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Our Heidelberger Birthday Holiday! Part five

As we were planning our weekend away, Bill and I discussed where my birthday dinner should be. I consulted my trusty Open Table app, which I’ve been using for about 19 years… Or, I’ve been using Open Table since 2002. The app hasn’t been around as long. Anyway, it’s helped us find some great restaurants. When we lived in Germany the first time, few places were using it, but now it’s pretty widespread here. I’ve found it especially useful for finding and making reservations at unique, fine dining restaurants.

In Heidelberg, one of the top restaurants on Open Table is Chambao, which is located within eyeshot of the Neckar River, as is its sister restaurant, Chambino. This restaurant’s concept is shared plates– kind of like tapas, but with more of an Asian and African flavor. When we arrived at the restaurant by taxi, the outdoor area was bustling. There was a table open, probably saved for us. We showed the waiter our vaccine certificates and said we were willing to sit inside, which was totally empty. He hadn’t seen the new certificates, as they’re pretty new. But once he saw that they came from the Wallau Apotheke and were in German, he welcomed us inside. Alternatively, those who have had a “Schnell Test” for COVID-19 can also dine indoors.

We sat next to the window to take advantage of the breeze. I looked around at the gorgeous decor– with blue and white tiles, an open kitchen, an impressive bar, and tiled lighting fixtures. From the first minute, we felt right at home, and we proceeded to have an absolutely delightful meal. Below is a photo of the menu offered on Saturday night. Our waiter said it changes weekly.

You can have five or seven dishes at 50 or 70 euros per person, respectively.

Since we were splurging, we went for the seven course deal, and paired with a local Riesling that had just arrived at the restaurant that day. Unlike Friday night’s wine, this one was relatively cheap, but also very good. Below are some photos from our dinner at Chambao.

The first three plates to come out were especially surprising. The first plate from the left in the photo with three selections is a melon tomato salad with basil and mint. It was very refreshing and, in fact, I think it was my favorite. I don’t usually like tomatoes by themselves, but these were cherry tomatoes that were sweet, and they went beautifully with the melon. Then the basil and mint made a refreshing sauce. I could have enjoyed that one all day.

The plate in the middle was tuna tatar (tartare) with green apple and tarragon. It was also refreshing and tasty, although not everyone goes for tatar (raw). I enjoyed it, as well as the third dish, which was a ceviche made with kingfish and shrimp, celery, and calamari with dill.

Next, we had a black tiger prawn with wasabi, mango, and Thai vinaigrette, followed by plate number five, “Fjord” trout with fennel salad, fermented milk and cucumbers. The trout was extremely tender and flavorful, and again, served cool. I was a little worried about the pork belly with plum wine, lemon grass, and green papaya. It turned out to be sinful.

Each plate was more interesting that anything we’ve eaten in the last year. On a couple of occasions, it felt like my tastebuds were exploding. I was very excited by the end, and so appreciative of the wait staff, kitchen workers, and creative chefs who made such a meal happen for us. And the dessert was a great top off. I love cheesecake, and this one was served with mango, coconut milk, and chocolate. It was just the right size. Bill loved his cheeses, which he got to enjoy alone, since I’m not a cheese person. Desserts were ten euros each.

Total damage for this meal was about 210 euros or so… This was more in line with what we usually spend on a really nice meal, and we thought it was worth every penny. I believe the other restaurant, Chambino, serves more casual fare. I wouldn’t mind trying it if we ever get back to Heidelberg and have the opportunity.

Taxi cabs were lined up outside of the restaurant, so we easily found our ride back to the hotel. If it hadn’t been so hot and we hadn’t dressed up, we could have easily enjoyed the walk back.

We stopped by the hotel bar to have a nightcap. The friendly barman was there again, and we chatted with him some more. He was telling us about gins from the Black Forest. He said Monkey 47, which was first made in the Black Forest is no longer made there. But there’s another gin, called Needles, that still comes from there. Bill had a martini made with that. I had a French 1975… and I think we probably need to detox, now.

Although my actual birthday was yesterday, June 20th– Juneteenth (June 19), for which Bill got a day off work Friday– was a great day for celebrating! I would definitely recommend Chambao. I hope we can visit again.

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Our Heidelberger Birthday Holiday! Part four

After a nice “lie in”, as the Brits would put it, Bill and I headed down to breakfast, which I had pre-booked with the room. There are plenty of breakfast options nearby as well as a grocery store, so it wasn’t necessary to have breakfast at the hotel. But I like to try everything I can when I stay in a hotel, and this was a splurge. We were seated outside in the lovely garden area, and a very friendly and professional waitress seated us, brought us coffee, and a three tiered serving tree with smoked salmon and roe and mustard dill sauce, cold cuts, and cheeses. She also brought a basket of bread. There was a buffet in the dining room, but I never even looked at it, because she also offered eggs and bacon, which we did order. The orange juice was excellent– fresh squeezed– and if we’d wanted it, we could have had sparkling wine. I passed on the wine at breakfast to give my liver a much needed break.

I think my favorite item at breakfast was the excellent smoked salmon. The mustard dill sauce that came with it was a perfect accompaniment. Here are a few photos from breakfast.

After breakfast, it was back to the Hauptstrasse, which was bustling with activity. It felt strange to be among so many people after hanging out with Bill alone for most of the year. We headed for the Neckar River, which famously runs through Heidelberg. We know this river well, because it also flows down near Stuttgart. The Neckar is a major right tributary of the Rhein River, which is probably Germany’s most famous. The Neckar passes through some pretty awesome German cities. According to Wikipedia, one can see and sail the Neckar in: Rottweil, Rottenburg am Neckar, Kilchberg, Tübingen, Wernau, Nürtingen, Plochingen, Esslingen, Stuttgart, Ludwigsburg, Marbach, Heilbronn, and Heidelberg.

There were several boats available for tours. In the distance, we noticed the Patria, which is a ship operated by the other spendy hotel I had considered booking. One can book a very special floating meal on that vessel, which cruises the Neckar. Maybe if we get a chance to go back to Heidelberg, we’ll try the Heidelburg Suites and take a cruise. Hopefully, the pandemic will be even more controlled by then. It looks really nice. Here are some photos from our morning walk.

Once again, we were steaming hot after our walk, which was pretty leisurely. We went back to the hotel and Bill booked us a slot at the pool. Because of COVID-19 regulations, it’s necessary to make appointments to use the pool and sauna area. We were assigned 1:00pm until 3:00pm, but when we got there, the spa manager said we could stay until 5:00pm if we wanted to. All we really wanted was a quick dip and a few laps. There were a few other parties who joined us, so we had to be extra considerate about sharing the pool. Only two people are allowed in the pool at a time and they have to be from the same household. Did I mention what a pain in the ass COVID-19 is? Still, everyone was considerate, so it was a nice way to cool off. We were satisfied after about 45 minutes and decided to go find a snack to tide us over before dinner.

Since we had dinner reserved for 7:00, we decided to have a snack to keep us going until then. As we walked along Hauptstrasse, we became aware of a commotion. A man wearing mismatched blue socks had set up a station near the Galeria– a great place to be on a hot day, thanks to the super strong air conditioning that can be felt all the way across the street. He had a dog and a sign asking for money. He was yelling at someone.

My German isn’t so great, but I noticed two people– a young man and an older woman– holding a heavyset, middle-aged woman with straight black hair and many tattoos on her legs. People were crowded around, gawking at the scene. She was screaming and fighting, and I got the sense that maybe she’d been caught shoplifting or something… or maybe had even tried to rip off the guy begging for change. She was wearing what looked like Birkenstock slip on sandals, which had come off her feet during the struggle. The man and woman who were wrestling with her were being humane enough. The guy handed one of her shoes to a bystander, but she slipped from their grasp before she managed to put them on. The woman took off running barefoot down a side street, and she quickly disappeared.

One thing I noticed was that no one seemed to be videoing her, which I thought was pretty classy. I think in America, there would be many people training their phones on the spectacle. I don’t know what happened, but it appeared to me that she was up to no good. Someone probably did get a video… but at least it wasn’t everyone.

We stopped at the Dubliner Bar, an Irish pub and hotel. The inside looked really nice. I kind of wished we’d flashed our vaccination paperwork so we could sit in there and listen to the excellent classic rock they were playing– American music in Germany at an Irish pub! But we sat in the Biergarten instead, which was small and lacked umbrellas. The one table in the shade was booked, so I ended up sitting in God’s flashlight for about 30 minutes. Still, it was an enjoyable stop. We used our QR code scanner to see the menu on our phones, although printed menus are also available, of course!

The Dubliner appears to be very popular. The waitress told us the tables in the back were all reserved, probably so people could watch soccer. I think if I wanted to watch sports, I’d rather do it at home. But we were only there for fuel. While I was sitting there, my watch started ringing– probably because my phone was near. This was the first time I ever got a phone call on the Apple Watch. It was the restaurant, Chambao, which is where we enjoyed Saturday night’s dinner. They were calling to make sure we were still coming, since they were fully booked. Apparently, people have a habit of making reservations and not showing up. I assured the caller we’d be there… and boy, did I make a great dinner choice! More on that in the next post.

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Our Heidelberger Birthday Holiday! Part three

After our walk, I decided to take a cold shower. I noticed the generously sized tub had jacuzzi jets. Alas, the stopper didn’t work properly, so taking a bath was impossible. I know we should have called for maintenance, but I decided it was just as easy to take a shower. Afterwards, Bill took his turn washing off the sweat and dirt from our walk and we put on nice clothes. It was my first time in something other than shorts and a t-shirt or a nightgown in ages. I probably should have taken a selfie, since I even wore makeup and curled my hair… which is due for another homemade whacking.

While we were relaxing before dinner, Bill found these books in the desk. We had the New Testament in German and English, and The Teaching of Buddha!

When we got the dining room, we ran into the barman, a friendly young man we got to know better after dinner. We were told when we booked that the outside area was fully booked, so we were expecting to sit inside. After some confusion– they apparently couldn’t find our reservation– we took a seat in the dining room. The menu was pretty fancy. If I’m honest, it was probably a little too fancy for me, since I am kind of a picky eater about certain things. Like, for instance, I don’t like fungus– no mushrooms or truffles or morels for me. Unfortunately, nice restaurants often use fungus a lot. They also had lamb and veal, which I also don’t eat. Bill, on the other hand, loves both. They did have the ever popular asparagus with Hollandaise and optional add ons. I thought about ordering that, but realized that I don’t love asparagus as much as many Germans do. And I like green asparagus more than white… either way, it makes my pee stink!

Fortunately, I did manage to find a couple of delicious items as we enjoyed aperitifs– champagne for me and a Campari with soda for Bill. Service was impeccable. The staff was friendly and professional, rather than stuffy. And the highlight of the evening was the sommelier, who talked Bill into ordering the Rhein equivalent of a Grand Cru Riesling. Our waitress noticed we ordered the Rings Riesling and also commented that it was a favorite of hers, too.

Total damage for dinner was about 312 euros, which is not the most we’ve ever paid for a meal, but comes pretty close. About a third of that was because of the Rings Riesling from the Pfalz. Naturally, you pay a premium for wine in a restaurant, and that bottle would not have been so expensive at the winery, even though it was a special, limited edition bottle. I was glad we ordered it, though. It was not the usual… I enjoyed how the flavor changed as the wine was exposed to oxygen and the ambient temperature. And it was a special occasion– our first gourmet meal in a sit down restaurant in many months. Boy, how we’ve missed dining out! I think we made the sommelier’s night, too. But as nice as Friday’s dinner was, Saturday’s was even better… and it cost significantly less.

After dinner, we stopped by the bar. It was empty, although the friendly young barman was there. He made me a strawberry mojito and poured a Japanese whiskey for Bill. We got to talking and found out that he was born in Germany, but spent the first thirteen years of his life in New Zealand. Then, he came back to Germany and hailed from– Freudenstadt! Bill and I lived near Freudenstadt when we lived in Jettingen, so we know that town pretty well! It was nice to talk to bartender again… yet another reason why we were so prepared to spend money. Anyway… there are pictures of Freudenstadt in this blog, because we visited there more than a few times when we lived near Stuttgart the second time (2014-2018). I liked going there, and just hanging out in the Black Forest in general. I miss it.

After our nightcap, we came back to our room to find the turn down fairy had visited and left us chocolates. That was a nice cap off to our first day outside of Hesse on a leisure trip since last summer. Onward to part four.

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Our Heidelberger Birthday Holiday! Part two

We were probably an hour or so early for check in, but we’ve found that it never hurts to ask if we can check in early. We pulled into the small loading area of The Europäischer Hof Heidelberg and were immediately welcomed by a friendly and lovely young woman in a business suit and a face mask. She was happy to give us the junior suite I booked. I know a junior suite is kind of extravagant, and at this hotel, it’s not exactly a bargain. But I like to splurge when I can, and this was for a special occasion. It’s not every day a person begins their last year of their 40s, right?

The Europäischer Hof Heidelberg  has belonged to the same family for four generations and has been in existence since 1865. Over the years, it’s hosted a number of famous people, as well as many more non-famous people like Bill and me. No matter. One of the first and best things I noticed about this hotel is how very friendly and professional the staff is. The lady who checked us in summoned a bellman to bring us our bags, then showed us to our room. Below are some pictures of the junior suite– room 124. It was kind of a mix between our room at Brenner’s Park in Baden Baden and our room at the Excelsior Hotel Ernst in Cologne.

This hotel is air conditioned, which was a real plus on Friday and Saturday. It was pretty hot! Our room did not have a balcony, which was too bad. It did have a mini bar, which we didn’t find until minutes before we checked out this morning. The bed was huge, with a firm mattress. On the fourth floor, there is a spa with a sauna and pool that has a jetted area. There’s also a solarium, fitness room, and outdoor terrace. And, of course, there’s a full scale gourmet restaurant and bar.

We hadn’t booked anywhere for Friday night, and I like to try the hotel restaurants when I can. We decided to book Friday night’s dinner at the hotel, so I could return and report properly. Then, once that was done, we set off to see Heidelberg’s famed Hauptstrasse for the first time in almost 13 years. The heat was pretty intense, which was a shock after last month’s chilliness and rain! We missed lunch on the road, so we stopped at Strohauer’s, an outdoor cafe, for beer and a snack. It was a great place to people watch, something I love to do and have missed so much over the past year.

After some time chilling with beers, we walked down Hauptstrasse some more. I turned on my Apple Watch so our walk would count for the day’s exercise goals. Heidelberg was crowded, but just as lovely as I remembered it, with its enchanting castle on the hillside and the gentle river with its cruise boats and canoes. Lots of people were enjoying everything from buskers to ice cream. If not for all the face masks, it would have felt like old times. Below are some more shots of Heidelberg’s famous main street.