A visit to little America– Ramstein Air Force Base…

Bill and I have now lived in our house for almost seven weeks.  We’re mostly settled, although until today, there were still a few things that needed to find homes.  Bill had some text books from his latest master’s degree program that had nowhere to go, and the small collection of actual books I have in Germany had taken up all of the space on the one bookshelf I had allotted to our shared office.

I always buy cookbooks at Christmas, but only a few of them get much action in the kitchen.  The matching bookshelf to the one in our office was, until today, located in our dining room.  It was holding all of the cookbooks we never use.  This past year, because I bought a couple of extra books, there were a few cookbooks that needed a home.  Also, we had some kitchen gadgets that needed storage.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been looking for a nice bookshelf for the downstairs.  What I found on the local Amazon site wasn’t thrilling me, and I found nothing at all at the Wiesbaden AAFES.  German mod style doesn’t excite me, either.

Then I realized that Bill’s desk chair would probably scratch the brand new flooring in our office if I didn’t find him a rug.  Our Wiesbaden AAFES does not have a Turkish rug guy like Stuttgart has (and I’m actually pretty happy with the rugs we bought in Stuttgart in November– they’re much nicer than the ones I bought a few years ago).  I thought maybe Ramstein would have a permanent rug guy at their PX, the way Heidelberg used to and Stuttgart still does.

Finally, I realized that my skin is no longer taking makeup like it used to.  I have dry skin and when I apply makeup, it collects in my pores and makes me look even freakier than ever.  I need to start using primer under foundation so it doesn’t get all cakey and gross looking.  That meant a trip to the Lancome counter was in order.

Chili’s was also on the agenda…

With all of these items on my list, plus the prospect of getting some Southwestern Egg Rolls at Chili’s, I told Bill maybe we should go to Ramstein to see what was at the huge PX/BX there.  We now live about 80 minutes from Ramstein, quite a bit closer than we did when we were in Stuttgart.  Bill hates going there, but conceded that maybe it would be a good idea to see what the largest AAFES in Europe has to offer.

Ramstein’s Exchange is absolutely humongous.  It was opened on September 23, 2009, which was just one week after we left Germany the first time we lived here.  At the time it was opened, it was the largest AAFES in the world.  I would not be surprised if it still is.  It’s enormous, especially compared to every other AAFES I’ve ever seen.

By the way, we never did visit Ramstein during our first Stuttgart tour.  Our first time visiting Ramstein was in 2012, when we took our very first Space A hop from Baltimore.  We flew in and out of Ramstein on that trip, as well as the Space A trip we took in 2014 to Germany and France.  I remember sitting at the bar in the now defunct Chili’s Too at the AAFES mall, talking to a soldier who had basically been forced to move from England to Germany due to mental health issues.  It was an interesting and disturbing conversation.  I wonder how that guy is doing and hope he’s okay.

During our 2014 visit, I recall being sad to be leaving Germany to go back to Texas, where Bill would then retire.  I was worried about what would come next.  We didn’t know at the time that we’d be moving back to Germany just weeks after that trip; we’d taken our vacation thinking it might be our last chance to enjoy Europe before Bill left the Army.  Little did we know…

I remember visiting the PX during one or both of those Space A trips, but we didn’t buy anything there, since we were not stationed in Europe at the time.  Back then, I noticed that half of the shops were vacant.

The next time we visited Ramstein was in June 2017, on our way to Belgium.  We stopped by to gas up the car and had horrible burgers from Johnny Rocket’s.  I didn’t go inside the mall because we had our dogs with us.

The vast food court at Ramstein.  It’s probably got twice as many vendors as other AAFES food courts have.  They had Chinese food and even Anthony’s Pizza, which used to have a location at Patch Barracks when we lived in Germany the first time.  Anthony’s is long gone from Stuttgart, but Ramstein still has one, along with a Pizza Hut Express.  There’s also a Ramstein “Hofbrau” restaurant that looked somewhat lame, but probably has good food.

I had to take a picture of the tiny sewing/knitting area.  When I was growing up, AAFES had a decent sized sewing section, but not so much anymore.  I don’t sew or do needle crafts, but my mom owned her own business selling knitting and needlepoint supplies.  She taught many people how to knit.  I was not among them.

Spotted at the Birkenstock Outlet…  I think they’re pretty tacky, but I’m sure someone else loves them.  My dad, rest his soul, would probably wear these.  I noticed all of the store space was taken at Ramstein.  I don’t think I saw a single vacant space yesterday.  

Bill makes it a point to avoid Ramstein when he can help it.  He says it’s too much like being back in the States.  After today’s visit, I’m inclined to agree.  It’s a shock to go to that base and see just how much American stuff is there.  It really does feel like “home”.  As crowded as our local AAFES can get on the weekends, the one at Ramstein kind of puts it to shame.  It’s just huge– it looks like a legitimate American style mall.  And besides the Exchange, there’s also a Birkenstock Outlet, a spa, a Swarovski store, and several fast food joints in the food court I’ve not seen in other places.

So… today, we went to AAFES at Ramstein, braving the nasty January rainy weather.  I found the primer for my face.  Then, we located a bookshelf for the cookbooks.  I looked at the rugs offered by the Turkish rug guy, who appeared to have a temporary station under the escalators, but he didn’t have what I needed.  The rugs were either the wrong color or size, or they were way too expensive.  I found one really nice looking rug that would have worked for the area next to our bed that needs protection from our dogs’ toenails (they take flying leaps onto the bed, and that can cause scratches).  It was priced at 1149 euros, which is way more than I wanted to spend on a rug that shares living space with dogs.

Bill’s area sporting AAFES’ finest…  I probably wouldn’t have bought it under normal circumstances, but it works for now.

I did, however, find a rather psychedelic looking tie-dyed looking rug that would do the trick for Bill’s office chair.  It was tucked away among a pile of cheap rugs at the Exchange and came a bit closer to matching the colors in the much nicer Oriental rug on my side of the office.  Next time we visit Stuttgart, we’ll hit up the rug guy on Panzer.  Hopefully, he’ll still be there.

After we shopped– and Bill traded gossip with a former co-worker he ran into who now works at Ramstein– we went to Chili’s.  The Chili’s Too we visited at the PX in 2014 is now a Macaroni Grill.  It’s just as well that the Chili’s Too was closed, since I don’t remember liking it much when we visited in 2014.  The bartender had pissed me off for some reason.  Fortunately, my memory fails me now.  Also, I recall that location only had a limited menu.

The Chili’s we went to today offers the whole menu.  To get to Chili’s, we had to drive to the Enlisted Club on Lawn Road.  It’s right next to the bowling alley.  When we arrived at the restaurant, which is in a building that also hosts a P.F. Chang’s, we were confronted by a crowd of people waiting to be seated.

I noticed a rather strange, sour aroma in the air that made me wonder if we should abandon our plans to get Southwestern Eggrolls and go somewhere else.  But the hostess said the wait was only ten minutes, so we stuck it out.

Bill checks out the well-used menu.  I found a piece of a straw wrapper in mine. 

The noise level in the Chili’s was really high.  I felt a little like I was having lunch in an elementary school cafeteria.  Babies were shrieking; toddlers were crying; kids were yelling; and adults were talking very loudly.  I had forgotten how loud Americans can be in groups.  I don’t say this to be disparaging.  It’s just that I’ve noticed that since we’ve lived in Germany, Bill and I find ourselves speaking in lower voices when we’re in public.  I think it’s partly because we don’t want to be too obviously American.  I guess I paid close attention to all of those AFN OPSEC PSAs I used to see when I was in the Peace Corps in Armenia.

Anyway, it was extremely loud in there and very busy.  I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be a quiet lunch, but there was definitely a lot more noise than I’m used to or had anticipated.  But then, we were there in the afternoon, which is probably prime nap time for a lot of young kids.  Some of them really sounded like it was time to nap.

I took this message to heart…


Although the ear splitting din in the restaurant sorely tempted me to get a Margarita, I decided to have a beer.  Good thing I did, too, because our food got to us before our beers did.  And when they arrived, they had, as my Irish friend Chris would say, “shitty wee heads” on them.  Quite disappointing.

We decided to split the “Ultimate Dipper”, which is a platter of fried stuff… but it includes Southwestern Eggrolls, which is really all I wanted, anyway.  Besides the eggrolls, you get Honey-Chipotle Chicken Crispers, Crispy Cheddar Bites, Signature Wings, and (Regular) Chicken Crispers.  You also get six “dips”– basically different salad dressings like honey mustard, blue cheese, avocado ranch, and ancho chili ranch.  Oh, and there are also a few celery stalks for all you health nuts out there.  The two kinds of Chicken Crispers, by the way, weren’t really like each other.  One was like beer battered chicken and the other was like crispy chicken drenched in sweet, spicy maple syrup.  It wasn’t unlike General Tsao’s Chicken.

I’m glad we shared this.  We didn’t finish it.  Chili’s also offers fajitas, burgers, ribs, soups, and Tex Mex stuff, as well as steaks, salads, and at least one pasta dish.  I mainly go there for eggrolls.

I think the waitress was surprised to see we didn’t need any refills on the “dips”.  Neither of us likes to use a lot of condiments.  A little dab’ll do ya.

Our waitress was very friendly.  I have no complaints at all about her service, especially since the place was a bit of a zoo.  For some reason, it took awhile to get our beers, so she brought us water in the meantime, which I appreciated.  It was even still tap water, like you get in the States (although I like mine fizzy).  However, I was kind of disappointed in the appetizer.  The Cheddar Bites tasted like they’d been sitting awhile, and didn’t taste that good.  Actually, the whole thing looked a little wilted and tired, like it wasn’t quite as fresh as it should have been.  It reminded me of something I might extract from a box that came from the frozen food aisle at the commissary.

Also, I was a bit grossed out by the ladies room.  At least one of the bathroom stalls had a broken lock, and another had the remnants of someone’s dump on the toilet seat.  It didn’t exactly make me feel better after eating all that fried stuff.

Still, I did get my Southwestern Eggroll fix, which was really all I wanted.  It was also a pretty cheap lunch.  I think we paid about $26 and still had leftovers.  And after that trip to Ramstein, I feel pretty certain I won’t need to visit again for awhile.  In fact, it was kind of like a vaccine against visiting the States.  It’s been four years since I last set foot in America.  I don’t know when I’ll be going back, but I think I’m definitely content to stay in Germany for now.

I’m sort of kidding.  There are certainly good restaurants in the States, and I do still have many friends and loved ones there.  But every once in awhile, it’s good to be reminded why one should savor their time abroad.  I remember missing Germany something terrible when we moved in 2009.  I pined for it for five years, even though some good things happened during those five years away.  I know not everyone feels this way.  Some people cannot wait to move back to the States.  Me?  I think I love Europe.  It really suits me.  And while Chili’s is okay for the occasional Southwestern Eggroll, I think I’ll stick to European restaurants for now…  There will surely come a day when I’ll be missing them again, too.

And now, perhaps it’s time for a Margarita in my nice, quiet, dining room.


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