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Turning 50 in Antwerp… part eight

On the morning of June 21, we got up and packed everything, and Bill took it to the car, which was buried deep under the hotel in their tiny parking garage. We went down to breakfast and enjoyed the other half of the delicious strawberry tart. It was even better the second day! I was sorry to leave De Witte Lelie, as it was such a welcoming and homey hotel. The staff is so friendly and helpful, and the accommodations are stylish and comfortable. Alas, we had to leave Antwerp and go home to our dogs. So, after we settled the bill and said goodbye, we got in the Volvo and took about half an hour trying to maneuver out of the garage, which has a steep incline to the door. Kudos to Bill and the many fancy sensors on the Volvo for getting us out of there unscathed!

We also had much less trouble leaving Antwerp than entering it, as Bill didn’t make any wrong turns. I was sorry to leave without a new diamond, but I think I’d rather get one at a place where I’m not a tourist. There were a couple of Trip Advisor horror stories that advised me against shopping for a new rock in Belgium.

First on our agenda was to stop at a Belgian supermarket to pick up some beers for home. We stopped at a little co-op market and loaded up a cart with suds, as well as a few other items. Bill went to pay, and it turned out they didn’t take Visa. They also didn’t have an ATM. So the cashier was kind enough to watch our cart while we searched for a cash machine. That took about an hour, even with a GPS… but eventually, we got our euros, gassed up the car, I unloaded the breakfast beverages, and we went back to the store to make our purchase. The cashier had kept the cart safe for us. Next time, we’ll bring cash.

Then, we headed eastward, stopping at a typical German Rastplatz for lunch at McDonald’s. I had to laugh when Bill ordered two Royales and one of them came with the bun that is usually reserved for plain cheeseburgers (no sesame seeds). I guess McDonald’s in Europe are also suffering from supply chain shortages.

Our drive home was completely uneventful, and we arrived in the mid afternoon. I got started on my blogging, and Bill went to get the dogs, who were very happy to come home after four nights away. I always worry about Arran on our trips now, as he’s an old guy and would rather hang out with us. Noyzi was also very glad to be back home in his bed.

I was feeling okay… maybe there was a little scratchiness in my throat. I didn’t know that Wednesday, I’d be legitimately sick for the first time in several years and wondering if I finally got COVID-19. I have so far tested twice, and got negative results both times. I also feel a lot better today than I did yesterday. So… I’m thinking this was a cold. But, I will confess that this trip was maskless and restriction free. I might have gotten COVID-19, but so far, the tests say no… However, I don’t interact with people anyway, so I’m just riding it out at home. Today, I feel like I am about 85% normal. Yesterday, I was probably 60% normal. Wednesday night and Thursday were the worst, but even they weren’t as bad as the last time I had the flu. I haven’t had a fever, body aches, or exhaustion. I have had a runny nose, coughing, vomiting (from coughing), headache, sinus pressure, and mild fatigue. In other words, this sickness feels like a cold.

So ends my 50th birthday celebration. I must say, it was a lot of fun turning 50 in Antwerp. Belgium is a great destination for me, mainly because it has beer, frites, chocolate, and friendly, unpretentious people who are funny! I hope we can visit Antwerp again, and I would encourage you to visit, if you have the time and the means!

Stay tuned for my usual ten things I learned post… if you’re interested, that is. 😉

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

Sunday morning, we woke up more than ready to head home to Germany. I missed Noyzi and Arran, even though I generally enjoy it when we have a chance to take a break from the dogs. I saw so many cute dogs in France, including a couple of European styled beagles that made me want to get one of my own! Of course, I won’t be doing that until we are down to one dog again. Arran doesn’t share well, and even after about 18 months with Noyzi, he only barely tolerates him. And Noyzi is a very kind and considerate dog.

We went down to the Stammtisch to find our usual breakfast. The day prior, the breakfast lady had thought we were leaving and asked us if we wanted to pay. We had to remind her that Sunday was our day of departure. I got the impression that maybe people don’t typically stay at the Auberge au Boeuf for several nights, as we did. But actually, there’s a lot to do in the area around Sessenheim. It’s not too far to get to Strasbourg. Nancy and Metz aren’t as close as Strasbourg is, but we could have visited there if the mood struck. Of course, the Alsatian wine route, south of Strasbourg, isn’t far, either. Neither is Baden-Baden, the great German spa town.

As you can see by my posts, we did manage to find several cute and diverse eastern French hamlets. It occurred to me that north of Strasbourg is more diverse in appearance than the southern area is. Over the past few years, Bill and I have visited Alsace more than anywhere else in Europe. We almost completely missed Alsace the first time we lived in Germany together. I’m so glad we’ve had the opportunity to explore this unique, historic, and beautiful part of France. We really enjoyed visiting Sessenheim, Soufflenheim, Haguenau, Bitche, Obernai, and Saverne! Each place was different and had its own special vibe and history.

It’s not lost on me that my unexpected and unplanned lifestyle as an “overeducated housewife” has come with certain perks. If I had done with my life what I had planned to do, I might have managed a visit to Paris or Lyon… or maybe to Nice again. Those are all lovely cities, but they tend to be teeming with Americans. Thanks to Bill’s work with the Army, I’ve had some great opportunities to see “the real France”, as it was put by a British man who owned a wine shop in Cluny, France, which we visited in 2017. Cluny is a very nice city in Burgundy and we loved our time there. But I would not expect too many Americans to go, especially not from the United States. That was where Bill ate pig intestines! Talk about a typically FRENCH experience!

Anyway, we enjoyed our last breakfast, but it was time to go home. We loaded up the car and I paid for everything with my credit card– about 1600 euros ($1800 approximately) when all was said and done. That was for four nights in a beautiful suite, breakfast for two every morning, three bottles of wine, four apéritifs, and two nights of sumptuous dinners for two. Parking was free. I feel good about stimulating the local economy.

On the way out of Sessenheim, we stopped at a nearby Boulangerie/Patisserie to get some French pastries. Bill got several beignets, two pain au chocolats, and a kugelhopf. It was a lot for just the two of us. Fortunately, the kuglehopf has kept well in the fridge. I wish he’d gotten some croissants, too. French croissants are better than the locals ones we can get.

The drive back to Wiesbaden was totally uneventful and took about two hours. We had no traffic issues at all, and the weather was fine. I had to laugh on Sunday night, as we dined on Popeye’s Fried Chicken from the food court on post. It’s crazy that we went from five star dining to fast food in less than 24 hours.

I would not hesitate to book Auberge au Boeuf again. Next time, I hope we can try their Stammtisch at lunch or dinner, and if the menu has changed, I would definitely be up for another grand gourmet experience at their restaurant. We’ll see what the future holds! Below are are few last photos from our most recent adventures in France.

If you’ve been following along with this series, thank you so much for reading. My travel blog has been dying, thanks to the pandemic and moving to a new platform. I hope this series will be the first of more to come in 2022! Wish us luck!

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blog news, trip planning

Ready, set…

It’s early Sunday morning. We are still in Salzburg, Austria, but we’re already packed up and will probably be on the road to Germany in an hour or so. We have had a marvelous trip, and I am ready to write all about it. I don’t know what time we’ll get home today, since Germany has experienced a large surge in COVID-19 infections since we’ve been gone. I expect we could experience a delay at the border, even though Bill uploaded our vaccine documents to the Robert Bosch Institute (or whatever), proving that we’ve had the shots.

I look forward to having clean laundry and seeing my dogs. I’ve been worried about them while we’ve been gone, but I also know that we would have heard something if they weren’t okay. I look forward to taking a nap with Arran and being goosed in the butt by Noyzi. I do like to take trips, but I also like being at home, where everything is familiar. I suppose my car battery is probably dead, since the Mini hasn’t been started in ages. And hopefully, no one broke in during our absence, but our landlord lives next door and is always home, so I doubt that happened.

So this blog will be waking up very soon…. I look forward to sharing the many photos and stories, hopefully starting today, but definitely starting tomorrow… unless we get wiped out on the Autobahn, or I get arrested for punching out bikers who flip me off (more on that in an upcoming blog post).

Stay tuned!

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staying home

British style Trivial Pursuit and a surprise “visit” from my mom…

We had big plans to try a new restaurant yesterday, but the weather was icky and I didn’t feel like wandering around in the cold and wind. That gave us the perfect opportunity to try out the new 40th anniversary edition Trivial Pursuit game I bought from Amazon.de. I ordered it when Bill’s mom was visiting us last month, but we never got around to trying it until yesterday afternoon. Over wine and Steely Dan, we played the game, quickly realizing that it was a British version, which made it a bit more challenging. We got lots of British culture, sports, and government questions. I’m not complaining, though. It made the game more interesting.

At home in storage, we have the original game that came out in the 80s. Bill was always very good at Trivial Pursuit. He says his ex wife complained that he cheated, he was so good at it. Fortunately, Bill and I are evenly matched. I won yesterday’s game, but it was close.

After we were finished playing our board game, I took a look at Facebook and noticed a long, lost, familiar face… There was my mom, featured on the Facebook page for the assisted living place where she’s lived for the past ten years. She looks great, standing next to an exquisite counted cross stitch project she recently finished. My mom is super talented with keyboards, knitting needles, and other needles. I inherited her musical gifts, but not her talent for making beautiful works of art with needles, beads, and thread.

After my dad retired from the Air Force, my parents ran their own business out of our home. Mom sold knitting and needlework supplies, and she taught countless people her crafts. Dad sold art and framed pictures for people. Mom was also a church organist for about fifty years. Unlike most kids, whose parents worked out of the home and forced them to be “latchkey”, both of my parents were always home. I didn’t always appreciate that about them, but now I know I was lucky in that I got to spend a lot more time with both of them than my sisters did.

I tried to cross stitch when I was a kid, but I was terrible at it. I don’t have the patience to sit still for that long. I don’t have the dexterity to use a needle and thread. I have always hated sewing, even with a machine. I couldn’t make straight seams to save my life. My mom, by contrast, does just about everything with a needle except crochet. She told me it was because when she was growing up, her mother crocheted (and I have inherited one of the afghans Grandma Elliott made), but didn’t knit. A neighbor offered to teach my mom how to knit. Mom said yes to that because the neighbor had a TV. She and the neighbor would watch TV while they knitted together. I never learned any stitching skills, although one of my sisters has followed in my mom’s artsy footsteps. She knits and cross stitches and all that. Meanwhile, I’m the most musical of her progeny.

I did appreciate the yarn my mom sold. As a child and teenager, I showed horses, and that required me to braid manes and tails. Either yarn or rubber bands are required for braiding manes and tails, so I always had my pick of the best colors and highest quality yarns at the barn!

Mom’s yarn came in handy at the barn… I was 16 years old in this photo. I miss these days.

I haven’t seen my mom in person since the summer of 2015. I’d love it if she came to visit us again, especially since we live in a new city and have a better house for hosting guests. But flying across the Atlantic is tough on her, despite the fact that she’s aging so well. I’m long overdue for a trip home, anyway. It’s been five years since I was last in the States. Bill’s contract is coming up for renewal again this year. We’ll see if we stay or go. If we go, I’ll visit Mom when we get back to the States. If we don’t, it may be time to plan a visit to the USA before it’s too late. Bill needs to go see his dad, his daughter, and his grandchildren, too.

We were thinking we might go out today, but the weather is similarly yucky. Maybe we’ll play another game of Trivial Pursuit over more wine and conversation. Or maybe I’ll finish my latest jigsaw puzzle… we’ll see.

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Fancy in Annecy… Time to go home! part eight

Yesterday morning, I woke up bright and early.  Bill managed to sleep a little bit longer, although he wanted to get an early start.  We packed everything up to load up the car, not realizing that the lobby of the hotel is locked until approximately 8:00am.  Remember, I mentioned the times for breakfast?  Turns out they are rather strict about it at Hotel Les Grillons.  We came down the stairs to find this…

The doors were locked.  There is a night door that has a code.  We didn’t know the code, so I held the door while Bill loaded the car.  Then, we sat on the steps and waited for the doors to open.

 

Bill was perturbed about the closed lobby, since it meant we pretty much had to wait to check out.  There is no night clerk, which is probably not a problem for most people.  This is a very old fashioned hotel, though, right down to the weird room keys that look kind of like Phillips head screwdrivers.  So when you check out, you have to present your credit card.  I paid a 30 percent deposit when I booked, so I thought maybe they had my card on file.  Nope.

The doors opened at about 7:30am or so, giving us the chance to eat before we got on the road.  We were the only ones eating that early.  I’m glad they let us go ahead and take care of it before the prescribed official 8:00am opening time.  Bill was convinced breakfast started at 7:00.  I told him it was at 8:00am and he insisted it wasn’t… then he checked it and had to admit I was right for the second time in less than 24 hours.  Sometimes, he just won’t listen.  I love him anyway.

Bill and I enjoyed one last breakfast, then checked out.  We said goodbye to the adorable pregnant proprietor, who was so warm, gracious, and personable.  Her hospitality and the fantastic food made Hotel Les Grillons truly memorable.  The final bill, minus the deposit, plus the wines and drinks, came to about $800.  I’d say it was money well spent, even if I have stayed in fancier digs.

I should mention that Hotel Les Grillons is dog friendly.  If my two were better behaved in public, I might consider bringing them along.  As it was, I’m kind of glad we left them in Germany.  It gave us the chance to do some unhindered exploring as well as the ability to take my convertible.

This place was obviously for bikers and included some friendly looking goats.

On the subject of Mini Cooper convertibles, I have this to add.  We saw I don’t know how many people trying to hitch a ride.  Some were rather pointedly thumbing at us.  A Mini Cooper convertible is definitely NOT a car that handles more than two adults at a time.  It’s always funny when hitchhikers think they’re going to fit in the back seat.  Not unless they are super tiny people!  There’s a reason they call it a Mini.

Our drive back through Switzerland was uneventful.  This time, we were able to stay on the main highway and were mostly spared the ugly industrial areas we came through on the way to France.  We stopped in Winterthur for lunch and a potty break.  I was actually very pleased by the Italian restaurant where we found ourselves.  The place was called Santa Lucia and it boasted really nice homemade pastas and wines by the glass.

Bill gazes outside, where there was a terrace accommodating smokers.

I had an order of tagliatelle with salmon.  The pasta was excellent.  It tasted housemade.  Also, it wasn’t too much!

Bill had rigatoni with basil, garlic, and pinenut pesto.

 

And this restaurant was a bit less expensive than the one we stopped at in Bern.  Total bill for this was about 65 Swiss Francs– still not cheap, but not as pricey as it could have been.  Switzerland is expensive, I tell you!

Yeah, a corporate looking sign…

But good food and nice, friendly service.  This restaurant is located very close to the Bahnhof in Winterthur.  It’s also near a large shopping area and parking garage.  I’d eat there again.

 

We got back on the road again and before I knew it, we were back in good ol’ Germany.  Bill pulled off at Neckarburg (near Rottweil) to get some gas.  I happened to take note of the very tall structure in the distance.  Actually, you can’t miss it.  I had been wondering about it since I first spotted it on a trip down south via Switzerland.

Notice the “phallic” looking structure in this picture?

 

Well, I finally looked up that structure and found out what it is.  That, my friends, is the world’s tallest elevator testing shaft.  It was completed in 2017 and stands at a massive 807 feet.  While Bill was gassing up the car, I read up on why it was built and what made the developers choose Rottweil as the site to host it.  There is an observation deck at that tower that is higher than the one at the television tower in Berlin.  And yes, you can visit!  Tickets are 9 euros for adults.  You can also get a family ticket good for two adults and up to three children for 26 euros.  Pretty cool, huh?  Now, you know.

That about does it for my Annecy series.  I will finish up with my customary ten things I learned post, which is probably all most people care about anyway, if they care at all.  If you’ve been following along in this series, I thank you for reading.  I like to write detailed posts, not so much for readers, but for myself.  There will come a day when I no longer get to travel like this and I don’t want to forget anything.

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Hebridean Island Cruises, Northern Ireland, Scotland

Scotland and Northern Ireland 2017, Part fifteen…

I think this will be my last post in this series, mainly because it’s always sad to get back to real life after such a fabulous cruise.  Actually, I was a little ready to go home.  Being sick on vacation is no fun and I was missing my dogs.  Also, as nice as it is to be coddled, it can get a little tiresome after awhile.  We had plans to get on the coach to the airport in Glasgow.  Thankfully, this time I didn’t end up with norovirus, so I was perfectly ready to get on the coach after a breakfast consisting of oatmeal with a wee dram and some fruit.

Our waiter, Mariusz very kindly said goodbye and I got hugs from Sergei, the bartender, and David, the purser, even though I was sniffling up a storm. I also bonded a bit with Egita, a fabulous waitress from Latvia who was also on our scotch cruise, and Wioleta, a lady from Poland who offered me hors d’oeuvres and laughed at my jokes.  I will miss them all and probably stalk them on Facebook.  Mariusz even seemed to hope we’d come back.  We’re probably among the easier guests he’s dealt with, my mushroom phobia notwithstanding.

We had nice weather in Oban on the morning of disembarkation, so the drive back to Glasgow was very pleasant.  I wish I had sat on the other side of the coach.  I could have gotten some more photos of the beautiful scenery on the way back.  As it was, Bryan continued advising us of points of interest and when we stopped for a potty break, they broke out the tea, coffee, and biscuits for us.  While we were stopped, we talked to another passenger who was on our first cruise.  She said this was her 26th time on Hebridean Princess since 2002 and she had never cruised on another vessel.  Yes, I’d say that little ship has her fans and we are among them.

Nice morning!
 

We stopped by Loch Lomond for a potty break and some coffee and tea.

 

We arrived at the airport in Glasgow at about noon, which was two hours before check in at the Glasgow Airport Holiday Inn.  After we said goodbye to those who were on the bus and headed for the train station, we picked up our bags and walked to our next hotel.

The Holiday Inn at the Glasgow Airport is super convenient.  You can easily walk to it, which is a blessing when you have four heavy bags and a purse to carry.  There is also a Holiday Inn Express at the airport that is a little further away.  I am left with the conclusion that both properties are a bit mediocre, especially after a week on Hebridean Princess.

There weren’t any rooms open when we arrived at the hotel, so we sat in the lobby and surfed the net. We had lunch… I had a cheeseburger and Bill had a sandwich of some sort.  We both had beers.  Once we were finished, we were able to check in.  I had booked an “executive room” and it wasn’t cheap.  However, I can’t say that the executive rooms at the Holiday Inn at the Glasgow Airport bring to mind an executive class.  The room was tiny… smaller than our room on the ship.  And the bathroom floors had cracks in the tile.  I couldn’t even get the shower to work, although Bill managed to after fiddling with it a bit.

The bed, which was adequate.

A chair Bill couldn’t sit in because I really needed a nap and every time he moved, it squeaked and made a terrible racket.

The bathroom floor.

The shower was the same kind we had on the ship, but I never could get the water out of the sprayer.  I took a bath.  Bill got it going later.

And the real kicker…  the minibar, which we couldn’t use if we wanted to, because we couldn’t get the damn thing to open.  I don’t know if it had a key or what, but it wouldn’t open for us.  We did get two bottles of water (one sparkling, one still) and a Mars Bar with the room.  That was nice.

After I took a two hour nap, we went to the airport for dinner because the Holiday Inn’s restaurant was packed.  The airport had a few other options besides what the Holiday Inn had, as well as a few different beers.  I will say that their breakfast was impressive and run by a very cheerful lady named Pat who made me smile.  She was probably my favorite part of the whole experience.  I think next time, we’ll just get a cab and stay in Glasgow or go to Edinburgh for a couple of days.

I did leave a somewhat negative first impression on Expedia.com and the general manager responded promptly.  I believe they are going to renovate the Holiday Inn, which is good news.  It badly needs renovation.  At least the WiFi worked well and we could watch TV.  I think the inn has a good staff, but it needs to be brought into this century.  But if you need a hotel close to the airport, it’s definitely an option.

Bright and early Wednesday morning, we checked into British Airways and went directly to the lounge at the Glasgow Airport, which was the nicest of the three we tried.  It was bigger than the one in Stuttgart, but a whole lot less chaotic and obnoxious than the one in London at Heathrow.

A couple of shots of the Glasgow British Airways lounge.  It was a lot less crowded and annoying than the one at Heathrow.

We had a good flight to Heathrow and went to the lounge, which was marginally less zoolike than it was on September 9th.  We spent a couple of hours there, got on our flight to Stuttgart, and landed safely at about 6:30pm.  Fortunately, we told Max that we’d get the dogs on Thursday morning.  There is no way we could have gotten them before he closes at 7:00pm, even though he’s close to the airport.  It took forever to get the car.  Once we got back home, the driveway was torn up because our landlords decided to redo the bricks.  The work is done now and it looks really good.

Ah well.  We had a very good trip.  I am now eyeing future cruises on Hebridean Princess and we’re also looking at barge cruises in France on French Country Waterways.  We’ll see where life takes us.  For now, I’m here to say we had yet another wonderful time in Scotland and Northern Ireland and it’s largely due to a great, underrated cruise line.  I hope it won’t be long until we’re back onboard lovely Hebridean Princess again.

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