coronavirus, German culture, Germany, holidays, staying home, Wiesbaden

Happy 2022!!!

We had a rather quiet New Year’s Eve, with fondue, Riesling, and the news of Betty White’s passing just 18 days before she would have turned 100. Last night was almost like most nights, save for the five minutes of fireworks. I may be exaggerating a tiny bit, but only a TINY bit…

Officially, fireworks were banned for New Year’s Eve, because officials wanted to cut down on people injuring themselves and flooding the hospitals. As you probably know, COVID-19 is still a big problem and the hospitals are overwhelmed. I’m surprised in light of that, officials haven’t banned driving on the Autobahn, which I would imagine is potentially just as dangerous as lighting a bottle rocket. In any case, I knew there would be a few fireworks, because someone always has them. And there were a few fireworks, but it was really not a normal Silvester by German standards.

Last night was our tenth German New Year’s Eve. It will go down in history as the quietest one yet. The loudest and wildest one we ever experienced was in 2007. I could have sworn there was a war going on outside of our house in Pfäffingen. The night sky was literally alight with fireworks, and I could see our neighbors furiously setting off things that went crash and boom. Our late beagle, MacGregor, was absolutely terrified, poor thing!

Noyzi seemed a little perturbed by the noise and both dogs were curious, but they weren’t really scared. Our neighbors were in the street wishing Happy New Year to everyone… It was overall a pleasant evening. Below are some photos from our first try with the new fondue/raclette grill. It was a success! We really had fun making fondue. It was easy, festive, and even a little romantic! I should have bought this machine a long time ago.

Right at the stroke of midnight…
This is a pretty good representation of our fireworks display… It went on for a few minutes.

One other thing I would like to mention… My German friend tells me that the cookies our landlord brought us– yesterday’s featured photo and reposted below, actually have some local significance. The little macaroon behind the 2021 is a Bethmännchen pastry, which is a Frankfurt tradition at Christmas that has been around since 1838. The cookies are made with made from marzipan with almond, powdered sugar, rosewater, flour and egg. The recipe has not changed in the entire time this cookie has existed!

What a thoughtful gift!

2022 is already off to a good start. Bill made delicious cheese soufflés for breakfast!

I actually taught him to make these because we had them on our honeymoon in Virginia at a B&B. They aren’t hard to make and they make for an elegant breakfast dish on special occasions. We also have two leftover, and they will keep.

Well, that about does it for New Year’s… I am going to go write a more serious post on the main blog, and then I’ll probably watch a bunch of movies or something. I think Bill is going to cook a nice dinner, which I’ll probably document in photos if it’s pretty enough… and it probably will be!

I hope everyone had a great New Year’s Eve and an even better New Year’s Day. Maybe this year, we’ll get to do more traveling!

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Frankfurt, Germany, restaurant reviews

Sunday afternoon at the Hauptwache Cafe in Frankfurt…

This past weekend was a bit of a bust in terms of German adventures. Our dog, Noyzi, recently decided that he wants to stay upstairs with me, rather than hanging out downstairs. He’s co-opted a pile of bedding that was previously used by Zane and Arran. Arran still uses it from time to time. On Friday night, while enjoying my evening buzz, I decided to buy Noyzi a bed for upstairs, reasoning that he’d use his downstairs bed when he’s downstairs. I bought him a smaller one for upstairs, noting that the downstairs bed is huge and there’s less room for it in my office than down in the living room. It was supposed to show up yesterday, so we waited around for it. But then, at around 2:30pm, I got the dreaded message from DHL that the shipment was delayed. By that time, we’d already had lunch, and it was during the usual “pause” time anyway… so we just hung out at home.

Last night, Bill asked if I’d like to go out to lunch today. I said sure, so Bill chose a Latin American place called Buena Vista. He set the reservation for 1:30pm on OpenTable. This afternoon, off we went to lunch. On the way there, I noticed Frankfurt’s TV Tower. We parked at an expensive parking garage attached to a huge shopping mall, very close to Jumeirah Hotel, where we stayed November 16, 2019 to celebrate our anniversary.

The Europaturm… Unfortunately, it’s no longer possible to visit it, just like the one in Cologne.

When we arrived at Buena Vista, we were informed that lunch wouldn’t start until 2:00pm, even though we had reservations for 1:30pm. I also remembered that we ate at that particular restaurant in November 2019, when we stopped there for a snack on our anniversary. We had spent the night in Frankfurt to celebrate, then headed to Wroclaw, Poland for a week of business for Bill and a week of messing around for me. Since we didn’t feel like screwing around for a half hour and I wanted to go somewhere different, we decided to cancel our reservation. That’s how we ended up eating lunch at the Cafe Hauptwache.

The Hauptwache (Main Guardroom) Cafe has a long history in Frankfurt; it dates from 1904. Bill and I had been attracted to it on previous visits, but always seemed to get waylaid by the nearby Five Guys. Today, we were determined to give it a try. When we first walked into the Biergarten area– an excellent place for people watching, by the way– the sun was trying to come out. We sat down at a table under an umbrella. But within a few minutes of ordering drinks, it started to rain. We managed to duck under the porch, where there was a four top well away from the precipitation. It’s good that we moved, since the sky soon opened.

Our waitress was pretty perfunctory. She moved with no urgency, and seemed kind of half-assed about the work. She wore a face mask, but it hung under her nose. Her colleague didn’t bother with one at all. And thanks to the rain, all the smokers were huddled under the porch with us. One lady smoked the whole time, even when she had food.

One other thing I didn’t care for at this place was the fact that they have a Klofrau. That’s a woman who sits at a table by the bathroom and collects change. I’m sure she’s there for people off the street who just need to pee, but I find the practice of charging patrons in a restaurant to go to the toilet very chintzy. I also had to get an unsolicited tutorial from her on how to get the touchless faucet, soap dispenser, and towel dispenser to work. She might have done better to instruct me on the self-cleaning toilets. I’ve encountered them numerous times, but I never quite trust them to flush as they should. I’m not sure why a place that has touchless and automated everything needs a restroom attendant. It just seems cheap and tacky to me. On the other hand, I do have a ton of change that needs to be spent.

The toilet I encountered today was just like this one. Why did this restroom need a Klofrau, other than to demand change?

As for the food, it was quite good. I was very impressed with the burger. So many times, we have had burgers at German restaurants and they’ve been sub par. Cafe Hauptwache did satisfy with the cheeseburger. It came with cheddar, lettuce, mustard, tomatoes, onions, mayo, and I think ketchup. The fries were also very good. I couldn’t finish them, though.

This place has options for vegans and a children’s menu. It also has a full bar and apparently offers breakfast all day.

We considered having dessert, but the waitress was so inattentive that we decided to have another round instead. I had a Hefeweizen and Bill had coffee. I did see people having dessert, though, and it looked inviting. They have waffles with sugar and cinnamon or Nutella (blecch), ice cream, or the cake of the day. Today, it appeared to be cheesecake. I wouldn’t have minded trying that. Or, maybe it the weather was better, we would have looked for a Konditorei.

We called for the bill. It came to about 47 euros. Bill gave the server 50, and we were on our way home to two very excited dogs. Maybe tomorrow, Noyzi’s new bed will arrive.

Anyway… I would eat at Cafe Hauptwache again. We aren’t unhappy that we stopped there, especially due to its historic look and excellent location for people watching. The inside isn’t very big or impressive, though, so it’s probably best to go there when the sun is shining. I did love the music they were playing– 70s and 80s hits. I could hear it when the rain wasn’t pouring. I’m glad we ate there, instead of at the Buena Vista restaurant.

On Wednesday, we’re off on our next trip– a mixture of business and pleasure– four nights in the Black Forest town of Baiersbronn, where there are several Michelin starred restaurants, and a trip to Stuttgart to finally see the dentist. I did book us at what appears to be a very nice resort, so that should be fun. We also have a couple of reservations, although we couldn’t score any at the very fancy places. They’re either fully booked or on vacation. It IS August, after all. Hopefully, next week, the blog will get a nice boost.

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Germany, restaurant reviews

An American style lunch in Frankfurt…

We are still enjoyed excellent weather here in south central Germany, so Bill and I decided to take the Mini out for a spin with the top down. We found a restaurant on OpenTable.de called Chicago Meatpackers where we’d never been before… Actually, it’s been ages since our last trip to Frankfurt, anyway. It looked like a fun place with an American vibe, although it also has outlets in Hamburg and Dubai. The menu is heavy on steaks, burgers, and sandwiches, although there are also a few other dishes offered, including several that are vegan.

We found a parking garage right next to the restaurant. It was kind of a new fangled place. We didn’t have to take a ticket when we entered, because the garage took a picture of our license plate. When we were finished with the garage, which charges one euro per hour on Sundays, we entered the license plate into the machine, paid, and the system recognized our plate as we were on our way out.

When we arrived at the restaurant, we found it almost empty. There was just one couple sitting on the terrace. We had our pick of where we wanted to sit, and unlike yesterday, we had no worries about Jaguars going in and out of parking garages. Chicago Meatpackers has a side terrace, where we sat, and another outdoor seating area in front of the restaurant. The interior is really nice, with lots of America bric-a-brac and a functioning train that runs at the ceiling. There’s also a great looking bar, but it’s closed thanks to COVID-19.

The restaurant has a full bar, as well as a lot of non-alcoholic drinks. They also brew two types of their own craft beers– a red and a blond. Bill and I each had one of each– large sized– to go with our sandwiches. Bill had a steak sandwich, which was served with slice ribeye, mushrooms, and cheese, as well as a side of fries. I had a Meatpackers’ Burger, which was your basic cheeseburger. It also came with a choice of sides, which ran the gamut from Caesar salad, truffled mashed potatoes, and several kinds of fries. I liked the burger, because not only did it taste good, but it also wasn’t huge. They do serve other kinds of burgers, too, including Beyond Burgers, and chicken burgers.

Service was basically friendly and very laid back, although there was no need for our server to be stressed. He had a light lunch crowd that only picked up about ninety minutes later, as we were about to leave. We mostly had the place to ourselves, and the food got out very quickly. It was hot and fresh, and of good quality. I was particularly pleased by the quality of the beef. Those with a large appetite may want to spring for an extra patty. The burger wasn’t huge. It was big enough for me, and easy to finish. I’m not stuffed, but I’m quite satisfied.

While we enjoyed our beverages, I noticed some of the signage near us. It seems like more and more signs in Germany are either half done or entirely done in English! I also noticed two Porsches today– both later model. One was red, and the other was bright yellow. Both were kind of obnoxious.

Business was slow enough that I was a little worried that maybe this place has a pause in the afternoon. It doesn’t, though, and we didn’t really need a reservation. Total damage was about fifty euros. I would go back and try one of the other dishes. I almost went for their spare ribs, but they were veal and I try to avoid veal when possible. The grilled salmon looked enticing. I might have had that, if not for the fact that we eat a lot of salmon at home. They also had some interesting looking chicken dishes and appetizers. Like I said, it’s a very “American” style place, even though it appears to be owned and staffed by people from the Middle East.

Today’s outing wasn’t particularly exciting in terms of things we saw or did, but it was nice to visit Frankfurt again. It’s been a long while since we were last there, and it was a nice trip for the Mini Cooper, which really needs to be driven much more often.

I don’t know when we’ll be back in Frankfurt, but I would certainly recommend Chicago Meatpackers. I hope the COVID-19 numbers go down enough so people can enjoy its indoor dining room, which is pretty nice to look at. The electric train alone is worth staring at.

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Germany, spas

My pandemic birthday… part five

I don’t have much to write about last night. It was pretty much a repeat of Friday night, only with beer instead of cocktails, although the bar was busier and they played reggae/UB40 instead of German pop and euro trance music. Most of the same staffers were there. Once again, I had a great time, because I’ve missed going out and seeing things. It was just great to be in a pretty area where I could get photos of nature and good food.

I did get a few photos of last night’s fun. But it was kind of low key…

After another good night’s rest, we got up, had breakfast, and checked out before 9:00am. I was eager to get home and do some writing, guitar practice, and sing a few songs. Bill has gone to pick up Arran from the Birkenhof. I think we could be persuaded to take another trip, possibly very soon!

All told, I think Bill spent under 700 euros for the nights in the hotel, the Therme access, two breakfasts, two dinners, and the bar… not bad at all! I would highly recommend Vital Hotel and the Rhein-Taunus Therme for a quick getaway. I think it would be a lot of fun for a “girls” trip, but it’s also good for those who need a hotel near Frankfurt Airport or those who like water fun. I don’t know that I’d necessarily call it a romantic spot, since the Therme did have a number of kids around. But… I particularly enjoyed it right now, since there weren’t nearly as many people as I’ve come to expect at the spas in Germany. And non nudists will like that it doesn’t seem to have a nude bathing area, like the Mineraltherme, Schwabenquellen, Palais Thermal, and Friedrichsbad all have. I have been to all of those spas, and you will find my write ups of them in this blog. Personally, I like the nude spas, but I know not everyone is comfortable. It appears that those who don’t like nudity will appreciate Rhein-Main Therme, although I didn’t check the saunas. You may have to be naked for those.

Anyway… I hope y’all enjoyed this brief series. I hope I can write more soon. I have missed traveling and dining out so much!

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Poland

Big business in Poland, part six

I didn’t get to see as many Wroclaw attractions as I had hoped I would, mostly because for some reason, lately I’ve been having some pretty severe back pain. It’s especially bad in the mornings. Nevertheless, Wroclaw (pronounced ‘vrohtz-wahv’) is a pretty town, especially down by the old part of the city in the enchanting market square. Pastel colored buildings surround the vast square with cool architecture and plenty of gothic touches.

There are museums, art galleries, and churches to be visited, as well as many restaurants with a surprising array of culinary specialties offered. There’s also plenty of shopping. I couldn’t help but think back to the 90s, when Poland was a Peace Corps destination and wonder what the people who served as Volunteers back then would think of Poland today. I know Yerevan, Armenia, where I served, is vastly different now than it was in 1995… and yet it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that places like Wroclaw and Yerevan were off limits to the average American.

Wroclaw is known as the “Polish Venice”, because it sits on the banks of the Odra River and claims over 130 bridges which connect twelve islands. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to explore the bridges or the islands, thanks to my aching back. However, I still managed to enjoy myself and see some stuff that was close enough for this aging lady to walk to without too much trouble.

Speaking of the former Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union, I did notice quite a strong statement against communism in Poland. For instance, there are over six hundred bronze gnomes in Wroclaw, which first started appearing in the city in 2005. The gnomes are tiny, standing at about a foot tall each, and can be found on the ground, atop roofs, on window sills, or climbing up walls. I didn’t even come close to getting pictures of all of them, but I managed to find quite a few.

The gnomes are a reference to the Orange Alternative, an anti-Soviet resistance movement born in Wroclaw during the 1980s. The group used dwarves as its symbol and helped stamp out the communist regime through peaceful protests. From 1981-83, the Orange Alternative, led by an artist at the University of Wrocław named Waldemar ‘Major’ Fydrych, defaced communist propaganda with surrealist art as a means to protest the government’s oppressive restrictions against free speech and public gatherings. The early 1980s were a dangerous time in Poland. There was martial law, and people couldn’t even go out at night without taking significant risks. The gnomes were cute, and gave people something to smile and laugh at. They also helped show ordinary citizens how ridiculous it was that they were having to live with such oppression and to encourage them not to be afraid. Judging by what I saw in Wroclaw last week, the Polish people are now very happy to enjoy the nightlife and express themselves. Here are some pictures I took of the many gnome statues I found in Wroclaw.

You can actually purchase guides to finding these little guys all over the city. Just visit any souvenir shop! Personally, I liked stumbling across them without any help. They really give people a reason to smile… unless they’re like my friend, Mary Beth, who says gnomes give her the creeps!

I also made a video of raw footage from buskers I saw in Frankfurt, Germany and Wroclaw, Poland. Sunday night in Wroclaw, there were quite a few people on the market square in Wroclaw performing for tips. Here’s a look at that! It would have been nice if I’d used my digital camera, but it wasn’t as handy as my “handy” was.

Some talented people entertaining for euros or zloty…

I also visited beautiful St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church, which was just across the street from the hotel. This church, which was once the primary Protestant church between 1525 and 1945, is one of the most striking and visible buildings in Wroclaw. It is currently part of the Catholic Third Order and the structure dates from the 14th century. It suffered severe hail damage in 1529 and was gutted by a fire in 1976. It’s important to remember that this church has a strong German heritage, since Wroclaw was once called Breslau and was a part of Germany. Since 1999, there has been a memorial at the church to Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a native of what was then Breslau, Germany, and martyr to the anti-Nazi cause.

There is a huge tower with an observation deck that can be climbed for a small fee, but I never saw it obviously open, we had several gloomy weather days, and my back wasn’t going to allow me to hike up the tower, anyway. Still, if you’re up for a stout climb and the tower is open, it might be worth doing just for the excellent panoramic shots you can get of the city. Here are some photos from inside this beautiful church.

Not being Catholic nor particularly religious, I can’t speak much for what this church is all about. I just like to visit churches in Europe because they are so incredibly beautiful and inspiring. I also appreciate the quiet and peacefulness of them… warmth and shelter on a winter’s day, coolness and shade in the summer.

Next post, back to food…

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Poland

Big business in Poland, part one

Hi folks. Sorry it’s been awhile since my last post, but Bill was away for most of last week and this week, we are in Wroclaw, Poland (otherwise known as Breslau to Germans). Bill and I visited Wroclaw for a few hours back in 2008. We were impressed by it then, but it’s come a long way in eleven years. In fact, Poland as a whole seems to be in better straits than back in 2008.

I hadn’t actually wanted to come with Bill on this trip, mainly because when I tag along on his business trips, I usually spend a lot of time bored. I don’t enjoy dining alone in restaurants and I’m kind of hesitant sometimes to visit local attractions by myself. I’m not sure why I’m like this, since I was single for a long time. Wroclaw is a pretty great city… It’s much underrated and you get a lot of bang for your buck here, since it’s Eastern Europe. I should probably be more adventurous, too, since so many people here speak English. Seriously, eleven years ago, Poland was NOT like this… One thing that has not changed, however, is the wonderful, whimsical artistic spirit here… so many great musicians, artists, dancers, and performance artists. We really need to spend more time in Poland if we can manage it.

Anyway… our trip began on November 16th, which was our 17th wedding anniversary. Since we had to put Arran in the “hunde pension” on Saturday anyway, we decided to spend a night in Frankfurt and have a nice dinner. I chose the Jumeirah Frankfurt Hotel, located in the big shopping district downtown. And because we’re old and don’t feel like wandering around the city, we opted to have dinner at Max On One Grillroom, which offers excellent beef, lobster, and other dishes. I was curious about this hotel chain, since it’s based in the United Arab Emirates and only has three hotels in Europe– Frankfurt, London, and Mallorca.

Before I get too cranked up with a review, I’ll just say that Jumeirah is a lovely place in Frankfurt. I booked us in a gorgeous skyline king room that offered views of the city that didn’t disappoint. Service was mostly impeccable; the food was outstanding; and we had a very nice evening at the hotel, though definitely not without a price. After we left the oasis of Jumeirah, we had to deal with the hellish Frankfurt Airport. Wroclaw is a great city and we like this week’s business hotel, the Sofitel, but it kind of pales in comparison to Jumeirah. If we can swing it again in another city, we definitely will.

I will start writing up this trip very soon… perhaps starting tomorrow or the day after. For now, I need to sleep off the beery lunch I just had at the Doctor’s Bar across the street. Like I said, Wroclaw has come a long way in the beer department since 2008. I also never knew about the 600 gnomes in this city… and I have managed to spot a bunch of them so far. Stay tuned for more in the coming days, after I’ve had a nice nap.

Part two

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restaurant reviews

Georgian treats at Pirosmani in Frankfurt…

Bill and I didn’t go out yesterday because we were waiting for my contact lenses to be delivered. The driver didn’t get to us until late afternoon. When he did, one of the lenses was the wrong prescription. It’s very convenient to be able to order my lenses from Amazon.de without having to mess with eye exams, but sometimes there’s still human error when it comes to ordering them online.

Bill ended up making roasted red pepper and Brie soup with fresh, homemade bread. We paired it with a lovely white wine from Italy. Here are a few photos…

Although the weather is pretty crappy today, we decided to venture into Frankfurt to try a Georgian restaurant called Pirosmani. Regular readers might remember that last year, before we moved to Wiesbaden, we tried an excellent Georgian restaurant in Stuttgart called Tshito Gwrito. We were bowled over by the food at the Georgian restaurant in Stuttgart and hoped to be similarly impressed by Pirosmani. This restaurant is near the Frankfurt Zoo, as well as a large parking garage, so getting there are parking is super easy. Making reservations is also easy, since they are on OpenTable.

I lived in Armenia for two years. Armenia is just south of Georgia and the cuisine is kind of similar. I haven’t found any Armenian restaurants in Germany yet, but Georgian food is somewhat accessible. Frankfurt has at least two restaurants featuring cuisine from this country in the Caucasus. Edited to add, my German friend Susanne has done her best to find Armenian restaurants for me. They do exist here, but some of them are German or Russian hybrids.

We arrived about twenty minutes early for our 1:00pm reservation. Although the place opened for lunch at 11:30am, there wasn’t a soul in there. We had to climb stairs to get to the dining room. On the first floor, there is a cigar bar, nicely decorated with Georgian bric a brac. Georgian wines are wonderful and, I’m sure if I liked to smoke cigars, they would go very well with tobacco.

We waited in the empty dining room for a few minutes and Bill stuck his head in the kitchen to alert the staff that we were there. A small, black haired woman came out and snapped at Bill in German that she’d be right with us and not to come behind the bar. I must admit, I was a bit put off by her abrupt attitude, particularly since Bill had been friendly and we were waiting for several minutes to be acknowledged. She seemed kind of bitchy, which only invites me to respond in kind. But she ordered us to hang our jackets on the coat racks in the back of the dining room and take a seat at a two top next to a window.

I could hear Russian pop music, along with some music that could have been Armenian, Georgian, or Turkish– I couldn’t hear the lyrics closely enough to tell. I just felt like I was back in Yerevan. The dining room is very formal looking, but the music is definitely casual. Bill wanted to order a bottle of wine, but they didn’t have any that was dry. We settled on a “halb-trocken” (semi sweet) red from Georgia. Our surly waitress brought out some insanely delicious bread and butter and we ordered our first two courses.

I started with Sazivi, a cold dish of fried corn fed chicken served with a sauce made of crushed walnuts and saffron. The chicken was basically cut up, complete with bones. I liked the walnut sauce, which was a bit rich, but had sort of a spicy kick to it. I had to watch how much I ate, though, since I followed up with pork “shashlik”, basically marinated pieces of pork served with roasted and pickled vegetables. Bill had tschichirtma, a hearty chicken soup that had a whole piece of chicken in it, complete with bones. He followed it with tschaqapuli, a lamb stew in tarragon white wine brew, refined with fresh herbs.

While we were waiting, another party showed up. There were four of them, and they sat in a corner. There was another party of two at the back of the restaurant. I noticed the waitress seemed to relax a bit and warm up once she saw us enjoying the food, pictured below.

We really did enjoy the food and the atmosphere, which was kind of classy except for the table full of linens in front of our table. The waitress was rolling them into napkins. The service could have been better. The waitress didn’t replace soiled silverware, nor did she have a particularly friendly attitude. I totally understand being surly when you’re waiting tables, but I was puzzled by her lack of warmth. In my experience, Georgians are warm, like Armenians are. Oh well… maybe the yucky weather put her off.

We spent 102 euros on lunch. It was a bit pricey, particularly since it wasn’t dinner, but we had plenty to eat and the food was mostly good and a nice change of pace. The dining room seems fancier than the overall atmosphere is. I would probably go back again, although I hope for a somewhat nicer waitress. I notice they offer a business lunch deal, as well as three hours of free parking. We didn’t take them up on the free parking, although we probably should have. Maybe we’ll try Old Tiflis next time. It’s Frankfurt’s other Georgian restaurant.

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restaurant reviews

Damned good burgers at Fletcher’s Better Burger in Frankfurt…

We had absolutely perfect weather today. It was so perfect that we were seriously considering going to an apple festival in Mainz. We decided to go to Frankfurt instead, since Bill discovered a new burger restaurant we had to try. A friend at a conference he just attended at Ramstein Air Base told him about Fletcher’s Better Burger, a chain in Frankfurt that was started by an American. At this writing, there are four locations, all of which are in Frankfurt. I have a feeling this restaurant will take off and there will soon be more places to enjoy one of Fletcher Davis’s juicy burgers.

We tried the location at Katherinenpforte, which is right next to Frankfurt’s big main square and just around the corner from Five Guys. There’s a huge parking garage located right next to the square. It was a bit of a mad house getting in and out of it, and we had to park on the top floor because so many people did a shitty job parking. However, Fletcher’s burger was so good, I didn’t mind it so much. Here are some photos from today’s visit.

It’s a pretty low key affair. They just have burgers (beef and veggie– made with peas), fries, soft drinks, and beer. The meat is fresh daily, and they make their own buns. Burgers come with tomatoes, onions, ketchup, mayo, honey mustard, lettuce, and pickles. You can also get jalapenos, fried onions, BBQ sauce, hot sauce, mustard, and grilled mushrooms free of charge. Irish cheddar cheese and bacon is extra.

Unlike Five Guys, Fletcher’s Better Burger only gives you one patty with a standard burger. Of course, if you want more meat, you can add it for 1,60 euros or 1,90 euros for an extra patty with cheese. You can also order your burger wrapped in lettuce if you’re watching your carbs.

I have to say, we were really impressed with our burgers. They were juicy, fresh, flavorful, and a good size. I also liked the cross cut fries, which were robust with potato flavor and cooked to perfection. I definitely think Fletcher’s Better Burger could give Five Guys some competition. I noticed they weren’t nearly as busy, either.

The only thing I didn’t like about our experience was the music. They were playing godawful dance versions of classic 80s songs, including “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman and a cover of “With or Without You”, which was originally a U2 song. I found the music very annoying. But we could have eaten outside, as they did have plenty of tables available. Also, the bathrooms, which are at the bottom of a flight of stairs (bad news for wheelchair users), could have used some attention today. We would still go back, though. It’s nice to see the humble hamburger getting better treatment in Germany.

After we ate, we walked around a small fest that was going on. We didn’t stay long because there were a lot of people crowded into a small space. But I did take some pictures.

People were selling gifts, crafts, and lots of food. I was disturbed by the number of stalls specializing in mushrooms… the one food I will not eat under any circumstances. Some guy was also selling mushroom lawn ornaments. Creepy!

I’m sure we could have found more to do, but Frankfurt was even more of a zoo than usual today, so we decided to head home so I could write this post. Tomorrow, we’ll hit the apple fest… or, at least that’s the plan.

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Hebridean Island Cruises

Off the ship and on to Frankfurt…

We woke up bright and early on Tuesday, the day of disembarkation. Bill and I did most of our packing the day before. We also filled out the survey and turned it in before the previous night’s embarrassing incident. I wish I had waited, because the second disappointment came that morning. We had our final breakfast. I went with porridge without a whisky dram, a side of streaky bacon, and some fried bread. I should have skipped the bread, given the long coach ride from Oban.

As we cruised toward the charming town where we’d be ending our cruise, Bill and I spoke to one of the more reticent passengers, a guy who had revealed to me earlier in the cruise that he and his wife live in Oban. When they got off the ship, it was an easy trip for them to go home. I liked his wife, who looked a lot like my friend, Melody, especially in the face. The guy, who told me he was 80 but looked about twenty years younger, said it was his first and last Hebridean cruise, due to the expense. Then he told us how he’d made his living. It had been his job to maintain Scotland’s many lighthouses. Talk about an unusual and interesting career! And he looked so fit. I never would have guessed he was 80. He was also the guy who showed up in jeans to the first gala. While some people appeared to be a little appalled by it, frankly, I thought it was kind of bad ass. He looked great in his jeans, and I was sorry when he changed.

So anyway, I got a few last photos, although we’ve seen Oban a few times. It’s the place where the bulk of Hebridean cruises embark and disembark. Then, when we were called off the ship, I didn’t see our luggage. It seems our young and apparently rather inexperienced cabin steward wasn’t clued in on the fact that he was supposed to bring our bags out of the ship. Remember, we had FIVE of them, and they were heavy. We had to get them up a long flight of stairs. Bill went down to the stateroom to see if we’d left anything, and there our bags were. The cabin steward was in the room, reading something. He claimed he “didn’t know” what we wanted him to do with them. On every other cruise we’ve taken with Hebridean, our bags have been taken out for us and left near the coach.

The day prior, this same guy, who had been very nice, but seemed immature and inexperienced, had specifically requested that I give him nice comments on the final survey, since he was on probation and the staff was “watching him closely”. It didn’t occur to me to say it at the time, but it seems to me that asking for positive comments is kind of counterproductive. Those who do a noticeably good job are going to be recognized and rightfully praised. I can think of at least ten crew members who will never need to ask me for praise. I will give it to them freely, because they are so good at their jobs.

I mostly thought our steward did a good job. When I asked him for an extra blanket, he offered to give us a duvet, which turned out to be a much better choice for us and made the bed more comfortable. However, he was a bit slow in getting the room clean. More than once, I came down at lunch to find it still wasn’t quite done. On previous cruises, the room was always made up much sooner than that. One time, he left us without toilet paper. A couple of times, I found my nightgown cutely laid out on my pillow, which seemed a little weird. He had so neatly arranged my toiletries, yet didn’t know to get the bags off the ship on the last day. Still, I try to be fairly easy going about most things when it comes to service. I’ve done that work and I have empathy for people who do it now.

We spent well over $12,000 on this cruise and it was mostly worth it, despite the seasickness. We really did have a great time. But between the dressing down Bill got the night before and the steward’s lack of a clue, I was left a little deflated as we left the Hebridean Princess. Bill actually hauled three of our bags off the ship himself, which he definitely should not have felt like he had to do. However, when we boarded the coach to Glasgow, Captain David Kirkwood was there to say goodbye and he was very sincere as he thanked us for sailing… and even kissed me European style (on both cheeks). So, although I wasn’t happy about a couple of lapses in decorum at the end of the cruise, I would still happily cruise with Hebridean again (if they’ll still let me back on the ship 😉 ).

The ride between Glasgow and Oban takes about two and a half hours, so we had a quick break in Inverary. I was grateful for that, since the fried bread was making me feel kind of queasy. I was able to get ahold of my bottle of Tums, which saved the rest of the ride for me. Fried food and coach rides don’t mix for me.

Glasgow Airport is another thing altogether. It gets a lot of traffic that it can’t seem to handle. Our flight wasn’t until 4:15, but we had arrived at about noon. We had to hang onto the luggage or pay to stow it until 2:15. We paid to stow it, then had lunch in one of the airport’s rather crappy restaurants. As we were leaving, we ran into one of the new stewardesses, Sonia, who is from Portugal and on her way home for two weeks. I think she will do fine on the Princess. She’s very smart, sweet, hard working and service oriented. I enjoyed getting to know her, although I didn’t initially recognize her without her uniform.

As we were leaving the bar, I noticed a group of ladies with Hebridean luggage tags on their bags. They no doubt noticed mine and probably wondered if we were coming or going. We were going, since it was time to check our bags. Glasgow doesn’t have a lounge for Lufthansa, so we used their “Upper Deck” lounge, which business class passengers can access for free. Bad pop played very loudly put me in a mood, although it was worse in the terminal itself. Luckily, our flight was on time and we had a seamless flight back to Germany. I even got a few cool photos of another Lufthansa plane flying next to us.

Once we got to Frankfurt, it was back through passport control, where Bill got the third degree about our status here. Then we collected our bags and, thank God, a luggage cart. Frankfurt is a huge airport and you have to walk your ass off to get anywhere. Doing it with five bags is a nightmare. Then, we had to get to another level to access the parking garage and half of the elevators seemed to be broken. But we did find a couple of them that functioned, managed to find our Volvo, and now we’re home, chilling…

I’ve already hung up our new art, welcomed our dogs home, and done some housework. The laundry is done and my blog is now complete. I’ll probably write one more post to summarize our trip… strictly for those who don’t want to wade through the whole series. I left out some things, like the lovely Scottish gentleman who was a British Army public health officer and musician, and had lived in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) for twenty years. And the two British/American couples we met, who were charming in their own ways. And the beautiful lady who was always dressed to the nines, no matter what… and the pistol of an 88 year old who managed to keep up with everyone and everything, and told us of her plans to visit the Chilean Fjords soon.

Despite my minor grumbles, we had a very good time. And yes, Bill will continue to wear his kilt. If I have to wear a seatbelt, he has to wear his kilt sometimes… and the idiots who either can’t avert their eyes to avoid being offended by his shorts length knit boxer shorts or are rude enough to comment on it can simply go jump in a lake. I do love Scotland. I love Bill. And anyone who shames him for looking gorgeous in his kilt can answer to me.

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The Eagles sure didn’t stink in Cologne… part 1

Last October, as Bill and I were preparing for our big move from Stuttgart to Wiesbaden, I found out that the Eagles, one of my favorite bands of all time, was going to be playing two dates in Germany in 2019.  2018 was our summer of concerts.  We saw The Rolling Stones in Stuttgart, Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt, and James Taylor (all at one show) in Dublin, Roger Hodgson in Stuttgart, and the Irish Folk Festival in Stuttgart.  I also knew we were going to be seeing Elton John in Stuttgart in May 2019.

Given that we’d already spent so much money on shows and knowing that a move always requires more spending, I hesitated slightly before I bought the tickets.  When we go to concerts, they usually turn into major spending events.  I usually book us a nice hotel, so we don’t have to worry about driving far to get to the venue or trying to park (although we made the mistake of driving to the Elton John show).  I also don’t bother with “nosebleed” seats.  There was a time when those were the best seats I could afford, but now I want to sit closer, which always means more money.

I asked Bill what he thought about seeing the Eagles, even though the band’s legendary frontman, Glenn Frey, passed away in January 2016.  After some thought, Bill was okay with attending the show.  Now it was time to choose a city.  I had a choice between Cologne and Munich.

We had been in Cologne once before, back in May 2012, when we took our very first Space A military “hop”.  I remember we stayed at the Ibis in the train station, which was fine for a night when we were totally exhausted, but probably wouldn’t do now that I’m older and richer.  I also know Munich is expensive, since we did a blind booking out of Cologne on Germanwings (now known as Eurowings) during that same Space A hop and got Munich.  Don’t get me wrong– Munich is so much fun; but it’s super pricey.  Even average hotels down there cost a mint.  Munich is also further away from us, now that we’re in Wiesbaden.

Both of the shows were on work nights, but the Cologne show was the day after Memorial Day, so we decided it would be easiest to go to Cologne.  Bill would use up one less vacation day, and both the concert tickets and the lodging were less expensive than Munich.  Now that we’ve been back to Cologne, I can say that we’ll probably go there for more shows.  Not only was it super easy to get to the concert venue, it’s also super easy to get to Cologne from where we live.  And, as a bonus, we discovered an amazing hotel in the Excelsior Hotel Ernst!  As long as we can afford it, I think the Excelsior Hotel Ernst has effectively ended our Ibis days in Cologne.

This trip was also important, because it provided an excellent opportunity for our dogs to try out a new doggy pension.  When we lived in Stuttgart, we used Dog on Holiday, which I would absolutely recommend to anyone.  In fact, we’ve decided that anytime we need to go to or through Stuttgart with our dogs, we will try to have them stay with Max and Christine.  But it wasn’t practical to take the boys to Dog on Holiday from Wiesbaden, so we needed to find a place for them closer to our new town.  In February, we visited the Tierpension Birkenhof, and arranged for our boys to have their first stay during this quick trip to Cologne.

 

I got us fifth row seats!

 

With all of the arrangements made, we set off for the “city of pleasant smells” on Monday of this week– Memorial Day.  Since our hotel was super close to the train station and the train station had a stop near Cologne’s Lanxess Arena, which was where the Eagles would be “crying”, we decided to take the Inner City Express (ICE) train from the Frankfurt Airport.  The Tierpension Birkenhof is fairly convenient to the airport, although not as convenient as Max’s pension is to the Stuttgart airport.

 

 

 

The Tierpension Birkenhof was recommended to Bill by one of his co-workers.  It’s always interesting to see the differences in the “doggy hotels” in Germany.  When we were in Stuttgart the first time, we used to use Hunde Hotel Haase, which was a beautiful facility in Bad Niedernau, a very country hamlet south of Stuttgart.  Kiersten, the  lady who ran it back in those days, was absolutely awesome.  But, when we came back to Stuttgart in 2014, she’d left and took the hotel’s good reputation with her.  We used the Hunde Hotel Haase a couple more times, but kept hearing horror stories about dogs that were left there.  That’s when we switched to Dog on Holiday, which has been universally great, despite it’s somewhat urban location.

 
 

Tierpension Birkenhoff is a rather large facility that cares for dogs and cats.  It’s located in a somewhat suburban area, yet it’s near farmland.  The owner doesn’t accept VAT forms, and we haven’t yet met him.  We have met two of his employees, both of whom seemed very kind.  

 

I have noticed that each German dog facility has its quirks.  At the Birkenhoff, you’re not allowed to bring your own dog bed.  I’m not sure exactly why this is… I think it’s because the other doesn’t want to have to worry about the owners’ beds getting dirty.  Nevertheless, it does make things somewhat more convenient for us, since we’re about to trade in our RAV 4 SUV for a Volvo SUV and will probably have to bring the dogs in my Mini Cooper next time they stay.  Mini Coopers are small.  Dog beds take up a lot of space.

 

Frankfurt Airport train station to Cologne Messe

 

Once the dogs were dropped off, we made our way to the Frankfurt Airport.  Bill had reserved parking with ACS at the airport, which turned out to be very convenient, once we figured out where P4 was.  The reserved spots are reasonably priced and located near the terminal, so there’s no need to haul heavy bags long distances from far away lots.  Frankfurt Airport is a bit more confusing than Stuttgart Airport is.  It’s huge, and finding parking can be super confusing and annoying.  But now that we know where the ACS parking is, I’m sure we’ll use it all the time.  It really made parking super easy.

 

Frankfurt Airport also has a big train station, making it easy to access a lot of cities.  If we had left from Wiesbaden, it would have taken a lot more time, required us to park in the parking garage from Hell, and we would have needed to change trains at least once.  From Frankfurt Airport, it was a straight shot to Cologne.  

 
 

I like how, in Germany, “bullshit” isn’t a bad word.  You’ll even see it on billboards.

 

We had time for lunch, so we stopped at a restaurant called Little Italy, not to be confused with the Little Italy in Wiesbaden, which has become one of our favorite Sunday lunch stops.  The Little Italy at the airport is in the shopping area called The Squaire.  It’s not long on ambiance, but the food and service are good.

 
Mmm…  food!
 
 

Bill went vegetarian with spaghetti and fresh vegetables, tossed in a little olive oil and washed down with a tempranillo.

 

I had a very lovely tagliatelle salmone.  The salmon was cooked to perfection and melted in my mouth.  I love salmon that isn’t overcooked, and they did a really good job with this.  However, I probably would have preferred about half this much food.  

 

With lunch sorted, we headed down to the platform where we’d catch our train to Cologne.  But then, about ten minutes before we were to depart, our original train was cancelled due to some people on the tracks.  Don’t ask me what that means.  I have no idea.  Bill ran up to the Deutsche Bahn (DB) information kiosk, where he was advised that we should take another train. 

 

Instead of dropping us directly at the Cologne Hauptbahnhof, would go to the Cologne Messe stop.  That would require us to take a city train one stop over the Rhein River.  The nice thing about the train we took was that it went directly from Frankfurt to Cologne, with no stops.  It was also practically empty, which was a good thing, since changing trains also erased our seat reservations.  Within an hour, we were whisked to Cologne, having flown past beautiful scenery at about 280 kph.

 

I was surprised by how fast our trip from Frankfurt to Cologne was on the ICE train.  It was also very comfortable, since the train has clean toilets and a restaurant.  We did not use the restaurant during our trip to Cologne, but it was nice to have had the option.

 

 

Bill checks the schedule…

 

This is the life.  First class all the way.  Second class probably would have been fine, too.

 

We could have taken a more leisurely train to Cologne and probably saved some money, but this was a really nice way to get where we were going.  It’s been too long since our last train trip.  I think we need to take them more often.

 

It was a simple thing to take the S-bahn over the Rhein River to get to Cologne’s main station, home of the city’s majestic Dom and our hotel, the Excelsior Hotel Ernst.  

 

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