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Turning 50 in Antwerp… Part two

When Bill made the hotel reservation, he mentioned it was my birthday. De Witte Lelie Hotel offers upgrades, when available, to those who book directly. Bill booked a Junior Suite. The next step up was, of course, the Presidential Suite. I’m not sure if anyone booked it. We were given Room 9, which is pictured on the hotel’s Web site. All of the rooms are individually decorated. Room 9 really is a very unique room, accessible by a couple of flights of stairs. Room 9 has gold wallpaper that made me feel like I was in a glass of champagne.

On the back wall, there was a sliding door decorated with flowers and multi-colored holograms. Inside the bathroom, there was a huge bathtub, shower, and turquoise blue tiling with silver and shiny multi-colored flecks. One wall was decorated with Marilyn Monroe wallpaper. Another had a huge tiled mosaic of flowers. Three glass fish hung from the ceiling over the tub. It was definitely the funkiest, most stylish hotel bathroom I’ve ever seen. The toiletries were Hermes, which I loved!

The room had a king sized bed, made up with a duvet and several comfortable pillows. We brought two of our own, just in case, but we would have been very safe leaving them at home. They don’t skimp on pillows at this hotel. The bed was VERY comfortable. I wish I had thought to ask who provides the mattresses to De Witte Lelie, since we both really liked the one in Room 9. There was air conditioning that worked well, and a complimentary minibar stocked with local beer, still and sparkling water, Coke, and juice. There was also candy and applies available if we had the munchies, but if we needed anything stronger, the reception was willing to bring drinks to the room. Or, we could have hung out in the courtyard and enjoyed libations there.

Since there was no restaurant at the hotel, we did decide to venture out for food. By sheer luck, we ended up at a very cool restaurant called Brewers’ Kitchen. Open only a year, this place focuses on dishes that use beer, and it’s run almost entirely by its chef and his girlfriend, who is, herself, very knowledgeable about beer. There were only two tables outside, and both were taken, so we sat by the window. That was actually a lucky thing, since we got quite an interesting show while we dined on innovative beer inspired cuisine…

But before I get into the side show, I want to write more about the restaurant. The chef/owner quit his job in 2017, got trained to be a chef and zythologist (beer sommelier). The restaurant has a small menu, and everything is made at the moment. I liked that, since everything on Friday night’s list of main dishes included mushrooms, and I don’t eat mushrooms. Since nothing was pre-mixed, the chef was able to make my dish without fungus. The chef only buys ingredients that come from within 40 kilometers of Antwerp, to include local beers from Belgium and the Netherlands. He also told us that he is interested in buying from farmers, brewers, and suppliers who respect the planet. Everything he presented was organic, and could be matched with a beer.

Bill and I went all in with the experience. The menu changes often, since it’s based on what is available. Most days, the chef has a meat, fish, and vegetarian dish. Vegan is possible if one makes a reservation and mentions a desire for vegan cuisine at the time of booking. Brewers’ Kitchen had no fish option on Friday, since there was an issue with their supplier. However, he did have lamb chops, which Bill loves. I went for the vegetarian option, roasted celery root, which I had never had before. I have to say, I found it surprisingly enjoyable. It might have been because there was a lot of butter in it! We prefaced the main courses with a starter of white asparagus with smoked fish and a poached egg.

After the main course, we both had dessert. Bill had a small warm cake with buttermilk ice cream, fresh strawberries, and salted chocolate caramel sauce. I had a Dame Blanche (white lady), which is vanilla ice cream, warm chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. What made the desserts special, though, is that the ice cream was house made. The vanilla ice cream was actually made while we waited!

The whole time we were eating, there was some kind of party going on in the street. Next to the restaurant was a little art gallery of some sort. The chef’s girlfriend told us that Antwerp is a very artsy city, and there are a lot of young people who attend the university there. I was astonished by the fashion show going on… which she said was probably prompted by the local fashion institute. We saw all kinds of looks going on. Most of the people were very young and hip looking, although some wore clothes that looked like they were influenced by the 1970s. There were plenty of smokers and drinkers, which made me glad we were sitting inside. Still, it was fun to look at the styles they were wearing!

I see from their Web site that they also have an Air B&B apartment for rent. That may be why the chef asked where we were staying. He was very approving when we told him our hotel. Dinner came to about 134 euros, before the tip. We thought it was well worth the money. Bill paid with a credit card and we walked back to the hotel, where we enjoyed our first good night’s sleep. Until 4am, that is… more in part 3.

Below: scenes from our very short walk back to the hotel…

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dogs, Germany, road trips, Switzerland

Our time in Die Schweiz was definitely not Scheißig… part two

First thing’s first. I have to write a disclaimer about the title of this series. I kind of made up the word scheißig– which kind of translates to “shitty”. I use the word “shitty” a lot in my daily language. Instead of looking up the actual German word for “shitty”, I decided to add “ig” to the German word for shit and hope it worked. My German friend tells me the German word for “shitty” is actually “beschissen”. However, apparently the word “scheißig” is used in slang situations, especially in Hesse. As luck would have it, I live in Hesse… and this slang bastardization of the word “shitty” works a lot better with “die Schweiz”.

With that explained, on with the tale of our trip. We planned to leave Wiesbaden on July 22nd. I had noticed our older dog, Arran, was having some dental issues. He yawned and I saw a black spot. His last dental cleaning was a year ago, but he’s getting to be an old codger. I asked Bill to take him to the vet to have him checked and schedule a dental cleaning. Bill took him in, got some antibiotics which Arran will start tonight, and an appointment for this Thursday, the 29th, for a dental.

Then, on Thursday the 22nd, we packed everything up and headed south, stopping by the Birkenhof Tierpension on the way, to drop off Arran and Noyzi. All seemed fine as we handed them over. Noyzi and Arran were wagging their tails and very excited to go into their “hotel room”, then out to play. (I promise, this part of the story is relevant…)

We headed down A5, which is also the route we now take when we want to go to France. At lunchtime, we stopped in Baden-Baden for lunch. Regular readers might remember that Bill and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary in Baden-Baden back in 2018. We enjoyed a spectacular four nights in an upgraded junior suite at Brenner’s Park Hotel and experienced the famous nude Irish-Roman baths at Friedrichsbad. It was a little weird to be stopping there just for lunch on the way to Switzerland. Baden-Baden is a very beautiful town. I would have been happy to have just stayed there. But we were just there for a quick break. We found an excellent Asian restaurant called Vinami Asia Grill and Bar

Baden-Baden is such a lovely city. We probably should go back for a short break sometime soon. But, like Switzerland, it’s the kind of place where you need to bring lots of money! It’s not cheap!

After lunch, we got back on the road, noticing that there were many “Staus” (traffic jams). Fortunately, they were on the northbound side of the road, so we weren’t troubled as we made our way south. Bill stopped near the border to pick up a 2021 Swiss vignette (toll sticker). I’ve explained this a number of times on this blog. To use Swiss Autobahns, you have to have a special sticker, which costs 40 Swiss Francs. The sticker is good until January 31, 2022. The Swiss issue new ones every year, and you can get them at ADAC stores (or online), at rest stops near the border, or at the border itself. Most other countries that use the vignette system offer them for shorter stints and cheaper prices. Not the Swiss, though… so it pays to make use of the sticker if you live close.

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. We arrived in Zürich just in time for traffic/rush hour. Unbeknownst to us, our hotel was also near what would become a construction zone over the weekend. On the way to the B2 Boutique Hotel, we were able to drive straight through, although that took some time, thanks to all the traffic. But by Friday, the area we had come through to reach the hotel was completely blocked off. This caused some stress for Bill, even with the GPS going. I’ve never been a fan of using GPS… the voice always interrupts conversations and music. But Bill likes to use it.

Anyway, we drove up a hillside to get to the B2 Boutique Hotel. As usual, what I had pictured in my head was not what the reality was. Not that I was disappointed at all, mind you… It’s a beautiful hotel, and they’ve done a great job of turning what was a brewery into a nice place to stay– especially if you’re into spas, as I am. A year ago, Switzerland was very laid back about COVID-19 rules. I noticed that no one wore masks indoors in 2020. This year, there were signs everywhere demanding mask use.

I don’t like the masks, but I always cooperate… and yes, I have been vaccinated. Count me among those, however, who hope the mask mandates go away at some point. I really do hate the fucking things. In any case, everyone wore them at the hotel, and most everywhere else we went that was indoors. They had lots of hand sanitizer, too.

I booked us in a junior suite. I usually use travel sites like Expedia or Booking when I make reservations. This time, I booked directly with the hotel, because for some reason, the travel sites wouldn’t let me reserve for two people. They would only let me reserve for one. But, I did get a reward for booking directly… they gave us a free drink. Below are some photos of our room, which was rather unusual but comfortable. For about 500 francs a night, it should have been!

After we settled our bags and got cleaned up, we headed down to the wine library for food and beverages. We decided to try the locally produced Hürlimann lagers, as the hotel was once the Hürlimann brewery. The guy who waited on us for our first two nights was friendly enough, but not the most attentive. Still, the food was pretty good, and although our round of “free drinks” were puny, they were still free. And there was Swiss wine and lots of ethereal jazzy music, mostly performed by people like Diana Krall and Karen Souza… The wine list at this hotel features mostly wines made in Switzerland. We had the chance to try several of them during our stay.

Bill tells me dinner is ready, so I’ll continue with part three tomorrow!

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Germany

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.