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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!

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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.

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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.

Our drive to Andermatt was mostly uneventful, save for running into the homeless looking guy in Germany on a bike. He wore an orange safety vest and medical mask under his chin as he raided the trash cans. After a lunch of Schnitzel and warm beer, I watched in horror as he pulled several bottles out of the trash, looked in them, and drank out of them before he put the bottles in his bag to be traded for euro cents. The only other thing that was notable was the bottleneck to reach the road to Andermatt. There’s a tunnel where drivers are allowed two or three at a time. It took some time to get through it, then we drove up the steep mountainside, passing several furiously pumping bikers who appeared to be on a journey to Hell.

The staff at the Radisson Blu was very professional and… Swiss. 😉 Everybody spoke perfect English and was very polite. The hotel was immaculate, and there’s a very handy parking garage adjoining the hotel. All in all, it was a very convenient place to stop. Just be sure to bring your Swiss plug adapters! Switzerland uses type J. I did invest in a couple of them years ago.

The bed at the hotel wasn’t too bad. It was firmer than what we’re used to, but it was basically comfortable. I don’t usually like to stay in corporate hotels if I can help it, but in this situation, the Radisson Blu was the best option. Below are some photos of our basic room. It was about $250, which seems expensive, until you remember it’s Switzerland… and a brand new hotel.