Champagne Bucket trips, holidays

Well, it’s official. In two months, we’ll be in Yerevan…

I don’t remember where I found the featured photo– but it does appear to be a very clear photo of Yerevan. When I lived there, air pollution was so bad that we didn’t get to see Mount Ararat every day. I hope for many pictures of it this time…

Last night was interesting. Bill came home and got out his trusty computer, so he could do some administrative tasks for his job. I had floated the idea of maybe using credit card points to help pay for plane tickets to Yerevan and back for our anniversary in November. It costs a LOT to go to Yerevan– especially when you insist on flying in business class. 😉 So we tried doing that, but realized that while the points would make our tickets significantly cheaper, we’d rather just let them ride and use them for a really epic trip in the future.

With that settled, I booked our eight crazy nights in Yerevan in mid November. I am pretty excited about this trip. I lived in Yerevan for 27 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the mid 1990s and haven’t been back since August 21, 1997– the day I left. Things have changed a lot since my departure, although there are still a few people there who remember me from those days. I look forward to showing Bill around and getting to know the city again. If all goes well, I’d like to come back with Bill and show him around the country. There’s a lot to see– and since it’s the size of Maryland, touring the country is doable. We’ll just have to stay out of the dangerous areas near Iran and Azerbaijan.

For this trip, I mainly plan for us to stay near Yerevan. Maybe we’ll go to a couple of nearby spots like Garni/Gerhard and Khor Virap, which are definitely must see excursions. It’s taken me a long time to convince Bill to go… and it’s taken some time to convince myself.

When I left Yerevan, I was really ready to get out of there. I was burned out and depressed. But I’m better now… mentally and emotionally, anyway. Physically, maybe I’m worse. I don’t think I have the stamina I had when I lived in Yerevan and used to walk all over the city. Luckily, we have money now, so we can take cabs. And the cabs now have meters! 😀

In any case, I expect this trip will go fine, and we will be able to come back for more fun, as long as we’re still in Germany and it doesn’t take two days to get there. I am very proud of Armenia. It’s come a long way since I first arrived there in 1995. I have a feeling my mind will be blown by the difference.

Even during the time I lived in Armenia, it changed so much. When we got there in 1995, there was no power in the airport or running water in the public restrooms… By the time I left in 1997, we had 24 hour power, and many places had running water. Now, Yerevan is like a lot of European cities, and has most of what you might ever want or need. The Peace Corps is still there, but Volunteers all live out in the regions. That was becoming true as I left, too. Yerevan is much too fancy for Volunteers now.

In fact, what was once called Hotel Dvin, the hotel where we swore in, is now a super expensive five star resort. I thought about booking it, but decided I’d rather be closer to the center of town, in a place where I can chat up the bartenders. So I chose Paris Hotel Yerevan. I almost booked the Marriott— which was called Hotel Armenia when we arrived in 1995 and stayed on the “old side” of the hotel. It was extremely Soviet in those days, with matronly women sitting on each hall and collecting the room keys (with huge bulblike keyrings) every time we went out of the room. I remember the hot water only worked for two hours in the mornings, and the rooms were downright rustic. After I left, Marriott bought the hotel and fixed it up, but I’ve read a lot of middling reviews. It is significantly more expensive than the hotel I chose, and I prefer to avoid staying in an American corporate hotel… especially one with ties to Mormonism.

On the other hand, you can’t beat the location of the Marriott, as it’s right on Republic Square. But, Paris Hotel is also very close and will probably be quieter. I’ve noticed a lot of street names have changed, and some iconic places have either changed or closed. For instance, I read that the big historic shuka (Pak Shuka) on Mashtots Avenue was bought by an Armenian oligarch who completely overhauled it. What a shame that is! I would have liked to have shown Bill that bustling marketplace. Hopefully we can visit a different shuka in another part of town that hasn’t been turned into a western style supermarket. They are really unique and something special to see.

I look forward to trying some wines, brandies, and local cuisine– especially horovatz (Armenian BBQ)– if I can get it. And I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones! As hard as being in the Peace Corps was for me, it was a life changing experience on so many levels. I might not be living in Germany if I hadn’t joined the Peace Corps.

I’m also hoping that if this trip goes well, we can arrange a trip to neighboring Georgia. I have been in Georgia, but I haven’t had a proper stay there. Bill went there for work in 2008, but it was about a month after the South Ossetia crisis/Russo-Georgian War. I’d like to go there and try more wines. 😉 Georgian wines are wonderful! And I l’d like to sample wonderful Georgian food and take many photos.

Anyway… 2023 seems to be our year to visit the former Soviet Union. I’m excited about this trip, as well as the one we have planned for next month, to the Czech Republic. This blog is about to come alive again!

Champagne Bucket trips, Finland, Latvia

A true first world issue (cross-posted)

Cross posted on my main blog. The featured photo was taken in 2019, when Bill and I went to Sweden to pick up our car and drove it on a Nordic adventure.

I’m in the midst of trying to plan a summer vacation/birthday trip for Bill and myself. Because of the whole COVID-19 odyssey, and the seemingly endless lockdowns that followed, we’ve decided that this year, we’d like to fly somewhere. And because there are a lot of places in Europe we still want to see, we decided to choose our destination using the “champagne bucket” method.

I’ve written about the champagne bucket method on this blog. Basically, I got the idea for it from “blind bookings” on Germanwings (now known as Eurowings). I’m not sure if Eurowings still does blind bookings, but Lufthansa does, and Lufthansa owns Eurowings. It basically involves booking a surprise flight, and usually paying a lower fare. You don’t know where you’re going until after you pay for the ticket(s). Bill and I have done it four times to great success. We visited Barcelona, London, Berlin, and Munich that way.

When we moved back to the States, I decided that it wouldn’t be hard to plan more of our vacations that way. Instead of relying on the airline, we just put our choices on slips of paper and put them in the champagne bucket. Then, Bill picks one of the slips out of the bucket.

I was really rooting for a trip to Armenia and possibly Georgia this summer. That was one of the choices, too. Bill was a bit reluctant, because of political and military issues going on in Armenia right now. We may still go there this year, but for a short trip to Yerevan, instead of an all out country tour. Then, I can show Bill where I lived, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, and sign him up for a more extensive trip. 😉

Anyway, when we did our champagne bucket challenge, Bill ended up choosing Finland. Neither of us has ever been there before. We have been to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Estonia together. Bill has also been to Latvia a couple of times on business. Neither of us has seen Lithuania, but we’ve met people from there and Latvia on cruises.

Originally, I was planning for us to go to Helsinki and do a land based trip, then go by ferry to Tallinn, Estonia, stay a few days, and work our way south to Latvia and Lithuania, before flying back. Then I started researching and discovered, there’s no easy way to travel to Latvia and Lithuania that doesn’t involve riding a bus. We considered renting a car, but that seemed potentially risky.

So then I thought, maybe instead of trying to hit the Baltic capitals, I could go west. Visit Finland, do a day trip in Tallinn, then head west toward Norway, which we know we love. Then I thought, maybe it would be better to start in Norway, and head east to Finland, then go to Tallinn and spend a night or two…

Then I realized how expensive flights would be… plus the stress and inconvenience involving finding transportation, hauling bags, and booking hotels… and although I’d already looked for cruises and initially didn’t see any I liked, I kept getting ads for Regent Seven Seas on Facebook. And Regent is– or was– considered a luxury line, although it’s a much bigger ship than we usually go for when we cruise.

I noticed they had a cruise available during the time we plan to travel. It starts June 23 and ends June 30, and hits ports in Sweden, Helsinki, Estonia, Latvia, and Denmark. We could still go to Norway and do a land based trip, working our way to Stockholm, a city we’ve been to, but didn’t really get to explore at all in 2009. Best of all, the cruise in question is on sale. It’s still expensive, but doable for us. We wouldn’t even have to stay in the cheapest stateroom. I pitched the idea to Bill, who liked it.

I started making a booking request. It took about a half dozen times to finally get registered. I mismatched my email address, or added one too many dots in the address, or the passwords didn’t match. Finally, I had my account, and started to make the request.

But the stateroom I wanted was listed as twice as expensive than was advertised. While we technically could do it, I’d rather spend that much money on a new car or a down payment on a house. So I stopped making the request, and sent an inquiry to Regent, asking them to confirm that the cruise is on sale.

About an hour later, I got a phone call through my iPad, which I wasn’t prepared to answer, as I was reading something to Bill. I also got a message, written in German, indicating that the cruise is on sale, and inviting me to call between 11am and 8pm today. I sent a message back in English, asking if I have to call to get that rate, and clarifying that I’m American and can’t speak German worth a damn. 😉

Then I went on Cruise Critic and started reading reviews and comments on the messageboards. The consensus is, the ship I’m looking at booking is beautiful, although Regent has “gone downhill” in recent years. Bill and I have done cruises on Royal Caribbean, SeaDream, and Hebridean Island Cruises. SeaDream and Hebridean, like Regent, are considered luxury and are all inclusive. However, they are much smaller ships. So Regent would be a different cruise experience for us, and it would offer some convenience, as we’d be hitting places we want to visit– albeit for a shorter time than we would personally plan for ourselves.

I truly am attracted to the cruise because of the itinerary and the time the cruise is going. I don’t have particularly high expectations of great service or being treated like royalty. A cruise just offers a convenient way to cross some items off our bucket list.

On the other hand, I was kind of looking forward to a deeper dive into the areas, and exploring more on our own. Also, there’s less chance of running into people with whom we don’t mesh when we do land based trips, or getting sick from any number of viruses on ships. I like to plan trips and look for interesting places to stay. I guess the pre cruise travel to Norway would offer that, but I was kind of wanting to get more of a feel for Finland.

Either way, this trip is going to be expensive. Good thing Bill got a generous raise this year. We do have the money, too… at least for the cruise. I’m just not used to having that, either… being somewhat well-heeled is kind of a new experience for us.

Sigh… a trip to Armenia would be a lot more economical. On the other hand, if I develop a bleeding stomach ulcer, I’d feel better about seeking treatment in a nordic country. 😉

This is truly a first world problem. I’m sure I should just go for it and see what happens. We’ve had some great times on cruises and made some friends. And a bonus is, since Regent ships are a lot bigger, there’s less chance I’ll get seasick this time.

We’ll see what happens. I may scrap the idea of the cruise. It is tempting, though… Regent is probably more comfortable than the Stockholm to Helsinki ferry.


Sweet false hopes… but BrewDog saved the afternoon!

A few days ago, The New York Times ran an article about Khachapuri, a popular dish made of fresh bread, cheese, and egg, in Transcaucasian countries, to include Georgia and Armenia. I lived in Armenia for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and while I can’t say I ate a lot of Khachapuri when I lived there, I’ve come to appreciate the milder versions offered outside of the country. When I lived in Armenia, the dish was made with stinky cheese, which I could not abide. When it’s made with milder cheese, it’s more delicious to me.

Anyway, when I saw the article in The New York Times, I was reminded of the times Bill and I have enjoyed Georgian food. We went to Georgian restaurants in Stuttgart and Frankfurt, as well as several in Wroclaw, Poland. The Frankfurt restaurant was a bit of a disappointment, but the ones in Stuttgart and Poland were awesome. I did a Google search and learned that much to my shock, Wiesbaden has an Armenian restaurant unsurprisingly called Ararat. I looked them up, and it appeared that they were open today. So Bill and I ventured out there to see if it was a good place to eat.

The restaurant is located in an area of Wiesbaden that is known for its Eastern European population. That’s where one can visit the Mix Markt for eastern goodies. It’s in a residential area, and probably gets lots of locals as visitors. It also looks like they host a lot of parties and such, with live music.

We approached, and the door was open. There was a young guy on the phone and a young woman. The proprietor came out and said they were closed on Sundays, even though Google and their sign said they were supposed to be open every day.

I couldn’t resist, and asked in Armenian if they were from Armenia (Hayastan), since the place also advertises Russian food. Their faces lit up as they answered yes, in Armenian, and asked if I was Armenian, too. I actually answered “no” in German, then explained in Armenian that I know some Armenian. Then I said in English “I used to live there.” What can I say? It’s been 25 years since I last had to speak Armenian on a daily basis. Anyway, I could hear them commenting and chuckling as we walked away. We’ll have to call and find out when they have regular hours. I’d love to try their horovats… or shashlik, if they prefer.

We went back to Wiesbaden and parked at the Kurhaus, then walked into town. It didn’t look like anything exciting was happening, so we headed to BrewDog, where we ate a couple of months ago. I knew they’d be open, because they don’t take a pause. It was almost 2:00pm.

We drank a couple of beers and each tried something different from the last time we visited. I had a “Cluck Norris” sandwich, which was fried chicken breast with avocado, red onion, cajun mayo, and coriander with a side of fries. Bill had a roasted chicken sourdough bowl, which was basically a big salad with pieces of chicken and a piece of toasted sourdough bread. His dish also included chilli, chia seeds, and avocado.

We enjoyed the music, and I took a few new selfies, because I was wearing makeup and the lighting was good. Plus, since it wasn’t super hot outside, I wore something besides a t-shirt and shorts. While we were sitting there, a waifish blonde girl came in and dropped off a keychain with a note. She was quick as a flash, and we watched her go in and out in a matter of a minute or so, before she went across the street and did the same at a cafe. This isn’t the first time this has happened to us. I’m not sure where she was from, but I would guess it’s an eastern nation, and this is their way of collecting money. They try to sell little trinkets to sympathetic people who are trying to eat. I don’t think she had any luck.

Below are a few photos. I didn’t manage to get any of Ararat, although I’m sure we’ll try to visit again when they’re open– after we’ve called to verify. The owner had a very kind face and seemed super friendly. But I don’t mind that we went to BrewDog, either. That’s a fun place!

I really do hope we can try Ararat. I love finding new restaurants, especially when they offer different food than what is available everywhere! And I have missed Armenia… and Armenian people!


Cross post: A review of Yes You Can! Have a Second Life After 60

This book review also appears on my main blog. I am reposting it here, because it’s about travel and living abroad.

Yesterday, I mentioned that I had downloaded the book my former Peace Corps colleague, Loretta Land, published in 2019. I spent a good portion of today reading it, finally finishing it a little while ago. Loretta’s book, Yes You Can! Have a Second Life After 60, appears to have been self-published in 2019. Loretta died in January of this year, so she evidently just made it under the wire to fulfill her goal of writing a book. I remember back in 1995, when we first met as trainees for Peace Corps Armenia, Loretta told me she was going to write a book about her experience. Little did I know that after our service ended, Loretta would go on to work in Armenia, the Republic of Georgia, Uzbekistan, Ghana, and China.

Loretta’s overseas adventures began in Armenia, when she decided she wanted to be a Peace Corps Small Business Volunteer (SEAD). Originally, she’d planned to go to Fiji when she was 63 years old. This was because she figured she could do her two years, then come home eligible for Social Security. But she writes that God had other plans for her, and she, along with 31 others of us, got the chance to come to Armenia instead, two years sooner than she’d planned. As she mentions frequently in her book, God’s plans don’t always line up with ours.

Loretta Land was the eldest member of our Peace Corps group, A3. We were the third group to come to Armenia and probably the first group that didn’t run into a significant number of problems. Loretta explains that A1, the first group, had arrived in Armenia in the dead of winter and things were not quite up to speed. A lot of people in that group either quit or found jobs. A2 was a smaller group that arrived just as the first group was finishing up. Likewise, that group endured a lot of hardships. Quite a few people quit or found jobs. Our group arrived when things were still pretty tough in Armenia, even in the capital city, Yerevan, but logistics had worked out enough that things were pretty livable. We did have a few people quit and/or get medically separated, and one woman decided to marry her host brother rather than serve (she never swore in). But, by and large, our group was pretty resilient and most of us did our two years.

I didn’t get to know Loretta as well as I would have liked. We both lived in Yerevan, but she lived on the other side of town. I always had great respect for her, as she was always so kind, productive, and caring. I admired how she had decided to come to Armenia and be of service to the people there. And boy, was she of great service to the people. I was very impressed with all she managed to do while she was a Volunteer, as well as afterwards. She came back to Armenia to work on a couple of occasions, and I guess found that she preferred living abroad in developing countries rather than working in the States. She did have a three month stint working in Americorps (formerly called VISTA), but ended up resigning from that and coming back to the former Soviet Union.

Loretta’s book was fun for me to read, mainly because I knew a lot of the people in Armenia she mentioned, as well as some of the situations she writes about. However, the fact that I was in Armenia with her also presented some problems. I’m kind of a stickler about editing, and as much as I enjoyed Loretta’s book, I also think it really needed a few rounds with an editor. Because I knew a lot of the people she mentions in Armenia, I know that a number of names were misspelled, and I don’t think she did that on purpose. Any of us who were in Armenia at the time she was would know the people she mentioned.

She also got some facts incorrect. For instance, on more than one occasion, she mentions that the Soviet Union consisted of thirteen republics; it actually consisted of fifteen. I knew this, but double checked just in case. She mentions that the wife of the U.S. ambassador who served Armenia when we were there was Korean. Actually, she was Vietnamese. I double checked that fact, too. And she mentions that abortion is illegal in Armenia. This is incorrect. I actually knew several women who’d had multiple abortions, as it was the main source of birth control. I actually went to a meeting to discuss the abortion situation in Armenia. A couple of A1s who were working in Armenia had done some work on the abortion issue and we had a discussion about how rampant it was. And I also double checked that fact, too.

Large portions of Yes You Can! consist of letters and emails Loretta lovingly wrote to her children. I enjoyed reading the letters and emails, although sometimes she addressed people within them without explaining who they were. I’m sure her family members and friends know who they are, but this is a book that was being sold on Amazon and presumably read by strangers. So the lack of explanation could be a problem for those reading who didn’t actually know Loretta. She repeats herself a few times, which adds to the length of the book, which according to Kindle, is about 670 pages. An editor could have helped her pare down some redundancies and make the book shorter and easier to digest. There are lots of footnotes, too, which I sometimes found distracting and/or unnecessary. The title of the book implies that it might be a “how to” book, when it’s really a collection of stories about Loretta’s experiences overseas.

I know it sounds like I’m being very critical, and I am. But my criticisms don’t mean I didn’t like Yes You Can! I’m actually really glad I read Loretta Land’s book. She managed to accomplish so much, and she made so many lifelong friends. One thing that puzzled me, though, and I wish she were still around to explain, is why more than once, she writes “I never learned how to love.” She mentions that she went to high school at a boarding academy because she had no home to go to, although she also mentions that she was the youngest child of six. She doesn’t really explain her upbringing, nor does she explain why she says she “never learned how to love”, when it’s very obvious to me that she was a person who both loved, and was loved very much by other people.

Above all, I am just really impressed by Loretta’s bravery and her fortitude. I was in my 20s when we lived in Armenia, and I thought it was tough living there. I think Loretta’s living conditions were harsher than mine were. I didn’t have electricity much during the first year, but I did always have running water. Loretta apparently didn’t have much of either. She faced some truly frightening situations, too. At one point, early in our Peace Corps stint, Loretta was actually threatened by the Armenian Mafia. She writes of two other situations in other countries in which she was afraid for her life. I did have a couple of scary incidents myself, but none involving the Mafia!

I mentioned in yesterday’s post how grateful I am that I had the chance to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. One reason I am grateful is because I got to meet people like Loretta, who was very inspiring. I really looked up to her, and now that I’ve read about how she spent the last years of her life– serving and teaching other people– I admire her even more. She really lead a fascinating life. She mentions that one of her sons predeceased her. I’m sure the rest of her children are amazing people. I already read about her son, Andy, who is a hospice nurse and climbs mountains. A few years ago, Andy was climbing Mount Everest when there was an earthquake an an avalanche. Andy managed to survive, but not before Loretta was interviewed by the news. I later caught up with Loretta on Facebook, amazed that she looked and sounded just like I remembered her years ago.

So, despite my criticisms, I am glad I spent the money and took the time to read my former colleague’s book. It was a treat to read, but mainly because I knew her. She was a wonderful woman. I’m glad she managed to accomplish this goal she had before her time on Earth came to an end.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.


Wonderful Georgian food at Tshito-Gwrito in Stuttgart!

Today’s post is brought to you courtesy of Stacy, a member of Stuttgart food and wine lovers, a Facebook group for English speakers in the Stuttgart area.  A few days ago, Stacy posted about Tshito-Gwrito, a Georgian restaurant she and her husband discovered.  She remembered that I posted about how much I love Georgian wines and wondered if I’d tried this restaurant.  I must confess that prior to her post, I had no idea the place existed.  However, it took very little convincing before I was ready to drive the hour to the city to try it.  Earlier today, their official Web site was working, but right now, it appears to be down.  You can also check out their Facebook page.

I was excited to try Tshito-Gwrito, mainly because I used to live in the Republic of Armenia, which is the country south of Georgia.  Both Armenia and Georgia are Christian countries that were once part of the former Soviet Union.  Wine was pretty much born in Georgia and Armenia, although during the Soviet era, Georgia focused on winemaking while Armenia focused on producing exquisite brandy.  When I looked at the restaurant’s menu, I saw a few selections I remembered from my time in Armenia.  Their cuisines are somewhat similar.  I already knew about Georgia’s wonderful wines, which I have talked up a lot in Stuttgart food and wine lovers.  I had a feeling the food would be a most welcome change of pace.

From our home, Tshito-Gwrito is about an hour away by car.  It was a bit of a pain to navigate Stuttgart traffic and then find a place to park.  However, I am happy to report that the effort was well worth it.  We had a wonderful time at Tshito-Gwrito and we will definitely make an effort to go back.  I saw a few things on the menu I still want to try.

A couple of shots of the outside.  In warmer months, they have a Biergarten.


On weekends, Tshito-Gwrito opens at 3:00pm and stays open until midnight.  The restaurant is closed on Mondays.  Tuesday through Friday, Tshito-Gwrito opens at 5:00pm and closes at midnight; they will be open tomorrow for Easter.  Our waitress, a lovely lady who eventually confessed to us that she’s half German, half Irish, said that tomorrow they will have Georgians and Armenians having their Easter meal there.  I suspect there will be a lot of happy drunk people there giving super long toasts.  Drinking and toasting are two other things the Georgians and Armenians have in common.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there was also music and dancing.

A shot of the interior.  The dining room we were in was rather small, though they appeared to have another room to the left as we walked in.   We took a seat in a corner.  We had plenty of room, since we arrived at just after 3:00pm.  Two other parties were there with us.

Bill checks out the menu.

Our waitress spoke perfect English.  She seemed slightly relieved when I told her I used to live in Armenia and, therefore, knew about food from the region.  I’m not sure if they’ve had issues with people who don’t get the concept of food from the Caucasus region.  Personally, I thought today’s food was outstanding… in fact, I don’t remember enjoying anything as much when I actually lived in the region.  But then, that was was also the mid 1990s, which definitely wasn’t the best time to be in that area.  Things have improved dramatically over the past 20 years or so.

We ordered a bottle of Mukuzani, which is a spicy, dry, red wine made from Saperavi grapes in Mukuzani, Kakheti.  Mukuzani is aged in oak casks for at least three years longer than similar wines, which gives it a different flavor profile.  This wine was delicious, especially after it had some time to open.  The restaurant also offers Georgian wines by the glass and a range of beers and other beverages.  They have “cha cha” too, which is basically Georgia’s version of grappa.  I steer clear of it because it’s very strong stuff… reminds me of jet fuel.


The waitress explained that the restaurant prefers to serve the meals family style, which is also how it’s often done in the Caucasus.  That worked fine for Bill and me, since we like to try different things.  I hesitated when she recommended the Khachapuri, which is flat bread baked with cheese and other fillings.  I remembered the super strong cheese it was served with in Armenia.  The waitress set my mind at ease when she said the cheese they used was mozzarella mixed with a Georgian cheese.  I resolved to try it, reasoning that Bill loves strong cheese and would finish it if I didn’t like it.  We also ordered the spinach, which was basically like a spread made with walnuts, spinach, onions, pomegranate seeds, and Georgian spices.

Oh my word… I am SO glad we had the Khachapuri.  It was delicious.  It came out hot from the oven, with mild cheese that was not at all offensive to my sensitive palate.  And that spinach was also amazing.  Bill said my eyes lit up as I tasted it.

When you look at the menu at Tshito-Gwrito, in the back, you will notice a separate section called Vorbestellung.  Basically, those are dishes you can order ahead of time.  Today, they had several dishes from that part of the menu available.  One of the dishes they had was Ostri, pictured below.

Basically, the Ostri was like a tomato based beef stew.  The beef reminded me of very tender pot roast cut into chunks and mixed with the mildly spiced tomato ragu.  It was served with slices of bread that could be used to sop up the stew.  They also had a chicken stew.

And we also had Shashlik– marinated pork grilled on a spit and served with onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, and fried potatoes.  The shashlik came with a cold tomato sauce on the side.


When I lived in Armenia, one of my favorite treats was xhorovatz (Armenian barbecue).  It was basically meat on a stick cooked over a fire and served with vegetables and lavash.  Shashlik was a lot like xhorovatz, minus the lavash.  It was delicious!  I will admit that getting through the last course was a challenge.  I was getting full!

We took some time to finish our wine and water after we finished the shashlik, listening to the pop music and chatting with the friendly waitress, who confessed that the Georgians who own the restaurant are wonderful people.  I am not surprised.  That part of the world is renowned for its hospitality.  I am hoping we can plan a trip to Georgia and Armenia before we have to leave Europe.  I am dying to show Bill my old stomping grounds, meet up with people I know over there, and enjoy the amazing food and wine.

We finished up by splitting a Napoleon, which is basically a very light, crispy pastry filled with custard and covered with powdered sugar.  We also had espresso, which came with a little glass of sparkling water.  Napoleons are widely found in the Caucasus region and in Russia and France.


When we were finally finished after almost three hours, we owed about 81 euros.  This was a wonderful meal and worth every Euro cent.  We definitely plan to go back sometime, even though getting there isn’t that easy.  The food is outstanding and the service was charming and friendly.  Honestly, in a place where there are so many Greek, German, and Italian restaurants, it’s such a nice change of pace to have a meal in a place that serves something different.  We didn’t have a single item today that we didn’t really enjoy.

If you’re in the mood for something different, I would highly recommend making the trip to Tshito-Gwrito.  Many thanks, once again, to Stacy in the food and wine group!  One of the reasons I started that group was so that we might all make new culinary discoveries!  Today’s restaurant definitely counts as one of those!  And now I can steer people to Russian food AND Georgian food in the Stuttgart area.

I think this is my new WTF look. 

Great booze tourism spots…

While there’s no denying that some people shouldn’t drink alcohol and over imbibing can lead to health problems, there’s also no denying that booze tourism is a trend that’s been growing in popularity.  Bill and I have definitely enjoyed some fun booze touristy spots in our travels.  Here’s a list of some of the places we enjoyed the most.

Vinopolis– London, England  (ETA: Sadly, Vinopolis is now closed!)

Bill and I visited Vinopolis in January 2009 over Martin Luther King weekend.  We were living in Germany at the time, so it wasn’t too hard to get to London.  I had heard about Vinopolis by watching Samantha Brown’s Passport to Europe.  Knowing how much we enjoy tasting booze, we knew we had to make a point of stopping there.  We tasted everything from Slovenian wine to Czech absinthe.  Afterwards, we staggered to the Clink Museum next door and looked at all the prison memorabilia.

Bill tries out the moped through Italy’s wine regions…


Waiting for a Bombay Sapphire gin cocktail.

Chodovar– Chodova Plana, Czech Republic

I never thought I’d take a bath in beer, but I sure did when we visited Chodovar.  I first heard about Chodovar when I saw it featured on Zane Lamprey’s drinking show, Three Sheets.  In February 2009, I decided we needed to pay the place a visit.  I neglected to bring my camera on that trip, but if you click the link, you can see plenty of photos of the pewter tubs where you soak in hops and sip beer.  Afterwards, we relaxed in a dark room, then enjoyed massages.  The whole experience was very reasonably priced.  I think for the entire weekend, which included meals, parking, and three nights in the hotel, cost us less than $500.

Pilsner Urquell Museum– Plzen, Czech Republic

We saw this museum on the same trip in February 2009 and it, too, was featured on Three Sheets.  This museum offers a great history of Pilsner Urquell brewing and beer making in general.  After you’re finished looking at the extensive museum, you can stop by the restaurant and sample the beer.  We also had a nice lunch there.

This show is worth watching if you are curious about the Czech Republic and all the boozing you can do there.  On a side note, I sat in the same tub at Chodovar Zane Lamprey is in.

Asheville, North Carolina

We went to Asheville to celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary and were delighted to find a great beer culture there.  There are a number of craft beers made in Asheville, many of which offer tours.  If you prefer wine, you can stop by the Biltmore Estate, which offers tours of its winery and tastings.  Bill and I took the tour and were very impressed by the quality of the wines sold there.

Dinner at a brewpub…

The Biltmore on a cloudy day!

Beautiful Asheville!

Texas Wine Country!

Living near San Antonio, Bill and I aren’t too far from Texas Wine Country, which is in the hills northwest of San Antonio.  There, you will find a string of wineries offering surprisingly good products.  One of my favorite stops is Comfort, Texas, which is where you’ll find Bending Branch Winery and Singing Water Vineyards…  I’m sure there are more I’d love, but we haven’t visited them yet.  In all seriousness, Texas Wine Country boasts 37 wineries.  With San Antonio, Austin, New Braunfels, and  Fredericksburg all in the vicinity, there’s plenty of opportunity for non booze related fun, too.  Of course, there are craft breweries in Texas too… and excellent tequila.

Museum of Creveja– Lisbon, Portugal

Okay, so the Museum of Beer in Lisbon isn’t all that exciting in terms of beer tourism.  I mean, you wouldn’t go to Lisbon just to see the beer museum unless you were extremely hardcore.  But if you happen to be in Lisbon, it’s not a bad idea to stop by the beer museum to learn about Portugal’s influence in brewing.  It’s three euros a person to see the exhibit, which includes a sample.  Then you can head to the bar where you can imbibe to your heart’s content.

Bill drinks with a fake monk.

Bill and I went to Scotland and visited two whisky distilleries.  We also visited the Scotch Whisky Experience, which is pretty cool if you can’t go to the distilleries.  Granted, the distilleries may be more authentic, but the Scotch Whisky Experience is right there in Edinburgh.  On the other hand, we learned much about the scotch making process at Arran and Springbank distilleries.  And the Springbank distillery was especially cool, since it offers one of the few examples of Campbeltown style scotch whisky.  Campbeltown used to be a big whisky hub, but sadly a lot of the distilleries are gone now.

The Scotch Whisky Experience has an enormous collection of scotches…

JailHouse Brewing Company, Hampton, GA  (now closed)

Okay, so Hampton, Georgia isn’t exactly on most peoples’ tourism hotspots, but if you’re willing to get there, you may be in for a treat.  Bill and I used to live in a town close to Hampton, which is where a local entrepreneur purchased the old jailhouse and made it into a craft brewing facility.  You can take a tour and taste their excellent brews, which have really caught on in the Atlanta area.  Bill and I can’t get JailHouse beers in Texas, but luckily we have friends who can send it to us.  If you’re in the Atlanta area and don’t mind taking a trip south of the city, I recommend a trip to JailHouse Brewing Company!

As you can see, Bill enjoyed his taste of the Breakout Stout!

I’m sure there will be more posts on this subject as we keep traveling!


The big road trip… part one

Our trip to Texas began last Saturday, July 26th.  We’d spent the couple of days prior packing and cleaning and staying at the local Hampton Inn.  My back was killing me from the hard work and my nerves were frazzled by unprofessional movers.  For some reason, the bed at the Hampton Inn in Sanford, North Carolina had tits.  There was also a strange post it note assuring us our duvet and sheets were “clean”.  I should hope so!

We didn’t keep the dogs with us at the Hampton Inn because they didn’t allow pets and we wanted them totally out of our hair while the movers were packing and loading up.  Our house in Sanford didn’t even have a fenced yard for us to put them in.

Our bed at the Sanford Hampton Inn had tits…

I tried out the whirlpool.  It was surprisingly nice and easily accommodated my fat ass.

Though I was ready to light out of Sanford, I will miss it there.  It was very peaceful and quiet.

Sanford Hampton Inn has the feel of a nursing home, but the room had a fridge and a microwave and was reasonably comfortable.  They had a guest laundry, which was very helpful and offered breakfast, both hot and “on the go”.  The on the go breakfast was handy for us, because I ended up using it as lunch.

Nevertheless, it was finally time to hit the road.  Bill and I dumped our spare change for the last time at the grocery store, then bought some gas for my 2009 Mini Cooper convertible.  I hardly ever drive it and on this trip to Texas, finally passed the 16,000 mile point.

As I was about to follow Bill to a fast food joint for breakfast, the car stalled out completely.  I rolled backwards into the gas station parking lot while Bill continued on without me.  I don’t know why the car stalled, but it was totally dead for several minutes, then mysteriously resurrected.  I managed to drive to a strip mall, where I called Bill.  He met me there; we ate nasty breakfast sandwiches at Subway; and then when I went to start the car again, it did the same thing.

We were both pretty leery because we didn’t have time to take the car to Raleigh for repairs.  I resolved to let it run in the parking lot of the pet resort, where our dogs Zane and Arran had been spending the last few days in North Carolina.  Once we picked them up, we were on our way…  Our first stop was Peachtree City, Georgia.  Bill and I once lived in neighboring Fayetteville, so we are familiar with the area.  We decided to stop there because we wanted to pick up some beer made by JailHouse Brewing Company.

The first day was the longest one.  We arrived in Peachtree City at about 5:30pm.  We both had pounding headaches from fighting the local traffic.  Still, Peachtree City is a pleasant area and I was glad to be back there for a night.  We stayed at the Wyndham, which is a big conference center.  The Wyndham in Peachtree City is pet friendly, but we had to pay an extra $100 for the boys to stay with us.  The room did not have a microwave or fridge and they gave us two double beds instead of the king Bill asked for.  On the other hand, the toiletries were awesome and the room was very spacious.

The boys each chose a bed.  Arran slept with me, while Zane slept with Bill.  Usually it’s the other way around.  Arran is the dog on the first bed, while Zane is on the other.


The dogs were like kids who had been trapped in a car all day.  Once they were turned loose in the hotel room, playtime commenced.  I took them out for a pee break at about 8:00am the next morning and they ran into a little dog in the stairwell.  They all started barking like crazy.  When I brought them back, some lady peered out the door at me and gave me a filthy look.  Sorry, lady.  It’s not like we wanted them to bark.  Sometimes shit just happens.  That’s why we were booked on the pet floor.

We did get out of there as soon as we could so the lady could get more beauty rest.  She appeared to need it.

The view from our hotel room in Georgia.

Another view of the room.  

  Nice bathroom, even if the water was tepid.


That was our second stay at the Wyndham in Peachtree City.  I’m pleased to report that we had a better room the second time, even if the view wasn’t as nice.  Internet worked great, whereas last time we were there, it wasn’t working well at all.  If we’d had a fridge and a microwave and the water had been hotter, I would have given them an A for effort.  As it stands, I think they get a B.

All in all, the first leg was just exhausting, but not dramatic.  Once we got the car going, we had no other problems with it stalling.  I think it just needs to be serviced.  Indeed, Bill got an email from Flow Mini in Raleigh just this morning reminding us it’s time.  Guess we’ll find a place in Texas for that.