays of smoked fish, two big trays of ham and salami, two of three kinds of pastries, and two butters… I was grateful we were the only ones eating at 8:00am, which is when breakfast starts. It was embarrassing to get that much food! We noticed a couple who ate later got less food. Now, we know better.

However… I must admit that the breakfast at Auberge au Boeuf was one of the best I have ever had anywhere. And, at twelve euros per person, it was very reasonably priced. The pastries alone were worth the price of admission, as it was obvious to me that they were very fresh and probably house made. They were exquisite! Below are some pictures from breakfast in the Stammtisch room.

The Stammtisch is something else I must mention. The restaurant offers less fancy and expensive meals at the big table in their gorgeous breakfast/dining room. We didn’t try the Stammtisch, since we didn’t know about it before we came and decided not to have dinner on Wednesday and Thursday nights. The food offered there is mostly beef and Alsatian– and looking at their menu, I might have had some issues with it, since there are many mushrooms! I see that the Stammtisch is offered for lunch and dinner on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. On the other hand, if we go back to that hotel, we may have to try it. The Stammtisch room has a very different vibe than the gourmet restaurant does. I think if I could have found something without fungus, I would have loved it.

The big “Stammtisch” table is made from a tree– in fact, I was blown away by how beautiful that room is. It looked like the plates, cups, saucers, and serving platters were all locally produced by a potter. They were very cool looking and original. They also have a cool wine cave, as well as a museum devoted to Goethe, that I didn’t see open during our visit.

After our first night at the hotel, we took a walk around the neighborhood. First, we passed a small market, where vendors were selling local produce, rotisserie chicken, and cheeses. I noticed that the hotel even had a kiosk set up, probably so people could pick up their catering orders. Patrons can order things via the restaurant’s Web site.

During our walk, I met a very sweet and social “European style” beagle who was super friendly and wanted to chat with us. He was so cute! I wanted to take him home with me, but I know if I bring another dog home, Arran will shit on my pillow! I have noticed that beagles are getting more popular in Europe, but they look a bit different than American beagles look. They’re a bit stockier, and have jaws that look kind of square. Whatever… I think they are adorable! Below are some scenes around Sessenheim.

We also saw some pygmy goats who were hanging out in someone’s yard, enjoying the nice weather. And we visited Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s memorial, which is open and free to the public. If we’d wanted to, we could have planned a day’s activities around Goethe. There’s actually a lot around Sessenheim and its environs about Goethe, who fell in love with Frederique Brion, a French woman from Sessenheim, when he was studying law in Strasbourg. Goethe immortalized her in his memoirs.

We strolled through the neighborhoods, noticing a couple of places for sale. I started talking to Bill about whether we should look for a house in France when he retires. I noticed how beautifully the gardens are kept there, including someone’s well tended kale plants. Dr. Blair, the dentist, used to practice in the Black Forest, and he said a lot of Germans buy homes in Alsace, because it’s supposedly cheaper. And, as we can attest, it’s more laid back, too.

After we took a walk, we made our way to Haguenau, which is a small, pleasant city known for pottery. There are museums, spas, and churches, and even a microbrewery there. The city is located near the famous Maginot Line, so it attracts people who are interested in “Remembrance Tourism”. There is also a lot of Jewish history in Haguenau. There’s even a museum dedicated to baggage in Haguenau! There are also some interesting looking restaurants, bars, and retail establishments. Since we’re still a bit COVID wary, we kept our activities outdoors, with the exception of visiting one cathedral, where Bill lit a candle for his father, who was a devout Catholic and died in 2020.

For lunch, we visited a tiny Moroccan restaurant called Restaurant C√īt√© Sud. We lucked into finding this place, which offered a few French items like faux filet, as well as tajines, cous cous, and some intriguing salads. I’ll write more about Haguenau and our Moroccan lunch in the next post. Uploading photos is problematic for some reason.

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Christmas, France

Our first French Christmas, part six…

We slept late Christmas morning, mainly because we didn’t bring presents to open. Audra and her family exchanged gifts while we had breakfast in our gite. Then we went to their house for lunch, which was being hosted by Cyril’s charming and very French parents. I had made a couple of baskets to give to our hosts. One was for Audra and Cyril and had some German, Polish, and southern/Virginia delicacies in them. The other was for Cyril’s parents, in which I skipped the Virginia delicacies.

Cyril’s mom’s face lit up as she uncovered the little gifts in her basket. I included a couple of star shaped bottles of liqueurs from Wiesbaden, a wine stopper and beer stein bottle top, gingerbread in a pretty tin, a Polish pottery magnet and Christmas ornament, and a few other things. It was so sweet to watch Cyril’s mom open those gifts and genuinely appreciate them. She gave me a big hug, and even though I don’t speak French and she doesn’t speak English, I felt like I had made a friend.

Then we had lunch… and there on the table were salads loaded with mushrooms. I had just told Audra and Cyril about my “mycophobia” the previous night. Being phobic of mushrooms has caused me so much embarrassment over the years. But Audra handled it perfectly and made me a salad without any fungus. It was delicious, too… with quail eggs, bacon, and a light vinaigrette. I’m going to have to learn to make that salad at home. It’s not the first time we’ve had it in France, and it’s always a hit with me. I need all the hit salads I can get. We also had foie gras, which I gave to Bill. Next, there was rice, and monkfish served with a delightful lemon sauce. And, of course, there was also plenty of wine.

After lunch, we took a walk through the neighborhood, and once again, I was reminded of Texas. Audra says it gets very hot in Nimes during the summer. Maybe it even gets as hot as Texas does.

Cyril made a delicious pot of French onion soup for dinner, minus the usual cheese and bread. It was just what we needed to come down from Christmas Eve’s big spread. I noticed that the meals we enjoyed, except on Christmas Eve, were very simple and served with lots of love and companionship. Bill and I usually eat together when we can, but I get the sense that Audra and Cyril enjoy a lot of fellowship with his family. It’s nice to see and something that more Americans should embrace.

At some point during our trip, I developed an annoying cough that is still plaguing me now. I am hoping we can get home sometime today so I can do some laundry and sleep in my own big, warm bed. Here’s hoping for a phone call from ADAC.

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Ireland

Paul Simon or bust… Our Dublin getaway! Part three

The first time we visited Dublin, Bill and I stayed at the Marker Hotel, which is a very nice business class accommodation located near Ireland’s Facebook offices. ¬†The Marker Hotel was, at that time, Trip Advisor’s number one pick for hotels in Dublin. ¬†I don’t think that’s why I booked it, though. ¬†I think it’s because the Merrion Hotel was full during the time we wanted to visit. ¬†When I travel without the dogs, I like to stay in nice hotels.

Super nice digs!

Bill and I liked the Marker Hotel fine, but the location wasn’t ideal for us. ¬†It’s very close to the Liffey River, kind of away from all the pubs and sights. ¬†The Merrion Hotel, by contrast, is right in the thick of things, off Merrion Square and close to St. Stephen’s Green. ¬†It’s directly next to a street lined with restaurants and it’s also not far from the RDS Arena, which is where Paul Simon would be performing. ¬†The Marker Hotel’s location is a bit more residential and not as convenient to non business related activities.

The Merrion Hotel is also just plain more to my liking. ¬†It’s more of a traditional hotel, with more of a classic feel than the Marker Hotel’s ultra sleek modern vibe. ¬†Both hotels are expensive. ¬†Both hotels are very nice and offer excellent service and good food. ¬†But my preference is for the Merrion, which our cab driver assured us is the best hotel in Dublin. ¬†I believe him. ¬†For readers who are wondering which one they’d like better– if you’re going to splurge, that is– I’d say choose the Marker Hotel if you like modern decor and want to be close to the river and/or Facebook. ¬†Choose the Merrion Hotel if you like a more traditional decor with character and lavish service. ¬†Either way, you really can’t go wrong. ¬†They are both beautiful hotels.

If your preference is more for “interesting”, I’d recommend checking out the Charleville Lodge, which is run by a hilarious guy who is very active on Facebook. ¬†I have not stayed at the Charleville Lodge myself, but I have a feeling I would enjoy it… if only I weren’t so posh. ¬†The guy who runs the Charleville Lodge also runs the White Moose Cafe, which was all over the news a few months ago after the owner exposed a blogger. ¬†Hmmm… ¬†I guess that’s another reason I decided not to book there. ¬†Seriously, if you like cheeky humor and don’t mind some ribbing, you might want to check it out. ¬†Maybe we’ll stay there next time we go to Dublin, but only if I’ve given up writing by that time.

So, anyway, back to the Merrion Hotel. ¬†I had prepaid for the room, but they took an imprint of Bill’s credit card for “incidentals”. ¬†We knew there would be incidentals, too. ¬†The Merrion Hotel has two restaurants, a pub, and a cocktail bar, as well as a beautifully equipped spa. ¬†I never made it to a spa treatment, but I did try out the beautiful pool and took note of the well-maintained exercise room, which, of course, I didn’t use.

We were assigned room 333, which was a standard room on the “garden” wings. ¬†The garden wings are relatively newly built wings to the original hotel, which originally consisted of four Victorian era townhouses. ¬†While the newer rooms lack the character of the original rooms, they are still extremely well appointed and comfortable and even come with free chocolate and water. ¬†Below are some pictures.

They gave us free Fuji water, which we never got around to drinking, and three chocolate bars, which we brought home with us.  Chocolate is definitely a plus.

The bed.  Not sure what that stripe down the picture is.  Maybe my iPhone malfunctioned.

A tray of amenities.  If you need dry cleaning or laundry done, they have you covered.  

A huge marble bathroom with a nice shower and tub.  It also had a scale in it, which I carefully avoided.  The shower was nice, although I preferred the one at Wald Hotel in Stuttgart!

Water by Oscar Wilde! ¬†He’s everywhere in Dublin!

 

Our room also had a French balcony, free Internet, a mini bar, and a TV with lots of channels on it. ¬†Every night, a housekeeper brought us ice and kept us stocked with water. ¬†We only got turn down service on the night of Paul Simon’s concert because the other nights, we were already in for the evening when it was time for turn down service.

We were pretty tired on our first night in Dublin, so we decided to eat at the hotel. ¬†They have a pub in the basement called The Cellar Bar (which I had originally misunderstood as “Salad Bar”). ¬†It’s a really cool place, with lots of brick rooms. ¬†Thursday nights, they have live entertainment. ¬†Although we didn’t see the musicians who played for a short while, we did hear them. ¬†It was a nice treat and, unfortunately, the closest I got to live pub music during our visit. ¬†Maybe next time we’ll have better luck and want to stay up later.

Bill peruses the menu.

He had an open faced steak sandwich with mild cheese.

I went with half a chicken smothered with barbecue sauce. ¬†This was a real treat! ¬†While we certainly get chicken in Germany, it’s not usually prepared in this style. ¬†It came with a salad.

A Hop House Lager, made by Guinness.

 

Service at The Cellar Bar was cordial and professional and the food was very good. ¬†I would have liked to have gone there a second time, but we didn’t get the chance. ¬†However, we did have three breakfasts in The Garden Room, which is one of the hotel’s restaurants. ¬†Breakfast is 24 euros if you just want the continental stuff and 29 euros if you opt for a cooked to order breakfast. ¬†If you want steak and eggs, it’s another fourteen euros. ¬†I was a little tempted by steak and eggs, but that seemed too extreme.

On our first morning, we had a nice view of the courtyard garden.

And here’s a view of the continental island, which has the usual fruits, cheeses, breads, juices, and pastries.

Bill had scrambled eggs with smoked salmon.

I went with Eggs Benedict.

The garden is very pretty.

It even has a fountain!

When the maid is cleaning your room, they hang these handy signs.

I liked the uniforms the staff in the Garden Room wore. ¬†They had very nice tailored slacks and vests that appeared to be good quality. ¬†Actually, everyone in the hotel wears very nice uniforms and they vary depending on what part of the hotel the person is working in. ¬†We noticed at least one American working in the Garden Room. She was the chattiest of all the wait staff. ¬†I think I overheard her saying that she was in studying in Dublin. ¬†As a former English major, I couldn’t help but note that Ireland is kind of a paradise for former English majors… ¬†or even well read geeks like my husband.

After breakfast, we learned more about Dublin’s rich musical and literary history. ¬†More on that in my next post!
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France

Fancy in Annecy… Friday night’s dinner! part five

Friday night, we enjoyed our second of three dinners at Hotel Les Grillons, the main course being a dorade filet.  Bill ordered a dry white wine to accompany it.  I should have included this in part four, but perhaps some people will appreciate a brief post for once!

 

We started with a pork terrine accompanied by a small green salad and bread.  The terrine reminded me a little bit of Fleischk√§se.  It included pistachio nuts and a prune center that worked surprisingly well.  Sweet and salty is often a good combination.

Next, we enjoyed the dorade (sea bream) filet with cabbage and rice.  As you can see, it’s artfully presented with a little balsamic vinegar.

And for dessert, orange scented chocolate mousse.  Naturally, this was my favorite course and probably my favorite of the desserts.  We both skipped the cheese course.

 

The same family with the two cute little kids sat behind us.  The little boy kept coming over to our table, so I made faces at him.  He responded in a very charming way that makes me think he’ll grow up to be a heartbreaker.  On the other side of us was a group of two friendly couples from Belgium.  I noticed one of the gentlemen made a point of saying good morning in English to us every day.  It’s hard not to be convivial when there’s really good food available.

We were tired (and drunk) enough to call it an early night.  In fact, I think I pretty much went right to sleep as soon as I hit the bed.

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France

Alsace and Burgundy… it’s another French adventure! pt. 1

Hello folks! ¬†I have been dying to write blog posts for the past few days, but the places we’ve been to are short on decent Internet access. ¬†Or at least the net access hasn’t been good enough to try to do any writing. ¬†The place where Bill and I are staying right now does not have the best Internet connections, but I am ready to write and won’t be denied. ¬†So here goes.

Some time ago, Bill’s mother, Parker, told us she was going to come visit for a week in February. ¬†She also said she wanted to go on a short trip to France. ¬†Although we went to Ribeauville last month, we ultimately decided to go back there with Bill’s mom because we ¬†knew we’d have to bring the dogs with us and Yannick, the guy who owns the gite we used, is extremely dog friendly. ¬†Yannick runs six rental apartments in Ribeauville. ¬†All of them are named after locally popular wine grapes. ¬†Last month, we stayed in “Pinot Noir”, which is a one bedroom apartment. ¬†This month, because we were planning to bring Bill’s mom, I rented “Riesling”, which sleeps six people and has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. ¬†Surprisingly enough, the three bedroom place was not that much more expensive than “Pinot Noir” was.

Yannick also has four other apartments. ¬†Two are studios in the building where we stayed both times. Two are in a different building very close, but overlooking the main drag through Ribeauville. ¬†We haven’t seen the studio apartments, but we did get to see the two new ones. ¬†They are very cool. ¬†He’s done a great job fixing them up.

So… I rented the apartment and we looked forward to seeing Parker. ¬†But then, she had an accident that caused her to suffer a significant leg injury. ¬†At first, doctors thought she’d had an insufficiency fracture, but the MRI showed that what she really had was a very bad bruise. ¬†It caused her a lot of pain and required her to use crutches, so she cancelled her trip at the last minute.

Originally, we planned to just go to Ribeauville for three nights and then come back to Stuttgart.  But then I decided we should go ahead and add to the trip.  Bill had already arranged for the whole week off so he could entertain his mother.  I remembered a very inviting looking gite I saw advertised last October.

Ultimately, Bill and I visited Semur-en-Auxois, an adorable town in Burgundy.  I remembered the runner up, though, a beautiful place in a tiny town called Saint Marcelin-de-Cray.  It was a bit further south of Dijon and Beaune than Semur-en-AuxoisРcloser to Macon.  The gite was called Gite de la Maison Bleue and it looked like a really beautiful place.  The price was definitely right, too.  Just 90 euros a night and dogs are accepted with no extra charge.  We booked it for the rest of the week.

So here we are… it’s Thursday and we’ve been having a fabulous time in France all week. ¬†We’ve enjoyed local delicacies, lots of wines, and some interesting cultural exchanges with the locals, both human and animal. ¬†While I’m sorry Parker couldn’t be with us this week, we’ve definitely had some fun and memorable times. ¬†I hope my readers will enjoy taking the trip with us!

A rainbow in Riquewihr…

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France

Running away to Ribeauville, France… part three (good eats 2)

On Saturday afternoon, Bill went out and bought wine.  I didn’t go with him because frankly, the gloomy weather makes me want to hibernate.  I had already slipped into my nightgown by the time he wanted to go.  I also wanted to do some writing.  So he went into town and bought twelve bottles of local wines from vintners in Ribeauville.  He got to taste the wines before he purchased them and both wine sellers spoke English and told him about the wines he was buying.  In retrospect, I really should have gone with him.  If and when we go back to Ribeauville, I will have to hold off getting into my jammies until we’ve bought some wine.

Sunday morning, we had a nice breakfast of locally made croissants.  There are two bakeries very close to the apartment where we were staying.  One is also a chocolatier, although we didn’t come home with any chocolates this time.  One of the bakeries was also selling a locally popular cake that looked like a small bundt cake.  I wanted Bill to get one to bring home with us today, but they didn’t have any ready when he went to the bakery this morning.

On Sunday, we basically did the same thing we did Saturday.  At about lunchtime, we ventured out for a meal.  Only a few places were open, since it’s vacation time.  We ended up eating at Caveau de l’Ami Fritz, which was very close to our apartment.  I noticed it smelled good, which is always a good sign.

I read in Trip Advisor that this restaurant is typically very busy, even though it’s is relatively low ranked.  When we arrived, there were several tables open.  I was enchanted by the interior, which is like a wine cellar.  There’s a large fireplace in the front of the restaurant and it’s very attractively lit.  Our waitress spoke slightly more English than the one at Chez Martine did, which I found helpful.  The menu also had translations in German and English.

We ordered another local wine, one that was made by one of the vintners Bill bought from on Saturday, but not one he had purchased.  I settled on roasted chicken with fries and salad.  Bill had veal with mushroom sauce.

Bill checks out the wines…

and settles on this very pleasant local wine with essences of honey.

The menu had warned the roasted chicken would take 25 minutes.  It was not a big deal at all, although I hadn’t been expecting a game hen!  This was a delightful change of pace.  Nice, simple, perfectly cooked chicken that wasn’t too dry.  A small salad with a light, creamy, and savory dressing.  The fries were pretty standard issue, but good.

Bill loved the veal and mushrooms, two foods I don’t do…  His dish came with fries and salad.  I noticed he ate the whole thing with gusto and even mopped up the gravy on his plate!

I saved room for profiteroles…  We really should have shared this.  It was basically vanilla ice cream sandwiched between eggy pastry that wasn’t at all sweet.  Warm chocolate sauce and whipped cream rounded out this magnificent creation.  I almost went with chocolate mousse, which would have probably been slightly less huge. 

Bill had a piece of the tart of the day, which yesterday was blueberry.  It was very good… not too big, not too sweet, and just the right thing after veal.

I stole a shot of the back of the dining room.  You’d have to see it to appreciate it.  It’s very cozy and unique.  I have eaten in other retired wine cellars and am always delighted by them.  

Bill waits for the bill.  It was about 70 euros and our waitress offered to let us pay with a card.  We used cash instead.  In case anyone is interested, this restaurant is dog friendly.  We didn’t bring ours with us, though.  The manager smiled at me when I made it clear that I enjoyed the meal.

The outside.

And yesterday’s specials.

 

I see that this particular restaurant isn’t that high ranking according to TripAdvisor, but we liked it and would visit again.  It’s hard to have a bad meal in France.

 
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German products, Germany, shopping

Spotted at the Real…

Bill and I basically hung around at home yesterday because it looked like it was going to rain.  We did go to the Real (Germany’s answer to WalMart) for some food, though.  While we were there, I spotted some interesting stuff that I decided to photograph and share.

Pizzaburgers?  Hmm… Interesting concept that ranks right up there with the disgusting Cheetos fried mac and cheese sticks that are now being sold at American Burger Kings.  Since I have yet to have a really good burger in Germany, I think I might pass on this.

Interesting frozen pizza.  I have yet to find asparagus and bacon pizzas in the States, although it might be pretty good. I haven’t tried German frozen pizza, but it’s also been years since I last ate an American frozen pizza.

Our Real has a small section of Russian foods…

I took a picture of this because I immediately recognized them as sunflower seeds (Cemuchka).  When I lived in Armenia, you could buy little paper cones of them on the street.  They make a good snack.  Until yesterday, I didn’t know that our Real had Russian sunflower seeds.

More Russian edibles, including sprats.  Sprats are a canned fish.  They remind me a bit of sardines.  Yes, I did eat them on occasion when I lived in Armenia…  When I was hungry, that is.

 

Our Real also has Chinese, Turkish, and Italian sections.  Actually, their Turkish section is pretty impressive.  That makes sense, since there are many Turks who live in this part of Germany.

I got a kick out of the “American Style Cookies”, which are basically chocolate chip.  Last year, I was shopping in another grocery store and got a kick out of the American Sauce being sold there… as well as McDonald’s brand ketchup.

And finally, we have a large bottle of Jim Beam on display.  But the label is upside down.  I wonder if that’s significant in any way…  I am not a Jim Beam fan.  I had a really bad experience with it when I was in college and haven’t touched it since.

 

I probably could have found more interesting goodies at the Real, but for some reason, whenever we go there, I leave feeling exhausted.  I feel the same way when I go to WalMart, which is why I haven’t set foot in one since 2002.  We went home and I camped out on the futon, where I proceeded to watch more episodes of Desperate Housewives.  Maybe today, we’ll manage to do something fun.

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Austria, Croatia, Italy, Slovenia

Trieste and joyriding in Croatia!

Tuesday morning, we got up and had a light breakfast.  Then Bill drove us to Trieste, which turned out to be another white knuckle experience.  First there was the prospect of getting out of the hotel’s crazy parking lot and negotiating the super narrow streets and blind corners.  Then, we had to deal with Italian drivers, who seem to have no qualms about forcing their way into traffic, speeding around corners, and basically scaring the shit out of people who aren’t Italian.

A little fuel before a scary drive into Trieste.

Traffic going in to Trieste was pretty heavy and Bill and I both wondered aloud why we do this to ourselves…  driving in Italy when we could drive in perfectly sane Germany, France or Austria.  The answer to that question is that Italy is just awesome.  The food is wonderful.  The people are interesting and fun to watch, as well as very warm and hospitable.  The terrain is beautiful.  Once we managed to find metered parking near the waterfront, we were able to walk around and enjoy the city.

The pier overlooking the Bay of Trieste.

The big main square in Trieste.  You can get free WiFi here.  ūüėČ

Near the marina.

Some youngsters were learning about an old amphitheater.  Some looked interested in what the guide was saying and some didn’t.

This was embedded in a wall.  I love finding little shrines and artistic impressions.  Graffiti fascinates me, even if I sometimes wish the artists would be choosier about what buildings they deface.

To be honest, I didn’t find Trieste to be long on things to do.  We mostly just people watched and enjoyed the free WiFi in the center.  At one point, we walked past a sex shop.  I chuckled at the sight of bright red men’s underwear on a mannequin.  They were trimmed in lace and had stringy suspenders attached to them.  The suspenders seemed more decorative than functional.

When it came time for lunch, we walked around toward the Grand Canal and found a cute little restaurant with checkered tablecloths.  I was having one of my famous hangry/sugar crashes and was about over it when we sat down.

Bill ponders over lunch.  Our waiter raised an eyebrow when we ordered a whole liter of wine.  Yes, we’re lushes.  I’m more of a lush than Bill is.

Bill ordered a liter of house white wine and pasta with truffles and ham.  I had a scallop starter and fried fish, which turned out to be calamari, sardines, and squid.  Fortunately, I love fish very much and the cook did a good job!

My scallops… Yum!  They were breaded and served still attached to the shell.

Bill’s pasta with truffles and ham.  I complained when he ate a lot of garlic a couple of days prior.  Truffles are even more aromatic to me and not in a good way.  But he loves them and really enjoyed this dish.

I had lots of fried jewels from the sea.  No, I didn’t finish this.  It was a lot of protein!

As we were finishing up, I paid a visit to the restaurant’s unisex bathroom, which consisted of a squat hole.  I hadn’t seen one of those in awhile!  After Bill checked out a James Joyce statue on a nearby bridge, we decided to walk around a little more… basically back to the main square where we took a seat at a big cafe with great desserts.  They had normal tables there, but they also had comfortable chairs and couches with cocktail tables that faced the square.  We were able to sit there and watch the world go by.  Bill had a coffee and I had Irish coffee…

A squat toilet!

The cafe.  I probably ought to zoom in to see what it was called.  I felt much better when we left there.

The Grand Canal.

James Joyce is honored on the bridge!

And with a James Joyce bar across the way…  I might have been tempted to pay a visit, but decided not to.

If you’re really patient and have no watch or cellphone, you can tell the time with this…

Bill picks out drinks while I people and dog watch.

I had an Irish coffee.  I guess he wanted me relaxed for our next activity.

 

Our meter was due to run out at 3:45pm, so we decided to move on from Trieste.  I came up with the brilliant idea of heading into Slovenia, which we did.  But then, as we got closer to the Croatian border, I talked Bill into driving into our next virgin territory.  Good thing we had our passports because Slovenian border guards were checking at the Croatian border.

We made it through… and soon learned that Croatia is not on the Euro.

An example of apartments in Pula, which is where we ended up stopping after a lovely drive on a very well-maintained and mostly empty toll road.  We got some Croatian currency at a gas station, but we needn’t have bothered.  You can pay the tolls in euros and they are quite cheap!

An ancient arena in Pula.

 

Had we set off earlier, we probably would have spent some quality time in Pula.  It was getting late, though, and we were tired.  So we stopped at a supermarket, used the WC (for free!) and bought several bottles of Croatian wine.  I don’t know if we’ll like what we bought since I don’t speak Croatian.  I’m eager to try, though, when we get home.  And our sneak peek was very satisfying.  We will have to go back soon and see more of beautiful Croatia.

Great highway with cheap tolls and beautiful scenery.

We stopped in Slovenia for dinner.  The restaurant had a Slovenian name, but our waiter made sure to tell us it was called The Three Hunters.  He mistook us for German… the first of several Slovenians who have.

I had delicious roasted pork with vegetables and local wine…

Bill had rabbit gnocchi.  Had we wanted to, we could have also had dishes made with bear.  Bear meat is apparently a delicacy in Slovenia.

I had beer for dessert.

This was when the waiter reminded me of the name of the restaurant.  I think he was hoping I’d review it.  The food was very good and he was a good server, though the ladies room reeked of old urine.  Too bad for that, since it was otherwise a fabulous meal and very reasonably priced.

 
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