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Turning 50 in Antwerp… part eight

On the morning of June 21, we got up and packed everything, and Bill took it to the car, which was buried deep under the hotel in their tiny parking garage. We went down to breakfast and enjoyed the other half of the delicious strawberry tart. It was even better the second day! I was sorry to leave De Witte Lelie, as it was such a welcoming and homey hotel. The staff is so friendly and helpful, and the accommodations are stylish and comfortable. Alas, we had to leave Antwerp and go home to our dogs. So, after we settled the bill and said goodbye, we got in the Volvo and took about half an hour trying to maneuver out of the garage, which has a steep incline to the door. Kudos to Bill and the many fancy sensors on the Volvo for getting us out of there unscathed!

We also had much less trouble leaving Antwerp than entering it, as Bill didn’t make any wrong turns. I was sorry to leave without a new diamond, but I think I’d rather get one at a place where I’m not a tourist. There were a couple of Trip Advisor horror stories that advised me against shopping for a new rock in Belgium.

First on our agenda was to stop at a Belgian supermarket to pick up some beers for home. We stopped at a little co-op market and loaded up a cart with suds, as well as a few other items. Bill went to pay, and it turned out they didn’t take Visa. They also didn’t have an ATM. So the cashier was kind enough to watch our cart while we searched for a cash machine. That took about an hour, even with a GPS… but eventually, we got our euros, gassed up the car, I unloaded the breakfast beverages, and we went back to the store to make our purchase. The cashier had kept the cart safe for us. Next time, we’ll bring cash.

Then, we headed eastward, stopping at a typical German Rastplatz for lunch at McDonald’s. I had to laugh when Bill ordered two Royales and one of them came with the bun that is usually reserved for plain cheeseburgers (no sesame seeds). I guess McDonald’s in Europe are also suffering from supply chain shortages.

Our drive home was completely uneventful, and we arrived in the mid afternoon. I got started on my blogging, and Bill went to get the dogs, who were very happy to come home after four nights away. I always worry about Arran on our trips now, as he’s an old guy and would rather hang out with us. Noyzi was also very glad to be back home in his bed.

I was feeling okay… maybe there was a little scratchiness in my throat. I didn’t know that Wednesday, I’d be legitimately sick for the first time in several years and wondering if I finally got COVID-19. I have so far tested twice, and got negative results both times. I also feel a lot better today than I did yesterday. So… I’m thinking this was a cold. But, I will confess that this trip was maskless and restriction free. I might have gotten COVID-19, but so far, the tests say no… However, I don’t interact with people anyway, so I’m just riding it out at home. Today, I feel like I am about 85% normal. Yesterday, I was probably 60% normal. Wednesday night and Thursday were the worst, but even they weren’t as bad as the last time I had the flu. I haven’t had a fever, body aches, or exhaustion. I have had a runny nose, coughing, vomiting (from coughing), headache, sinus pressure, and mild fatigue. In other words, this sickness feels like a cold.

So ends my 50th birthday celebration. I must say, it was a lot of fun turning 50 in Antwerp. Belgium is a great destination for me, mainly because it has beer, frites, chocolate, and friendly, unpretentious people who are funny! I hope we can visit Antwerp again, and I would encourage you to visit, if you have the time and the means!

Stay tuned for my usual ten things I learned post… if you’re interested, that is. ūüėČ

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beer, Italy, restaurant reviews

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part nine

Figuring out Florence…

After I bought my new scarf, which was carefully packaged for me by the stylish shopkeeper, Bill and I took a walk over the Ponte Vecchio and crossed the Arno. Whenever I look at the Arno River, I want to break into “O Mio Babbino Caro” by Giacomo Puccini. I learned that song when I studied voice years ago. I’m probably too old for it, now… my “beloved daddy” has been dead for several years now. But when I was in my 20s, it was a good song for me. I did even better, though, with Puccini’s “Musetta’s Waltz”. Being in Italy makes me want to break out in song!

The Ponte Vecchio is a medieval stone bridge. It’s got many shops along it. At this writing, most of the tenants on Ponte Vecchio are jewelers. It was very crowded when we walked across, and God knows I don’t need any more jewelry, so we just walked across and milled around for a little while on the southern side of the river. Last time we were in Florence, circa 2013, we explored more on this side of the Arno, even visiting a beautiful church there and sitting in a park, where I observed several local seniors gathering to chat. I’m nine years older now, and have fewer spoons for walking, so we walked a couple of blocks and came back across the bridge to look for lunch.

I took this in 2013.

I usually follow my nose when I go looking for food in different cities. My nose rarely lets me down. Such was the case when we found Ristorante Il Paiolo, not too far from the heart of Florence. An affable waiter who laughed at my jokes seated us at a table. I noticed there were models of the Bistecca alla Florentina in a case by the entrance. Several people ordered that during our visit, and I must admit, it smelled fantastic. But since we knew we were going to have that on Friday night, after meeting up with our wine tour, Bill and I deliberately made other choices for lunch. I went with chopped wild boar and polenta (Cinghiale alla maremmana e polenta). Bill ordered beef with cannellini beans. We paired our dishes with a lovely bottle of wine… one of many on our trip.

After lunch, we walked around more to burn off lunch. I took more photos and a video. Sadly, this time we didn’t run into Piotr Tomaszewski, a very talented busker we found during our last visit. He is easily found on YouTube. We bought his beautiful CDs in 2013, which I still love listening to now. Instead, we found this guy…

Not very exciting…
I didn’t make this video, but this is Piotr Tomaszewski, a talented busker we saw last time in Florence. I understand he was based there for several years. I don’t know if he still is. His music made me cry.

Later, we headed back to the hotel, because I needed to call my bank in the States and get them to fix my online access to my account. I’m still hunting for a less annoying bank. I’m getting discouraged. That was also a good time for a nap, so I took one before we went out for dinner at a brewpub. We figured we were going to drink a lot of wine over the weekend, so beer would be a good idea., although I have had better burgers than what they had at Hops Pub. At least it was relatively cheap! And one of the waitresses reminded me of a friend from my hometown. We walked over 6 miles on Thursday!

Stay tuned for part ten…

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Getting over getting naked…

Today’s post comes courtesy of a message I got on TripAdvisor last night. A young woman, visiting friends in Germany, was very anxious because her friend’s parents had purchased a luxury pass for her to join her friend and her friend’s parents at the Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Bath in Baden-Baden. Apparently, she had found my TripAdvisor review of the famous nude baths and was hoping I could offer her some advice about the experience.

This young woman named Diana wrote that she’s just 19 years old, and she is very nervous about being naked in front of other people. Diana’s problem is a common one. A lot of people are nervous about getting nude in front of strangers. In Germany, it’s a normal thing to be nude in saunas, spas, and public baths. Many of the baths Bill and I have visited are “textile-free”, which is very different if you’re an American or a Brit… or, as I found out in July, from Sweden. I’m not sure how the French feel about nudity in the saunas and spas, but I do know they are very strict about men wearing “maillots” (Speedos) rather than “board shorts”. In fact, one of my most popular posts on my travel blog is about that subject, which you can read about here.

My husband, Bill, was very nervous about being naked in front of people. He finally “popped the cherry” a couple of years ago, when we visited Palais Thermal in Bad Wildbad. Bad Wildbad has an “old school” therme that allows swimsuits. It also has a the nude spa, which is Palais Thermal. Bill was initially reluctant to try it. Palais Thermal was a good place to get his feet wet, though, because swimsuits are allowed on the first level. After a few minutes of seeing people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds walking around in the buff, it didn’t seem so embarrassing or strange.

Now, being nude in front of Germans has become “old hat” to us. We’ve done the nude spa thing many times and lived to tell the tale. It’s weird for a few minutes, but then you stop noticing. At most spas, you can bring towels or a robe and only have to be completely naked in the water, although at the Friedrichsbad, you will be nude almost the entire time. But really, you get used to it very quickly if you just relax and enjoy, realizing that being naked really is completely natural.

Still, I have a lot of empathy for Diana, because it IS embarrassing and strange to those who have never done it. I am a bit of a natural exhibitionist and have always kind of liked being nude. I find it very liberating. But if you have body image concerns or have been taught that being naked is wrong or “dirty” somehow (even though we were all born naked), it can be extremely embarrassing and scary to bare everything.

I ended up telling Diana that it’s her choice whether or not to try the Roman baths. She is concerned that her friend’s parents will be insulted if she doesn’t use their gift, but ultimately, a trip to the baths is supposed to be fun and relaxing. If she’s filled with anxiety and terror over baring her naked self to everyone, it won’t be a good experience for her. I did also advise her to visit the baths on a day when the sexes are segregated, although it appears that the baths are currently undergoing some renovations, so right now it might be “co-ed” every day. Bill and I went on a “co-ed” day, because we wanted to experience the baths together. But they normally also have days in which the men stay on one side and the women stay on the other. For the shy among us, that might be the best thing to do. There’s only one area where men and women mingle naked on the segregated days and one could easily skip that part. It’s the big pool in the middle of the spa, and it’s cold, anyway. I had to try it because it was so pretty.

Having written all of this… I do understand that public nudity isn’t for everyone. It’s best to take the plunge if you’re genuinely curious and want to try the baths. Personally, I really enjoyed them and would have no problem visiting them again. I don’t think any visit to Baden-Baden is complete without a trip to the Friedrichsbad. But I know that’s just my opinion. I have empathy for Diana’s situation, because I can tell she really doesn’t want to offend her gracious hosts. Frankly, I find her empathy for them very refreshing. It’s nice to see someone so concerned about being a polite and gracious guest. I hope she will try the baths, but if she can’t bring herself to do it, I also hope her friend’s family will understand. Part of being a good host, after all, is making sure your guest is comfortable.

Wiesbaden’s version… not as big or crowded, and very relaxing.

Here in Wiesbaden, we have the Kaiser-Friedrich Therme, which is like a much scaled down version of the Friedrichsbad. I think I like it even more than the Friedrichsbad, because it’s a lot smaller and less popular. In fact, I think we’re due for another visit soon.

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Using travel reviews to decide when to book a place to stay…

Last night, I decided to do a little shopping for our next trip. ¬†There are several places I want to visit. ¬†Some places are more urgent than others are. ¬†For example, I really want to get to Berlin before we leave Germany. ¬†Other places are more “bucket list” type spots.

Hmm…

One place I was really considering visiting was a B&B in the Champagne region in France. ¬†I had found the B&B the last time we lived here, but we never got around to visiting. ¬†Years later, I see they’re still in business and they have more reviews than ever. ¬†Most of the reviews are glowing, though they did get a few that were less than stellar.

I do pay close attention to comments left by previous guests, but I pay even closer attention to the responses left by the hosts. ¬†I believe that anyone in the hospitality business should realize that sometimes people aren’t going to like what’s offered. ¬†Sometimes they will leave negative comments. ¬†No one can please everyone all the time, so it is what it is. ¬†However, when a host’s comments are snarky or overly offended, I tend to want to steer clear of that property. ¬†Such was the case with the B&B I mentioned earlier in this post, a place that currently has an overall score of 8.2 on Booking.com.

Have a look at this comment left by a guest.

A review from 2012…

As someone who has been mistaken for pregnant before, I could definitely feel this lady’s pain. ¬†It’s just one of those things better left unmentioned. ¬†I can’t blame her for being upset. ¬†Maybe some would accuse her of being overly sensitive. ¬†Maybe I might even give the owner the benefit of the doubt. ¬†But then I read his response.

Clearly, her review pissed him off and he felt the need to retaliate by referring to her as “sensitive” and vaguely accusing her of stretching the truth.

I have to admit, reading the “sensitive lady’s” review made me decide not to book this particular B&B. ¬†When I go on trips, the last thing I want to deal with is offensive remarks from a host. ¬†I see similarly snarky remarks the owner left on other lowly rated reviews that make me think he may be a bit of a jerk.

I made a similar decision not to book a highly acclaimed property in Amsterdam because of comments left by the proprietors. ¬†Here’s an example.

And the manager’s response is below.

There are actually a number of snarky comments like this one on Trip Advisor for this particular hotel. ¬†The manager seems kind of “colorful”. ¬†

 

I can totally understand why people in the hospitality business want to defend their product. ¬†However, being in the hospitality business means actually being hospitable. ¬†Sometimes that means biting your tongue. ¬†I distinctly remember reading reviews of this hotel and wondering if I should book it just to see if the manager would get “snotty” with me. ¬†Then I realized that Amsterdam has lots of hotels to choose from and why would I book one in search of a really bad time?

Granted, sometimes people do complain about stupid shit. ¬†But when a hotel proprietor gets caught with their pants down, it’s probably best not to get too snippy about the guests who catch them. ¬†We once stayed at a B&B in Key West, Florida. ¬†It was not a bad place. ¬†For awhile after our stay, I read the reviews left by other guests. ¬†One guy, a man from Australia, took pictures of the mattress in the room where he stayed. ¬†It appeared that someone had peed on it. ¬†He posted the picture on TripAdvisor and one of the proprietors came back very defensively instead of apologetically. ¬†Basically, he claimed he was too poor to either have the mattress cleaned or replaced. ¬†That may very well be the case, but the guest’s complaint was entirely valid. ¬†I see now, it’s been removed from the reviews.

It’s not as easy to find reviews of self-catering places. ¬†I do pay close attention to what people say on Booking.com when I use that site to reserve a place. ¬†I am even more careful to pay close attention to any management responses. ¬†Fortunately, when I have left negative reviews, most of the responses have been professional. ¬†I am not too hard to please anyway, though, even though I do enjoy writing the odd vent now and again. ¬†It’s probably best to keep things civil by all means.

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