Champagne Bucket trips, holidays

Anniversary number 21 will potentially be celebrated in…

Regular readers might have noticed that I didn’t write anything in the travel blog yesterday or Saturday. It was mainly because we didn’t do anything noteworthy until last night, when I reminded Bill that he’d wanted to take an anniversary trip in November.

Our anniversary is November 16th, and this year, we wanted to do something exciting. I would have wanted to do something special for our 20th anniversary, but our sweet Arran dog was dying of cancer and we didn’t want to board him. So we ended up taking him and Noyzi with us on a trip to our beloved Ribeauville, France, a beautiful town not too far away that is different enough to be a getaway. We love Alsace, but we’ve been there so many times… This year, we definitely wanted to do something different.

Bill sent an email to our regular boarding facility and confirmed that they had space for Noyzi. Then I got out our trusty champagne bucket, which we often use when we want a little fateful help choosing a place to vacation. I went through the paper slips from past drawings, removing any that we’ve already done or will soon do, and any of those that would not be good for a visit in November. Then I had Bill draw from the bucket…

Bill does the honors…

And the winner was…

ARMENIA!!! And Georgia… but I don’t know if we’ll make Georgia on this proposed trip, because I think we’d need more than the week we’ll probably have for this journey.

Now… it’s not yet engraved in stone that we’ll be going to Armenia. Bill has to get the days off, first. And then I have to figure out the logistics of the trip. Also, I’m still a bit worried about my gallbladder exploding. But Armenia did finally win a drawing, and it’s time we visited. It would be special and different. Bill can finally see where I lived for twenty-seven crazy months of my young life, and if he likes it, we can come back and see the regions.

So, today I will be researching places to go, flights, and the rest…

I haven’t been to Armenia since I left in August 1997. It’s changed a lot! A lot of street names have changed; there’s been a lot of construction and demolition; and in all, it looks like a much nicer place. It also looks a hell of a lot more expensive than it was back in the 90s. I found one luxury hotel that is charging about 400 euros per night. Consider that my first apartment in Yerevan was $50 a month. My second was an unheard of $100. No Armenian would have paid as much for either place, but I got the American rate. šŸ˜‰

Anyway… wish me luck.

Below are a few photos from this week. See what I mean? Not much has been going on. Bill was away, and I had a cold. At least there are still some pretty flowers.

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anecdotes

We got bad service at a wine shop in France. Somehow, it’s all our fault…

Today’s post is going to be different than usual. It might even be a bit controversial. I’ve decided to write about it here, instead of on my main blog, because it has to do with travel and international relations. And it also complements a piece I wrote for my main blog this morning. So here goes…

Last month, I wrote about the trip Bill and I took to Ribeauville, France for our 20th wedding anniversary. It was our sixth visit to Ribeauville, a town that has become one of our favorite places to visit when we need a break from Germany. This time, we went there because we wanted to go somewhere dog friendly to celebrate our anniversary. Because Arran has been undergoing chemotherapy, and Noyzi had never been on a trip before, we thought it would be best to go somewhere we knew could accommodate them.

Although we have visited Ribeauville many times, I didn’t realize that a lot of businesses would be closed during our November visit. I would have expected a lot of closures during the winter season. But when we got there, our host, Yannick, explained that a lot of businesses shut down for a rest just before the Christmas season, because of the surge in business when people descend on the village to shop the markets. Consequently, the tourist friendly town was pretty dead during our visit. Only a few restaurants were open, and not all of the retail establishments were doing business.

In my blog series about our most recent trip to Ribeauville, I wrote about an unfortunate experience we had at a wine shop in Ribeauville. I didn’t go into great detail about it in the blog post, because overall, we had a good time. However, Bill and I did submit Google reviews about the place where we got bad service. We would not have bothered to do that if the shopkeeper had given us the right wine, but the unfriendliness coupled with incompetence invited comment. Some people might question our decision to complain about our experience on the Internet. I would invite the naysayers to consider the value of people sharing their opinions about products and services.

The whole reason Google offers people the chance to leave reviews is so that others might be able to choose the most appropriate places to spend their money. I almost always use reviews when I decide to book places to stay overnight. Sometimes I read restaurant reviews before I’ll book a table. I look for reviews of doctors, veterinarians, and lawyers, too, because I don’t want to waste time or money on something that will be inappropriate or disappointing.

Think about shopping at Amazon. Most of us read reviews before we make purchases, right? It helps one decide between two similar products and maybe avoid bad experiences… or increase the odds of having a really good experience. It also gives businesses the chance to do some quality control, if they are so inclined. As much as business people don’t want to hear about something going wrong, they can’t fix problems if they don’t know they exist. And in the case of the wine shop we reviewed, we couldn’t have complained in person, even if we’d wanted to, because the salesperson only spoke French, and Bill and I can’t speak French.

So, Bill wrote about how, after lunch on a cold, rainy afternoon in Ribeauville, we decided we wanted to buy some wine to take home with us. We were actually hoping to get the chance to do a tasting. Ribeauville has a lot of places where it’s possible to taste wines before buying them, and we hoped we’d find such an outlet that offered tastings when we were wine shopping. Unfortunately, on that particular day, most of the winesellers were closed, either because it was too early in the day, or because they had closed before commencing the Christmas markets. We decided we just wanted to buy the wine and hole up in the apartment, since the weather was so yucky and the dogs were waiting for us.

We saw that this one wine shop was open. The lights were on; the door was open; it was a quaint looking place. Bill had successfully shopped there before, so we had no reason to think we’d have a bad experience there. We walked in and saw there was a woman behind the counter. It was apparently her job to sell wine. She was giving off unwelcoming vibes, and looked quite annoyed that we’d come into her shop. In retrospect, we probably should have just walked out. But we wanted to buy Alsatian wine, and were planning to leave the next morning. So we approached her.

Bill asked her if she spoke English or German. Her response was a flat “no.” Okay… well, it’s France, so we don’t necessarily expect that she speaks any language other than French. She had a menu available. We spotted a package we wanted. It consisted of three Pinot Blancs and three Rieslings. We pointed to that, and I said more than once, “No Gewurztraminer.” Granted, I didn’t say it in French, but “no” means “no” in English and French. So, actually, I probably did say it in French.

The woman packed up the wines in a box. We weren’t able to see which bottles she put in the box before she taped it up. Bill paid for the package we indicated, and we quickly got out of there, because we felt unwelcome. The whole interaction lasted maybe five minutes.

When we got home, we found three bottles of Gewurztraminer instead of the Riesling we wanted. I was immediately annoyed, because not only were we treated very rudely, but we also didn’t get what we ordered. So Bill and I wrote reviews of the shop on Google, noticing that we weren’t the only people who got bad service at that particular establishment. However, we appeared to be the only Americans who had reviewed their shop. Everyone else was evidently either from France or Germany.

Last night, Bill saw that he got a response from the wine shop about the review he wrote. The woman responded in French that she was “very sorry” about her “attitude” if she was the one to whom we were referring. And she added that it was “unfortunate” that we got bottles of Gewurztraminer instead of Riesling, since Gewurztraminer is “more expensive”. Her implication seems to be that we should be grateful that we got more expensive wines when we paid for cheaper wines.

I was a bit taken aback by the woman’s response. But here are my four takeaways from this experience.

  1. This woman doesn’t care about giving people what they ordered.
  2. I don’t know if she owns the shop or is just an employee, but apparently she doesn’t care that she cost the business money because she gave us the wrong wines.
  3. She thinks that things that cost more are automatically better.
  4. She doesn’t realize that Riesling and Gewurztraminer are different wines and taste different.

I will admit that I am not an expert on Gewurztraminer, but I have never had one that I’ve enjoyed. Perhaps if the shop had offered tastings, the saleslady could have convinced us that Gewurztraminer was the better choice. She wouldn’t have even needed to speak English or German to do that. Bill and I have done tastings at other vintners in France in which all the proprietor did was pour sips of wine for us and let us decide if we wanted to purchase it. But her shop didn’t offer tastings, which is certainly fair enough.

But, since they didn’t offer tastings, and I know I like Rieslings and haven’t historically liked Gewurztraminers, I ordered Rieslings– not Gewurztraminers. It doesn’t make a happy damn to me that Gewurztraminers cost more than Rieslings do. It’s not worth anything to me if I don’t want to drink it. And while I don’t necessarily assume that the customer is always right, I do think people should get what they ask for, and pay for, or something that comes reasonably close if what they want isn’t available. This morning, when Bill and I were talking about this, he said “I’m sure a pink, diamond encrusted, Mercedes Benz would cost more than our Volvo did. That doesn’t mean I want to drive it.”

I decided to write about this incident on Facebook. I posted about it on my page, and in a wine group I run. I kind of knew in the back of my head that posting about it in the wine group would be risky, since a lot of people in the group are affiliated with the U.S. military, and a lot of people in that community seem to think that no one ever has the right to complain about anything. If you complain, you’re automatically labeled a “karen” (a term I usually refuse to use because I think it’s stupid). Below is what I posted:

That last bit was a reference to an experience Bill and I had in Ribeauville back in May 2018, when we visited a restaurant. I had ordered an entrecote steak. Bill ordered smoked salmon pancakes. The waiter came out with the pancakes and choucroute garni (Alsatian dish with sausages and sauerkraut), which was NOT what I ordered. When I politely pointed that out to the guy, he immediately got really pissed and insisted that I had ordered sausages and sauerkraut. Why would I lie about what I ordered? I didn’t want the choucroute garni, because I don’t like sauerkraut. He took the dish away, then came back and tried to get me to accept it, since it would take time to prepare the steak I ordered. Bill, being the prince of a man that he is, offered to take the choucroute garni. I took the salmon pancakes, since they had been my second choice. Unfortunately, the pancakes were badly scorched.

Am I really a “karen” if I complain about this at a restaurant? Not only is it not what I ordered, but it’s burnt.

The Ribeauville wine shop lady reminded me of the waiter at the Ribeauville restaurant who gave us very bad service and expected me to shut up and color. But… in fairness to the town, everyone else there has been fabulous. That’s why we’ve visited there six times so far!

Anyway, I had a feeling that someone would assume that I brought on my own problems at the wine shop. Sure enough, I was right. Someone responded that I shouldn’t have “expected” the wine shop woman to speak English or German at a shop in France. Where in my post does it say that I expected her to speak another language? I wrote in a matter-of-fact way that the woman didn’t speak German or English. We don’t speak French. There’s no judgment about that. Many people in that region speak German, though, because it’s very close to the German border.

Lots of Europeans speak English. In fact, a lot of people from other parts of Europe speak English to each other even if they don’t come from an English speaking country. English is a very commonly studied second language in many parts of Europe. Say you’re a French person visiting Spain, and you don’t speak Spanish, but you can speak English. You visit a Spanish restaurant and the waiter doesn’t speak French, but does speak English. You can both speak English and get what you need. See? I’ve seen this happen on many occasions.

It’s generally not possible for everyone living in Europe to learn every language, although I have met some impressive people who had seemed to try. It’s not uncommon to meet people in Europe who have mastered four or five tongues, especially among the Romance languages, but they’d still be struggling if they were somewhere in rural Croatia, Latvia, or Poland and the person they were trying to talk to didn’t speak one of the languages they happened to know.

The person in my wine group continued that she had studied French in high school and college, so she has never experienced rude behavior in France. The implication, apparently, is that I’m an “ugly American” and ignorant because I don’t speak French and had the nerve to ask the saleslady if she spoke English or German.

I was pretty irritated by that reaction and response, because I felt it was pretty judgmental. I’ve lived in Germany for ten years of my life. I like living here. Otherwise, I would have gone back to America or somewhere else a long time ago. Moreover, I completely understand the importance of being culturally sensitive. Besides Germany, I’ve also lived in England and Armenia. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia, where I taught English to little kids. And yes, I do speak some Armenian, a language that I’ll bet relatively few Americans have ever learned a word of.

I also understand that it’s important to study foreign language in school. I studied Spanish for six years, stupidly assuming I’d be living in the United States, where more people speak Spanish than French or German. Believe me, if I had known I’d be living in Germany, I would have studied German and/or French. But I didn’t have a crystal ball back in 1985, when I started taking a foreign language course for the first time. I learned the language I thought was most practical. Based on how my life has turned out, I was wrong.

Someone else wrote that maybe the woman misunderstood me because I don’t speak French. She reasoned that her mother is from Greece and sometimes misunderstands accents. But I don’t think that was what happened, because “No Gewurztraminer” is pretty clear in French and English, especially when we also point to the menu and PAY the price for the box we ordered– which the proprietor says is cheaper than the price is for a box with Gewurztraminer.

Why do people feel like they need to play devil’s advocate, even when the other person isn’t even around to be offended. The wine purveyor isn’t in my wine group, after all. I didn’t even mention which shop she runs. I was just sharing an experience. Why can’t people simply have empathy, rather than try to blame the victim?

The saleslady was not only rude to us, but she also made a mistake; then she shamed us for daring to speak out about it. And instead of apologizing for making the mistake, which everybody does sometimes, she responded in a way that indicated that we were right about her disposition. She’s just plain rude, and probably should find a new line of work that makes her happier. I mean, it’s not like she was slammed with people on the day of our visit. We were the only people in her shop, which was legitimately open for business. We made a very simple request. She botched it, and was very unpleasant to boot. Then, when we legitimately complained, she continued to show everyone her ass.

I think that experience warrants a complaint… or even just a comment, so that other people can avoid that experience themselves. I comment about what happened to Americans, and some of them imply that this was my fault. Isn’t that really nice?

Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that I can be extremely annoying sometimes. This was not one of those times. This was a five minute interaction that went terribly awry for some reason, in spite of our best intentions. I simply wanted to write about it. But some people want to make anyone who sounds off a villain, especially if it involves Americans. Oh well.

We donated two of the offending wines to a Thanksgiving celebration. Hopefully, someone will enjoy the “more expensive” wines that we bought in Alsace. And next time we go to Ribeauville, we’ll try one of the other wine purveyors… providing they’re open for business. I probably should give up wine, anyway… and whine. My liver would surely thank me for it.

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Mr. Bill and I celebrate 20 years of marriageā€¦ Part five

When we woke up in Ribeauville on Saturday, November 19th, I looked at Facebook to see if there were any announcements about James Taylor’s show. I didn’t see any emails from the ticketing venue, or on James’s social media. That meant we’d be going home a day early.

I was a little sad to be going, since I really had wanted to go to Riquewihr at least once, if only to get macaroons. Bill didn’t want to go to Riquewihr, because it was in the opposite direction of home, even if it was just two miles. He said he’d go look for the macaroons in Ribeauville. So he went out, picked up more croissants, and FAILED to find the cookies I wanted. Instead, he bought three bags of other cookies.

Maybe I should be ashamed for feeling this way, but I was a little disappointed. What he brought back were not what I wanted. Then it occurred to me that I could probably order the macaroons, which is precisely what I did (they arrived this morning). So I got over my disappointment, and we started packing up to go home. As I was walking the dogs to the car, my hands full of whatever else I could carry, a French woman approached me, speaking rapid fire. I said in English, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak French.”

She nodded and smiled, then backed away. I soon realized what she wanted. It was mid morning and the parking lot was already pretty full. She wanted our parking spot. I saw her lurking in the lot, just waiting for us to move. I always hate it when people do this, even though I understand why they do it. I wasn’t the one driving, and we weren’t quite ready to leave. She finally gave up at some point, after Bill had done a sweep of the Riesling gite, and came back to the car. By then, there were a couple more lurkers, just waiting…

It was probably a half hour later when we were on our way home, after a quick stop at the Daniel Stoffel Chocolatier outlet on the way out of town. Bill went in and picked up some goodies for us, and his daughter’s family.

Our drive home was almost totally uneventful. Arran went to sleep, and Noyzi was a perfect gentleman in the back. Maybe we have finally broken him of his habit of barking in the car. The only strange thing that happened was that, as usual, I witnessed public urination at a rest stop. I vented about that here. Below are a few shots from the drive home. As you can see, Arran was relaxed.

When we got home, our landlord came over to tell us our off kilter dishwasher, which had come off its foundation, wasn’t fixed yet, because the repair guy needed a part. Yesterday, he said the repair guy was sick, but would be able to fix the machine when he was well again. He said we should just be careful using the machine. When I told him we hadn’t been using it, because the dishwasher had given me an error code last time I ran a load, he said if the repair guy couldn’t figure it out, he’d just get us a new one. I am still stunned by how different he is, compared to our former landlady. They are like night and day!

I did the requisite load of laundry and a few other chores, then we got ready for the show in Frankfurt. We had to pick up our tickets at the box office, I guess to thwart scalpers. I pictured a long line of people, but when we arrived at the Jahrhunderthalle, we were pleasantly surprised by the ease of parking, the short distance to the venue, and the short line to get our tickets. Then we enjoyed some libations while we waited for the doors to open.

James Taylor had a stripped down band for this show. There was no keyboard player, and no opening act. We had second row seats, which was a first for me. I saw my first James Taylor concert in 1990. In fact, that show, when I was almost 18, was my very first “rock” show– if you could call it that. I remember I went with my parents and one of my sisters, and I paid $18.50 for nosebleed seats.

For this show, I paid 82,50 euros which I thought was very reasonable to see a guy who has won 6 Grammys and spent more than 50 years enchanting people all over the world with his wonderful guitar playing and angelic voice. While we waited for the show to start, I noticed the music that was playing. I recognized songs from albums by James’s daughter, Sally, as well as backup singers Kate Markowitz and Andrea Zonn. I downloaded Kate’s album from the concert hall. I already had Andrea’s.

This was the fourth time I’d seen James Taylor play, but there was a difference between this show and the others. For one thing, there weren’t drunken, idiot women standing in front of us, dancing and shrieking the whole time. There were no huge screens showing close ups of James and his band. And while he forgot a few words, he still played and sang beautifully. I was charmed by his efforts to speak German to the crowd, as well as the encouraging message he had for anyone “in recovery” from drug and alcohol addiction, as he has been since the mid 80s.

James told us some of the stories behind some of the songs he performed, including “That’s Why I’m Here”, from his 1985 album by the same name. I remember that he had dedicated that album to Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Imagine going to an A.A. meeting and seeing James Taylor there! But anyway, “That’s Why I’m Here” was a song he wrote in memory of his friend John Belushi, who died of an overdose in 1982. James was a pretty serious addict back in the day. He’s still addicted, of course, but no longer indulges. Before he started singing, he said, “If you like getting fucked up, that’s okay. I just can’t handle it myself anymore!” Everybody laughed.

At the beginning of the evening, I thought James looked a little pale, perhaps because he’d had COVID. But as the show went on, he was more and more animated, at times jumping around the stage. I enjoyed watching him interact with his band, most of whom had been with him for many years. Dorian Holley was the only one on stage I had not seen with James before. I suspect he’s the replacement for Arnold McCuller, James’s longtime backup singer who just retired from life on the road. I enjoyed Dorian’s singing. He has quite an impressive resume. James listed the people Holley’s sung with, which includes the late Michael Jackson. That actually surprised me, because he didn’t look old enough to be one of Jackson’s backup singers… but then, Michael was well known for enjoying and employing young performers for his shows.

James’s long time guitarist, Michael Landau, was well within view of us on the right side of the stage. He stood up and flexed his legs, I smiled at him, and he smiled back. That was kind of a cool moment. One thing I love about European concerts is that I seem to have a much easier time scoring good seats here. Another thing I love about European shows is that most people don’t act stupid at them… at least not at the shows Bill and I attend. And you can get a beer or a glass of wine without mortgaging your house.

At one point, James was introducing a song from his 1971 album, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon. A man in the audience held up a vinyl copy, which James immediately offered to sign and bite. The guy rushed up to the stage with his album and presented it to James, but then they needed to find a pen. Another guy came up and said he had something that had been signed by a bunch of famous singers, including Johnny Cash. He requested an autograph, which James was happy to oblige. In fact, at the break, I ran out to go to the restroom, and when I came back, James was still on stage, signing autographs and shaking hands. I was very impressed. I wondered if he needed to pee as badly as I did! It struck me as a very humble and generous gesture toward his loyal fans.

I decided not to try to get an autograph myself. I would be honored to have James’s signature, of course, but autographs don’t really mean that much to me. Earlier in the show, someone yelled out that his dad loved James. James made a comment reminiscent of what he said on his Live album from 1993. Basically, he reminded the guy that they don’t know each other. It made me think how strange it must be for performers to be “loved” by people who don’t know them. James himself reminded us that he is a deeply flawed person, as we all are… but what impresses me about James Taylor is that he’s clearly worked very hard to become much better. He’s clearly not the same person he was in the 70s or early 80s.

At the end of the show, of course there were encores… and James and his band encouraged people to get up and come close to the stage. It was one of the most intimate concert experiences I’ve ever had. I think the only one who topped that was James’s somewhat less famous brother, Livingston, who puts on a FABULOUS live show and is extremely approachable. I remember seeing Liv in 2003 at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, a couple of months after I saw James at Wolf Trap in Bristow, Virginia. James’s show was MUCH bigger than Liv’s was, and we had those drunk women in front of us, careening around sloppily as they slurred the lyrics of James’s best songs. I remember thinking Livingston’s show was so much better, if only because there weren’t any obnoxious drunks there. But Liv also engaged the audience and was thoroughly entertaining. This most recent show by James, while slightly pared down, was akin to Liv’s show, only it was in a much larger, yet still intimate, venue.

In any case, we obviously had a wonderful time! I’m so glad we went. It was the perfect ending to our 20th anniversary weekend. And yes, even though James will be 75 years old in March, he’s still a hell of a great performer. I think the money we spent on this show, even with its delays, was well worth euro cent.

Dorian and Kate dance!

Getting out of the Jahrhunderthalle was very easy. Bill was happy about that. But then we hit a Stau, so Bill went through Hofheim to get us home. And when we got home, we were confronted by a big mess caused by Arran. He got into the basement and raided our dry goods, and peed and pooped on my rug. Fortunately, he was no worse for wear. We have thoroughly dog proofed down there, as we’re going to someone’s house for Thanksgiving dinner today. Noyzi had nothing to do with the raid. He was tucked in bed when we got home. He’s very classy for a street dog.

Well, that about does it for this series. It wasn’t a super exciting trip, but we had a good time… and it was great to have Arran and Noyzi with us. I’m so grateful to be here on many levels, and for so many reasons. I’m glad James Taylor is still with us, too. And before I forget, below are a couple of clips from the show.

The magical ending.
Auf Wiedersehen…
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Mr. Bill and I celebrate 20 years of marriageā€¦ Part four

I really had good intentions for getting away on Friday. I thought maybe we’d go to Riquewihr, if only so we could buy some macaroons. The wine route in Alsace is just so beautiful, and even though we’ve done it so many times, it never gets old. But the weather was kind of drizzly, off and on. We’d have sun for awhile, then it would start raining. The dogs were pretty good. We really only heard them throwing a fit once, and we waited about a minute before they shut up.

One of Bill’s co-workers was hoping for a photo or video of Bill tasting cheeses. Ribeauville actually has a wine and cheese bar, and it was open during our stay. However, it was only open for takeaway; the “bar” part was closed. Bill went there and brought home a few stinky selections, which he videoed himself tasting for his daughter, whom he’s just now getting to know again after many years of separation. That’s a long story, of course, which can easily be found in my main blog.

Speaking of Bill’s daughter… she is the mother of three very young children. I saw a shop with some cute stuffed toy storks. Alsace and parts of Germany are pretty well-known for the population of storks that live there. Their huge nests are easy to find on top of buildings. The locals even make it easy for the birds to nest. I made a note of the shop and, after lunch, we went there and picked up some toys for Bill’s grandchildren, as well as a a gnome for our own house.

For breakfast on Friday, Bill went to a different patisserie– one with a medieval theme. He picked up more croissants and an artisanal loaf of bread that he said tasted of sourdough. I don’t like sourdough much, so I left him to it.

We took another walk around the town, thinking maybe we’d taste wines at Louis Sipp, which has a couple of tasting rooms… but they weren’t open when we were in the mood. So we explored some other parts of town– areas we had never been to on previous trips. Ribeauville seems like a really small town, but there’s actually a lot to it besides the charming main drag. I love the way the village looks, and found myself taking many pictures. But I don’t think I’d want to live there, because everyone is kind of packed in. I don’t like sharing walls with people, and I enjoy having a yard. It’s nice to visit such a quaint place, though, if only to remind me of how much we enjoy our current “mansion” in Wiesbaden.

We had lunch at Schaal E’ Sucre, the cute little restaurant we had tried to get into on Thursday. It was crowded again on Friday, but there was a table for two open. There was one waiter working the entire room. He was very friendly and smiley, and he spoke English, which was nice. This little eatery has a very simple menu, with salads, pasta dishes, quiches, sandwiches, and soups. I was torn between the bacon and cheese open sandwich and another Quiche Lorraine. I decided to have the quiche, just so I could compare it to the previous day’s. I could probably eat quiche every day… although that wouldn’t be the smartest thing to do.

The quiche was a bit browner than the quiche I had at L’Ami Fritz. However, it definitely had more of a “professional” pastry look, like it was made by a pastry chef, rather than someone’s mama. It had a different flavor, too. I didn’t taste the “musty” cheese. I liked both quiches for different reasons. I preferred the cheese and the look of the quiche at Schaal E’ Sucre, but I liked the texture and bacon in the quiche from L’Ami Fritz. Bill ended up getting the bacon and cheese sandwich, which was also delicious! I could tell he had trouble finishing it, as it also came with a big salad, like my quiche did. We never even touched the bread, although we did enjoy an interesting Riesling/Muscat blended white wine.

Naturally, we were talked into having Quetsch (plum) tart, with chantilly (whipped cream). I noticed that Schaal E’ Sucre also offered a wide variety of waffles. We definitely left there satisfied, and although I loved that place when it was Chez Martine, I think it’s in good hands, now. When we left the restaurant, it was raining.

We decided to stop by a wine shop to get some vino for home. Sadly, that was not a good shopping experience. There was a lone woman running the shop, and she wore a sour expression on her face. Bill asked if she spoke English or German. She responded with a flat “No.” Okay, fine. I distinctly said, more than once, “No Gewurztraminer”. That should be translatable in French. She also had a list of available wine packages. We pointed to one that consisted of Rieslings and Pinot Blancs. She packed a box for us and pretty much didn’t so much as say “kiss my ass” to us as we left.

When we got home the next day, and unpacked the box, we found three bottles of Gewurztraminer. I guess that will teach us to trust a salesperson with a sour disposition to pack wines for us before we check labels. Fortunately, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and we’ve been invited to someone else’s house. Guess we’ll bring over some wine for them. šŸ˜‰ And yes, Bill did tell his friend/co-worker that we got the wrong wine, and he was fine with us bringing the Alsatian Gewurztraminer. Someone at the party will surely enjoy sweet French wine.

Once again, we were too full for dinner, so went hung out with the dogs as I watched James Taylor’s Facebook page to see if the show would still be going on in Frankfurt Saturday night. Yes, it was a very “chill” break in Alsace, and we could have done more with our time, but really, it was just nice to be with Bill and the dogs, enjoying a different country. And, even though we had a disappointing experience with the wine lady, Ribeauville is still so beautiful…

I don’t think we’ll ever get tired of Ribeauville.

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holidays

Mr. Bill and I celebrate 20 years of marriageā€¦ 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’Ɖ SucrĆ© 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. šŸ˜‰

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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Mr. Bill and I celebrate 20 years of marriageā€¦ 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. šŸ˜‰ 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 FrĆ©dĆ©ric 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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holidays

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

I’ve been looking forward to November 16, 2022 for twenty years. That’s the day Bill and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. As some readers already know, I am Bill’s second wife. On some levels, I would say he and I have had a fairly easy time of marriage. We get along very well, and we genuinely love spending time together. We aren’t just husband and wife; we are best friends. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our share of dramas.

All year, I’ve been thinking about what we should do to celebrate our big milestone. Normally, I would come up with a fancy vacation of some kind, or at least a trip to somewhere we’ve never been, even if it’s not a luxurious destination. But then in September, I discovered that our beloved dog, Arran, had swollen lymph nodes. The diagnosis was B-cell lymphoma. We are now in our last days with Arran, who is a very special family member, and has a particularly close bond with Bill.

Originally, we thought it would be best to ease Arran into palliative care, but heā€™s repeatedly showed us he wants to fight. So he’s now undergoing chemotherapy, which has been kind of miraculous. He started treatment October 13th, and on November 20th, he’s still happy and spunky. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to board him. For one thing, we’ve come to realize that Arran doesn’t enjoy being boarded anymore. He’d much rather be with us. For another, I didn’t want to burden the Hund Pension with dealing with his medications, which aren’t that complicated, but do involve some risk. He takes a drug that requires gloves to dispense safely, and it’s not safe for his poop to be accessible to other dogs.

Finally, when we were celebrating our tenth anniversary in Scotland, Arran’s predecessor, MacGregor, had an undiagnosed cancerous spinal tumor that caused an emergency while we were traveling thousands of miles away. I didn’t want anything similar to happen this time. We lost MacGregor a week before Christmas 2012, just a couple of weeks after our return from our big anniversary trip. Arran, who joined our family on January 12, 2013, is named after a Scottish island we saw on that first trip to Scotland.

I decided we’d spend our big day in Ribeauville, France, which is about a three hour drive from us. We have been there half a dozen times since 2017, staying in apartments owned by Yannick Kopff, a Alsatian native and excellent host. Yannick is extremely dog friendly, and since our favorite of his apartments, Riesling, was available for our dates, we decided that was a good place to celebrate. I booked four nights– from Wednesday, November 16th until Sunday, November 20th, at Yannick’s Gites au Coeur de Ribeauville.

Meanwhile, we were also looking forward to seeing and hearing James Taylor perform a concert. Originally, the show was supposed to go on in February 2022. But COVID-19 numbers were too high at that time, and there were many restrictions in place. So James decided to reschedule his European Tour dates for later in the year. In our case, the Frankfurt show was rescheduled for November 8th. Perfect– a Tuesday night, over a week before our anniversary trip.

On November 7th, we got the news that James had to postpone several concerts, including ours. He finally got COVID, and was advised to rest in Zurich, Switzerland for a few days. We watched anxiously, as four shows were eventually canceled because they couldn’t be rescheduled. However, Frankfurt’s venue was open for November 19th… last night. We were supposed to be in France last night, but we decided to come home a day early to catch James’s show… and I’m really glad we did that, because it was a great show, in spite of James’s brush with COVID.

I don’t have a lot of exciting stories to tell about our most recent trip to Ribeauville. November, just before the Christmas markets, is the “off season”. A lot of places were closed in preparation for the frenzy that is about to hit the village. I don’t know how big their market was in 2021, but I’m pretty sure it was canceled in 2020. I have a feeling this year’s markets will be bigger, and I could see that people were preparing. But, in terms of having a lot to do while we were there… I can’t say that we did. On the other hand, we did try a couple of restaurants we had never tried before, and Bill tried a dessert that is a local speciality that we never had before.

This was also Noyzi’s very first trip with us, aside from when we went to Slovenia to pick him up in 2020. Ribeauville was a good choice, because it wasn’t too far away, and because Yannick is so good with dogs in his properties. It was a fruitful trip for Noyzi, too, since he finally learned to poop while on a leash. This is a big deal, because it will make traveling with him much easier and less worrisome. Eventually, we may have to take him back to the States, which means for his own health, he needs to know how to relieve himself when he’s not frolicking in the backyard. He did seem to learn the lesson on our trip.

Aside from taking pictures of the always beautiful village of Ribeauville, binge watching Netflix and cheesy French game shows, eating lots of French comfort foods, drinking Alsatian wines, and being together, we didn’t do much on this trip. It was a good opportunity for Bill to sleep. We also picked up some gifts for his daughter and grandchildren. The beauty of Ribeauville is that we’ve been there so many times that not doing anything doesn’t seem too much like a hardship. By now, the village feels like a second home, even if our last visit was in January 2020.

So… over the next couple of days, I’ll write up this trip and James Taylor’s concert. I don’t think I’ll binge write today, because frankly, I just don’t feel like it. The weather is kind of crappy and I feel like hibernating. But we had a great time, and I’m grateful we could do it. I hope we can do it again.

If you’re interested in reading about our latest trip to France, I hope you’ll watch this space for updates… Meanwhile, here’s a video I made a few days ago in honor of our anniversary and James Taylor’s show. He didn’t do “Secret O’ Life” last night…

This song has really grown on me over the years. It seemed like a good one for 20 years of marriage…

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booze tourism, tours

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtensteinā€¦ part twelve

Cute Cortona!

We arrived in beautiful Cortona in the late afternoon on April 30th. I had never been to Cortona before last weekend, but I do have a couple of first cousins once removed (they are sisters) who both graduated from the University of Georgia and attended study abroad sessions in Cortona while they were in college. I remembered seeing their pictures on Facebook and reading how much they liked the town. Now that I’ve seen it for myself, I can understand why they liked it so much. Besides the obvious fun of being a twentysomething college student in Italy, Cortona is legitimately an adorable town, located at the top of a steep mountain. Bill said it reminded him of Ribeauville, France, which is one of our favorite escapes from Germany. Too bad Cortona is so far away from Germany!

Tom, our guide, booked our small group at Hotel San Luca, which is right in the thick of the town. The advantage of this hotel is that some of the rooms offer stunning views from the side of the mountain. Those who don’t have a view from their rooms can go out the front door and see the view from outside the hotel, or they can enjoy the incredible views from the breakfast room. Below are some photos from near the hotel. In the distance, you can see Lake Trasimene, which is very close to Cortona.

If I’m honest, the views are the best part of this particular lodging, although it was fine for just a night. The hotel appeared to be pretty old, and it had very tiny elevators (a theme during our Italy trip) that had what appeared to be ashtrays in them! But, over the top of the ashtrays, there was a “no smoking” sign. When you enter the hotel, you’re on the ground floor, but you take the elevator down to get to the “higher numbered floors”, which are actually under the lobby.

We were in small room that had a tiny shower. I was glad I brought an extra pillow with me, even if it does make me look like Linus. I hate trying to sleep with flat, wimpy pillows. Below are a few photos of the room. I didn’t get any pictures of the bathroom, but it was very tiny and basic. On the other hand, this room wasn’t as small as the one we had in Torrechiara, and we did have a great view! There was also a balcony.

After we checked in at the hotel, we gathered for an aperitif, and discussed whether we wanted to sit inside or outside for dinner. Everyone seemed to want to sit outside, except for me, of course. Remember, I said I don’t do the “group thing” very well. I was legitimately a little bit chilly, though. Bill went and got one of my sweaters for me. We ended up not eating outside anyway. I think I overheard the waiter say that it was too cold outside, but I also noticed that there weren’t any tables set up on the terrace. I think it would be fun to eat outside where we had dinner. The location is right by the main square. However, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t glad we ate indoors, simply because it was a little cool. I guess I’m just a party pooper. Every party needs one, you know. šŸ˜‰ Below are some photos I took before we reached the restaurant.

We had dinner at a restaurant called Ristorante La Loggetta, where we enjoyed more lovely wines with good food. We had free choice of the menu at Ristorante La Loggetta, so I went with duck with orange sauce and candied apricots. Bill had a steak. After dinner, which included several bottles of local wines, we walked back to the hotel. Bill and I stopped for a gelato break, and got a few nighttime photos from the adorable city, which happens to be where portions of the 2003 film, Under The Tuscan Sun, was filmed. I haven’t seen the movie myself, but Tom said his sister works at the villa in Cortona where scenes were made. It’s a popular wedding and event venue.

I would have loved to have spent another night in Cortona, simply because I would have enjoyed exploring the town more and going shopping. The main drag has so many beautiful little shops with tons of art, housewares, clothing, and the like. But, now that we’ve been there to see it, maybe Bill and I can visit on our own at some point. We’ll see.

Sunday morning, we rose to some clouds in the sky, which offered a different view of Cortona and its surroundings. We had a simple breakfast in the breakfast room. It included typical Italian pastries, breads, cold cuts, eggs, sausages, juices, and coffee. I had to take more pictures from the huge windows in the room. Then I took more from the cliffside. A small flea market was going on, offering a brief chance to pick up souvenirs. Sadly, I gave Bill all my euros!

Stay tuned for part thirteen.

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

The featured photo is of a sign in a German restaurant… I share the sentiments of the person who drew the sad face. That’s why we went to France.

Ever since we moved to Wiesbaden in late November 2018, we have used visits to the dentist in Stuttgart as an excuse to get away for a few days. Or, at least that was the original plan, before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the planet. Thanks to the pandemic, we haven’t been back as often as we had originally planned. We did combine a trip to Stuttgart to see the dentist in May 2019 with Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road concert. We went to the Spring festival, saw Elton, and got our teeth cleaned. We also stayed at the Wald Hotel, which is our favorite Stuttgart area lodging. We even brought our dogs down to stay with their Stuttgart area pet sitter.

Then COVID struck, and we couldn’t get back down there again until August 2021. I had planned another trip to the Wald Hotel, but it was totally booked during that period. So I decided we’d visit Baiersbronn, which is a little Black Forest town known for its excellent restaurants. We loved visiting Baiersbronn when we lived near Stuttgart, so it made sense to go stay in the area for a few days, see the doc, and eat some really excellent food for a few days.

A few weeks ago, Bill reminded me that it was time to see the dentist again. We had appointments for March 2. I thought maybe I’d find us a little rental home or a cute hotel in a different part of the Black Forest, since we had so much fun in August. There are still so many places we’d like to see there. But then I noticed how strict the COVID rules are, down in that part of Germany… and I realized that having been triple vaxxed and never venturing out much at all for months, I’m pretty damned sick of COVID rules.

Or, at least I’m sick of the super strict ones. Baden-WĆ¼rttemberg has been requiring people to use FFP2 masks, which I find very oppressive and obnoxious. I know… I know… they’re supposedly “better” masks, and all, but I still hate wearing them. I am not a rule breaker, but if I can go somewhere else where I don’t have to wear the fucking things, I’d prefer to do that.

I noticed as I searched for places in the Black Forest, I was also getting suggestions for Strasbourg, France, which is really close to the Black Forest. I didn’t really want to go to Strasbourg, though, because that was where we went during our last trip to France in February 2020. I enjoyed Strasbourg, but I wanted to go somewhere different, especially since the wine expo is set to go on at the end of March and we may end up going there for that. We haven’t yet decided if we will go.

It was at that point that I remembered Soufflenheim, which is a little French town known for its pottery. We have a few pieces from there that we bought in Ribeauville a few years ago, but we’d never actually been to the town itself. I realized that since it was just a little bit north of Strasbourg, it would be on the way back to Wiesbaden, anyway. And this would be a great chance for us to get pottery for ourselves, and Bill’s younger daughter, who is expecting a baby boy soon.

So I searched for a place in Soufflenheim, and soon noticed ads for a Michelin starred restaurant that also has four hotel rooms. Auberge au Boeuf is located in adorable Sessenheim, which is right next to Soufflenheim. A quick peek at the reviews on Google and Trip Advisor, as well as Booking.com, told me that this was a nice play to stay. Better yet, the cost of the room in France was about half of what I would have paid at the Wald Hotel, a nice hotel in a city I’ve been to many, many times, and will no doubt go to again at least once in the future… and probably more often than that. Maybe my next Wald Hotel visit should wait until I need a dental procedure.

Then I realized that France is not nearly as uptight about COVID-19 as Germany is… the latest rules changes in Germany notwithstanding. Those changed while we were away, plus I was booking before they were still being considered. I ran the idea of going to Sessenheim by Bill. Not surprisingly, he was all about it. The fact that the great German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, spent so much time there clinched the deal. Bill and I are literature lovers, too… Bill is more so than I am, in spite of my English degree.

So I booked our room at Auberge au Boeuf for March 2-6. I also booked their restaurant for the third and fourth nights of our stay. I eagerly looked forward to the trip, as I warily watched Vladimir Putin’s increasing aggression toward Ukraine. I don’t normally do this for short trips that don’t involve flights or cruise ships, but I was nervous enough about Putin that I even booked travel insurance in case Bill had to cancel and go to work. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and now I have lots to report!

Stay tuned for my latest multi-part series about the many wonders of France! Boy, was it great to be back there! But first, it’s time for lunch.

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anecdotes

Repost: Choucroute Garnie… one last tenuous connection with Anthony Bourdain…

Today is Easter, and we are going to be getting takeout from a favorite restaurant. I hope to write about that meal later today or tomorrow. But, for right now, I would like to repost this essay I wrote about the late Anthony Bourdain, just after he died in June 2018. It originally appeared on the Blogspot version of my Overeducated Housewife blog, when I was living in the Stuttgart area. I don’t have a specific reason for sharing this today, other than I think it’s a good post. Actually, it reminds me a bit of what we’ve lost since COVID-19 came along. I am so ready for another day trip somewhere… and new photos, especially for this blog. I miss travel and eating in restaurants.

Edited to add: Looking back at my original piece, I see it was preceded by another post I wrote just after Bourdain’s death (now reposted on my main blog). I had just discovered his show, Parts Unknown, about three weeks before he committed suicide. I had watched it because he visited Armenia, which is where I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1990s. I was enthralled by Bourdain’s show and was looking forward to watching more episodes. But then, seemingly out of the blue, he killed himself. So did famed handbag designer Kate Spade. The post that preceded this one was about how depression really isn’t the “common cold” of mental illness. It can be very serious and even fatal.

A couple of weeks ago, Bill and I went to Ribeauville, France for Memorial Day weekend.  Since January 2017, Bill and I have visited Ribeauville, in Alsace, four times.  We’ve found a sympathetic apartment owner who doesn’t have a problem welcoming Zane and Arran.  Aside from that, Alsace is a very beautiful area that isn’t too far from where we live.  It makes for a convenient place to get a weekend away.

Last Friday, Anthony Bourdain killed himself in Alsace.  He was staying in Kaysersberg, a town Bill and I had been hoping to see during our last visit.  We never got around to going to Kaysersberg on our last trip, but it’s definitely a must see the next time we’re in Alsace.  Especially since last night, Bill showed me Anthony Bourdain’s final Instagram post…

This is a screenshot of Anthony Bourdain’s last Instagram post.  He put it up exactly one week ago.

I know a lot of people who read this blog regularly might not necessarily read my travel blog (although this is being reposted on my travel blog in 2021).  Those who haven’t read the travel blog probably missed my recent tale about the dish pictured above, Choucroute Garnie.  

Choucroute Garnie is a very popular dish in Alsace that includes Alsatian style sauerkraut, sausages, charcuterie, other salted meats, and potatoes.  Many restaurants in Alsace serve it, and my husband, Bill, happily enjoys it.  In fact, below is a picture of Choucroute Garnie he ate when we visited the quaint town of Eguisheim, France in February 2017.

Bill enjoyed Choucroute Garnie at Caveau Heuhaus in Eguisheim.

Although a lot of people like this particular dish, it’s not something I would voluntarily order.  I don’t like sauerkraut very much.  Actually, I don’t really like cabbage because it upsets my stomach and makes me fart a lot.  I will eat cabbage to be polite, but I don’t care for it and would avoid ordering it in a restaurant.  While I do like sausage and other pork products fine, I also wouldn’t necessarily order a big pile of them as pictured above.  One sausage is fine for me.  I don’t need to eat a big plate of pork.

On the first night of our most recent trip to Ribeauville, Bill and I decided to have dinner at a restaurant we had not yet tried.  Our experience at this establishment was disappointing from the get go and continued to get worse.  I had decided on an entrecĆ“te (rib eye steak) for dinner, but our waiter somehow heard “choucroute” instead.  I was a bit suspicious when he didn’t ask me what sauce I wanted or how I preferred the steak cooked.  However, he took off before I’d had the chance to say anything and we didn’t see him again until his colleague tried to deliver the dish pictured below…

The Choucroute Garnie I didn’t order.  Bill says it wasn’t as good as the one he had in Eguisheim.

Unfortunately for our waiter, I was tired, hungry, and way over the bumbling service we had already experienced at that point.  He came over to argue with me about what I’d ordered and actually had the nerve to say, “You couldn’t have ordered entrecĆ“te.  If you had, I would have asked you what sauce you wanted and the temperature.”

My acid reply was, “That’s right.  You didn’t ask and I wondered why.”

He scurried off with the choucroute, but then came back and tried to get me to take it, since cooking what I’d ordered would take time.  I really didn’t want the choucroute, but I was especially exasperated that the waiter had accused me of lying about my order and was trying to sell me something I didn’t want.  

Bill, prince of a man that he is, took the choucroute and I took his dish, which was potato pancakes with smoked salmon.  I had actually been eyeing the potato pancakes anyway, so it was initially no big deal.  But then I realized that one of the potato pancakes was very scorched.  I didn’t bother to complain because, at that point, I just wanted to get the hell out of there.  But I did turn the experience into a snarky blog post and a few people in my local food and wine group thought it was funny.  When I saw Bourdain’s final Instagram post last night, I was reminded of my own recent experience with Choucroute Garnie.  It was just something else, besides depression, I’ve had in common with the late chef.

People who read this blog and those who know me personally may know that I have suffered from depression for years.  It’s not nearly as bad now as it once was.  I no longer take medications for it and I don’t have the same distressing symptoms I used to have.  However, I do sometimes get very pessimistic and “down”.  I think about suicide often, although never to the point of making plans or carrying them out.  It’s more like fleeting thoughts of how life is kind of wasted on me, since I don’t really enjoy it much.  I see people with warm, loving families who are dealing with life threatening illnesses or injuries and they just want to live.  Here I am feeling kind of apathetic about my existence.  Although I do enjoy many aspects of living, I don’t necessarily have a zest for life.

A lot of people probably think I have a pretty charmed life.  If I were looking at me, I might think the same thing.  I have a wonderful, patient, indulgent husband; I’m basically healthy; and I get to travel a lot.  While I don’t really make money, I do have a vocation that I’m free to pursue with no hassles with editors or people paying me to create content.  I don’t know if anyone cares about my writing or music, particularly on this blog, which doesn’t bring the hits it used to.  However, writing it gives me something to do with my mind and a reason to get up in the morning.  It gives me reasons to read books so I can review them.  Believe me, although I’m frequently bored and sometimes depressed and anxious, it’s not lost on me that some people might envy my freedom and ability to see the world.  I agree, those are wonderful things.

I really don’t know why I have these deep seated feelings of shittiness.  I think there are probably a lot of factors, some of which are hereditary and some that are situational.  I usually feel worse when I express something negative and someone tries to be “helpful” by telling me how wonderful my life is.  I probably ought to keep my negativity to myself, but that’s not necessarily helpful, either.  Whenever someone, especially a person like Anthony Bourdain, takes his or her life, people are shocked and wonder why they never “reached out”.  I have found that reaching out often annoys other people, most of whom would prefer it if you’d just get over yourself and didn’t involve them in your problems. 

I do want to express one thing that I’ve recently realized.  Despite feeling insignificant most of the time, I know I have made a difference to a few folks.  When we moved here in 2014, I decided to promote my travel blog in the local community.  I’ve gotten some negative feedback from a few people, but for the most part, my posts are well tolerated or even outright appreciated.  I notice the ones I write about things to do locally and/or local restaurants are especially popular.  I recently wrote one post about places to go to “beat the heat” in Stuttgart.  That one has really taken off.  I’ve seen a number of people come back to it repeatedly, since it offers enough suggestions to last a good portion of the summer.  It makes me feel productive when I see that people are inspired by my experiences.

It occurred to me the other day that while I may never know who has been affected by my writing, in a way, I will have helped some people make priceless memories of their time in Europe.  The people who read my posts about obscure places like Ruine Mandelberg, Glaswaldsee, or the Burgbach Wasserfall, especially if they take the time to see them for themselves, will have memories that, in a small way, I helped them make.  

I know that may sound like an egotistical statement to some people, especially since I have also been affected by other people’s writing.  However, knowing that a few people are taking my suggestions and making memories of their own does give me another reason to keep writing and going to new places on the weekends.  It gives me a purpose for being here, other than just to wash Bill’s underwear and make him laugh.  I’m always looking for new things to see and write about.  In the process of visiting and writing about different places, my own experiences in Europe are also enhanced.  I’m never sorry after having explored somewhere, even when something goes wrong.

When I lived in Armenia in the mid 1990s, I often felt like I was wasting my time.  I got a lot of negative feedback from my Peace Corps bosses as well as my local counterpart, who felt I wasn’t doing enough.  I was in my early 20s, hampered by depression, and kind of overwhelmed by what I was supposed to be doing.  I didn’t feel assertive enough to start, say, an English club or hang out with the kids.  I remember the summer of 1997, as I was planning to finish my assignment, going through some rough times all around.  I couldn’t wait to leave Armenia, and yet the prospect of going home was very scary.  

When I did finally get home, the homecoming I had eagerly anticipated was pretty much ruined by my dad’s entrance into rehab.  As bad as I felt in Armenia, I felt even worse in the year after I returned home.  I felt like such a burden to my parents, especially since I wasn’t even sure my time in Armenia had been productive.  I started becoming very despondent and hopeless.  That was when I finally got treatment for depression.  

Things gradually got better.  I learned how to wait tables and about fine dining.  I studied voice and attended to my depression for the first time.  I made some friends.  Finally, I landed in graduate school at the University of South Carolina, which was fulfilling, although it didn’t lead where I thought it would.  I earned an MPH, an MSW, and ultimately an Mrs….  

Before I decided to go to USC, I remember interviewing at Western Illinois University and telling the director of a Peace Corps Fellows program that I knew that I’d made a difference simply by going to Armenia.  He visibly recoiled at that statement.  I think he thought it was an arrogant thing to say.  Actually, it was a statement of fact.  I was in Armenia at a time when there were few Americans there.  There were people I met there who had never seen an American in person before.  I know a lot of them still remember me and always will.  Even knowing that, though, didn’t erase my feelings that I hadn’t done enough and that my time in Armenia didn’t amount to much.

It wasn’t until almost twenty years after I left Armenia that I found out that– for real– I actually had made a difference.  Facebook put me in touch with my very first Armenian teacher, who still works for the Peace Corps, as well as one of my best former students, who is now a high ranking director in the Peace Corps Armenia office.  I didn’t have anything to do with his decision to work for the Peace Corps, but the fact that my former student remembered me and I didn’t permanently turn him off of Americans means that my time in Armenia was well spent.  Maybe I wasn’t the most hardworking or dedicated Volunteer, but I still made a difference.  And maybe people in Stuttgart think I’m annoying, obnoxious, and arrogant, but there are people who like what I do, and it’s affected their experience here in a good way.  So that keeps me going… at least for now.

If you’ve managed to read this whole post… which is a lot longer than I’d intended it to be… I want to thank you.  Thanks for giving me a reason to get up in the morning.  Thanks for reading about how Anthony Bourdain and I tenuously have a couple of things in common, even if it’s just being served Choucroute Garnie in Alsace and visiting a few of the same places, like Alsace and Armenia.  Knowing that even a few people like what I’m doing means a lot more to me than you’ll ever know.  And maybe someday, in Bourdain’s honor, I’ll order the Choucroute Garnie in Kaysersberg…  But I’ll be sure to take Gas-X, too.

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