Saturday, December 30, 2017

Lunch at Il Due and I finally signed up for a cell phone contract!

When Bill and I first moved back to Germany in 2014, we resisted signing up for a cell phone contract.  It was mainly because we didn't know how long we'd be living here and we knew cancelling contracts in Germany can be a pain in the ass.  For three years, Bill has been buying me Vodaphone pay as you go top ups.  They run 25 euros each and I usually need at least one a month.  I get one GB before the speed is throttled... or, at least that was the way it was at first.

I got a new phone for Christmas.  In honor of the occasion, Bill decided to take me out today to sign up for a contract.  He chose O2 because they have a deal where you can get 10 GB of data a month for about 20 euros.  He later said it was closer to 30 euros, probably because they add a VAT or something.  I don't know.  I am not the one paying the bill.

Before we went to the shop, located in Nagold's fabulous Edeka supermarket, we stopped at Il Due for lunch.  I decided on the duck special.  Bill ordered swordfish.  He had a Pinot Grigio and I had a Barbera red.  Sadly, the duck came with hated mushrooms all over it, so we ended up trading plates. These are photos from my new iPhone 8+.

The swordfish was originally Bill's choice, but I ended up eating it.  It came with a nice healthy side of vegetables and was covered with a tapenade with onions, capers, and black olives.  I was good today. I even ate the Brussel's sprout.

Bill had the duck breast with its mushroom infested gravy.  It came with a side of cheesy potatoes, which Bill said were nice, and a side of vegetables.  I actually enjoyed the vegetables, which were cooked al dente and were very flavorful.  If I ate more vegetables, I might be less hulking than I a,m.

This was our third trip to Il Due.  Our first visit was a couple of months ago, even though we had been wanting to try the place for most of the time we've been here.  So far, we have not been disappointed by the food.  It's always been excellent.  Service can be a little slow, but it's always friendly and competent.  It's a nice place to stop for lunch when we're in Nagold.  Today's lunch before the tip was about 60 euros.

We went to the O2 store after we ate and had to wait about fifteen minutes or so, since the young man who was working there was helping someone else.  When it was our turn, Bill asked if the guy spoke English.  He said a little.  Bill said he speaks a little German.  Then he proceeded to speak German for about 90 percent of their collaboration.

I was waiting for Bill to find the IBAN (account number), since he did not take my advice and get a German bank account and an EC credit card.  He says he's going to rectify that mistake pronto.  I hope we'll be here long enough to make it worthwhile.

Bill brought his passport and a utility bill, but neglected to write down the IBAN.  Fortunately, he found it on our water bill.

The guy the O2 employee had been helping before he helped us offered to translate if we needed help.  It turned out he spoke perfect English.  We have found that fewer people in Nagold speak English.  In a way, it's kind of refreshing.  They don't automatically slip into English when they hear Bill speak German and he gets in his practice.  I am myself learning more of the language, but can't really speak it.  I understand a lot more now, though.  It's good to watch the German ads on YouTube and the odd video my German friend, Susanne, shares with me.

We stopped by Edeka to pick up some Champagne for tomorrow night.  We left with several bottles of wine and a box of chocolates.

I was amused by the sweet, well-behaved dogs sitting outside the store.  I wish mine were like that.

We were checking out... and once again, I noticed the warnings on the boxes of tobacco.  I snapped this picture to remind myself to look them up online.  In one warning, there was a shirtless man pictured looking down.  I couldn't help but wonder what he was looking at.  My guess is that the warning is that cigarettes cause impotence due to heart disease.  I love how blunt the warnings are.  They aren't simple text like they are in America.  No... here, you get photographic evidence of how nasty cigarettes are.

Below are a few photos from Nagold today.  It's still decorated for Christmas.  I always enjoy visiting Nagold.  It's hard to believe we live only a few miles away and the landscape is so totally different.  I definitely think we should shop at Edeka in Nagold over the Real in Jettingen.  It's a lot more pleasant.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Legal insurance... a romantic Christmas gift...

If you've been reading this blog, you may know that Bill and I had a slight mishap with our landlord's awning.  Luckily, we purchased personal liability insurance last year, so we were able to submit a claim.  Our landlords weren't happy with the settlement, so they contested it.  Our trusty insurance broker told me about their complaint and advised that the amount they were offered for their awning was in accordance with German law.

We haven't heard anything else about the awning recently, but all of this fussing over an old awning got me to thinking.  I'm not one to enjoy screwing with legal matters.  Having lived in Germany for several years, I know many Germans apparently enjoy going to court over the most "piss ant" issues.  And judging by our landlady's reaction to our accident with the awning, I started thinking it might be a good idea to invest in German legal insurance.

I sent our trusty broker a message and he sent me the information about the legal insurance he sells.  He sent me a flyer.

This sounded good to me...  About 300 euros annually for additional peace of mind.

After a couple of weeks of nagging from yours truly, Bill finally got the policy.  Yes, it seems like we have a lot of insurance policies, especially when compared to what we have when we're in the States.  At this writing, we have renter's insurance (both German and American), personal liability insurance, pet liability insurance, and now, legal insurance, to add to all of the regular stuff like car and health insurance.

I am determined not to be screwed with when it's time to move out of this house.  This insurance will not protect us if the landlady decides to take us to court over her awning, but it will provide security if another issue arises.  I kind of doubt she will want to go to court over the awning anyway.  We have an email where she admitted the awning was old and didn't know how long it was going to last.

We are also joining the Mietverein (renter's union) for our area.  This is a club that, for a small annual fee, provides legal counsel in case of problems with the landlord.  I've actually been wanting to do this for a long time, since I have heard it's a wise investment.  Now we're doing it because I told Bill I'd consider that a Christmas present.  I like having peace of mind.  From what I understand, the Mietverein is run for different counties in Germany.  If you live in Germany and are interested, click this link to find the club that serves your area.

Earlier today, I read an interesting thread on Toytown Germany about legal insurance in Germany.  I used to hang out on Toytown Germany a lot the first time we lived here.  It was always useful in the days before the multiple Facebook groups we have now.  I actually liked it even more than our local groups because the people in it weren't necessarily military folks living here under the umbrella of the Status of Forces Agreement.  Sometimes the discussions there would get interesting in terms of the culture.  For instance, it was on Toytown Germany that I first learned that most German men sit when they pee at home (at least if they're married).

I hope we won't have to use the new insurance, but I think it's better to be safe than sorry.  We have a clue that our landlady is not going to be laid back, so having some extra protection makes me feel a little bit better about continuing to rent her house.  The last thing I want to deal with is a bunch of legal bullshit.

I am truly sorry the awning broke; but honestly, it was an act of God.  We told her it was starting to fail and she sent her husband to fix it.  The repair didn't stand up to a stiff breeze.  If it hadn't happened to us this year, it probably would have happened next year... or perhaps to future tenants.

As for whether or not other Americans should consider taking out extra insurance, I can't say.  Personally, I like having the coverage.  It's psychologically beneficial.  Other people's mileages may vary.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Middle Eastern eats at Yaz Eine Prise Orient...

Bill and I had to go see Dr. Blair for dental cleanings this afternoon.  As is our habit, we both neglected to eat before we visited.  Consequently, we were both hungry when we were finished with the dentist.  It was about 4:00pm, though, which means that a lot of restaurants are enjoying a "pause" between lunch and dinner.  Fortunately, Dr. Blair's office is in downtown Stuttgart and there are a number of restaurants near him that serve food all day.  Today, we decided to stop at one that has always intrigued us, Yaz Eine Prise Orient.

I know Bill was excited when I suggested Yaz.  He's been interested in trying that place since we first arrived in 2014.  He's always been overruled by my desire to eat somewhere else.  I have to admit, every time we've passed this restaurant, which also has a flagship location in Düsseldorf, it has smelled good.  It also looks like a relatively popular place, although it was pretty empty when we stopped in this afternoon.  I see on their Web site that they plan to expand the chain.

When you first walk into Yaz, you may be a little bit confused about what to do.  There's a big menu on the wall, like what you'd see in a fast food place.  However, the servers told us to sit down wherever we wanted.  We selected a table by the window.  I liked the comfortable banquette seating against the wall.

Bill enjoys the menu.

As we perused the menu, which is rich with options for vegetarians and vegans as well as meat eaters, I found myself listening to the dance music that was playing.  It was kind of exotic sounding.  I don't normally like dance music, but it seemed to fit well in Yaz.  Bill got up thinking he had to order at the counter, but the waitress told him she'd come to us.  

The counter kind of confused us at first. 

Yaz offers a full bar as well as an interesting menu with a number of different choices.  You can have a yufka (which appears to be a wrap), tajine, teller, or a salad.  They also offer soups, snacks, and desserts.  Prices are very reasonable and portions are large.  Although we were both hungry, we decided against getting any of the grill specialties.  Instead, we had burgers.

Bill had a kofte, which was much like a cheeseburger, except it was made of meatballs and came on sesame seed bread.  It included grilled onions and mushrooms and barbecue sauce.  It also came with optional cheese, which Bill included, and a side of potatoes with mustard sauce and barbecue sauce.

Bill's excellent burger.  I probably would have liked it sans fungus.

I went vegetarian for once and had a delicious falafel burger.   It was served on the same sesame seed bread and came with lettuce, tomato, hummus, mango sauce, pomegranate seeds, and grilled onions.  I took mine without cheese.  Our sandwiches came with an additional side of fresh bread that was delicious.

This was an excellent sandwich.  I am definitely not someone who ordinarily eats vegetarian, but I was very happy with this.  I would order it again.  Yaz offers several options for vegans and vegetarians.  I also enjoyed the dips that came with the sandwiches, especially the sweet, spicy mustard.  The barbecue sauce tasted strongly of harissa.  

After we ate, I went to use the ladies room.  Unfortunately, it was closed.  There was a sign on the door asking the ladies to use the men's room.  I couldn't help but laugh to myself.  Germans have no problems with unisex bathrooms!

Tonight's dinner came to a very reasonable 24,50.  Bill rounded up to 30 euros, which seemed to please the waitress.  We were done and out of there less than an hour after we arrived.  I imagine Yaz is very popular at lunchtime.

The sign at the entrance to Yaz.  It kind of shows you what they offer.

Outside the restaurant.

Overall, we were very happy we stopped by Yaz tonight.  It was a refreshing change of pace and any time I manage to go meat free and enjoy it, I feel good.  I would definitely recommend Yaz to anyone else who enjoys Middle Eastern food, especially if they happen to be in Stuttgart at a time when other eateries are "paused".  

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Every girl's crazy 'bout a kilted man...

Three months ago, Bill and I were in Glasgow, Scotland, about to embark on our fourth cruise on Hebridean Princess.  While we were in Glasgow, we stopped into a kiltmaker's shop and got Bill fitted for a kilt of his very own.  We decided to do it because we both love visiting Scotland, especially on Hebridean Princess.  Kilts are very welcome on that ship.  On all of our previous cruises on Hebridean Princess, Bill wore his dress blues on the formal nights.  The uniform, like kilts and tuxedos, has always been well-received on the ship.

Bill retired from the Army in 2014 and there comes a point at which it gets harder to do justice to the Army dress uniform.  I also learned that it might not even be appropriate for a retiree to wear the uniform on a cruise, though I doubt anyone would "bust" Bill on such a British cruise.  On each of our voyages, we have been among a very small number of Americans, none of whom have been affiliated with the military.  In fact, we have found that the Army uniform is quite a conversation starter, especially among the Brits who have also served in the military.  However, I was dying to see Bill in a kilt and kept pestering him to get one.  He finally gave in and indulged me.

While we were in Berlin, the finished kilt arrived.  Our very kind neighbor accepted our box for us while we were out of town.  Bill got the whole package, which included everything except a shirt and a belt and buckle.  Last night, he tried on his new Scottish duds.

Bill decided not to put on the Ghillie brogues (shoes), although they were included.  Below is a video I made of the kiltmaker showing us how the shoes should be tied.  He also didn't put on the kilt pin, which was included.

The tartan used is County Donegal, since our last name is Irish.  Bill's surname originated in Donegal.  The jackets are made in Donegal.

It took just under three months for the kilt to be made.  I think it's because the tartan we used had to be ordered.  Otherwise, we probably would have had the kilt in late October or early November.  The kiltmaker made the kilt by hand and the quality is excellent.  It set Bill back about 900 GBP (approximately $1300).  But again, everything except the shirt was included in that price, even socks.   And Scots are not supposed to wear underwear under the kilt.  On the other hand, Bill is Irish.  ;-)  

Anyway, for those who are wondering who made this marvelous outfit, here's the link to the man responsible.  We are very pleased with the finished product, even though we probably could have had it made faster and cheaper at one of the other, larger kiltmakers.  I would highly recommend James Robertson Kiltmaker if you're ever in Glasgow and looking to be kilted.  

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Blind booking #4: Berlin! Part 5

Yesterday was our last day in Berlin.  Our flight did not leave until 5:55pm, so we had all day to spend in the city.  The Adina Apartment Hotel Berlin Mitte is very accommodating.  We were able to leave our bags at the hotel while we visited Berlin's TV Tower.  I have visited Stuttgart's TV Tower twice so far.  I expected that Berlin's tower would be similar.  Actually, it was a bit different in that the whole thing is enclosed indoors, whereas Stuttgart's tower allows visitors to go outside.

Berlin's TV Tower has a restaurant and a bar and, if you pay extra, you can reserve a table in the Sphere restaurant.  Naturally, it costs more to sit on the outside ring, next to a window.  We were going to do that, but the first available reservation was at 4:15pm and that was too late for us.

We took the tram to the tower, which allowed us to see more of Berlin's inner city.  As we were passing the neighborhoods, it occurred to me how much we were going to miss on this trip.  Bill and I will have to try to go back and see more sometime, if we stay in Germany.  Berlin is a very impressive city.

A bike messenger stopped near us while we were waiting for the tram.  I liked his vehicle.

The tower was somewhat crowded when we got there, although it's possible to skip the lines and book tickets online or purchase them from vending machines.  We walked around the sphere, looking at the very spectacular views of Berlin that would have been even nicer had the sun been shining.  After a few looks at the city, Bill, Parker and I stopped by the bar and had a drink.  

The many scenes of Berlin.

Part of the bar area.

The whole inside of the tower is like this.  You can't venture outside.  But the weather was crappy anyway, so it was no big deal.

Time for a beer break.  They had local craft beers available, which made Bill happy.

After our pit stop at the bar, Parker and I went to the ladies room.  I was not surprised to find a line, as there had been a line when we first arrived.  This time, it was two women, one of whom was pregnant.  As we were waiting, I happened to notice that the first three of the five stalls were open.  I could tell by the white display on the lock.  If the door had been locked, it would have been red.  

Just at the time I was about to point out the availability of the stalls to the chattering women, they noticed the first open stall.  They went to the first one, which had a changing table in it that apparently made it unavailable for normal use.  I went to the one next to it, but just as I was about to enter the stall, one of the women said, "Sorry!" and quickly jumped back in front of me, thwarting my attempt to pee.

I swear, I must be turning German, because my reaction was decidedly pissy... it was the kind of response I've gotten myself from Germans.  I then pointed out the other normal stall, which the other woman quickly took.  

Parker said, "Aggressive!"

My response was, "No, it's stupid!  Pay attention and fucking go!  Luckily, I don't have to pee that badly."  

Even I was surprised by the sharp tone of my response, although I think those two women both kind of deserved it.  Both of them lit out of there pretty quickly.  I don't even think they washed their hands.  Normally, I try not to be bitchy in these situations, but I was feeling exasperated and spoke too soon.  We left the tower and decided to have lunch across the street at the Block House, which is a chain steakhouse.  We've eaten there in Stuttgart and knew the food to be decent.  

I had a cheeseburger.  This was ground beef sitting on a piece of baguette with some kind of tomato relish and covered with Edam cheese.  It was pretty good, although I really wanted a proper burger.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the stretchy cheese, though.

Bill's mom had a small steak with a baked potato and bread.

And this was Bill's lunch.  

Block House has a lot of American appeal.  It reminds me of American chain steakhouses.

A few more shots near the TV tower... and another Christmas market.

By the time we were finished with lunch, it was mid afternoon.  We took the tram back to the hotel, picked up our bags, and headed for the airport.  Our cab driver was very helpful and knew exactly where we should be when we told him we were flying Eurowings (which was Air Berlin last night).  We checked into the remarkably primitive looking terminal, breezed through security and hung out until it was time to fly out of Berlin.  While we were waiting, I took notice of the very sexy voice coming from the woman doing the announcements.  Apparently, I am not the only one who's noticed that.

Seriously... she's quite the sexpot.  Reminds me of Princess Aura in Flash Gordon.


We enjoyed another uneventful flight back to Stuttgart and arrived home at about 8:00pm.  While we were gone, Bill's custom made kilt finally arrived from Scotland.  Tonight, he will model it for us and I will take pictures.  Stay tuned for that!

As for Berlin, I will declare it a successful trip, despite the weather.  The blind booking flights worked out really well and we were very happy with our accommodations.  There's a lot to see and do there and, when the weather isn't horrible, you might just find some good food and shopping.  I think I liked Hamburg better because it's prettier to me, but there's no denying that Berlin has a fascinating history.  I feel like reading more about it now that I've seen it in person.  

Blind booking #4: Berlin! Part 4

By the time we got back to the hotel, the weather was getting pretty crappy again.  We had a pretty disagreeable mixture of rain and snow that made venturing out for food unappealing.  We decided to go back to Alto, the restaurant's bar.  Awsam, the bartender, greeted us warmly.  Again, I wrote a lot about Saturday at the bar in my main blog.  That piece is a bit political, though, so for those who would rather skip my rantings, I'll just say that we enjoyed some wine, some bad pop music, and watched videos from the early 80s.

We also tried kumquats for the first time.  I must admit, although I had heard of kumquats, I'd never actually tried them.  They're basically tiny oranges.  You're supposed to eat the rind, which none of us did.  I wasn't aware of this, but apparently kumquats are pretty popular in Germany.  My friend Susanne says she likes to eat them when she's feeling sick.  They're supposedly pretty healthy.

Lemons, limes, and kumquats!

After a couple of hours in the bar, we went back to our room.  It was so yucky outside that I decided I just wanted a pizza from the Domino's we passed on our first night in Berlin.  Yes, I know it's ridiculous to seek out Domino's Pizza in an international city, but it had been years since I last had one and I was craving comfort food.  Parker was game, although Bill rolled his eyes at us.  So he went to the nearby Domino's in the shitty weather and picked up a pizza for us.

Domino's Pizza in Berlin.

It's been awhile since my last Domino's pizza and even that was in France (of all places).  We were pretty shocked by how small a "large" pizza was from the German Domino's.  It was about the size of a small in the United States.  Bill ordered us a Hawaiian style pizza with ham and pineapple, although I really just wanted a pepperoni pizza.  Pepperoni, as we know, is not the same in Germany as it is in America.  Here, pepperoni refers to peppers, not sausage.

After a good night's sleep, we rose to sunshine on Sunday.  Bill, Parker, and I had a special errand to run for some Americans in Stuttgart who were hoping for souvenirs from the Hard Rock Cafe in Berlin.  We also wanted to see Checkpoint Charlie.  We headed for Checkpoint Charlie first, hopping on the underground train just a couple of blocks from the hotel.

A couple of ads I spotted on the way to the subway.  They drive home how important it is to keep safety on the brain while driving.  Slow down and don't use your phone.

On the way to Checkpoint Charlie, I was intrigued by an ad on the train.  They're looking for healthy balding men to take part in research.

Below are some pictures from Checkpoint Charlie.  We stopped by the very extensive museum there, which was well worth the time.  I don't usually get that excited about museums, but this one is well worth a visit, even though it can get rather crowded and there's a lot to read.  Headsets are available.

A piece of the famous Berlin Wall.

A very famous sign.

Actors portray guards in front of the replica of Checkpoint Charlie.  For a fee, you can have your picture taken with them and get your passport stamped.  We didn't bother with that.

The one picture I took inside of the huge museum.  Seriously... if you visit Berlin, I highly recommend visiting the museum by Checkpoint Charlie.  It's fascinating and extensive.  I learned a whole lot about the former German Democratic Republic and the people who risked their lives to leave it.  

After we visited the museum, we got back on the underground train and headed for Charlottenburg, the area of Berlin where the Hard Rock Cafe is.  I didn't have any particular desire to visit there, but I got requests from three people in Stuttgart who were hoping for shot glasses and such.  Since I definitely don't mind the occasional American food, we went there for lunch.  

Bill smiles for the camera as we try to decide what to eat.  I was tempted by the burgers, but I can get those in Stuttgart.  Ditto on the ribs...

One thing I don't necessarily like about the Hard Rock Cafe is that they have all of this memorabilia on the walls.  I know that's the draw, along with the music, but having that stuff on the walls creates a museum effect.  We happened to be sitting near Janis Joplin and Keith Richards exhibits, so people would come stand by our table to check it out.  It was a little annoying.

Bill had a pulled pork sandwich with some very tasty fries.

Parker had a cheeseburger sans bacon.

I went with combo fajitas, which arrived sizzling on peppers and onions and came served with pico de gallo, guacamole, and cheese.  They weren't the best fajitas I've ever had, but they were probably the best I've had in Germany.  Unfortunately, that isn't saying a whole lot.  

For dessert, I had an Irish kiss, which was like hot chocolate with whiskey and tons of whipped cream.  It was good and not too big, as I could see the other desserts were.  I didn't need it, but it hit the spot.

After we ate, we went to the gift shop and picked up the requested souvenirs.  The lady who rang us up was Brazilian and said that a lot of Americans from Texas visit the Hard Rock Cafe in Berlin.  Although Bill and I came to Germany this time from Texas, only he and his mother are from there.  I am from Virginia.

Cool "bus" outside the restaurant.

And the facade.  It had gotten cloudy while we were having lunch.

We decided to check out another Christmas market and this cool looking church, which we didn't have time to explore.

We stopped for the obligatory Gluhwein...

Good to the last drop?

By the time we had walked through the Christmas market, it was getting dark and threatening to snow.  We decided to take a cab back to the hotel.  We considered staying in and ordering room service, but somehow I was cajoled back down to the Alto restaurant.  Parker stayed in the room and watched TV.

Bill and I shared a nice gray burgundy.  He had pumpkin soup because he was still full from lunch.

I had penne carbonara, which was covered in fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.

It snowed furiously while we were enjoying dinner.  I was surprised to see how quickly the white stuff accumulated.  By the morning, most of it had melted.  I heard Stuttgart got hit with a lot of snow on Saturday and Sunday, but most of it was gone by the time we arrived home last night.

Part 5