Our pandemic dog rescue story… part six

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I think this will be the last part of my tale. I’ve got bitching to do on my other blog, which has been neglected for a few days.

Our drive back to Germany was long, but relatively peaceful. Once we got through the Katschberg Pass in Austria, the weather cleared up a lot. We had sun, or at least just a few clouds, all the way back home to Wiesbaden. Since we had to do the whole drive in one shot, I’m really glad we did it on a Sunday. There’s road work going on that we noticed had backed up traffic for miles on the way down to Slovenia. Since it was Sunday, there was still a slight bottleneck, but it wasn’t nearly as horrible as it was on the way down. Here are some more photos from the drive…

We made several stops but, following Meg’s advice, we didn’t attempt to take Noizy out. He’s still working on walking on the leash. When the rain stops, I’ll be giving him a few lessons. He’s going to be needing some exercise soon, although he’s so far seemed content to lie down in a corner of our living room, right by the doors to the garden. Speaking of the garden, I’m really glad we have one and it has a very tall fence surrounded by hedges. Noizy is about the size of a small deer and could probably jump pretty high if he wanted to. Arran is also a high jumper, but he’s way smaller than Noizy is.

So… now we’ve had our new family member for two days. He’s already blown my mind by being a super fast learner.

Bear in mind, when he lived in Kosovo, Noizy resided at a “pension”, which is not like the pensions one might find in Germany. He lived with a bunch of dogs on a farm and they were outside all the time, fed communally. He’s never been trained, hence why he still needs to learn how to walk on a leash. And although he’s very friendly and sweet, he’s not used to living with people. He’s also not very alpha at all, despite being so big. Arran easily dominates him, and Arran is not a particularly alpha dog, either.

When we first brought him into the house, Noizy seemed very confused by the glass doors. I have a sense that he’s never seen glass before. He tried to walk through the glass when he first came into the house and it took a couple of bonks on the face before he realized that I have to open the door for him. One of the doors has a holey mosquito screen thing put there by a prior tenant (it needs replacing). At first, Noizy had no idea what to make of that at all. But after he saw Arran go through it once or twice, he caught on that he can do the same thing.

The first night, Noizy was obsessed with being outside. I think it’s because that was what he knows best. However, in less than 24 hours, he seems to have figured out that being inside isn’t so bad. It’s warm and dry. Now, he gets upset if I close the door when he’s in the yard. He comes right back inside and curls up on his makeshift bed.

Noizy is still pretty scared of Bill, who is probably one of the gentlest men on the planet. But he’s pretty much at ease with me, and loves it when I pet him. When I approach him, his little stumpy tail wags and I can see in his eyes that he wants affection. He’s also learned to trust me enough to roll on his back for belly rubs, which he clearly adores. I knew he liked them because Meg sent me a video of him getting a belly rub from a boy in Kosovo. Still, I can tell this isn’t just him being submissive and showing me his belly. He trusts me enough to let me rub it.

Although he hasn’t wanted to leave his corner yet, he is a lot more relaxed than he was. He is also slowly getting braver and exploring more of the living room. Arran barks at him to keep away from me, especially when food is around, but I don’t think his sternness is going to last. Eventually, they’ll have to work something out.

I have been most impressed by Noizy at night. I was worried about him sleeping alone. Arran sleeps with us, as all of our dogs except CC have done. Noizy is way too big for the bed, though, and he needs a bath something awful (that will be a two person job for sure). He also hasn’t been brave enough to visit the other floors in the house, where the bathing facilities are. In any case, when it’s bed time, so far he’s just curled up on the little bed he’s made and been quiet all night. He doesn’t move from his spot. I have yet to find any pee spots. Arran is notorious stealth pee-er. Noizy has done almost all of his business outside, with the exception of a couple of submission pees. However… I can see that we’re going to go through a lot more shit bags, because Noizy’s poops are big, like he is!

I’m trying to teach him to use the dog bed. It’s not quite big enough for him, but our other dogs never used it much. Once he learns what it’s for, we’ll get him one of his own and station it somewhere away from the doors to the backyard.

Noizy has also learned to eat and drink from a bowl. Based on how he eats, I get the sense that he had to wolf his food down because of other dogs being around. Now, he’s learning that he can relax. Just today, I convinced him to try a dog treat. Arran loves them, but Noizy wasn’t so sure until he finally tasted one. I am hoping he’ll like the treats because they will help in training him. He’s definitely not very food oriented, though. He didn’t even want a little bit of chicken I offered him.

I look forward to teaching him to walk nicely on the leash so we can take walks. I’m sure my neighbors will be astonished when they see him. He really is quite a sight. I have a feeling he is going to go down as one of the most special dogs I’ve ever had. Just his story is amazing. He could have easily died on a street in Kosovo, a tiny puppy taken from his mom too young in a country where people don’t really care for dogs very much.

Instead, he was handed over to Meg, who had no idea what he would grow up to be. Meg has told us that Noizy represents hope to her. The young man who gave him to her didn’t know where else to take him, but didn’t want to see him die. That young man gave him an amazing chance. What were the odds that the tiny puppy left for dead would end up being adopted by Americans in Germany?

I’ve often thought about that with our other dogs, too… all of whom (with the exception of CC) have lived in Germany. What are the odds that these dogs, born in rural America and tossed away, would end up living in Germany?

In any case, I’m sure we will have our challenges. Noizy is not like any dog I have ever had in my life. But he is just such a sweetheart and so eager to please. I am delighted to finally know him after six months of waiting. It was worth everything to get him here. And so many people deserve a hearty thanks for making it happen.

One final matter… Yesterday, Bill reported to the German court, as requested. He saw the pet taxi driver who had caused the death of Jonny, the first dog we hoped to adopt over here. She didn’t acknowledge Bill at all and seemed completely nonchalant and callous about the whole thing. It turned out the magistrate, who had been the one who had answered the phone last week when Bill called to tell them he’d need an interpreter, had supposedly told Bill he didn’t need to come to court. She also said there was a letter, which there hasn’t been yet. In any case, Bill made the trip for nothing and it turned out we hadn’t needed to rush back to Germany, after all. Also, Bill noticed that everyone was dressed very casually. Even the magistrate wore jeans. Bill had put on a coat and tie. Ah well. We’ll close the book on that whole situation. We have our new family member now, and I think it was meant to be. And if Jonny hadn’t died, we wouldn’t have Noizy… who is a unique delight in every way.

I’m still not sure what we’re going to do about Noizy’s name. He comes from Kosovo, though, which is mostly made up of people who are ethnic Albanians. My German friend says there is an Albanian rapper named Noizy. Noizy was named because of the screeches he made when he was calling out for help as a little puppy, but he’s now a very quiet dog… but I hate to put him through yet another change. He’s already adapted to so much. I can’t wait to see him turn into a confident, happy house dog. I’ll be sure to keep updating this blog as that inevitably happens.

Our pandemic dog rescue story… part two

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A couple of weeks ago, Bill and I were deciding the best way to go about picking up Noizy. Our older dog, Arran, is sweet, but he gets very jealous. Every day, there were new reports of the worsening COVID-19 situation. Also, the woman who interviewed Bill and me before we were approved to adopt Jonny had warned us that it would be best if Arran could enter the house before the new dog. Otherwise, it would be like a wife coming home to “another woman”, so to speak. That lady had also been very careful to tell us about the proper way to secure rescue dogs when they first come home. We’d heard the same advice seven years ago, when we adopted Arran. Using a collar and harness and connecting them together is the best practice… or carrying them inside the house while they’re in a box.

We have a great Tierpension who has taken excellent care of Arran and Zane, but they have limited pick up hours. If we put Arran in the pension, there was a risk the new dog would be home before he would. Also, I didn’t fancy the idea of being stuck at the border somewhere. Been there done that in post Soviet Armenia. Bringing Arran was also a little concerning, since I knew he might fight with the new dog and we have a 2020 Volvo. So, at first, I was thinking maybe I’d stay home with Arran and Bill would run down to Slovenia and get Noizy by himself. But then I reconsidered it and decided all three of us would journey to Slovenia.

With that decided, we set about planning the trip. I quickly determined that Salzburg would be a good halfway point between home and Slovenia. In fact, Salzburg was a midway stop we made in 2016, when we went to Lake Bled for vacation. We stopped on the way back to Germany that time. On the way down, we stopped in Gosau, near Hallstatt, a must see Austrian town that is really only necessary to see one time. However, the inn where we stayed in Gosau was probably one of my favorites ever!

I quickly found a really nice, pet friendly, bed and breakfast on the outskirts of Salzburg. The place I found, Die Haslachmühle, is a renovated mill house that dates from 1688. I booked us in their largest room, mainly because I didn’t want Arran to cause a fuss. It was 152 euros, but it had a huge balcony and a gorgeous masonry heater in the middle of the room. The B&B is not kid friendly. In fact, I don’t think they’re allowed. But parking is free.

One night in Salzburg booked, I found us an apartment in Kranjska Gora, which was where we planned to pick up Noizy. This border town is just a few miles from Italy and Austria, and boasts rugged mountain views. It’s obviously a ski area for Slovenia. Meg has been there a few times and highly recommended it. Having now been there, I can understand why. We’ll definitely have to go back!

Then, thinking we’d have an extra night, I booked us an apartment in Chiemsee, which is an area in Germany near Lake Chiemsee, a large freshwater lake near the Austrian border. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.

The very next day, while Bill was on a business trip in Stuttgart, I went to the mailbox and there was a letter from Rheinland-Pfalz. It was a summons to be a witness in court. Naturally, as we are in Germany, the documents were all in German. I had to slowly translate everything… and basically, the document read that Bill was to be a witness for the pet rescue, which was suing the pet taxi driver whose negligence caused Jonny’s death.

The court date was for October 5th– today– which meant that we would not be able to stay a third night on our trip. Bill tried to get the case postponed. He called the court and got the magistrate, who didn’t speak English at all (he didn’t know she was the magistrate at the time). Bill also emailed the rescue, who said they would arrange for an interpreter and let Bill know if that couldn’t be done. He never heard from the court or the rescue, so he figured he was bound to show up. In the paperwork, it mentioned fines of up to 1000 euros for not showing up and/or a special “escort” from the police. Bill was more than happy to testify, since he’s been haunted by that accident since March.

I cancelled the third night and we awaited Friday, October 2, when we’d make our way down to Slovenia to meet Noizy. I dreaded the long drive. Neither Bill nor I enjoy long road trips anymore. It’s probably a good seven or eight hours’ drive to Kranjska Gora from Wiesbaden. But Bill was determined to fulfill his civic duty.

With that settled, I started looking for stuff to buy for our new pooch. We wanted to make sure he was properly outfitted for the drive. But then it occurred to me that I couldn’t judge his size very well from the photos and videos Meg sent us. Many of them were taken when he was still a puppy. I have adorable videos of him as a tiny baby, some of him as an adolescent, and not too many of him fully grown. Having wrongly guessed sizes on dogs before, I decided it would be better to wait until he got home to us. Meg promised he’d have a collar and harness, at the very least.

Friday morning, we set off on our journey to Salzburg.

Sud Tyrol and beyond… part two

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Our first stop– Leutasch, Austria!

When I was planning our trip, I knew we were going to visit Italy. Bill and I both love Italy, and it had been way too long since our last visit over Labor Day weekend in September 2018. I remembered visiting Bolzano on a day trip I took on our last business trip to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, back in 2009. I thought it was a nice city. So I started looking for places around there to go… and my German friend suggested Merano, which isn’t too far from Bolzano. But I wanted somewhere outside of the city– somewhere that was likely to be cooler and prettier. When we finally settled on Parcines, I looked for places to stop on the way there and back.

Bill and I went to Lermoos, Austria in September 2015, when we did our much heralded “Beer and Fucking Tour” (Fucking is a place in Austria, as is Fuckersberg– we visited both on that trip, as well as two beer spas). I knew I liked that part of Austria, but I wanted to go somewhere different. I ended up choosing Hotel Kristall in Leutasch, mainly because I got pretty fatigued trying to look through all of the hotel choices. What I didn’t know is that Leutasch is very close to Seefeld, Austria, which is another place we visited back in December 2015. I’m glad I didn’t realize it until after I booked because I would have probably chosen another place. That would have been a shame, because Leutasch turned out to be a great choice for us.

I didn’t know it when I booked, but Leutasch is home to a very beautiful and supposedly haunted gorge. There’s a very secure path that allows visitors to see the gorge and even walk into Germany if they have the stamina. Leutasch is literally just over the border in Austria, but it definitely feels different there. The gorge is a great activity for kids and there’s no admission charged. All you have to do is pay five euros for parking if you visit from the Austrian side. If you visit from Mittenwald, on the German side, you park in a public area and can pay three euros to see the waterfall (well worth the money and the short walk), or you can skip the waterfall and walk up the steep path that takes you to the Austrian gorge walk and the panorama bridge. All along the path are fun activities for children, although the signs are in German. The gorge turned out to be the highlight of our time in Leutasch.

But– I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to write about our journey to Austria, which started on Friday, August 7th. We dropped off Arran at the Birkenhof Tierpension, and headed south, which took us through our familiar former stomping grounds near Stuttgart. It was just as full of traffic as ever, although we did notice that some of the road work we thought would never be finished was finally done. We stopped at a truck stop near Kirchheim Unter Teck. It had a KFC, which we thought we’d like better than McDonald’s or Burger King (seriously, these are pretty much your options in Germany, unless you want schnitzel). That particular truck stop also had a regular German restaurant, though, so we decided to eat there instead of dining with “the Colonel”.

The waitress seemed surprisingly calm about masking. She wasn’t wearing a mask and actually asked us to remove ours so she could understand our orders. Then, while we were waiting, we filled out the contract tracing forms now required in Germany. It was nice to be in Baden-Württemberg again. It still feels kind of like home, even though it’s not ours anymore.

After lunch, we got back on the road. I happened to be experiencing the last death throes of August’s visit from Aunt Flow, which made the journey somewhat less comfortable than it could have been. But we were in beautiful Austria before we knew it. And boy is it BEAUTIFUL there! The scenery is just insane. I kept craning my body to take pictures of the magnificent Alps, limestone colored streams, and green meadows.

It was about 4:00pm when we reached our hotel. I was in dire need of a shower, thanks to Aunt Flow’s death throes and the heat of the afternoon. I was feeling rather cranky and irritable as Bill parked the car in the free lot outside of the hotel’s entrance. But then, as we approached, I noticed two awesome things. First, there was a table outside with a bottle of housemade Schnapps and shot glasses and hand disinfectant. And second, no one was wearing face masks except for the people running the hotel.

Austria has so far had very few COVID-19 cases, particularly in the Tyrol region, so the rules there are pretty relaxed. I know a lot of people will disagree that anyone should be without a face mask right now, but personally I thought it was great. We checked in, and were assigned room 36, which is a junior suite.

Our rate, which I prepaid, came with half board. We got breakfast and dinner included. I actually liked the food at Hotel Kristall. They did have interesting rules for the buffet, though. No masks were required, but everyone had to don disposable rubber gloves. After we checked in, I took a shower, and by then it was about time for dinner.

I noticed the people sitting next to us giving us curious side-eyed looks. I’m sure they realized we’re Americans and most Americans aren’t currently welcome to travel to Europe at the moment. However, if you’re American and live in Europe, it’s okay… A lot of people figured we were Dutch, since Dutch people will often speak English in countries where they can’t speak Dutch.

Anyway, I mostly enjoyed the food at Hotel Kristall, although being American in Europe when Americans aren’t supposed to be in Europe was a little stressful. But the service at the family run Hotel Kristall was friendly, professional, and welcoming. And I genuinely felt like the people working there enjoyed their jobs. That made for a very pleasant stay.

Our sojourn in Sud Tyrol and beyond… part one

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Bill and I are finally back after our ten day road trip vacation, which took us from Wiesbaden to Leutasch, Austria, to Parcines, Italy, and finally, to St. Gallen (Rorschach), Switzerland. For the most part, we had a wonderful trip. Yes, there were a few minor annoyances, but on the whole, it was a fantastic journey outside of Germany for the first time (for me, at least) since February. It was great to get away, if not because we needed a change of scenery, then because it was very interesting to see how different countries are doing in this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic situation. Each country/region has a different way of operating right now and, at this point, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland have all done a great job of getting things back under control.

My digital camera can do fun tricks sometimes.

Although there are still a lot of places I would like to see before I die, and we had been to the Tyrol/Sud Tyrol areas before, it was nice to take a trip there, stay in different areas, and do different things. We even did a few things we never got the chance to do on previous trips. For instance, Bill and I used to visit Garmisch-Partenkirchen fairly regularly when we lived in Germany the first time together (2007-09), but those trips were always work related for Bill. So I never got to go to the top of the Zugspitze before last weekend, and I had never before seen the beautiful (and terribly crowded) Eibsee. Ditto for Lake Konstanz (Bodensee). We used to live somewhat close to Switzerland, so we didn’t visit there much– we would just travel through to get to Italy. Until this past weekend, I thought Switzerland was beautiful, but dull. I have since changed my opinion about Switzerland.

And yes, I know traveling right now might be seen as frivolous, tacky, cruel, risky, irresponsible, or whatever other adjective the worried and jealous can come up with. I don’t feel guilty at all for going away, though. There were many times in the past when we wanted to travel but couldn’t, mainly due to not having the time or money. Now, we have the time and the money, and there are people whose livelihoods depend on travelers. We have the good fortune to live in a place where government and public health leadership and disease transmission prevention tactics have been strong and cooperative. So we are going to embrace our good luck and enjoy traveling while we can. Because there will surely be a day when we can’t anymore.

It’s good to be home, if only because I was running out of clean underwear and I have really missed Arran. I also always enjoy writing about our trips, and it’s easier to write about them on my big desktop instead of my laptop. I hope you will enjoy reading along as I relieve our ten days of vacation bliss.

So… on with my blow by blow of our trip through the Tyrol and Sud Tyrol regions.

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.

We meant to go out…

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But Bill got caught up in Saturday chores and I got caught up searching for hotels for our next big trip.  We’re going to Sweden at the end of June to get our new car, and that will necessitate a road trip back to Germany.  So I spent some time this morning looking for hotels in Copenhagen and Rostock. We will end in Leipzig, since that is where we’re going to catch Mark Knopfler in concert.

By the time I gave up my search, it was early afternoon and time for lunch.  Bill had brought home Weiss Wurst (white sausages) because I had a craving for them yesterday.  So we decided to have that for lunch, then started listening to an old box set by Elton John… augmented by playtime with the dogs.

He baked cookies.

German style chocolate chips.

Before we knew it, it was dinner time.  We had potato skins leftover from the killer baked potato soup Bill made a couple of weeks ago.  Now it’s almost 9:00pm, and I’m remembering that a week ago, I was sitting in an arena in Stuttgart, watching Elton John perform.  I probably won’t have that chance again.

Maybe tomorrow, we’ll get out and do something…  Tonight, it sounds like it’s about to storm.  We could use a cheap day, too.  Been spending a lot of money lately.

I do, at least, have our hotel in Gothenburg booked.

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.

Eight of my favorite German destinations so far…

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President’s Day weekend is coming up, which means a lot of Americans living in Germany will be looking for cool places to visit.  This year, Bill and I will be going to the Czech Republic for the long weekend.  Last year, we went to France and had an absolute ball!  We do love going out of the country when we have the chance.

But what if you don’t want to leave Germany?  What if you face a situation like Bill did a couple of years ago?  He had to renew his passport, so leaving Germany wasn’t a good idea, since he had to send his documents to Berlin.  What do you do when you can’t leave the country, but still need to get out of the Stuttgart area?  Well… that is what today’s blog post is all about.  Here are a few of my favorite German destinations, at least so far.

Before I get started with my list, bear in mind that I am by no means claiming to be an expert on Germany.  There are still some areas I haven’t yet visited.  Moreover, even if I were an expert, I don’t think anyone wants to read an exhaustive list.  I need to save subjects for future posts, too.  So… this is just a short list and hopefully some folks will find it useful for planning purposes.  I’m not ranking them in any particular order.  These are just places we liked and would love to visit again (and have in a couple of instances).

Bacharach, Rhineland-Palatinate

Believe it or not, that castle is now a youth hostel.

Like cute towns?  Interested in medieval history?  Enjoy the Rhine?  Want to get out of Stuttgart, but not spend days on the road?  Consider a trip to Bacharach.  Bacharach has the distinction of being the very first German town I ever visited in my lifetime.  It was my first stop on a monthlong train trip I took in August and September 1997, when I was on my way back to the States from Armenia, where I lived for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I remember landing in Frankfurt, figuring out the train, and landing in this beautifully preserved town.  The first thing I did after checking into lodging was go out and buy a new pair of shoes.

Bill and I had a chance to visit Bacharach again in 2014.  It was the last place we visited on our last space A “hop”.  I’d been talking it up for years.  It lived up to the hype, too.  We ended up having a very special experience with Germans there… and that was also when I told Bill that I had a very strong feeling we’d be moving back to Deutschland.  I just had this strong premonition that he’d wind up getting a job in Germany.  Sure enough, six weeks later, we were packing our bags to move back to Stuttgart.  Needless to say, Bacharach remains one of my favorite German towns.  You can enjoy the Rhine by boat and visit all the cute towns in the vicinity.  I’m kind of Jonesing for another trip there myself.

Regensburg, Bavaria

Regensburg is the second German city I ever visited in my lifetime, again on that 1997 trip.  I happened to get off the train there simply because I felt like it.  I knew nothing about the town and how beautiful it is.  I only spent one night in Regensburg in 1997, but Bill and I visited again for President’s Day weekend in 2015 and I got to see even more of this lovely town in Bavaria.

It’s only a short trip away by train before you can visit Dom St. Peter in Regensburg.

 

Regensburg is also a well-preserved medieval city.  In fact, I remember when I first saw it over twenty years ago, I thought of it as “stereotypical Germany”.  I half expected to see dirndl clad ladies and lederhosen clad men dancing around in the main square.  Indeed, I did see people in Trachten there.  It is Bavaria, after all.  If you visit and you like sausages, be sure to visit the historic Wurstkuchl, which is perhaps the oldest continuously running public restaurant in the world.  An added benefit is the beautiful view you’ll have of the Danube River.

Trier, Rhineland-Palatinate
 

Bill and I visited Trier in May 2012, when we took our very first space A “hop”.  Bill had told me about Trier, a city that has several well-preserved Roman structures, like the Porta Nigra gate.  Trier is very close to the Luxembourg border, so if you visit there, you can easily take a quick trip to Luxembourg, or perhaps to France or Belgium, which are also close.  Trier on its own is also a very nice city to visit, especially if you love churches.  I still have wonderful memories of touring Trier’s own Liebfrauenkirche.

Porta Nigra in Trier.

Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber, Bavaria 
 

Bill and I only just visited Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber last month.  We’d been wanting to go there for years.  Now that we’ve been, I can see us going back.  It’s a comparatively short drive from Stuttgart to get to this fabulously preserved medieval city in the Franken part of Bavaria.  You can truly lose yourself in the charm of this cool little town, surrounded by walls and buildings that date back hundreds of years.  Yes, it’s a bit touristy, but if you go in the winter, it’s likely you’ll get more of a hometown feel for the place.  Prices will probably be lower, too.

Just one part of the wall that surrounds beautiful Rothenburg.  Yes, I’d say this town is a must see for any Americans posted in Germany.  Be sure to stop by the Criminal Museum, too.  You’ll learn a lot.

 

Passau, Bavaria
 

I promise I have seen areas other than Bavaria and the Rhine.  I just really like Passau, which I think gets overlooked a lot.  I visited Passau in 1997 and then again in 2008, for my 36th birthday.  Passau is a beautiful city in and of itself.  It’s also very conveniently located near the Austrian and Czech borders.  Passau is also a great place to visit if you love music, since St. Stephan’s Cathedral has the distinction of having the second largest pipe organ in the world.  You can take in a concert and enjoy a cruise on the confluence of three rivers: the Inn, the Ilz, and the Danube.  Then, you can take day trips to nearby Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic or Linz, Austria.  When we visited, it happened to be just in time for Cesky Krumlov’s excellent Five Petalled Rose Festival.  Everyone was dressed in medieval garb.  I thought I had stumbled into a theme park!

Pipe organ in gorgeous St. Stephan’s Cathedral.  It sounds as amazing as it looks.

Dresden, Saxony
 

Bill and I visited beautiful Dresden in November 2008.  We were there in honor of our sixth wedding anniversary, which included stops in Bolaslaweic, Poland, and Prague.  Our first few nights were spent in this gorgeous city that used to be part of East Germany and remains absolutely stunning.  You can take a cruise on the Elbe, walk to the top of the Frauenkirche and get a view of the city, or enjoy some really wonderful cuisine.  Dresden is especially nice at Christmas time, when it’s time for the Christmas markets.

A night shot of the lovingly restored Frauenkirche, which was reassembled after it was bombed by U.S. forces.  We also visited nearby Zwinger Palace.

Hamburg
 

You’d prefer a big city?  I highly recommend a visit to Hamburg.  Bill and I went there in January 2015 and enjoyed a leisurely long weekend in this northern German city that boasts more bridges and canals than Amsterdam.  Hamburg is rich in culture with plenty of theaters and museums, as well as lots of street art to see.  And if you are in the mood for debauchery, you can head to the Reeperbahn district of St. Pauli, where things get plenty gritty.  If you’re up for an early morning, you can visit the fish market and maybe even catch live music (which was what we did).  Or you can go shopping; Hamburg boasts some great places to drop some euros.  It’s definitely a different vibe from down here in the south and you can get there in about an hour if you fly.

Some cool looking graffiti in Hamburg…

No women or men under age 18 in the Red Light district…

I think I like Hamburg even more than Munich, which is also a fun but expensive and very touristy place to visit.  I also like it more than Berlin.

Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg

And finally, there’s lovely Heidelberg, which is just up the autobahn from us here in the Stuttgart area.  Bill and I went there in October 2008, when it was still home to many U.S. servicemembers.  We had several friends who were there with the Army, so we went up to visit them.  Sadly, Heidelberg’s U.S. installations closed in 2013 and were handed back over to the German government in 2015.  It was great to visit there to see what used to be a major Army hub when the Army was still there.  However, Heidelberg itself is a gracious city and boasts nearby Schwetzingen, which has a peaceful palace and park.  I remember how absolutely gorgeous the area was in the fall and I want to go back… maybe now because it’s no longer crowded with as many Americans.

Heidelberg is a quick and easy drive from Stuttgart, as long as there aren’t any staus.  And there’s plenty to see and do there.  Heidelberg Castle alone is well worth the visit.  Afterwards, visit Vetter’s for some hometown brews.

Schwetzingen Palace in Schwetzingen, just next door to Heidelberg.

Beautiful Heidelberg.

I’m sure I’ll be making a sequel for this post because I can think of plenty of other German towns I’ve been to and loved… and some I’ve just noticed and want to visit and write about.  For now, I hope readers have enjoyed this list…  and it gives some folks some food for thought for trips.  Each of these destinations are great for a long weekend and in combination with visiting other cities.