Friday, August 29, 2014

Ristorante Campioni-- tennis anyone?

Apologies in advance.  I forgot to bring my camera or my phone last night when we went out to dinner.  That's too bad, because we enjoyed a very nice meal at Ristorante Campioni, an Italian restaurant maybe a couple of miles from our temporary apartment.  We went there because the two restaurants closest to us are closed for vacation and we wanted to try something new.  The lady who owns the apartment we're in recommended Ristorante Campioni, which is a fine establishment right next to a tennis club.

Bill and I really should have made reservations.  When we walked into the place at around 7:00, it was humming with business.  I noticed many of the tables were reserved.  By the time we left at about 8:45 or so, the place was pretty much packed.  Most everyone was dressed casually and I saw several kids there apparently enjoying a nice dinner after playing tennis.

The menu is in Italian and German (an English menu is on their Web site) and offers everything from pizza and pasta to impressive fish, duck, and veal dishes.  There's a wine list and a full bar.  And if you're lucky, you can sit by a window that overlooks indoor tennis courts.

Although Bill and I like to splurge when the mood strikes, we ended up going simple last night.  I had a salami pizza and Bill had penne pasta with a spicy tomato and basil sauce.  We washed it down with a bottle of Primitivo, otherwise known as Zinfandel and San Pellegrino.  Both of our meals were under ten euros and neither of us could finish them.

My salami pizza was made with a perfect crust, a thin layer of sauce, a layer of cheese, and large slices of sliced salami.  I had heard from Samantha Brown on Passport to Europe that you shouldn't take a knife and fork to Italian pizza, though I noticed that's what the Germans around me were doing.  I gave up on eating pizza the American way when some lady gave me a dirty look.

Bill really enjoyed his pasta.  He said the sauce had a zing to it and tasted very fresh.  I didn't try his pasta because I had pasta for lunch.  Still, it looked delicious and I probably would have liked it myself.

I noticed other people getting some impressive looking dishes.  One couple ordered a very impressive grilled fish.  My eyes got big when they brought it out on a sizzling platter.  I know I would not have been able to eat the whole thing.  I love fresh fish, especially the way the Italians prepare it.

We decided to have dessert.  Bill went with his usual tiramisu, which was a very good choice at Ristorante Campioni.  It was light, creamy, and really hit the spot after his spicy pasta dish.  I decided to be brave and ordered the Cassata Siciliana, which turned out to be an ice cream treat.  My dessert consisted of very rich chocolate and vanilla ice cream with what tasted like cherries and lemon rind impregnated within it.  It was garnished with strawberries, a persimmon, and chocolate syrup.

The bill came to 44 euros and, I think, was well worth the cost.  Service was friendly, competent, and attentive and the food was great.  If we go back, I will definitely try something more adventurous than pizza!  And we will definitely make reservations!  Ristorante Campioni is definitely a popular place with the locals!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

German skills...

I never studied German when I was in school.  I took four years of Spanish in high school and two years in college and never got near being fluent.  Then I learned Eastern Armenian in Armenia and got closer to being able to speak a foreign language out of necessity.  I should have studied German but in my school system, they didn't have a German teacher until I was already into Spanish.  I figured Spanish would be a lot more practical anyway.  Lo and behold, we moved to Germany, where German would come in handy.

Last time we were here, I tried to use Rosetta Stone to learn some German, but my efforts didn't last very long because I got really bored with the program and lacked discipline.  Besides, every time I tried to speak German, the person I was speaking to would switch to perfect English.  So I quit trying and figured it was no big deal.

Now we're in Germany again and I want to learn more so I can say something when I get yelled at... or at least understand more when someone says something shitty (which has happened).  So yesterday, I started using Duolingo, which is a free program on the Internet that allows users to brush up their foreign language skills.  It's actually kind of a fun program and pretty easy to use.  I like that it assigns rewards and goals.  I may never speak coherent German, but I do find that I understand more than I think.

Of course, there is a downside not to know what people are saying.  I ran into a couple of weird incidents last time I was here and was pretty sure I was being insulted by host country nationals.  It was probably just as well that I didn't understand what the people were saying.  Here's an essay I wrote several years ago about one of those experiences.

A lesson in communication

May 1, 2009

The Bottom Line Sometimes it doesn't take language fluency to catch the drift of a conversation.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband Bill and I visited Agais, our favorite Greek restaurant, for a bite to eat. Bill was fresh from a business trip to Latvia and it was cold and rainy outside. Neither of us felt like cooking and knew the proprietor of the restaurant, a man I affectionately refer to as "The Mad Scientist", would welcome our business.

When we arrived at Agais, we found that our favorite booth was occupied. Luckily, the folks who had been sitting there were paying their bill and about to leave. While they were gathering their things, Bill and I took a seat at the next table. There was a large, noisy party of six Germans, three men and three ladies, seated at a table that was perpendicular to it.

The Mad Scientist was very happy to see us and quickly cleared the booth for us. He brought out our usual glasses of red wine, perfect for such a chilly, wet evening. While we looked at the menu, I noticed that the large party had gotten louder. Aside from Bill and me, this party was the only other one in the restaurant. And they certainly behaved as if they were the only ones in the room. One man, sitting at the end of the table, seemed to be holding court. I don't speak German, but I heard him loudly mention the word "Schweiz" several times in a mocking tone accompanied by gestures. I got the feeling he was making fun of the Swiss and not in a good natured way.

Bill and I chatted quietly over gyros and red wine while the folks at the other table kept sneaking glances at us. The ladies' laughter had grown ever more shrill as they continued to drink wine and chatter. I noticed that The Mad Scientist was playing different music, as well-- not his usual Greek party music, but some kind of live recording. I liked the change, but noticed the large party loudly protested when The Mad Scientist made a move to switch it.

As I watched and listened to the group, I got the feeling that they were trying very hard to look like they were having a good time. They ordered more drinks and dessert, laughed boisterously and spoke in tones that suggested they were having the time of their lives. And yet, underneath their conspicuous show of merriment there seemed to be a subtle veneer of hostility, especially from the guy who had been making fun of the Swiss. He got up to smoke a cigarette and I noticed that the tension in the room had lessened a bit. Still, it seemed like there was an undercurrent of rudeness that was hard to ignore, not just toward us, but among the group members.

Finally, the group paid their bill and got up to leave. When they were gone, The Mad Scientist came out of his kitchen chuckling. He looked at me and Bill and asked, "Do you understand German?"

Bill speaks a little German, but sadly I don't.

"Do you know why those people are here in Entringen?" he asked us.

We said we didn't.

He was still chuckling as he said, "Those people are here for marriage counseling. They're taking a class here as a last resort effort to save their marriages." The proprietor, who recently starting renting out an apartment above his restaurant, indicated that one of the couples was staying there and the group had been eating in his restaurant regularly. I certainly didn't know that the little town of Entringen had a marriage counselor that would merit a retreat.

Suddenly, I started to understand why the room seemed so tense. I said, "That guy at the end of the table... he seemed to be making jokes at everyone else's expense." I didn't add that I had a feeling he'd been making fun of me and Bill, too.

And The Mad Scientist laughed and said, "Oh yeah! He's the worst off of all of them."

Then he smiled and said, "You know, I can tell that you and Bill don't have those problems." He gave Bill a fond look and said, "He has a big heart! I can tell that you two love each other."

I heartily agreed with that, of course. Besides love for each other, we also have mutual respect. From what I could observe, even with my limited German skills, mutual respect was something that was lacking in the group who shared the atmosphere at Agais with us that night. Nevertheless, it was one of the more interesting experiences we've had since we moved to Germany!

Monday, August 25, 2014

German style Chinese takeout and beer in plastic bottles...

Bill decided he wanted to try the local Chinese place here in Kemnat.  I didn't go with him to this place because I was more interested in messing around on the computer.  He asked me what I wanted, reminding me it was unlikely they'd have a pu pu platter (and they didn't, of course).  I told him some kind of poultry would be fine.

So Bill went to this place and came back with this...

The top dish is crispy duck served with a sweet and sour sauce with sprouts, carrots, and pineapple.  It came with a side of rice.  The other dish is spicy chicken with very fresh vegetables and rice.  I tasted it, but let Bill enjoy it, because he likes spicy food more than I do.  I have to say, this Chinese takeout was really excellent.  That duck was to die for.

We washed it down with cheap beer.  This is Schloss and it comes in a plastic bottle, akin to what you'd find at a concert venue.  The plastic doesn't change the taste of the beer and probably makes it safer to carry if you're doing a beer run on foot, like Bill was.  The label actually had the logo of the Netto! market, which is where Bill purchased it.

I don't remember eating a lot of Chinese food last time we were here.  I know we did visit the big Chinese place in Vaihingen where the Schwaben Gallerie (a big shopping mall) is.  I can't remember the name of it... I know it's King's Palace or something like that.  But it was a very fancy place, if I recall correctly.  You order a dish and they have little mini stoves they put them on that keep them warm.  I think yesterday might have been our first time eating German style Chinese takeout.  It won't be the last time.

We have one more week to go before we are in our house.  I'm hoping our stuff starts showing up soon.  This month in transit has had a profound effect on my mood and poor Bill is starting to feel the heat.  Of course, sleeping on the floor will probably have an even bigger effect on my mood.  We wouldn't be facing that prospect if the boxes we mailed from Texas would get here.  Unfortunately, the local APO post offices don't seem to handle "General Delivery" very well.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Super cheap eats in Kemnat...

Last night, Bill and I decided to eat dinner in town because he was super tired from his trip to Chad and we didn't really have much in the apartment by the way of dinner fixings.  It appears that the two main restaurants, Hermes and Krone, were closed last night.  They probably went on vacation, as is very common for restaurant folks to do in Germany during August.  They just close up for two or three weeks and recharge.  Personally, I think that's a great thing.  I've worked in restaurants and they can be pretty horrible if you want to have a life outside of work.  I think it's very healthy that restaurant owners in Germany take a break.  Ultimately, it's probably healthier for their patrons, too.

But given that we were in need of food last night, we had to find somewhere to dine.  We ended up at a little hole in the wall bar/bistro obviously owned by Greeks.  There were two rowdy tables of older folks there, holding court, drinking beer, and smoking.  And when we walked in, the proprietor very kindly greeted us as we chose a table toward the back (away from the smoke).

At first, it seemed a little awkward in there... almost like we were crashing a party.  But the regulars were actually very nice and eventually seemed kind of welcoming.  One said "Guten appetit!" on his way to the restroom.  And talk about cheap eats!  Everything on the menu was priced at 5.50.

No frills eats!

This is what we got when we ordered the gyros! 

I wasn't able to eat all of this... and it was a little saltier than I like it.  On the other hand, for 5.50 euros, it was quite a bargain and it was pretty good considering how cheap it was!  We each enjoyed a couple of beers, which were also very reasonably priced.  I can see why the locals like this place so much.  I left there reeking of cigarette smoke, but I'd go back for the atmosphere.  There was a large TV on the wall behind us tuned to action movies with Greek subtitles.

On the way back, we stopped at Netto!, the local mini mart, to pick up some Viennetta.  I took a photo of the mural on the building opposite the store.

The mini mart was interesting.  They had a lot of beer, wine, frozen foods, and a small produce section.  One could also purchase hard liquor there.  And there was a lady ahead of us who was apparently determined to pay entirely in small change!

And this very pretty traditional building, that appears to be part of a church...

We came back to the apartment with our ice cream treat.  I always get a thrill in Germany when we find Viennetta.  It used to be available in the United States and was marketed by Breyer's.  Now it's marketed by Unilever.  One thing Europeans do right is ice cream.


 Bill is without a rental car right now, so I guess we'll be holed up in the apartment again today.  Bummer.  But at least we now know where a good local dive is for super cheat eats!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The difference between Army life and contractor life in Germany

I was going to wait until we got settled to write this post, but the mood is striking now.  So here goes...

In September 2007, Bill and I moved from Fort Belvoir, Virginia to Stuttgart, Germany, courtesy of the United States Army.  Because it was an Army move, we were allowed to ship about 17,000 pounds of our personal items and store what we didn't send.  We were allowed to ship one car at government expense and unaccompanied baggage.  When we arrived in Stuttgart, we were given money for sixty days of temporary living expenses.  The housing office, such as it is, was able to help us find a home and negotiate the rental contract.  And we were able to access medical and dental services at Patch Barracks.  Fortunately, I only required a contact lens exam and a dental cleaning and small filling (and I was actually very impressed by the services at Patch).  If we'd had kids, we could have sent them to the schools offered on the military installations for free.

In August 2014, we moved from San Antonio, Texas to Stuttgart, Germany, courtesy of a government contractor.  We had very little time to plan for this move.  When we moved with the Army, we found out in November 2006.  In January 2007, Bill deployed for six months; then when he came back, we had six weeks to get everything together and move to Germany.  We knew well ahead of time, though, so I was able to do things like train our dogs to use their carriers and get all of the red tape started.  This time, Bill got an informal job offer in late June and a formal one on July 8th... three weeks before we had to vacate our rental house in Texas.  It was a lot more of a rush to get stuff taken care of so we could make the move.

Part of the reason Bill got hired is because there was a recent mass exodus of contractors, due to the work being taken over by a new company that severely underbid all the other contractors.  It meant that the previous contractors were going to be paid about $20,000 less for their work, mainly because the new contractor wasn't offering an education benefit to contractors with kids.  Contractors have to pay for their kids to go to school, while military and DoD employees don't.

We were given enough money to ship 5000 pounds of our belongings.  Fortunately, the Army pays for storage for the recently retired;  it's only for a year, though.  Then Bill gets the government rate on storage.  Because there are only two of us, it's no big deal that we only got 5000 pounds.  Most of the stuff I really wanted to bring, I could.  However, we did have to get rid of a lot of stuff and a lot went into storage.  If we'd had kids, that 5000 pound limit would have cramped our style a lot more.  Of course, we were also lucky because the guy that packed us for our move to Germany was just plain awesome.  Wish I could say the same about the folks who packed our stuff for storage.

We had to pay to ship our cars-- it was about $4000.  It would have been less, had we been able to drive the cars to Houston and pick them up in Bremerhaven.  But the logistics of doing that weren't feasible for us.  We have to repay Bill's company for the plane tickets to fly to Germany.  We pay for our temporary housing before we move into our permanent digs.  We get a housing allowance, but it's paid quarterly instead of monthly; it's plenty for the type of house we wanted (and ultimately got).  We did have to find the house and negotiate the rental contract ourselves; fortunately, we're inheriting a house from a military couple and our new landlords seem to be pretty used to dealing with Americans.  Special thanks to the Facebook Stuttgart Friends and Moving to Stuttgart groups for turning me on to Stuttgart Bookoo.  None of these things existed when we were here last time.

Bill's salary is somewhat comparable to what he earned as a lieutenant colonel-- the difference is that it's kind of split between a base salary and the quarterly housing allowance.  He doesn't have to pay as much in taxes as he would in the United States and he also gets retirement pay, though part of that is temporarily being withheld because he had a brief lapse in service in the 90s and has to repay a bonus he received back then.  In about 18 months, we'll be getting the full retirement pay, which should make things pretty nice.  He gets medical, dental, and vision benefits, along with the usual retiree medical benefits, too.  

And healthcare and dental care, for me at least, will be strictly on the economy.  Bill was able to score an appointment to see a doc at Patch, but I don't know if that's going to be something he can do the whole time we're here.  We will also have to buy our own major appliances, whereas when we were still Army, we got to borrow them from the government.

Here's another weird thing that happened.  Last month, I got a new ID made because Bill retired.  This month, I got another one made because we're overseas.  The overseas ID is only for use in Germany.  The other one is for use in the USA.

We do get to use most of the services available to the military.  For example, we get an APO box, which allows mail to be sent and received at US rates, although no one could get us a box before we came.  Consequently, the boxes we sent here general delivery may or may not be on the way back to Texas.  We get to use the PX/BX, commissary, hotel, and gas ration cards (allows us to get gas at prices closer to what we'd pay in the US).  We get a USAEUR driver's license good for Germany.  We both have SOFA cards (last time, they were stamps).  But life as a contractor as opposed to being a government or military employee is a bit more bare bones.

When it comes time to leave Germany, there is no telling what will happen.  It's my understanding that contractors win and lose contracts all the time.  So it could turn out that Bill's current company loses its contract and he'll be out of a job.  Or the next company may decide to hire him.  In fact, I've heard that happens fairly often because it's cheaper and easier to hire talent that is already local.  For that reason, we could be in Germany for awhile.  Or we could end up leaving next year.  Bill says the contractor he's working for now really bid low, though, so the chances of them losing the contract are pretty low.  This probably means the company will keep the contract and we'll end up staying.

We love Germany and hate job hunting... and I doubt the company will want to lose Bill now that he's here.  Not everyone can afford to spend as much money as we did just to relocate for a job.  We know of some people who turned down positions with this contractor because of the somewhat stingy relocation package.  If government contractors can't afford to pay employees enough to move and take care of their families, they won't want to come to Germany.  If they do come, they probably won't stay as long as they might.  We don't have kids and don't need as much money to survive.  We just have dogs and a serious case of wanderlust.  Fortunately, Bill gets three weeks of paid leave a year and major holidays off!

It used to be that the Department of Defense offered contractors enough money that moving with them was more like a military move.  But since the government is cutting back on the military, there is less money to go around and contractors are the first ones to feel the cuts.  On the up side, it appears that there's plenty of work to be done.  Bill says he and his new work buddies are being kept very busy with stuff that normally would be handled by people in the military.  Apparently, fewer military folks are being sent to Europe-- again, due to downsizing.  So guys like Bill are picking up the slack and, perhaps, ending up doing some work that may not be in their job descriptions.  Of course, Bill has done this kind of work before and still has his Army work ethic, so he's able to get the job done.

So why did we come here if it was such an expensive logistical hassle?  Simple.  No one in Texas seemed eager to give Bill a job.  We had a choice of moving to Germany or taking our chances in Texas, where there were no job offers on the table and we were in a rental house with property managers we absolutely hated.  Since we love Germany and Bill knew he could do the work and would enjoy it, the choice was easy, despite all that went into the move.

There have been some positives to our move, too.  One thing I'm glad I didn't have to do this time was get a physical, even though I could probably use one.  I also didn't have to go through EFMP screening since as civilians, EFMP doesn't apply to us.  I didn't have to get an official passport, not that that was such a huge deal.  It was just a pain to have to keep up with two of them.

Since we are ultimately paying for our transportation over here, we were allowed to choose which airline we wanted to use.  In most cases, if you are flying on government funds, you have to use the cheapest American carrier for as long as possible.  This wouldn't have been an issue for us if we weren't bringing dogs.  A lot of American airlines don't fly pets in the summer or require them to be flown via cargo services which can be very expensive.  We flew Lufthansa, which allows pets to be flown as baggage, yet keeps them in a safe area.  Instead of paying over $1000 to bring our dogs, we only had to pay $400 and they were there at baggage claim waiting for us when we arrived.

Also, because we aren't here with the military, we aren't forced to live in an apartment on a military installation, nor are we forced to use military lodging.  Military lodging is fine if you want to use it, but we prefer being on the economy.  Because we've been here before, the culture shock is not that much for us.  Things haven't changed a whole lot in the almost five years we've been gone.  It probably helps that we've visited Germany twice in the five years since we left!

I am grateful that we got to move back to Germany.  Hell, I'm grateful Bill has a job at all-- especially in Germany, which was our favorite of all our duty stations with the Army.  The beauty of this arrangement is that we could end up living here for a lot longer than the barely two years we got last time.  We aren't subject to the government's whims quite as directly as we were before.

I'm sure I'll have more to write about this experience once we've been here a bit longer and have settled into our new house.  For now, all I can say is that it helps to have been here before, because when you come here as a contractor, there's less support and you have to figure more things out for yourself.

Here's an update as of September 2015.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Watch your fingers while driving on the autobahn...

In Germany, it's against the law to flip someone the bird while driving.  If you extend your middle finger after being cut off by some twat on the autobahn, they can take down your tags and have the police come after you.

For the second time since we've been here, I've read about someone getting in trouble for allegedly shooting the bird while driving.  Given that photographs are often used by law enforcement, there could very well be proof of the insult.  On the other hand, there might not be.  I just think it's funny that it's such a big deal in a country where I can hear all sorts of dirty words on the radio in broad daylight.

Okay... so the words are in English, not German.  But still...

This reminds me of when I was sixteen, living in Virginia, and driving my dad's crappy Chevy S-10 pickup truck.  I had about a dozen bales of hay in the back and couldn't see for shit behind me.  A German woman had a daughter who rode horses at the same barn where I boarded my horse and took riding lessons-- her husband was military.  She was trying to help me back up to the barn with the hay.  We weren't very friendly to each other.  I found her unbearably anal retentive and I'm sure she thought I was disrespectful.  As a teenager, I was terminally bitchy anyway due to raging hormones and the self-centeredness and drama queen bullshit that permeates the teen years.  Anyway, I apparently called her a bitch while trying to maneuver the truck.

She got mad and yelled at me.  I honestly didn't (and still don't) remember calling her a bitch.  It's entirely possible that I did.  I have a filthy mouth and I didn't like her very much.  But I don't remember calling her a bitch.  I wonder if it pissed her off that she couldn't go complain to the cops about the "insult".

I notice that she's made her permanent home in America, even though she and her husband divorced. It looks like she got remarried and is now a real estate agent.  She's probably very good at the job.  If I saw her today, I'd probably be a lot nicer to her.  At the same time... jeez.  I'm all for being civil and courteous while driving, but don't cops have better things to do than go after drivers who happen to give someone the bird while driving?

Sunday, August 17, 2014


The vulgar German word for "shit" has the distinction of being among the very first words in German I ever learned.  It's also among the only German words I ever learned, though my vocabulary expands on a daily basis.

One thing I've noticed is that Germans seem perfectly okay with saying the word Scheiße whenever it suits them.  I mean, in the United States, if you casually say the word "shit" in front of someone you don't know, you run the risk of them not appreciating it very much.  But around here, it seems to be okay.

Not that I'm complaining.  I am a big fan of all words and use most of them at will.  I just think it's interesting how people drop that word casually in conversations.  For example, last week, I met the German lady who cleans the apartments where we are.  She doesn't speak English and I do not speak any German, though I can understand a little bit of what I hear.  I suspect her English skills are about the same as my German skills are.  As she was trying to talk to me, she said the word "Scheiße", which I immediately recognized.

Another time several years ago, Bill and I were at a train station and a young woman was standing on the platform with a cell phone and a bottle of wine.  As she hung up, she said very loudly "Oh Scheiße!"  Apparently, she wasn't worried at all about offending anyone.

The last time we lived in Germany, I asked our neighbor about this phenomenon.  I wondered if that word was considered "bad" here.  She said it was, but I guess culturally speaking, German people don't get as upset about dirty language, just like they are a lot more liberal about nudity.

Hell, the other day, Bill and I were in the car listening to one of the few stations on which the music didn't sound like a perpetual Mentos commercial.  A song came on; it was in English.  I don't know who sang it or what the title of it was, but one of the lyrics included the word "motherfucker".  As English swear words go, "motherfucker" is one of the biggies.  It's a heavyweight insult one tends to bring out at the end of an argument.  And in the United States, you'd never hear that word uttered on the radio during broad daylight.  Maybe you'd hear it on a college radio station during safe harbor hours, but definitely not at 5:00pm when kids might be listening.

I think this shit is very interesting.  Maybe during this tour, I will make more of an effort to learn German... or at least German swear words.  I find them fucking fascinating.  But just to be safe, I'll try to keep my language clean.

One of the less graphic pictures of Scheiße I found on Google...

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review of Hotel Flora in Stuttgart-Mohringen...

Bill and I spent a week at Hotel Flora, which is on Filderbahnstrasse in Mohringen.  I chose this hotel when we were in Texas because we needed a place that was pet friendly and not too far from Kelley Barracks, which is where Bill is working.  I typed "pet friendly hotels Mohringen" and Hotel Flora was the first place that came up.  It got good reviews on Trip Advisor and had availability, so we went with it.

We arrived at the hotel exhausted on August 3, 2014.  The night before, we were on an overnight flight from Houston, Texas to Frankfurt.  After two hours in the airport collecting our bags, our dogs, and our rental car, we spent another couple of hours on the autobahn and were pretty wiped out by the time we checked into the hotel.

The lady at the front desk didn't speak any English; fortunately, Bill speaks some German and understands it pretty well.  She gave me a look when our dogs pulled me outside and peed on the immaculate lawn.  I was sorry about that, but the poor things had been stuck in carriers for hours and though we gave them a pit stop on the way to Mohringen, they were still adjusting.  I had grabbed a couple of plastic bottles and absent-mindedly placed them on the counter as Bill was checking us in.  I almost forgot to take them until she called my attention to them.

Our room was #29.  It was in a building separate from the main one and we were no doubt assigned it because our of our hounds.  It was a fairly comfortable room; somewhat large with a little patio to its back, a minibar, free WiFi, a couch, and plenty of storage.  The bathroom was pretty tiny-- the shower especially so.  But it was very clean, basically pleasant, and very traditionally German.  We had a TV in the room, but Bill never did get it to work.  It looked like it lacked a power cord, though it was hooked up to cable.  No matter... we aren't into German TV anyway.

I promptly got into bed and fell asleep, only to be awakened a few hours later by the people living in the house next door.  They were enjoying a Sunday game of football.  Ordinarily, that wouldn't bother me, but since I was tired, I was a bit cranky.  There's also a lot of traffic noise because the hotel is situated between two major roads and near churches that ring bells a lot, especially on Sundays.

There are plenty of restaurants near this hotel and we had the chance to try several of them.  You can read my reviews on this blog.  Hotel Flora also offers a very generous breakfast, which is included in the room rate.  The breakfast is basically a large buffet with breads, cold cuts, cheeses, cereals, yogurts, scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, juices, tea, and coffee.  One other note-- the mini bar was well stocked and reasonably priced.  They even had appropriate glassware for the beers in the fridge.  You may not be able to find an extra pillow in the cabinets, but by God, you'll have the right glass for your hefeweizen.

Housekeeping is pretty good, though they weren't consistent as to when they'd show up.  Since we had dogs, that was kind of inconvenient.  Some days they'd come at 10:00am; sometimes, they'd show up at 3:00pm.  I never knew when they needed to clean the room, so I'd end up waiting for them so I could take the dogs out.  I will say, though, that the staff is very nice and helpful.

Parking is available in an underground garage connected to the hotel.  It costs six euros a day.  Reception closes at 2:30 on Sundays, but if you need to check in, you can go to the hotel's sister property.  I don't know where that is, but a number is posted on the front door.  Smoking is allowed in some rooms; if you are sensitive to smoke, you should request a non smoking room.  If you want to smoke, you can request a room that allows it.

Hotel Flora is very close to an S-bahn stop, which was nice for Bill.  There's also a bus stop close to the hotel.

We spent about $1000 for our week at Hotel Flora.  We are now in an apartment, which is a lot cheaper than the hotel was.  We have found a house, but won't be moving in until September 1.  All in all, this move is going more smoothly than our first one here went.  Someday when I'm bored, I will write about our six weeks at the Vaihinger Hof, which was a crazy but fun place to be.  ;-)

Overall, I would recommend Hotel Flora, though it may not be the most conducive place for military folks to be long-term.  It worked out fine for us, though, and they were very nice about our dogs... but then, we paid an extra 20 euros (10 per dog) per day to allow them to stay there.  Had we not had dogs or a car, our rate would have been 83 euros a night.

A review of Krone gasthaus in Kemnat, Germany...

We had a hell of a time getting dinner last night.  Zane and Arran (our beagles) were more wound up than usual and really needed to burn off some steam, owing to the rainy weather yesterday morning.  Consequently, when Bill and I decided we wanted to go out to eat, they pitched a royal fit.  It took about fifteen minutes to get them to quiet down enough for us to walk up the street to a local gasthaus called Krone.

Krone is in the Ostfildern area and is located maybe 200 meters from the apartment we're temporarily staying in right now.  I was curious about it, since it looked like it had a lot of charm.  Last night, it was bustling with folks, many of whom appeared to be faithful regulars.  The staff was very cheery as people came and went and the place had a very friendly vibe.

Though Bill spoke German to the waiter who greeted us, it was apparently very obvious to him that we are English speakers and he quickly switched to excellent English as he invited us to choose a table.  The menu was only in German and the waiter apologized about this, though Bill and I have gotten relatively good at deciphering menus that aren't in English.  In a way, I prefer having a German menu because I find that I try more interesting dishes that way.  That's definitely what happened last night.  Not knowing everything that is in a dish and not wanting to ask makes me a little braver-- though I did make sure there were no mushrooms in my selection.

There were a few items on the menu that were not available and at least one of the specials, a wild boar dish, was sold out by the time we were ready to order.  This restaurant features a lot of meat and game dishes and we were told that in some dishes, they use beef that comes from cows that are shot rather than slaughtered.  Shooting the cow is less stressful to them than slaughtering them, which supposedly results in meat that is more tender.

After an amuse of black olive and tuna tapenade, I started with a typical Schwabish soup called fladlesuppe, which consisted of clear beef broth, chives, and little strips of pancakes.  It was very comforting and tasty and didn't fill me up for the main course.  I paired my meal with a pint of keller beer, which was of excellent quality, even if it wasn't the most exciting brew I've ever had.

It kind of reminded me a little of won ton soup... only with pancakes instead of won tons...

Next came our main courses.  I had "ochsenbrust" and Bill had "rostbraten".  Bill's beef was the beef that came from a cow that was shot rather than slaughtered.  As far as I know, my beef came from a regularly slaughtered cow.

Bill's beef, which came with pfifferlingen mushrooms, gravy, and croquettes...  This dish was 25 euros, which is a lot of money.  However, Bill did enjoy it very much.  I didn't taste it because I think mushrooms are of the devil...  Apparently mushrooms are a big deal at Krone, particularly the type that Bill enjoyed last night.  I wish I liked them, but I just don't.  

The ochsenbrust turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  The way the waiter described this dish, I was expecting it to be accompanied by regular radishes.  But actually, the sauce was made of horseradish, which made a very good accompaniment to the super tender beef.  It was accompanied by fried potatoes.  The horseradish sauce wasn't too strong, though my sinuses did clear a couple of times when I got a stronger than usual dose of the stuff.  I was most impressed by the beef, which I could cut with a fork.  This was a very different meal for me and I enjoyed it very much.  It was priced at about 13 euros.

We were pretty full after dinner, but I was still wanting something sweet.  So when the waiter asked us about dessert, I found myself saying yes...

My dessert consisted of little pancakes served with fresh fruit, jam, and a little scoop of lavender ice cream.  It was absolutely delightful!  I was almost swayed by a dish of ice cream, but the waiter reminded me that I could get ice cream anywhere... and of course, he was right!  Despite being full, I managed to eat the whole thing.  Good thing I skipped lunch yesterday.  

Bill had maple ice cream served with an egg liqueur.  He had never had egg liqueur and he said he liked it because it was "interesting".  I have a feeling this liqueur was house made with raw egg yolks and booze, but I don't know this for sure.  Both desserts were manageable and delicious, though I know I didn't need the calories!

The total bill came to 62 euros, which was probably more than we needed to spend.  But I have to admit, it was a very good meal and I would not hesitate to go back for another meal there.  I especially enjoyed the creative presentation of the food, which took regular German gasthaus fare to a higher level.  I can see why the locals enjoy this place so much.  

Krone also rents rooms, so if you're too full or too drunk to drive home, you can probably arrange to spend the night!  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Driver's testing in Germany for Americans with the military...

Yesterday, Bill and I took our driver's license exam.  We took them seven years ago when we were here last time and they were good for five years.  Had we only moved back here in 2012 instead of 2014, we could have just gotten a renewal.  But since the licenses expired, we had to retake the driver's ed course and the accompanying exam.

Since our last time in Germany, some kind folks in Kaiserslautern came up with a practice exam that you can access online.  I did that a couple of times before we went to the class, which lasted about four hours.  Even with the practice and studying, driving in Germany can be tricky for the uninitiated, even though they drive on the same side of the road we do.  There are a lot of signs, each of which have different meanings according to their shapes and colors.  There are a lot of roundabouts and unmarked four way intersections and you have to know what to do when you get to them.

Germany is very big on fines.  If you have an accident, you will probably end up being fined.  And after an accident, you can't drink alcohol for six hours because the German police may do a blood test after the fact.  I read on Facebook about one lady getting reported for driving too fast in her neighborhood and the cops showing up at her house to Breathalyze her.  Turned out she hadn't had a drink that night, but if she had opened some wine at home, she could have gotten into some serious trouble.  Germans don't mess around with drunk driving and can take your blood by force if you don't consent to testing.

Yesterday's class started out kind of boring.  We watched two military issue films, one of which I had watched on my own online.  Then the teacher, a kindly German man who brought his dog with him, taught a lesson.  He was very witty and seemed very intent on making sure we knew what the rules were, even if the Americans who made up the test and the driving manuals got them slightly wrong.  Of course, it was a long time to be in a class and by the time it was over, my brain was kind of fried.  Fortunately, Bill and I both passed.  In fact, we each got the same number of questions wrong.  At least one guy failed the test and has to retake it.  He can do that today, but if he doesn't pass today, he has to wait two weeks.  And if he fails it a third time, he has to wait two months and go through the class again.

I noticed this time, they didn't do the eye test.  I guess they figured it was pointless, since when the mass test people, they can just memorize what the eye test on the top line says.

Anyway, with any luck our cars will get here soon so we can break in our new licenses.  For now, we have little slips of paper, but in a couple of weeks, the plastic cards will get here.  I still have mine from the last time we were here.  I try to let Bill do most of the driving because it's a pain in the ass.  But since both cars are coming, I figured it would be a good thing to have a license.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

This move has been very lucky so far...

I can't help but compare our move to Germany in 2007 to our move to Germany in 2014.  In 2007, there were no Facebook groups to help people moving to Europe.  There was a big learning curve and we arrived here not really knowing what the hell was going on.  We spent six weeks in a rather crappy hotel that wasn't all that convenient, but it was very pet friendly.

This time, we spent one week in a nicer hotel and moved to a small apartment, where we still stay until early September, when our new house will be available to move into.  The apartment isn't perfect, but it beats living in a hotel room.  At least we can cook and if the person who left their laundry in the machine ever picks it up, we can do laundry too.

I don't think there are quite as many people here as there were last time, though you'd never know it based on parking.  Last time we were here, a bunch of people were going to Iraq and Afghanistan.  That's no longer the case and the military is cutting back.  It's expensive to move to Germany, so I'm guessing not as many slots are being filled by military folks.  Bill has said that the office where he works is mostly staffed with contractors like him.  And the Department of Defense is not reimbursing to move people here, so those who are here will have a lot of work because it's not so easy to move here if you have a family and don't have money saved.

I have a feeling we could stay here a long while if we want to.  There's always a chance my hunch is wrong.  I bat about 500 when it comes to these things.  But Obama will be in office until January 2017, which means things probably won't change too much budget wise.

Anyway, I'm hoping there won't be any more moves for at least a couple of years.  I hope this time, we'll get to enjoy Europe for longer than barely two years.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My review of our flight on Lufthansa...

So now that we've been in Germany for nine days, I'm ready to write about the long-ass flight we took from Houston, Texas to Frankfurt, Germany.  Although my husband Bill and I lived in San Antonio, we flew out of Houston because we had our two dogs with us and we wanted a direct flight to Germany.  A direct flight means fewer opportunities to lose baggage and live animals.  If we had flown out of San Antonio, we would have had to change planes at least once.

We also chose to fly out of Houston because Houston has more international carriers than San Antonio does.  Since we had our dogs, we couldn't use Delta Airlines, which is usually our carrier of choice.  Delta won't fly pets from May until September or when the temperature anywhere along the route is higher than 85 degrees.  In fact, all of the American carriers had restrictions.  We could have flown on United, which is the airline we used last time we moved to Germany, but we would have had to use their Pet Safe program to move our dogs.  It's a cargo service and costs a whole lot...  and frankly, I'm not sure it's any safer or more convenient.

Having done my research, I determined that flying to Germany on Lufthansa was our best bet.  Lufthansa has special areas for pets that are kept temperate and well lit and they take care not to put animals on the plane until the last minute.  The Frankfurt airport also has a pet facility that was built in 2011 that is supposedly pretty awesome.  I didn't expect we'd need to use the pet facility, since we were going to be on the same flight with our dogs.

Aside from taking care of our dogs, I was kind of excited about flying on a European carrier on a transatlantic flight.  It's been my experience that European airlines are better than American airlines are in terms of comfort.  Since we had to pay for our tickets (which means we have to reimburse Bill's employer), we were able to book directly with Lufthansa.  Had we been flying on military or government orders, it's very likely we would have been forced to fly on an American carrier.  I don't know if this is still the rule-- it was when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and last time we moved to Germany-- but if you fly on the government's dime, they make you take an American carrier for as far as possible.

Anyway, we had a really decent flight on Lufthansa.  The only thing I didn't like about it was having to pay $35 each for two seats together.  We could have let fate determine where we'd be sitting, but Bill and I wanted to make sure we were together.  So we spent $70 so I could sit by a window and Bill could sit in a middle seat.

The guy who checked us in at Lufthansa had never dealt with pets before, so a co-worker came over and trained him as he got our dogs set up.  Then he walked us to the oversized baggage counter so the dogs could be checked by TSA.  Let me just say right here that the two TSA guys at the Houston airport were great with Zane and Arran.  I wish all TSA encounters were as pleasant.  Zane and Arran each weigh about 25 pounds and in their carriers, they weren't too much heavier.  So though we were originally quoted $800 when we asked about how much it would be to fly with them, we ended up paying only $400.

The boys wait patiently in the airport...

Loaded up and ready to fly.

The Lufthansa flight itself was very pleasant.  Our flight attendant was terminally sweet and chipper and was happy to check for us that the dogs were checked in safely.  She brought us a before dinner drink and the wine flowed freely throughout dinner.  The dinner was some kind of chicken with vegetables and mashed potatoes.  It wasn't great food, but it was edible.  The wine helped.

The seat was reasonably comfortable and there was a monitor on the seat in front of us which allowed us to watch movies or listen to music.  I used my iPod and watched the progress of the flight; Lufthansa had kind of a cool Google Earth feature that showed a simulation of what was under the plane.  I liked seeing the names of places as we flew, too... especially as we got closer to Germany.

The carry on baggage bin above us was full of crew equipment, so we ended up having to stick our bags under the seats in front of us.  My bag was sort of full, so I ended up with less leg room.  Good thing I have short legs.

I didn't try the breakfast.  I think it was some kind of omelet.  The thought of eating a pre-made omelet was too weird for me, so I passed.  Bill tasted his and said it was okay.  I ate the bread and fruit instead.

The guy who sat on the aisle with us was upset because his monitor quit working.  He summoned a flight attendant who did all she could, short of moving him to business class, to make him happy.  He ended up staying in his seat and the monitor eventually worked again.  I was impressed by how kind and efficient the flight staff was.  It really was a nice flight-- especially since the guy in front of me didn't recline.

The dude in the aisle seat wasn't as lucky and got stuck with some American jerk's head in his lap for most of the flight (he actually had to be told to sit upright for the meal service).  As we were sitting in the last row before the exit, we didn't have anyone sitting right behind us, so for once I felt alright about reclining and also didn't have anyone's knees in my back.

The dogs were in great shape when we picked them up.  They weren't real happy to be in the carriers and they were thirsty, but otherwise they came through the flight just fine.  It sure beat paying thousands for them to fly cargo or using a pet shipping service.

We need to go back to the United States in November, so I look forward to using the other half of that  round trip ticket.  I don't like long haul flights, but on a European carrier, they are somewhat more bearable.

A review of Patrick Smith's Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers, and Reflections

I have been doing a lot of flying lately.  In 2014 alone, I've flown across the Atlantic three times.  I also flew to Virginia to see my dad for the last time before he passed away last month and flew on a couple of European flights, too.  In the years prior to 2014, I took quite a few trips by plane.  It's not so much that I enjoy flying; I really don't.  It's just that flying is faster than driving is and some of the places we've gone haven't offered a better alternative.

When I saw Patrick Smith's book, Cockpit Confidential,  I immediately decided to buy it.  I did this not knowing that Smith has had a popular column on and Web site called Ask the Pilot.  For years, Smith, who has worked as a pilot since 1990, has been answering questions put to him by the masses.  He explains in his book that he has been passionate about airplanes since he was a young lad and made it his mission to get into the industry.  And so he has... but I think he's also a very good writer.  I really enjoyed his book.

Filled with personal stories about his time as a pilot as well as informative articles on how airplanes and the airline industry works, Smith does a good job educating his readers.  The book also offers answers to questions people have sent in.  Not only are Smith's answers interesting and informative, they are also very entertaining.

I got a kick out of reading about how even pilots get harassed by the TSA.  Smith writes a colorful anecdote about how one time, his knife-- the same knife that was used on the very aircraft he was about to pilot-- was confiscated by the TSA.  The reason?  It was serrated.  Smith explains that it was a stretch to call the knife serrated, but because the knife had little ridges on it, it was deemed unsafe.  This, even though the passengers in the first class and business cabins on his airplane would be using the same knife as they tucked into their in flight meals.

Smith also writes about how pilots and flight attendants have to be screened like you and I do...  but the folks who are hauling your suitcases, cleaning the planes, and stocking the galleys with food can come and go with a simple swipe of their ID cards.  Granted, Smith explains that they are always subject to being searched randomly, but they don't have to deal with the same screening ordeals the rest of us do.  If you think about it, that's a little unsettling.

Smith covers a huge range of topics, which is why his book runs for 320 pages.  But once you're finishing reading it, you will be a lot better informed about all things pertaining to the airline industry.  He writes about how to become a pilot and how it's not nearly as glamorous or well paying as it might seem; in 1990, when Smith got his first pilot job, he was getting a mere $850 a month.  He writes about the history of some of our best known airlines, many of which are no longer around.  Some of his commentary is hilariously snarky, too.  His comments about some of the ad slogans and cutesy names airlines give their planes are pretty funny.

If you've ever wondered how planes fly, Smith has you covered.  He offers a detailed explanation about how it's possible to get a metal tube filled with thousands of pounds into the air.  He also explains how some "emergencies" aren't really emergencies.  And he even dares to explain why Chesley Sullenberger's landing on the Hudson River was not as impressive as it seemed.  Ever wanted to check out the cockpit?  You can, you know... not while the plane is flying, obviously, but before or after the flight.  You don't have to be a kid, either.  Smith says a lot of pilots are kind of flattered when people express an interest in seeing their work space.  Just ask a flight attendant to find out if it's okay.

I like non-fiction books, especially when they satisfy my curiosity about things I've always wondered about.  I have read a number of books by flight attendants, but Smith's Cockpit Confidential is the first book I've read by a pilot.  He did a great job demystifying the airline industry for me.  I would definitely recommend Cockpit Confidential to anyone who has ever been curious about the airline industry.  I also think it's good reading for anyone who has ever considered a career in aviation.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Pee.... you...

This little apartment we're in right now is okay, though I did notice that it smelled vaguely of urine.  I looked around and finally found a long dried puddle of something brown.  I cleaned it up and now notice things don't stink so much.  I am guessing it was dog pee based only on the size of the puddle, but it sort of smelled more like cat whiz.

I have no idea how long that dried piss puddle was there...  it says nothing about the quality of housekeeping services in this place.  The guy who was in this place before we were left dirty dishes and old food in the fridge that Bill had to dispose of.  Apparently, the guest fridge, which is a regular sized American model, is full of stuff just left here by other people...  Kinda gross.

On the other hand, it beats paying over twice as much for half as much space, right?

I think the maids are here today.  They're making a lot of noise in the hallway, which kind of annoys me because I wanted to take a nap earlier.  Oh well.  I should be doing something constructive anyway.  It'll be good when we find a more permanent place to live.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

So steamed I can't sleep...

I wasn't going to post again, but I feel the need to write about what happened to Bill and me tonight.  We went back to the biergarten featured in my previous post because after visiting a potential new home today, we were both really thirsty.  We enjoyed several rounds of beer, then headed back to the hotel room.  On the way there, I heard loud music that sounded like fun.  I decided to check it out.

The music led to a small hole in the wall bar.  A very friendly guy invited Bill and me to go into the bar.  He offered to buy us a round of drinks, which immediately made Bill suspicious.  The guy seemed nice and *harmless* enough.  I noticed the bar had a lot of poker machines in it and I got the sense they were hoping we'd stay and spend money.  It felt very scammy.  Bill, on the other hand, was having a very different response.  He had broken out in a cold sweat and was very pale.

There were several drunk Greeks in the bar... or so we were told that was what they were.  At least two or three of them weren't wearing shirts and had been dancing.  I took it as them having a party, but it really was kind of a bizarre scene.  Bill had a death grip on the beer he was holding, with his thumb over the top.  He had been well-trained in scams and we had run into our share of scammers in places like Spain and Greece.  The people were running well-known and easily researched scams and they followed the well-publicized games to the hilt.  And Bill was afraid our new "friends" in Germany were of the same ilk... though in fairness to them, they may not have been.  All I know is that my husband was very freaked out.

We got out of the bar and I wrote about our experience on a Facebook group for expats called Stuttgart Friends.  Before too long, someone called us idiots.  Another person said we were paranoid.  Someone else assumed we were totally new to Germany and had just fallen off the turnip truck.  These are people in a group with the word "friends" in it.

I wrote that I had clearly misjudged the group and was sorry I brought it up.  One person got defensive and still tried to blame me for what happened...  This is what happened.  We went into what looked like a "legit" bar.  I had seen it appear operational all week.  An overly friendly guy we didn't know offered to buy us a round and was grinding against some drunk blonde lady near us.  Two guys were behaving rather oddly in the bar, too, and there were two other guys standing outside, staring at us.  They noticed me noticing them and tried to look friendly.  I wasn't as weirded out as Bill was, I will admit, and I don't think these people wanted to hurt us.  I just think they were up to no good.  Call it a gut instinct.

I shared our experience in this group and was somewhat surprised to be immediately labeled an idiot when really, all I was trying to do was be helpful.  This shitty, judgmental, and frankly mean-spirited attitude among military folks is one reason why I don't enjoy being around them much or getting to know them, although to be fair, more than a few people appeared to be Germans somehow affiliated with military people.  At the very least, one would think they'd be sensitive to PTSD, which may have been all we were experiencing tonight, but it was definitely a real thing that had Bill very rattled.

That's the last time I will make that mistake.  I got along fine in Stuttgart without the "Friends" group last time we were here and I can do it again.  I suppose I should have told that guy and his buddy to go fuck themselves, but I managed to stay civil in that group, anyway.  I'm glad we're moving to a temporary apartment tomorrow.  I don't have to be around the skanky bar anymore...  and next time we have a weird/suspicious experience, I'll be sure to keep it to myself.  Maybe if they ever encounter a similar situation, they will be able to deal with it better than we did... though I have to admit, neither of us ended up crime victims tonight, so that's a positive thing.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Biergarten lunch at Anno 1897!

We enjoyed a very nice lunch at the same biergarten where we went to drink beer the other night.  It was attached to the same restaurant where we hoped to eat, but ended up leaving because all the service was outside.  I'm glad we gave them another chance.  The place is called the Anno 1897, I think, because that was the year their restaurant was built.

When we sat down, we were immediately recognized by a young man who helped served us a couple of nights ago.  He remembered that we are Americans and offered us a menu in English.  We said we were okay with a German menu, but he brought an English one anyway.

Fortunately, there was nothing on the menu that confounded me, despite never having studied German.  I easily picked out gyros and a beer, while Bill had a turkey dish inspired by Indian food.  He paired his dish with a Radler, while I had a beer.

Both dishes were delicious and filling!  I finished mine with ouzo.  Bill skipped the ouzo because he has to drive to a couple of places this afternoon.

A shot of the tree-lined biergarten entrance... this is a very nice place to sit and eat... and of course, drink beer.  I notice it's very busy during the week at lunch time.  

Our bill was about 26 euros and well worth the cost.  I love biergartens, though...  it's one thing I missed most about living in Germany.  This particular restaurant has a full bar and a broad variety of dishes, everything from Greek food to Italian food, as well as the Indian style dish Bill had.  The wait staff is friendly and charming and they speak excellent English, too... though if you want them to, they'll speak German.  

Ever wonder what it's like to be a flight attendant?

I posted this review of Heather Poole's 2012 book, Cruising Altitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet on Epinions in 2012.  Since I am currently reading a book about air travel, I decided it makes sense to repost my review of Poole's tales of life as a flight attendant here on my travel blog.  I must say, any glamour I thought existed in the world of flight attendants has now vanished.

Ever wonder what it's like to be a flight attendant?

 Jun 26, 2012 (Updated Jun 26, 2012)
Review by    is a Top Reviewer on Epinions in Books
Rated a Very Helpful Review

    Pros:You may not look at flight attendants the same way again.

    Cons:Maybe a couple of slow spots.

    The Bottom Line:This book didn't crash and burn.

    I love a good tell-all, especially when it's about professions I've wondered about.  There are lots of people out there who have interesting jobs and I'm always grateful to those who choose to write about their work for curious readers like me.  Though I have read a few books about flight attendants, I know that flight attendants have one of those jobs that always spins interesting tales.  And every flight attendant no doubt has a million stories to tell about what it's like to fly the friendly skies with the crazy, crabby, or crotchety, whether they're passengers, pilots, or fellow flight attendants.  That's why I knew I had to read Heather Poole's 2012 book, Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet.  This book is available for download or in paperback.

    Becoming a flight attendant is difficult...

    Next time you're sitting on an airplane, watching the flight attendants wrestle the drink cart down the aisle, consider the fact that that person had to fight longer odds than most to score that job.  Poole goes into great detail about what it takes to become a flight attendant.  You might be surprised by how challenging it can be.  Indeed, Poole tried a time or two before the 1990s, when she got her first gig working for a now defunct charter airline.  Stepping up to her current job was quite challenging and required a grueling training course in a different city.  Poole spent weeks in a hotel and funded her incidental expenses on credit.

    According to Poole, it's very easy to flunk out of flight attendant training.  In fact, she describes sort of a "here today, gone tomorrow" atmosphere.  One day a man or a woman would be in training with her.  The next day, they'd be gone, never to be seen or heard from again.

    Being a flight attendant is difficult...

    More than just sky hosts or hostesses passing out drinks and snacks, flight attendants are responsible for saving lives.  And while they're protecting your life, they have to look their best, wearing shoes with at least a one inch heel and, if they're female, tastefully applied makeup.

    Flight attendants don't get paid until the doors on the aircraft have closed and the flight is pulling away from the gate.  That means that when they're greeting you as you come aboard, they aren't getting paid.  Moreover, according to Poole, flight attendants don't make munch money at all.  Consequently, they tend to share "crashpads", basically a house or an apartment used just for sleeping.  Poole was based in New York City and shared a "crashpad" in Crew Gardens with dozens of different people, some of whose names she never learned.  Her first crashpad was a house owned by a Brazilian guy who did some shady business on the side.  For the privilege of sleeping at the Brazilian's house, Poole, along with many of her colleagues, paid about $150 a month.

    Of course, flight attendants have to endure their share of abuse, whether it be from disgruntled passengers, lecherous pilots, or crazy co-workers.  Poole offers anecdotes aplenty about passengers who have demanded her name so they could report her to the airline authorities.  She writes a story of a fellow flight attendant who had to be escorted off the aircraft in handcuffs.

    But being a flight attendant has its advantages, right?

    Heather Poole was attracted to her career because it meant getting to see the world on the cheap.  But-- not so fast-- it turns out that it can take awhile before a flight attendant ever gets a chance to see Paris.  Flight attendants on international routes tend to have a lot of seniority, which, according to Poole, is everything.  Flight attendants who don't have a lot of seniority tend to get stuck with the crappy jobs and the suckiest routes.  And they may very well get fed up and quit before they ever see sunny Barcelona or Buenos Aires!

    Despite all that, Poole says that flying is now in her blood.  She's been doing her job for over fifteen years and even got her mom to join up.  And as much as I hate dealing with obnoxious people and nursing sore feet, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of envy at what Poole describes as an exciting but chaotic life.

    My thoughts

    I really enjoyed reading Cruising Attitude, almost as much as I did Elliot Hester's similar book, Plane Insanity, which, back in 2004, I described as the funniest book I had read in a long time.  Though Poole's book has some funny moments, I wouldn't describe this book as a humor book.  She takes the time to explain how the airline industry works, particularly post 9/11.

    Actually, as exciting and fun as it sounds to be able to jet off to different cities around the world, Poole makes being a flight attendant sound kind of like a bad deal.  When she first got started, Poole's salary was about $18,000 a year, before taking about $800 to pay for her uniforms.  For that $18,000,  she got to put up with a lot of crap as she practically starved!  Poole made friends, but watched a lot of them walk away from the job and, consequently, her life.


    Poole's writing is, for the most part, very engaging.  There are a few slower spots in the book, but I mostly enjoyed reading about her experiences as a flight attendant.  Poole seems like the kind of person I would like to get to know.  I found her book hard to put down and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in learnning about what it takes to be a flight attendant.  

    Interested in learning more?  Check out Heather Poole's blog...
    Recommend this product? Yes


    More good Italian food in Mohringen...

    After coming back to and cleaning up Arran's chocolate disaster last night, Bill and I decided to venture out for dinner.  We could have gone to an Asian restaurant, which had food that smelled good and probably would have been a nice change of pace.  But I really wanted Italian style pasta, which I had missed on our last two visits to Italian restaurants.  We stopped by Ristorante La Piazzetta, which is on Filderbahnstrasse and just around the corner from Il Cappuccino Feinkost.

    One very hard working guy was handling all the tables outside.  I heard the voices of our American countrymen and noticed that the place was humming with business.  It also smelled like a good place to eat.  We sat down and the waiter took our order after a few minutes.  We each had a glass of Chianti and some San Pellegrino.

    Maybe after 45 minutes, a woman who was obviously a member of the wait staff showed up.  She helped her colleague, who was handling the crowd admirably.  The couple sitting near us were obviously regulars and the new waitress stopped and chatted affectionately with them for awhile.

    Dinner...  I had a very satisfying oven baked rigatoni with meat sauce and cheese.  Bill had fettuccine with basil pesto.  His dish was vegetarian and very refreshing.  The basil had sort of a cooling effect on the dish.  My dish was very much comfort food, which was what I was going for last night.  I only managed about half of it, though.  I think both of these went for about about 7 euros.

    Bill enjoys the rising moon. 

    And there it is, competing with the streetlights.  Last night's moon was gorgeous.  I got a better shot with my digital camera.

    We ended the evening with glasses of Montepulciano.  The check was about 33 euros.  I noticed a couple of cute little girls sitting near us, well-behaved and enjoying the food.  I think there are plenty of good menu options for kids.

    Like most European restaurants, smoking is allowed at the outside tables and a few people were taking full advantage.  If you are sensitive to smoke, it may be advisable to eat inside.  I noticed a lot of people doing that, too.  

    We noticed one car was parked crookedly in the lot next to the restaurant and I told Bill I bet that was the work of the Americans who were sitting in the corner.  Sure enough, I was right!