Our first French Christmas, part seven…

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December 26th was our last full day in Nimes. Audra was pretty much free all day after the morning. We could have gone to see the sites, but really, I just wanted to hang out and chat. I live a pretty isolated lifestyle these days, and it was so nice to talk to someone who has known me since way before electronics. Besides that, having the dog kind of cramped our style a bit.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Arran made a lot of friends on our trip, and I am so grateful that we brought him with us. For instance, I think Arran may have played a part in us not being robbed the other day. But although he is a good traveler, I do worry about him being a good guest and not bothering people. Even though he’s about ten years old, he’s not above howling a lot or the occasional accident.

So Audra, Bill, Cyril, and I did more walking and talking… until Cyril started looking a little under the weather and bowed out. We still had good food, though. For lunch, we had fougasse, which is a delightful pastry filled with bacon and cheese. Reading up on fougasse, I see that it’s a specialty of Provence, although it’s also featured in other regions. Audra says some versions are sweet and some are savory.

For dinner, we had roasted pork loin and more root vegetables– carrots and parsnips– and lots of wine. The cheese lovers had their course, too. Cheese is another food I wish I loved more, although my ass sure doesn’t need the help. It was really a great day, with yet another walk around the neighborhood and more reminiscing about the old days… and more wine.

We decided not to visit on Friday, the 27th, because we had made arrangements to be in Beaune between 3:00 and 4:00. In retrospect, maybe it would have been better if we had taken more time heading north. Maybe if we’d said goodbye to Audra and Cyril on Friday morning instead of Thursday night, we might have missed the bastards who fucked up our tire. But at least checking out of Chez Pepito was relatively easy, aside from the lack of parking in the area. We just put the keys back in the lockbox and got on our way. I did get some cool photos on the way up, too. Too bad I didn’t get any of the jackasses who spiked our tire.

Our drive to Beaune was mostly uneventful until we got to the rest stop just south of the city. It was well-connected, with several fast food restaurants, a bathroom, a gas station, and even a shower. You’d never think scumbags looking to do harm would hang out at such a well-traveled place with so many visitors. But unfortunately, there they were, and they had us squarely in their sites.

We stopped at the rest stop only so we could tell our hosts we had arrived and so I could pee. In retrospect, I really wish we had just kept going and called from just outside the front door, like we did when we came in. Our stop at the rest area has so far cost us over 1400 euros. We had to buy two new tires; Bill has missed two days of work; and although the first gite owners gave us a free night, we’re paying another 120 euros for tonight at La Maison de Maurice.

For those who don’t want to read my other vents on this subject, here’s a quick and dirty recount. After I got back into the car post pit stop, a swarthy looking guy stepped out in front of Bill as he was driving out of the lot, forcing him to stop. We think this is when his accomplice punctured our tire and ruined a perfectly good pair of wheels. I say “pair” of wheels, because in France, one must purchase tires in sets of two if there isn’t a tire identical to the one being replaced. So both of our rear tires, just six months old, had to be replaced. It cost almost 500 euros. Such a waste!

Ultimately, the fuckwads who did this didn’t get anything for their efforts. They weren’t able to rob us. I suspect they saw Arran and me and changed their minds about shaking Bill down for money or relieving us of our luggage. Also, Bill immediately got on the phone instead of going for the jack. I think the guys who were doing this must be amateurs.

ADAC told us to call 112, which is equivalent to our 911. A highway assistance guy came and put the spare on… the little donut tire that comes with most new cars these days. We weren’t allowed to drive it on the French highway, but we were headed to Beaune anyway. We went to our gite and decided what to do next. More on that in the next post.

Our first French Christmas, part six…

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We slept late Christmas morning, mainly because we didn’t bring presents to open. Audra and her family exchanged gifts while we had breakfast in our gite. Then we went to their house for lunch, which was being hosted by Cyril’s charming and very French parents. I had made a couple of baskets to give to our hosts. One was for Audra and Cyril and had some German, Polish, and southern/Virginia delicacies in them. The other was for Cyril’s parents, in which I skipped the Virginia delicacies.

Cyril’s mom’s face lit up as she uncovered the little gifts in her basket. I included a couple of star shaped bottles of liqueurs from Wiesbaden, a wine stopper and beer stein bottle top, gingerbread in a pretty tin, a Polish pottery magnet and Christmas ornament, and a few other things. It was so sweet to watch Cyril’s mom open those gifts and genuinely appreciate them. She gave me a big hug, and even though I don’t speak French and she doesn’t speak English, I felt like I had made a friend.

Then we had lunch… and there on the table were salads loaded with mushrooms. I had just told Audra and Cyril about my “mycophobia” the previous night. Being phobic of mushrooms has caused me so much embarrassment over the years. But Audra handled it perfectly and made me a salad without any fungus. It was delicious, too… with quail eggs, bacon, and a light vinaigrette. I’m going to have to learn to make that salad at home. It’s not the first time we’ve had it in France, and it’s always a hit with me. I need all the hit salads I can get. We also had foie gras, which I gave to Bill. Next, there was rice, and monkfish served with a delightful lemon sauce. And, of course, there was also plenty of wine.

After lunch, we took a walk through the neighborhood, and once again, I was reminded of Texas. Audra says it gets very hot in Nimes during the summer. Maybe it even gets as hot as Texas does.

Cyril made a delicious pot of French onion soup for dinner, minus the usual cheese and bread. It was just what we needed to come down from Christmas Eve’s big spread. I noticed that the meals we enjoyed, except on Christmas Eve, were very simple and served with lots of love and companionship. Bill and I usually eat together when we can, but I get the sense that Audra and Cyril enjoy a lot of fellowship with his family. It’s nice to see and something that more Americans should embrace.

At some point during our trip, I developed an annoying cough that is still plaguing me now. I am hoping we can get home sometime today so I can do some laundry and sleep in my own big, warm bed. Here’s hoping for a phone call from ADAC.

Our first French Christmas, part five…

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On Christmas Eve, Audra and Cyril were busy preparing for the huge meal traditionally served on Christmas Eve in France. Because they were busy with the food and family preparations, Bill and I hung out in Nimes and, after enjoying a lunch of Hawaiian pizza made by a local pizzeria, we walked around the city. It was unseasonably warm, so I didn’t even need a sweater. A small Christmas carnival was going on, and shops were open and blaring Christmas music. I got some pictures of the festivities, as well as a few sites we saw the first time we visited Nimes. I really like it there. It has a laid back Mediterranean vibe, as well as a bullfighting ring. Not that I like bullfighting, per se… it’s just a very cool looking structure. Here are some photos from our walk around Nimes:

I was glad Bill and I had brought “nice” clothes, since the Christmas Eve dinner was more of a formal affair. Okay, so I had to tell Bill to turn his sweater vest right side out, and my dress has been a go to “dressy” outfit since 2010 (God bless forgiving modal and ruching). But I did have new jewelry.

We got to Audra’s and Cyril’s house at about 6:00pm. They were kind enough to invite Arran, too, so their cats went hunting while we hung out. Audra and Cyril built their house right next door to his parents’ house. When Bill and I visited in 2014, we were invited over to Cyril’s parents’ house for lunch. Bill was overwhelmed by their hospitality. Every Sunday, they all gather and eat lunch, visit, and enjoy each other’s company. Cyril’s parents, brother and sister-in-law, and their dog, Merlin, and Juliette joined us for the Christmas Eve feast, which commenced with raw oysters! Bill surprised me by trying and enjoying two of them! Personally, I like oysters… it’s like a taste of Tidewater for me. Audra also had some grilled oysters for the squeamish. They were also delicious.

I didn’t get a lot of pictures of the food, since I didn’t want to be tacky. Here are a few shots I did get. I had to get one of the oysters, right? We don’t see them much in Germany!

Dinner went on until after 11:00pm, then we stayed up talking until almost 2:00am! Audra and Cyril very kindly served as a taxi service for us, so we didn’t have to worry about losing our parking spot in the garage.

Cyril’s parents don’t speak English, but they were very warm and gracious to Bill and me. I can tell that they’ve really embraced Audra and her children as true family. It’s lovely to see. They made us feel like family, too.

Our first French Christmas, part four…

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Monday morning, we got up, loaded up the Volvo, and as we were about to check out, met our hostess– the wife of the guy who had given us the grand tour of the gite we rented. She was very young and charming as she told us about how they’d only recently bought their house/gite. It turns out she’s familiar with Wiesbaden because she studied winemaking near there at Weinbau Geisenheim.

Our hostess had told me in an email that she and her husband were a Franco-German family. Originally, I figured she was German, but after having met her, I think maybe she’s French and he’s German. I don’t know… but she said that the gite was a side business, as they are opening their own winery here in Beaune, having moved from Dijon. Dijon is a much larger city than Beaune is, but if you’re wanting wine, Beaune is the place to be– for making, buying, and selling it. Perhaps in a year or so, the gite will come equipped with a bottle of their very own wine!

We said goodbye and told her we’d see them Friday. Originally, we planned a two night stay, but now it looks like it could be at least another day or two before we can get out of Beaune. We must first locate either a tire or a tow truck.

The drive to Nimes was mostly uneventful, except for some dramatic scenery and traffic in Lyon, France’s second largest city and land of exotic eating. Seriously… everybody raves about Paris and the cuisine scene there, but Lyon is supposedly even more exciting. I wouldn’t know from experience, unfortunately, because the one time we stayed near there, we were in a suburb and ended up eating Moroccan food one night (delicious!) and Domino’s Pizza the next (drunk). Ah well, maybe sometime we’ll get to stay in Lyon proper and have some really fancy French food… as long as it doesn’t have any offal, strong cheese, or fungus in it.

The landscape really changed as we approached Nimes. It started to remind me of Texas. The sky opened up, the land began to look browner and scrubbier, and there were low slung trees and cacti dotting everything. I had arranged to stay at Chez Pepito, which I learned was on the edge of the Arabic quarter in Nimes. The gite supposedly came with a parking spot. Pepito had written to tell me he wouldn’t be able to meet us personally, but gave us instructions on how to find the keys and let ourselves in.

Bill and I visited Nimes in 2014, but it was by train. We stayed in a cheap hotel near the train station… very no frills, but kind of charming. The hotel has since changed hands, so I don’t know what it’s like now.

Pepito’s gite, likewise, was kind of no frills. It was on the second floor (which is really the third floor), and that meant schlepping our stuff up a few flights of stairs. Since the “parking spot” was actually a very tiny garage that would never fit our SUV, let alone a normal sized car, Bill had to go find a parking spot. He dumped our stuff on the ground floor, and I hauled it all upstairs. That was quite a workout for me. I really should call myself the Fatass and Breathless Housewife… I had some trouble getting the door open, because I didn’t realize that two locks, of the total of three on the door, needed to be unlocked.

I contacted Audra and she and Cyril came over to welcome us. Bill managed to score a rare spot at the parking garage a block from the gite (four nights was 52 euros, but our car was safe). Pepito charges 10 euros a day for his spot, but seriously, if you have anything bigger than a Twingo or a Smart Car, don’t bother. Your car won’t fit.

Chez Pepito has another bedroom, but there was a sticky note on the door asking us not to use it. My guess is that Pepito didn’t want us messing it up, since there were just two of us. That’s fine, although we probably would have closed the door to that room anyway. That’s what we usually do when the gite is bigger than what we need. It was a really small room, so we wouldn’t have chosen it over the other one. WiFi worked well and there were plenty of heaters, although they did a poor job of heating the drafty apartment. I’ve noticed the French are very fond of tile floors, which keep things chilly even when there’s heat. Nimes was not cold at all, but that gite was. Fortunately, there were plenty of blankets.

We had a slight mishap within two hours of our arrival. There was a vase of dried flowers on the fireplace mantel (and no, we were not allowed to use the fireplace). Bill got too close to one of the sprigs coming from the dried flowers and the vase fell and shattered. It was on the edge of the mantel and a bit top heavy, so that was an accident that was definitely going to happen at some point. I just wish it hadn’t happened when we were staying there. Anyway, I messaged Pepito to let him know we’d made it and report the breakage. He was cool about it, which was really nice. For that, we left him the 40 euros we were going to pay for the failed parking spot.

Chez Pepito also features a “rooftop terrace”. It’s kind of cool, I guess. One floor up from the gite, you can unlock the door and hang out. There are a couple of loungers and lots of plants. I think it’s probably nice up there during the warmer seasons, although the furniture is a bit worn out looking. I can’t complain, though, since Pepito’s prices are very reasonable. For four nights, I paid about 312 euros before the “parking” charge. Not bad at all! And the gite is only about ten minutes from where Audra and Cyril live, and very close to shops and restaurants, including a huge food market that makes Stuttgart’s Markthalle look puny.

After we settled, Bill, Arran, and I were picked up by Audra and we went to her house for dinner. Cyril made a lovely dinner of duck and pureed celery, and I got to see Audra’s daughter, Juliette, who is VERY French and speaks excellent English. Arran made fast friends with Audra and we all sat up and talked until about 3:00am! It’s been a long time since I last stayed up that late simply chatting with an old friend!

Our first French Christmas, part one…

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Bonjour, faithful readers. I am currently sitting in Beaune, France. We were here in this same gite (holiday home) a week ago, when we were on our way to Nimes to see my friend, Audra. Now we’re on our way back to Germany, and I have arranged to stay at the same house until tomorrow morning, provided we can get out of here due to a misfortune we encountered yesterday at a rest stop. More on that later. For now, I want to start at the beginning and explain how it was that we’ve had a “French Christmas”.

Audra is American, and we met back in 1987, when we were students at Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Virginia. We both had the same journalism and world history classes during the 1987-88 school year. When we met, I was fifteen and she was fourteen. We got to be friendly in journalism class, since it was a course that required collaboration.

It wasn’t just school that brought us together. Our dads were friends back in the day. Both were Air Force veterans who participated in singing groups in Gloucester. Audra and I are also both graduates of Longwood College, now known as Longwood University, in Farmville, Virginia. We didn’t run in the same crowd when we were at Longwood, so it’s only been within the past ten years ago, through Facebook, that we’ve become closer.

Back in May 2014, Bill and I took our third military “hop” from Baltimore, Maryland. He was on “terminal leave” from the Army, just before he retired. We landed at Ramstein and decided to travel through France by train. On that trip, which I’ve chronicled in this blog, we visited Reims, Dijon, a suburb of Lyon, Nimes, and Nice. Then we flew from Nice to Frankfurt, took a quick trip to the Rhein, and flew from Ramstein back to the States. You can find the story of that trip by searching the blog, although I haven’t yet gotten around to reformatting it since I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress. I will fix those posts when I get home to my desktop computer. When they’re fixed, I’ll link them to this post.

We visited Audra, her then boyfriend, Cyril, and Audra’s kids during that 2014 trip. A few weeks after we got back to Texas, where we were living at the time, Bill got a job in Stuttgart, Germany. We moved back to Europe, and ever since then, Audra and I were hoping to arrange another rendezvous. A few months ago, she and Cyril, who is now her husband, invited us to spend Christmas with them. They even invited our dog, Arran.

Originally, the plan was that we’d stay at their house, since two of Audra’s children were visiting their dad. But since Audra has cats and Bill is allergic, and Arran loves to harass cats, we decided to book another gite in Nimes. Beaune, which is where I am right now, is roughly halfway between Nimes and Wiesbaden. It’s actually slightly closer to Nimes. I had originally tried to find another gite in a different city, but had difficulty finding one that offered what we wanted and was pet friendly. So here we are, once again, at Au Miracle du Pain Doré, a charming apartment within walking distance of Beaune’s lovely center.

Today’s plan was, originally, to go into town and purchase some wine to bring back to Wiesbaden with us. Unfortunately, we were victimized at the rest stop at the northbound rest stop heading into Beaune. We had stopped so I could pee and we could let our hosts know that we were almost at our destination. During what was intended to be a short stop, a lowlife criminal gouged a hole in one of our tires. So, instead of wine shopping and wrapping up what was a mostly wonderful trip to France, Bill is making a police report and trying to come up with a way to fix our car so that it will get us back to Germany. He did manage to get the tire patched, which makes me a bit nervous, since the gouge was on the sidewall. But the other option is to have the car towed home, since the local tire shop did not have the size we need and we can’t drive it with the “donut” tire spare. The closer we get to Germany, the better… I just hope we don’t have a blowout and cause an accident.

I’m pretty sure the asshole who punctured our tire was hoping to relieve us of our dirty underwear. Unfortunately, this scam is rampant in Europe. Pirates linger near high speed roads and damage motorists’ tires, then offer “help” while an accomplice steals purses, electronics, and whatever else they can find. They target tourists, especially those in rental cars. Tourists are more likely to be unfamiliar with the area, loaded with cash and valuables, and eager to accept “friendly” help. They’re also less likely to make police reports and press charges.

We were not robbed yesterday. I think the would-be crook was spooked when I stayed in the car with Arran and Bill got on the phone with ADAC, one of Germany’s auto clubs. He lingered for a moment, then vanished once Bill gave him the stink-eye. Still, he and his maggot accomplice managed to ruin a perfectly good tire that has only been on the car since July, when it was built in Sweden. And though he’s given me a new life experience and a good story for this blog, I am actually a bit concerned about our safety tomorrow. If it weren’t going to be a Sunday, I think we’d wait and try to get a new tire. If you’re the praying type and you don’t mind, please offer up a few kind words for us.

Meeting an old friend in Mainz…

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In the spring of 1998, I was 25 years old and living with my parents in Gloucester, Virginia. Six months earlier, I had come home from a two year stint in the Republic of Armenia, where I had served as an English teacher with the Peace Corps. While I will never regret spending those years in Armenia, I came home with a pretty serious case of clinical depression. I was broke and having a hard time finding a job that would pay enough to get me launched out on my own. I also came home to some significant family issues, which made my living at home a burden to my parents.

I spent the first few months home working as a temp, mostly at the College of William & Mary in various capacities. In the spring of ’98, I found myself working in William & Mary’s admissions office. That was an eye-opening experience, but it didn’t pay enough and the work was incredibly tedious. My parents were eager to have me get out on my own and I was eager to leave. I didn’t get along with my dad, who had his own issues with depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and alcoholism. My mom was at her wits’ end trying to keep their business going, which they ran out of their house. Dad had gone to rehab the day after my return from Armenia. Dad’s rehab ultimately wasn’t successful. He and I fought a lot.

One day, after a terrible row with my dad, I marched myself over to The Trellis, at that time one of the best restaurants in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was then owned by renowned Chef Marcel Desaulniers, who has written many cookbooks and used to have cooking shows on PBS. His partner, John Curtis, owned several businesses in Williamsburg and had himself been a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1960s. My mission was to get a job that would pay more so I could GTFO of my parents’ house and get on with my life.

My eldest sister had worked at The Trellis in 1980, when it first opened. She graduated from William & Mary in 1981 and had gone on to do bigger and better things, including joining the Peace Corps. She went to Morocco from 1984-86. I had followed in her footsteps, but unlike my big sister, I wasn’t finding success. Although I had never worked as a waitress before, all three of my sisters had waited tables. I figured if they could do it, so could I. I liked working with food and was giving some thought to going to culinary school. When I was in Armenia, I had done a number of food related projects and had even once been employed as a cook.

The Trellis had a reputation for being a great place to be if you wanted to make bank, but it was also an extremely demanding work environment. I had applied to work there once in 1994, but the manager passed. I worked in retail for a year, then went to Armenia. In 1998, I was determined to get a job at The Trellis. I was mostly motivated by my rage at my dad and the need to stop living in his house. That must have been the magic that was missing the first time I applied, because that time, I got hired. Or, it could have been that they simply needed warm bodies. In 1998 and throughout my time working at The Trellis, they were always hiring because they were chronically short staffed! A lot of people were hired, only to quit or be fired in short order.

I had a really hard time learning how to wait tables at The Trellis. Marcel Desaulniers had been a Marine and he ran his kitchen with military precision. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have experience waiting tables, though. In fact, the management preferred people who were brand new to waiting tables. That way, there weren’t any bad habits that had to be remedied. But it was difficult getting the hang of the job. I remember it took a few weeks before I was finally at ease with the job itself. And then I had to learn about the food!

The menu changed seasonally, and all of the wait staff had to demonstrate their knowledge. There were daily specials, which we had to recite from memory. We were tested on the menus and learned about wine and liquor. Everyone started working at lunch, which was fast paced and required a lot more work to make cash. As a waiter’s skills improved, he or she would be promoted to “Dinner Cafe”, which was even worse than working lunch. It was basically a hybrid menu that included certain lunch and dinner dishes and patrons were seated on the terrace or in the “cafe” area. The money was nominally better, but the work was just as hard. Finally, when menu tests were passed and table maintenance skills were high enough, the waiter would get dinner shifts and start making good money.

It was a lot to take in, and I felt like I was back in college. In those days, I was strictly a beer drinker and I knew nothing about wine, fine food, or liquor. I remember fumbling with the wine tool, trying to get accustomed to opening bottles of wine with style. I got yelled at all the time by the powers that be, which was hard on me. The job was physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. There were a few times when I felt like giving up and trying something else.

Even though I was crippled by depression and anxiety, I was determined to succeed. I just thought about how much I needed to have my own apartment and reminded myself that waiting tables is a very portable skill. After many weeks of hard work, I did eventually make it to a venerable dinner waiter position and even trained some people. But there were many meltdowns along the way… and at first, quite a few people thought I might be one of the many people who didn’t make it through the first week of training. I worked at The Trellis for about a year and a half before I left to go to graduate school.

One of the captains working at The Trellis in 1998 was a guy named CW. I was immediately impressed and inspired by him. He was hardworking, funny, and kind. However, he was also very detailed oriented and task directed. I liked and respected him immediately, especially when I learned that when he started at The Trellis, he took the bus all the way from Norfolk, Virginia to get to work. There were times he missed the last bus home. Still, he showed up to work every day on time and busted his ass to provide great service and make money. He was tough when he needed to be, yet compassionate. CW was a fine role model.

CW left The Trellis a few months after I started working there. I remember his farewell at line up one day. He announced that he was going to work at Kinkead’s, a legendary (and now defunct) restaurant in Washington, DC. I remember the kind send off he received from the restaurant’s more senior staffers. Years later, when I turned 30, Bill and I celebrated at Kinkead’s because I remember CW talking about it. He didn’t wait on us, but I remember that birthday dinner as one of the first of many great meals Bill and I have had together.

CW still works in DC, and has had the opportunity to work at a lot of great restaurants with some amazing chefs. He is now studying to become a wine expert, specifically in German wines. Last week, as part of his sommelier training, he came to the Rheingau to work at a winery. We had the opportunity to meet up in Mainz last night. Even though I hadn’t seen him since 1998, he was easy to spot and there wasn’t a moment of awkwardness all evening.

We had a lovely evening at a Weinstube called Weinhaus zum Spiegel. It’s a charming place in one of the many “alleys and alcoves” in Mainz, a city Bill and I are still getting to know. Over several glasses of wine and small plates, CW, Bill, and I talked for several hours. Here are a few photos from our evening. I do mean a “few” photos, because we were so focused on chatting that there wasn’t much time for picture taking.

Weinhaus zum Spiegel is in a super charming timbered building. I wish I had gotten a picture of it when the sun was still shining. We’ll have to go back to Mainz so I can get a proper photo of the historic looking edifice. I can’t say I was terribly impressed by the food, especially since I had originally wanted smoked trout and they were out of it. I did see a lot of people enjoying Federweisser (new wine) and Zwiebelkuchen (onion “cake”, which looks more like a tart). Although Zwiebelkuchen is a famous dish in southern Germany and popular this time of year, I still have yet to try it. I wish I’d had it last night, although I did like the Spundekäs.

Anyway, we weren’t really there for food as much as we were the company, and CW is excellent company. It was exciting to hear about his plans to break into the German wine industry. Who knows? He may soon join us over here… if we don’t end up having to move again. He has many tales of working in Washington, DC and dealing with some major high maintenance folks– politicians and their ilk– as well as some surprisingly down to earth celebrities.

We finally called it a night at about 10:30, when it was becoming clear that the Weinstube was winding down its service. As Bill and I made our way home, I was musing about how special the memories of working at The Trellis are to some of us. It was a place where I went through many different levels of hell. I remember “shitting Twinkies”, as CW once put it, on the terrace on beautiful spring and fall afternoons and major holidays. I lost a lot of weight working there, and also found myself in therapy and on medication to finally deal with the depression and anxiety that had hindered me for so long. I made enough money to get health insurance, and gathered the resolve to seek the help I desperately needed. I socked away money for the day when I would finally move out on my own. Finally, when I was ready, I launched into graduate school, which led to this “overeducated housewife” lifestyle I currently enjoy.

I only worked at The Trellis for about 18 months, and much of the actual job was hell, but I left there with so many friends I can still count on today, even twenty years after my last shift. We’re all scattered around the world now, but we have the camaraderie of that common experience binding us and, through the magic of Facebook, can stay in touch. And, just like CW, when it was time to leave, I got a warm send off, complete with a signed cookbook from Marcel, and a song from the resident harp guitarist, Stephen Bennett, whose music got me through so many horrific Saturday night dinner shifts. I learned about good food, fine wines, table maintenance, hard work, and even great music. Not only did I discover Stephen Bennett at The Trellis, I also made enough money to invest in voice lessons for myself! And, as difficult as it all was, working at the Trellis absolutely changed my life for the better. In fact, working there might have even saved my life, given my mental state at the time. 😉

The Trellis still exists in Williamsburg, but it now has different owners and is no longer a fine dining establishment. I haven’t been there to try its new incarnation. I’m not sure I could bear it. I think I’d rather remember it the way it was back in the day.

Cheers to all of my former Trellis colleagues who once shat Twinkies in the weeds with me! And cheers to CW as he continues his path to bigger and better things! I have a feeling our paths could cross again on this side of the Atlantic.

Goodbye… and hello!

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We started Saturday with breakfast, then a quick trip to Kaiserslautern.  I followed Bill in my car as he drove our Toyota to the Volvo dealership, where we left our 13 year old SUV to move on to its next owner.  I clearly remember the March day in 2006 when we bought that car brand new.  We were living in northern Virginia and we had two cars that were aging and in need of an upgrade.  My 1997 Toyota Corolla was particularly ready to be retired, although it had served me extremely well under rather demanding conditions.  I repeatedly drove it to and from South Carolina and Virginia for three solid years and almost never had a problem with it.

I had enjoyed the Corolla so much that I wanted another Toyota.  We picked the RAV 4, in part, due to Bill’s children.  He wanted a car that would accommodate them, should he ever get to see them.  Well… as it turned out, Bill’s ex wife did a really excellent job alienating the girls; so to date, he still hasn’t seen them in person since Christmas 2004.  However, this story has a somewhat happy ending, since a couple of years ago, Bill’s younger daughter reconnected.  They have regular Skype sessions and, I hope, will soon have a visit so he can meet his grandchildren and son-in-law.  Perhaps someday, the older daughter will also come around.

Bill liked driving the SUV, so he decided to get another one.  We ordered a Volvo XC60 in May and it will be ready for pickup on July 1st.  We’ll be traveling to Sweden on Saturday, spending a couple of nights in Gothenburg, and fetching our new vehicle Monday morning, after a tour of the factory.  Then, we’ll work our way to Leipzig, by way of Copenhagen and Rostock, so we can catch Mark Knopfler in concert.

I’m pretty excited about the new car, but I’m more excited about finally taking a proper trip in a country that doesn’t directly border Germany and isn’t the United Kingdom!  Seriously, we’re long overdue!  Our travels were a bit more diverse during our first Germany tour, although we did miss a lot of local gems in Baden-Württemberg that we caught the second time around.

Anyway, yesterday morning consisted of driving to K-town.  It’s not a bad drive from the Wiesbaden area.  The countryside gets prettier the further west you go from Frankfurt.  I would have liked to have taken pictures but, for once, I was too busy driving.  I don’t especially enjoy driving, especially in traffic, but it’s good to keep up those vital life skills.  I drive a stick shift and, although it’s kind of like riding a bike in that you don’t forget those gear shifting skills, it is easy to get out of practice.

When we got to Kaiserslautern, we parked the cars and I took one last photo of our beloved RAV 4, which has seen us through the bulk of our marriage and taken us to and through many European countries and several U.S. states.  Bill was grinning broadly as he complimented me, once again, for my superior “road march” skills.  He says I would have made a great tanker because I’m good at driving in a convoy.  Thanks, Bill…  I think.

So long, RAV 4.  It’s been a pleasure!

 

Bill took care of a few administrative details regarding the sale of the RAV 4 to Volvo.  It seems like there are a lot of hoops to jump through, although Andre at Capitol Motors really made the process easier for us.  When I remember what we went through to buy the RAV 4 at Koons Tyson’s Toyota in northern Virginia, I’m really grateful for the military car sales program.  Our civilian car purchase was exhausting and stressful, while buying from Capitol Motors was a breeze!

We also bought my 2009 Mini Cooper through that program in Stuttgart, as we left Germany the first time.  It’s so much easier and less stressful to order what you want and not have to deal with haggling or aggressive salespeople trying to upsell their product.  And, if you qualify for the military sales program, you get a nice discount.  Our new car is costing significantly less than it would if we’d bought it in the United States.  I’d say we’re saving about $8,000.  Granted, we’re still going to be paying a lot, but we’ll be getting a really nice, brand new car just the way we want it instead of having to go through the physical and psychological rigamarole that comes from the typical car buying experience.

After we said goodbye to the RAV 4 and finalized our plans for next week’s car buying visit, we went to Cantina Mexicana for a nice lunch.  I mentioned in a previous post how good the food is at that place, especially since it’s Mexican food.  Below are a few photos from our visit.  This time, I decided to have a chimichanga for the very first time.

Cantina Mexicana is a good place for Mexican food in Germany.  We haven’t found too many like it.  Authentic Mexican food is kind of rare in these parts, unless you happen to know someone who knows how to make it and has the proper ingredients.

Aww…  serious Bill in repose.

 

We started with lemonade.  I had the mint version, and Bill went with the ginger version.  I probably should drink more lemonade over beer.  Maybe that will be my next project– discovering new soft drinks with minimal sugar.  They also brought us the usual chips and salsas, some of which were surprisingly spicy.

 

Although we didn’t really need the extra food, we decided to get the sampler of dips.  It came with guacamole, queso, and frijoles.  As you can see, the queso was stretchy.  So were the frijoles!  We brought most of this home for later.  Mexican food is usually better the next day, anyway.

My chimichanga– a fried burrito filled with shredded beef.  I also could have had shredded chicken or ground beef.  It came with an “iceberg salad”, sour cream, and an avocado slice.  I finished most of it and brought the rest home for later.  I liked the chimichanga fine, but I think I prefer regular burritos.

Bill had chicken and beef Mole Poblano.  Mole sauce is made with unsweetened cocoa, which gives it a distinctive flavor.  His dish came with Spanish rice and refried beans.  I could tell he really enjoyed the food, since he grew up in Texas, Arizona, and Arkansas.

Cantina Mexicana also offers a lot of tequilas for sale.  We recently stocked up, so we didn’t need any tequila ourselves.  But I can see it would be handy for those who don’t feel like heading to the grocery store.  Families with children will be happy to note there’s even a play area for kids in this restaurant.  Also, most of the wait staff speaks excellent English and the menu is in English and German.

 

Once we had our lunch, we drove back to Wiesbaden in my car.  I was glad to let Bill do the driving.  We had great weather, so I put the top down and enjoyed the expansive views in this part of Germany.  I’ve been missing the more rural areas we were used to when we lived near Stuttgart.

We had to get home, though, because we had plans for last night.  One of Bill’s co-workers happens to be someone he knew in the late 1980s, when he was posted in Germany as a lieutenant.  Several other guys from that era were also at the party.

To be honest, I don’t always enjoy Bill’s work related gatherings, since I don’t know a lot of Bill’s co-workers and some people in military crowds tend to think I’m a bit weird.  But last night’s party was a lot of fun.  For one thing, Bill’s buddies from the 80s were hilarious and had a lot of great stories about Bill from the days when we didn’t know each other.  For another thing, the food was great… so was the music.  Our host was playing INXS, Bon Jovi, and Def Leppard.  I felt like I was back in high school.

Every time we have one of these gatherings, I’m reminded of how small the military world is.  One of the guys Bill knew in the 80s is a Facebook friend of mine.  I “met” him through another Facebook friend, whom I knew offline when we were both in college.  My original friend joined the Army and made it his career; he’s now a colonel, based in Virginia.  One day, I posted on one of his Facebook threads.  So did Bill’s former colleague, Paul, who is now in Missouri.  Bill happened to notice Paul’s name and said he knew him.  I asked Paul if he remembered Bill.  He said he did, so we all friended each other.

Paul couldn’t be at the party last night, where there were at least three guys besides Bill that were part of their original Germany gang in the late 1980s.  But I was able to take a few pictures of that crew and share them, and Paul said he wished he could have been there.  I have never met Paul in person, but I wish he could have been there, too.  I think he would have made the party even more fun!

“Band of brothers”… although Bill now works with the host of the party, he hadn’t seen some of these guys in more than 20 years!  They had a blast!

 

This isn’t the first time Bill’s world has collided with mine.  Bill and I met online in 1999, and we chatted for a long time before we ever had our first face to face meeting.  I was nervous about the prospect of meeting him, since those were the days when Internet dating was still kind of weird.  But then fate intervened, when the Army connected Bill with one of my relatives by marriage just a few weeks before we had our first date.

Bill met my aunt’s brother at a National Guard conference before he met me offline.  I had been chatting with Bill for well over a year when he ran into my relative by marriage, who also happened to be a retired state trooper.  He assured me before I met Bill offline that Bill was “okay”, which made our first face to face meeting a lot easier.

Bill has also met a guy I knew in the Peace Corps, who now works for USAID.  I get the feeling that even if we hadn’t met on the computer, we were destined to be together.  Or, at least we were destined to meet.  As unlikely as it was that I would meet him back in 1999, fate put us together somehow.  Twenty years later, we’re still having fun!

 

And finally… I need to make a comment on our host’s house.  He lives up in the mountainous part of the Wiesbaden area, so he has beautiful views and an awesome terrace for entertaining.  I was impressed with their house, except for the white carpeting, which I think would be hard to keep clean.  But there were a couple of other things I noticed.

First off, this toilet flusher.  In almost seven total years in Germany, I encountered one like this for the first time at Ente in Wiesbaden, when we ate there on Friday night.  I was surprised when I saw another one in our host’s home!  Instead of pressing a button, you turn the knob!

And secondly… his house has an indoor pool!  I have seen houses like this advertised.  I’ve seen other German houses with their own saunas.  This was the first time I ever actually saw an indoor pool in person.  It was awesome, even if they did have it covered up!  I’m jealous!

Anyway… our Saturday was jam packed with action and we really enjoyed ourselves!  I’m not sure what we’ll do today, but I expect the day won’t be so busy.

Dinner with friends and the Scottish Music Parade!

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Bill and I have had a busy week so far.  Monday night, we drove to Schwetzingen, a nice town next to Heidelberg, to visit old friends.  One of Bill’s former co-workers came to Germany and Austria with his wife, to celebrate their wedding anniversary and visit the Christmas markets.  They used to live in Heidelberg when Army troops were still posted there.  Back in the mid 2000s, Bill was a branch chief at the Army National Guard Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.  That’s where he met the male half of the couple we met on Monday night.

We had dinner at the Brauhaus zum Ritter, a nice restaurant just across the street from the Schloss in Schwetzingen.  We visited the Schloss in 2008, when we spent a weekend in Heidelberg.  That was the first and last time we were in the area, though I had been trying to get back there when we were in Stuttgart.  Now that we’re in Wiesbaden, Heidelberg and its environs are even closer.  We could conceivably spend an afternoon there.

Because it was a visit with old friends, I kept the picture taking to a minimum.  I did get a few shots of the excellent beer and food, though.  Have a look.

We got to the restaurant before our friends did, so we had a round of beer in their bar area.

I had a very tasty and surprisingly flavorful Schwarz Bier…

And Bill had a Weiss Bier… again, surprisingly flavorful compared to other Weizens I’ve had.

I liked the decorations.
 

The Brauhaus zum Ritter offers a lot of the usual German fare.  I had a cordon bleu Schnitzel, stuffed with mountain cheese and ham and served with potato salad.  It was very good and not too huge.

I’m going to have to ask Bill what he had.  It appears to be a Rinderfilet with mushroom sauce and spaetzle.

Instructions on toilet use… Apparently, they had trouble with women building “nests” of toilet paper.

 

It was really great to see Tim and Melody, especially since it had been over ten years since we last saw them in person.  They have gone back to Munich and will be flying back to the States today.  We got home late Monday night, had a rather calm Tuesday, then went out again last night to see the Scottish Music Parade at the RheinMain Congress Center in Wiesbaden.

I found out about this event when we were visiting Wiesbaden for the first time, back in October.  There was a billboard posted near our hotel advertising it.  Since I’ve been on a roll with concerts lately, I decided it might be fun to go see this event, which apparently happens regularly.  One thing I’ve learned during this Germany stint is that Germans seem to love the Scots and other Celtic folks.  On Halloween of this year, we went to the Stuttgart version of the Irish Folk Music Festival, another annual tour.  I thought maybe the Scottish Music Parade would be like the Irish Folk Music Festival, but it turned out to be decidedly different.  Still, we had a good time.  Below are some pictures.

We got to the surprisingly large concert hall a bit early.  I think Bill’s original plan was to find somewhere to have dinner, but we got caught in some traffic and I really needed to pee.  So instead of looking for a restaurant, we entered the concert hall early…  I noticed one guy wore a kilt.  I wish Bill had worn his, but then the weather was a little chilly…

We enjoyed a little wine at the wine bar after checking our jackets.  Light snacks and wraps were available.  We drank wine and ate pretzels.  We also bought three CDs from the dancers who were selling them, as well as programs and t-shirts.

A view of the stage before the show began.  My heart was done good as I heard Bruce Hornsby playing on the sound system.  I grew up near Williamsburg, Virginia, which is where Mr. Hornsby was born and raised. 

 

A kilted man who spoke German came out to introduce the performers.  There were pipes and drums, dancers, and the band Aceltica, whose music was on the CDs we bought.  There was also a male and female singer.  The female singer’s name was Jane Jackson.  She is from Glasgow, Scotland, but she now lives in Australia.  Most of the other performers are from Scotland and live there now.  I didn’t take a lot of pictures during the show because I’d rather watch it than record it for posterity.  However, I did get a few shots of the dancers during the second half of the program, which ran for about two hours with a twenty minute intermission.

The man in the kilt was pretty much the star of the show.  He normally pipes on Britannia, which was once Queen Elizabeth II’s ship.  The Royal Family sold the ship and it is now permanently docked in Edinburgh, Scotland where tourists can visit it.

He was quite the showman.

I really enjoyed the dancers, who were very graceful and athletic.  I found myself wishing I’d learned how to dance when I was a girl. 

Again with the head piper… I think his name was Stephen or Steven…  I should have bought a program.

The guitar player was also quite the badass.  

During the finale, the singers had everyone on their feet.  The male singer, who also played acoustic guitar and, I think, was named Mike, had a voice and a style that reminded me a little of Bono’s. 

The dancers came down the aisles to get everyone going.

Taking a bow…

And they piped in the foyer after the show.  I was very happy that they played Highland Cathedral, which has both German and Scottish ties.  It was the music I walked down the aisle to when Bill and I got married.  And yes, we did have a bagpiper who played with the organist.

 

I thought the Scottish Music Parade was a perfectly enjoyable event, although I think I liked the Irish Folk Music Festival better.  The Scottish Music Parade seemed to rely more on lights and electronic music and was… for lack of a better word… a little bit cheesy.  That being said, Bill and I had a lot of fun watching the performance and would attend again.  I really love listening to bagpipes… must be all that Celtic blood in my history.  The musicians were excellent, as I expected them to be, and I was surprisingly even more entertained by the dancers than I was the musicians.

The tour continues tonight in Koblenz and on into 2019.  If you’re living in Germany and don’t mind traveling to see this show, you can easily catch it.  There are still tickets left.  I’m glad we went.

Tonight, we’re going to a wine tasting and Christmas party.  It’s not often I go out so much during the week!

Old friends and colleagues…

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The weather was nicer today, though still pretty chilly.  We took the dogs for a walk before we did our shopping.  Zane especially enjoyed himself, though it was pretty messy going thanks to the soggy ground and occasional ice patches.  On the way back, we ran into a very pleasant German couple who seemed to enjoy our hounds.  I got to tell the husband that I can’t speak German.  Still working on it, though, and making progress in understanding at least.

Well, it was another typical Sunday in Germany and we’re still in our usual rut over having lunch at The Auld Rogue.  Indeed, we did go there today after stopping at Panzer for two top ups for our phones, a new pie plate, and a bigger mixing bowl.  Somehow, I neglected to pack a pie plate, even though I know we have at least one in storage.  We also didn’t pack any decent sized mixing bowls and I have a hankering to make a blackout cake for my husband.  When I do, I’ll have to take a photo of it.  It’s a thing of beauty.  Bill will no doubt take some to work, too, since there’s no way the two of us can eat the whole thing before it goes stale.

On our way into AAFES, Bill caught sight of a familiar face.  It turned out to belong to a guy Bill worked with at the Pentagon from 2001-03.  He and his wife attended our wedding in Lexington, Virginia, and we bought them gifts for their adorable infant daughter who is now about 11 years old.  Their son, a toddler when we last saw them, must be an early teen now.  Bill traded business cards with his old friend and I expect we might hang out once or twice.  It was nice to see them again.  You never know who you’ll run into when you’re affiliated with the military.

We de-Christmased our house and, I’m hoping, tomorrow we’ll be able to start planning a quick getaway for MLK weekend so I can write about something other than life in Germany.  I am more than ready to travel so I can write more on my travel blog.

No pictures today…  but you can bet there will be more soon.

Our big Virginia trip, part five– old friends!

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I was really looking forward to Saturday because I had a “date” with two old college friends.  In 1994, I graduated from what is now Longwood University (in our day, it was Longwood College).  I hadn’t seen my friends Donna and Joann since those days in Farmville, though Facebook had kept us in touch somewhat.

Donna, Joann, and I were all English majors.  Joann was Donna’s “big sister” in their sorority.  I was Donna’s big sister in our honorary music fraternity.  Donna was one of the first people I met freshman year, back in 1990.  If I recall correctly, we met while waiting in line to shop at the bookstore.  There was no Amazon.com back in the those days.  Donna was later my suite mate during our sophomore year.

I met Joann in a British lit class.  We both had Dr. Massie Stinson, one of my favorite Longwood profs.  In his very soft, southern drawl, he taught us about romantic British literature as we read The Mayor of Casterbridge and works by Tennyson, Keats, and Shelley.  I didn’t know it back then, but Joann is from Lexington, Virginia, which is very close to where both of my parents grew up.  It’s also where Bill and I got married.

So we made a date at Macado’s for noon on Saturday.  Macado’s also has a location in Farmville, as all Longwood students know.  In our day, it was pretty much the only game in town for a fun bite to eat.  I’m sure that’s changed by now.  I actually had a long standing grudge against Macado’s for many years, but I figured it would be fitting to go there last weekend.

Donna came with her husband and adorable 11 year old daughter in tow.  I could see Donna’s husband was relieved that I brought Bill with me so he’d have a guy to talk to.  Joann is single.  Our party of six was lively as we enjoyed sandwiches and I ordered what used to be my favorite thing to eat when I was in college, macaroni and cheese.  It wasn’t quite as good as I remembered it, though it was pretty close.

Old Longwood friends!

 

Mac and cheese…  Mine is better.

 

While we were hanging out, I had the opportunity to confront Donna’s daughter, whom I’d heard had unofficially dubbed me “the cusser”.  Apparently, I swear too much on Facebook.  When I asked her about it, she blushed bright red… almost enough to match her bright red hair!  It was super cute!  I was impressed by how well behaved she was, hanging out with all the adults who were temporarily regressing back to their early 20s.

After lunch, we walked around Lexington and visited Celtic Tides, an Irish store that I’ve given a lot of business over the years.  I bought a plaque for my office that reminds me of my Celtic boozy genes.  We went to another store called Pumpkinseeds, which is where I bought two pairs of earrings I don’t really need.  For some reason, if I like something and in comes in different colors, I have to buy two.  Must be my Gemini “twin” thing.

Obviously, I had something important to say…

We finally ended up in a small park where the town Christmas tree was all lit.  One of my cousin’s wives found us there and reminded me that my Aunt Nancy was celebrating her 80th birthday in the form of a cocktail party.  I had forgotten all about it…  Actually, no one ever gave me the details and I wasn’t sure where she lived.  But as it was getting dark, we decided to part ways after a very fun five hour visit.

A shot of the movie theater in Lexington.

We stopped by the homeplace to see if anyone was around.  No one was, so we ate our leftovers from Macado’s and then went back to the inn for our last night there.  I decided to turn in early, since I knew Sunday and Monday were going to be big travel days.

I hope it won’t be another 20 years before I see these two ladies again.  But since I doubt my family will ever totally leave Rockbridge County, I’m sure we can work out another reunion sooner rather than later.