Friday, October 31, 2014

Coffee talk...

An interesting question comes up from time to time for those of us who live in Germany courtesy of the American government.  Why aren't we allowed to have coffee shipped to us via APO?

Well, lemme tell you, when Bill and I lived here from 2007-09, we didn't know about the coffee rule and we used to have Peet's coffee sent to us all the time.  I know it's coffee you can get in the grocery store, but we'd have it mailed right after a roasting.  More than once, the post office people commented on the heavenly aroma.  Not once did they ever mention the ban on having coffee shipped.

In the five years since then, they've apparently gotten a lot stricter about coffee coming through APO.  I haven't tried to order coffee from the States, but I have heard that people have lost their APO mail privileges for having coffee mailed to them.  I have also heard that some people do it anyway and haven't had any problems.  Knowing how great Peet's smells, I'm not going to risk it.  That still begs the question, though.  Why is it a problem for APO users to buy coffee through the mail?

First of all, the rules...

Host nation custom regulations prohibit the importation of medication, vitamins and nutritional supplements through the Military Postal Service, in unaccompanied baggage and household goods.

The rule also applies to alcoholic beverages, animals, plants, cheese and cheese products, cigarettes and other tobacco products, coffee and coffee products, meat and meat products, and milk and milk products.

All incoming and outgoing mail is subject to inspection by German customs officials, and violators may be subject to fines and penalties.

For more information, see Army Regulation 550-175, U.S. Forces Customs Controls in Germany, or call the Stuttgart Customs officer at 431-2731/civ. 07031-15-2731

I imagine the ban on cheeses, milk, meat, and plants have to do with agricultural risks.  The medications, vitamins, booze and supplements rules have to do with legal risks.  I'm not going to expend the effort right now to find out for sure.  When it comes to coffee, though, it's all about money.

There is a coffee tax in Germany.  It's called the Kaffeesteuer.  When you buy coffee in a German store, the tax is included in the price.  When you buy it in the commissary, at AAFES or in the Class VI, you have to present a ration card so they can make sure you aren't buying up a bunch of it and selling it to host country nationals.  If you have coffee sent to you, you avoid both the Kaffeesteur and the rationing and that's a no no.

The link I provided above offers a simple explanation of the tax, which has been collected since Germany was Prussia.  I'm sure the coffee tax is useful, since it surely provides revenue.  For those of us Yanks who have a favorite type of coffee, the tax is kind of a pain in the butt.  I wouldn't mind paying the tax if it meant I could have my Peet's.   

I know other people think Germany has an equivalent to Peet's coffee (or any other brand Americans like), but I sure haven't found it yet.  I hate to keep buying coffee that doesn't cut it for me.  Starbucks, which used to buy Peet's coffee in its earliest days, just doesn't thrill me, though I could probably live with their Pike Place blend.  On the other hand, I am not a coffee fiend anyway.  My husband is the one who is passionate about his coffee.  With me, it's more of a case of only liking what I like, not that I can't live without a good cup of joe every day.

I did find an interesting Web site that sells raw coffee beans in Germany and other EU countries.  You buy the beans and roast them yourself.  Given that my husband enjoys this kind of a project, I may try ordering from just to see if it's worth the effort.  According to their site, it's not too hard to roast your own beans and it's even less expensive to do so, since you don't have to pay the Kaffeesteuer for raw beans.  Keep in mind that if you do choose to home roast, you can only do so for your private use.  No buying the beans, coming up with a great flavor, and selling it to your American friends!  And you'll need a grinder, of course.  We recently bought a good one from  

Click here for an explanation of the home coffee roasting process...  It looks pretty easy, actually.  Maybe I'll do it just to give myself something new to do.  Will have to update once I pull the trigger.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Repost of my review of Der Zauberlehrling in Stuttgart, Germany...

Bill and I dined at this restaurant last time we lived in Germany.  I'm reposting it for the curious and those looking for a nice place for dinner in the Stuttgart area.

Kitchen sorcery at Der Zauberlehrling Restaurant

 Mar 24, 2008 (Updated Apr 9, 2008)
Review by   
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Food and Presentation:  
  • Ambiance and Decor: 
  • Quality of Service: 

Pros:Excellent food. subscriber. Good service. TV in the men's room.

Cons:A bit expensive.

The Bottom Line: If you have the means, Der Zauberlehrling can offer you a truly magical meal.

Since my husband Bill and I moved to Germany, we've really missed eating out at fine restaurants. It's not because fine restaurants don't exist in Germany; it's just that we have a harder time finding them here than we did in the U.S. In the States, Bill and I used to discover places to eat fine food. I was pretty sure I'd be giving up once we moved to Europe.

What is is an online service that allows diners to reserve tables at restaurants that accept reservations. I discovered in 2002, when I turned 30. I wanted to find a nice place to celebrate my birthday and searched on the Internet for restaurants in the Washington, DC area. came up first on my search. I liked what I saw and have been faithfully using it ever since. is still not available everywhere, but new restaurants are catching on to the service and it's now expanding internationally.

I recently discovered that is available on a limited basis in Germany. That's what led me to try out Der Zauberlehrling, a wonderful fine restaurant in Stuttgart. At this writing, Der Zauberlehring is the lone restaurant in the Stuttgart area that is a member of OpenTable.

What is Der Zauberlehrling?

Der Zauberlehrling translates to "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and is a reference to an old ballad by the German writer, Goethe.  Der Zauberlehrling is also the name of a small boutique hotel and restaurant in central Stuttgart, Germany owned and operated by Karen and Axel Heldmann. Although we were tempted, Bill and I did not get a chance to stay at the hotel because we live fairly close to Stuttgart. Instead, we went to Der Zauberlehrling on Saturday, February 16, 2008, looking for good food and good times.

First impressions

The restaurant and hotel are located near the Charlottenplatz area of Stuttgart. Though parking is available nearby, we decided to park our car in a parking garage on the outskirts of Stuttgart and take the U-bahn to the restaurant so we could digest our meals and process our wine a bit before the drive home.

The hotel's lobby is warm and welcoming, with a beautiful fireplace, a flat screen television, and a couple of modern looking couches. A pleasant young man named Brian greeted us and took our coats. It was 7:00pm and we were the first ones to arrive for dinner. We were seated in the restaurant's one tiny dining room. As we sat down at our table, Bill and I noticed the very cool looking eternal flame next to one of the walls. Brian gave us menus, which were in German and English.

The food

Despite the German name Der Zauberlehrling, serves international fare. Both tasting and a la carte menus are available. I was slightly perplexed by the menu because it wasn't obviously divided into sections. Luckily Brian, who spoke some English, was able to tell us about the four course daily special, which Bill and I both ended up ordering. I made one substitution, because the main course for the special was veal and I don't like veal. I opted to substitute a skray (a type of cod fish) entree for the veal and was very happy with my choice. Bill also ordered a very fancy bottle of sparkling water and some Spanish red wine. While we waited for the first course, we nibbled on rolls garnished with very light olive oil.

Our meal began with a very small portion of octopus pepper salad and a tiny cup of soup made with Thai curry. The salad was about two forkfuls worth, with one little piece of octopus on top. The soup, which was absolutely delicious, was served in a demitasse sized cup. It looked like a cappuccino, complete with white foam on top and tasted slightly salty, with a wonderful zesty spice that was a great touch with the salad. Normally, I wouldn't want to eat octopus, but this little amuse was suprisingly good.

We both enjoyed a delicious salad made of turbot, a buttery, flavorful fish. The fish was served with greens bundled by a very thin piece of crispy potato that had been shaped into a ring. The potato had the texture of a potato chip. The fish was drizzled with light orange and garnished with a heavenly basil/herb butter. I'm not usually much of a salad eater, but this was really delicious and beautifully presented.

Next came the main courses. Bill had veal set atop roasted vegetables. I had the skray, roasted with mustard and served with spicy white beans, black bean paste, and two topinambur stroudels. I'm not really sure what the stroudels were made of-- at first, they looked like white asparagus stalks, but they were actually more like fried piroshkis. Bill and I enjoyed our dinners, even though it occurred to me that my entree alone, priced at 33 euros, cost about the equivalent of 50 US dollars!

Dessert was also excellent, consisting of a small plate of chocolate, white chocolate, and vanilla sweets. There was a tiny chocolate molten cake dusted with powdered sugar, a little sliver of flourless chocolate cake garnished with gold flecks, two mini pieces of vanilla ice cream, a small scoop of chocolate ice cream, and a tiny dollop of white chocolate mousse. I know the dessert sounds like it was a lot, but it was actually just enough to leave us full and contented.

Vegetarian selections are also available.

The other patrons

On the night we visited Der Zauberlehrling, Bill and I were the only Americans in the very small dining room. At 7:00, we were the only ones seated, but within the hour, the place was packed. Noting how many people showed up for dinner that night, I was glad I'd made reservations. As we were eating, a man dressed in a chef's outfit (the owner, I presume), was schmoozing with everyone. He spoke English and was nice to Bill and me.

Although the food is very fine, Der Zauberlehrling doesn't seem to have a dress code. Bill and I were dressed up, but we saw other people who were dressed in jeans. The restaurant's emphasis appears to be on the food, not so much on the ambiance or being seen. We did not see any children or dogs in this restaurant, though I'm sure either would have been accommodated. I think this restaurant is suitable for a romantic evening, but keep in mind that the dining room is very small and it can get noisy when it's packed. In any case, I noticed mostly couples eating dinner the night we were there.

TV in the men's room?

The ladies room was clean, well lit, and well stocked. Bill also visited the men's room, and when he came back, he was shaking his head in disbelief, explaining that there was a small flatscreen TV mounted over the urinals playing a black and white movie with the sound muted. I can only guess the owners decided to give the guys something to look at as they tended to business, though the ladies room did not have a TV in it.

The bill

Our two dinners cost about 180 euros, which is over $200 by today's exchange rate. Admittedly, it wasn't a cheap meal, but we did have wine and sparkling water that came to us in a fancy bottle. The water alone cost over $10. I noticed that we were the only ones who had water that looked like it was in a perfume bottle; everyone else had bottled water that came in plainer containers.  Der Zauberlehrling accepts credit cards, but we paid in cash.

Final impressions

Bill and I had a very nice time at Der Zauberlehrling and will probably visit again, especially since the restaurant offers cooking classes and special packages that include a night's stay in the hotel. I'm a big fan of and want to reward the owners for subscribing, especially since I'd like to see more restaurants in Germany jump on the OpenTable bandwagon. The food at Der Zauberlehrling is very expensive, but we thought it was worth the extra cost because it was among the best meals we've had since we moved to Germany. If you're in Stuttgart and you like fine food, you might want to check out Der Zauberlehrling.

Der Zauberlehrling's official Web site: 

Recommend this product? Yes

Kid Friendliness: No
Vegetarian Friendly: Yes
Notes, Tips or Menu Recommendations Turbot salad, skray, dessert
Best Suited For: Romantic Evening

Back to the Neuer Ochsen...

Bill and I dined at the Neuer Ochsen again this weekend because an old Peace Corps friend of mine, Erik, is in town and wanted to get together.  Neuer Ochsen is in Vaihingen, where there are plenty of restaurants and I knew several would be open today.

As it turned out, Erik was running late and he didn't have a cell phone.  We also weren't so clear on where we were going to meet, so we both ended up waiting in the wrong areas for each other.  But then I got the bright idea to check the restaurant and there he was.

We had a very good lunch... indeed, I had the same thing I had last weekend and so did Bill and Erik.  We talked and laughed for about two hours.  I hadn't seen Erik in 17 years-- he was starting his Peace Corps assignment in Armenia and I was finishing mine.  Now that he works for the government, he's here on business.  The funny thing is, he and my husband will be hanging out this week thanks to their work.

I think it's funny when my past intersects with Bill's present.  It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Another trip to Agais to see "The Mad Scientist"...

Last night, Bill asked me what I wanted for dinner.  I said I wanted to "go see The Mad Scientist", which is code for "I want to go out for Greek food at Agais in Entringen".  When we lived in Germany last time, we used to dine at this restaurant all the time.  Now that we're here again, we can come back.  It's not as close as it used to be, but it's close enough.  Entringen is on B28, on the way to Tuebingen.  

As for "The Mad Scientist", that's not really his name or anything.  That's just a nickname Bill and I gave him.

We started with our usual Nemea.  I love this wine.  It's very full and dry and has the essence of ripe cherries.

I usually have the gyros, but last night I decided to have grilled salmon.  Agais has it farm raised salmon or organic.  I had the organic, which was garnished with t'zaziki and vegetables.  Bill had souvlaki.  Both dishes came with salad and bread, which was warm from the oven.

The salmon was delicious!  I was glad I ordered it, even though the gyros are also a hit.  It was a bit pricier than my usual, but a nice change of pace.

We don't usually have dessert, but I didn't want to go home.  So I had a tartufo and Bill had baklava.  I don't usually like baklava that much, but I liked the baklava at Agais last night.  It was light and not too sticky or sweet.  

I washed down my tartufo with retsina... and a little ouzo.  No wonder my head is swimming this morning.

It was really nice to see the couple that run Agais again.  There was one other family eating there with us.  We'd seen them before.  The owner said they had been coming to his restaurant for years.  I liked that he and his wife sat down and talked with them for awhile.  You don't see that so often in American restaurants.  The Mad Scientist's wife asked if we brought our dogs to live with us in Germany.  I was impressed that she remembered!  We did bring dogs, though not the ones we had with us last time we lived here.  

The Mad Scientist said that in the five years we were out of Germany, he had more Americans visiting his restaurant, but lately things have been slowing down a bit.  I'm just glad we got to come back again and will keep coming back as long as we're around and the restaurant is running.

To read about our last visit to Agais, click here.  There you will find more information about location and more pictures of the food!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sometimes timing is everything...

Yesterday, while looking at what some of my readers have been reading, I noticed that someone read a post on my main blog about Bill's impending Army retirement.  I wrote it in June of 2013.  At that time, we lived in North Carolina and were about to make our big move to Texas.  I was worried because Bill thought he was retiring in October, but then it turned out he had to leave the Army in July.  I was concerned that we'd have three fewer months to prepare for life beyond the military.

It's funny how perspectives are because at that time, I was pretty sure that once Bill retired, we'd be staying in Texas.  I was upset because I wanted to get one last good trip in.  At the time, I was making some money from my writing and travel was kind of essential to that end, although I write about a number of different topics.

Fast forward a mere sixteen months.  We did our year in Texas and ended up back in Germany.  I was concerned we'd never see Europe again.  This year, we've taken three flights to Europe.  After Thanksgiving, it will be four.  Not only have we had two European vacations in 2014, thanks to military Space A flights, we actually got to move back to Germany.  And we'll be here for at least a year and probably longer.

What would have happened if Bill had retired in October instead of July?  He might have still gotten the job, I guess, although it would have been very hectic.  If he had retired in October, he would have probably gone on terminal leave in late July.  That would have freed him to move to Germany in August if he'd wanted to, but it would have made the logistics of moving more difficult.  There were certain things we had to do during his leave that might have been harder to get done in Germany.  For instance, we had to get new ID cards that show Bill's retired status.  Since the paperwork for those new cards got fouled up-- they had him as a reservist instead of a full time Guardsman getting full retirement-- that might have complicated things.

We would not have had the chance to go to France and Germany in May, which was kind of a catalyst for our move back to Germany.  I got to see my friend, Audra, and her family.  We got to talk to people working here, who gave Bill a couple of pointers on the European job hunt.

We would have had to stay in that house we hated for two extra months, unless we could manage the move to Germany before our lease expired on July 31st.  That would have meant paying $100 extra per month for a month to month lease in a house we were already paying too much for and absolutely despised.  And we might have missed out on the house we're in now.  It's not perfect, but it's in a really nice area and we have good landlords... and very reasonable rent compared to what a lot of people are paying.

Yeah...  so I was pretty upset about the prospect of leaving the Army earlier, but it's actually worked out pretty well.  If Bill had stayed until October, maybe we'd still be in Texas or maybe we would have moved somewhere else.  Moving to Europe was a big pain in the butt for many reasons, but I do like it here better that I liked Texas.  It feels more like home to me, even though it's a foreign country.

Last night, I was talking to Bill about this and it occurred to me that my earliest memories are of living in England.  Yes, we lived on Mildenhall Air Force Base back then, but it was still not America.  It was very green and cloudy and damp...  a lot like Germany.  After we left England, we moved to Virginia, which is also very green.  Texas didn't feel like home.  It was a different landscape-- not so many trees and not really very green at all.  Plus, San Antonio is just so big...  it's friendly and we did actually have some friends living there.  In fact, we had more of a social life in Texas than we ever did in North Carolina and Georgia, but I never really felt very comfortable there.

That being said, I wouldn't mind going back to Texas someday, even to live.  But for now, I'm glad I get to live in Germany for awhile.  Sometimes, it makes sense to just take the plunge.

Our pretty backyard in Germany... no, there's no pool, but there's also no busy road passing behind...


Saturday, October 18, 2014

A review of Neuer Ochsen in Stuttgart-Vaihingen, Germany...

My husband Bill and I had some business to attend to at Panzer Kaserne.  After we were finished with that and got some gas for my car, we went into Vaihingen for some lunch.  When we lived in Stuttgart last time, we spent about six weeks living at the Vaihinger Hof.  That made us very familiar with the local restaurants.  One of the restaurants we visited a few times when we were in the hotel was Neuer Ochsen, a place that vaguely reminds me of the Gordon-Biersch chain in the United States.

The place looks like it's corporate.  It's located right next to the Schwaben Galerie mall and has a very upscale look.  When we've been there, we've been mistaken for Germans and given German menus, which were a bit more complete than the English ones were.  This time, it looked like they had menus in German and English for everyone.  In the past, I enjoyed delicious duck breast and a tomato soup with mozzarella balls in it.  This time, neither of those favorite dishes were on the menu.

Undaunted, I chose the fitnesssalat.  I don't usually order salads, but this one sounded delicious.  It was made with turkey, apples, and celery.  Bill went for a flammkuchen-- French style pizza.  He also ordered a radler (beer and lemonade) while I had a schwarz bier.

Our server was very friendly and competent and she spoke English, even good-naturedly indulging our lame attempts to speak German.  I was very happy with the salad.  It was huge, came with a choice of either mustard-yogurt dressing or a vinaigrette.  I chose the vinaigrette, which was nice and light and flavorful.  The salad was huge, with lots of field greens, peppers, sliced green apples, carrots, cabbage, and celery.  It came with slices of white and wheat bread.  I felt really good about eating it... I usually eat what tastes good.  This tasted good, but was also good for me.  Had I wanted to, I could have had steak or fish or traditional Schwaben food.

Bill's flammkuchen was also good.  The crust reminded me of puff pastry and it was topped with cream, onions, and bacon.  His selection wasn't quite as healthy as mine was, but it was very tasty.

I wasn't drunk when I took this photo...

Or this one...  Bill is looking very naughty here.

Fabulous "fitness salad"... The fried turkey made it seem less so.  I would totally order it again.

Bill's "French pizza" looked better than the ones we saw being served in Colmar last weekend.

For this meal, we paid 24,50, before the tip.  It was quite a bargain!  For those who have kids, Neuer Ochsen has a kid's menu.  They also have live entertainment sometimes.  We saw a jazz show advertised today.  I hope to get back to the Neuer Ochsen again soon.

After lunch, we came home, fed the dogs, and took them on a nice long walk in the woods...  about an hour or so.  They burned off energy; we burned off lunch, and now we're refueling with more beer.

World's biggest pile of rutabagas.

Best of all, no one asked me if I'm pregnant.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

German detergents...

Every time I live abroad, I take notice of the local tastes in things.  This morning, as I was scrubbing the toilets and wiping the surfaces in our bathrooms, it occurred to me that Germans have different tastes in what cleaning products should smell like.  When we first moved into our house, I asked Bill to pick up some toilet cleaner and bathroom spray.  I thought he'd get them at the commissary and I'd be using the same Lysol products I usually use.  But no, it was more convenient to get the stuff at the local Real, which is sort of like Germany's version of Wal-Mart (only it's way nicer and less irritating).

So he brought home two bottles of Zekol for the two bathrooms and two cans of WC Fix (now that's a pretty cut and dried product name, don't you think?) for the toilets.  First off, let's look at the WC Fix.  Now, one can purchase toilet cleaner in Germany that is like what we have in the United States.  It comes in a plastic bottle with a curved neck for easier aiming under the rim of the toilet bowl.

But for some reason, Bill bought two cans of spray that foam up like Scrubbing Bubbles or shaving cream.  So instead of the blue syrup I get with Lysol toilet cleaners, I get whipped cream in my toilet. And I guess if there's anything in there that wasn't scrubbed away before I sprayed, that will just add to my imaginary toilet sundae.

I could have some serious fun with this toilet cleaner if I tried...

What's even more interesting about this foamy German toilet cleaner are the available scents.  The yellow can pictured below smells kind of lemony, which I guess makes sense.  American products that smell lemony are usually furniture cleaners, but I can see why Germans would want their bathrooms to smell like citrus fruit.  It beats the alternative, right?  Americans seem to favor the "fresh chemical scent", based on what I've seen back home.  Most of my bathroom cleaners at home in America smell like industrial strength germ cleaner.  The other can of WC Fix Bill bought smells like lavender.  I don't think I've ever run into lavender scented toilet cleaner before I moved back to Germany.  It's not unpleasant, just different to this American. 

Eau de cheap men's cologne...  It even says "bad" on the label.  ;-)

Now, the Zekol bathroom cleaner is even more interesting.  It's a good product and does a good job cleaning the sink and especially the glass enclosure of the shower stall.  But the scents are really something else.  The bottle pictured is the "Classic" formula and it smells like really strong cheap men's cologne.  It's kind of sweet and cloying and I don't like it that much.  

The other bottle, which is pictured below, has a scent called "Purple Rain".  Given that  I am a child of the 80s, that name immediately cracks me up.  Yes, I've seen Prince's screen debut many times.  But then I think about it some more.  "Purple Rain" is written in English on packaging that is otherwise in German.  And what's so clean about purple rain, anyway?  I think if I saw purple rain falling from the sky, I'd be afraid we were having some kind of nuclear attack or something.  Even more interesting is the way this product smells.  It doesn't smell purple.  It smells like strawberries.  Yes, I've always wanted a strawberry scented shitter in my house!

Purple Rain, Purple Rain... Purple Rain, Purple Rain... come on, you know you want to sing it too!

Wouldn't it have made more sense to make the product smell like something purple, like grapes?  How about eggplant?  If you're going to make a toilet smell fruity, I would think eggplant might work.  

This isn't the first time I've used products I thought were funny in some way.  When I lived in Armenia back in the 1990s, I used to buy an Iranian laundry detergent called Barf.  I'm not kidding.  It does exist and many other people have blogged about it.  Apparently "Barf" is the Farsi word for snow.

This appears to be somewhat new packaging.  In my day, Barf was sold in boxes with Russian letters.  That made it even funnier.

This is a very silly post, but it's put me in a good mood.  Now I'm going to spoil it with a rant on my other blog.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Things I learned on our trip to Colmar...

Re-reading the four posts from our trip to the Alsace region of France, it occurs to me that I come across as kind of negative and curmudgeonly.  If the truth be told, I truly am a cranky person sometimes, though I also have my jovial moments.  I tend to write and say what I'm thinking, which can be off-putting for some people.  Other people have told me they enjoy my frank nature because I say out loud what they are thinking and don't want to risk saying.

Anyway, while some readers may have gotten the impression that I didn't like Colmar, allow me to explain.  I did have a good time.  I almost always have fun when I travel with Bill, even when I end up in a predicament.  And when something mortifying happens, like I get asked if I'm pregnant when I'm not, it usually turns into a funny story.  I always learn something new whenever and wherever I travel, whether it's the lay of the land, or appreciation for a new food or product, or even a new word or two.

Our trip to Colmar started off kind of badly, but by the time we were on our way home, I was marveling about how pretty France is and majestic parts of Germany are.  Even in the rain, the beauty of the Alsace region and the Black Forest is breathtaking and very inspiring.

So, here are a few things I learned on our trip to Colmar.

1.  In France, if you are pregnant, they are more concerned about you eating rare meat that might pass on an infection than they are if you're drinking a glass of wine.  The incident at La Taverne was initially offensive to me because I am not pregnant and I'm American and have a poor body image.  I'd probably have a poor body image if I were French, too, but the bottom line is that those poor servers who got the stink eye from me after asking about the status of my womb weren't really trying to be rude.  And yes, though it was initially a mortifying moment for me, they provided me with a funny story.  Next time I go to France, I'll invest in some Spanx or control top pantyhose.

2.  Colmar is cute, charming, and very busy!  I had no idea how busy it would be there.  I was under the impression that it was a quiet town.  It's not, and that's not a bad thing.  It took me a bit by surprise, but I think if we went back there and the weather was a bit more agreeable, I'd love it.  I wasn't all that impressed by what we saw of Mulhouse, but I bet it has its secret charming places, too.  And even if it doesn't, a lot of times, interactions with people make a place more special than ambiance and old buildings do.

3.  Being in France on a Sunday can be fun, even though a lot of things will be closed.  I'm glad we took a drive around the area.  Just looking at the scenery is worthwhile.  And I'm really glad we visited Remiremont and the areas surrounding it.  While we may not get the chance to vacation there, I can definitely see why people would.  If we stay here long enough, we may have to go back there... though I will be more careful about drinking water and wine and I will scope out where the public toilets are!

4.  Sometimes hotel restaurants, even at small, basic establishments, are really excellent.  I made the proprietor at Le Relais du Ried smile big when I complimented him on the talents of his chef.  We really enjoyed our dinner there.  Also, I'm kind of glad we stayed in a hotel outside of Colmar.  We saved significant money and I thought the little neighborhoods around the hotel were adorable.

5.  If you go to Colmar and you want to eat out, you may want to ask your concierge about reservations.  We saw a lot of places that had signs on the door that read "Complet", meaning that the place was fully booked for the evening.  In Europe, people aren't rushed in restaurants like they are in the United States.  Personally, I like it that way.  Having been a waitress in my younger days, I know how American restaurants like to "turn and burn" tables.  But who wants to rush through a delicious meal?  I like the fact that in European countries, you are encouraged to enjoy your meal and take your time.  It makes for less stress on the wait staff, who can then offer you better service.  It also makes for better enjoyment and digestion of your food and more time to converse with your companion(s), if you happen to have them.

6.  Say hello and goodbye.  Though I have spent a lot of time in Europe, particularly in Germany and France, I never noticed how more likely it is that people will speak to you here.  In France, it was "Bon jour, madame!" and "Au revoir! Bonne journee!" everywhere I turned.  In Germany, older people sitting near us in a restaurant said "Grüß Gott" (May God greet you-- commonly heard in Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg) and "Auf Wiedersehen" (Until we meet again).  Americans aren't as much into greetings, so when you offer one in the local language, it's a pleasant surprise for our hosts.

7.  French honey from Alsace is absolutely delicious!  And so is Alsatian riesling.  I must rethink the previously negative opinion I had of certain white wines made of riesling grapes.  They aren't all sweet and cloying and they are worth trying.

And finally...

Getting this picture was worth the trip!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Colmar, Part 4... coming home

We got up this morning at about 7:45.  Actually, I woke up at about 3:00am and it took a long time to get back to sleep.  But once I did, I managed to sleep until 7:45.  We had another breakfast and this time, I avoided the raw eggs.  I could have boiled one if I wanted to, but I'm not that good at the art of egg boiling.  Now that I think of it, though, it's probably smart to let people do it themselves.  Everybody has a different opinion of when an egg is sufficiently cooked.

Our total bill for two nights, dinner (including two bottles of wine, two entrees, two desserts, and sparkling mineral water), two breakfasts for two, and a jar of honey, came to about $350.  Not bad at all, for what we got.  For those who have kids, this hotel does have a nice garden area and it looked like there were even outdoor toys for little kids.  It was raining a lot, though, so we didn't check it out.    The hotel is ten minutes from Colmar and has tight parking, but I think we got a great deal.  Plus, the staff was really nice.  If we go back, we'll bring extra pillows.  

It was pouring rain when we left, so we decided to take the shorter way back home, using the autobahns.  I must say, in some ways, that drive was as pretty as the drive out was.  We went through Freiburg, which appears to be a great town.  But before we got to Freiburg, we got stuck at the border.  They were doing construction in the rain, so getting across the Rhine took about ten or fifteen minutes.  I'm not kidding.  The stop light was only letting two or three cars go at a time.

Scenes at the border...

One thing I noticed on this trip were the many crucifixes and crosses everywhere.  I have heard it said that Europe isn't all that religious, but there's religious symbolism everywhere.  I even saw one cross on a small mountain on the autobahn, surrounded by hills.  It was very cool looking.  I couldn't help but be reminded that in the United States, such symbolism is disappearing.  I am not a particularly religious person, but I do think it's kind of refreshing that Europeans don't seem to get bent out of shape over crosses and crucifixes... and little shrines.

We got home at about noon and I was hungry, so Bill and I went out to lunch at Hotel Hasen Gasthof, a very nice four star gasthaus in Herrenberg.  I had seen this place and wondered about it last time we lived in Germany.  I'm glad we got to try it today, because the food is excellent and so is the very proper service.  Bill and I were a little underdressed for the clientele, which appeared to be chiefly older people.  It was interesting to observe them.  One very nice couple sat near us with a woman who was either a nurse or a family member.  As they left, the man nodded and said to me sweetly, "Auf Wiedersehen."

We had two courses.  I had a bowl of tomato creme soup with a "gin espuma" (basically some kind of foam).  Bill had a barley soup that was very good.  Then I had kasespatzle with bacon and sautéed, caramelized onions and Bill had roasted pork with a mushroom gravy and mashed potatoes.  I hesitated before I got the spatzle, because I don't usually like it.  A lot of times, you get it kind of dry and flavorless.  This time, it was delicious with creamy mild cheese.  I am a fan of mac and cheese and this dish was like Germany's grown up version of it.

Yummy spatzle!  Sorry this is half eaten.  I usually take photos before I start eating, but I didn't want to be too conspicuous, taking pictures of my food.  It was so good, I decided to take them anyway.

Bill has the special...

Hotel Gasthof Hasen: A very good place to eat on the main drag in Herrenberg.

I washed my lunch down with a Hochdorfer beer and Bill had Spezie, which is cola and orange mixed together.  He let me taste it.  It's really good when it's made from a fountain.  We both resolved to come back to Herrenberg one night properly dressed and have dinner at the gasthaus.  As we left, I turned to the gentleman sitting next to me and said "Auf Wiedersehen."  I was rewarded with a big smile.  I know he could tell we were Americans and likely wasn't expecting that.

Later, we went to Bad Niedernau to pick up our dogs at the Hunde Hotel Haase.  They were glad to see us, though I think they had a good time.  I'm not surprised.  Our old dogs, Flea and MacGregor, used to love going there when we took trips.  They got through it fine, so I feel okay about them staying there when we go to the States next month.  I just have to figure out the new way of getting there, since we no longer live in Pfaffingen.

It was wet, but scenic, on our drive today.

All in all, we had a nice time visiting Colmar, France.  Hopefully, next time, there won't be as much weirdness.

The sun finally came out... just in time to set.

Colmar, Part 3

On Sunday morning, we got up and had breakfast at the hotel.  I picked up an egg I thought was boiled, but when I cracked it, it turned out to be raw inside.  That did little to make me feel good about the culinary wonders of Alsace.  Fortunately, there were croissants, loaves of bread, cold cuts, cheeses, yogurts, and juices to be had.  Bill and I filled up, marveling at how good the local honey was.  I don't usually like honey very much, but we ended up buying some from the hotel.

This was near Mulhouse.  I thought it was appropriately phallic looking, so I photographed it.

Many roads in eastern France have neat rows of trees on either side next to fields. 

I hope the person who owns that house is getting paid big bucks for letting Clear Channel put that ugly ass billboard in their front yard.

Cameras are always watching you...

We decided to drive around the area to see what was there.  First, we went to Mulhouse, which is a large city and not nearly as cute or charming as Colmar is.  I was glad we were based in Colmar instead of Mulhouse because what we saw of it wasn't very attractive.  But I will admit we didn't hang around there for long.  Instead, we drove northwest through lots of cute little French towns that were totally dead.  The weather wasn't all that great because it was a bit cloudy and rainy.  I managed to take some pictures, though, and noticed that France doesn't seem to completely shut down on Sundays like Germany does.

One of many cute but deserted towns we drove through...

A deserted snack stand on the way up a mountain side.

Brief instances of sunshine...  It didn't last.

Cool looking tattoo parlor.

When it got to be lunch time, we started searching for somewhere to eat.  We finally found signs of life in a town called Remiremont in Lorraine.   We parked the car, again for free, and started walking. Bill really needed to find a bathroom and finally found a public one that cost 40 euro cents.  But he didn't have the right change.  I put in 40 cents and got a buzz and a locked door for my trouble.  We kept walking around and finally ended up at a creperie called La Gavotte.

Helpful map for tourists.

We went in there and sat down.  A baby was crying and my nerves were a bit jangled because I was hungry and my blood sugar was dropping.  Bill looked at me and asked, "Do you need wine?"  I nodded, so he asked the very friendly proprietor for a carafe of sauvignon blanc.  While Bill was using the one toilet in the place, which he had to climb a flight of spiral stairs to get to, I watched the guy draw the wine from a box in a nearby fridge.  I had to laugh at that.  It was decent wine, but getting it from a box seemed decidedly "un-French".  When I went up to use the unisex bathroom, there was a guy ahead of me waiting.  He was pretty funny when he came out, wiping his brow, smiling, and saying "Phew!"

Yesterday's special at La Gavotte...

Bill savors the cheese.  My husband loves all dairy, especially stinky and flavorful cheeses.  I can barely tolerate sharp cheddar.  The raclette was mild enough that I could eat some of it.  A little went a long way, though.  Next time, I'll get one with a less pungent cheese.

Dessert was fabulous...  the man gave Bill the colonel.  Under normal conditions, it would have made sense, since he is a colonel.  He had to drive, though, and the vodka would have put him in dangerous territory.

We both had the daily special, which was a galette with ham, raclette cheese, béchamel sauce, and potatoes, and a small green salad with a delicious mustard vinaigrette.  I am not a big fan of raclette; it tends to be a little too strong for me.  Bill loved it, though, because it was obviously made from raw milk.  I ate maybe half, though I loved the salad with its tangy dressing and fresh greens.  Frankly, after the dinner we had that was swimming in sauce, my body was wanting some roughage.

After we ate lunch, we had dessert.  I had a "colonel", which was two scoops of lemon sorbet with vodka poured over them.  Bill had a salted caramel sundae, which was absolutely delicious.  My dessert was good, too... but I knew that with the wine, water, and "wodka", I would soon be swimming in the urge to pee.  I did my best to relieve myself as much as possible before we left, but within a half an hour, I had to pee like a racehorse.

By the time we passed this lake, I was about to bust.

We were by that time in Gerardmer, a touristy looking town by a lake that had a map that showed there were public toilets. Unfortunately, we couldn't find them.  And when Bill asked at a gas station, they couldn't help us with a toilet or directions to one.  So I ended up finding a quiet spot behind some bushes.  It was raining, so at least I know my whiz got rinsed.  I wouldn't have done that under ordinary circumstances, but I seriously had to go.  Besides, we did see a man rather brazenly zipping himself after peeing on the side of the road.

After that, we started heading back to Colmar.  Our route took us through the beautiful forested Vosges Mountains.  There were lots of golden leaves to be seen and even a couple of natural archways as we made our way through switchbacks and around cute little mountain towns.  Even though it was raining, it was really beautiful.  I can see why the area attracts travelers and skiers.

A natural bridge.  Too bad the wipers were going.

We got back to the hotel at about 5:00 and decided we didn't want to deal with dinner in Colmar again.  Instead, we had dinner at the hotel... and it turned out to be a great decision.  Even though Le Relais du Ried is a basic, family owned hotel, it boasts a wonderful restaurant with a talented chef.  I had delicious duck breast for dinner, while Bill enjoyed veal with mushrooms and noodles.  We washed down dinner with a lovely bottle of Rhone wine.  Bill loves wine from southern France.  For dessert, I had three kinds of creme brûlée.  He had two kinds of chocolate mousse.  And then we shared a bottle of Alsatian riesling that was surprisingly good and not too sweet.

There were a few kids eating with their parents in the hotel restaurant.  One was a boy who appeared to be about four years old.  He had a pacifier in his mouth.  It was kind of odd because he looked a bit old to be sucking on a plug.  The kid and his parents sat near us and though he acted up a little bit, he was basically well behaved.  We saw him again this morning and he said "Au revoir" to everyone.  It was very cute!

There was also another American couple there-- older folks who appeared to be Francophiles.  And lots of Germans.  I had to admit, the staff did a good job keeping up with everyone's languages

France is sooo pretty!

Part 4!