Gig Sky… not just for making long car rides more bearable.

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For my birthday last June, Bill gifted me with a new iPad.  I think it’s my third one since 2010.  My first one had the ability to connect to a cellular network.  I remember Bill was very excited about that capability, although I never really used it.  My second iPad did not have cell access, since I had not used that feature on my first iPad.  Instead, I think Bill sprang for more memory.

When my second iPad was on its last legs, I requested a new iPad with cell access.  Why?  Because when I’m enduring a marathon car ride to some other country, having access to the Internet makes the ride less dull.  Sure, I could use my phone, but when you’re going through Switzerland, which isn’t part of the EU, you rack up roaming charges.  Also, my iPad has some games on it that aren’t on my phone.

Last summer, we decided to take a trip to Annecy, France.  The drive required travel through Switzerland.  I decided that would be when I tried out the cellular feature on my iPad.  My iPad offered three different vendors.  I chose Gig Sky, because it had a monthly option and offered more data than the other two options.  Since I’m a power user, I ordered the monthlong pass, which offers 5GB for up to thirty days.  It’s priced at $50.  The lowest priced option is a one day pass with 300MG.  It costs $10.

After successfully using Gig Sky for our France trip, I subsequently purchased more passes for other trips, some of which were in Germany.  It’s nice to be able to surf the Internet while Bill drives.  It also comes in handy at hotels where Internet access might not be so good.  And during our recent move, it was a lifesaver, since it took a couple of weeks before we could get the Internet in our house.

One thing I have discovered, though, is that Gig Sky isn’t just great for road trips.  It’s also good for shopping and reading the news.

Last May, the latest version of the very strict European Data Protection law went into effect.  This law, which is supposed to protect the privacy of Internet users in European countries, has had a number of annoying effects for us American shopaholics and news hounds.  It requires all Web sites operating within the European Union to conform to one set of standards, regardless of where the Web site is based.  Consequently, a lot of U.S. based Web sites that used to work in Europe no longer do.

Ordinarily, this would turn me off of doing business with them forever…

Time after time, ever since that law went into effect, I’ve found myself blocked from news sources and retail hangouts.  I usually buy a lot from Jos A. Bank at this time of year.  It’s always been a very APO friendly source of men’s business style work clothes.  But Jos A. Bank, along with a number of other U.S. based retailers, now block most of Europe from their Web sites due to this law, which so far has only served to annoy the hell out of me by requiring me to agree to cookies every time I hit a new site.

There are ways around this headache, of course.  I’ve found that looking at a cached version of a site will often offer me a glimpse of the news I seek.  Some people use virtual private networks (VPNs), which makes one’s ISP appear to come from a different location.  We used to have a VPN ourselves, which we used for Netflix back when we first moved to Germany.  Unfortunately, Netflix cracked down on VPN use and rendered ours pretty much useless.  Since German Netflix has improved a lot anyway, I quit subscribing to the VPN.

In any case, while we were offline, waiting for our new Internet account with Deutsche Telekom, I noticed that I was suddenly able to see the “forbidden fruit” sites that had been denied to me since the law became so strict.  I could read articles from my hometown newspaper again.  And… lo and behold, I could also shop on Jos. A. Bank again.  That’s because Gig Sky makes it look like I’m surfing from New York rather than Germany.

This is a pretty good deal, since Bill really needed some new pants and shoes for work.  I had been looking for a new source of clothes for him, but kept running into the same issues with blocked sites.  And yes, I can certainly purchase clothes in Europe, but Bill is a short man who likes his clothes cut a certain way.  European styles don’t appeal as much to him, and it’s harder to find things that fit him properly.  Anyone who’s been to Germany has seen that people are pretty tall here.  Bill is only 5’7″.  There’s also AAFES, but AAFES doesn’t have a clothing selection that appeals to Bill’s tastes.  The clothes sold there seem to be geared toward young, urban men who don’t mind wearing pink.

So, because I had some time and data left on my most recent Gig Sky pass, I used it to do some shopping for Bill.  A few days ago, I turned off my WiFi and used Gig Sky to access Jos. A. Bank on my iPad.  I spent about $800 on a boatload of new clothes for Bill.  They probably won’t get to him until after Christmas, but at least he’ll have them.

You’d think these companies would work faster to comply with Europe’s laws, especially since they still ship to APO locations.  I usually spend a lot of money every Christmas on clothes for Bill.  I hope these retailers in the States get their acts together soon.

In the meantime, I may consider resubscribing to a VPN, although it seems like doing that is kind of like skirting the law.  However, it’s nice to know that Gig Sky will work in a pinch.  Bill will be glad to have his new clothes and I’m sure Jos. A. Bank is happy for the money spent… and so is Gig Sky and Apple.

Shopping American in Wiesbaden…

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Bill and I spent last weekend getting to know our local military installation.  Wiesbaden is a bit different than Stuttgart, which at this writing, has commissaries on each of its four installations.  In Wiesbaden, there’s only one commissary, and it’s located on Hainerberg, which is not the installation where Bill works.  We wanted to buy a few items that aren’t generally available in German grocery stores.  AAFES, too, is located on Hainerberg, which is also where the American schools and stairwell housing are.  Hainerberg is close to Wiesbaden proper.

This week, I knew I would be getting Internet access and we also planned to get German TV.  Prior to last weekend, we had two TVs.  One was a Hitachi model we bought in 2007, when we lived in the Stuttgart area the first time.  That one is compatible with German TV and is dual voltage, although it’s showing its age.  It works fine, but it’s kind of small.  It’s funny, because I remember we paid $899 for it at Panzer Kaserne and I remember thinking it was a huge, snazzy TV back then.   Now, it looks puny and prehistoric.  Even though it’s a “flatscreen” TV, it’s at least twice as thick as today’s models.  I remember thinking it was such a new fangled set, having grown up with a huge floor model box TV that had no remote control.  Times, and TVs, have really changed.

Our other TV was purchased in 2013 at a Target near San Antonio.  That one I figured wouldn’t be compatible with German TV and isn’t dual voltage.  We used it for DVDs and Apple TV in Stuttgart. Now that I know a bit more about modern “smart” TVs, I realize our Target purchased television probably would work with German cable.

Saturday, we decided to go to AAFES to look for a new TV.  We found one.  It’s a 55 inch Samsung model with a curved screen.  It’s a huge TV for us.  I never thought we’d ever go that large.  At $799, it was $100 less than what we paid for our comparatively puny Hitachi from 2007.

It was probably not the best idea to buy a TV at AAFES, since they really only sell American electronics there.  I mean, there are times when you can find 220 appliances  there, and we did find our dual voltage PAL/NTSC compatible TV at the Panzer AAFES.  However, as a general rule, most of what they offer isn’t really Europe friendly.  If you’re planning to move back to the States after three years, that’s probably not such a big deal.  But we’ve been in Germany four years so far and may be here for at least a couple more years.  We probably should have hit Media Markt.

The sales guy at AAFES explained that the old PAL/NTSC thing of old TVs is no longer a thing.  Now, if you have a receiver, you can access German TV with a smart TV.  We were also under the impression that our new TV is dual voltage and, we thought, like our old Hitachi from 2007, it might even come with both American and European plugs.

Well… sadly, we were mistaken.  The new TV is not dual voltage and did not come with compatible plugs.  Like our other “smart” TV, it requires a transformer.  And, when the Deutsche Telekom guy came to install the Internet and our TV service, he said that we needed more Internet equipment besides the receiver they sent us.  I think he said we needed another router and somewhere to hook up to a phone.  There is a phone outlet in our bedroom, but it doesn’t function.  So… our new TV will handle Apple TV and DVDs.  I don’t know if we’ll get German TV or not.  I guess it doesn’t matter.  I’ll let Bill sort it out.

While we were waiting for pay for the new TV, we ended up talking to a very friendly lady wearing an Irish fisherman’s sweater.  Bill can’t resist interjecting whenever someone starts talking about Ireland.  He overheard her talking about the sweater and started telling her about how fishermen in Ireland all have sweaters with special patterns that apply to their families.  It turned out the friendly woman runs a ministry.  She wanted to know if we have kids.  Nope… just dogs.  I guess I don’t have a problem with ministries for those who like them.  I, myself, am not a very religious person.  If I did have children, I’m not sure if they would be religious.  Maybe they would be… but it was kind of an awkward conversation.  On the other hand, it was also nice to be warmly welcomed.

Anyway, we were not the only ones buying TVs on Saturday.  There was a lady ahead of us who was being rather demanding with the sales guys.  She left with a 70 inch TV that barely fit in the back of her SUV.  I heard the sales guy say it was a good thing she didn’t go for the 75 inch model.  I saw several other people carting huge TVs out of AAFES on Saturday.  As for Bill and me, we managed to get the TV in the RAV 4 with no help from anyone.  However, I did almost lose the receipt.  It was very windy on Saturday and the receipt blew out of my hand.  I went chasing after it, looking like the fool I am.

A very nice teenaged girl helped me chase it down as it skittered in front of AAFES.  Every time we thought we had it, a gust of wind would blow it just out of our reach.  Her reflexes were faster than mine were and we finally captured the receipt after a few minutes of chasing it.  Normally, I wouldn’t worry so much about a receipt, but for $799, I figured it was important to keep it in case the TV didn’t work out.

One thing I noticed at AAFES in Wiesbaden is that there is no Turkish rug store there.  I’m kind of sad about that, since I would like to buy a couple more rugs for our house.  Another thing I noticed is that people are completely oblivious at AAFES.  As crowded as the one in Stuttgart is, the one in Wiesbaden was more so, and has a different layout.  And the aisles were packed with products and people who weren’t paying attention.  This was especially true in the food court area, which is where we entered the building.  Next time we go to AAFES, I’m going to skip walking through the food court.  Not only is it very crowded, it’s also packed with people with a one track mind.  I almost got run over by a woman on the way to the fountain drink machines.

We decided not to eat at AAFES, although as we were gassing up the car, I did notice that Wiesbaden has an Asian restaurant on site.  It looked like it gets good reviews, too.  But we decided we’d rather eat in Wiesbaden, so off we went in search of lunch.  More on that in my next post.

Shots of the outside of our new home…

The license plate on our SUV is now different.  We are Wiesbadeners now…