Hessen, Sundays

Noyzi visits his SECOND Biergarten…

We had such beautiful weather, yesterday, that we just couldn’t abide staying home. But, once again, it was later in the day when we decided to go out for awhile. I started throwing out suggestions of places that were an hour or so away from our house, but then we wondered about Noyzi, who has become very fond of coming with us when we go out somewhere. Bill then remembered a Biergarten located near us that we’d never been to previously. His good friend from work had been there and recommended it, and Google said it was just 13 minutes away by car.

I was sold on that suggestion, so we headed out to Hockenberger Mühle, a restaurant and Biergarten about seven kilometers north of us. Noyzi was all too thrilled to jump up into the back of the Volvo. It’s funny how we used to have to pick him up and put him in. Now, he just leaps in with no problem.

When we got to the Biergarten, we found it very well populated with people who were wise enough to make reservations. Nevertheless, we were able to score a parking spot in a small field across the two lane road approaching the restaurant. The Hockenberger Mühle was tucked away in a corner, with the Biergarten mostly covered by a permanent roof and/or large umbrellas.

An obviously hardworking man seated us with another couple, who turned out to be good company. They had arrived at the Biergarten, courtesy of their bikes. The male half of the couple had taken a nasty spill before their arrival, and had a pretty banged up looking leg. Nevertheless, they were very friendly and talkative, and quite tolerant of Noyzi, who was nervously looking around and occasionally barking. We explained to the couple that Noyzi is a street dog from Kosovo and he’s still learning how to act in public. They were understanding and told us about friends of theirs who had adopted a dog from Romania. That seems to be the “in” thing to do in Germany, these days. I would be happy to adopt a more local dog myself, but the shelters don’t seem to want to let Americans affiliated with the military adopt, thanks to some of the irresponsible actions of our countrymen.

The Biergarten was very busy, and there were many bikers, as there is a bike trail nearby. I also noticed several large, well dressed families who looked like they might have just come from church. The German couple who were sharing the table with us said it looked like maybe some of the kids with them had just had their first communions.

Bill decided to have a tuna salad. I had a Schnitzel and fries. Ordinarily, I might have opted for something less fried, but I was preoccupied with Noyzi and didn’t have the chance to study the menu more carefully. I do like Schnitzels on occasion, but they’re kind of entry level. Oftentimes, I can’t finish them, although I managed to do it yesterday. Bill had a Dunkelweizen beer, and I had my usual Hefeweizen.

After the biker couple departed, we had some time alone at the table. A couple more people showed up with big dogs, both of which were better behaved than Noyzi was (although he really wasn’t bad at all). We did get a few side eyes from some folks. One guy was at the table next to us and kept giving me looks, but I noticed he could barely keep his food in his mouth and he smoked several cigarettes. So, I guess we’re about even, in terms of table manners. 😀

I went looking for the ladies room and stumbled across the restaurant’s playground for kids, plus more tables, which were all occupied. Bill called for the check, but it took awhile for them to bring it to us. Meanwhile, we were joined by more bikers– this time, it was a gay male couple. They were nice enough, but I did think it was funny that they asked if we were there on vacation. I mean, there we were with our big ass street dog… Did they think we flew him over to Germany for a week’s break? They knew where we lived when we explained we live in Breckenheim.

Then, when Bill went to pay the check, he got the numbers mixed up and tried to give the server way more money than she needed. She protested, and after Bill finally got the check paid, one of the men said, “In Germany, a ten percent tip is enough.”

I kind of stifled a laugh and said, “Oh, we know not to tip like Americans here… ”

I don’t think the guy realized what had happened. Bill thought the bill said 53 euros, when it was 35. Anyway, after that little cultural exchange, we were feeling ready to go home to the peace and quiet of our backyard. Noyzi did reasonably well, although he’s still pretty nervous in public. Every time we take him out, though, he gets a little bit better. Plus, he’s a great ice breaker.

We would love to go back to that Biergarten some other time, or maybe eat in the restaurant, which looked pretty charming. Next time, we’ll make a reservation, though, if the weather is fine.

Here are some photos from our brief excursion… A couple were taken in the pretty countryside near our house. We don’t have nearly as much pretty country where we are now, but there’s a little bit to satisfy the part of me that really misses horses. There are also some really cute little villages to drive through, but they are so congested!


Want to know what it’s like to work at a hotel? Read Heads in Beds…

It’s time for my first new book review of 2018.  If you follow this blog, you probably already know that I am a follower of certain pages on Facebook.  I like to read The Bitchy Waiter (who also has a book that I haven’t yet read) and The Angry Bartender.  I read Sanctimommy and STFU Parents, too.  In fact, all of those pages have served as inspiration for some of my blog posts.  It only stands to reason that I like to read books about people who work in the service industry.  When you work in service, you work with people.  People are interesting in so many ways.I’m not exactly sure how I found Jacob Tomsky’s 2012 book Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality.  I think I saw the book mentioned in a news article about hotels.  I have to admit I was attracted by the title, too.  I love a good salacious tell all.  I bought Tomsky’s book in November, but didn’t start reading it until last month, when we were in a hotel in Berlin.  Because I’ve been busy with holiday stuff, another book, and frankly too much wine at dinner, it’s taken me awhile to get through Heads in Beds.  Honestly, I think reading on an iPad also slows me down.  There was a time when I would have zipped right through this, had I only not been distracted by Facebook.

Author Jacob Tomsky, who calls himself “Thomas” in his book, never intended to get into the hotel industry. He grew up a military brat and endured its nomadic lifestyle.  Perhaps the chaos of being a child of a servicemember left him with an attraction to more chaos.  Tomsky got his start in the hospitality business in valet parking, but soon moved onward and upward.  He had a degree in philosophy and a lack of direction… and apparently, lots of people like that end up working for hotels.   Starting at a large establishment in New Orleans, Tomsky learned all of the tricks of the trade.  He’s done everything from supervising housekeeping to parking your car.  Along the way, he’s picked up a lot of colorful stories about co-workers and customers.

Tomsky’s writing has a bit of a smart-assed edge that works well as he describes being berated by hotel guests and “trained” by doormen and bellhops who survive on tips.  From New Orleans, Tomsky worked his way north to New York City, where apparently being called obscene nicknames by a co-worker is a term of endearment.

I have to admit I enjoyed Tomsky’s irreverent tone, especially as he passes along tips on how to get more out of a hotel stay.  I can’t say I’ll be employing many of his tips, mainly because I’m not that shameless or demanding.  But I did find his suggestions interesting.  For instance, I never knew that minibar charges are among the most disputed on a hotel bill.  Apparently, all you have to do is ask and many hotels will remove the charges, even if you did succumb to temptation.  Same thing goes for movie charges.  Just claim you made a mistake or the movie quit halfway through.  According to Tomsky, you’ll probably be watching for free.

I was intrigued by Tomsky’s housekeeping tips.  I never knew that furniture polish does a great job cleaning mirrors.  I suppose next time I visit a hotel, I’ll check to see if there’s a lemony fresh essence in the bathroom.  Also, people who bring their own pillows to a hotel, which I have done on more than one occasion, are apparently frowned upon.  Good thing I mostly grew out of that habit.

Tips are everything in the hotel biz.  A well-timed tip can help you get whatever you want.  Need a late checkout?  Fork over some cash.  Ever wonder why the bellman grabs your bags even if you don’t need help?  They work for tips.  According to Tomsky, there’s even a special cue to summon them.  A lot of people don’t carry cash anymore, which is a real bummer for elevator operators, doormen, and bellmen.  Tomsky reminds readers that those guys are supporting families on their tips. Don’t have cash for a tip?  Just be really nice.  Being pleasant can pay dividends when you’re dealing with hotel workers, although cash is definitely preferable.  Personally, I don’t like the tipping system, but that’s simply the way things are in America.  Money talks, and when you’re dealing with people who are in the service industry, it’s often the best way to make a statement.

Tomsky liberally swears in his writing, which is okay with me as long as the swearing doesn’t make the writing boring.  Like, if every other word is an “f” bomb, I would consider that bad writing.  In Tomsky’s case, the “f” bomb works.  If you’ve ever spent any time working in the service industry, you know that a lot of those jobs really can drive a person to some bad habits like smoking, drinking, snorting cocaine, and yes, swearing.  I figure a few well-placed “fucks” lend some authenticity to Tomsky’s stories.  Let’s face it.  A lot of people are assholes.  That’s why I no longer work in the service industry and won’t unless I have to do it to survive.  And even then, I might consider something drastic before I’d willingly wait tables again.

Now that I’ve read Tomsky’s book, any illusions I had that hotel clerks have an easy job have all but dissipated.  However, Tomsky reveals that there are some nice rewards that come with the job.  For instance, Tomsky got to meet Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys.  He was a regular guest at the New York City hotel where Tomsky worked.  Tomsky also ran into his fair share of prostitutes and sleazy businessmen cheating on their wives.  The job gave Tomsky, clearly a natural storyteller, a huge trove of entertaining stories for his book.  Those stories have propelled Tomsky into a vocation for which he is clearly suited.

I really enjoyed Heads in Beds.  Jacob Tomsky is funny and I appreciated how he humanizes the hard working folks in the hotel biz.  Tomsky seems like the kind of person I’d enjoy knowing.  And so, because I like Tomsky and his book, I will recommend it with a solid five out of five star rating.  However, if liberal swearing offends you, I would recommend proceeding with caution.


Tipping is tacky…

It really is. That being said, I understand tipping is the way it is in the United States. If you work in the service industry in America, tipping can make or break you. Unfortunately, in the United States, it has become customary for customers to fortify low wages. And… just as unfortunately, many Americans assume tipping is customary everywhere and try to force that practice on other cultures.

Today’s blog post is inspired by a comment I read on a Facebook page I follow called Bitchy Waiter. I follow that page because I was once myself a waitress in the United States. Although I haven’t worked as a waitress since 2002, I still occasionally have nightmares about waiting tables. Believe me, I am very sympathetic to wait staff, especially in the United States. I always tip generously when I’m home. However, while tips are often appreciated in other countries, they aren’t always necessary. Sometimes they are even offensive.

This was a post I read today on Bitchy Waiter…

A little voice inside my head told me I shouldn’t read the comments. Unfortunately, I ignored it…

Person after person wrote something along the lines of “20%! Same as I do in America!” or “No idea!” One person even wrote “A deodorant stick.” I usually don’t comment on this kind of stuff because it’s generally a waste of time. But today, I felt like I had to leave a comment for one person who seemed especially hellbent on being an “ugly American”. Have a look.

The original poster insists that he should tip 20% because “he’s a good tipper” and not tipping at least 20% would be “insulting”…

While many servers in European countries appreciate tips, tipping is not as important in Europe as it is in America. Many servers in Europe actually go to school to learn how to wait tables. It’s a real profession… which isn’t to say that waiting tables isn’t a profession in the United States, as much as it is to remind people that many Europeans take pride in hospitality. They are also paid a living wage.

As most Americans know, while there are many professional servers in the United States, it’s not something that everybody goes to school to learn how to do. It’s also not necessarily a job that most people grow up wanting to do, even if there are some folks who get into the profession and stay in it their whole lives.

Unfortunately, many people in the United States look down on servers, though I can personally attest to how difficult the job is. Many people think servers are “unskilled”. Because so many places in the States don’t even pay their servers as little as minimum wage, servers in the States are forced to rely on tips to make money. But that is NOT the case everywhere and Americans should not assume that it is.

I have been to Italy several times. I’m now at a point at which I couldn’t tell you exactly how many times I’ve visited. I have learned that tipping in restaurants is NOT a thing in Italy, although it is becoming more common thanks to Americans who insist on engaging in the practice. In Italy, you are typically charged a servizio, which is the service charge. You may also pay the coperto, which is the cover charge. That’s for the tablecloth, silverware, etc. If you received good service and you want to round up the bill, fine. But even then, in Italy, you’d typically pay a cashier and not your server. So even if you wanted to tip, it would be awkward. It’s not common to leave money on the table in Europe and, if you do, staffers might think you left it there accidentally. Or worse, they might think you are pitying them.

I guess what set me off about the comments above is that the original poster was concerned about not insulting servers in Italy, so he’s gonna tip the way he would in his country. However, in his bid not to feel like he’s being insulting, he’s forgotten that he doesn’t get to determine whether or not he’s coming across as insulting. Just like beauty, rude behavior is in the eye of the beholder. You don’t get to determine whether or not your behavior is offensive to someone else. Sadly, I think a lot of Americans have no clue that our culture is not the end all be all. It’s not the benchmark of “normal” for the whole world. In fact, many Europeans seem to think American culture is actually pretty weird. And when an American comes to another country and presumes to foist US customs on the locals, it is insulting, offensive, and potentially very damaging.

Getting back to my title for this post. To be honest, excessive tipping truly is, in my opinion, very tacky. I can remember waiting tables in a nice restaurant, getting paid $2.13 an hour by my employer, but actually making about $12 an hour or more due to tips. Honestly, making money was my focus in those days, as it was for most of my colleagues. We were not really that concerned with seeing that our guests enjoyed their meals and the luxurious experience of dining out as much as we were with getting them in and out of the restaurant so we could make bank. And customers, likewise, use tips as a way to demean or punish the servers.

I remember one evening, a gentleman sat at one of my tables and said, “If you take care of us, we’ll take care of you.”  By the time I ran into this guy, I already knew that if someone was graceless enough to let me know from the get go that he expected me to kiss his ass and was dangling cash in front of me like a person would tease a pet, it was going to be a tough night. And, sure enough, I don’t remember that guy being particularly generous. I do remember he was very demanding, though… and very tacky. He assumed he needed to get me to do my job by promising cash instead of expecting me to do it because I had some pride in my work.

Here’s another example. Bill and I have cruised with SeaDream Yacht Club three times. It’s considered a “luxury” cruiseline. Tipping is “not expected”. Those who choose to offer money to the crew are requested to donate to the crew fund so the money goes to everyone. Although this is the stated policy in SeaDream’s literature, I know for a fact that there are a lot of people who tip anyway. I have seen them on the last day, surreptitiously passing envelopes full of cash to crew members. The tippers probably don’t see anything wrong with this practice; but in my mind, it makes it harder for crew members to pay equal attention to everyone. It’s also not fair to those crew members who don’t have the good fortune to impress a generous passenger with deep pockets.

By contrast, next week, Bill and I will be boarding Hebridean Princess, a luxury vessel owned by Hebridean Island Cruises. Hebridean operates a strict “no tipping” policy. They don’t even have a crew fund that I am aware of. Instead of demanding tips from their guests, Hebridean Island Cruises simply price their voyages high enough that they can properly pay their staff. When passengers get on board, they are truly guests. There is no pressure to spend money because you’ve already spent a mint to get on the ship. And although many people see tips as truly “to insure prompt service”, I have yet to be disappointed by the service on Hebridean Princess. Everyone is uniformly service oriented to each passenger. They do their jobs professionally, and passengers simply enjoy what they’ve paid for ahead of time. Although I can’t find the exact wording of why Hebridean outlaws tipping, I do remember that it was basically because the management considered tipping to be awkward and potentially embarrassing. Frankly, I think they’re correct.

It’s hard to be graceful about tipping, although there are a few tricks (palming a bill and shaking hands is one). Tips are “gratuities”, which means they are gifts given for a job well done. But in the United States, service people expect gratuities regardless. That promotes an attitude of entitlement, which is hardly gracious or hospitable. Therefore, the wait staff focuses on turning tables instead of seeing that their guests enjoy the experience of dining out. If you don’t believe me, visit any Olive Garden or Outback Steakhouse and let me know if you’re allowed to simply enjoy your food without being prompted to either order more or GTFO. No wonder there are so many overweight Americans.

Indeed, on the Facebook post I referenced here asking what one should tip in Italy, one guy wrote this.

Nothing. They tip like shit when they are here. And stay too long. Lol.

You know why the Italians “tip like shit”? Because they are doing what they do in their own country. Tipping isn’t as much of a thing in Europe and they expect that servers in a place like the United States will actually get paid by their employers. And they “stay too long” because dining out is supposed to be a pleasant experience in Europe. You’re out to enjoy yourself and enjoy food, not pay a server a living wage. Contrast that attitude to the United States, where people are sensitive about staying too long in a restaurant because they know servers need to turn their tables.

On that Facebook thread, I read so many comments from Americans, most of whom have probably never been abroad, either complaining about foreigners not tipping well or insisting that they need to tip 20% or more to servers in other countries. You know what? If you are an American server and you expect your foreign customers to know American tipping customs, perhaps you should do the same when you visit another country. Learn a little about what is expected and behave accordingly. Contrary to popular belief, America is not necessarily the greatest place in the whole world. Sometimes, we Americans could learn a little something from other cultures.


Big cruise ships vs. small ones…

Tiny SeaDream 1 next to a gigantic P&O ship in Antigua…


My husband Bill and I have done seven cruises, six of which were on very small ships.  Our very first cruise was on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas, which is one of their oldest and smallest vessels.  I think Vision of the Seas carries about 2400 people max, which makes her pretty small for a Royal Caribbean ship.  Compare Vision of the Seas to Royal Caribbean’s enormous Oasis of the Seas, which carries over 5000 people, and Vision of the Seas seems positively dainty.

Bill and I enjoyed our first cruise on a big cruise ship, but we didn’t like the huge crowds and nickel and diming that went on all the time.  Though there’s plenty of do on a big ship and it’s easy to escape the crowds if you are so inclined, we determined that we liked the idea of small ships and all inclusive cruising better.  So we tried SeaDream Yacht Club and, to date, have been on three SeaDream cruises.  Either of SeaDream’s mega yachts only carries 112 passengers at a time.  So the staff gets to know your name.  So do the other passengers.

Later, we tried Hebridean Island Cruises, which is an even smaller ship.  Only 49 passengers are aboard at a time.  That means even more personal attention and even more inclusiveness.

Bill and I had a great time on our most recent cruise, but once we disembarked, I couldn’t help thinking I’d like to try another cruise line.  There are several I’m interested in.  One I’ve been wanting to try for years is Un-Cruise Adventures, which is an American line.  If we hadn’t moved to Germany, we might have cruised with them this year instead of Hebridean.  I’ve also been wanting to try Seabourn for a long time.  Azamara has kind of piqued my interest, too.  So has Paul Gauguin Cruises, though I doubt we’ll be trying one of those until we’re back in the States.  It takes way too long to get to Tahiti from Germany!  None of these cruise lines have ships that are super huge, but most of them are smaller than anything you’d find on a mainstream line.

Some people love the really huge ships with many restaurants, shopping venues, waterslides, rock climbing walls, Waverunners, and the like.  Me?  I like a ship that has really good food, all inclusive pricing, and excellent service.  I also like ships that don’t pressure me to tip.  One thing I like about Hebridean is that they operate on a strict non tipping policy.  SeaDream also doesn’t pressure passengers to tip.  Instead, those who want to tip are encouraged to donate to the crew fund.  The only exception is when you use the spa, where tips are expected.

Don’t get me wrong.  When I go out to eat or get personal services, I tip.  I have waited tables before and understand how it is, especially in the United States.  However, I find tipping rather awkward.  I never know how much to tip or how to go about doing it gracefully.  I would rather cruise lines (and restaurants, for that matter) pay their people appropriately.  I know it’ll probably never be popular practice in the United States not to tip because servers like being in charge of what they can earn.  But I think the people who employ servers should be paying them and not putting that duty off to the customer.  I thought this when I was a server myself, too.  I would seriously rather pay higher fares than deal with tipping.  I remember being on Vision of the Seas and noticing the video about tipping on the ship’s television channel.  I thought it was really tacky.

Another thing I liked about the smaller ships is that a lot of times, what you pay up front is what you pay.  At the end of a SeaDream cruise, we usually have a bill.  It’s never been as big as it was when we cruised on Royal Caribbean.  When we’ve been on Hebridean Princess, we have never had a bill at the end.  We don’t even give them a credit card when we board.  I like that.

I’m not sure when our next cruise will be.  Bill has said more than once that he wants to try river barging.  I am definitely up for that.  That means an even smaller boat.  I think most barges only carry about a dozen people.  Tipping is also expected and you don’t tend to cover as many miles on a barge.

There are drawbacks to small ship cruising.  For one thing, smaller ships don’t tend to be as stable as the big ships are.  You can end up getting pretty seasick on the small ships.  I never have on Hebridean Princess because they mostly stick to the lochs, which are usually pretty calm.  They also anchor at night.  I have gotten very seasick on SeaDream 1 on more than one occasion, often in the middle of the night when they move to the next port.

Another drawback is that it can be hard to escape people who get on your nerves.  If you happen to be on a cruise where a large group has booked, you can end up feeling a little like an afterthought.  Big groups on small boats can overwhelm the ambience a bit.  If there’s someone you clash with, it can be hard to avoid them.  On the other hand, the small ship also allows for very personal attention and service.  For instance, I got a big kick out of one of the bartenders on Hebridean Princess going out of his way to make me a Brandy Alexander.  That probably wouldn’t happen on a huge ship.

Anyway… my guess is that the next cruise we book will be a barge somewhere in France or perhaps Ireland.  Things will get even smaller!  But I haven’t ruled out Seabourn or another SeaDream cruise. I may even get crazy and try another line.  We’ll see.

Tiny SeaDream one in the foreground and a huge Celebrity behind it.  Actually, this photo makes me want to book a SeaDream cruise…  


A whirlwind trip to Austria, Italy, and probably Switzerland, part 6

I went to the mall yesterday.  I mostly went there to give the housekeeper a chance to clean the room. But I soon found myself in an enormous store two or three times the size of the Real in Jettingen.  I wandered the aisles and ended up buying a decanter and two wine glasses from the Czech Republic… and, of course, I had to buy wine too.  If there’s one thing I noticed about this particular store, it’s that if you want to buy a lot of wine cheap, you can definitely do it there. You can pretty much buy anything you want in that store.  But if you don’t find what you need, you can wander among the other stores and maybe find something you can’t live without.

Italian mall, all decked out for Christmas.

Italian McDonald’s, complete with fancy ordering computer.

And its own birthday room and climbing wall… This ain’t your hometown Mickey D’s!

And a dentist office in the mall.  I probably shouldn’t laugh, since my Texas dentist was in a mall.

I saw maybe one or two bottles of wine that cost over twenty euros.  The rest were ridiculously cheap.  I had trouble determining which one I would purchase.  I brought one back from the South Tyrol region.  Then I went to lunch at the hotel’s restaurant.  It was quite fabulous.  I had lasagne and a glass of wine.  It was probably the best I’ve had in years.

Killer lasagne…


I paid 12,50 euros for lasagne, bread, and wine.  It was worth it.  So good!   And I could tell the locals like eating there, too.  Later last night, Bill and I went there for dinner and had a fantastic meal for 61 euros.

Bill had wild boar with potatoes and eggplant…

I had branzino, which was expertly prepared for me table side.  

No bones!  And delicious!

Naturally, we were talked into dessert…  This was some kind of sinful cream cake that Bill ordered.  Again, it was prepared table side.

And once again, I had creme brûlée.  It was prepared in the kitchen, probably because it involved fire.  Look closely at the picture and you can see that it was served flaming.

After dinner, limoncello… and it was delicious!  Look at Bill’s face!  Mine was also registering surprise at how good it was.

It was a successful stop… so successful that I had lunch there today.


I figured out that tipping is not a thing here.  The way things are organized in a lot of Italian restaurants, it kind of isn’t conducive to tipping, anyway.  It’s hard for me since I used to wait tables.  But anyway, I’m not gonna worry about it.  I’m just going to enjoy the food and wine.  If I can’t have a pretty view, I can have delicious lasagne, right?

Tonight, we will find somewhere else to have dinner.  But if we couldn’t, the hotel restaurant is pretty damn good.  One redeeming quality of this particular hotel.