Strasbourg’s annual wine extravaganza! Part five

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After lunch, parking the car, and a short rest in the hotel room, we were ready to head to the Wine Expo. Because he knew we were going to be tasting a lot of wines, Bill decided we’d take a taxi to the convention hall where the expo took place. We had gotten tickets to the event– six euros, which includes a wine glass for tasting– was the official price. However, I don’t think we paid for the tickets, since once you go and buy wine, the vinters send them out. Someone gifted Bill with them and he printed them off at work.

So we got the cab, and I made sure Bill took the cabbie’s card, because I sure as hell had no plans to hoof it from the exposition. We walked into the huge convention hall, after my purse was given a cursory once over by security. We picked up a couple of wine glasses for tasting wines… and off we went. As I mentioned before, this event is attended by winemakers from all over France. It was PACKED with hundreds of labels from Alsace to Corsica and everywhere in between. Okay, so I didn’t see any wines from any of the overseas departments like Reunion Island or St. Barts… but mainland France was very well represented.

We stopped at one booth featuring wines from the Loire Valley. I wanted to try some, since I visited the Loire Valley in 1997 with my sister. I have yet to get there with Bill, but I have fond memories of the time I spent there years ago with Becky. We bought two cases there… probably too much in retrospect, given how many people were there. What can I say? The salesman was charming.

Then we stopped at a booth with wines from the southwest, not too far from Basque Country in Spain. The guy at that booth was even more charming, and we bought eight more bottles from him. Since we had no personal trolley nor our car with us, we arranged to pick up the wines the next day.

Then we walked to the other side of the expo, visited the restrooms, which were free of charge (a rare sight in Germany, but the French must realize that when you gotta go, you gotta go). We bought some Chateauneuf du Pape– a small enough order to carry with us, a bottle of cognac, a few bottles of Gigondas, and some Pommard from Beaune. Finally, we stopped at a booth with wine from Languedoc, which is one of Bill’s favorite wine regions anywhere. We arranged to get the Languedoc wines the next day, too. The lady who sold them to us spoke no English, and our French is non-existent– but wine is an international language. As we walked through the convention, I took a picture of the places where we stopped to try wine. It made it easier to find them on Sunday.

Word to the wise. Hilton Strasbourg is located right next to the convention center. I considered booking there, too. If we go back for the wine expo, maybe I will book there. It’s not even a five minute walk away. We did duck in there when we were finished shopping and a kind staffer called a cab for us. We were able to carry about ten bottles with us and arranged to get the rest on Sunday, when we would be bringing the car.

One thing to know for other years… if you intend to buy a lot of wine, it may be worth it to bring your own dolly and bungie cords. You can use the “trollies” at the convention, but you’ll have to wait in line to get them. There are “chariots” for sale there, but they’re not very big and they’re a bit flimsy. We ended up buying one on Sunday and making two trips to the car with our modest haul of about 44 bottles. There is a coat check in the hall, too, but I would recommend dressing lightly. There are a lot of bodies in there and it’s pretty warm.

After a couple of hours at the expo, we were tired and overwhelmed, and Bill was fretting over how much we spent. It turned out we didn’t spend as much as he thought, and he put most of it on his debit card, anyway. Still, by early evening, we were wiped out and ready to head back to the hotel. We were still full from lunch and not interested in going back to the city for dinner. So we went back to the hotel and settled in…

A couple of hours later, Bill used an app to order Lebanese food which was brought by Deliveroo, a delivery service. One other thing I noticed in Strasbourg is that it’s one of six French cities that has Yea! Citiz, a rental car service that allows you to order a car like you’d order a bike. You stay within a certain perimeter and park the car in certain areas. I noticed one of their cars as we were milling around the city. I watched a cheesy 80s era movie starring Kristy McNichol and fell asleep early, with visions of wine bottles dancing in my head.

Strasbourg’s annual wine extravaganza! Part one

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Well, we finally did it. After a total of 7.5 years of living in Germany, Bill and I finally visited Strasbourg, France, for more than a couple of hours. And we finally went to the annual wine expo I’ve been hearing about for years, now. Although I run a local food and wine group on Facebook and I’ve never made a secret of my love for wine and beer, Bill and I have somehow always missed Strasbourg’s big wine convention, which takes place every February. This yearly event, which has been going on since 1994, brings together hundreds of vintners from all over France. And since we never know when our time in Europe might end, Bill and I decided this year we’d attend.

We weren’t sure we were going to make the expo until the last minute. Bill has to go away this week and will be leaving in a few hours, after he picks up Arran from the Birkenhof Tierpension, which has become our go-to dog hotel since we moved to Wiesbaden. Then I was concerned about where we were going to stay, since I wasn’t at all familiar with Strasbourg and I worried that hotels would be full. But it all came together nicely and I am happy to say we had a great weekend, complete with extraordinarily warm, sunny weather. I had originally given some thought to staying on a house boat in Strasbourg, but I figured the weather wouldn’t be good. As we were leaving this morning, I told Bill that we could have had a great time on the boat. We had sunny skies and balmy temperatures in the 60s! I didn’t even need to wear a sweater!

The first thing we did to prepare for our trip to Strasbourg was order a sticker for the car. France, like Germany, now requires stickers for cars traveling in certain cities. Strasbourg is one such city that requires the sticker. It costs 7 euros, and comes in the mail, but since our trip was coming up so soon, we had a printout of our proof of purchase on the dashboard of the car.

Bill took Friday, Valentine’s Day, off from work, dropped off Arran at the Hunde Hotel, where he was left in capable hands and the promise of hanging out with a beagle girlfriend he’s had since we lost Zane. I was glad to hear she’d be staying at the pension, too, since they make good roommates. Then we loaded up the Volvo and got on our way. Strasbourg is only about 2.5 hours from Wiesbaden, which makes it a super easy place to get away to for a weekend break. We were actually closer to Strasbourg when we lived near Stuttgart, but always wound up being lured by Alsatian wine country. Now that I’ve spent a weekend in Strasbourg, I think it’ll be hard to choose between the two areas when we need to get out of Germany but don’t want to travel too far.

Our trip to France mostly took place in Germany. We made just one stop, at a truck stop that was a lot closer to France than we were expecting. In retrospect, we probably should have just continued to France and had ourselves some Alsatian goodies. But we did stop, and I took a few photos…

Our lodging…

I booked Hotel des XV for our three night stay, a four star establishment on the east side of town. I booked the hotel because it got really excellent reviews on Trip Advisor and Booking.com, but it also had more of what I was looking for than other places I researched. Since Bill and I not getting any younger, we like to stay in nice hotels with good service. We don’t mind paying a bit more for better quality.

Hotel des XV is located in a quiet residential area, very close to the Orangerie Park and several consulates. It’s not in the thick of town, and there aren’t any restaurants closeby, although there is at least one grocery store within reasonable walking distance and, in fact, it’s possible to walk into town in about 30 minutes or so. There’s also a bus stop right outside the hotel’s gate, although the bus stops running at 9:00pm.

Hotel des XV has just ten rooms. There’s a free parking lot next to the hotel, although I think it’s for the neighborhood, and not just for guests. I read that the hotel also offers a private garage where one can purchase the right to park, but we never needed to use it.

Breakfast costs 19 euros per adult and includes a buffet with the usual fruits, cereals, breads, cold cuts, and cheeses. They will also make bacon and eggs, if you like. Breakfast for children is 9,5 euros. It’s served in a lovely front room that also serves as a fully stocked bar, which also offers small plates and room service.

Two classes of rooms are available, superior and deluxe. I booked us a deluxe room, and we were in #3. It was not a big room, but it was nicely appointed with a king sized bed, desk, free WiFi, and a flat screen TV. The bathroom had a good sized glass enclosed shower with a wide head. We were very comfortable there for three nights.

From the moment of our arrival at about 3:00pm on Valentine’s Day until our departure at about 8:30am on President’s Day, we got mostly friendly, attentive service from the staff at Hotel des XV. I was even greeted in a welcome card, written in German. I guess they thought I was German because we booked from Germany. All of the staff members spoke excellent English, though, so kudos to them for that!

The only hiccup in service was when we came back late on Friday night and couldn’t get into the hotel. They had changed the code to the lock since we’d checked in that afternoon. Consequently, the door wouldn’t open and we had to call reception at about 10:30pm… it made a racket and took the guy several minutes to respond. Edited to add: I see now that they sent me an email about the new code, but it went to my spam folder.

I was already pissed because Bill made me walk back from town, so I was a bit irritated about having to wait outside for the door to be opened. More on that in a later post. For now, here are some pictures of the property!

For three nights with breakfasts each morning and room service last night– a bottle of wine and two small plates– we paid about 630 euros. Not cheap, but it was cheaper than the houseboat would have been, and a very comfortable stay. I’d definitely book there again. This hotel, by the way, is also pet friendly, although pets don’t stay free of charge. Fair enough… and maybe someday Arran can come with us to Strasbourg, which is as dog friendly as the rest of France is.

Ribeauvillé trois… Pt. 3

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We awoke to more rain on Saturday.  I was kind of bummed out about that, since there are a couple of other little villages in the area I want to visit.  I had designs on seeing Kaysersberg and Bergheim, both of which are reputed to be very charming places.  Despite having visited Alsace several times since 2014, we still haven’t visited all of the cute towns.  Of course, that just gives us a good reason to return to the area.  On the other hand, time in Europe is precious and there are so many other places to see.  We probably should have just manned up and gone.

Another activity I had considered was visiting the spa in Ribeauvillé.  On the outskirts of town, there is a large resort hotel that has a spa and a casino.  I read up on the Balneo before our visit, but like most French pools, the guys have to wear Speedos.  Although Bill has been able to bring himself to go naked in German spas, he is still unwilling to don a maillot.  So we didn’t go to the spa… I’ll keep working on him, though.

One thing we did do this time that we haven’t really done much of on previous visits is go shopping.  Yep, we stayed in Ribeauvillé and spread around some euros.  The town has a lot of cute little shops where it’s easy to part with money.  We started by visiting what was advertised as an “art exhibition”. It was free of charge and set up in what appeared to be a very old church no longer in use.  They had maybe a dozen or so abstract paintings set up, as well as lots of what looked like handmade crafts for sale.  There were Christmas tree ornaments, purses, knitted ponchos and gloves, and lots of other items.  We did end up buying a new ornament for one of our Christmas trees.

It wasn’t a big exhibition, but the inside of the little church was well worth looking at.  

After we took in the “exhibition”, we walked further down the street and noticed a guy standing in a doorway offering cheese samples.  I don’t actually like cheese that much, unless it’s melted and in something.  Bill loves cheese, though, so we went into this place that had nothing but some sausages and huge cheese wheels.  Bill only wanted about 100 grams, but he walked out with about $100 worth of cheesy comestibles.  The two young people selling the cheese had trouble cutting small pieces and cut two big slabs of the stuff.  Fortunately, Bill is easy going and had plenty of cash on hand.  My guess is that his cheese loving buddies at work will get a treat this week because there is no way we can eat as much as he bought.

Bill says the cheese is very good… kind of like Gruyere, which I do happen to like in small quantities.    Guess we’ll be making potatoes au gratin or something…

 

Beaucoup Fromage!  

 

Once we were done with the cheese shop, it was getting close to lunchtime.  A lot of businesses close for two hours starting at noon, which gives people the perfect opportunity to have a leisurely lunch.  I have also noticed that every time we visit this town, at least a couple of restaurants are closed for a holiday.  It’s almost like they take shifts.  I noticed two places we visited last time were closed this time.  And places that were closed last time were open this time.

I took another enchanting shot of Ribeauvillé…  Next time, we will have to broaden our horizons.

 

Every time we’ve come to Ribeauvillé, we have passed a restaurant called La Flammerie.  Our host told us it’s a very popular place, especially at night.  Indeed, it’s always packed at lunch and dinner and we were lucky to score a table at lunchtime on Saturday.  When we sat down, there were tables available, but they filled up very quickly.

Bill checks out the offerings and we both decide to try a local beer called Meteor, which they had on tap.

 

La Flammerie seems to specialize in “ham knuckles”, known in these parts as schweinshaxe.  I was tempted to get one, since they seem to be prepared differently in France and they had a number of them listed on the menu.  But then I realized that I can never finish pork knuckles.  They usually end up being two or three meals for me.  Then I considered having a “faux filet”, which is basically just a steak.  But I can get steak anywhere…  So I finally opted for more duck, since duck isn’t always easy to find.  It was prepared with a pinot noir and honey sauce.

My duck tasted good, though if I’m honest, the pinot noir and honey sauce wasn’t very appetizing looking.  My dish also came with sauerkraut and roasted potatoes.  I’m not exactly sure what the little ramekin was full of.  It looked like it could have been anything from fruit to kidneys.  I didn’t want to risk it, since the restaurant was crowded.  If it was something that made me feel nauseated, it would be hard to get to the bathroom!  I have a feeling that ramekin was probably offal of some sort…  How awful!

 

I must edit to add that my German friend, Susanne, checked out the menu for me and she says the contents of the ramekin were “Quetsche” (a type of local plum).  I like plums, so I probably would have enjoyed them.  Unfortunately, an unfortunate incident from our last trip to France is still fresh in my mind.  While we were in Burgundy, Bill ordered what he thought was a type of sausage.  It turned out he ordered pigs’ intestines, complete with the colon.  Since I have a weaker stomach than he does, I decided it was better to be safe than sorry!

Bill had “roesti”, which is another local favorite.  It’s basically Alsatian comfort food– roasted potatoes with cheese.  His dish came with a salad and some bread.

Instead of dessert, we decided to have local digestives.  I had Mirabelle, which is a spirit made with local plums.  Bill had another local liqueur called Marc.  It’s kind of like grappa.

The menu posted outside.

After a quick potty break at the apartment for us and the dogs, we continued our shopping spree.  I decided to buy the blue suede cap, pictured below…  It’s actually a German made product, but it came in handy because of all the rain.

Is it me?  Damn, I am really blonde now…  No bottles involved; just getting old.  I like the cap, though I rarely wear head gear.

The picture speaks for itself.

 

We stopped inside this charming little shop where a guy was selling homemade liqueurs and wines.  He didn’t speak English, but he and Bill were able to converse a bit in German.  We bought some raspberry liqueur, creme de cassis, and a bottle of Cremant.

 

Our next stop was at a bottle shop… they were advertising a huge wine tasting.  We didn’t end up going because the weather sucked and we didn’t want to be hungover for our drive back to Germany.  However, we did buy a couple of nice reds.

This was a pretty cool little shop.  It’s not very big, but there’s a little bit of everything offered there, from spirits to wine related gifts.  The proprietor spoke very charmingly accented English, too.  I was intrigued by a staircase that obviously once led to an upstairs but is now simply used for displaying stuff, since the top of the steps met with the ceiling..  I guess there must be another staircase in the building.

This bottle of dessert wine was priced at 345 euros!  No wonder it was behind bars.

A good bet for wine lovers…

 

Last time we were in Ribeauvillé, we stopped at a winery for a tasting and walked out with six bottles to take home with us.  This time, we went to Louis Sipp, which is a well-known winery in town.  For five euros, you can try three wines.  Or, if you make a purchase, they don’t charge for for the tasting.  We tried six wines and left with six bottles.  If we’d wanted to, we could have spent the day tasting wines.  There are a number of places on the Alsatian Wine Route, but it would be just as easy to just walk around any of the little towns.

I can’t believe he was a teetotaler when we first met.

A group of French youths joined us while we tasted wines.  

Finally, we stopped by a pottery store.  I have my share of Polish pottery, which we bought when we lived in Germany back in 2007-09, as well as stuff we’ve found at AAFES.  Alsace also has nice pottery.  We stopped in one store that had many pieces crafted in Soufflenheim, a well-known pottery town just over the French border with Germany.

I bought a few pieces… as many as I could get away with before Bill objected.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of space in our current house for cookware.  Otherwise, I think I might have picked up one of those casserole dishes.  

We were pretty full from lunch, so we spent Saturday evening watching TV.  Bill took the dogs out for an early evening stroll and I guess the dogs started baying again, because a guy staying in a building next to ours stuck his head out of his window and started berating Bill in French.  Bill is a very mild mannered and non confrontational person.  It’s probably a lucky thing that I wasn’t walking the dogs because I probably would have started yelling back at him in English, and I would have included some choice universal swear words that wouldn’t have needed any translation.

I get that it’s annoying when dogs bark, but ours don’t bark constantly.  In fact, they usually only make noise for a minute or so.  Moreover, we weren’t the only ones with dogs in the area.  We heard lots of barking from other canines.  If that guy actually lives in that place, he probably hears a lot of barking all the time, which might account for his unpleasant disposition.  Yannick, the guy who owns the apartments where we stay, is very dog friendly and he told us that there have been times when all four of his apartments in the wine house (he has seven total, but the others are in a different building) have had dogs in attendance.

Anyway, yelling at people whose dogs occasionally bark is really not productive.  We do the best we can not to let our dogs disturb others, but sometimes shit happens.  They’re animals, and sometimes they are unpredictable.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to take the boys out in the middle of the night on our last night in town.  However, during yesterday’s morning stroll, someone driving a Porsche SUV that had been parked in the same lot where our car was, went screaming past Bill.  And my sweet, easygoing husband screamed, “You fucking ASSHOLE!” at the guy, who was either the one who yelled at him or someone trying very hard to convince everyone else how big his penis is, and failing miserably.

Too bad we had to end our trip on that note…  We did bring home some nice stuff, though, and hope that during our next visit, we will see and do more.  Really, though, Ribeauvillé feels like another home by now.  It’s great to go there on a long weekend and just have some different food and a change of scenery.  Not only is a beautiful area with a different vibe, but it’s so easy to get there and doesn’t take all day to reach.  We are able to make it in under three hours and a round trip uses about half a tank of gas.

Yannick, once again, reminded me to text or email next time we visit so he can be spared paying a commission to Booking.com and we’ll get a special rate.  I don’t know when we’ll go back to Alsace, but I do know it makes for a convenient first stop into France.  It could be sooner rather than later.

We drove home yesterday in the driving rain and I couldn’t help but notice that the rivers that flow through the Black Forest were very high and even flooding in some areas.  I got a few shots during our drive.

Look carefully and you can see the brown water.  If we were living in that area, I might be a little scared.

Anyway… I wish we could have done more exciting things on this trip, but it was great to get away for a few days.  Next trip with the dogs, we’ll be sure to stay in a more rural locale.  Luckily, there are plenty of places like that in Europe.

Booze! A guide to wine shops in the Stuttgart area of Germany…

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Hello folks.  Every once in awhile, I like to write posts that are comparative in nature.  Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to try out a few wine stores near us and I thought it might be interesting to write about the pros and cons of each.

Naturally, you can always buy wine on post (if you have access and/or purchasing privileges) or at your favorite grocery store like Edeka, Aldi, or Real.  Those locations are givens.  I wanted to highlight stores that specifically focus on wine.  I’ve written about each place before, so I will link to my first posts about them so those who are interested can read about my first impressions.

Vinum!  Our favorite wine store.

Probably my all time favorite wine store in the area is Vinum in Tübingen.  I will admit that I mostly like that store for sentimental reasons.  We used to shop there all the time when we lived in Germany the first time.  I still like to go there and will go out of my way to visit for several reasons.  First off, they have a great selection of wines.  It’s not a huge store, but there are plenty of wines to choose from and quite a few are available for tasting.  They also have wine on tap and, as long as you have a bottle (you can buy one there if you want), you can load up on cheap, good quality wines.

Secondly, Vinum offers more than just wine.  They have a small selection of gourmet foods.  They also sell exotic beers and fine liquors and liqueurs, as well as nice booze related gifts.  Their staff is very helpful and speak English.  Sometimes they host events on the weekends for wines and spirits.  I also think their building is very cool.  It reminds me of a cave.  Bill and I have shopped there extensively, both times we’ve lived in Germany, so we’re very familiar with the store.  In fact, it may be time to pay them another visit soon.

Inside the Alte Brennerei in Herrenberg.

In second place, I think I’d put Alte Brennerei, a wine store Bill and I discovered just a couple of weeks ago in Herrenberg.  Alte Brennerei is a fairly small store in comparison to Vinum, but the proprietor is very friendly, speaks great English, and offers a good variety of wines.  She also has a small selection of gourmet items, though not as many as Vinum does, and will offer to do tastings for small groups.  She doesn’t have a wide range of liquors available or wines on tap, but she does have plenty of whiskys.  Since Bill and I like scotch, we like Alte Brennerei.  A bonus is that right across the street is a cheese shop and right next door is the adorable Lamm Gasthof, a great place for a bite to eat.

Jacques’ Wein Depot in Ludwigsburg.

In third place, I’d choose Jacques’ Wein Depot, a chain wine store that has locations all over Germany.  One advantage to visiting the Wein Depot is that there are a lot of convenient locations.  This store also allows patrons to try almost every wine they sell.

The reason I put Jacques Wein Depot in third place is because when we visited, the salespeople did not seem all that interested in helping us.  This is not such a big deal to us, since we pretty much know what we like.  It could be a problem for less experienced wine drinkers.  Also, I did not get the impression that the guys who were working at the Wein Depot spoke English.  Again, not a huge deal, but potentially less helpful for English speakers who don’t know what they like.

I also think the Wein Depot lacks the charm of of Vinum and Alte Brennerei, stores that have a personal touch.  Jacques’ Wein Depot is a chain; as such, it lacks a certain mysticism.  However, I did think the wines were probably better priced at Wein Depot as opposed to the other two stores.  Generally speaking, that is the advantage of visiting a chain store over an individual location.

Vom Fass.

Likewise, Vom Fass, another chain wine store is kind of similar to Jacques’ Wein Depot.  Although we visited one when we went to Ulm in August, I haven’t yet really had a chance to write a review of one.  Vom Fass also has several locations near Stuttgart and elsewhere in Germany.  It seems to be more of an all purpose store, offering wines, vinegars, oils, and other gourmet items.  Jacques’ Wein Depot, by contrast, appears to be all about the wine.

Wein Kreis in Stuttgart.

There are definitely other stores in the area we haven’t tried yet.  For example, there’s a wine store/ wine bar in Stuttgart we have yet to visit.  It’s right next to the Markthalle, though, and we usually load up on wines when we visit the Markthalle.  Next time we visit Dr. Blair, which should be next week for a cleaning, we will have to stop by the Wein Kreis store in Stuttgart and try it out.  I will definitely update then.

The lovely thing about living in Germany is that there’s always a place to buy great wine for not much money.  You don’t have to visit a wine store to find something good, though it sure can be fun shopping in one!  This weekend, I hope to find a few more wines when we visit France!