Frankfurt, Hessen, Sundays

Our first, but not last, visit to Bad Homburg!

Some time ago, I started following a Facebook group dedicated to sharing pictures of Hessen and day trip ideas. People were sharing photos that reminded me of how much fun Bill and I used to have pre-COVID, visiting different places, eating in restaurants, and enjoying our weekends. Bad Homburg, which is a spa town just north of Frankfurt, is about a half hour drive for us. People in the Hessen Facebook group often share pictures of it, making me think it was a place I wanted to see.

Today was the perfect day for a visit, as we had beautiful, sunny weather, and pleasant temperatures. So, off we went this afternoon, after Bill had confirmed there were restaurants that didn’t take a pause after lunch. As usual, we got a late start that put us at our destination after prime lunch hours. He also found a well-rated parking garage. This was important, as when he arrived at the garage, he found it pretty hard to maneuver our SUV into a spot without parking over the line! He tried several spots before he finally got the car in without encroaching. I shudder to think about the poorly rated garages in Bad Homburg!

Just outside of the garage, I could tell we were in for a treat. Just coming into the city, you pass imposing looking tower gates. I also noticed that the Christmas market stalls were already going up, and they were all over town! I bet this will be a great destination when the markets open for the holiday season! I loved the tower on the Schloss grounds, and the saying at the gate “Walk in like you mean it.” I also loved the awesome cedar tree outside the gate. This castle dates from the 12th century, although all but the keep were demolished by Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg. The castle that exists today was built in the 1680s.

First, we walked up to the Schloss, which offered beautiful views and finally, some fall foliage, which I feel like I’ve missed since summer ended. Not only did I get some pretty photos, I also got a chance to use the bathroom, and it was FREE! That was lucky! Below are some photos from around the Schloss. We could have toured it if we’d wanted to, but we were short on time and needed lunch.

After the Schloss, we visited a couple of churches– Erlöserkirche, a Protestant church that dates from 1908, and the Church of St. Mary, a Catholic church. Both were beautiful in their own rights, but I also loved the gay friendly vibe at the Catholic church. I liked how the inside of the Protestant church glittered as if it was studded with gold. The Catholic church was a little more modern looking, but still very welcoming and comfortable, with the smell of incense in the air. The town itself, especially near the churches, reminded me a lot of France.

Bill lit a candle for his father, and then we made our way to a restaurant called Pane e Vino, an Italian place with a full menu and bar, and no afternoon pause! I had grilled salmon with potatoes and spinach, while Bill had veal scallopini with potatoes and pea pods. We washed it down with Primitivo and San Pellegrino, and enjoyed the convivial mood of the place, then finished with a glass of Merlot for me, and an espresso for Bill. We also had complimentary limoncellos as digestives! Check out the cool mural on the ceiling in the restaurant! Lunch came to about 65 euros, before the tip, but we had a couple of the pricier dishes.

We walked around a bit more, stopping to tip a violin busker, who was playing Mozart and Vivaldi, enhancing the European ambiance with his talents. Then we went to the Kurpark for a short stroll, as the sun was starting to set. I got a kick out of the statue of Dostoyevsky, who looked like he was thinking real hard. I found myself wishing we had gotten going earlier in the day. Bad Homburg has a lot to see. Next time, we’ll come on a Saturday, and I’ll get a better shot of the potted tree on the way in. I want to come back just to check out that Feinkost!

We will definitely have to go back for a longer visit. This is a really lovely, elegant, classy town with a different feel. I’m glad we didn’t miss it after living here for four years. I want to see more!

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Lunch at Momenti di Vita Italiani in Hofheim!

We had pleasant weather yesterday, so Bill and I decided to take a quick trip to the nearby city of Hofheim. I really just wanted a change of scenery, but it was also time for lunch. We parked at our usual venue, the indoor lot at the Chignon Centre, which is an indoor shopping mall. It was kind of weird walking through there maskless. A few people still wear masks indoors, but for the most part, that custom has been abandoned… at least temporarily.

We looked around at some of the places where we’ve previously dined, as well as places we’ve wanted to dine, finally ending up at Momenti di Vita Italiani. This restaurant is right in the middle of the town, along the main drag. Though there weren’t a lot of people sitting inside the restaurant, the outside area was bustling. In retrospect, we probably should have eaten inside, if only to avoid the smokers and flies. But at least we could people and dog watch, which I did.

This restaurant has a very extensive menu. They had specials on a large easel, as well as on a smaller one on the table, plus they had the usual pizzas, pasta dishes, and Italian dishes found at most Italian eateries in Germany. Bill and I both decided on specials that were on the smaller, table easel. He had a glass of Pinot Grigio, while I had a Lugano to go with my dorade filet with wild garlic and asparagus pesto. Bill had linguini with sundried tomatoes, black olives, and mascarpone cheese.

Near us was a large table of English speakers. It sounded like three Brits and an American. They were talking about politics. Across from my was a couple who brought their two dogs. One was a very sweet and well-behaved Bulldog. The other looked like a very fit Rhodesian Ridgeback, who was barking at every dog who passed. We spent a couple hours on our leisurely lunch, and spent about 60 euros with the tip.

Below are some photos from our brief outing. It was brief, because the dogs weren’t that pleased that we were going out, but sometimes, I need to get out of the house without the dogs for my mental well-being.

I asked Bill to take the “back way” home, rather than the Autobahn. I like to be reminded that there are some pretty areas near us. Thanks to the pandemic, we haven’t explored this area as much as we should have by now. I’ve been wanting to go on some weekend outings, like we did in Stuttgart. Hopefully, we’ll get around to that again, soon.

I’m not sure what we’ll do today. It’s a bit cloudy outside. I might just give the dogs much needed baths and work on reading my latest book. I’m glad we managed to get out yesterday, though. It’s always a pleasure to visit Hofheim. We should do it more often.

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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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Germany, restaurant reviews

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…