Saturday, September 24, 2016

A gorgeous fall Saturday in Herrenberg!

We had absolutely beautiful weather today.  I told Bill I wanted to go out and do something.  We gave some thought to driving to Stuttgart, but I noticed the time.  It was about 1:00pm and I knew we wanted lunch.  Given that a lot of places stop serving lunch at 2:00pm, I suggested to Bill that we stop in Herrenberg.  We did... and we never made it out of Herrenberg today!  Read on to find out why...

We parked in a leafy parking area... 2 euros for 48 hours!

Both of our times in Germany, Bill and I have lived close to Herrenberg, a small city south of Stuttgart.  During our first time here, we lived near Tuebingen and spent more time there than in Herrenberg.  This time, we live near Nagold, and go there more often.  But Herrenberg has a whole lot going for it, as we found out today.  There are great restaurants and places to shop, as well as friendly people.

They were just finishing up the market when we arrived.  We decided to have lunch at Osteria da Gino's.  We have also been to a restaurant with the same name in Nagold several times-- this one in Herrenberg is different, but equally excellent.  Both times we've been in there, it's been very well attended.

Today was actually the first time Bill and I have ever eaten at the Osteria da Gino's in Herrenberg.  The first time we tried to, it was absolutely packed and we were turned away.  It was pretty busy today, too.  For that reason, it may be a good idea to make reservations if this review tempts you.

Obligatory shot of Bill.

The inside of Osteria da Gino's in Herrenberg is very quaint and smells delicious!  They have an impressive array of wines available.  We ordered a small carafe of primitivo and our usual sparkling water.  

Right now, Osteria da Gino is offering a number of dishes with black truffles from the Piedmont area of Italy, as well as fresh mussels.  I like mussels, but it's one of those dishes I only want maybe once a year.  We had them a few weeks ago in Belgium.  I opted for duck breast in a raspberry balsamic sauce with noodles and fresh vegetables.  I was glad I asked our waiter, who spoke English, what kind of vegetables came with this dish.  It turned out they were serving it with mushrooms!  But they kindly left them off for me.

My duck breast was delicious!  I think that pasta was homemade, too.

Beautiful fresh vegetables, delicately seasoned and still bright with color...  I wouldn't be surprised if they were very recently plucked from the garden.

Bill prepares to enjoy a very nice pasta dish with vegetables and black truffles.  Those truffles were very fragrant.

Lovely, quaint interior.  I noticed many people enjoying pizzas, which Gino in Nagold does not offer. The pizzas looked excellent.  Maybe next time we'll try them.

Bill and both loved our meals at Osteria da Gino's in Herrenberg.  No, it's not like the one in Nagold, which is a favorite place of ours, but it's probably just as good and offers different food.  We will definitely have to go back.  Today's lunch came to 52 euros before the tip.

Excellent location right by the main square in Herrenberg.  You can't miss it.

Cute little market on a corner.

After lunch, we decided we might try the little Irish pub in Herrenberg.  I had been curious about it for a long time.  But first, we stopped by a whisky store... and that turned out to be a VERY successful stop on many levels.  Alte Brennerei in Herrenberg sells wines, spirits, and a small selection of gourmet foods.  It reminds me a little bit of Vinum in Tuebingen, though it's a bit smaller.   I had seen it a few times on recent trips to Herrenberg, but we never seemed to get there when it was open.  Today, we were in luck.

The doors were open wide!

Unfortunately, we were too late to visit the cheese shop across from it, which also sells wine.

The cheese shop closed at 2:00...  The Alte Brennerei is open until 4:00.

We walked in and immediately heard a very tall German looking woman speaking perfect American accented English.  Then she switched to equally perfect German.  She was with a man and a child.  The man was clearly NOT American, but also spoke excellent English, as did the store's proprietor.  The English speaking German customers said the store had a great selection of scotch whiskys.  Bill and I concurred, having recently been on a whisky cruise.

I was impressed by the selection of wines, too.

It's not a big shop, but there are lots of interesting wines available from all over...

After we chose a few bottles, we went back to the whisky area.  Bill chose one to take home and we talked more with the English speaking Germans.  It turns out they live very close to us, in the town of Jettingen.  I asked the lady if she was American or German, because her English was so perfect I honestly couldn't tell.  It turned out she's German, but was raised in the United States.  And she lives right across the street from Tommi's Bistro, which is one of our favorite restaurants.  She gave me a card and told me to give her a call sometime.  She said she was happy to meet us because there aren't a lot of Americans where we are.  And she has a cute little daughter who needs to practice speaking English!  I don't mind, especially since she and her husband have good taste in booze!

After they left, we tried a Viognier and added it to our collection of bottles.  We chatted up the proprietor, who turned out to be an excellent business woman.  She really knew her whiskys and had also spent some time in Scotland.  She'd even visited a lot of the distilleries we've been to, including Kilchoman in Islay, which is a fairly new one.  She smiled when I told her the Scots are my people.  

I mentioned to her that I have a wine group on Facebook and she said that they would be very happy to arrange a wine or whisky tasting for groups of ten or more.  Alte Brennerei also hosts a number of events.  I picked up a calendar and hope we can make it to a few of them.  I have a feeling we could learn a lot there!  And, just so you know, they accept credit cards.  We used our USAA card with no issues.  

They even have Scottish cider.

After we dropped off our booze at the car, we headed for Shannon Irish Pub in Herrenberg.  And, let me just say, it's no Auld Rogue.  We arrived right after it opened at 3:00.  Not many people were there and German and American pop music blared from the speakers.  The bartender was German and spoke no English.  And there was no Guinness to be found.  What they did have was Murphy's Irish Stout, so that's what we had.

A couple of shots of the bar area.

Peanut butter "Flips"... definitely a German snack.  Though I can't complain because I like them.

Another part of the bar...

Service was friendly enough, and I noticed that the prices for the whiskys and whiskeys were reasonable.  It just didn't seem much like an Irish pub as much as it was a German bar trying to be Irish.  It's definitely not as charming or authentic as The Auld Rogue is.  And I was shocked that there was no Guinness!  That's crazy!  But, as bars go, it wasn't that bad...  Just don't expect authenticity.

The backside of the bar.

All in all, we had a great day.  We were reminded that we need to visit Herrenberg more often.  We usually just go there to take the dogs to the vet or pass through to get to Stuttgart.  It's a great town, though, with a lot to offer.  And Alte Brennerei is definitely a great find for those who like their booze.  Right next door to Alte Brennerei is the Gasthof Lamm, which is a great little restaurant where we had Thanksgiving last year.  Granted, it was German food, but it was cozy and cute and the food was good.

Herrenberg is a great little town.  It also seems to be the place to see and be seen.  Last time we were there, we ran into our neighbors from our first time in Germany (07-09) and they knew us right away.  This time, we ran into people who live in our town now!

Maybe tomorrow, we'll make it to Stuttgart.  


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

I just bought a dirndl of my very own...

I swore I wouldn't do it.  For four summers, I worked in the Germany section of Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Two of those summers, I wore hideous fake lederhosen that weren't really lederhosen as much as they were ugly culottes with shirts and suspenders.  The second year, they sewed all the suspenders to the shirts.  In a way, that was a good thing.  When the suspenders were loose, they'd catch on things.  I once got one caught on the yogurt machine that never worked in any of my four summers there.

Then, during my third year, the powers that be decided all the females should wear dirndls.  I didn't mind that at all.  For one thing, dirndls are fairly flattering, especially if you have big boobs, which I most certainly do.  For another thing, it was a lot easier to use the bathroom when we were wearing the dirndls.  The fake lederhosen culottes fastened in the back, which made dropping trou kind of awkward.  With the dirndl, all I had to do was hike up my skirt.  I wore shorts underneath so my thighs wouldn't rub all day and it was great.

After the summer of 1992, I thought I'd seen the last of my dirndl days.  Then, the other day, I got a wild hair up my ass and decided I wanted to have a dirndl of my own.  I do have German ancestry, even though it's buried under a lot of Scottish and English ancestry.  And we are planning to go to the fest next weekend.  Why the hell not?  Germans wear them.  Why can't I?  I must admit there was a fair amount of peer pressure from Facebook friends, too.

So yesterday, I ordered my dirndl and a blouse off, of all places.  I know I probably should have gone to a store; but I hate shopping in stores, especially for clothes.  And I saw one on Amazon that I absolutely loved, even though it was more expensive than a lot of the other ones I saw offered.  I based my German size on what I normally wear in America; then I went a size higher.  I figured it would be better if it was too big than too small.  Turns out the size I chose was just right, if not a little big, with just a little extra wiggle room for my boobs.  ETA: My German friend Susanne says many people buy dirndls smaller than their regular size, but I figure I'd rather have more room for beer.

My new German garb arrived today, just one day after I ordered it.  I must say, I am very pleased with it, even if I do wish I could wear a smaller size...

I should mention that some dirndls come with blouses and some don't.  My new dirndl was made by Krueger and the blouse was sold separately.  The apron came with the dirndl.  I thought about buying a matching sweater, but then realized I have a shawl in this color that will work fine.

I had to take these pictures myself... Maybe when Bill gets home, I'll have him take one so people can see how long it is.  The necklace is a Novica find that just arrived a couple of weeks ago!  I must say, it's perfect for this outfit!


A repost of my review of the Real Mary King's Close in Edinburgh...

Here's another Epinions review from 2012 that I'm trying to keep from obscurity.  I am reposting it for those who might be heading to Edinburgh, Scotland, which is one of my favorite places!  The information may no longer be up to date, but our experience will always be the same!

  • Exploring Edinburgh Underground... The Real Mary King's Close

    Review by knotheadusc
     in Books, Music, Hotels & Travel 
      December, 14 2012
  • Pros: Very interesting.  
    Cons: A bit campy.  Forced photo ops.
    Recently, my husband Bill and I took a trip to Scotland where we spent 16 nights exploring Glasgow, the western isles, and Edinburgh.  By the time we got to Edinburgh, the trip was winding down a bit.  Perhaps we should have spent some time wandering around Edinburgh Castle, but I was a bit castled out by then.  I ended up talking Bill into exploring The Real Mary King's Close instead.

    Who was Mary King and what is a close?

    If you visit Edinburgh and stroll along The Royal Mile, you'll see narrow alleyways with signs over them.  These alleyways are called "closes", because they were private properties that could be closed off from the main drag.  They were usually named after one of the more memorable occupants of apartments located within them.

    Mary King was a seamstress and businesswoman in the 17th century who was quite successful.  The close that is named after her is now a commercial tourist attraction that was opened to the public in April 2003.  Before it became a tourist attraction, it was the subject of many ghost stories and urban legends about the people who haunted it, having died there after suffering the plague in the 17th century.

    Visiting Mary King's Close

    Bill was thinking that Mary King's Close would be very campy and silly.  Nevertheless, given the mood I was in at the time, I decided I really wanted to see it.  So we showed up in the middle of the afternoon and signed up for the tour.  Adult tickets run 12.75 British pounds, while children between the ages of 5 and 15 pay 7.25.  Senior citizens and students (with ID) pay 11.25.  This attraction is not suitable for children under age 5.  Pre-booking is recommended, though we were able to just walk in.  Be mindful that the tours have different hours depending on the season.

    We were a bit early for the 2:00 tour, so we milled around the very well appointed gift shop.  Had we wanted to, we could have dined at the small outdoor cafe just outside the entrance.  I made myself comfortable using the public restrooms, mildly amused when an electronic voice yelled "Gar-de-loo!" when I flushed.

    Time for the tour

    We were in a group of 13 and a gentleman dressed in 17th century garb and acting as if he came from the 1600s gathered us together, asking if any of us suffered from asthma, claustrophobia, or any other medical condition that might make the tour dangerous or uncomfortable.  He told us he had a walkie talkie from "our time" that would allow him to call for help should it be needed.  Then he advised us that we were not allowed to take photos, though one would be taken of us that we could purchase if we wished.  I always hate the forced photo ops, mainly because I hate how I look in pictures and because I think it's tacky.

    The tour begins

    We descended down several flights of stairs that took us into the dark, dusty depths of Mary King's Close.  The guide put on his best act as a man from the 1600s, explaining how people of that time lived and holding a flashlight to prevent people from falling down on the uneven floors.

    We heard the story of a family afflicted with the plague and what was done if it was determined they had a chance of survival... and what was done if it was determined they were doomed.  We heard the story of Annie, a little girl who lived in the Close who lost her doll and supposedly still haunts the Close.  Thousands of people from around the world have left dolls for Annie and they are displayed in her room.  Our guide showed us a workshop that was operated as recently as the 19th century as well as the front of a house that was inhabited until the occupant basically had to be forced out.

    After about an hour, we were on our way back out of the Close, climbing the same stairs.  We had to wait a few minutes for another tour group to pass, and we spent this time in a small room with benches where the guide was available to answer questions.

    As we were leaving Mary King's Close, Bill said "I have to admit that was interesting."  And it was, though I will definitely admit it was very campy!


    Mary King's Close is a bit on the silly side, but this tour is based in history and I think it's worth doing once.  Yes, we probably should have toured the Castle, but I really needed something fun to take my mind off of the bad news we had gotten about our dog, MacGregor (who is still with us and doing better).  Mary King's Close fit the bill in that regard.  It was interesting.  On another note, having grown up near Williamsburg, Virginia, I'm always interested in history involving Britain or America during that time period.  I've toured Colonial Williamsburg several times, so it was kind of cool to get perspective of what was going on during the American Colonial period in Scotland.

    I give Mary King's Close four stars!

    For more information: 

My beloved SeaDream I caught on fire a few weeks ago...

And now I'm not so sure I'll ever get on the ship again.

The fire happened at about 2:00am on September 1st in Italy, off the coast of Calabria in the southern part of the country.  It was in the engine room.  105 passengers and 61 crew members were aboard and they weren't evacuated until the afternoon of the 2nd, perhaps twelve hours after the fire was extinguished.

I've been on SeaDream I three times.  The first time was in the Caribbean in April 2010 and it was my very first taste of luxury cruising.  I fell in love hard and fast, even though I got pretty seasick.  The second time was in the southern Caribbean in November 2011, in honor of our 9th wedding anniversary.  That cruise was also magical, though maybe not quite as much so as the first had been.  The third time was in Greece and Italy in 2013.  I would say that was the best of the three SeaDream cruises we've done, but we were not moved to pre-book another one.  With that, we lost momentum and haven't yet been back, though I have been shopping for possibilities.  I haven't been on SeaDream II yet, but it's pretty much an identical ship.

We took a Hebridean cruise this year because we live in Germany and it's somewhat convenient to get to Scotland from here.  They had a whisky themed cruise that I found easy to convince Bill to book.  They also gave us discounts that amounted to 15% off the fare.  We're doing another Hebridean cruise next year, because it's going to Northern Ireland, a place neither of us has ever been and, again, it was something we could afford.  Hopefully, we will still be in Germany at the time it sails, just under a year from now.

In any case, SeaDream I's fire has really messed things up for a number of people.  Because SeaDream I is currently out of commission, there's only one ship operating.  A decision was made to replace one of SeaDream II's upcoming cruises with an itinerary from SeaDream I's.  That means that people who were booked on SeaDream II are being bumped, mainly due to a large charter.

Now... while I totally understand why SeaDream made the decision it did-- purely for business-- I can't help but think I'd be pretty devastated if I were planning to be on SeaDream II's cruise and got bumped at the last minute.  This situation is one reason why I ALWAYS get travel insurance when I book a cruise.  It generally costs at least five figures to sail on SeaDream.  A last minute change like this, even though it's due to a fire, can really result in the loss of a lot of money.  It's also kind of heartbreaking.  I always look forward to my cruises with SeaDream and I would be crushed by a sudden cancellation.

As for the hapless passengers who were on the ship when it caught fire, it sounds like they went through quite a scary ordeal.  They were on the disabled ship for about twelve hours before they were removed.  Given that it was an emergency situation, I doubt the prosecco was flowing... but who knows?

I will admit that another reason why I hesitate to book SeaDream again is that I've been overdosing on Below Deck, Bravo TV's show about crews on luxury charter yachts.  It's kind of spoiled the mystique for me, because it's very clear that what they do is all about getting a big tip.  SeaDream has a loosely enforced no tipping policy, but Hebridean's policy is very strict.  They explain that tipping can lead to embarrassment, so it's not allowed at all.  I have no problem with tipping, as long as I know what to expect ahead of time and can be prepared.  On SeaDream, it's not expected or required, but people do it anyway-- or they contribute to the "crew fund".  I prefer to just pay a lot ahead of time and not have to worry about it.

So... anyway, I think if we try a different cruise line, it may be time to give Seabourn a chance.  Or maybe we'll try Azamara, where apparently a lot of former SeaDream crew members have gone.  I have a friend I met on a SeaDream cruise who has defected to Azamara.  On the other hand, both of those options mean bigger crowds on the ship.  But they also mean nicer staterooms and, perhaps, more to do than drinking and sunbathing!  We also really want to try barge cruising or maybe even a river cruise, although river cruises might be a little too geriatric for us at this point.

We'll see.  There are so many great cruises to choose from, we really can't go wrong...

Captured on SeaDream I...  Amalfi coast of Italy.

And an enchanting shot off of Hebridean...  leaving Tarbert Castle.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Drinking at a fake German beach and eating at a real German restaurant...

Several months ago, Bill and I were in the charming city of Nagold when I noticed what looked like a fake German beach.  It had sand, beach chairs, umbrellas, tables, and a large bar area.  Summer was coming and obviously this was meant to resemble a beach bar for landlocked beach loving southern Germans.  At the time I noticed it, I made a mental note to come back and try the fake beach bar.  We finally made it to Anker Beach yesterday afternoon.  It happened to be Anker Beach's last day of operation.  From what I could tell on their Facebook page, though Anker Beach has been in Nagold for four summers, it will not be back next year.

Before we visited the "beach", I used the ladies room at the nearby Edeka and noticed that the soap dispenser has handy instructions on how a person might properly wash his or her hands.  I wonder how many people have actually paid attention to these directions helpfully laid out in diagrams. 

It was kind of an overcast afternoon and the temperatures were a bit cooler than they have been recently.  Bill and I took a seat on cushionless outdoor couches and started enjoying the last day of the Anker Beach Bar in Nagold...

As you can see, it wasn't flooded with people right away...

There were lots of dirty ashtrays, too.

But we still enjoyed ourselves.

This was the drink menu.  I don't think they had everything available.  You could order whole bottles of vodka or gin if you wanted, albeit at steep prices.

After some time, more people started showing up.

I finally tried an Aperol spritz.  It reminded me of fizzy orange Kool-Aid.

This next drink was very good... and very, very potent.  I'm pretty sure the bartender was unloading the last of his booze.  

All in all, though, the strandbar was a bit sad yesterday.  

We finally left as the sun was starting to sink.

Apparently, "beach bars" are a thing in Germany during the summer.  There's also one in Sindelfingen at Breuningerland.  

We thought about having dinner at our old friend Gino's restaurant, but Gino wasn't open last night.  So we went to a different restaurant instead, one we hadn't tried before.  It was called Burg.  The food turned out to be very good.  

Bill checks out the menu...  He had salmon and I had trout.

My trout came with this salad, which was very fresh and delicious.  Bill and I shared it.

This trout was sinfully delicious.  It tasted like it had come straight from the river and was cooked in butter.  The potatoes were also excellent.  I couldn't finish all of this, but I wanted to.  I love fresh fish!

Bill was happy with his Scottish salmon, though I think he liked my trout better.  The salmon came with rice and simply prepared vegetables...

And naturally, we paired our fish with a lovely Pinot Grigio from the wine list.

This was dessert...  It was a digestive that tasted of earth after a good spring rain.  However, I probably should have had plain water.  Yesterday was a very boozy day for me.

And this was Bill's dessert, the creamy sabayon of the house.  Sabayon is a light Italian mousse/custard.   It was delicious.

The menu outside.

I could see they had a nice looking biergarten, though it wasn't open yesterday.

Nagold is such a pretty town, even at night.

The lady who waited on us was very friendly and offered excellent service.  We felt very welcome at Burg and would happily go back, especially now that the weather is cooling down.  The food at Burg is traditionally German, so it will stick to your ribs.  I also liked the charming interior of Burg.  There are lots of adorable eckbank groups in there.

Perhaps today, I will enjoy the rain and bum around as the weather turns into fall.