Thursday, February 22, 2018

European pet friendly lodging I have known...


Zane on a road trip to Belgium!


Arran begging for a belly rub.

Sometimes I get inspiration for blog posts from people in local Facebook groups who have a need.  I think the many travel bloggers in the Stuttgart area each offer different things to our readers.  I don't have children, so generally speaking, I'm not the one to come to for advice on where to take your kids.  However, I do love good food, wine and beer, unique places that are off the beaten track, and, most importantly, pet friendly lodging.

We didn't used to take our dogs on our trips.  When we lived in Germany the first time, we had Flea and MacGregor, two high maintenance beagles that didn't travel well.  Flea would get car sick.  MacGregor was deathly afraid of people he didn't know.  Both of them barked incessantly.  MacGregor would also howl when we left them alone.  In those days, we'd take them to Hunde Hotel Haase, which was at the time being run by a woman named Kirsten.  Kirsten was awesome, and she took great care of our dogs.  Unfortunately, sometime in the five years between our Germany tours, Kirsten left, and took the Hunde Hotel's good reputation with her.  I started hearing some very disturbing stories about dogs who were left there.

We started using Dog Holiday for our current dogs, Zane and Arran.  Dog Holiday is great, but it's frequently booked, especially on holiday weekends.  When we want to take a dog free break, we book Zane and Arran at Dog Holiday months or even as far as a year in advance.  Since we don't know how long we'll be in Germany, that can be problematic as well.

In 2016, we decided to start taking the dogs with us on our trips.  We started with a one night experiment in Riquewihr, which is a lovely French town in Alsace, not too far from Stuttgart.  Although Zane and Arran had stayed in hotels before, we decided it was time we trained them to be good in hotels.  I booked us a deluxe room at Best Western Le Schoenenbourg.  Although the dogs weren't on their absolute best behavior, the trip was a success.  We even managed to enjoy a delicious gourmet meal in Riquewihr with our dogs in tow!  After that victory, I started looking for other pet friendly accommodations.  I've found some good ones, which I am sharing in this post.

Before I get started, I want to list my criteria for booking pet friendly accommodations.  First, I look for parking-- particularly free parking.  That's because we don't take our dogs on trains, at least not yet.  We have to have a place to park our SUV.  Next, I look for free WiFi because I'm addicted to the Internet, but also because you never know when you'll need to find an emergency vet or something.  And finally, I try to book places that don't charge pet fees.  It's not that I don't want to pay pet fees or that I don't think property owners are right to be concerned about pets staying in their rentals.  It's more because I've found that people who don't charge for pets tend to be less nervous and/or anal retentive about having them in their rentals.  I prefer to rent from people who like my dogs rather than just tolerate them.

So here goes with my list of nine pet friendly properties we've enjoyed so far.  The first link you encounter for the listings will be to the property itself, and the second will be to my first blog post about our experiences there.  That way, people who just want to book don't have to wade through my posts if they don't want to.  They are not ranked in any particular order.

 1.  Best Western Hotel Le Schoenenberg in Riquewihr, France

This will be the only hotel listed in this post.  I am mentioning Hotel Le Schoenenberg because they were exceptionally pet friendly.  When we checked into our deluxe room (the only one they had left), we found it outfitted for our dogs' arrival.  They had included pet bowls and treats for Zane and Arran and they were super understanding when my dogs started baying on the way downstairs.  My one concern about this hotel is that it's pretty pricey.  We paid just under 200 euros for one night with breakfast.  However, we were also in a suite and it was during the high season.  Also, I don't think you need more than a couple of days to see all of Riquewihr, although there is much to see in the surrounding areas.



Hotel Le Schoenenberg was very welcoming to our dogs!

2.  Chalet Montana in Barvaux, Belgium

We booked Chalet Montana in Barvaux, Belgium for Labor Day weekend 2016.  I found this house on Booking.com.  It was larger than what we needed and kind of pricey, but it has the distinction of being our very first experience renting a vacation home.  I see on Booking.com that Chalet Montana *may* charge for pets, but I don't think they charged us when we stayed there.  There are two master bedrooms with two trundle beds.  Bring your own linens.

This property is near the charming town of Durbuy and within range of towns like Rochefort, Bastogne, and Dinant.  We visited each of those towns while we were in Barvaux.  I was particularly enchanted by Dinant, which is where Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone, was born.  We found the area very dog friendly and the house itself is very nice and extremely kid friendly.  Additionally, it boasts a still water hot tub (fueled by a fire that you have to build) and a sauna.  There's an adventure park in the area, as well as golfing.  We also found great beer and good restaurants nearby.


Apparently, Durbuy has a problem with human stealth shitters.  However, we never encountered human poop and, in fact, thought the area was lovely!  It smelled good, too. 

3.  Villa Moretta in Domaso, Italy

You'd rather head south for a trip to Italy?  I can't blame you for that.  We found Villa Moretta in Domaso, Italy on Booking.com and stayed there for Memorial Day weekend.  I notice that the name has changed since our stay.  In May of last year, it was called Casa Oliva di Domaso.  I don't know if that means the place has new owners, although I note that when we stayed there, there were no pet charges and now it looks like they *may* charge for pets.

The owner was doing work on an apartment on the first floor during our stay.   It looks like he's now offering two apartments, one of which is one bedroom and the other is two bedrooms.  In any case, the two room apartment was pet friendly when we stayed there and offered stunning views of Lake Como, as well as access to some great Italian food.  I will warn that this apartment requires walking up steps for access because it's situated on a hillside.  Also, there is one tiny parking space that was a challenge for Bill to fit our small SUV.  However, I have very fond memories of Domaso and would love to go back!  It's a very chilled out town, perfect for relaxing and dog walking.


View from a trail going up the hillside.


I loved the donkey!


Watching storm clouds roll in from the balcony.
    
4.  Vila Verunka in Senec, Czech Republic

We stayed at Vila Verunka in Senec, Czech Republic just last weekend.  It's a little two room house on the edge of a forest, located in a residential suburb of Plzen.  This house features pet friendly floors and a large, fenced in yard.  The owners are very nice and did not charge us extra for Zane and Arran.  Also, this accommodation was extremely inexpensive.  For three nights, we paid 288 euros.  The one caveat is that the tap water is not potable.  It's fine for washing and watering your dogs, but not for human consumption.  The owners didn't explain why, except to say that the house isn't hooked up to city water.  My guess is that they use a cistern to supply water to the house.  Drinking bottled water is no big deal for us, but I thought it best to mention it.  There's a swing set in the yard for your kids and the house is set far enough away from other properties that noise from dogs is less of a problem.

Plzen is a great place for beer lovers, as well as aviation lovers.  There is a huge, unique Air Park near the house that offers a rare chance to look at Cold War era airplanes, tanks, helicopters, and missiles.  Also, Plzen has a zoo and several museums for Cold War history buffs.  It's a city that has a special fondness for America, which is evident in its street names.


Zane was very much at home at Vila Verunka!

5.  Gîtes de la Maison Vigneronne in Ribeauvillé, France

This property is probably my favorite dog friendly property on this list.  In 2017, Bill and I stayed at Yannick's "wine house" three times!  The three links in the description lead to my series about each stay, all of which have been fun for us and the dogs.  Yannick names his apartments after different wine grapes.  So far we've stayed in Pinot Noir (one bedroom) once and Riesling (three bedrooms) twice.  Four apartments are in his wine house and the other two are located in a building on the main drag through town.  I have actually seen all but two of the apartments.  I have a feeling Yannick is counting on me to pitch them to my American friends in Germany.

I can vouch for how dog friendly Yannick's apartments are.  He doesn't charge extra for pets and welcomes ours whole-heartedly, even bringing them treats.  While we did encounter a cranky neighbor on our last visit, by and large, the people in Ribeauville are very dog friendly.  It's a super cute town with several great restaurants and shopping opportunities, as well as free parking.  It's also a great place to go wine tasting and visit other cute little towns in the vicinity.  We like Ribeauville more than Colmar and Riquewihr because it offers a nice balance between touristy and homey.  Also, it's a relatively short and pretty drive from Stuttgart.  I don't know when we'll be back to Ribeauville, but I'm happy to share the wealth with those who want to go.


Zane loves Yannick's Riesling apartment, too.

6.  Holiday Home Bonjour Clara in Alveringem, Belgium

Are you interested in being close to a beach?  Like good Belgian beer?  Have a big group?  You might want to consider Holiday Home Bonjour Clara in Alveringem.  This large old house is located in a rural area about a half an hour from the North Sea.  It takes about nine hours to get to Alveringem from Stuttgart, but you pass through a few beer towns to get to it.  Bonjour Clara has four bedrooms and is usually rented to crowds.  We paid 760 euros in cash for four nights, which we thought was very reasonable given how many people can stay there.  Besides being close to the beach, this house is within driving distance of Ghent and Bruges.  There's a dairy farm next door, where you can buy fresh milk, and the hostess, Marianne, has chickens that provide fresh eggs.  We really enjoyed this property in Belgium with its huge kitchen and swimming pond.  I wouldn't mind a return trip.


This beach is maybe thirty minutes away.


The boys in the kitchen.


Bill enjoys the pond.


7.  Hexagonal Tower for Two in Semur-en-Auxois, France

I'm adding the Hexagonal Tower for Two, although this property is probably the least pet friendly on my list.  First of all, the owner did charge us for Zane and Arran.  I think it was 20 euros or so, but I'm not absolutely certain of the exact amount.  Secondly, this house is strictly for two people.  Although it's pet friendly, it would be best if your pet was on the small side.  Why?  Because it's a tiny house.  However, it's also a very cool place to stay.  The owners are a British woman and her French husband, who is a master stone mason.  They built this cool tower a few years ago so they could host guests.  For two people, it's probably the perfect size.  For more than two people, it's a squeeze.  However, the town of Semur-en-Auxois, situated in Burgundy, is a very quaint, French town surrounded by more quaint French towns.  The area is absolutely beautiful!  If you need a break from Germany, it's a great place to be.


Look how cute the town is!


This is about the size of the downstairs room.  Note no handrail on the steps, which could be a problem if you have small kids.  My dogs were leery of it.


The tower!  For couples only!

8.  Gite de la Maison Bleue in Saint Marcelin de Cray, France

This is another one of my favorite pet friendly spots so far.  Located in Burgundy, a bit further south of Semur-en-Auxois, is Gite de la Maison Bleue, a beautiful old farmhouse in Saint Marcelin de Cray.  The owners of this property run a snail and rabbit farm and they have lots of friendly animals, including a spunky donkey named Antoine.  When Zane and Arran barked at Antoine and his friend, the Friesian horse, Antoine brayed right back at them.  It was hilarious!  Not only is this property beautiful, the owners are also very nice and accommodating, especially to our dogs, who were made very welcome.  It was no problem at all if the dogs pooped in the yard since there were pigs, llamas, alpacas, sheep, rabbits, geese, snails, and other dogs there.  I am dying to go back to this area, too, since it's in the heart of wine country and, quite honestly, offers a look at "the real France".  Cluny is a nearby town where you can shop, eat good food, and mingle with the locals.  There's also an interesting abbey open for tours.


This tower is part of the rental property and offers a great view from the top.


Antoine the donkey!


View from the balcony.


Zane and Arran are feeling at home.


Of all the pet friendly rentals we've tried so far, I think Anno 1499 in Rothenburg ob der Tauber may have impressed me the most.  This house was not only dirt cheap to rent, it had every comfort you could want.  Located on the main street into the walled city, this house had two full bathrooms, two bedrooms with double beds as well as a crib and daybed, and a full kitchen.  The owner works across the street and was super friendly and welcoming to Zane and Arran.  There were no extra charges for them.  She also showed us where we could park for free.  We had an absolutely trouble free stay at this house.  I'm probably going to be sorry I shared it!


The house!


Tower in a walled city.

So there you have it... nine places Bill and I have taken the dogs and had a good enough time that we'd book again.  Actually, I'm not sure I'd book the Hexagonal Tower again with the dogs, but I would for just Bill and me.  If your dog doesn't have to sleep with you and is pretty small, it would be okay.  For us, it wasn't quite enough space.  However, we loved the town and enjoyed our hosts.  

I hope this list is helpful for those of you who are seeking pet friendly digs while you're in Europe.  I will keep searching for new places and will probably write a sequel when I have another good sized list of pet friendly accommodations.  Happy traveling!


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Cheap thrills in the Czech Republic! Ten things I learned!

Every time I go somewhere, I like to make a list of ten things I learned on my trip.  The Czech Republic is no exception!  Here goes!


In Cesky Krumlov...  another place I need to see again.  I climbed this tower, too.  Phew!

10.  It helps to speak some German if you go to the Czech Republic.

A lot of younger people do speak some English, but you'll find it's not as prevalent there as it is in other western European countries.  Bill and I have noticed that a lot of people speak German and some speak more German than English.  So, if you've been trying to come up with a reason to try harder to learn German, that's one right there.  It might help you communicate better in the Czech Republic.

9.  It's still super cheap to visit the Czech Republic!

Although it's in the EU and its economy has picked up in recent years, the Czech Republic still has its own currency.  And it's still really a cheap to visit this country.  For our three nights in a rented house, food, gas, and beer, we spent about $635.  And we didn't economize.  If you're looking for cheap and work at it, you can really score a bargain by visiting the Czech Republic.  However, if you want to save money when changing money, don't go to a Wechselstube.  Visit a bank or ATM instead.

8.  There's a lot to do in the Czech Republic... so much so that you may have trouble choosing.

Especially if you like beer, which Bill and I do.  You will have plenty of breweries to tour, beers to taste, and even some to soak in it if you are so inclined!  But if beer isn't your thing, you can still visit churches, museums, zoos, and take tours of other historical sites.

7.  If you are an aviation or military buff, you should try to visit the Air Park in Zruc-Senec.

For about five bucks a head, you and your buddies can walk around a very cool museum where there are tanks, airplanes, helicopters, and the like.  In the summer, there are guided tours, though in the winter, you are less likely to encounter crowds.  The museum has been open since 1993 by a father and son and is continually expanding.

6.  I love garlic soup!

Garlic soup is a Czech treat and it supposedly cures hangovers.  That's a win for me.  I would also imagine it's great for when you're sick with a cold or flu.

5.  Parking is cheap or even free.

I was surprised to find out that parking at Pilsner Urquell is free.  The nearby parking garage, which is within walking distance, is super cheap and secure.  It also has clean bathrooms that are free to use.

4.  I'm still fit enough to climb 301 stairs and not collapse.

Self explanatory.

3.  It's okay to do yard work on Sundays.

This is only a surprise if you've lived in Germany for awhile.  I'll probably go through another culture shock when we move back to the States someday.

2.  What Czech cities lack in aesthetics, they make up for in heart.

I'll admit my first impressions of Plzen after a nine year break were kind of negative.  It's an industrial city and there are lots of factories belching filth into the sky.  There are lots of ugly communist era buildings.  There's plenty of trash and pollution that we don't necessarily see in Germany or France.  However, once I was there and mingling, I realized that Plzen has sort of a scrappy charm that appealed to me.  I noticed the ugly factories less and focused on the older architecture, the delicious food and beer, and the warmth of the people, who were welcoming and kind, especially to our wallets!

*Note- Prague doesn't count as lacking in aesthetics.  It's still a beautiful city!  And cheap, too!

1.  I want to go back... soon!

There are still parts of the Czech Republic I want to discover.  High on the list is Brno, which I hear is an undiscovered and unspoiled gem.  I've heard it's even cooler than Prague is, which is a tall order indeed.  If we stay here long enough and run out of places to see, maybe we'll do a Czech tour of sorts.  I think that could be a fascinating trip!


Five Petalled Rose Festival in Cesky Krumlov, back in 2008.  That is a great time to visit the medieval town, because people dress for the occasion!  This festival takes place in June.




Cheap thrills in the Czech Republic! Part six

We woke to sunshine and slightly warmer temperatures on Sunday morning.  I was glad to see it.  After breakfast and a walk with the dogs, we started to plan our day.  We were about to leave for Plzen when Bill looked out the window and noticed a couple of guys doing yard work, blocking the gate to the yard.  I guess it's not a problem to do yard work in the Czech Republic on Sundays.  They were done soon enough, so we headed back to Plzen, parking in the same garage we used on Saturday.  Bill discovered a handy footbridge from the garage to the other side of the street.  Like I said in an earlier posts, things are surprisingly civilized in the Czech Republic these days.



Cathedral of St. Bartholomew.

We wandered around the Main Square in Plzen and I noticed people were climbing the tower at St. Bartholomew's Cathedral.  I am in piss poor physical shape these days, but somehow I can't resist climbing a tower, even if I'm sore for days afterwards.  So that's what Bill and I decided to do.  We walked up 301 steep, narrow steps to get to the highest point in Plzen and the highest church spire in the Czech Republic itself.




I paused to take pictures of the bells... and catch my breath.

It costs 50 Czech crowns to torture oneself in this manner.  You pay at a station about a third of the way up.  Once you get to the top, you are treated to views of the city, which can be exhilarating, depressing, or terrifying, depending on your point of view.


Yes... it's a very steep climb!  There are pictures of the views from the top at the bottom of this post.

I found it harder and scarier to go down than to come up the stairs.  Yes, climbing the stairs up was harder work and got me more winded, but coming down was really scary.  You're already tired from the climb up and the steps are really narrow and steep.  I found myself holding on to the bannisters for dear life as I slowly made my way down each step, praying I didn't miss one and take a fall.

On the way down the tower, we ran into a couple of police officers.  I wondered why they were going up there-- although they did look pretty fit.  Bill said maybe they were taking a "break".  Or perhaps they were checking for snipers?  I don't know.  If I had to walk up those steps every day, I have no doubt I'd be in shape in no time.  However, two days later, I'm still a bit sore and the climb itself was kind of hard on my knees.  I'm glad I did it once, but I'm not sure I want to do it again!

Just as an aside about Czech cops... I happened to catch a TV show that appeared to be inspired by our own Cops TV show in the United States.  Although I didn't understand anything that was being said, it was interesting to watch how Czech police officers handle their arrestees.  I noticed the guys being arrested were cuffed, put in the back seat, and strapped in with a seatbelt.  The cops didn't bother buckling up.  Somehow, I figure the seatbelt was used less for safety reasons and more for security.  Or maybe they don't wear seatbelts because they need to be able to react quickly.  Who knows?  Personally, I hate the damn things, but if I don't wear mine, Bill turns into Pat Boone.  Besides, cars today are like nannies and will beep at you incessantly if you don't use them.







Inside the cathedral.

After the tower experience, we walked into the cathedral.  Supposedly, you have to pay to see it, but I never saw anyone collecting money for admission.  Anyway, there's a gate at the front of the cathedral, so you can only peek in there.  I'm not sure it's worth the 35 Czech crowns they supposedly collect for that.  I did manage to get a few photos.

Then we went searching for lunch.  I thought we might try Buddha, an Indian and Nepalese restaurant I noticed near the Brewery Museum.  It smelled delicious and they had an English menu.  I also knew Bill would get a thrill because he loves Indian food and I don't.  Alas, they were closed on Sunday, despite their sign signifying otherwise.  Oh well.  If we go back to Plzen, we'll have to try it.  It gets great reviews on TripAdvisor.  Even without the reviews, my nose told me it was a good place to eat.

It was okay that we missed Buddha, though, because I found another fabulous restaurant.  I had actually noticed it as we walked into town.  I am naturally attracted to alcoves when we travel.  I like to explore things that aren't on the main drags.  This restaurant was actually on the main drag, but had its entrance in an alcove.  Called U Makicke Brany, the outside of the restaurant looks distinctly Eastern European.  The inside is very inviting, with cavernous ceilings and an upscale bar area.  I was especially attracted by the great music they were playing... lots of classic rock!  Good music, excellent beer, and delicious food is an invitation for me to pig out, which is exactly what I did.


Bill looks at the menu.

U Makicke Brany offers menus with German and English translations, which was a huge help.  I can often figure things out in local languages, but Czech is a mystery to me.  Our waitress and the bartender also spoke English and/or German, which was also helpful.  Actually, speaking some German is useful in the Czech Republic, because even if someone can't speak English, chances are they will know some German.  I have noticed it on all of our visits.  Bill can speak basic conversational German and it does come in handy when we go to the Czech Republic.  


I loved the bar!


And the beer...


But I especially loved the garlic soup!

As we were looking at the menu, I noticed the restaurant offered garlic soup, which is apparently a popular hangover cure in the Czech Republic.  I noticed the Brewery Museum restaurant also had it on the menu.  I was intrigued by the ingredients, which looked really good to me.  There was garlic, potatoes, barley, bacon, and croutons.  It sounded perfect for cold weather.  But I also knew I wanted dessert and I knew the main course would also fill me up.  Thankfully, Bill was happy to order it with two spoons.  Our waitress was adorable and beamed when I enthused about that soup.  I think she and the bartender had some chemistry going on.  I noticed they seemed to be enjoying each other's company.


This garlic soup was delicious!  I need to find a recipe.  It wasn't too garlicky, but had just enough of an essence.  The croutons tasted homemade and buttery, which really added to the comfort level of the soup.  It smelled amazing, too.  


Bill sensibly followed up with a chicken Caesar salad.  It also had bacon in it.  Bacon makes everything better, right?


I went with smoked duck breast and gravy.  I told you, I love duck... even though they are so cute and cuddly.  I wish my tastebuds hadn't evolved before my ethics did.  The duck came with baked potato discs that absorbed the gravy in a most appealing way.  Or course, I was thinking to myself that green vegetables had been missing from my diet while we were in the Czech Republic.  I'll have to make up for that this week.



For dessert, we shared cheesecake with blueberry sauce.  This was just the right size.  Not too big, heavy, or rich.


And I had one more dark beer for the road... a Master, which packed a good punch.  Between us, we had five beers, a bowl of soup, a salad, an entree, and dessert.  It set us back less than $40.  Cheap!




A few shots of the outside.  In the summer, they also have outdoor seating.


I noticed the street name as we waited to cross the street.










Views of Plzen on a sunny day.



Inside the tower as I recover from the climb.

We decided to go back to the dogs and watch more of the Olympics, since by the time we were finished with our sumptuous lunch, it was mid afternoon.  Once again, we were too full to go looking for dinner.  Instead, we had more croquettes.  Even as I was cursing myself for being so lazy on this trip, I realized that with better planning, we could really fill our days up in this part of the Czech Republic.  Not only is there Plzen, which in and of itself offers a lot to do, there's also Karlovy Vary, which is a beautiful spa town, and of course, Chodova Plana, which offers Chodovar.  If we'd wanted to, we could have spent a week and not done the same thing twice.  Maybe that's why we didn't go out as much as we should have.  There were so many choices that we were overwhelmed with making decisions.

Bill and I mostly stay low key on our trips, anyway.  We kind of like to soak up the atmosphere, people watch, and do the odd activity, sandwiched with good food, beer, or wine.  We also love meeting new people on our trips.  We almost always have something interesting happen to us, if only because we're less focused on seeing things and more attuned to simple experiences.

Sunday night, Bill discovered where he could find Chodovar beer in Plzen.  It was available at Billa, a grocery chain in the Czech Republic.  On Monday morning, as we were leaving Plzen, we drove to a really seedy looking part of the city, complete with communist era apartment buildings.  I remarked that it will take a long time before those vestiges of communism will go away.  Those buildings are ugly, but functional.  I used to live in a couple of them myself, when I lived in Armenia.


I enjoyed a Chodovar last night!

Bill scored seven bottles of Chodovar and a few bottles of the awesome flavored sparkling water from there.  I found myself planning another trip in my head.  Next time, maybe we'll return to Chodovar, which offers a good centralized location for notable cities in the area.  Maybe we'll spend a few more days, just wandering the beautiful countryside, touring breweries, and hitting the spas.  That's the life for me!


Those buildings aren't going away...

Next up... my usual ten things I learned post.