Christmas, fests, friends, Germany, markets, Wiesbaden

Wiesbaden Christmas Market 2021

My friend Priya, her husband Ron, and our new friend, Heather, came up to Wiesbaden from Stuttgart yesterday. They asked Bill and me to join them at the Wiesbaden Christmas Market. The markets down near Stuttgart have mostly been cancelled, due to rising COVID-19 infections, but there are many towns in other states that are having smaller versions of their markets. Priya and Ron have been making their way to a number of them.

I was glad they invited us to join them. I had been wanting to to go the market, but was having trouble with motivation. The weather hasn’t been nice lately, and the COVID rules can be onerous. But thanks to our friends from Stuttgart, we managed to have a great time. It was quite a shock to hang out with people again. We were all laughing about the erosion of social skills that has happened since March 2020.

After a few hours and too much wine and beer, we said our goodbyes. Priya, Ron, and Heather went on to visit the market in Mainz. Bill and I went home to feed the dogs.

For some reason, the connection on this site is excruciatingly slow today. I’ll have to keep the commentary to a minimum. I also can’t delete the photos, so there are a few that look like repeats. I’ll try to fix these glitches later.

A good time was had by all!

dog rescue, dogs, Germany, pets

A “doggone” vent about certain types of people…

We woke up to a light dusting of snow today…

I usually try to keep the subject matter on my travel blog confined to posts about German living, light topics, and actual travel. However, as you might have read recently, even though some Christmas markets are still going, Germany is reeling from increased COVID-19 infections. It’s getting tougher to enjoy going out in public, thanks to increased rules about wearing masks and being fully vaccinated.

I’ve got no quarrel with vaccines. I am fully vaccinated and am scheduled to get a booster shot soon. And while I hate the face masks, I will wear them if I have to. But I don’t enjoy going out in a mask or having to show my certifications everywhere I go, especially since there is a risk that I’ll get the virus anyway. The weather also sucks. So lately, I’ve focused more on staying home, and that leads me to hang out on social media more than I should.

When we moved from Stuttgart, I made a conscious decision not to join a bunch of military Facebook groups. The reason for that is because joining them in Stuttgart led to my involvement in, and exposure to, a lot of unnecessary social media dramas. I also feel like I don’t mesh that well with a lot of people in military communities, even though I’ve been a military brat my whole life and was an Army wife for years. I do run a wine and food group, but I try to keep it low key. I don’t even care if people lose interest and leave the group because, quite frankly, running it is kind of a thankless job. But I am still in a couple of local Facebook groups. One of the groups I am in is the pet group.

The pet group is usually pretty helpful. Most people who participate are genuinely interested in finding the best local veterinarians, dog walking areas, and pet food. There’s usually not too much drama, and it’s a friendly bunch of people. But, every once in awhile, someone posts something that gets people riled up. A lot of times, the posts that piss people off are ones about rehoming animals. Last night, someone posted this, along with a picture that I am omitting…

Good Evening All,

Looking to rehome my 11 year old Chocolate Lab (although he is greying a bit) named Sugar(because he is a sweet boy). He has been in my life the last 9 years and deeply loved, but not getting the love he needs and deserves. His walks are getting to be shorter and shorter becoming simple potty breaks and back inside. And time between walks sometimes too long to be fair. He doesn’t get incorporated into our weekend plans anymore, and needs to be a bigger part of his new families life. The adjustment to stairwell living and no longer having a yard to run around and play means his level of activity is next to none now. We used to go on runs up to five miles together when he was younger, so he does enjoy getting out and moving. I had planned to have my mother take him this summer but things didn’t work out.

He just had his Rabies shot in September, is microchipped, and had his flea/tic prevention applied two weeks ago. He is in great health, his teeth and nails are upkept regularly, needs ears cleaned about every two-four weeks (probably more if his new family takes him outside more). He is excellent with children, and all other animals. Please PM me if you think you could be the new loving family this guy needs and deserves.

I usually don’t comment on these kinds of posts. I understand that sometimes people have legitimate reasons to rehome their animals. I would rather see a pet in need go to a loving home where he or she can be properly cared for, than stay in an environment where there is neglect or abuse. But this was the second rehoming post I’d seen recently that reeked of bullshit. The first one involved a beautiful German Shepherd who was offered up after the woman who took him in, suddenly determined, after about three months, that her husband was “allergic” to dogs, even though they already had a smaller dog. The woman also said she’s expecting a baby and feared the baby would be allergic, too.

The person who had originally rehomed her dog with the lady who was offering him up again is still in the group, even though she’s in the United States. She commented on the post, and was pissed. The German/American breeders also commented, upset at this change of events. And there was this beautiful animal, in real need of a good and loving home. Obviously, the dog needed to be somewhere else, but I didn’t appreciate the clearly bullshit excuses offered for the reasons why rehoming was needed.

I had the same irritated reaction to the above post, only it irritated me even more, because this dog is being rehomed after having spent nine years with his owner. So anyway, I decided to leave a response. Below is what I wrote.

I really try not to judge people who need to rehome their animals. I know sometimes stuff happens, and every single one of my dogs came to me because they didn’t work out in someone else’s home. But you have had this dog for nine years! How do you think he’s going to react to new people? He’s getting older, as we all do, and he has needs. How would you like it if your family rehomed you when you get older and have more needs? And why should someone else take the responsibility?

You live in a military community. There are plenty of older kids and teens who would be happy to help you out for a little spending money. Please reconsider this decision, if you can. That poor dog deserves better. He’s obviously been a great companion to you. You should try harder to return the favor. But if it will mean he will suffer, then maybe someone else should take him… but I hope that will mean you don’t adopt another animal.

Mine was just one of many similar comments. Some people were “nicer”, some were much less nice. The original poster commented to me thusly: “a lot of questions, but I didn’t see a PM?”

Someone else commented that people shouldn’t be offering comments or “advices” on this situation if they couldn’t help. I decided to respond to that, too. I wrote this:

If there is a compelling reason why this man, who has had this dog for nine years and brought him to Germany, can’t continue to care for him, I would love to know what it is. But as it stands now, it sounds like the dog has simply become old and inconvenient and he wants to pass off the responsibility of caring for him to someone else. That’s not kind to the dog, and it’s not really fair to the people who might adopt him, get attached, and lose him soon to old age. Rehoming is better if he really can’t take care of him. I just wouldn’t want to see him looking for a new dog.

Moreover, a post like this going to get honest feedback. That’s how the Internet works.

Mmmm’kay… here’s the deal. If a person decides to post something in a Facebook group and doesn’t turn off commenting, there will be comments made. The guy had jut asked for PMs only from people who can “help”, as in take in his dog. But sorry, people are going to react negatively to a post about an eleven year old Lab who has lived with someone for nine years and suddenly needs a new home. And people who decide to write such a post in a group full of animal lovers should be prepared to explain themselves.

I think it’s kind of sketchy to post something publicly in a group, but then demand that responses be made in private. It raises a lot of red flags. And while I get that no one likes to be scorned publicly, or responded to in a holier than thou way, I have personally been burned more than once in this country because I was “nice”, didn’t ask questions, and took someone at face value. The last time we did that, it led to a lawsuit.

Secondly, no one should be expected to engage in a private chat with a person they don’t know. In general, I don’t even like PMs from people I know well. I don’t mind PMs if the subject is important, but I don’t like them from strangers, and I don’t want to chat with people who aren’t friends. I don’t know this guy from Adam. Moreover, I can’t take his dog, because I already have two dogs, including one who is about twelve years old and is slowing down. I can’t even fathom the thought of giving him away, although I do realize that sometimes shit happens. But I think if one’s motives are pure and honest, one should be willing to explain. Especially when one is essentially asking people to do them a huge favor.

I noticed that the guy came back and left shaming and sarcastic comments to those who questioned him. That’s another huge red flag. If he really cares about his dog’s welfare, he should welcome questions, and be friendly and willing about answering them honestly. Being snarky and sarcastic, and shaming me for not PMing, is not a good look.

I didn’t PM this guy because I can’t take his dog. But I think I have the right to comment on his post, which was visible to everyone in the group. If his reason for needing to rehome is valid and doesn’t involve high pressure tactics, lies, or manipulation, he should be willing to be transparent. I get that nobody likes to be judged or shamed, but honestly, where has this guy been? He got treated the same way a lot of people who post rehoming requests get treated. In his case, it might have been more intense because he’s evidently had the dog for so long. But again, what the fuck did he expect?

I would have liked to have posted all of this to the guy when he asked me why I didn’t PM him, but he cowardly turned off the ability to comment. So that’s why he is the subject of my blog post today. I do wish him luck in finding an appropriate home for his dog. It sounds like the dog really would be better off with people who actually care and can commit to their pets for life.

Americans already have a terrible reputation among Germans for ditching their animals. It’s the main reason why I, as an American, can’t go to a local shelter and adopt a dog. I am discriminated against simply due to the fact that so many American servicemembers have abandoned their pets. And I think most people who know us will agree, Bill and I are excellent pet owners. It pisses me off that we are lumped in with people who pull this crap, and then get pissy when they are called out on it. We have a dog from Kosovo, mostly because of people who want to pass off their responsibility to their pets to other people. I don’t regret taking in Noyzi for a minute, but I do resent the hell out of being discriminated against simply due to the fact that I happen to share citizenship with irresponsible jerks.

I honestly don’t know if the man who inspired this post actually is an “irresponsible jerk”, but I’ve gotta say, based on my years of experience dealing with jerks, the signs are there. It seems to me that if the dog means that much to him, he should want him to go to a great home. He should have as many questions for potential adopters as they would have for him, because ultimately, giving someone the chance to adopt a wonderful dog is a great thing to do. I just wasn’t seeing that sentiment in this man’s post. He was more focused on people’s reactions to him and his ego, than the welfare of a chocolate Lab he claims he loves.

Now… I am a bit calmer. Below is a cute video from yesterday, starring my two boys, Noyzi and Arran,… both of whom are dogs we took in from rescues and have committed to caring for until it’s time for them to cross the Rainbow Bridge. Unfortunately, due to the snow and all the recent rain we’ve had, the backyard now looks like a slop pit.

I like to capture these moments when I can. And now that I finally have a new phone, so much the better.
Austria, coronavirus, Germany, Poland

Austria is locking down… will Germany be next?

The local news in Germany has been all abuzz about the COVID-19 situation in Austria. Fed up and frustrated by the ever increasing numbers of people falling ill with the coronavirus, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced that Austria would be locking down for at least ten days. The lockdown will apply to everyone, vaccinated or not, and it means that Austrians will be asked to work from home and non-essential shops will close. Schools will remain open for children who require face-to-face learning. The measure will apply until December 12, and then the COVID situation will be reassessed at that point to determine if there should be another ten days of lockdown.

As I read the news yesterday, I realized how lucky Bill and I are that we managed to take our recent vacation and get through all of the countries unscathed. Croatia and Slovenia are considered “high risk” areas– higher risk than Austria was– but we didn’t interact with many people at all during our time there. I think the risk is mainly because fewer people are vaccinated, but the reality is, there aren’t that many people congregating in Slovenia or Croatia at this time of year and social distancing is actually super easy. That may change as winter approaches and people want to ski, at least in Slovenia.

Austria, on the other hand, was like 2019. During our trip, it wasn’t considered a “high risk” area. Masks were only required in grocery stores, on public transportation, and in healthcare facilities. I won’t lie. It was really nice. And, in fact, Salzburg and, to a lesser extent, Wels, were sort of “alive” with people, which was a morale booster. I’m not sure if the lax masking is the reason why this surge is happening. Germany is a lot stricter about masks, but people are still getting sick here, and the hospitals are full. Personally, I don’t think the masks are going to be what saves us. What needs to happen is mass immunity, and that will come as people get vaccinated and boosted, and others manage to recover from the illness. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people may get very sick and/or die in the process. The only way to avoid the risk is by staying away from other people.

Austria has also taken the unusual step of requiring everyone to get vaccinated by February 2022. Frankly, I don’t think that’s a bad decision. It’s certainly groundbreaking. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t agree with forcing people to do things, particularly when it involves healthcare. However, communicable diseases are different. With my background in public health, I already know that there are some public health situations that require detaining people who put others at risk. On my main blog, I have written about how I think COVID-19 could eventually become an illness like tuberculosis. If you get TB and you refuse to get treated, you can and will be detained so that you don’t threaten other people. Many of us are really sick and tired of COVID-19, and the way it’s disrupting normal living. It’s also costing the world’s economies a lot in lost business, and like it or not, money matters. I don’t think people should be surprised if the rules become more draconian in an effort to get rid of the scourge.

Bavarian state premier, Markus Söder, who is a champion of the dreaded FFP2 masks for everyone, everywhere, has already declared a “de facto lockdown for the unvaccinated”. All of the Christmas markets have been cancelled, and all bars and clubs will be closed for the next three weeks. In areas where “weekly incidence rates top 1,000 per 100,000 people – restaurants, hotels, sport and culture will also close.” I believe the rules in Germany recently changed, as Angela Merkel plans to leave office. Now, they’re letting the states decide, rather than the federal government. I think I might enjoy the incoming government. I read that they’re also considering making recreational cannabis use legal. I never thought I’d see the day. I have limited experience with pot, having only tried it in The Netherlands a few years ago. But I did enjoy the experience…

I will not be the least bit surprised if other countries take a similar approach against the virus. It really sucks that this is happening, since Christmas is approaching. I do have some hope, though, because this year, at least there are vaccines. Some medications are also being developed to treat COVID-19– legitimate ones, rather than hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin. Historically speaking, pandemics always end at some point. So I continue to hold out hope that this one will end eventually… COVID-19 is a terrible illness, but it’s probably not even the worst humankind has faced, and nowadays, we have a lot more and better technology, which will continue to evolve out of necessity.

But yes… I sure am glad Bill and I managed to take our trip, enjoy ourselves, and emerge unscathed. We were very lucky. If there’s one thing COVID-19 has done for me, it’s make me a lot more appreciative of being able to travel.

Bill has been in Warsaw, Poland all this week, sadly missing our 19th anniversary at home. He brought home a few things for me last night. It would have been nice if I could have gone with him, but the COVID situation makes it dangerous. In fact, we were supposed to see James Taylor in Frankfurt in February, but he had to postpone his stop in Frankfurt until next November. With any luck, we’ll still be here and alive in November 2022. We’re supposed to see Keb’ Mo’ in May of 2022… but the tickets I bought were for a show that was supposed to happen on November 16, 2020– our 18th anniversary. So far, it’s been postponed three times. So we’ll see if we manage to see James in November 2022. I hope so. We have second row seats.

I was thinking maybe we’d go somewhere to celebrate our anniversary, now that Bill’s home… but I think we’re going to be locked down again very soon. So maybe we’ll just stay home and fuck or something. Just kidding… it’s more likely that we’ll turn on music, light a fire, and drink wine.

Austria, coronavirus, German culture, Germany, road trips

Chasing lakes and waterfalls in Aus-cro-slo-aus… part fourteen

And now, we’ve come to the end of my latest series… which I will admit was not long on food and activities, but had plenty of gorgeous scenery and solitude. When I am finished writing this post, I’ll do my usual “ten things I learned post”, but that will probably be done tomorrow, so as not to overwhelm anyone with all the action my travel blog is suddenly getting. 😉

Because we were coming from “high risk” areas– Croatia and Slovenia– we had to upload our vaccination information to officials in Germany. This would absolve us from having to quarantine. But, when we got to the border, they just waved us through, anyway. Maybe because it was Sunday.

Our drive home was mostly uneventful. Salzburg is about six hours or so from where we live, I think… Ray had made it easy to check out. All we had to do, besides take out the trash and make sure we used the toilet brush, was put the 12 euro city tourist tax (three euros per person per night) in the lockbox, along with the key. We got an early start, and, at first, the weather was beautiful.

The nice weather began to change the further north we went. It got cold and decidedly cloudy, then it was raining. At one point, we tried to stop for lunch, but there was no parking in the parking lot. The spots were all taken up by tractor trailers. We eventually ended up at the very same rest stop where we stopped on the way down to Croatia. On that visit, I wore a surgical face mask, as did a lot of other people. Surgical masks are the rule for all of Germany… except hard assed Bavaria, where people are supposed to wear FFP2s, the tighter fitting “coffee filter” masks. I did have a fresh one in my purse, but I really hate wearing them.

Anyway, we walked into the McDonald’s, which was empty. Evidently, the COVID-19 rules changed again, because the cashier pointed to me and said I needed the heavier mask. That pissed me off, so Bill and I left. I ranted about it on my other blog. We went to Burger King and ate lunch in the car. I spent much of the rest of the drive annoyed, since the heavier masks are obviously not curbing the now soaring infection rate in Germany. People need to be vaccinated. But if they’re going to enforce mask mandates, I wish they’d be consistent about it. And I wish they’d show common sense, particularly toward people who have actually done the responsible thing and gotten the vaccine.

I mean, look at this…

This is in Koln, where Carnival is in full swing.

It’s ridiculous. I can’t sit in an empty McDonald’s without being forced to wear a heavy mask, but these fools can party and drink unmasked in huge crowds in Mainz and Cologne! I fear we may be heading for another lockdown soon, which makes me even more glad that we took our trip. As it stands now, James Taylor has postponed his European tour. We have second row tickets to his Frankfurt show, but who knows when it will happen. We still have tickets to see Keb’ Mo’ for a show that was supposed to happen on November 16 (our anniversary) 2020. At this point, it’s been postponed three times, thanks to COVID-19. Maybe we’ll get to see him in May of 2022. This COVID shit really needs to be sorted.

The only other notable thing that happened on the way home was that we passed a van that had a sticker on it that read “Porn casting car”.

And then, we noticed that the driver had drapes with little gold tassels on them in the front seat. Maybe it really is a porn casting car.

After we got home, we unpacked and started doing the laundry. Later, we went to get Arran and Noyzi, who I guess could hear and smell us as we approached. They were so excited! Noyzi was even ecstatic to see Bill. He practically dragged me to the car and was delighted to jump in the back all by himself.

When we got home, we discovered that Arran had a couple of swollen flesh wounds on his ears. And the next day, Noyzi had kennel cough. By Tuesday, Arran was coughing too, although they are both okay now. Fortunately, it was a mild case. It was the first time I have ever dealt with kennel cough, which is usually a mild illness that clears up on its own. Our dogs are usually vaccinated against it, but we stopped giving Arran most vaccines because he’s had mast cell tumors. Noyzi is due for his vaccines next month.

Here are a few final pictures of a few things we brought back with us… I wish I had found a few things to put in the house. Oh well. Maybe on the next trip. Bill has to go to Poland on Monday, and he’ll be gone on our 19th wedding anniversary, which is on Tuesday. I’m sure he’ll get some Bison Grass vodka. Just what we need! 😉 We also got jams, honeys, liqueurs, and gin.

Well… that about does it for the series. Stay tuned tomorrow, for my super fun “ten things I learned” post. I actually did learn some new things on this trip. It was one of our better ones, and we’ve been on some great trips. I hope we can do it again, soon.

Austria, Germany, restaurant reviews, road trips

Chasing lakes and waterfalls in Aus-cro-slo-aus… part two

Our big journey began on Tuesday, October 26th. It started on Tuesday, because Bill had to take his first two online courses at the Jung Institute in Zurich. He spent Monday at home, listening to lectures out of Switzerland. I could tell he was very interested, which was nice to see.

Tuesday morning, we packed our bags, loaded the car, and were on our way, with our first stop being the Hundepension where Arran and Noyzi stay when we travel. Noyzi was very excited about the car ride. Several months ago, he surprised us by willingly jumping into the cargo area of the Volvo. Two weeks ago, he actually jumped into the passenger seat and was all set to go for a ride. Of course, in Germany, it’s not legal for pets to ride in the front seat, so we had to relocate him. Arran used to like car rides too, but he was not very excited this time. I also noticed that while Noyzi couldn’t wait to get to the pension, Arran was less enthused. We told Natasha, the lady who takes care of the dogs most while they’re at the Hundepension, that it was okay for the dogs to be separated, if need be. I think the main issue is that Arran is annoyed by Noyzi, who is bigger and younger than he is. He’d rather hang out with a female dog, closer to his size.

Once the dogs were dropped off, we headed for our first destination, Wels, Austria. I mentioned in the first part of this series that we chose Wels because it’s about halfway to where we were headed. It’s also a city we had never seen before. I read up a bit on Wels before we booked there. Many people reported that the downtown area is pretty and pleasant, and I noticed there was a “Therme” (spa with mineral springs) there, and a few interesting looking museums. What I failed to notice, however, is that October 26th is Austrian National Day. It’s a national holiday, which means a lot of things are closed.

The drive to Wels was uneventful. We stopped at a McDonald’s in Bavaria on the way there. That visit went off without a hitch. We stopped at the same McDonald’s yesterday, and it was a no go. You can read today’s post on my main blog for the reason, and a rather peevish rant from yours truly. I amused myself by taking photos on the drive down and playing with my iPad, which has cellular abilities. What did I ever do before I had an iPad with a cellular function? I’m amazed I ever survived any road trips from my youth!

Entering Austria was no big deal. No one wanted to see our passports or our vaccine proof as we drove in from Germany. When we arrived at Hotel Ploberger, apparently the best hotel Wels has to offer, I steeled myself for encountering the receptionist, which isn’t always fun in the era of COVID. But she was low key and wore no mask… and, in fact, we weren’t required to wear masks, either. It was like 2019 again. I can’t say I didn’t love it.

Hotel Ploberger is very business oriented. A few weeks ago, when I was planning this trip, I went on their Web site and noticed how enticing the site was to add on things, like parking, breakfast, and a bigger room size. When I tried to X out, I got a pop up message that read something along the lines of, “Oh no! You’re leaving without booking?” Actually, since USAA and PenFed were being pains in the ass and blocking my cards, I did have to X out and let Bill book for us.

The hotel did turn out to be convenient, and they offered some nice perks that I wouldn’t have expected. For instance, because I booked directly with them, they gave us a free round at the wine bar next door. There was also a lovely fruit and chocolate plate and bottle of sparkling water for us in the fridge. The room itself reminded me of an Aloft Hotel. It was very modern and constructed in a way that was more functional than stylish. But, if we were missing our pets, we could borrow one of their pet goldfish. A huge parking garage is right under the hotel, and guests can access the hotel lobby directly from the garage. They also have a bar in the lobby, or, if one prefers, there’s a wine bar/buffet next door that features Austrian wines.

As I mentioned earlier, unbeknownst to us, it was Austrian National Day. A lot of restaurants and all of the stores were closed. I was still impressed by how pretty the old town is. Here are some shots from our first walk around Wels. As you can see, it’s a pretty town, even if it’s not a place I ever thought to visit before. They also have catfish, also known as “sheatfish”, there. I’m not sure if the fish is like what we get in America. I’m not a catfish fan, anyway. But they do have them in Wels.

I don’t think Wels is a particularly famous city in Austria. That’s kind of what made it appealing… I didn’t hear a lot of my countrymen. And they didn’t hear from me. There’s also lots of shopping in Wels, which is a nice thing, especially since there was little shopping in Slovenia and Croatia. I barely managed to get my mug and magnet from Croatia.

One of the biggest attractions in Wels is the Ledererturm. It’s the last surviving tower of the original Medieval fortification of Wels. If you walk around the city, you soon notice a wall that was built in Medieval times. I also noticed that a lot of the restaurants and other buildings we entered were thick walled with low ceilings and crappy cellphone reception. I guess it’s because this is an old town with old buildings in it. The Ledererturm is among the eldest, and it basically serves as a landmark. Cars can drive through it, one at a time.

After some dedicated sleuthing, I managed to find us a cute little Italian restaurant to have some dinner. The restaurant, which was called Rustica, was a tiny “hole in the wall” type of place. It was full and very busy the whole time we were there, but we managed to enjoy a nice dinner, even without reservations. Apparently, this joint is known as an excellent pizza place. I could see they were doing a brisk business, with many people dining in and even more picking up pizzas to go.

We had an interesting experience at Rustica, which was rated as Wels’ fourth best restaurant on TripAdvisor. The place was not expensive at all, nor was it a very private or romantic place. A very young couple was seated next to us. I kept noticing the male half watching us… I think he noticed my gadgets. My phone needs a new battery, so I carry my iPad with me. I also have an Apple Watch. I noticed that the guy and his girlfriend shared what would be a medium sized pizza in America, had a round of drinks, and dessert. It was plenty of food, but I got the sense that he would have rather have had what we had. Bill noticed it, too.

I wanted to tell the guy that we’re going on 19 years of marriage, and we were broke for the first few years… and there will be a day when he and his girl can each have their own entrees. We’re also over twice their ages.

Of course, I might be misinterpreting. Maybe they’re diet conscious or cheap. Anyway, that purely non-verbal experience gave us something to talk about as we headed back to the hotel.

Stay tuned for part three.

advice, Germany, money

USAA inconveniences and disappoints me yet again. And PenFed is not much better.

Once again, I had to call USAA about my card. This time, it was my debit card, which I tried to use to purchase a couple of sweaters from Granted, it was more than I would usually spend on sweaters… about $350. Well, USAA immediately declined that charge, which led to my spending over an hour trying to find the right phone number to contact someone who could fix my issue.

When I finally did get someone on the phone, I was admittedly pretty annoyed. But to his credit, he did manage to correct the problem, even though now I don’t want to try to use my cards for fear of having to make another phone call. USAA used to send texts to my cell phone when a suspicious charge came up. That way, I could authorize charges without having to be inconvenienced. But I guess USAA doesn’t want to pay for international texts now… so that means a significant decline in their service level for their customers who are overseas. I tried to use USAA’s worthless bot on their site, which only directed me to general articles that weren’t very helpful at all.

I also noticed that they no longer call me Mrs. Instead, they use my given name, which always makes me cringe. It’s not that I want to be called Mrs., per se. It’s more that I think that if you don’t know what name a person normally goes by, you don’t know them well enough to address them by their first name. Using the honorific is also a sign of respect… although I imagine respect is becoming a foreign concept in some companies.

At least this time, I didn’t have to use my cell phone. Last week, I had to call on my cell, which will result in international roaming charges. I did call on the cell the first time I spoke to someone this morning– it was the number on the “urgent” email I got, which led to the credit card services office. I went through the whole security rigamarole, only to be told that the phone number I used– the one USAA put in their email to me– was for the wrong office. Since I was trying to use my debit card, they transferred me to checking. Of course, no one was working because it’s Saturday and, at the time of my call, it was very early in the morning in Texas.

Later on today, I will be calling PenFed, because I think they blocked my credit card last weekend as I was trying to book our upcoming trip. I managed to book two places before the block kicked in. I didn’t get an email from them, but they didn’t let me use the card at Novica, either, and it says in my account I have to call them for the “status” of my credit card… even though I’ve already almost paid off last week’s big charges for our trip. Unlike USAA, it appears that no one at PenFed works on Saturday until later. So that will be fun. I may be somewhat less pissed off by that time.

I really think these overzealous fraud protections are very bad for business. Now, I am reluctant to use my credit cards. Novica will miss out on a generous sale, until I am feeling more up to buying something… and that might not be anytime soon. I get that international calls are expensive, but if I don’t want to use my credit cards, that will cost USAA money, too. They should at least make it so people can take care of these issues online, without having to call across several time zones and sit in phone queues on the weekends.

It’s cold and cloudy today, and we have some things to take care of before we take our trip. I did manage to set up travel alerts, so MAYBE if I use the cards next week, they won’t get automatically declined. There is something to be said for using cash, even if a lot of businesses, even in Germany, are moving away from cash, thanks to COVID.

I don’t know if we’ll do anything today, besides some chores that need doing. Next week, there will be some action on the blog… I hope.

Just as I was about to close this post, I got an automated phone call from USAA to verify the transactions… if I had gotten that call before they shut off my card, this whole gripe could have been avoided. USAA really needs to step up its game. Their policies are inconvenient and annoying, especially for people overseas.

Germany, money, restaurant reviews, trip planning

Trip planning and “lunner” at La Fonte…

Well, it’s finally all settled. Bill and I are going on vacation in about ten days. I wasted most of today planning our upcoming adventure to Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia. But it wasn’t without significant ass pain. Sorry, I know this is a first world problem. It’s just that sometimes it’s a pain in the butt to have American credit cards when you live in Europe.

The ass pain started when Bill let me know that the dogs are confirmed at the dog pension. In the past, we have taken our dogs with us on longer trips, but that was when we had Zane, who was a beagle. Noyzi is a big guy and needs a lot of room. Also, it’s just a lot easier traveling with one species. So, once we got the boys’ lodging confirmed, I went to work.

I knew I wanted to go to Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. That’s about eleven hours’ drive from Wiesbaden. I’ve been wanting to go there for ages, and it’s about the end of the vacation season. After November 1, things kind of go to sleep. I knew it would be a stretch to try to go to Plitvice without breaking up the trip. Bill had noticed Austria’s fair city of Graz, which does look really appealing. But that’s at least eight hours away without any traffic or stops, and we have to drop off the dogs before we set off, which we can’t do until about 9:00am. I knew we would get in super late, and Bill would be weird and tired if we tried to make Graz in one day.

So, I ended up booking up at a hotel in Wels, Austria. Or, at least I tried. I found a well regarded and highly rated place in Wels. I tried to book directly from the hotel’s Web site. It had a rather aggressive pop up system. But, as I was booking, I got sent to a site called Saferpay, which was supposed to make my card transaction “safer” somehow. It timed out or something. My reservation didn’t go through properly, and Bill had to book with his card.

Then, I went on and booked a beautiful house in a village near Plitvice Lakes. I tried to use my USAA card for that booking and was immediately declined. PenFed let me book that place, and the next place, near Lake Bohinj in Slovenia. But when I tried to book our last place, in Salzburg, Austria, PenFed declined my charges, too.

In fairness, I don’t use my credit cards much. I once had a lot of credit card debt and paid it all off. I don’t want to get back into credit card debt again, so I usually use my debit card for everything. I use my credit cards mostly for big purchases and trips. Consequently, I often get these problems when I actually use credit, but USAA usually sends an alert to my phone, which allows me to accept or decline charges. This time, I got an email letting me know I had to call USAA… and it came about an hour after everything was settled. Bill and I were having a very late lunch, which I badly needed, because I was hungry and in a FOUL mood.

La Fonte is our neighborhood Italian restaurant, affiliated with the Sportsplatz. We’ve only eaten there a few times, mainly due to COVID. Today, we dined in, and we had to prove we were vaccinated. I still got a dirty look from another patron. He probably wondered why Americans were there, even though there are a number of Americans living in Breckenheim.

I ordered Montepulciano and Tortellini al Forno, which is with cream sauce, ham, and cheese. Bill ordered fettuccini with cream sauce and shrimp. The dish brought out to me was baked rigatoni with Bolognese sauce. We told the waitress, who apologized and brought out my correct order after about twenty minutes. I did taste Bill’s dish. Next time, I’m having what he had… not because mine wasn’t good, but because I liked what he had better.

I might have enjoyed dessert, but we were sitting in the outdoor area, which is next to the smoking section. They left the door to the smoking section open, so the smoke wafted into where we were sitting and clogged up my nose. Plus, as we were eating, I got that email from USAA, which really annoyed me. We paid about 43 euros for lunch, and I think we should come back to La Fonte more often. It really is a nice place, and they were doing a brisk business today. They don’t take a pause, either. We need to enjoy lunch there when I’m not preoccupied with my credit cards. Next time, we’ll sit inside the restaurant, away from the smokers.

When we got home, I took a quick shower and then Skyped USAA. I spent 40 worthless minutes waiting until the representative said I needed to call back on my cell phone. The whole time, I kept hearing the same insanity inducing hold “song”, which if you’re a musical person, like I am, is MADDENING.

After the woman told me she couldn’t help, I hung up with her and called on my cell phone. Supposedly, you can call collect if you’re overseas, but only if you’re on a landline. We don’t have a landline.

So I called… and this time, after about 8 minutes of waiting, I got someone much more competent. I explained what happened, and she removed the block. We don’t know why USAA reacted the way it did, and why they didn’t send me a text to allow me to confirm or deny the charges. But now that card, at least, is unblocked. As for PenFed, I’m not sure if that card is blocked. But it did allow me to book the bulk of our stay in the Balkans, so I’m happy enough with that.

I’m not calling them today, though. Now, I need a drink and some good music… And it’s time to plan all of the things we’re going to do, because I have a feeling we’re going to have a blast.

Lake Bohinj was suggested to us in May 2016 by several Slovenians, when we visited Lake Bled. I was overwhelmed by how many vacation homes there are there. It took forever to choose one, but I think I chose one that will make us happy for four nights.

Germany, restaurant reviews

A glorious fall lunch at Villa im Tal…

I have to admit, I was kind of inclined not to do anything today. Bill and I started binge watching Squid Game on Netflix yesterday and we were kind of wanting to watch the last few episodes. But today’s weather is absolutely glorious, with agreeable temperatures and lots of sunshine. It would have been a crime not to get out of the house for a couple of hours. It had been awhile since our last visit to Villa im Tal, a wonderful restaurant in the woods on the outskirts of Wiesbaden. We’ve been several times, and have enjoyed every meal we’ve had there, but thanks to the pandemic, it had been over a year since we last dined there in person.

We decided to make a 2:30pm reservation at Villa im Tal, which was the tail end of lunch service, mainly because we weren’t ready to go out until about 1:45pm. Traffic through Wiesbaden was a real pain, especially for a Sunday, but then we turned onto the country road with limited access that leads to the historic building where Villa im Tal is… Every time I go out there, I miss country living, and having a horse. There’s a riding stable right next door, and many people go out there to ride horses, bikes or take luxurious hikes. The setting really makes me miss living next to a nature park, like we did in Jettingen.

Anyway, below are some photos from today’s visit… And as I share them, I realize that we really need to take a Saturday and do something besides eating in a restaurant. It’s time we went to a museum or climbed up to a Berg or something…