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A Christmas treat at Villa Im Tal…

I know I have at least one reader out there in Internet Land who likes it when Bill and I go out to eat. There was a time not so long ago when that was a pretty regular occurrence for us. Unfortunately, COVID-19 and Arran’s sudden regression to puppy adolescent behavior have curtailed our fun in recent weeks. He’s been breaking into the basement, getting into anything remotely resembling food. It got so bad that I ordered a new baby gate last week and it arrived the other day. It’s about four feet tall, I think.

Bill installed the new gate and beagle proofed as much as he could today, as we had a 1:00 appointment to visit one of our favorite restaurants, Villa Im Tal, a beautiful restaurant in a wooded area on the outskirts of Wiesbaden. We’ve been there many times, but I think our most recent visit was last spring. When I saw that they had a special Christmas menu available, I decided to ask Bill if he was up for it. Naturally, he was.

The special menu was four courses. Everybody got the same thing, except for the main course. There was one vegetarian selection, or a choice of roast beef, sea bass, or roasted duck. The duck was the most interesting for me, while Bill went with the roast beef. We ordered and paid for the food a few days ahead of time, to help out the chefs in their planning. However, once we got to the restaurant, we still had to tell our waitress what we wanted.

The food and service were, as usual, superb. We started with two glasses of white champagne, fresh bread with Spundekäs (a local mild cheese spread), then a beautiful sashimi salmon salad, with watercress, pomegranate seeds, turnips, and a honey mustard vinaigrette. Next came my favorite course, a delightful langoustine soup, with chili peppers, ginger, tomatoes, and croutons. That soup was so delicious! I would have gone there just for that course! It was a very comforting bisque that practically burst with flavor.

Next came our main dishes– Bill’s roast beef came with mushrooms and a barley risotto, and my duck included a potato knodel and spiced cranberries and red cabbage. Bill said the roast beef was excellent. I didn’t try it, because of the mushrooms. I did really enjoy the duck, though, which came with a savory gravy. We paired the entrees with a lovely Spatburgunder from Rheinland-Pfalz. Finally, for dessert, we had a Blood Orange Papaya Salad with mandarin sorbet, and white chocolate.

There were a lot of people in the restaurant, as well as a well behaved poodle who charmed a toddler girl. She put on quite a show as she came over to pet the friendly black dog. While we were enjoying our meal, I started telling Bill about how, the first time I visited Florence in 1997, I was with friends and ordered a steak. The waiter neglected to charge me for it. I called it to his attention, and he seemed ready to defend the prices. He was definitely surprised and very relieved when I let him know that he forgot to charge me for my dinner.

The same thing happened to Bill and I one time when we were dining at The Occidental in Washington, DC, years ago. The waiter was very grateful that we pointed out the mistake, commenting that we saved him a lot of paperwork. Wouldn’t you know it, the same thing happened tonight! The waitress forgot to charge us for our bottle of red wine! She was pretty happy when Bill reminded her that we’d had it.

Villa Im Tal is a nice restaurant, but it’s also child friendly. This dinner offered a kids’ menu, and I’m pretty sure they have one on their regular menu, too. But although it’s family ready, it’s also a very nice place to eat. The food and service are always outstanding. I always appreciate the friendly and professional staff members, many of whom speak English, and the beautiful woodsy setting, near a large riding facility that makes me miss owning a horse.

We prepaid for the food, which was 88 euros per person. I think the bill for the wine and sparkling water was another 100 euros, plus Bill threw in some euro cash as a tip. It was worth every euro cent, as Villa Im Tal is always a pleasure. Below are some photos from our delightful date…

When we got home, at about 3:45pm, Arran and Noyzi were very excited. And we were excited to find that the only casualty from our absence was some newspaper that Arran shredded. I threw it in the fireplace, possibly for a fire tonight. I know we’ll be back to Villa Im Tal. It’s definitely a favorite.

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holidays

Mr. Bill and I celebrate 20 years of marriage… Part three

Arran’s medications make him hungry. They also make him need to go potty more often than usual. Consequently, on all three nights of our stay, Bill got up in the wee hours of the morning to take him and Noyzi out for walks. Then, he’d come back to bed, and try to go back to sleep. The apartment where we stayed was easy to keep dark, so on Thursday, we slept until 8:00 AM. We almost never do that anymore!

Our morning habit, whenever we visit France, is to get baked goodies from the patisseries. I am a big fan of FRENCH croissants– and yes, they are different to me than the ones we can get in Germany. Kugelhopfs are also very popular and prevalent in Alsace, as well as in parts of Germany and Austria. Personally, I can take or leave the Kugelhopfs, although I will admit to thinking they look very pretty. They usually include raisins and almonds, though, and I generally prefer my baked goods without fruit and nuts. One can also score delightful Pain au chocolat– flaky pastries filled with semi sweet chocolate– which are very decadent. I love chocolate, but again, the one must do French breakfast treat for me is the lowly croissant.

Bill went to one of the nearby patisseries and brought back the usual, then scrambled some eggs. We bought some clementine juice, ham, and cheese, at the local Carrefour grocery store, located very conveniently about a five minute walk from our gite. Once again, I was marveling at how flaky and delicious the croissants were, and kind of wishing we had more of them. But the last thing I need is a plentiful supply of baked goods!

After breakfast, we all took a walk around Ribeauville. It’s a very pretty little village, not unlike other pretty villages in Alsace. Riquewihr, which is only two miles from Ribeauville, is considered one of the most beautiful villages in France. However, I prefer Ribeauville, because it feels more lived in to me. It’s obvious there are a lot of locals in Ribeauville, even though it’s a tourist destination. Riquewihr feels a little more touristy to me, and it has a lot more tourist oriented businesses. For that reason, I like to stay in Ribeauville, and visit Riquewihr and some of the other, more famous towns, like Kaysersberg, which is where Anthony Bourdain, sadly, took his life in June 2018. Of course, I also like Ribeauville, because we know Yannick, and he’s very cool with our dogs.

I took lots of pictures of the town, as usual, because even though we’ve been to Ribeauville so many times, it’s always a pretty town. We usually go there in the winter, rather than the fall. We’ve only managed one visit in the late spring, when everything is open, but crowded. Once the dogs were sufficiently exercised, we took them back to the gite and went looking for lunch.

As I mentioned before, only a few restaurants were open during our visit. The ones that were open had plenty of business. We were wanting to go to a little lunch spot that was once called Chez Martine, but now has new owners and a different name. Schaal’É Sucré offers a menu that is very similar to that of what Chez Martine used to have, only now it’s open later and is run by men instead of women. On Thursday, it was clear that it was every bit as popular as its predecessor was, as the dining room was completely full when we stuck our heads in, looking for a bite.

We ended up eating at Caveau de L’Ami Fritz, a restaurant that is affiliated with the hotel of the same name. We have eaten at L’Ami Fritz before, and I remembered that the dining room is in a very charming “cave”. I also remembered liking what I had there the first time we tried it. The dining room was full of people when we arrived, but everyone looked very happy. Bill and I sat down and enjoyed some local specialties.

I had Quiche Lorraine, while Bill went for pork and Baeckaoffa, basically cheesy potato casserole made with Munster. The quiche was delicious, although it was made with a slightly “musty” cheese. I am very particular about cheese, and this one just bordered on “offensive” to me. Still, I managed to eat the whole thing, anyway.

We also enjoyed a local Riesling. Bill had asked for a 28 euro bottle, but when we got the bill, it turned out they had given us a 55 euro selection. Oh well. I suppose he could have complained, but we enjoyed the wine and we could afford it. And of course, we had dessert, too… Chocolate mousse for me, and a myrtle tart for Bill. He had leftovers from the Baeckaoffa, so we had that packed up and brought it to the apartment. I probably should have done the same with the mousse. It was a very generous portion.

By the time we were finished with lunch, it was early afternoon and a bit drizzly. I decided to have a rest and try to read more of my latest book. Naturally, that led to a two hour nap. 😉

Our lunch was so filling that we ended up staying in for the night, eating a light snack at dinner time and, of course, enjoying more wine. It’s a lovely thing to go to France to recharge! I liked the French weather lady’s dress, too. I also notice the fine for not cleaning up after your dog has gone up a bit.

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holidays

Mr. Bill and I celebrate 20 years of marriage… Part two

On Wednesday afternoon, Bill and I loaded up the car with a couple of small bags and lots of supplies for our two dogs, Noyzi and Arran. Both dogs were excited at first, because they enjoy going places. But then Arran got decidedly sullen. I could see that he was upset, because he noticed Noyzi was in the car with us, and probably figured we would be taking him to the Hundepension. There was a time when Arran didn’t mind being boarded. Bill and I have noticed that lately, he’s a lot more interested in hanging out with us. So, he looked pretty sad at the beginning of our trip. Depressed, even. Noyzi, on the other hand, was barking and carrying on. He likes car rides, and loves going to the Hundepension. Last time we took them there, Noyzi actually banged on the gate to be let in!

I noticed that Arran’s countenance was decidedly less dour when he realized we weren’t on the familiar road to the Hundepension. He knew that he was going on a trip with us, something he and Noyzi’s predecessor, Zane, used to do fairly regularly. Zane was a lot smaller than Noyzi is, so it was easier to take them on trips. We could even get the two of them in my Mini Cooper. Noyzi won’t fit in my Mini by himself, let alone with Arran. He takes up the entire back of our Volvo. So traveling with the dogs is more challenging than it used to be, and, for that reason, we don’t do it as often.

When we got to Ribeauville, Arran knew EXACTLY where we were, even though it had been about 4.5 years since his last visit. We used to go to Ribeauville fairly often, but we didn’t bring Arran on our last visit, back in January 2020 (before we had Noyzi), because we had Bill’s mom with us, and we wanted to be free to take her to different places without worrying about Arran making a fuss. I watched in amusement as Arran pulled Bill toward the Riesling Gite, where we always try to stay when we visit Ribeauville. I had to remind myself that it was our 20th anniversary, as I played Keb’ Mo’s song, “France”.

This could be our theme song when we go to France…

Noyzi had never been to France before, so he was a bit bowled over by everything. I let our host, Yannick, know that we had arrived, and he said he’d be coming over in about an hour. We set up in the apartment, and fed the dogs, as it was time for them to eat. Yannick came over with treats, which impressed both dogs. He told us that he loves dogs, but his wife doesn’t like them because their hair gets all over everything. I can see why that would be annoying, but I don’t think I could be married to someone who didn’t let me have a dog. 😉 They are the best company, as far as I’m concerned.

After Yannick left, Bill and I went looking for dinner. We ended up at a restaurant we had never tried before. The Cheval Noir is at the edge of the main drag, and while the outside of it is very cute and quaint, it has a decidedly unromantic ambiance. We ate there because there were only a few restaurants open in Ribeauville, as many places closed in preparation for the upcoming Christmas market. They had space for us, although there were lots of people dining there on Wednesday night who had made reservations. We sat in a corner, where we perused the very Alsatian menu. They had all of the usual stuff one finds in Alsace– Choucroute Garni, pork knuckles, potatoes with Munster cheese, and faux filets. Alsatian food is a lot like German food, just with a French accent. I ended up ordering one of the specials, a salmon fillet with Beurre Blanc sauce and roasted potatoes. Bill had a faux fillet with Munster sauce and roasted potatoes. Both dishes came with side salads.

We ordered a bottle of local wine, giggling that it was our 20th anniversary. The waitress, who spoke English, promptly wished us a “happy birthday”, which only made me giggle more. The food was good, but very basic stuff one can find at a lot of the local places. It wasn’t the kind of special dinner I expected to have on our 20th anniversary, but I found that I wasn’t upset or disappointed about it. Maybe that was the point. We’ve had a pretty wonderful 20 years, with many special evenings and occasions. It somehow made sense to have a somewhat run of the mill 20th anniversary. At least we were together, which is more than I could say about our 19th anniversary, which Bill spent alone in Poland.

We did opt for dessert, which was also nothing special. We’re big on desserts, as one can tell just by looking at us. I had profiteroles, which are ice cream filled pastries with chocolate sauce. Bill went with, torche aux marrons, a local speciality we never saw before, but saw twice on this trip. Basically, it’s a dessert that is support to look like a stork’s nest, as storks are very prevalent in Alsace. Or maybe it looks like a torch. Nearby Colmar is the birthplace of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the artist who created the Statue of Liberty.

Torche aux marrons consists of meringues topped with chestnut cream squeezed out as if through a grinder. Bill said it was interesting, but he probably wouldn’t order it again. I enjoyed the profiteroles. I think we spent about 70 euros, which is pretty reasonable.

When we got back to the gite, we found that Arran had raided the trash can. Yannick’s treats came in packages, which we threw in the trash and forgot to lock in the bathroom. We cleaned up the mess and went to bed, as we were both tired. Of course, Arran needed potty breaks and snacks in the night. Below are some photos from our first night. As you can see, 20 years of marriage leaves a mark on the ol’ ring finger.

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Frankfurt, Hessen, Sundays

Our first, but not last, visit to Bad Homburg!

Some time ago, I started following a Facebook group dedicated to sharing pictures of Hessen and day trip ideas. People were sharing photos that reminded me of how much fun Bill and I used to have pre-COVID, visiting different places, eating in restaurants, and enjoying our weekends. Bad Homburg, which is a spa town just north of Frankfurt, is about a half hour drive for us. People in the Hessen Facebook group often share pictures of it, making me think it was a place I wanted to see.

Today was the perfect day for a visit, as we had beautiful, sunny weather, and pleasant temperatures. So, off we went this afternoon, after Bill had confirmed there were restaurants that didn’t take a pause after lunch. As usual, we got a late start that put us at our destination after prime lunch hours. He also found a well-rated parking garage. This was important, as when he arrived at the garage, he found it pretty hard to maneuver our SUV into a spot without parking over the line! He tried several spots before he finally got the car in without encroaching. I shudder to think about the poorly rated garages in Bad Homburg!

Just outside of the garage, I could tell we were in for a treat. Just coming into the city, you pass imposing looking tower gates. I also noticed that the Christmas market stalls were already going up, and they were all over town! I bet this will be a great destination when the markets open for the holiday season! I loved the tower on the Schloss grounds, and the saying at the gate “Walk in like you mean it.” I also loved the awesome cedar tree outside the gate. This castle dates from the 12th century, although all but the keep were demolished by Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg. The castle that exists today was built in the 1680s.

First, we walked up to the Schloss, which offered beautiful views and finally, some fall foliage, which I feel like I’ve missed since summer ended. Not only did I get some pretty photos, I also got a chance to use the bathroom, and it was FREE! That was lucky! Below are some photos from around the Schloss. We could have toured it if we’d wanted to, but we were short on time and needed lunch.

After the Schloss, we visited a couple of churches– Erlöserkirche, a Protestant church that dates from 1908, and the Church of St. Mary, a Catholic church. Both were beautiful in their own rights, but I also loved the gay friendly vibe at the Catholic church. I liked how the inside of the Protestant church glittered as if it was studded with gold. The Catholic church was a little more modern looking, but still very welcoming and comfortable, with the smell of incense in the air. The town itself, especially near the churches, reminded me a lot of France.

Bill lit a candle for his father, and then we made our way to a restaurant called Pane e Vino, an Italian place with a full menu and bar, and no afternoon pause! I had grilled salmon with potatoes and spinach, while Bill had veal scallopini with potatoes and pea pods. We washed it down with Primitivo and San Pellegrino, and enjoyed the convivial mood of the place, then finished with a glass of Merlot for me, and an espresso for Bill. We also had complimentary limoncellos as digestives! Check out the cool mural on the ceiling in the restaurant! Lunch came to about 65 euros, before the tip, but we had a couple of the pricier dishes.