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

Friday morning, after yet another excellent and much smaller breakfast, we decided to visit the town of Bitche. I first hear of Bitche when an Army friend visited there with her family. My friend and her husband are both retired Army officers who were still on active duty when they were living in Stuttgart. We met them years earlier, when we were neighbors at Fort Belvoir, an Army post in Virginia. It’s always funny to run into people on military installations worldwide!

My friend, who is now living in Hawaii, had a habit of taking road trips with her children, and one of the places they visited was Bitche, which is of particular interest to military enthusiasts. The town, which is located very close to the German border in the Moselle department of Lorraine, features an enormous citadel that dates back 800 years. I knew Bill would be interested in the citadel, but I wanted to go there because of the name of the town. I’m immature like that. 😉 Remember, I also made a point of visiting Fucking, Austria, before its name changed to Fugging, thanks to obnoxious American tourists. We even made a pilgrimage to Fuckersberg, Austria, which is basically a big field. You can easily search for and find my blog posts about those adventures from September 2015.

Bitche has the distinction of having had its Facebook page erroneously and unceremoniously shut down. It was probably because of the name, and what “bitch” means in English. Maybe some Facebook bot thought Bitche was a bullying page. The page was later reinstated, and the mayor got an apology. Anyway, Bitche is not pronounced the way we pronounce it in English, just as Fucking, Austria was not pronounced the way it was spelled. Below is a video with the pronunciation of Bitche.

It sounds kind of like “Beet’sche”

Bitche is about an hour’s drive from Sessenheim. It’s also about an hour away from Ramstein and Kaiserslautern, so it probably gets a lot of American visitors from there. We didn’t do much more in Bitche than walk around the charming village, where I saw yet another adorable European beagle. He looked like he could have been the brother to the one we saw in Sessenheim. I didn’t get a picture of him, since he was being walked by his human, who noticed me admiring his pooch. He said “Bonjour!”

I did notice a nice looking restaurant on the main drag of the town. It was called Aux Gourmand ’10. We happened to be passing it just as it was about to open for lunch. I looked them up on TripAdvisor and noticed they got encouraging reviews. Plus, regular readers of my blog may know that Bill and I have a bad habit of putting off eating for too long. I’m glad I made a point of looking on TripAdvisor with the restaurant’s actual name, since typing in “Bitche” and “Gourmand” got me porn results. Below are some shots of the village.

Aux Gourmand ’10 is clearly a popular place in Bitche. It’s very stylishly decorated, although it’s not a very large establishment. A lot of locales were dining there and appeared to be enjoying themselves and the food very much. The menu changes daily, and was presented on chalkboards on the walls and on little easels that were placed on the table. Bill and I knew we would be enjoying a gourmet meal at the hotel on Friday night, so we were a little hesitant in ordering too much. We didn’t have to worry. The portion sizes were just right, and the food and service were very good. I had a faux filet with frites and a simple green salad (which I actually finished). Bill had a salmon filet with creamy risotto and grilled vegetables. His dish was great, except the vegetables included the dreaded mushrooms. I’m glad I avoided ordering that– I have learned that a lot of “vegetable medleys” include mushrooms.

I think our waitress was a little surprised by us, though. When we came in, Bill spoke German to her. And, like a lot of French citizens who live in that area, she spoke fluent German. It wasn’t until after we ate, and she asked if we wanted dessert, that she heard us speaking English. It turned out she spoke English, too, but she didn’t seem to know what language to use with us. I think she might have actually had Bill pegged as German! He does speak restaurant German pretty well, although I’m sure he has an American accent. But maybe it’s not as obvious to a French speaker. Or maybe I’m just humoring myself.

We did indulge in dessert and espresso. I had chocolate mousse, and Bill had creme brûlée, which was excellent, because it was very fresh. Bill said he liked that it didn’t taste like it had been sitting in a fridge for hours. I think the total bill for a sumptuous lunch with wine and dessert was about 70 euros. It was money well spent. We could have gotten out of there cheaper, though. The restaurant offers plates of the day (plats du jour) that are three courses for a low price.

After lunch, we drove up to the citadel to have a look around. It was closed, although that didn’t stop some people from walking around in it. According to a sign I saw, the citadel will reopen until December 11th on March 13th. We were just a little too early! Oh well. It really isn’t very far from where we live. Maybe we’ll visit again. The citadel is massive, so I know there would be many pictures taken during a proper visit. I did enjoy the views of Bitche from the hillside on which the citadel sits. It’s worth going up there for the views alone. There’s plenty of free parking, and a garden to explore.

After our afternoon visit to the citadel in Bitche, we went back to Sessenheim for a short pause before dinner in their much venerated Michelin starred restaurant. Since that meal involved several courses, and there are many photos, I will write about that in the next post.

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