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Turning 50 in Antwerp… part five

As I mentioned in part four, we were about to go back to the hotel and hit the sack when I noticed a bright blue neon sign lit up. It was nine o’clock, and that meant the Antwerp Piano Bar was opening. Although Bill and I were decidedly casual in our dress, and we probably should have changed, we decided to stop in for a drink or three and listen to live music. I have to admit, at first I got the sense that maybe the proprietor wasn’t too pleased about our less than dressy appearance, but the bartender gamely invited us to sit at one of the plush booths. Then the proprietor, a distinguished looking gentleman with a beard, started playing piano– very well, I might add. He reminded me a little of the late Albert Hague (aka Mr. Shorofsky on the 80s TV show, Fame).

I love piano bars, so I was pretty excited that we found this place, not that it was hard. This bar, which I think used to be open more nights per week, is located very close to the Grote Markt. The bar stays open until at least 4:00am on the nights that it’s open. A sign on the door indicated that they are not open on Sundays, Mondays, or Tuesdays. Maybe this is a new feature, due to the pandemic.

We started with a round of cocktails, but switched to beer when it became apparent that the seasoned gentleman tending the bar didn’t understand our English too well. I’m not sure if it’s because of us or him. But anyway, I had a margarita and Bill had a martini. After a short while, another piano player showed up, along with a woman singer. They were both very good, and we had a lot of fun listening to them play, in spite of my shabby appearance.

At one point, a man got up to sing– he appeared to be a friend of the proprietor. I noticed there were a lot of people coming in who appeared to be regulars, rather than tourists like us. There was also a rather rowdy group of young guys who sat in the cigar bar and smoked stogies. I felt better when I noticed that they were dressed like me.

Below are a few photos and videos from our Saturday night stop. I should add that we almost never go out on Saturday nights anymore, so this was a treat. We got back to the hotel at about 11:30, which was definitely past our bedtimes.

I really took more videos than anything else… and as you can see, it was kind of dark in there…

If we ever go back, I’ll be sure to look prettier…

As we were leaving, I stopped to get another short video of the wild party still going on in the market! It was quite a lively scene!

When we got back to the hotel, we asked the receptionist what was going on in the square. He had no idea!

The featured photo is a picture of the fancy art book in the hall at the hotel. Someone turned the page to Lady Gaga, who was being photographed at Tony Bennett’s house.

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concerts, Germany, live music, Mainz, restaurant reviews

An evening with wonderful Keb’ Mo’… our first concert since 2019!

In 2003, when Bill and I were first married, I bought Lyle Lovett’s then newly released CD, Smile: Songs From the Movies. In those days, we didn’t have much money at all, so it was kind of a big deal when I bought things, even when they were as seemingly insignificant as CDs. On the other hand, I’m a frustrated musician myself, so CDs have never really been insignificant to me.

I got pretty hooked on that CD. I was a pretty new Lyle Lovett fan back then, but it wasn’t long before I became a real admirer of his music. On that CD, there was a collaboration Lovett did with noted blues singer, Keb’ Mo’. They had covered “‘Till It Shines”, a song Bob Seger wrote in the 1970s. I actually owned Bob Seger’s album, Stranger in Town, on cassette tape. I’ve since replaced it at least twice. I instantly recognized the song, and I loved what they did with it. I think that was the first experience I had with Keb’ Mo’.

Never saw the film this was used in, but I love this pairing of musicians.

Some time passed, and I encountered Keb’ Mo’ a few more times. One time, I bought a compilation put together by Martha Stewart, of all people. Yes, that Martha Stewart– the one who went to prison for insider trading! She marketed a CD for new parents called Sleepytime, and it included a collection of soothing songs that were meant to inspire babies to fall asleep, yet didn’t annoy their parents. Keb’ Mo’ contributed a lovely song called “Infinite Eyes” to that CD, which was released in 2004. I see Martha’s Sleepytime CD is no longer available, even on Amazon. That’s a shame, because it’s a really nice CD. I still have it, although it’s in storage now. I hope the extreme heat in Texas hasn’t ruined it. I do have it downloaded to my computer. Additionally, you can find it uploaded on YouTube.

Then came the day when I became a confirmed Keb’ Mo’ fan. Bill and I were having a weekend lunch at Austin Grill, in Springfield, Virginia. They were playing some really great music in there, and I was enjoying my burrito and pink lemonade to some righteous blues. Suddenly, there was Keb’ Mo’s unmistakable voice, covering Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”. After we finished lunch, Bill and I went directly to a Border’s store and I bought three of his CDs. None of them had his cover of “Folsom Prison Blues”, but the spell was cast. I was soon hooked, and started buying his music regularly. Years later, I found and downloaded his version of “Folsom Prison Blues”, but by the time I found it, I had discovered so many other great songs by him!

It’s hard to believe that about twenty years have passed since the first time I heard Keb’ Mo’s voice. It’s ever harder to believe that last night was the first time I ever saw him play live. Especially since Keb’ Mo’ seems to love Europe and has played over here several times in the almost eight years we’ve lived here. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be in Germany, but I am sure last night won’t be the only time we see Keb’ Mo’ in concert. He was so wonderful last night at the Frankfurter Hof! Thanks to the pandemic, the show, which was originally planned for November 16, 2020 (our 18th wedding anniversary), had been rescheduled three times. It was well worth the wait!

Last night’s concert was the first one Bill and I had been to since July 2019, when we saw Mark Knopfler in Leipzig. I remember Knopfler’s show was memorable for a lot of reasons. The most memorable thing about that show, though, besides the fact that it was the last one after a string of concerts Bill and I attended, was that we were staying in the same hotel where Knopfler and his band were. And all of them came to the hotel bar, so I got to gawk at them from afar.

Something similar actually happened last night. Bill and I were eating dinner outdoors at a place called L’Angolo, an Italian restaurant near the Frankfurter Hof, in Mainz. Bill had ordered a half bottle of wine, and just as our waiter was dropping it off, I looked up and there was Keb’ Mo’, walking down the street, completely unbothered and unfazed by anyone! I didn’t have the chance to take a photo then, but I got plenty of them last night, along with some video. I don’t usually like to take video at concerts, but he was pretty open to it, and everyone was doing it. So I got a few minutes from last night’s intimate show, which included opening act, Anthony D’Amato, who was equally great. I had not heard of Anthony D’Amato before last night, but he was very entertaining. His style reminded me of Springsteen’s or maybe Bob Dylan. He’s also been compared to Josh Ritter, but I’m not familiar with Josh Ritter (yet), so I can’t say for sure.

One of Anthony D’Amato’s songs. I don’t think he did this one last night.

I was pleasantly surprised by last night’s show. I had been a bit worried about it, given the COVID-19 situation. Germany only did away with mask requirements in most places just a few weeks ago. I didn’t look forward to having to sit in an auditorium wearing a mask for hours. Fortunately, people in Europe are pretty good about letting people make their own choices, as long as there aren’t official rules. There were some folks who wore masks at the show, but the vast majority of people didn’t. And I didn’t see anyone giving anyone a problem, either way.

The Frankfurter Hof is a small venue that seats a maximum of 480 people, and offers standing areas on the sides. I would guess there were no more than 600 people at last night’s show. We were in seats one and two in row four, which offered a great view of the stage, even without using the zoom function on my camera. I would not hesitate to attend another concert at the Frankfurter Hof, especially since it’s so close to where we live. My only caveat for the uninitiated is that it’s not so easy to find the entrance to the venue, which is between two restaurants/bars.

As usual, the audience was well-behaved and appreciative, which made for a nice atmosphere. People were singing along and clapping, and for the most part, being very considerate of each other. I haven’t been to a whole lot of US based concerts, but I have noticed that I much prefer the shows in Germany to the ones I’ve attended back home. People are expected to act like adults. Those who don’t will be called out. At the same time, if you want to enjoy your adult beverages, you can do that without harassment or price gouging. It’s refreshing to be treated with dignity and respect, without worry that some idiot will ruin the mood for everyone. Last night was also memorable, because we ran into one of Bill’s colleagues. Before she started working for the US government, she used to do sound and lighting for concerts. She even did them for Joan Jett, at some point before she switched careers. ūüėČ

Below are some photos from our evening, and last night’s delightful show. I’m so glad we were finally able to go! I hope Keb’ Mo’ will be back soon. If he follows his usual modus operandi, I expect it won’t be long before we have another chance to enjoy his music live. And if you like blues and haven’t seen him play yet, you’re missing out. We only paid about 45 euros per ticket to catch that show. It was one of the better concerts we’ve attended! Overall, it was a fantastic evening; he played all of the songs I was hoping to hear, plus some I really need to listen to again! If I don’t wind up with COVID-19, that is a bonus!

I was surprised by how humble and down to earth Keb’ Mo’ seemed. He was so funny and obliging, engaging with the audience and sharing entertaining stories with the audience. I also noticed that there were a lot of English speakers at the show, and they were getting his jokes. Bill and I saw the aforementioned Lyle Lovett in Stuttgart in March 2009, and he spoke English and made jokes. Bill and I seemed to be the only ones laughing! That is not what happened last night. The audience loved him! And most of them were very well behaved, save for a couple of squabbles over seats, and dirty looks due to empty beer bottles falling. For once, they weren’t my bottles, either. ūüėČ

Below is a video I got from the first song in the encore, a sweet rendition of “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. I wish I had gotten the very last song, which was one of the highlights of the show, in my opinion. It was an upbeat gospel number his late mother had loved. Keb’ Mo’ delighted me by quipping, “Germans go to church, too!” And indeed, they were clapping, stomping, and singing along, just like they had been raised on that homespun southern gospel sound. Once again, I missed my own southern roots, especially when he mentioned southern food. But I can’t help but realize that Bill and I shared a bond with the locals last night… and at this point, Germany will always be one of my homes, too. <3

“Lean On Me”
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coronavirus, Germany, live music, restaurant reviews

Wiesbaden is ALIVE again!

In celebration of our fully vaccinated and certified status, Bill and I decided to visit Wiesbaden yesterday. It was my first visit to the downtown in almost a year. I hated the COVID-19 rules so much that I just stayed home, where I could do my own thing without having to worry about confrontations, dirty looks, or judgments from other people. I realize that attitude was probably prompted by news articles and social media posts I was reading on the Internet about how things are in the United States. I read so many accounts of people getting into altercations about COVID-19 that it just turned me off of interacting with other people. So, visiting Wiesbaden was kind of a big deal. I guess our Heidelberg visit last weekend was a reminder to me that life is still going on where we live, too.

I took some photos of what was happening in Wiesbaden yesterday, as well as our visit to Scotch N’ Soda, an Irish pub and popular American hangout. We stopped in for lunch and got treated to a little concert by buskers… guys I’ve seen before in the city. They rove around town with their instruments. One guy has an upright bass violin. We saw him lugging it around before he met his buddies for their session. I was so happy to see and hear them that I tipped ten euros. One of them rewarded me with “twinkling eyes” (he squinted and smiled affectionately– I used to see this in Armenia all the time) and a hearty “Danke schoen!”

As we were enjoying beer and lunch at Scotch N’ Soda, the buskers played “my song”. It’s not my song in that I love it– although I do. It’s my song because I’ve sung it so many times that the lyrics are burned on my brain and I can’t mess it up. I’m the same way with Patsy Cline’s version of “Crazy”. I don’t actually do those songs very often anymore, because I’ve done them so many times. But people who know me and know my songs, know those are perennial favorites from way back!

Another one of our funny experiences in a Biergarten.

On our way out of Wiesbaden, a young woman with a child asked me in German if I had two ten cent pieces for a twenty cent piece. I was surprised when I understood her without having to think too hard about it. I guess seven years in Germany is finally rubbing off on me. ūüėČ

I think we may head out again today… take my Mini Cooper convertible, which has suffered mightily from disuse during the pandemic. We had to replace the battery two or three times because it went dead from lack of driving. Finally, we bought a battery charger and an air pump for the tires, which also were going flat from temperature changes and lack of use. Normally, during the summer months, we use my car all the time!

I would like to drive to the Rhein– maybe to Eltville or Bacharach. I’m not sure how successful that would be, though, because Die Salzbachtalbr√ľcke, which is a bridge on A66 is falling apart and will have to be blown up soon, because it can’t be repaired. That means a traffic nightmare for the next fourteen months or so, or at least that’s what the paper estimates. I’m pretty sure we usually go over that to get to those areas… and there are other places we haven’t been recently that need our attention. Maybe we’ll hit Hofheim today, instead. We’ll see… it’s just so nice to finally have the option to go out and be relatively free to be normal.

Wiesbaden was almost back to normal yesterday. They didn’t even do contact tracing at Scotch N’ Soda yesterday… no need to use the Luca app for checking in, like we did in Heidelberg last weekend. I hope the trend continues, although everybody is a bit worried about the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.

I think now it’s time to plan for a vacation… and a trip to Stuttgart for dental hygiene purposes.

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Poland

Big business in Poland, part six

I didn’t get to see as many Wroclaw attractions as I had hoped I would, mostly because for some reason, lately I’ve been having some pretty severe back pain. It’s especially bad in the mornings. Nevertheless, Wroclaw (pronounced ‚Äėvrohtz-wahv‚Äô) is a pretty town, especially down by the old part of the city in the enchanting market square. Pastel colored buildings surround the vast square with cool architecture and plenty of gothic touches.

There are museums, art galleries, and churches to be visited, as well as many restaurants with a surprising array of culinary specialties offered. There’s also plenty of shopping. I couldn’t help but think back to the 90s, when Poland was a Peace Corps destination and wonder what the people who served as Volunteers back then would think of Poland today. I know Yerevan, Armenia, where I served, is vastly different now than it was in 1995… and yet it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that places like Wroclaw and Yerevan were off limits to the average American.

Wroclaw is known as the “Polish Venice”, because it sits on the banks of the Odra River and claims over 130 bridges which connect twelve islands. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to explore the bridges or the islands, thanks to my aching back. However, I still managed to enjoy myself and see some stuff that was close enough for this aging lady to walk to without too much trouble.

Speaking of the former Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union, I did notice quite a strong statement against communism in Poland. For instance, there are over six hundred bronze gnomes in Wroclaw, which first started appearing in the city in 2005. The gnomes are tiny, standing at about a foot tall each, and can be found on the ground, atop roofs, on window sills, or climbing up walls. I didn’t even come close to getting pictures of all of them, but I managed to find quite a few.

The gnomes are a reference to the Orange Alternative, an anti-Soviet resistance movement born in Wroclaw during the 1980s. The group used dwarves as its symbol and helped stamp out the communist regime through peaceful protests. From 1981-83, the Orange Alternative, led by an artist at the University of WrocŇāaw named Waldemar ‚ÄėMajor‚Äô Fydrych, defaced communist propaganda with surrealist art as a means to protest the government’s oppressive restrictions against free speech and public gatherings. The early 1980s were a dangerous time in Poland. There was martial law, and people couldn’t even go out at night without taking significant risks. The gnomes were cute, and gave people something to smile and laugh at. They also helped show ordinary citizens how ridiculous it was that they were having to live with such oppression and to encourage them not to be afraid. Judging by what I saw in Wroclaw last week, the Polish people are now very happy to enjoy the nightlife and express themselves. Here are some pictures I took of the many gnome statues I found in Wroclaw.

You can actually purchase guides to finding these little guys all over the city. Just visit any souvenir shop! Personally, I liked stumbling across them without any help. They really give people a reason to smile… unless they’re like my friend, Mary Beth, who says gnomes give her the creeps!

I also made a video of raw footage from buskers I saw in Frankfurt, Germany and Wroclaw, Poland. Sunday night in Wroclaw, there were quite a few people on the market square in Wroclaw performing for tips. Here’s a look at that! It would have been nice if I’d used my digital camera, but it wasn’t as handy as my “handy” was.

Some talented people entertaining for euros or zloty…

I also visited beautiful St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church, which was just across the street from the hotel. This church, which was once the primary Protestant church between 1525 and 1945, is one of the most striking and visible buildings in Wroclaw. It is currently part of the Catholic Third Order and the structure dates from the 14th century. It suffered severe hail damage in 1529 and was gutted by a fire in 1976. It’s important to remember that this church has a strong German heritage, since Wroclaw was once called Breslau and was a part of Germany. Since 1999, there has been a memorial at the church to Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a native of what was then Breslau, Germany, and martyr to the anti-Nazi cause.

There is a huge tower with an observation deck that can be climbed for a small fee, but I never saw it obviously open, we had several gloomy weather days, and my back wasn’t going to allow me to hike up the tower, anyway. Still, if you’re up for a stout climb and the tower is open, it might be worth doing just for the excellent panoramic shots you can get of the city. Here are some photos from inside this beautiful church.

Not being Catholic nor particularly religious, I can’t speak much for what this church is all about. I just like to visit churches in Europe because they are so incredibly beautiful and inspiring. I also appreciate the quiet and peacefulness of them… warmth and shelter on a winter’s day, coolness and shade in the summer.

Next post, back to food…

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Volvo, Mark Knopfler, and East German adventures… part seven

A sight for sore eyes.

We left Rostock bright and early on Thursday, July 4th.  The drive to Leipzig took about four hours through the former East Germany.  We were marveling at how unspoiled it is, even thirty years after the Berlin Wall fell.  There are many open fields and the Autobahns, for the most part, are nice and clear.  We did encounter a couple of Staus, which were caused by road construction.

Nice rural East German countryside.

I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw that the builders had used signs with “emojis” on them to express how long the construction would last. ¬†The first emoji would be a red frowny face. ¬†Midway through, one might see a yellow flat face– with a straight line for its lips. ¬†Then, at the end, there would be a green happy face and the word, “Geschafft!”, which translates to “finished” or “done”, I guess. ¬†I see by Google Translate, it literally means “made”. ¬†I tried to get pictures, but wasn’t so successful. ¬†You can see an example of what I’m writing about here. ¬†I don’t know how I’ve missed these for the past few years. ¬†I haven’t seen them used in the areas where we’ve lived.

The only picture I managed to capture in time.

We finally reached the city of Leipzig at just after one o’clock. ¬†Once again, Bill got turned around and missed the street where the Steigenberg Grand Hotel was. ¬†We had to drive around a bit to finally get to the right place. ¬†Upon arrival, our bags were whisked away and the car was driven off by a valet. ¬†I got an upgraded room, thanks to Expedia.com, which also awarded me gold status again (I had lost it in December 2017, when I used my points in Berlin). ¬†Instead of the standard room I booked, I got a deluxe room.

Here are some photos of the room.

Bathtub… we didn’t use.

Nice rainfall shower.

His and hers sinks.

 

The shower and toilet next to each other.

This bed was mostly more comfortable than our bed at the Radisson Blu in Rostock… except for one issue, which I’ll get into in a future post.

 

The room had air conditioning and a mini bar, as well as free Internet and a nice big TV. ¬†There was also a couch by the window, which appeared to be what made this a “deluxe” room. ¬†The standard rooms had chairs instead. ¬†I think the deluxe rooms were also slightly larger.

This hotel has a nice bar area, a restaurant, and a spa. ¬†We used the bar, of course, but only visited the restaurant for breakfast, which I booked with the room. ¬†I probably should have gone to the spa, but didn’t bother.

Since it was lunchtime, we decided to try Dhillon’s Irish Bar & Grill for lunch, since it was very close to the hotel and I was in the mood for fried food. ¬†Lunch at Dhillon’s Irish Bar & Grill was fine. ¬†I had fish & chips and Bill had Cottage Pie. ¬†We also had beer. ¬†Service was fast and friendly, and we weren’t left with a terrible impression. ¬†Unfortunately, we made the mistake of going back on Saturday night and were completely ignored. ¬†I wrote a very foul rant about this on my main blog. ¬†I would not recommend reading it unless you want to read a lot of cussing. ¬†I was extremely pissed off. ¬†But here are a few photos from our successful Thursday lunch visit. ¬†I will admit, lunch there was fine.

Obligatory shot of Bill.

Cottage pie.  Bill said it was good.

I liked my fish & chips.

This was a welcoming sign… however, on Saturday night, they didn’t roll out the welcome mat for us.

After we ate, we walked around Leipzig and found our way to St. Thomas Church, where Johann Sebastian Bach was music director for 27 years.  This Lutheran church is also affiliated with several other well known composers, including Richard Wagner and Felix Mendelsohnn.  Besides a lovely interior, the church has a small museum and a large statue of Bach out front.  A couple of classical musicians were outside playing beautifully.  They brought tears to my eyes with their heavenly music.  Leipzig is definitely a very musical city and a place to visit if music is your passion as much as it is mine.

This was painted on the wall near the church.

St. Thomas Lutheran Church.

One thing I didn’t know when I booked our travel was that this past weekend was also the time for the Leipziger Wein Fest. ¬†We managed to try several wines over a few days and listened to some nice live music in the square. ¬†It was a real bonus to get to taste wines and see Mark Knopfler!

At one point, I saw an adorable young family dancing to the music.  Mom was very pregnant and looked about ready to add to the family.  Dad was dancing with his toddler son, who was enchanted by the music by Benni & Ich.  It made me tear up watching them.

This guy seemed really into the music.

Later that day, we found out that Bill’s daughter, Catherine, gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Clara. ¬†Catherine is Bill’s younger daughter. ¬†Thanks to an acrimonious divorce, Bill hasn’t seen her or her older sister, who was also born on July 4th, since 2004. ¬†For many years, they were completely estranged. ¬†However, in recent years, Bill and Catherine have started Skyping and emailing. ¬†Bill now has a grandson and a granddaughter and, with any luck, he’ll be able to get to know them despite his ex wife’s extreme efforts at ruining his relationship with his daughters.

I’d say our July 4th, despite being devoid of fireworks, was a success.

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Jettingen who? New discoveries in nature and more Breckenheimer rock n’ roll!

Last night turned out to be unexpectedly awesome. ¬†After we came home from Idstein, we decided to hang out with the dogs for awhile. ¬†Then, at about 6:00pm, the Breckenheimer Bikers were back to continue their fest. ¬†I asked Bill if he wanted to go. ¬†He said “sure”, so we walked to the area where they had set up their booths and tables. ¬†The weather was better, so there were a lot more people. ¬†It looked like they had different food, too.

Then Bill wanted to see if there was anything going on at the Dorfplatz, which is where they always have the wine stands every other Friday night. ¬†Nothing was going on there, but we decided to keep walking. ¬†I’m ashamed to say that in seven months of living in this town, I haven’t explored it much. ¬†I don’t know why. ¬†When I was younger, I’d always walk around my new neighborhoods to make new discoveries. ¬†I usually have the dogs with me, though, and our new town doesn’t have very good sidewalks, since it’s very densely populated. ¬†I guess I figured the area was too congested for them, making it hard to dodge cars.

We walked down Dorfgasse, which is the main drag, passed the antiques dealer, a Kurheil practitioner, a pension, a bakery, an architect, and a druggist with a gynecologist’s office attached to it. ¬†Aside from the bakery and the druggist, I had no idea the other stuff was even there. ¬†We also passed a bunch of guys sitting in their garage, drinking beer, and having a party.

Then we saw a country road on the edge of the neighborhood. ¬†Yes… Breckenheim is on the edge of the country, and we discovered a large park where we can take walks with the dogs. ¬†Perhaps my days of walking them in the poo and dildo infested fields near the Autobahn and the Rewe are over. ¬†Here are some photos from our walk.

This looks familiar… our old town of Jettingen had a similar sign asking people to pick up their dogs’ crap.

Turns out there’s a pretty big walking area, complete with orchards.

There’s even a woods!

 

After a few minutes of walking, we came across a small paddock where a group of ponies were enjoying some hay. ¬†I call them ponies, but they might have been miniature horses. ¬†I mean, they’d be ponies because of their height alone, but they had the more delicate features of horses, with a lighter bone structure. I don’t have much experience with minis, although I have plenty of experience with ponies. ¬†Whatever they officially were, I was delighted to see them! ¬†I spent most of my childhood around horses and even used to have my own pony. ¬†It’s been too many years since I last had a horse in my life. ¬†They are wonderful company. ¬†I even miss their wonderful aroma.

 

One of the mares had a colt by her side. ¬†It looked like a couple of the others might also be expecting, although it’s a bit late in the year for that. ¬†They might have just been fat.

They were very friendly, although I didn’t dare try to pet them. ¬†I have a lot of experience with electric fences, too. ¬†I’m glad we walked up this way, since my dogs go nuts when they see horses. ¬†Now, if I try to walk them here, I’ll be forewarned.

The further we went down the road, the quieter and more bucolic the views were. ¬†I was reminded of the more country areas where we’ve previously lived in Baden-W√ľrttemberg. ¬†I’m really a country girl at heart, so finding out our new Hessian town has country scenes did my heart good. ¬†The one thing I’ve been missing about Jettingen are the beautiful wooded areas where I could walk my dogs. ¬†Now I’ve found Breckenheim’s version.

 

The church on the other side. ¬†I think there’s a concert there today. ¬†We might have to check it out.

 

On the way back to our neighborhood, we happened to pass by a tree as several birds of prey had engaged in what appeared to be a violent attack. ¬†I grabbed my camera and tried to film them in action, but was just a little too late to capture the fight. ¬†But then I saw something strange. ¬†A bird was hanging upside down by one talon. ¬†It hung there for an agonizing minute as we looked on, wondering if it was just stunned. ¬†I filmed the bird and my German friend told me it was an¬†Eichelh√§her, otherwise known as an Eurasian Jay. ¬†It bore a slight resemblance to our blue jays. ¬†Just after I turned off the camera, the jay lost its desperate grip on the branch and dropped to the ground. ¬†It was still alive when we left it, but I doubt for much longer. ¬†I was a little sad about witnessing that scene, but unfortunately, it’s the way of nature.

By the time we got back to our street, the fest had exploded. ¬†Most of the tables were full of people drinking beer, Sekt, Aperol spritzes, and Jack Daniels. ¬†There were several bands, all of which were quite good. ¬†Our landlord and his wife were there, having a good time. ¬†I like them both, although I haven’t really spent much time talking to them. ¬†Our new landlady doesn’t speak much English, but she’s always very friendly and seems happy to see us. ¬†The landlord seems to like Bill, and he speaks more English– likewise, Bill speaks more German than I do. ¬†We said hello and watched a few acts. ¬†The landlord said they usually do this fest every year, although some years they’ve skipped it. ¬†I’m glad we were around for it this year.

The bikers put on a hell of a party!  I remember Jettingen had events too, but none like this.  A lot of the fests in Jettingen were religious or agricultural.

Cheers!

I got video of a couple of them, which maybe I’ll turn into something I can share here. ¬†I did think to take a few pictures, especially of an enthusiastic gentleman who danced to several well covered classic rock songs. ¬†The group before the rock band consisted of four very talented men singing a cappella in surprisingly good harmony. ¬†I am myself a singer, so I know how hard to can be to stay on pitch when you sing unaccompanied. ¬†They did a really good job of it. ¬†I was especially impressed by their version of “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond”. ¬†For some reason, Germans seem to love Scotland, just like I do… ¬†I got some raw video, which I might turn into something sharable at some point.

This guy was dancing his ass off.

This dude sounded like a mix of Bon Scott and Meatloaf.  He was singing songs by Foreigner, Billy Idol, and Bob Seger, among others.  His female partner covered a Bryan Adams song and Pink.  They were surprisingly good.

They brought up a young girl… a family member, perhaps, who joined them on the Bryan Adams number, “I Need Somebody.”

This guy was awesome.  He was inspiring people to cut loose.

We went back home and Bill cooked burgers on the new grill. ¬†The party went on down the street. ¬†At about 10:45pm, they set off some fireworks– maybe a minute or two’s worth. ¬†At about 11, the party was over. ¬†All in all, from Idstein to party time, our Saturday was amazing. ¬†I’m not sure what we’re going to do today, but we sure did have a great day yesterday!

Fireworks!

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Breckenheim bikers throw a good party!

Every time we move to a new place, I’m always intrigued by our neighborhoods. ¬†Some places have been better than others. ¬†This time around, we seem to have chosen a very social neighborhood. ¬†Last week, we had the wine stand. ¬†This week, we have a street fest that was capped off by a concert hosted by a bunch of bikers from our current hamlet, Breckenheim.

The club members all had these vests.  Most of them were very personalized.  As you can see, this group was celebrating their 20th anniversary!

If we’d wanted to, we could have just sat out on one of our balconies. ¬†The bikers had a band and were selling brats, brotchen, beer, and Jack Daniels. ¬†I loved that they all had matching leather vests with their names on them. ¬†I got the sense that during the work week, they were all working conventional jobs. ¬†On the weekend, look out! ¬†They were born to be wild!

We stayed at the fest for a couple of hours and listened to the band’s first set. ¬†Here are a few pictures.

The view from our balcony.

 
We had a little bit of rain, but the locals were prepared.  They put up a tent and, with some teamwork, were able to put it over about half of the tables.

A plane on the way to Frankfurt, no doubt.  We live about twenty minutes away.

Bill was in a festive mood.  He likes a good Friday night fest, even though he knew he needed to stay sharp because we finally got the VIN for our new car and he had to call the bank about arranging the loan.

 

Drinks were flowing… ¬†They even had four dispensers for Jack Daniels. ¬†I guess that’s a biker thing. ¬†I used to like Jack Daniels a lot. ¬†When I used to fox hunt, the master of the hounds would pass around a flask full of the stuff. ¬†I didn’t drink it then, because I was just a teenager. ¬†I don’t drink it much now, but when I was in college, I was a fan.

The brats were grilling.

Lots of people were socializing.  This looked like a very friendly group.  I like that there are so many clubs in Germany, one for every possible interest.

 

This was dinner. ¬†It was very good! ¬†I don’t usually go for brats at these events, but I think the bikers put me in the mood.

The band was also pretty swell.  They were playing all manner of hits, from well-known pop songs in English to German songs.  One lady sang a well-known Adele song; another covered Amy Winehouse.  They were quite competent and even had a sax player!

 
The crowd was into it.
 

I tried one of the Jack and Cokes. ¬†It was a lot sweeter than I remembered it, and not just because of the cola. ¬†This one was a double… ¬†I’m feeling it this morning.

 

They had lots and lots of Jack Daniels. ¬†I didn’t know Tennessee Sour Mash whiskey was so popular here.

 

After awhile, we decided to go home so Bill could attend to his loan business and I could play him a new song I discovered yesterday. ¬†I think there will be a lot of activity choices for us this weekend… lots of fests are going on right now. ¬†We’re definitely spoiled for choice!

 

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Just another June afternoon in Wiesbaden…

We were blessed with more sunny skies and warm temperatures today. ¬†I thought maybe we’d hit that castle I was thinking about yesterday, but Bill wanted to go to Wiesbaden. ¬†Originally, his plan was just to get some ice cream and maybe have a look at where Elton John had his concert last night. ¬†I bet it was a great time. ¬†The weather was perfect for it.

We could see the work crew starting to break down the stands and stage set up for Elton as we wandered past. ¬†It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in an area that looked like maybe they were concessions stands set up for the concert. ¬†Upon closer examination, we discovered that we’d stumbled upon the Kranzplatzfest. ¬†It started on Wednesday and today is the last day of what appeared to be a music and beverage festival. ¬†We also saw lots of people selling stuff.

Lots of stands were selling stuff… mostly drinks, but a few had some handmade crafts and clothes for sale.

The Kranzplatzfest has been going on for 38 years, but we had no idea about it. ¬†In fact, we would have completely missed it if we hadn’t ventured into the city today. ¬†That would have been a pity, because I got some great footage of people dancing to Cuban music. ¬†We happened to get there just before Los 4 Del Son started their 2:00 show.

It was warm today… and it looked like steam was coming off of this fountain. ¬†I don’t know if the water was really that hot or if it was a special effect. ¬†Edited to add: My German friend says this is no special effect. ¬†We stumbled across the Kochbrunnespringer. ¬†Indeed, we saw steam, as the temperature was about 67 degrees Celsius/152.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

I was attracted to these paintings. ¬†I wouldn’t have minded bringing one home with me. ¬†But I wasn’t sure what the price range was and Mr. Bill has already spent a fortune this summer. ¬†And summer hasn’t even started…

 

Before the Los 4 Del Son show started, we were entertained by watching a crotchety clown yell at some guy who was messing with his bubble blower. ¬†The clown– who wore a festive clown patterned vest, a matching newsboy cap with pom pom, denim capri pants, and a sour expression on his face, noticed the guy adjusting the blower with the wind. ¬†There he was, holding a balloon he’d been turning into an animal for a small child, bitching out the man who dared to touch his bubble blower. ¬†It was a really funny scene, though maybe you had to be there.

Cool sculpture.  This was where the cranky clown had put his bubble blower.

 

Setting up for the show…

This guy was not amused when some random dude started messing with his bubble blower. ¬†He told him off, which didn’t seem very clown like to me. ¬†The guy responded by laughing at him, which seemed to piss off the clown even more.

See the blower?  It was delighting kids and adults alike.

Bill and I tried apple wine for the first time. ¬†It’s a specialty up here near Frankfurt.

One was sweet and the other was sour.  The sweet version had lemonade in it.  I like it better than the sour, which really was very sour.

We had cold chicken shwarma for lunch.  It was cheap and filling, but really messy.  I was glad I saved Wet Naps from our last fest.

And some German craft beers to wash it down. ¬†Bill’s was an IPA.

Lots of people were dancing.  I got some video, which I may be able to share here.

 
Here’s the video!
I got a kick out of the guy in yellow and red…
 

There was another young man who appeared to have been drinking quite a lot. ¬†He was really showing off his moves in a dramatic way. ¬†I bet he’s a hit at dance clubs because he obviously has confidence to show off his stuff. ¬†We saw him approach a young woman with two small children with her, as if he’d asked her to dance. ¬†She turned him down. ¬†He turned and walked away, dejected.

After about an hour of watching people dance and listening to festive Cuban music that made me wish we were in the Caribbean, Bill and I decided to get some ice cream.  We stopped by Eis Cafe Rialto for the first time.  This is supposedly one of the best ice cream joints in Wiesbaden.  The ice cream is made locally and there are many flavors.

And passed this cool vintage car on the way there… lots of money is up here in Wiesbaden…

It was hot and sunny, but we managed to find some shade.

I had a Black Forest cup and Bill had a Wild Berry cup.  Germans love their ice cream creations.  They are very fancy and can cost as much as an entree in a restaurant.  I was amused by the cherries in my ice cream, which tasted like they were carbonated.  I love a cheap thrill whenever I can find one.

I’m glad we went to Wiesbaden today, even though we always end up there somehow. ¬†I wouldn’t have wanted to miss today’s fest, especially since I hadn’t known about it. ¬†If we’re still here in a year, we’ll have to make a point of coming to a couple of days. ¬†I’m sure yesterday, it was a zoo thanks to Elton John’s concert. ¬†On the other hand, I’m sure the lucky concertgoers had a lovely time. ¬†The weather was absolutely gorgeous for a show. ¬†It was probably nicer than the Stuttgart show, anyway… I sat downwind of some guy with halitosis. ¬†I don’t know how Elton was last night, but I did read he had to cancel his show in Verona due to a cold. ¬†Hope he’s better now!

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We went Dutch for MLK weekend 2019! Part five.

On Sunday, we decided to visit Maastricht.  I really didn’t know what to expect, since I had never been to the city before.  I did know that there aren’t any “coffee shops” open to foreigners in Maastricht.  It’s one of the areas in the Netherlands that has chosen to restrict pot sales to people who aren’t locals.  If you want marijuana, you have to go west.

It was no big deal, though.  Maastricht proved to be entertaining without the benefit of pot.  Not only is the city beautiful, it’s also wide open on Sundays.  Yes, you can go shopping, have lunch, or simply people watch.  There was some kind of race going on there Sunday, so there were several brass bands playing along the route, along with a drum band and a group of violinists.  As a music lover, this really appealed to me.  Despite the bitter cold, I stood there and listened to a group of musicians play “Canon in D” and Vivaldi.  I’m not ashamed to admit that their version of Pachelbel’s masterpiece had me openly weeping.

We parked in a huge lot on the outskirts of town and walked in…

Right off the bat, we heard the thundering sound of drums.  An awesome drum band was beating an infectious rhythm and had attracted a crowd.  The music would be a theme in Maastricht on Sunday, as we ran into a number of bands playing in the street.  

What’s that sound?

 

You can also load up on cheese!  I wish I liked cheese more.

We rounded the corner, just out of earshot of the drummers and promptly encountered a quartet of string musicians.

I often get choked up when I hear really well played live music.  I was listening to these people with tears streaming down my cheeks.  They played so well out in the cold and their music went straight to my heart.

As you can see, other people were affected by the music, too.  

We reluctantly moved on, because it was so cold and Bill needed to get some cash.  I managed to get a few more pictures as we searched for an ATM.  We were looking for lunch and a place to pee.

Our route took us past the runners and several more excellent brass bands!

We walked through one area near a mall and several very touristy looking restaurants.  One alley smelled distinctly of cheeseburgers, which was kind of strange.  But then I noticed we were near a McDonalds.

And these guys were playing jazz… I loved that they had a tray of empty beer glasses nearby.

 

Just as we encountered our fifth musical ensemble of the day, I turned to the left and we found a place to have lunch…

 

I have a knack for finding good places to eat.  There are a few things I look for.  Mainly, I like places that aren’t either too crowded or too empty.  I prefer them to be off the main drags.  And it doesn’t hurt if it smells good outside of the restaurant, too.  A lot of people were sitting outside, despite the cold weather.  I didn’t want to sit outside, but Bill was about to bust.  So we walked inside De Twee Heeren, which turned out to be a pretty awesome bar/restaurant.  They were playing good music and had menus in English, as well as places to sit.  We ended up spending a couple of hours in there, enjoying lunch, good Dutch and Belgian beers, and fun music.

Obligatory menu shot of Bill.  They had a number of appealing choices, everything from steaks to falafel.

 

Bill had what amounted to a “sauerbraten stew”.  It came with a big basket of frites and a salad.

 

I had fish and chips.  I considered a few of the other choices and actually had some trouble deciding, but since the Netherlands is a sea faring nation, I figured the fish and chips would be good.  And they were!  I even tried the fries with mayonnaise.  That’s how they eat them…  Not bad at all, though a little bit of mayo goes a long way.

 

Bill had a double espresso while I enjoyed an excellent Belgian brew suggested by the waiter.

And one more for the road.  It’s probably a good thing German beers aren’t this interesting.

 

It was late afternoon by the time we were finished at De Twee Heeren, so we decided to get some cheese for Bill and head back to the dogs.  I might have liked to have tried another restaurant later, but I just can’t eat as much as I once did.  You’d never know it to look at me, though.

This place had lots of free samples, which Bill was happy to try.

Here he’s trying the gouda with garlic.  I think he brought some home.  I found us some beers and waffle cookies, too.  If it turns out he loves the cheese, we can order more.

We headed out of the city and I took a few more photos.

The grand looking building houses the visitor’s center, which sadly, does not have a public toilet.  Fortunately, I found one at a bustling looking hostel with a huge bar.  It was nothing to duck in, which was a huge relief.

So long, Maastricht.  We’ll be back!

 

I missed the lunar eclipse, but did manage to get a picture of the huge full moon.

 

Yesterday morning, we got up bright and early, had breakfast, let the dogs have one more romp with Yogi, and loaded up the car for the drive back to Germany.  Nel was the most awesome hostess and invited us back.  I think she said we were her first real American guests, although she has hosted Canadians.  I’m hoping a few of my American readers living in Germany might visit Vijlen.  I have a feeling we’ll go back, especially if we stay in Germany for much longer.

I love visiting small towns and talking to locals, getting a feel for the real culture.  While we always enjoy visiting big cities, I find that it’s harder to get a feel for the culture, mainly because so many other international visitors are also there.  So, if there’s anything to be learned by this trip, it’s that small towns are worth a look.  They tend to be less expensive, safer, and the locals are more likely to make a connection.  I felt like we’d made a friend when we left Nel’s place yesterday.  I hope this series will inspire a few others to visit her in lovely Vijlen!

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Halloween in Stuttgart at the Irish Folk Festival!

It’s showtime! ¬†

 

If you’ve been following this blog, you might know that the summer of 2018 was our summer of concerts. ¬†Since I recently bought tickets to three more shows and have one more that has been planned since February 2018, I can safely say that 2019 will continue on the concert theme.

Some months ago, I noticed an ad on Facebook for the Irish Folk Festival.  This is an annual tour that celebrated its 45th anniversary this year.  Every year, bands that play Celtic music travel through Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and Benelux.  And yet, even though this festival is almost as old as I am, I somehow never knew about it until I saw that Facebook ad.  Since I was on a roll buying tickets for shows, I decided to pick up a pair for Bill and me.  They were comparatively cheap.  I think I spent a little over 80 euros for two tickets and we sat in the second row.

Thanks to all of the big name acts we’ve seen this year, there were a couple of times I actually forgot that we’d bought tickets for this show. ¬†I set up a reminder on Facebook, just so we wouldn’t forget to attend. ¬†I’m so glad we did manage to catch this festival. ¬†We had a wonderful time!

Last night’s show started at 8:00pm at the Stuttgart Theaterhaus, located very close to Robinson Barracks. ¬†Bill and I have passed that Theaterhaus a few times, but this was the first time we ever took in a show there. ¬†It’s a very nice venue. ¬†Next door, there is a restaurant that we would have liked to try if we’d had time. ¬†Unfortunately, we were caught in hellacious Stuttgart traffic and arrived at the venue about an hour before showtime. ¬†The restaurant was very full and we didn’t think we’d have time to eat. ¬†However, there were a couple of bars open and they did have sandwiches and candy available. ¬†We each had a beer.

The theme was the hope for Ireland’s reunification after Brexit. ¬†The lineup included several acts that I had never heard of, but I left the venue with several new CDs that I can’t wait to plug into my Celtic music mix. ¬†We had the pleasure of being entertained by: Joanna Hyde & Tadhg √ď Meachair,¬†Christy Barry & James Devitt,¬†Ailie Robertson’s Traditional Spirits, and The Outside Track. ¬†The show lasted a solid three hours with one twenty minute break.

Bill and I left as they were doing the last song, because it was already 11:00pm, and he gets up early for work. ¬†The mostly German crowd was on its feet at the end. ¬†They enjoyed the show as much as we did. ¬†We saw more than one person wearing a kilt. ¬†I was sorry Bill hadn’t worn his!

Below are some photos from last night’s show, along with a little light commentary.

It was just starting to get busy in the Theaterhaus when we arrived. ¬†I was marveling at how nice it was. ¬†I wish we’d had the chance to go to other shows during our time here. ¬†Maybe we’ll have another opportunity at a later date.

 

Some information about other planned shows.

I got a kick out of this giant sign for the toilets. ¬†I didn’t get a picture, but next to this lit up sign, there’s an Andy Warhol style graphic depiction of toilets. ¬†That’s one way to make sure theatergoers know where to go when they have to go.

 

The venue has quirky decor.

 

My goofy husband, being a good provider. ¬†He bought peanuts and crispy M&Ms so I wouldn’t get too hangry.

 

I’m always intrigued by graffiti and stuff people leave in bathrooms. ¬†Here’s a statement on the evils of prostitution… ¬†Prostitution is legal in Germany.

 

Our view before the show started. ¬†A German couple sat next to us and asked if we were from Ireland. ¬†We admitted to being Americans, albeit with lots of Celtic heritage. ¬†The couple seemed surprised we’ve been in Germany for four years and are moving to another German city. ¬†They wondered if we would eventually go back to the USA. ¬†I’m sure we will at some point… but then again, maybe we won’t. ¬†Time will tell. ¬†I noticed they didn’t come back after the pause. ¬†I hope we didn’t offend.

 

The local concert promoter was a German guy who wore a green suit covered in shamrocks.  He reminded me a little of Steve Martin before his hair went completely white.  I almost expected him to have an arrow through his head, the way Martin used to about 40 years ago when he did stand up comedy.  I understood some of what the guy was saying and noticed he had a good sense of humor.  The performers spoke a little bit of basic German, but the rest was done in English.  I noticed most of the people around us understood English perfectly well.  Once again, I regret not studying German in school instead of the six years of Spanish I took.

I did not take any photos during most of the show, nor did I do any filming. ¬†Having performed on a stage myself, I understand that photography can be distracting, especially when people use flash. ¬†Also, I think it’s rude to watch a concert through a cell phone screen. ¬†I did get a few photos at the end of the show, when the excellent performers were doing their finale and taking their bows.

¬†Ailie Robertson, playing harp, seemed to be the evening’s bandleader. ¬†She performed first with her band, Traditional Spirits, and explained how her music was about the making of whisky in Scotland, particularly in splendid Islay, which Bill and I have had the good fortune to visit twice. ¬†After the pause, she joined her band, The Outside Track, which consists of almost all females and includes members from Ireland, Scotland, and Canada! ¬†The lady in the sparkling green dress is lead singer, Teresa Horgan, who also served as a great bandleader and has a stunningly beautiful voice.

Mairi Rankin, the beautiful redhead from Cape Breton, Canada dancing front and center, was absolutely enchanting as she played her fiddle, sang, and danced. ¬†I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. ¬†She had a wonderful stage presence and seemed to really enjoy her work. ¬†I was drawn to her and probably would have loved to have had the chance to chat with her after the show. ¬†She has a very friendly and kind aura.

 

A close up of the dancing!

Mairi is joined by Joanna Hyde and a guy named Cillian O’Dalaigh. ¬†Cillian had fabulous hair and played flute and guitar and danced and sang. ¬†He was another one I was drawn to watch.

Taking a bow!

The rest of these pictures are a little repetitive, but I’m including them for the curious. ¬†It really was a wonderful show and the house was packed. ¬†The tour continues tonight in Ravensburg and ends on November 17th in Hamburg. ¬†I would definitely recommend getting tickets to any of the upcoming shows or planning to see this next year. ¬†I see that they stopped in Mannheim and Frankfurt earlier in their tour, so if we’re still in Germany a year from now, we’ll have to make plans to attend. ¬†It was time and money well spent for us! ¬†And frankly, I was a little jealous because I wanted to be on stage, too… and I wish I had kept studying music when I was young. ¬†Oh well… ¬†At the end of this post, I’ll include a video I did of one of the songs we heard last night. ¬†Yes, it’s me singing.

Well deserved accolades!

The song on this video, which includes pictures from Capri and Amalfi, is “Get Me Through December”. ¬†I originally heard this done by Alison Krauss and Nova Scotia native and fiddle player Natalie MacMaster, but it was also performed last night by Teresa Horgan and the rest of The Outside Track. ¬†I may have to do this one again today… ¬†By the way… I would love to see Natalie MacMaster and her fantastic family play in Germany. ¬†Maybe someday… ¬†This version is mine, and the arrangement is similar to the one done by Alison Krauss and Natalie MacMaster. ¬†Last night’s version was done in a lower key, but was no less ethereal.

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