Hotel-Pension im Klosterring

The Joint

Familie Lutz
Klosterring 3
78050 Villingen-Schwenningen

phone: +49 7721-8994-0
fax: +49 7721-8994-50

http://www.hotel-pension-im-klosterring.de/

Cliff

This place would have been just what we were looking for at the end of our road trip had it not been for the advertised WLAN connection that didn’t work (or at least didn’t provide a signal all the way up to the 3rd floor, where our room was). It was quiet and cheap and convenient to get to. The breakfast the next morning offered a nice spread of the usual items, too. We stayed there for 62 Euros total and quite enjoyed the water pressure in the shower (you can’t always count on good water pressure in European hotels — especially smaller, family-operated ones like this). No kidding, it works!

Sarah

This was our last stop on a road trip and I made the reservation the morning we set out for Villingen. The bar was set pretty low, since this was a last minute arrangement: clean room with shower and WLAN. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. The folks here were nice, the location is alright, but the room was very lackluster. I think the disappointment mainly came from the fact that Villingen was completely DEAD. It was Saturday night and there was no one out in the city center at ALL. Because of that, we ended up back at the serviceable-yet-boring B&B pretty early.

France — le nez n’est pas haut!

Part of the reason France hasn’t been high on my list of places to visit since we moved to Europe two years ago was its reputation for rudeness to foreigners (I admit it — I prejudged…sorry France). We certainly haven’t seen any of that this trip. Sarah explained to me that I was confusing Paris with the rest of the country (we haven’t seen any of Paris this trip, either). Here’s where we’ve been (note that these route depictions are not necessarily the actual routes we took):

Leg 1 – Regensburg, Germany to Evian-les-Bains, France. The navigation system in our rental car rental car in Chamonix in the French Alpsmisled us a bit, until we figured out that it was trying to save us some tolls by routing us through Stuttgart. We came to the conclusion that navigation systems are great for getting to exact addresses when you’re already pretty close and just want to zero in, but for general city-to-city or inter-regional navigation, you’re probably better off just looking at the map. Driving through Switzerland was really anti-climactic. That just shows how little we know about the country’s geography. france_ascension_2006_003We’d expected glorious alpine splendor on the route between Bern and Zürich and found the drive to be pleasant, but not exciting. Not at all like what was in store for us as we approached Geneva. We stayed a delightful place called Hotel Les Cygnes — click that link to see our review of it. Sarah scored a real find here. Charming, elegant, and cheap.

Leg 2 – Evian-les-Bains to Chamonix. Lots of narrow mountain passes and switchbacks galore. france_ascension_2006_017Previous experience with the BMW 3-series made us thankful that we never got high enough to encounter any snow (Hi, Mom). But our ears popped more times that we could count, going up, down and around towns like Annemasse and Bonneville. Chamonix turned out to be a cute little ski resort town. france_ascension_2006_008Chamonix, France According to Frommer’s, it’s not recommended for beginners or timid intermediate skiers, so it may be a while before we return (by contrast, Les Houches right nearby should be great). Still, it was cute. Check out especially the pic with the flowers.

Leg 3 – Chamonix to Avignon. Have you been to the seat of the papacy? We have, sort of. france_ascension_2006_022Avignon was the HQ of the Roman Catholic church for about seventy years in the 1300s. After the papacy returned to Rome, the grounds were even used at times as military barracks! The night we arrived, we strolled around the old walled city, thankful to get away from our horrid hotel and happy to stretch our legs a bit. We happened upon a great restaurant and had a fantastic North African meal (spot the trend of Good Eats *á France*?). Note for future reference: trying to park here made us *irrité*. We had a great audio tour of the grounds before heading further south.

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Leg 4 – Avignon to Marseilles. You can really tell when you’ve left the French Alps and have entered another region; in this case the Riviera. The greenery changes and the breezes are warmer. We popped down from Avignon to Marseilles just for lunch because we could. It was a nice day, we had a nice car and a tank of gas at our disposal, so we said, “why not?” — and we are sure glad we did. Frommer’s led us to a fabulous restaurant in the *Port Vieux* of Marseilles where Sarah had the best beef ever and we both really enjoyed our *sorbets maison* for dessert.

Leg 5 – Marseilles to Lyon. The next leg took us back up North a ways to France’s second largest city. We stayed in a somewhat fancier hotel one night, found dinner by strolling around and left the next morning. We weren’t quite sure if we were all travelled out, or could stand another night on the road. In the end, we decided to do a drive through the *Schwarzwald* and stayed one night in Villingen.

Leg 6 – Lyon, France to Villingen, Germany. Villingen? Cute town, but with no night life whatsoever we could detect. Seriously, this place was **dead** last Saturday night. We managed to find a couple of open restaurants. At the one we chose, we sat inside a giant beer barrel turned on its side and had a couple of Schnitzels (I had a *Zigeuner*, Sarah went with the traditional). Our hotel was just fine (nice and cheap), but I was annoyed that the WLAN connection advertised on the web wasn’t functional. That was the major reason we decided to go with that place. Still, the room was clean and the price was low, and best of all, the shower was nice and powerful.

Leg 7 – Villingen to Regensburg. Had a pretty nice drive home this morning from Villingen. There were a couple of traffic accidents (caused most likely by Bavarians returning home from a long weekend) which caused some delays, but once we got back into Bavaria, it was smooth sailing.

All in all — great trip. Great planning by Sarah, great luck on the parts we didn’t plan, and great fun being on a road trip again. A parting gem:

Ee-ee-ee-oh-oh-oh-ah-ah-ah!

Ynitial G&G

The Joint

14 Rue du Palais Grillet
69002 2ème Arrondissement
Lyon
France

Cliff

I had almost the same thing that Sarah did, but adding rosemary-seasoned beef to the bowl of vegetables bumped the price up about 10 EUR (no joke).

It was quite good, but I felt like I overpaid. I am sure that wasn’t 10 EUR worth of beef — even at restaurant prices — differentiating her dish from mine.

Sarah

Another discovery made by just tooling around. Small, vaguely Asian and fairly inexpensive. I had the red curry mixed vegetables (baby corn, chickpeas, red onion, broccoli, etc.), which were nicely spicy, very tasty and quite cheap (about €5,50). The decor inside was very modern and sleek — slate slab walls and floors, subtle pendant lamps, black chairs and tables – but we sat outside to enjoy the breeze and, hopefully, avoid choking on second-hand smoke. Service was fairly fast and discreet.

Hotel Beaux Arts

The Joint

73-75 rue President
Edouard Herriot
69002 LYON
FRANCE

Cliff

Personally, I found nothing remarkable about this place. I was wiped out from the long drive and was just happy to have a place to lay down and sleep. I wasn’t tired enough to overlook the price though — this place ain’t cheap. But I guess that this chain is known for that.

Sarah

Pricier than I would have liked (€90/night), but the facilities were pretty nice. Decor isn’t all that great, but the location is outstanding. The room was HUGE by European standards (generous by American), the bed was very comfortable and the bathroom was clean and well arranged. Breakfast buffet the next morning was nicely varied in a quiet room. Only problem – there is no designated parking for guests. That meant that we had to park in one of the downtown public lots and pay overnight rates to get our car out the next day (which actually was about half as much as we thought it would be). Not terribly inconvenient, but a little frustrating when trying to actually get out of the car and into the hotel. Overall, it was a good experience.

L’Oliveraie

The Joint

10 Place aux Huiles
13001 1er Arrondissement
Marseille, France

Cliff

france_ascension_2006_023We parked in a garage not far from here (see photo) after sharking around for a spot and then walked to the Place aux Huiles to this restaurant.

Again, I am thankful for hospitality staff who are patient with foreigners. Our guy at L’Oliveraie was patient with us and used his English as best he could to answer our questions. When we found we had Spanish in common (because I kept saying things like “muy bien” instead of “tres bien“), we switched to that and happily continued our meal. I had hazelnut-encrusted fish of some sort and it was very good. The sorbet maison (home-made sorbet) to finish the meal was my favorite part though — peach and strawberry flavors melting together in your mouth is a very nice thing.

Sarah

We found this in our Frommer’s France guide book (2005). Unfortunately, frommers.com no longer lists this place as one of the recommended restaurants for Marseille. BIG MISTAKE!! The food was fantastic, the location is right in the Vieux Port area (directly off the main drag – fabulous people-watching opportunities) and the service was outstanding. We ate outside and, unfortunately, we didn’t have the foresight to pop inside and check out the interior. But they have a lovely setup on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant under some trees.

We had the prix-fixe menu again, both starting with chicken madras salad, a regular mixed salad with a dollop of cold chopped chicken in a wonderful curried dressing. Cliff had the fish, so I went for the other option, a beefy miracle with some mixed veggies. Now, I’ve had some lovely beef in my life (I am from Kansas City, after all), and this little nugget o’ tenderloin (I think) easily ranks in my top ten red meat experiences. It was expertly cooked, seasoned and presented. So much so that I would, apropos of nothing, turn to Cliff at random and just say, ‘Dude. That BEEF. Wow.’ Dessert for both of us was homemade sorbets with coffee and little bon-bons to finish it all off. Marseille was about a 3-hour roundtrip out of our way and this place made it 150% worth the drive.

Couscouserie de l’horloge

The Joint

2 rue de Mons
Face à la Mairie
84000 Avignon
France

Reservations: 04 90 85 84 86
website link

Cliff

As we were strolling around the Place du Palais du Papes, I saw a little Middle Eastern joint offering merguez and couscous together — two things I love! I’d previously only had merguez in crepes at Mr. Crepes in Boston (formerly located on Davis Sq – R.I.P. Mr. Crepes!). Sarah ordered a traditional lamb couscous dish. Our meals arrived as two different large bowls. One of them was a large dish containing Sarah’s lamb chops and my merguez on skewers sunning themselves on a couscous beach, and the other one was full of vegetable broth with big chunks of carrots and onions and others. It was fantastic! You’d think couscous, having absorbed water in the cooking process, wouldn’t be able to soak up more broth, but in fact, it did just fine. It turned out to be way more food than it looked (that’s how couscous works). I couldn’t let the last two links of my sausage get chucked though, so I managed to find room for them.

This place is a “can’t miss” if you like North African food and want to eat on the main drag in downtown Avignon for less than 20 EUR per head.

Sarah

After we made it into the city walls, we decided to wander around and look for something to eat. Because we were absolutely not going to stay at the misery that was the Best Western all evening. We wandered up the main drag of the Avignon tourist restaurants and Cliff spied this little gem tucked into the corner of a building. We passed it the first time (my fault – I wanted to keep looking around), but eventually returned. We’re both avid fans of middle eastern cuisine (and north African food shares many of its traits), but we didn’t realize the extent of the treat we were in for.

My lamb (two good-sized chops) literally fell off the bone and was deliciously seasoned to work with the vegetable broth and couscous. Cliff’s merguez was very intensely flavored and presented an interesting contrast to the rest of the meal. The two gentlemen that served us were charming and helpful. If you’re in Avignon and you need a short reprieve from rich French cuisine, seek this place out as a thoroughly enjoyable palate-cleanser.

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Best Western Hotel du Lavarin

The Joint

1715 Chemin Du Lavarin Sud
Avignon, FR-84000, France


http://www.worldexecutive.com/directory/france/avignon/hotels/93529.html

Cliff

Forget how this hotel looks at the link above — it’s not accurate (trust me). Doesn’t the following point say it all?

A-1 Steak Sauce smells belong in a kitchen or more likely a dining room, not permanently embedded in your hotel hallway.

Other than the smell, it was OK, I guess. But really, the room and the building were so ugly that it put a damper on the rest of the stay. Oh, and getting a twin room when we specifically asked for a double was annoying too.

Parking seemed problematic, too. When we got back from the Couscouserie shortly before eleven o’clock, the lot was overflowing. I had to park the rental in a non-space (which naturally made me nervous — deductibles and such). We got an unplanned wake-up call from the front desk bright and early the next morning (shortly after 7) asking us to move the Beemer as it was blocking the tour bus (which had been taking up multiple spots in the too-small lot). They weren’t rude about it or anything, but still…poor facilities planning also contributes to a lackluster experience.

Sarah

I got Comfort Inn confused with Best Western. Comfort Inns have a reputation for trying to assimilate into the prevailing culture of the place in which they’re opening an establishment. From our experience in Avignon, I would have to assume that BW doesn’t share this philosophy. The place we stayed was depressing like a community college annex. The service was friendly and accomodating, but that didn’t make the steak sauce parfum in the corridors any less disturbing. The room was small-medium in size and clean and the bathroom was alright (except for the spatial relationship between the front of the toilet, the wall and the door).

Other than the weird smell and the unwelcome wake-up call, there wasn’t anything actively wrong with our experience here. And at least half of the blame belongs on my shoulders; I didn’t fully research the layout of Avignon, so I didn’t realize that the location wasn’t going to have as much personality as something inside the city wall. But the whole thing was just so overwhelmingly lacking. We paid roughly EUR90/night here and an extra charge for partaking of the ho-hum breakfast buffet. It didn’t seem worth it.

Hotel Les Cygnes

The Joint

8 Avenue Grande Rive
74500 Evian
France
http://www.hotellescygnes.com/

Cliff

This place was simply delightful. Located directly on the southern edge of Lake Geneva (in France, not Switzerland, though it’s quite close to the border). It’s a beautiful turn-of-the-century hotel with excellent – really excellent – dining facilities.

france_ascension_2006_001france_ascension_2006_002Our room was small and quaint. It was on the European first floor overlooking the terrasse, which must be simply great for outdoor dining literally on the lake (notice the clarity of the water). We were surprised at the ample and modern bathroom with large shower cabin.

For dinner, we ordered the fixed-prices menus at EUR 24 each. The seafood soup had a nice strong fish flavor to its broth, and the two large crayfish in my bowl helped make sure everything at the bottom of my soup bowl was ship-shape. My entrée was something brand new for me – ray in a garlic butter sauce. I had a little trouble with the chewiness of it until I remembered what rays have in common with sharks – cartilage. Once I figured that out, no problem.

My favorite part: the dessert. I had a Trio de Crème Brûlée, which meant three small cups of creamy honey-, mint-, and lavender-flavored custard under a crisp burnt sugar shell. It was garnished with candied orange peel and other sweets. It was as pretty as it was delicious. I’m sure a cup of coffee to go with it would have been outstanding, but I’d had a long day of driving and needed to guarantee a good night’s rest to prepare for the next day.

Sarah

I have to pat myself on the back – I really found something special here. The low season rate for a double is €70 and the high season is only €80. The staff was charming and patient. The accomodation was small, but really welcoming. We had a teeny-tiny balcony that opened to a stunning view of Lake Geneva. The thing that really tends to swing my decision of whether I like a hotel or not is the condition of the bathroom, and Les Cygnes has a great one. The room is well arranged and well lit and the shower is nice (tubs are available on request).

We also chose to eat there, having rolled into town a little late. As Cliff mentioned, we had the prix-fixe menus and I had the exact opposite of his choices. I started with a salad of asparagus, some kind of air-cured ham (sliced ultra-thin) and shavings of parmesan on a small bed of mixed greens. There was what tasted like a Dijon-mustard based dressing drizzled over the whole thing. It was unbelievably yummy. The way the flavors played-nice together was delightful. I nearly licked the plate. Next was the main course, fricaséed squab with prunes and bacon. I’d never had squab before, but it sort of reminded me of duck without the greasiness. It was in a richly-flavored sauce and came with a small side of roasted vegetables. Wonderful! Dessert was a slice of light-textured flourless chocolate cake with mango compote and mango sorbet. Again, the flavor combinations were intense and surprising and, ultimately, delicious.

This is easily the nicest place I have stayed in its price range. We were both so excited about this discovery that we’d love to plan a trip back to Les Cygnes when we can spend more time there.

we’re going on vacation…again!

150672376_4bb04121fd_o You know what the hardest part about working in Germany is? That’s right — the **working.** There was so much stuff that I had to catch up on after our three-week jaunt back to North America last month, that I’m all burnt out, and more importantly, my overtime bank is bursting at the seams. Fortunately, the Bavarian state holiday system (in collaboration with the Catholic church) provides well for our physical and emotional well-being. Thursday of this week is the Feast of the Ascension and you know what that means…bridge day!

Sarah’s mom Susie gave us a set of Frommer’s books for Christmas a while back and we’ve now managed to make very good use of all but two one of them. So I guess Ireland will have to wait until I need to recover from the work overload resulting from this hopefully relaxing jaunt in a rented car through the Swiss Alps to the wine regions of France.

Au revoir!