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Why “I Ain’t Been Nowhere” and ten more things I learned in Alsace, France…

It’s time for me to write another one of my “ten things I learned” posts. This one is coming a bit later than usual. I’m going to preface the post with a bit of an explanation for the people who still follow my travel adventures.

I’ve held off on writing my usual “ten things I learned” post for our most recent trip to France. I’m sad to say that I’ve kind of lost some of my desire to produce travel blog posts. There are a couple of reasons for this development.

Ever since I moved my blogs to WordPress, I’ve been struggling with lagging morale, particularly regarding the travel blog. Part of the reason I’ve been struggling has to do with people who were following me on Blogspot and decided to cause trouble. That situation was what led me to move my blogs in the first place. I suspect they just didn’t like me personally, for whatever reason, and decided to stir up some shit. It all ended badly, and ultimately, not in their favor, but it left me with some significant psychological angst that has taken some time to overcome.

I spent a year struggling with feeling really violated and angry, mainly because the people who were causing issues were being creepy, dishonest, and toxic. I’ve written quite a lot about that situation, mostly on my main blog, so I don’t want to rehash it here. I do think it’s really sad that some people feel the need to meddle in other people’s business and try to sabotage something like a personal blog. What those people did caused real damage on many levels, and there was absolutely no reason for it, other than their need to be destructive and creepy.

The second reason I’ve been less enthusiastic has a lot to do with the pandemic, and how difficult and annoying travel has been since COVID-19 became part of life. I was finally starting to feel better about writing in early 2020, only to have everything fall apart due to a deadly novel virus. The below song by Rhonda Vincent is pretty much a good summation of my feelings about COVID… If you haven’t heard it, I highly encourage you to listen. I promise it’s good, unless you just can’t abide bluegrass.

Sometimes, I think I’d like to go back to the USA, just so I can see Rhonda Vincent perform in person. Even if you aren’t a bluegrass fan, this song is awesome. Those harmonies make me want to cry! (in a verklempt way)

I am happy to report that Europe really is FINALLY opening up again, and COVID measures are becoming less obnoxious. This is happening, even though COVID infections are on the rise again in Europe, and I was actually exposed to COVID on our latest trip (though I haven’t been sick). I’m hoping the “red tile” on my Corona Warn app will go back to green today. Bill and I had a wonderful time in France, and now we want to travel more. So, I’m hoping we can move back into our former lifestyle, and I will recapture the joy of travel and experiencing new places and things. And now, on to the ten things I learned…

10. COVID-19 measures in France are currently much less annoying than they’ve been in Germany.

One of the reasons Bill and I went to France in the first place is because we didn’t want to be bothered by strict COVID rules. France doesn’t require FFP2 face masks, and if you are vaccinated, you don’t have to bother with masks in public indoor areas of restaurants and hotels. You do still need to wear a mask in shops, because they don’t check for vaccinations at the door. This was true during our visit, but as we know, rules are always subject to change.

9. Soufflenheim is French pottery heaven!

We have been to the Alsace area of France many times, but we’ve always stuck to the Wine Route. This was our first time exploring the area above Strasbourg, and we decided to go there because we knew Soufflenheim was where Alsatian pottery is made.

8. But there isn’t that much else going on in Soufflenheim…

Or, at least that was our impression during our visit. It’s a great place to go pottery shopping, but I wouldn’t say the town is particularly picturesque. However, nearby Sessenheim, where we stayed, is very cute!

7. There’s more to Alsace than the Wine Route.

On our previous trips to Alsace, we stayed in pretty, tourist friendly towns like Riquewihr, Colmar (Bischwihr), Ribeauville, and, of course, Strasbourg. We have visited the picturesque hamlets around Riquewihr and Ribeauville, and even made a point of stopping by Kaysersberg, where Anthony Bourdain took his life in 2018. If you go north of Strasbourg, you’ll still be in Alsace, but it feels different… and it’s well worth seeing.

6. Auberge Au Boeuf is a really cool place to stay!

I think the main reason we enjoyed our trip so much is because we discovered Auberge Au Boeuf, which is a wonderful, historic restaurant. But it also has four really cool bedrooms that can be rented. We were delighted by how thoughtfully designed and beautiful the hotel was. The little town of Sessenheim is also notable for its historic connection to Johann von Goethe, a very famous German poet, playwright, novelist, and statesman.

5. Michelin starred restaurants are not the end all, be all…

I do enjoy eating fancy food on occasion; but I’m really much more of a comfort food fan. We ate at the Michelin starred Auberge Au Boeuf twice. I’m not sorry we did that, but we did learn that “fancy food” should be special, or the magic wears off. On the other hand, it had been so long since we last indulged!

4. Speaking German often, but not always, comes in handy in Alsace.

We kind of already knew this from other trips, but we did run into a number of people who didn’t speak German or English. It made me wish I had studied French, in school, instead of Spanish.

3. The town of Bitche, which is in Lorraine, is very close to Kaiserslautern and Ramstein.

I did not realize how accessible this town, with its impressive and famous citadel, is to Germany’s largest military community. Maybe if Bill had worked in K-town, we might be slipping over the border more often.

2. Saverne is a cute town I’d never heard of!

We visited Saverne on a whim after we got bored in beautiful Obernai. Seriously, Obernai is a very pretty town, but it reminded me so much of other wine route towns. It was a treat to discover Saverne, which was about 45 minutes away. It had a very different feel. I wish we’d had time to explore more of it. Maybe we can go back.

  1. It’s time to get back to enjoying Europe… for as long as possible.

One of our biggest regrets during our first time living in Europe is that we spent too many weekends at home. We completely missed out on the Black Forest and Alsace during our Army tour. In fact, I don’t even remember any visits to Stuttgart Mitte during those two years. When we came back to Germany in 2014, we were determined to explore more. For four years, we were able to do that, and we did it to great success.

But then, once we moved, we dealt with harassment and COVID-19, which knocked us off track somewhat. As we’ve learned from COVID, life is short and tomorrow is never guaranteed. Putin is making things in Europe a bit tense. Add that to COVID, and things can seem mighty grim. The truth is, every day there are risks to be faced. It’s time to face more risks and get back to living. I hope that’s what we can do more of in 2022.

And to those who want to cause trouble and see me fail…

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France, shopping

Reunited with France… and it felt so good to be back! Part four…

In part three, I tried to tell you about visiting Haguenau. Unfortunately, the software for this blog is wonky, and messes up my photos. I have to wait until I’m finished writing before I can upload them, because they slow down my typing so much. And then, if I try to upload a big batch, the whole thing turns to shit. It really irritates me, since I actually pay for WordPress. Blogger, back in the day, was a lot easier to use, even with its issues. Anyway, I’ll see what I can do with this post. I hope I don’t have to write many little sections, because people get bored and don’t always finish the series. There’s no point in writing this stuff if people don’t want to read it. So… with that written, on with part four.

Hagenau has a lot of sites for those who want to take them in. We were just there for a few hours, mainly just to get a feel for the city and have some lunch. The weather was sunny and chilly, but after so many weeks of rain and clouds, it was great to see the sun. One thing we did do, though, was visit St. George’s Church, a gorgeous and very old Roman Catholic parish church that dates from 1143. Every time I visit one of these old churches, I’m amazed by what human beings were able to do hundreds of years ago, without the benefit of modern equipment. Wikipedia tells me that St. George’s Church recalls the architecture of Hirsau Abbey a Benedictine abbey in Calw, very near our old stomping grounds in Germany.

We didn’t spend much time in the church. We were in there just long enough for Bill to light a candle for his dad, and for me to take some photos. I am grateful, though, that churches in France are open for visitors. I always think about how welcoming European churches are… Tourists are allowed to come in and look around at the beautiful stained glass windows and architecture. The same is very rarely true in the United States. I mean, I don’t recall anyone coming to the church I was raised in and wandering around like we do in Europe… except, of course, on Sundays.

We also got a look at the ancient water mill downtown, as well as the facade of the tourism office and museum, which was originally the chancellery. It has a clock that reminded Bill and me of the famous astronomical clock in Prague. The clock for the tourism office is actually a copy of the one in Ulm, which was built in 1581 by a Swiss man named Isaac Habrecht. We have been to Ulm, but it was several years ago with our dogs in tow. I’m now thinking we should visit again, sans dogs.

We stopped in Le Comptoir de Mathilde, a gourmet/chocolate shop and did some shopping for Bill’s daughter, who is intrigued by our travels. We picked up some spices and chocolate, as well as some jam and caramels for ourselves. That Slovenian jam we bought in the fall is finally running out. We took the gifts back to the super cheap parking garage.

After we walked around the town, we searched for lunch and found it Restaurant Côté Sud. I had rejected another place nearby, because it looked to be too full of people. I don’t like crowded restaurants even when there aren’t viruses around. We were lucky to find this Moroccan place, especially since it satisfied Bill’s love of exotic food, AND we were able to find something I liked, too!

After we showed the waitress our COVPass, we were allowed to unmask and enjoy the wonderful flavors of Morocco, a place I hope to visit someday. My sister, Betsy, lived there for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer back in the 80s. She probably has more of an appreciation for cous cous than I ever will, but I will admit to loving tajines. I even managed to get a short video to show everyone how hot and delicious my chicken tajine was. It came with a side of cous cous, and included potatoes, carrots, prunes, and lots of peas. It was delicious and filling, and pretty much took care of my food needs for the rest of the day.

Bill had cous cous with beef sausages. It came with a stew made with carrots, chickpeas, potatoes, zucchini, and coriander. I think Bill impressed the very friendly and exotic looking waitress when he said “yes” to harissa. I tried a little of it and it was too spicy for me. Must be all that Scottish and English ancestry I have. 😉

I could tell the chef took a lot of pride in his work. He came out to wish us “Bon Appetit”… and I also noticed that the restaurant seems to have plenty of regulars. I can see why!

After lunch, we decided to go back to the hotel, stopping in Soufflenheim on the way, to pick up some pottery for Bill’s daughter and ourselves. We don’t really have a place to put the pottery, but I can’t help myself. I’ve been shopping deprived too long. 😉 We picked up a kugelhopf mold and backoeffa dish for her, in the requested shade of yellow. I got lots of blue stuff for me. 😉

Then, after we shopped, we were a bit tired. We decided to try out the sauna and jacuzzi in our room. My parents used to have a jacuzzi, so I sort of understood how that worked, although it was still a little confusing. The jacuzzi had lights, as well as well worn controls that were hard to read. The sauna’s directions were posted in French on the back of a closet door. We managed to figure them out eventually, and it was fun to try it out in lieu of going out to dinner. Luckily, there is an Aldi nearby, where Bill scored snacks and wine, and we watched French reality TV…

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Uncategorized

Reunited with France… and it felt so good to be back! Part one…

The featured photo is of a sign in a German restaurant… I share the sentiments of the person who drew the sad face. That’s why we went to France.

Ever since we moved to Wiesbaden in late November 2018, we have used visits to the dentist in Stuttgart as an excuse to get away for a few days. Or, at least that was the original plan, before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the planet. Thanks to the pandemic, we haven’t been back as often as we had originally planned. We did combine a trip to Stuttgart to see the dentist in May 2019 with Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road concert. We went to the Spring festival, saw Elton, and got our teeth cleaned. We also stayed at the Wald Hotel, which is our favorite Stuttgart area lodging. We even brought our dogs down to stay with their Stuttgart area pet sitter.

Then COVID struck, and we couldn’t get back down there again until August 2021. I had planned another trip to the Wald Hotel, but it was totally booked during that period. So I decided we’d visit Baiersbronn, which is a little Black Forest town known for its excellent restaurants. We loved visiting Baiersbronn when we lived near Stuttgart, so it made sense to go stay in the area for a few days, see the doc, and eat some really excellent food for a few days.

A few weeks ago, Bill reminded me that it was time to see the dentist again. We had appointments for March 2. I thought maybe I’d find us a little rental home or a cute hotel in a different part of the Black Forest, since we had so much fun in August. There are still so many places we’d like to see there. But then I noticed how strict the COVID rules are, down in that part of Germany… and I realized that having been triple vaxxed and never venturing out much at all for months, I’m pretty damned sick of COVID rules.

Or, at least I’m sick of the super strict ones. Baden-Württemberg has been requiring people to use FFP2 masks, which I find very oppressive and obnoxious. I know… I know… they’re supposedly “better” masks, and all, but I still hate wearing them. I am not a rule breaker, but if I can go somewhere else where I don’t have to wear the fucking things, I’d prefer to do that.

I noticed as I searched for places in the Black Forest, I was also getting suggestions for Strasbourg, France, which is really close to the Black Forest. I didn’t really want to go to Strasbourg, though, because that was where we went during our last trip to France in February 2020. I enjoyed Strasbourg, but I wanted to go somewhere different, especially since the wine expo is set to go on at the end of March and we may end up going there for that. We haven’t yet decided if we will go.

It was at that point that I remembered Soufflenheim, which is a little French town known for its pottery. We have a few pieces from there that we bought in Ribeauville a few years ago, but we’d never actually been to the town itself. I realized that since it was just a little bit north of Strasbourg, it would be on the way back to Wiesbaden, anyway. And this would be a great chance for us to get pottery for ourselves, and Bill’s younger daughter, who is expecting a baby boy soon.

So I searched for a place in Soufflenheim, and soon noticed ads for a Michelin starred restaurant that also has four hotel rooms. Auberge au Boeuf is located in adorable Sessenheim, which is right next to Soufflenheim. A quick peek at the reviews on Google and Trip Advisor, as well as Booking.com, told me that this was a nice play to stay. Better yet, the cost of the room in France was about half of what I would have paid at the Wald Hotel, a nice hotel in a city I’ve been to many, many times, and will no doubt go to again at least once in the future… and probably more often than that. Maybe my next Wald Hotel visit should wait until I need a dental procedure.

Then I realized that France is not nearly as uptight about COVID-19 as Germany is… the latest rules changes in Germany notwithstanding. Those changed while we were away, plus I was booking before they were still being considered. I ran the idea of going to Sessenheim by Bill. Not surprisingly, he was all about it. The fact that the great German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, spent so much time there clinched the deal. Bill and I are literature lovers, too… Bill is more so than I am, in spite of my English degree.

So I booked our room at Auberge au Boeuf for March 2-6. I also booked their restaurant for the third and fourth nights of our stay. I eagerly looked forward to the trip, as I warily watched Vladimir Putin’s increasing aggression toward Ukraine. I don’t normally do this for short trips that don’t involve flights or cruise ships, but I was nervous enough about Putin that I even booked travel insurance in case Bill had to cancel and go to work. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and now I have lots to report!

Stay tuned for my latest multi-part series about the many wonders of France! Boy, was it great to be back there! But first, it’s time for lunch.

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