Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Summer 2022

So the kid's school goes until late June (I think local German schools go into July). The kids go back in mid-August, so our summer was only a month and half! M headed to Texas to see their Dad. The rest of us also wanted a little taste of America and used frequent flier miles. Clarissa and I headed to our rental property in Florida for a few weeks. Clarissa took her first solo flight and flew up Richard's parent's house. I headed back to Germany a couple days before Richard flew to his parent's house. It was funny on their return flights - M and R/C flew on the same day so their planes were racing to get back...lol. 

On our flight to the U.S., we received chocolate ice cream for the meal dessert. Someone's favorite! So after everyone was served, I told Clarissa to go ask the flight crew if she could have another.....she was so smug when she came back with her second cup of ice cream!


With just the two of us, we ate most of our meals at the bar.....we were enjoying some farm fresh corn on the cob (if we find some, it's just not the same overseas).


We enjoyed night swimming and hitting 7-11 on 7-11!


A friend of mine from graduate school came to visit and wanted to go to Sea World. We had fun feeding the animals. Clarissa wasn't the biggest fan of captivity, but I had to explain how seeing hard to find animals in a zoo or park helps people care about the species and protect the animals in the wild. 


We did enjoy the cold penguin exhibit and the walk through tanks. I think Clarissa's favorite thing was the rides.


Remembering life in Fiji and swimming among the clownfish.


We got hit with one of those traditional Florida summer afternoon thunderstorms. This one produced a beautiful double rainbow.


We decided to update the townhome and paint the walls (they were still rocking the builder off white color). We decided on a light gray color but decided to the paint an accent wall in the den and the bathrooms a fun color. We hired someone to paint the gray walls (there is a huge stairwell that would be tricky to access) and Clarissa and I painted the bathrooms and accent wall (there's things you miss doing when living in rented housing all the time).


We finally hung up a piece of carved art work we had picked up in Doha! I also installed some outlet wall plates with nightlights. We replaced a bunch of damaged box springs we discovered when moving furniture to paint. We also hung up some new curtains around the property.


We saw lots of neighborhood wildlife. A baby red ear slider (we took it from the road and put in the pond) and a gang of Sandhill cranes.


Over spring break, we had gone to three of the four Disney parks, so Clarissa and I hit Animal Kingdom one day. She loved the Everest ride and we rode it multiple times. We did one of the avatar rides with fast pass, but the new ride was either a 2 hour wait or pay another $15 pp to fast pass it.....we skipped that ride!


It was insanely hot that day......


We had made reservations for a late lunch at the Rainforest Cafe just outside the gates. Clarissa in slushy heaven!


Popular photo wall!


Clarissa had signed up for a weeklong sleepaway camp in Florida, so I dropped her off. One day they took a field trip to an escape room.....and Clarissa now has a favorite fun game to play!


While she was at camp, I enjoyed pool nachos and began tackling the owner's closet. When we bought the property, the owner's closet was full of stuff. We donated all the baby/little kid items the first year, but it still needed more help.


I pulled everything out, used some leftover paint to brighten up the room, then assembled some shelving I picked up at Ikea, donated a bunch of stuff that wasn't ours and we wouldn't use. I had gotten some bins at Target....and viola - the owner's closet is finally organized and accessible to grab things in the back without completely emptying out the room. We have some toiletries and cleaning supplies, which saves so much space in our luggage. It's easy to grab a bin and take it to a bathroom or down to the kitchen. We also have some supplies for when we PCS there with the cat!


After camp, Clarissa and I had a spa day! 



Clarissa donated 8 inches of hair! I think she grew up during the hair cut as well. After haircuts, we went for pedicures! 


Then we went and played some glow in the dark putt putt!


The next day, I dropped Clarissa at the airport and she made it to North Carolina!


Richard enjoyed visiting his parents and doing some site seeing.



Since I wasn't there I can't really tell about what they did. I know Clarissa did an art day camp, Richard ate lots of barbecue, and they went to some escape rooms....lol. We managed to keep our garden plot alive all summer and enjoyed lots of tomatoes and some patty pans (a type of squash that grew up on its own, but we pretty tasty).


We also enjoyed our garden plot neighbor's sunflowers.


Then it was everyone back home and school started. Clarissa was now in middle school and had a locker. M was starting senior year of high school! The crazy busyness ensued.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Pros and Cons of Living in Frankfurt, Germany

In anticipation of our impending move (and soon bid season for others), I'm doing a little 'pay it forward' to other bidders out there by describing some pros and cons of our post. I'll keep it with five of each (like I did previously with our other posts, Doha, Suva, and Tbilisi). So without further ado, here are some pros and cons for Frankfurt.

Pros:

1. Trains/Public TransportationThe train system within all of Europe is impressive. We traveled around Germany, or to another countries like Austria, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and France. For a train trip under 7 hours the travel time was about the same as flying. We just caught the bus to the main Hauptbahnhof (train station), grabbed a snack, found our platform, hopped on the train, relaxed and enjoyed the scenery, and arrived in the center of the destination city. Flying would require getting to the airport early to get through security, the flight time, and airports are typically outside of the downtown/main tourist areas, so you would have to Uber in. 

Within the city of Frankfurt, the RMV runs buses and U-bahn/S-bahn trains. Richard got a job ticket to get to work (5 stops). We purchase May a student ticket (365€ for unlimited trips during 12 months, so 1€ a day). That was the best purchase ever! May could stay late at school for a number of things, then hop on the train for 18 stops and be home (the handful of times I took the train to M's school, my ticket was about 10€ for the day ticket). We were 4 train stops from the main downtown shopping/tourist area, the kids would hop on the train to go get Boba Tea....because it was so easy! There are also lots of cyclist in German. Bike lanes for commuters and spots of on the bus/train for cyclist to ride between stops (just be careful with making turns when driving as cyclist have the right of way). 

2. Travel within Schengen Area. Germany is one of 29 countries that are part of the Schengen area, which makes travel to nearby countries super easy whether traveling by car, train, or plane! For car and train travel, moving between countries was like crossing a state border in the U.S. Typically, there was a sign announcing you were in the new country (below is entering Germany from Poland) and the language on road signs changed (and we would have to switch our cell phones over to the international plan). With air travel, you typically did not have to go through passport control and could go straight to the gate or baggage claim (again like traveling around the U.S. versus leaving the country).

3. AutobahnI'm starting to see a lot of travel related pros....lol. So wikipedia's definition of the autobahn states "much of the system has no speed limit for some classes of vehicles. However, limits are posted and enforced in areas that are urbanized, substandard, accident-prone, or under construction." So for most of our day to day travel within the city we had a speed limit of 100 or 120 kph (62 to 75 mph). Once we got outside the urban areas, we saw the Ende aller Streckenverbote (limits no longer apply) sign and could just go and not worry about the speed limit. We weren't too crazy with our driving (around 130-140 kph) and we would be passed by like a bump on a log! We did have to be careful as there would be random speed zones (typically with ticket cameras) around an exit, valley, etc. 

4. Castles (and other historical sites)There are estimated 25,000 castles in Germany. Ranging from renovated and preserved museum like castles to piles of ruins you see on a hillside as you drive down the autobahn. We probably made it to more than 5 but less than 10 castles (it does get a little repetitive, climb to the top of a tall hill, admire the view, looking at cold stony rooms, marvel at ancient toilets, and be thankful to return home). If Clarissa was younger (while in princess mode), we may have made a bigger effort to tour more castles. There are also pre World Wars and World War II historical sites, an old country has lots of old buildings. Some of those historical buildings are churches, I think the most impressive one we saw was the Kölner Dom - the tallest church in Germany (more coming on that soon).

5. Beer/Festival DrinksSo at restaurants you always have to purchase your drinks (even water). I'm a big still water drinker...which typically makes me a cheap date. But in Germany, beer is cheaper than the water (so Richard is the cheap date...lol). The beer tastes consistent where ever you drink it (there are a lot of German regulations, so there is not a lot of room to make craft beers with unique flavors). 

Certainly you have heard about Oktoberfest (the world's largest beer festival takes place here in Germany). That runs from mid September to early October. Beer, beer, and more beer (and lots of sausage). After that starts Christmas markets from late November to early January (varies from city to city) with the Glühwein, potato pancakes, chocolate covered fruit, Christmas trinkets, etc. In January and February starts Carnival/Fasching season, late summer is Apfelwein festival....you get the idea. Just last weekend, we headed downtown and happened upon a festival. 

Cons:

1. Strikes. There are strikes pretty frequently. The airlines and airport staff were striking so frequent, we sometimes flew other airlines to just avoid the strike issue and we had one trip completely cancelled due to flight cancellations due to strikes! The public transportation regularly strikes, they would alternate between bus lines and U-bahn/S-bahn lines (so you could get to work, but it might take an extra hour or two). For a few weeks last fall, the farmers were striking. They took their tractors to the roads and stopped traffic (Clarissa was two hours late to school because the bus got caught in the strike). A "nice" thing is you typically got warning a day or two before the strike so you could try and avoid an area or plan to take alternate transportation. 

2. Lack of Air ConditioningFor the most part, the majority of the year is cool or mild temperatures. Though there a few months where the temperatures get dangerously hot (thanks global warming). Summer temperatures started between June and July and would last into September. There are portable/free standing air conditioning units that are provided. We received two, so we put one in the main bedroom and one in the main living area. Outside of those areas it would be very muggy. One year, even with blinds closed and the AC running non stop, I could not get the temperature lower than 80 degrees. As someone who works from home, that was pretty miserable! (not to mention the sound of a portable AC is horrible loud, I'd have to turn off for calls or in the evenings if we wanted to hear the TV!). Here's the two units sitting in our basement....they take about a pallet of space....imagine squeezing that into a bedroom or living area! They are so energy inefficient, the big hose attaches from the unit to a bag, attached with velcro, in an open window.

It is not just the housing's lack of AC, many hotels also do not have AC or it runs non-stop and barely works. Lots of sweating going on for a few months out of the year.

3. Hard Water Causing Hair/Skin ProblemsThe water in certain regions of Germany (including Frankfurt) is very hard, meaning it is full of limestone from the environment. While it is safe to drink, we used a Brita filter and had to change the filter monthly (versus the three months the packaging said it would last) as it filled up with limescale deposits. We also installed filters on both showerheads as it was wrecking havoc on the skin and hair of some people in the family. Every time we returned home from a trip, we would have to run all the faucets for a few minutes as the sitting water turned lovely shades of yellow and brown. 

4. Exchange Rates/Gas PricesPetrol prices have ranged from €1.75 to €2.09 per liter recently. So if about 4 liters is a gallon and converted to USD (about 1€=$1.10 USD)....it is about $7.50 a gallon. Oof! We were lucky in that we had credentials to be able to purchase gas on U.S. military bases/or at a particular local station duty free, but you have to plan trips out. 

This was also the first post where the exchange rate was not in our favor, so our dollars did not go as far. Fresh vegetables were not too pricey locally, but anything imported was pricey! After being without some conveniences of the U.S. the past 3 posts, we did take advantage and shopped on base a few times a month. 

5. HousingEuropean housing is notoriously small. So we definitely expected to downsize here (which we did) and we can't really complain as housing is a nice job perk. The building we were living in was built with rubble from WW2 in the 1950s....so it has the feel of your grandparents house with all the fun of 70 year old housing. Our kitchen sink regularly backs up and facilities determined the only fix was ripping out the cabinets to replace the drain pipes.....we opted to live with it and add drain cleaner every couple months (the next family to move in here will likely have a recently remodeled kitchen....lol). The kid's bathroom regularly got a funky smell (even worse when we had been traveling). Prior to packout, we had to stow all our luggage/stuff that doesn't get packed for the ship. The only option we had was our bathroom (and the movers will have to use the other one bathroom....lol).