blog news, France

Why “I Ain’t Been Nowhere” and ten more things I learned in Alsace, France…

It’s time for me to write another one of my “ten things I learned” posts. This one is coming a bit later than usual. I’m going to preface the post with a bit of an explanation for the people who still follow my travel adventures.

I’ve held off on writing my usual “ten things I learned” post for our most recent trip to France. I’m sad to say that I’ve kind of lost some of my desire to produce travel blog posts. There are a couple of reasons for this development.

Ever since I moved my blogs to WordPress, I’ve been struggling with lagging morale, particularly regarding the travel blog. Part of the reason I’ve been struggling has to do with people who were following me on Blogspot and decided to cause trouble. That situation was what led me to move my blogs in the first place. I suspect they just didn’t like me personally, for whatever reason, and decided to stir up some shit. It all ended badly, and ultimately, not in their favor, but it left me with some significant psychological angst that has taken some time to overcome.

I spent a year struggling with feeling really violated and angry, mainly because the people who were causing issues were being creepy, dishonest, and toxic. I’ve written quite a lot about that situation, mostly on my main blog, so I don’t want to rehash it here. I do think it’s really sad that some people feel the need to meddle in other people’s business and try to sabotage something like a personal blog. What those people did caused real damage on many levels, and there was absolutely no reason for it, other than their need to be destructive and creepy.

The second reason I’ve been less enthusiastic has a lot to do with the pandemic, and how difficult and annoying travel has been since COVID-19 became part of life. I was finally starting to feel better about writing in early 2020, only to have everything fall apart due to a deadly novel virus. The below song by Rhonda Vincent is pretty much a good summation of my feelings about COVID… If you haven’t heard it, I highly encourage you to listen. I promise it’s good, unless you just can’t abide bluegrass.

Sometimes, I think I’d like to go back to the USA, just so I can see Rhonda Vincent perform in person. Even if you aren’t a bluegrass fan, this song is awesome. Those harmonies make me want to cry! (in a verklempt way)

I am happy to report that Europe really is FINALLY opening up again, and COVID measures are becoming less obnoxious. This is happening, even though COVID infections are on the rise again in Europe, and I was actually exposed to COVID on our latest trip (though I haven’t been sick). I’m hoping the “red tile” on my Corona Warn app will go back to green today. Bill and I had a wonderful time in France, and now we want to travel more. So, I’m hoping we can move back into our former lifestyle, and I will recapture the joy of travel and experiencing new places and things. And now, on to the ten things I learned…

10. COVID-19 measures in France are currently much less annoying than they’ve been in Germany.

One of the reasons Bill and I went to France in the first place is because we didn’t want to be bothered by strict COVID rules. France doesn’t require FFP2 face masks, and if you are vaccinated, you don’t have to bother with masks in public indoor areas of restaurants and hotels. You do still need to wear a mask in shops, because they don’t check for vaccinations at the door. This was true during our visit, but as we know, rules are always subject to change.

9. Soufflenheim is French pottery heaven!

We have been to the Alsace area of France many times, but we’ve always stuck to the Wine Route. This was our first time exploring the area above Strasbourg, and we decided to go there because we knew Soufflenheim was where Alsatian pottery is made.

8. But there isn’t that much else going on in Soufflenheim…

Or, at least that was our impression during our visit. It’s a great place to go pottery shopping, but I wouldn’t say the town is particularly picturesque. However, nearby Sessenheim, where we stayed, is very cute!

7. There’s more to Alsace than the Wine Route.

On our previous trips to Alsace, we stayed in pretty, tourist friendly towns like Riquewihr, Colmar (Bischwihr), Ribeauville, and, of course, Strasbourg. We have visited the picturesque hamlets around Riquewihr and Ribeauville, and even made a point of stopping by Kaysersberg, where Anthony Bourdain took his life in 2018. If you go north of Strasbourg, you’ll still be in Alsace, but it feels different… and it’s well worth seeing.

6. Auberge Au Boeuf is a really cool place to stay!

I think the main reason we enjoyed our trip so much is because we discovered Auberge Au Boeuf, which is a wonderful, historic restaurant. But it also has four really cool bedrooms that can be rented. We were delighted by how thoughtfully designed and beautiful the hotel was. The little town of Sessenheim is also notable for its historic connection to Johann von Goethe, a very famous German poet, playwright, novelist, and statesman.

5. Michelin starred restaurants are not the end all, be all…

I do enjoy eating fancy food on occasion; but I’m really much more of a comfort food fan. We ate at the Michelin starred Auberge Au Boeuf twice. I’m not sorry we did that, but we did learn that “fancy food” should be special, or the magic wears off. On the other hand, it had been so long since we last indulged!

4. Speaking German often, but not always, comes in handy in Alsace.

We kind of already knew this from other trips, but we did run into a number of people who didn’t speak German or English. It made me wish I had studied French, in school, instead of Spanish.

3. The town of Bitche, which is in Lorraine, is very close to Kaiserslautern and Ramstein.

I did not realize how accessible this town, with its impressive and famous citadel, is to Germany’s largest military community. Maybe if Bill had worked in K-town, we might be slipping over the border more often.

2. Saverne is a cute town I’d never heard of!

We visited Saverne on a whim after we got bored in beautiful Obernai. Seriously, Obernai is a very pretty town, but it reminded me so much of other wine route towns. It was a treat to discover Saverne, which was about 45 minutes away. It had a very different feel. I wish we’d had time to explore more of it. Maybe we can go back.

  1. It’s time to get back to enjoying Europe… for as long as possible.

One of our biggest regrets during our first time living in Europe is that we spent too many weekends at home. We completely missed out on the Black Forest and Alsace during our Army tour. In fact, I don’t even remember any visits to Stuttgart Mitte during those two years. When we came back to Germany in 2014, we were determined to explore more. For four years, we were able to do that, and we did it to great success.

But then, once we moved, we dealt with harassment and COVID-19, which knocked us off track somewhat. As we’ve learned from COVID, life is short and tomorrow is never guaranteed. Putin is making things in Europe a bit tense. Add that to COVID, and things can seem mighty grim. The truth is, every day there are risks to be faced. It’s time to face more risks and get back to living. I hope that’s what we can do more of in 2022.

And to those who want to cause trouble and see me fail…

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France, hotels

Reunited with France… and it felt so good to be back! Part three…

ETA: I had a real problem with uploading pictures for this post. The second set of photos is actually several galleries. If you notice “repeats” when you scroll through, just move to the next gallery.

Before we went to sleep the first night, we were visited by one of the restaurant staffers. She bore a slight resemblance to the actress Elisabeth Moss, who plays June on The Handmaid’s Tale. That was how we found out that our room had a doorbell! She came bearing fresh baked treats from the kitchen, which were scrumptious. She came to ask us about our breakfast preferences and reconfirm our reservations at the restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights.

The breakfast at Auberge au Boeuf was absolutely something to behold. But as it was our first time visiting, we didn’t know what to expect and we were decidedly overfed on the first morning. The lady from the restaurant asked us what we wanted from the list of offerings, which included boiled eggs, ham, fruit salad, cheese, smoked fish, juice, coffee, tea, yogurt, jam, butter, Museli, and fresh baked pastries and bread. This breakfast, which costs 12 euros per person, is served “family style”. But we didn’t know that on Wednesday night, when we were asked when we wanted to eat, and whether we wanted breakfast at the big “Stammtisch” table, or in our room. So, we ordered two of some things, not knowing how big the portions were.

The next morning at 8:00am sharp, a tiny lady who spoke French and German brought out tons of food for us… two servings of the things we both liked. I will admit, we were able to eat a lot of it, but some things went to waste. We had two big trays of smoked fish, two big trays of ham and salami, two of three kinds of pastries, and two butters… I was grateful we were the only ones eating at 8:00am, which is when breakfast starts. It was embarrassing to get that much food! We noticed a couple who ate later got less food. Now, we know better.

However… I must admit that the breakfast at Auberge au Boeuf was one of the best I have ever had anywhere. And, at twelve euros per person, it was very reasonably priced. The pastries alone were worth the price of admission, as it was obvious to me that they were very fresh and probably house made. They were exquisite! Below are some pictures from breakfast in the Stammtisch room.

The Stammtisch is something else I must mention. The restaurant offers less fancy and expensive meals at the big table in their gorgeous breakfast/dining room. We didn’t try the Stammtisch, since we didn’t know about it before we came and decided not to have dinner on Wednesday and Thursday nights. The food offered there is mostly beef and Alsatian– and looking at their menu, I might have had some issues with it, since there are many mushrooms! I see that the Stammtisch is offered for lunch and dinner on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. On the other hand, if we go back to that hotel, we may have to try it. The Stammtisch room has a very different vibe than the gourmet restaurant does. I think if I could have found something without fungus, I would have loved it.

The big “Stammtisch” table is made from a tree– in fact, I was blown away by how beautiful that room is. It looked like the plates, cups, saucers, and serving platters were all locally produced by a potter. They were very cool looking and original. They also have a cool wine cave, as well as a museum devoted to Goethe, that I didn’t see open during our visit.

After our first night at the hotel, we took a walk around the neighborhood. First, we passed a small market, where vendors were selling local produce, rotisserie chicken, and cheeses. I noticed that the hotel even had a kiosk set up, probably so people could pick up their catering orders. Patrons can order things via the restaurant’s Web site.

During our walk, I met a very sweet and social “European style” beagle who was super friendly and wanted to chat with us. He was so cute! I wanted to take him home with me, but I know if I bring another dog home, Arran will shit on my pillow! I have noticed that beagles are getting more popular in Europe, but they look a bit different than American beagles look. They’re a bit stockier, and have jaws that look kind of square. Whatever… I think they are adorable! Below are some scenes around Sessenheim.

We also saw some pygmy goats who were hanging out in someone’s yard, enjoying the nice weather. And we visited Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s memorial, which is open and free to the public. If we’d wanted to, we could have planned a day’s activities around Goethe. There’s actually a lot around Sessenheim and its environs about Goethe, who fell in love with Frederique Brion, a French woman from Sessenheim, when he was studying law in Strasbourg. Goethe immortalized her in his memoirs.

We strolled through the neighborhoods, noticing a couple of places for sale. I started talking to Bill about whether we should look for a house in France when he retires. I noticed how beautifully the gardens are kept there, including someone’s well tended kale plants. Dr. Blair, the dentist, used to practice in the Black Forest, and he said a lot of Germans buy homes in Alsace, because it’s supposedly cheaper. And, as we can attest, it’s more laid back, too.

After we took a walk, we made our way to Haguenau, which is a small, pleasant city known for pottery. There are museums, spas, and churches, and even a microbrewery there. The city is located near the famous Maginot Line, so it attracts people who are interested in “Remembrance Tourism”. There is also a lot of Jewish history in Haguenau. There’s even a museum dedicated to baggage in Haguenau! There are also some interesting looking restaurants, bars, and retail establishments. Since we’re still a bit COVID wary, we kept our activities outdoors, with the exception of visiting one cathedral, where Bill lit a candle for his father, who was a devout Catholic and died in 2020.

For lunch, we visited a tiny Moroccan restaurant called Restaurant Côté Sud. We lucked into finding this place, which offered a few French items like faux filet, as well as tajines, cous cous, and some intriguing salads. I’ll write more about Haguenau and our Moroccan lunch in the next post. Uploading photos is problematic for some reason.

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France

Reunited with France… and it felt so good to be back! Part one…

The featured photo is of a sign in a German restaurant… I share the sentiments of the person who drew the sad face. That’s why we went to France.

Ever since we moved to Wiesbaden in late November 2018, we have used visits to the dentist in Stuttgart as an excuse to get away for a few days. Or, at least that was the original plan, before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the planet. Thanks to the pandemic, we haven’t been back as often as we had originally planned. We did combine a trip to Stuttgart to see the dentist in May 2019 with Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road concert. We went to the Spring festival, saw Elton, and got our teeth cleaned. We also stayed at the Wald Hotel, which is our favorite Stuttgart area lodging. We even brought our dogs down to stay with their Stuttgart area pet sitter.

Then COVID struck, and we couldn’t get back down there again until August 2021. I had planned another trip to the Wald Hotel, but it was totally booked during that period. So I decided we’d visit Baiersbronn, which is a little Black Forest town known for its excellent restaurants. We loved visiting Baiersbronn when we lived near Stuttgart, so it made sense to go stay in the area for a few days, see the doc, and eat some really excellent food for a few days.

A few weeks ago, Bill reminded me that it was time to see the dentist again. We had appointments for March 2. I thought maybe I’d find us a little rental home or a cute hotel in a different part of the Black Forest, since we had so much fun in August. There are still so many places we’d like to see there. But then I noticed how strict the COVID rules are, down in that part of Germany… and I realized that having been triple vaxxed and never venturing out much at all for months, I’m pretty damned sick of COVID rules.

Or, at least I’m sick of the super strict ones. Baden-Württemberg has been requiring people to use FFP2 masks, which I find very oppressive and obnoxious. I know… I know… they’re supposedly “better” masks, and all, but I still hate wearing them. I am not a rule breaker, but if I can go somewhere else where I don’t have to wear the fucking things, I’d prefer to do that.

I noticed as I searched for places in the Black Forest, I was also getting suggestions for Strasbourg, France, which is really close to the Black Forest. I didn’t really want to go to Strasbourg, though, because that was where we went during our last trip to France in February 2020. I enjoyed Strasbourg, but I wanted to go somewhere different, especially since the wine expo is set to go on at the end of March and we may end up going there for that. We haven’t yet decided if we will go.

It was at that point that I remembered Soufflenheim, which is a little French town known for its pottery. We have a few pieces from there that we bought in Ribeauville a few years ago, but we’d never actually been to the town itself. I realized that since it was just a little bit north of Strasbourg, it would be on the way back to Wiesbaden, anyway. And this would be a great chance for us to get pottery for ourselves, and Bill’s younger daughter, who is expecting a baby boy soon.

So I searched for a place in Soufflenheim, and soon noticed ads for a Michelin starred restaurant that also has four hotel rooms. Auberge au Boeuf is located in adorable Sessenheim, which is right next to Soufflenheim. A quick peek at the reviews on Google and Trip Advisor, as well as Booking.com, told me that this was a nice play to stay. Better yet, the cost of the room in France was about half of what I would have paid at the Wald Hotel, a nice hotel in a city I’ve been to many, many times, and will no doubt go to again at least once in the future… and probably more often than that. Maybe my next Wald Hotel visit should wait until I need a dental procedure.

Then I realized that France is not nearly as uptight about COVID-19 as Germany is… the latest rules changes in Germany notwithstanding. Those changed while we were away, plus I was booking before they were still being considered. I ran the idea of going to Sessenheim by Bill. Not surprisingly, he was all about it. The fact that the great German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, spent so much time there clinched the deal. Bill and I are literature lovers, too… Bill is more so than I am, in spite of my English degree.

So I booked our room at Auberge au Boeuf for March 2-6. I also booked their restaurant for the third and fourth nights of our stay. I eagerly looked forward to the trip, as I warily watched Vladimir Putin’s increasing aggression toward Ukraine. I don’t normally do this for short trips that don’t involve flights or cruise ships, but I was nervous enough about Putin that I even booked travel insurance in case Bill had to cancel and go to work. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and now I have lots to report!

Stay tuned for my latest multi-part series about the many wonders of France! Boy, was it great to be back there! But first, it’s time for lunch.

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