booze tourism, cute towns, Italy, restaurant reviews, shopping, tours, wine

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… 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. 😉 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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France

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-Württemberg 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, France

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. 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 entrecôte (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 entrecôte.  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 a MPH, 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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France

Parker goes to France, part seven…

Yesterday morning, we were up bright and early. We packed up everything, had one last croissant breakfast, and loaded all our stuff in the car. Bill put the keys to Riesling in the lock box and we were on our way by 10:00am. I was wanting to stop by the big chocolatier on the way out of Ribeauville, but they don’t open until 10 and we don’t need chocolate that badly, to be very honest. We have visited the Daniel Stoffel outlet before and came home with lots of chocolate and cocoa goodies.

The drive back to Germany was kind of gloomy, mainly due to the heavy fog and cold temperatures. I think we left France at just the right time, since the weather is pretty chilly and foggy today, too. There was little traffic on the way back, and I can’t even say there was much going on of note. We did see the ADAC helicopter while we were making a pit stop, but I didn’t even do much rubbernecking of the accident that prompted its appearance.

We got home before 1:00pm, so Bill went to the Spirit of New Orleans for take out. We would have stopped in, but it looked like they were busy and the last time we visited, the chef/owner got really upset and started swearing very loudly. I don’t mind swearing and neither do Bill or his mom, but I didn’t want to take the risk. By the time Bill picked up our lunches, things had calmed down at the restaurant. Maybe we should have gone in for lunch, after all. John plays good music and when he’s in a good mood, he’s a lot of fun to talk to.

Bill and Parker picked up Arran last night. When they got home, Arran went crazy running around with his toy, then crashed on the couch. I keep thinking I want to get another dog, then I realize how easy it is to take care of just one. I also think about the horror stories I’ve heard of people trying to convince Germans to let Americans adopt. I know some people have managed it, but to be honest, I’m not wanting to set myself up for an unpleasant experience. So… I don’t know when we’ll get another dog. I do want one and we are looking, but I guess we’re not in a rush. I still think about Zane every day.

I’m really glad we took the opportunity to show Parker France. And, while it wasn’t Paris or Lyon or even Nice, I think she might have gotten an even more authentic look at France than she otherwise might have. I have yet to have a bad time in Alsace, or even France as a whole, even if there have been a few mishaps over the years. I’m amazed at all of the places we’ve had the chance to see since we’ve lived in Germany, but I think France may have enchanted me the most… although I am definitely due for trips to Italy, Belgium, and The Netherlands… We’ll see where we’ll end up next.

Parker will be here for a few more days. Bill is currently treating her to lunch in Wiesbaden while I do some housework and writing. It’s good for them to have some alone time, and for me to have some, too. I’m not used to being around people anymore and am a bit of an introvert, so it’s good when I can take a break. It probably makes my disposition easier to take.

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France

Parker goes to France, part four…

On Monday morning, we awoke to sunshine and chilly weather. Bill and I had decided that we wanted to visit Kaysersberg, since we didn’t have a chance to go there during our last visit over Memorial Day weekend in May 2018.

Before we drove to Kaysersberg, Bill and I dropped off some empty wine bottles at the bottle drop on the edge of town. Then we picked up a few items at the grocery store and took a short walk through a part of Ribeauville that we missed on prior visits. I don’t know how we missed the northwestern part of the main drag, but I’m glad we visited it a couple of days ago. I was rewarded with a few nice photos of the ruined chateaus that overlook the town…

Some might recall that Kaysersberg has the distinction of being the quaint French town where famed chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain committed suicide in June of 2018. Bill and I were rather mystified that we had been so close to where Bourdain was at the end of his life; but the truth is, we had wanted to go there during that previous visit. We’d heard it was a quaint town with good restaurants. So this time, since we didn’t have dogs with us, we decided we’d go to Kaysersberg. It was very easy to visit in January; we practically had the whole parking lot to ourselves.

The town was pretty much dead when we arrived, but I still managed to get some beautiful photos thanks to the splendid sunny weather. Yes, it was cold outside, but everything was still very inviting and pretty… and in a different month, I imagine Kaysersberg is hopping with tourists.

We decided to stop for lunch at a hotel restaurant called L’Art is Show. It was one of two restaurants we saw operating in Kaysersberg on Monday, although I’m sure at least one or two more were serving. I’ve noticed that this time of year, some businesses close while others stay open, then they seem to switch in February. Art is Show gets very good ratings on Trip Advisor and, indeed, had a pretty decent lunch crowd. Our waitress spoke a bare minimum of English, but we still managed to order lunch. They had a lunch special, which included a trip to a very generous looking salad bar, but we opted to order a la carte.

As we were leaving Kaysersberg, I got a private Facebook message from Ellen Stillman Thomas, an American who lived in Esslingen (and Heidelberg) for years and is very involved in arranging tours for Esslingen, a cute town near Stuttgart. I have been corresponding with her via Facebook and the Stuttgart area Facebook groups since about 2014 or 2015. She happened to be in Kaysersberg on Monday, with her friend, Louise, and had plans to visit a nearby winery. She asked if we wanted to join her… and we did. More on that in the next post!

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France

Parker goes to France, part two…

After taking Arran to the Hundepension, Bill, Parker, and I loaded up the Volvo and headed to France. It was cold and cloudy, as it usually is this time of year. However, it wasn’t so cold in Germany that I packed my down jacket. I eventually regretted that decision, because it did get pretty cold in France. I did at least bring a cape that I could layer over my wool sweater. Global warming is definitely a thing, though. When we were in Germany the first time, I would not have dreamed of going outside without down. The past couple of years have truly been unseasonably warm here. We haven’t even had any snow yet. Last time I saw a decent amount of white stuff was when we lived in Jettingen.

We got on the road at about lunchtime on Saturday, January 18th. In retrospect, we probably should have eaten before we left, but I was eager to get on the road. We made one pit stop before lunch, where I managed to take a few inappropriate pics. I always get a kick out of the signs and ads in the bathrooms, as well as the people who prefer to go au naturale rather than pay the 70 cents to pee in private…

We ended up stopping in Landau, a pleasant town in southern Rhineland-Palatinate, not that far from the French border. I had told Yannick we were shooting to be at his gite between 3:00 and 4:00, but hadn’t realized that lunch would take as long as it did.

As it was, we stopped very close to the “witching hour” of 2:00pm, which is when a lot of restaurants shut down for a pause. I managed to find us a Paulaner restaurant, the Paulanerstuben-Landau, which still had lunch going. That turned out to be a fortuitous stop. The food was delicious, even if came out at a rather leisurely pace.

I had the delicious half chicken, which was crispy and probably done “extra spicy”. I say that, because they used a lot of black pepper to season it. I also noticed that they offered less spicy and mild versions. I wish I had specified, because when it comes to spicy food, my tastes are very German… or British. Makes perfect sense, too. Bill had the Wiener Schnitzel and Parker had sausages. Both of them liked their choices as much as I liked mine.

The rest of our drive to France was uneventful, except for when we stopped at an unusually rustic rest stop. There was another couple ahead of me. The man used the pissoir, which was outside (on a related note, I sure did see my share of public urination on this trip). The woman was in one of the two little wooden sheds, but she’d neglected to lock the door. Consequently, I opened the door on her when she was mid piss. Sigh… sorry lady, but I didn’t know you were in there. The doors lock for a reason.

We arrived at Yannick’s gite in the heart of Ribeauville at about 5:30pm. It was dark outside, and we were still full from lunch, as well as a bit tired from the drive. Yannick came over to say hello, and we got to meet his adorable little son, Raphael, who is about 18 months old. During our last visit to Ribeauville, Yannick’s wife was in labor with little Raphael; he was born the night we departed during our last visit over Memorial Day weekend in 2018. He was very shy, but adorable. Yannick said he wasn’t used to hearing English, but after a couple of minutes, he went to work entertaining himself with the drawers full of wine corks. Yannick says his wife will be having another baby in May or June of this year; then their family will be complete. It was a real pleasure to finally meet Raphael. I have no doubt that he’ll be bilingual in no time.

We all went to the little Carrefour grocery store located about 100 yards from the gite and loaded up on wine, beer, chips, breakfast fixings, and chocolate. Parker took one of the upstairs bedrooms, and Bill and I took the usual back bedroom. Here are some photos from Riesling, which mostly looks the same as it did last time we stayed there, in November 2017. Yannick says he’s trying to upgrade, but he’s had trouble finding workmen who are available. All of his gites in the wine house are named after local wine specialties.

We like to stay at Yannick’s place, mostly because he’s very nice and loves dogs. But his place is also very convenient to Ribeauville, has access to free lot parking, and has most everything you’d need. It’s also reasonably priced, and Yannick makes checking in and checking out a breeze. You just access the lockbox, for which he sends a code before you arrive. It’s super easy and convenient. In fact, about an hour after we left, he texted me to see how we enjoyed our time. It was, indeed, a great time! Now… on with what we did in Alsace this time! Stay tuned for part three.

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France

Parker goes to France, part one…

It’s been about two years since Bill’s mom, Parker, last visited us. Parker lives in Texas and has very generous friends who used to work for United Airlines. It’s through their generosity that she gets to see us in Germany. Every time Parker visits, we have some kind of adventure.

Last time she was here was in December 2017, when we still lived near Stuttgart. Before that, she was here in June 2009, also when we lived near Stuttgart. In 2017, we took her on a blind booking trip to Berlin. In 2009, we took a roadtrip to Oberstaufen, Germany, down in Bavaria. That trip turned into a day trip to Italy, whereupon we got temporarily trapped due to flooding. I have written about those trips and they can be found in this blog, although I still need to fix the formatting on them. She also visited Bill when he was posted in Bavaria back in the 1980s, but that was way before my time.

Anyway, back to 2020… It was nice to be able to get Parker in Frankfurt and only have to drive about twenty minutes rather than a few hours. Arran, the dog, was quite happy to see his grandma again. He hadn’t forgotten her from the last time and gave her an adorable welcome. Bill had to work all last week, so Parker and I hung around the house and talked. Bill had asked me to arrange a short trip for us, since Parker hasn’t had the chance to see as much of Europe as she’d like. When she visited us in 2009, we did take the briefest of detours into France so we could have lunch and Parker could say she’d been there. Other than that, she’d never been to France before.

Regular readers of my travel blog might recall that back in 2017, Bill and I discovered beautiful Ribeauville, a little town in Alsace right next to the much more touristy Riquewihr, which is supposedly one of France’s most beautiful villages. In 2017, Bill and I visited Ribeauville three times, which should really say something, given how many awesome places there are to visit in Europe. We found a great gite (vacation home in France) there, and it was so easy, since we only lived about 2.5 hours away and the owner of the gite was so pet friendly.

Our last visit to Ribeauville was in May 2018, but then we had to move to Wiesbaden. Last year was a bit of a cluster fuck in terms of getting settled and making some decisions about the future. We never made it back to Alsace in 2019. When I saw that Yannick, our faithful Ribeauville host, had availability in his largest gite– called Riesling– I jumped on it. We spent four nights visiting Ribeauville during the dead off season. We had a wonderful time, too! Ribeauville is a place we completely missed the first time we lived in Europe, but it’s now one of our go to locations whenever we need a break from Germany.

Yannick Kopff has several gites for rent. He’s got four studio sized apartments, a one room place, and an apartment with three rooms. Bill, Parker, and I stayed in his largest apartment at the wine house he converted into super convenient lodging in Ribeauville. I usually book his places through Booking.com, but he’s also listed on other sites, including reservation-gite.alsace. I would link to it, but at the moment, it does not appear that the site is working yet.

For four nights, I paid about 425 euros, and that was without a discount. Booking through Booking.com results in higher prices because Booking gets paid for reservations made through their site. I also have Yannick’s number, though, so next time we need an Alsatian break, I’ll just send him a text.

We usually bring our dog(s) with us when we go to Ribeauville, but since we had Parker and there were some places Bill and I specifically wanted to visit, this time we put him up at the Tierpension Birkenhof. We look forward to having him home tonight. I always miss our pooches when we go on trips, even if they’re relatively short.

This was probably one of the best trips to Alsace we’ve had yet, although I did miss having the dogs with us… especially Zane, who has now been gone for just over four months. I kept expecting to see them there, and remembering the times Bill and I have visited Ribeauville alone and brought both dogs with us. Sigh… well, maybe soon we’ll find a dog who needs a home. For now, here’s my latest series on Ribeauville and its environs, truly one of my favorite places in France that spoils everyone for choice in how much there is to do there, even during the off season! Stay tuned for part two!

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My mother-in-law is coming today…

So we have another trip to France planned for next weekend, which is Martin Luther King weekend. We’re going back to Ribeauville, in Alsace. We’ve been there four times already, but not since we moved to Wiesbaden. Bill and I like to go there because it’s not too far, and the owner of the apartments we book there is very laid back and pet friendly.

This time, we will not be bringing Arran with us. He’s a good traveler, but he doesn’t like to be left alone. When we had Zane, he’d stay more or less quiet, but without Zane to comfort him, he makes too much noise. We also want to show Bill’s mom some places and explore some areas we’ve missed on previous trips, like Kaysersberg, which is the city where Anthony Bourdain died a couple of years ago. We were actually in Alsace just before he committed suicide. I wasn’t the biggest Anthony Bourdain fan… and Kaysersberg is worth seeing for reasons other than the fact that it was where Anthony Bourdain departed this life.

We look forward to picking up some more wine and goodies, and showing Bill’s mom this charming part of France that a lot of Americans miss, but has become a second home for us when we need a break from Deutschland. I don’t feel like we need a break from Germany yet, especially in France, which we just left a couple of weeks ago… but I do always enjoy Ribeauville, even if it’s pretty dead there in January. Besides, we’ve stayed in the gite we’re renting twice before, and it’s a pretty comfortable place to be.

Maybe next month, if there’s time, we’ll start looking for a new companion for me… and for Arran, if he’ll tolerate another dog around. He does need a playmate, and I need someone to snuggle when Arran is pouring on the charm for Bill every night. We just have to find someone that will let us adopt.

Stay tuned for more new travel posts… maybe even today! Depends on how tired our guest is after her long flight from Texas!

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France

Ribeauville… AGAIN! Part 3… Primates with personality, French dining, and Sunday shopping!

On Sunday morning, I told Bill I really wanted to visit Kaysersberg, which is rumored to be a beautiful town as well as the birthplace of Albert Schweizer.  I also wanted to go to Montagne des Signes, which is basically Alsace’s version of Monkey Hill.

As many readers may know, Germany has Affenberg-Salem, which is a place where visitors can feed free roaming monkeys popcorn.  Bill and I went to Monkey Hill last year and had a great time, so I wanted to see the French version.  Montagne des Singes is in Kintzheim, which is in the opposite direction of Kaysersberg.  Since there are specific opening hours for Montagne des Singes, I was thinking maybe we could visit the pretty town of Schweitzer’s birth later in the afternoon.  Bill was up for it, so off we went.

I didn’t realize that Kintzheim also has an eagle park, which mostly gets good ratings on Google and Trip Advisor.  It didn’t open until 1:30pm, so we decided to see the monkeys, have lunch, and then maybe go see the eagle park.  We managed to make one plan work out.  Oh well.  We can always visit Alsace again.  Below are some photos I took at Montage des Singes, which doesn’t take a lot of time to visit, but really is a lot of fun, especially if you have kids.

This park is only open from March until November.  We usually visit Alsace during the off season, so this was the first time we were in the area when it was working and we were staying longer than a night.  I’m glad we stopped in for a visit, although I probably don’t need to visit the monkey park again.  One other thing to know– during the tourist season, a lot of places on the Alsatian wine route are open on Sundays.  That means you can go shopping if you want to.  During our previous visits, we’ve been during the short off season, when it’s more like being in Germany on Sunday.

Kintzheim is also a very pretty town.

 

Montagne des Singes has a very large, free parking lot.  There’s also a snack bar, free toilets, and a playground for kids.

Map of the complex.

Entrance into the park.  It costs 9 euros per adult, while children from ages 5 to 15 cost 5,50 euros.  Children under five get in free of charge.  I saw a lot of people with very little kids with them, having a ball.  Like Monkey Hill in Affenberg-Salem, Montagne des Signes has Barbary Macque monkeys.  In many ways, this park is very much like the one in Germany, except it seemed smaller and lacked a lake.

At various times during the day, they have demonstrations.  We heard one in German.  Quite a number of the young people working there were trilingual– French, English, and German speakers.

Same signs that are at Monkey Hill…  Incidentally, my German friend explains that this park was founded and is owned by the same guy who founded the one in Affenberg-Salem, Baron Gilbert de Turckheim.  There is also another park in France and one in England.

Off we go to pick up our very small handfuls of popcorn.  

Some of the monkeys were very charming and flat out posed for the cameras.

Bill feeds one of the residents.  It’s like giving candy to an exceptionally calm toddler.

I got a kick out of this monkey… I like to hang around this way, too.  Especially when I’m naked.

These two monkeys by the exit were taking advantage of all of the people who rationed their popcorn and had leftovers.  If you wanted to, you could go through the park again.  It doesn’t take very long.  I think our visit was only about an hour.

Another primate with personality.

More monkey pictures appear at the end of this post.

After we visited the monkey park, we decided to have lunch in Kintzheim.  There are several restaurants there.  We chose to dine at Hotel Restaurant Jenny, not just because Jenny is my name.  They had a rather extensive menu posted outside of their terrace, but when we sat down, we were given a very limited menu.  However, all of the dishes we saw yesterday looked good and we had no complaints about what we ordered.

I talked Bill into Riesling.  We shared a split.

A sign bearing my name.

I went with the asparagus with Black Forest ham and dried ham.

It came with two sauces.  One was Hollandaise with lots of dill.  The other, I couldn’t tell you the name of, although it tasted fine.  Both were mildly flavored.  I preferred the Hollandaise, although it wasn’t like any I’d had before.  It was more like mayonnaise.  I don’t like drowning my food in a lot of condiments, so this kind of went to waste.

I was especially pleased with the dried ham, though.  It was very good.

Bill had jambonneau with cheese sauce.  Basically, it was like a pork knuckle that had been boiled instead of roasted or baked.  The inside of it was very moist and tender, although the outside was less appetizing.  I think Bill and I both like our pork knuckles with cracklins.  

I couldn’t resist dessert.  I saw a bunch of really enticing ones coming out to the terrace.  I went with a chocolate Charlotte, with is basically chocolate mousse surrounded by ladyfingers.  It was served with vanilla sauce, whipped cream, and toasted almonds.  I liked it because it wasn’t too much.

 

While we were waiting for lunch, I looked up the eagle park and was rather put off by some of the negative reviews of the place.  While most people seem to think it’s a great place to see eagles, I was reminded that these magnificent birds of prey are basically kept on short leashes until it’s time for them to perform.  I understand that this is how it’s done with these types of shows, but figured it might be depressing.  So we skipped it and headed back to the apartment, so the boys could have a break.

Besides… the clouds were starting to roll in…  If we had gone to the eagle park, we would have been caught in the rain.  By the time we got back to nearby Ribeauville, there was a steady downpour.

Pretty Bergheim, which is very close to Ribeauville and quite attractive.  There’s a lot to do in Alsace, which makes it a great place to go for a quick weekend out of the Stuttgart area.  It’s only a couple of hours away, yet you could come back several times and not do the same things twice.  

We took it easy for the rest of the afternoon and enjoyed the bottle of sparkling wine our host, Yannick, left for us.  Although this time, we rented one of his tiny studio apartments, we didn’t really want for anything, except a little peace and quiet.  There was a group of German ladies at the wine house who were very nice, but kind of loud.  However, they didn’t stay up until an unreasonable hour and were very nice about Zane and Arran, so I can’t complain too much.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Yannick’s wine house would be really great if you had a family reunion or a big group and wanted to rent the whole thing.  It’s very convenient and he’s a great landlord.  In fact, he just texted me from the hospital, where his poor wife has been since Friday, trying to have a baby!  I’m sending them birthing vibes!

For dinner, we decided to eat at Chez Martine.  We ate there the first time we visited Ribeauville and I remembered how good the Quiche Lorraine was.  And even though I also had quiche on Saturday, I say one can’t have too much quiche in one’s life.  It turned out to be an excellent decision.  Our waitress was absolutely charming and sweet and the food was outstanding.  Bill had Chez Martine’s version of the dish I’d had on Friday at Restaurant du Mouton and it was vastly superior.

Last night’s wine.  Bill decided to try something different.  This grape didn’t thrill me because I like my whites crisp and this tasted a little flat.  But it was a change from Riesling, so that wasn’t a bad thing.

Bill had potato pancakes with smoked salmon and a salad.  His potato pancakes weren’t burnt like one of mine was when we ate at Hotel du Mouton.  I love that they serve the dressing on the side, too.  That dressing is a delightfully light and creamy Dijon mustard based creation.

That Quiche Lorraine was outstanding.  It was priced at about five euros more than what we were charged at Brasserie de La Poste next door, but it was also vastly superior in quality.  It was perfectly seasoned, generously proportioned, and piping hot.  I think Chez Martine serves the best quiche in Ribeauville.  

For dessert, we split a piece of cheesecake.  It was very simple, not too heavy, and not too sweet.  And we also had espresso.  Total bill came to a little over sixty euros.

 

The dogs were surprisingly well behaved this time, although Zane did let out an ear splitting yelp when Bill took him out to pee at 5:00am.  But it was just one yelp and this time, no one yelled at Bill in French.  We had a quick breakfast and cleared out of the apartment at 9:30am.  Yannick’s key box system makes it very easy to check in and out.  As I mentioned before, he was busy with his family this time, so we didn’t get to see him.

As long as we’re living in the Stuttgart area, I have no doubt we’ll be back.  Alsace is so easy and pleasant to visit.  I still can’t believe we really didn’t explore it the first time we lived in Germany.  I know we have to visit one more time, if only so I can finally see Kaysersberg.

One more Black Forest photo on the way home.  We took a different route that was less confusing, but slightly less scenic.

Below are some photos of the monkeys I took with my digital camera.

Another touching family moment.  One thing I did notice over Montagne des Signes is that it was less structured.  When we visited the one in Germany, we got a long spiel about the rules.  This time, the spiel was shorter and the overall experience seemed to be both more laid back and less crowded.  I’d say it’s worth a visit if you like animal parks, especially if you have small children.

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Ribeauville… AGAIN! Part 2… Wandering the vineyards, eating, drinking, and shopping

After Friday night’s dinner fiasco, Bill and I were determined to enjoy Saturday.  The morning started off with beautiful blue skies and warm temperatures.  We enjoyed some very fresh croissants for breakfast, strong coffee, orange juice, and fresh eggs and ham.  Then, we put leashes on the dogs and took them for a walk in some local vineyards.

Those who have been to Alsace already know that the area is practically littered with vineyards, where grapes are grown for the local wines.  Bill had found what he called a “trail”, but was actually a road that led up the side of a hill.  Below are some pictures from that little adventure, which culminated in Bill’s falling on his ass and sliding down a hill.

In Ribeauville, if you get caught not cleaning up your dog’s poop, it’s a 35 euro fine.  Having looked around, I don’t think this is a rule that is regularly enforced.  However, I do like the sledgehammer imagery.

Despite the occasional landmine, Ribeauville remains a lovely place.

I hate climbing hills, but will do it for a good view.  We got a few yesterday after panting in the heat.

A few dramatic views of the castle ruins over the town.

As pretty as this was, I fretted about walking back down.  We had the dogs with us and they were eager.  Zane almost pulled me over a few times.

We tried to walk down the side of the hill, rather than going back to the road we walked up.  Unfortunately, we found it an impossible endeavor.  There was no legal way to access the town from where we were in the vineyards.  In fact, I’m not even sure if we were trespassing…  

Finally, Bill slipped and slid down the hillside on his butt.  So we sucked it up and walked back down the way we came.  By the time we were finished, we were both hot and sweaty.  The dogs were worn out for the rest of the day.

But I did get a picture of this interesting building, right before a local walked out of it and gave me a dirty look.  There was a pile of feces nearby… wonder if he thought our dogs were the culprit.

 

We took a brief rest in the apartment.  I hosed off in the shower with cool water and we all rehydrated.  I had to change clothes thanks to all the sweating I did.  But on the bright side, I get the sense that maybe all this exercise will help me burn off the beer gut I’ve been growing.  According to the health app on my phone, I walked 4.6 miles and 20 floors.  Not bad!

At around 12:30pm, we decided to have lunch at Brasserie de la Poste.  It was another restaurant we hadn’t yet tried and I was curious about it.  This time, we had a mostly excellent restaurant experience.

Obligatory menu shot of Bill.

But once again, the waiter misunderstood me and brought me a small beer instead of a big one.  

I had a delicious Quiche Lorraine with a salad.  Bill had a cheese tart with a salad.  Service was friendly and the food was splendid.

Bill’s cheese tart.  He said it was made with mild cheese.  I didn’t try it.

Brasserie de la Poste is right next to Chez Martine, which has the best quiche I’ve ever tasted.  I was tempted to eat lunch there, but decided to try a different place just for the sake of experience.

We walked around some more after lunch, then visited the local bottle shop to pick up some wines.  Last time we visited Ribeauville, we stopped in to La Bonne Bouteille and bought some really nice vino.  This time, the same guy who helped us before was there.  He was quite a salesman, speaking excellent English with a gorgeous French accent.  I could have listened to him speak all day as he demonstrated his vast knowledge of wines from the Rhone region.  We left there with six bottles– four reds and two whites.  I probably shouldn’t spend so much time drinking wine, but it’s such a pleasure.  Especially in France!

Case in point… the nice local Riesling I had at a bar on the main drag…

But then I switched to beer, as we listened to French, English, and American pop music and watched our bearded barkeep flirting with the ladies sitting outside on his terrace.  At one point, a friendly local came in and tried to talk to us, but our French skills and her English skills were compatible enough.  Maybe it’s time I learned basic French.  I spend a lot of time in France.

These guys looked pretty friendly.

The outside of the bar was more charming than the inside.

 

Next, we stopped in a pottery shop… same place we went to last time we were here.  I bought two more pieces, a casserole dish and a plate for escargot.  I don’t eat a lot of snails, but I thought it looked cool.  Besides, I can always come up with a creative way to use it, not that I ever entertain anyone.

I got a kick out of this sign, which basically reads “Don’t let your dogs piss on my wall and clean up any droppings.”  This doggie toilet habit seems to be quite a problem in Ribeauville.

 

Every time we’ve visited Ribeauville, we’ve noticed a large restaurant on the corner of town called Auberge Au Zahnacker.  Bill wanted to try it for dinner last night, since they have a beautiful terrace with a vine covered roof.  I was game, so we went.  It turned out we were there at the same time several large groups were.  One group was from Denmark and they loudly asked for English menus, which were both available and welcome.  They had one server who spoke heavily accented English.  She apologized that she only knew a little.  Actually, her English was quite good.  She was very helpful and very busy last night!

Bill looks for a bottle of wine.  Last night, it was not held hostage.

The all important English menu!

He made a good choice!  And from start to finish, this was a much nicer experience than the one we had on Friday night.

C’est bonne!

 

We decided to have grilled beef rib, which is a dish reserved for at least two people.  Frankly, I think it would have served at least three.  We brought about half of my serving back to the apartment with us, along with a lot of fries.  It was priced at 27 euros per person and was very good.  They also brought out the uncut version to show us before they plated it.

My portion was huge!

They gave Bill the bone.  It looks like he should have gotten more meat.

Frites!  They were kind of average.

The dish came with Bearnaise sauce.

Bill very sensibly had vegetables, which included cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, and wax beans.

This was what I couldn’t finish.  Maybe I’ll get to it today, but I probably won’t.  We’re going to venture out of Ribeauville for awhile.  The total bill came to 89 euros.

The outside area is very nice, especially at this time of year.  I would go back to Auberge Au Zahnacker.

A couple more photos of the area.  Ribeauville is so charming.

We didn’t do that much yesterday other than eat, drink, and walk.  Today, I’m hoping to do some more specific activities… and maybe drink less.  But we’ll see what happens!

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