Real Bud…

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When I was a young woman in my 20s, I thought American Budweiser was the shit! I drank it all the time and thought it was an iconic brand… an excellent beer! I even worked for Anheuser Busch at one point… Okay, so I worked at Busch Gardens. You still couldn’t avoid the beer culture working at the theme park, even if AB beers suck in general. American Budweiser has been sold in America for a long time… since 1876.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

In June 2008, my husband and I were living in Germany. For my 36th birthday, Bill took me to Passau, Germany, to spend a long weekend. During that weekend, we took a day trip into the Czech Republic. One of the places we visited was České Budějovice, the town where the real “Budweiser” has been made since 1785.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

On my 36th birthday, Bill took me to the city where real Budweiser is made and we had a delightful lunch…

As you can see, it was someone’s wedding day…

A brass band was playing near the town hall…

At lunch, I had duck and croquettes… and a big glass of authentic Budvar beer. It puts American Budweiser to shame!

I wish we could have spent more time in České Budějovice. It was a neat town. Instead, we went to Český Krumlov, which is a very charming town that reminded me of a theme park because of all the foreign visitors and the fact that so many people were dressed in medieval garb.

Church overlooking the river and kayakers.

Yes, I did climb this tower… Phew!

Bears were guarding the moat.

I thought the people in medieval garb were employed by the town, but it turns out my birthday is just in time for their summer solstice festival. It was very cool! I love this photo.

The Czech Republic was one of my favorite countries to visit when we were in Germany. I’d go back in a heartbeat!

Planning the route…

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It’s going to take us a few days to move to San Antonio.  San Antonio is about 1300 miles from here and we’ll probably have a UHaul or something so our life is bearable when we get to our new home, wherever that ends up being.  We’ll probably have to spend a night in a local hotel because after we clean the house, we’re going to want to have a decent night’s sleep before starting the journey west.  Since we have our dogs, the places will have to be dog friendly.

When we left Georgia, it was relatively easy.  We boarded our dogs for a couple of days while we cleaned the house.  Then the morning we left, we picked them up.  The drive to North Carolina took about six hours.  Piece of cake.

This time, we will have to find pet friendly hotels.  I have a feeling we will become intimately acquainted with La Quinta, since that chain is famously pet friendly and there are about 80 of them on our route to San Antonio.  I suspect the first leg will take us to the Atlanta area, where we’ll try to pick up some excellent JailHouse beers.  The next day, we’ll probably stop somewhere on the Gulf coast… maybe Biloxi or Mobile or maybe even somewhere in Louisiana.  The third night, we’ll probably stop in eastern Texas somewhere.  Maybe Houston?

I don’t know.  Bill says the Army expects us to drive 400 miles a day.  I look forward to Texas, but dread the driving and heavy lifting and cleaning…

Count the dogs!

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This photo was taken sometime in 1996, when I was in the Peace Corps.  I had gone to the northwestern Armenian city of Gyumri, formerly known as Leninakan.  On December 7, 1988, there was a massive earthquake that affected Gyumri.  55,000 people died with many more injured.

I was walking with a friend through Gyumri and didn’t have my camera with me.  He was kind enough to snap this shot and give it to me later.  Lots of street dogs in Armenia get their dinner out of trash cans.  Street dogs were usually kind of mean.  I love dogs, but didn’t enjoy running into most of the street dogs in Armenia.

I don’t know if Gyumri still looks like this.  I hope it’s better by now.  We looked in some of the vacant apartments and could see remnants of peoples’ lives, complete with painted murals on the walls.  It was very surreal.  I know that the Austrians came in and built a village in Gyumri.  It’s weird, because that village looks like it was plucked out of Europe and put in a very incongruous place.

People from Gyumri were said to be the funniest in Armenia with the most developed senses of humor.  It’s hard to laugh about this.  If they managed to, more power to them!

Pictured above is a former five star hotel, Soviet style.  It didn’t fare well in the earthquake, either.  My friend quipped that this area was referred to as “Little Beiruit” by Peace Corps Volunteers who served in that area.

This photo was taken in Gyumri in the summer of 1997, just before I left.  I’m not sure what this once was… but the earthquake truly fucked up this building.

December 7, 1988 means something to me for another reason.  I was 16 years old on that date and when I was in school that day, I learned that a much beloved member of our high school football team had died.  He’d had aplastic anemia that became apparent just after the first game in September.  When they found out his condition, he was sent to NIH (National Institutes of Health) in Bethesda, Maryland for treatment.  Sadly, it failed.  I remember when we were told he had died.  The whole school was silent.  He’d really made an impact.

Little did I know that years later, I’d be in a place where that same day was devastating for other reasons.

Daylight Savings Time again…

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It’s time to switch the clocks again.  I think George W. Bush is to blame for making this date come earlier than ever.  I used to love Daylight Savings Time.  Now I think it’s kind of a pain in the ass, especially since it means things get started an hour earlier.  On the other hand, they also end an hour earlier the following week.

Back in the 1990s, I was in the Republic of Armenia.  In those days, Armenia still participated in changing the clocks twice a year.  For some very weird reason, the second year I was there, local officials forgot to have everybody change their clocks.  Consequently, in the dead of winter, it was still dark outside at 8:00am.  I remember having to walk to school mid morning in almost darkness.  I hated it.  Ever since then, I’ve been able to see quite clearly why changing the clocks might not be a good thing.  Armenia has since done away with clock changing.

Since those days, I’ve wondered if I was in the twilight zone or something, just imagining that the clocks weren’t changed.  But I was watching the news this morning and they were talking about how Stalin introduced the practice in the former Soviet Union in 1928.  And they also mentioned how the Russians would often forget to “fall back” in autumn.  Since Armenia was once part of the Soviet Union, I now know that they really did forget back in 1996… or was it 1995?  I actually think it was ’96, because I remember expecting them to do it and being surprised when they never did.

I know not everywhere in the United States does the clock changing thing.  I do enjoy having extra daylight in the evening.  Hell, when we lived in Germany, it would stay light until almost 10:00 at night!  That was fun!  Of course, in the winter, it was dark very early.  I remember being in Poland in November and things were going dark at about 3:30pm.

Anyhoo… here we go again.  When the clocks change, that means spring is on its way…  and I’ll have to break out the lawnmower.

Blue countries use Daylight Savings Time.  Orange means DST was once used but is no longer.  Red means the country never used DST and doesn’t today.

 

 

Harry’s Bar…

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So today, while watching 7th Heaven, I was inspired to look up the recipe for a champagne cocktail called “Bellini”.  Bellinis are basically champagne or prosecco and pureed peaches.  They were invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice.

  Bellini cocktail
 

As it turns out, there are also Harry’s Bars in Florence and Rome.  Neither of these other Harry’s Bars are related to the one in Venice, but maybe it would be fun to drop by for a drink…  Maybe we could have a Bellini pub crawl or something…  Or maybe not.  Italians are snappy dressers and I might be disappointing…  And these bars might be too touristy.

On the other hand, I read that Harry’s Bar in Florence makes a very dry martini.  Bill is a fan of dry martinis…

We’ll see…

We’re within two months!

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Two months from today, Bill and I will be wandering around Venice.  I hope the cultural high will be enough to sustain my energy that day because we’ll be getting there in the morning, several hours before check in time.  I should be alright if I have a nice espresso or something.

I’m really looking forward to this trip.  I’ve been wanting to go to Venice with Bill for a long time now, even though it’s a touristy city.  There’s no denying that it’s beautiful and unique and I suspect Bill and I will have a blast, even though we’ll only be there for a night.  Of course, I just found out that you can buy public restroom passes.  That ought to be interesting.  Like just about everywhere else in Europe, you have to pay to use the toilets.  It looks like Venice has quite a markup, too.  The public potty appears to be twice as expensive as other places in Europe.

All we really need to do now is figure out the transportation between Venice and Florence, Florence, and Rome, and Rome and Civitivecchia.  And then, from Pireaus and Athens.  Unlike the last time I went to Venice and Florence, all of this stuff can now be taken care of online before we get there.

I can think of other places in Europe I want to visit just as much as Venice and Athens and all the places we’re planning to see in between, but there are only so many days we can be gone.  And I have no idea when we’ll have the chance to do this again, so I intend to enjoy every minute.  I’m still fondly remembering Scotland, too… and wishing we could go back there, too!

Hopefully this time, our dogs will be okay and there won’t be any frantic emails from the pet resort.  And there won’t be any obnoxious people holding court throughout the cruise…  and I won’t get seasick.

My German friend…

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A couple of months ago, right around the time my dog MacGregor died, I picked up a new friend on Facebook.  It was a German Army wife who had seen the Facebook page I made for MacGregor and worked with the beagle rescue that gave us Arran.  It’s been fun getting to know her.  I imagine that being a German living in America must be, in some ways, like being an American living in Germany.

My friend, Susi, is about sixteen years younger than I am.  When I was her age, I was single and living in Armenia, serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Susi is married to a soldier.  I’m assuming she met and married him when he was posted in Stuttgart.  Incidentally, that’s where Bill and I lived when we lived in Germany.  In chatting with Susi, I’ve been very impressed by a lot of things…

First off, she has quite an affinity for profanity.  I am not offended by this, actually.  I like to cuss too.  She often uses profanity to express her displeasure with America.  I’m not sure if she feels this way because America– especially where she lives in North Carolina– is not as exciting as Germany is.  I mean, the weather is milder here, but we don’t have the really beautiful old buildings or picturesque towns that they have in Europe.  And we have a lot of ugly big box stores and fast food restaurants.

Last night, she commented on how American kitchens were not designed for people who like to cook.  When we lived in Germany, we actually had a very nice kitchen.  Our landlord had a masonry heater that had a bench built into it, as well as a table bolted to the floor.  We had an infrared stove, which we hated, and a convection oven, which was smaller than what we were used to.  The Army gave us a refrigerator, which was nice because European fridges are smaller.  I didn’t necessarily think that kitchen was better than any I’d had in America, though.

Also, my husband and I love to cook.  My husband has actually turned it into a hobby and has become quite proficient at creating a nice meal.  I taught him a lot and he has since learned more on his own.  There are a lot of Americans who cook.

On the other hand, Americans who are lucky enough to have a job typically work long hours.  And they don’t tend to get as much vacation time as Europeans get, nor is it necessarily guaranteed that Americans will even get a vacation.  The upshot is, a lot of us Yanks eat convenience foods.  Bill and I don’t, really… we cook most days.  But a lot of Americans do.  So maybe that’s why our kitchens “suck”.

I wonder if Susi had a cultural high when she came to America.  I know I did in Germany, though it was actually pretty stressful to move there because we were stuck in a hotel for six weeks with two noisy beagles.  Susi has an advantage because she speaks excellent English, while I don’t speak a lick of German.  And even if I did, it’s likely the Germans I ran into would switch to English anyway.

Given a choice, I’d probably prefer Germany to America.  It’s beautiful there… the food and beverages are excellent… so many wonderful places are within driving distance.  Granted, America has its share of beautiful places too.  But America has become too generic, to the point that you can go most anywhere and it won’t be that different.

I didn’t make a lot of friends in Germany.  There were a few locals we interacted with a bit, but we found that it takes time to get to know Germans.  Once they know you, they seem to be wonderful friends who are solid to the core.  But it takes awhile to crack the surface.  I wonder if Susi finds Americans too easy to make friends with.  Culturally, we are very different… even those of us who have German heritage (and I do, a little, but my family is more Scottish/English/Irish than anything else).

I also wonder if Susi has a trash disposal and if she enjoys using it.  I know compost heaps are big in Germany.  I give Susi props for knowing the town where I lived in Germany.

One of the many views from our back yard in Germany…

An even better shot…

Our next… (last??) move…

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Since January 2007, my husband and I have moved five times.  The first move was within a half a mile.  We moved from the little white house we’d been in since October 2003 to a brand new house.  We had to move because our old house was being renovated.  I was sorry to leave it, because I actually liked that house… but the new house did have some updated features like a gas stove, FiOS, and a tiny fenced in yard.  Bill deployed in January 2007, so I lived in that house mostly by myself.  He came back in August 2007 and we moved to Germany in September 2007.

We expected to live in Germany for three years.  We ended up getting barely two years, owing to my husband’s asshole ex boss in Iraq, who got Bill requested by name to take a job in Atlanta, Georgia in September 2009.  I loved Germany and cried when we had to leave.  We traveled a lot, loved our house (and our neighbors and landlord) and felt very comfortable in Europe.  We got paid more in Germany, too.  Moving abroad is a big pain in the ass… It took six weeks to get into our house and when we were PCS’ing, we had to deal with new potential renters breathing down our necks, wanting to rent our house.  It sucked.

But we moved to Atlanta in September 2009 and it was okay… we were there for 18 months because my husband’s post was shut down and moved to North Carolina.  So we moved to North Carolina in April 2011.  We got out of our time in Georgia a new dog (Zane) and Bill picked up some mad home brewing skills.  Our old beagle, Flea, died about two months after we got to Georgia because he had prostate cancer.

So now we’re about to have our second anniversary in North Carolina…  I’m just now meeting people, mainly because we adopted our new dog, Arran, because sweet MacGregor died a few months ago.  North Carolina is not that exciting… it’s very close to Virginia, which is where I’m from, and not far from where family live.

Today, Bill tells me we will likely be expected in San Antonio, Texas around August 1, 2013…  He retires next year, which means this will be the last time the Army moves us unless we move after he retires.  The Army will pay for a move when he retires, too…

For the third time since 2009, I’m househunting on AHRN, which is a housing rental service for military folks.  I hear San Antonio is wonderful, so I’m hoping we like it and stay awhile.  And I hope we don’t end up living in a box.  Meanwhile, I still want to plan trips and, in fact, was checking out Hebridean Island Cruises YouTube channel and wishing we could do another Scotland cruise this year.

I guess in July, we’ll need to take a trip to San Antonio and find a house.  Then in late July, we’ll need to take a 3 or 4 night road trip and drive the 1300 miles to get there.  It was a lot easier to move from Georgia to North Carolina.

France…

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When we first got married, my husband, Bill, used to make a lot of jokes about France.  Since he’s a soldier, he used to talk a lot about how the French were wimps during wartime.  I don’t know about that.  I was awfully impressed a few years ago, when a couple of French snipers killed a couple of Somali pirates who were holding several people hostage.  But anyway, like a lot of guys in the military, my husband used to join in the good natured ribbing about the French running from battle…

And then we went there…

My husband promptly fell in love with France.  It started with our first venture into France while we were on a trip to Italy in 2008.  We were staying at Bella Baita, a B&B about 30 miles from Torino and not far from the French border.  The B&B was high in the Alps and on a clear day, you can see the French border.  I was sick of Italian food because we’d been in Italy all week.  So I proposed we go to France for a little while.

Bill was hesitant.  At the time, I think he wasn’t used to being able to pass over borders with ease.  But we headed west, driving through majestic mountain passes and around multiple switchbacks.  We finally crossed over the border and watched as the signs went from Italian to French.  We stopped in the first city of any significance, Briancon.  There was a handy parking lot there.  We had lunch outdoors at a charming little cafe, where I had a delicious salad and mustard marinaded chicken and wine.  And then we walked around the charming downtown area for awhile… until I needed to pee.

As it turned out, the public pay toilet was broken, so we went back to the cafe, where we had spent about 80 euros.  The bartender was kind of an asshole and told me I had to buy a drink before I could go pee.  Fortunately, the waitress who had served Bill and me overheard and gave him a ration of shit.

The parking lot where we parked for our day trip to France.

 

 The gate to the old town

 Another shot

 A view of the scenery from the parking lot

 Waterfall coming out of the Alps

The inside of the neighborhood cathedral

 

After the impromptu trip to Briancon, we had a chance to go back into France on the way home.  We took a shortcut through eastern France and had lunch in Strasbourg, where I proceeded to drink too much red wine…

View from downtown Strasbourg…

 

In May 2009, we enjoyed a magical weekend in Paris.  We stayed at Hotel Le Six, and just wandered the streets, eating good food, looking at the crowds.  At one point, we spotted two hapless Mormon missionaries who looked harried as they passed us enjoying a wonderful lunch at a little bistro.

A month later, we stayed in Luxembourg for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday and took a day trip to Nancy, France; a beautiful city in Northeastern France, not far from Belgium.  We ate lunch at a South American restaurant and scored points because our terrible Spanish was better than our non-existant French!

And a month after that, we dipped back into France to take my mother-in-law out to lunch on our way home from an epic tour of five countries in one day… and if I haven’t blogged about that yet, I definitely will.  We stopped in Marckolsheim, France and had yet another nice lunch, again with people who barely spoke English.  It was refreshing.

In Europe, a lot of people speak English.  That’s convenient, of course, but it’s also sad.  Because it makes the place seem less European and more American.  And it makes it harder to learn a new language.  There are pockets of Europe, though, where a person can go and feel like they are truly away from home.

Bill loves France now.  At some point, we are going to have to go there on vacation so he can enjoy the wonders of France for longer than a day trip or a long weekend.  I’m thinking about one day booking a trip with French Country Waterways, a barge cruising outfit.  We’ll have to save for it because it’s expensive…  But wow, what a week we’d have, huh?

We also want to visit the Champagne region for obvious reasons.  Actually, I could live on champagne, given the opportunity…

Taittinger… probably my favorite champagne.  I like it even better than Dom Perignon…

I think we need to move back to Europe.

Costa Rica…

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I’m giving some serious thought to booking another cruise in November or December.  SeaDream Yacht Club is offering some great deals on cruises there at that time.

I had an acquaintance/co-worker who served in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica.  Knowing that it’s become quite the tourist destination lately, I can only guess that he was a lucky guy to get to serve there.

I also have a friend who had dental work done there at a fraction of the cost it would have been in the United States.  She had serious problems that required multiple dental implants that would have been prohibitively expensive to have done in the United States.  Knowing that I have two baby teeth with no permanent teeth under them, it’s good to know I could get implants relatively cheaply in a country not too far away.

When we lived in Germany, we visited Poland and the Czech Republic.  Both of those countries are also known for medical tourism.  In Poland, you can get dental work done cheaply.  In the Czech Republic, you can get pregnant via cut rate IVF.  But something tells me that Costa Rica’s beautiful beaches and tropical wildlife might be more enticing… at least to me.

If I do decide to book the trip, I’ll do it when we’re onboard so I can get 15% off the fare.  When you’re paying four figures a person, that discount is very helpful in making the cruise more affordable.

Next year, my husband retires and will be searching for a new job.  We may be poor.  I don’t know if it’s better to take the trips now, or save up the money.  Of course, if he gets a job quickly, he won’t have the generous vacation he gets today.  So maybe it’s best to sneak these trips in while we can…  And if we’re poor, we’re poor.  He will get a retirement, so that’s a good thing.  Unfortunately, his retirement will be cut for the first couple of years because he has to repay money that he got when he temporarily left the Army in the 1990s.

Blame the skank for that decision…