Monday, January 8, 2018

wäscherei

I just thought of a solution to a problem people ask about on the Stuttgart English-speaking Facebook forum all the time:

Where do you take your comforters to be cleaned? The answer is always the same. To the big machine at the launderette on the base across town, or to the dry cleaners, both of which take extra time and money.

German washer/dryers are tiny, complicated and take roughly 9 years to complete a cycle. What I would consider a single load I usually have to split into multiple washes. You can’t fit comforters in there at all, yet ours are from Ikea, which caters to tiny European living situations. I wash 2-3 loads a day to keep up, yet I almost never come across my neighbors in the laundry room. Energy is expensive here, too. Our laundry room even has locks over the outlets to prevent anyone syphoning energy from their neighbor. So what are they doing differently?

The tub. It's stupidly obvious. It's like a lightbulb went on over my head. Dry everything for free on the 10 euro rack you can also get at Ikea, and you're done.

Our fluffy comforters that were packed and stored for months unwashed are finally out of the corner of the bedroom floor, no longer grossing me out at the thought of curling up under them.

The American way of huge water guzzling top loaders isn't the only way. Expending tons of energy isn't the best way, either. The rest of the world has always known this. We just got spoiled, and forgot.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Christmas Crazy

I decided to go Christmas Crazy this year, since this year has been, well, crazy. If we had to pack up and move across the ocean again, we were going to enjoy the hell out the holidays once we got here. And we did. The very best part of this time of year in Europe is the Christmas markets. The markets are magical and each one unique to the the town they are in. While all sell mulled wine and handmade ornaments, some have live music, rides, even animals. We hit up as many as we could, and had a lovely time at all of them, shopping, eating, and drinking among crowds of revelers.

Strasbourg

Strasbourg is a short 90 minutes away, so we were able to drive over for the opening of Les marchés de Noël. The stalls weave throughout the old city center, so anywhere you find yourself, some delightful display is overflowing with trinkets or vin chaud.

Böblingen

This was small, a locals markt, but still very fun. There was great food and a few things for kids to do and see. The snow added to the charm, and we had a lovely time together.

Stuttgart

Stuttgart's market was a wonderfully rambling place to spend the morning. I went alone to do some real shopping and take in everything at my own pace. The decorations impressed me the most here, with many over the top displays complete with moving reindeer, pyramids, and full Christmas trees. I didn't stop smiling once, not even when that joyless woman who would rather do anything than deal with customers only gave me a half full mug of heiße schokolade.

There is a huge area for kids here, too. I saw a ferris wheel and ice skating rink on the far end. Hopefully I can take Emily next year.

Esslingen am Neckar

This was really neat. Held in the old city center, one section was a normal Weihnachtsmarkt, and the other was a Mittelaltermarkt, or Medieval market, with a hand operated wooden ferris wheel, costumed frauen sipping from drinking horns, games and (vegetarian) food a plenty. I didn't take a ton of pictures as we were having too much fun, and didn't stay as long as we could have because it was way too cold, even with the glühwein und kinderpunsch!

Ulm

For our final stop we have the city of Ulm. The market encircled the Cathedral in the mitte, with little lanes for each type of shop. Der Ulmer Weihnachtsmarkt definitely had its own flair. Emily and Cody took a ride on a kinder locomotive. There was also a huge model train display, with a fort kids could climb onto over looking it. A radio station was there broadcasting carols, and right in the middle of everything was a manger with live sheep and donkeys. My favorite part though, was Der Veganer, where I was able to have a bratwurst just like a local!

We've done a lot since we arrived, but my laptop is still broken and instagram is making it easy to be lazy about blogging, but I should have more regular updates soon.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Housing

While we have three and a half years (though Cody has more) of experience living in Europe, this is the first time we are living entirely on the economy, navigating new rules and customs local to Swabia. In the past we lived on the perimeter of European life, first living in base housing, then in an Army-leased duplex in the countryside, where most of our dealings were still in English as everything went through Army channels (aside from our Italian landlord popping in unannounced to check on appliances every so often-that place was his baby).

Finding a Home

This area has a tight housing market, and it's everyone for themselves. There are four U.S. housing areas, spread over the four local bases. The problem comes when the base where one works is 30 minutes without traffic from the only available housing. The Stuttgart area is notorious for its staus due to constant road work and high population. Even short commutes routinely take over an hour. So, Americans look elsewhere. Therein is another problem. Many arrive with large families and pets and need the kind of sprawling property that is easy to find in most communities in the U.S. Here, they are hard to come by, and are far from the city. Germans are allowed to rent to whomever they please as well, which can lead to a lot of unreturned emails and phone calls if they don't deal with Americans. Looking at the listings through the housing office can quickly get you nowhere, too. Many people find bigger places through word of mouth. The guy Cody replaced offered to get us into his house. It was a duplex in a tiny village, with a spiral staircase up four floors. This is where we learned of another German rental code-the landlord doesn't have to provide you with a painted property. Or even a cleaned property. It had been at least two tenants since it was painted. Crayons on the walls, all that. The law says you have to return the property in the condition it was given to you, so it is a benefit to renters to get a place in some stage of disrepair so they won't be on the hook for thousands of euro in painting fees. We passed on that place-ultimately it was too far, and we didn't want to share a yard with smoking teens.

As our family is small and we don't need a lot, but prefer city living, we looked next through the housing office's website for apartments close to work and school. Slim. Pickings. While we don't need space, we do need guaranteed parking, and street parking on a road that predated vehicles is a packed and narrow road indeed. Plus, places go fast with the competition.

When I did find a place, it was perfect, and very exciting. However, it's not as simple as signing a standard lease and moving right in. The military requires we negotiate a contract with a landlord using the housing office's paperwork. This to make sure we know what we are signing, and to prevent unscrupulous owners from taking advantage of our ignorance of the law. In addition to basic rent, we pay most of the bills in one sum ahead of time to the landlords, to cover operational costs. If, at the end of the year, we overpaid, we get a refund.

Just after we signed the contract, with paint covered by the owners, the property management company tried to have us sign a new contract that would void the financial protections we just negotiated. This is exactly the dealings the military seeks to protect people from. I politely told them to pound sand.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Burg Hohenzollern

Plot twist, we moved back to Europe! I will spare you the boring details, and jump right into telling you about Hohenzollern Castle.

Emily is at the perfect age for castles now. She was so excited we got to just go to one on a whim.

The castle as it stands today is a 19th century Gothic Revival, and terribly romantic. The views sweep out over forested hills and villages for miles. It is mostly self-guided, with the occasional docent to give a little insight in the spaces where the Hohenzollern family lived. The property and valuables are still made use of by the family on special occasions, such as the antique china, and who knows, maybe even the crown.

The oldest standing section is the chapel, left over from a 15th century siege that destroyed the rest of the castle.

There were beautifully preserved rooms, complete with muraled walls and portraits of the family you can find on the website here.

This is kind of a quick post, but there is more to come!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Goodbye, Italy

Our time living in Europe is coming to a close. I don't want to go, but it's a good time for our family to move on to other things. As sad as I am to leave, I am looking forward to seeing familiar faces, and the choices and conveniences we don't necessarily have here in Italy. Cody had to go back to the States for a week last month and the way he described it, it was like stimulation overload; he could understand every conversation around him. Billboards and loud, cheesy infomercials were unavoidable and weird to see again after more than 3 years of monotone AFN spots. The consumer culture I think will be hard to get used to again, but knowing how to maneuver through it and get things done when I need to will be a welcome change nonetheless. Plus, burritos.

In total, Emily and I visited 11 countries and many more cities and towns. Cody's country count is a little different, and he has some interesting stories. I hope he writes them down soon.

Travelling with Emily has been a blast. I always imagined if I had a chance to live here, I would buy a rail pass and just go. I would read language books in between cities. I would stay in hostels, and drink good wine every night with people I met along the way.

What I actually experienced has been so much more rewarding. For all the things that are closed for me as a parent of a small child, I was not about to let travel be one of them. Why would I? Our European experience then was the family version, but it was no less adventurous. We were able to focus on the most important sights for mine and Cody's interests and Emily's cultural benefit. Through much trial and error, I learned a lot about what I can do with some planning, good hotel deals, and more than a little nerve. I hope I can pass that on to Emily, and that she isn't held back by anything. I hope she studies abroad, takes a backpacking trip, anything, anywhere, and that spirit carries on into her everyday life.

Emily has definitely picked up some European habits. She thinks nothing of using a bidet (the butt sink, as we call it), eating cold cuts and kaiser rolls for breakfast in Germany, and prefers to crowd in with the Italians and sit up at the bar when we stop off for a brioche (eating on the run is the surest way to spot an American).

Ciao, Italia.

Our Italian experience has been been a lot of things: beautiful, maddening, and educational among them. I learned more Italian than I ever thought I would. Where Germans speak not just English, but better English than native speakers, Italians are rarely fluent unless they deal with tourists constantly. Since we lived outside the city, learning key phrases was especially important. After almost two years and some previous experience with romantic languages, reading simple things and listening to basic conversations is easy enough. I picked up a ton of vocabulary words and can order food and ask for shoes in my size. A spontaneous conversation isn't going to happen, and I had to make several trips to the translator for tedious phone calls. But I have improved.

Of the other things I learned about Italy: I learned how to spot a Palladian villa a kilometer away. I learned through glares that putting on gloves to shop for produce is not, in fact, optional. I learned how to not freak out about other people's kids, and can see pretty clearly American busybody parenting is the real problem; children here rarely if ever wear bike helmets. Parents zooming through busy roundabouts with a bare-headed tyke in the bike seat now seems so commonplace it doesn't even register. I learned Italians are resourceful gardeners, a necessary skill in a country where food is tiny and expensive. I learned how to schedule my day around the riposo and memorized the seemingly random opening hours of various businesses.

This has been the experience of a lifetime, no doubt. We are already plotting our return. I was asked by a friend where I would live or visit again if given the opportunity. Dutchies are some of the nicest people I've encountered. Amsterdam is beautiful and I don't have it out of my system yet. I want to see much more of the Netherlands in the future. As far as where I would live, the obvious answer for a hopeless anglophile like me is England. I would move there tomorrow and never leave. Can I move there tomorrow?

Thank you so much to everyone who came out to see us, and for the friends here who made it so fun and memorable.

Here is an assortment of pictures from Italy that didn't make it into the blog. And so concludes our grand tour.

Villa Capra, Vicenza

At a theme park near Lago di Garda

Castegnero

Snow day

Verona

Vicenza Centro

Torri di Quartesolo

Our special day out in Verona