Sunday, May 31, 2015

Twenty years ago today...

I wasn't going to blog again today, but thanks to Timehop, I realize that today is a very important anniversary...

Most of the people I joined the Peace Corps with in 1995...

At about 5:30 pm on May 31, 1995, I boarded a United Airlines flight from Dulles Airport in the Washington, DC area to Paris, France.  I remember that flight very well.  It was years before 9/11, so it was a relatively laid-back experience.  There were 32 of us together; we'd just been through a briefing at the State Plaza Hotel in Washington, DC.  I remember being excited about going to France, even if we were only going to the airport.  It was my first time abroad since my dad retired from the Air Force.  In fact, that was the first flight I had taken since we came back from Mildenhall Air Force Base in 1978.  

I was 22 years old... just weeks from turning 23.  As the lone Peace Corps Trainee from Virginia, I was the only one who hadn't flown in.  My parents drove me to my sister's apartment and she dropped me off at the hotel.  I wanted to get the hell out of Virginia and my parents' house.  I was ready for an adventure.

I was excited to have been accepted to the Peace Corps.  I joined at the right time.  I'm not sure if they would have taken me at a time other than the mid 1990s, when the Soviet Union and all the satellite countries that had been communist during the Cold War were becoming "free".  A lot of spaces were open for those who wanted to be Volunteers.  I didn't have a particularly impressive academic or volunteer record, but I did have a sister who had served in Morocco in the mid 1980s.  I qualified medically and legally, even though I got a nastygram from the medical office about being overweight.  I also managed to find six people who were willing to recommend me.

I joined the Peace Corps hoping to launch and wanting to do something worthwhile... something more than selling chocolate and menswear and temping in offices, which is what I'd been doing prior to joining.  I had a degree in English with double minors in speech and communications.  I went to a fine public school in Virginia, but not one that most people had ever heard of.  It was the kind of place where people tend to go to "grow up".  I was the only one in my group who originally hailed from a southern state and one of the few who hadn't attended a prestigious private university.  I was also one of the few who didn't have politically liberal leanings, though I have become a lot more liberal since 1995.

Though I felt grown up when I decided to go to Armenia for two years, some might say I still needed to mature when I arrived in Yerevan at 3:30am on June 2, 1995.  We had spent twelve hours in Paris and because I wasn't a seasoned traveler at that point, I just hung around terminal 1 all day.  Some of my new friends chose to venture into the city.  Hanging out at CDG for twelve hours while jet lagged was a pretty dreadful experience.  To this day, I can't hear "Driver's Seat" by Sniff In The Tears and not think of being stuck at CDG on my way to Yerevan.

I remember the flight to Armenia being rather scary.  We were on what looked like a Soviet era plane with a lot of flight attendants wearing what looked like Soviet era uniforms that were too big for them.  People stood in the aisles during the whole flight and smoked.  There was no assigned seating and they passed out warm cups of water and warm beer.  The plane shook for much of the flight and I seriously worried about crashing more than once as we flew over the Black Sea.

We landed in Yerevan at about 3:30am and there was little power in the airport.  In Armenia in 1995, the infrastructure was pretty poor.  The only places that had power 24 hours a day were hospitals and metro stations.  I'm sure the landing strip at Yerevan's airport had power, but I remember walking through darkened hallways when we got off the plane, right there on the tarmac.  Thank God I didn't need to use the ladies room.  You could smell it before you saw it.  Members of A-2, the second Peace Corps group in Armenia, were waiting for us, cheering us on, and passing snacks to us.  Remember, it was before 9/11.  It took several hours for everyone to get their luggage and get cleared by customs.

I remember my first glimpse of Armenia beyond the airport.  I was struck by the huge, concrete, ugly buildings. I saw lots of laundry strung up on balconies, lots of dust, trash, and Soviet era tackiness.  I wondered what the hell I had signed up for.  It wouldn't take long before I was very accustomed to all of those previously foreign sights.  Even today, when I go to a former Eastern bloc country, I feel at home.

We arrived at Hotel Armenia at about 9:00am, which at that time was not affiliated with any first world hotels and was divided by the "old side" and the "new side.  Hotel Armenia is now owned by Marriott.  Naturally, we were all exhausted and just wanted to go to bed.  Once we got to the hotel, we had to endure a briefing and a strange meal.  If I recall correctly, our first meal included salty mineral water from Jermuk, hot tea, terrible tasting Pepsi that reminded me of brown Alka Seltzer and only reinforced all the Soviet era stereotypes I'd heard of in the movies, salty fish, fruits, vegetables, and stinky cheese.  I remember lots of grandiose chandeliers only outfitted with a couple of light bulbs that shone dimly.  I also remember immediately learning the words for cucumbers, tomatoes, apples, apricots, and eggplant.  They were all in season when we arrived, so we were fed a lot of them.

We stayed on the "old side" of Hotel Armenia, because it was cheaper than the new side.  I remember hot showers were only available for about two hours a day-- one hour in the morning and one in the evening.  I remember the floors in the bathroom at the hotel were covered with brightly colored linoleum.  There were very fancy looking crystal light fixtures in the room, but not all of the lights worked.  The beds were twin sized and not particularly comfortable.  When we left the hotel, we had to leave our keys with the dour looking women who sat in the hallway, as if on guard.  The keys were all attached to heavy "keyrings", which made it difficult to walk away with them.

I saw so much change over the time I was in Armenia.  I wonder how it must seem to people today.  I know there are many things that haven't changed since the 1990s, but I know for a fact that Yerevan is different.  I lived in Yerevan during my tour.  At that time, it wasn't all that cushy.  The first year, most people endured life with no power a lot of the time.  I remember reading a lot of books by kerosene lamp.  I had running water everywhere I lived, but a lot of my friends didn't.  To get hot water, I had to put a bucket of water on a kerosene heater or my propane stove.

I never got as good at speaking or reading Armenian as some of my colleagues did.  I didn't work very hard at it.  But I ended up enjoying a very unique experience full of music, food, and fun.  I got to use a lot of the talents I was born with, and people were actually glad I was using them.  I was not just plugging away at some job that paid enough to live on, but didn't really excite or interest me.  Peace Corps was the one place where my talents-- all of them-- were truly welcomed.  When I later became an Army wife, it was a surprise to me that my husband, who had been an Army officer, recited the very same oath as I did on the day I swore in.  I recently told some of the folks in our local Facebook military group about swearing in.  Some of them were surprised that as a PCV, I swore to uphold and defend the Constitution, just like they did.

I interacted with a lot of people and many locals knew who I was, even though it was a large city.  There were very few Americans in Armenia in the mid 90s.  A lot of people knew me because I sing and being a very white, blonde, American woman who sings in a place like 90s era Yerevan can get you noticed.  I used to go to the jazz clubs in Yerevan and sometimes I'd sing with the band.  During training, a few of my friends and I would sit at the bottom of the Cascade Steps, drink beer, and play music.  We put on quite a show for the locals.  I'm sure it's totally different now, though I haven't had the chance to go back, despite all my travel since then.  I see now the Cascade Steps have been spruced up and there are now bars there.  

When I left Armenia in 1997, I flew business class on a new airbus being leased by Armenian Airlines (which no longer exists).  I had a whole row to myself and it was a very pleasant experience.  It's hard to fathom how different my flight into Armenia was from my flight out in 1997.  One of my sister's colleagues went to work with the USDA in Yerevan not long after I left.  They all knew and remembered me.  I was one of a very small group of Americans in a place where Americans had previously been forbidden for decades.

A view of Mount Ararat from my school in Yerevan.  It was a clear day.

Armenia really changed my life... not in the way I hoped or expected it would, but in other ways.  My Army officer husband was impressed by my service and the fact that I am also an Air Force "brat".  It was one of the things that made me attractive to him.  In fact, there were some things about Peace Corps service that were similar to military service.  For one thing, I too had a pair of hideous government issued "birth control glasses".  I also had to endure a very thorough physical, though maybe not like the ones Bill experienced.

Thanks to the circumstances of his career, I have continued to travel abroad, though not to places like Armenia.  I have been visiting many decidedly first world countries since my Peace Corps days, unless you want to count a couple of brief trips to the Caribbean.  But those trips were on all inclusive cruises with SeaDream Yacht Club.  I have to admit, I almost felt embarrassed to be taking such an expensive cruise when I visited some of those islands in the Caribbean.  There is a lot of poverty there.

My husband, on the other hand, has gone to many austere countries due to his work.  When he went to the Republic of Georgia in 2008, right after the South Ossetian conflict with Russia, I warned him that he would get sick on arrival.  I told him to bring back some wine.  He did get very sick and he did bring back wine, which we both enjoyed.  Since that trip, he's worked with at least one person who knew me when I was a Volunteer and was once, in fact, my colleague.

I remember this so well...

I won't lie.  I left Armenia on August 21, 1997 and I could not wait to get out of there.  I had had it with living the Peace Corps lifestyle and dealing with the problems I encountered when I lived there.  I was ready to go to Europe for a month, travel by train, go home, get a job, and live the typical American lifestyle.  At age 25, I thought it would be easy, especially since I had all this great "international" experience.  It didn't turn out that way, since I have never had a job that has paid me by the year or offered generous benefits.  I was preparing for that career when I met Bill, having gotten into grad school in part because of my Peace Corps service.  I doubt I would have gotten in on the strength of my rather average college grades and GRE scores.

My life has not worked out the way I planned it to-- I thought I'd have a career and a family of my own.  I never thought I'd live abroad again, let alone twice again.  I never thought I'd be someone's second wife... the wife of an Army officer whose constant moves made it difficult for me to practice the profession for which I was trained.  My husband's career has made it possible for me to do what I always wanted to do, which is write.  And sing... and travel...  Fortunately, he doesn't mind my dependence on him since I keep him entertained.  I don't have kids of my own, but I do have dogs.  They annoy my German neighbors with their rambunctiousness and worry me when they fight.

The phone number at the end of this PSA is the very same one I used to call over and over during the lengthy application process...

I was not one of those people who ever planned to join the Peace Corps.  I mainly joined because I needed to escape.  My sister had done it and flourished.  I thought it might be a good thing for me to do, too.  But I wasn't one of those people who planned for twenty years to be a Volunteer.  My decision to join was sudden and impetuous.  I filled out my application the night my aunt died of brain cancer and sent my application as I was on my way from Virginia to Georgia for her funeral.  My acceptance was surprisingly seamless.  As if I were in a dream, I successfully completed my Peace Corps assignment.  I never expected to be accepted, let alone finish the two years.  But I did it and it did change my life.  I know I got a lot more out of the Peace Corps than I put into it.

The Peace Corps wasn't necessarily the "toughest job I've ever loved".  I did enjoy a lot of it.  I made a few friends who I think will be friends until I finally die.  I learned a lot and there isn't a day that passes that I don't remember those 27 months I spent in Armenia as part of the third group to serve in the Peace Corps in that country.  It's hard for me to fathom that it's 2015 and they are now on group A-23.  I was a member of A-3, most of whom are pictured above at our "close of service" conference held in April 1997 in T'sakhadzor.

I have had the good fortune to run into people I used to know twenty or more years ago.  I'm happy to say that we mostly still get along, though I know there are some people from that time who would just as soon forget I exist.  I don't expect many people who shared 90s era Armenia with me will ever read this, but if they ever do, I want to offer a virtual handshake and a hearty congratulations.  We did it.  It wasn't easy.  And it was well worth doing.  Shnorhavor!

A more recent Armenia volunteer's video about her time in Hayastan...  Makes me feel very old...  On the other hand, those apartment buildings are so familiar.

Cruising around Calw...

Last weekend, when we visited the Baumwipfelpfad Schwarzwald, we were forced to detour through Calw.  I kept seeing signs for this town and had heard it was pretty.  Bill wanted to go out for a few hours, so we took a short outing to Calw, which is about 18 kilometers from our home in Unterjettingen and was Hermann Hesse's hometown.  Hermann Hesse won the Nobel Peace Prize for literature in 1946.  He was born in Calw on July 2, 1877.  

We left the house at about 1:30 or so, prior to having lunch.  By the time we got to Calw, it was about 2:15.  I was hungry.  The first order of business, once we parked at the huge Kaufland parkhaus, was to find lunch.

Hermann Hesse's town...

Unfortunately, Calw was pretty dead yesterday and a lot of the restaurants there do the traditional pause, meaning their kitchens close at 2:30.  We wandered around looking for a place that didn't close at 2:30 and saw a couple of cafes and ice cream shops.  We were turned away at one restaurant and a helpful German guy advised us to come earlier "next time".  Duh.  I guess I should have been flattered that he didn't immediately see us as Americans and assume we were "on holiday".

I was getting crankier and crankier as my blood sugar dropped and Bill was apologizing to me for dragging me to such a quiet place when we ran across a gasthaus in the main square.  A smiling man was standing there with three huge chalkboards.  They were still serving lunch.  Success!

As much of the gasthaus's sign as I could get with my iPhone while sitting down.  

Yesterday's menu...

My salad.  It did the trick...

And the rest of our lunch... served on Hermann Hesse commemorative plates from 2002.

We sat down at an outdoor table overlooking what appears to be a massive construction and restoration project.  Many elderly people were standing in groups.  I wasn't sure what was going on.  I almost thought maybe there was a protest, but no one looked pissed off enough for that.  I was too focused on eating to investigate, but I think maybe they were hanging around after the weekend market.  

The menu at the gasthaus included several dishes featuring asparagus and Hollandaise sauce.  I ordered the ham and asparagus plate for 11 euros and Bill had the turkey breast and asparagus plate for 13,50 euros.  Both dishes came with a trip to the self service salad bar and salted potatoes.  We washed lunch down with hefeweizen.  The food was good and hearty and it took about three seconds for me to stop being so hangry.

Cool buildings in the main square...

Bill enjoys a little more wheat beer.  It was surprisingly chilly yesterday.

Although we had come to Calw to see what was there and maybe find something fun to do, it was really pretty quiet yesterday.  So we decided to people watch.  It was an interesting way to pass the time.  I notice that Calw seems to have a resident cat.  I'm not sure if it was a male or female, but I saw it three or four times.  It was a grey striped kitty with white "socks" and a crooked right ear that seemed to be perpetually cocked to the side.  The cat was distinctive looking and appeared to be quite a character as it followed people and wandered around the main square.  I never did manage to get a picture of the kitty.

I also noticed that Calw appears to have a lively music venue.  Rodger Hodgson, former lead singer of Supertramp (one of my favorite 70s and 80s bands) is due to perform there soon.  

Concert posters visible from where we sat.

We continued to watch the world go by from our table.  I saw the smiling proprietor of the restaurant warmly embrace an elderly lady as if they were dear friends or perhaps relatives.  I saw lots of kids go up to the fountain and dip their water guns into the water.  They'd fill the guns and shoot at the lion sculpture on top of the fountain.  Shopkeepers would get water from the fountain and water the potted shrubs in front of their stores.  It was a scene one wouldn't necessarily see in the United States.

As we finished eating lunch, I noticed a small sign by the door at the gasthaus...

Nette Toilette?  What the devil is that?

I heard two girls talking about needing the WC and a man said, "Nette Toilette"-- "nice toilet".  So I looked it up on my iPhone.  Apparently, it's a program in certain German cities where restauranteurs allow their toilets to be used freely by the public.  I think that's a nice idea.  The reason behind this program is that there aren't enough public toilets and it would cost money to build, maintain, clean, and protect them from vandalism.  Public toilets are also usually only in the center of the city, leaving necessary facilities out of reach for those who venture out further.  In exchange for allowing people to use their toilets, restauranteurs get money from the city and they may also get the odd impromptu guest who decides to stick around for a meal.  Calw is just one of many German cities with this program.  It's good to know that if I see the red and yellow sign and need to pee, I can do so guilt free!

Our lunch tab was about 38 euros, which we thought was a good deal.  After we finished eating, we decided to wander around a bit.  I took a few photos of Calw's beautiful old downtown district.       

At one point, we heard lots of drums and Turkish horns.  I looked down an alleyway and noticed a large number of Muslims standing near a building as the noise continued.  It was obviously a wedding.  I think it was the first Turkish one I've ever seen in Germany.  People stood around, looking on curiously.  

Someone's pretty yellow roses.

When we got back to Kaufland, I realized nature was once again calling.  We went into the massive store and I found a clean and free WC.  Calw's Kaufland is very nice as opposed to the one Bill visited in Herrenberg.  It's very big, clean, and offers most anything you'd need.  We decided to pick up a couple of items.

I couldn't resist taking this photo...  German quality written in English!

I never knew McDonald's made ketchup.  I thought they just used Heinz.  Learn something new every day...  No, we didn't buy any.  

Scary wine drink consisting of merlot and cola flavoring.  You're supposed to drink it iced.  Nein, danke.

This was taken from the parking garage.  You can see the popular brauhaus across the river.

Street sign...

Our trip to Calw wasn't long on structure or activity, but it was interesting nonetheless.  Calw is a really pretty town.  Next time, we'll have to get there earlier and check out some of the museums and other restaurants.  At the very least, I got to learn a little about Hermann Hesse and the Nette Toilette program, right?  

I was feeling pretty good about our little impromptu trip to Calw until we got home.  It was obvious Zane and Arran had engaged in a little scuffle in our absence.  Zane had a couple of bite marks on his face and it looked like he'd also thrown up.  I think they got in a fight over their Kongs, which they had been successfully using for months.  

I cleaned up the mess and felt kind of bad for leaving them, while at the same time I was grateful that no one got seriously hurt.  I am forever fretting about the dogs.  Maybe it's time we started taking them with us like Germans do.  That might necessitate a new blog all on its own.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A new Greek restaurant in our neighborhood...

Last week, as we were telling our landlords about our wet basement, the conversation turned to food. They asked if we'd tried the new Greek restaurant in our neighborhood.  We hadn't, though Bill had seen signs for it.  I wanted to go out last night, so we decided to walk to this new place.  To be totally honest, I'm not even really sure of the name of the restaurant... and when I left there last night, I was feeling no pain.  I did take a picture of the sign out front, though, as we were leaving.

Bei Dino?  ETA:  Bill says the restaurant is called Taverne bei Dimi...

As we approached this place, the chef was standing outside.  He followed us into the restaurant and a lady sitting in what appears to be their smoking lounge got up to greet us.  The smoking lounge is walled off with glass and has a TV and several electronic gambling machines.  A few folks were in there drinking, smoking, and gambling.

The lady who waited on us beamed when we told her we were Americans who live in the neighborhood.  She spoke very broken English, but I got the sense that Americans don't visit their restaurant very often.  She told us she had spent a long time in Germany, then moved back home to northern Greece for a few years.  She also told us that she and her brother had moved back to Germany from Greece so she could send money to her daughter, who is studying at a university back home.  Evidently, the economy is not so good in Greece.  Yes, I'd heard about that... but she made it sound like she and her family were very personally affected.  I got a kick out of her comment that America is too dangerous.  I'm sure people who watch the news but have never been to the States could easily get that impression.

Bill checks out the menu...

They had some interesting art on the walls...  I kind of like this painting.

Smoking lounge...

I decided on the dorade, which they offer on Friday and Saturday nights.  Bill had lamb cutlets.  Our very kind waitress brought out a house shot of ouzo for us as we sipped dry red wine.  As we waited for our food, I looked around the restaurant, which is kind of plainly decorated.  A few more people came in for dinner.

The salad that came with my fish.  It was a little salty.

Bill's salad seemed to be more Greek inspired.  It included feta and more peppers.  

Bill's lamb.  He said it was very good.  I don't like lamb very much, so I didn't try it.

My dorade was mostly good, except it was a little cold/underdone in the middle.  It could have used a little more time on the fire.  I didn't complain, though, because by the time I realized it was underdone, I had pretty much had enough anyway.  We could have taken the fish with us if we'd wanted to.  The t'zatziki that came with this dorade was absolutely fantastic... probably among the best I've ever had.  I liked the thick cut fries, too.

A nice little foyer near the restrooms...


While I have had better dorade elsewhere, I liked this restaurant because I enjoyed talking to the lady/waitress who took care of us.  She was very friendly and kind and even showed us pictures of home and her family.  It made me want to go to Greece.  She brought out more ouzo, too...

We will have to go back and try their gyros and souvlaki.  I like that this restaurant is within stumbling distance of where we live.  That allows us to drink lots of red wine... which we definitely did last night.   

Friday, May 29, 2015

People in Hell want ice water...

My cute little Mini when it was still pretty new...

Ever heard that expression?  The first time I heard it was while watching a movie about Patsy Cline.  Or was it Loretta Lynn?  I don't remember.  All I know is that the movie was about a country singer.  I looked it up... it's a quote from the 1985 film, Sweet Dreams, which starred Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline.  It's a good film with some surprisingly funny lines in it.

Anyway, I'm inspired to write about how "people in hell want ice water" today because it's PCS season.  For those not familiar with the military lifestyle, allow me to explain.  PCS means permanent change of station.  Summertime is prime PCS season for military folks around the world.  It's when military families everywhere move to a new place to a new job.  Bill and I have been through it multiple times over the past twelve years.  We did spend several years in the Washington, DC area because he had two jobs in a row there.  But after that, we were constantly moving.  In fact, for the last seven years of his career, we never got the full three year tour in one place.  Three years is about how long the average job runs for a service member.

Now, if you are moving to a place in the United States, a PCS can be a bit of a pain in the ass.  But it can also be a good chance for a road trip.  Almost two years ago, Bill and I moved from North Carolina to Texas and I got to see a part of the country I had never seen before.  It was kind of cool, since most of the rest of our time was spent in the southeastern United States.  But we only lasted a year in Texas before Bill retired and we moved back to Germany.

An international move is a major pain in the ass.  Yes, it's exciting to move abroad, but there are many more steps that have to be accomplished before your move is successful and complete.  The first time we moved to Germany, I had to start the process while Bill was in Iraq.  However, we had plenty of time to prepare and there was a lot of support.  The second time, of course, we moved as civilians.  We got little help from Bill's company, aside from a paltry moving allowance.  It was okay, though, because we'd been here before and knew kind of what the process was.  And we had Facebook to help us.

This morning, I noticed someone posting about how they were looking for a car.  They want a cheap, older, yet still reliable car that seats four.  If you were in the United States shopping for a vehicle, that wouldn't be so hard to find, right?  But when you are in Germany and most people have only shipped the one car the government will pay for, you quickly find out that reliable used cars are a hot commodity.  You may find yourself paying much more for a car here, just because they are in shorter supply and there's a higher demand.  You might not get a car you like, either.

So I get a big chuckle when I see people in the States posting about wanting to buy a cheap but reliable used car in Germany as soon as possible.  It's not that it's impossible to do that, but more that there will likely be stiff competition for the "cheap yet reliable" used cars.      

I must admit, last year when we were planning our move back to Stuttgart, we thought about only shipping one of our two cars.  We have a 2006 Toyota RAV 4 that we bought brand new in March 2006.  It's paid for and reliable and we knew it would work here because we brought it the first time we lived here.  It also still has fairly low miles because for the first year and a half we owned it, it was my car.  I don't drive very much.  I think we have cracked 100,000 miles by now, but for a nine year old vehicle, it's not as long in the tooth as it could be.

The other car we own is a 2009 Mini Cooper S convertible.  We bought it here as we were leaving last time.  It's paid for and wicked fun to drive.  Sadly, it still has low miles because it's my car.  It needs some repairs, which I hope we'll get next week.  Though it's six years old, it's only got about 23,000 miles on it.  I think it needs a new clutch, which it may get next week when we take it in for services (Minis are rather labor intensive cars).

Now, as we were planning our move, Bill and I thought long and hard about which car to bring.  Do we bring the tried and true RAV 4 with its ample seating and reliable track record?  That would be good for hauling around guests and our dogs, but it's more expensive to fuel up and harder to park.  It's also not as much fun to drive.  Or do we bring my less practical but way fun, easy to park, and fuel economical Mini Cooper?  It's not as stress free as the Toyota is and won't accommodate as many  people or as much stuff.  But I can put the top down and enjoy the autobahn during the two or three warmer months we enjoy here.  ;-)

Either way, Bill planned to either lease a car here or buy a cheap one.  We managed to get by alright with one car last time we were here, but it was frequently a pain in the ass for me (and for Bill, too, because he'd have to take off work to shuttle me to the dentist and the eye doc).  We did save some money, though, thanks to only needing to gas up and pay insurance for one car.  The Toyota was very new back then, so repair costs were very minimal.

As we were contemplating what to do, it occurred to me that in our case, paying to ship both cars was a better idea.  First off, both cars are paid for, so if one of them gets dinged, big deal.  They're our cars.  Secondly, the cost to ship the cars door to door from San Antonio to Boeblingen was about $4000.  We would definitely have to ship at least one car, so we'd already be spending a chunk of money.  Thirdly, if we didn't ship a car, we'd have to find a place to store it.  Not shipping a car, going only by a rough guess, might save us a couple thousand bucks... but a couple thousand bucks won't buy a reliable hoopty in these parts.  And we also don't know how long we'll be here.  It could be until next summer or it could be until ten years from now.  As it is, I'm kind of fretting about some of the stuff we have in storage.

So I said, "Bill, let's just send both cars over there."  We did.  They were picked up in San Antonio in late July and we got them in mid September.  It took a bit longer than we expected and the cars arrived a bit dirty.  But the shipping company did let us put about 100 pounds of stuff in each of the cars, which did help us out a bit.  We were only allowed to move 5000 pounds of furniture here.  Good thing we don't have kids!

When it comes time to move again, Bill may decide to buy himself a BMW, which he has been eyeing for awhile.  That may mean our older, yet reliable and low miles RAV4 may be on the lemon lot market.  Or maybe we'll get rid of the Mini...  who knows?  All I can tell you is that finding used cars among military folks in Stuttgart is a bit like the infamous housing hunt.  It can take awhile and end up being expensive and frustrating.  On the other hand, buying our Mini from Cars International outside of Patch Barracks was hassle free.  Dennis, the guy who sold us the car, still works there and even recognized Bill recently after bumping into him.  I was impressed he remembered him after five years!

My advice to people moving here is to think long and hard about whether or not you really want to leave your spare car at home.  It could be that in your situation, it's better not to ship the second car.  Or it could be a much better idea to ship it rather than trying to buy something used in Germany.  It depends.  If you have a fairly decent car that is paid for, you're probably better off shipping it.  If your car has a big lien on it, it may be better to sell or store it.  Also, consider when you're moving... PCS season will bring a lot of people looking for cars, but as people move in, people are also moving out.  If you come after PCS season, the pickings could be slimmer, but you may face less competition.        

As summer approaches, I look forward to more posts that make me think of funny sayings...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Chasing waterfalls in touristy Triberg...

I don't know how we missed it last time we lived in Germany, but somehow Bill and I never made it to Triberg before today.  Triberg is notable for being very cute, having lots of cuckoo clocks, and being home to the highest waterfalls in Germany.  The falls have an overall drop of 163 meters over seven cascades.  I happen to love a good waterfall, so I talked Bill into taking me there today.

A cow passed us as we headed into town...

From Unterjettingen, the drive was maybe 90 minutes southwest through some very scenic country.  Though clouds threatened to spoil our fun, the rain held off.  We pulled off at one scenic location on the way into town so I could get a few photos and Bill could duck behind a tree.  Luck being as it is, a woman pulled up with her little white dog while Bill was whizzing, causing him to abort abruptly.  I would have finished.  It's not like it's uncommon to see guys peeing in the woods in these parts.

The picturesque field where we took a short rest...

A map of the area...

We arrived in adorable and very touristy Triberg at about 1:00pm.  Lots of people were there today.  Parking was somewhat scarce and we were impatient to find it, since we both needed to pee and we were stuck at world's longest stoplight.   I mean, seriously, that thing was red for several minutes.

After pulling into a full parking garage and having to back out disappointed, we ended up parking for free at the Netto Supermarket.  Since it was Sunday, the store was closed.  We weren't the only ones using the lot, which has lots of signs threatening to tow people who stay too long.  Our car was unmolested, though, and we managed to enjoy a nice little visit.  If you visit Triberg on a Sunday or a holiday and can't find a place to park, try the Netto.

The first order of business was to find a WC.  There is a public one right on the main drag, but we avoided it because we also wanted lunch.  We ended up at Pizzeria Pinnochio, an Italian place that also offers Black Forest cake... just like every other cafe, konditorei, and restaurant in town.  It wasn't packed when we sat down, but the service was very slow.  It took several minutes to get menus, several more minutes for drinks, and quite a long time to get our food.

Pizzeria Pinocchio

Pinnochio is in the house!

Bill waits patiently for food and wine.

The food at Pizzeria Pinnochio wasn't bad.  Bill had the Rigatoni Pinnochio, which was rigatoni pasta served with a cream sauce, ham, mushrooms, and peas.  I had grilled salmon, which came with a salad.  Bill's dish came out much sooner than mine did, so I had to watch him eat.

I had Montepulciano and he had Bardolino... They took awhile to get to us, but at least the pours were generous.

I wasn't impressed by Bill's dish, though he seemed to like it.  

My salmon was nice, though.  It was a good choice and worth waiting for.

I have heard that in Europe, they bring the food out when it's ready, but this was the first time it had ever happened that way to me.  My entree took a noticeably long time... as in, Bill was about halfway done before I got my food and that was because he waited for me.  Fortunately, I enjoyed the salmon very much.  We thought about getting dessert, but the service was just way too slow and neither waitress seemed to have any sense of urgency.  We wanted to see the town and check out the falls.  So we paid our 28 euro check and got out of there.

We saw two Ferraris in Triberg.  I took a picture of one of them.

Main drag...

Complete with water...

It was four euros per person to see the waterfalls.  Word to the wise; the climb up is strenuous and there may be a lot of crowds.  You can take a tram to the top of the falls, which may be a better option for those who have mobility issues.  There are several entrances to the park and you can buy peanuts at the cashier's station.  I'm not sure if the peanuts are for you or the squirrels.

Main entrance to the waterfalls.

First view of the falls.

Standing here at the first level will net you a refreshing spray from the rushing water...

First level... there's a ways to go...

Bill gazes at all the watery splendor... 

Bill and I walked up the waterfalls and it was a challenge for both of us.  I'd say the walk up took about twenty minutes or so, but we were moving fairly fast to get past the throngs of people.  The rewards at the top of the falls are worth it, though, since there's a beautiful view from the top cascade.

I wonder if anyone heard this tree fall...

View from the very top...

On the way out...

There are a number of ways to leave the falls; we simply decided to walk down the way we came.  I recommend good walking shoes.  You might want to bring a jacket, though we didn't really need one today.  It was noticeably chillier at that field where Bill peed than it was at the falls.  Speaking of peeing, there is a WC right by the main entrance should the need arise.

Walking down took longer than walking up did, mainly because I forced myself to go slow.  I have a feeling my thighs are going to complain tomorrow.  Walking down the falls is almost as challenging as walking up is because you don't want to fall on your keister.  I've done that before-- when we went to El Yunque in Puerto Rico, I fell hard on a large boulder and my tailbone wasn't the same for weeks.

Once we were finished with the falls, we headed to a little konditorei for coffee and Black Forest Cake.  It was a very nice way to cap off our short visit to this cute little town.

I might stay in Triberg to try the many different authentic Black Forest cakes there...

Nice konditorei... not so touristy and fast and friendly service.  I'd go back!

Lots of souvenir shops were open today.  If I didn't already own a cuckoo clock (which is in storage in Texas), I might have gone ahead and picked one up at one of Triberg's many cuckoo clock shops.

Cuckoo clocks!

Touristy hotel with cafe...

There is a clinic in Triberg and we passed it as we were leaving the trail to and from the waterfalls.  The sign asks for quiet.

A front shot of the hotel where we had dessert and coffee.

Lots of cute hotels are in Triberg.  I know they must have a lot of tourist business, but I'm not sure I'd want to stay longer than a day or two.  The area is very pretty, though...

We had a good time in Triberg and would definitely recommend it as a day trip to others living in the Stuttgart area.  It's well worth a visit, even if the town is very touristy.  Triberg is also very kid friendly; we saw plenty of kids burning off energy climbing the falls.  

Bill also pronounced today a fun day, though I think he enjoyed yesterday's outing a little more.  We'll see where we end up next...  I think I can get into these staycation trips.  

Peanut gas for sale.

The drive is pretty, too...

Lots of crowds!