blog news, Military

Some practical things that the last nine years of living in Germany have taught me…

Lately, I’ve noticed I’ve been getting lots of hits from the United States on this blog. Many of the hits land on my posts about the differences between life in Germany with the US military versus military contractor life. There must be many recent retirees or other people who have left the military thinking about taking the European plunge.

In early August of this year, Bill and I celebrated our ninth year of military contractor life in Germany. A lot has happened since our arrival in 2014, and this blog is full of those stories. Over the years, I’ve added updates to my military vs contractor series. Those posts are easy to find on this blog, although please bear in mind that until 2019, this blog was hosted by Blogspot. I did move the old posts to this blog, but they are formatted somewhat differently. Moving the old posts was very labor intensive, and I’m not even sure I got everything fixed properly! The job took several weeks!

I moved the blog to WordPress in the summer of that year, due to a very bizarre situation that arose. I’m not sorry I moved the blog, but that weird situation did change the way I do things and significantly reduced my readership. I also learned a lot from that situation, which I’ll explain more about later in this post.

As I survey the past nine years, I realize that I’ve learned a lot of stuff. Some of what I’ve learned has been very practical, and it will probably serve me well for the rest of my life, no matter where I live. Some of it has been unfortunate and kind of disheartening. The rest of it is stuff I might have learned anywhere.

Since there are so many people hitting the soldier vs. contractor posts, I thought maybe I’d share some wisdom I’ve picked up over the past nine years. Maybe it help some people… or maybe some will be entertained or amused. I will issue a caveat that some of what I’ve learned is a little disturbing, but it’s part of our story… and I like to be straightforward as much as possible. So here goes.

  • Citric acid is your friend

I’ll start with a relatively benign thing. Before I lived in Germany, I had no idea that citric acid would be something I’d want to keep in my house. Aside from when I was a kid in rural Virginia drinking well water, I didn’t have to deal with the insane hard water that Germany has. It was pretty bad when I lived in Stuttgart, but it’s even worse in Wiesbaden.

Citric acid is cheap, and it’s essential for getting rid of hard water stains and limescale. Vinegar is also good for cleaning glass and descaling things, but I’ve found citric acid to be much more effective. So now, I always keep it in the house… and I expect that won’t change if and when we move back to the States. Mix it with hot water and let it soak. It’ll really help get rid of that chalky stuff. Here’s a link to the brand I usually buy from Amazon.de, but you can also get it in local stores.

  • Adequate insurance is a MUST

I’ve written about this a few times, but I’m going to write about it again. Get insured. If you’re coming here as a contractor and could be here awhile, I highly recommend buying German insurance policies, rather than relying on USAA or another US based company.

Chances are good you won’t need your German policies, and I do understand not wanting to get into German contracts, which can be hard to break without sufficient notice. BUT… I’m here to tell you, German insurance policies are usually fairly cheap, and they can save your ass.

I recommend having a liability policy, at the very least. This is a policy that covers situations like when when you accidentally break another person’s property. If you have pets, you should definitely get pet liability insurance, which covers any damage or accidents caused by your pets (accidents caused by them will not be covered by personal liability insurance). You may also want to consider purchasing legal insurance, though that’s not as essential. All three of these products have been useful to us.

My husband and I had an unfortunate incident involving an awning at our rental house when we lived in Stuttgart. It was an old awning, and in poor repair. One windy day, it collapsed. Our landlady insisted that it was my fault that the wind blew down the awning. She wanted us to buy her a brand new one. We happened to have a German liability insurance policy, which gave her a very low settlement. She wasn’t happy about the settlement, but it was good that we had it, even though she still tried to rip off our security deposit to pay for a new awning. Which leads me to my next point…

  • Join the Mieterverein!!!!!

This is the German tenants union, and it can be very useful if you have a dispute with your landlord/landlady. It’s very inexpensive to join. We are members, although in our situation with our former landlady, we ended up using our German legal insurance policy instead of the Mieterverein. Still, I highly recommend that anyone renting a home on the German economy become a member of the Mieterverein at the very least. The above link will take you to the general site, where you can find the Mieterbund in the area where you will live.

I mentioned above that when we moved out of our last house, our former landlady tried to illegally seize our “Kaution” (security deposit), because she was upset about the low settlement she got for her awning. She didn’t directly charge us for the awning, since she had accepted a settlement for it. But she did make up lots of little charges that would amount to what she said she would pay for a new awning.

We used our German legal insurance to get advice from German lawyers, and we ultimately ended up suing her. It turned out she did a lot of things wrong, to include never doing an “protocol” when we moved in and out of her house, and never reconciling the Nebenkosten (other costs paid for things like trash). In Germany, it is the law that landlords reconcile the Nebenkosten every year. She didn’t do it for the four years we were in her rental house. Consequently, we had the right to ask her to return ALL of the Nebenkosten we paid for the whole four years we were in her house. It totaled thousands of euros.

Now, we didn’t end up demanding that she return the Nebenkosten, but it did help us build our successful case against her. There were other issues, too. Like, she also falsely accused us of theft, and charged us ridiculous fees, for things she couldn’t prove we did, on old stuff that needed to be replaced, anyway. She ended up having to return most of the Kaution she illegally withheld, plus she had to pay for court costs, her lawyer, and our lawyer… though I’m sure she had German legal insurance, too.

Moral of the story is… Make sure you are insured adequately! And if there is the slightest hint that there will be an issue when you move out, get the legal insurance ASAP. It won’t cover pre-existing issues, and there’s also a waiting period before you can use it. But… if you don’t want to get German legal insurance, you should at least join the Mieterverein. Sometimes, the memberships even include legal insurance for landlord issues. Also… don’t be afraid to use the German legal system to fight for your rights. It’s not that hard, especially if you have legal insurance. Unfortunately, there are landlords here who WILL prey on the fact that you aren’t a local.

  • Don’t be too quick to accept a house

I actually had a bad feeling about our ex landlady when I met her. I wish I’d listened to my gut. It might have spared us some grief. But, I did enjoy living where we lived, and dealing with ex landlady was educational on many levels. I wouldn’t recommend learning lessons the way I did, though. It’s very stressful.

When we moved back to Stuttgart in 2014, we were dealing with some pretty major life issues that made us want to settle into a house quickly. We also had memories of the housing shortage that existed in 2007, during our first Germany stint. Finding housing isn’t as hard as it was in 2007, though; so learn from us, and take the time to find a decent place that you’ll like, with a landlord/landlady who doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

  • Don’t get too involved in the Facebook group dramas

This was an unfortunate mistake I made in 2014. I joined a ton of local groups in Stuttgart, and got too sucked into the dramas of the groups. I’m not saying you can’t make good friends that way, or that being in the groups isn’t useful, informative, or entertaining. But those groups can lead to bizarre situations that can make your time in Germany more stressful and stupid than it needs to be. I could write about several of those that personally affected me, but that would make this post even longer than it already is.

I learned from our Stuttgart experience regarding Facebook groups. When we moved to Wiesbaden, I only joined the local pets group and continued to maintain the wine and food group I started when we lived in Stuttgart. I didn’t join any other groups. My life has been much more peaceful as a result, and I’ve gotten to know more locals. Your mileage may vary, of course. I’ve just seen a lot of drama erupt over social media, and was involved in way too much of it, especially in Stuttgart. So I recommend proceeding with caution and limiting the number of groups you join. Besides, those groups can eat up precious time that you could be spending on exploring Europe.

  • If you bring a car, consider joining ADAC or another auto club

Both times we’ve spent in Germany, we’ve had occasion to use our ADAC policy. One time, we went on a Baltic cruise and came back to find our battery dead. We called ADAC and they sent us a guy with a battery. He fixed our car on the spot, and we were on our way.

Another time, we were in France and some jackass deliberately popped our tire, hopping to rob us. He didn’t succeed, but he caused quite an issue for us. ADAC was a lifesaver there, too, helping us to get new tires and report the crime to the French police. There are other auto clubs besides ADAC, so do some research and choose one that works best for your budget and lifestyle.

  • Enjoy yourself!

I know not everyone likes living outside of the United States. We’ve seen a lot of people come and go, and some people are happy to go when their time over here is finished. Unfortunately, being a military contractor can be stressful, because contracts are won and lost all the time. When we lived in Stuttgart, Bill’s first company lost its contract. The new company hired him, but the next year, his job was turned into a GS position. In fact, that’s why we moved to Wiesbaden. Wiesbaden, by the way, seems to be much friendlier to contractors than Stuttgart was, at least when we were there.

Having now lived in both places for a total of nine years, I can honestly say that both have their pluses and minuses, and you really can’t go wrong moving to either place, as long as you manage your expectations and keep your eyes open. One thing that we have tried to focus on is ENJOYING our time here, and seeing places. And when you see places, don’t forget to explore locally. We missed a lot of really awesome local stuff when we lived in Stuttgart the first time, because we were so focused on seeing the rest of Europe. We also had to leave a year early, which sucked.

If you care at all about living in Europe for the experience, rather than just the job, then I urge you to make the most of your weekends and holidays. Go see Paris and Rome, but don’t forget about Stuttgart and Wiesbaden… and Mainz, Frankfurt, T√ľbingen, the Black Forest, the Rheingau… and any of the other really cool little places near where you live. Nagold is one town we completely missed the first time we were in Stuttgart and ended up loving when we came back. So I recommend going out to explore locally, and soaking up the culture. You may not have another chance… On the other hand, you may end up like me, and seem destined for European life indefinitely.

If there’s any interest in more posts like this, I’ll be happy to write them. Feel free to leave a comment or a question, because there’s definitely more I could share.

Now… time to write something for the main blog. See you next post!

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blog news

Eight years of contractor life…

I’ve decided to add another entry to my “contractor life” series. Aspects of this story might seem insensitive. Please bear in mind that it’s simply my perspective, and I’m trying to be honest about my personal experiences over here. Other people’s mileages may vary. Also, this article mentions suicide, so please proceed with caution. The featured photo is our current house!

This morning, I noticed that someone hit some old posts I wrote when we last lived in Stuttgart. They were about “contractor life”. I had completely forgotten that I had written those posts, which were pretty popular when I was still using the Blogger platform. I think I meant to maintain that series, but then March 2020 hit, and we all know what happened with that. ūüėČ

My husband’s contractor life in Germany has continued, and now we’ve lived in Germany for eight years. A lot has happened over those years. Hell… I just look at old photos from August 2014, when we first moved back here, I realize that Bill and I both look different. I quit coloring my hair, for one thing. The hardness of German water turned it into straw when I used color, and I hate going to hairstylists. I’m sure this look would surprise people who last saw me stateside, back in 2014.

Last time I wrote one of these posts, we had just found out that Bill’s old job was being converted to a GS (government service) position. At that point, we didn’t yet know that Bill would be an attractive candidate in Wiesbaden. He waited to apply for the job, mainly because we thought we wanted to stay in Stuttgart. At the time, I was a bit trauma bonded– and I didn’t want to move‚ÄĒ for all the wrong reasons. Finally, one of his old bosses came to him and told him that the folks in Wiesbaden were actually WAITING for him to apply for the job, and had requested him, personally. He had pretty much all of the experience and skills they were looking for. At the same time, I finally had a epiphany one night when I was home alone. Although I had been resisting leaving, I actually wanted to leave Stuttgart.

Actually, it wasn’t so much that I wanted to leave Stuttgart, as I wanted to move out of our old house. For several reasons, our former landlady and I didn’t get along at all. Complicating matters was the fact that former landlady’s ex tenant, an American who was also her “friend”, was monitoring my blogs and apparently reporting back to the ex landlady.

It wasn’t so much that I was posting a lot of stuff about the ex landlady, per se, as that I would occasionally vent in the blog when she would upset me. She had a habit, for instance, of yelling at me in my own home and treating me like an especially slow-witted child. I really resented it. Moreover, the whole time, former tenant (then living in the USA) was occasionally leaving me comments, then dirty deleting them, after reminding me about the importance of maintaining her “privacy”. It made for a very toxic, stressful living situation, which all came to a head when my husband sued the ex landlady for illegally withholding over 80 percent of our deposit (legal insurance for the win, though– get it if you come here).

I liked our neighborhood, but I didn’t like the house. Even if our landlady didn’t have a habit of popping over unannounced, blaming me personally for things that weren’t my fault, and yelling at me for inconsequential things, it was a house without much charm or convenience. It had two things going for it– a nice view into the forest, and a relatively low rent (low for Germany, not the United States). Because we lived there for four years, and we got tax breaks from living abroad, we were able to retire a lot of debt, including my student loans (about $40,000 when we arrived in 2014, and completely paid off less than four years later).

Okay, I also liked the fact that the house was close to Nagold, which is a great little town on the edge of the Black Forest. But the town we lived in wasn’t that interesting, and it was far from where Bill worked. Living there meant long traffic jams and a hideous commute for Bill. And, although the house was badly in need of renovation, our ex landlady acted like we should be grateful to be “allowed” to live there, and willingly put up with her micromanagement and surveillance without any complaint. She also seemed to think we should allow her to use our money to upgrade the house. I figured it was time for her to harass someone else– although hopefully not anyone from the US military community. We did submit her name to the non referral list, along with the paperwork from the lawsuit that took about two years to settle.

I also found the local Facebook environment in Stuttgart to be a little too dramatic, and it was way too easy to get caught up in the drama myself. Stuttgart has a lot to offer, and we still love going down there to see our dentist. But I had made the mistake of getting involved in too many local Facebook groups, and that led to a lot of embarrassing adolescent toxicity that frankly, at my age, I don’t have time for anymore. A move to Wiesbaden meant I could divorce that drama somewhat and start anew.

So, one day in September 2018, when Bill came home from a business trip to Africa, I told him that I wanted him to take the job in Wiesbaden. He threw his hat in the ring, and after a very perfunctory phone interview, was offered the job. In late November 2018, we made the intra-Germany move to Wiesbaden. I did write a series about it, which you can find starting here.

The former tenant finally left me alone after the lawsuit with the ex landlady was settled, although I suspect that she was keeping an eye on me from afar (either by watching personally, or having “flying monkeys” do it). But she did finally quit monitoring me. I now know that this will be a permanent condition, because sadly, she took her own life a few months ago. Maybe it seems tasteless to mention this part of the story, but it IS part of the story, and a reminder that sometimes some crazy stuff can happen that you might never expect.

I don’t know why the former tenant took the actions she did. I had her blocked on Facebook, and did not go looking for information about her, because I wanted her to leave me alone. However, she had worked for the same company Bill does. Last spring, he noticed she was no longer on the email roster and wasn’t showing up in the GS system. So, at that point, I decided to unblock her on Facebook and look her up, because I wanted to make sure she wouldn’t be re-entering my life. That’s when I made the shocking discovery about her tragic suicide. The news was easy to find, as it was widely reported online. While I’m glad to know she’s permanently out of my life, I’m also genuinely sad for her friends and family. I’m even sorry for the former landlady, whom I know had held her in high esteem. I never would have expected this turn of events, either. It was truly a shock to find about it several months after it happened.

It’s hard to believe that we’re now coming up on four years in Wiesbaden. It’s been quite a ride. I will say that living here, in spite of COVID-19 and a few personal upheavals, has mostly been less stressful. For one thing, we have a much better house and landlord. Yes, it costs a lot more, but our landlord is much fairer and more respectful. He lives next door, but he leaves us alone. Our neighborhood is very friendly, and we don’t share walls with anyone. Many of our neighbors have dogs, too, so I worry less about them annoying people.

I only know a handful of people in the local military community, which is also, frankly, a plus for me. Again– less drama and less bullshit with people in the military community. Some people like being “popular” and are very extraverted. I’m not one of those people; I just like to write, and I like to be honest when I write. I did have a temporary setback with my blogs, because I felt forced to relocate them to WordPress. That was a real pain, mostly because it meant a lot of work reformatting the travel blog and starting over completely with the main blog. The upside is that I think the blogs are better quality now. I do have fewer readers, especially on this blog, but the ones who do read are of a better quality. I get fewer “drivebys”, and more people who are actually interested in the content, rather than stirring up shit and causing trouble.

Anyway, aside from the difficult and stressful divorce from our Stuttgart life, we’ve really enjoyed living in Wiesbaden. No, it’s not as picturesque as the Stuttgart area is, but Wiesbaden offers a lot of its own charms, and a very different culture. Personally, I think my husband gets treated better as a contractor in Wiesbaden. The US military’s footprint is smaller here, and the population in the military community is somewhat more mature. There’s less traffic and fewer traffic jams. And again, I mostly stay away from any military affiliated Facebook groups, except for the one I run. It’s a food and wine group, so there’s very little drama involved with that. I’ve found that people here tend to be somewhat friendlier, and if you like wine, Wiesbaden can’t be beat!

I’m especially grateful that we’ve been able to experience living in two areas of Germany. The last eight years have flown by, and we’ve been so fortunate to be able to see and do many exciting things, not just in Germany, but in Europe as a whole. So, if you’re reading this, and wondering if you should move to Germany, I would highly encourage you to give it serious consideration. Yes, there are some aggravations related to living over here. But, on the whole, I find living in Germany more interesting and fun than living in the United States. I especially love being away from the crazy political climate in the United States. The European lifestyle suits us and, once you get used to how things are done here, it’s not hard to be an expat in Germany. It’s also been very good for us financially speaking. The only problem is, now I don’t want to move back home. ūüėČ

I hope this latest installment is helpful. I know the current political difficulties in Europe will end up generating jobs, and that means that more Americans will probably consider making the move. If you have any questions, be sure to drop me a comment.

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Word of advice… don’t call a German cop a ‚Äúfascist”…

It’s another cold, grey, drizzly weekend in Germany. Christmas will arrive next weekend. I suppose I should be more into the spirit of celebrating the season, but I just can’t seem to find my mojo. I don’t really like going out in yucky weather even when there isn’t a pandemic. The spiking COVID numbers aren’t inspiring me to get out there and mingle with the masses.

But not everyone feels the way I do. My German friend, Susanne, shared with me some news out of Reutlingen. It seems there was a riot/protest there last night, consisting of Nazi sympathizers and COVID deniers, most of whom weren’t masked and ignored the rules against congregating. Things got pretty out of hand in some places, so the Stuttgart police showed up to maintain order.

Germans are usually pretty tolerant of peaceful protests and strikes. They’re usually scheduled ahead of time and announced, so people can choose not to be involved… or, if they’re into it, they can participate or observe. I believe one has to get a permit to protest legally. I have no idea if this group followed the rules. The protests I’ve seen are usually pretty chill… afterwards, everybody breaks up and has a beer or something. But every once in awhile, people do get their hackles up. Such was the case last night.

This video was shared on Facebook by Matthias Kipfer in the public group, 99,99 % (Filder) vs. R.E.S.T.. I’m not sure where this particular incident involving the man screaming about fascists took place. It might not have happened in Reutlingen, although I can see by the photos and videos in the group, there was plenty of action there last night. I see the guy screaming about fascists was originally posted on Twitter by Stadtrand Aktion. As you can see, the cops weren’t amused. This guy was promptly arrested. I suspect he will get a nice big fine, as outlined in the trusty 2022 Bussgeldkatalog. Edited to add: Susanne thinks the fascist cop incident might have happened in Berlin, since the cop has a B on his uniform.

More than once, I have written about how insulting people is illegal in Germany. It’s especially true that insulting the cops is a big no no. All I can think is that this guy took complete leave of his senses, forgot to whom he was speaking, and lost total control of himself. I know how that feels. It happened to me a time or two when I was a teenager. This fellow looks to be well beyond the teen years.

I think it’s funny that there’s a catalog of fines people can consult to find out about laws and fines. I especially get a kick out of the section on the fines for insulting people in traffic. When they are translated into English, they are both hilarious and nonsensical. Below is the list of fines as of 2022.

Some of these insults seem to have lost a little in their translations.

In all seriousness, these protests were pretty bad. Apparently, some people were using children as human shields against the water cannons cops tried to use to disperse the agitated crowds. I was impressed by how the cops managed to keep their cool. German police officers don’t seem to be as violent as American police officers often are. But then, they probably pay better and offer more training.

My German still sucks, but I do find myself picking up words and understanding more, especially when my friend shares interesting German articles with me that include juicy tidbits about current events. If I have gained anything from the past seven years, besides a massive beer gut, it’s a rudimentary understanding of basic German. My Armenian is still better, though. That isn’t saying much.

The above photo basically translates to “People who think vaccinations change their DNA should consider it an opportunity.” Who says Germans aren‚Äôt sharp witted? Not I!

In other news… I hope the new blog design is welcomed by the few regular readers who have been keeping up with me during these COVID times. I decided to play around with it a few days ago, and when I went to change it back to the theme I was using, I discovered that the “wandering” theme was retired. So now I have a new but similar theme, and a new color scheme. I think it’s easier to read.

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Yankee– stay home!

Yesterday, I read a travel column on The New York Times‘ Web site. Someone had asked for advice about travel to Europe this summer. The article was entitled, “Help! I Want to go to Europe in August. Is This a Pipe Dream?” Below is the letter in question:

My husband and I are currently planning a trip to Ireland, Portugal and Italy for August and September. We are only reserving hotels with free cancellation policies and our airline tickets can be changed to a future date. Knowing that much of Europe is closed right now to United States citizens because of the virus, is there much hope that our plans will materialize, or are we wasting our time? What should I watch for? 

Kathy

The author of the column, Sarah Firsheim, wasn’t as discouraging to Kathy as she probably should have been. She pointed out that some destinations in Europe are opening up for tourists. Greece and Iceland, for example, are starting to welcome tourists again, as long as they’re vaccinated and/or have negative COVID-19 tests. She points out that a lot of hotels and airlines are becoming more flexible about stays, too.

What I would like to tell Kathy is that she needs her head examined. I don’t think flying to Europe is a good idea right now, especially for tourist purposes. But even if COVID-19 weren’t an issue, I would never recommend coming to Europe in August. Why? Because August is typically when Europeans go on vacation. Many businesses close while people take vacations or, if they happen to be expats from another country, they go “home” to see family. August is also uncomfortably hot in many parts of Europe, and not everywhere has climate control, although it is getting more common every year.

But especially this year, I think Americans coming to Europe is a dumb idea. I said so in the comment section, with this comment:

Everything is locked down in Europe. I live here now. Save your plane fare.

I got an “angry” reaction from some lady in Sweden, who says I’m wrong because things are not locked down in Sweden. This was my response to her. I will admit, I was a bit annoyed, because I’m tired of random yahoos on the Internet shooting people down and insulting them simply for expressing their opinions.

Happy for you in Sweden. Where I live, it’s been locked down since November. Same seems to be the case in all the neighboring nations. If I were living in America wanting to come thousands of miles to Europe, enduring an overnight flight on a plane, donning a mask while being poked in the back by my neighbor’s knees, and having the person in front of me reclined in my lap, I would want to be sure the trip was well worth it.

Right now, living in Europe and LOCKED DOWN for months, I would say it’s definitely not. Your mileage may vary in Sweden. *shrug*

And then the Swedish lady came back and wrote this:

We have never had locked down and I am happy for that. But we can’t do much anyhow can’t see friends. I would not have come here from US either.

Seems to me this would be obvious. I mean, technically, one could say that Germany never locked down like France or Spain did. It’s never been to the point at which one literally can’t go anywhere. But shops are closed; people aren’t supposed to visit (although my neighbors break this rule); some places have curfews; museums and attractions are closed; hotels are not allowed to accept bookings for anything but business travel… Why in the HELL would an American want to come to Europe under those conditions, except maybe to see family? So I responded thusly:

Yes, and that was my point. I am American and I live in Germany. I love Europe, but I wouldn’t want to come here from America now. Not until more people have been vaccinated and things are more the way they were before. I can count on one hand the number of times I have left my neighborhood since the fall. My car’s battery has died twice because there’s nowhere to drive, where I would go for a reason other than just to drive to keep the battery charged. It’s a lot of money and precious time off for most Americans to vacation in Europe. I think they should wait until they don’t have to make an appointment to shop.

Vaccination rollout here has been excruciatingly slow. Even the U.S. military, which was supposed to be getting us our vaccines sometime before the end of May, is now delayed because the shots they got were the Johnson & Johnson ones, which have caused clots in some women. And, at least in Germany, citizens can’t get vaccinated because there aren’t enough shots available yet. It’s going to take time before people are able to get the shots and things will be less weird.

I’m not sure if the Swedish lady realizes that many Americans– even those with good jobs– have a very limited amount of vacation time available to them. And that‚Äôs if they‚Äôre lucky enough to work full time and have benefits. Our culture doesn’t value leisure time like European culture does. A lot of people get two weeks– tops– per year for vacation purposes. Consequently, not only is it costly and uncomfortable to come to Europe from the United States, but those days off are very precious. And truly, I think Americans who are wanting to come to Europe this year are nuts, although I might consider visiting a place where things aren’t quite so restricted.

If I hadn’t decided against flying for the time being, maybe I would consider visiting Iceland, for instance. I have never been there and I would love to go. But, to be honest, the idea of flying is very unappealing to me right now. I think flying is unpleasant under the best of circumstances. People seem to turn into majorly selfish assholes when they’re on an airplane. Now, add in the fact that everyone is supposed to stay masked the whole time they’re flying… and not only is that uncomfortable and annoying, but now everyone on the plane is paying super close attention to what other people are doing, which I find weird and creepy.

The New York Times ran another article entitled “How Safe Are You From COVID When You Fly?” It was a pretty interesting article, complete with a cool interactive feature showing how air flow works. But just looking at the interactive feature creeped me out…

A creepy screenshot from the interactive simulator of everyone crowded together while wearing masks. It just looks really uncomfortable. Who wants to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for that experience, unless it’s absolutely necessary?
You can’t even eat a snack or drink something without everyone watching your every move, silently judging you and seeing how long it takes you to replace the mask. Creepy! Who wants to pay for that?

I do love to travel. I miss it, although I haven’t been as deprived as a lot of people have over the past year. But I don’t want to fly anywhere until the COVID-19 situation is more under control. I’ll fly if I MUST– like, if Germany kicks us out and we have to go back to the States. But I won’t be volunteering for the above experience anytime soon. I get the masks are important for now, but this whole coronavirus experience has made me dislike people even more than I ever did. And the idea of being mashed into a seat next to a bunch of cranky, hyper-vigilant people, right on the edge of making a scene over COVID-19 regulations, just makes me think flying is extremely unappealing right now. I would much rather drive, and not have to worry about fellow passengers and flight attendants observing my every move, fighting over armrests or seat recliners, getting through security, worrying about getting sick, using disgusting airplane lavatories, or any of the other many inconveniences and annoyances associated with flying.

And again… I think if you’re American and you’re looking for a vacation destination in Europe for this year, you need a reality check. Now is not the best time to be here. COVID-19 numbers are up, and things are very iffy in terms of border closures and lockdowns. I say, save your plane fare and go somewhere in North America.

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Bringing your dog to Germany? Here are a few vital tips for when you arrive…

Since COVID-19 is ramping up again, the weather is icky, and we’re not really seeing the sights right now due to those factors and our new pooch, I thought today I’d offer a few handy tips for people who are planning to bring their dog(s) to Germany. This post isn’t about travel tips. I haven’t brought any dogs overseas to Germany since 2014, and the rules have changed since then. Even now, I look at our new family member, Noizy, and realize how huge he is. If we have to take him in an airplane, I’m pretty sure the process will be different than it was with the other four dogs we’ve flown with (three of whom are now at the Rainbow Bridge).

This post is more about encouraging Americans to do things they might not think is necessary. I’ve now spent a total of eight years living in Germany. I was here in Stuttgart from 07-09 and 14-18, and now in Wiesbaden from 18 until now. Having been in two different military communities, I’ve seen a lot of people expressing reluctance at doing things the German way. I’m here to tell you that if you’re one of those people who doesn’t think it’s necessary to get pet liability insurance or register your dog with TASSO, you may be making a big mistake.

The very first piece of advice I would offer any American moving to Germany with a dog is to get pet liability insurance. While you’re doing that, also get personal liability insurance. If your dog damages something or gets into trouble, the insurance is a great thing to have. I would highly recommend using a local broker to get the insurance, which is not very expensive at all. For two dogs, we pay about 80 euros a year. And that covers us if something awful happens, like one of the dogs runs away and causes a car accident, or the dog damages the house in some way. We got our insurance through a German broker who was hanging out in the local Facebook groups. Chances are, you can get it that way, too. Or ask around for a recommendation.

Personal liability insurance is good to have for when YOU have an accident of some sort. We have used ours. Most Germans have personal liability insurance, which also isn’t that expensive and can save you a lot of headaches, unless, of course, you’re dealing with someone who is greedy, entitled, and dishonest, which sadly, can also happen. But that’s a rant for another post. It’s good to have the insurance, though, because the insurance company will fight on your behalf if a person wants more money after an accident or mishap. Also, many Germans won’t expect you to have it.

The second piece of advice I would offer is registering your pet with TASSO.net. This organization is committed to helping you find your pet if he or she gets lost– kind of like an Amber Alert for pets. You send them photos and information about your pet(s), as well as their microchip number(s). They will send you tags to put on your pet’s collar and, should one get away from you, they’ll make flyers that can be posted and shared on social media. When our failed adoptee, Jonny, escaped his pet taxi last spring, TASSO sent us a helpful flyer with contact information. At that time, Jonny was still registered with the rescue he came from and when he was sadly found dead the day after he escaped, authorities were able to contact the rescue to let them know. Both of our dogs are now registered with TASSO, in case something should happen.

Jonny was also covered by the rescue’s pet liability insurance, because we hadn’t yet completed his adoption when he met his demise. If we had taken him in and not transferred his coverage to ours, we would have likely been on the hook for paying for the accident he caused when a driver hit him. Always make sure you have that coverage BEFORE an accident happens, especially if you’re adopting a dog while over here. Our new dog, Noizy, was on our pet insurance before we picked him up two weeks ago. That’s the way it should always be. Don’t forget to get the insurance in the excitement of adopting a new dog, especially since dogs who are new to your family might be more likely to panic and run away from home and you will be less likely to know what could trigger them to behave in unexpected ways.

Many people also look into getting pet health insurance. We haven’t done that ourselves, mainly because our original dogs, Zane and Arran, were too old for it. Veterinary care in Germany is very reasonably priced, especially compared to the United States. Some vets will even take the VAT form, which if you’re American, makes you exempt from paying German taxes on some goods and services. Not all businesses will take the VAT form and they are never required to, but the ones who cater to Americans often will. That can save you significant money, as long as the forms are filled our properly. Our former vet in Stuttgart had some issues with the VAT that resulted in money having to be paid. Fortunately for us, they were willing to pay because it was their mistake, and we didn’t even have to ask them to do it.

Arran getting a belly rub.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with Germany’s laws regarding pets, too. For example, it’s illegal to drive here with your animals loose in the car. They have to be in a crate or wearing a “seat belt”. You can purchase those items easily at any pet store.

Certain items that are legal in the USA are not legal here. Shock collars are not allowed, for example, and you can get in trouble for using them if you get caught. Likewise, you’re not allowed/supposed to leave your animals alone all day. This isn’t an issue for us, since I am at home most of the time, but if you’re in a dual career family with no one home during the day, you may need to hire a dog walker or use a doggy daycare. They do exist here. Germans are also very big on training dogs, so don’t be surprised if someone tells you to take your dog to the Hundschule. That happened to us a couple of times when we lived here the first time– back then, Germans weren’t as accustomed to beagles, who bay when they get on a scent. Beagles are becoming a lot more popular here now, but most German dogs are still very well trained.

If you’re here on SOFA status, make sure you register your pets with the vet on post. Otherwise, German tax collectors will expect you to license your dog(s) locally, and that can get very expensive. German dog taxes are more than what you’d expect to pay in the United States, and there are also fines for failing to register.

We don’t regret having our dogs with us in Germany. Germans love dogs and they can make great ambassadors in facilitating meeting people. It’s easier to travel with them here than at home, although we’ve found some excellent “Tierpensions” for when we can’t take them with us. I love having the dogs around for company, especially when Bill travels. There is a learning curve, though. Above all, I urge all Americans to please GET THE INSURANCE. And definitely register with TASSO! If your dog gets loose, you will want and need both of those protections.

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New toy causes odd reaction in Arran…

Since we’re stuck inside for the time being, Bill and I have been doing a lot of shopping. German businesses have predictably adapted to stay afloat during this challenging time. For some reason, Bill has been getting lots of ads on Facebook for meat. Pork, beef, and other butchered delights are being offered by local Metzgereien, complete with free delivery. He’s also getting ads for coffee. We’ve now fully stocked our liquor supply… which maybe we shouldn’t have done, but our mint plant has really taken off and maybe I’ll want to have a mojito or something.

I figured now was a good time to try new kitchen gadgets, so I decided to get us a pizza stone and an air fryer. The air fryer is an appliance I’d been wanting to purchase for a long time. I bought a Philips model, XXL, which is bigger than the basic, and one can also purchase baking and pizza attachments for it.

A new toy… takes up a lot of counter space, so it must live downstairs in the basement.

We tried it out last night. Bill cooked chicken leg quarters. They turned out deliciously, but after we ate dinner, we noticed a strange adverse effect on our dog, Arran. As Bill was clearing the table, I noticed that Arran didn’t seem to be feeling very well. He looked almost like he was about to have a seizure. He has had a couple of seizure like “spells” in the past, although they have been years apart. It looked like he was going to have another one last night.

Poor Arran had a frightened, confused, and sickened look on his face, like he might vomit. His tail was tucked between his legs, and he moved very slowly, as if he was off balance and on the verge of collapse. He started trembling, which automatically made me think of awful reasons why dogs suddenly start to shake. A friend of mine recently lost her dog to kidney failure, and trembling was her dog’s most prominent symptom. I worried that maybe Arran was trying to tell us something awful… He’s ten years old and seems very healthy, but I know all too well that dogs can have silent diseases that suddenly take them. Our dog, Zane, was diagnosed with lymphoma and died a week later.

Then I wondered if maybe the air fryer had something toxic in it that had poisoned Arran. I even looked up xylitol, which is a sweetener that is deadly to dogs. I wondered if he’d somehow gotten ahold of some. We considered calling the emergency vet, then wondered if they’d be open during this cursed coronavirus crisis. I was very worried that we might experience another tragic canine loss.

But then I went Googling, and I came across this fascinating Reddit thread. About a year or two ago, many people posted about their dogs’ strange reactions to air fryers. The behavior they were describing was very much like what Bill and I witnessed in Arran last night.

Evidently, what Arran experienced after dinner is not uncommon in dogs when their humans start using new appliances. The air fryer was very quiet to us, but as a dog, Arran can hear things that we can’t. After reading the Reddit thread, it occurred to me that the high, whirring, fan sound of the fryer must have disturbed Arran’s inner ear, which would have affected his balance and probably made him feel sick. For him, it must have been like he was trapped at a super loud disco or something, and it just took awhile for his ears to quit ringing. That would explain his odd behavior last night. Thankfully, about an hour after we were finished eating and after lots of hugs and reassurance from Bill, Arran was back to his normal self. He’s just fine this morning.

People commenting on the Reddit thread wrote about their dogs not liking the Instant Pot, smoke detectors that beep, or other appliances that make a high pitched noises. We do have an Instant Pot, and Arran doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. In fact, he loves it when Bill gets it out, since he uses it to make homemade dog food. But clearly the air fryer is a problem. Fortunately, we have a fenced backyard Arran can hang out in, as well as a large house with distant rooms we can take put him in when we use the fryer. Or, I can just take him for an extended walk… which he loves and I desperately need to do more of for my health’s sake. According to the Reddit thread, just getting the pet away from the appliance when it’s operating is enough to prevent this odd attack.

For more reading about how our latest technology drives pets insane, click here.

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Tips and traps: how to get the most out of a Germany tour…

It’s high time to think about making the most of your time abroad!

Every once in awhile, especially if the weather is grim, I like to offer tips based on my experiences living abroad. ¬†Bill and I have lived in Germany together twice. ¬†The first time we were here, we PCS’d with the Army and stayed for two years. ¬†The second time, Bill took a job with a government contractor. ¬†This time, we’re going on four years living near Stuttgart, although Bill did change companies last year. ¬†Besides living in Germany twice, I’ve also been an Air Force brat in England and a Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia. ¬†At this point, I’ve spent a good portion of my life abroad, and I’ve learned a lot.

Many of my readers are in the United States, finding my posts about¬†what it’s like to work in Germany as a government contractor. ¬†I know some of my readers are contemplating a voluntary move to Europe and wanting to know if they can hack it. ¬†I also know there are many excited readers who will be moving to Germany with the military and want to know how to prepare. ¬†Today’s post is more or less for those people who are going to be moving to Germany to work for the U.S. government. ¬†It’s just a little wisdom I’ve gleaned after living in this community for awhile.

Tip #1– Do join a couple of Facebook groups.

Facebook can be an excellent tool when you’re abroad. ¬†When Bill and I moved to Germany with the Army in 2007, Facebook was just becoming popular. ¬†I didn’t join until we’d lived here a year. ¬†The people I interacted with back then were mostly in the United States. ¬†We lived in a town well away from the military installations, so I didn’t really know any Americans, other than a couple of people who had found things I’d written online. ¬†It was kind of isolating living far away from Americans, although in some ways, it was more peaceful. ¬†We had to figure a lot of things out for ourselves.

In 2014, I found several useful Facebook groups started by people in Stuttgart. ¬†They were a wealth of information, especially when we first decided to move. ¬†For instance, the rules regarding pet travel changed from 2009 to 2014. ¬†If I hadn’t joined Stuttgart Friends, I would not have known that and it might have complicated our travel plans. ¬†Another great group for newcomers is Moving to Stuttgart. I recommend joining one or both of those groups if you’re going to be new to Stuttgart. ¬†You might also join a group related to your hobbies or interests. ¬†They can help you make new friends and gain valuable information.

Trap #1- Don’t join too many Facebook groups.

I made the mistake of joining way too many Facebook groups when I moved here in 2014. ¬†I stayed in a few groups for much too long. ¬†It wasn’t until last year that I started dropping out of a lot of the groups. ¬†I’m much happier for having left most of them. ¬†Why? ¬†Because when you’re in too many Facebook groups, you are more likely to either be annoyed by, or annoying to, other people. ¬†With every group you join, the potential for getting involved in stupid dramas increases exponentially. ¬†Trust me; I know. ¬†I fully admit that I was involved in way too much of it myself for way too long.

At one point, I was probably in as many as ten groups. ¬†Some weren’t a problem because they either weren’t that active or they focused on subjects that weren’t controversial. ¬†Other groups were problematic because there was a lot of drama, gossip, and petty behavior that ultimately led to hard feelings and precious time stolen. ¬†Living in Germany should be a pleasure. ¬†It’s a wonderful opportunity to see and do new things, try new foods, and make new friends. ¬†Being involved in too many Facebook groups can lead to a lot of wasted time online when you should be enjoying Europe. ¬†My advice is to pick maybe three or four groups at the most and, when they are no longer useful, drop out of them.

Tip #2- Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

This is another Facebook groups related tip. ¬†Most of the available groups were created with the goal of offering help and support. ¬†There is a learning curve to living in another country, even a place like Germany. ¬†We’ve all been through it. ¬†So if you have a question about something, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Before you ask, be sure to search the group and see if your question has already been answered. ¬†That will help prevent people from getting snarky and causing unnecessary drama.

Trap #2- Don’t be too dependent on others for help.

One thing I admire about our first Germany tour was that we had to be self-reliant. ¬†I learned that I didn’t need social media to get my needs met here. ¬†Think about it. ¬†Americans have been living in Germany since after World War II and social media has only been around for maybe fifteen years or so. ¬†You don’t always have to rely on social media to get an answer. ¬†Sometimes, it’s awesome to find your own answers. ¬†It helps you become more resilient and a better traveler.

Tip #3- Do get out and see things on the weekends.

There are so many things to do in the Stuttgart area. ¬†Really… just take a few minutes and look at this blog. ¬†I have written a couple of posts solely dedicated to things to do on Sundays. ¬†You can fill many of your weekends with things to do and not even do the same thing twice for a good long while. ¬†This area is beautiful¬†and very accessible, even if you don’t have a car. ¬†Take full advantage of being here.

Trap #3- Don’t sit at home on the weekends and watch TV or hang out on the installations.

During our first tour of Germany, Bill and I focused on seeing major European cities. ¬†We flew to a lot of countries and mostly ignored what was in and around Stuttgart. ¬†When we didn’t have a trip planned, it wasn’t unusual for us to either park our asses at home and watch Netflix, or go to either AAFES or the commissary and shop. ¬†Please don’t make that mistake! ¬†The first time we were here, we¬†had to move after barely two years in Germany. ¬†Although we did see a lot of great European cities, we really missed out on local stuff. ¬†Since we are lucky enough to be here a second time, I’ve made it a goal to see more of what the Stuttgart area has to offer. ¬†Not everyone gets to come back to Germany, so I highly recommend making it a mission to get out there and explore. ¬†This might be your once in a lifetime chance.¬† Don’t blow it!

Tip #4- If you are going to look for information online, consider looking in places other than Facebook or official military sources.

Yesterday, Bill and I visited the beautiful Burgbach Wasserfall. ¬†Although we ran into a couple of Americans during our visit, I have never seen anyone in the local groups write about that waterfall. ¬†I found out about it by myself. ¬†After we visited nearby Glaswaldsee, I searched the community’s official Web site and found out about other things to do in Bad Rippoldsau on my own.

Also, sometimes interacting with people who aren’t part of the American community can point you in unexpected directions that will enrich your time here. ¬†When we lived here the first time, we had no local Facebook groups, so I haunted Toytown Germany, which was a great forum for English speakers living in Germany. ¬†It was a fascinating place, since it was populated by people from different areas who were in Germany for different reasons. ¬†I gained ¬†insight into German culture that I wouldn’t otherwise have. ¬†For instance, it was on Toytown Germany that I learned that many German men sit down to pee. ¬†Suddenly, the funny postcard that was posted by my landlord in his downstairs WC made perfect sense. ¬†Since many people on that forum are not here strictly to work for the United States, you get a different perspective about life as an expat. ¬†It can also be a valuable resource for finding certain items you might be missing, especially if you don’t have access to the facilities on post.

Trap #4- But don’t rely on unofficial sources when it comes to your work or any other official business…

This probably goes without saying. ¬†Obviously, you’re going to want official information for anything pertaining to the U.S. military or government, or whomever is your employer. ¬†I mention it because some people really are that dumb. ¬†Of course, they probably aren’t reading this post.

Tip #5- Consider making friends with a local, even if it’s only online.

It’s probably obvious, but I spend a lot of time online in different communities around the Web. ¬†I had the good fortune to make friends with a couple of native Germans before we moved here the second time. ¬†One friend is someone I met when we adopted our dog, Arran. ¬†She was married to an American who was in the Army. ¬†She lives in the States, but was very helpful when moved back to Germany.

Another friend is someone I met on a messageboard. ¬†I have never met her in person, but she lives in the area and has been extremely helpful to me since we’ve lived here. ¬†She answers questions about the culture, suggests places to visit, and even encourages me to learn German. ¬†I don’t even know what she looks like because she’s a very private person, but she has definitely made our second stint here a lot more constructive. ¬†And she gets a kick out of reading my blogs, too, sometimes clearing things up when I misunderstand something.

We’ve also gotten friendly with our neighbors, which makes living here a lot easier. ¬†We were lucky enough to find a really nice neighborhood where people are laid back. ¬†More on that in a minute.

Trap #5- But don’t forget OPSEC.

This, too, should go without saying.  Make friends, but be careful about what you say and do.  Loose lips sink ships, as the old saying goes.

Tip #6- If you are allowed to live off post, consider living further away from the installations.

Traffic in Stuttgart can be absolutely hellish. ¬†However, if you choose to live a bit further out, you might get more out of your stay in Germany. ¬†Why? ¬†Because you won’t be surrounded by Americans or the drama that can come from being around the installations. ¬†You will learn to be more self-reliant, getting the hang of things like shopping in German grocery stores, paying bills, eating in restaurants, and seeing things you wouldn’t ordinarily see.

You can typically get more house for your money away from the installations and, with some exceptions, people tend to be friendlier away from the built up areas. ¬†We lived in a friendly neighborhood when we lived here the first time, but it took a really long time before people would talk to us. ¬†I think we may have been the first Americans in that neighborhood. ¬†Since we’ve been back, we’ve run into our old neighbors, who were actually happy to see us. ¬†The neighborhood where we live now is even friendlier than the first one was. ¬†Last year, we even had a neighborhood party. ¬†Many neighborhoods outside of the military hotbeds have train stations or offer bus service, which can take some of the pain out of the traffic.

Trap #6- But definitely consider your lifestyle.

Living in Unterjettingen works fine for Bill and me. ¬†We brought two cars with us, so not having a nearby train station is okay. ¬†We also don’t have children and we like quiet. ¬†Obviously, some people prefer to be closer to the city for whatever reason. ¬†If that’s you, carefully consider your lifestyle before deciding to live way out in the boonies. ¬†It may not work out for you and moving is an expensive pain in the butt.

Tip #7- Consider buying personal liability insurance.

Trust me, it’s not a scam. ¬†You may also want to consider pet liability insurance, legal insurance, ADAC (or another auto club), and joining your local “Mietverein”. ¬†Bill and I have all of these resources at our disposal. ¬†They don’t cost much and provide great peace of mind. ¬†Our liability insurance has already paid for itself.

Trap #7- Don’t rely on American insurance to cover your needs.

I’m being very serious. ¬†Germans can be very litigious. ¬†Chances are good that if you have a mishap while you’re here, whatever USAA offers is not going to be enough coverage. ¬†Talk to Gerhard Koch. He’s in a lot of the local Facebook groups and he can hook you up. ¬†His English is perfect, too.

Tip #8- Do consider bringing your pets.

Pets can be wonderful companions when you’re a long way from home. ¬†During our first tour, our dog Flea was singlehandedly responsible for getting our neighbors to talk to us. ¬†Our current dogs, Zane and Arran, have helped me make friends with people in our neighborhood and provide incentive for me to get off my ass and take walks in the nature park near where we live. ¬†They also make good watchdogs and discourage people from breaking into your home. ¬†Most of the burglars in these parts don’t want to hassle with houses where dogs live because they make too much noise.

Trap #8- But again, consider your lifestyle.

It is becoming more difficult to travel abroad with pets (Lufthansa for the win, if you’re allowed to fly with them). ¬†Some German landlords don’t like to rent to people with pets because they can make messes and too much noise. ¬†And, when you want to travel, it can be a pain to either find someone to take care of them or travel with them. ¬†However, while we did often use a dog pension the first time we lived here, this time, we have learned to travel with Zane and Arran. ¬†It’s very doable in Europe because Europe is very dog friendly. ¬†I think it’s best to bring pets if there will be someone available to be with them during the day. ¬†Germans don’t like it when you leave your pets home alone for too long. ¬†Also, indoor cats are not really a thing here.

One of our neighborhood cats, just hanging around…

Tip #9- Look at real estate ads to get a feel for what houses are like here.

German houses are different than American houses. ¬†While the military provides a fairly generous housing allowance, not all contractors do. ¬†The contractor that initially hired Bill only gave us enough money to ship 5000 pounds of household goods. ¬†We already knew from the last time here that we wouldn’t necessarily end up in a tiny house. ¬†On the other hand, we also knew that we could end up in a place unlike our first house (and we did). ¬†So look at pictures to get a sense of what you should bring with you and what could be left in storage or disposed of in some way.

Trap #9- Don’t try too hard to househunt from the United States.

The real estate market here is CRAZY. ¬†While I understand how tempting it is to househunt from the States, whatever you find while you’re there will probably be long gone before you get to Germany. ¬†German landlords are allowed to be more discriminatory, since it’s fairly hard to evict people here. ¬†They’ll want to meet you and your family and any pets before they turn over the keys to your home. ¬†Most people end up in temporary housing when they get to Germany. ¬†It sucks, but it’s part of life. ¬†So embrace the suck and don’t waste time trying to find a house before you move here. ¬†Chances are good that you won’t succeed, unless you have a lot of help from someone who is already here.

Tip #10- Consider staying in a long term apartment instead of a hotel room when you first get here.

The first time we lived in Germany, we lived in a very simple German hotel for about six weeks. ¬†Living in a hotel room with two dogs gets very old. ¬†Since our return, a number of short term apartments have become available and there’s also Booking.com and Airbnb. ¬†This time, we spent a week in a hotel and then moved to an apartment, which wasn’t ideal, but was a lot better and more cost effective than the hotel was. ¬†Check Stuttgart Bookoo for leads, although be aware that the site is closed on Sundays.

Trap #10- Don’t be too picky about housing, but also don’t be too quick to lease.

Remember, you’re hiring a landlord. ¬†Some landlords are awesome and some are nightmares. ¬†Bill and I tend to be too eager to sign leases. ¬†While I do like our neighborhood, I don’t necessarily love our house. ¬†Sometimes, I wish we’d held out a little longer. ¬†But then I remember that real estate is CRAZY in Stuttgart and thank God that we did find a place that has most of what we need. ¬†Some people look for months.

In conclusion…

I could probably go on with more tips and traps, but I think this post is long enough for today. ¬†I may write a follow up at a later time, depending on how well this post is received. ¬†I do hope that if you’re reading this, you find this information helpful. ¬†And if you’re thinking of taking a contractor job, allow me to offer some encouragement. ¬†Bill and I have loved most every minute of our time in Germany during both tours. ¬†We see the opportunity to live here as a tremendous gift. ¬†And even if we didn’t like it here, we know that living here might make us appreciate the United States more. ¬†At the very least, it’s really broadened our perspectives in so many ways. ¬†So try it… you might like it!

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Tipping is tacky…

It really is. That being said, I understand tipping is the way it is in the United States. If you work in the service industry in America, tipping can make or break you. Unfortunately, in the United States, it has become customary for customers to fortify low wages. And… just as unfortunately, many Americans assume tipping is customary everywhere and try to force that practice on other cultures.

Today’s blog post is inspired by a comment I read on a Facebook page I follow called Bitchy Waiter. I follow that page because I was once myself a waitress in the United States. Although I haven’t worked as a waitress since 2002, I still occasionally have nightmares about waiting tables. Believe me, I am very sympathetic to wait staff, especially in the United States. I always tip generously when I’m home. However, while tips are often appreciated in other countries, they aren’t always necessary. Sometimes they are even offensive.

This was a post I read today on Bitchy Waiter…

A little voice inside my head told me I shouldn’t read the comments. Unfortunately, I ignored it…

Person after person wrote something along the lines of “20%! Same as I do in America!” or “No idea!” One person even wrote “A deodorant stick.” I usually don’t comment on this kind of stuff because it’s generally a waste of time. But today, I felt like I had to leave a comment for one person who seemed especially hellbent on being an “ugly American”. Have a look.

The original poster insists that he should tip 20% because “he’s a good tipper” and not tipping at least 20% would be “insulting”…


While many servers in European countries appreciate tips, tipping is not as important in Europe as it is in America. Many servers in Europe actually go to school to learn how to wait tables. It’s a real profession… which isn’t to say that waiting tables isn’t a profession in the United States, as much as it is to remind people that many Europeans take pride in hospitality. They are also paid a living wage.

As most Americans know, while there are¬†many professional servers in the United States, it’s not something that everybody goes to school to learn how to do. It’s also not necessarily a job that most people grow up wanting to do, even if there are some folks who get into the profession and stay in it their whole lives.

Unfortunately, many people in the United States look down on servers, though I can personally attest to how difficult the job is. Many people think servers are “unskilled”. Because so many places in the States don’t even pay their servers as little as minimum wage, servers in the States are forced to rely on tips to make money. But that is NOT the case everywhere and Americans should not assume that it is.

I have been to Italy several times. I’m now at a point at which I couldn’t tell you exactly how many times I’ve visited. I have learned that tipping in restaurants is NOT a thing in Italy, although it is becoming more common thanks to Americans who insist on engaging in the practice. In Italy, you are typically charged a servizio, which is the service charge. You may also pay the coperto, which is the cover charge. That’s for the tablecloth, silverware, etc. If you received good service and you want to round up the bill, fine. But even then, in Italy, you’d typically pay a cashier and not your server. So even if you wanted to tip, it would be awkward. It’s not common to leave money on the table in Europe and, if you do, staffers might think you left it there accidentally. Or worse, they might think you are pitying them.

I guess what set me off about the comments above is that the original poster was concerned about not insulting servers in Italy, so he’s gonna tip the way he would in his country. However, in his bid not to feel like he’s being insulting, he’s forgotten that he doesn’t get to determine whether or not he’s coming across as insulting. Just like beauty, rude behavior is in the eye of the beholder. You don’t get to determine whether or not your behavior is offensive to someone else. Sadly, I think a lot of Americans have no clue that our culture is not the end all be all. It’s not the benchmark of “normal” for the whole world. In fact, many Europeans seem to think American culture is actually pretty weird. And when an American comes to another country and presumes to foist US customs on the locals, it is insulting, offensive, and potentially very damaging.

Getting back to my title for this post. To be honest, excessive tipping truly is, in my opinion, very tacky. I can remember waiting tables in a nice restaurant, getting paid $2.13 an hour by my employer, but actually making about $12 an hour or more due to tips. Honestly, making money was my focus in those days, as it was for most of my colleagues. We were not really that concerned with seeing that our guests enjoyed their meals and the luxurious experience of dining out as much as we were with getting them in and out of the restaurant so we could make bank. And customers, likewise, use tips as a way to demean or punish the servers.

I remember one evening, a gentleman sat at one of my tables and said, “If you take care of us, we’ll take care of you.” ¬†By the time I ran into this guy, I already knew that if someone was graceless enough to let me know from the get go that he expected me to kiss his ass and was dangling cash in front of me like a person would tease a pet, it was going to be a tough night. And, sure enough, I don’t remember that guy being particularly generous. I do remember he was very demanding, though… and very tacky. He assumed he needed to get me to do my job by promising cash instead of expecting me to do it because I had some pride in my work.

Here’s another example. Bill and I have cruised with SeaDream Yacht Club three times. It’s considered a “luxury” cruiseline. Tipping is “not expected”. Those who choose to offer money to the crew are requested to donate to the crew fund so the money goes to everyone. Although this is the stated policy in SeaDream’s literature, I know for a fact that there are a lot of people who tip anyway. I have seen them on the last day, surreptitiously passing envelopes full of cash to crew members. The tippers probably don’t see anything wrong with this practice; but in my mind, it makes it harder for crew members to pay equal attention to everyone. It’s also not fair to those crew members who don’t have the good fortune to impress a generous passenger with deep pockets.

By contrast, next week, Bill and I will be boarding Hebridean Princess, a luxury vessel owned by Hebridean Island Cruises. Hebridean operates a strict “no tipping” policy. They don’t even have a crew fund that I am aware of. Instead of demanding tips from their guests, Hebridean Island Cruises simply price their voyages high enough that they can properly pay their staff. When passengers get on board, they are truly guests. There is no pressure to spend money because you’ve already spent a mint to get on the ship. And although many people see tips as truly “to insure prompt service”, I have yet to be disappointed by the service on Hebridean Princess. Everyone is uniformly service oriented to each passenger. They do their jobs professionally, and passengers simply enjoy what they’ve paid for ahead of time. Although I can’t find the exact wording of why Hebridean outlaws tipping, I do remember that it was basically because the management considered tipping to be awkward and potentially embarrassing. Frankly, I think they’re correct.

It’s hard to be graceful about tipping, although there are a few tricks (palming a bill and shaking hands is one). Tips are “gratuities”, which means they are gifts given for a job well done. But in the United States, service people expect gratuities regardless. That promotes an attitude of entitlement, which is hardly gracious or hospitable. Therefore, the wait staff focuses on turning tables instead of seeing that their guests enjoy the experience of dining out. If you don’t believe me, visit any Olive Garden or Outback Steakhouse and let me know if you’re allowed to simply enjoy your food without being prompted to either order more or GTFO. No wonder there are so many overweight Americans.

Indeed, on the Facebook post I referenced here asking what one should tip in Italy, one guy wrote this.

Nothing. They tip like shit when they are here. And stay too long. Lol.

You know why the Italians “tip like shit”? Because they are doing what they do in their own country. Tipping isn’t as much of a thing in Europe and they expect that servers in a place like the United States will actually get paid by their employers. And they “stay too long” because dining out is supposed to be a pleasant experience in Europe. You’re out to enjoy yourself and enjoy food, not pay a server a living wage. Contrast that attitude to the United States, where people are sensitive about staying too long in a restaurant because they know servers need to turn their tables.

On that Facebook thread, I read so many comments from Americans, most of whom have probably never been abroad, either complaining about foreigners not tipping well or insisting that they need to tip 20% or more to servers in other countries. You know what? If you are an American server and you expect your foreign customers to know American tipping customs, perhaps you should do the same when you visit another country. Learn a little about what is expected and behave accordingly. Contrary to popular belief, America is not necessarily the greatest place in the whole world. Sometimes, we Americans could learn a little something from other cultures.

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Making dog food with the Instant Pot…

Arran

Zane

 

ETA October 15, 2023

I notice a lot of people are hitting this old post I wrote about making dog food with the Instant Pot.¬† I just want to let everyone know that we lost Zane and Arran on August 31, 2019 and March 17, 2023 respectively.¬† Some of the links I put in the original post are no longer working.¬† I’m sorry about that.¬† They still worked when I wrote the post in 2017 and when I reposted it.¬† I have removed some of the links that I know don’t work anymore.

We don’t make dog food for our current dog, because at this point, he doesn’t need it.¬† That could change at some point.

Here’s a non-travel related post that I’m putting up because I know many of my readers have an Instant Pot and/or dog(s). ¬†Making homemade dog food is one way to put that gadget to good use. ¬†If you just want to see the way we made the food, skip past the first seven paragraphs of this post. ¬†ūüėČ

At the end of October 2016, my eight year old dog Zane had a mast cell tumor removed. ¬†In July 2015, my other dog, seven year old Arran, also had one removed. ¬†Neither tumor was particularly aggressive, although Zane has shown signs of being more affected by mast cell cancer than Arran has. ¬†Mast cell tumors are a sign that a dog’s immune system has gone a bit haywire. ¬†Some dogs only get one tumor and that’s it. ¬†Others can get very sick from mast cell tumors and die within weeks. ¬†I realize that not everyone has heard of mast cell tumors, so here’s a link to an article offering a basic explanation of what mast cell cancer is. ¬†Mast cell tumors are extremely common in dogs, so all dog owners should know something about them. ¬†Some breeds are more susceptible to mast cell tumors than others are.

Before Bill and I had Zane and Arran, we had two other beagles, Flea and MacGregor. ¬†Both of them died of different cancers. ¬†Flea had prostate cancer and MacGregor had a very malignant spinal tumor. ¬†Although neither Zane nor Arran are anywhere near as sick as either Flea or MacGregor were, I have about had my fill of canine cancer. ¬†I have recently made some changes in my dogs’ diets to help them live as long and as well as possible.

MacGregor (left) and Flea (right) when we lived in Germany the first time.  Both were claimed too young by canine cancers.

When Arran got his mast cell tumor in 2015, the first thing I did was switch dog foods. ¬†I stopped buying any grocery store brand food and got them the senior formula of¬†Orijen, which is an expensive grain free, high protein food made in Canada. ¬†I order it from Amazon.de, but I have heard it’s also available at local pet stores here in Germany. ¬†There are other good quality commercial foods available, too, and they are a better bet than cheap grocery store brands. ¬†That being said, it’s a good idea to stay away from kibble if you can. ¬†Although feeding kibble is very convenient, it’s not the best thing to give dogs who have cancer, even if it’s really high quality stuff.

Next, I put the dogs on what is known as Cleo’s Diet. ¬†It’s a high protein, low carb diet for dogs who have mast cell cancer. ¬†Basically, it consists of mixing a little bit of ricotta (or cottage cheese, if you prefer) with either fish or krill oil and feeding it twice a day with high protein dog food. ¬†I give Zane Tagamet (an antacid for humans that I get from Amazon) at each meal and both dogs get daily Benadryl (an antihistamine), although Zane gets more than Arran does. ¬†The Tagamet is important for Zane because mast cell disease gives him an upset stomach. ¬†Both Tagamet and Benadryl block histamine. ¬†Dogs with mast cell disease release too much histamine, which can cause tumors and make them feel sick. ¬†The medications help block some of the excess histamine and heparin that can make the cancer worse. ¬†Tagamet also has some anti-cancer properties that can help prevent cancer cells from attaching to internal organs.

I also give my dogs CBD oil (made from hemp). ¬†Zane, in particular, has really done well on the CBD oil. ¬†It obviously makes him feel much better by reducing inflammation and pain. ¬†I have also used CBD oil on myself to rather amazing results. ¬†It helped me get rid of a stubborn skin lesion I’ve had for months. ¬†I get my CBD oil off of Amazon.de.

A lot of people swear by raw food diets for their dogs. ¬†I do not give my dogs raw diets because they are not recommended for dogs with mast cell disease. ¬†Mast cell cancer screws up the dog’s immune system, so raw diets can expose them to pathogens that might make the condition worse. ¬†Instead, for us, the focus will be on not overcooking the food. ¬†Homemade dog food isn’t just for dogs who are sick. ¬†A lot of people feed raw or homemade diets to preserve their dogs’ health.

There are a lot of great groups on Facebook for people who have dogs with cancer or other illnesses. ¬†There are also groups for making homemade food. ¬†Since I got us an Instant Pot at Christmas, Bill and I decided to use it to make some homemade dog food yesterday. ¬†At some point, I may take my dogs off commercial food altogether. ¬†I bought our Instant Pot on Amazon.de, but it’s also available on Amazon.com. ¬†It costs about $100 and you can get one with either 110 or 220 voltage. ¬†I think there are two versions now. ¬†I would opt for the higher speed one, as it also makes yogurt.

I thought some readers might be interested in seeing how we made the food.  It turned out well; the dogs love it and we can even try it ourselves.

The ingredients we used:  Fresh turkey breast, kale, spinach, broccoli, brown rice, lentils, water, salt, turmeric, and black pepper.

Bill prepares the ingredients. ¬†We chose turkey as our protein source because Zane is allergic to a lot of things, including beef. ¬†He seems to do okay with chicken, but we decided that since chicken is also a common allergen in dogs, we’d try a more exotic meat source. ¬†We also have some rabbit that we’ll use at a later date.

The Instant Pot. ¬†I was inspired to buy this handy appliance after reading rave reviews from one of my local Facebook friends who is a mom of three young kids. ¬†Bill loves it for a lot of reasons, including the fact that it makes perfect hard boiled eggs. ¬†The Instant Pot also makes yogurt. ¬†I don’t eat yogurt, but it is a very good thing to have on hand for dogs with sensitive stomachs. ¬†Bill likes yogurt, too. ¬†Next Instant Pot project will probably be yogurt making.

Green vegetables are very important for a cancer fighting diet.  I picked up broccoli, spinach, and kale.  As you can see, they are of the frozen variety for now.

Arran was curious about what was going on.

One pound of turkey breast from the commissary, along with 1-1/3 cups of brown rice, 1/4 cup lentils (which we bought at a vending machine), 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric, and handfuls of the greens. ¬†We could have also added a sweet potato and a regular potato. ¬†Because we’re trying to avoid excessive starch, we omitted those ingredients.

We put the lentils and rice in the pot.

Bill cuts up the turkey.

Spoons out the turmeric, which is another powerful weapon against cancer.

A little salt.

Added to the pot, along with black pepper.

Next we added handfuls of the kale, spinach, and broccoli.

We added 3 1/2 cups of water…

and the turkey…

All set now.

I had made a video to go here, but the sound on it didn’t turn out very well. ¬†I’ll have to try making one the next time we do this. ¬†Bill set up the Instant Pot to run for 25 minutes on high pressure. ¬†It actually takes a bit longer than 25 minutes because the pressure has to build and release.

This is what the food looked like after it had been pressure cooked for the allotted time.

It was a little bit soupy at first, probably because we used frozen veggies.  The rice eventually absorbed all of the extra liquid.

The end result was six cups of dog food.  We have already given the dogs a couple of very small servings to see how they react to it.  So far, they love the taste.

I am going to add links to a few great books for those of you who may be facing the same dog cancer battle we are, as well as links to some good Facebook groups.

Edited to add: Zane and Arran are still with us on February 8. 2018.  They still love this food and are as healthy as ever!

The Dog Diet Answer Book by Greg Martinez, DVM

The Dog Cancer Survival Guide by Dr. Damian Dressler

The two above books are good guides to learning about canine cancer.  The book below is a great book for learning about canine nutrition and homemade dog food.  The vet who wrote the book below also has some fabulous YouTube videos.  I recommend looking him up.

Canine diet and cancer Facebook groups I’m in… ¬†All four have been helpful, but I recommend following them sparingly, because some of the stories and pictures are really sad. ¬†On the other hand, there are also some great uplifting stories about dogs who have been helped naturally.

Holistic Help for Dogs with Mast Cell Cancer

Homemade Hope/Holistic Healing for Dogs with Cancer and Illness

Home Cooked Diets For Dogs

CBD Dog’s (for dogs with cancer) in honor of Crixus James Slygo Smith

Edited to add: I have left all but the first group: Holistic Help for Dogs with Mast Cell Cancer and the third group, Home Cooked Diets for Dogs.  The other groups were helpful, but my Facebook feed was getting clogged with sad stories about sick dogs.  Those two groups work best for us at this time.

Hopefully, this post will be helpful to readers who are also dealing with canine cancer.  My next post will be back to food and travel, as we are heading to France today!  And yes, Zane and Arran are coming with us!  Stay tuned!

Edited to add in November 2022:¬†We lost Zane to lymphoma on August 31, 2019.¬† Arran, who is now 13 or 14 years old, was diagnosed with B cell lymphoma last month.¬† He is now getting chemotherapy with amazing results so far.¬† I left all of the Facebook groups listed above, but the information they provided was useful when I originally wrote this post.¬† We were not going to do chemo with Arran, but changed our minds.¬† At this point, I think it was a good decision.¬† If we hadn’t changed our minds, he would probably be dead now.

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Favorite hotels in Europe… the luxury lodging edition

Good morning, readers. ¬†After a solid week of sickness, I’m feeling better today. ¬†I think it’s because I managed to get a couple of hours of extra sleep after my husband left for work. ¬†Those extra winks have left me energized and inspired.

Since our first Germany tour, Bill and I have been lucky enough to stay in some really great European hotels. ¬†They’ve run the gamut from budget friendly accommodations to luxury digs. ¬†I know people look for different things when they’re booking hotels. ¬†Personally, I tend to like really comfortable places. ¬†If it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, so much the better. ¬†Here are a few of my favorite luxury hotels in Europe… the kind of places you might book if you’re looking for a splurge.

5.  Hotel Suitess zu Dresden-  Dresden, Germany

Bill and I visited Dresden in November 2008.  We were celebrating our sixth wedding anniversary, so I planned a trip to Dresden, Bolaslaweic, Poland, and Prague.  At the time, we were not as flush with cash as we are now, so money was more of an object.  Nevertheless, I love to splurge.  Hotel Suitess was one of the suggestions I got from Expedia.com and it was ranked number one on Trip Advisor.  The price was right, so I booked us.  I think it might have been our first five star hotel.

Things got off to a good start when a valet unloaded our bags and parked our SUV. ¬†As we checked in, we sipped on a welcome glass of sekt. ¬†I believe I booked a standard room, which was outfitted with a huge, comfortable bed, Hermes toiletries, and had a marble bathroom outfitted with gold fixtures, fresh flowers, and a television. ¬†Donald Trump might have felt at home with all the gold in that room. ¬†The service at Suitess was impeccable, even if it didn’t come cheaply. ¬†I still fondly remember the very expensive but incredible Eggs Benedict I had for breakfast there.

That bed was the stuff of dreams.

 

Dresden is a fantastic city and we had a marvelous time there.  The fact that we stayed in a beautiful hotel just steps away from the famous Frauenkirche made it all the more memorable.  I would definitely recommend Hotel Suitess to anyone looking for a luxury lodging experience in Dresden.

4.  The Chester Residence- Edinburgh, Scotland

Our visit to Edinburgh in November 2012 came at the end of our fabulous tenth wedding anniversary trip to Scotland.  I booked us four nights at The Chester Residence, a swanky apartment hotel in downtown Edinburgh.  I booked The Chester Residence on the strength of many positive reviews I read about it on Trip Advisor.  Indeed, our experience there was excellent.  Located in a quiet neighborhood close to the action, The Chester Residence offers guests spacious apartments complete with kitchenettes.

We had spent the previous ten nights on the Hebridean Princess, where we were pampered non-stop.  The Chester Residence was only a slight step down from that.  It was a great way to end an amazing trip.

Plenty of room to stretch out…

 
3.  Hotel Corinthia- Budapest, Hungary

We took one last trip before PCSing from Germany in September 2009. ¬†I decided I wanted to go to Budapest because I figured it would be harder to get there from the United States than some of the other cities I was considering at the time. ¬†It turned out to be an excellent choice for a final hurrah before we’d leave Germany for good… ¬†or not. ¬†I booked us at the Hotel Corinthia, which is a fabulously comfortable luxury hotel right on the main drag through Pest. ¬†I booked us in a junior suite, which gave us access to the excellent Executive Club. ¬†I don’t know if things have changed since 2009 (and I’d love to find out), but a person could literally sit in that club all day and eat and drink to their heart’s content. ¬†A lot of people seemed to be doing just that.

The very beautiful foyer at Hotel Corinthia, Budapest.

 

We were very impressed by the service at this hotel, as well as the awesome spa.  I even talked Bill into booking a treatment, which he enjoyed immensely.  I later recommended this hotel to my mom when she visited in 2015.  I think she was just as happy with it as we were.  I hope we can visit again soon.

2.  Hotel Miramar- Barcelona, Spain
 

In April 2009, Bill and I enjoyed our second blind booking trip, courtesy of the airline formerly known as Germanwings. ¬†It was Bill’s first trip to Spain and my second. ¬†We still talk about that trip today in reverent tones, mainly because we had one of the best meals of our lives there. ¬†Bill also fell in love with La Sagrada Familia, a place he had never heard of until he met me and I showed him a picture of it. ¬†I also booked us at a fabulous hotel, Miramar, which overlooks the city and offers huge, fabulous rooms. ¬†The one I booked had a jacuzzi and an enormous terrace. ¬†The bathroom was big enough to move into.

This hotel has a very unique outdoor pool, but it was too cold for us to use it during our visit. ¬†No matter, because there’s also an indoor pool and a whirlpool, which we did get to use.

A lovely park in front of the hotel, complete with orange trees.  Just beyond the grove, you can enjoy a fantastic view of the Mediterranean Sea.

 

The one drawback to Miramar is that it’s not located in the thick of things. ¬†If you want to be close to the action in Barcelona, this hotel might not be for you, since it’s located in the Montjuic area of the city, which is kind of on the outskirts a bit. ¬†It’s possible to walk to the city, but that involves walking down a steep hill. ¬†Alternatively, you can either take the funicular, which has a station very close to the hotel, or take the bus. ¬†I recommend both methods. ¬†The funicular offers stunning views of the sea, while the bus offers hilarious cross-cultural experiences. ¬†There is a funny story to go with that last comment, but I probably ought to save it for another blog post.

1.  Hilton Molino Stucky Venice- Venice, Italy
 

Venice has the distinction of being the city where I had one of my poorest lodging experiences, as well as one my very best. ¬†In August 1997, I arrived there with two friends and we stayed in a hostel run by a convent. ¬†I shared a communal room with a shy French woman while my friends, dating at the time and now a married couple, got a private room. ¬†They ended up with bedbugs. ¬†I didn’t get bedbugs, but we did endure being locked out all day. ¬†Incidentally, the day we were there also happened to be the day Princess Diana died.

When Bill and I visited Venice in May 2013, we were on our way to Rome to catch SeaDream 1, a luxury mega yacht, that would take us to Athens via the Corinth Canal. ¬†Because Bill had never been to Venice or Florence and we didn’t know if we’d be able to get back to Europe after he retired from the Army, we decided to get to Italy a few days early and work our way down. ¬†Bill had tons of Hilton Honors points, so he booked us a room at the Hilton Molino Stucky. ¬†On the day of our arrival, we took a private water taxi to the hotel, which is located on the island of Giudecca. ¬†The lobby was positively bustling with people, mostly British. ¬†The place was fully booked, with the exception of the Tower Suite, the second best suite in the hotel. ¬†And that was the room we got.

The bed… ¬†This was a first class experience!

 

Sitting room.

The view from the window.

 

That suite was amazing. ¬†It was located in a tower and had a bedroom, two bathrooms, and a sitting/dining room with views on two sides. ¬†The main bathroom was palatial. ¬†A generous breakfast buffet was also included. ¬†But the best part of all was that we didn’t pay a cent. ¬†The room was entirely paid for with Bill’s Hilton Honors points. ¬†They really rolled out the red carpet for us. ¬†Now, I know we totally lucked into that room and we’ll probably never be that lucky again. ¬†But it was definitely a memorably luxurious experience for us. ¬†While the Hilton may not be Venice’s best hotel, it was definitely one of the best we’ve ever stayed in simply because of a visit from the upgrade fairy.

So there you have it– five of my most memorable luxury hotel stays. ¬†I hope to update this list sometime with five more fabulously luxe hotels. ¬†Until then, I’ll keep searching for the best in uniquely awesome places to visit.

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