Thursday, November 27, 2014

A review of the Embassy Suites Dulles Airport

If you read my last post, you know that Bill and I just flew from Germany to Washington, DC via Paris.  We wisely decided to spend a night in the DC area before trying to drive to Goshen, VA where our B&B is located.  Goshen is actually about 30-35 miles from where our Thanksgiving festivities are being held, but we decided to stay there because Bill and I honeymooned at the B&B where we're staying.  But the B&B is located in a beautiful but rather remote area.  We wanted to be well rested before making the trip.

The first thing to know about Embassy Suites near Dulles Airport is that there are two of them.  One is in Chantilly and the other is in Herndon.  We stayed at the one in Herndon.  We arrived there at about 6:30pm after a long day traveling.  We were tired and ready for a good meal.  Fortunately, the Embassy Suites in Herndon has a restaurant as well as a nightly manager's reception.  As with all Embassy Suites, breakfast is included in the rate.  And we got a very good rate, too...  It was $107 through

The receptionist very kindly welcomed us when we checked in and gave us room 506.  We dropped our bags and immediately went to the plaza area on the ground floor, where a few folks were enjoying free beer, wine, and well drinks as well as munchies.  Bill and I ordered from the menu-- Marty's Restaurant and Room Service, I think it was called.  It's not a restaurant per se.  You can sit at the bar or one of the tables and order food if you want.

I was really in need of a good meal, so I had a steak with mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables.  Bill had grilled salmon.  We washed our meals down with free Sam Adams seasonal beers.  The bartender was very pleasant and free with the beverages.  All told, our dinners were about $50, which is quite a good deal in northern Virginia.  The only fault I can report is that my steak could have used a minute or two less on the fire.  But otherwise, it was very good eating.

Another feature of this particular Embassy Suites are two very special hosts in the waterfall area.  This hotel has two swans named George and Martha.  They seem to be very used to people and beg for food, which the hotel discourages guests from giving them.  They were very cute, even though they'd probably like to be in a pond outdoors somewhere.

George and Martha...

We enjoyed a very nice night's sleep at the Embassy Suites and a good breakfast.  The cook will make eggs, sausage, bacon, or omelettes to order.  They also have the usual breads, fruits, oatmeal, juices, and cereals.  The only bad moment was when the elevator got stuck on the fifth floor.  We ended up having to walk down five flights of stairs.

When all was said and done, we got a night's lodging, dinner, drinks, parking and breakfast for about $180.  Next time we come through Dulles, I wouldn't hesitate to stay at that particular Embassy Suites again.



A mostly effortless trip across the pond...

Bill and I arrived at Dulles airport on Tuesday night at about 5:00pm.  We were pretty tired.  Our day got started very early Tuesday morning in Germany.  Traffic getting to the airport in Stuttgart was pretty heavy and we moved at a snail's pace on A81.  To make matters worse, my bladder decided to kick in about halfway through the trip, making me need to pee something fierce by the time we parked and hiked to the terminal.

I decided to pee after we checked in, which was probably a mistake.  The automated check in process for us via Air France's kiosks didn't go so smoothly.  I answered a security question "wrong", so we had to have an agent issue us tickets.  The guy standing in line ahead of us had overweight baggage that he thought he'd already paid for, so that slowed us down a bit...  Meanwhile, my bladder was becoming more and more demanding and urgent for relief.

Once we were checked in and I paid a visit to the ladies room, we went through security.  An unsmiling guard was barking orders at me in German.  After removing all the non essential clothes and electronics, I paused to wait for an adorable little toddler whose mother was beckoning her to walk through the metal detector.  It was a pretty cute moment as the girl was more interested in watching everybody else.

My shoes had metal staples in them.  My bra also had metal hooks, which meant I had to be very thoroughly wanded by a rather ripe smelling lady who seemed very practiced in the art of frisking.  Once we got through security, we waited for our flight to Paris, which would deposit us in an even less user friendly airport.  I was kind of impressed by the weird modern art looking furniture in the terminal that looked very well used.  I remember spending a hellish 12 hours in CDG back in 1995 before I moved to Armenia for two years.  It does look like they've done some work to make the airport a little less unpleasant.  Still, I wish I'd been able to get WiFi.  They apparently offer it at CDG, but I never could get it to work or even charge my electronics.

The flight to Paris was quick and relatively painless.  The Paris hop planes have 2x2 seating.  Bill and I each had an aisle seat on the same row.  Fortunately, we had nice people sitting next to us and a gentle landing.  I know a lot of people take the train to Paris, but I have to admit the quick flight there is amazing.  I like Air France, too.  Of course, the woman sitting in front of me was the only one on the entire plane who felt the need to recline.  I thought it was funny that I had a recliner in front of me on a one hour flight, but the guy who sat in front of me to Washington, DC didn't recline at all!

I was hoping to grab a quick lunch at the airport in Paris, but unfortunately, there weren't really any restaurants in the terminal where we got our flight.  Bill bought me a Coke and a chocolate croissant. Ordinarily, that would have been okay, but I was needing protein in a big way.  Bought myself a Snickers bar and silently vowed to bring a bag of nuts with me on my next long haul flight.

The flight to Washington was long, but basically quite pleasant.  I was very impressed by Air France; in fact, I think I liked them better than Lufthansa, which we flew to Germany in August.  The seats were, I thought, pretty generous even for a stout girl like me.  The flight attendants were very professional and pleasant.  In fact, one guy seemed especially solicitous.  After a champagne apertif, he brought out our meals.  We had a choice of parmesan risotto or chicken with sherry sauce.  I chose the risotto because I thought it might not have evil mushrooms in it.  Bill asked for chicken.  At first, the flight attendant said they were out of the chicken, but then he found one and brought it to Bill.  Good thing, too, because the risotto did have mushrooms.  Bill kindly gave me his chicken, which was actually edible and even tasted pretty good!  The flight attendant asked me what I wanted to drink I showed him that I had syrah.  He asked, with a big smile with a delightful French accent, "Is it enough?  Would you like more?"  I giggled and he brought me another, different type of wine!

I don't enjoy transatlantic flights at all, but that one goes down as one of the better ones.  Hopefully, the flights back to Germany will be decent, too.  I am definitely sold on European carriers over American ones.

Anyway, we are now in Goshen, Virginia... and yes, we did get caught in the storm yesterday, which made driving down here challenging.  But we were rewarded with this...

Goshen is sooo beautiful!

I will be writing reviews of our lodging and more trip details as they evolve.

Monday, November 24, 2014

German ice cream...

It's funny when I type "German ice cream", I'm reminded of the job I spent four summers doing at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.  I worked in the German Ice Cream shop.  I cashiered, capped strawberries, served soft serve ice cream, and made waffle cones.  The first two years, I wore ugly fake lederhosen, complete with culottes, knee socks (which I never pulled up) and shirts with lederhosen straps sewn to them.  The first year I worked there, the straps were not sewn on and that turned out to be an occupational hazard, since we had an unused frozen yogurt machine that had parts that stuck out on it.  More than once, one of my straps got hooked on that thing.  The second two years, females were outfitted in dirndls.  I liked the dirndls better, since it was easier to use the restroom and I could wear my own shorts under the skirt.  The only thing bad about them was that I am a bit well endowed, so that dress made me look like I was selling something milky besides soft serve ice cream.  My boobs were busting out, if you know what I mean.

All day, I listened to polka music... the same damn six or eight songs over and over again all day and every summer.  The polka music got on my nerves, because one of the songs had a flat note in it.  I seemed to be the only one who noticed it.  It's been about 16 years since I last visited Busch Gardens, but I think they still play the same music, or so some of my local friends have told me.

This is the music I listened to for four summers...  It was a little like being trapped in a Lawrence Welk style nightmare.

Now that I live in the actual country of Germany again, I get to enjoy real German ice cream.  That was one thing I loved about living here last time because Germans put Americans to shame when it comes to this frozen treat.  Go to any German Eis Cafe and order a sundae and you will get an incredible creation that will blow your mind.

An example of "German Eis" at a cafe...  They get a lot fancier than this.

Hell, go to the store and buy some ice cream.  They come in plastic containers here and you will find all manner of different flavors designed specifically for self-indulgent adults.  Sometimes, you can even find ice cream with booze in it.

Two flavors in our freezer: Black Forest and Triple Chocolate...  Black Forest is my favorite!

Look at that!  When was the last time you saw American ice cream in a container that looks all decorative?

Yes, this is vanilla ice cream with "Eierlikor"-- Egg liqueur.  And yes, egg liqueur is an adult beverage.

A close up of the Triple Chocolate...

Now, I don't eat a lot of ice cream.  Every once in awhile, I get in the mood for a little dessert, but it happens less than once a week.  But when I do want ice cream, it's nice to have some that isn't for kids.  When I am in the USA, I can make ice cream.  Here in Germany, I am content to purchase it and give a big present to my ass.

Tomorrow starts my big trip to Virginia, so stay tuned for new hotel reviews... and probably a fair amount of bitching.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Will the third time be the charm? The Auld Rogue again...

Bill and I went back to The Auld Rogue for the third time in as many weeks.  We went today because we wanted to try the spareribs, which I noticed they were offering again.  I had heard they were delicious.  Today, our friend the bartender was there, along with a tall, muscular, and very friendly Irish lad, who was quick to welcome us and offer drinks.

Bill and I both had Guinness today.  I love the creamy heads on them, though I didn't get a clover today.

We both had spareribs...

Lemme just say, those ribs were awesome.  I believe they were beef ribs.  I was surprised, because I thought they'd be pork.  They were cooked to perfection and slathered with a delicious but very spicy sauce.  I joked to Bill that the spices no doubt get people to want to drink more.  The ribs at The Auld Rogue were the best ones I've had in a long while.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  I probably ought to take a pre-emptive antacid, though.  

The portion size was about right, too.  It was a little more than I could eat, but not so much that I felt like I needed a to go box.  The only thing that would have made them better is if I'd gotten the sauce on the side.  Bill loved the sauce because he likes spicy food.  I am more of a wimp when it comes to hot stuff, though I did really enjoy the flavor.

I had to take a photo from a different vantage point... and I got a kick out of the "guest beers".  They're all German.

A perfect Guinness...

I think the bartender has us pegged.  He told Bill he couldn't leave until he signed up for next weekend's beer tasting.  We'd love to, but we're going to the States and won't be around next weekend.  All these trips to The Auld Rogue make me want to book a trip to Ireland.  I think we'll be doing that sooner rather than later.

One of these days-- very soon-- we WILL get to the Greek restaurant a block down the street.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A couple of hours in Esslingen...

I had heard good things about the city of Esslingen, which is not too far from the Stuttgart Airport.  Bill and I decided to go there today to see what was up.  Unfortunately, we got a late start because Bill typically wants to sleep on Saturdays.  Then we have our leisurely breakfast and walk the dogs.   

By the time we leave the house, it's usually afternoon.  Today, it was about 1:00 when we left.  We don't live all that close to Esslingen; we're kind of southwest and it's located kind of northeast of us.  There's a slow light going into town, which slowed down traffic significantly.  Then we had to find a place to park.  By the time we got out and started walking down, it was after 2:00.  I was kind of enchanted by the town, though, and took lots of photos...

I love these clock towers.

Esslingen is in the process of decorating for Christmas.  Lights are going up...

And so is the Christmas Market...  This is a Gluhwein stand.

This is where the latrine is...  

A shot of the top of the church.  There was a wedding going on there today and it had just ended as we were walking around.  We were passed by the getaway car, marked by the wreath on the hood.  Lots of people were dressed up and headed out of the centrum.

This town will soon look like a little fantasy village.

You'll be able to shop a lot...

And even have whisky/whiskey...

On the way out of town.  None of the restaurants spoke to us.  The one place we tried was closed for a two hour break.  It's really better to get an earlier start for these excursions.

Someone's cool vintage car...

And the cool clock tower...

We ended up going home, stopping by the Real first for a few items from the store.  We had chicken and fries from the small restaurant in front of the Real.  Maybe tomorrow, we'll explore a new restaurant as we gear up for our trip to the US next week.  Esslingen is a cute town.  We're going to have to go back and be more careful about the time next time.  I understand a lot of military folks live there.  I can see why.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

German windows!

One thing about living in Germany that is very different than living in America is that Germans take their windows very seriously.  When we were looking for places to live, we talked to our current landlords, who proudly informed us that they were in the process of replacing all of the windows in the house we're living in.  And then they told us they were going to put screens on them!

I come from the southern United States, where screens on the windows are a given fact of life.  We put them on our windows to keep out the intense sun and all the bugs and leaves that tend to fly around down there.  Here in Germany, screens on the windows are pretty rare.  When we lived here last time, my husband Bill, who is perpetually "hot-natured", would complain about having to choose between having a cooler home with the windows open or dealing with bugs.  So when our landlords mentioned screens, he was interested.

Personally, I like to keep the windows closed unless it's very stuffy because I am sensitive to noise, either the noise I make or the noise others make.  I also get cold easier than my husband does.  Especially during the summer, we're often gently fighting over the temperature.

Some of the windows in our house were already replaced before we moved in.  The rest were finished last month over a couple of particularly chaotic days.  It seems the local company that did the windows has someone on staff who routinely messes up the measurements.  She happens to be the business owner's daughter, so she stays in the job, even though her mistakes sometimes cause waste.  She happened to get the wrong measurements for the windows pictured below.  At one point, that entire panel of windows was removed and covered with plywood.

But look at them now!

The new windows are fantastic!  They are very heavy duty, high quality, and triple paned, so there's a lot less noise going into or out of the house.  With two loud hounds and my own penchant for making and playing music, that's a good thing.

It was great to get the glass back after a week of plywood.

This is a door that got a new screen on it.

The screens were added yesterday to several windows.  This screen door has powerful magnets that keep the door closed.  If we wanted to, we could leave the big door open and let fresh air in without fear of insect invasion.  We probably won't, though, because we have dogs that bark!

I was really glad we didn't get screens on all windows because one thing I love about German windows is being able to look out of them without any obstruction.  Our windows happen to overlook a nice field with lots of trees.  Sometimes I like to take pictures of the scenery.  Not having screens on all of the windows lets me do that, yet I can also open the windows that do have them and prevent insects from invading the house.  I also love that they have three settings.  You can open the window, close it, or set it to crack at the top.  It's very cool.

I never thought I'd be so excited about windows, but I am.  I love the fact that they are large and let in a lot of natural light, even if it can mean buying curtains that are huge!  I have never been one to like using overhead lighting and much prefer lamps in my house.  And I really only want to use those when there's no natural light coming in.  Large German windows make it easier to do that.  They probably help save money, too.  Our landlords also put in electric shutters on the window panel in our living room.  They work by remote control and are fabulous when we need to go out or want privacy.

My landlord asked about our windows in the USA.  I told him that most of them weren't like what we have here, though I knew of some people that special ordered German windows with the rolling shades.  I imagine most people who are willing to do something like that are either immigrants or people who lived in Germany with the military.  It probably costs a bundle to do.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Another visit to The Auld Rogue...

I seriously think The Auld Rogue could end up being a regular stop for us when we do our Sunday shopping.  It's convenient to Patch and Panzer, has good service and food, and a great variety of beers.  We went there yesterday at around 2:30 or so because we were hungry.  Yesterday also happened to be our 12th wedding anniversary.  

Bill and I enjoy a round.  I had a Murphy's Red and he had his usual Guinness.  A couple had an adorable, sweet, and well-behaved golden retriever with them who came over to say hi.  I wish our dogs were calm enough to go to restaurants.

Bill had Shepherd's Pie, which was very good, but huge.  I wouldn't have liked it because it had mushrooms in it.  Bill did note that since it was served with fries, he got two servings of potatoes.  I guess to a guy with as much Irish blood as Bill has, that's not a bad thing.

I had fish and chips.  I enjoyed the chips especially.  They were just about perfect.  Once again, I eschewed the spare ribs in favor of something else.  I'll get to them eventually.  The fish was good, though the breading was less batter and more bread crumbs.  It was very enjoyable and the portion size of the fish was about right.  I still had plenty of fries and salad leftover.

And because it was our anniversary, I had a large pour of Oban 14 year old scotch...  It was quite nice.  8 euros for .4cl and worth every euro cent.  Smaller pours go for 4 euros.

As we were having lunch, I got caught up in watching a rugby game on one of the large TVs.  I don't usually enjoy watching sports, but I think I could get into rugby.  Ireland and Georgia were playing, which made it especially interesting for me.  Since I once lived in Armenia, I used to live near the Republic of Georgia.

I think the bartender recognized us.  He may have spotted us as new regulars.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Another trip to Tubingen!

I always love the square!

Bill and I decided to go to Tubingen yesterday because we wanted to stop by Vinum and look for some new glassware.  We didn't end up getting glasses, but we did have a great time tasting and buying some wines and picking up Belgian beers.  Adding to the fun was a small group of Russian buskers who were playing beautiful classical music on brass instruments.  They were also selling CDs.  We probably should have bought one, since I love to support musicians.  We ended up going to the LUSH store instead, where we were talked into buying some shower gel and lotion.  That was the first time we had ever been to LUSH, though that store was there when we lived here last time.  You can smell it before you see it.

I love visiting Tubingen.  It's such a neat town!

Bill waiting for service at Neckarmuller...

We had a late lunch at Neckarmuller, which is a very cool brewery restaurant.  In the warmer months, they have a nice biergarten.  Yesterday, it was dark and rainy, so there were many people inside having lunch.  We ended up squeezed between two tables of Germans who seemed baffled as to why Americans were having lunch in Tubingen.  Our waiter was very charming and funny, though.  

I had turkey with a baked potato served with garlic sour cream and butter.  There was also a very nice salad.  Bill had beer roasted beef served with gravy and pretzel dumplings.  Naturally, we enjoyed beers too!  I couldn't even come close to finishing all of this. 


On the way home, we stopped by Agais in Entringen for dessert.  I must admit, part of the reason we stopped was because I really needed to relieve myself after drinking beer.  But it was fun to talk to the Mad Scientist, too.  We were his only customers.  I made him smile when I noticed a piece of artwork on the wall that depicted a man and a woman.  I asked if it was him in the art and he said it was him and his "first love".  Then he showed us a picture of him bare chested and standing by a boat in 1980.  He had just caught a huge swordfish.  

If we hadn't have been so full, we would have had dinner, but he ended up making 30 euros off of us anyway.  We came home, hung out, and went to bed... and today, we are celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Review of Taverne beim Griechen in Unterjettingen, Germany...

My husband Bill and I were in the mood for some Greek food last night.  Ordinarily, that might mean a trip to Agais, which is a Greek restaurant in Entringen we used to visit a lot when we lived in the Stuttgart area last time (2007-09).  But since we don't live as close to Agais as we used to and we're trying to get to know the restaurants in our new area, we decided to try a more local place.  That's how we ended up eating at Taverne beim Griechen in Unterjettingen, Germany.

A sign by the door...

The menu

Taverne beim Griechen is not a place you'd easily find while driving around.  It's located in a sports club very close to the local Aldi store.  There's a huge parking lot next to the restaurant and when we arrived, there was a football game going on.  By the time we left, our car was the only one still in the lot, yet the restaurant was doing a booming business.  That must mean it's popular with the locals who can easily walk there.  If the truth be told, Bill and I could have walked there ourselves.  It's maybe two miles from our house.    

The entrance to the restaurant is around the front of the building and you have to climb a flight of stairs to get to it.  Taverne beim Griechen has a good sized bar area and a couple of big flat screen TVs are mounted on the walls.  There are a lot of tables available, making it less intimate or charming.  Still, the restaurant's interior is pleasant.  I can see how it would be popular with the sports bar crowd.  Smoking is allowed at the bar and I was reeking of it last night.

Bill waits for the waitress...

Pretty napkin fold.  Hadn't seen one done like this before.

The woman who waited on us was very pleasant.  I don't know if she spoke English, since Bill and I both used our elementary German skills when we ordered.  I did notice she said a couple of words in English to us, but they were as basic as our German is.  We'll have to go back to determine if she's bi or trilingual.  I won't mind doing that, because the food was fabulous!

We started with an obligatory shot of ouzo...

Bill had the Korfu Teller, which at 11 euros was gyros and suflaki with vegetable (tomato and pepper) rice and t'zaziki.

I had the dorade royale, which was 16 euros and came with vegetable rice and garlic sauce...

Both of these dishes were excellent.  The dorade in particular was beautifully done, grilled to perfection with moist flesh.  Bill was raving about it as he helped himself to some of my fish, which was more than I could eat!  I love dorade.  I discovered it during our first stay in Germany when we first tried Greek food because I wasn't sure I'd like t'zaziki and wasn't feeling brave.  Of course, now I love a good plate of gyros or suflaki, but in 2007, I was new to Greek food.  And now, when I see dorade on a menu, it really tempts me.

We enjoyed a couple of glasses of red wine and some mineral water.  At the meal's end, our waitress brought us a couple of more shots of ouzo.  She brought me a "cowardly" shot, which is basically a less alcoholic fruity liqueur typically presented to women.  It was kind of brownish and tasted like passionfruit last night, though I've had some that were blue or green.  I gave it to Bill and took his ouzo, since he was doing the driving.  The bill was about 45 euros.

I noticed a couple of people staring at us, probably because we obviously aren't regulars.  I have a feeling that Taverne beim Griechen mostly serves a very local clientele who both know how to find it and are close enough to walk to it.  

Taverne beim Griechen offers delicious food at a fair price, though Agais remains a favorite because I love visiting the people who own it.  Taverne beim Griechen is less intimate and charming than Agais is, though I think it might make a great venue for groups.  I can see why it's popular with the locals in the Jettingen area.  I have a feeling we'll be back.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A review of The Auld Rogue Irish Pub in Vaihingen, Stuttgart, Germany...

Bill and I went shopping today, which we often do on Sundays.  We decided to have some lunch and ended up in Vaihingen.  We stopped at The Auld Rogue Irish pub .  Our visit was a little bittersweet for us, since when we lived in a Vaihingen area hotel in 2007, we used to eat at that restaurant... only then, it was called Taverna Faros and served excellent Greek food.  One day in 2008, we came back there to find that the place had changed hands (at that point, it was a disco-- obviously that venture didn't last, either).  Rumor had it that the Greek guy who owned it hadn't paid his taxes and had to close.

Anyway, now it's an Irish pub and though we did have some great Greek food there back in the day, we were equally pleased by the Irish cuisine.  A sign outside offered spare ribs with BBQ sauce.  I think I should have ordered that instead of the bacon cheeseburgers Bill and I both had.  It's not that the sandwiches weren't good; it's just that I would have liked to have tried something other than what Bill was eating.  But I was craving a cheeseburger, so I gave in...

Bill enjoys a fabulous Guinness draft, served by a very cheerful Irish lass with a delightful lilting accent.

Cheeseburger with Irish bacon...  The chips were delicious!  We enjoyed ours with malt vinegar.

I thought the cheeseburger was pretty good, though I have had better.  For a restaurant in Germany, though, they did a good job.  The fries were to die for.  I noticed they had a number of different burgers and wraps as well as an Irish breakfast and fish and chips.  When we visit again, I will have to have the fish and chips.

Bill passed on a second beer, but our waitress could tell I wanted one...  Must have been the glint in my eye and the fact that I have lots of Scots-Irish blood...  Love the clover!

I could tell the place is popular with Americans.  In fact, I never heard the waitress or bartender speak German.  When we came in, we were greeted in English.  The service is fast and friendly and the waitress keeps track of your bill by writing on your coaster.  Though we didn't have dessert, one guy sitting near us did and it looked really yummy.

The bar offers whiskey/whisky tastings, quiz nights, live entertainment, and football games on TV.  The whiskey tastings looked especially interesting and were priced surprisingly well.  The next one is December 13th.  I noticed a sign urging patrons to book early.  I liked the Irish music that was playing, too.


The Auld Rogue is on the main drag going through Vaihingen and it would be tough to miss it.  We parked at the Schwaben Galerie, but there's also some street parking.  If you're in the mood for a little Irish style food and drink, I'd encourage you to drop by for a pint or two.  The bar is Irish owned and run and seems very authentic.  We found it a refreshing change of pace.

Dinner at Pizzeria da Piero in Jettingen...

Last night, Bill and I had dinner at a local pizzeria near our house in Jettingen (a town not too far from Nagold, southwest of Herrenberg).  Bill has picked up food there for us before, but this was our first time having a sit down meal.  They were very busy last night.  The parking lot was pretty packed.

Not the best photo... but that's what the outside looks like.

I forgot to take photos while we were eating.  (ETA: No, I didn't.  That wine must have been stronger than I realized.)  Bill and I were deep in discussion.  He had pasta with a salmon cream sauce.  I had cannelloni.  The portions were pretty large and we ended up taking about half of it home.  We also enjoyed a very nice bottle of wine.  In fact, Bill and I were very impressed by the wines that were offered.  The one we had last night was 13 euros, but the bartender served it like it was worth much more.

Yummy Italian food!

I liked the inside of the restaurant, which was dark and romantic.  It looked like they had a large covered porch that would probably be very handy during warmer weather months.  Service was very friendly and looked like there were a few kids enjoying dinner there, too.

Bill and I were amazed by the wine service.  The bartender brought out glasses for us along with a third glass for tasting the wine.  It was definitely unique.

I'm sure we will be back, since we can walk there from where we live.  Next time we go, I will take some photos (as usual).  I have a feeling that restaurant could end up being a favorite.  I can see that it already is with a number of the locals.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

New art!

The lady who's been doing the corks and canvases class here in Stuttgart is going back to the USA.  So I bought three of her paintings and hung them on my wall...

It's not actually so easy to hang stuff here in Germany, since the walls are made of concrete and are very hard.  I try to minimize holes when I hang stuff.  I know some people use things other than nails to hang pictures.  I mostly stick with the nails and try to get the holes right the first time.

I think the house we're in has seen a long line of tenants.  Still, we try to be careful and not leave any place we live worse off than it was when we moved in.  I am delighted to have something to look at on my walls, though, especially since I have paintings galore on the first floor.

I hope to collect some more artwork during our time here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A little traveling music, courtesy of Keb' Mo'...

Discovered this yesterday, though the song has been in my collection forever...

Who's up for a trip to France?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Repost of my Germanwings review...

I wrote this review on back in 2009, so some of the information is no longer accurate.  Still, I am going to repost it here for those who are thinking about a Germanwings flight, particularly if they wish to do a "blind booking".  At this point, I have done three blind bookings-- two since this review was posted.  I still think they are a blast, even if they aren't as good of a deal as they once were.

Europe beckons... German Wings delivers, even booking blind!

 Jan 19, 2009 (Updated May 29, 2012)
Review by   
Rated a Very Helpful Review

    Pros:Clean planes, professional staff, very reasonable fares and plenty of cities.

    Cons:Early flight time this morning... nothing is free or included. Flies into outlying airports.

    The Bottom Line: We're loving blind booking.  Can't wait to try it again!

    My husband Bill and I are temporarily living near Stuttgart, Germany and we want to see as much of Europe as we possibly can. While I tend to be kind of skeptical about the so-called discount airlines, my ears perked up last month when Bill introduced me to German Wings and their "blind booking" program. For 29.99 Euros per person, per direction, travelers can choose a theme and purchase flights from Stuttgart, Hannover, or Cologne, Germany. The catch? You don't know where you're going until you've paid. It sounded like a great deal to me, not to mention a blast. I was game for it.

    Bill and I accessed German Wings' Web site and decided we wanted to pick a flight from the grouping of cities called "Metropolis Westeurope". That group included Barcelona, Berlin, Hamburg, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Rome, and Vienna. Any one of those cities would have been okay with us, but had we wanted to, we could have paid an extra 2.5 euros per person and per direction to exclude one of them from the list. German Wings allows up to three exclusions and each one results in an additional five euro charge. We knew Bill would have a long weekend for Martin Luther King Day, so we plugged those dates into the database, put in our preferences, and paid using Bill's credit card. We ended up with a flight for two going to London! I must admit, it was pretty exciting to find out where we were going. Better yet, after taxes, our round trip flights cost us the equivalent of about $145.  That's $145 for two people.  I doubt we will ever get an equivalent deal flying from the States!

    Pack light!

    As I mentioned before, German Wings is a discount airline. That means it's strictly no frills and offers only "coach class" service. We were each allowed one bag at no more than 23 kilos. Carry on luggage is limited to 8 kilograms. Once you go over that limit, you're charged five euros per kilogram. Purses, umbrellas, and coats may be carried without any penalty. Bill usually packs light anyway, but I made an effort to economize on my luggage so that we wouldn't be charged.  I came in well under the limit.

    Check in

    We arrived at Stuttgart's airport and easily found the German Wings booth. A pleasant lady checked our passports, weighed our luggage, and issued us boarding passes. I was glad to see that German Wings has assigned seating, so Bill and I were able to sit with each other. Online check in is also available. We were on our way.

    The seats...

    Our flight to and from London's Stanstead Airport was on an Airbus 319 aircraft. The seats were pretty small and set up in a three by three configuration. Being quite a bit plumper than I'd like to be, I was relieved to find that I fit in the seat with no problem, although the seatbelt was fairly short. I was able to use it without an extender, but very large or tall people might find themselves quite cramped. Leg room is also in short supply.  Since Bill and I both have short legs, we weren't too bothered by that except for when we had to get in and out of our seats. People with long legs might have a very different experience.

    As it turned out, our flights to and from London were only about half full. We had a whole row to ourselves going both directions. I was glad to see that the plane was very clean on both flights.

    The staff

    All flight attendants on German Wings at least speak German (naturally) and English and all onboard announcements are done in German and English. The flight attendants on our flights were very professional and efficient. One even demonstrated a sense of humor... although she did so in German! In any case, we had no issues at all with any of the staff members we encountered.

    No frills!

    I can't stress enough that German Wings is a budget airline. That means no free drinks, no peanuts or crackers, and no free earphones, pillows, or blankets. However, food and drink, as well as a bizarre array of other items, are for sale on the aircraft. German Wings sells Coke products, beer, wine, prosecco, coffee, hot chocolate, tea, and a variety of juices, as well as sandwiches, candy, and chips. They also sell model German Wings planes, earphones, jewelery, and cologne.  Because German Wings is a discount airline, that means that it often flies into smaller airports further away from city centers.  London's Stanstead airport, for instance, is a 45 minute train ride on the Stanstead Express to and from London's Liverpool Station.  Coaches take even longer.

    The flight

    Right off the bat, we were happy to find that we had plenty of room on our flights because they were only about half full. No wonder German Wings is offering such deals! The 75 minute flight itself was basically very smooth and quiet. Both left on time. We did have a slight delay getting back to Germany because the Stuttgart airport was closed briefly due to freezing rain. However, that passed quickly and we landed safely after just a few minutes of circling.

    One drawback to "blind booking"

    The one thing Bill and I didn't like about our blind booking experience was that we ended up with a very early flight out of Stanstead. We flew out of England at 8:00am, and because Stanstead is located about 45 minutes by train from London, that meant we were up at an ungodly hour to make our flight. However, given how inexpensive and hassle free the experience was, we think having to rise early was a small price to pay. We liked the blind booking experience so much, we're already planning to do it again. Perhaps next time, we'll choose the Metropolis Easteurope grouping of cities, which would allow us to surprise book Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, Dresden, Katowice (near Krakow), Leipzig, Sarajevo, Warsaw, or Zagreb. Since we've already been to Dresden, we would just pay an extra 2.5 euros each per direction to exclude it from the list.

    Other information

    Although German Wings has hubs in Berlin, Stuttgart, Cologne, it flies to 67 cities throughout Europe. Not all cities are included in the "blind booking" fares and blind booking can only be accessed from Berlin, Cologne, or Stuttgart. Cologne seems to be German Wings' biggest hub.


    German Wings is not a luxury airline by any stretch, but we had a perfectly nice flight that was extremely cheap. This morning, a cabbie offered to drive us from our hotel to Stanstead Airport. The fare for that 45 minute trip would have likely been more expensive than the plane tickets! We left our flight today thinking that we'd have no problem using German Wings for as many short, European based flights as possible before we get sent back to America. If you need an inexpensive Europe based flight, I think you'd do well to check out German Wings... and if you just want to try blind booking, I'd recommend that too! It may be a gimmick, but it's definitely a fun gimmick!

    German Wings' Web site:

    Snarky exchanges online...

    I have to admit, when I was an Army wife, I wasn't all that good at the job.  I wasn't much into joining.  I wasn't much into helping.  I certainly wasn't that much into mingling.

    I find that now that I am a contractor's wife, I'm even less into those things.  When Bill and I found out we were coming to Stuttgart, I joined a few Facebook groups, most of which consisted of people in the Stuttgart community.  A lot of people in these groups are Americans and quite a few of them are military spouses who embrace the role with much zeal and fervor.

    This morning, a woman in one of the Facebook groups was upset because she was trying to get some yard work done yesterday and was ordered to stop by one of her neighbors.  Yesterday was a religious holiday, so people weren't supposed to be doing any yard work.  Not being Catholic, the lady wasn't aware that it was against the rules.  Complicating matters was the fact that this particular religious holiday, while significant, isn't universally celebrated in Germany.

    Now, when Bill and I first got to Germany, I happened to chat privately with the poster.  She is pretty unhappy in Germany and for good reason.  I still happen to like it here, but if I had been through the ordeals she's been dealing with, I'm sure I'd have a much different attitude.  So I understand completely why she was annoyed.  She did mention that she would soon be leaving.

    I think many Americans are taken aback by how confrontational some Germans are. It's not uncommon for random Germans to start yelling at us Yanks... or, at least to us, it seems like they are yelling.  Add in the fact that there is often a language barrier and things get kind of tricky.  Here was this lady minding her own business and trying to get some work done and she gets yelled at by a neighbor.  I don't blame her for being pissed.  I would have been, too-- even as I understand that rules are rules and it's best to try to go with the flow as much as possible.

    So anyway, we were happily discussing these idiosyncrasies of German style living when you are an American and we were soon joined by a very helpful woman who felt she needed to check us.  First, she chastised the original poster for having a bad attitude and insinuated that she was putting off bad vibes.  She bragged about how she goes out of her way to win over her German neighbors, elderly people who have nothing better to do than watch her comings and goings.  She leaves them treats on holidays and tries to charm them with her elementary German... as if neither I nor the original poster had tried to do those things ourselves (though personally, I don't think leaving edible treats for people, especially strangers, is all that wise).

    Then, further down the thread, when I mentioned that we have a neighbor who has made pointed, passive aggressive comments about my dogs, she suggested that I invest in bark collars for them.  She included a story about how a bark collar had worked for her dog and seemed to imply that her solution was the right one for me.

    Before I had a chance to respond, another poster said that she thought the anti bark collars were illegal here.  She said she had a friend who got caught using them and had to pay a stiff fine.  I added that I, too, had heard that they were illegal.  The all knower said that the ones that emit a noise and Citronella are not illegal and that I should get them for my dogs.  I am not a fan of bark collars, but I'm not going to chastise someone else for using them.  I said that I was glad that solution had worked so well for her.

    To a normal person, I would think that comment would signify that I had considered her suggestion and was done talking about it.  But no, she came back with another suggestion that I buy bark collars for Zane and Arran... the legal kind, mind you, that emit a noise and spray Citronella when dogs bark.  And then, to my dismay, she added that she knew that I was a responsible dog owner and wouldn't let my dogs get loose, even if I did use the illegal kind.  That way, the authorities wouldn't know that I was breaking the law and my neighbors would be happy.  In other words, in order to appease my cranky neighbor, I should be willing to break the law and use dog training devices that I disagree with.

    Aside from that, I didn't appreciate her patronizing comment about how she knows I'm a responsible dog owner.  The fact is, she doesn't know me from Adam.  Actually, Bill and I are very responsible dog owners.  Zane did get out one time since we've been here due to a delivery man not closing our front door after he brought us our washing machine.  It was an isolated incident and I immediately went out to retrieve him and was successful in less than an hour.  Accidents can happen to anyone.  I wouldn't assume that because my dog got out one time or that I have a neighbor who bitches about them barking that I'm irresponsible.  But evidently, that's what this person thought of me after reading a couple of posts.

    So I thought about it for a moment and wrote, "What a wonderful world it would be if some people would wear bark collars."  Then I signed off, because Bill and I needed to go shopping.

    I haven't gone back to read the responses, but I did notice that I got several "likes"...  I am not going to read the comments that followed mine because I'm already irritated enough and I think I made my point.  There's no need to add more fuel to the fire.

    First off, I don't need "schooling" by someone in the community about how to live in Germany and get along with others.  This is my second time here and my fourth time living abroad.  Moreover, I'm 42 years old and a former Peace Corps Volunteer.  Let me tell you, it's pretty impossible to come out of an experience like the Peace Corps and not have it drilled into your head that you need to be culturally sensitive, open-minded, and considerate to host country nationals.

    Secondly, I am literally with my dogs about 90% of the time.  The only time I'm not with them is on the weekends, when Bill and I run errands.  We are seldom gone for longer than four hours at a time.  When we leave town, we put our dogs in a hunde hotel rather than hire dog sitters.  Then they aren't home at all.

    I know their barking is not outside what the law allows.  They do bark if someone rings the doorbell or they see a cat or a stranger, but they never bark for more than a minute.  And on the rare occasions that we leave them alone in the house, we take them for a long walk to wear them out before we leave, lower the shades, and give them Kongs filled with peanut butter.  We never hear them making noise when we come home and, in fact, since we started giving them Kongs, they don't bark when we leave, either.  They are too busy enjoying their treats.

    I am not going to use a device on my dogs that is basically akin to a gag.  Dogs communicate by barking and my dogs, while occasionally loud, do not bark excessively.  How do I know?  Because I am with them all the time and I don't want to hear excessive barking either.  I wouldn't force a child to wear an anti-crying collar to appease my neighbors.  I won't do that to my dogs, either.  I think what we have is a cranky neighbor who just wants to complain and isn't brave enough to have a conversation with us.  Not yelling or chastising, you understand, but a respectful conversation.  If I had a dog who barked longer than a minute, maybe I might think about using an anti bark collar, but my dogs truly don't bark that much.

    Thirdly, while I am all for maintaining a good attitude and being a good citizen, I think that Americans have the right to expect similarly respectful behavior in return.  I try very hard not to annoy or inconvenience anyone.  I think I should expect similar consideration.  I know they won't always deliver, but I still think as a fellow human being, they can show me some respect and I'm not wrong or culturally insensitive to express dismay when I don't get it.

    And again, I don't need a busybody fellow American telling me how I should behave or chastising me for being annoyed or irritated when I run into or want to talk about certain situations.  I have the right to feel any way I want to.  If you want to try to explain to me why something seems odd or annoying, that's fine; but please don't tell me I'm wrong to feel or react a certain way.  It's not your place, especially since we don't know each other.  I wouldn't do it to you.  And really, how was I supposed to respond to her holier than thou "advice"?  Say "thank you Ma'am, may I have more?"  I think not.

    In any case, that's one thing I have noticed about some expat Americans.  They want to be "helpers" and offer unsolicited advice to people they think need to be set straight.  My thought is that we should try to treat people like adults and show them all respect.  It's a two way street.  If you want respect from me, act respectable.  I'll do my best to behave respectably, too.  

    Fortunately, it's still beautiful here...