The Schwanen
(September 28 - October 4, 1999)

Unfortunately, I can't seem to find photos from this trip, so I'll put them up at a future date if we come across them.

Diane and I are the end of the sixth week of an 8 week trip to Germany and England.  So, you might ask, where are all the travelogues?  I don't think I have a good answer for that.  Writer's block?  ;-)  Actually, this has been a less than exciting trip, and certainly nothing like our previous trips, especially 'Vacation with Mom'.  Maybe this trip back to a place we just visited while on vacation in August was anti-climactic.  You know, been there, done that, ho hum, back again.  Good grief, are we spoiled, or what?

We arrived in Stuttgart on Tuesday, September 28 after an overnight flight from Atlanta.  We checked into the same Marriott hotel in Sindelfingen.  Christa was there when we arrived and laughed and said, "See, I told you that you would be back".  I responded to her that we were "home".  They really treat us great in that Marriott.  The entire front desk is friendly and helpful, not just to Diane and me because they know us, but to our entire team of five folks who stayed there for this trip.  The team this time was made up of Tuan (a
Vietnamese colleague from Endicott, NY), Rodney (from Boston), and Carol (from Winnipeg) who was the team leader for this audit. 

This hotel used to be a Ramada up to January 1 of 1999.  The switch to Marriott hasn't been without growing pains, especially with the company they contracted with to do their housekeeping.  It became sort of a joke as to just how many towels and face cloths were left on any given day.  It seems like the cleaning folks don't have a checklist and sometimes would leave one, or two, or three, but never the same number.

One of the first places we went to eat was one of the Italian restaurants in town.  I'm a pretty adventurous eater, but I should have just stuck with a bowl of pasta that night.  They didn't have English menus, so everything was in German and Italian.  I thought I was getting a nice mix of seafood prepared Italian style.  It turned out to be such a platter, but I didn't expect to get prawns that looked at me while I tore their heads off, plus whole sardines.  That wasn't the best Italian meal I had ever eaten.

On Friday of that first week, Tuan, Diane, and I went to Herrenberg to eat at the Schwanen (remember venison goulash?).  The IBM building we were in was cool, but I didn't particularly feel all that bad even though I had chills on Thursday and Friday.  However, I knew that something wasn't right when I couldn't finish my venison goulash and mug of Oberndorfer beer.  As the meal progressed, all I wanted to do was to go home and go to bed.  I can tell when I have fever and, sure enough, when I got back to the hotel and took my
temperature..... fever ..... about 100.5.  Just enough to make me not want to do anything.  I rarely get fever, but when I do and it gets up around 101-102, I just want to die.  Luckily, whatever this was ended up to be short term.  I crashed for about 12 hours, got up Saturday morning, went to breakfast with Diane, and then crashed again for most of the day.  By late afternoon I was much better.

There is a marketplatz in Sindelfingen and the Hamburger Fischmarkt was set up that weekend.  No, they didn't sell hamburgers at a fish market.  It was actually a traveling version of an outdoor market that is based in Hamburg.  The attraction is fresh foods, beer, bratwurst, clothing, music, etc, as well as the give and take of some of the vendors who taunt each other over microphones.  Too bad we didn't understand German because there was much laughter.  I did have a couple of bratwurst and beers, and I bought some CDs of traditional German music, what I call oompah music.  I wanted one or two CDs, but the guy held up two boxes, each of which contained three CDs.  I didn't need that many CDs of oompah music, but the price was right.  I figured we'd do something with the extra box.  It turned out that Tuan liked the music, too, so he bought one of the boxes.

On Sunday, Tuan, Diane, and I (Rodney had gone back to the USA for a long weekend and Carol was doing her own thing) went to Stuttgart although it was a dreary day.  I had been to Germany several times, but never made it into Stuttgart.  Too bad.  It was an enjoyable day and there was more to see than we had time.  Oh well, maybe another time.

All in all, not a very exciting first week and weekend.  This is a different team mix.  Since I was off the first half of the year doing Y2K audits with folks not on my regular team, I had missed that we hired four new folks on my regular team.  Tuan and Rodney were two of them and I was just meeting them for the first time.  I think they weren't sure about joining me and Diane for dinner, although we always asked.  So Diane and I ate by ourselves most of the first week.  That changed after Rodney and Tuan realized that we liked the company and it wasn't an intrusion to go along with us.

The second week came and went quickly.  It was Diane's turn to get ill the second weekend.  We're pretty sure something she had at the Indian restaurant we ate in on Friday night didn't agree with her, most likely the two mango shakes.  In any case, she was pretty much down for the count on Saturday, so we stayed in the hotel as she slept a lot that day.  We had one day left from our Eurail pass we bought for vacation in August and had planned to use it for a day trip to Strasbourg, France.  But Sunday came and Diane was still feeling pretty badly and couldn't make it out of bed early enough to catch the train, so we stuck around the hotel on Sunday, too.  As I said, it has been unlike any of our prior trips.

The third weekend arrived and, FINALLY, a GREAT weekend.  We drove to Switzerland to visit our friends Peter and Yoko and, of course, Naoko, who is getting to be quite the talker.  We got there in time for dinner on Friday evening.  I finally got to meet Peter's mom after knowing him for six years.  It seemed like every time I visited, his folks were out of town.  They are retired and do a lot of traveling, including a six month cruise around the world.  What a magnificent adventure.  I'm sure Diane and I would have no problem doing something like that except, of course, the cost.  I still haven't met his dad because he was at a tennis tournament in Zurich that night.

We had a nice meal.  Peter and Yoko have been trying to get Naoko to say our names, but she wouldn't do it when we were there in August.  She was a bit warmer to us this time as she probably figured that if we came back, we must be OK.  Finally, she said 'Rich', but she just couldn't get herself to say 'Diane'.  Those of you that know Diane know that she drinks a lot of Coke.  This fact did not go unnoticed by Naoko.  Out of the blue, Naoko referred to Diane as 'Cokey'.  We all cracked up at that one.  She is a real cutey.

We went to a restaurant on Saturday that we had eaten at with Peter and Yoko years earlier.  You would never think to look for a restaurant out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by pastures and cows with cowbells ringing constantly.  But the place was packed.  It specialized in pork dishes and they were delicious.

On Sunday morning, we went to Einsiedeln for brunch to the same restaurant we went to in August.  It was a pretty nice day, so we decided to walk around the grounds and up the hill behind the monastery.  The view was dramatically different than when we were there in August.  Much cooler, leaves changing color, horses with blankets on them.  Any way you cut it, still a spectacular view.  I love visiting that town.  So peaceful and quiet up on that hill looking down on the huge monastery and the town.

We drove back to Sindelfingen on Sunday afternoon, probably in record time, as I covered the 225 KM (about 150 miles) in 2 hours 20 minutes.  That's around 64 mph average and included non-autobahn roads.  Long stretches at 100-110 mph, and cars were PASSING ME like I was standing still.  It was nice to have a great weekend before ending our stay in Germany.

We were also able to once again visit with our friends Manfred and Brigitte.  One evening we went to Waldblick's Restaurant in Hildrizhausen, and a few days before we left, they invited us to their home for dinner.  It is always interesting, and a pleasure, to chat with them because they are warm people and have great travel stories.  Mostly, they follow different sports events.  They were to the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics, and already had tickets for 11 events in Sydney in 2000.  They went to a soccer game in Munich between Germany and Turkey (we watched some of it on TV and it ended up in a tie), and they were going to attend the men's tennis tournament in Stuttgart that was starting the weekend we left.  We also joked with them about not saying good-bye, but saying until next time.  The two visits with them were most enjoyable.

One of our favorite places to eat was the Schwanen and we ate there three times.  The first time was with Tuan.  The second time was with Rodney and Tuan.  We had to go there again because Rodney wasn't around the first time and he was drooling to taste the venison goulash.  We went there in the third week and Rodney ordered the goulash.  He not only loved it, we think he inhaled it.  He decided this was the best restaurant in the world (but that changes from time to time).  At least for this visit, it was the best.  You need to have a
picture of Rodney.  He is BIG.  Actually, he is HUGE.  I don't mean fat huge, I mean HUGE huge.  He is around 6'6", give or take an inch, and somewhere around 250 pounds, give or take a few pounds.  One Saturday, Rodney, Diane and I went for a drive in the Black Forest and we ended up in Pforzheim for the day.  I'm always attracted to street performers and locked onto a 1 man band for a while to take some video.  I saw Rodney and Diane chatting off to the side and got them in my viewfinder.  It was incredible to see Diane standing next to Rodney.  She looked like a dwarf.  I don't think I've been so close, for so long, to someone that tall and big.  But as they say, he's really a pussycat and easygoing guy.  I wondered if the 'mustard people' of Buenos Aires would have dared to approach us if Rodney was along.  He's new to the group, and to IBM (only 23 years old) so he may get to find out during his tour in Audit.

As we finished our meal at the Schwanen, I told the lady who waited on us, who owns the place with her husband (the chef), that we would be there only one more week and then leave.  She remembered Diane and me from August because she remembered the small 'oma' (grandma) who was with us (my mom).  She must have misunderstood because she had her husband come out to say good-bye to us.  We were ready to walk out the door when he called us back and insisted (it didn't take much) that we share a glass of local brandy, the best in the area he said.  So we did.  It was a nice gesture and we appreciated the attention.

Well, as things would have it, we decided we needed to go back there on one of our last evenings for one more meal, most likely venison goulash.  We picked up a fifth person for this visit, Sam who was there working for the week.  I explained to the owner that this time it really was our last visit because we were leaving on Saturday.  We had paid the bill and the waitress (not the owner) told us to wait.  Out she came with five local desserts prepared by the chef.  A local favorite we were told.  It was vanilla ice cream and a locally grown plum-like fruit.  Both owners came to see us and say good-bye (and have a good life, as the chef said).  We all walked away feeling real good about how we were received and treated each time we ate ate THE SCHWANEN, clearly one of the best restaurants in the world.  :-)

The fourth, and final, week ended.  Even though we did not get to do as much as we usually do during a 4 week trip to a location, it was still fun.  We had some fun meals with Tuan and Rodney.  Once again, we said good-bye to Christa and her front desk staff.  But this time Christa said we are not going to say 'good-bye', but 'until next time'.  She asked about my mom when we arrived and, as were saying so long, she said to say hello to my mom and tell her she needs a boyfriend.  Uh huh.  Right. 

I'm not sure when, if ever, we will return to Sindelfingen, but it will always remain in our memories as a great place to visit.  The beauty of the area, the friendliness of the people, the entire ambiance.

It was time to fly to England for the final four weeks of this 8-weeker.

Until next time.

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