Noyzi’s TV terrors…

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Noyzi, the Kosovar street dog, is getting braver. Yesterday, he came upstairs and actually stayed for a few minutes. In the past, he’d come up the stairs as if to look for me, but would never actually stay up there. I think he was excited after he had a walk.

I was sitting on the bed eating a sandwich and Noyzi came to the doorway and stood there. He wanted to come into the bedroom, but was looking worriedly at the TV. It occurred to me that he’d probably never seen one on before yesterday. We don’t have a television in our living room, and that’s where he spends most of his time. He doesn’t like men, either. So, I guess seeing Alan Thicke on TV scared him.

Every day, we’re faced with a new Noyzi challenge. He rewards us by making new strides. Last night, we had pork for dinner. Noyzi was happy to ask me for a bite, but when Bill offered him some of his, he was too scared to get it. He usually wears us down by giving me the puppy eyes and I end up giving him a treat. But last night, I was determined to test his courage. I led him over to Bill and held his collar while Bill gave him pork and stroked his head. Then, when we tried again, I just stood next to him without holding him. He’s still scared, but every time he successfully does something, like pass Bill in the dining room, or come upstairs and stay longer than a few seconds, it’s a victory. I really feel like his reactions are reflexive. I think he knows Bill won’t hurt him, but he’s phobic. I have a phobia myself, so I understand how that is.

In other news, Bill’s new guitar got here yesterday. So did my new Donald Trump toilet brush, the acquisition of which actually caused a former friend to dump me on social media! I look forward to using Trump to scrub the shit stains out of the potty.

The featured photo today is of the sunrise we were graced with this morning. It’s not as amazing or dramatic as the ones we used to get in Jettingen, but it did cause me to pause and appreciate for a moment. Our heat went out last night, so our landlord is getting someone to fix it for us. We may end up with a renovation soon, because he says there might be something wrong with the boiler system. Ironically, he says he might put in new windows. Our last house got new windows as we were moving in, so I know what this will mean. But I also know that it will make the house quieter and less drafty, so that’s a plus.

Bill will be taking a work trip soon. He has to go to Bavaria for about three weeks. I’m a bit pissed off about it. But as usual, I’m building a bridge and trying to get over it. At least I have Noyzi around to remind me of how first world my problems really are. Employment is a good thing. I just hope it won’t be a superspreader event.

I guess my next Noyzi project is teaching him that the TV is not full of boogeymen who are going to get him. Maybe he’ll turn into a TV buddy like big brother Arran is.

Leland Sklar… and a low two tumor!

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Yesterday, I wrote about our dog, Arran, who just had surgery to have a mast cell tumor removed. Last night, the vet called and emailed to tell us that the tumor she removed was “low grade” and she got excellent margins. This is very good news. I mean, the first mast cell tumor Arran had was rated a 1.5, which is very low grade… almost benign, actually. This one was a 2. A two is not as good as 1.5, but pathologists can be pretty subjective about their opinions, anyway. Another pathologist might have rated it differently. The point is, it doesn’t look like it was a particularly aggressive tumor and there’s a good chance the surgery was curative. I wrote more about this on my main blog.

I was impressed that the vet called and emailed, especially on a Friday evening. She said she would call today, too, since we missed the call last night. When we lived in Stuttgart, I remember getting the news at the appointment, rather than by phone. I was actually a little concerned when Bill said he got a call and an email. I thought maybe there was something urgently wrong. But, it turns out she probably just wanted to put our minds at ease for the weekend. I mean, mast cell tumors are shitty and they’re not good news as a general rule. But having now dealt with several types of canine cancers, I can say that I would take dealing with a mast cell tumor over, say, prostate cancer or the horrible spinal tumor our sweet MacGregor had in 2012. That was heartbreaking.

Last night, I also finally got something I’ve been waiting ages for… a book by the great bass guitar player, Leland Sklar. I am a big fan of his work, since he’s played bass for many of my favorite artists since the 1970s. Ever since the pandemic started, Lee has been posting videos on YouTube. He’s also started a “hangout”, which I would join if I weren’t so many timezones away. In the fall, he decided to publish a book called Everybody Loves Me. It’s basically a thick coffee table book full of photos of people flipping him the bird. Seriously, there’s very little writing in this book. It’s all famous and non famous people giving Sklar the finger. He’s got a broad range of people mugging for the camera, too. Off the top of my head, besides many people whose names I don’t know but give good face, he’s got photos of Phil Collins, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett, Jackson Browne, and David Crosby, among many others.

So what does this have to do with traveling? Well, it’s not so much about travel as it is life in Germany and getting stuff through the APO system, which is what we US government affiliated people get for US mail. Lelad Sklar mailed my book sometime in late November, I think. It just got to me yesterday. The mail has been slow lately under normal circumstances. When someone mails something through the APO system, particularly when they don’t pay for premium shipping, it can take many weeks. I’m not complaining, mind you. I was glad to get the book yesterday. It was worth the wait. I got a big kick out of it. Incidentally, I ordered Bill an Ancestry.com DNA kit for Christmas back in early November, I think. It just got here about two weeks ago.

The weather continues to suck, although I did read that at least reports of COVID-19 cases have gone down a little bit. I just got up and noticed that it’s snowing again, but I don’t think it’s cold enough for anything to stick. The ground is positively saturated, and every time Noyzi goes outside, he runs around like a maniac and gets mud caked in his paws, which he then tracks into the house. I need to vacuum, but I may just wait, because vacuuming when it’s so muddy outside is utterly futile. But Noyzi sheds all over the place, so I’m constantly sweeping. I’m thinking it’s time to buy a new vacuum cleaner that is a lot lighter and more portable, because I probably ought to vacuum every day. I know ex landlady thinks I’m a filthy slob, but I’m really not. I just love my dogs and they’re a step above toddlers when it comes to messes, especially when the weather is bad.

Again, not complaining… having Noyzi is well worth the trouble of sweeping and vacuuming more. He’s a ball of love who has made enduring the pandemic a lot easier. I love watching him evolve. He’s turning into a real character now. I think the ghost of Zane visits through him, as he plays keep away in the yard with a distinctly mischievous grin on his face. I also love to feed him snacks. He has such a big mouth that it reminds me of mailing a letter. He’s so adorable the way he sneaks up behind me quietly, like a shadow, and quietly requests a bite of whatever it is I’m eating. When we first got him, he wouldn’t eat anything but kibble, which makes training a bit more difficult. No food rewards. And he was too afraid to play with toys. Now, he loves his toys.

Anyway… now, all we have to do is wait for Arran to heal some more so he can ditch the cone.

Here are a few photos from Leland Sklar’s book. When I ordered, I got a funny little animation that flipped me off as it thanked me. I thought to get a screenshot of it, which is today’s featured photo. This book was $65 unsigned, $85 signed. I got it signed because Leland Sklar is so entertaining and kind that I figured he deserved the extra cash.

An afternoon at Sixties in Mainz…

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We had amazing weather yesterday. It was so nice outside that I couldn’t bear to stay at home. I thought maybe we’d hunt for a festival or something, and we would have found one if we had gone to Frankfurt. There are several going on right now. But, for some reason, we decided to go to Mainz. Bill missed a turn to go to the downtown area, and we ended up in a part of town we hadn’t seen before.

As we were passing through, I noticed an interesting looking bar called Sixties. It advertised a lot of craft beers, which is kind of an unusual thing in Germany. So, although our plan had originally been to go downtown, we wound up parking and trying out Sixties, which also advertised music. When we walked into the bar, there was no music. Instead, all of the televisions were tuned to football– aka soccer– and the waitress warned us that pretty soon, a bunch of people would be crowded in there to watch the game.

I took a look around and noticed that the bar looked kind of “Irish pub-ish”, with low tables and stools, stained glass windows, and booths. We found a table with no reservation card on it and ordered a couple of beers. I had a Leffe Blonde and Bill had a Eulchen Marzen made in Mainz. Then we ordered snacks. Sixties has a rather limited menu. They have bar food, pizza, a couple of pasta dishes, and schnitzels, but it’s really more of a place to drink rather than eat. We had chicken strips, jalapeno poppers, and pretzels with Spundkaese.

One thing I noticed was that the waitress brought us wet glasses, complete with a little bit of water in the bottom. I can’t say I liked that very much, but at least the glasses were clean. We were impressed by how many beers they offered, too. They even had a beer from Sweden, as well as a number of British and Irish beers. I was surprised they didn’t have more Belgian choices other than Leffe, but a lot of German bars don’t even have that, so it was cool.

Here are a few photos from our visit:

After a couple of hours at Sixties, we paid the kindly, English speaking waitress, and headed down the street to our car. On the way there, we stopped in a fancy looking grocery store that appeared to have all natural “whole foods”. Of course, we were there to buy wine and look for Calvados, since the neighbor’s apple tree has been dumping apples in our yard and we need to do something with them. We didn’t find Calvados in that store, but we did pick up some wine.

We enjoyed Sixties. I don’t know how often we’ll visit there, since there are a lot of other places in Mainz we haven’t yet tried. It did look like a popular hangout for the locals. If you want to watch football and drink beers that aren’t German, it’s a good bet. I can’t comment on the music, but I did notice that there was a lot of memorabilia on the wall, particularly regarding the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. So it does look like they have good taste when it comes to music, anyway…

Easter in Frankfurt!

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We were blessed, once again, with incredible weather.  The skies were sunny; the air was warm and breezy; and the Autobahn beckoned us to drive to Frankfurt.  We were considering going to the Dippemess, but Bill wasn’t keen on trying to deal with the train.  The station most convenient for getting to the area of Frankfurt where the Dippemess is going on is in Hofheim am Taunus.

We started off our Easter with Ebelskiver– Swedish filled pancakes!  That’s the closest we got to Easter eggs today.

We decided to visit Frankfurt’s old town, which we missed the last time we went there.  Last time we were in Frankfurt, it was late December and the weather was pretty dismal.  It turns out we weren’t far from the old town that time, but it was cold and yucky outside, so we didn’t explore the way we should have.  Frankfurt was pretty badly damaged by air strikes in World War II, so there aren’t too many really old buildings there.  Instead, there are many skyscrapers.  It’s the land of banks.  Below are some pictures I took today.

Today was the first day since the fall I could drop the top on my Mini.  I caught a little girl smiling at us as we rounded the bend.  My car is ten years old, but it’s still cute when the top is down…  Some people might say that about me, too.

Frankfurt on the horizon.

Near the train station.

Frankfurt is like Stuttgart on steroids.  It’s a very busy place, and it seemed like everyone was there today.

Our first glimpse of the Dom… that tower is 95 meters tall…

It costs three euros for adults to climb the torturous 328 steps to the observation platform.  It’s 1,50 for kids.

These two ladies were among many wandering musicians we heard today.  They played beautifully!  One thing I love about Europe is the preponderance of wonderful musicians who share their gifts on the streets.

On the other side of the fountain, there’s a wine bar.

The old town was happening…

 

More musicians… they were good, too, although they played the classics with a bit more tempo than I’m used to…

Pretzel anyone?

Down by the river.  This was prettier from 66 meters up.

 

Much to my shame, I consented to having lunch at Five Guys.  I really wanted to go somewhere more authentic, but every place was really crowded.  For once, Five Guys wasn’t, so we decided to treat ourselves to a rare American style burger.

 

Bill went in to get the food while I waited outside.  An ambulance pulled up with its lights going…

 

Suddenly, around the corner came an old man wearing a heavy coat and carrying a bottle of beer.  He was yelling at the ambulance attendants.  I didn’t understand what he was saying, mainly because I could barely hear him…  I could tell by his body language that he was agitated about something.  The ambulance attendants seemed amused.  They smiled, but didn’t say anything to the old man.

A Five Guys staffer came out to sweep.  He looked at me; I looked at him, then turned to face the ambulance, since the old guy had come around near the front of Five Guys.  Turning to look at the ambulance guys meant I wasn’t staring at him as he continued to yell in German, looking and sounding very stern.

Finally, after a couple more parting shots, the guy stalked off angrily.  I did notice a lot of homeless people and beggars today.  A woman hit us up for money while we ate lunch.  Bill and I have both had bad experiences with wandering people in other European cities.  His bad experience was in Seville, while mine was in Athens.

I’m sad to say the burgers were kind of disappointing.  They weren’t very hot and the pickles were a touch too sweet.  But they were still better than a lot of burgers I’ve had in Germany.  The fries were great, and the beer was a Brooklyn Lager, a nice change from the usual Weizen.

 

After lunch, we wandered back toward the Dom, passing through the old town again.  We passed one of the homeless people who had been hanging around Five Guys.  The guy was a Spanish speaker and someone was kind enough to slip him a cup of fries.  But just as we were about to pass him, another homeless guy jumped in front of the other guy and appeared to demand his pommes.  I was tempted to see what was about to transpire, but thought better of it.  Gawking isn’t nice.  Still, it’s always interesting to see real life human drama in person.

We had to tip this lady…

She was making this dog out of what appeared to be sand.  

It was incredible.  The dog actually looked real.

We did a little window shopping.  A few stores were even open today, though it’s Easter Sunday.

 

We found ourselves in front of the tower again.  It was right next to our parking garage.  I looked at the sign and asked Bill if he wanted to climb up.  I’m usually cussing at myself when I do these climbs up narrow spiral towers, but then I enjoy the views so much that I forgive myself… until it’s time to climb down again.  The Frankfurter Dom Turm is a very challenging climb indeed.  I think it took about ten very difficult minutes to get to the top, breathless, sweaty, sore, and rewarded with incredible views…

I zoomed in to get a shot of the TV tower.  Seems like every German city has one.  Still, as high up as this cathedral tower is, it’s still not as high as the Thyssenkrupp elevator testing tower in Rottweil.  That’s the highest observation deck in Germany.  You can read about our visit there by clicking here.  And thankfully, when you visit the testing tower, you can take an elevator.

A whole lot of sweating, swearing, panting, and praying went into these photos.  I will probably be nearly paralyzed in the morning.  But we had amazing weather and as long as I’m physically able, I’m going to do these things.  Hey, I probably burned off my Five Guys lunch, at least.

A quick round around the tower and we went back down.  That was tough in a different way.  You have to be careful not to faceplant.

 

The stairs pretty much look like this all the way down.  It makes passing a rather intimate experience.  No wonder they charge more for adults.  Pro-tip: If you make this climb, especially if it’s warm outside, please for the love of all that’s holy, wear DEODORANT.  Trust me.

 

We came; we saw; we conquered.  And we never have to do it again!

 

We went into the church, which is rather plain by cathedral standards.  This cathedral, officially known as the Imperial Cathedral of Bartholomew was completed in 1550.  It was renovated in the 1990s and is also undergoing some work today.

This sign explains in English and German what happened to Frankfurt on March 22, 1944, when World War II was raging.  The British Royal Air Force did a number on the city, sending a lot of old, beautiful buildings into flames.  The cathedral was also badly damaged and was rebuilt in the 1950s.  The inside of the cathedral is pretty workmanlike as a result.  The cathedral was also burned in a fire back in 1867.  

 

But the organ is pretty awesome.

Look carefully. You can see the people.  That’s where we climbed to this afternoon.

It really was worth the effort, even though I can feel my muscles stiffening already.

Before we knew it, it was time to head home to the dogs, who were no doubt wondering where their dinners were.  It’s nice to live close to Frankfurt, although I’m glad we don’t actually live in the city itself.  It’s very busy!  Still, it’s different from Wiesbaden and Mainz and, dare I say it?  Stuttgart…

On the way out of Frankfurt, we got behind a Segway tour.  

 

So long, Frankfurt.  Time for me to have a beer in my backyard, enjoying my new garden furniture and watching the flowers grow.  God bless Spring… and happy Easter to all.

Music is the international language in Rüdesheim am Rhein…

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Bill and I finally had the whole weekend to do something fun.  Since we moved to Wiesbaden, I’ve been stacking up places I want to visit, and the list grows ever longer.  But Bill has had to work at least part of every weekend since the first weekend in March.  When we finally saw the sun today, we decided to go to Rüdesheim am Rhein, a town in the Rhein Valley known for its winemaking.

I had read up a little on Rüdesheim, so I knew it would be touristy.  We live about 45 minutes away, so I figured if we liked it, we could come back and do some of the touristy things.  Today, we just wanted to get a feel for the place and maybe have lunch and pick up a couple of bottles of wine.

We parked at P2, a large lot at the top of a hill (3 euros for three hours).  We walked down the hill toward the Rhein River, but then noticed that people were bearing right to an area that looked like it might be the main square.  It turned out it wasn’t really the main drag, but it did take us past a pretty church and some interesting looking shops and restaurants.

You can always count on finding a church in any German town.

 

Prost!

And a torture museum.  We didn’t visit this place, but I will be sure to check it out the next time we come to Rüdesheim.  I am sure there will be a next time, even if it is teeming with tourists.

 

The wine museum is near, as well as the “skyride” that will take you up the gentle mountaintop and around the area.  We’d need at least three hours to do that right and we got a late start today…  We will have to come back in the fall or maybe later in April and try it.  I think in a few weeks, this town will be full to the gills with tourists.

 

Come on in!  And if you want, you can stop by the Irish pub.

 

I bet this is really obnoxious in the summer.

 

We walked around a bit, searching for an interesting restaurant.  Alas, a lot of the places were very touristy, with menus translated into half a dozen languages.  Don’t get me wrong.  The translations do make it a lot easier for tourists, but it also makes a place a little less charming, if you know what I mean.  I was a little unimpressed by Rüdesheim, at first.  We stopped at a hotel restaurant for lunch.  I chose it because they had something other than schnitzel and sausages, or pizza and pasta.

We had lunch at the Drosselhof… on the Drosselgasse.  Ordinarily, I would avoid such a place, since it’s right on the tourist row, but none of the other eateries were inviting and this place had duck on the menu.  I ended up having salmon, anyway.

 

A kindly waiter invited us to sit down.  Although it was almost 1:00pm, the place was empty.  Our waiter spoke English, but seemed a bit shy about it.

 

Look at all the languages!

 

We ordered glasses of Riesling and sparkling water.  Bill went with the trout and I had a salmon filet.

Bill’s trout was fried, served with parsleyed potatoes, and a really nice horseradish sauce.  I think I liked his dish better than mine.

 

My salmon filet, cooked medium rare with a mustard dill sauce, croquettes, and a salad…

 

This had a great creamy dressing and was just enough to share.

As we were eating, the Drosselhof filled up somewhat.  The inside of the restaurant is very charming, although it doesn’t get the best ratings on TripAdvisor, Facebook, or Yelp.  I could see why.  The food was fine, but not that special, and it seemed to be primed for tourists.  But for us, it fit the bill fine.

We finished up by sharing this delightful dessert– crepes filled with hot blueberry sauce and served with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.  It was so good!  Total bill was 66 euros, but it was kind of a nice place to be.  The waiter kindly turned on the heater for us, although we didn’t really need it. And I got to watch some guy brazenly feeling his woman’s behind while they perused the menu at the Weingarten across the alley.  For once, I didn’t sneak a photo.

If you need to pee, you can use the Drosselhof’s toilet, but it will cost you 50 cents.  They don’t charge people who are guests.

 

You can also pick up some smokes if you need to.

This… is the source of a lot of noise!  And big crowds, too. 

 
 

Next to the Drosselhof is a wine and art bar, where they serve these delicious pastries, strawberry wine, and play music.  It appeared to be part of the hotel.  Next door to that was one of many wine shops.  Again, everything was translated into five or six languages.  We noticed many Asians there.   Rüdesheim will definitely go on my list of European towns where you’ll find many Asian tourists… not that it’s a bad thing.  I’m just making an observation.

 

This is your town if you like wine.  It reminded me a little of Riquewihr, France, but perhaps with less charm.

 

This is where you catch the skyride that will take you all around the area.  We will do this on another day.

 

Reasonable rates and an extensive network that can even include a ferry cruise if you like.

Chances are, they have your language, too.

Very tourist friendly.  They even say so on the sign.

All in all, I was feeling somewhat unimpressed by Rüdesheim.  We were about to find a wine shop to pick up a few bottles to take home, when we were invited to sit down and try wine by a super charming elderly couple who spoke almost no English.

We did buy some wine… I think we arranged for 18 bottles, which will come to our house in Wiesbaden…  What can I say?  This turned out to be a very magical experience… one of those bonding times one has with a host country.  I really needed it.

 

We went into this little hole in the wall place and the wife, who spoke no English at all, started bringing out wines for us to try.  I would not be surprised if she’d had a little herself before we dropped in.  She kept pouring wines for us to try.  Bill eventually told her not to give him any, since he was driving.  She claimed she had alcohol free wine, but after she poured it, Bill looked at the bottle and it indicated 13.5% ABV!  Good thing he was paying attention!

I was surprised that I understood a fair amount of what she said, and was even able to answer a little bit.  Bill speaks more German than I do, but sometimes I understand things faster than he does.  After we’d tried four or five wines, he got up to speak to her husband about making a purchase.

The wife apologized for not speaking English, then explained that people her age learned French.  I totally understand that.  I learned some Spanish for the same reason.  Little did I know when I was in high school that I would spend six years living in Germany and only one year in Texas, where Spanish is very handy.  The one language I am conversant in– or was at one time– is Eastern Armenian.  Few people outside of Armenia, Fresno, and Boston speak that.  But anyway, I was able to get the gist of a lot of what was said… although I did miss a few things.  And I was even brave enough to try speaking German.  The wine helped.

Then, the lady asked me what I do with my time.  I told her I write… and I also sort of hesitantly told her that I’m a singer.  And I am also a Hausfrau, although apparently not a very good one, according to our ex landlady.

By that point, a couple of pretty young women came in.  They spoke some English and were happy to translate when the lady asked me to sing a few bars for her.  So, although I was a little tipsy, I sang the first line of a very operatic German art song I learned in college.  No, I don’t speak much German, but I can sing in German… a little, anyway.  A couple of people were startled by the sound and stopped in their tracks, peering into the wine shop.  I probably could have done something more mainstream, but whenever this happens to me, I’m usually at a loss of what to do other than songs like “Summertime”, which is totally burned on the brain… I have sung “Summertime” so many times, I kind of don’t want to do it again.

Bill sealing the deal while I talked to the guy’s wife in my crappy German.

As luck would have it, this morning someone on SingSnap commented on one of my recordings of the old song, “What’ll I Do.”  The first time I heard this song was on an episode of The Golden Girls, when the late actress Bea Arthur sang it at a bar.  I liked it so much that I decided to record it.  This was the result.

I recorded this in June of 2018, but someone happened to comment on it today.  I got an email alert, which made it very convenient for sharing.  This was probably nicer than my slightly drunken operatic line in German.  The German lady’s eyes lit up and she touched her heart… then she brought me a bottle of lovely Spanish wine as a gift.  For all I know, she would have done that anyway, although I kind of doubt it. On the other hand, she was quite free with the wine tasting.

I really needed today.  Lately, I’ve been a bit down on Germany and kind of wanting to go home… if not for good, then maybe for an extended visit.  I know this happens a lot.  People who live in countries that are foreign to them can experience cultural highs, culture shock, and finally, culture fatigue.  I think I may be experiencing a bit of culture fatigue after the stress of the past nine months or so.  But today was a reminder that sometimes, you can connect with the people… and you don’t necessarily have to speak the language to do it.

When I lived in Armenia, singing was often the only way I could get my youngest students to sit down and shut up for our English lessons.  I have found that in Germany, it’s also a way to break the ice and meet people.  Meeting people adds to the pleasure of being here.

Anyway, I feel sure we’ll be back to Rüdesheim.  I’ll bet that woman will remember me, too… if not for the song, then for the fact that we ordered 18 bottles of wine.  She even gave me a big hug as we left!  Sometimes fate or God lead you just where you need to be for a second wind… and maybe a second wine.

The mighty Rhein, which we will soon be exploring a lot more.

Goodbye new friend, Rüdesheim.

Until we meet again, Rüdesheim!

Scotland and Northern Ireland 2017, Part four…

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By the time we got back to Glasgow, it was late afternoon.  It was still kind of cold and wet outside, so we went back to the hotel and got cleaned up.  Later, we ventured into the “Executive Lounge”, a privilege granted to us because we booked a “Club Room“.  Every time we stay at the Carlton George, I upgrade our room.

The first time, we stayed in their “Superior Room“, which is their most basic model.  It’s a pretty comfortable place to stay, complete with a free mini bar which includes decanters of vodka, scotch, and whisky, but you don’t get to use the lounge with that room.  You are also pretty much bound to have a view of an elevator shaft or something like it.

Last year, we visited in March and I got us an “Executive Room“, which is a larger room with a free mini bar and access to the lounge.  But again, you’re likely to have a view of the elevator shaft.

There is only one category higher than the Club Room and that’s the Club Room with a balcony.  Given the weather in Glasgow during our stay, it was probably good that I didn’t go that far.  Maybe next time I’ll pull the trigger.  Here are a few pictures of our Club Room.

The all important free booze.  I think I tried the whisky, which naturally was decent quality.

 

Nice coffee set up.

The ever important bed.

And the bathroom.  Once again, I was tickled by the need for instructions on the wall for using the shower.  The Holiday Inn at the Glasgow Airport needs to take a memo.  More on that later.

 

We decided to have a drink in the lounge, then got really lazy and had dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, Windows.  We had not eaten there on previous visits, so it was good to try it.  Now that I’ve tried it, I don’t know that I’ll try it again.  That’s not because the food was bad; it’s more because Glasgow has a lot of great restaurants and Windows, while not bad, is not among the best there are in Glasgow.  In any case, here are a few pictures of our Sunday night repast at the hotel.  One of the nicest aspects of a dinner in Windows Restaurant is that you do, indeed, get a nice view of the city… which is a great thing when the skies are clear.  We did experience that at breakfast.

A nice bottle of red to go with dinner.

Bill went with a sirloin steak, which was served with tomatoes on the vine, chips, and a mushroom.  He said the steak was cooked very well.  As many readers may know, mushrooms give me the creeps.  

I went with seabass, which was served in parchment paper.  It came with a slice of white bread and lots of vegetables on the side… 

It was also stuffed with lots of fresh vegetables and was very healthy.  Looking at my figure lately, I realize I probably should eat more fish.  If you like fish, Scotland is a great place to be.  

 

Unfortunately, my disdain for mushrooms got the better of me when the lady sitting at the table behind Bill ordered a vegetarian dish that smelled like it was loaded with mushrooms or truffles.  The aroma was overwhelming to me.  People who love the smell of truffles, like Bill, would have been enchanted by it.  As for me, you would have thought I was pregnant or something.  I had to beat it.

After a good second night’s rest, Bill and I awoke Monday morning with big plans.  We were going to get Bill fitted for a kilt!  I am very excited to get this done, since I have been nagging Bill to get a kilt for years now.  Granted, he’s more of an Irishman than a Scot, but there are only so many years a man can get away with wearing the Army Service Uniform post retirement… especially a man who enjoys food and booze as much as Bill and I do.  Aside from that, I think kilts are pretty damned sexy, especially when they are worn “properly”.

Bill was originally going to visit a kilt maker called MacGregor & MacDuff.  He chose it because it carried the Donegal tartan, which is the Irish county where Bill’s people come from as evidenced by our surname, Crossen.  MacGregor also happens to be the name of our very sweet dearly departed “bagel”, whom we lost to canine cancer a few weeks after our first Hebridean Princess cruise.  I ended up talking him out of MacGregor & MacDuff because it appeared to be a large operation.  Instead, we visited the much smaller James Robertson, Kiltmaker.  I am so glad we did.  We spent a couple of hours there with the delightful proprietor.

He has a tiny little “hole in the wall shop” next to a tattoo parlor!

Bill gathers his gumption for the fitting.

We settled on the Donegal pattern displayed above.  There was another Donegal pattern that was mostly oranges, greens, and reds, but the blue, green, and red seemed to suit Bill better.  I could wear tartans for a few Scottish clans myself due to my heavy ancestry, but if I ever get a stole, I’ll probably get one to match Bill’s new kilt.

The tartan Bill is wearing is not the one we’re getting, just to be clear.  However, I was impressed by how well it matched his shirt!

Bill ordered the whole “kit”, which set us back about $1200.  However, it includes everything but a tuxedo shirt and the kilt will be handmade.  Aside from that, the jacket comes from County Donegal. 😉

I get excited just thinking about it.

Bill tries on shoes.  The proprietor even asked me to film him showing how to tie the laces.  See below.

 

This is how you do it, guys.

Bill checks out the rest of his accessories.

First time I’ll ever get him to wear a purse…  😉

Settling the bill…  We noticed a bottle of whisky sitting by the desk.  I have a feeling if it had been later in the day, we might have shared a wee dram with the kiltmaker.

On the way out…

 

Edited to add:  This was the finished product.  It got to us in time for Christmas!

The kiltmaker advised us to visit The Pot Still, a very cool pub that serves food, beer, and, most of all, lots of whisky.  Apparently, it has one of the best selections of whiskies in Glasgow with over 700 varieties.  And though it wasn’t quite noon, we decided to stop in to try a few.

A rather unassuming looking place, isn’t it?

We started with a Longrow from Campbeltown’s Springbank Distillery, a place we’ve visited twice, thanks to our Hebridean cruises.

A look at the loot.

We tried a couple of others, included blends we had not heard of prior to our visit.  The proprietor looked to be about my age and was busy with inventory, but he was very friendly.  We shared a moment when he started whistling a tune and I quickly identified it as “Can You Feel It” by The Jacksons.  Every time I come to Scotland, I’m reminded of just how strong the musical vibe is there.

A look at the dining room.  I was tempted to stay for lunch, but it was still a little early.  We decided to walk around a bit more.

At around noon, my nose caught a whiff of something delicious.  We happened to be standing in front of Iberica, a Spanish restaurant chain in the United Kingdom.  Since we knew we’d be eating a lot of Scottish food on the boat, we decided to stop in for a Spanish repast.  It was a good decision.  We split a couple of tapas and paella for two, then had lovely desserts.

Bill checks out the menu…

While I check out the bar…  Our waitress was beautiful.  She looked like a young Rachel Hunter circa 1990 or so…  She recommended we order a couple of tapas to hold us over while the paella was being prepared.  It takes awhile.

Bill picked the sausage and cheese tapas which came with bread and fig jelly.

I had the crispy chicken, which was absolutely delicious.  I could have enjoyed a whole lunch of this.

Seafood paella.  It was very good, although I liked my chicken tapas even more.

This was just the beginning of our week eating seafood…

For dessert, I had churros, which were so good… but man, my ass didn’t need that present!

Bill was a bit more sensible and had something lighter.  Looks like it involved apricots.  I remember the waitress told us about a dessert that involved Parmesan cheese and strawberries.  I wrinkled my nose at first, but then realized it was a pairing of sweet and salty.  And given the time of the month, that was kind of appealing.  I’m glad I went with churros instead, though.

Part 8… Finally, a new island for us! Islay!

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There are many distilleries on Islay, so it makes sense that our next stop on our whisky cruise would be on Islay.  However, because we were coming from Kintyre, we had some distance to travel before it would be time for another distillery tour.  We spent Saturday morning cruising past Northern Ireland on the way to our next stop, the Laphroaig Distillery.  Laphroaig is a well-known whisky and when I posted that we were headed there, I got a few likes from friends, as well as a spelling lesson.  It’s not so easy to spell Laphroaig properly, you know.

Bill and I took the opportunity to enjoy some local-ish beers offered on the ship, as well as try a gin that was new to us called Isle of Harris.  I had to point this out to an old friend of mine from Virginia whose last name happens to be Harris.  After lunch, we anchored in Port Ellen.  I was excited because I had heard about Islay, but had never actually been there.  Iain, the hottie hotel manager, came from Islay and told us where he grew up.  Apparently, everyone on that island knows each other.  This was later confirmed to me when Bill and I were in England and happened to run into an Englishman with ties to Islay.  He said he went there once, mentioned his family name to a bartender, and the bartender called up his relatives and they later showed up at the bar to drink with him.

We were loaded up on a truly *shocking* bus.  It appeared to be a school bus with a big sign at the front demanding that everyone wear seatbelts.  However, all of the seatbelts appeared to be badly damaged.  I noticed the upholstery on the seats was torn and poorly repaired with duct tape.  Then I noticed food stains and dried boogers smeared on the seatbacks.  Apparently, we were using a schoolbus!  Never mind, it got the job done.  Some of the cruisers weren’t interested in the whisky distillery, so they went to see Kildalton Cross and walk around Port Ellen.  The rest of us went to taste more whisky.

More barley malting…  Laphroaig has much of theirs trucked in.

Peat, which gives Laphoaig its distinctive flavor…

And another kiln…

The Laphroaig Distillery has an interesting history which I read about on the display boards in the visitor’s center.  Our group was divided into two groups.  I am sad to say that I don’t remember our tour guide’s name, but he was a very knowledgeable and entertaining chap.  He had been told that we knew about the whisky making process, so he simply showed us around the distillery and allowed us to taste the wort.  A wort is basically the same stuff one uses to make beer.  In fact, all whisky starts out as beer before it turns into spirits.

The Duke and Duchess…

Stainless steel tanks as opposed to the oak ones we saw at many other distilleries…

The spirit safe.

Like Springbank, Laphroaig was in the middle of malting barley.  Once again, we were shown how it’s done, though it appeared to me that Laphroaig has a slightly more sophisticated system all the way around.  I noticed a couple of shots of Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla on the walls, indicating that they had paid a visit.  Also, a lone stag passed us as we walked through the distillery.

After we toured the distillery, we visited Kildalton Cross, where I managed to take some really beautiful photos of Islays’ stark and haunting landscape.  Bill commented to me that he’d like to find a self-catering cottage on Islay and just hang out there for a week.  I’d be up for that myself.  It really is a beautiful place and there are plenty of other distilleries there that we didn’t see, namely Bowmore and Ardbeg.  We were supposed to see the Bowmore Distillery, but that was replaced at the last minute.

I like to buy music when I take trips, so instead of buying whisky, I purchased a couple of new CDs from Laphroaig’s gift shop.  I have now listened to both of them twice and really enjoy them, though I had never heard of the performers before I bought their music.  That night turned out to be pretty musical anyway, since Angela Paterson and her violin playing friend Fiona showed up to perform for the passengers after we’d had dinner.  Bill and I only stayed for about a half an hour.  That’s not a reflection on the quality of their playing.  I thought the ladies were very talented and I would have liked to have stayed longer.  However, Bill was nodding off and I was pretty tired myself.  I usually spend a lot of time by myself, so it can be taxing to spend the whole day around people.

I heard that after an hour or so, people started dancing to the music.  I wish I could have seen and/or participated in that.  I did, however, take away some inspiration from the musicians who played after we visited Port Ellen…

I learned “Wild Mountain Thyme” after hearing it performed on Hebridean Princess.

Credit the call of nature for my getting this shot…

Kildalton Cross…

John, our guide, and the lovely musicians from Islay.  I think that was the only time I ever saw John wearing pants as opposed to his kilt.

I just learned “Wild Mountain Thyme” today, thanks to Angela and Fiona…  

Laphroaig casks!

Stags!



How I stay sane being a lonely overeducated housewife in Germany…

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I spend a lot of time alone, so the Internet is kind of my lifeline to other people.  I do have two dogs who keep me company and of course, there’s always Facebook.  But there’s also another online place I like to frequent.  It’s where I indulge my love of singing.

I’m actually a pretty good singer and I love to go to karaoke bars, though if I’m honest, a lot of people don’t always like it when I sing.  But since I am not in any groups or taking lessons, karaoke remains an outlet.  I like to sing on SingSnap.com because it gives me the chance to practice my music without annoying other people.  I’ve also met some good folks there.  It’s a great diversion, and I spend less money and drink less than I might at a bar.  Also, no one confuses me for the host when I sing at home online.

Still, there are times when I miss having a crowd.  Someday, we might have to find a karaoke venue near us…  or I might have to venture to the Community Club.

For now, this keeps me busy enough…

http://www.singsnap.com/karaoke/e/b3a7de23d

http://www.singsnap.com/karaoke/e/b26733d15

http://www.singsnap.com/karaoke/e/b58c65555

Our big Virginia trip, part four– Friday night!

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In my family, we traditionally have a “barn party” on Friday after Thanksgiving.  Over the years, the party has been held in a variety of different places.  When I was a kid, the barn on my Uncle Brownlee’s property was owned by someone else, so we had to rent somewhere for our party.  Some years, we had it at the Natural Bridge Hotel, either in a room in the basement or in a reception hall.

In 1987, we had an all out par-tay in one of the big ballrooms.  It was complete with an open bar and a full band featuring my Uncle Brownlee and his brother, Stephen.  There was much drunkenness, especially from yours truly.  I was 15 years old and one of my cousins, who shall remain nameless, was passing me bourbon and Cokes.  I drank four and got good and hammered.  That was the first time in my life I ever got drunk, and boy was I a mess.  Fortunately, my Aunt Nance filmed the whole thing for posterity…  LOL.  I made myself scarce during the drunk part, thank GOD.  I still like to watch that video, though, because that was a wild party and there are people in it who are no longer with us.

In later years, we had the party at the Fire Station in Natural Bridge, which wasn’t too long on character.  There were lots of stories told, though no dancing or music.  One year, we had karaoke in the barn.  And finally in recent years, we started having the whole celebration in the barn, which my handy and talented Uncle Brownlee has fixed up for dancing and music.  The last few years, we’ve even had live bluegrass music from The Plank Road Express.  In 2010, during our last visit for Thanksgiving, I got to sing a number with the band, which was a lot of fun for me.  In a former life, I think I was a rock star.

I had a feeling we were going to be a bit emotional after my dad’s memorial, so I arranged a date night for Bill and me.  We had dinner at The Southern Inn in Lexington, Virginia.  We ate there once or twice before and there are other restaurants in Lexington.  I will admit that part of the reason I chose that place is because they participate in OpenTable, which is a restaurant reservation service.  I get points every time I make a reservation and have been collecting for over ten years.  But if I don’t reserve a table at least once a year, the points expire.  Since I don’t know when we’ll be back in the States, I figured it was a good opportunity to keep current.  And I wanted to enjoy a nice dinner with my spouse, too.

So we stayed dressed up for dinner, though we really didn’t have to.  The Southern Inn is a fairly casual place and it’s obvious that it’s popular with locals.  Our waitress was very experienced and clearly knew a lot of the people at the surrounding tables.  We enjoyed a very nice meal, too.  I started with baked Brie and a glass of prosecco.  Bill had a bowl of Andouille sausage soup.  I had sea scallops and parmesan grits for my entree.  Bill had a huge steak.  For dessert, I had a Brandy Alexander, while Bill had pecan pie.

Bill reacting to something smartassed I said.

Vino!

Baked Brie… it was a little like a grilled cheese sandwich on steroids.

Bill’s yummy soup!

Scallops, grits, and greens!

Beef!

Brandy Alexander… 

Pecan pie… this was good, but my brother-in-law, Mark, makes an even better one.

We got back to the home place just in time for a spectacular fireworks show put on by one of my cousins.  I wish we’d gotten there a little earlier so I could have gotten more than a few shots.  I was pretty impressed by how professional the show was!

Fireworks!

Then we went to the barn for dancing and more singing… and yes, I did get to sing with The Plank Road Express again.  It was funny, too, because the lead singer spotted me and said, “I’ve been looking for you for four years!  Where have you been?”  I sang “Walking After Midnight” and fumbled with the words a bit… but probably the most special moment of the night came when I saw the words for “On Heaven’s Bright Shore” on her music stand.

You see, I really would have liked to have sung “On Heaven’s Bright Shore” at my dad’s memorial.  That would have been my choice for a solo.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone to accompany me.  I did record an acapella version, but it’s not as good as it would be if I had someone on guitar or something.

The Plank Road Express in the barn…

Anyway, I asked the band if they would mind if I gave “On Heaven’s Bright Shore” a whirl.  They asked if I could sing it in “C”.  I said, “Just play it.  I’m drunk and so is most everyone else in here!”  It turned out pretty well!

I thanked the band for obliging me and explained that I had come all the way from Germany for my dad’s memorial.  The lead singer said, “Oh, so that was your dad who died?  I sang ‘On Heaven’s Bright Shore’ for my dad, too.”  I got the sense that we bonded a little over that song!

Another highlight of Friday night was my Uncle Ed, who is just hilarious.  He said, “Hey Jenny, we have some ‘moon’ here…”  “Moon”, for your edification, refers to moonshine.  Yes, many people in my family enjoy it as well as the odd Miller Lite beer.  My tastebuds have evolved beyond Lite, but I don’t mind if I do enjoy a little “moon” when the opportunity presents itself.  It was good stuff, too– pretty smooth and I haven’t gone blind…

We didn’t get back to the Hummingbird Inn until after 1:00am.  We would have been there sooner, except I left my bag at the house and had to go back and retrieve it.  On the way into the house, I skinned the hell out of my knee.  That may have been yet another sign from my dad.  Many years ago, when I was a kid and we were celebrating Thanksgiving with the family, my dad decided to go jogging.  Possibly in a pre-menstrual moment, I said “I hope you fall and skin your knee.”  My cousin, Suzanne, thought that was the funniest thing and reminded me of it this year.  So maybe it was a little karmic payback.  Despite my smarting knee, I had a great time!

In honor of my departed friend, Patrick… A review of The Singing Revolution

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I posted on my main blog about my friend, Patrick Killough, who died yesterday after a battle with leukemia.  The review below prompted my first online meeting with Patrick, who was a delightful man who lived near Asheville, North Carolina.  He enjoyed the movie after reading my review, so I’ve decided to repost it here in his honor.

The Singing Revolution… a very moving film about Estonia’s journey to freedom

Jan 10, 2010 (Updated Jul 20, 2011)
Review by   

Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating:Excellent

  • Action Factor: 
  • Special Effects: 
  • Suspense: 

Pros:Very inspiring and moving documentary about Estonia.

Cons:None.

The Bottom Line:The Singing Revolution shows how the power of music can overcome oppression and despair.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie’s plot.

Last summer, my husband Bill and I took our very first cruise. Although we were both hoping for a trip to the Greek Isles, we ended up with a Baltic itinerary. One of the exciting ports of call we visited was Tallin, Estonia. I was particularly interested in seeing Estonia because it was once one of the fifteen republics that had made up the Soviet Union. In the mid 1990s, I spent two years of my life living in another former Soviet republic, Armenia. I wanted to see how Estonia was faring since the fall of the once great Soviet empire.

Tallin, Estonia turned out to be a wonderful place. Bill and I wandered around the old town, very impressed by how well preserved the medieval city was. Although we only got to spend a few hours there, I found myself mentally planning to come back someday. Then, the other day, while dreaming of my next trip to Europe, I read a CNN travel article about Estonia.  The author mentioned renting the movie The Singing Revolution, a documentary film about Estonia’s great love for singing and how it helped them achieve independence. Intrigued, I immediately went to iTunes and downloaded the film so I could see it for myself.

The premise

Estonia has a long, complicated history as a land that has been passed around and fought over by a number of different peoples. It has been a Swedish, Danish, and Russian territory at different times in its history. In the last 100 years, it was invaded by Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union as well as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. In the wake of these invasions, thousands of ethnic Estonians were killed, sent to prison in Siberia, or just plain disappeared. Thousands more fled to other countries, hoping to be able to return to their homeland someday.

The Singing Revolution introduces viewers to several people who were directly influenced by Estonia’s history. We meet a conductor whose grandparents were killed during the Soviet invasion. We meet a female conductor who, along with her family, was herself sent to a Siberian prison camp at age 14. We also meet a man who was considered a “Forest Brother”; he and other men lived in the forests of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania for years and worked against the Soviet occupation through guerilla warfare.

The film very touchingly paints a picture of the way Estonia was “Russified”; Russians were moved into the country as a way to homogenize the culture and stamp out the Estonian majority. People lived in oppression, unable to express themselves freely. For fifty years, life went on this way until the late 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev was the President of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev sought to reform the Soviet Union and improve its lagging economy through perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). Through these new reforms, more freedom of expression was allowed among the Soviet people. Estonians now had the power to protest.

Starting in 1987, Estonians began to demonstrate by singing. In 1988, as many as 300,000 Estonians aided by Estonian rock musicians were singing Estonian national songs and hymns that, under Soviet rule, had been forbidden. One man in the film quipped that when thousands of people start to sing, it’s impossible to shut them up. That’s exactly how the Estonian people started to be heard. Meanwhile, by 1989, formerly Communist Eastern Europe was starting to disintegrate. One by one, countries were rejecting Communism and demanding freedom. In 1990, Estonia openly defied the Soviet Union by offering aid to Estonian residents who wanted to avoid being drafted into the Soviet Army. And of course, by 1991, the Soviet Union was dismantled.

My thoughts

I found this film extremely moving, especially since the Singing Revolution happened relatively recently. The film shows how everyone– men, women and children– came together to reclaim their independence against a mighty opponent. I also found this film very informative. Although I was a teenager and young adult when all of this stuff was going on, I was woefully uninformed about it as it was taking place. It was very interesting to me to be able to see this story unfold in a powerful and beautifully filmed documentary. Finally, I found this film satisfying on a musical level. I am myself a singer, so I was very interested in hearing the music the very talented Estonians produced. I found it very inspiring on an artistic level.

And now…

I’m dying to go back to Estonia. In fact, I’d love to take a trip to all three Baltic nations to learn more about their history and peoples. The Singing Revolution was a very worthwhile film in terms of giving a perspective of what it was like for Estonians in the wake of World War II. It was fascinating for me, as well, because I spent time in Armenia, where the Russians were seen more as saviors than oppressors… the Russians saved the Armenians from the Turks.

Having just spent two years on a continent that was so heavily affected by World War II, I now find myself much more eager than I ever was in the past to learn about what happened during the war. There’s nothing like actually going to a place to develop an appreciation for it and a desire to learn more. Estonia is not one of those places that’s easy to visit, particularly from America. Watching The Singing Revolution may be one of the next best alternatives to visiting.

Overall

I highly recommend this film to anyone who is interested in history, particularly as it affected the Soviet Union and the Baltic region. I also recommend it to anyone who enjoys music, powerful, inspirational stories about triumph, and a good documentary. The Singing Revolution runs for 97 minutes and is unrated. It’s a film by James and Maureen Trusty.

For more information: http://www.singingrevolution.com

Recommend this product? Yes

Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 – 12