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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Turning 50 in Antwerp! Part one

Some women don’t like to share how old they are. They think it’s a shame to have grey hair, sagging boobs, and a butt like a barrel. Well, maybe having a barrel butt is kind of a shame. I probably could and should do something about that… but then again, I probably won’t. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that you never know how long you have. And when it comes down to it, what other people think of me isn’t my business. If I ever decide to make my butt into a different shape, I’ll do it because I want to, not because I’m ashamed.

Belgium is a great place for letting it all hang out. I have enjoyed every trip we’ve ever taken there, starting with our first visit in September 2008. Bill and I were living in the Stuttgart area, and Bill was working day and night on a very annoying project that kept him perpetually busy and traveling. One day, as Labor Day approached, he sent me a really pissy email that read, “I think we need to go to Brussels and see Manneken Pis.” And by God, that’s what we did. We took a first class Thalys train from Stuttgart to Cologne to Brussels and spent the weekend drinking excellent beers, eating chocolate, and enjoying the city’s irreverent vibe. We also visited Bruges.

Then, after we came back to Germany in 2014, we decided to go to Belgium again. We visited the Netherlands in 2015 and traveled through Belgium via Luxembourg, then spent Labor Day weekend 2016 there, visiting the eastern towns of Liege, Barvaux, Durbuy, Rochfort, and Dinant. In 2017, we celebrated my 45th birthday in a little town called Alveringem, which is not far from the beach or the beautiful city of Gent. We also visited Bruges again. Then in 2019, when we spent MLK weekend in the Netherlands, we were very close to the borders with Germany and Belgium, so we visited then, too. Then came COVID-19, which messed up travel for a long while.

As my fiftieth birthday approached, Bill wanted to know what I wanted to do and/or where I wanted to go. I told him he should come up with a trip. I hoped it would be a surprise, but I ended up figuring out where he chose to take me some weeks before the trip happened. He knew I’d been thinking about going to the Netherlands again, but he also knew that I love Belgium. He also found an absolute GEM of a hotel. Antwerp is also known for diamonds and, it being my fiftieth birthday, Bill figured maybe I was due for a new rock. So he booked the hotel, and Friday, the 17th of June, we made our way there, mostly courtesy of Germany’s handy Autobahn system. Our route also took us through a short strip of the Netherlands before we dipped into Belgium and landed at its big port city.

Bill got excited by this truck, which he says is from Osh Kosh, Wisconsin and is probably American equipment on its way to port.

The first thing we noticed about Antwerp was, unfortunately, the rude drivers. I can see why they’re rude, though. Driving in Antwerp is very challenging, especially if you don’t know your way around. There are many bikers and walkers, and they don’t always stay in view, yet they expect drivers to give them space. Once we parked, though, Antwerp became very cute, friendly, and welcoming for all people! Especially the LGBTQ population!

Spanish on the German Autobahn!

Our drive to Antwerp took about four hours, but it took another hour of driving in the hellish maze of one way streets to make our way to our junior suite at the glorious hotel Bill booked, De Witte Lelie (The White Lily), which is a fabulous small, luxury hotel with a little parking garage. Not knowing much about the hotel, other than it has great reviews and quirky furnishings, I was almost tempted to tell Bill that we should cancel there and go somewhere that was accessible! But I’m glad we didn’t do that, because the hotel was superb, and one of the best things about the trip. Yes, it costs a lot to stay there, but if you’re looking to splurge and are into avant-garde style, it’s a great hotel for a special occasion.

De Witte Lily started out as three 17th century buildings, but they’ve now been joined to create a beautiful oasis in Antwerp, complete with a peaceful courtyard, two sitting rooms, a small bar, and a lovely breakfast area. We were pretty exasperated by the time we reached the hotel at about 5:00pm on Friday, but the receptionist quickly opened the garage for us, checked us in (and even carried our bags upstairs), and gave us champagne and chips. I should mention that this hotel has an elevator, but it only services one part of the property. Our room was only accessible by stairs, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, given how much beer we drank (maybe it helped my barrel butt and spare tire).

I had visions of maybe taking day trips to other areas during our weekend, but we were so traumatized by driving in Antwerp and the rather rude drivers there (though, again, now I totally understand why they’re rude), that we decided to just spend the whole time exploring the old town’s cobbled streets, alcoves, and allies. We ate lots of good food, listened to live music, drank plenty of good beer, and did lots of shopping. In this series, which will be pretty brief, since we were only gone four nights, I’ll do my best to cover the highlights. Hope you’ll follow along. Antwerp really is a great place to turn 50… it’s a place where I felt just fine being myself!

Below are a few photos from our travel to Antwerp… they aren’t that exciting, but bear with me. They get better.

I’ll get more into the details of the hotel in part two. Stay tuned!


Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part fifteen

Landing in Liechtenstein…

As I prepare to write the last two parts of this series, it does occur to me that I need to work on my titles. At least no one can accuse me of writing “click bait” titles, right? What you see is what you get. Ah well, I’ll work on it.

On Monday, May 2, Bill and I made our way to our final stop on our spring tour– Vaduz, Liechtenstein. Originally, we had planned to go to Lugano, Switzerland, for the last two nights. I have been wanting to go to Lugano forever. But I realized that Lugano was too close to Florence and not far enough away from Germany. Staying there would potentially mean arriving too early for check in on May 2, and having to drive all day on May 4, when we made our way back to Germany. Also, I couldn’t decide on a hotel in Lugano. There was one that really attracted me, but was quite pricey. Another one was less expensive and got very high ratings, but didn’t lure me like the other one did. I finally got frustrated and decided to change plans.

I decided on Vaduz because of something that happened in 2009, when Bill and I lived in Germany the first time. It was June, and Bill’s mom had come from Texas to visit us. We were going to be PCSing (permanently changing stations– moving) in September of that year, so we were trying to cram in some last minute travel. At the time, Bill’s mom had never been to Austria, Switzerland, or Italy, or really, anywhere in Europe except for Germany and Ireland. I got the bright idea to book us a long weekend at an apartment in extreme southern Bavaria. On the second day, we went exploring, and eventually found ourselves in Italy, where we literally got stuck for hours, due to a sudden rainstorm that flooded the roads.

On our way to our joyride mishap in Italy, we stopped in Vaduz, Liechtenstein for a look. It was novel to be visiting the tiny country bordered by Austria and Switzerland. Parker got her passport stamped. I remember thinking that Vaduz was a pretty town. I took a few photos, since we were fortunate enough to have, at least at that point, beautiful weather. Hours later, I wished we’d turned around after we visited Liechtenstein… or even Chur, Switzerland, where we had lunch.

Remembering how pretty I thought Vaduz was in 2009, I went looking to see if there were any nice hotels there. I kind of wanted a splurge, since I knew we’d be tired after a week in Italy. I love Italy very much, but being there has a tendency to wear me out. But that might be because we often stay in somewhat busy areas.

I was also looking for peace and quiet, and very comfortable accommodations. That’s when I found the beautiful 29 room Park Hotel Sonnenhof, which also has a well-regarded restaurant called Maree. I noticed all of the enthusiastic reviews of the hotel, and found myself lured by the idyllic photos of the snow capped mountains and green lawns around the hotel. Then I noted that it was about a six hour drive from Florence, and maybe five hours or so from Wiesbaden. Perfect! That would split up our drive home nicely, and give us the chance to experience something novel– a tiny German speaking principality (62 square miles) with Swiss currency and ties to Austria. As small as Liechtenstein is, there are three other countries in Europe that are even smaller! Liechtenstein is also one of only two double landlocked countries in the entire world, the other being Uzbekistan. That means that it’s surrounded by countries that are also landlocked, and reaching a coastline requires crossing at least two national borders.

Below are some photos from our drive out of Italy… It was a very beautiful journey, although there are even prettier routes through Switzerland. We crossed over some majestic mountains to get to Vaduz.

When we arrived at the hotel on May 2, I was immediately struck by how beautiful and peaceful the surroundings were. The parking lot was mostly empty, and it was very quiet and calm as we approached the front door. A Tesla charging station was located at the front of the parking lot. I would later see many very expensive cars at this hotel. It’s clearly the “best” hotel in Vaduz.

An efficient receptionist who spoke flawless English checked us in, reminding us that Maree is currently closed on Mondays, but a small snack menu is available for hotel guests. I was glad of that, since it was mid afternoon when we arrived, and we were both tired of being in the car. It is possible to walk to the city center of Vaduz from the hotel, but it would have been a stout stroll, as the hotel is in an residential part of town.

We were assigned a junior suite– room 33– which has an African theme. The rooms are individually decorated. The room was very nice. The bed was especially comfortable, which was great after our week in Italy. We had a small terrace that overlooked a serene “park”, and offered majestic views of the Alps. I could have sat there all day, watching the mountains change with the sun and clouds. I had picked up a sandwich just before we arrived at the hotel, but Bill was hungry, so we ordered from the snack menu. It was just enough to satisfy us for the first night. Bill turned on the water cooler (air conditioners are illegal in Liechtenstein), and we enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep.

On Tuesday morning, we slept in a bit, then had a nice breakfast at Maree, which is where we also had dinner reservations. After breakfast, we walked around Vaduz, took pictures, and talked about everything. When it was time for lunch, we made our way to the Cellars of the Prince of Liechtenstein and the Hofkerllerei, which is a winery and restaurant. We hadn’t planned to visit this place in advance, but decided to go there because it looked like the menu was promising. Besides, we had spent our entire vacation drinking Italian wines. What better place to cap off the vacation? Below are some photos from our day in Vaduz.

And more pictures from Vaduz, lunch, and our wine tasting…

I think the next post will be the last in this series. Time to wrap up this trip and move on to other things.

road trips, skiing, Switzerland

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part two

Onward to Andermatt, Switzerland…

When Bill gave me the parameters of time he would have to take this trip, I started considering where we should stop, and for how long. I usually don’t like to do overnights, unless it’s a place we’ve already been. I like to have the chance to look around a place and get a feel for it… and decide if I want to go back sometime. Nevertheless, we had eleven nights, and I knew I wanted to visit Parma, Italy. Parma happens to be near Modena, where excellent balsamic vinegar comes from, and Bologna, which I’ve heard is just a lovely city with great hotels and food. Originally, I thought we’d stop somewhere in Switzerland for a couple of nights, but then I realized I’d prefer more time in Italy.

Then I consulted Google to find the best place to stop. I determined the halfway point between Wiesbaden/Frankfurt and Florence (Firenze). It turned out to be Göschenen, Switzerland, which is a cute ski village. For some reason, I didn’t find any suitable hotels in Göschenen. I see now that I could have also planned a stop in Innsbruck, Austria, which is at about the halfway point between Wiesbaden and Parma. But we’ve been to Innsbruck; in fact, we were just there two years ago. So I decided on Andermatt, a ski village in the Alps. There’s a super expensive hotel there called The Chedi, but even though I love expensive hotels, I decided to book us a room at the Radisson Blu, a brand new facility that is impossible to miss once you get to Andermatt. Getting to Andermatt isn’t all that simple, either.

Göschenen, Switzerland was on the way to Andermatt.

I was actually considering a different hotel in a nearby town, but Bill vetoed it because getting there would have required traveling on a super curvy road that would have added an hour to our travel time. Mountain switchbacks in Switzerland are no joke! We stopped at a rest stop that looked like a ski lodge. The pay toilets took Swiss francs and euros, and looked like little chalets. It was probably the nicest public toilet I’ve ever seen.

I didn’t know a thing about Andermatt before our visit. I looked at photos and could see that it’s a very beautiful place. I had no idea that we’d basically have to climb to the top of a mountain to get there. But it was actually kind of cool that we did that, since it snowed while we were visiting. As if the snow capped mountains weren’t striking enough on our arrival, they were stunning on Sunday morning, April 24th, as we were getting ready to continue our journey to Torrechiara, Italy. I was glad I brought sweaters!

Since we were only in Andermatt for a night, I didn’t get a chance to do much exploring, but we did have a somewhat mediocre dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Spun, which is the Romansch word for “spoon”. We also had a round of Swiss beer at the bar, which was very nice. The Radisson Blu in Andermatt has lots of nice facilities, including a pool and sauna, which we didn’t have time to try. Spun was so named because of the unique mixture of cultures in Switzerland, and the fact that Andermatt is near the French, Italian, and German regions of the country. I can’t say that I necessarily got the mixture of cultures in the dish I had, which was a rather ordinary Zander filet. Bill had beef cheeks with polenta, which he enjoyed. He did say it was more of a winter dish, but then it was snowing in Andermatt, so there you go.