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Turning 50 in Antwerp… part eight

On the morning of June 21, we got up and packed everything, and Bill took it to the car, which was buried deep under the hotel in their tiny parking garage. We went down to breakfast and enjoyed the other half of the delicious strawberry tart. It was even better the second day! I was sorry to leave De Witte Lelie, as it was such a welcoming and homey hotel. The staff is so friendly and helpful, and the accommodations are stylish and comfortable. Alas, we had to leave Antwerp and go home to our dogs. So, after we settled the bill and said goodbye, we got in the Volvo and took about half an hour trying to maneuver out of the garage, which has a steep incline to the door. Kudos to Bill and the many fancy sensors on the Volvo for getting us out of there unscathed!

We also had much less trouble leaving Antwerp than entering it, as Bill didn’t make any wrong turns. I was sorry to leave without a new diamond, but I think I’d rather get one at a place where I’m not a tourist. There were a couple of Trip Advisor horror stories that advised me against shopping for a new rock in Belgium.

First on our agenda was to stop at a Belgian supermarket to pick up some beers for home. We stopped at a little co-op market and loaded up a cart with suds, as well as a few other items. Bill went to pay, and it turned out they didn’t take Visa. They also didn’t have an ATM. So the cashier was kind enough to watch our cart while we searched for a cash machine. That took about an hour, even with a GPS… but eventually, we got our euros, gassed up the car, I unloaded the breakfast beverages, and we went back to the store to make our purchase. The cashier had kept the cart safe for us. Next time, we’ll bring cash.

Then, we headed eastward, stopping at a typical German Rastplatz for lunch at McDonald’s. I had to laugh when Bill ordered two Royales and one of them came with the bun that is usually reserved for plain cheeseburgers (no sesame seeds). I guess McDonald’s in Europe are also suffering from supply chain shortages.

Our drive home was completely uneventful, and we arrived in the mid afternoon. I got started on my blogging, and Bill went to get the dogs, who were very happy to come home after four nights away. I always worry about Arran on our trips now, as he’s an old guy and would rather hang out with us. Noyzi was also very glad to be back home in his bed.

I was feeling okay… maybe there was a little scratchiness in my throat. I didn’t know that Wednesday, I’d be legitimately sick for the first time in several years and wondering if I finally got COVID-19. I have so far tested twice, and got negative results both times. I also feel a lot better today than I did yesterday. So… I’m thinking this was a cold. But, I will confess that this trip was maskless and restriction free. I might have gotten COVID-19, but so far, the tests say no… However, I don’t interact with people anyway, so I’m just riding it out at home. Today, I feel like I am about 85% normal. Yesterday, I was probably 60% normal. Wednesday night and Thursday were the worst, but even they weren’t as bad as the last time I had the flu. I haven’t had a fever, body aches, or exhaustion. I have had a runny nose, coughing, vomiting (from coughing), headache, sinus pressure, and mild fatigue. In other words, this sickness feels like a cold.

So ends my 50th birthday celebration. I must say, it was a lot of fun turning 50 in Antwerp. Belgium is a great destination for me, mainly because it has beer, frites, chocolate, and friendly, unpretentious people who are funny! I hope we can visit Antwerp again, and I would encourage you to visit, if you have the time and the means!

Stay tuned for my usual ten things I learned post… if you’re interested, that is. ūüėČ

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The waiting is the hardest part…

Today’s featured photo was taken at our neighborhood Rewe, which appears to be very gay friendly… The Rewe could use an Apoteke.

A week from now, barring any disasters, Bill will be home from his latest TDY. For some reason, this one has been harder for me than the previous ones have been. I think it’s a combination of the many months we’ve been locked down, bored, and the many weeks he’s had to travel on business. This time, he’s half vaccinated. At the end of the month, he’ll get his second injection. I’ll get mine on June 9th. Then, maybe we can start doing some normal stuff again. As Tom Petty used to sing, “the waiting is the hardest part”…

One of many great singers from my youth who have died since I’ve lived in Germany. I always seem to be in Europe when icons die. I was even in Europe when Princess Diana was killed, back in 1997. It seems to be my destiny to spend time here.

I had a bit of unexpected drama last night. On Friday, we got some new toys for the dogs. Arran had recently destroyed a little blue gorilla that he loved. It was a Kong toy, so it had lasted awhile, though not as long as some of the others we’ve had. I try to cycle the really damaged toys out, even if they are much beloved. I don’t want the boys chewing on toys that are raggedy because they can end up swallowing things they shouldn’t. That seems to be especially true in Noyzi’s case. A few months ago, he swallowed part of an old toy that had been three pieces. Arran had long ago shredded the other parts of the monkey– the toy part had come from– but there was still a leg with squeakers in it. Arran would play with it.

At the time that happened, Bill was at home. He took Noyzi to our vet; they gave him a shot to make him vomit; and he puked up the part of the toy he’d swallowed. It was an old toy, though, so I have been careful to get rid of the ones that get too torn up. Friday, I gave the boys four brand new Kong toys. Kong toys are known for being very tough. But the raccoon toy I got the other day was not as sturdy as the other rope toys I’ve been giving them.

Last night, I came downstairs at about 6:00pm to find that Noyzi had “skinned” the toy raccoon, leaving the head and tail, and the rope innards. I was glad he hadn’t destroyed the head, since that was where the squeaker was. But he had apparently swallowed the “fur”. Fortunately, this particular toy, by design, didn’t have a lot of polyester batting in it.

Immediately, I started thinking I’d need to get him to the emergency vet– Tierklinik Hofheim, specifically, since our vet wasn’t open. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get him into Bill’s Volvo. He’s too big and cumbersome for me to get him into the car by myself. I don’t think he’s too heavy… he’s about 63 pounds, and I can lift that. But he’s long and tall and not very cooperative. After a few minutes of trying to wrestle with him, I gave up.

Then I went looking for hydrogen peroxide, which can be used as an emetic in dogs. I thought we had some on hand, but it turned out we didn’t have any. And Germany, unlike the United States, doesn’t dispense things like hydrogen peroxide at the grocery store. You have to get it at the Apotheke. It also costs a lot more there than it does at US stores. So I went looking to see if any nearby drug stores were open. The one at the nearby Globus was open, but when I tried to get there, I got turned around and wound up in a strange neighborhood. I’m not used to driving Bill’s car… I would have driven mine, but it’s in the garage, and the Volvo was in the driveway. Then, when I got back, I couldn’t get the car parked in the driveway again. I know I should have been able. The Volvo has cameras and park assist, and of course, GPS… I can’t get used to using those things. I don’t trust them.

So I worried all night, although Noyzi was pretty much normal. I came down in the middle of the night to check on him, and he greeted me sweetly each time. I obsessively read a bunch of articles on the signs of a blockage, and finally got ahold of Bill, who said if I needed help with Noyzi, someone from the office could come over. This morning, I found Noyzi lying on his back with his legs in the air. When he saw me, he rolled onto his side and wagged his tail. I kept hoping he’d poop… because again, “the waiting is the hardest part.” A good poop is a good start on the way to recovery from something like this.

I just took the boys for a short walk. It was a short walk because it’s raining. Just afterwards, I let Noyzi in the backyard. For some reason, he doesn’t like to go potty when he’s taking a walk. Arran is just the opposite. Anyway, after a few minutes, he came out, took a whiz, then took a fairly normal looking poop with bits of toy in it. I suspect there might be more bits in his next constitutional, but at this point, I’m not too worried about him needing emergency vet care. He seems to feel better, too, even though he wasn’t that distressed in the first place.

I guess I’ve learned a few things from this experience. The first thing is that we need to train Noyzi to get in the car by himself. If it had been Arran (or the late Zane), it wouldn’t have been a problem getting the dog loaded. Both Zane and Arran fit in the Mini, too. But Noyzi needs the Volvo and has to ride in the cargo area. He needs to learn to get in by himself, because I’m not getting any younger or stronger.

Next– I need to buy some hydrogen peroxide to keep around for these kinds of emergencies. Noyzi has proven that he likes to eat toys. All of the new ones are out of reach, for now.

Next– I need to stop being such a luddite. I have yet to embrace GPS technology because I find the voice prompts distracting and annoying. But the GPS could have gotten me to Globus last night. And the park assist could have gotten the Volvo into the driveway. I have been able to park in the driveway before, by the way, but I was not in the right frame of mind for it last night.

I need to drive more, too… I just don’t enjoy driving if I have nowhere specific to be. Hopefully, with the availability of the vaccines, that won’t be so much of a problem for too much longer.

I was feeling pretty frustrated, though. I’ve been in Germany for years and I know how most things work here. But I’m still getting to know this area where we live, mainly due to the COVID-19 nightmare. I don’t know a lot of people up here, so being here alone is pretty stressful. I have fewer people to call in case of emergency. And I’m really tired of Bill’s constant business trips. The good news is, he thinks they’ll be done after this one… at least for the time being. I hope he’s right.

He’s perfectly happy. This was what he looked like last night, as I was fretting.

Anyway, I think Noyzi is going to be just fine. I guess I need to watch him more closely when there are toys around. At least until he learns that toys are for playing with, not eating. Sometimes, though, I do miss how things are in the United States… not that I’m hankering to move yet. I just want Bill to come home and fix me a martini and tell me it’s all gonna be okay. Just a few more days to go.

Edited to add: Two more dumps littered with toy debris have appeared… and they were both perfect. After each one, Noyzi seemed even happier and more energetic.

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Volvo, Mark Knopfler, and East German adventures… part four

Thanks to having missed our early morning taxi appointment that we were never informed we had, our Monday morning got off on the wrong foot.  When we got to Volvo’s visitor’s center, we could see a sign that welcomed us as one of a group of people there to get new cars.  According to the sign, everyone was from the USA, although I saw one name that had an umlaut and looked German or Swedish, one that was obviously Italian, and at least two others that were Hispanic/Latino.  Strange that a country so clearly full of immigrants is having so many of these recent problems with immigration.

Welcome to new car payments!  Yea!

Anyway, after we dropped off our bags and Bill handed over paperwork and German license plates for the new car, we had lunch in the visitor’s center.  Bill had salmon, and I had Swedish meatballs with lingonberries.

Volvo style salmon.

 

Just like at IKEA.

I had a chance to check out the small Volvo gift shop, too.  You can buy everything from jackets with logos on them to models of your favorite Volvos.  Alas, they only had XC 90 models; there weren’t any XC 40s or XC 60s.

If you’re really a Volvo fan, you can buy a model for your desk.

They even had a toy car for your kids… but  it had no seatbelts!  We heard on the tour that every car has a little Volvo in it, since Nils Bohlin, an engineer at Volvo, invented three point seatbelts.  The company gave away the patent for free for the good of everyone.

Old Volvo.  According to Wen, the Chinese tour guide, Volvo means “I roll” in Swedish.

Ha ha ha… Volvo style “Members Only” jacket…  

Just like the factory.

Later, were met by a tiny Chinese woman who was tasked with handling our factory tour.  The woman, whose name was “Wen” (or at least that’s what it sounded like her name was), spoke heavily accented, but otherwise excellent, English.  She took everyone’s cameras and cell phones, as photos are not allowed on the factory tour.  I happened to have an iPhone, iPad, and digital camera on me, which got locked in a drawer with everyone else’s electronics.

We were loaded up in a “train” like vehicle that had plastic curtains that could be dropped down for protection against wind or sparks.  Then, after we donned plastic safety glasses, the vehicle drove us through parts of Volvo’s vast factory, which Wen told us is larger than Vatican City and Monaco.  I’m not sure if she meant the factory was larger separately, or together.  It was impressively huge, though.

On our tour, we learned that Volvo cars are mostly made by robots.  I’m sure that’s how most cars are made today.  It was impressive to see the robots work, as well as the cleanliness and relative quiet of the factory.  I was also glad to see that the employees appeared to be reasonably happy.  Some of them waved and had real smiles on their faces.

I didn’t know this before Monday, but Volvo is actually owned by a Chinese company.  I knew it was once owned by Ford, but Ford sold it when it took a loss.  So, since 2010, a quintessentially Swedish company has been owned by a company that is decidedly not Swedish.  As we were picking up our new SUV, we were told that prior to the 2020 models, our car’s make was produced in China.  However, the Gothenburg plant now makes XC 60s.  We saw more than a few of them being made in the factory.  Our car was made there maybe a couple of weeks ago.

This was what I was there to see…  our new car.  And no, the one in this photo isn’t it.

The tour was interesting, although I was very ready to see our new wheels.  After we picked up our electronics, Bill and I were met by a charming, handsome, and very personable Swedish guy who showed us all of the cool stuff featured on our new car.  It took about an hour for him to demonstrate the many different ways the seats can be adjusted, opening the trunk by waving a foot under the car, and programming the iPad like control panel on the dashboard.  He even helped me pair my iPhone with the car’s infotainment system.

Learning new tricks.  This car doesn’t even have a paper based owner’s manual, nor do you put a key in any ignition.  You simply have the key on you and it starts up with the push of a button.

There s/he is!  Since it’s Bill’s car, I’ll let him decide the gender.  He says it’s a male.  Whatever it is, it’s a pleasure to ride in the 2020 XC 60.  Bill loves driving it, too.

Once we were checked out on the new car, Bill and I set off for our next destination, Copenhagen.  It took about four hours to get there and involved a 20 minute ferry ride from Sweden to Denmark.

One last look at Gothia Towers as we made our way south.

 

This was our first time driving in Sweden.  It was mostly a nice drive, although I couldn’t help but notice our industrial it looked.  I was expecting prettier views as we made our way southward. The new car has a place for a SIM card to go, so pretty soon I’ll have a hot spot in the car.  However, for the time being, I used Gig Sky again and amused myself reading the news, Facebook, and playing games.  I can’t believe how much “smarter” the new car is compared to our 2006 Toyota.  I remember thinking the Toyota was “smart” back in 2006.  Makes me wonder what I’ll think of our next vehicle… in the 2030s?

Our first ferry ride.  It cost 55 euros.

Approaching Helginsborg, Denmark…

Where you wait… they have restaurants and duty free shops on the ferries.  We only had time for a drink and a pee.

 

Welcome to Denmark!

From the ferry, it was maybe another hour or so to get to Copenhagen.  I had wanted to stay downtown, so it would be easy to walk around, but I was also concerned about adequate parking facilities.  I rented a room at the Adina Apartment Hotel in Copenhagen, an Australian chain that has sprung up in Europe and offers pretty good facilities for families.  We stayed in one in Berlin, when Bill’s mom visited us in December 2017.  Since it was just the two of us, and only for a night, I got us a studio apartment.  It was small, but basically comfortable.  Here are a few photos.

There is parking right outside this hotel, but it’s off limits to Adina guests.  Instead, you can book the huge parking garage just around the corner.  This hotel is close to the train, which will get you into Copenhagen proper.  We decided we were too tired to mess with that and stayed in.  Maybe if we’d made the earlier group, we would have walked around Copenhagen.  We have been there before, anyway, even if it was ten years ago.

 

They do have room service, but you can also use the microwave and fridge.  There is a restaurant on site.

 

Decent shower.  Nice head.

 

Sofa and bland art on the walls… but there’s also a little balcony for smokers and/or fresh air.

 

The restaurant has a full bar and beers on tap.

Mmm…  “The Chubby” was interestingly named.

I had a steak with Bernaise sauce.  It was okay.

Bill had fish and chips.  We ate a lot of fish and chips on this trip.

Time for bed.

 

The Adina Hotel worked fine for a night.  If I were going to be there longer than a night, I think I’d go for the one bedroom apartment.  The studio was a bit cramped, even for just two people.  I wish we’d gotten in earlier, so we could have walked around Copenhagen.  Unfortunately, we just don’t have the same stamina we used to have.

But I did get to enjoy some danishes in Denmark.

 

We checked out after breakfast and were soon on our way to our next stop, Rostock, Germany.

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Volvo, Mark Knopfler, and East German adventures… part one

For the past week, Bill and I have been engaged in an epic road trip.  What started out as just plans for a long weekend in Leipzig over the Independence Day holiday, eventually turned into a car buying odyssey in Sweden, with stops in Copenhagen, Denmark and Rostock, Germany.  Our road trip will end on Sunday, but since this is going to be a long story with lots of pictures, I’ve decided to start writing about it today.

If you’ve been following my blogs, you may know that over the past couple of years, Bill and I have been attending a lot of concerts.  Although I really love music, it’s not that often that I go to concerts.  I don’t like crowds, spending lots of money for uncomfortable seats, or having people’s armpits in my face.  However, even though I don’t enjoy being in huge crowds, I also realize that a lot of my favorite musicians are getting old.  A few have already died before I ever got the chance to see them live.

I didn’t have a lot of money or generous boyfriends when I was younger and more tolerant of crowds, so I missed a lot of my best concert going years.  Likewise, for Bill, it’s only been recently that we’ve been able to afford to get tickets for good seats.  I don’t like paying a premium for seats in the nosebleed section.  I can just as easily listen to a live album at home.

In any case, 2018 and 2019 have been unusually active concert going years for us.  Since a year ago, we’ve seen The Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Roger Hodgson (of Supertramp), Scottish Music Parade, The Irish Folk Music Festival, Elton John, The Eagles, and tonight, Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits).  In 2017, we saw Sting, and in 2016, we saw Van Morrison…  or, at least I think it was 2016.  I can’t keep the dates straight anymore.  In 2015, we saw Diana Krall, and in 2009, we saw Lyle Lovett.

I like going to concerts in Europe.  People tend to be more considerate here, for the most part.  Also, they don’t seem to have as many rules.  At American concerts, it costs an arm and a leg to buy a beer.  People lose their shit and have less regard for people around them.  Although I may be proven wrong tonight, I’ve found that people aren’t like that so much on this side of the pond.

I bought the tickets for Mark Knopfler last fall, as we were preparing to leave the Stuttgart area.  I decided to get them for the Leipzig show, even though Knopfler is playing in Mannheim tomorrow, and Mannheim is much closer to where we live now.  I chose Leipzig because I’d been wanting to visit there.  Also, the date for Knopfler’s show in Leipzig seemed to make better use of the long weekend.  Originally, I had just planned for a three night break.  I was excited about this show, especially, because I’ve been wanting to see Mark Knopfler for years.  I missed him when he came to Germany in 2015.  His music means a lot to me for a lot of reasons.

Bill booked our dogs at the Tierpension Birkenhof in Darmstadt, and I got us a nice room at the Grand Hotel Steigenberger, which is one of Leipzig’s nicest hotels.  Had we not been able to book the dogs, we planned to find a self catering place where they could hang out while we went to the show.  Fortunately, the dog sitting situation is less severe in Wiesbaden than it is in Stuttgart.  We had no issues getting them a place at their new boarding facility.

For months, we waited for our trip to Leipzig, planning for just the three nights.  Then, in the spring, Bill decided he was ready to get a new car.  Our thirteen year old Toyota RAV 4, which was an excellent vehicle that served us very well in many countries, was beginning to need costly repairs.  It was time for a new car.  Bill wanted a luxury SUV.

In late April, we visited Capitol Motors Volvo in Kaiserslautern, as well as the BMW dealership, to see what kind of wheels we were going to buy.  Volvo won, so we ordered a beautiful 2020 XC 60 SUV in denim blue.  It’s a T6 Inscription, which is the top of the line trim.  Our dealer told us the car would be ready to pick up on July 1st.  Realizing that it had been way too long since our last proper vacation, I proposed to Bill the idea of flying to Gothenburg, Sweden, picking up the car at the factory, then driving it back to Germany.

Some readers may be aware that U.S. based Volvo dealers offer a great program for people who want to fly to Sweden, pick up their new cars, enjoy a European vacation, then fly home and have the car shipped to them.  Well…  over here in Europe, Volvo buyers, even through military sales, don’t get the same love.  If you are reading this from the United States and are thinking of having a Volvo sponsored European vacation, I recommend that you read this guy’s blog about it.  It’s not that I don’t want you to read my account, too.  It’s just that because we purchased our car in Germany, our experience was somewhat different.  However, we did get a very nice military discount.  I think Bill said we got our new Volvo for about $8,000 less than we would have paid if we hadn’t bought from military sales.

Since the car was going to be ready so close to when our Leipzig concert was planned, I proposed turning our car delivery into an epic trip.  Since Volvo was not going to be paying for our flight to Sweden and would only put us up for one night in a Gothenburg hotel, we decided to just come up to Sweden on our own, spend two nights in Gothenburg’s best five star spa hotel, pick up the car, and make our way to Leipzig.  I did some research and determined our itinerary.

We’d spend two nights in Sweden, since our only other visit there was at the end of a four night Baltic cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas.  We ended in Stockholm, and Bill had to fly right back to Germany to go to a meeting in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  Consequently, we really didn’t see more than the port and the airport in Sweden.  I wanted to do better than that in Gothenburg, which is on the west coast of the country.

Next, we’d spent a night in Copenhagen.  We were able to see Copenhagen on that same Baltic cruise.  I would have liked to have done more than one night there, but we had to make our travel plans fit so that we’d be in Leipzig by July 4th.  After Copenhagen, we’d take the ferry across the Baltic Sea to Rostock.  I had wanted to visit a former East German prison museum there.  Since it looked like a cool town near the beach, we’d stay two nights in Rostock.  Then, we’d make our way to Leipzig for the three nights I planned there months prior to our decision to buy the car.

It’s all worked out seamlessly, so far.

As usual, I’m going to write a blow by blow account of this adventure and will include lots of pictures and TMI commentary.  I hope you’ll follow along, if I manage to capture your interest.  Otherwise, this will just serve as a diary of one of our more interesting trips as a married couple.

Somewhere over Gothenburg, just as we’re about to land…

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A night in Copenhagen

We picked up the car yesterday after a Volvo factory tour.  It was very interesting to see how the cars are made.  Every day, about 1200 new vehicles are created and built mostly by robots.  Our car, which would have probably been made in China had we bought it last year, was made in Sweden.  The car is beautiful, and handles like a dream.  Bill loves it!

After the Volvo tour and car pickup, we headed to Copenhagen by way of a ferry.  After a restful night in Copenhagen, we will head to Rostock, Germany today, also by ferry.  We will have two nights there, so maybe I can start writing some real posts again.  I feel the itch to write.

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Off to Gothenburg…

Yesterday, we took a quick flight from Frankfurt to Gothenburg.  Our plane was loaded with kids from Brazil who are here for a handball tournament.  Turns out a lot of people from the tournament are staying at Gothia Towers.  We are in Upper House, which is a five star hotel located within the Gothia Towers.  It’s basically a hotel within a hotel, with a world class spa.

I chose this hotel because of the spa, which looked absolutely wonderful.  Today, we had occasion to get a treatment and spend a couple of hours in the pools.  The towers are located just across the street from Liseberg, an amusement park that was founded in 1923.  I’m kind of attracted to it and would love to walk around it, but Bill hates rides.  So here I sit, writing a quick blog post.  I’ll write a detailed series later, when I’m at home at my desktop computer.

The spa and the room are very nice, though.  We have a nice view of the park and I’ve got some good pictures.  I definitely need to spend more time in Sweden…  We should plan a real vacation here.

Tomorrow, we’ll tour the Volvo factory and pick up our new wheels.  Then we’ll head to Copenhagen for the night.

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Goodbye… and hello!

We started Saturday with breakfast, then a quick trip to Kaiserslautern.  I followed Bill in my car as he drove our Toyota to the Volvo dealership, where we left our 13 year old SUV to move on to its next owner.  I clearly remember the March day in 2006 when we bought that car brand new.  We were living in northern Virginia and we had two cars that were aging and in need of an upgrade.  My 1997 Toyota Corolla was particularly ready to be retired, although it had served me extremely well under rather demanding conditions.  I repeatedly drove it to and from South Carolina and Virginia for three solid years and almost never had a problem with it.

I had enjoyed the Corolla so much that I wanted another Toyota. ¬†We picked the RAV 4, in part, due to Bill’s children. ¬†He wanted a car that would accommodate them, should he ever get to see them. ¬†Well… as it turned out, Bill’s ex wife did a really excellent job alienating the girls; so to date, he still hasn’t seen them in person since Christmas 2004. ¬†However, this story has a somewhat happy ending, since a couple of years ago, Bill’s younger daughter reconnected. ¬†They have regular Skype sessions and, I hope, will soon have a visit so he can meet his grandchildren and son-in-law. ¬†Perhaps someday, the older daughter will also come around.

Bill liked driving the SUV, so he decided to get another one. ¬†We ordered a Volvo XC60 in May and it will be ready for pickup on July 1st. ¬†We’ll be traveling to Sweden on Saturday, spending a couple of nights in Gothenburg, and fetching our new vehicle Monday morning, after a tour of the factory. ¬†Then, we’ll work our way to Leipzig, by way of Copenhagen and Rostock, so we can catch Mark Knopfler in concert.

I’m pretty excited about the new car, but I’m more excited about finally taking a proper trip in a country that doesn’t directly border Germany and isn’t the United Kingdom! ¬†Seriously, we’re long overdue! ¬†Our travels were a bit more diverse during our first Germany tour, although we did miss a lot of local gems in Baden-W√ľrttemberg that we caught the second time around.

Anyway, yesterday morning consisted of driving to K-town. ¬†It’s not a bad drive from the Wiesbaden area. ¬†The countryside gets prettier the further west you go from Frankfurt. ¬†I would have liked to have taken pictures but, for once, I was too busy driving. ¬†I don’t especially enjoy driving, especially in traffic, but it’s good to keep up those vital life skills. ¬†I drive a stick shift and, although it’s kind of like riding a bike in that you don’t forget those gear shifting skills, it is easy to get out of practice.

When we got to Kaiserslautern, we parked the cars and I took one last photo of our beloved RAV 4, which has seen us through the bulk of our marriage and taken us to and through many European countries and several U.S. states. ¬†Bill was grinning broadly as he complimented me, once again, for my superior “road march” skills. ¬†He says I would have made a great tanker because I’m good at driving in a convoy. ¬†Thanks, Bill… ¬†I think.

So long, RAV 4. ¬†It’s been a pleasure!

 

Bill took care of a few administrative details regarding the sale of the RAV 4 to Volvo. ¬†It seems like there are a lot of hoops to jump through, although Andre at Capitol Motors really made the process easier for us. ¬†When I remember what we went through to buy the RAV 4 at Koons Tyson’s Toyota in northern Virginia, I’m really grateful for the military car sales program. ¬†Our civilian car purchase was exhausting and stressful, while buying from Capitol Motors was a breeze!

We also bought my 2009 Mini Cooper through that program in Stuttgart, as we left Germany the first time. ¬†It’s so much easier and less stressful to order what you want and not have to deal with haggling or aggressive salespeople trying to upsell their product. ¬†And, if you qualify for the military sales program, you get a nice discount. ¬†Our new car is costing significantly less than it would if we’d bought it in the United States. ¬†I’d say we’re saving about $8,000. ¬†Granted, we’re still going to be paying a lot, but we’ll be getting a really nice, brand new car just the way we want it instead of having to go through the physical and psychological rigamarole that comes from the typical car buying experience.

After we said goodbye to the RAV 4 and finalized our plans for next week’s car buying visit, we went to Cantina Mexicana for a nice lunch. ¬†I mentioned in a previous post how good the food is at that place, especially since it’s Mexican food. ¬†Below are a few photos from our visit. ¬†This time, I decided to have a chimichanga for the very first time.

Cantina Mexicana is a good place for Mexican food in Germany. ¬†We haven’t found too many like it. ¬†Authentic Mexican food is kind of rare in these parts, unless you happen to know someone who knows how to make it and has the proper ingredients.

Aww… ¬†serious Bill in repose.

 

We started with lemonade.  I had the mint version, and Bill went with the ginger version.  I probably should drink more lemonade over beer.  Maybe that will be my next projectРdiscovering new soft drinks with minimal sugar.  They also brought us the usual chips and salsas, some of which were surprisingly spicy.

 

Although we didn’t really need the extra food, we decided to get the sampler of dips. ¬†It came with guacamole, queso, and frijoles. ¬†As you can see, the queso was stretchy. ¬†So were the frijoles! ¬†We brought most of this home for later. ¬†Mexican food is usually better the next day, anyway.

My chimichanga– a fried burrito filled with shredded beef. ¬†I also could have had shredded chicken or ground beef. ¬†It came with an “iceberg salad”, sour cream, and an avocado slice. ¬†I finished most of it and brought the rest home for later. ¬†I liked the chimichanga fine, but I think I prefer regular burritos.

Bill had chicken and beef Mole Poblano.  Mole sauce is made with unsweetened cocoa, which gives it a distinctive flavor.  His dish came with Spanish rice and refried beans.  I could tell he really enjoyed the food, since he grew up in Texas, Arizona, and Arkansas.

Cantina Mexicana also offers a lot of tequilas for sale. ¬†We recently stocked up, so we didn’t need any tequila ourselves. ¬†But I can see it would be handy for those who don’t feel like heading to the grocery store. ¬†Families with children will be happy to note there’s even a play area for kids in this restaurant. ¬†Also, most of the wait staff speaks excellent English and the menu is in English and German.

 

Once we had our lunch, we drove back to Wiesbaden in my car. ¬†I was glad to let Bill do the driving. ¬†We had great weather, so I put the top down and enjoyed the expansive views in this part of Germany. ¬†I’ve been missing the more rural areas we were used to when we lived near Stuttgart.

We had to get home, though, because we had plans for last night. ¬†One of Bill’s co-workers happens to be someone he knew in the late 1980s, when he was posted in Germany as a lieutenant. ¬†Several other guys from that era were also at the party.

To be honest, I don’t always enjoy Bill’s work related gatherings, since I don’t know a lot of Bill’s co-workers and some people in military crowds tend to think I’m a bit weird. ¬†But last night’s party was a lot of fun. ¬†For one thing, Bill’s buddies from the 80s were hilarious and had a lot of great stories about Bill from the days when we didn’t know each other. ¬†For another thing, the food was great… so was the music. ¬†Our host was playing INXS, Bon Jovi, and Def Leppard. ¬†I felt like I was back in high school.

Every time we have one of these gatherings, I’m reminded of how small the military world is. ¬†One of the guys Bill knew in the 80s is a Facebook friend of mine. ¬†I “met” him through another Facebook friend, whom I knew offline when we were both in college. ¬†My original friend joined the Army and made it his career; he’s now a colonel, based in Virginia. ¬†One day, I posted on one of his Facebook threads. ¬†So did Bill’s former colleague, Paul, who is now in Missouri. ¬†Bill happened to notice Paul’s name and said he knew him. ¬†I asked Paul if he remembered Bill. ¬†He said he did, so we all friended each other.

Paul couldn’t be at the party last night, where there were at least three guys besides Bill that were part of their original Germany gang in the late 1980s. ¬†But I was able to take a few pictures of that crew and share them, and Paul said he wished he could have been there. ¬†I have never met Paul in person, but I wish he could have been there, too. ¬†I think he would have made the party even more fun!

“Band of brothers”… although Bill now works with the host of the party, he hadn’t seen some of these guys in more than 20 years! ¬†They had a blast!

 

This isn’t the first time Bill’s world has collided with mine. ¬†Bill and I met online in 1999, and we chatted for a long time before we ever had our first face to face meeting. ¬†I was nervous about the prospect of meeting him, since those were the days when Internet dating was still kind of weird. ¬†But then fate intervened, when the Army connected Bill with one of my relatives by marriage just a few weeks before we had our first date.

Bill met my aunt’s brother at a National Guard conference before he met me offline. ¬†I had been chatting with Bill for well over a year when he ran into my relative by marriage, who also happened to be a retired state trooper. ¬†He assured me before I met Bill offline that Bill was “okay”, which made our first face to face meeting a lot easier.

Bill has also met a guy I knew in the Peace Corps, who now works for USAID. ¬†I get the feeling that even if we hadn’t met on the computer, we were destined to be together. ¬†Or, at least we were destined to meet. ¬†As unlikely as it was that I would meet him back in 1999, fate put us together somehow. ¬†Twenty years later, we’re still having fun!

 

And finally… I need to make a comment on our host’s house. ¬†He lives up in the mountainous part of the Wiesbaden area, so he has beautiful views and an awesome terrace for entertaining. ¬†I was impressed with their house, except for the white carpeting, which I think would be hard to keep clean. ¬†But there were a couple of other things I noticed.

First off, this toilet flusher. ¬†In almost seven total years in Germany, I encountered one like this for the first time at Ente in Wiesbaden, when we ate there on Friday night. ¬†I was surprised when I saw another one in our host’s home! ¬†Instead of pressing a button, you turn the knob!

And secondly… his house has an indoor pool! ¬†I have seen houses like this advertised. ¬†I’ve seen other German houses with their own saunas. ¬†This was the first time I ever actually saw an indoor pool in person. ¬†It was awesome, even if they did have it covered up! ¬†I’m jealous!

Anyway… our Saturday was jam packed with action and we really enjoyed ourselves! ¬†I’m not sure what we’ll do today, but I expect the day won’t be so busy.

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Dueling test drives and muy buena comida…

This morning, Bill and I rose early and made the long drive to Kaiserslautern.  Our mission was to test drive a BMW and a Volvo.  Yes, that’s right.  It’s time to buy a new car.  Our trusty SUV is getting expensive to maintain, although it still mostly runs fine.  It’s time for an upgrade.

We purchased our 2006 Toyota RAV 4 brand new in Northern Virginia about a year before we moved to Germany the first time.  In those days, we didn’t have much money.  Bill was paying a lot of child support and we were paying off a lot of debt.  I remember being freaked out about financing the beautiful, brand new car.  I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to afford the payments.  I also remember the stress of the car purchase itself.  We went to Koons Tysons Toyota and spent the whole morning dealing with a very aggressive car salesman who was determined to make a sale.  He made a sale, but it was not a pleasant experience for us.  However, the Toyota has been an excellent vehicle.  We’ve rarely had any problems with it and it’s been all over Europe.

Back in 2006, Bill’s credit rating was a lot lower, mainly owing to financial baggage from his first marriage.  I had a perfect credit rating, but I wasn’t the breadwinner.  We took the loan out in my name with Bill’s financial backing.  In time, we refinanced and got a lower interest rate.  Bill’s credit rating improved dramatically.  It’s now almost as good as mine is.

Then, in 2009, we bought my Mini Cooper on our way out of Stuttgart the first time.  We ordered the car from the dealer and it was built expressly for me.  I don’t drive it that much, although we did take it to Kaiserslautern this morning.  At ten years old, it only has about 36,000 miles on it.  It’s still a cute car, but it’s not practical for every job.  I imagine I’ll be ready for a new car in a couple of years.

Both of our car loans were paid off early, just as my student loans were.  I am the queen of paying off debt ASAP.  This is a good thing, since we’re going to be financing a large loan for our new car.  One thing I like about buying from military sales, though, is that it’s low stress, hassle free, no pressure… We bought the Mini from Dennis Huntsman, who worked in Stuttgart for years.  When we came back to Germany in 2014, he was still in Stuttgart and remembered Bill.  He has since moved on, but our buying experience with him was so good that we’ve decided to buy our new car through military sales again.  K-Town has many, many, many car dealers that cater to Americans, so that’s why we went there instead of staying in Wiesbaden.

Bill emailed Capital Motors Volvo and got us a 10:00am appointment, and got us a noon appointment at the BMW dealer.  Having visited both dealers today, I have to admit that I was a lot more impressed by the Volvo dealer.  In fact, I think we’re pretty much set on going Swedish this time, even though Bill says that he enjoyed the power of the BMW.

The Volvo dealership was quiet when we arrived just before 10:00am.  A salesman named Andre greeted us and Bill explained what we were looking for.  Andre was very professional and listened carefully, assuring us he could give us a deal on our trade in, too.

 

Right next door is a picture framing shop.  I had to take a picture because my dad ran a picture framing business from our home in Virginia.  He sold it to his employee before he died in 2014.  I never learned how to frame pictures myself, but I get a kick out of seeing framing businesses and sharing photos of them with my old friend, Deborah, who owns my dad’s business now.

Bill handed over his license and photo ID.  Andre took a photocopy, then took us out to the XC60 to show us some of its features.  The model we tried today was top of the line and is priced at about $47,000.  That’s a lot of money, but it’s likely we’ll keep the car until well after it’s been paid for.  That’s what we’ve done with all of our prior cars.

I sat in the backseat while Andre showed Bill how to operate this new fangled auto.  You don’t even have to put the key in an ignition.  It has power and touchscreen everything, and drives (and rides) like you’re sitting in your living room.  I tried the front seat and the back.  Very comfortable… and it should be for the price!

 

The 2019 XC60.  I don’t know if we’ll go with a 2019 or a 2020.

We ran into one of Bill’s co-workers, who is looking at a XC90 model for his wife.

 

We left the Volvo dealership very impressed.  In fact, I was feeling like I didn’t even need to see the BMW.  We tried it anyway.

A prestigious brand… and I am already familiar with BMW’s power, since I drive a Mini Cooper.

 

Bill decided to test the X3.  It’s currently on sale nicely loaded for about $45,000.

 

We stopped at a rest stop so I could try the back seat in both cars.  This sign caught my eye.  Guess they have problems with marauding wild animals.

 

I was significantly less impressed by the BMW experience.  The lady who took care of us isn’t a salesperson and didn’t seem to have much knowledge about the BMW product.  She was mostly concerned with making sure Bill signed the paperwork.  She didn’t show us any of the car’s features, nor was she mindful of the rainy weather when she left us waiting for her in it while she copied Bill’s information.

Finally, I just got in the car and waited for her to come back to talk to us.  We were limited to 20 miles for the test drive, and if I had wanted to test drive, I would have had to give her my license, too.  By contrast, Andre said I could drive the car if I wanted to; he only needed Bill’s license.  And we were not limited in how far we could test drive, although we took both cars on the same loop that included a stretch of the Autobahn.

Still, it was a pretty car and drove well.  While the Volvo was ultra high-tech with lots of features designed to make the ride comfortable, the BMW had mostly more conventional controls (except for when we needed to go in reverse) and more power.  It was “sportier”, and not quite as cushy, although it was more responsive.

When we got back to the BMW dealership, Bill had to take a minute to figure out the controls enough to put the car in reverse.  He didn’t have that problem with the Volvo, which almost seemed to drive itself.  The BMW is definitely a nice car, but if I was “team Volvo” before we tried the cars today, I was even more “team Volvo” after comparing both dealerships.

When we got in my Mini to go have lunch, I said “As far as I’m concerned, the Volvo is a winner.”  Not only did I like the vehicle better, I also liked the sales experience better.  The salesman at BMW wasn’t in today and won’t be in until later this week.  And after we turned in the car, the German lady who helped us– whose name I never caught– made a point of walking around the car to make sure there were no scratches on it and really didn’t say or do anything to convince us we should buy a BMW.  Andre was more professional on many levels.  He encouraged our interest, without pressuring us.  He was a good ambassador for the brand, but let the car sell itself.  And he treated us like he valued our business.  So, I think Andre gets the nod.

Your address for real Mexican food in Germany.

 

It’s got plenty of parking, plenty of seating, and some of the wait staff is trilingual– English, Spanish, and German!

Bill’s former co-worker, Steve in Stuttgart, told Bill about Cantina Mexicana, an excellent Mexican restaurant in Kaiserslautern.  Now that we’ve been there, we can recommend it, too.  I haven’t had Mexican food that good since our first (and last) trip to El Mero Mexicano in Fellbach, near Stuttgart.  El Mero Mexicano is owned by actual Mexicans.  I’m not sure who owns Cantina Mexicana, but damn, was it good!

Bill checks the menu.  This is a large restaurant with lots of normal height tables, though we were seated at a tall “pub” table.  The seats were not very deep, which was not so good.  I don’t have long legs, so it was hard to perch on the chair.   

 

They brought us some tasty tortilla chips with five different salsas, ranging from the regular tomato kind to a spicy habanero version… and a green tomatillo salsa, too.

 

We were hungry, so we had an appetizer.  This was the dip sampler, which included queso, guacamole, and frijoles.  All three dips were killer, but I especially loved the queso!  We didn’t finish it, so we brought it home.

I had the fajita quesadilla, which was a large tortilla filled with marinated steak, grilled peppers and onions, iceberg lettuce, and cheese.  It was served with guacamole, sour cream, and salsa.  I didn’t finish it, but it was very good.  I brought the rest home!

Bill had the Chicken Tingo with potatoes.  It came with rice and refried beans.  He was also very happy with his dish, though he also filled up too much on chips and salsa.  

 

I noticed this Mexican restaurant was offering things I haven’t seen in German Mexican restaurants, including El Mero Mexicano.  They had tostadas, burritos, chimichangas, fajitas, and enchiladas, for instance, while El Mero Mexicano’s menu appeared to be more authentic Mexican.  This is a very kid friendly restaurant.  There’s a children’s bathroom and play area, as well as a children’s menu.  And there’s also plenty to keep the adults happy.  You can enjoy a wide range of tequilas, for instance, if that’s your thing.  It’s my thing, but I stuck to beer.

Our bill came to about 34 euros, which I thought was a good deal.  You can pay in cash or with a credit card.  We drove home in dismal rain, talking about the cars and how pretty soon we’ll be stepping up to new wheels and a new car payment.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll be writing about a factory tour in Sweden before too long.

We see so many of these ugly apartment buildings in Germany… it reminds me of living in Eastern Europe again.  I kind of wonder who decided to paint these buildings like this.  On the other hand, Armenian apartment buildings were never this nice.

 

I don’t enjoy test driving cars or the whole car buying experience, but I must say it was a pleasure to meet Andre today.  I look forward to taking custody of one of his cushy Swedish rides very soon.

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