Austria, beer, road trips, wine

Chasing lakes and waterfalls in Aus-cro-slo-aus… part three

Wednesday morning, we awoke in lovely Wels, Austria, and headed down to the restaurant for breakfast. Breakfast is supposedly very highly rated at Hotel Ploberger. Many reviewers commented on how extensive the buffet is, and the varied and expensive items that can be found there. They did have breads, cheeses, cold cuts, vegetables, fruits, smoked salmon, cheeses, and even a machine that would squeeze marginally ripe oranges into juice. I will agree that the buffet was extensive, but it wasn’t particularly well-stocked when we visited. I got the sense that like all good food and beverage managers, the manager at the hotel instructed the employees to put out only a little bit, as I don’t think the hotel was particularly well populated during our visit.

I noticed that the buffet appeared to be a bit picked over both mornings of our stay. I understand that it was probably a cost or labor cutting method, but to be honest, it wasn’t a great look. The breakfast lady brought us coffee with a no nonsense attitude. It was strong and fresh, and that definitely perked up my ex Mormon husband.

It was pretty foggy and chilly the morning of our one full day in Wels. We decided to walk around the town and take more pictures. Here are some shots from our walk.

Right next to the church is Der Weinphilosoph, a bookstore owned by a genius… Or maybe not. I saw a similar concept in Rostock, Germany, where one can buy wine and books in the same place. I wouldn’t have minded going in there for a few minutes, if only to pick up a few new jigsaw for the probable tighter COVID-19 restrictions that will be in store as the weather gets colder and more folks stay inside with other people.

We continued walking until we reached an “Energy Park”, which offered lots of activities for children. Right next to the park was a kiosk and a WC, where one could get a coffee and take a piss. And there were vending machines dispensing smokes, playing cards, and other items for committing sins. 😉

Bill and I kept walking and noticing what was available in Wels. We could have visited the science museum. I probably would have enjoyed that. There was an art museum, and a spa, which I would have been all for attending. Bill is less enthusiastic about spas than I am.

For lunch, we decided to go to a well regarded Greek restaurant called Zum Kleinen Grieschen. It had been too long since our last Greek fix, and this turned out to be a good place to stop for lunch. We were the first ones there for lunch, and we were warmly welcomed. The food was excellent! I had my usual pork gyros with flatbread and t’zatziki. Bill had souvlaki. We both had large draft Gössers, a beer I used to drink in Armenia, when I had the drams to spare.

We took our time walking back from the Greek restaurant, as there’s a small park area nearby that has some interesting memorials to people who died in the Holocaust.

We decided to stop by Vom Fass, an awesome chain store that sells liqueurs, oils, vinegars, and other gourmet goodies. An English speaking associate quickly realized we were easy sells. By the time she was finished with us, we’d dropped some major euros on new items for the home bar. And by that time, of course, I figured it was time to redeem our free drinks at the wine bar… which we proceeded to do.

We weren’t hungry again after our huge Greek lunch. I wasn’t really wanting to hang out in the hotel room after dark. We thought maybe we’d go look for a place with small plates or something… but before we could venture out, I got a phone call from USAA. They wanted to talk to me about my complaint about their tendency to block my credit card at the drop of a hat. I wasn’t really in the mood to talk to them, and they had already called and missed me the night before. So I talked to the poor lady who had the misfortune of calling me.

In all seriousness, I wasn’t as pissed off on Wednesday as I had been the previous Saturday. Still, I was pretty stern as I let her know in no uncertain terms that the way they’ve changed their practices of fraud protection really suck. I don’t want to have to call the bank every time I use my money. And it IS my money, since they also block the debit card at the drop of a hat. SIGH…

After that conversation, we headed out… and ended up in a somewhat unauthentic Irish pub called Labi’s. It turned out to be an entertaining place, though, because a bunch of young Austrian guys came in and started playing darts. We sat in the dark for about an hour before they arrived, drinking Guinness, which turned out to be our dinner.

The proprietor who checked our vaccine certs seemed to be trying to cater to our musical tastes. At first, they were playing Eminem and similar stuff. Then, “You Make My Dreams”, a song by Hall & Oates, came on. I mentioned that I liked it, and it was popular in 1981. Next thing I knew, “The Best That You Can Do (Arthur’s Theme)” by Christopher Cross, also from 1981, came on. Then, the proprietor wisely switched to more Irish music by The Pogues.

We were thinking about leaving when the Austrian college lads came in and started playing darts. It was interesting to watch them and their friendly competition as they swilled Austrian beers. One of the guys was clearly an outside. He wore casual clothes, while the others had on business attire. I got the sense that the casual guy was someone’s little brother or maybe a guy they knew from the village. He was the worst dart thrower, too. The other guys were pretty players, and I alternated between feeling really old and wondering where the time went, to seriously enjoying their game.

I also noticed the urgent walk of a person about to either hurl or piss themselves, as two young ladies charged to the bathroom with the heavy gait of people who have had way too much to drink. Trust me, I know. 😉

When we settled up with the bartender, he asked us where we were from. I think he knew damned well we’re Americans. What he really wanted to know was what the hell we were doing in Wels! So I helpfully volunteered that we live in Germany. That seemed to satisfy his curiosity. With that, we headed back to the hotel to sleep before our big journey to Croatia on Thursday, the 28th.

Stay tuned for part four.

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advice, Germany, money

USAA inconveniences and disappoints me yet again. And PenFed is not much better.

Once again, I had to call USAA about my card. This time, it was my debit card, which I tried to use to purchase a couple of sweaters from Novica.com. Granted, it was more than I would usually spend on sweaters… about $350. Well, USAA immediately declined that charge, which led to my spending over an hour trying to find the right phone number to contact someone who could fix my issue.

When I finally did get someone on the phone, I was admittedly pretty annoyed. But to his credit, he did manage to correct the problem, even though now I don’t want to try to use my cards for fear of having to make another phone call. USAA used to send texts to my cell phone when a suspicious charge came up. That way, I could authorize charges without having to be inconvenienced. But I guess USAA doesn’t want to pay for international texts now… so that means a significant decline in their service level for their customers who are overseas. I tried to use USAA’s worthless bot on their site, which only directed me to general articles that weren’t very helpful at all.

I also noticed that they no longer call me Mrs. Instead, they use my given name, which always makes me cringe. It’s not that I want to be called Mrs., per se. It’s more that I think that if you don’t know what name a person normally goes by, you don’t know them well enough to address them by their first name. Using the honorific is also a sign of respect… although I imagine respect is becoming a foreign concept in some companies.

At least this time, I didn’t have to use my cell phone. Last week, I had to call on my cell, which will result in international roaming charges. I did call on the cell the first time I spoke to someone this morning– it was the number on the “urgent” email I got, which led to the credit card services office. I went through the whole security rigamarole, only to be told that the phone number I used– the one USAA put in their email to me– was for the wrong office. Since I was trying to use my debit card, they transferred me to checking. Of course, no one was working because it’s Saturday and, at the time of my call, it was very early in the morning in Texas.

Later on today, I will be calling PenFed, because I think they blocked my credit card last weekend as I was trying to book our upcoming trip. I managed to book two places before the block kicked in. I didn’t get an email from them, but they didn’t let me use the card at Novica, either, and it says in my account I have to call them for the “status” of my credit card… even though I’ve already almost paid off last week’s big charges for our trip. Unlike USAA, it appears that no one at PenFed works on Saturday until later. So that will be fun. I may be somewhat less pissed off by that time.

I really think these overzealous fraud protections are very bad for business. Now, I am reluctant to use my credit cards. Novica will miss out on a generous sale, until I am feeling more up to buying something… and that might not be anytime soon. I get that international calls are expensive, but if I don’t want to use my credit cards, that will cost USAA money, too. They should at least make it so people can take care of these issues online, without having to call across several time zones and sit in phone queues on the weekends.

It’s cold and cloudy today, and we have some things to take care of before we take our trip. I did manage to set up travel alerts, so MAYBE if I use the cards next week, they won’t get automatically declined. There is something to be said for using cash, even if a lot of businesses, even in Germany, are moving away from cash, thanks to COVID.

I don’t know if we’ll do anything today, besides some chores that need doing. Next week, there will be some action on the blog… I hope.

Just as I was about to close this post, I got an automated phone call from USAA to verify the transactions… if I had gotten that call before they shut off my card, this whole gripe could have been avoided. USAA really needs to step up its game. Their policies are inconvenient and annoying, especially for people overseas.

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Germany, money, restaurant reviews, trip planning

Trip planning and “lunner” at La Fonte…

Well, it’s finally all settled. Bill and I are going on vacation in about ten days. I wasted most of today planning our upcoming adventure to Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia. But it wasn’t without significant ass pain. Sorry, I know this is a first world problem. It’s just that sometimes it’s a pain in the butt to have American credit cards when you live in Europe.

The ass pain started when Bill let me know that the dogs are confirmed at the dog pension. In the past, we have taken our dogs with us on longer trips, but that was when we had Zane, who was a beagle. Noyzi is a big guy and needs a lot of room. Also, it’s just a lot easier traveling with one species. So, once we got the boys’ lodging confirmed, I went to work.

I knew I wanted to go to Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. That’s about eleven hours’ drive from Wiesbaden. I’ve been wanting to go there for ages, and it’s about the end of the vacation season. After November 1, things kind of go to sleep. I knew it would be a stretch to try to go to Plitvice without breaking up the trip. Bill had noticed Austria’s fair city of Graz, which does look really appealing. But that’s at least eight hours away without any traffic or stops, and we have to drop off the dogs before we set off, which we can’t do until about 9:00am. I knew we would get in super late, and Bill would be weird and tired if we tried to make Graz in one day.

So, I ended up booking up at a hotel in Wels, Austria. Or, at least I tried. I found a well regarded and highly rated place in Wels. I tried to book directly from the hotel’s Web site. It had a rather aggressive pop up system. But, as I was booking, I got sent to a site called Saferpay, which was supposed to make my card transaction “safer” somehow. It timed out or something. My reservation didn’t go through properly, and Bill had to book with his card.

Then, I went on Booking.com and booked a beautiful house in a village near Plitvice Lakes. I tried to use my USAA card for that booking and was immediately declined. PenFed let me book that place, and the next place, near Lake Bohinj in Slovenia. But when I tried to book our last place, in Salzburg, Austria, PenFed declined my charges, too.

In fairness, I don’t use my credit cards much. I once had a lot of credit card debt and paid it all off. I don’t want to get back into credit card debt again, so I usually use my debit card for everything. I use my credit cards mostly for big purchases and trips. Consequently, I often get these problems when I actually use credit, but USAA usually sends an alert to my phone, which allows me to accept or decline charges. This time, I got an email letting me know I had to call USAA… and it came about an hour after everything was settled. Bill and I were having a very late lunch, which I badly needed, because I was hungry and in a FOUL mood.

La Fonte is our neighborhood Italian restaurant, affiliated with the Sportsplatz. We’ve only eaten there a few times, mainly due to COVID. Today, we dined in, and we had to prove we were vaccinated. I still got a dirty look from another patron. He probably wondered why Americans were there, even though there are a number of Americans living in Breckenheim.

I ordered Montepulciano and Tortellini al Forno, which is with cream sauce, ham, and cheese. Bill ordered fettuccini with cream sauce and shrimp. The dish brought out to me was baked rigatoni with Bolognese sauce. We told the waitress, who apologized and brought out my correct order after about twenty minutes. I did taste Bill’s dish. Next time, I’m having what he had… not because mine wasn’t good, but because I liked what he had better.

I might have enjoyed dessert, but we were sitting in the outdoor area, which is next to the smoking section. They left the door to the smoking section open, so the smoke wafted into where we were sitting and clogged up my nose. Plus, as we were eating, I got that email from USAA, which really annoyed me. We paid about 43 euros for lunch, and I think we should come back to La Fonte more often. It really is a nice place, and they were doing a brisk business today. They don’t take a pause, either. We need to enjoy lunch there when I’m not preoccupied with my credit cards. Next time, we’ll sit inside the restaurant, away from the smokers.

When we got home, I took a quick shower and then Skyped USAA. I spent 40 worthless minutes waiting until the representative said I needed to call back on my cell phone. The whole time, I kept hearing the same insanity inducing hold “song”, which if you’re a musical person, like I am, is MADDENING.

After the woman told me she couldn’t help, I hung up with her and called on my cell phone. Supposedly, you can call collect if you’re overseas, but only if you’re on a landline. We don’t have a landline.

So I called… and this time, after about 8 minutes of waiting, I got someone much more competent. I explained what happened, and she removed the block. We don’t know why USAA reacted the way it did, and why they didn’t send me a text to allow me to confirm or deny the charges. But now that card, at least, is unblocked. As for PenFed, I’m not sure if that card is blocked. But it did allow me to book the bulk of our stay in the Balkans, so I’m happy enough with that.

I’m not calling them today, though. Now, I need a drink and some good music… And it’s time to plan all of the things we’re going to do, because I have a feeling we’re going to have a blast.

Lake Bohinj was suggested to us in May 2016 by several Slovenians, when we visited Lake Bled. I was overwhelmed by how many vacation homes there are there. It took forever to choose one, but I think I chose one that will make us happy for four nights.

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