A gorgeous fall Saturday in Herrenberg!

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We had absolutely beautiful weather today.  I told Bill I wanted to go out and do something.  We gave some thought to driving to Stuttgart, but I noticed the time.  It was about 1:00pm and I knew we wanted lunch.  Given that a lot of places stop serving lunch at 2:00pm, I suggested to Bill that we stop in Herrenberg.  We did… and we never made it out of Herrenberg today!  Read on to find out why…

We parked in a leafy parking area… 2 euros for 48 hours!

 

Both of our times in Germany, Bill and I have lived close to Herrenberg, a small city south of Stuttgart.  During our first time here, we lived near Tuebingen and spent more time there than in Herrenberg.  This time, we live near Nagold, and go there more often.  But Herrenberg has a whole lot going for it, as we found out today.  There are great restaurants and places to shop, as well as friendly people.

They were just finishing up the market when we arrived.  We decided to have lunch at Osteria da Gino’s.  We have also been to a restaurant with the same name in Nagold several times– this one in Herrenberg is different, but equally excellent.  Both times we’ve been in there, it’s been very well attended.

 

Today was actually the first time Bill and I have ever eaten at the Osteria da Gino’s in Herrenberg.  The first time we tried to, it was absolutely packed and we were turned away.  It was pretty busy today, too.  For that reason, it may be a good idea to make reservations if this review tempts you.

Obligatory shot of Bill.

 

The inside of Osteria da Gino’s in Herrenberg is very quaint and smells delicious!  They have an impressive array of wines available.  We ordered a small carafe of primitivo and our usual sparkling water.

Right now, Osteria da Gino is offering a number of dishes with black truffles from the Piedmont area of Italy, as well as fresh mussels.  I like mussels, but it’s one of those dishes I only want maybe once a year.  We had them a few weeks ago in Belgium.  I opted for duck breast in a raspberry balsamic sauce with noodles and fresh vegetables.  I was glad I asked our waiter, who spoke English, what kind of vegetables came with this dish.  It turned out they were serving it with mushrooms!  But they kindly left them off for me.

My duck breast was delicious!  I think that pasta was homemade, too.

Beautiful fresh vegetables, delicately seasoned and still bright with color…  I wouldn’t be surprised if they were very recently plucked from the garden.

Bill prepares to enjoy a very nice pasta dish with vegetables and black truffles.  Those truffles were very fragrant.

Lovely, quaint interior.  I noticed many people enjoying pizzas, which Gino in Nagold does not offer. The pizzas looked excellent.  Maybe next time we’ll try them.

 

Bill and both loved our meals at Osteria da Gino’s in Herrenberg.  No, it’s not like the one in Nagold, which is a favorite place of ours, but it’s probably just as good and offers different food.  We will definitely have to go back.  Today’s lunch came to 52 euros before the tip.

Excellent location right by the main square in Herrenberg.  You can’t miss it.

Cute little market on a corner.

 

After lunch, we decided we might try the little Irish pub in Herrenberg.  I had been curious about it for a long time.  But first, we stopped by a whisky store… and that turned out to be a VERY successful stop on many levels.  Alte Brennerei in Herrenberg sells wines, spirits, and a small selection of gourmet foods.  It reminds me a little bit of Vinum in Tuebingen, though it’s a bit smaller.   I had seen it a few times on recent trips to Herrenberg, but we never seemed to get there when it was open.  Today, we were in luck.

The doors were open wide!

Unfortunately, we were too late to visit the cheese shop across from it, which also sells wine.

The cheese shop closed at 2:00…  The Alte Brennerei is open until 4:00.

 

We walked in and immediately heard a very tall German looking woman speaking perfect American accented English.  Then she switched to equally perfect German.  She was with a man and a child.  The man was clearly NOT American, but also spoke excellent English, as did the store’s proprietor.  The English speaking German customers said the store had a great selection of scotch whiskys.  Bill and I concurred, having recently been on a whisky cruise.

I was impressed by the selection of wines, too.

It’s not a big shop, but there are lots of interesting wines available from all over…

After we chose a few bottles, we went back to the whisky area.  Bill chose one to take home and we talked more with the English speaking Germans.  It turns out they live very close to us, in the town of Jettingen.  I asked the lady if she was American or German, because her English was so perfect I honestly couldn’t tell.  It turned out she’s German, but was raised in the United States.  And she lives right across the street from Tommi’s Bistro, which is one of our favorite restaurants.  She gave me a card and told me to give her a call sometime.  She said she was happy to meet us because there aren’t a lot of Americans where we are.  And she has a cute little daughter who needs to practice speaking English!  I don’t mind, especially since she and her husband have good taste in booze!

After they left, we tried a Viognier and added it to our collection of bottles.  We chatted up the proprietor, who turned out to be an excellent business woman.  She really knew her whiskys and had also spent some time in Scotland.  She’d even visited a lot of the distilleries we’ve been to, including Kilchoman in Islay, which is a fairly new one.  She smiled when I told her the Scots are my people.

I mentioned to her that I have a wine group on Facebook and she said that they would be very happy to arrange a wine or whisky tasting for groups of ten or more.  Alte Brennerei also hosts a number of events.  I picked up a calendar and hope we can make it to a few of them.  I have a feeling we could learn a lot there!  And, just so you know, they accept credit cards.  We used our USAA card with no issues.

They even have Scottish cider.

 

After we dropped off our booze at the car, we headed for Shannon Irish Pub in Herrenberg.  And, let me just say, it’s no Auld Rogue.  We arrived right after it opened at 3:00.  Not many people were there and German and American pop music blared from the speakers.  The bartender was German and spoke no English.  And there was no Guinness to be found.  What they did have was Murphy’s Irish Stout, so that’s what we had.

A couple of shots of the bar area.

Peanut butter “Flips”… definitely a German snack.  Though I can’t complain because I like them.

Another part of the bar…

 

Service was friendly enough, and I noticed that the prices for the whiskys and whiskeys were reasonable.  It just didn’t seem much like an Irish pub as much as it was a German bar trying to be Irish.  It’s definitely not as charming or authentic as The Auld Rogue is.  And I was shocked that there was no Guinness!  That’s crazy!  But, as bars go, it wasn’t that bad…  Just don’t expect authenticity.

The backside of the bar.

 

All in all, we had a great day.  We were reminded that we need to visit Herrenberg more often.  We usually just go there to take the dogs to the vet or pass through to get to Stuttgart.  It’s a great town, though, with a lot to offer.  And Alte Brennerei is definitely a great find for those who like their booze.  Right next door to Alte Brennerei is the Gasthof Lamm, which is a great little restaurant where we had Thanksgiving last year.  Granted, it was German food, but it was cozy and cute and the food was good.

Herrenberg is a great little town.  It also seems to be the place to see and be seen.  Last time we were there, we ran into our neighbors from our first time in Germany (07-09) and they knew us right away.  This time, we ran into people who live in our town now!

Maybe tomorrow, we’ll make it to Stuttgart.

Last minute getaway to Ulm: Part three

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As most regular readers know, I am a sucker when it comes to beer and wine.  I enjoy a good fest.  It was just turning 11:00am as we were deciding what we wanted to do next.  As we were at the right place at the right time, I told Bill we needed to stop and have some wine.  Fortunately, Bill loves wine as much as I do.

This is pretty cool, isn’t it?  I saw a couple of these at the small wine fest near the cathedral.

Look at all those empty tables!  It looked like several restaurants/wineries were catering this event.  There were several different areas and the menus were different.  I saw Spanish tapas, pizzas, bruschettas, and flammkuchen being offered.

Bill takes a look at one of the menus and all of the available wines.

We finally sat down at a place that had Spanish and Italian wines and foods.

We were among their first customers of the day.  Bill ordered us two different whites.  The one I had was called Larrua.  

 

The pretty waitress who looked after us was utterly charmed by Zane and Arran.  She came over and loved all over them.  They ate up the attention and only indulged in a couple of outbursts during our time at the fest.  I told Bill that even though we weren’t really hungry after our lumberjack truck stop breakfast, it might be a good time to eat.  The fest was not very busy while we were there, so I figured we’d have an easier time eating then.

At one point, Zane jumped up on the bench with me.  Poor guy never learned his manners!

Bill and I split this Hawaiian pizza.  It was pretty good and the ham was useful for bribing the dogs.

The wine made our dogs’ occasional barking sessions more tolerable.  At one point, some folks were laughing at us!  It was pretty funny.

 

In all, Bill and I shared five glasses of wine.  I had a Riesling and a Montepulciano and Bill enjoyed a Temperanillo from a cask with the pizza.  When we settled up with the waitress, Bill apologized for the dogs’ occasional outbursts.  She laughed and asked us in German what kinds of dogs they are.  We explained that they are hunting dogs who chase small game.  I tried to say “squirrel” in German, but failed.  I have heard it said that Germans have a hard time saying squirrel.  The waitress figured out what I meant when I mimicked one.  We left the fest feeling decidedly mellow.

Funny video about Germans and the word “squirrel”…  Frankly, I think Americans would have a much harder time with EICHHÖRNCHEN…

Russian Orthodox church near the cathedral…

Handy facilities after time spent at a wine fest.

This fountain in front of the church was also useful for watering the dogs.

I sent Bill into the Ochsen Shop for some beer.  I thought he’d get some of the other gourmet goodies in there, but he disappointed me.  Maybe next time, I’ll do the shopping.

Ah… Vom Fass!  Another cool German chain for all those who love their spirits.  Bill went in there and got a bottle of Bordeaux and some rum from Belize.

 

The weather started to turn right around the time Bill was coming out of the Ochsen shop.  We thought about hitting the trails with the dogs, but decided we’d rather not get caught in the rain.  So we headed back to the garage where our car was parked.

As we passed this bakery, I had to get a couple of photos of wedding cakes.

We got back to the hotel at about 2:30 or 3:00 after stopping at Kaufland for some snacks and wine.  I think we only meant to stop at the hotel for a brief time, but I suddenly felt really tired.  I didn’t sleep well at all the first night.  I laid down on the bed.  The dogs jumped up and joined me.  Then, I fell fast asleep for the next three hours… awakened again only by the damn church bells going off at 6:00!

We decided to stay in and watch TV.  Recognize this man on the TV?  It’s Bob Ross, the PBS painting guy.  He’s been dead since 1995, but they still show his painting series.  This was in English and kind of fun to watch.

 

We spent last night drinking wine, eating snacks, and eventually watching Al Pacino and Chris O’Donnell in the 1992 film Scent of a Woman dubbed in German.  Watching that movie, which was released when I was in college, made me feel all kinds of ancient.  Still, it was kind of nice to watch TV for a change.  I found that I understood a lot of the movie.  I had seen it before, but it had been years.

I slept somewhat better this morning, but it still wasn’t the greatest sleep I’ve ever had.  Bill and I decided to skip the hotel breakfast and head home, where we knew we had great coffee waiting for us.  The bonus to getting on the road at about 7:00am was that the autobahn was fairly empty and we had a stress free drive.  Bill cooked breakfast and we enjoyed some delicious, fresh Kenyan coffee.

If we do ever go back to the Ulm area, I will choose a different hotel, although the Lobinger Weisses Ross was a pretty good value.  We spent 232 euros.  Thirty-two euros went for the bottle of wine Bill bought.  The rest was for the room and the very reasonable pet fee.  I think if it had just been Bill and me, we would have liked the hotel fine.  With our dogs, it just wasn’t all that suitable.  The room and the bed were just a little too small.  Also, the WiFi situation was a bummer.  On the other hand, I would recommend that hotel for people who have young kids or folks on a budget.

I do hope we can go back to Ulm and the surrounding area for another look.  There’s a lot there we didn’t get to see and Ulm alone is a very charming city.  It’s definitely a good bet for those who are looking for great shopping and restaurants.

Hopefully our next short break will be in France, now that Bill has his passport.  It figures that they had it ready on Friday and we could have gone to France after all.  Oh well!

A whirlwind trip to Austria, Italy, and probably Switzerland, part 9

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Bill came back from his final meeting in Vicenza by 10:00am.  That meant we were free to pack up and leave.  I was pretty ready to go.  Don’t get me wrong.  Vicenza seemed like a nice town based on what little I saw of it.  I was just really looking forward to our hotel in Switzerland, which I had been eyeing for years.  That, and it seemed like the air quality in and around Vicenza was really terrible.  I noticed a lot of smog around Vicenza and Verona.

I hadn’t realized how long it was going to take us to get to Vevey, Switzerland.  For some reason, I think of the countries in Europe like states in America.  Like there will be big interstates connecting them easily.  That’s definitely not always true.  As it turned out, it took all day to get from Vicenza to Vevey.  We were forever stopping to pay tolls, too.  I think we paid about 50 euros worth just to get out of the country.  Then we had to take St. Bernard’s Pass, which was almost another 30 euros.

Our drive to Switzerland introduced me to the Auto Grill phenomenon.  Sure, I’d seen truck stops before, both in the United States and Germany.  For some reason, when Bill and I travel, we rarely stop at them.  We learned our lesson in Italy.  When you drive on the autostrada in Italy, you take a ticket at the beginning of your journey, then pay when you get off.  We got off the autostrada in Bergamo, searching for a place to have lunch.  We found no easy options, so we got back on the road.  I told Bill we should just stop and eat at an Auto Grill.  The first one we stopped at was just a snack bar.  The second one had a full service cafeteria style restaurant.

And, as to be expected in Italy, the food was pretty good.  I had chicken with fries.  Bill had salmon and potatoes.  I had a piece of yummy chocolate pie for dessert and Bill had some kind of delicious custard.  I know we have truck stops in the States, but this was pretty damn impressive.

The one and only Italian beer I drank in Italy.  Wine is ridiculously cheap and good there.  Beer is not their speciality, though this one wasn’t too bad.

The outside.  We had a lot of sun.

 

Auto Grills also offer relatively clean places to pee for free.  They also sell lots of stuff… stuff that I might even consider buying.  Seriously, they have all kinds of high quality Italian foods there, everything from sausages to dried mushrooms (yecch).  And you can get gas for your car, too.

Cool looking bridge as we headed toward Turin.  The following pictures are of the magnificent scenery, kind of ruined by the poor air quality.

When we had to pee again, Bill ended up at an Agip station.  We walked in and I was shocked to see a Confederate flag.  Yes, we were in Italy, not far from the Swiss border.  An Italian friend commented that perhaps the owners of the gas station were from southern Italy.  Who knows?  But you can buy your olive oil there, too.

I took a photo of these cheesy looking Italian liqueurs because they reminded me of something else.

The drive to the huge pass between Italy and Switzerland was absolutely beautiful.

I ran out of juice in my phone in the big tunnel.  I had just enough to tell people we made it to Switzerland before the damn thing conked out.

 

All in all, we had a nice time in Italy.  I’d like to go back, though maybe not to Vicenza… or maybe to a different hotel.  Don’t get me wrong.  I see why people like Hotel Victoria.  It’s great if you’re doing business or moving to Italy.  It’s also great if you want to shop, which is what I ended up doing.  But to see the actual town or do things without taking the bus or driving, you need to be located elsewhere.

I guess if Bill asked me to go back with him, I’d go, though.  We had wonderful food in Italy and I did pick up some great stuff for the kitchen and my wardrobe.  I didn’t spend a lot of money, either… except on the tolls!

A whirlwind trip to Austria, Italy, and probably Switzerland, part 8

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I decided to go to the mall and have pizza yesterday.  I mainly did it because I didn’t want to accidentally order too much wine.  The lady who helped me didn’t speak much English and I, of course, know very little Italian.  I managed to get a slice of cheese pizza and a bottle of water.  It was only 3 euros.

Bill came back from work early, so we decided to hit the store and stock up on Italian goodies.  I have to say, it may be worth it to come to Italy just to go shopping for food and wine.  For 115 euros, we bought two new serving dishes, a new scarf, several bottles of wine, a bottle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lots of pasta, canned tuna (for some reason Italy and Spain have awesome tuna), chocolate, cheese, and sausage.

Afterwards, we drank some wine from Sardinia, then had a fantastic dinner at the hotel restaurant.  I may not love Hotel Victoria’s charmless location, but it sure does have a fabulous restaurant.  The food is amazing and cheap.  And yes, shopping is also good, especially for staples that are easy to take home.  I’m really glad we brought the RAV4 instead of my little Mini.

Today, we head to Switzerland.  I look forward to beautiful mountain and lake views and a very plush (and expensive) hotel.  We’ll spend a couple of days there, then go home to Germany, pick up our dogs, and get ready for Christmas.

The front of the hotel…  hedge blocks the front.

And the neighborhood…

The mall, backlit by the sun.

 

The place where I had cheap pizza!

Got Parmesan?

Last night’s dinner.  We started with fried cheese, onion rings, and meat and olives.  

Bill had a sausage pizza.

And I had an enormous t-bone.  It wasn’t trimmed so well, so I didn’t eat all of it…  but this was huge!  The grilled vegetables and polenta were delicious.  Wish I could have taken it home.  I need to juice or something to get rid of all the good food I’ve had in Italy.

Bill’s sleepy smile.  Maybe he was a little drunk, too.

The restaurant was very busy last night.  Look at that parking lot!

Breakfast buffet.  I will sort of miss this.  I would have liked to have tried a few pastries.  Where we are going tonight, breakfast costs 39 Francs a person.  

 

All in all, it’s been a good week in Italy.  I wasn’t wild about this hotel, but it kind of grew on me.  I have a feeling we could be back, so if we are, I will make more of an effort to see more of the city.

A whirlwind trip to Austria, Italy, and probably Switzerland, part 7

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Yesterday was kind of like Tuesday.  Bill and I got up, had breakfast, and he went to work.  I came back to the hotel room, wrote a post or two, then headed to the mall so the housekeeper could clean.  I did some more shopping.  Ended up buying a Multi-Knacker, a device that was made in China, but will probably be very handy for us.  It cracks nuts and opens pesky champagne bottles or tight bottle caps.  It was about five euros.

Festive Nutella filled cookie at breakfast.

I also bought lots of black socks, trying to buy ones that were made in Italy instead of China.  I bought a new scarf, made in China, but looks Italian.  And I bought wine…  but that’s a given, right?

Lovely Italian cakes… except for maybe the ones that look like a pile of horse shit.

When I got back to the room, it still hadn’t been made up.  I took my iPad and went to the lobby, where I listened to the latest British and American pop songs interspersed with older hits and Italian pop songs that sounded inspired by Mentos ads.  I played Covet and listened to a snazzily dressed local talk on his blackberry.  Then I came back, put the iPad away, and had lunch at the hotel restaurant.  I ordered a half liter of white wine and a bottle of water, along with shrimp ravioli.  It was all delicious, but I was rather buzzed after the wine.  It was more than I needed.

This ravioli was nice, especially after I drank the wine.

I started looking around YouTube and found a video of Renee Alway in jail.  About a year ago, I posted about her on my main blog.  Renee was a contestant on Cycle 8 of America’s Next Top Model. She did very well and had a lot of potential.  Sadly, she is now in prison.  I was watching old ANTM episodes when Bill came back.

I took him to the mall and showed him its hugeness.  He said we’d go back tonight and load up on Italian stuff like olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  And maybe a 10 liter bottle of wine…

Purchase one of these and fill  it with vino!

What a concept!

Afterwards, I told him he could take me to McDonald’s if he wanted to.  He refused.  I don’t actually like eating at McDonald’s anymore, but I also wasn’t really in the mood to go out.  This dark, cold weather makes me want to hibernate.  But we ended up going to a place called Me Gusta, which was located very close to our hotel.  I had a sirloin with fries.  He had roast beef with pecorino cheese and greens.  Instead of wine, we drank beer.

Wonder how many glasses have been broken because they were set up this way…

An amuse…

Better quality than McDonald’s.

Bill’s roast beef!

Remember this for next time?

Then we decided where our next stop will be.  We are going to Vevey, Switzerland, which is very close to Gruyeres.  Bill wants to see the Giger Museum there.  I want to go somewhere that has a bed that won’t kill my back.  I booked us a room in a five star hotel.  I even sprang for the lakefront view.  It’s going to cost us, but what the hell… it’s Christmas time.  And it’s also Switzerland, where bargains don’t come by every day.  I suspect we’ll come home with cheese and chocolate and lots of beautiful photos.

I had actually had my eye on the hotel I booked when we lived in Germany the first time.  Bill had wanted to go to Gruyeres then, when Mr. Giger was still alive.  The hotel was beyond our budget then.  It probably still is, but what the hell?

Another afternoon in Stuttgart…

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Today, Bill and I took advantage of the holiday and went to Stuttgart to get my dental impressions done for my implant.  The lady who helped Dr. Blair pull my baby tooth was there to do the job.  I think she recognized me from three weeks ago, when I had my crying jag, because she asked me if I was nervous.  I said I wasn’t nervous, but I was pretty hungry.  I was grateful she took us early, since I was about to starve.  I neglected to eat lunch before we set out on our journey.  After four minutes with my teeth stuck in dental putty, we were all finished.  Seems to me when I had full mouth impressions in the 80s, the dentist used nasty Plaster of Paris.  Now they use this gummy stuff, today colored hot pink, which is only marginally less nasty.  At least it doesn’t take long to have impressions done.

After my very quick appointment, during which my dental implant surgery was scheduled and Valium ordered, we had a late lunch and did some shopping.  First, we stopped by Ridmueller, a beer store recommended by the Stuttgart Beer Club.  It’s not a big store yet, but there are some interesting selections available there, including Icelandic beers.  We picked up a selection of stuff we haven’t seen elsewhere, then rounded the corner and looked for lunch.

One of the four beer fridges.  It’s not a big store yet, but the selection is interesting.  With a little love and support, Ridmueller could turn into something special.

 

I was famished and my blood sugar was dropping fast, so we ended up at Weber, a nice sit down restaurant that seems to offer a little something for everyone, yet seems to specialize in Thai food.

Bill enjoys a brief break…  Plenty of comfortable seating at Weber and a great menu.  We sipped some wine and tasted the bread, which had an essence of honey.

I started with this delicious bowl of green peanut curry soup garnished with lemongrass.  It was a bit rich, but I was so hungry I found it instantly restorative.  This soup is creamy with a hearty peanut flavor and plenty of spicy zing.  I was sorry we didn’t order mineral water, but my red wine soothed the burn until I got used to it.  I would definitely get this soup again; it was really good.  I bet it would be especially good for someone who needs their sinuses cleared.

I followed the soup with coconut shrimp.  This was cooked in a wok with rice noodles and a tasty assortment of vegetables including carrots, eggplant, spinach, peppercorns, peppers, zucchini, sprouts and what I think may have been plantains.  The whole thing was drenched with lime coconut sauce.  I liked this, but…

I liked Bill’s choice better.  He had the Monkey-Nut-Chili-Chicken Pasta.  It was basically rice noodles with tender strips of chicken, the same array of vegetables that was in my dish, plus a delicious, hearty peanut sauce.  Bill’s dish needed no seasoning, while mine needed a dash of salt because it was a little bland.

 

I wasn’t able to finish my lunch, owing to the yummy soup I ate first.  I brought about half of my shrimp and rice noodles home with me.  Lunch tomorrow should be delightful!

Weber is located in Stuttgart Mitte, again very close to Dr. Blair’s dentist office.  For those who don’t like Thai style food, there were also a few local selections, as well as several daily specials.  I almost went for the dorade special, but I can get dorade most anywhere.  Ditto for the tempting salmon filet served with lime coconut sauce, basmati rice, and sugar snap peas…  Maybe next time.  They also had Argentinian roast beef that looked good. 

 

After lunch, we went on a brief shopping spree at the Markthalle.  Though we were there last week, this time, we were prepared to shop.  And shop we did…

I got a kick out of this six euro bag of Old El Paso tortillas in the Asian market.

 

Bill checks out Spanish cheeses.  He bought some, as well as slivers of Serrano and Iberian hams and Spanish Sauvignon Blanc…

The Spanish market got lots of our euros today.  In the background, you can see the Balkan market, where we picked up some Croatian and Montenegrin wines, as well as a little bottle of Unicum.

I got some truffles… I love that most of them are full of alcohol.

We also picked up some Parmesan and Gruyere cheeses.  I wish I liked cheese more than I do, since Bill ends up eating most of what we buy.  Still, it was a lot of fun to shop at the Markthalle in Stuttgart.  I think a person could seriously lose control in that place and go a little hog wild.  Next time, I want to bring some lined bags and get some really good beef and fish.

The musician who was playing rapid fire Beethoven on an electric keyboard last week was back today.  This time, I didn’t catch the title of the music he was playing on his keyboard.  I think he had a handler, though.  Bet he sells CDs.

Our next trip to Stuttgart will probably be December 1.  That is when I will have dental surgery.  I doubt I’ll be in the mood to shop afterwards.  I may want to drink, though.

knotty’s big trip to the mall…

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I usually like to do new things on Saturdays.  That’s the one day of the week when my husband is home and things are open.  Bill is trying to write a paper for one of his cybersecurity classes, so he wasn’t all that keen to go on a long outing today.  Since it was getting a bit late when I finally convinced him we needed to get out for a bit, this afternoon we visited the Mercaden Mall in Böblingen for the very first time.

The Mercaden is a new mall.  It didn’t exist the last time we lived here.  Last time we were here, the only decent mall was Breunigerland in Sindelfingen (There is also Schwaben Galerie in Vaihingen, but that mall doesn’t thrill me much).  Breunigerland is terminally crowded and offers a lot of European shops and eateries.  We were last there at Christmas, when we rejoined ADAC (the German auto club).

ADAC, by the way, is well worth joining.  We were members last time we lived here and our membership paid for itself when our car’s battery died on us while parked long term in a garage.  We called ADAC and some guy came out, tested the car, found out what was wrong, and sold us a battery on the spot.  That German battery lasted a good five years before it needed replacing.  Aside from ADAC, Breunigerland also has upscale shopping.  It kind of reminds me of Tyson’s II in the Washington, DC area.

By contrast, Mercaden doesn’t seem quite as upscale, even though it’s a lot newer and more pristine.  The stores and eateries are more American.  For instance, there’s a McDonald’s in the Mercaden Mall, while Breunigerland only has a freestanding McDonald’s in the parking lot.  The Mercaden also has a nice Edeka grocery store and a Dunkin’ Donuts, which I know really gets Americans excited.  We did stop by there today and picked up some donut holes.  I am here to tell you that they aren’t really the same, though they aren’t bad, either.

Not quite like home, but satisfying enough…  They aren’t as sweet as American ones.  There is also a Dunkin’ Donuts in Tuebingen.

The Mercaden has plenty of parking in a garage, which you have to pay for.  Breunigerland’s parking is free.  Mercaden is right next to the Bahnhof in Böblingen, so you don’t have to fool with parking if you don’t want to.  The first hour of parking at Mercaden is free, anyway.

I think– but am not positive– that the toilets at Breunigerland are also free, while they cost 70 cents at Mercaden.  The price to pee has gone up.  It used to be universally pretty much 50 cents everywhere, but now they have a fancy machine that takes the money that has to be paid for.  On the plus side, the Mercaden’s toilets are very clean and modern.  Someone was actually attending them, so I didn’t mind paying.

We ended up buying food today.  First, we had lunch at an Italian pizza and pasta place situated right in the middle of the corridor.  It made for good people watching.  I got to watch a guy walk his well-behaved labrador retriever around as Bill and I ate pasta washed down with beer.

Bill tells it like it is…

The menu.  On the other side, there was a pizza menu.  I probably should have gone for the pizza instead of pasta.

Sushi?  It also looked good.  And so did the doner kebab place next to it.

But I had spaghetti with tomato sauce and bacon…

And Bill had spaghetti with a light cream sauce and basil pesto…

And local suds…  I love that a restaurant can be in the middle of a mall corridor and have a full bar.

After lunch, we bought some cheese, wine, deer salami, and Italian butter at an Italian deli.  Then we bought a loaf of bread and a pretzel at a bakery.  Finally, we got our Dunkin’ Donuts… or donut holes, as it turned out.  I actually wanted donuts, but then when I saw them, I decided the holes would be better for my ass.  Since they are European Dunkin’ Donuts, they aren’t as sweet anyway.  Winning.

One other thing I noticed about Mercaden is that it was not really crowded today.  In fact, it seems to be a very pleasant place to shop.  Enclosed malls are disappearing in the United States, but they are still pretty popular in Europe, probably because the weather can really suck much of the time.  But since today was relatively nice after the rain stopped, there weren’t so many people in the mall.  If I’d wanted to, I could have spent a few hours there, but we were home within a couple of hours.  After we picked up our stuff, it didn’t seem necessary to stay longer.  There was a time in my life when I would have made up a reason to hang out at the mall.  I guess I have evolved.

I could go back there again, though I really like shopping online now.  The Italian deli might be enough of a reason to go back… and the bakeries, which were very impressive indeed and offered some enticing looking cakes.  There were also a lot of ice cream stops… more than I would have expected, really.

Getting out of the garage was an adventure.  Bill made a wrong turn and had to circle back around the way he came in so we could leave.  But once we were out of the garage, it was very easy to get back on the autobahn and go home.  In fact, even though Breunigerland has free parking, Mercaden is an easier mall to navigate into and out of.  I give it a thumbs up.

People in Hell want ice water…

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My cute little Mini when it was still pretty new…

Ever heard that expression?  The first time I heard it was while watching a movie about Patsy Cline.  Or was it Loretta Lynn?  I don’t remember.  All I know is that the movie was about a country singer.  I looked it up… it’s a quote from the 1985 film, Sweet Dreams, which starred Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline.  It’s a good film with some surprisingly funny lines in it.

Anyway, I’m inspired to write about how “people in hell want ice water” today because it’s PCS season.  For those not familiar with the military lifestyle, allow me to explain.  PCS means permanent change of station.  Summertime is prime PCS season for military folks around the world.  It’s when military families everywhere move to a new place to a new job.  Bill and I have been through it multiple times over the past twelve years.  We did spend several years in the Washington, DC area because he had two jobs in a row there.  But after that, we were constantly moving.  In fact, for the last seven years of his career, we never got the full three year tour in one place.  Three years is about how long the average job runs for a service member.

Now, if you are moving to a place in the United States, a PCS can be a bit of a pain in the ass.  But it can also be a good chance for a road trip.  Almost two years ago, Bill and I moved from North Carolina to Texas and I got to see a part of the country I had never seen before.  It was kind of cool, since most of the rest of our time was spent in the southeastern United States.  But we only lasted a year in Texas before Bill retired and we moved back to Germany.

An international move is a major pain in the ass.  Yes, it’s exciting to move abroad, but there are many more steps that have to be accomplished before your move is successful and complete.  The first time we moved to Germany, I had to start the process while Bill was in Iraq.  However, we had plenty of time to prepare and there was a lot of support.  The second time, of course, we moved as civilians.  We got little help from Bill’s company, aside from a paltry moving allowance.  It was okay, though, because we’d been here before and knew kind of what the process was.  And we had Facebook to help us.

This morning, I noticed someone posting about how they were looking for a car.  They want a cheap, older, yet still reliable car that seats four.  If you were in the United States shopping for a vehicle, that wouldn’t be so hard to find, right?  But when you are in Germany and most people have only shipped the one car the government will pay for, you quickly find out that reliable used cars are a hot commodity.  You may find yourself paying much more for a car here, just because they are in shorter supply and there’s a higher demand.  You might not get a car you like, either.

So I get a big chuckle when I see people in the States posting about wanting to buy a cheap but reliable used car in Germany as soon as possible.  It’s not that it’s impossible to do that, but more that there will likely be stiff competition for the “cheap yet reliable” used cars.

I must admit, last year when we were planning our move back to Stuttgart, we thought about only shipping one of our two cars.  We have a 2006 Toyota RAV 4 that we bought brand new in March 2006.  It’s paid for and reliable and we knew it would work here because we brought it the first time we lived here.  It also still has fairly low miles because for the first year and a half we owned it, it was my car.  I don’t drive very much.  I think we have cracked 100,000 miles by now, but for a nine year old vehicle, it’s not as long in the tooth as it could be.

The other car we own is a 2009 Mini Cooper S convertible.  We bought it here as we were leaving last time.  It’s paid for and wicked fun to drive.  Sadly, it still has low miles because it’s my car.  It needs some repairs, which I hope we’ll get next week.  Though it’s six years old, it’s only got about 23,000 miles on it.  I think it needs a new clutch, which it may get next week when we take it in for services (Minis are rather labor intensive cars).

Now, as we were planning our move, Bill and I thought long and hard about which car to bring.  Do we bring the tried and true RAV 4 with its ample seating and reliable track record?  That would be good for hauling around guests and our dogs, but it’s more expensive to fuel up and harder to park.  It’s also not as much fun to drive.  Or do we bring my less practical but way fun, easy to park, and fuel economical Mini Cooper?  It’s not as stress free as the Toyota is and won’t accommodate as many  people or as much stuff.  But I can put the top down and enjoy the autobahn during the two or three warmer months we enjoy here.  😉

Either way, Bill planned to either lease a car here or buy a cheap one.  We managed to get by alright with one car last time we were here, but it was frequently a pain in the ass for me (and for Bill, too, because he’d have to take off work to shuttle me to the dentist and the eye doc).  We did save some money, though, thanks to only needing to gas up and pay insurance for one car.  The Toyota was very new back then, so repair costs were very minimal.

As we were contemplating what to do, it occurred to me that in our case, paying to ship both cars was a better idea.  First off, both cars are paid for, so if one of them gets dinged, big deal.  They’re our cars.  Secondly, the cost to ship the cars door to door from San Antonio to Boeblingen was about $4000.  We would definitely have to ship at least one car, so we’d already be spending a chunk of money.  Thirdly, if we didn’t ship a car, we’d have to find a place to store it.  Not shipping a car, going only by a rough guess, might save us a couple thousand bucks… but a couple thousand bucks won’t buy a reliable hoopty in these parts.  And we also don’t know how long we’ll be here.  It could be until next summer or it could be until ten years from now.  As it is, I’m kind of fretting about some of the stuff we have in storage.

So I said, “Bill, let’s just send both cars over there.”  We did.  They were picked up in San Antonio in late July and we got them in mid September.  It took a bit longer than we expected and the cars arrived a bit dirty.  But the shipping company did let us put about 100 pounds of stuff in each of the cars, which did help us out a bit.  We were only allowed to move 5000 pounds of furniture here.  Good thing we don’t have kids!

When it comes time to move again, Bill may decide to buy himself a BMW, which he has been eyeing for awhile.  That may mean our older, yet reliable and low miles RAV4 may be on the lemon lot market.  Or maybe we’ll get rid of the Mini…  who knows?  All I can tell you is that finding used cars among military folks in Stuttgart is a bit like the infamous housing hunt.  It can take awhile and end up being expensive and frustrating.  On the other hand, buying our Mini from Cars International outside of Patch Barracks was hassle free.  Dennis, the guy who sold us the car, still works there and even recognized Bill recently after bumping into him.  I was impressed he remembered him after five years!

My advice to people moving here is to think long and hard about whether or not you really want to leave your spare car at home.  It could be that in your situation, it’s better not to ship the second car.  Or it could be a much better idea to ship it rather than trying to buy something used in Germany.  It depends.  If you have a fairly decent car that is paid for, you’re probably better off shipping it.  If your car has a big lien on it, it may be better to sell or store it.  Also, consider when you’re moving… PCS season will bring a lot of people looking for cars, but as people move in, people are also moving out.  If you come after PCS season, the pickings could be slimmer, but you may face less competition.

As summer approaches, I look forward to more posts that make me think of funny sayings…

Ten things I learned in Hamburg, Germany…

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Whenever Bill and I do a trip somewhere, I like to do a “post-mortem” kind of thing where I think about what I learned during my trip.  Hamburg is a city neither Bill nor I never visited before.  In fact, it was our first trip to “northern Germany”, though I hope there will be more.  So here’s what we found out during our travels.  Hope you learn something, too.

1.  Alsterwasser is basically the same thing as a Radler (or a shandy).  Basically, it’s beer mixed with lemon/lime soda or lemonade.  Alsterwasser is the “northern” version, while Radlers were born in Bavaria.

2.  My German isn’t good enough for me to be able to tell that the Schwabisch dialect is way different than the Hamburgisch dialect.  What little spoken German I understand sounds the same in both areas.  That could change sometime.

3.  Hamburg is a great place to go shopping.  There are lots of big name stores there, especially from well known clothing designers.

4.  Hamburg is a great place for eating, too… though there seems to be a huge number of Italian restaurants per capita.  Bill and I saw many Italian places followed by Portuguese restaurants.  We didn’t see many German restaurants.  But then, we might not have been looking in the right places.

5.  Hamburg has many bridges, supposedly more so than Amsterdam.

6.  Hamburg has a “red light” district.  There are even signs on the red light streets (which are actually public places where women can legally walk) “prohibiting” women and men under age 18.  I read that was because women may run the risk of being harassed by working girls.

7.  If you want to get to the Fischmarkt on Sunday, you need to get there early.  By 11:00, they’re closing up shop.  By noon, you might as well go somewhere else.

8.  If you go to Hamburg in January, bring a hat and gloves.  A scarf helps too.  It may not snow much there, but there’s quite a chilly northern wind coming off the water that will chill you to the bones.

9.  Don’t be surprised if you see someone in a convertible with the top down in freezing cold weather.  Germans will take their sunshine when they can get it.  😉

10.  Sometimes it’s a good thing to stand in a two hour security line for a one hour flight.  German strikes are pretty civilized.  Or… at least the one I was involved in was.

If you don’t have a dick, stay away from the danger zone…

Today has been better…

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One thing that was a plus is that the washer didn’t take on more water when we flushed the commode last night.  It seems to fill up only when someone showers.  While that’s inconvenient, it’s less inconvenient than not being able to use the bathroom without bailing out the washing machine.  I suppose we could just disconnect the washer and put a bucket under the standpipe, too.

Bill made us a nice breakfast.  Then we did our usual shopping.  We picked up some Christmas stuff at Panzer.  I even drove today, which I almost never do.  Just preparing for tomorrow, when I have to take Arran to the vet for a dental cleaning.  Afterwards, we had lunch at The Auld Rogue.  I had a chicken burger and Bill had fish and chips.  One day, we will go somewhere else for lunch on Sunday so I can write another review.

I went with a Murphy’s Irish Stout…


and a chicken burger…  I wasn’t too keen on this dish.  The chicken was a little dry, though the chips were excellent, as usual.  Next time, I’ll try something else.

Then we went to the commissary, which was kind of packed.  The self service registers were cash only, so the line to check out was backed up quite a bit.

We stopped by the Class VI for tequila, wine, and liquid de-icer for the cars.  I went in the bathroom and was astonished by the sign on the door…

Notice the promise of a clean restroom…  It supposedly gets inspected every hour.

Someone must have been very messy in the 60 minutes before I stopped in for a quick tinkle.

Yuck.

 

It’s alright, though, because I have never seen this particular restroom clean.  Not when we lived here last time and not in recent months.  It’s a unisex bathroom, too.  Maybe that has something to do with it.  In any case, that sign on the door is somewhat false advertising, though I have seen nastier bathrooms.  In fact, I have even seen them on military installations.

I would have used the commissary bathroom, but it was being cleaned and I didn’t want to interfere with the process.  I think of all the places to pee on American installations, the commissary is my favorite.  It’s usually pretty clean in there.

It wouldn’t be an issue if I didn’t have such a long drive home, but it’s a real drag to need a WC when you’re headed down A81.  We’re back now and preparing for yet another week in magical Deutschland.