booze tourism, tours

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part one

How did we end up in Italy and Switzerland again?

Yesterday, Bill and I got back from our eleven night food and wine odyssey, which mostly took place in Italy, but also included a night in Andermatt, Switzerland, and two nights in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. We also spent three nights in a castle in Torrechiara (near Parma), three nights in Florence, a night in Cortona, and another night in Florence. Our trip was busy, as it included a very intense, but brief, wine tour, as well as visits to places we’d never been, and a revisit for lunch in the coastal town of Viareggio, which I had last seen in 1997.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had initially demurred when this trip was proposed. We hadn’t been planning to go to Switzerland and Italy for our spring vacation, but had to be convinced that it would be a good idea to go there. Left to my own devices, I probably would have chosen to go somewhere else, mainly because I like variety, and we’ve been neglecting other countries because of COVID-19. We are way overdue for a trip to Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Poland, for instance. We went to Switzerland and Italy in 2020, and we visited Zurich, Switzerland last summer, so it seemed too soon to be going to those places again.

I also wanted to go somewhere where COVID-19 policies were less onerous, because frankly, I’m really tired of the rules and restrictions. I know this might not be a politically correct thing to admit. Many people still think we should be wearing masks and locking down, but having been in Germany the whole time COVID has existed, I am, quite frankly, fed up with the rules. In fairness, the rules have been much stricter in Europe than they have been in the United States. And yet, in spite of the stricter rules, people have still gotten the virus.

Anyway, Tom De Vries, a Florence based member of the Facebook wine group I run, owns a business selling beautiful Tuscan wines and leading wine tours in Tuscany. We’ve purchased a few wine boxes from Tom’s business, Sommelier’s Choices. While the boxes are not inexpensive, Bill and I have genuinely enjoyed the wines he’s sent to us. One day a couple of months ago, Tom sent me a private message, asking if Bill and I would be interested in joining his tour starting April 28th.

I have to confess that my initial reaction to his query wasn’t particularly positive. At the time Tom made his pitch, there were still a bunch of people arguing about COVID-19 and what should be done about the rules. I don’t always do well in groups, because I have the kind of personality that people tend to love or hate. I like to do things at my own pace, and I can be particular about food and accommodations. I also didn’t want to be stuck in a vehicle or touring wineries wearing a face mask. I legitimately hate wearing masks, and I go out of my way to avoid situations in which I have to wear them.

If anyone is offended by that statement, keep in mind my comment that I do my best to try to avoid situations in which masks are necessary. I do wear the masks when I’m required to, but I don’t like having to do it, and would much rather not. I figure that I don’t have to like wearing masks, as long as I comply with the rules. Vacations that require face masks aren’t fun for me, and I was afraid they would be required for the wine tour, either due to local laws, or because of other participants who preferred to wear them and imposed their preferences on everybody else.

I’m happy to report that face masks weren’t an issue at all on the tour, though masks were required for a good portion of our time in Italy. I’ll get more into that further into the series, since I did make some observations about COVID prevention measures in Italy that I haven’t seen in Germany. I was also surprised that Italy did away with masks in most public places later than Germany did. I would not have expected that, since Italians seem to be more laid back about a lot of things than Germans are. In some ways, Italy’s mask rules are stricter than Germany’s are, although to be fair, Italy got hit really hard with COVID-19 when the pandemic began.

I finally changed my mind about taking the trip because it was very obvious that Bill wanted to do it. He has become quite the food and wine aficionado, and he really has enjoyed Tom’s wine boxes. Bill also BADLY needed a vacation. He had leave to burn up, and was really jonesing for a trip somewhere. Before COVID, we used to do a lot of short breaks, which gave him a chance to recharge. We have been doing less of that over the past two years. But, I have to admit, for many reasons, I actually kind of wanted Bill to drive us in our own car on the tour. Again, I’m not very good at groups… Of course, now I know that wouldn’t have been a great idea. 😉

In spite of my initial misgivings, this trip turned out to be a good one, because we went to some places I’ve been wanting to see for a long time, and we returned to a couple of places to where I’ve wanted to return. I also finally got to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which I know many of my fellow military community friends have visited. In spite of my years living abroad and extensive travel, I had not had a chance to visit Pisa before last week. It was also great to walk around Viareggio, which I had the pleasure of visiting back in 1997, at a time when I thought I might never have a chance to see Europe again. And we spent two nights in Vaduz, which we had previously visited very briefly in 2009. Since Liechtenstein is technically a country, I was happy to add it to the itinerary– even if it does bear a strong resemblance to Austria and Switzerland.

So yes, even though I had some doubts about this trip when it was initially proposed, we did have a great time. I would also highly recommend Tom De Vries as a tour guide, especially if you’re into wines. He did a great job introducing us to some wonderful small wineries and great food. Again, more on that as the series progresses. This will probably be a long series, due to the length of the trip and its many facets. We stayed in SIX different hotels. I hope some people will follow along, anyway. I know of at least a few who will. So, let’s get down to it, shall we?

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A late winter lunch date at Restaurant L’Opera in Hofheim…

The weather has gotten markedly nicer over the past few days. Once we got rid of the Saharan dust cloud that affected much of Europe last week, the temperatures went up and the sun came out. It’s been a little windy, and that has brought a chill, but overall, the weather is definitely improving. Bill decided he wanted to go out, and I agreed. I suggested going to Hofheim, because someone in the local Facebook group posted that there was going to be a cake sale to help refugees in Ukraine. Other options included visiting a new Hofladen (farm) near us, and going to an open house hosted by a guy who sells wine and wine barrel furniture.

We never did find the cake sale in Hofheim, but we did stop by a little Italian place called Restaurant L’Opera. I remember we dined there early in the pandemic. It was probably in 2020. I also remember we sat outside that time. I think the same guy who waited on us that day, took care of us today.

I decided i wanted to go to Restaurant L’Opera because someone else in the Hofheim Facebook group had written a post gushing about the food. I remember liking it the first time we went, but what I had that time wasn’t particularly high end fare. Today, we sat inside and enjoyed two excellent dishes.

Before we visited the restaurant, we stopped by the restroom at the nearby mall, where it costs 50 euro cents to pee. That’s no big deal, since I have a whole, huge bag of euro cents that need to be spent. It would have been nice if the door on the stall I used would have locked. Some lady almost barged in on me.

I took a few photos around the town, where a lively market was happening. They were shutting down a couple of hours later, as we were heading back to the car to go home…

Bill and I spent about 80 euros on our lunches– two glasses of really excellent red wine, a large bottle of San Pellegrino, Tagliata for me, and Spaghettini with salmon and zucchini for him. Then, a creme brûlée for dessert for Bill, and a dreaded lava cake for me. I’m kidding about the “dreaded” part. The cake was very good, but everybody does lava cakes. It’s gotten to the point at which a regular layer cake is a novelty!

It was so nice to get out today. Pretty soon, some of the COVID rules will be going away. The waiter reminded us that as of tomorrow, the 2G rules will expire. I suspect the masks will go at some point. I hate the FFP2 masks so much. They are uncomfortable and suffocating… like a quilt over the face. I hope to do away with them soon. Especially since people are still spreading COVID. But I can stand them for a minute or two as I go to a table. It’s harder going up and down stairs with them.

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On a mission in Wiesbaden…

Bill invited me to lunch today in Wiesbaden. Our original plan was to stop by the ADAC store and get a vignette for Switzerland. Then we’d go have lunch somewhere. As we were headed into town, Bill said if the ADAC store had a line, he’d just get the toll sticker at the border. But when we got there, the ADAC store was closed. So, I guess we’ll just get the sticker at the border. Our mission a failure, we decided to walk around a bit more… It’s always a pleasure to walk around in Wiesbaden. It’s such a quaint, lovely city.

“Musetta’s Waltz”… sounds like it was being played by someone…

The market was still going on, so I got a few photos, and we stopped by a music shop so Bill could ask about getting our guitars set up properly. We’ve only been playing them for a year, right? Well, we have five of them, and none have been set up. So we’re going to try to do that at some point soon. It’s on the list. We need to take Arran in for a checkup, too, and a doggy dental. There’s always something that needs to be done.

More photos from our lunchtime stroll…

Today we stopped by La Cantinetta for lunch. We haven’t been there in awhile, but it is a favorite Italian place for me. I like the food, even if it’s kind of in Wiesbaden’s “restaurant row”. We encountered our usual buskers– same guys we ran into two weeks ago at Scotch N’ Soda, which is right next to La Cantinetta. Maybe we should have found a new place today, but it was kind of crowded and I didn’t feel like hunting. Besides, I do like this restaurant. The waiters are charming and professional, and the food is always beautifully presented.

I had Tagliata Manzio– sliced roast beef with roasted rosemary potatoes, rucola, and Parmesan cheese. Bill had a Parma pizza, half of which he brought home. It had buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, Parma ham, and rucola. I was kind of tempted by the pizza, too, but I can never finish pizzas here. We enjoyed a couple of glasses of Barolo, a nice red wine from Italy, and listened to more live music from the buskers.

The people sitting at the next table had to deal with cars going in and out of the parking garage situated near us. I chose the table where we sat because I didn’t want to sit in the sun. I went light on the sunscreen today. But the downside was being close to the garage, where well-heeled people driving Audis, BMWs, and even a Jaguar were going in and out. I think I would hate to live in that building, always dodging diners when I want to drive out of the garage. I have to admit the location is nice, otherwise. It’s a lovely neighborhood on Restaurant Row. Based on the cars, it’s probably a pretty fancy place to call home. The guy in the Jaguar actually brushed up against a bench at Scotch N’ Soda, though. We also saw a fairly new looking Porsche. Germans sure do love their expensive rides!

As you can see, the recent floods that have affected Germany and Belgium aren’t a problem in Wiesbaden. We are a couple of hours’ drive away from that area. I know the local emergency crews are helping in the Eifel Region, where the flooding was especially bad. A year ago, we visited the Eifel for a long weekend. It doesn’t look like Meerfeld got flooding, but several places nearby did. The news is just terrible– many people have died, been injured, or lost everything. Some animals have also died, including a couple of horses that got caught in the flooding. It’s strange, because although we did get rain last week, it wasn’t especially unusual or heavy where we live.

We have had beautiful weather today and yesterday. In fact, it was actually a bit chilly last night. This year’s July has been pretty mild. Hope it holds next month… or even just next week, when we finally visit Zurich and Kusnacht for the first time. I look forward to writing about travel again!

Gosh, he’s cute. I think I’ll keep him.

Total damage for today’s lunch was about 75 euros. We should have had a bottle of wine, since we ended up having four glasses between us. I think it would have saved us some money and time, since the wait staff was a bit weeded today. But we had a great time, nonetheless. Wiesbaden is so beautiful, and it’s so nice to be able to go downtown again.

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Back to Little Italy for a Sunday lunch…

Before COVID times, Bill and I loved to visit Little Italy in Wiesbaden. It was one of the first restaurants we discovered when we moved to Wiesabaden in 2018. We love going there on Sundays and having long, elegant lunches. The pandemic put our habit to an end. I think the last time we managed to visit was in summer 2020. Today, Bill asked if I wanted to go out to lunch, and I was happy to agree. And when we parked in Wiesbaden, we found our way to Little Italy, where we were quickly welcomed and seated indoors. We mentioned our vaccinations, but the waiter didn’t seem to care. He simply pointed out the Luca app for contract tracing purposes.

Today’s lunch was as wonderful as always, coupled with fine service and good wine. Below are some photos.

I really enjoyed my risotto, which was perfect and full of shrimp– four grilled on top, and several mixed in the creamy, lime scented risotto. It was pure comfort food. For once, it wasn’t topped with a bread stick. Bill loved his sliced filet, which was cooked to medium rare perfection. I was surprised to see black olives mixed with the potatoes, but Bill said it was really excellent. And, of course, we paired everything with sparkling water and a glass of Primitivo for him and Montepulciano for me.

While we were dining, I got a private message from a Peace Corps friend of mine. He was was a Volunteer in Russia in the early 1990s, then came to Armenia to work. I met him when he was working for the United Methodist Committee on Relief. I was teaching business English there. I had lost touch with him about a year ago, so I was glad to get his message, especially since just last night, we had a memorial for an Armenia Volunteer who suddenly died a couple of months ago. My old friend is the same age as the guy we memorialized last night.

Other than that, it was another wonderful lunch at a neighborhood favorite. We spent about 89 euros before the tip, and it was money well spent. I doubt we’ll need much of a dinner… but I’ll probably indulge in some wine… to process last night a bit. On the way out of Wiesabaden, I got a few photos…

It’s so nice to see things a bit more normal… I don’t know how long it will last, but we’re going to enjoy it.

In other travel news, I have finally booked us a trip to Zurich. Yes, this will be our first visit there, even though we’ve lived pretty close for years. When we were in Stuttgart, we could have been there in about two hours. I got us four nights, starting July 22. I think we’ll do some specialized touring, to include visits to Carl Jung’s museum, which I know will fascinate Bill. Maybe a stop at the Lindt Chocolate Factory for me… I can’t wait. We’re ready for a change of scenery.

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Hofheim is alive and well, too…

Because today was a nice day weather wise, and we were still feeling good after yesterday’s outing, we decided to go to Hofheim today. Hofheim is a super cute town near where we live. When we lived in Jettingen, we used to hang out in Nagold a lot. Now, you might say Hofheim has kind of taken Nagold’s place as the cute neighbor town, although thanks to COVID, we haven’t yet explored it as much as we should have after going on three years of living up here in Wiesbaden.

We mainly wanted to walk around and have some lunch, and we decided to drive my Mini, as it needs to be driven more often. I was also hoping to put the top down. Unfortunately, the roof malfunctioned and we could only get the sunroof to open. I’m sure there’s an easy fix, but it’s about time for the car to be inspected and serviced anyway… I’ll let the mechanics deal with it. And then, maybe I’ll go car shopping… 12 years is a long time to drive the same car.

As we passed through the parking lot where we parked my Mini for free, I took note of how quiet and peaceful the town was. It’s a Sunday, of course, but I think Hofheim is just a more sedate town. We need to spend more time there. They have some nice restaurants and shops… and we found a nice restaurant today.

The new eatery, called Schmiede, is Italian, specializes in wines, and is in the same building that used to house an awesome Latin flavored health food restaurant called Blanca Bistro until COVID-19 struck. Blanca Bistro, like some other beloved eateries, did not survive the disease. We LOVED Blanca Bistro and were very sad when it closed. We only got to try it once! But Schmiede is a nice replacement. Below are some photos from our glorious Italian lunch!

We really enjoyed Schmiede, which is German for “smithy”. I guess the building was once a blacksmith’s forge. Our waiter was friendly and attentive, and the food was excellent. But really, we just enjoyed the laid back and quiet atmosphere, elegant food, and being outside of the backyard again. Lunch was 81 euros, but for that we got a nice bottle of white wine, a bottle of sparkling water, two filling dishes, and dessert. Both dishes were beautifully prepared and presented, and such a pleasure to taste. We will be back for sure. They also served wonderful, fresh, black olive bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, which got things off to a good start. I think we could become regulars. It looked like the waiter had already made friends with some of the locals. They were waving and stopping by to say hi.

Below are a few more photos from our outing. It was definitely a different mood and atmosphere than Wiesbaden was yesterday.

We didn’t spend a lot of time walking around. I had to pee. Hofheim has a public restroom, but I wanted to get home to the dogs. I was sure they missed us, since they have had us at home so much lately. Still, it was so nice to be able to get out and see something new. I love taking new photos and having different food. I hope this downward disease trend continues. There are so many places we want to explore, and we are both ready for long weekend trips again. Bring it on! I’m ready to write about travel and food again!

Schmiede was a real success. We will go back… and try some of the other restaurants in town, too.

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Germany, restaurant reviews

Lunch at Mangia, Mangia in Kronberg…

Although we had wonderful weather again yesterday, Bill and I never managed to venture out anywhere. Instead, we stayed home and enjoyed our usual backyard wine and music. Bill also made a “savory cheesecake”, which was something I used to serve when I worked lunch shifts at The Trellis in Williamsburg, Virginia. The Trellis was started in 1980 and run by Marcel Desaulniers, John Curtis, and for some years, the late Tom Powers. Mr. Powers eventually divested himself of his share of the restaurant and opened a competitor, The Fat Canary, which is still running and very popular. When I worked at The Trellis, Mr. Powers was already out of the partnership.

Anyway, a savory cheesecake is a cheese based pastry… but it’s “savory”. It’s a cheesecake made with cream cheese and some other kind of cheese. In our case, we used Monterrey Jack and Cheddar cheese, but in Marcel’s cookbook, it calls for Dry Jack and Gruyeres cheeses and at the restaurant, they made it with cream cheese and Swiss.

Bill tries his hand at cheesecake. Yes, it looks like a sweet cheesecake, but it’s not… and it’s not a quiche, either. It’s cheese based, not egg based.

While we were enjoying the cheesecake, Bill asked me if I would like to go out to lunch today. I said that would be fine, so we made reservations at Mangia, Mangia, an Italian eatery in Kronberg im Taunus, which is just on the outskirts of Frankfurt. Kronberg is right next to Koenigstein, which is where I had my birthday lunch in June, and not at all far from Bad Soden, a spa town that also has an Italian steak house and rib joint called Rocco’s Italian Grill.

Our reservation was at 1:00pm. We live about twenty-five minutes or so from Kronberg, so I had to hastily wrap up my guitar practice so we could get there on time. We needn’t have been so concerned. Although the terrace was bustling when we arrived, there were many tables available indoors. We decided to sit outside and enjoy the last days of summer before the weather turns to shit. There’s a parking garage very close to the restaurant, as well as an outdoor lot right by the restaurant itself.

Here are some photos from our visit.

Lunch was very good, although I probably wouldn’t get the Smokey Avo Burger again. I’m pretty picky about my burgers. Bill loved it, though, and ate what I didn’t want, as well as his own pasta dish. I think next time, I’ll go for a pasta dish or maybe grilled dorade or salmon. The pizzas also looked great, but they’re always too big for me. Despite appearances to the contrary, I don’t generally eat that much. I just drink too much. 😉

Service was a little slow, but basically friendly. I enjoyed watching and listening to the people around us. I noticed a lot of people who were there were Italians, which is always a good sign in an Italian restaurant. On Sundays, they offer non-stop service, though they take a pause on other days of the week. The inside of the restaurant is very modern and kind of glam. It looked a little like it was influenced somewhat by American tastes. The pizza bread burger buns are unique.

I noticed a young couple who appeared to be on a first or early date. They looked like they might be teenagers. It reminded Bill and me of when we had our first date, although we were well beyond the teen years when that happened. It’s hard to believe that this year, we’re going to celebrate our 18th anniversary.

After we ate, we decided to take a walk through the very quaint town, which reminded me a little of Ribeauville in Alsace, France. There are many beautiful half-timbered buildings and interesting architecture. I guess Kronberg was not too badly decimated during World War II. Here are some photos…

On the way back to the car, I noticed the garage had a pay toilet. Since I drank water and wine at lunch, I decided to spring for a pee before hitting the road. The WC wasn’t too dirty, but there was a lot of graffiti. Since I know I have at least one German reader who enjoys reading the public’s thoughts on things, here’s what was written on the walls. Who says Germans can’t be crass?

Kronberg begs for a return visit and further exploration. As nice as Hofheim was last weekend, I think I might like Kronberg even more. It’s a very ritzy town. Too bad we couldn’t take the Mini. It needs gas and air in the tires, which Bill will take care of tomorrow. Then, he’s off to Stuttgart to attend to business for a few days. Whoopee. Guess I’ll play Sims 4 and watch more Call the Midwife.

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Lunch in lovely Hofheim!

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.