Thursday, June 21, 2018

Celebrating 46 years circling the planet at Osteria da Gino's in Nagold and drinking "crispy" wine!

Yesterday was my birthday.  It was a great day, even though I'm now officially even closer to turning 50.  Bill and I usually try to do fun things on birthdays, although last year, when I turned 45, we spent a rather hellish day driving home from Belgium and got caught in multiple traffic jams.  The upside is that we came home with a lot of great beer, chocolate, and fantastic memories.

This year, Bill went to work, and I enjoyed a rare imported CD on which I spent lots of cash.  I also listened to my landlords cut the grass and the road workers repairing the street that runs in front of our house.  The duplicate tickets I ordered for Paul Simon's concert in Dublin next month also arrived, so I can breathe easy that we won't be going to Dublin simply for the Guinness.

When Bill's work day was over, he came home, presented me with a new iPad, and took me out to dinner at my FAVORITE restaurant in the entire Stuttgart area.  I'm writing, once again, about Osteria da Gino in Nagold-- not to be confused with the Osteria da Gino in Herrenberg, which is also a great place to eat.

If you check this blog, you will see that I've written about Gino's awesome restaurant in Nagold many times.  We discovered it in the spring of 2015, when I read glowing reviews on Trip Advisor.  Nagold is very close to where we live and it's a super cute town, so it's always a pleasure to go there in any event.  Dinner at Gino's is always a treat, and not just because the food is amazing.  Gino and his wife are simply awesome people, richly endowed with the gift of hospitality.  I never feel like I'm a customer when I eat at their restaurant.  I always feel like family... albeit family that pays a check at the end of the meal!

Below are some pictures from last night's glorious birthday dinner!

Obligatory shot of Bill, reacting to one of my crude jokes.  He's always good for a laugh!

He gives me this look when I'm on the hot tamale train, which doesn't happen very often these days.  I did decide to get "dolled up", though, since it was my birthday and my former English professor, who is now a Facebook friend, wanted me to post a new profile picture.  I was happy to oblige.

We did not make Gino or his wife aware that it was my birthday when we made the very necessary reservations.  It wouldn't have mattered anyway, because they always treat us like family.  But I did tell the chef that I was "older"...

So Gino's wife brought me a flower!  

It's not a good idea to visit Gino's without making a reservation.  In the colder months, people dine in his very small dining room, where it's very likely that you'll be sharing a table with another couple.  In fact, two years ago, Bill and I celebrated my 44th birthday at Gino's and we shared a table with a French and German couple.  The wife was from the Nagold area and they had come to town to visit her family.  It was their first time at Gino's and, since it was raining, we ate indoors.  I remember how much fun we had getting acquainted with the couple, who were raving about the food. 

Last night, we had beautiful weather and a perfect temperature, so we ate outside at a two top.  When outside tables are available, it's more likely that you'll have a table to yourself, although that's not a given.  We saw at least three couples sharing a four top in the course of our dinner.  I have yet to be presented with a menu at Gino's.  He usually just offers us what he has, although I know he does have a menu.  I kind of like to let Gino take the wheel.  I have never once been disappointed.

Antipast!  The usual orange and fennel salad and a new offering-- a mixture of sausage, cheese, carrots, and red peppers...

Fresh bread...

And the rest... beautifully grilled peppers, zucchini, and eggplant, as well as burrata with fresh tomatoes, salami, prosciutto wrapped cantaloupe, cheese, and dried ham.  

We washed this down with prosecco, then Gino's wife asked us what kind of wine we'd like.  Neither Gino nor his wife speak English and though we're doing better than ever with German, we still have a long way to go.  So when Bill was describing the kind of white wines we like, I said I enjoy "crisp" wines. Dutifully, Bill described it in German--  knusprig-- which does mean "crispy".  But really, it's more of a word for "crunchy"-- kind of akin to the cracklins on a Schweinshaxe or maybe a bowl of Rice Krispies.  Who drinks crunchy wine?  Well, I might try it once!  Anyway, although there is really no such thing as "crispy wine", our order of "knusprig wine" got a big laugh!  The wine Gino's wife brought us was less "crisp" and more "toast", but it went very well with our fruits of the sea inspired dinner.

Followed by warm, lemony octopus...  I do like a little octopus, but I can't eat too much of it because it's very dense and protein rich.  But this was a nice prelude to what came next.

Normally, after we have the long antipasti phase, Gino brings out a simple pasta dish, then we have either a meat or fish main dish.  Last night, Gino had fresh lobsters.  He brought one out to us before he turned it into our dinner.  It was still alive!  I was so shocked, I didn't get a picture of the poor, doomed soul.  Nevertheless, I can't deny that I love lobster and I am not a vegetarian.  And if I hadn't had him for dinner, someone else would have.  

This was the main event... lobster with pasta and a pleasantly spicy tomato essence.  While my Texas husband could stand more heat, this was just perfect for me.  It was just a notch hotter than the preferred German level of spiciness, to remind us we were eating at an Italian restaurant.

Not everyone had lobster last night.  We noticed some people were served clams.  Some people had pasta with black truffles and perhaps a main course of osso bucco or a steak.  I noticed one couple enjoying pasta with Seeteufel (a type of fish).  You just never know what Gino will surprise you with... although the antipasti is pretty standard and you will never get pizza because Gino doesn't do pizza.

I couldn't finish all of the pasta because I knew I wanted dessert.  When Gino chided me for not finishing the pasta, I said "Dolci!  Dolci!", which made him laugh.  One of the ladies who works in the kitchen brought out what is pictured below...

Fresh strawberries, panna cotta, hazelnut chocolate cake, blueberry ice cream, and something very coffee flavored...  Again, you never know what's coming!  We were also treated to many happy football fans, driving around Nagold blasting their horns when their teams won.  The atmosphere was truly joyful.

As you can see, lots of people were enjoying Gino's magic last night!  We had such a wonderful time!

Total damage for last night's dinner was 147 euros.  We always pay cash, although Gino does take credit cards.  I should mention that you don't have to have as many courses as we did.  One couple brought their tiny baby with them and only had a main course and wine.  When they left the unfinished bottle on the table, the chef chased them down and corked it for them.  They seemed very appreciative.  One other thing I noticed was that most of the people dining last night either seemed to know each other or knew Gino well.  But then, I don't think Gino has ever met a stranger.  He is really a very gregarious guy who was born to throw parties.

It's safe to say that this is my favorite restaurant in the area and I've tried a lot of them.  No one else offers quite the experience Gino does.  We need to visit him more often.

Well... here's my new selfie.  I'm sure my English prof and everyone else who didn't like my WTF face is happy now.

Last night's dinner was definitely a rip roaring success.  If you're looking for a very different kind of Italian meal, I would highly recommend Osteria da Gino's in Nagold (not Herrenberg-- though again, that's also a nice place.)  Just call first, come with an open mind, and don't be intimidated by the language.  I promise, Gino will take good care of you!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Russian lunch at Veranda Restaurant in Holzgerlingen...

This morning, Bill was occupied bottling his latest homebrew, while I was occupied by a nap and a nightmare.  When I woke up, it was early afternoon and there were a lot of clouds in the sky.  Bill asked me what I wanted to do today.  I took a look at the clouds and decided today was the day to try Veranda Restaurant in Holzgerlingen.

The sign out front.  On Sundays, there's plenty of parking.

Although today was the first time we'd ever tried this restaurant, we have actually eaten in the venue before.  In May 2016, Bill and I went there when it was called Ocean's First.  It was a seafood restaurant in those days and boasted a very nice looking terrace.  Since it's on the third floor of an office building, it has kind of a nice view of a rather industrial part of Holzgerlingen.  Ocean's First abruptly ceased operations a few months after our visit, though, much to our chagrin.  We really enjoyed our one dinner there.

A few months ago, my German friend Susanne alerted me to the restaurant's new incarnation.  Veranda Restaurant specializes in Russian cuisine...  Well, if I'm honest, it's more like cuisines of the former Soviet Union.  There are Russian, Ukranian, Georgian, and even Uzbek specialties on the menu.  During the workweek, it appears that they also offer some choices that are more for German businesspeople.  I checked their Facebook and noticed that they are open on Sundays from 11:00am until 10:00pm.  Since it was getting a little late for lunch, I suggested that we visit.

Come on in!

We arrived at the restaurant at about 2:30pm or so.  There were a few folks there, including one guy who used to work in Bill's office, but was later moved.  It was a little awkward when we first walked in.  A young lady was sitting by a computer and seemed surprised to see us.  Then an older lady who didn't speak any English came out of the kitchen.  They both encouraged us to get the brunch buffet, which runs 23 euros and is all you can eat, complete with drinks.  But I looked at what was on the tables and decided I'd rather order off the menu.

The older lady seemed a little concerned at that, although it was permissible.  I think she was worried we wouldn't understand the menu, although they had one in English.  Then she handed us the barbecue menu, which is offered at certain times during the week (after 2:00pm on Sundays and after 5:00pm on weekdays).  I said, "Shashlik!" and her eyes lit up.  She asked if I speak Russian.  I don't... only a few words, mostly consisting of curse words I learned in Armenia.  I learned Armenian in Armenia, which even seemed to confuse Armenians, who wondered why I'd learn Armenian when Russian is so much more portable.  But I do know a few words of Russian... and it turned out that made a difference.

So we sat down inside, only because it looked like it might rain.  I probably would have preferred to sit outside, since they were playing manic electro dance music in English that lent little to the ambiance.  If it had been Russian dance music, maybe it would have been slightly more authentic.

Bill makes a decision... the menu is quite extensive, with all kinds of choices.  They had everything from Russian to Uzbek specialties.

I'm always a little nervous about new restaurants, especially when there are a lot of selections on the menu that include the dreaded mushroom.  I figured I was pretty safe with pork BBQ (shashlik), which came with lavash (flatbread, kind of like very thin tortilla) and raw onions.  I got a side of shashlik sauce to go with it (extra charge of two euros).  Bill went with a Georgian chicken dish that came with a spicy pepper sauce.  He also got a side of roasted potatoes, which we shared.  

We also split a bottle of Spanish red wine and sparkling water.  I was a little surprised that they didn't have any Georgian or Armenian wines on the menu, but then they can be kind of hard to get and probably wouldn't sell that well anyway.  People in the west are only now learning how good Caucasian wines are.  Because Bill was chatting with his former co-worker, the proprietor had me try the wine.  She lit up when I said, "Spasiba" (Russian for "thank you").

It took awhile for lunch to be ready, but it was well worth the wait... 

This was a complimentary "amuse".  Basically like a very fancy style tuna salad, with potatoes, carrots, peppers, fish, eggs, and a very light application of mayonnaise.  It was very good, albeit a little filling.  

While we waited for our main courses, Bill and I discussed a possible trip to Armenia soon.  A friend of mine has been visiting this week and has me all excited about how much Yerevan has changed since I lived there from 1995-97.  My former Peace Corps student is now a director at Peace Corps Armenia and my very first Armenian teacher is now in charge of language training for the new Volunteers.  Naturally, I want to go back and see them, but I also want to see how much Yerevan has changed... and maybe show Bill where I spent two difficult but worthwhile years in my youth.  Maybe we will be able to go in October.  We'll see.

Bill's delicious Georgian chicken... it was perfectly roasted, very moist, and so different!  And the sauce that came with it was delightful!  The roasted potatoes were extra, but worth the addition, especially since we shared them.  

My shashlik... I saw the chef take the pork out on the veranda to grill it.  It was plenty of pork, perfectly cooked and juicy.  If I'd wanted to, I could have ordered pork with vegetables, barbecued chicken, lamb or beef.  They also had barbecued vegetables.

There were a few tempting looking desserts on the menu, but I was too full to consider them.  Also, by the time we finished eating, we were the only ones left in the restaurant.  Our total bill came to about 62 euros before the tip, but one can certainly get in and out of there for significantly less money.  Prices are very reasonable.  I do hope more people discover this gem in Holzgerlingen.  The food is good; the service is attentive and warm; and it's such a nice change from Greek, Italian, and German food.  

I think Veranda might have a better chance at staying in business than Ocean's First did, mainly because Ocean's First was selling fish and didn't have freezers; therefore they depended on what could be delivered locally.  The food was very good--especially the huge lobster I had there-- but I think it didn't offer enough different stuff to attract people from all over and business was too slow.  Veranda is truly different because it's Russian/ former Soviet Union food.  That makes it unique and, perhaps, gives it more of a chance at long term success.

If you're looking for a change and don't mind a drive to Holzgerlingen, I would highly recommend Veranda.  And if you speak a little Russian, you will score points!  The proprietor lit up again as I said "Do svidaniya!" on the way out.  I may have to add to my vocabulary besides Russian cuss words.  Incidentally, the young lady we saw behind the computer waited on us and spoke some English, so really, language should not be a barrier!  I just think maybe that restaurant doesn't get a lot of Americans... yet.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Der Schönbuchturm in Herrenberg!

Last weekend, Herrenberg opened Der Schönbuchturm, its long awaited new tower that overlooks the forested areas surrounding the city.  I considered visiting the tower last weekend, but since it was the first day, I figured it might be better to wait a week.  I'm glad we waited.  We had perfect weather this afternoon to see the brand new tower-- a miracle of German engineering.  Bill pointed out the tower as we drove down the hill from Jettingen.  I'm surprised I hadn't noticed it before.  It sticks up from the trees in the distant hills overlooking Herrenberg.

First view of the tower.

Der Schönbuchturm, which reaches a height of 35 meters, is located across from the Schönbuch Naturpark, right next to the Naturfreundehaus am Schönbuch, a self-serve restaurant and Biergarten.  We parked there at about 3:00pm.  There was a fairly decent sized crowd there, but it wasn't too obnoxious.  We easily found a parking spot and then began the 400 meter mostly uphill hike up to the tower.  I was pretty breathless by the time we reached the new engineering marvel.  Some people were biking up and there were plenty of places for people to lock their bikes.  It costs nothing to visit the tower, which is open until 7:00pm nightly.

At the start of the trail, there's a sign welcoming visitors and a place to lock bikes.

The trail to the tower is covered in gravel made of small stones.  Part of the trail consists of steps.  I noticed a steep bike trail to the side of the steps, but I don't think that would be suitable terrain for a stroller or a wheelchair.

A bit closer... I stopped to catch my breath after the short uphill hike.  As you can see, you can stop at two vantage points on the way to the top level.

Some interesting stats.  The trail to the tower also has little information points like this one.  Since my German blows, I mostly ignored them.

There are two stairways.  Seems like one should be designated as the "up" stairway and the other as the "down" stairway.  However, both stairways are open to either direction.  Consequently, you may have to stop to let someone pass in the other direction.

These pictures are from the first vantage point.  To be honest, as sturdy as I know the tower is, I was feeling slightly anxious with each new level.  The tower has been designed so that there's little to obstruct your view.  It can be a bit unnerving.

Wire fencing and "handrails" rather than solid metal...

The above pics are from the top vantage point.

On the way down... phew.  The tower wobbled a bit with the breeze.  It reminded me a little of our visit to Highline 179 in Austria.  I'm not sure I'd want to climb the tower during bad weather!  Today, it was kind of a thrill.  

I think I like this view the best!  

Our visit to the tower only took about a half hour.  It occurred to me as we were enjoying the views that last weekend, we climbed a 35 meter tower that was originally built in the 12th century.  Today, we climbed a 35 meter tower that has only been open for a week!  And both activities were completely free of charge with no one hanging around to enforce the rules!  Gosh, I love Germany!

Last week's climb was just as high as today's climb, but today's was less painful.  Instead of a tight spiral staircase, there's a much gentler climb.  I noticed a lot of children climbing up, including one adorable little girl with intense blue eyes crawling on her hands and knees!  As nervous as the climb made me, I have to admit the view at the top is breathtaking.  You can see for miles.  

Although we could have gone to the Naturfreundehaus for a snack, Bill and I decided to visit La Piazza Gelataria for ice cream.  The outside seating was full of people who had the same idea we did.  I will note that the Naturfreundhaus, while no frills and self-serve, also has a little playground for kids!

The church bells played a hymn we used at our wedding in 2002... "Now Thank We All Our God."

Bill had a Waldbeere Becher (wild berry kiss).  It was strawberry and vanilla ice cream with blueberries, strawberries, currents, and cherries, along with lots of whipped cream.

I had an After Eight Becher, made with After Eight mints.  My mom used to love those things!  It had chocolate ice cream, mint ice cream, mint sauce, and chocolate "streusel".  We also shared San Pellegrino.  Our total bill was just over 16 euros.  Today was "cheap"!  I don't think I'll need dinner, either.

For the first time, I noticed the really cool looking balcony on this building, along with its terrace on the roof.

Fun scene in Herrenberg.  Little kids were enjoying the fountain.  I couldn't help but muse about how pleasant life in Germany is... for me, anyway.  It's so nice to be able to sit in a square that looks like it's out of a fairytale and eat ice cream while children play in the fountain.  

One last shot before we went home.  

I'm pretty happy with how today turned out, especially given how it started off.  Next month, we're going to Ireland to see Paul Simon in concert.  I bought tickets for the show in February and put them in my usual safe keeping spot.  Somehow in the past four months, the tickets got lost.  This morning, we spent about an hour trying to call Ticketmaster in Ireland to get duplicates made.  For awhile, it looked like we weren't going to get through to a human being and I was getting pretty pissy.  But we were finally successful.  A lovely Irish lass helped us out and for a six euro fee, I hope to have duplicate concert tickets in my hands for next month's concert... the second of four we're planning to attend this year.  

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Thanks to Ruine Mandelberg, our Sunday wasn't ruined!

This morning, Bill called my attention to a swollen cut on my dog, Zane's, face.  He and our other dog, Arran, had a fight last night.  After Bill broke them up, he thought both dogs were okay.  Neither appeared to have a scratch.  In fact, Zane had actually come out the victor, having scored a rare rawhide treat that Arran had momentarily let out of his sight.  We were marveling at that, since Zane is not really a fighter and tends to be the less aggressive of our dogs.  But then this morning, there was that swollen place on his face.

Zane enjoyed the freshly mowed grass yesterday, before he and Arran had their little spat.  He's going to be ten in November and both he and Arran have had cancerous mast cell tumors that have had to be surgically removed.  But they're still plugging along and at each other.  

Bill and I don't have kids together, so we tend to be neurotic about our dogs.  Because puncture wounds can get infected quickly, Bill decided to take Zane to the on duty vet, a gruff guy in Herrenberg named Dr. Katz.  Dr. Katz took a look at Zane, said he was fine, and told Bill to keep the spot clean.  Then he said goodbye without even bothering to charge Bill for the visit.

Since Zane seemed to be okay, Bill and I decided to go out to lunch in Nagold.  Afterwards, we had plans to visit Ruine Mandelberg, another one of my highway finds during our many recent trips to the Black Forest.  I had noticed the sign for it as we passed the turnoff for the little hamlet of Bösingen, a true one horse district if I've ever seen one.  I had looked up Ruine Mandelberg on the Internet and I wasn't sure if it was something that would excite me, but since it's pretty close to where we live, we decided today was the day to see it.

We started in Nagold, where parking is free on Sundays and you never know what's going to happen. Lunch was at Provenciale, a little Italian restaurant near the main square.  We had eaten there before, but it had been awhile.  For some reason, this restaurant does not get good reviews on Trip Advisor.  I don't know why.  Our experiences there have been good.  In fact, today we both enjoyed our pasta dishes.  I especially liked mine.

We enjoyed malty hefeweizens.  Sometimes, when I drink one of these, I taste Ovaltine.  That sounds strange until you realize that beer is malty and so is Ovaltine.  Bill had to move as the sun did.

Bill enjoyed cheese filled tortellini with spinach, ham, and gorgonzola cheese sauce.  He said it was delicious, even if he preferred yesterday's mushroom extravaganza more.  Personally, I preferred his choice for today, if only because it didn't smell of fungus!  Sigh-- if I only liked mushrooms, my life would be so much easier!

I went with the very safe Tagliatelli Salmone, made with cream sauce and very tender, delicious pieces of salmon.  I loved it.  What can I say?  I like comfort food.  It shows... especially on my ass.  

This particular restaurant also specializes in ice cream and we saw plenty of people enjoying fancy Italian/German style ice cream treats today.  I think many people were substituting ice cream for lunch!  Our bill came to 27 euros, which Bill rounded up to 30.  Before we left, we caught the Albanian cultural/dance club Shota marching by.  My German friend says they were performing at Kinderfest today.  I caught a short video clip of them parading by.  I'll have to see if I can upload it to YouTube.

After lunch, we got back on B28 and headed for Ruine Mandelberg.  We drove through tiny Bösingen, which has an interesting looking antique shop, a gasthaus, a church, and lots of pretty scenery.  There's a road where cars are not supposed to go unless they are going to the ruins.  There's a small parking area near a park/picnic area.  It's free to park there and, as you can see below, there's playground equipment for kids.    

A map of the sights in the area.  If you wanted to, you could take a nice hike here.  There are lots of trails.

It looked like a group was having a picnic today.

We parked the car and started walking.  It was about 1.5 kilometers to the ruins themselves, though there were a couple of other trails and roads that made Bill nervous we weren't going the right way.  

But then we rounded a corner and easily found the ruins, which date from the 12th century.  Actually, according to Wikipedia, the 11th century ruins predeceased what is there now.  The first time the castle was mentioned in documents was in 1287.  The castle burned down during the peasant revolts in 1525 and was never rebuilt.  

A sign offering a brief history... in German, naturally!

The community of Pflazgrafenweiler purchased the property in 1970 and renovated what was left of the ruins.  In 1975, they renovated the keep, which is 35 meters high and offers nice views of the surrounding countryside.  Below are some pictures I took during our visit.

First glance of the tower.  A family of four was at the top when we first arrived.  They met us at the bottom as I was wondering whether or not I really wanted to climb up the extremely tight spiral staircases.  The parents were encouraging us in German, telling us it wasn't unlike climbing the church spires in Ulm!

The first steps seem narrow...

And the tower seems high...  You do get two opportunities to pause on the way up and down.

But those steps are extremely narrow.  You must hold on to the railing and the center or risk falling.  Bill got dizzy going up the tight spiral.

But then you reach the top...  Thank GOD!  It's very well fortified, so there's no need to worry about falling.  Unfortunately, some people left trash up there.

At the top of the keep, we were rewarded with some very beautiful views.  Below are some pictures from the top of the tower.

This isn't a great shot, mainly because the barrier prevented me from getting more of the grounds in the picture.  You can see the cistern on the left, which is unfortunately full of trash.

A couple of closer pictures of the cistern from the ground.

After a few minutes, we decided to climb back down.  Going down was less strenuous, but a bit scarier.  You can see how far down it is as you climb down.  I am very cautious about climbing, so I tend to go slowly.  The last thing I need is to faceplant in a tower.  When we got to the outside steps, I realized that might have been the best spot for picture taking, especially within the ruins.  Here is a 360 tour of the ruins.

Directions for other areas of interest.  I was too sweaty and dirty to hike more.

One last look at the tower.

Bill gazes at the view.

A cave?

With a friendly ghost?  

Bars on the window...  wonder what for!

Auf wiedersehen, Ruine Mandelberg!

I couldn't resist taking pictures of this pretty church we passed going in and out of the little hamlet.

I think these ruins are worth seeing if you're interested in old castle ruins dating from the 12th century.  It might also make an okay stop on the way to Freudenstadt or some of the other attractions in the Black Forest.  It doesn't take long to see the ruins, but if you wanted to hike longer, you certainly could, and the area is pretty and offers good picnic/play opportunities.  I'm glad we stopped by.  I was also considering visiting Herrenberg's new Schönbuchturm, but figured it would be crowded, since it just opened yesterday.  Maybe we'll do that next week!