Our pandemic dog rescue story… part one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

A delightfully normal restaurant experience at Villa im Tal!

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My husband, Bill, has been trying to get me to go out and do stuff for some time now. I kept demurring because I didn’t want to hassle with all the new rules. It’s just as easy to stay home and play with my new guitar. Bill finally insisted yesterday, after we wasted the day drinking beer in the backyard and waiting for a package to be delivered. He booked us a table for 1:45pm at Villa im Tal, which is one of our favorite restaurants here in the Wiesbaden area. I must admit, he didn’t have to try too hard. I’ve been denying him for weeks and it was only fair.

We got kind of dressed up for our outing. Bill dressed like he was going to the office. I put on a dress and some jewelry and fixed my hair and face. It’s the most dolled up we’ve been since I can’t remember… or, it’s the most dolled up I’ve been, anyway. Bill decided to drive my Mini, since it needed some road time, especially since it was just serviced. We arrived right on time for our appointment, dutifully donning our paper masks, and a delightful and familiar waitress named Petra led us to our outdoor table. Much to our amazement, she said we didn’t have to wear masks at all! Apparently, the rules in Hesse changed again very recently. We didn’t even have to put them on to go to the restroom, although we did see a few people wearing them and the waitresses all wore clear, plastic shields that covered their mouths, but not the rest of their faces.

So I put my mask in my purse; we sat down at a table and ordered a bottle sparkling water to share and a glass of champagne for me. It was time to celebrate eating normally at a restaurant, which we hadn’t done since March. After Bill filled out a form with our contact information in case there’s a coronavirus outbreak and we need to be contacted, we were handed our laminated menus, which are definitely the norm nowadays, and we made our choices… Below the pictures of a glorious meal, both in terms of taste and of sheer normalcy!

All told, we spent just under 180 euros before the tip. Bill left a generous tip for Petra and her colleagues, too, because they really showed us a lovely time. We definitely took dining out in restaurants for granted when we could do it regularly, and it was such a pleasure to be able to sit outside at a nice place– not in our backyard– and enjoy seeing other people. I was very happy to enjoy the hospitality, once again, at Villa im Tal, which is located in a beautiful, wooded, location. The food was, as usual, excellent, and the service was top notch and delivered with a smile . I think we love this place for very good reason, and it was so good to be back. I hope this trend of not needing a mask will continue for awhile.

I am feeling so grateful to live in Germany right now, for so many reasons. As much as I loved it here last year, this year, I love it so much more. Today’s outing was a huge morale booster. Villa im Tal is a classy restaurant, but they do cater to children as well as well-behaved dogs. Someone brought their sweet female pooch with them and she never made a peep. Petra brought her a big bowl of water.

Next weekend, we’re off to the beautiful Rhineland Palatinate area of Eifel for a long weekend. The hotel where we’re staying has an award winning restaurant. I look forward to returning and reporting on that adventure, too!

Mr. Bill gets rare Indian food on his birthday…

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Slow news day here in Wiesbaden? Perhaps…

Yesterday was Bill’s birthday. He wanted Indian food for his birthday dinner. I don’t eat Indian food, as a general rule. A lot of it is too spicy for me, plus there’s a lot of cilantro and cardamom used. Cilantro tastes a little soapy to me. Still, there are some things I can eat, and I trust Bill to know what I like. So he ordered some Indian food from Tandoorian, which is a restaurant located in Wiesbaden Mitte, right across from the Nassauer Hof. Bill visited there with his mom a few months ago, when she visited us. I needed some time to myself, so they went out for lunch together. They were raving about it when they got back home. Little did we know in January that we’d be locked down for weeks on end…

Actually, we could have gone out last night. Germany’s doing alright in terms of the virus. I keep reading news from my American friends and it makes me feel depressed and panicky, even though we’re fortunate enough to live in a place where the sickness isn’t so widespread. God bless Angela Merkel for her excellent handling of the pandemic. She’s been an excellent leader throughout this mess. I wish America could boast similarly good leadership.

Anyway, Bill ordered Tandoori Chicken for me, which is pretty basic grilled chicken pieces that have been marinated for twenty-four hours in yogurt and spices. For himself, he ordered Dhal Makhni, a vegetarian dish made with Indian lentils with butter, fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, cream and fine spices. We also had naan and Garlic Kulcha, which was basically garlic flatbread. Lots of sauces accompanied this feast. I have to admit, it was very good and an interesting change of pace. It wasn’t too expensive, and it was delivered right to our door. We washed it down with a fine Armenian red wine.

Here are some pictures…

I really enjoyed the chicken. The spices were delightful, perhaps because they went so well with being grilled and they were novel to my tastebuds. Like I said, I don’t eat Indian food very often. I have to hand it to Bill… he’s introduced me to all sorts of foods I never ate before we met… stuff like sushi and guacamole and Chinese food. Seriously, I grew up on a bland southern cuisine diet, with a lot of stuff coming from cans and boxes. I got to be a pretty good cook as I came of age and even when I was single, I didn’t use a lot of boxes and cans. But my parents never took me to places with different cuisines, even though they were kind of adventurous themselves. I was a picky eater when I was a kid. I still am, to some extent.

Anyway, Bill had a nice birthday. He worked at home, and besides getting a lot of birthday wishes from his friends, he also got them from a lot of my friends. I think he’s pretty popular among my friends. He kind of balances me out a bit.

Perhaps we’ll pay a visit to Tandoorian sometime soon and try their cuisine in house. It’s getting easier to do that, thanks to “Mutti”. On another note, it’s weird to be an American in the European Union, as Americans are not currently welcome to visit. We are living in very strange times.

My pandemic birthday… part three

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We both enjoyed a really good night’s sleep at the Vital Hotel. The mattresses are very comfortable. My only complaint about the beds were the linens, which could have been better quality. I didn’t use one of the bathrobes because I brought my own. Bill did, and noticed one of the sleeves had holes in it. However, those are minor complaints. Again, I was glad we brought our own pillows, because like a lot of hotels in Germany, the Vital Hotel’s are a bit small and stingy.

At breakfast, a waitress took our names and room number– again, contact tracing– as she led us to a table. Buffet breakfasts are a thing of the past. Now, they give you a piece of paper with everything available listed. You mark what you want and they bring it to you. Bill ordered scrambled eggs and bacon for himself, and I had smoked salmon with horseradish. We both had fruit salad, and bread comes out automatically. You can also have an assortment of cereals, yogurt, cold cuts, cheeses, and fried eggs.

I noticed at the table near us, there was a little blond boy with his parents. He spoke English and German, but probably wasn’t too much older than three. I was impressed. That kid is going to have quite an advantage over some of his peers.

After breakfast, we donned our masks, went back to the room, and changed into our bathing suits. Then we took the elevator nearest our room to the ground floor, where we used our watches at a turnstile and found ourselves looking at very impressive pools. Well… they are impressive, for sure, as hotel pools, especially by American standards. By German standards, I don’t think this particular Therme is as awesome as a few of the others I’ve been to. However, what I did like about it is that it was not at all crowded. The chairs were all marked with signs to enforce social distancing. We easily found a couple of lounges perched on a bridge that overlooked the main, dazzling pool with its fountain.

Naturally, I didn’t bring my phone to the spa, so I didn’t get any pictures of the Therme. However, you can easily find pictures on the Therme’s official Web site. We didn’t try the saunas, although I would imagine they are textile free, like most German saunas are. The steam rooms, snack bar, and massage rooms were also closed, although the Therme has a big gym that is in operation. We didn’t use the locker rooms because we had direct access from the hotel. We did notice that they limited the number of people allowed in there at a time.

We enjoyed the wave pool and the jacuzzi, although they didn’t seem to be turning on the jets as often as usual. I noticed the water wasn’t always as warm as I thought it would be. Again, I like the Mineraltherme in Böblingen a bit more, because not only does it have a nice sized bathing suit area, but there’s also an area where you can go textile free. But it was a pleasure to be at the Therme yesterday because it wasn’t crowded at all.

I did notice a baby pool that seemed popular, although little kids were in the big pools, too. And kids were jumping when they weren’t technically supposed to be, but that was no big deal. I’m sure they were happy to be swimming, burning off some of that pent up energy. One boy was throwing a ball in the wave pool, skipping it across the surface. Under normal circumstances, he would probably not be able to do that, because the pool would have been a lot fuller.

After a couple of hours, we decided to go have lunch. But first, I wanted to try one of the waterslides. I used to love slides when I was a kid. I happily exhausted myself at Water Country USA back when it first opened. One of my friends’ dads actually helped build that park in Virginia back in the mid 1980s. But as I got older, I lost my nerve. Bill doesn’t like slides or rides, so that made me less inclined to try them. I skipped the slide at the tree walk and the salt mines in Hallstatt, Austria. Both times, I regretted not taking the opportunity. So yesterday, I decided I was going to do it. It was perfect, since it wasn’t crowded.

I climbed the stairs, getting more nervous with each flight. At the top, I noticed the green slide wasn’t working. The water on the blue side was plentiful and strong. I looked at the graphics showing the best way to slide, took a minute to steady myself, and laid on my back. Next thing I knew, I was hurtling at full speed down the twisty, windy covered slide, part of which was blackened with more plastic. I kept going faster and faster, and I was suddenly very glad for precise German engineering when I finally hit the water below and it entered my sinuses. Bill said my eyes were like saucers and I know I had a huge grin on my face. Maybe I would have done it again if not for the steep climb. 😉

I will save my comments about our fabulous lunch for the next post. It deserves it’s own post, and I think I might need to pause for a nap. You can kind of see the slide in the featured photo. Germans do not play with their water slides. Every one I’ve seen has been very impressive and fun– and very safe!

Weird June weather…

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I thought maybe we’d go out yesterday. The weather has been nice lately, and it’s been awhile since I last had a proper outing. But then the sky opened up with rain, so we decided to stay in…

It’s sad when a Saturday is messed up by rain, but we do actually need the rain to fall. It’s been pretty dry lately. Our rain barrel was so depleted that I put in a few buckets of water from our tap. We use the rain barrel water for the plants Bill is trying to nurture into bearing fruits and vegetables, since there isn’t a spigot in the back yard (but there is one in the garage).

Bill went to the store yesterday to pick up a few things. He says the plexiglass barriers remain, but the cashiers aren’t wearing masks anymore, nor is there anyone “standing guard” to enforce wearing them among shoppers. We also got our tickets to FINALLY see Keb’ Mo’, who is scheduled to visit Germany again in November. He’s doing a show on our anniversary. I’ve been wanting to see him for ages. Hopefully, this will go on as planned and we’ll have our chance. We’ll see. At least Mainz is close to home for now.

Our landlord says he’s going to send in his work crew to check out a piece of siding that came off during a windstorm last year. He asked Bill about our plans, especially since Trump is making noises about reducing the number of troops in Germany. As far as we know, we will be here for at least another year and probably longer. On the other hand, one never knows about these things. Personally, I think Trump is full of hot air, especially right now. Our landlord also worries that we’ll leave Germany for Poland, since Trump has been building up our relations there and there had been talk of a “Fort Trump” (God help us). When we visited Poland a few months ago for Bill’s work, the landlord wondered if it was to house hunt (it wasn’t).

Honestly, I don’t know if a move to Poland would ever happen. I guess I wouldn’t be opposed to moving to Poland if it ever came down to it. Poland has been steadily improving since our first visit in 2008, and I have heard that Americans are moving there to work. But we did reassure the landlord that we like Germany very much and don’t want to move unless we have to. We didn’t want to leave Stuttgart, either, but that turned out to be a the best thing that could have happened, if only because it got us out of an abusive living situation. Our current landlord is a much better fit for us, treats us with respect, and leaves us in peace.

I’ve been reading a lot about the new rules regarding flying. To be honest, as much as I hated flying before COVID-19, I think I’ll hate it even more now. I am not on the mask wearing bandwagon. I know a lot of people think they are helpful, and wearing them is the considerate thing to do, but to be very honest, I think their effectiveness is limited, especially since many people don’t even wash their hands when they use the bathroom. I do know how masks are supposed to work, in theory. In fact, one of my degrees is in public health, so I probably know more about this subject than a lot of people do. I just think the masks are mostly more about comforting the masses than actually preventing infections. When it comes down to it, social distancing and hand washing are a lot more important, and we’re hearing much less about that because they are impossible to monitor or enforce. Simple, loose fitting masks do not stop viruses from spreading, especially when people are constantly touching and fidgeting with them, although they might slow the viruses down a bit if they are worn properly and laundered or replaced regularly.

Masks are inconvenient and uncomfortable, and the idea of being forced to wear one for hours on a plane is very unappealing to me, especially given that air travel is already unpleasant and expensive. Being glared at, judged, and harassed by strangers over the wearing of masks is also unappealing, especially given how expensive it is to fly. I will wear a mask if I have to for essential travel (say, if my mom dies while we’re in Germany or we have to move), but I will not be happy about it, even if it makes other people *feel* safer, *judge* me less, and *think* I’m more polite.

And so, this blog is probably going to be less interesting to most people for the foreseeable future. That makes me sad, since we really had a great time a couple of years ago, visiting places near Stuttgart. I enjoyed writing and taking pictures, too. Maybe I’ll get back to writing about local spots again, but I doubt we’re going to be taking as many great trips, although Bill definitely wants to. I probably won’t be updating this blog as often, either, since no one wants to read about our life at home. It was fun while it lasted.

So sad.

Speaking of things that are going away. It was announced the other day that our neighborhood restaurant, the Alt Breckenheimer Stübchen, has been forced to close. Bill and I only ate there once, in January 2019, because it was always packed and reservations were essential. Now, thanks to the coronavirus, it looks like yet another great local haunt is being forced to close its doors. This virus has really screwed things up for a lot of people. I also read that the wine stand is going to be dismantled at the end of June. That is especially tragic, since we really enjoyed attending last year, and getting to know our neighbors.

But people are trying to keep up their spirits. Kids in Hofheim and apparently other communities, according to my German friend near Stuttgart, are making painted rock snakes. Here’s a screenshot from our local group about that.

Anyway… I try to keep perspective. I’ve noticed that the kids at the local school seem happy and are still playing. Some wear masks and some don’t. I’m grateful that people where I live are sensible and reasonable about mask wearing, and don’t freak out if people leave their residence without one, since it is entirely possible to stay more than six feet away from others in our neighborhood. I also realize that this is certainly not the first or last time humans have been confronted by pandemics. They always eventually pass or become controllable. This particular pandemic has only been a thing for a few months, so people are still very scared. Some are downright panicky. That’s understandable, given the horror stories about people who have come down with COVID-19. However, I think most of us will eventually be exposed to it and most of us won’t die. Some will die, and some will be left debilitated. And hopefully, there will be some semblance of normal life and travel again at some point in the future.

We’ll see what happens. This blog has been slowly dying anyway, since we left Stuttgart and I quit promoting it and left most of the Facebook groups (which was really a smart thing to do, but that’s a rant for another day).

Take out from Akropolis in Delkenheim…

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Germany is starting to loosen up on its coronavirus restrictions. This weekend, restaurants are supposedly going to allow people to sit at tables. The tables will be spread far apart, which will be a welcome change as far as I’m concerned, and people will be expected to wear face coverings when they are not at their table, which is not something I want to do. Yeah, I have heard all of the arguments for the masks, but I just feel too uncomfortable wearing them in public. So I’ll continue to stay home, out of sight and out of mind, not shedding viruses or anything else.

Last night, we ordered from Akropolis in Delkenheim, which Bill says is a cute little village near us. I don’t actually know if it’s cute, since I haven’t seen it yet. But anyway, he says it’s cute, so I’ll take his word for it. As of Friday of this week, Akropolis will be allowing indoor and outdoor seating, again with face mask requirements, and curiously, leaving one’s contact information. Why? In case someone gets sick? Yeah, no thanks… I’ll just stay home.

But I don’t mind ordering take out, and we did that last night. Bill ordered souvlaki for himself and gyros for me, along with garlic bread and extra t’zatziki. He definitely didn’t need to order the extra sauce, because plenty of it came with our meals. We also got salads, although I didn’t try mine because there was so much other food.

I was craving Greek food the other day. We have always lived near Greek restaurants when we were in the Stuttgart area. Up here, there don’t seem to be quite as many, which doesn’t mean there aren’t still a lot. In Jettingen, we had four Greek places within five miles of us. Here, I think maybe we have two.

The garlic bread was standard white bread dressed with oil and what appeared to be garlic powder. It wasn’t bad at all, if not sort of pedestrian. Bill’s pork skewers looked excellent and I was kind of wishing I’d had those instead. They were seasoned with Greek spices and looked fresh. The gyros were pretty standard shavings covered with onions. I did really enjoy the potato “coins”, which are a nice change from the usual pommes one finds in Germany. I liked that they were full of potato, if that makes any sense. The t’zatziki was nice and garlicky and provided a nice contrast to the pork. We have plenty of leftovers for today, too.

This spread cost about 28 euros, which Bill topped up to 30. I would order from Akropolis again, although I’ve had better Greek food. It might be more exciting when one dines in. But, sadly, I don’t think that we’ll be doing that for awhile. Anyway, I’ll keep my eyes open to see how this new “loosening” works out. Even the Army is being a little less strict now. It’s inevitable, since the world has to reopen sometime.

When the Wine Stand delivers…

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One of the things we have up here in Wiesbaden that we didn’t have in Stuttgart is the bi-weekly wine stand. Starting in March and running through October, my community allows clubs to do fundraisers in which they sell wine and food to people who congregate in the Dorfplatz. Of course, this year, that’s not possible due to the coronavirus and the need for “social distancing”. They did have one wine stand in March, but Bill and I didn’t attend because the weather was terrible.

Last week, as I was walking Arran, I noticed a sign posted on the gate of our local restaurant, the Alt Breckenheimer Stübchen. That restaurant is within stumbling distance of our house, although we’ve only managed to eat there once, because it’s always packed.

Ten euros a bottle for wine we could have been drinking at the wine stand.

A local winery was advertising for their “wine stand”, which would have been held last night, since today is a holiday in Germany (Labor Day/May Day). Schools and businesses usually close and people take long walks. Some folks observe the night of April 30/May 1 as Witches or Walpurgis Night (WalpurgisnachtHexennacht). They light bonfires and prepare the Maypoles, which in some areas, people dance around to celebrate spring…

I have not seen this in person yet… but I liked the video made by the Reflections Enroute channel.

Well… sadly, none of this is happening this year. Even Germany’s beloved Oktoberfest in Munich has been cancelled, as has the Canstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart. And we’re not having wine stands with the local Breckenheimers, either. But Bill and I did get to try some rustic local wine, which we ordered after I saw the flyer advertising it at the Alt Breckenheimer Stübchen. Last night, two chilled bottles of white wine were brought to our home. We drank one of them, then switched to an Italian red.

Bill says he thinks this wine might be what’s known as a “Landwein”, which is basically wine made by farmers. They’re usually tasty, but kind of rustic. We went to a Landwein tasting a couple of years ago, when we still lived near Stuttgart. I know the people who delivered this yesterday live nearby and either bottle the wine or produce it. They held one of the wine stands at their place last year, but we didn’t attend that one. I think we might have been out of town.

This was pretty good. It had the slight taste of apricots.

The weather was kind of yucky yesterday anyway, so I doubt the wine stand would have been too popular even if we didn’t have the virus. I was glad to see the rain. We really need it.

The added bonus to the wine delivery was that I could listen to music and pee with ease. When we do the wine stands, we either pee at the Rathaus or at home. If we pee at home, we might as well stay there. I do miss the wine stands, though, because it’s a fun way to practice our terrible German and meet new people. I enjoy watching the neighbors who have known each other for years congregating and hanging out. I’d love to see this kind of thing in the United States… once we aren’t so worried about contagion.

Germany, by the way, is doing pretty well in the coronavirus fight. Well… it’s doing better than the United States is, anyway. I miss being able to go out to lunch and tour places… I definitely have the itch to travel and to get a new dog. But in our case, the lockdown isn’t so bad. At least Bill and I still like each other. I’m also getting pretty good at giving him haircuts.

I’m amazed by how weird things have become, but Germany is starting to loosen the restrictions somewhat. Hopefully, there won’t be a huge wave of infections, now that the playgrounds and churches are reopening. Not that Bill and I hang around those very often anymore…

My first time out of the neighborhood since March 14th…

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Bill and I had to go on post today. We both needed to get our vision tested for new driver’s licenses and I needed passport photos for a renewal. So, for the first time since March 14th, I rode in the car. This time, it was with face masks I bought from Amazon.de. They’re the surgical kind, since they were the easiest to get my hands on quickly. I bought a pack of ten.

As we passed the entrance to our neighborhood, I was reminded of a month ago, when the dog we had hoped to adopt escaped his pet transport and got hit by a car. We live very close to Autobahn 3 and Autobahn 66. A3 is literally right next to our neighborhood. I felt a little sick thinking about that poor dog disoriented, terrified, and lost as he ran away from what could have been the lap of luxury for him. He was so close… And it will probably be a while before we can get our next dog.

Maybe it’s for the best, since it’s hard to get the routine services we need. Bill needs to get new rear tires for his car, since we had snow tires put on them in France back in December. I need to get my car serviced. Arran, Bill, and I all need dental cleanings, which means a vet visit for Arran and the dentist for Bill and me. Germany is starting to loosen up some restrictions, but everyone has to wear masks now in any place where social distancing isn’t easy.

We did decide to order take out again last night. Our local Italian joint/sportsplatz, La Fonte, had pizza and pasta on offer. Bill said the family that runs the restaurant was sitting outside drinking wine as they handed over the orders. They were doing a good business. We’ll probably get more take out tonight, since I’m tired of Bill’s cooking and we want to support local businesses. I’m kidding, actually. Bill has turned into a great cook. But I do want to give some business to the restaurants, since they have provided me with content for so long.

The drive to post was even quicker than usual, since there wasn’t so much traffic. We got to the gate and a uniformed guy in a mask asked us the three important questions about whether or not we had been exposed to COVID-19, whether or not we had symptoms, and if we were ordered to be quarantined by a medical officer. We both said no to all three questions, then presented our IDs to be scanned touchlessly.

This is probably a European eye test as opposed to an American one. It’s probably harder to cheat on it, since it’s not letters. I remember doing one in Armenia that was different, too. It was a Russian eye test.

The PX opened for regular folks (as opposed to high risk folks) at 11:00am. We needed the optical shop. A sergeant was standing there in his mask, enforcing the wait time. Finally, at 11:00, we all washed our hands, donned our masks, and went in. Taking the eye exam was weird. It was a German style test, which meant telling the examiner where the openings were. I had trouble with my left eye until I realized that the steam from behind the mask was fogging up the lens. Once I let the steam dissipate, I could read everything properly.

After the eye test, we found the passport photo booth, where I got new pictures done for my passport. I was actually quite pleased with them, since the photo I’ve had since 2011 is horrible. In that picture, I look fat, hungover, and my hair is a yucky shade of dark brown. I gave up hair color several years ago, because the hard German water mixed with dye was turning it into straw. So now I’m back to my original blonde with silvery hints. And the new pictures done by a machine are prettier and have more natural light, even if I still look fat. The weird thing is, it’s just like taking a selfie with your phone. You think you’re going to look like you do on the monitor, but your image is reversed. But for some reason, it looks less ridiculous taken by the machine.

We went into the PX to pick up a few things… I got a new hairbrush, conditioner, and lotion for my horribly dry skin. I think I have eczema on my boobs, which is not very pleasant. The hard water and constant washing has turned my skin into leather. Edited to add: my German friend says there is soft water in parts of Germany, however in all of the places I’ve lived, it’s been very hard by American standards. It’s been hardest of all in Wiesbaden, where there was so much chalk on our taps when we moved in that we couldn’t turn one of them on and had to get it replaced. We also have to use salt in the dishwasher or else our dishes look terrible. Vinegar is useful for getting rid of some of the Kalk, but it’s an ongoing battle.

After about twenty minutes with the mask, I was ready to get the hell out of the PX. It wasn’t as stifling as I feared it would be, but the thing kept going into my eyes, requiring me to touch it to adjust it, which you shouldn’t do. Anyway… since this was a momentous occasion, I did get some photos…

Anyway… I’m glad to have that chore done with for now. I’ve been bugging Bill about our driver’s licenses and my passport for ages. We should have done it before this coronavirus mess started. Hindsight, unlike my eyesight, is 20/20.