Our pandemic dog rescue story… part one

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As of yesterday, our home became a two dog household again. I never thought we’d get there, but we have. This series is about our quest to adopt a dog in Germany, which took us all the way to Slovenia and back over the weekend. Before I write about our travels, I want to offer a quick backstory about our experiences with dogs as a married couple. Please bear with me! It’s all about preserving history.

Bill and I have been dedicated dog rescuers since 2002. I grew up with dogs in rural Gloucester, Virginia, but mostly focused on horses until I went to college. Bill never had dogs, but his mom had many cats when he was growing up. Bill can’t have cats because he’s allergic to them. But he can have dogs, and he is a natural dog “parent”. In May of 2002, I had just finished graduate school at the University of South Carolina and it was time I had a dog in my life again. I told Bill I wanted a beagle. He agreed that sharing our home with a dog would be most acceptable, and beagles have been in our lives ever since.

All of our previous dogs have been beagle mixes of some sort. The first one, blue-eyed CuCullain (CC) was a beagle mixed with husky and he had incredible ice blue eyes. We adopted him in May 2002 and lost him after sixteen months when he contracted Mycobacterium Avium, an extremely rare and fatal disease in dogs.

All the dogs we’ve loved before– CC, MacGregor and Flea, Zane and MacGregor, Zane and Arran, and Jonny, whom we never got to pet.

Next, in November 2003, we adopted a dog named Flea, probably the closest we ever had to a purebred beagle. He was found on the side of a road in Chester County, Virginia, starving, covered with fleas and ticks, and heartworm and Lyme Disease positive. We had Flea for six years, and along with our third rescue, MacGregor, Flea came to Germany with us the first time. We lost him to prostate cancer when he was about twelve years old, two months after we moved to Georgia from Germany.

MacGregor, Flea’s sidekick, was a beagle-basset hound mix who was incredibly smart and funny, but terrified of people he didn’t know. He adored Bill and loved performing on camera. We adopted him in 2004, mainly because Flea badly needed a “second banana”. After a few weeks of “working it out”, Flea and MacGregor became best friends. We loved him for 8.5 years, until he developed a spinal tumor. We said goodbye to MacGregor in Raleigh, North Carolina a week before Christmas 2012, when he was about ten years old. CuCullain, Flea, and MacGregor all came to us from BREW in northern Virginia.

Zane, who was my very special friend, came into our lives a month after after we lost Flea in November 2009. We had just moved to Georgia and he was turned into Atlanta Beagle Rescue. His first owner had bought him at Petland and said she didn’t have the money to take care of him. Personally, I think she gave him up because she was too busy and he was in his destructive “teen puppy” phase. It took us about six months to turn him into a civilized pet, but once we did, he was an amazing gentleman. Zane was with us for almost ten years until we lost him on August 31, 2019 to lymphoma. He was almost eleven years old when he died. I think Zane was mostly beagle with a dash of Labrador Retriever. He never met a stranger and loved to play. I adored him and was crushed when we lost him.

We got Arran in January 2013, when MacGregor passed. He came from Triangle Beagle Rescue out of Raleigh, North Carolina, and appears to be a mix of beagle and German Shorthaired Pointer. He’s about eleven years old, and he’s sweet, cuddly, emotional, soulful, and very jealous. Bill is his favorite person, as evidenced by the many pictures I’ve shared of him on social media. Arran is a wonderful dog who doesn’t need a “second banana”. But I needed one.

We usually adopt a new dog within a month of losing one. Since we live in Germany now, it’s not as easy for us to adopt dogs. There are a lot of reasons for this. One of the main reasons is because local pet shelters don’t like to allow Americans to have dogs. Too many military folks have abandoned animals in the shelters here, to the point at which they don’t trust us anymore. Some rescues also don’t want to adopt to Americans because there have been cases of adopted animals being abused, abandoned, or neglected. Certainly, not all Americans are abusive to animals, but unfortunately enough of them have been that we all get painted with that broad brush in some parts of Germany. I didn’t want to buy a dog from a breeder, because I know there are so many dogs who need homes. So we waited about six months after losing Zane to try to adopt from a German rescue organization. That attempt to adopt was successful in that the rescue didn’t mind that we were Americans. Unfortunately, it ended with a needless tragedy.

Our brand new canine family member, currently named Noizy, was a much anticipated arrival. Noizy came into our lives in April 2020, a couple of weeks after a dog we tried to adopt escaped before he made it into our house. We were absolutely devastated about what happened to Jonny, the dog who was supposed to join us last March. You might say that, in a weird way, Jonny was a casualty of COVID-19 and extreme negligence. But when he died, he also helped save two canine lives– Noizy, and Max, an elderly cocker spaniel who found himself abandoned at our Tierpension when his owner died. The proprietor offered him to us, but since we had already committed to Noizy, I ended up sharing his story in a local Facebook group and Max was adopted by a teacher at the American school in Wiesbaden. I take comfort in knowing that losing Jonny meant that two dogs got new homes. Still, it was horrible what happened to him.

We were approved to adopt Jonny, a beautiful beagle mix from Sardinia, in mid March 2020, right around the time COVID-19 was getting really bad in Europe. Originally, we planned to drive up to northern Germany to pick him up from his foster family’s house. But before we could make travel plans, the local command issued General Order #1, which forbade us from leaving the Wiesbaden area. We let the rescue know that we couldn’t travel and offered to pay Jonny’s expenses until we could go get him. The rescue wouldn’t agree to that, but proposed that we could pay for a pet taxi to have him brought to us. Long story short, Bill ended up agreeing, and after hasty arrangements were made, Jonny was picked up by a pet taxi and driven to Wiesbaden overnight.

The woman who had brought Jonny to us had driven all night from northern Germany. She was exhausted, having told Bill that she had been driving for seventeen hours. For some reason, she had not properly secured Jonny with so much as a collar and a leash before she took him out of her pet taxi. She put him down on the ground, completely naked, and tried to use a lasso leash on him. The dog backed out of the lasso before it tightened, took off running, and soon found his way to the Autobahn, where he eventually got hit by a car. We found about it the morning after we lost him. The pet rescue found out first, because Jonny had a chip. I also got contacted by a club in Germany that helps the police inform people of their pets’ deaths. That was weird. Especially since he wasn’t really our pet yet. There’s a club for almost everything in Germany.

Complicating matters was the fact that a couple of people in Bill’s office were sick with COVID-19, and we found out about it the morning Jonny ran away from us. Bill was forced to quarantine just a couple of hours after Jonny escaped. We couldn’t look for him ourselves, but even if we could, he didn’t know us at all. He’d never even so much as sniffed us. We never petted him. I don’t think we would have been able to catch him, even if we could have found him. It was just heartbreaking; he was only about ten feet from our front door when he escaped.

I will never forgot how absolutely horrible that experience was… I definitely learned some lessons from it. In fact, as I type this, Bill is heading to court to testify about what happened to Jonny. The rescue sued the pet taxi driver, who refused to take any responsibility for what happened. (Edited to add: I just learned that at the last minute, the pet taxi driver decided to settle and Bill didn’t even have to be at the courthouse today… so basically, we rushed back to Germany for nothing. Oh well. At least she finally took responsibility. Wish they’d told us sooner.)

Anyway, last spring, I was feeling distraught about the Jonny’s sudden death. Bill and I don’t know how much longer we’ll live in Germany, and it seemed impossible to get another dog. I’d had my heart set on Jonny. Thanks to COVID, my reluctance to buy from a breeder, and German prejudice against Americans adopting dogs from Tierheims (even if it is justified), it seemed like we’d be a single dog household until we eventually depart Germany, and I have no idea when that will be. One day, I posted on Facebook that I really wanted another dog.

Within minutes of my post, my friend Mary sent me a message. She said she could put me in contact with an American woman who rescues dogs. Before I knew it, I was chatting on Facebook with Meg, who had lived in Kosovo, a tiny breakaway nation that was once part of Yugoslavia and is not recognized as its own country everywhere. Meg now lives in Germany, but still has many dogs in Kosovo who need homes. She is very committed to seeing that the dogs she rescues all get the sweet life off of the streets of Kosovo.

My heart was already kind of leaning toward adopting a dog from the East, even before we lost Zane. I have another Facebook friend named Trish who used to live in Stuttgart and was also living there when we had our latest Stuttgart stint. Trish adopted a beautiful female dog from a shelter near Dubrovnik, Croatia. Trish had said her dog, Phoebe, was the “best souvenir ever”. I had watched in delight as she posted pictures of Phoebe, who went from homeless Croatian street dog to beloved canine family member. I was inspired, even if I’m really used to beagles.

Anyway, after establishing contact, Meg sent me pictures of the dogs she had… and when I saw Noizy’s face, he made an immediate impression on my heart. I asked Meg about Noizy and she gave me some of his details. I told Bill about him and shared his story and photos. But we knew it would take awhile before Noizy would be part of our household.

First, he’d need to pass a blood test. Then there would be a four month waiting period after the test. There was also COVID-19 to consider, with borders opening and closing at varying intervals on a weekly basis. COVID-19 also made it temporarily impossible to export Noizy’s blood sample to a veterinary school in Germany, where it would be tested. Planes weren’t flying for awhile in the spring, and that was the only way to get the sample out of Kosovo. I think that logistical hassle added a month to the wait. Then the transportation had to be arranged.

All told, we’ve waited almost six months to bring Noizy home. There were times when it seemed like he’d never get here. Sometimes, I wondered how we were going to coordinate everything to get him to Germany, especially given the COVID-19 situation and the grim news reports about how there will be a second wave.

Noizy arrived last night after a very long, yet whirlwind, two day journey from his homeland. This series I’m going to start today is about that journey. I’m going to include the usual hotel details, as well as what little I got to see of the places we stayed, but this trip wasn’t about sightseeing. It was about expanding our family to a very special dog whom I hope will have a long and happy life with us. I’m sure this is just the first of many stories I’ll have about our new family member, a big dog from a tiny country… who came to us all the way from Kosovo and has already made a home in our hearts.

Lunch at Mangia, Mangia in Kronberg…

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Although we had wonderful weather again yesterday, Bill and I never managed to venture out anywhere. Instead, we stayed home and enjoyed our usual backyard wine and music. Bill also made a “savory cheesecake”, which was something I used to serve when I worked lunch shifts at The Trellis in Williamsburg, Virginia. The Trellis was started in 1980 and run by Marcel Desaulniers, John Curtis, and for some years, the late Tom Powers. Mr. Powers eventually divested himself of his share of the restaurant and opened a competitor, The Fat Canary, which is still running and very popular. When I worked at The Trellis, Mr. Powers was already out of the partnership.

Anyway, a savory cheesecake is a cheese based pastry… but it’s “savory”. It’s a cheesecake made with cream cheese and some other kind of cheese. In our case, we used Monterrey Jack and Cheddar cheese, but in Marcel’s cookbook, it calls for Dry Jack and Gruyeres cheeses and at the restaurant, they made it with cream cheese and Swiss.

Bill tries his hand at cheesecake. Yes, it looks like a sweet cheesecake, but it’s not… and it’s not a quiche, either. It’s cheese based, not egg based.

While we were enjoying the cheesecake, Bill asked me if I would like to go out to lunch today. I said that would be fine, so we made reservations at Mangia, Mangia, an Italian eatery in Kronberg im Taunus, which is just on the outskirts of Frankfurt. Kronberg is right next to Koenigstein, which is where I had my birthday lunch in June, and not at all far from Bad Soden, a spa town that also has an Italian steak house and rib joint called Rocco’s Italian Grill.

Our reservation was at 1:00pm. We live about twenty-five minutes or so from Kronberg, so I had to hastily wrap up my guitar practice so we could get there on time. We needn’t have been so concerned. Although the terrace was bustling when we arrived, there were many tables available indoors. We decided to sit outside and enjoy the last days of summer before the weather turns to shit. There’s a parking garage very close to the restaurant, as well as an outdoor lot right by the restaurant itself.

Here are some photos from our visit.

Lunch was very good, although I probably wouldn’t get the Smokey Avo Burger again. I’m pretty picky about my burgers. Bill loved it, though, and ate what I didn’t want, as well as his own pasta dish. I think next time, I’ll go for a pasta dish or maybe grilled dorade or salmon. The pizzas also looked great, but they’re always too big for me. Despite appearances to the contrary, I don’t generally eat that much. I just drink too much. 😉

Service was a little slow, but basically friendly. I enjoyed watching and listening to the people around us. I noticed a lot of people who were there were Italians, which is always a good sign in an Italian restaurant. On Sundays, they offer non-stop service, though they take a pause on other days of the week. The inside of the restaurant is very modern and kind of glam. It looked a little like it was influenced somewhat by American tastes. The pizza bread burger buns are unique.

I noticed a young couple who appeared to be on a first or early date. They looked like they might be teenagers. It reminded Bill and me of when we had our first date, although we were well beyond the teen years when that happened. It’s hard to believe that this year, we’re going to celebrate our 18th anniversary.

After we ate, we decided to take a walk through the very quaint town, which reminded me a little of Ribeauville in Alsace, France. There are many beautiful half-timbered buildings and interesting architecture. I guess Kronberg was not too badly decimated during World War II. Here are some photos…

On the way back to the car, I noticed the garage had a pay toilet. Since I drank water and wine at lunch, I decided to spring for a pee before hitting the road. The WC wasn’t too dirty, but there was a lot of graffiti. Since I know I have at least one German reader who enjoys reading the public’s thoughts on things, here’s what was written on the walls. Who says Germans can’t be crass?

Kronberg begs for a return visit and further exploration. As nice as Hofheim was last weekend, I think I might like Kronberg even more. It’s a very ritzy town. Too bad we couldn’t take the Mini. It needs gas and air in the tires, which Bill will take care of tomorrow. Then, he’s off to Stuttgart to attend to business for a few days. Whoopee. Guess I’ll play Sims 4 and watch more Call the Midwife.

Lunch in lovely Hofheim!

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We have pretty weather today, so Bill asked me if I wanted to go out. I did want to go out, as I have a bad habit of being reclusive when I should be out enjoying Germany. Unfortunately, Aunt Flow showed up this morning… about a week delayed. I was hoping for a reprieve but– NOPE– no such luck. It always happens on a Saturday, too.

Anyway, I mention Aunt Flow only because we were on our way to Hofheim in my Mini Cooper convertible (which really needs to be driven more), when I realized I had forgotten to arm myself with the necessary feminine hygiene supplies. Fortunately, Hofheim has a very nice Edeka located in a shopping mall that has a nice parking garage with low rates. We parked there, stopped by the store, visited the restrooms (50 cents), then took a stroll through Hofheim, which is one of the nicest towns near where we live.

A few months ago, when we tried and failed to adopt a dog from a German pet rescue, I joined the Wir in Hofheim Facebook group. It was one of many groups I joined in an attempt to try to locate the dog we hoped to adopt who escaped from his pet taxi as he was being unloaded. Unfortunately, the dog met an untimely end on the Autobahn, but I stayed in the groups, anyway. The Wir in Hofheim group is one of my favorites. I regularly follow it, because there’s a lot of helpful information in it and the people are very nice. It was from that group that I got the idea to go to Hofheim.

It’s not that we hadn’t been there before. Bill and I visited the outskirts when we first moved up to the Wiesbaden area and ate in a now defunct Italian place. Bill also visited the town to get take out for us when the COVID-19 restrictions were very strict. Unfortunately, one of the places we discovered in the spring, Blanca Bistro, is now closed. We passed by there today on our way into the old town. I was sad to see it sort of abandoned… there’s still liquor and glassware in there, and signage is still up, but the restaurant stopped serving food a couple of months ago. Several places have had to close due to COVID-19, including the excellent German place near our house. We only ate there one time because it was always packed! But it couldn’t keep going during the pandemic.

We did manage to find lunch, though. We ate at Ristorante L’Opera, an attractive establishment in a little alcove on the main drag. No one else was there when we arrived at about 12:30pm, but we were soon joined by a German couple who enjoyed smoking.

Bill filled out the contact tracing paperwork and the waiter handed us the laminated menus, obviously much abbreviated compared to normal. There were still a few dishes that were attractive, as well as some specials that were advertised on a sandwich board by the passage. Unfortunately, the uncomfortably narrow chairs, which are the kind often found at gelaterias, reminded me that I probably ought to cut back on my groceries.

I don’t usually get pizza in Germany, mainly because it’s always more than I can finish and I don’t always like the kinds of pizzas that are available. I will say that today’s pizza was excellent. I especially enjoyed the crust, which was absolutely perfect! I’m sure they have a pizza oven to get such perfection. Light, yet chewy with a slightly crisp crust, delicious mozzarella cheese, and a light layer of tomato sauce made that very simple pizza creation a delight! And I even skipped the meat.

Bill enjoyed the pulled pork sandwich, which had a housemade bun. He especially liked the slaw, though. Bill likes cabbage very much. I noticed he cleaned his plate, while I had leftovers, which our attentive server was happy to wrap up for later.

The bill for lunch came to about 41 euros. Bill gave the guy 45, and we took a walk around the town. Hofheim is maybe nine kilometers from where we live, but it’s very charming. We probably ought to visit more often, if only because we like the Edeka better than Rewe.

Anyway… it wasn’t long before we needed to head home and rescue Arran from his loneliness. Although Hofheim isn’t a substitute for some of our favorite little towns in Baden-Württemberg, like Nagold, Esslingen, Ludwigsburg, and Tübingen, it’s not a bad place to spend a couple of hours. There are several nice restaurants there, charming ambiance, places to shop, and enjoy the last days of summer. I’m glad we took the time to go there today… and for any readers who are looking to move to Wiesbaden, this is one town I would recommend seeking a home nearby. It’s a very pleasant little hamlet.

Labor Day 2020…

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We didn’t end up leaving town for Labor Day. I never got around to finding a place to go. Since the COVID-19 situation is ever changing, it didn’t seem smart to book too far in advance. And then, we had to deal with the chimney sweep on Friday. It’s German law that they come every year and do an inspection and we weren’t sure when they would arrive.

Our weekend was mostly spent in the backyard, listening to music, gardening, and drinking beer and wine. We didn’t even go out to eat, although Bill did get some take out from Five Guys because I had a craving. I downloaded some new software and will probably try to figure it out today. Last night, we took a walk around the neighborhood and I took a few photos.

Our next trip could be to Slovenia, where we will hopefully meet a new canine family member. Fingers are crossed. Slovenia is beautiful anyway. I wouldn’t mind going just because it’s so gorgeous.

A drive to Kallstadt…

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Recently, I read and reviewed Mary Trump’s book, Too Much and Never Enough, a scathing expose about the Trump family, particularly her Uncle Donald Trump. I read in Mary’s book that the Trumps originated in Kallstadt, a wine producing hamlet located about an hour’s drive from where Bill and I currently live. Because we had nothing better to do today, and we’ve spent far too many weekends at home since the pandemic struck, Bill and I decided to drive to the village of Kallstadt to check it out.

A German Facebook friend wrote that she lives close to Kallstadt and that if we visited the cute little wine town, not to mention Trump. Apparently, the locals aren’t all that pleased to be associated with the current U.S. president, even though remnants of his family remain in the area, especially in the cemeteries.

The Inside Edition’s take on Kallstadt.

We had the best intentions of actually getting out and walking around there once we arrived. Unfortunately, parking was in short supply today. We also brought Arran with us. I did get some photos, though, and we took a drive through nearby Bad Dürkheim, a nice looking spa town that’s a bit bigger than Trump’s grandparents’ stomping grounds. If we’d wanted to, we could have spent time trying and buying different wines produced in the area.

Kallstadt is currently in Rhineland-Palatinate (or Rheinland-Pfalz, if you prefer). When Trump’s grandparents, Friedrich and Elisabeth Trump, were living there, back in the 19th century, it was part of the Kingdom of Bavaria. Looking at a German map, it’s surprising to see just how far north Bavaria stretches. I guess I’m used to being down near Stuttgart, which is a couple of hours’ drive from the closest Bavarian border. Up here in Wiesbaden, we’re close to several other German states.

The weather didn’t turn out to be the best for walking around today. We’re about to reach Fall, which can be glorious in Germany, but can also be a bit “iffy” in terms of the weather. Anyway, I did get some photos, although that was pretty much all we got on today’s journey… I would definitely be up for another visit when the sun is out and maybe if we didn’t bring Arran. There are many Weinguts to try in the area, plus some tempting looking restaurants.

I truly meant to write more about this. I hoped we could walk around and see a lot more of the area. It just wasn’t the right day to explore Trump’s grandparents’ stomping grounds. We’ll have to go back and spend more time… and at least taste a few of the products of the region. I’d like to know Kallstadt for the products it can truly be proud of, rather than our current leader. Kallstadt is a really cute little town, though. I can see why people visit.

An August walk in the vineyards…

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I run a Facebook group for wine lovers in the American communities of Germany. I started the group when we lived near Stuttgart, and have continued it since we moved up here to Wiesbaden. Stuttgart is “German wine country”, but the Rheingau, which is where Wiesbaden is, could be considered “German wine world”. I had no idea, when we moved up here a couple of years ago, how much more of a wine region the Rhein area is compared to Stuttgart, which now seems much more like beer country to me. If you like German wines, or just want to see if you like them, this area is “must visit” territory. I used to dislike German wines, but I eventually found quite a few that I enjoy. Every year we’ve lived here (since 2014, anyway), I have found even more that appeal to me.

One of Bill’s co-workers, Nora, happened to befriend a trivia loving American lady named Jennipher Schwarz, who married a German man named Klaus, whose family is in the wine business. Naturally, Jennipher and Klaus have a special “in” to German winemakers, but Jennipher is also a chef who has extensive experience captaining boats, too. She’s a fascinating person, and I’m delighted that Bill’s co-worker met her at trivia night! They are both tremendous assets to my little Facebook group, which has grown by leaps and bounds since I started it in 2016.

Jennipher and her husband have a business called Winestones, and they run wine tastings, winery tours, and facilitate wine sales. Last night, they hosted a “wine walk” at Lunkenheimer-Lager, one of several family owned wineries near Ingelsheim am Rhein, a picturesque wine producing town about 40 kilometers from where we live. For 24 euros per person, we got to try generous pours of several wines and have some vegetarian fare…

A few months ago, when the pandemic was in full swing, Jennipher hosted an online wine tasting via Zoom. Bill and I participated in that and had a great time, but this was the first time we’d made it to one of the special wine walk events Winestones hosts. We tried several different wines, walked around the vineyards, and socialized in person for the first time in many months. About everyone in attendance last night, save for the vintners, were Americans who are part of the U.S. military presence up here, but Jennipher has said she gets all kinds of people at her events. Here’s a link to Winestones’ Facebook page, for anyone who happens to read this and would like to get in touch.

The weather was awesome, and Bill and I took Arran with us… I got lots of great photos, too. Here are a few of them.

The wine walk was up a slight hill, which afforded many beautiful views of the valley. Anyone who visits a winery and does a walk should expect to walk up hills, since grapevines are planted on them for maximum sunshine. Jennipher and Klaus helpfully explained some of the methods used for gathering the local grapes for delicious German wines. She showed us some vines that were planted in April of this year, and told us about a couple of vines that date from the World War II era. The older vines don’t produce as many grapes and are harder to tend, but the grapes they do produce put out very interesting wines for the discriminating palate!

I probably could have sipped wine and taken pictures all night, but unfortunately, it was getting cooler and darker… and all of that wine has to go somewhere. I needed to ladies room in the worst way. Nora and I, feeling our collective oats, headed back down the hill to the facilities. The rest of the group followed, and we went back into the tasting room for a little dessert, more wine, and more talk about wine, as well as a few inappropriate subjects. I’m sure the people who were sitting near Bill and me probably think I’m totally nuts, and I am. But I’ve also been mostly locked down for months and haven’t had anyone to talk to. Even when we took our recent vacation, our most engaging conversation was with the “Shaman”, the artist in Italy who identifies with Geronimo… and maybe the other artist we met in Bolzano. I am somewhat introverted (much more than people realize), but I do need human contact sometimes.

I really regret not participating in one of Winestones’ earlier events this year. What can I say? 2020 has definitely been an unusual year for us and everyone else on the planet. Jennipher says she may do another event in the fall. I hope she will, because now I’ve done two with her and had a blast! And for one of them, I didn’t even have to get dressed or leave my home!

And now that we’ve been to Ingelsheim am Rhein, we will have to go back. We noticed several other inviting looking “Weinguts” in the area, but I would also love to get some more photos. It really is breathtaking scenery. I have missed beautiful countryside views, since we left Jettingen in 2018.

We may manage to get out for a bit today, too, so there could be another post in the very near future!

A marvelous afternoon at Little Italy…

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Regular readers of my main blog may notice that I’ve been kind of crabby lately. I was especially irritable yesterday, since I was trying to write the blog post I posted earlier today while listening to kids outside my window shrieking and trying to respond to a private message. I get really cranky when I’m trying to write and can’t concentrate on what I’m doing. I probably should have been on ADD meds when I was a kid because I am very easily distracted. On top of that, I had a tension headache, and Bill was bugging me about going to AAFES. We did need to go to AAFES (military run department store), even though I hate going there, especially now that everyone has to wear face masks.

Military facilities are even more anal retentive about COVID-19 protocol than other places are. Although the guards have stopped giving drivers the third degree every time they enter the gates, there’s still a very strict mask requirement, entry and exit protocol, and handwashing detail. And while it may be necessary for sparing people from getting sick, I also remember that not too long ago, it was not uncommon to find the restrooms at AAFES in pretty disgusting shape. I have pictures of ones I encountered in Stuttgart as well as vivid memories of the remnants of other people’s dumps lingering in the toilets at the food courts. So while enforcing the over-the-top COVID-19 requirements may be a very good idea right now, they seem rather disingenuous to me after a lifetime of patronizing the BX/PX (AAFES).

I finally gave up on the blog post after trying to upload a few photos. I came back to my post, only to find that over half of it was somehow wiped out. After uttering a few choice words at the computer screen, I went downstairs, where Bill was busily “beagle proofing” (although Arran is probably more of a pointer than a beagle). He asked me if I was hungry. I legitimately wasn’t, although I knew that we were about to hit the dreaded “pause” hour of 2:00pm. Bill proposed picking up a pizza from Pizza Hut, because I had mentioned getting a pizza somewhere (I meant at a real restaurant). I used to like Pizza Hut pizzas, but they have really gone downhill over the past ten years or so.

So anyway, we went to AAFES. I dutifully put on the fucking mask and washed my hands, rushing to pick up the few items I needed… expensive Lancome face cream for my middle aged face, ponytail holders for my growing grey hair, and a couple of new dog toys for Arran to replace the ones he’s destroyed. I love that Arran is ten and still loves his toys. I don’t love that he only recently quit using my favorite rug as a Hundetoilet. God help us when the new pooch moves in, sometime soon. Bill picked up some more shit bags for the dog walking, of which we could soon be legally compelled to do twice as much of at some point soon (though I doubt it will be enforced).

As we were waiting in the obnoxious checkout line that stretched down the lotion and skincare aisle, Bill asked me what I wanted to do about lunch. I had no desire to eat in the food court, so initially, I said we should go by Five Guys and get takeout. But then I remembered Little Italy, a great restaurant I’ve blogged about several times since our move to Wiesbaden. There is a Little Italy on post. That’s not the one I’m writing about now. I am referring to a small restaurant in the heart of Wiesbaden, where they serve lovely Italian dishes, nice wines, and luscious desserts. Before the pandemic, we used to go there fairly often. Yesterday was our first time back since February, I think.

Bill made a reservation on OpenTable.de, noting that Little Italy does not take an afternoon pause. We got there at about 2:15pm. The proprietor, a friendly bald guy who speaks English, looked slightly panicked when Bill announced our arrival. Bill then noticed that the entire dining room was set as if there was going to be a large party. But when Bill said we had a reservation, he told us to find a table outside. The weather was glorious, so that was a pleasure to do.

A lovely young woman came over to take our drink order and have us sign the paperwork for contract tracing. Bill got me a glass of white wine from Sicily. He got himself a white wine from Lugano. Then, we both ordered dishes from the specials, presented on a chalk board in front of us. Bill had saltimbocca made of dorade. I had a salmon filet with rucola pesto, mashed sweet potatoes, and ratatouille (pisto).

While we were waiting for our food, a large group of well-dressed people showed up. I soon gathered that this was why the proprietor had looked a little stressed when we arrived. There were bottles of bubbly chilling in ice buckets until umbrellas near us. I had mistakenly thought they had set up a little wine stand, but no, that was for the people partying at Little Italy. Hopefully, none of them were carriers of the COVID-19 virus, since they weren’t wearing masks.

A tiny little blonde girl of about three came over to play with the Champagne bottles pictured in the gallery above. She had huge blue eyes and was sincerely adorable. We smiled at her while she played with the bubbly bottles and the nearby decorative water fountain. A few minutes later, I heard her shrieking as her mom struggled to contain her. Finally, mom put her in the stroller and methodically strapped her down while she wailed. I figured it was probably nap time for her… having been cranky myself a little while ago, I could commiserate, too.

I soon forgot about being cranky as we enjoyed lunch. I mostly enjoyed the bright colors of my dish, even if I’m not the biggest ratatouille or sweet potato fan. I managed to finish most of it, with Bill’s help. Bill really loved the dorade, which was accented with sage and bacon. He said he would definitely order it again if he had the opportunity.

As we were eating, the little blonde girl came outside. I watched her pick her nose while her grandmother smoked a cigarette. It occurred to me that kids are just so unabashed and unashamed about anything. Maybe watching that tiny girl explore the world around her without a mask is why I found this morning’s New York Times article about training kids to wear masks so very depressing. The masks have the effect of making communication and exploration more difficult, especially for the youngest among us. But, with any luck, there will be an effective vaccine or treatment that will make this brave new pandemic world less ominous and irritating. I always wanted to have children, but I am grateful I’m not a parent dealing with this pandemic stuff right now. I think it would drive me crazy.

For dessert, I had limoncello sorbet with mangos and pears, while Bill had tiramisu. Neither of us really needed dessert, but the weather was just so nice, and I was enjoying being out and about, watching people celebrate in a normal way. I used to take doing stuff on the weekends for granted. Now, when we get to have lunch somewhere nice, it’s a real treat. Maybe that’s one of the silver linings to the COVID-19 situation. I’ve often said that every bad situation has its positives. I don’t take a nice meal at a good restaurant for granted as I might have in 2019…

The bill was about 89 euros. Bill gave our lovely waitress a 100 euro note and said “Stimmt”. We really had a nice time. I hope we can do it again sometime soon. Then we came home and I set to work trying to wash the stench out of Arran’s Klo on my blue carpet. It’s now outside drying… and I fear that my efforts may have been for naught. Oh well… at least we had a good meal, and hopefully, we’ll stay healthy.

25 years ago…

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The featured photo is a very faded picture of Mount Ararat, which I took from the third floor of the school where I taught, Ruben Sevak School #151.

On August 22, 1995, thirty people joined me at the Hotel Dvin in Yerevan, Armenia, where we all swore in as official Peace Corps Volunteers. We had spent twelve, hot, exhausting, often frustrating weeks being trained in our disciplines, the Armenian language (eastern dialect), and cross cultural issues. We also got a lot of shots and some basic first aid and CPR training.

Our group originally consisted of 32 people, but one female trainee was placed with a host family with a son. She ended up deciding to marry her “host brother” instead of swearing in. I remember being very surprised by that decision, since she had seemed to be one of the more driven trainees. She didn’t seem to like me very much at first, but then was curiously nicer to me once she heard me sing. That’s not the first time that’s happened to me. On the other hand, some people like me less after they hear me sing. It’s a double edged sword.

I remember August 22, 1995 well because it was such a good day. I felt very accomplished for having finished training, especially since I had never planned to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. I had mostly decided to serve because I was having trouble finding meaningful work and wanted to escape Gloucester, Virginia and my parents’ house. My older sister, Betsy, had been a Volunteer in Morocco back in the mid 1980s, but she was a lot more driven and accomplished than I was. She went to a much more prestigious college, was fluent in French, and even worked in the Moroccan Embassy in Washington, DC before she was a Volunteer. I was kind of average by comparison.

My training group in 1995. We visited Garni and Gerhardt, two must see places in Armenia.

In December 1994, I was working three unfulfilling part-time jobs that paid peanuts. I couldn’t make enough money to break out on my own. I remember that Betsy had joined the Peace Corps and launched into a very fulfilling career. She’d earned a master’s degree at yet another prestigious university and traveled the world, having learned Arabic in Morocco. I longed for something more like that for myself, instead of selling lattes and menswear, temping at the College of William & Mary, and putting up with bosses with whom I didn’t mesh. One day that month, I decided to send away for an application.

When I got the application and saw how long it was, I started to lose hope. It required six references, and there were medical and legal sections that had to be completed, as well as lengthy questions to answer in longhand. I threw the first application away, because I was sure I would never get accepted.

A couple of weeks later, I realized that I had nothing to lose by applying. The worst that could happen is that I’d get rejected. Rejection is nothing new for me. I’ve been rejected by countless would-be employers, friends, and boyfriends. I even got rejected by three of the four colleges to which I applied. I was not a great student and didn’t have excellent SAT scores. But I did get accepted to Longwood College (now Longwood University). I ended up flourishing in college. That was where I discovered my musical ability, and that discovery changed my life forever. I thought that maybe the Peace Corps would be like college was. Maybe I would go there and life would change for me somehow. For better or worse, I had to take a shot at it.

So I was filling out the application on the evening of January 15, 1995. The phone rang. My dad answered it. It was someone in the family letting us know that his older sister, my Aunt Jeanne, had died of an inoperable brain tumor. I figured that might be a sign that I needed to mail the application. Two days later, as we drove from Gloucester, Virginia to Sylvania, Georgia for my Aunt Jeanne’s funeral, I dropped the application in the mail.

One week later, I was invited to an interview in Arlington, Virginia. One of my sisters happens to live in Arlington and her condo was within walking distance to the Rosslyn Metro station, which would easily get me to the office where the Peace Corps recruiter was. I put on an ugly red and black suit went in and spoke to a woman named Bethe (that was how she spelled her name). She’d been a Volunteer in Thailand. I noticed she wore pantyhose, but she hadn’t shaved her legs, so her hair was matted underneath the nylon. Anyway, we hit it off fine… and she said she would nominate me for an assignment Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in “Central Europe”.

Well… Armenia is about as Eastern European as a person can get… or maybe it’s in extreme Western Asia. It seems to depend on whom you ask. But although Armenia is a tiny formerly Soviet republic, I had heard of it before I got the offer to go there. My fourth grade teacher, Bryan Almasian, was of Armenian descent. He told us about Armenia at a time when most people in my tiny hometown never would have heard of it. People of Armenian descent weren’t exactly all over southeastern Virginia in the early 1980s. So when I got the invitation to go to Armenia, I was excited.

I had decided to join the Peace Corps at an advantageous time. It was right after the fall of the Soviet Union. A bunch of eastern European countries opened up, as well as a number of former Soviet republics. Since I grew up during the Cold War, it was exciting to me to get to see part of the former Soviet Union. And although moving away for two years was kind of scary, being stuck in Gloucester was even scarier. A lot of talent has “washed up” there, as my former best friend would say. I hadn’t enjoyed growing up in Gloucester and ached to move somewhere else… although now that I’m a lot older, I see its appeal a lot more clearly. I still don’t want to live there again, but I can now see why a lot of people I went to school with are still living there today. Although I am not a Gloucester native, it’s probably the closest thing I have to a hometown. I moved there at age 8 and lived there off and on until I was 27. I still know a lot of people there.

Getting ready to go to Armenia was challenging. Unlike my sister, who had at least a year to prepare for her move abroad, I was invited to serve about six weeks after my interview with Bethe. That meant I had to complete legal, dental, and medical screenings very quickly. The legal screening wasn’t hard. I was only 22 years old, so I didn’t have any divorces or child support issues. I didn’t have children to worry about. All I had were student loans, which at that time, we were allowed to defer (I think the rules have since changed). I went down to the jailhouse in my town, having called first to tell them that I needed to have my fingerprints taken. I remember the folksy woman on the other end of the line telling me to arrive before 5:00pm, because that was when the “weekenders” showed up. I was so naive at the time I didn’t know what that meant. I had not heard of people who serve jail time on the weekends so they can work.

I had to go to the dentist, but that was no big deal. Unlike Betsy, I was born without wisdom teeth, so I didn’t need to have them extracted, like she did. I was also born without two of my permanent teeth and, at age 48, still have one baby tooth left. The other one was extracted a few years ago when it abscessed. Now I have an implant.

The medical screening was a lot harder. Because I was still under 23, I had access to medical care at the military bases near me. Actually, I think I could have gone there even if I hadn’t had access, since the Peace Corps is a federal agency. I grew up going on military installations for medical care, but I had never seen a gynecologist before. And my health screening for the Peace Corps was my first experience with that exam. It was given by a rather unkind Air Force major, who really traumatized me. To this day, I rarely see doctors, mainly because of the way she treated me. Fortunately, I was “healthy” down there, although she promised me I’d get really fat in Armenia (actually, I lost a lot of weight during training, but later put it back on). I’m just glad I didn’t have to pay for that treatment, especially since it still affects me now.

The rest of the medical part wasn’t that bad, except that they took many appointments to accomplish. Also, I got a nastygram from the Peace Corps medical office because they said I was “too fat”. However, I stayed mostly physically healthy during my time abroad. I wasn’t one of the ones who was medivacked. I did eventually have problems with really bad skin infections that required several heavy duty antibiotics to cure. I’m pretty sure I got the infections in Armenia, or perhaps Turkey (they started on a visit to Turkey). Other than that, I didn’t have health problems, despite being fat.

Most of us were still in Armenia in 1997 for the “COS” (close of service) conference. This was taken in T’sakhadzor.

On May 31st, 1995, after lots of meetings and a night in a Washington, DC hotel, thirty-two of use got on a plane to Paris. We spent twelve hours there before we boarded a flight to Armenia on the now defunct Armenian Airlines. I will never forget that very “unique” flight. It was like a time warp to the 70s. Actually, since the flight to Paris was my first since 1978, it wasn’t that different from what I was used to. There was a lot of smoking on the plane, people standing up in the aisles, and flight attendants wearing uniforms that looked distinctly Soviet. They were passing out warm beer and paper cups of water that probably came from the lavatory. Forget about a movie or assigned seating!

This was also about the time that Christopher Reeve was in the news, having fallen off his horse while stadium jumping in Culpeper, Virginia. Ten years prior to Reeve’s accident, I was at the same showgrounds where he fell off, participating in my first horse judging competition. I fell off my horse many times. Fortunately, I never got seriously injured.

Once we arrived in Yerevan, at about 3:00am, we were confronted with what life would be like there. The airport was mostly dark, because there was little power. The toilets were disgusting, because there was little water. Two guys were unloading the luggage, so it took forever to get out of customs and into bed. Some of the members of the group that had arrived in 1994 were at the airport to welcome us. The airport in Yerevan is now much better than it was when we arrived in 1995. Back then, it was very Soviet looking and kind of crumbling.

Actually, a lot of things that were crumbling in 1995 are now looking a lot better. By the time I left Armenia in 1997, things were noticeably improving. For instance, in the summer of 1996, the government determined that Metzamor, the nuclear power plant, was safe to use. They reconnected to it and suddenly, we had power 24 hours a day. During my first year in Armenia, there was only power for a couple of hours per day. Having electricity all the time was a game changer and morale booster, and I was there to see it happen.

When we arrived in 1995, there weren’t many western style stores at all. Most everything was behind a counter and we had to ask to buy them. By the time I left, honest to God supermarkets were opening, although they still didn’t trust people to shop on their own. I remember being “minded” when I stopped by a grocery store in Yerevan. Someone would watch me to make sure I didn’t steal anything, even as they’d let me get it off the shelf for myself.

Me and Stepan at school. I was suffering from giardia at the time, hoping not to crap my pants. I grew out my bangs in Armenia, too… it took forever.

Perhaps the most awesome thing about my time in Armenia was that one of my students later went to work for Peace Corps Armenia. I knew him as a sixteen year old. He’s now a professional, helping people like I was when I was a Volunteer. It makes me very proud, even though I had little to do with his excellent command of English. He was already fluent when we met. However, I can take comfort in knowing that having me as a teacher didn’t completely turn him off of Americans!

It’s hard to believe that twenty-five years have passed since I became a Peace Corps Volunteer. I completely believe that I went to Armenia for a reason, and it led me to where I am today. I certainly had little trouble adjusting to Germany after having lived in Armenia for two years. My time there was often difficult and challenging, but I now mostly remember the best parts of it. I’m proud of myself for making it through, even if I wasn’t one of the people who had spent my life planning and preparing for a Peace Corps assignment. It truly was an honor to serve, and I learned so much. I hope others learned from me… or at least didn’t mind that I was there.

I meant to post this yesterday, but half of my post got wiped out, and I was so disgusted that I decided to wait to finish it this morning. I’m glad I waited. As usual, the end product turned out better after I slept on it.

Ten things I learned in Sud Tyrol and beyond…

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I always do these “ten things I learned” posts to remind me that travel is a good teacher and to sum up why the trip was worth taking. This particular trip was very special because it was the first one Bill and I have done since the pandemic started. I was a bit nervous about taking the plunge, and to be honest, I am a little worried that maybe we might get sick. On the other hand, we had a great time and saw a lot of cool stuff. So, here goes with my top ten list of things we learned in Sud Tyrol and beyond.

10. People in Sud Tyrol are much more likely to speak German than Italian, even though Sud Tyrol is in Italy.

It’s true. Everywhere we went in Parcines– as well as in Merano and Bolzano and the little towns around them– people were speaking German first. I knew that it was a German speaking area because I had visited Bolzano before, but I didn’t realize that German really is what you’re likely to hear among the locals.

9. Agriculture is huge in Sud Tyrol.

Everywhere we looked, there were acres and acres of apples, pears, quinces, and grapes. I think there were a lot more apples than grapes, actually.

8. It is possible to have a bad meal in Italy.

Okay, so I kinda knew that… I was just sorry that it was proven to me on more than one occasion.

7. I probably shouldn’t do half board options in most places.

Half board options are very popular in some resort hotels. They’re not a good choice for me, though, because I’m a bit picky about a lot of things. And some things make me throw up. If you’re not a picky eater and you’re budget conscious, they’re a better bet.

6. Right now, Europeans are a bit leery of Americans… even more so than usual!

Actually, it seemed like Germans were leery. We did get a few side eyes during our trip because Americans aren’t supposed to be in Europe. But if you live here, you can travel as if you were an EU citizen, as long as you can prove you’re a resident. Still, people will look sideways at you if they hear an American accent.

5. But after a few days, they’ll relax…

4. The Parcines waterfall is not very accessible right now.

I wish we’d had the chance to visit the waterfall. It’s obviously a tourist draw. Too bad the landowner felt the need to block off the area around the waterfall. I wonder if she did it because of people being bad guests and leaving trash and COVID-19 was just a convenient reason to fence it off. I don’t know…

3. COVID-19 rules are different in different countries.

Seriously– we had to wear gloves in Austria, but no mask. We wore a mask at the buffet in our Italian hotel, but no gloves. And in Switzerland, we weren’t required to wear a mask OR gloves, even when we went to the grocery store.

2. I really need to visit the Reschensee area.

I was on the right track back in 2009, when I was looking at booking a hotel there. It’s a beautiful area, and I’d love to get a closer/better picture of the partially submerged church tower.

1. Austria is AWESOME.

I knew it was awesome from previous trips, but it had been four years since our last Austrian visit. We definitely need to visit there more frequently. I think, overall, our time in Austria was my favorite. It has stunning views, excellent food, laid back people, and many natural wonders, along with beautiful accommodations. I hope we’ll have another opportunity to see more of it. I also have a new appreciation for Switzerland. We need to see more there, too.

Sud Tyrol and beyond… part twelve

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Home at last!

I managed to get up in time to take a couple of pictures of the sunrise over Lake Konstanz on Sunday morning. It was a little sad to think of leaving the lovely Oberwaid Hotel, but I was definitely ready to get home and start writing. I have a few folks who genuinely look forward to reading these posts and it was time to dish!

We enjoyed another fine breakfast in the restaurant, albeit for a hefty price tag. Then we loaded up the car and Bill checked out. The receptionist kindly offered us bottles of sparkling water for the journey. Once again, as I left a hotel, I found myself saying “What an amazing place.” I would come back to the Oberwaid for sure. Next time we need a short break from Germany, it’ll be on our list! Hopefully, by then, the COVID-19 situation will be better controlled. But if it’s not, I’d still feel very safe in that hotel. I noticed they have a huge team of housekeepers, all of whom wore masks and keep the place sparkling clean. Here are a few parting shots before we got on the road to Wiesbaden.

We had a choice of several ways to get home. If we still lived near Stuttgart, we would have driven through Switzerland to the familiar border at Thayngen, which ultimately leads to A81 and past our old stomping grounds. But since we now live in Wiesbaden, Bill decided to get on A7 on the other side of the lake. From there, we passed through Baden-Württemberg and Bayern (Bavaria) until we finally reached Hesse. We hit a few staus on the way, one of which was pretty obnoxious and took some time to get through.

Against our better judgment, we stopped at a McDonald’s for lunch, but decided against eating in the restaurant due to the high number of people there. It wasn’t even a good restroom stop, since patrons could only go one at a time and there was a line. So we ended up peeing at a nearby rest stop. We should have just gone there to eat, too.

This came from the little market in Leutasch, too. Everyone is making gin these days! We should have spent more money… and we definitely should have bought more wine.

Arran stayed at the Birkenhof until Monday night. I wish we could have picked him up on Sunday, because I really missed him. But we weren’t sure when we’d be back on Sunday and the Birkenhof only allows a short window for pickups.

I’m really glad we took this trip, especially as the news about COVID-19 gets bleaker. There have been more cases in Europe lately because people are traveling. I didn’t feel particularly unsafe when we traveled, but there was definitely no chance of forgetting the pandemic, even in Switzerland, where things seemed the “slackest” (and that really surprised me). I’m not sure when we’ll get to do another lengthy trip. I hope it won’t be too long. For now, I’m glad we took this opportunity to change our scenery and get new pictures. I hope you enjoyed coming along for the ride!

I’m amazed at all we were able to do– hike through a gorge, look at a waterfall, go to the top of the Zugspitze, see several beautiful lakes, eat good food, visit Lake Konstanz, and enjoy excellent hospitality. Overall, it was a very special and memorable trip. I’m glad we did it, even if I’m now slightly worried about exposure to the virus. But I’d rather live life than stay locked up, drinking wine in the backyard with the dog.