Germany

Blind booking #4: Berlin! Part 5

Yesterday was our last day in Berlin.  Our flight did not leave until 5:55pm, so we had all day to spend in the city.  The Adina Apartment Hotel Berlin Mitte is very accommodating.  We were able to leave our bags at the hotel while we visited Berlin’s TV Tower.  I have visited Stuttgart’s TV Tower twice so far.  I expected that Berlin’s tower would be similar.  Actually, it was a bit different in that the whole thing is enclosed indoors, whereas Stuttgart’s tower allows visitors to go outside.

Berlin’s TV Tower has a restaurant and a bar and, if you pay extra, you can reserve a table in the Sphere restaurant.  Naturally, it costs more to sit on the outside ring, next to a window.  We were going to do that, but the first available reservation was at 4:15pm and that was too late for us.

We took the tram to the tower, which allowed us to see more of Berlin’s inner city.  As we were passing the neighborhoods, it occurred to me how much we were going to miss on this trip.  Bill and I will have to try to go back and see more sometime, if we stay in Germany.  Berlin is a very impressive city.

A bike messenger stopped near us while we were waiting for the tram.  I liked his vehicle.

The tower was somewhat crowded when we got there, although it’s possible to skip the lines and book tickets online or purchase them from vending machines.  We walked around the sphere, looking at the very spectacular views of Berlin that would have been even nicer had the sun been shining.  After a few looks at the city, Bill, Parker and I stopped by the bar and had a drink.

The many scenes of Berlin.

Part of the bar area.

The whole inside of the tower is like this.  You can’t venture outside.  But the weather was crappy anyway, so it was no big deal.

 

Time for a beer break.  They had local craft beers available, which made Bill happy.

 

After our pit stop at the bar, Parker and I went to the ladies room.  I was not surprised to find a line, as there had been a line when we first arrived.  This time, it was two women, one of whom was pregnant.  As we were waiting, I happened to notice that the first three of the five stalls were open.  I could tell by the white display on the lock.  If the door had been locked, it would have been red.

Just at the time I was about to point out the availability of the stalls to the chattering women, they noticed the first open stall.  They went to the first one, which had a changing table in it that apparently made it unavailable for normal use.  I went to the one next to it, but just as I was about to enter the stall, one of the women said, “Sorry!” and quickly jumped back in front of me, thwarting my attempt to pee.

I swear, I must be turning German, because my reaction was decidedly pissy… it was the kind of response I’ve gotten myself from Germans.  I then pointed out the other normal stall, which the other woman quickly took.

Parker said, “Aggressive!”

My response was, “No, it’s stupid!  Pay attention and fucking go!  Luckily, I don’t have to pee that badly.”

Even I was surprised by the sharp tone of my response, although I think those two women both kind of deserved it.  Both of them lit out of there pretty quickly.  I don’t even think they washed their hands.  Normally, I try not to be bitchy in these situations, but I was feeling exasperated and spoke too soon.  We left the tower and decided to have lunch across the street at the Block House, which is a chain steakhouse.  We’ve eaten there in Stuttgart and knew the food to be decent.

I had a cheeseburger.  This was ground beef sitting on a piece of baguette with some kind of tomato relish and covered with Edam cheese.  It was pretty good, although I really wanted a proper burger.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the stretchy cheese, though.

Bill’s mom had a small steak with a baked potato and bread.

And this was Bill’s lunch.  

Block House has a lot of American appeal.  It reminds me of American chain steakhouses.

A few more shots near the TV tower… and another Christmas market.

 

By the time we were finished with lunch, it was mid afternoon.  We took the tram back to the hotel, picked up our bags, and headed for the airport.  Our cab driver was very helpful and knew exactly where we should be when we told him we were flying Eurowings (which was Air Berlin last night).  We checked into the remarkably primitive looking terminal, breezed through security and hung out until it was time to fly out of Berlin.  While we were waiting, I took notice of the very sexy voice coming from the woman doing the announcements.  Apparently, I am not the only one who’s noticed that.

Seriously… she’s quite the sexpot.  Reminds me of Princess Aura in Flash Gordon.
 
No!  
 

We enjoyed another uneventful flight back to Stuttgart and arrived home at about 8:00pm.  While we were gone, Bill’s custom made kilt finally arrived from Scotland.  Tonight, he will model it for us and I will take pictures.  Stay tuned for that!

As for Berlin, I will declare it a successful trip, despite the weather.  The blind booking flights worked out really well and we were very happy with our accommodations.  There’s a lot to see and do there and, when the weather isn’t horrible, you might just find some good food and shopping.  I think I liked Hamburg better because it’s prettier to me, but there’s no denying that Berlin has a fascinating history.  I feel like reading more about it now that I’ve seen it in person.

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Germany

Blind booking #4: Berlin! Part 2

On Friday, December 8, 2017, Bill, Parker, and I ventured to the Stuttgart airport.  We lucked into a mid afternoon flight, which was a great thing.  Sometimes, when you do a blind booking, you can end up with flights at inconvenient times.  Not surprisingly, Berlin flights are a dime a dozen from Stuttgart.  We were scheduled to leave at 1:45pm, so we arrived at the airport at lunchtime and enjoyed a relatively painless trip through security.

We sat at an airport bar and had some beer.  Bill was talking about how he doesn’t like sitting in the middle seat, although he was willing to do it for our flights to and from Berlin.  I helped by reminding him that he was sitting between his wife and his mother, adding “You once came out of her and now you come into me.”  Yes, I know that’s a disgusting joke.  It was still pretty funny, though.  I was rewarded with the reaction pictured below.

My husband has an infinite amount of patience.

 

We really should have had a snack while we were waiting.  Although Eurowings provides snacks if you reserve a seat (up to 19 euros per person each way), it’s a pretty paltry offering.  You get half a sandwich, water, and a tiny packet of gummi bears.  They also give you another small drink in a little plastic cup.  By the time we arrived in Berlin at about 3:00pm, I was famished.  I have a tendency to get “hangry” when I’m hungry.  The bright side is the flight from Stuttgart to Berlin is only about an hour and it’s relatively painless.

I also paid to check our bags, so we stopped by the luggage carousel on the way into the city.  Our bags were among the first to be offloaded, so it was quick and easy to get through Berlin’s “old style” airport.  Before I knew it, we were in a taxi headed for Adina Apartment Hotel Berlin Mitte.

I had originally looked for a self catering apartment on Booking.com, but the ones I found didn’t suit our purposes as well as the Adina Apartment Hotel did.  I had not heard of the Adina brand before our trip to Berlin, but I learned that it’s owned by TFE hotels in Australia.  The Adina brand is all over Australia, New Zealand, and certain European countries.  There are three Adina Apartment Hotels in Berlin; besides the Mitte location, there are also hotels at Checkpoint Charlie and the Hackescher Markt.

I did not have especially high hopes for the Adina Apartment Hotel Berlin Mitte, but I must admit I was very pleasantly surprised.  When we entered the lobby and greeted the receptionist, he asked if my name was Angela.  There was an Angela Crossan registered at the hotel.  My name isn’t Angela, although that is my husband’s sister’s name.  We spell our last name with an “e”, too.  Once they found our reservation, we were assigned room 308, a two bedroom apartment.  Below are some photos.

Bedroom #1.  I think this was the spare bedroom, since it didn’t have its own bathroom.  The bathroom was located across the hall.  Both bedrooms had king sized beds and wall mounted flatscreen televisions.

Bathroom #1 had a tub/shower combo.

Sitting room.  There was a TV in this room, as well as a small kitchenette that had a mini bar, a fridge, a small stove, and a microwave.

This was the master bedroom.  Parker stayed in this room.

Her room had its own bathroom with a stand up shower.

There was a desk with free Internet, though you could pay extra for “premium”.  I did pay extra for premium Internet and can say that it wasn’t worth the money.  The free Internet worked as well as the pay version did… and that’s to say that both were pretty slow.

Little kitchenette.

I was very surprised to find a washer and dryer in Bathroom #1.  They even provided detergent!

 

Had Bill and I been traveling alone (without the dogs, that is), we probably would have opted for a hotel room.  However, this apartment hotel really suited our needs beautifully.  It’s perfect if you’re bringing kids or in laws and want to stay together, yet have privacy and the ability to cook your own meals.  Of course, if you’d rather not cook, you can also use the hotel’s restaurant, Alto.  Breakfast costs 19 euros a person.  They also have dinner at the restaurant and a full bar.

The weather on Friday night was pretty nasty, but we ventured out looking for food, anyway.  We weren’t successful, mainly because the one place we stopped into was hosting a Christmas party.  There are actually a number of restaurants close to the Adina Berlin Mitte, but it was cold and rainy and I was really hungry and cranky.  It was also pretty dark outside, even though it was only about 4:30pm.  It gets darker earlier up in Berlin than it does in Stuttgart at this time of year.  There is an Italian restaurant right across the way from the hotel, but we didn’t go in there because it got really horrible reviews for bad service.   There’s also a kebab shop and a bakery in the same building complex as the hotel.

After a short walk around the neighborhood, we headed back to the hotel, stopping at a Lidl on the way.  We picked up snacks, bottled water, and wine.  I got a slight kick out of the heavily tattooed and pierced clerk who rang us up.  The person was very friendly and nice, although I couldn’t tell if s/he was male or female.  I suppose it doesn’t really matter, but it did make me wonder a bit.

After we put away our snacks, we decided to try Alto.  The bartender was a man named Awsam, which I thought was awesome.  I wrote about Awsam on my main blog.  We had a rather special interaction with him that I won’t go into on this blog.  In this post, I will simply focus on the food.

We had a couple of cocktails, which did a lot of soothe my crankiness.  Then we ordered dinner while we sat at the bar.  I had duck, which came with red cabbage and what Bill knows as collard greens (although it said kale in the menu).  He was happy to eat lots of kale, along with a steak sandwich.  Parker stuck with pumpkin soup, which came with plenty of bread.  I did get a picture of Parker’s soup, but it turned out blurry.  Bill had it a couple of nights later.

Gin smash… we first learned of this drink when we visited Hamburg in 2015.

I had a Long Island Iced Tea, which Awsam the awesome bartender said was not a lady’s drink.  Good thing I’m no lady.

 

 

Bill’s impressive steak sandwich.

 

Duck with collard greens/kale and dumplings.

 

Awsam, the bartender, took great care of us.  Bill tipped him generously and he beamed.  So we came back each night.  More on that in the following posts.

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Germany

Blind booking #4: Berlin! Part 1

My husband’s mother, Parker, has been visiting us for the past ten days.  While she’s here, my husband, Bill, wanted to do something special.  The last time she visited us in Germany, we got trapped in Italy.  We decided that this time, we would do something different… something not involving a car or driving through the Alps.

At first, we considered taking the train to Paris.  It seemed like the perfect solution.  Parker has not been to Paris and it’s a really interesting city with plenty to do.  But then it occurred to us that we were just in France last month.  I’ve been kind of hankering to do something different.  So then I suggested a blind booking on Eurowings.

Blind booking is not a new concept for Bill and me.  When we were living in Germany last time, we did it twice.  Basically, it involves buying a cheap plane ticket for a secret destination.  The first two times we tried blind booking, we scored excellent and super cheap trips to London, England and Barcelona, Spain.  Both trips were in 2009, when Eurowings was still Germanwings.  Prices were significantly lower than they are today and more services were included.  For instance, I don’t remember paying for luggage or even the paltry snacks they give you.

The next time we tried blind booking was in May 2012.  We had taken a Space A hop from Baltimore to Ramstein.  I was still crazy about the mystique of blind booking, so we went to Cologne, visited the city, then did another blind booking from Cologne.  That time, we got Munich.  I was slightly disappointed, since I had been to Munich.  On the other hand, we had a great time!  On that trip, we bought train tickets that were good for all of Germany and certain border cities.  We ended up going to Trier, Salzburg, and Luxembourg City, in addition to Munich and Cologne.

Although blind booking is not as exciting to me as it used to be, it had been five years since our last one.  And when we pitched the idea to Parker, she was excited about it.  The decision was made.  About ten days ago, I went on the Eurowings Web site, selected Stuttgart as our airport, input the days we wanted to travel, and chose which group  of cities we wanted.  I know there are ways to “game” the system.  Checking to see what days certain cities are offered is one way to improve your odds of going somewhere “exotic”.  You can also pay a little extra to exclude certain cities, which we have done in the past.  This time,  I wanted to leave it up to fate.  Besides, there weren’t any cities in the “Culture” group that I wouldn’t mind visiting, even if I’d already been there.

We got Berlin.  I had kind of mixed feelings about it.  On one hand, neither Bill nor I had ever been to Berlin, despite having spent a lot of time in Europe.  On the other hand, I was kind of liking the idea of getting out of Germany for a few days.  But then I realized that I told myself I couldn’t leave Germany again until I saw its capital city.  Now that’s done, so we can focus on going to some truly different places… provided we can board our dogs.  ūüėČ

Parker was pretty happy about going to Berlin.  The three of us are old enough to remember when Berlin was much harder to visit than it is today.  When I was in sixth grade, I wrote a paper about Germany.  As I researched the topic, I learned about its history.  It was the first I’d ever heard of East and West Germany.  I remember being shocked that the country was divided; one side was a “free” part of western Europe.  The other side was “communist”, like the Soviet Union and the satellite countries.  I read about how the people in East Germany weren’t allowed to leave at will.  I learned about the huge wall that once separated Berlin.  One side was “free” and the other side was not.

A look at what life was like in Berlin, back in the 1970s…

As an eleven year old in the early 80s, I had no idea that one day I’d live in the former Soviet Union and get to visit a lot of those “forbidden” eastern European countries.  I didn’t know then that I’d eventually live in Germany twice and visit its eastern side with ease.  I didn’t know that one day, I’d stay in what used to be East Berlin.

I’m truly surprised it took me so long to finally see Berlin, although I did visit its airport once before when Bill and I took a Baltic cruise originating in Oslo, Norway.  We did have a great trip.  If I’ve piqued your interest with this first part, I hope you’ll read on as I lay out yet another exciting travel story.

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airlines, Germany

Repost of my Germanwings review…

I wrote this review on Epinions.com back in 2009, so some of the information is no longer accurate. ¬†Still, I am going to repost it here for those who are thinking about a Germanwings flight, particularly if they wish to do a “blind booking“. ¬†At this point, I have done three blind bookings– two since this review was posted. ¬†I still think they are a blast, even if they aren’t as good of a deal as they once were.

ETA: Germanwings is now called Eurowings.

Europe beckons… German Wings delivers, even booking blind!

 Jan 19, 2009 (Updated May 29, 2012)

Review by   
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Clean planes, professional staff, very reasonable fares and plenty of cities.

Cons:Early flight time this morning… nothing is free or included. Flies into outlying airports.

The Bottom Line:¬†We’re loving blind booking.¬† Can’t wait to try it again!

My husband Bill and I are temporarily living near Stuttgart, Germany and we want to see as much of Europe as we possibly can. While I tend to be kind of skeptical about the so-called discount airlines, my ears perked up last month when Bill introduced me to¬†German Wings¬†and their “blind booking” program. For 29.99 Euros per person, per direction, travelers can choose a theme and purchase flights from Stuttgart, Hannover, or Cologne, Germany. The catch? You don’t know where you’re going until you’ve paid. It sounded like a great deal to me, not to mention a blast. I was game for it.

Bill and I accessed German Wings’ Web site and decided we wanted to pick a flight from the grouping of cities called “Metropolis Westeurope”. That group included Barcelona, Berlin, Hamburg, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Rome, and Vienna. Any one of those cities would have been okay with us, but had we wanted to, we could have paid an extra¬†2.5¬†euros per person and per direction to exclude one of them from the list. German Wings allows up to three exclusions and each one results in an additional five euro charge. We knew Bill would have a long weekend for Martin Luther King Day, so we plugged those dates into the database, put in our preferences, and paid using Bill’s credit card. We ended up with a flight for two going to London! I must admit, it was pretty exciting to find out where we were going. Better yet, after taxes, our round trip¬†flights cost us the equivalent of about $145.¬† That’s $145 for¬†two people. ¬†I doubt we will ever get an equivalent deal flying from the States!

Pack light!

As I mentioned before, German Wings is a discount airline. That means it’s strictly no frills and offers only “coach class” service. We were each allowed one bag at no more than 23 kilos. Carry on luggage is limited to 8 kilograms. Once you go over that limit, you’re charged five euros per kilogram. Purses, umbrellas, and coats may be carried without any penalty. Bill usually packs light anyway, but I made an effort to economize on my luggage so that we wouldn’t be charged.¬†¬†I¬†came in¬†well under the limit.

Check in

We arrived at Stuttgart’s airport and easily found the German Wings booth. A pleasant lady checked our passports, weighed our luggage, and issued us boarding passes. I was glad to see that German Wings has assigned seating, so Bill and I were able to sit with each other. Online check in is also available. We were on our way.

The seats…

Our flight to and from London’s Stanstead Airport was on an Airbus 319 aircraft. The seats were pretty small and set up in a three by three configuration. Being quite¬†a bit plumper than I’d like to be, I was relieved to find that I fit in the seat with no problem, although the seatbelt was fairly short. I was able to use it without an extender, but very large or tall people might find themselves quite cramped. Leg room is also in short supply.¬† Since Bill and I both¬†have short¬†legs, we weren’t too bothered by that¬†except for when¬†we had to get in and out of our seats. People with long legs might have a very different experience.

As it turned out, our flights to and from London were only about half full. We had a whole row to ourselves going both directions. I was glad to see that the plane was very clean on both flights.

The staff

All flight attendants on German Wings at least¬†speak German (naturally) and English and all onboard announcements are done in German and English. The flight attendants on our flights were very professional and efficient. One even demonstrated a sense of humor… although she did so in German! In any case, we had no issues at all with any of the staff members we encountered.

No frills!

I can’t stress enough that German Wings is a¬†budget airline. That means no free drinks, no peanuts or crackers, and no free earphones, pillows, or blankets. However, food and drink, as well as a bizarre array of other items, are for sale on the aircraft. German Wings sells Coke products, beer, wine, prosecco, coffee, hot chocolate, tea, and a variety of juices, as well as sandwiches, candy, and chips. They also sell model German Wings planes, earphones, jewelery, and cologne.¬† Because¬†German Wings is a discount airline, that means¬†that it often flies into smaller airports further away from city centers.¬†¬†London’s Stanstead airport, for instance, is a 45 minute train ride on the Stanstead Express to and¬†from London’s Liverpool Station.¬† Coaches take even¬†longer.

The flight

Right off the bat, we were happy to find that we had plenty of room on our flights because they were only about half full. No wonder German Wings is offering such deals! The 75 minute flight itself was basically very smooth and quiet. Both left on time. We did have a slight delay getting back to Germany because the Stuttgart airport was closed briefly due to freezing rain. However, that passed quickly and we landed safely after just a few minutes of circling.

One drawback to “blind booking”

The one thing Bill and I didn’t like about our blind booking experience was that we ended up with a very early flight out of Stanstead. We flew out of England at 8:00am, and because Stanstead is located about 45 minutes by train from London, that meant we were up at an ungodly hour to make our flight. However, given how inexpensive and hassle free the experience was, we think having to rise early was a small price to pay. We liked the blind booking experience so much, we’re already planning to do it again. Perhaps next time, we’ll choose the Metropolis Easteurope grouping of cities, which would allow us to surprise book Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, Dresden, Katowice (near Krakow), Leipzig, Sarajevo, Warsaw, or Zagreb. Since we’ve already been to Dresden, we would just pay an extra¬†2.5 euros each per direction to exclude it from the list.

Other information

Although German Wings has hubs in Berlin, Stuttgart, Cologne, it flies to 67 cities throughout Europe. Not all cities are included in the “blind booking” fares and blind booking can only be accessed from Berlin, Cologne, or Stuttgart. Cologne seems to be German Wings’ biggest hub.

Overall

German Wings is not a luxury airline by any stretch, but we had a perfectly nice flight that was extremely cheap. This morning, a cabbie offered to drive us from our hotel to Stanstead Airport. The fare for that 45 minute trip would have likely been more expensive than the plane tickets! We left our flight today thinking that we’d have no problem using German Wings for as many short, European based flights as possible before we get sent back to America. If you need an inexpensive Europe based flight, I think you’d do well to check out German Wings… and if you just want to try blind booking, I’d recommend that too! It may be a gimmick, but it’s definitely a¬†fun¬†gimmick!

German Wings’ Web site: http://www.germanwings.com/index.en.shtml

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military hops, Space A

Tentative travel plans…

So Bill and I are seriously planning to take a trip somewhere‚Ķ anywhere the military takes us, really.  We have a date on Saturday to take the dogs to a local “doggie camp”, where they will be “interviewed” and will hopefully pass the test so we’ll have a place to put them when we leave town sometime around the 10th.

We’ll either get a “hop” from Lackland Air Force base somewhere or we’ll take a commercial flight to Baltimore or Charleston, South Carolina and pick up a hop in one of those cities.  My money is on going to BWI, which has a dedicated terminal for military folks.  Last time we did this was in May 2012 and we ended up having a blast.  Taking a military hop is a crap shoot, though, because you never know if they’ll go off according to plan.  But then that’s part of the fun of the whole thing.  Last time we “hopped”, it cost about $40 round trip for transportation to and from Germany.

I have a feeling we’ll go to Germany again, even though we could also go to The Azores.  If we go to Germany, we may do another Blind Booking with Germanwings, which is a cheap airline in Germany.  We have done three blind bookings thus far and they have landed us in Barcelona, London, and Munich respectively.  Basically, you pay a cheap fare and end up going wherever they have tickets.  It’s a fun way to see Europe.  Last night, I was researching Manchester, England and trying to determine what we’d do on the off chance we ended up there.  That’s just one of many cities, though‚Ķ We could go to Milan, Vienna, Salzburg, Lisbon, Zurich‚Ķ the list goes on and on.

Or we could just go to Germany and stay there‚Ķ or go to France by train.  It’s truly travel by the seat of your pants.

I worry that the weather will really suck during our trip, but I’m also really eager to get out of Texas for awhile.  And I know that soon we will not have as much liberal travel ability as we have right now.  We could wait and do this travel in a few months, when Bill is on “terminal leave”, but I think we will be more focused on getting Bill employed at that point and making sure we can pay our bills in the interim.

There’s a great military hop forum that recently switched to a new place.  It’s also gone from being a free site to a pay site.  I paid $39.95 for a “premium” membership last night.  I think it’s worth it.  The flight schedules are posted there as are trip reports and other handy tips.

My parents did a lot of military hops when they were younger and more mobile.  I’m guessing those days are over now for them‚Ķ but Bill and I will enjoy them for as long as we can.

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advice, anecdotes

The champagne bucket…

The champagne bucket…

 

The champagne bucket pictured above was a wedding present from one of my husband’s relatives.  In the past, we’ve used it for chilling wine.  Last year, it became useful for another purpose.  We now use it to help us decide where we’ll travel next.

Bill and I have many places on our bucket list.  It can be difficult to make a firm decision about where to go next.  Last year, when we decided to go to Italy and Greece, we did so with the help of the champagne bucket.  Since we had a pre-booking for SeaDream that we needed to use, I wrote down the names and dates of four cruises that were in our price range and occurred at a time during which Bill could more likely get off work.  I cut the names into small pieces and folded up the papers, then put them in the champagne bucket.  I shuffled them around and got Bill to choose.  The May 11th Rome to Athens cruise won!

We’ve taken to doing this whenever we’re too overwhelmed with choices and can’t decide what to do next.  It’s sort of exciting to pick vacations this way, since it’s kind of reminiscent of Germanwings’ blind booking deal.  We’ve done “blind bookings” with Germanwings three times.  Basically, what it means is you pick a group of cities you wouldn’t mind traveling to.  You pay extra to eliminate any cities you don’t want to see.  Pay your fare.  Then you find out where your next vacation is!  It’s a lot of fun to travel this way, especially since most European cities are a treat to visit.  We saw Barcelona, London, and Munich by doing blind bookings.

The champagne bucket is somewhat different in that it’s not really binding when we make our choices.  But it’s still exciting to find out where we’re going next instead of trying to pick one place over another.

I broke out the champagne bucket the other day because we were talking about where our next trip might be.  Bill chose “river cruise”, which means that if Hebridean Island Cruises offers river cruises on Royal Crown in 2014, we may be aboard.  On the other hand, a lot depends on what happens next year as Bill makes his transition out of the Army and into the civilian sector.  We may decide to just stay home next year or go somewhere stateside.

Of course, we’re also very attracted to the concept of barging in Europe.  We were leaning toward Ireland, but after watching some intriguing videos of barging in France, we may opt to go there.  Bill loves France, even if he is very Irish.

I think it would be a dream come true if Bill got another job in Europe…  I can dream, can’t I?

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