Turning 50 in Antwerp… part eight

On the morning of June 21, we got up and packed everything, and Bill took it to the car, which was buried deep under the hotel in their tiny parking garage. We went down to breakfast and enjoyed the other half of the delicious strawberry tart. It was even better the second day! I was sorry to leave De Witte Lelie, as it was such a welcoming and homey hotel. The staff is so friendly and helpful, and the accommodations are stylish and comfortable. Alas, we had to leave Antwerp and go home to our dogs. So, after we settled the bill and said goodbye, we got in the Volvo and took about half an hour trying to maneuver out of the garage, which has a steep incline to the door. Kudos to Bill and the many fancy sensors on the Volvo for getting us out of there unscathed!

We also had much less trouble leaving Antwerp than entering it, as Bill didn’t make any wrong turns. I was sorry to leave without a new diamond, but I think I’d rather get one at a place where I’m not a tourist. There were a couple of Trip Advisor horror stories that advised me against shopping for a new rock in Belgium.

First on our agenda was to stop at a Belgian supermarket to pick up some beers for home. We stopped at a little co-op market and loaded up a cart with suds, as well as a few other items. Bill went to pay, and it turned out they didn’t take Visa. They also didn’t have an ATM. So the cashier was kind enough to watch our cart while we searched for a cash machine. That took about an hour, even with a GPS… but eventually, we got our euros, gassed up the car, I unloaded the breakfast beverages, and we went back to the store to make our purchase. The cashier had kept the cart safe for us. Next time, we’ll bring cash.

Then, we headed eastward, stopping at a typical German Rastplatz for lunch at McDonald’s. I had to laugh when Bill ordered two Royales and one of them came with the bun that is usually reserved for plain cheeseburgers (no sesame seeds). I guess McDonald’s in Europe are also suffering from supply chain shortages.

Our drive home was completely uneventful, and we arrived in the mid afternoon. I got started on my blogging, and Bill went to get the dogs, who were very happy to come home after four nights away. I always worry about Arran on our trips now, as he’s an old guy and would rather hang out with us. Noyzi was also very glad to be back home in his bed.

I was feeling okay… maybe there was a little scratchiness in my throat. I didn’t know that Wednesday, I’d be legitimately sick for the first time in several years and wondering if I finally got COVID-19. I have so far tested twice, and got negative results both times. I also feel a lot better today than I did yesterday. So… I’m thinking this was a cold. But, I will confess that this trip was maskless and restriction free. I might have gotten COVID-19, but so far, the tests say no… However, I don’t interact with people anyway, so I’m just riding it out at home. Today, I feel like I am about 85% normal. Yesterday, I was probably 60% normal. Wednesday night and Thursday were the worst, but even they weren’t as bad as the last time I had the flu. I haven’t had a fever, body aches, or exhaustion. I have had a runny nose, coughing, vomiting (from coughing), headache, sinus pressure, and mild fatigue. In other words, this sickness feels like a cold.

So ends my 50th birthday celebration. I must say, it was a lot of fun turning 50 in Antwerp. Belgium is a great destination for me, mainly because it has beer, frites, chocolate, and friendly, unpretentious people who are funny! I hope we can visit Antwerp again, and I would encourage you to visit, if you have the time and the means!

Stay tuned for my usual ten things I learned post… if you’re interested, that is. 😉


My Belgian birthday! Part six

We got up early yesterday morning, had breakfast, and did some basic cleaning up of the house.  I’m usually awake by 5:30am because Bill wakes me on his way to work.  This time of year, waking up is effortless because we get so much daylight.  The sun is up by five o’clock in the morning and sets at around ten in the evening.  I could have used a few more minutes of sleep to prepare me for the odyssey that was getting back to Germany.

I had suggested to Bill that he might want to consider driving through France.  That’s what we did the last time we drove home from Belgium.  We did have to pay tolls, but we ran into less traffic.  Bill was eyeing the projected eight or nine hour haul and decided it would be quicker to come back via Germany (as opposed to Germany and Luxembourg, which was yet another route we took last fall).  Since Bill was driving, I demurred to his wishes.

We set off at about eight o’clock, not having said goodbye to Marianne because we didn’t know if she was up yet.  About two hours into our drive, I got a message from her expressing sorrow that we hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye in person.  I immediately felt badly about that.  She had shown us the spot to put the keys and I thought that meant she was expecting us to just go.

Anyway, I sent her a message thanking her profusely for her hospitality and promising that I’d write a good review.  She really is a nice lady and we enjoyed her very unusual and old house.

As we progressed east, Bill was nervously watching the GPS.  We had already hit several traffic jams and he was getting tired.  I was already hungry by 10:30am, plus I’ve been ragging for several days.  Bill was in a hurry to get home and we had the dogs with us, so he kept driving… and driving…  And then, when we crossed over into Germany, we entered an area with a dearth of rest areas.  Besides being hungry, I also needed to pee.

I got grouchier and grouchier and started fantasizing about biergartens.  Then Bill noticed that there was a huge delay on our route.  It would take 162 minutes to get through it.  Quickly, he consulted the GPS for another route…  one that would take us through France.  (sigh– why doesn’t he listen to his hangry wife?)

Zane was camped out on our cooler, trying to get as close to up front as his harness would allow.  Arran, being an unusually calm traveler, was passed out on the back seat.  I wish he was that chill in all situations.

Finally, we reached the town of Zweibruecken, which appeared to be a relatively nice little city.  He pulled into a McDonald’s and got us some of Ronald’s cooking…  It filled a purpose, although I couldn’t help wishing we could have found a nice local place where we could dine with the pooches.  Maybe next time.  It was about 1:30pm, so I was pretty cranky when we stopped.

The rest of the drive back was equally distressing, especially when we stopped for gas at the horrible Pforzheim rest stop.  That place is always a madhouse.  I have never not seen the parking lots full.  Add in the obnoxious truckers who were driving down the parking lot against the slanted parking spaces and you have a recipe for gratuitous swearing.

This was Pforzheim yesterday.  It was a mob scene.


I think we finally arrived home at 5:30pm.  I went to the mailbox to see if there were any instructions as to how to pick up our coffee.  There weren’t.  I checked Deutsche Post to see if we could track down where the coffee ended up.  Their Web site crashed on me.  I was expecting to get a visit from the postal person today, but Bill just emailed me to say that the coffee ended up in our CMR mailbox.  Although we had sent it to our German address, my billing address was the CMR box.  So it went through customs, but ended up in the APO system.  Apparently, Bill was able to pick it up without any nastygrams or big duty bills.  Happy birthday to me, indeed!

Although yesterday’s drive home was exhausting, Bill did find the energy to go to Real and pick up some food for dinner… and a little slice of cake for me.  I got myself a keeper!  Which only goes to show you that it’s not a total waste of time to troll porn sites.  😉


We had a great time in Belgium.  I always have fun there.  Maybe we could have done more with our time, but we find that when we travel with our dogs, we just like to chill out and enjoy the local scene, eat local food, drink local beers and wines, and just simply enjoy being out of Germany for a few days.  Alveringem was a bit further away than we were expecting, but we had a great time there. Maybe if we go back, we’ll schedule two days of driving or fly.  One place I was expecting to visit on the way out was the Westvleterin Brewery.  We passed the town on the way to Alveringem.  But, since we left the area a different way, we didn’t get the chance to stop.  Oh well… given how long it took to get there and back, maybe it’s a blessing.

Maybe this weekend, we’ll make up for my birthday dinner with a trip to a nice restaurant or two.


Good intentions and the Golden Arches…

I’m not really loving it, but it’s fast, cheap, and easy… 

I had every intention of trying out a new restaurant this afternoon.  Bill and I talked about it last night and he even did the research to see when it would be less crowded.  But then we got hung up with mundane Saturday chores.  First off, my dog repeatedly stealth pissed all over the inside doormat.  I guess he’s been sneaking down at night while we’re asleep and secretly unloading for a long while, because I suddenly smelled a strong essence of ammonia and noticed the thing was warped.  So we had to visit the local Real to get a new doormat and pick up a few other things.

I was actually surprised by a few items I found at the Real.  It’s always fun to see German style marketing at work.  But after visiting there, I felt kind of overwhelmed and tired.  I spend so much time alone that being in a crowded store on a Saturday is exhausting.  At least we found a brand new version of the old mat Arran whizzed all over.

Star Wars fans take note!  There’s a special drink for you!  Forty years after its debut, I still don’t think I’ve yet seen the whole film!


Nor have I tasted Duff beer, Homer Simpson’s favorite brew.


One enterprising German brewery is offering a free Beer Pong set with a rack of brews.  I would wonder about the quality of a beer that needs Beer Pong to help it sell.


Absolutely hideous…  jean style leggings.  Here, they’re called “Treggings” instead of “Jeggings”.  


And finally, here’s your ticket to getting buff.  I don’t think I wanna look like this guy, though.

Then we had to go to the dump to unload boxes and other assorted stuff.  That didn’t take long, but it did push us closer to the dreaded mid afternoon time span when things shut down.

After that was done, we went home and I changed into lighter clothes, since the temperature warmed up.  I put on a little makeup so I didn’t scare anyone.  Then we headed off to Sindelfingen for what I heard was great Turkish food.  Unfortunately, Bill missed the turn for the restaurant and had to do some fancy maneuvering to get to where he needed to go.  And then it was clear that parking was going to be more of a challenge than we wanted to deal with.

So we went to Breuningerland intent on having lunch there after we picked up a couple of vignettes for Switzerland.  There were people ahead of us, so I was looking at what they had for sale in the ADAC store.  Then a young couple reeking heavily of cigarette smoke came over and enthusiastically said something in German I didn’t understand.  Bill told the guy in German that we speak English, so he switched to perfect English and asked us where we were headed.  We told him we were going to Switzerland.  He said they were going to Austria, where they hoped the weather would be better.

We had sun when we walked into Breuningerland, looking for Swiss vignettes.

We looked for something to eat at the mall.  Truthfully, there are plenty of eateries there.  But it was very crowded with people and I was starting to feel overwhelmed.  I was also getting hungry.  When I get hungry, it’s not long before I turn hangry.  So we left the mall and Bill was trying to think of alternative places to go.  He suggested the Schwaben Galerie, which I am assuming would have been just as crowded.

I finally said, “You know what?  Just take me to McDonald’s.”

But the clouds were out as we headed to McDonald’s.  Maybe it was an omen.

Bill balked at first.  He hates McDonald’s.  I will admit, it’s not my favorite place to eat, either.  But I was in no mood to search for lunch.  My blood sugar was rapidly dropping and I was getting really testy.  So we went to McDonald’s, which was also packed.  I went outside and got us a table under one of the umbrellas.  Good thing I did, since it started raining.

I sat forlornly, waiting for Bill as the tables filled up.  I also watched some guy in a station wagon peeling out as if he was driving a Porsche.  He was about as cool as a heating pad.

Grumpily, I waited for Bill to get lunch and gazed at people passing by.  It seemed like the outside area was empty when I sat down, but it quickly filled up.  It seemed like everyone was staring at me, taking up a table, yet without any food in front of me.  After about twenty minutes, Bill appeared with our Royales… and he noticed the same couple we ran into at ADAC were also dining at Mickey D’s.  Actually, I think European McDonald’s are nicer than the ones in the States.  They have those McCafes, complete with real cups as opposed to paper products.

Well, at least at McDonald’s, you know what you’re gonna get.

I haven’t seen this movie, either… but I sure did have a Royale with cheese today.


I didn’t see McC, though.

After we were sufficiently fueled, we headed to Panzer, also totally mobbed with people.  The food court was overflowing with everybody and their brother.  I just wanted to pick up some face cream, but naturally, I ended up with a few more items.  At least Zane and Arran have new toys to play with!

Now I’m at home, digesting food from the Golden Arches and drinking one of Bill’s homebrewed chocolate stouts.  When I was a kid, I loved McDonald’s.  It was my favorite place to eat.  Now I’m not much of a fan, except when I’m desperate for food quickly and don’t want to have to think too much about what I’m eating.  I have a feeling we’ll make up for today’s restaurant fumble when we’re in Italy next weekend.  It’s hard to have a bad meal there, even if you’re eating at a truck stop.

Last night’s sky show.  I doubt we’ll see this tonight.

 Hopefully, tomorrow, we’ll be more successful on our outing.  But then, tomorrow is Mother’s Day and both years prior, we’ve ended up in crowds.  So we’ll see…

France, military hops, Space A

France and Germany… a send off from the Army– Part 7

From Nimes, Bill and I decided we’d head to Nice.  I was last in Nice in 1997 and frankly I had forgotten how beautiful this city on the French Riviera is.  In 1997, I was decidedly broke and had been on vacation for awhile…  maybe I was jaded.  Truly, it is a great city and I’m glad Bill and I had the chance to visit.  Getting there, however, turned out to be quite the ordeal.

It started with buying tickets in Nimes.  We got to the station about 45 minutes before the train to Marseille was due to leave.  That was where we’d be picking up another train that would take us to Toulon and then yet another that would go to Nice.  There was a train that went directly to Nice from Marseille, but it was full.  Bill knew this before he approached the ticket agent, a rather surly woman who wasn’t all that polite as she issued our tickets.  We waited about 20 minutes or so just to be able to speak to her, since there happened to be a shitload of people trying to buy tickets that morning.

As we were waiting, I kept hearing banging on a piano.  It turns out that a lot of train stations in France have a piano in the foyer.  Anyone is welcome to bang on it or play…  the vast majority who played that beleaguered instrument in Nimes did not possess any discernible musical talent.  Needless to say, the banging did little to boost my mood.

Piano playing in the Nimes train station…

We got on the train to Marseilles, fortunate enough to score a fold down seat facing backwards, since the train was packed.  The Marseille train station, much like the one in Lyon, was a bit of a madhouse. Actually, it wasn’t quite as bad as the Lyon station, but it was a very busy, noisy, crowded place… and yes, there was another piano.

This guy, playing the train station piano in Marseille, was actually pretty good.

The gare…

Bill and I rushed to get the train to Toulon, which turned out to be pretty full.  We managed to find two seats, but there was nowhere to store our bags.  Given that this was a two week trip, we had a few of them with us.  We watched in amazement as the train filled up with people until the aisles and spaces between cars were completely full.

We happened to be sitting across from a French woman and her father.  She spoke English and asked us where we were from and where we were headed.  She apologized for the fact that France’s trains aren’t “comfortable”.  For the record, I didn’t think the trains in France were that uncomfortable.  Just that particular one was very, very crowded… it reminded me of being in Armenia, where all forms of public transportation are liable to be completely stuffed to the gills with people, safety standards be damned!  And unfortunately, there were a couple of people standing in the aisle who really needed a shower.

At one point, there was an announcement asking anyone who could take a later train to get off, but of course, very few people chose to do that and it did nothing to alleviate the problem.  Then there was an announcement that they were going to add more cars, which would delay us and cause us to miss our connection in Toulon.  Then, the trip was cancelled altogether.  All of these developments were kindly translated for us by the English speaking French lady sitting near us.

Bill went to find out what we needed to do and we were advised that there was a train going directly to Nice at 2:30.  It was about noon, so that meant we had time for lunch at the train station.  We went to McDonald’s.  It was very packed, so we sat outside, where it was sunny, but actually very chilly because of a high wind.  McDonald’s offered free WiFi, which entertained me for a bit.  I took a couple of photos of the view into Marseille.  It actually looks like a very nice city, even if getting in and out of there was hellish.

The view of Marseille from the station…

Bill checks things out.

The Golden Arches!

After McDonalds, we went back into the train station and visited a little cafe.  It was a rather dirty, no frills kind of place, but the people who ran it were friendly and they had beer.  While we were sitting in the cafe, an older black woman and young black man came in and took a table near us.  Based on the way they were dressed, I guessed they were from somewhere in Africa.  They wore very colorful, exotic clothes that appeared to be the style of some place other than France.  They spoke French and the man drank rose wine, while his companion (maybe his mother?) drank coffee.  They were loud, but happy and frankly very entertaining to observe.  Before too long, they were joined by two other women, similarly dressed and similarly boisterous.

These folks unwittingly entertained us…

I enjoyed watching how people reacted to this group, who seemed to be having such a great time in this dingy little cafe.  Quite a few people seemed bemused, while others appeared to be annoyed.  I kind of liked it that they were there, because I love it when I’m near interesting or entertaining people.  I have no idea what they were talking about, but I appreciated the fun they were obviously having.

Our train to Nice was also very crowded, though not nearly as much as the train we’d tried to take to Toulon was.  Once again, we got seats that faced two going the other direction.  I got up to use the bathroom, but found the toilet hopelessly clogged with paper towels and cigarette butts that some asshole had left there.  I hate it when people do that, just because they need to satisfy their nic fit.  It really messes things up for other people.

An Australian woman with two small children quickly claimed the seats opposite from us.  Inwardly, I kind of sighed, since I figured the kids would make the trip more stressful.  One of the kids appeared to be about seven or eight, while the other, a toddler, was still breastfeeding.  I only know this because the kids’ mom boldly walked up and down the aisle with the girl under her shirt.  I don’t blame her for doing that, by the way.  I’m all for breastfeeding.  I guess it was just kind of different to see someone so totally unabashed about it.  You don’t see that very often in the United States.

Anyway, the mom sat with her kids for a little while and talked to us.  Bill was very solicitous, helping her with her bags, offering her Wet Naps, and chatting with her.  After awhile, mom got up and sat elsewhere with her toddler, leaving her older daughter with us.  The girl was actually pretty well behaved, even though she’d been on the train all day.  Her mom told us that they’d come from Bordeaux.  She played with an iPad most of the time.

The Australian lady had a French woman with her who had a little boy.  At first, we thought maybe the French woman was a nanny, since she seemed very solicitous toward the Australian woman’s kids.  But it later came out that they had met during the Aussie lady’s travels.  You could have fooled me.  They really seemed like they were traveling together.

Scenes from the train to Nice…

As the long train trip wore on, I was enchanted by the scenery out the window… lots of very blue water, charming towns, and palm trees, along with quite a few mountain tunnels.  I was also enchanted by Bill, who proved that he was born to be a dad.  When the girl unsuccessfully tried to open a packet of sunflower seeds, Bill took the packet for her and opened it.  He kept his eye on her the whole time.  I couldn’t help but think that maybe Aussie lady talked to us to make sure we weren’t weirdos and then totally hoped we’d babysit her kid for her.  She correctly assessed that Bill is good with kids and, while I’m not as gentle toward tykes, I’m relatively benign.  I suppose if you’re traveling for weeks alone with little kids, you have to take help whenever you can get it.

Toward the end of the trip, Mom came back to where we were sitting.  Her younger daughter, an adorable child who appeared to have a different father than her sister did, was jumping up and down on the seat and squealing in very shrill tones.  Aussie mom asked the toddler to stop jumping, since she “had a very full nappy”.  She pulled the tyke’s diaper away and peeked in to confirm her suspicions.  I was just hoping there wouldn’t be another big mess on the already messy train.  Older girl was getting restless, jumping up and down, and flipping over the seat behind her, which had been vacated.  I just tried to stay calm and quiet.  People were looking at Bill and me, as if these kids belonged to us.  Most of them looked a bit annoyed even though, truly, the older girl in particular had been very well behaved under the circumstances.

When we got to Nice, Bill helped the lady with her bags again.  I was in a hurry to get off the train and have some peace and quiet.  It had been a long, difficult day of travel and I was ready for a rest.  I also didn’t want to get drafted into more babysitting duties!

Nice was a lot bigger, busier, and more crowded than I remembered it.  It took a little time to find our lodging, a two star establishment called the Star Hotel.  Once we got there, we were warmly welcomed by a receptionist with a remarkable American accent.  It turned out she was American and had married a Frenchman while in France learning French.  I guess this was her hotel, since she told us (and we observed) that she was there most of the time.  She gave us a triple room on the top floor, with a nice little balcony that overlooked the street.  The hotel had some strange rules, like you weren’t supposed to eat or drink in your room.  Bill asked about that and the lady at the front desk explained that the hotel used have a different owner who was strict about such things.  She just asked us not to be messy and thanked us for being considerate enough to ask.

Nobody up here but us and some seagulls…

Since we were tired, we went across the street to a Lebanese restaurant for dinner.  I think we were the proprietor’s only guests.  The food was good, and we enjoyed some wine on the little balcony.  After a full night of comfortable sleep, we spent a great day in Nice.  More on that in the next post!

Lebanese food in Nice…