Germany’s new mask rules…

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I actually hate to write about this subject again. I am sick to death of reading about face masks. I hate looking at them, and I definitely hate wearing them… but I feel compelled to write this post, if only because if I weren’t an overeducated housewife, I’d probably have a job in public health. This morning, I was reading comments on an article about face masks that was posted by The Atlantic. The article, entitled “Why Aren’t We Wearing Better Masks” was originally published on January 13th. I read it the first time it popped up on my feed. It’s back again this morning.

The article is about how homemade cloth masks were supposed to be a “stopgap” measure until better masks could be made available to the general public. Ten months into the pandemic, a lot of us are still wearing the cutesy face masks that we bought on Etsy. Well… actually, if I’m honest, I only wear the medical surgical masks. From the beginning, I decided I would not indulge in wearing fashionable face masks because I do not want face masks to be permanent fashion statements. I really don’t. I think they cause a lot of problems for people, even though for now, they are necessary. But— now, thanks to new mutation of the COVID-19 virus that is more contagious, though not necessarily more dangerous– experts are saying we need to ditch the cloth masks and wear medical grade masks.

As I was reading the comments, I noticed that a comment from someone who claimed that Germany is now requiring everyone to wear N95 masks. And they were presenting that fractured fact as if Germany is doing COVID-19 better. Well, if I’m honest, Germany IS doing COVID-19 better than the United States is; however, N95 masks ARE NOT currently required here.

The current rules stipulate that in most areas, medical grade masks are now required in shops, on public transport, and in crowded areas where social distancing isn’t possible. Bavaria is the only state that currently requires everyone to wear a FFP2, FFP3 or N95 style mask on public transportation, in shops and supermarkets, or in crowds. Bavaria has been hit harder by COVID-19 than other states, hence the stricter rules. Everywhere else, disposable surgical masks will still suffice, except in nursing homes, where the FF92 masks are also required to be worn by staff. Also, the FF92 masks are only required on Bavaria’s local trains and buses. On long distance trains, the medical/surgical masks are still okay. Face shields and visors without masks are not.

And, while I know many people think the masks are required everywhere outside someone’s home, I’m here to tell you that in my neighborhood, no one wears a mask of any kind when just walking around outside. They do wear them at bus stops and there are signs reminding people to don them, but I hardly ever see people hanging around the bus stops.

This is not to say that the FFP2 masks won’t eventually become required everywhere in Germany if the COVID-19 numbers don’t improve soon. Despite the effective response here last spring, Germany’s currently having a lot of problems with COVID-19… though not as many as in the United States. There aren’t as many sick people here, and not as many people are dying… but enough are, which is why the better masks are now being mandated.

Incidentally, I have also read that the government is going to make the masks freely available to people over age 60 and chronically ill people, so they won’t have to shell out a lot of money to acquire the better quality masks. But since I’m neither chronically ill, nor over age 60, nor a regular German resident, I can’t comment too much on that.

I’m really hoping that we can get a handle on COVID-19 soon. This lifestyle sucks, and I want to get back to enjoying Europe and writing fun articles about food and travels. The vaccine should help… or, I sure hope it does. We did enjoy some takeout Italian food last night, but I really miss sitting in restaurants and seeing other people.

Happy end of 2020!

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Can you believe it? New Year’s Eve is finally upon us. The year 2020 will go down as one of the worst ever for a lot of people. It wasn’t too bad for me, personally, and it didn’t drag on for me. In fact, we had some very good things happen this year. But I do know that many people have been waiting for this day in a year that, for most people, was like no other.

The last few months of 2020 have been punctuated with losses for Bill and me. I lost a cousin, a cousin’s spouse, and our old friend, the Mad Scientist of Entringen. Bill lost his dad, who was also my father-in-law. But Bill gained one of his daughters, his son-in-law, and two grandchildren. We both gained a new family member when we adopted Noyzi. We got to do some unique traveling, and we went to places we probably would not have gone to if not for COVID-19 and the need to stay kind of local. This was also the first year in quite a few that I didn’t fly anywhere. We’re both learning guitar! This year, I started with no guitars in my house. Now, I have four of them! I’m not a great player yet, but I make improvements every day.

I don’t know what’s in store for us in 2021, although I do look forward to the end of the Trump era. I also look forward to some smart scientists making better vaccines and medications to fight COVID-19. And there are a few things we’ve been doing this year that I wouldn’t mind continuing, like working from home for Bill and fewer TDYs.

It looks like we’ll be staying in Germany for at least the foreseeable future. But if there’s one thing we have learned, it’s that nothing is for certain when you work in government contracting. We’ll see what Biden has in store for us. If anything, I hope it’s more civility and decency than what we’ve been seeing from Trump and his peeps.

I don’t think we will see too many fireworks this year. I believe there’s a curfew tonight. People are supposed to stay inside from 9:00pm until 5:00am tomorrow. If folks have fireworks left from last year, I’ve heard it’s okay to set them off. But there weren’t any for sale this year… which means that this will be a quieter Silvester. Supposedly, this is to prevent crowds and injuries that would send people to the overworked hospitals. This doesn’t really affect Bill or me, since we always have a quiet New Year’s and, at least for the past couple of years, haven’t even made it to midnight still conscious. But I expect we will enjoy some champagne and we’re planning on having Moroccan food takeout.

So… on with the end of 2020. Let us all hope for better days in 2021, even the new year is always kind of weird at first. Happy New Year to you all! We have some snow right now, so I think I’ll go enjoy it until it turns to rain.

My online shopping life… or, the pandemic has made us learn new things.

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It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, Bill and I were preparing to journey to France to see my friends Audra and Cyril and celebrate Christmas with them and their family. This year, we don’t go anywhere. I’m serious. I haven’t left our neighborhood in over two months. It’s getting old.

But I’m trying to keep my spirits up. The other day, I ordered chocolates from Neuhaus. I was a victim of Facebook advertising, which kept showing me pictures of Belgian chocolate. Then I remembered that once upon a time, when I was still a working woman, I actually used to sell Neuhaus chocolates.

I worked at a place called Henry Street Chocolatier, which was located in Williamsburg, Virginia. They sold high end chocolates from Neuhaus and Joseph Schmidt, a now defunct confectioner out of San Francisco, California that specialized in making chocolate truffles. They also had locally produced pastries and coffee by First Colony, an outfit out of Norfolk, Virginia. I think First Colony as I knew it went out of business, but they also used to sell coffee to The Trellis, a restaurant where I worked a few years later. It looks like First Colony was sold, so the brand still exists, but it’s not the same people running it.

I ended up buying a shitload of chocolates. I bought a 500g ballotin of Neuhaus truffles, a 500g ballotin of regular chocolates, and a wine tasting chocolate set. Neuhaus also has champagne and coffee tasting sets– those are chocolates specifically selected to be tasted with wine, champagne, and coffee. Wine is not included in the sets, but you do get a nifty booklet in several languages.

I also bought wines from Georgia, Croatia, and Hungary, but they haven’t arrived yet.

Friday night, Bill and I discussed my desire to buy an electric guitar. I showed him the one I wanted, which is quite pricey. I ended up ordering one of those yesterday as my own Christmas present. I tried to get it through its manufacturer’s Web site, but the sale wouldn’t go through. Like, it wouldn’t even attempt to go through at all. So I found the guitar I wanted on another site and did successfully order it. I don’t think the charge has been processed yet. Hopefully, it will go through. Sometimes the credit card companies are very cautious when you live in Europe and have an American billing address. If it actually gets to me, I’ll post a picture of it.

I have about half the cash needed to pay for the guitar waiting in a savings account I usually use for traveling. We aren’t doing any of that, so it makes perfect sense to just get the guitar I want. It will give me incentive to keep practicing. Not that I need incentive. I made some real progress with my guitar playing yesterday, finally managing to awkwardly play several difficult chords in the same shape. No, they aren’t perfect, but a few months ago, I couldn’t even attempt them. Now, if I’m very careful, I can actually make them ring out somewhat. Anyway, Bill is going to buy me an amp, and once he’s learned a bit more on his guitar, he’ll probably buy one he likes, too.

We also ordered sushi from Tam’s Kitchen. It was a cold, rainy night, and didn’t really seem like sushi weather, but I was dying for some. And here in Breckenheim, we happen to have a really great sushi guy who does deliveries. I think he’s actually a caterer. I don’t think he has a restaurant, per se. But you can order sushi and it will be super fresh and delicious. So that’s what we did Friday night. I think Tam is actually from Vietnam, but he sure has a way with raw fish.

Last night, I watched the memorial service done for my cousin, Karen, who died a couple of weeks ago. She was the third family member I’ve lost since mid October. I learned some new things about my cousin, who was eighteen years older than I am. We weren’t very close, but she was very much beloved by her family and our extended family. Watching the video made me miss being at home somewhat, although I think during this pandemic, I’d rather be in Germany.

And Noyzi and Arran are doing fine. Noyzi is particularly adorable these days. He has a new habit of silently showing up, ghostlike, when it’s time to eat. I slip him a little snack from the table, which is probably not a great thing to do… but he’s so sweet and basically well-behaved that my heart melts a bit.

I suspect today will be more of the same stuff. It’s cold and wet, and Germany is still locked down. Oh, I guess they call it Lockdown Lite, since stores are still open, and it’s been extended until January 10th. But there’s nothing to do anyway, and the weather is icky. So we’ll stay home, listen to music, and buy stuff online. 2020 has mostly sucked… but in some ways, it’s been kind of awesome. I miss traveling, but it’s also been nice to find new ways to occupy my time and spend money. And we are grateful we still have the money to spend. Maybe it will help some people stay in business.

“Be welcome here…”

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Tomorrow, Bill and I will celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. Normally, we travel for our anniversary. This year, we can’t go anywhere, thanks to COVID-19. I decided to buy a few new attachments for the air fryer I purchased at the beginning of the pandemic. We don’t use it very often, in part, because the noise from it seems to bother Arran somewhat. But we have discovered that we can use it in the laundry room and Arran doesn’t mind.

Last night, Bill made air fryer brownies that turned out great. This morning, we had a sausage, egg, spinach, sun dried tomato and cheese casserole made in the air fryer. Noyzi is getting braver and now hovers near me at mealtimes, hoping I’ll share with him. I don’t mind doing that because he’s so polite, and it does help him be less fearful.

After breakfast and starting another load of laundry, Bill and I put leashes on Arran and Noyzi and started on our walk. The sun is shining and the temperature is mild. It’s the perfect day to enjoy fall weather. As we were heading down the “Weg” to the main drag, a tall, slim, older German woman approached. She was wearing black slacks, a purple blouse, and a big black sweater. I noticed she also wore black gloves. Bill and I had just been talking about how Germans seem to bundle up a lot more than we do, even when the weather is nice.

I noticed the woman’s face as she looked at Noyzi, who is a very handsome and striking specimen. Noyzi was shying away from her noticeably. He was nervous enough that he dropped a single nugget of poop, but then he calmed down while Arran hung nearby, eager to keep walking. I fought the urge to pick up the poop as the German woman started talking to Bill. She quickly ascertained that we weren’t German when Bill opened his mouth to speak. She switched to careful, halting English, asking if we were the “new Americans”. It so happened that we were standing right next to a house that reportedly contains Americans. I guess native Breckenheimers talk about who’s who, and who’s new.

Bill explained that no, we weren’t “new” here. We moved to Breckenheim in late November 2018, and we live at the top of the hill. The woman wore no makeup. Her straight, silver hair was pulled into a ponytail. I don’t know how old she is. She appeared to be older than we are by some years, but she was very fit looking. In her hand, she held a bundle of some type of herb– perhaps thyme. I’m not sure, because I stood farther away from her than Bill did.

The woman didn’t wear a face mask. Neither did we. It’s probably a good thing, as she was very soft-spoken and I’m not sure we would have been as able to hear and understand her. She was very intent on sharing a message with us. She told Bill that today is a special worldwide holiday. She didn’t know how to say it in English. Bill thought maybe she meant it was like Remembrance Day, but having looked up holidays for November 15th, I don’t think so. I have no idea what she was talking about. She said it was a worldwide holiday, but is especially recognized in Europe. It was the first I’d heard of it after living here for several years.

Edited to add: My German friend Susanne tells me that today is Volkstrauertag (people’s day of mourning), and the lady was probably on her way to the cemetery or church, both of which we have in our area. I kept thinking maybe she was referring to Advent, but it’s a bit early for that. Volkstrauertag happens two weeks before Advent starts, and it commemorates members of the armed forces of all nations and civilians who died in armed conflicts, to include victims of violent oppression..

Regardless, of what the actual holiday is today (now I know– Volkstrauertag), she seemed very keen to talk to us about world peace. She spoke about how there’s no such thing as an enemy. We’re all people and we all deserve peace. Bill told her that he’d been to Iraq. I heard her say, “And you survived.”

She went on some more about having regard for our fellow man, avoiding war, and remembering those who died at war. And then, as she started to walk away, she said “Be welcome here.”

Bill turned to me and I could see the tears in his eyes. He was clearly moved. He said, “Well… that was a message.”

It’s not the first time we’ve run into someone who has imparted a message to us in an unusual way. Five years ago, I was stunned into peace and calm by a Buddhist monk we happened to run into at an Italian restaurant near Munich. It turned out he was a famous Japanese peace crusader named Toyoshige Sekiguchi. He was traveling the world, promoting peace and nuclear disarmament. I didn’t even speak to him, and yet he had a profound effect on me just by being who he is and being in my presence.

We lost Bill’s father a week ago and, naturally, Bill wasn’t able to attend his dad’s funeral on Friday. He was emotional about that last night. We spent some time talking and I was doing what I could to assuage his guilt and soothe his grief. He was still pensive and a little moody this morning. Perhaps that’s why got our special message as we walked the dog.

Bill is normally a very approachable person, but he was especially open-hearted today, which may have been why that woman felt the need to speak to us. Or maybe she stops everyone to talk about peace and loving everyone. It was a good message, though, and seemed kind of appropriate under the circumstances. Maybe she wanted to tell us her message because we represent Americans and most Americans around here are with the military. She might have thought Bill was a war monger, although he’s definitely not your stereotypical military man. In fact, I’d say Bill is not even like the typical guy. He’s unusually in touch with his feelings about most things. Maybe she figured we support Trump, though we definitely don’t.

I think a lot of people, with good reason, think that everyone in or affiliated with the military is a war monger. Most servicemembers I know want war less than anyone does. And anyone who knows Bill knows that he’s a gentle, caring, considerate, and kind man. I, on the other hand, graduate of social work and public health master’s programs and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, tend to be a bit feisty. Go figure that!

Anyway, we had a good walk. Noyzi has really come to love the daily walks. He still won’t let Bill put his leash on him, but he will let Bill walk him. And today, since I came along, I got a special treat in the form of butts. As I was putting on my shoes, Noyzi came up behind me and stuck his big nose right in my ass, as if he was greeting a new canine friend. Then, he came around as I was tying my laces, stuck his butt in my face, and backed up, swinging it side to side as if he wanted to use my nose to scratch his behind. He didn’t actually reach my nose, thank goodness, but he did seem to offer me his butt for sniffing. I guess he’s getting more comfortable here. I may have to teach him not to goose me in the ass when I’m tying my shoes, though.

A couple of nights ago, we ordered Greek takeout from Akropolis Restaurant in nearby Delkenheim. Bill wasn’t feeling like cooking, probably because he’d lost his dad and couldn’t go to the funeral. I was tickled because they sent him away with a small bottle of ouzo! I’ve had better gyros, but the rest of the food was pretty good. We had plenty leftover for lunch yesterday, too.

I wore my favorite dog walking shirt today. On the back, it says in German “Life is too short to drink shitty beer.” I was kind of glad it was covered up with a sweater today, after talking to that very deep and spiritual lady.

Negligent actions have consequences…

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This post is also appearing on my regular blog. I’m cross posting it here, because it’s about travel, and my travel blog can always use extra content during a pandemic and “lite lockdown”.

Yesterday on my travel blog, I posted an article about SeaDream Yacht Club’s unfortunate COVID-19 situation. SeaDream, for those who don’t know, is a fantastic all inclusive luxury cruise line. It has two identical “super yachts” and it’s known for being an awesome cruise experience for couples. Bill and I have sailed with them three times. Our last voyage with them was in May 2013, when we sailed from Rome to Athens with a trip through the Corinth Canal.

Bill and I love SeaDream, but circumstances have not lined up for us to sail with them again since Bill left the Army. I still follow their message board on Cruise Critic. Ever since the COVID-19 crisis hit, I’ve been anxiously wondering if this line will survive the pandemic. Things were looking hopeful over the summer, when SeaDream managed to complete several Norway centric cruises without anyone getting sick from the virus.

After their success in Europe, SeaDream came back across the Atlantic and, last Saturday, attempted their first round trip Barbados cruise. In order to pull this off, SeaDream had to change a lot of its standard operating procedures. Prospective passengers had to get a negative COVID-19 PCR test at their own expense 72 hours before flying to Barbados. They had to take another COVID-19 test before getting on the ship, as well as have an interview with the ship’s doctor. Their luggage and shoes were cleaned with ultrasonic technology. Halfway through the voyage, they would have had to have another routine COVID-19 test to satisfy the rules for returning to Barbados. And, while they were cruising, they visited empty beaches, took catamaran cruises, and engaged in activities that did not allow them to be in contact with any host country nationals.

Having been on a SeaDream cruise, I can tell you that I’m sure it was just fine even without the freedom to engage with locals, shop on the economy, or go exploring. I’m not sure if the piano bar was open, but that was my favorite part of a SeaDream cruise anyway, besides the many cocktails and endless champagne.

Unfortunately, someone DID get sick with COVID-19. As of Wednesday morning, the 53 passengers have been stuck in their staterooms, which I can attest to being really nice, but not very large. The windows don’t open and there are no balconies. It’s a nice cage, but it’s still a cage.

A video done by a couple of Geordie lads who have been blogging about SeaDream’s voyages. They are on the ship as I write this.

The person who got sent to a Bajan hospital with COVID-19 was part of a group of six who evidently decided to overnight in Miami on the way to Barbados. From what I’ve read, other passengers heard the afflicted one talking about partying in the south Florida city for a night. Four others in that group also had positive COVID-19 tests, but evidently aren’t showing symptoms. The fifth person’s test was inconclusive.

Now… in thinking about this, it occurs to me just how many people have been affected by this group’s decision to overnight in Miami…

  1. 47 people have had a very expensive and luxurious vacation ruined.
  2. 66 crew members have had their livelihoods directly threatened.
  3. 113 people have had their health threatened.
  4. The entire cruising industry has had another blot on it regarding health and safety standards.
  5. Hundreds of future passengers will be affected because SeaDream will be cancelling upcoming cruises.
  6. All of the businesspeople depending on support revenue for the cancelled cruises will lose money– ie; pet boarding, taxi services, airlines, etc.
  7. People watching SeaDream to see if cruising during a pandemic could be done safely will be affected.
  8. A whole lot of people have been affected by this… I hope that night out in Miami was worth it.

It really is a shame that this happened. As I wrote in my travel blog, I won’t consider cruising again until there’s an effective vaccine against COVID-19. I don’t think cruising while fretting about a virus on a luxury ship is a lot of fun. Hopefully, we’ll get this virus under control before too long. On the other hand… I’m not holding my breath.

Hopefully, those who got sick won’t get too sick… and the passengers will be able to get off the ship and go home without too much trouble. We’ll see what happens. Actions have consequences. But, on the bright side, by undertaking this experiment, SeaDream has provided some valuable data for others. Perhaps that will help some smart people figure out the best way to get back to a life approaching normal at some point.

ETA: the count is now up to seven COVID positive.

SeaDream Yacht Club forced to return to Barbados due to COVID-19…

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Some people are bound and determined to try to keep living life the usual, pre-COVID-19 way. As much as I would like to do that myself, I know, as someone who has an advanced degree in public health, as well as someone with plain old common sense, that it’s not a good idea. Cruising, right now, seems especially ill-advised, even as it remains a tempting diversion.

Bill and I enjoy cruises. We particularly like to sail on small vessels with all inclusive terms. So far, we’ve sailed on Royal Caribbean (one four night cruise), Hebridean Island Cruises (five cruises), and SeaDream Yacht Club (three cruises). Hebridean and SeaDream are both considered by many people to be “luxury” cruises, mainly because they offer a high standard of service and are all inclusive.

Until recently, I’d been wanting to sail on SeaDream again. Our last cruise with them was in May 2013. Over the course of an unforgettable week, we traveled from Rome (Civitavecchia) to Athens (Piraeus). It had been our habit to pre-book cruises on SeaDream. We’d pay $2500 for an “open booking” while still oboard, which would allow us to choose one at a later date that fit our schedule and logistics. But in 2013, Bill was staring down his retirement from the Army, and we weren’t sure what the future held in terms of his employment. We didn’t pre-book another cruise on our last voyage and, so far, things haven’t lined up for us to cruise on SeaDream again, although we are more able to afford it now than we ever have been.

Even though it’s been over seven years since our last magical SeaDream cruise, I’ve continued to follow them on Cruise Critic’s message boards. SeaDream has been in the news lately because it’s resumed cruises in the Caribbean. It recently had a three week transatlantic crossing for SeaDream I, which began in Oslo, Norway and arrived in Barbados. The resumption of cruising was met with many cheers. Indeed, right now, there are several representatives of the press and travel bloggers aboard the ship, including a representative from Cruise Critic. Everyone was hoping they could make cruising during a pandemic successful so that people might start having some fun again and people whose livelihoods come from cruising could get back to work.

One blogger in particular, Gene Sloan of “The Points Guy”, has been covering the voyage extensively and posting pictures on Twitter. A few days ago, he posted photos of staff members not wearing face masks. That led to a lot of angry comments from people who saw the post. But, Sloan reiterated, that before anyone was allowed to embark the ship, everyone had to have two negative COVID-19 tests– one prior to flying to the island and one by the ship’s doctor prior to embarking on the ship. Everyone in the group that has been cruising recently tested negative– and there are only 53 passengers onboard, as opposed to the 112 that SeaDream vessels can usually accommodate. Staffing is at 66 members, so service has probably been incredible. Aside from the testing, SeaDream invested in ultrasonic cleaning devices that supposedly made cleaning “hospital grade”.

Apparently, passengers were assured that they would not have to wear face masks on the ship during the cruise. That was the main reason some people booked the voyage in the first place. They wanted a break from the COVID-19 nightmare and the oppressive face masks that have come with it. And– make no mistake– despite my public health background, I do hate the masks, even as I understand that they’re necessary for now. I totally understand why some people booked so they could escape having to wear the damned things. Since SeaDream did have a successful three week cruise from Oslo and required so much testing prior to embarkation, I’m sure plenty of people felt perfectly safe. I know I would have.

As it turns out, a passenger on the current voyage did start feeling poorly. Passengers would have been required to be tested again anyway, per Barbados’ requirements, but the passenger who felt ill requested a test prior to the one that was already planned. It came up positive. Prior to the positive test, SeaDream had reversed course on its no mask requirement, and passengers were asked to wear masks when they weren’t eating, drinking, or in the water. People were pissed off enough about that– but now they’ve been ordered to their staterooms until they’re all tested again. And who knows if they will be able to continue the cruise, thanks to the one person who tested positive.

I posted about this situation last night, since I have at least one friend who has had the magical SeaDream experience (in fact, that’s where we met). I wrote this:

Not good. They are getting bad press, too, because they weren’t making people wear masks. I wouldn’t want to be on a cruise in which I had spent $10,000 (for two people) and be forced to wear a mask, either. Seems like now isn’t the best time to be cruising. And now they have someone who is COVID positive. Yikes.

In response, I got this comment:

Would you want to spend $10,000 on a cruise and catch the virus because someone didn’t wear a mask?

I was actually a little surprised and disappointed that someone would assume my comment was simply an “anti-masker” statement. I do hate the masks and feel quite fine in saying so out loud. That doesn’t mean I’m non-compliant or in need of an intervention. I do understand why masks are required for now.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, my mantra has been that it’s more important to stay home as much as possible. That’s what I’ve been doing. I have literally not left our neighborhood since October 4th, when we came back from Slovenia with Noyzi. During that trip, we didn’t even eat in a restaurant. This is the same thing I did for about three months last spring– I stayed home almost exclusively from March until June, going out only to walk the dog. That, to me, is much better protection against COVID-19 than a mask is. People will still get sick whether or not masks are worn; it’s just a question of the ease of virus transmission, which is somewhat less when people wear masks. So, to the person who made the above query, this was my response:

No, I would not consider spending that kind of money on a cruise until a vaccine is available. I don’t plan to cruise if people are going to be required to wear face masks, especially on a line like SeaDream, where alcohol is included. I have sailed with them three times and have seen firsthand how people can behave. Lots of money plus entitled attitudes plus booze equals trouble, particularly during a pandemic. People drink a lot on those cruises.  

The blogger who was sharing pictures of the staff members not wearing masks got screamed at by a fellow passenger. Evidently, they were told that masks would not be required and they would not have booked the trip if they were told they had to wear them onboard.

The mask mandate came on Monday night after the pictures went live and people were posting angry comments about the irresponsibility of not masking, despite the many measures that were taken before people were allowed to embark. But, as this article reports, despite everyone being tested three times pre cruise, someone came up positive. I have gotten sick on cruises before and would definitely not want to risk it right now with COVID. It’s very easy to get sick on a cruise. But I also hate the masks and would not find cruising fun while wearing them, anyway.

To be clear– I think it’s crazy to spend five figures on a luxury cruise right now. Some people don’t mind wearing face masks everywhere. That’s good for them. I would definitely not enjoy being forced to wear a mask on a cruise, yet I understand that masks help stem the tide of COVID-19. I will wear them where I have to wear them, but no one needs to be on a luxury cruise during a pandemic. So, until an effective vaccine is available, I won’t be cruising at any price.

I will admit that I would be particularly pissed off if I’d spent $10,000 to be stuck in my stateroom and forced to wear a mask in a place like Barbados. I have been to Barbados, and it’s a very beautiful place akin to actual paradise! But I don’t need to go there so badly that I’d travel there from Europe during a pandemic. And now, it’s possible the people who are on that cruise will spend ten-fourteen days holed up in Barbados in quarantine, likely at their own expense! No, thank you.

There is promising news of an effective vaccine being made out of company in Mainz, Germany, only twenty minutes from where I live. The story surrounding the creation of the vaccine is fascinating on many levels; I hope someone will make a movie out of it or write a book. The married couple who have been working on the vaccine are really interesting people who seem to be focused on doing actual good. I can wait to cruise until their work is completed and we have an effective weapon against the virus that makes it less contagious and dangerous.

As I mentioned before, I have sailed with SeaDream three times. It’s a beautiful experience. The staff is wonderful and kind and mostly genuine. The ship is small– a bit old, but pristine, and immaculately maintained. The itineraries are interesting, exciting, and unique. I have met several great people on that ship, to include a couple of famous folks (who were surprisingly normal). But as incredible as SeaDream or any other cruise experience is, I have experienced getting sick on at least three cruises– twice with nasty colds and once with the dreaded norovirus, which made me puke and gave me horrendous diarrhea for about 36 hours of sheer digestive hell as I was also enduring my menstrual period (fortunately, the sickness was coming on as we were disembarking).

It’s VERY EASY to get sick on a cruise, although with only 53 people onboard, there’s plenty of room for social distancing on SeaDream I right now. The fact remains that you’re in an enclosed environment and you eventually will be exposed to everyone. In fact, I remember on our last cruise on Hebridean Princess, one of the staffers told me that he was always having to battle sickness. It was passed around the ship. If someone came aboard who was sick, there was a very good chance everyone else eventually would be, too; and they’d still have to work, regardless, so that means they’d also be spreading their germs.

Alcohol is included in SeaDream’s fare, and they weren’t going to require masking while eating and drinking. I have seen firsthand that booze is freely offered on SeaDream. You could spend the whole time drinking champagne and eating warmed peanuts if you wanted to– and I have done just that. Ordinarily, that would be a selling point for me, but I have seen the way some people behave after a few drinks. On one SeaDream cruise, Bill and I witnessed a drunk man helping himself to booze, getting very angry at a group of passengers, and actually inviting one or two of them to “step outside”. Imagine how he would react to being required to “mask up” after paying so much to be onboard the ship!

I am a writer myself, although not a famous one (at least in most circles). I can imagine innocently posting a photo from my travels, having it go viral due to someone noting that precautions aren’t being taken, and then being yelled at by another cruiser for spoiling his experience. That has happened to Gene Sloan from The Points Guy, who no doubt was doing his part to publicize SeaDream’s cruise and get the industry going again. Yes, you’d better believe that some people will pay for a maskless experience– same way some people will pay for a condomless prostitute. I can’t blame them at all for wanting to vacation without a mask, but doing so right now isn’t a very smart idea. And paying $10,000 to do it and expecting that nothing will go wrong is also not a very good idea, even though SeaDream cruises are forever tempting. The fact remains that COVID-19 is a real thing and it’s sneakily determined to fuck up everyone’s fun, no matter what.

So I’m going to stay on land for now. I don’t want to wear a mask on a cruise. That wouldn’t be fun for me. And I don’t want to pay $10,000 to be on a luxury cruise, having made the extreme efforts to be COVID-19 negative, only to be trapped on a boat and confined to my stateroom because someone comes up positive (and I don’t blame them– they probably have no clue where they got the virus). I really hope SeaDream and other cruise lines can stay afloat during this mess. I would love to sail with them again, but not until we’ve sorted out this pandemic. Norovirus was bad enough. I’d like to avoid respirators for as long as possible.

I’ve got the lockdown blues…

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It’s November, and in November, Bill and I typically plan a Veterans Day weekend trip. Our wedding anniversary is November 16th. This year, it’s number 18, which is nothing to sneeze at. Unfortunately, this year we aren’t going anywhere because we’re in lockdown lite status, thanks to the stupid coronavirus.

Before everything shut down again, I had been toying with the idea of going somewhere local. Actually, months ago, I bought tickets for Keb’ Mo’, who was scheduled to play in Mainz on our big day. Mainz is only about twenty minutes from where we live. But Keb’ Mo’ rescheduled for April, thanks to the pandemic. Hopefully, the show will go on, because I miss live music and I’ve been wanting to see Keb’ Mo’ for ages!

I think of this song as our theme… especially when there isn’t a pandemic.

So then I thought maybe we could do what we did last year. Last year, we booked a really nice room at the Jumeirah Hotel in Frankfurt and had a nice dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Then, the next day, I accompanied Bill on a TDY trip to Wroclaw, Poland. I hadn’t actually wanted to go on that trip because when I tag along on TDYs, I tend to get kind of bored. But since it was our anniversary and I do like Poland, I relented. And we flew to Wroclaw and had a pretty good time there. I’m now really glad I tagged along. Wroclaw is a cool city, and I didn’t know then that this year would end up being such a cluster fuck.

Frankfurt does have nice hotels and restaurants. We could have stayed in another one this year and given Noyzi the chance to meet the people who take care of our dogs when we travel. But COVID-19 has ramped up so much in Europe that restaurants aren’t allowed to do dine in service and hotels can’t accept travelers for tourist purposes. Shops are open, but everything is stricter than it was a month ago, and if the infection numbers don’t go down, they will lock down even more.

I think about how I wanted to move to Germany because of the travel opportunities. I have to admit that we’ve been able to take advantage of a lot of them over the past six years. Prior anniversary trips included Baden-Baden, Ireland, cruising in Scotland, the southern Caribbean, and even an amazing meal at the Alte Post in Nagold, which was a town near where we lived before we moved to Wiesbaden. Unfortunately, the Alte Post is now closed, but it was a wonderful place for food. This year, we’ll have to make do with each other.

Oh well. We have a lot to be grateful for, especially in 2020. Germany has been so good to us. We have gotten to see and do so many things, most of which I’ve chronicled in this blog. And now we have a new dog who is rewarding us every day by being awesome and sweet. I’m sure we’ll get to travel and eat good food again someday.

Thanksgiving is coming up, too. I was thinking this year, maybe we’ll order a meal from a restaurant. Cem Klein, which Bill and I tried before it moved locations, is offering a Thanksgiving deal this year. And we like to do our part in keeping the restaurants going. In fact, I think I’m going to nag Bill into getting some takeout today or tomorrow. I’m getting tired of his cooking, anyway. 😉

I’m kidding… This week, he got really daring and made injera, a type of east African sour bread. Here are a few photos and a link to the recipe. Bill likes exotic stuff more than I do, and his time working for AFRICOM really introduced him to new cuisines. Of course I’m grateful that I have a husband who cooks and does it so well. But I do miss the dining out experience and trying new and exciting dishes. I especially miss the desserts.

Well… maybe instead of planning a fancy trip, I’ll buy an electric guitar. That’s the next big purchase I’d like to make in my quest to be a pandemic era guitarist. We’ll see what happens. One thing is for certain, though. This year, we’re going nowhere fast.

Our pandemic dog rescue story… part one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the winners are…

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Well… we ended up scrapping the idea to go to the Piemonte this year. I never heard back from Marla, although since it was a Facebook message I sent to Bella Baita’s Facebook page, I can hardly blame her. If you’re not friends with someone, it’s easy to miss Facebook messages. I guess I could have contacted her through her Web site, but I kept thinking about Bolzano and how I’d like to visit that area, too. So finally, I just decided to scrap the idea of visiting the Piemonte again, at least for the time being. We needed to go ahead and book, since our trip begins in a week. There are so many places we haven’t yet been to and want to see, and where we booked our “anchor” town would determine the “sides” of the trip, on the ways down to Italy and back up to Germany. (Edited to add: Today– Sunday, August 2, Marla responded and said Bella Baita is temporarily closed due to the many rules related to COVID-19. But when the pandemic is less of a threat and there are fewer rules, she and Fabrizio will be ready for guests again.)

We spent a couple of hours looking for places last night. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. There are so many hotels! And it’s hard to choose what is most important. I’m definitely lured by nice amenities and don’t mind paying a premium for comfort, but not at the expense of being in a crowded, impersonal, overpriced place. I saw a bunch of places that looked really nice, but I suspected were slickly marketed. I saw other places that were reasonably priced, but didn’t have much character and weren’t particularly comfortable looking.

I finally decided to book a place in Parcines (Partschins), Italy, which is not far from Merano. My German friend had recommended Merano, but it appeared to be more of a city. I didn’t know it when I booked, but Parcines has a waterfall. It also has a very nice looking Alpine hotel, family run, with lots of mountains around it. There are also castles nearby… I think we’ll find enough to do in four nights. Our hotel comes with half board, which is sort of hit or miss. I like to try different restaurants, but it looks like this resort is kind of in an isolated area. Hopefully, the food will be as good as the hype.

Once I was finished booking our “anchor” town, we decided where we would spend the rest of our time. I had been looking at hotels near the Eibsee, in Germany, which is an absolutely gorgeous lake near the Zugspitz. But I didn’t find any hotels that were appealing to me, and we have been to that part of Germany more than a few times. I would not be averse to stopping there for a break or something on the way to the town we ultimately chose– beautiful Leutasch— which isn’t too far from Innsbruck. I had also looked at Seefeld in Tyrol, but we’ve also been there before. It’s a beautiful place, but touristy and resort oriented. Leutasch may be the same way, and in fact, it’s in the same area as Seefeld is, but at least we’ve never been there. The featured photo was taken during our last trip to Seefeld, in which I took a picture of the stunning mountains. It was winter at the time and colder than a witch’s tit. It will look different when we visit next week.

And then, I must admit I was getting pretty tired… the hotels were all blending together. I asked Bill which way he wanted to go home. Was he wanting another journey through Austria? Or was Switzerland more appealing. He said he wanted to go through Switzerland, which would add an hour to the journey back. However, we have two nights to get from Italy to Wiesbaden, so we will be stopping in St. Gallen, near the town of Rorschach, which is on Lake Constance/Bodensee. Yes, I know, we could stay in Germany or Austria and pay less to see the lake, but we wanted to go to Switzerland. So that’s where we’re going, and we’re going to stay in a hotel that reminds me a little of a 60s era hospital.

Yes, Rorschach is also the name of the Zurich born Swiss psychiatrist, Herman Rorschach, who came up with the famous ink blot tests. But Herman Rorschach grew up in Schaffhausen, which is a town in extreme northern Switzerland, right by the German border. We’ve passed it more than once when we used to live near Stuttgart and were able to come and go from Switzerland easily.

I’m not sure how we will get back from Switzerland. Rorschach is close enough to the Austrian border that we could just cross back over and go up that way, rather than driving through Switzerland. A lot of people think Switzerland is extremely beautiful, and it is… but it’s also very expensive and, in some ways, kind of dull. I still like to visit when I can, though, because even though it’s kind of dull, it’s also kind of different. It has four official languages and isn’t part of the European Union… and I discovered that I have a little bit of Swiss heritage, too. Just a little bit.

The other region in Germany is Bavaria, but I know from research that I had relatively recent relatives (within a couple hundred years) who came from the Rhine, as well as a couple from Karlsruhe. Maybe we can visit Grisons someday.

Apparently, someone from my ancestry was from the Canton of Grisons, which is the largest and easternmost canton in Switzerland. That may be why my first DNA test indicated Italian ancestry. Actually, it was probably Swiss– from Italian speaking Switzerland. But it’s just a tiny pinch– enough to make me slightly more interesting, I guess. I have a pretty boring DNA makeup. It’s about three-quarters British and Irish. The next largest part is German, then Scandinavian, which Ancestry.com further narrows down to Norwegian. That makes sense, since parts of Scotland were once part of Norway. And then, I have a tiny dash of Native American ancestry. So, based solely on genetics, I could totally be European, even though I’m definitely American.

Anyway… this isn’t interesting to most people, except that it’s obvious the people who went into making me were pretty clannish. They all fucked among themselves. It wasn’t until recently that family members started branching out and adding some spice to the mix. My sister, for instance, married a man who is half Jamaican, half Chinese. He looks like Tiger Woods. And they have a son. I’m surprised there aren’t more genetic diseases in our family, besides depression and alcoholism.

Well, I’m glad to have all of this stuff decided. Hopefully, it will go off without a hitch, especially since coronavirus is still a problem. I look forward to posting a lot of pictures from our upcoming road trip. It’s been much too long since the last one of any length.

Post pandemic trip number two– a pleasant weekend in the Eifel…

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Bill and I just got back from our second weekend excursion since the pandemic struck. The spring and summer of 2020 have been very unusual, and not just because everyone’s wearing a face mask these days. Since we moved back to Germany in 2014, we’ve made a point of traveling as often as possible. We’ve visited many countries and have several others on our bucket list. But this year, after two early trips to the Alsace region of France following a Christmas jaunt to Nimes and Beaune, France, we have stayed put in Wiesbaden. I was really becoming a shut in, until Bill finally decided enough was enough and insisted on taking me away for my birthday last month. We memorably visited a spa hotel for two nights in nearby Hofheim, just twenty minutes from where we live.

Since that trip in June went so well, Bill decided he wanted to go somewhere else in July. He tasked me with finding somewhere not too far away, even though unlike most Americans, we are now permitted to travel to other countries again. Because we can prove that we live in the European Union, we are allowed to be in Europe and, for the most part, travel as if we were E.U. citizens. Unlike the United States, Europe seems to take a somewhat sensible approach toward foreigners. Seems kind of ironic to me, given that the United States was always called a “melting pot” when I was growing up, watching Schoolhouse Rock during Saturday morning cartoons.

Ah… the innocence of my youth.

I remembered our very first “military hop”, which we took in May of 2012. At the time, we were living in Sanford, North Carolina. Bill was still in the Army, and we had about eight days to mess around in Germany. We ended up flying to Ramstein and planning a trip completely on the fly. I remember taking a train to Cologne, spending a night at the Ibis at the train station, and then getting a blind booking through the former Germanwings (now Eurowings). We ended up getting a cheap flight to Munich, where we spent three nights and visited Salzburg by train on a day trip.

Then we flew back to Cologne and took another train to Trier, which allowed us to visit Luxembourg. On the way to Trier, we stopped at Gerolstein, a city well-known for its bubbly mineral water. Indeed, I had even been buying Gerolstein water at our favorite local grocery store in North Carolina. I looked out the window at Gerolstein and thought it looked like a nice place to visit, not knowing then that we would be moving back to Germany just two years later and I would eventually get the chance to see the town.

When we lived in Stuttgart, I remember trying to come up with a trip to the Gerolstein area, but I never could find the right combination of dog friendly lodging and justification for driving so far to stay in Germany. In Stuttgart, it was more difficult to arrange for local dog sitting, so our dogs had to come with us on some of our trips. Now that we’re in Wiesbaden, it’s easy to book Arran (since we no longer have Zane) at the dog pension. Gerolstein is now just a couple of hours away, rather than several hours.

As I researched the area, known as the Eifel, I found a lot of things I knew would hold our interest. However, we opted not to stay in Gerolstein. Instead, I found us a lovely, old fashioned spa hotel in the tiny hamlet of Meerfeld, named after the Meerfelder Maar– a lake formed 30,000 to 40,000 years ago from an explosion in what was once a volcanic crater. There are several water filled “maars” in the Eifel, although there are dozens more dry ones scattered throughout the area. The Meerfelder Maar is one of the oldest of the maars in the Eifel region. Swimming and water sports are allowed there, and it’s also a nature preserve. If you have a car and a willingness to drive a bit, you can slip in a visit to Belgium or Luxembourg, or maybe a visit to Cochem or Trier, both of which are close by, or any of the other charming little towns where there are old castles, canopied hiking trails, and lakes made by volcanic eruptions.

The Meerfelder Maar wasn’t necessarily what drew me to Meerfeld. I was mostly looking for a nice hotel with a good restaurant or, barring that, a really well-appointed apartment or vacation house. There are plenty of inviting places to stay in the Eifel region, with something to suit almost any taste. I had a tough time deciding. I finally chose the family owned Hotel Zur Post in Meerfeld because of its consistently excellent reviews, particularly of the hotel restaurant; the fact that it’s close to an unusual geological attraction was an added positive. The area is also popular with hikers and bikers, as there are many trails near the hotel and the surrounding hamlets.

We really had a good time on our trip, which probably would not have happened if not for COVID-19, as I would have chosen to visit a place further afield, probably in an adjoining country or even further away than that. This trip was a good reminder that you don’t always have to go far to see something interesting. Now, on with my latest trip report series!