Lunch in lovely Hofheim!

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We have pretty weather today, so Bill asked me if I wanted to go out. I did want to go out, as I have a bad habit of being reclusive when I should be out enjoying Germany. Unfortunately, Aunt Flow showed up this morning… about a week delayed. I was hoping for a reprieve but– NOPE– no such luck. It always happens on a Saturday, too.

Anyway, I mention Aunt Flow only because we were on our way to Hofheim in my Mini Cooper convertible (which really needs to be driven more), when I realized I had forgotten to arm myself with the necessary feminine hygiene supplies. Fortunately, Hofheim has a very nice Edeka located in a shopping mall that has a nice parking garage with low rates. We parked there, stopped by the store, visited the restrooms (50 cents), then took a stroll through Hofheim, which is one of the nicest towns near where we live.

A few months ago, when we tried and failed to adopt a dog from a German pet rescue, I joined the Wir in Hofheim Facebook group. It was one of many groups I joined in an attempt to try to locate the dog we hoped to adopt who escaped from his pet taxi as he was being unloaded. Unfortunately, the dog met an untimely end on the Autobahn, but I stayed in the groups, anyway. The Wir in Hofheim group is one of my favorites. I regularly follow it, because there’s a lot of helpful information in it and the people are very nice. It was from that group that I got the idea to go to Hofheim.

It’s not that we hadn’t been there before. Bill and I visited the outskirts when we first moved up to the Wiesbaden area and ate in a now defunct Italian place. Bill also visited the town to get take out for us when the COVID-19 restrictions were very strict. Unfortunately, one of the places we discovered in the spring, Blanca Bistro, is now closed. We passed by there today on our way into the old town. I was sad to see it sort of abandoned… there’s still liquor and glassware in there, and signage is still up, but the restaurant stopped serving food a couple of months ago. Several places have had to close due to COVID-19, including the excellent German place near our house. We only ate there one time because it was always packed! But it couldn’t keep going during the pandemic.

We did manage to find lunch, though. We ate at Ristorante L’Opera, an attractive establishment in a little alcove on the main drag. No one else was there when we arrived at about 12:30pm, but we were soon joined by a German couple who enjoyed smoking.

Bill filled out the contact tracing paperwork and the waiter handed us the laminated menus, obviously much abbreviated compared to normal. There were still a few dishes that were attractive, as well as some specials that were advertised on a sandwich board by the passage. Unfortunately, the uncomfortably narrow chairs, which are the kind often found at gelaterias, reminded me that I probably ought to cut back on my groceries.

I don’t usually get pizza in Germany, mainly because it’s always more than I can finish and I don’t always like the kinds of pizzas that are available. I will say that today’s pizza was excellent. I especially enjoyed the crust, which was absolutely perfect! I’m sure they have a pizza oven to get such perfection. Light, yet chewy with a slightly crisp crust, delicious mozzarella cheese, and a light layer of tomato sauce made that very simple pizza creation a delight! And I even skipped the meat.

Bill enjoyed the pulled pork sandwich, which had a housemade bun. He especially liked the slaw, though. Bill likes cabbage very much. I noticed he cleaned his plate, while I had leftovers, which our attentive server was happy to wrap up for later.

The bill for lunch came to about 41 euros. Bill gave the guy 45, and we took a walk around the town. Hofheim is maybe nine kilometers from where we live, but it’s very charming. We probably ought to visit more often, if only because we like the Edeka better than Rewe.

Anyway… it wasn’t long before we needed to head home and rescue Arran from his loneliness. Although Hofheim isn’t a substitute for some of our favorite little towns in Baden-Württemberg, like Nagold, Esslingen, Ludwigsburg, and Tübingen, it’s not a bad place to spend a couple of hours. There are several nice restaurants there, charming ambiance, places to shop, and enjoy the last days of summer. I’m glad we took the time to go there today… and for any readers who are looking to move to Wiesbaden, this is one town I would recommend seeking a home nearby. It’s a very pleasant little hamlet.

My pandemic birthday… part two

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At last, it was Friday. I was not wanting to pack a bag to go on our trip. I felt nervous, and it seemed like a waste of time and money to go anywhere. I even wrote about my apprehension on my main blog, which I will warn is a hell of a lot rawer, less positive, and more political than this blog is. Because I’ve been watching the news a lot, I got the sense that this trip would not be any fun. I had visions of people watching everyone else, giving them the side eye for any face mask infraction and maybe even engaging in shaming. Having been called out by strangers on more than one occasion when we lived near Stuttgart, I figured things could easily get hostile in Hesse, even though it seems like Hessians are somewhat friendlier and less in your face than some of their southern brethren are. I’ve seen people get yelled at, for example, when they cross the street before the “green man” is showing. One time in 2007, when I was still very new to Germany, I mistakenly walked through a children’s playground with my dogs, and some lady yelled at me for that. I didn’t understand her German shouting and didn’t know it’s forbidden to walk dogs in playgrounds, so I got very upset.

I know it sounds silly… Some people would tell me to grow up. I will admit that I don’t like confrontations and I tend to get highly pissed off when people get in my face. It takes me a long time to get over it, too… I have a long memory and a tendency to hold grudges, which I know isn’t the best way to be. But that’s how I am. It’s a hang up from my childhood. I prefer to avoid situations that will be triggering, even though I know a lot of people would make fun of me for that. And I, in turn, will hold grudges against them for the ensuing trauma caused.

One of the reasons I felt inclined to stay home was that, at home, I don’t have to worry about dealing with other people. I can do what I want, eat when and what I want, and sit around in my nightgown. But that’s not healthy, nor is it necessarily the right thing to do to people who are trying to restart the economy. If everyone felt like I was feeling the other day, a lot of businesses would fail in a hurry. It’s kind of a duty to go out and spend money and see things… and I think that as much as some people complain about tourists, once this pandemic has reached its end, more people will appreciate tourists and the business they generate. I grew up near Williamsburg, Virginia, and that is a very heavily populated tourist area. I used to do a lot of bitching about the tourists… but I also know that without the tourists, a lot of people would not have jobs. When I was younger, my own livelihood depended a lot on tourists. Tourism is also good for the soul, and it helps curb ignorant thinking. If you go out and see the world, you will open your mind.

So… with all of that in mind on Friday afternoon, Bill and I loaded up the Volvo with our overnight bags and headed off to Hofheim. Hofheim is a whopping twenty minutes away, and also where the famed Tierklink Hofheim is. Our former vet in Herrenberg said that is one of the best veterinary hospitals in all of Germany. Having taken Zane (RIP) there a couple of times, Bill and I concur. I remember when she told me about that clinic, I worried about how I would manage taking Zane there when we lived so far away. Now, we’re just a twenty minute drive from there, and the place where I turned 48 (gulp).

The Vital Hotel is located in a suburban area, with lots of hardware stores nearby. There’s an Aldi very close, although it’s separated from the hotel complex by a large field. I think it usually costs to park at the Therme, but when we left, the arm to the lot was open. Anyway, we were able to drive right into the parking lot, grab our bags, and approach the front desk. Everyone was wearing masks and there were signs like this one, reminding us to stand back.

These signs were everywhere, so you couldn’t forget.

We signed into the hotel. The receptionist took our contact information, since contact tracing is being done here. You tell hotels and restaurants your name and phone number and they keep track of the times when you are in an establishment. If a coronavirus case is detected and you’ve been exposed, they will contact you. If not, your information will be destroyed within four weeks. I know a lot of Americans don’t like this because they think it’s an invasion of privacy. Personally, I’m not bothered by it, because Germany has very strict privacy laws.

The “watch”… you get these at most water parks/Thermes in Germany. They’re very handy!

The receptionist handed us “watches” that served as our key to our room and allowed access to the Therme. Bill and I are familiar with the “watches”, since they are used at a lot of Thermes in Germany. They keep track of your time, allow you to access a locker in the changing rooms, and you can use them to pay for things so you don’t have to carry money in the Therme or the rest of the hotel. She also gave us hand sanitizer and a list of rules we had to follow because of the virus. Masks were compulsory in common areas, especially when it wasn’t possible to keep a distance. I think they also gave out disposable face masks to those who didn’t have them, but Bill and I didn’t need that. We were asked to tell the receptionist when we thought we’d want breakfast. I’m sure that was done to prevent too many people coming into the restaurant at once.

Bill booked a “deluxe” room, so we were assigned room 134. Here’s what it looked like:

The room was pretty clean, although the duvets looked a bit dingy. I was surprised it was a deluxe room, though. It seemed a bit small, and I thought the regular double sized rooms must be tiny. Bill said the difference between the double rooms and the deluxe rooms was a mere two square meters. They also have junior suites, but Bill wasn’t offered the choice to reserve one of those when he did an online booking.

Once we checked in and Bill brought everything in, I was still feeling anxious. In retrospect, we probably should have just hit the pools. Our room was right near the elevator that goes directly to the Therme and the Panorama Bar, which is on the third floor and slowly rotates so that patrons get views of the Taunus and Frankfurt city skyline. We had to take a different elevator to get to the room from the hotel. Getting to the room actually took some walking. The hotel isn’t tall, but it is kind of spread out. I get the sense, based on the construction of the Therme, that the Therme existed before the hotel did by a number of years. Consequently, they aren’t exactly seamlessly or conveniently constructed.

It wasn’t long until dinner time, and dinner was included in our rate. We went down at about 6:00 and were presented with the daily specials. The restaurant also offers a la carte items like steaks and burgers, as well as a kids’ menu. Here are some pictures of what we had in the restaurant, as well as the vending machines that were on the hall…

Cash is not being accepted at a lot of places. That’s kind of weird for Germany, which took a long time to get on the credit card bandwagon. The wine was not included in the half board plan, so Bill had to sign for that. Then we put on our masks and headed to the very cool Panorama Bar. I think that was probably my favorite thing about our weekend, despite the very loud Euro dance music. The bar slowly rotates, so you can sit in a very high backed booth and watch the scenery or sit outside on the terrace. The staff is friendly and attentive, and it was just a lot of fun to be in a bar after weeks of lockdown… I drank many cocktails! Luckily, they weren’t very strong.

I know it seems funny to be so excited about a bar, especially one that plays music I would never play at home. But– I have really missed going out, and I have missed being in bars. I also enjoyed the panorama, even though the view wasn’t so awesome as we passed the machinery on top of the hotel’s roof. It really allowed me to forget about the pandemic for awhile, even if I had to strap on a mask to go to the bathroom. But that wasn’t really rigidly enforced, either.

One of the songs played in the bar. I actually hate this kind of music, but I got a kick out of the lyrics of this song, some of which I easily understood. I ended up Shazaming it.

My pandemic birthday… part one

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Why did we stay twenty minutes from home?

A few weeks ago, Bill and I went to nearby Hofheim to visit the Birkenhof Farm for some fresh products from their 24/7 fridge. I wrote about that experience here. While we were picking out strawberries and farm cheese from the fridge, I couldn’t help but notice the unmistakable dome of a “Therme”. Germany has several areas that are noted for their natural hot springs where the water is rich with healing minerals. Stuttgart and Wiesbaden are both hot springs “hot spots”. Hofheim has the Rhein-Main Therme, that is connected to a hotel, which I spotted as we passed it in May. I mused that I would like to visit.

When we lived near Stuttgart, I loved visiting the Mineraltherme in Böblingen. I see it’s currently still closed due to COVID-19, although it looks like it will be opening again soon. Wiesbaden and the surrounding areas in Hesse have not been as badly affected by the coronavirus as Baden-Württemberg has been. Granted, the pandemic is still going on right now, but things have loosened up a bit. I think Bill was also a bit worried about my mental health, because I sometimes suffer from anxiety and depression and was starting to become a hermit. Until this weekend, I had not left our neighborhood since that short trip to the Birkenhof farm on May 17th… and I wasn’t really wanting to go anywhere.

Bill loves to travel, and so do I… but the whole COVID-19 thing and the constant social media uproar about it was making me very reluctant to venture out. So he decided to book a “surprise” weekend away for me. He didn’t tell me where we were going, but I kind of figured it out. The Rhein-Main Therme is located only twenty minutes away from our home in Breckenheim, but it’s connected to a comfortable hotel that offers half board options and room service. He figured that even if I didn’t want to leave the hotel, we could still get room service. And being the thoughtful guy he is, he even brought Yahtzee and Trivial Pursuit, in case I wanted to play board games. Fortunately, those measures weren’t necessary. I ended up consenting to going out, despite my hatred of face masks… so my 48th birthday turned out to be pretty epic.

After arranging for Arran to visit the Birkenhof Tierpension, where he’d get to hang out with his old friend, Celene, who always takes great care of of him (and Zane, when he was still with us), Bill booked us two nights at the Vital Hotel, which is connected to the Rhein-Main Therme. He decided to go for the “Happy Weekend” package, which included half board (breakfast and dinner in the restaurant), free admission to the Therme, and two nights in the hotel. Right now, because of the pandemic, the Therme is limiting day visitors to three hour stays, but if you’re staying in the hotel, you can go directly to the Therme and stay as long as you want.

Meanwhile, as Bill was planning my birthday retreat, I was eyeing new guitars. I started learning to play guitar a few weeks ago. I bought an acoustic guitar on Amazon.de and signed up for Fender Play, an online service offered by the Fender guitar company that uses videos to teach people the basics of the instrument. The lessons have been going so well, and Bill has been enjoying hearing me play so much, that he decided he wanted to learn, too. So, even though I had a new Ortega acoustic guitar that I picked up on Amazon, I decided I wanted a better guitar with steel strings… and I bought Bill a basic guitar, too. Since we haven’t been traveling, I had some money stockpiled.

Fender Play isn’t available worldwide, but it is available in Germany. And there is also a Fender shop in Europe. My instruments got to me by way of The Netherlands in just three days! I love my pretty blue guitar, although I like the other one for teaching me the basics! As Bill was unwrapping his birthday gift (his is on July 7th), I said I felt like Oprah… “You get a guitar, and you get a guitar, and you get a guitar…” I’m still a lot better at singing than playing guitar, but I’m making progress, and my fingers are getting tougher by the day!

I worked on my new guitar skills as I nervously awaited our first trip away from home since coronavirus fucked everything up…

Farm Fresh Too…

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A couple of months ago, when we tried and failed to adopt a dog, I joined a bunch of local Facebook groups. My purpose for joining was to spread the word about the dog we tried to adopt who escaped from his pet transport taxi driver and later got hit and killed by a car on the Autobahn. Well… now we’re waiting on another dog to join our family in a few months, but I’m still a member of the groups I joined when we were frantically trying to recover the one who got away.

As a fortunate consequence of joining the local Facebook groups, I’m starting to learn about stuff in the area that I never knew about. One place that came on my radar is the Birkenhof Hofheim, which is a farm that offers fresh produce as well as a 24/7 refrigerator where one can purchase fresh food. Germany is wonderful about making fresh food available at relatively affordable prices. Although there don’t seem to be quite as many farms up here near Frankfurt as there were near Stuttgart, they do exist if you look.

Our last home, in Jettingen in Baden-Württemberg, was near several farms. I wrote about our first experience shopping at the farms a few years ago. Up here in Breckenheim, we’re not as close to so many farms, since it’s a more industrialized area. Still, at this time of year– smack dab in the middle of “Spargel (asparagus) season”, there are plenty of stands selling strawberries, blueberries, and all sorts of other delicious produce.

Thanks to the pandemic, the Birkenhof Hofheim isn’t fully open until May 29th. Under normal circumstances, the farm offers fresh delights that can be served at a table. They also have fun activities for kids. When the farm opens up again, special rules will have to be followed– masks worn when using the toilet and everyone has to provide contact information in case someone gets sick and you have to be notified. After three or four weeks, they discard the information.

I was happy enough to get out for a little while today and get some photos… as well as some farm fresh treats for our table at home. They had everything from corn cobs and charcoal for your grill to milk, flour, and eggs. There was paper and a pen for tallying up the cost of your goods, all of which were clearly priced. They had bags for packing your stuff, and a money box for you to put your cash. The whole thing is secured by cameras, so don’t think of taking anything without paying. We bought about 21 euros worth of stuff.

This trip was also handy because it turns out the farm is very close to the Tierklinik Hofheim, which our former vet in Herrenberg (near Stuttgart) says is one of the best veterinary hospitals in Germany. When Zane was having his first issues with mast cell cancer, the vet down there was telling me about this clinic and how she could refer us there if need be. I remember looking it up and thinking it was so far away. Little did I know, we’d eventually be living about twenty minutes away. So now I kind of know where it is, in case I have to take Arran or our next dog there sometime.

It was nice to get out of the house… only the third time since March! I’m getting braver. We’ll definitely be back to the Birkenhof Hofheim for more fresh treats soon! I love visiting the farms and am glad to find one up here near Frankfurt, the only German city with lots of skyscrapers.

Last night’s take out triumph!

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In March, when our would-be new dog escaped from his pet transport and was later dispatched on the Autobahn, I joined a bunch of local Facebook groups spreading the news of his disappearance. Although the dog adoption did not work out, I stayed a member of the local groups. One Facebook group that has been particularly helpful is the Wir In Hofheim group.

We don’t live in Hofheim, but it’s very close to our neck of the woods. Though the Breckenheim community does have a Facebook group, it’s not as active or entertaining as the Hofheim group is. I should thank my Stuttgart area German friend, Susanne, for suggesting that I join these groups, even though they are mostly conducted in German. I’m learning a lot, not just about the local culture, but also language and community hot spots. It’s also a place where people sell things.

A couple of weeks ago, someone in the Hofheim group shared a link to a restaurant called Blanca Bistro. The food looked and sounded so good that I told Bill we needed to try it. Last night, we finally got our chance when Bill ordered take out.

Blanca Bistro serves healthy food. It appears to be mostly empanadas, salads, burritos, and Middle Eastern favorites like falafel and hummus. There are many vegan and vegetarian options, although the restaurant does serve beef and chicken, too. Last night, Bill got us a vegetarian tapas plate and chicken empanadas. He said when he went into the restaurant to get the food, it smelled wonderful in there. If we weren’t on lockdown, I think we’d happily go there to eat. I would love to eat better food, and if they can make vegetarian or vegan food that appeals to me, I’m all for it. I’d like to stop eating so much meat.

Here’s a picture of last night’s fabulous dinner. I am not a big “healthy food” fan, but I have to say that this food would make me a believer. Bill and I both felt great after we ate. The cartons were eco friendly and biodegradable. Only the sauces came in plastic.

The carton on the left contains two chicken empanadas and a delightful salad with greens, mangos, red peppers, and striped beets. The red dip was sort of a fresh tomato flavored sauce, while the white dip was creamy quark and chive sauce. The chicken empanada had peas, chicken, raisins, and carrots.

The carton on the right has a vegetarian empanada with ricotta, chia seeds, and spinach. It came with the same salad, as well as a chickpea and pomegranate seed salad, hummus, oven baked vegetables, and a falafel.

All of this cost about 27 euros, and it was delicious! We will definitely be back for more, and I will continue to keep my eyes peeled for more fun restaurants offering take out!

EDITED TO ADD… with much sadness… Blanca Bistro announced on May 8th that they will close because of COVID-19.

Hungry? Bring your XXL appetite to the Waldgeist!

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Some time ago, Bill was looking for local restaurant possibilities for us and he stumbled across Restaurant Waldgeist.  Located near a Sportsplatz in Hofheim, this restaurant boasts an impressive Biergarten, which wasn’t operating today due to the suddenly cool temperatures, and lots of indoor seating.  It’s also known for its huge portions.

I don’t love places that dish out huge portions because I can never finish and stuff has a tendency to go to waste.  Also, I end up eating more than I should or really need to eat.  However, I was curious about this restaurant due to its Biergarten and its “Hessisch” kitchen.  Here’s where you can get your green sauce, Handkäse, or Spundekäs.  They also have burgers, schnitzels, ribs, steaks, and sausages.

Big sign out front!

We didn’t make a reservation.  Apparently, it’s not a bad idea to call ahead on Saturdays, because when we showed up, we were relegated to “table 9”, that is, a side room where another couple was sitting with their two enormous and well behaved dogs.  We were given a two top table and I sat on a bench that was a little too high for it.  My legs dangled and I leaned forward to keep my back from getting too sore from the awkward position.  I didn’t have a chance to look in the other rooms.  It appeared to be kind of a sprawling place with lots of rooms.  The room we were in was clearly not the popular place to sit.


The menu… gets the job done, but is kind of annoying.

The waiter brought us laminated tri-fold menus, which kind of annoyed me, since I had to balance on the awkward bench as I opened the tri-fold menu that would not stay open on its own.  Nevertheless, I had already decided to order spare ribs, which I only do every once in awhile.  The smallest portion is 2 pieces, but you can order up to 4 pieces.  And you can also wash it down with a two liter Krug of beer if you want to.  For once, I exercised restraint and had a half liter of Hefeweizen.  Bill went with a Dunkelweizen and a “small” schnitzel.

Outdoor seating.  Looks really nice.  In warmer weather, I bet it gets packed.
Wait here, and they’ll show you to your table in “the blink of an eye.”

We waited for awhile.  At one point, a waiter tried to deliver the other couple’s schnitzels to us.  When they brought out our food, my exact words were “Damn, that’s big!”  The waiter laughed.

This is the smallest order of ribs.  It’s a full rack.  I could have also had this with cole slaw and fries, for just a few euros more.  I figured I’d have my hands full.  I’d like to know who orders the four piece… Maybe a large group?
Bill’s “small” schnitzel served with gravy, bacon wrapped green beans, and potato croquettes.
Needless, to say, I made it through half of my ribs before I had to stop.  That was with help from Bill.  When we asked to take it home with us, the waiter brought out aluminum foil and left it up to me to wrap it.  I suspect we’ll be snacking on them later, as well as the rest of Bill’s lunch.  He finished more of his.
I liked the cool flower pot for the tree.

The ribs were very good, perfectly cooked and tender, with spicy sauce.  Actually, I was surprised by how spicy the sauce was.  I could see it encouraging beer drinking!  
I think we’d go back to Waldgeist, especially in nice weather.  The outdoor area is pleasant and they have convenient hours.  No pauses or “Ruhetags”, so it’s very convenient– except you have to pay in cash.  Prices are very reasonable, though.  I’m sure during the summer, you’d best not show up without a reserved table.  I’m glad to know where a good Biergarten is up here.  They don’t seem to be quite as prevalent in Hesse as they are down south.