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Ten things I learned in Antwerp, Belgium…

Here it is, my usual list of ten things I learned on my latest trip. I like to do these to remind myself that travel is a way to expand one’s mind, pick up new knowledge, meet new people, and broaden perspectives. I also find that the ten things I learned posts are more likely to be read than my blow by blow accounts of our travels, especially since we tend to do a lot of eating and drinking instead of visiting exhibits. So, here goes… ten things I learned in Antwerp, Belgium.

10. Antwerp is a major port city.

Antwerp is located on the Scheldt River, and it’s partially located in the City of Antwerp and the Province of East Flanders. It is Europe’s second largest seaport, after Rotterdam.

Het Steen, a building that has been used many ways… including as a cruise terminal.

9. You can’t come to Antwerp and not learn about A Dog of Flanders.

I’m sorry to admit that I had not heard of A Dog of Flanders before we visited Antwerp. The novella was written by the English author, Marie Louise de la Ramée (also known as Ouida), and it was partly based on Antwerp. The story is about a poor boy named Nello and his dog, Patrasch, who were very loyal to each other. Ouida’s book was very popular in Asia and Russia, was made into a film, and translated into different languages. Because of the book’s popularity, there are two monuments in Belgium dedicated to Nello and Patrasch. One of the monuments is located in Antwerp, and you can’t miss it if you go to the cathedral.

A boy and his beloved dog.

8. Antwerp is famous for diamonds.

One of the reasons we visited Antwerp is because Bill thought maybe we’d shop for a diamond, since it was my 50th birthday. But we ended up skipping the diamond shopping, having been warned by Trip Advisor reviews. 🙂 Nevertheless, I had no idea diamonds were notable in Antwerp before I visited there. Maybe we’ll still shop for a rock, since this year we will also celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.

7. Antwerp is very LGBTQ friendly.

Which isn’t to say that Europe, as a whole, isn’t friendly to the LGBTQ community. But I saw signs that Antwerp is especially open to people of all orientations. I liked that about Antwerp.

6. It’s also very artist friendly!

Perhaps because it’s such an “open-minded” place, Antwerp is also home to a lot of artists and fashionistas. We saw all sorts of awesome fashion interpretations during our visit, and I saw more than a couple of art galleries I wouldn’t have minded exploring.

5. And there’s lots of food to suit every taste!

We found exotic cuisines ranging from Israeli to Peruvian-Japanese! And, of course, there was also the usual stuff, like Italian food, Greek food, Thai food, and Belgian food. There’s something for everyone.

Israeli food.

4. COVID rules are pretty relaxed.

Actually, I would say they’re non-existent. Masks are recommended, but aren’t required, on trains or buses, nor did I see anyone wearing them voluntarily. If COVID is a worry for you, you might want to keep this in mind. We were not asked about our vaccines, except in a casual conversation with the hotel staff who was comparing rules in Germany to rules elsewhere.

3. Not all stores take Visa (or American credit cards).

We should have known better, given that we live in Germany, and we don’t have European credit cards. A lot of European destinations have gone cashless, so we have gone that way ourselves. But if you carry an American card, you might want to bring euros with you, just in case.

2. Bill rode his first ferris wheel in Antwerp.

Bill is afraid of heights, so before my birthday trip, he never voluntarily took a ride in a ferris wheel. I did not know, as we were looking at Antwerp from the top of the wheel, that this was his very first time on such a ride. He had a good time. I’m sure it comforted him that the car was enclosed, though.

Bill lost his ferris wheel virginity here.

1. You have to pay to see the Cathedral of Our Lady if you aren’t from Antwerp…

However, it’s worth the price of admission if you like art. The cathedral is loaded with paintings, sculptures, and relics, as well as beautiful stained glass windows and a fascinating crypt. And, when you’re finished gawking at all of the beautiful art, you can visit the bistro, enjoy a beer or a coffee in the courtyard, and use the toilet. That’s a pretty big deal.

One of many paintings you can see at the cathedral!

So… there you have it. We had a great time in Antwerp and I hope we can visit again. It was a great place for me to turn 50. I found many friendly locals who were willing to celebrate with me! As long as you aren’t driving– or you have a very good GPS that can get you where you need to go– it’s a total pleasure. Driving in Antwerp can be hellish if you don’t have accurate GPS. But once you park, good times are to be had! I can still say that I’ve never had a bad time in Belgium.

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Italy, Liechtenstein, Switzerland

Ten things I learned in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein…

Now that my latest travel series has been completed and up for a few days, it’s time for my usual “ten things I learned” post. I like to do these posts after most trips, if only to offer a quick recap of our travels and make myself feel better for all the money we spent. 🙂 I also think these top ten posts are a bit easier for the casual reader to get through than the heavily detailed, blow by blow accounts. So, here goes…

10. Italy was actually stricter about COVID rules than Germany was!

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Italy was strict about masks and “green passes”, since Italy was one of the first countries hard hit by COVID-19. However, Italy is typically “slacker” about a lot of things than Germany is, so it was a bit strange to be allowed to visit a rest stop maskless in Germany, but not in Italy. By the time our trip was over, the mask rules and green pass rules were dropped, anyway, in most places.

9. But Switzerland and Liechtenstein were both pretty “slack” about the COVID rules.

I wasn’t that surprised that Switzerland and Liechtenstein were liberal about masks. In 2020, when the pandemic was just getting started, we visited Italy, Austria, and Switzerland, and were very surprised that of the three countries, Switzerland’s rules were the least strict. Since Liechtenstein is basically a tiny country akin to Austria and Switzerland, it’s not too surprising that their rules were more like those in Switzerland.

The drive was breathtaking!

8. Modena and Parma are refreshingly non-touristy.

I was especially surprised by Modena, which really felt like an authentic Italian town. I didn’t hear any other American accents during our visit there. Parma was maybe a touch more touristy than Modena, but we didn’t get the sense that a lot of Americans were there during our trip.

7. Cortona is a super cute town, perfect for Tuscan getaways and fans of the film, Under the Tuscan Sun.

The 2003 film, Under the Tuscan Sun was partially filmed in this very lovely town, which also boasts at least one excellent winery.

6. Liechtenstein is a fine place to be if you want peace and quiet… and if you have money.

Like neighboring Switzerland, Liechtenstein is very sedate and civilized. It’s also expensive! But it was nice to be there for a couple of nights, if only to decompress a bit and gaze at the Alps. You can also find some nice wines there, with grapes from Austria, Switzerland, or even locally.

5. Andermatt may be halfway between Wiesbaden and Florence, but it’s not easy to get there!

We had to climb a mountainside with our Volvo to get to the ski town. I saw so many bikers who looked like they were in the seventh ring of Hell, trying to get up the steep incline. I alternately felt sorry for them, and felt glad I no longer have to ride a bike to get from point A to point B. It’s a pretty place, but not what I would call super beautiful. I probably wouldn’t make an effort to go back, although we did like the hotel we stayed in.

In Liechtenstein, you might see cows from your office.

4. If you need to pee in Switzerland, you can use euros at the rest stops.

I probably already knew that, but we so seldom go through there, I might have forgotten.

3. It’s possible to have a bad meal in Italy.

Avoid fast food joints called Old Wild West at all costs! Or, maybe just avoid fast food joints altogether.

2. But if you need to buy groceries or gifts, the rest stops in Italy have you covered.

And you will have to run the gauntlet when you leave the rest stops, too. There’s no other way to exit without walking past all the wines, olive oils, vinegars, and whatever else.

Italy is always beautiful!

…and .1 Bo and Luke Duke are still famous in Italy.

Actually, we saw a lot of 80s era TV shows in Italy, but were especially surprised by The Dukes of Hazzard. No wonder we’ve seen the rebel battle flag in Italy so many times! It obviously doesn’t mean the same to Italians as it does to us Americans. Back in the 80s, it was everywhere in the US, too. Maybe Italy is still kind of stuck in a previous era.

Sure, there were other things we learned while we were on our trip. But, this particular journey involved drinking a lot of wine, and my memory is probably a little fuzzy due to that. We had a wonderful time during our travels. I’m already looking forward to our next trip, which will probably be next month when I– gasp– turn 50.

It still snows in late April in Switzerland.

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blog news

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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Austria, Croatia, road trips, Slovenia

Ten things I learned on my Aus-cro-slo-aus trip…

I always like to cap off my travel series with a top ten list of things I learned while traveling. Even when I’ve been to places repeatedly, I usually do learn something new on every trip. That was especially true as we visited Croatia overnight for the first time. We had visited there once before, but only for a couple of hours as we took a “joyride” while visiting Trieste, Italy. So, I’ll dispense with the useless palaver, and commence with my list. Here goes.

10. The word “slap” means waterfall, both in Croatian and Slovenian.

As we know, “slap” means something entirely different in English. But when you see it on signs in Croatia and Slovenia, it means you might be in for a beautiful view of something special.

9. Croatia is very friendly to English speakers.

I couldn’t help but notice that Croatia really seems to have embraced visitors who speak English. A lot of Europeans know English, because it’s a very practical language to learn. If one speaks English, he or she can communicate with Americans, Brits, and Aussies, just to name a few. But I was still surprised that so many people in Croatia spoke English so fluently, and many of the signs were also in English.

8. The off season in Croatia and Slovenia means very few crowds, but also a lot of closed businesses.

The Lake Bohinj area was especially empty of tourists, although to be fair, we were there in early November, rather than late October. November 1 seems to be the cut off day for things to close up for the winter.

7. But even though places were closed, the fall colors were fantastic, and there were still some things to do.

We still managed to see and do some things, even if it was harder to find open shops and restaurants. And the trip was so worth it, if only to see the incredible fall colors along with so many lakes and waterfalls.

6. Salzburg is still hopping, even though it’s November.

Of course this isn’t a surprise, but the fact that Salzburg was still in full swing was great, especially after spending time in places where it was so quiet. We managed to do a little shopping and enjoy a very fine meal in a restaurant. I could definitely spend more time in Salzburg, and Austria as a whole.

5. Wels, Austria is known for its catfish.

I don’t really enjoy eating catfish, but this was something I didn’t know before we visited Wels. In fact, I didn’t even know Wels existed before we took our trip.

4. Sometimes it’s interesting to visit lesser known cities.

I’m truly glad we visited Wels. It’s probably not high on most people’s travel itineraries, but I found it a pleasant place to spend a couple of nights. I wouldn’t mind going back. I’m also glad we visited different places. I’m rather proud that I came up with a plan to visit Plitvice Lakes and Lake Bohinj. And I’m glad I listened to Slovenians in Lake Bled who recommended Lake Bohinj.

3. I need a genuine kit bag for all my stuff.

I typically carry a digital camera, a phone, and my iPad when I tour places. I could have used a better bag, especially when we were hiking. If anything, I could have used a place to put my layers as I stripped them off. I got hot at Plitvice Lakes and ended up having to carry my sweater and hoodie. I also need to bring snacks.

2. The word “jezera” means “lake” in Croatian. And the word “ključ” means “key” in Croatian.

I only learned the word for “key” because the lovely couple at the house we rented used it several times.

And finally, 1. Planning ahead is difficult, especially in the age of COVID-19, but it’s always a good idea to try…

I wish we could have visited the Krka National Park during our time in Croatia, even though it would have been physically challenging. But now we have a reason to go back. I hope we’ll have the opportunity. It’s good that we came back when we did, as COVID-19 has become even more concerning in the past week. I still don’t regret our trip. We had a really great time, in spite of my occasional crankiness and griping.

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Switzerland

Ten things I learned in Die Schweiz!

Back when I used to take a lot of trips– that is, before this COVID-19 bullshit began– I often summed up my blog series with a “ten things I learned” post. Basically, they served as summaries of my trips and reminders of new things I learned. I haven’t written one of those “ten things I learned” posts in awhile. There are a few reasons for that.

I used to have a larger readership than I have now. When I moved the blog to WordPress, I lost a lot of readers. A lot of former readers simply never found out where the new blog was, and some lost interest for any number of reasons ranging from leaving Europe to finding me an insufferable bitch. Then, COVID struck, I quit going places. I haven’t completely quit, mind you, but I haven’t been enjoying the travel perks of living in Europe like I used to. And the places we’ve been going are places we’ve been before– at least the same countries, anyway.

But I think I would like to revive my habit of writing “ten things I learned posts”, to keep this blog updated, and also to give people who don’t want to wade through the whole series a condensed version. So here goes… ten things I learned on our latest trip to Switzerland. Hope someone enjoys it.

10. Carl G. Jung was an amazing person… but he had lots of help.

Bill and I visited Jung’s home and museum during our trip to Zürich. We learned a little bit about the accomplished man he was. Last night, Bill was telling his Jungian therapist about how amazing he thought Jung’s accomplishments were. He read so many books, spoke so many languages, dabbled in art, practiced as an analyst, wrote books, smoked, and developed theories. He did this while raising a family and carrying on with his mistress. Bill’s therapist pointed out, “Yeah, he did all those things, and those things require energy. But he had lots of women around to help him.” It’s true. He had a wife, a mistress, and colleagues who worked with him. That freed up some of his time.

9. Jung’s family still live in the house he built on the shore of Lake Zürich.

When Bill and I were outside in the backyard, I looked up at the house and noticed people on the third floor. Later, when I read the official Web site for the museum, I read that some of Jung’s descendants still live in the house. No wonder it has such limited operating hours.

8. Swiss mac n’ cheese is pretty good. Ditto to Swiss wines!

Up here in Germany, particularly down in Swabia, a lot of people like to eat Spätzle, which is a type of pasta often served with cheese. I never really got into Spätzle myself, so I was a little skeptical when I spotted Älplermagronen on the menu at a restaurant. But as I didn’t really want a Schnitzel or a pork knuckle, I decided to order it. It was absolutely delicious, and even included potatoes! That did my Celtic heart proud!

I also really enjoyed the wines. I don’t know why they surprised me, given that Germany and Italy produce wines. Why wouldn’t Switzerland?

7. Zürich is a very lovely city… not boring at all.

One of the reasons it took so long to visit Zürich is that we lived close for several years. And I had heard from a lot of people that it was kind of a boring city that was mostly dedicated to banks. I should have known better, since I heard the same thing about Luxembourg (both the country and Luxembourg City), which I found to be untrue. The person who mainly passed on these opinions to me is an Italian friend I don’t get to talk to so much anymore… I guess compared to Italy, Zürich may seem kind of bland and dull. But I didn’t find it that way at all… of course, my Italian friend would also frown on the fact that I ate Swiss style mac n’ cheese. 😉

6. I finally know the names of the little towns near all those beautiful lakes we always pass on the way to Italy!

I think the reason I didn’t know them before is because I was always so busy looking at the scenery that I forgot to look at the signs. Now that I know some names, maybe we’ll plan a trip to stay somewhere really gorgeous next time! I am dying to rent a lakeside apartment or hotel room with a lake view where I can drink wine and enjoy peace and quiet.

5. The Swiss dialect renders my German skills useless.

I’m not saying I have great German skills to begin with… Luckily, many people speak English… and several other languages. Switzerland has four official ones. I also didn’t know William Tell was a legendary Swiss folk hero.

I’ll never think of the William Tell Overture in the same way… Here’s Bill’s distant relative playing it on the guitar. 😉 My own guitar skills aren’t this advanced yet. Incidentally, this was piece was composed by Gioachino Rossini, who was Italian.

And that was so good I have to add this video from 1974, which features Glen Campbell playing an acoustic guitar. I’ll keep practicing.

4. Watch where you park in Switzerland…

It’s best to choose a city garage rather than one affiliated with a fancy department store. Yes, we should have realized… now we know for certain! 49 CHF for a day’s parking! Whew!

3. The Swiss apparently don’t “do” naked spas…

In Germany, it’s not uncommon to find textile free spas, or at least textile free areas of spas. That means everything is “textile free”– not just the saunas. Evidently, Switzerland doesn’t do that, which is okay with me. But it’s good to know what to do, just in case. You don’t want to bare it and share it unless invited to do so…

2. Switzerland has a soul after all…

I’m finding that the more I visit Switzerland, the more I like it. I had the same reactions to New York City and Paris. Switzerland has always seemed kind of sterile to me… but now that I’ve been to a few places, I’m finding myself liking it more and more.

And finally, 1. but it’ll drain your wallet!

I actually knew this before our most recent visit. We have yet to enjoy a budget holiday in Switzerland, although I’ll bet we could arrange something cheap if we put our minds to it. Frankly, though, I tend to want to go to Switzerland for rest and relaxation… pampering, if you will. So I’m prepared to drop some money on those trips. I’m never sorry I did so… although that’s probably because I’m not the one briefing generals and spending weeks working in Bavaria to pay for these trips.

So that about does it for my “ten things I learned” post. I hope I can write another one soon. I think our next trip will be to Stuttgart, and I’ve already written a shitload about that city.

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Austria, Italy, Switzerland

Ten things I learned in Sud Tyrol and beyond…

I always do these “ten things I learned” posts to remind me that travel is a good teacher and to sum up why the trip was worth taking. This particular trip was very special because it was the first one Bill and I have done since the pandemic started. I was a bit nervous about taking the plunge, and to be honest, I am a little worried that maybe we might get sick. On the other hand, we had a great time and saw a lot of cool stuff. So, here goes with my top ten list of things we learned in Sud Tyrol and beyond.

10. People in Sud Tyrol are much more likely to speak German than Italian, even though Sud Tyrol is in Italy.

It’s true. Everywhere we went in Parcines– as well as in Merano and Bolzano and the little towns around them– people were speaking German first. I knew that it was a German speaking area because I had visited Bolzano before, but I didn’t realize that German really is what you’re likely to hear among the locals.

9. Agriculture is huge in Sud Tyrol.

Everywhere we looked, there were acres and acres of apples, pears, quinces, and grapes. I think there were a lot more apples than grapes, actually.

8. It is possible to have a bad meal in Italy.

Okay, so I kinda knew that… I was just sorry that it was proven to me on more than one occasion.

7. I probably shouldn’t do half board options in most places.

Half board options are very popular in some resort hotels. They’re not a good choice for me, though, because I’m a bit picky about a lot of things. And some things make me throw up. If you’re not a picky eater and you’re budget conscious, they’re a better bet.

6. Right now, Europeans are a bit leery of Americans… even more so than usual!

Actually, it seemed like Germans were leery. We did get a few side eyes during our trip because Americans aren’t supposed to be in Europe. But if you live here, you can travel as if you were an EU citizen, as long as you can prove you’re a resident. Still, people will look sideways at you if they hear an American accent.

5. But after a few days, they’ll relax…

4. The Parcines waterfall is not very accessible right now.

I wish we’d had the chance to visit the waterfall. It’s obviously a tourist draw. Too bad the landowner felt the need to block off the area around the waterfall. I wonder if she did it because of people being bad guests and leaving trash and COVID-19 was just a convenient reason to fence it off. I don’t know…

3. COVID-19 rules are different in different countries.

Seriously– we had to wear gloves in Austria, but no mask. We wore a mask at the buffet in our Italian hotel, but no gloves. And in Switzerland, we weren’t required to wear a mask OR gloves, even when we went to the grocery store.

2. I really need to visit the Reschensee area.

I was on the right track back in 2009, when I was looking at booking a hotel there. It’s a beautiful area, and I’d love to get a closer/better picture of the partially submerged church tower.

1. Austria is AWESOME.

I knew it was awesome from previous trips, but it had been four years since our last Austrian visit. We definitely need to visit there more frequently. I think, overall, our time in Austria was my favorite. It has stunning views, excellent food, laid back people, and many natural wonders, along with beautiful accommodations. I hope we’ll have another opportunity to see more of it. I also have a new appreciation for Switzerland. We need to see more there, too.

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France

Ten things we learned this time in France…

Even though we’ve now been to France so many times that I’ve lost count, we really learned a lot during our Christmas trip to Beaune and Nimes, France. This trip did not include stops at museums or sumptuous meals in restaurants. Instead, it was a road trip, complete with true crime. So instead of seeing a tourist’s eye view of France yet again, we got more of a local view. Here’s a list of ten things we learned in France this time!

10. In France, straws are made of paper. Because we were on the road so much, we had occasion to stop at many fast food places. Although I’m sure I read about France banning plastic straws, I was still surprised to drink Pepsi through a paper straw! I say good on them for tackling pollution. They’ve also done away with plastic cups and plates and plastic bags!

It’s true, the straw does kind of disintegrate a little… but at least it will decompose in a timely manner.

9. If you need a new tire in France, you’ll probably have to buy two. This is the same rule in Germany, too, according to our landlord. When our car’s tire got popped by criminals at a rest stop, we went on a search for tires for our Volvo. They proved very hard to find, although it was probably because the shops didn’t have the specific brand we required– Pirelli. If we’d told them we would accept a different brand and wouldn’t mind paying for two, we might have gotten home sooner.

Because of this hole, we had to buy Bridgestone tires for our rear axle.

8. Tire scammers are on the loose! I don’t need to go into the story about what happened to us, since I’ve covered it extensively. However, I will admit that before a few days ago, I didn’t know about organized criminals who pop people’s tires in an attempt to rob them. Be careful out there! By the way, this happens in countries around the world. Based on my research, it looks like India has a big problem with this, as do Spain and Italy.

7. France is magical at Christmas time! Bill and I had such a nice time visiting our friends, Audra and Cyril. I’m not sure if their Christmas celebration is typical, but I really enjoyed hanging out with their family, eating delicious food, and being exposed to humans again instead of the Internet!

6. Raw oysters are a popular Christmas treat in France. I had no idea that the French enjoy oysters so much, especially at Christmas time. We saw piles of them for sale at a Christmas market in Beaune and Audra and Cyril had them for their family gathering. Served with bread and fresh lemons, they make for a delightful treat for those who like them. Coming from the Tidewater region of Virginia, I was fine with enjoying the oysters both raw and cooked. Bill surprised himself by liking them, too!

This cat was enjoying the parked cars.

5. Parking in Nimes is scary! Nimes is full of tight, narrow streets and people who can parallel park. It pays to drive a small, old car there, because parking is at a premium. The above picture is not really a representative of the wall to wall vehicles we saw there. I just liked the street cat.

4. Tile is chilly! In both of the gites I had booked before the tire fiasco, the floors were tile. That makes for easy cleaning, but it also makes the house a bit chilly. I was really glad I brought thick wool socks with me and there were plenty of blankets. Even though the weather was pretty mild, it was cold inside! We didn’t have that problem at La Maison de Maurice, which despite having tile floors, was well insulated and heated. If you’re planning to rent a house in France during the winter, you may want to bring warm clothes to ward off the chill.

Well, I won’t need any KFC for awhile… which is a boon for my expanding behind.

3. KFC in France is not like KFC in America… Okay, so this one is a little lame, as it’s not the same in Germany as it is in America, either, and even American KFC kind of pales compared to what it was thirty or forty years ago. Besides, why eat fast food? I’m just including it because we stopped at a rest area yesterday that happened to have a KFC. Since we were tired of mediocre burgers, we opted to try France’s version of “The Colonel”. And well… I was left pretty underwhelmed by it. Here, you don’t get biscuits or mashed potatoes; you get fries. And the chicken was kind of bland, too… no choice between original or extra crispy. Yeah, I know. We should have gone into town and found a decent restaurant with real food.

2. If you don’t speak French and need to report a crime, Google Translate has you covered. Bill gave his statement in a phone with Google Translate to two sympathetic French ladies who worked for the Gendarmerie. He was amazed by how easy it was. But then, when you’re in Europe, where there are many people speaking many different languages, Google Translate is a total God send! I don’t know how I ever did without it.

And finally, number 1 (because when I try to write a 1, the blog turns it into a list). Germany is feeling more and more like home. It’s not home, of course. I am American and will always be American, and I do have plans to return there at some point. But it was sure nice to cross back into Deutschland yesterday after our French adventure. I don’t regret a single minute of our trip, though, even the criminal part. We learned a lot, made new memories, and I got some great stories and experiences to pass along. I also feel warmth, affection, and kinship for France, because even though we had the unfortunate experience of having our tire popped by crooks, we were shown a lot of hospitality and kindness during this trip. They showed all of us– including Arran– love, and Bill and I love them right back! Vive la France! I already miss the croissants!

BTW, I think the featured photo of Bill is now one of my favorites of him…

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Poland

Ten things I learned in Wroclaw, Poland…

Here’s the usual wrap up top ten list I do after most of our trips. Enjoy…

10. Poland has come a long way in teaching English since our last visit in November 2008. Just about everyone we met while in Wroclaw spoke near fluent English. It was both impressive and humbling, since I only know a smattering of a few languages and am only fluent in English myself.

9. Georgian food appears to be popular in Poland. I was very surprised to find two Georgian chain restaurants in Wroclaw, both of which offered authentic food, Georgian wine, and Georgian beer. I wish it would catch on more in Germany, because Georgian food is delicious and their wine is even more than delicious.

8. Art is a big deal in Poland. Well, okay, I knew this and even blogged about it a few years ago. However, the creative spirit really seemed especially apparent in Wroclaw. I saw all kinds of creative touches, from fun murals in restaurants to very serious art exhibitions in city museums.

7. Poles are happy to not be communists anymore. I saw plenty of evidence that Poland is a happier place, now that it’s no longer controlled by Russia. They even have a restaurant that pokes fun of those years as it also capitalizes on capitalism.

6. Craft beer is a thing in Poland! When we visited in 2008, I was not at all impressed by the beer available. What a difference eleven years makes! Now, there are breweries making fun beers available to everyone. And since there is no “purity law” in Poland to worry about, you never know what you’ll find there.

5. Wroclaw’s parking is better than it used to be. When we visited Poland in 2008, we noticed that it was hard to park there. I spoke to the bartender at the Sofitel, and he said that many families have two cars, which makes parking a challenge. The cab driver confirmed that a lot of people have their own cars and many families have more than one. However, I noticed that there weren’t as many double parked cars in Wroclaw as there were in 2008.

4. Gnomes are everywhere in Wroclaw. Although they were in the city in 2008, we didn’t notice them. It’s probably because they weren’t as plentiful as they are now. If gnomes creep you out, like they do my friend Mary Beth, Wroclaw is not your city.

3. Wroclaw has a beautiful airport that is super easy to get in and out of. Seriously… I wasn’t happy about flying to Poland, since I wanted to shop for art, but I was impressed by the airport. It’s very modern and nice.

2. But the drive to and from the airport from the city will probably take as long as the flight back to Germany, especially during rush hour… Like I said, lots of Polish people have cars now, and they’re all on the roads. However, their “autobahn” looked really good. Poland’s economy seems to be pretty good right now, and though it remains an inexpensive place to visit, I think it’s eventually going to give Germany a run for its money as an economic powerhouse.

And finally, 1. Polish people are warm and friendly… and if they don’t speak English, they will probably speak German. Both times we’ve visited, German has come in handy. However, this last time, almost everyone we spoke to could communicate in English, and overall, they seemed friendly, warm, and welcoming. And it didn’t seem to be just because Americans are probably better tippers than most other folks are. They definitely like money and they appreciate tips, but they also are genuinely nice folks who are eager to talk about their country. I hope to go back and learn more, maybe in an area we haven’t been to yet. I would love to visit Krakow or Warsaw or both. If Trump gets his “fort” there, maybe that will be a reality someday on another one of Bill’s business trips.

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cruises, Scotland

Ten things I learned on our latest trip to Scotland…

I usually like to summarize our trips with a “ten things I learned” post. I usually only do them when we go to new places. We’ve now been to Scotland four times and I know I’ve done at least one “ten things I learned” post for one of those past trips. However, this time, we did explore new territory, and I never did get around to writing anything yesterday. I usually update my travel blog on the weekends, too. So… here’s a new “ten things I learned” post, for the curious.

10. It pays to check the calendar before booking a stay in a city like Edinburgh.

I wish I had known about the Fringe Festival. It was kind of cool to experience it, but if I had known about it in advance, we might have made different plans. On the plus side, I was glad to visit Edinburgh again and pick up new art by Matylda Konecka.

9. Bill needs to practice sitting in his kilt.

Seriously, I have tried to teach him about how to sit in a skirt, but it’s hard to undo 55 years of habitually sitting as a man typically does. At least he was wearing underwear. He still looks gorgeous in his kilt, though, so I will keep trying to teach him how to sit like a lady.

8. Eating fried bread before a long coach ride is a bad idea.

For me, anyway, it is… I shouldn’t be eating fried bread anyway, but I have to admit to liking it. It must be that 78% British/Irish ancestry I have. 😉

7. First class on ScotRail isn’t a luxury experience.

If there is a next time we need to get to Inverness from Edinburgh, we’re renting a car.

6. Inverness is a very charming city.

I definitely want to go back there for another visit and stay longer than just a night.

5. More people should take time to speak to the elderly.

One of the things I like most about Hebridean Princess is that there are typically a number of elderly people on board who are still very much “with it” mentally and even pretty spry. And if you’re lucky, they’ll talk to you about their lives. Every single Hebridean cruise we’ve enjoyed has had at least one or two of these charming folks who remember what it was like in the past and want to share their experiences. It’s fascinating.

4. Bill likes whisky more than I do.

While I did a lot of whisky drinking on our first whisky cruise, I did a lot less of it on this cruise. Maybe it was the time of the year, or maybe I’m just getting too sensitive. I probably should stick to beer and wine.

3. There’s a good reason why Cape Wrath is called Cape Wrath.

’nuff said.

2. Seasickness pills are a God send.

’nuff said about that, too, except to add that I prefer the kind you swallow as opposed to chewable Bonine pills, which taste horrible.

And finally… 1. It’s time for a French barge cruise.

I hope we can finally arrange one this year.

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Denmark, Germany, Sweden

Ten things I learned on our trip to Sweden, Denmark, and East Germany…

Well, it’s time once again to write one of my “ten things I learned” posts.  I always like to wrap up a long trip with a summary post.  It’s mainly for those who don’t want to wade through all my crap, but are interested in where I went and what I did.  I find it’s also useful for me to digest our travel experiences.  I keep reminding myself that I probably won’t always have these amazing opportunities to see the world.  So here goes…

10.  Volvo is now owned by a Chinese company.

I knew that Volvo was once owned by the American company, Ford, but I didn’t know that it was bought by Geely, which was founded in 1986 and is based in China.  I also didn’t know that Geely means “lucky” or “auspicious” in Chinese.

9.  Hygge is a special thing in Denmark.

Actually, it’s a special thing in Norway, too.  The word denotes a certain kind of coziness and comfort, particularly when it includes togetherness with other people.  I didn’t experience much Hygge during our one night in Copenhagen, but I can see how I might if I stayed there longer… or if we’d ventured into Denmark’s cool tree walk.

8.  Always follow up if you don’t get firm instructions regarding a meeting.

My husband, Bill, was kicking himself because he took our Volvo salesperson’s word for it when he was told they’d come get us at around 9:00am.  He never heard from anyone at Volvo itself.  Consequently, we were surprised when they sent a cab for us at 7:40am.  Fortunately, we were able to go to the factory later and get our new car.

7.  The Volvo Factory Experience is cool…

It was interesting to see how robots created the luxury wheels we’re driving now.  Volvo also doesn’t look like a bad place to work, if you can stand factory work, that is.  The factory was clean and surprisingly quiet.

6.  The Stasi Prison Museum in Rostock is closed for renovations.

I was bummed that we weren’t able to see the museum.  It was the one reason we decided to stay in Rostock for two nights instead of Copenhagen.  Oh well.  Rostock is a pretty interesting city anyway. I wouldn’t mind going back.  If we do go back, maybe we can see the museum then.  Or maybe we should just go to Berlin again and see the one there.

5.  East Germany is still pretty unspoiled and vacant compared to the west…

It was a pleasure to drive on the mostly open Autobahns, although I kept wondering what it must have been like there before and immediately after the Berlin Wall fell.  I think the former East Germany is fascinating.  I’d love to spend more time there.  And yes, I know East Germany doesn’t exist anymore.  I’m a child of the 80s.  Humor me.

4.  Leipzig is a very musical city.

I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t know Bach, Wagner, and Mendelssohn had connections there.  I will admit, though, that they aren’t composers I’ve studied much about.  Aside from the heavy hitting classical composers, Leipzig is home to a number of talented buskers and hosts its share of rock stars.  We got to see one up close in the hotel bar where we were staying.

3.  Bedbugs may or may not have bitten my leg…

And if a bedbug did bite me, it proves that bedbugs aren’t necessarily attracted to filth.  Even really nice hotels can have issues with them.

2.  German Apothekes are very helpful if you have a minor illness or health mishap.

I’m sure I knew this, of course.  I just don’t make it a habit of visiting them because as an American with on post shopping privileges, I can get my hands on a lot of over the counter drugs without having to talk to a pharmacist.  But if you’re on a trip in Germany and something bites you or you have minor aches and pains, a German Apotheke may be very helpful and worth a stop.

1.  Autobahns in East Germany have emojis to indicate the length of building projects.

Maybe they have them in the west, too, but I have never seen them.  They’re pretty cute!

This is pretty much how I feel when I encounter a Stau… especially if it’s caused by one of the neverending building projects over here.

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