Thursday, March 30, 2017

Staycationing in Stuttgart #2... Sting... live in concert!

At just past five o'clock, my sweet husband, Bill, came back to the hotel to pick me up for the concert.  He had decided ahead of time that we'd take a cab to the Porsche Arena.  He didn't want to have to worry about transportation.  There is an U Bahn stop near the venue, but apparently getting there from where we were staying would have been logistically challenging, especially later in the evening.  So the good folks at the hotel called us a cab and we got to the Porsche Arena at a little after 6:00.

I was shocked by the number of people who were standing outside the venue, many of whom appeared to be teenagers.  I had no idea that there was another show going on and most of the kids were headed to that one.

Bill and I decided to eat at the restaurant/bar at the Porsche Arena.  It was a place called Grandls, and it appeared to me that there are several locations in the area.  The restaurant was not very busy when we arrived, but business picked up quickly after we sat down.  Grandls seems to be more of a bar than a restaurant.  The menu is limited to just a few choices.  Bill and I both had hefeweizens and potato soup with wurst, bacon, and bread.  At six euros a bowl, it was cheap and filling.

Waiting for soup.

This was a nice dinner.

While we were eating, we ran into another American couple we know from the area.  The male half we know from beer tastings!  I always get a kick out of running into people.

I was a bit worried about how obnoxious the concert was going to be.  As I mentioned before, I am not a fan of big crowds and would probably sooner watch a DVD than sit in a concert hall.  However, I will go on record as saying that I was pleasantly surprised by the Porsche Arena.  It wasn't too big and people were basically well-behaved.  We had good seats, so it wasn't hard to see Sting, his son Joe, and The Last Bandoleros, a great band from San Antonio, Texas who are joining Sting on this tour.  Since our last American home was in San Antonio, it was especially great to be introduced to Sting's warm up act, who joined him throughout the entire concert, along with Sting's own band.

Maybe a half hour before the show started...

As you can see, it was eventually packed.

I noticed everybody and their brother was recording bits of the show.  I didn't do that myself because I'd rather actually watch the person I came to see than the screen on my phone.  I did see one security guy gently ask one guy to stop recording.  Other than that, they weren't very strict about taping at all. That may have something to do with the fact that Sting's son, Joe Sumner (who looks and sounds a lot like his dad), actually started a business after he noticed how many video clips of concerts were on YouTube.  He calls his business Vyclone; it's an app that allows fans to turn clips from concerts into collaborations with other fans.  The software takes clips from multiple users and assembles them into videos showing multiple angles.

I took one picture.

Joe Sumner sang a few of his original songs and I was astonished by how much he sounds like dear old dad, both in terms of his vocals and his guitar playing.  However, I wasn't as impressed with his songwriting as I am with Sting's.  In any case, it was interesting to see and hear him.  I take heart in knowing that he's only four years younger than I am.  He put on a good show.  I especially enjoyed his cover of David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes".

I really enjoyed The Last Bandoleros, which has a great roadhouse sound.  This band from San Antonio employs lush harmonies that reminded me a little bit of The Eagles.  However, I was particularly impressed by a couple of members of the band who really stood out.  Jerry Fuentes sang a mean lead vocal, was incredibly energetic and engaging, and played wicked guitar.  I was also impressed by Percy, whose last name I didn't catch.  He played "squeezebox" (accordion) like a master as he danced around the stage.  He reminded me of Verdine White of Earth, Wind, & Fire, the way he was working the crowd.  And I liked the way Sting used Percy's squeezebox on songs that originally used different instrumentation.  For instance, Percy played a lovely solo on "Fields of Gold" that gave the song a different feel.  I think The Last Bandoleros are going places.  I downloaded their EP and it will get some spins in my house.

Not from last night's show, but they did do this song last night.  Percy is in the video, but seems less animated in it.

I could tell the The Last Bandoleros is a band used to seeing concertgoers dancing.  Well, I'm here to tell you that the German crowd last night was fairly subdued.  They were enjoying the show for sure, but there wasn't much room for them to boogie down in the "stehplatz".  They were packed in like sardines!  Moreover, I have noticed at most of the concerts I've attended here that Germans tend to be well behaved and reserved at shows.  As a matter of fact, I kind of like that about them.  I still have vivid memories of the last James Taylor show I went to where Bill and I were forced to endure two drunk women who stood up the whole time.  They were swaying side to side as they sang loudly (and terribly) to James's songs.  I'm an even bigger James Taylor fan than I am a Sting fan, so that was extremely irritating!  Other than a few folks coming in after the lights were down and trying to find their seats, the folks at Sting's show were very considerate.

Sting was very generous in letting the other acts perform.  He also collaborated with them quite a bit and didn't skimp on playing himself.  I got the sense that Sting lives to perform.  It's probably a big rush for him to sing in front of a crowd (and as a singer myself, I can relate).  The show went on for a solid three hours with three encores.  They played a nice mix of classics by The Police, along with some of Sting's best loved solo hits and songs from his latest album, 57th & 9th.  I would like to add that 57th & 9th is probably my favorite album by Sting since 1999's Brand New Day.  But the beauty of Sting is that he and his music are always evolving and you never know what you're going to get.  I loved that Sting dedicated his new song, "One Fine Day", to Donald Trump.  It was very fitting.

After the show was over, Bill and I were heading out of the venue and I noticed a couple of Germans clapping.  Too late, I noticed that two of the guys from The Last Bandoleros were standing by the t-shirt counter, one of which was Percy.  I wish I'd stopped to say hi and thank them for a great show.  I want to give a shout out to Dominic and Rufus Miller, Sting's father and son guitar players...  They were superb!

Bill and I started walking in search of a cab.  We were among many Germans also searching for transportation or walking home and I felt totally safe, as I almost always do in Germany.  But I was starting to get annoyed with Bill, because we seemed to be walking in the wrong direction and making no progress in scoring a cab.  It was late and we were both tired.  So I finally stopped at a Shell station and asked Bill to use his phone to call a taxi.  Bill was stubborn at first, but I reminded him that it's easier for a cab to pull into the Shell station than off on the side of the busy road.

He finally went into the station and one of the guys working there very kindly helped us out by calling a cab.  While we were waiting, we saw a couple of people eyeing the booze for sale in the convenience store.  The cashier helpfully told them that no alcohol could be sold after 10:00pm.  That was a surprise to me, especially since we saw a couple of people with a big grocery cart full of booze waiting to catch people leaving the venue.  I think they were selling it.

We got back to the hotel shortly before midnight and soon crashed into slumber.  I was really glad we decided to stay in Stuttgart rather than trying to drive home.  We would have gotten in very late.  I think, from now on, when we go to concerts downtown, we'll just stay there... as long as Max can take the dogs.

This morning, we got up early, had breakfast, checked out, and now I'm at home waiting for Bill to get home with the dogs.  I think if we go to another show at the Porsche Arena, we may stay in a hotel closer to the venue.  But, all in all, we enjoyed our second staycation at the Wald Hotel.  I can see why people like it so much that it's a top performer on Trip Advisor.  I would definitely recommend it, especially to people who like comfortable hotels and don't mind paying a bit more.  And I am glad I finally got to see Sting play live.  He's still looking and sounding great and the show was well worth the extra euros we paid for it.  I hope to see him again sometime.  And I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for The Last Bandoleros, too.

Staycationing in Stuttgart #2... the Fernsehturm and lunch at Luftbad Restaurant Der Grieche im Grünen

Wednesday morning, Bill had to go to work.  Because of the shower's window, which lets the light from the bathroom flood into the bedroom, I was wide awake with him when he rose before the sun.  This is actually a pretty normal thing for us, though.  I used to be a late sleeper, but since I married a soldier, I've gotten used to waking up at the asscrack of dawn.

Anyway, neither of us slept well.  It was in part because the room was a little too warm and partly because a certain monthly annoyance kept me getting up to go to the bathroom all night.  Consequently, we were both still somewhat tired when we went to breakfast.  The Wald Hotel's breakfast is expensive, but it's quite expansive.  They have everything from breads, cold cuts, and cheeses to hot items like eggs, sausage, and bacon.  They even have sparkling wine for those who want it.  We enjoyed a nice breakfast with some strong coffee, then Bill went to work.  I considered going back to bed, but sleep eluded me.  I did some writing instead.

At about 10:30am, I realized I needed to vacate the room so it could be cleaned.  I got dressed and took a walk to the nearby Fernsehturm (the TV tower).  I went to the top of the tower last July, but we had pretty yucky weather that day.  It was actually very cold up there!  Yesterday's weather, by contrast, was much nicer.  I decided to go up and get some pictures of Stuttgart while the sun was shining.  It also gave me a chance to break in my new camera a bit more.  The pictures immediately below were taken with my iPhone.

As we were waiting for the elevator to take us up the tower, a lady was telling me about how the TV Tower had recently been closed.  She had been expecting more people there yesterday.  Then she took a look at me without my jacket and admonished me because she figured I was going to get cold.  Surprisingly (even to myself), I wasn't cold yesterday.  I was when I visited in July.

I loved this little plaque around the whole walking area, showing where the different suburbs of Stuttgart and major cities in Germany and Europe are.  I like that they put these things in places where there's a big view.  Seems to me they have this at Hohenzollern and the Tree Walk, too.

I took this photo with the zoom lens.  This tower actually pretty far south from the TV Tower.  I just wanted to see how close I could get with a zoom lens.

There are several restaurants near the TV Tower and the Wald Hotel.  I decided to go to the Luftbad Restaurant Der Grieche im Grünen, which I went to the last time we stayed at the Wald Hotel.  In retrospect, I should have tried a different place.  But I always feel awkward when I'm dining alone.  This particular restaurant offers Greek and German food.

I took a seat at one of the many empty tables.

Ordered myself a Paulaner hefeweizen...

And I ordered gyros with t'zatziki,  which came with the salad above...  I kind of liked the lack of lettuce.

The gyros were pretty good, although I've had better in other restaurants.  I did like the red pepper relish that came with them, although they did double billing with the t'zatzki.  This was 14,50 euros.

After a leisurely lunch outside, I pondered having another beer.  But clouds were coming and it was getting cooler.  I decided to pay the check and head back to the hotel to wait for Bill.  If we stay at the Wald Hotel again, I will make a point of trying a different restaurant for lunch.  There are several to choose from in the area.

Stuttgart is pretty nice when you have a bird's eye view.

Part 4

Staycationing in Stuttgart #2... the Wald Hotel and Finch Restaurant

Tuesday, March 28, 2017 was a day Bill and I had looked forward to for months.  On the 29th, we would both see Sting perform in concert at the Porsche Arena.  On the 28th, we'd have a lovely meal at a hotel restaurant called Finch.

Early that morning, Bill took our dogs, Zane and Arran, to Max at Dog Holiday.  In the afternoon, Bill came home early from work.  We packed our bags and headed toward Stuttgart.  As it turned out, we had appointments to get our teeth cleaned that day.  We made the appointments last fall, before we even knew Sting was coming to town.  When Bill found the appointment card in his coat pocket, he gave some thought to rescheduling.  But then I reminded him that we'd be in Stuttgart anyway and might as well kill two birds with one stone.  So our staycation began with getting our teeth cleaned.

After we visited Dr. Blair downtown, we headed to the Wald Hotel, which is located in a sports complex very close to the TV tower (Fernsehturm).  We were quickly and professionally checked in and given room 309.  The room was familiar, since it was much like the one we had last summer.

Comfortable bed with duvets rather than sheets and blankets.

A small sofa with a table and complementary beverages in the mini bar (beer, water, and apple schorle).

The view from our balcony.

And the balcony itself.

Fabulous rainfall shower.  Unfortunately, there is a window that faces into the room, so if someone showers early in the morning, the whole room ends up illuminated.

After we dropped off our bags and got cleaned up, we headed to the hotel's bar. Wald Hotel has a very nice bar area manned by an Italian gentleman.  Bill recognized him from our last visit, after he made us excellent martinis.  This time, we asked for gin and tonics, which he made with Hendrick's gin and garnished with cucumbers.  Refreshed by the cocktails, we decided to enjoy some dry red Italian wine while we waited for our reservation.

A very nice gin and tonic.

Bill enjoys a rare cocktail.  He usually drives, so he doesn't often get cocktails in bars.

Yes, we killed this bottle of wine.

At 7:30, we went to Finch and were seated in a beautiful window booth that offered a lot of privacy.  The booth was big enough to seat six people, so we had plenty of room.  Our server was very professional.  When Bill spoke German, she responded in German.  And then she graciously asked if we'd like menus in English.  We took her up on the offer.

Really nice booth at Finch.

And this gorgeous window in our booth... it was all ours.

The amuse.  I think this was chicken with basil pesto.  It was very good.  We also had very fresh bread with salted butter and harissa spread that was supposedly a little spicy... by German standards, anyway.

I ordered the shrimp tempura as a starter.  This was a delightful beginning to the meal.  The shrimp were lightly coated in crispy tempura batter, served with a tiny salad with berries, mangos, and a delicious dressing.  However, I was especially excited with the male waiter who brought my dish used an old fashioned atomizer to spray port on the shrimp.  He beamed at me when I blurted out, "Oh, I love that!"  This dish was pricy at 19,50, but it was still very good.  I actually liked it more than my main course.

Bill had the game consomme, which consisted of oxtail cannelloni and sherry.  I didn't taste it, but Bill said he liked it.  At just 10.50, it wasn't as costly as my starter.

I had the beef tenderloin as my main course.  It came with Savoyarde potatoes, green asparagus, and Madeira.  I think they also sneaked in some mushrooms.  Fortunately, the wine we had before dinner dulled my senses enough that I wasn't totally creeped out.  Bill tasted what I thought were mushrooms and said they tasted like bok choy.  I'll take his word for it.  The beef was extremely tender and the asparagus and potatoes were excellent.  I just wish that other ingredient had been mentioned.

Bill had butter glazed venison loin, which came with hazelnut spaetzle and braised chicory.  I don't usually eat venison, but I tried Bill's dish and I think I think I preferred it to mine.  If we had eaten at Finch a second time, I might have gone for the venison.  It was very good.

We usually order a bottle of wine to go with our fancier meals...  ah hell, who am I kidding?  We order it whether our meals are fancy or not.  This time, we decided to have wines by the glass.  I had a glass of locally produced sekt.  Then Bill and I both had malbec to go with our main courses.

As you can see, Bill *hated* the venison.... NOT!  I always enjoy seeing him eat game.  He's got Arkansan roots and likes things like deer, rabbit, and the wild boar.  My choices are usually more pedestrian.

For dessert, I had the white chocolate and mascarpone cheesecake, which came with cherry Jello and a cherry sorbet.  I'm not really sure what the "juice" was next to the sorbet.  It was good.

Bill loved his dessert, the Wald Hotel Classic baked French brioche, which came with apple compote and vanilla sauce.

Finch offers a fairly good selection of choices on its menu.  If I had wanted to, I could have had fish or a German styled delicacy like schnitzel.  There were also options for vegans and vegetarians, although I did not see a children's menu.  But, to be honest, I don't really think the Wald Hotel is really that suitable for kids, anyway.  It's a very elegant hotel that seems more geared to business people and those who like peace and quiet.

I did think the prices at Finch were somewhat high, but that could be because I've gotten used to eating out here in the hinterlands.  Also, though the prices were high, portions were generous.  My filet was especially big for what it was.

If we stay at the Wald Hotel again, we wouldn't mind another dinner at Finch.  On the other hand, the hotel is close to a few other places I'm still dying to try.  So we'll see...  For now, I'll offer my recommendation of Finch, especially if you're staying in the hotel.  It doesn't disappoint.