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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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Ten things I learned in Baden-Baden…

Here’s my obligatory list of things I learned while visiting a new place.  I do this for most places I visit for the first time.  It helps me stay grounded.

10.  Tips are appreciated in Baden-Baden.  Actually, I have found that Germans don’t mind tips at all, but they are especially happy to receive them in Baden-Baden.

9.  Baden-Baden is teeming with people from other places, particularly Russia and France.  These folks apparently have a lot of money.  You can drop many euros in Baden-Baden if you want to shop.

8.  Baden-Baden is part of the “Baden” part of Baden-Wuertemberg.  Stuttgart is in the “Wuertemberg” part of Baden-Wuertemberg.

7.  Baden-Baden reminds me more of Wiesbaden than Stuttgart.  It has a similar vibe and appearance, although there are more mountains there.  I have heard there are many great hiking opportunities in the area.

6.  The Friedrichsbad is a very unusual experience.  It’s old school bathing and you have to do it in the nude.  It’s not for everyone, but personally, I really enjoyed it.

5.  The language of massage is universal.  Russian guys with big, strong hands will straighten out your knots in a heartbeat.

4.  Sometimes, spending a lot of money on a hotel is totally worth it.  Brenners Park is worth it, in my view.

3.  Baden-Baden has museums and art galleries, none of which we got the chance to visit.

2.  It pays to pre-book your spa treatments before you arrive.  Appointments fill up fast.  If your spa panties don’t fit, don’t be ashamed to wear your own underwear.

1.  Caracalla has nothing on the Mineraltherme in Boeblingen.

Yeah… no need to try to wear this butt floss if it doesn’t work for you…  The object of having a massage is to feel comfortable.  These things aren’t comfortable.  I doubt they would have been, even if I had a skinny ass.

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Ten things I learned in Annecy, France…

Every time I take a trip somewhere, I like to wrap up my blog posts with a list of ten things I learned. It’s kind of a nice way to sum up my trips for myself and for the people who’d rather read something short and to the point about the places I visit.  I write longer, more detailed posts, not necessarily for my readers, but for me when I’m in a place in life where I can no longer travel.  I like to keep the memories complete.  For those of you who just want quick and dirty, these ten things I learned lists might be more helpful.

Beautiful canals!

So anyway, here goes…

10.  The name “Annecy” has two syllables.  It rhymes with “fancy” and “Nancy” or even “antsy”.  It’s not “Ann-eh-cee”.  Although Annecy is in France, most of your drive from Germany will likely be through Switzerland.  That’s the fastest route, anyway.

9.  If you’re looking for lodging that offers the most bang for the buck, you really should consider not staying in Annecy itself.  Annecy is a city in every sense of the word and it gets very crowded.  If you have access to a car, you may want to look at staying in an area outside of Annecy.  We stayed near Talloires, which is a much quieter and very serene place, maybe twenty minutes from Annecy, but a world away in terms of peace and quiet.  You can also camp near Annecy.  We spotted a campground and a “tiny house” rental park right across the street from our hotel, very close to the lake.

8.  Annecy Castle is more of a museum than a castle.  You can reach it by foot or, if you have a car, it’s possible to drive to the entrance.  Be aware that except from June until September, the castle/museum closes from 12-2 pm for lunch and everybody gets kicked out during that time.  If you happen to be there on the first Sunday of the month, admission is free.  Also, in the lake museum, there appears to be a tower offering views.  Don’t fall for it.  You’ll get to the top and be rewarded with locked windows that offer a distorted view.

7.   Lake Annecy is said to be the cleanest lake in Europe.  The water is crystal clear and very blue.

6.  The area around Annecy is very popular with people who parasail and paraglide.  We saw a lot of people floating to the ground with parachutes.  I didn’t see anyone whitewater rafting, but I’m pretty sure that’s an option, too.

5.  If you want to take a lunch or dinner cruise during the warm months, you may want to book well ahead.  However, if you just want a boat cruise, you’ll have plenty of options.  There are lots of vessels available for taking people on one or two hours cruises.

4.  If you have access to a car, you may want to consider visiting other nearby cities like Chamonix (pronounced sha-mon-ee) or Albertville.  Both were Winter Olympic cities and are especially attractive during the winter months.

3.  Beware of bikers!  I think I saw more of them in the Annecy area than anywhere outside of The Netherlands.  And some of them are pretty stupid.

2.  Hotel Les Grillons, located near Talloires, is not a fancy hotel, but does offer incredible food.  If you book their half board deal, you won’t have to worry about finding dinner and chances are you will be very happy with what they serve.  Just be sure to let them know ahead of time if you need a substitution.  It’s also kid and dog friendly.

1.  It may be best to consider visiting the Annecy area during a shoulder season.  In early May, it was packed with people.  I imagine it will only get more crowded as the weather gets warmer.  However, it really is in a lovely area that offers a lot to do, especially if you’re the athletic type.  I recommend a visit, and am glad we got our chance to go.

I hope this list entices a few folks to consider visiting Annecy or one of the surrounding towns.  Of course, now I want to plan a trip to Italy.  I was really hoping we’d have a chance to cross the border.  Oh well.  Now I have a reason to research some more!

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Czech Republic

Cheap thrills in the Czech Republic! Ten things I learned!

Every time I go somewhere, I like to make a list of ten things I learned on my trip.  The Czech Republic is no exception!  Here goes!

In Cesky Krumlov…  another place I need to see again.  I climbed this tower, too.  Phew!

10.  It helps to speak some German if you go to the Czech Republic.

A lot of younger people do speak some English, but you’ll find it’s not as prevalent there as it is in other western European countries.  Bill and I have noticed that a lot of people speak German and some speak more German than English.  So, if you’ve been trying to come up with a reason to try harder to learn German, that’s one right there.  It might help you communicate better in the Czech Republic.

9.  It’s still super cheap to visit the Czech Republic!

Although it’s in the EU and its economy has picked up in recent years, the Czech Republic still has its own currency.  And it’s still really a cheap to visit this country.  For our three nights in a rented house, food, gas, and beer, we spent about $635.  And we didn’t economize.  If you’re looking for cheap and work at it, you can really score a bargain by visiting the Czech Republic.  However, if you want to save money when changing money, don’t go to a Wechselstube.  Visit a bank or ATM instead.

8.  There’s a lot to do in the Czech Republic… so much so that you may have trouble choosing.

Especially if you like beer, which Bill and I do.  You will have plenty of breweries to tour, beers to taste, and even some to soak in it if you are so inclined!  But if beer isn’t your thing, you can still visit churches, museums, zoos, and take tours of other historical sites.

7.  If you are an aviation or military buff, you should try to visit the Air Park in Zruc-Senec.

For about five bucks a head, you and your buddies can walk around a very cool museum where there are tanks, airplanes, helicopters, and the like.  In the summer, there are guided tours, though in the winter, you are less likely to encounter crowds.  The museum has been open since 1993 by a father and son and is continually expanding.

6.  I love garlic soup!

Garlic soup is a Czech treat and it supposedly cures hangovers.  That’s a win for me.  I would also imagine it’s great for when you’re sick with a cold or flu.

5.  Parking is cheap or even free.

I was surprised to find out that parking at Pilsner Urquell is free.  The nearby parking garage, which is within walking distance, is super cheap and secure.  It also has clean bathrooms that are free to use.

4.  I’m still fit enough to climb 301 stairs and not collapse.

Self explanatory.

3.  It’s okay to do yard work on Sundays.

This is only a surprise if you’ve lived in Germany for awhile.  I’ll probably go through another culture shock when we move back to the States someday.

2.  What Czech cities lack in aesthetics, they make up for in heart.

I’ll admit my first impressions of Plzen after a nine year break were kind of negative.  It’s an industrial city and there are lots of factories belching filth into the sky.  There are lots of ugly communist era buildings.  There’s plenty of trash and pollution that we don’t necessarily see in Germany or France.  However, once I was there and mingling, I realized that Plzen has sort of a scrappy charm that appealed to me.  I noticed the ugly factories less and focused on the older architecture, the delicious food and beer, and the warmth of the people, who were welcoming and kind, especially to our wallets!

*Note- Prague doesn’t count as lacking in aesthetics.  It’s still a beautiful city!  And cheap, too!

1.  I want to go back… soon!

There are still parts of the Czech Republic I want to discover.  High on the list is Brno, which I hear is an undiscovered and unspoiled gem.  I’ve heard it’s even cooler than Prague is, which is a tall order indeed.  If we stay here long enough and run out of places to see, maybe we’ll do a Czech tour of sorts.  I think that could be a fascinating trip!

Five Petalled Rose Festival in Cesky Krumlov, back in 2008.  That is a great time to visit the medieval town, because people dress for the occasion!  This festival takes place in June.

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Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Part six– Ten things I learned!

Whenever I visit a new place, I like to make a list of ten things I learned to sum everything up.  We only got a few short days in Rothenburg, but I feel like I know more now than I did on Friday.  So here’s a list of ten things I know now that I didn’t know a week ago.

Damn right.

10.  Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a must see if you are posted/based in Germany!

Seriously… it’s tragic that we never got to this town when we were here the first time.  It’s also tragic that it’s taken over three years this time to make it there.  It’s absolutely a gorgeous town… probably one of the coolest places I’ve found in Germany yet.  And I am developing quite a list of “cool German towns”, too.  Yes, it’s a tourist destination, but if you go during the low season, you can enjoy low prices and smaller crowds.  It’s also at the top of the Romantic Road, which makes it a prime spot to start a German themed road trip.  Summer vacation anyone?

9.  You didn’t want to break the law during medieval times!

The folks who lived in Rothenburg were God fearing, churchgoing people and if you were immoral, they would take it out of your ass… possibly literally!  A visit to the Criminal Museum is a must if you want to know more.  It’s very extensive and well done and all of the explanations include English translations.  Afterwards, you can visit the cafeteria for coffee and a Schneeball.

8.  Huge Asian tour groups like to visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course… it just might help to be prepared because even in January, there were a lot of them visiting and they tend to travel in large groups.

7.  Being inside of Rothenburg’s walls can make you feel like you’re in a different time and place.

As we were leaving Rothenburg this morning, I remarked to Bill that once we drove out of the walled area, it was back to normal life in Germany.  There’s nothing wrong with that, either, but it is a bit strange after you’ve been surrounded by medieval charm for a few days.  Rothenburg is a super cute town and it will make you forget what century you’re in.

6.  Rothenburg is great for families and besties, as well as romantic couples.

If I had girlfriends to go on trips with, I would put Rothenburg on the list of places to see.  It’s really got a lot of appeal, especially if you like shopping and eating in restaurants.  A girl could have a field day finding cute stuff to feather the ‘ol nest with.  Fortunately, Bill is a good sport.  If you want to, you can take an English tour of the city.  It starts at eight o’clock every night and costs eight euros.  We didn’t do it this time, but if we have a chance to go back, we will definitely take the tour and learn more about the city and its fascinating history.

5.  Rothenburg is not far away from Stuttgart.

If you really wanted to, you could simply spend a day there.  It takes about 2 to 2.5 hours to get there from the Stuttgart area, depending on traffic and what part you’re coming from.  The ride is almost all on the Autobahn.  It would make a great day trip for those so inclined, although frankly I would rather spend the night, or really, the whole weekend.

4.  Anno 1499 is a great place to stay, especially if you have dogs.  

I may end up kicking myself for telling everyone about it.  I have a feeling it’s going to be booked a lot in the coming weeks.  I am adding it to my list of places I can go when I have to get out of Stuttgart.

3.  You can buy Scottish goods in Rothenburg.  You can also buy “Schneeballen”.

I know the Germans love Scotland and so do I.  It’s nice to know I don’t have to go there if I need a retail fix, although I always love having a reason to go to one of my ancestral homelands.  After shopping for Scottish duds, it’s fun to eat one of the locally made “Schneeballen”, a ball shaped pastry known and produced in the area.

2.  There is a fantastic sushi restaurant in Rothenburg.

And if you want to eat at Louvre Japanese Restaurant, particularly during the busy months or on Friday or Saturday nights, you should make a reservation.  It’s a popular place with limited seating and absolutely delicious, fresh food.  There are apparently other great restaurants we missed this time.  I will have to rectify that next time we have a chance to visit.

1.  It costs 1.200 euros to get your name on the wall of the city…  

Or so my German friend, Susanne, says…  I trust her, because she’s proven time and again that she’s a quick, diligent, and accurate researcher.

 
I wish we’d had a chance to visit “Hell”…  Yesterday was their Ruhetag, though.  Despite the devilish theme, they get great ratings.  Next time we visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber, we will make a point to stop in.  It’s very close to the Criminal Museum, which you can’t miss.
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Ten things I learned on our trip to Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland…

From Mount Stewart House’s beautiful gardens…

It’s that time again.  When Bill and I take trips, I like to sum them up with a “ten things I learned” post.  Although we’ve been to Scotland three times and we visited Ireland last fall, this cruise on Hebridean Princess took us to Northern Ireland for the very first time.  You wouldn’t think there would be that much of a difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland… and, I guess, there isn’t that much in terms of how it looks and how warm the people are.  But we learned that there’s still some tension over the fact that Ireland and Northern Ireland are divided.  I will get more into that with this list.  For now, here’s the countdown in no particular order.

10.  There are a whole lot of Presbyterians in Northern Ireland!

I was born and raised Presbyterian, although I am not really a churchgoer these days.  To be honest, when I did used to go to church, I didn’t know that much about it.  I simply went because my parents made me.  It wasn’t until I was in college and worked as the cook at a Presbyterian church camp that I learned about what I was supposed to believe and realized that it’s a very Scottish religion.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to see so many Presbyterian churches in Northern Ireland, but when we visited Derry, our tour guide told us the story of Presbyterians in that large city.  We visited the First Derry Presbyterian Church and The Blue Coat School Visitor Centre and I came to realize just how prevalent the faith is there.

9.  There’s still a lot of tension between British people and Irish people over Northern Ireland’s inclusion in the United Kingdom.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that many Irish people would like to see their island nation reunited the way Germany has reclaimed its east.  As we listened to our Irish tour guide in Carlingford talk about growing up in Northern Ireland and visiting the Republic, I got a firsthand account of a man’s experience having to pass through checkpoints during a very volatile period in Irish history.  I had sympathy for our Irish guide’s viewpoints, although I admittedly don’t know as much about the subject as I should.

8.  Bill knows a lot about Irish folklore.

My husband seemed to impress a number of other passengers about how much he knows about Irish folklore.  It’s a special interest of his, since he has a lot of Irish ancestry.  He took a course at American University when he was a college student and learned a lot of the old stories.  It came in handy during our tour of Carlingford.

7.  The city of Derry has a connection to Harvey’s Bristol Cream, a favorite sherry of ours.

Although I’d be hard pressed to accurately retell the story as our tour guide told it, I was very surprised to find out how Bishop Harvey in Derry had a connection to Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

6.  If you visit an Irish restaurant in the Republic, you’re liable to hear old fashioned country music.  

Yes, I know country music comes from Scotland, Ireland, and the other isles up there, but I sure wasn’t expecting to hear “The Ballad of Jed Clampitt” in an Irish restaurant as we were discussing Irish folklore.  The music moved on nicely to “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” by Tammy Wynette and a number of other feel good classics from when I was a wee lass in the 70s.

5.  I learned more about the plight of Catholics in Northern Ireland.

Although I had heard a little about Catholic oppression by the British when we were in Ireland last November, I learned a bit more about religious persecution on this trip.  For example, when we visited Derry, our guide explained that the Catholics were mostly very poor and were forced to settle in a marshy area of the city.  Because they were so poor and many people often lived in one home, they were underrepresented in elections.  For years, only one person in a Catholic household was allowed to vote and they really suffered because of that rule, which only changed in the late 1960s.

4.  Every year in Carlingford, people are allowed to hunt Leprechauns for one day.

Our tour guide in Carlingford, a man named Dermott, explained that the town of Carlingford has a fund raiser that allows people to go up in the hills and “hunt” for Leprechauns.  It is technically illegal to hunt for them on any other day of the year.

3.  Crossing the border into Ireland from Northern Ireland is a non-event… for now.

Dermott, our guide in Carlingford, told us that as a young man, he had to submit to extreme vehicle searches whenever he wanted to visit Ireland.  Although he was born and raised in Northern Ireland, Dermott considers himself Irish and wants to see the island united as one country unto itself.  He told us of having the wheels and seats taken out of his car when he was a young man as border patrols looked for bombs or other weapons.  Today, one can cross into Ireland and not even notice.  But if Brexit comes to pass, that may change.

2.  Mount Stewart is a beautiful place!

Bill and I had the pleasure of visiting Scotland’s amazing Mount Stuart House in Bute, Scotland, on our first Hebridean cruise.  As the crow flies, Northern Ireland’s Mount Stewart isn’t that far away.  It’s also a very impressive place.  I really enjoyed the gardens at Mount Stewart, although I think I like Mount Stuart’s house a little more.

1.  The Titanic Experience in Belfast is amazing… and amazingly crowded!

I really didn’t know much about the Titanic, the ill fated cruise ship, before we visited Belfast last week.  I still don’t know that much about it because the Titanic Experience, while very comprehensive and impressive, is positively loaded with people.  I overheard some passengers on our cruise saying that France’s exhibit in Cherbourg is better.  Perhaps we will visit there and see for ourselves.

We really enjoyed ourselves in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland.  I hope someday we will get to return.  At the very least, I need to sit down and watch the movie, Titanic.  I can’t believe I still haven’t seen it in the 20 years it’s been out.  Maybe this weekend…

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France

Ten things I learned in Alsace and Burgundy…

Every time I take a trip, I like to take a moment and reflect on the things I learned during my travels.  No matter where I go, I always learn something new.  On this particular trip, I learned more about French food!  But I also learned some other things that I want to share with those who read this blog. So here goes…

10.  Ribeauville is pronounced “Ribeauvillay”.

I was curious about how to pronounce Ribeauville because I noticed that all the signs showed an accent over the second e in the name.  I asked Yannick, our host at our first gite, how to pronounce Ribeauville and he helped me out.  Here’s a link to where you can hear French speakers say it.

By the same token, Alsace is pronounced “Al-zahss” (not Al-sayce).

9.  There’s an art to ordering steak in France.  

I was under the impression that in France, most people like their meat bloody.  It’s also been my impression that the French know Americans don’t always like really rare meat.  If you want to be in the know for enjoying beef in France, here’s a guide to how to order it.  I asked for medium steak twice and ended up with well-done the second time.  If I had known the French terms, maybe it would have turned out differently.

8.  The word for turkey in French is “dinge”.  Storks are a big deal in Alsace.  

And I like turkey, so that’s good to know for next time!  I never knew there were so many storks in that part of France and had not noticed them prior trips.

7.  Escargot isn’t half bad…

It’s not all bad, either.  I was pleasantly surprised by the escargot Bill and I tried in Burgundy, although I think all the garlic helped.  It reminded me somewhat of eating haggis, though, and will probably be an experience saved for special occasions.  I will say that every time I have smelled escargots being prepared, I have been intoxicated by the aroma.  They always smell delicious to me, even if the idea of eating something slimy is a bit off putting.  But, in fairness to snails, they aren’t slimy when they’ve been cooked.

6.  Kugelhopf is a tasty breakfast bread.

It’s available in Germany, too, especially close to the French border.  I’d probably still prefer croissants, but there aren’t really any bad French breads, are there?

5.  You can have a great time in a no name destination.

I say “no name”, but what I really mean is a place that isn’t on the tourist map.  Ribeauville is definitely more touristy than Saint Marcelin-de-Cray is, but I think Bill and I enjoyed the less touristy side of our trip more.  It was fun just to be in a place where we were aliens and could just soak up the atmosphere.  It was great being in what the wine seller described as “the real France”.

4. Going off the beaten path is good for the soul as well as the brain.

All week, we were challenged to learn a little bit of French.  We ran into only one group of Americans and that was on the first night of our seven night trip.  Although a few people we ran into spoke English, we had to live a bit more by our wits.  And if you read my series, you now know that can sometimes lead to eating chitterlings.

3.  Andouillette in France is NOT the same as American Andouille sausage. 

Moreover, the French also do Andouille sausage differently than the Cajun folks do.  If you are an adventurous eater who enjoys offal, it may be a thrill to try it in France.  If you’re not, you may want to be aware.  That being said, I read that Andouillette is a delicacy in Burgundy.  It’s also very popular in Lyon, which is considered France’s food city.  There’s even a club for connoisseurs.

2.  In Burgundy, if you are offered “coffee” at four o’clock, don’t be surprised if you end up with wine.

Of course, you may also get coffee.

1.  If you haven’t tried staying in a self-catering “gite” (pronounced zheet), you should give it a go.  

When Bill and I lived in Germany the first time, we pretty much always stayed in B&Bs and hotels when we traveled.  This time, because it’s not as easy to book our dogs at their favorite place, we have been taking them with us.  Our dogs are not the most polite hounds on the block, so we like to find places to stay where they won’t be disruptive to others.  Gites are great for that purpose.  I have found that France is especially dog friendly, too.  We spend a lot less money for larger accommodations where we can cook our own meals and not have to worry about disrupting housekeepers.  It’s a win/win all the way around.  I still love going to really nice hotels and being pampered, but when we bring our dogs, gites are the best alternative.  And we have met some great people that way, too.

And also great donkeys…

 

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Ten things I learned in Ireland…

Now that our long awaited trip to Ireland is finished, it’s time to reflect upon what I learned while we were there.  Here goes!

10.  People surf in Ireland year round.  It sounds crazy, but surfing is a thing in Ireland.  Where we stayed, a person could sign up for lessons.  And they were very reasonably priced, too!  I think I saw a sign advertising an hour lesson for 25 euros or so at the bar next to our little cottage.

9.  W.B. Yeats is buried in County Sligo.  As a former English major, I couldn’t help but take note that the famous Irish poet is buried in Sligo and you can stop and check out his grave.

8.  A lot of Irish bars play terrible pop music.  This may not be the case for every bar in Ireland.  I just noticed that really bad pop music was playing in quite a few of the bars we visited.  I have a new appreciation for the Auld Rogue!

7.  Irish people say “you’s” a lot.  As a southerner, I have noticed when I go to Pennsylvania or Maryland, I often hear people say “you’s”, as in “You’s need to come over for dinner sometime.”  I noticed the same thing when we were in Ireland.  I’m sure it has to do with the number of Irish immigrants who settled in the northeastern United States.

6.  Free WiFi is ubiquitous in Ireland!  Coming from Germany, where free WiFi is rare, it was quite a treat to find Internet connections so wide open in Ireland.  Even at the airport, it was free to surf.  Germany needs to get with the program!

5.  Ireland reminds me a lot of America.  Of all the countries I’ve visited in Europe, Ireland reminds me of America the most.  I thought England reminded me of the States, but Ireland tops the UK in terms of similarities.  I heard American accents on the television and radio and saw a lot of references to American culture.  Every bar we went to was selling Budweiser and Coors beers, too.

4.  Shopping is a thing on Sundays!  When we were in Dublin the first Sunday, I was surprised to see that many stores were open and it was a bit of a madhouse.  The lady who rented us the cottage in Sligo said that Sundays are when a lot of people who work all week get to do their marketing.  I was surprised by that, since Ireland is also very Catholic!

3. Before you go looking for famous Irish cliffs, it pays to check your GPS.  We spent a long time driving to a town looking for cliffs.  Sadly, we ended up in the wrong place and missed our chance.  The weather was too horrible to try again later in the week.

2.  There are areas where Gaelic is the main language.  When we drove north on our failed mission to see Irish cliffs, we ended up in an area where all the signs were in Gaelic.  It was pretty cool to see how the Irish are holding on to their language, even though English has really taken over there.

1.  Sometimes it pays to talk to kids on trains.  I will confess that when we ran into a large group of youngsters on our way to Kilkenny, I was a little perturbed.  But they turned out to be a highlight of our trip for making us laugh hard and often.  I will always remember that group of boys on the train very fondly as they expressed incredulity that we’d want to vacation in Ireland because “it’s awful!”  Too funny!

We really didn’t do as much as I would have liked while we were in Ireland.  However, I will say that we found a fantastic rental by the ocean and being there to smell the salt air, watching the tide and the surfers, and taking lots of gorgeous photos was not a bad way to spend our time.  I hope we can visit Ireland again.  Now I want to venture to the south!

Surf’s up!

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Ten things I learned on my trip to Semur En Auxois, France…

Whenever Bill and I take trips, I like to think of ten things I learned.  I have found that travel is one of the best ways to learn new things, meet new people, and expand horizons.  Although Semur En Auxois was not on my top ten list of places I wanted to see, we really enjoyed our weekend there.  And so, in the interest of promoting this underrated town, I give you the top ten things we learned on our trip to Semur En Auxois, France.

10.  There are still places in western Europe where not everyone speaks English.  I know some people will say that the French purposely choose not to speak English and maybe that’s true sometimes.  I didn’t find it to be true in Semur En Auxois.  Everyone we ran into was pleasant, though not necessarily fluent in English.  Frankly, I found it very refreshing, even though it made communicating more difficult.

9.  In France, you can go to the grocery store on Sunday!  It’s true that things do shut down for the “day of rest”, but people have to have their croissants.  So, if you also need to load up on wine or cheese for the ride back to Germany, you may very well be able to stop in.  I’m not sure if this is true in every part of France, but it was in Semur En Auxois, which I would not consider to be a tourist mecca.

8.  It can be very rewarding to wander among small towns and just soak in the local flavor.  It’s true that this particular trip was not of the Clark W. Grizwold variety.  We didn’t make a point of seeing all of the things we could have seen.  But we did get to see some very charming French villages and enjoy some wonderful scenery.  Sometimes, it’s good to just soak up the atmosphere.

7.  Cheese that smells like feet apparently tastes fantastic.   This is according to my husband, Bill, who likes that sort of thing.  If you like unusual and stinky cheeses, France is your place!  As for me, pass the Monterrey Jack and make sure it’s melted.

6.  Europeans aren’t into spaying and neutering their pets the way Americans are.  Although people have given us strange looks in Germany for having two dogs sans testicles, it wasn’t until we went to France that we learned why.  At least in Germany, there is a law that prohibits removing organs from animals for non medical reasons, although it doesn’t seem to be heavily enforced and exceptions can be made.  Europeans seem to be opposed to the practice of spaying and neutering in general.  I just found a five year old article that explains that neutering your dog is actually illegal in Norway.  Interesting!  This revelation ranks right up there with learning that many German men sit down to pee when they’re at home.

5.  Free parking and free WCs!  Although I know free potties and parking are not necessarily the norm in France, we did find them both to be a lot more plentiful there than in Germany.  On the other hand, prepare to pay tolls on the motorways!

4.  Even if you don’t speak French, you can have rewarding conversations…  See my reference to spaying and neutering above, which came about as we were chatting with an elderly French lady who wondered where our dogs’ balls were.  Of course, we could have misinterpreted.  Incidentally, we also saw a local guy walking by wearing a t-shirt that read “This is my Halloween costume.”  We count that as another bizarre occurrence during our travels (and we always have at least one on every trip we take).

3.  My French isn’t as bad as I thought it was.  Which isn’t to say that it’s good at all.  I just understood more than I would have expected.  I definitely need to study it, though.  But I also need to study German.  Why couldn’t I have spent two years in a country where I would have learned French instead of Eastern Armenian?  Just my luck, I guess.

2.  Even obscure towns are worth seeing.  My guess is that most Americans have never heard of Semur En Auxois.  Most Americans would prefer to visit Paris, Lyon, Nice, or Normandy.  We had a very good time in rural France.  It was an authentic experience that I would highly recommend to other Americans if they have the means and the opportunity.  Just pick a small town and go.  You may surprise yourself by what you’ll end up learning and seeing.

1.  France is wonderful.  I will admit, my very first impressions of France in 1995 were quite unfavorable.  I spent a whole, miserable, jet lagged day stuck at Charles de Gaulle airport where I was treated rudely.  However, every time I have gone back to France, and there have been many times since 1995, I have fallen more in love with the country.  There’s a lot to love about France and I hope we can go back again soon.  I kind of feel the same way about New York City.  I hated my first visit, but loved it more with each subsequent trip.  By the time we move back to the States, I will probably be madly in love with France.

France is beautiful, even when the sun isn’t shining!

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Ten things we learned on our trip to Belgium…

Whenever we take trips, I like to reflect on things we learned.  It’s become my custom to write blog posts about the new things I discover when I travel.  Since we just came back from Belgium, here’s a quick top ten list of things I learned in the land of waffles, frites, beer, and chocolate!

10.  Belgium might be even more dog friendly than Germany is.  Our dogs were well catered to on our trip and their occasional outbursts were patiently tolerated.

9.  You can find grocery stores open on Sundays!  Hours might be limited, but they do exist!

8.  Dinant, Belgium is the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone.  This is probably my favorite new piece of knowledge since I am definitely a music lover.

7.  Public defecation is apparently a problem in Belgium.

I saw this sign… I also encountered the most disgusting rest area I have seen in a long time.  A prior trip to Brussels also revealed an apathetic attitude toward shit cleanup in Belgium.

 

6.  Renting a house, even if there are just two of you, is a great deal.  We only paid slightly more for a whole house what we could have spent on a hotel room and we had the added benefit of privacy and the ability to cook our own meals.

5.  Speaking of rental houses, there are a whole lot of them in eastern Belgium.  They seem to be more plentiful than hotel rooms are.

4.  If you use the bathroom at the Autogrill in Belgium, you get a voucher for the whole 70 cents it costs to use the toilet, rather than just fifty cents.

3.  Belgian TV has lots of English channels.  I even got to watch part of Dr. Phil in Belgium and was reminded that I don’t miss his show that much.

2.  Some hot tubs require physical labor before the big payoff.  They aren’t all jetted tubs, either.

1.  Driving through France to get back to Germany may be a lot less stressful than driving through Germany.  You won’t hit Ramstein traffic and there seems to be less road construction going on.  On the other hand, I also noticed the roads weren’t quite as well maintained as they tend to be in Germany.  You also have to pay tolls.

Overall, Bill and I had a great, laid back trip to Belgium.  I think we’re going to have to go back soon.  I was reminded why I loved Belgium so much the last time we lived in Germany and chagrined that we haven’t made visiting again a priority.  I don’t know how much longer we’ll get to live in Europe, but I think more trips to Belgium are in order, with or without the pooches!

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