Jul 24, 2014

12 Ways Living in Germany Made Me a Better Person

1| I've become well-versed in cooking my own delicious Mexican food favorites.
Queso Blanco? Perfected it. Arroz con Pollo & Enchiladas Verde? I'm a master. Homemade Guac & Margaritas? None can beat mine. When you can't find great Mexican food in your host country, you learn to make your own. And you save money in the process. Everyone's invited over for a fiesta...as soon as I get furniture, of course.

2| I now enjoy a good cup of coffee.
Not really sure this makes me a better person, but it sure does make me feel good! Before moving to Germany, I was mostly a tea drinker (except for the occasional super sweet Starbucks indulgence). Today, I can't go a morning without a good cup of joe. Look at me all grown up and sophisticated! [eye roll] ;) Europe had stellar coffee and lovely cafes to drink it in. Spoiled me rotten, I tell ya. I'm currently scouting out cappuccino/latte makers for our kitchen, so send me any suggestions you've got!

3| I actually go to parks now.
Parks. What a novel idea! Why don't many Americans go to parks? I rarely did before living in Germany. Now, I'm all like...LET'S GO PICNIC! And run! And just lay out in the grass staring up at the clouds like the Europeans do! I really miss our giant, green park just down the hill from our German flat. It was always filled with people doing all kinds of fun activities. The parks here in Florida are small (at least the ones in our area)...or they're beaches. I know, I know...you're playing the world's smallest violin for me now, aren't you?

4| I can parallel park like a friggin' pro.
Living in a flat with no garage or designated parking space meant D and I had to get really good at parallel parking...and real quick! Street parking was a total pain in our butts for 3 years, but at least one new skill was acquired out of the inconvenience. Any new drivers out there need lessons? I charge in hugs.

5| I'm a more aware and efficient driver.
Pass on the left only. Slow drivers in the far right lane--always. No trucks in fast lanes (except to pass). No lingering in the passing lane. Germany gets these things right! It's illegal not to follow these rules there. Now, if I could only get everyone in America on board, we'd be golden! Germany may have had pushy drivers, but they sure were smart about their Autobahn rules. They just make sense. The only rule I'm glad is out the door now that I'm back stateside? No right turn on red...ever. Feels so freeing to be able to do that again!

6| I've developed an affinity for long lunching.
Don't ask me out to lunch unless you plan on sitting there with me for a couple of hours. Not kidding. The whole "slow living" phenomenon that Europe is so famous for totally rubbed off on me, in certain ways at least. Lunches and dinners out in Germany usually meant 3 hours of dining and chatting. It was so nice to really enjoy my food and our company. Here, everything is so rush, rush, rush! Even more reason to slow down and just be in the moment. Don't worry, if I linger too long at a restaurant or cafe here stateside, I make sure to leave a heftier tip. Small price to pay for a less-hurried life.

7| Germany helped me rekindle my love for yogurt and granola.
German yogurt was the bomb. Probably because it was almost always full fat. If I ever wanted a sweet treat, I'd stock up on German brands of yogurt (and their equally delicious muesli--granola, to us Americans). Now that I'm back stateside, I've stuck to my yogurt obsession, only healthified it a bit. Yay for probiotics!

8| Sundays have become a true day of rest.
Even though I complained about it a lot, there was really something to having everything closed on Sundays in Germany. The day was quieter, slower, more relaxing before the hustle and bustle of the work week began. We replaced running post-church errands with spending time with friends; family, if they were in town. Hopefully we can keep up that tradition here in Florida.

9| I look forward to recycling things.
I thought this would change the second I stepped foot off the plane back in America, but I'm happy to say I still feel the urge recycle things. Unfortunately, we can't recycle all of the same things we did in Germany, but it's still a heck of a lot more than we were doing before our 3-year stent abroad. I feel much more environmentally cautious today than I did in my pre-Germany life. Feels awesome.

10| I've become an excellent care-package sender.
My affinity for snail mail skyrocketed while we were living in Europe. Living so far from home--cards, care packages, and postcards we almost a necessity to keep me engaged with my loved ones. I LOVED putting packages together and sending them off to friends and family. Snail mail is dying these days (which makes me incredibly sad), so I'm trying to help save it...one care package at a time.

11| I've learned so much about world geography, different cultures, food, etc.
Do you know where Luxembourg is located? I do. And the tiny counties of San Marino, Aurora, and Liechtenstein. Before moving to Europe, I had no idea 2 out of the 4 of those even existed. It's amazing how worldly you become after living somewhere other than your home country. I feel so grateful to have been able to expand my global knowledge and to have so many amazing stories to share with our future children.

12| I'm acutely aware of my American loudness...and I correct it.
One of the main things I noticed while living in Germany was how incredibly loud Americans can be...myself included. I was never belligerent or so loud you'd have to tell me to shut up, but Americans, in general, tend to talk louder than most Europeans. Not sure why that is exactly, but since moving back stateside, I'm constantly checking my loudness in public settings so as to not draw attention to myself. In turn, I'm now ultra aware of other people's loudness. I kind of hope this change blows over with time, because I'm annoyed out in public more often. No wonder Germans seemed so cranky some days!

If you've ever lived in a foreign country, did certain things about you change when you returned home? 
Share your experiences!

Jul 23, 2014

Travel Like A Boss Series: Travel Insurance -- Yay or Nay?

Let's say it all together...YAY!!! Definite yay. Well, at least where D and I are concerned. If you're an avid traveler, you've probably purchased, looked into, or at least heard of travel insurance. Some of you probably think, "What's the point?" Others of you might have found out the hard way why travel insurance can be so important. One thing is for sure, it's something all travelers should be aware of. As harsh as this may sound, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. Simple as that.

D and I almost always get travel insurance for our trips. Being a military family, lots of things could pop up (i.e.- deployments, last-minute training, TYD's, revoked leave, yadda yadda...the list goes on and on) and cause any one of our trips to be canceled at a moments notice. I don't like to leave life to chance (especially when there's lots of money at stake), so we plan ahead and snag up travel insurance for our big trips. Anything over 5 days, we insure it. Any trip totaling over $700, we insure it. Any trip that takes us to multiple countries on various forms of transportation, we insure it. Any vacation that might have us zip lining or mountain climbing or doing something super adventurous, we insure it (ahem, ourselves). The thing is, you just never know.

Call me a Worry Wort or a Cautious Casey, but when you've forked out thousands of dollars and planned your little heart out for the vacation of your dreams only to have it ripped out from underneath you because of an unexpected issue, you don't want to leave anything to chance. Paying an extra $100 to make sure we're covered for a myriad of unforeseen travel changes or, heaven forbid, an injury or natural disaster, is the kind of peace of mind worth investing in. D and I almost had to cancel our 3rd wedding anniversary trip to Mexico because the start of his first deployment fell right smack dab in the middle of our vacation. At the time, we were naive and didn't have travel insurance. Not only was I a panicked wreck about the deployment, but I was devastated we were going lose thousands of dollars because of cancelling our trip. Talk about adding insult to injury. Thankfully, his deployment got pushed back a week and we happily went to Mexico, but had his commander not worked some magic, we would have been out $2,500. Mexican resorts don't give a rats @$$ about your husband's deployment. That money would have been gone forever. After that scare, we vowed to always get travel insurance for any big trip we might take. So far, we've kept our promise...and thankfully, we've never actually needed it. 

There are gobs and gobs of different travel insurance companies out there. A simple Google search brings up dozens of pages filled with links to various insurance websites and comparisons sites to help you do your research. It's always smart to shop around and see what options are available to you (not all insurance plans are made equal!). If this is your first go at snagging travel insurance, here are some helpful tips to make the search a little easier:

1| Figure out what kind of coverage you need. 
Do you want full coverage? Partial coverage? Need your bags covered? Medical coverage? SO MANY OPTIONS! Decide what coverage or situations would be important to you and price out plans from there. If you don't care about having your rental car covered (because maybe you aren't even renting one on your trip?), then choose a plan that omits that option, if possible.

2| Insure for the full cost of the trip.
Typically, when you are travel insurance shopping, you'll have to put in your total trip cost to get an accurate quote for insurance. Make sure to include items like plane tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, excursions...anything you've already pre-booked and forked out a deposit for, include it! 

A few things to consider when choosing the right travel insurance plan for you:

    • Trip Cancellation--most plans have specific terms as to what qualifies as an appropriate reason for trip cancellation, so take note of the wording specific to your coverage!
    • Lost/stolen bags or personal gear--some plans only cover your bags and gear up to a certain amount (per-item limit). Try to find a plan that allows for a higher limit if you've got excessive or expensive gear to cover.
    • Coverage for adventurous sports or activities--some plans may only cover certain sports or activities, so make sure whatever activities you're planning to do while on your trip are covered.
    • Medical expenses--including transport home for serious medical treatment. Make sure to fully disclose any pre-existing medical conditions and medications when choosing a policy.
    • Personal liability--accidents happen and sometimes it's your fault. If someone decides to sue you, don't admit fault until you've talked with your insurance provider, just in case. Travel insurance doesn't typically cover liability while you're driving, so it's always good to make sure you've got coverage for that elsewhere. TIP: obtain appropriate local licenses to operate whatever vehicle you may drive in whatever country you might travel to. Failure to do so may nullify your coverage.
    • Is it safe to travel there? --you may not be covered if you choose to travel to a destination affected by terrorism, war, civil/political unrest or a natural disaster such as a volcano, typhoon, earthquake, tsunami, etc.
    • Extra coverage--life is weird and sometimes airlines or tour companies screw you over with canceled flights, delayed departures, missed connections, or going under. Some insurance plans cover for these headaches, others don't. If you're concerned about any one of these unforeseen issues (or just have really bad luck), maybe spring for the extra coverage.

3| Carefully read through the entire insurance plan, including the fine print! 
What exactly is considered an unforeseen event? Am I covered if I lose my job and can't afford my trip anymore? Are my plane tickets covered? What if a hurricane interrupts my vacation? Whatever the situation, if you think it could happen to you, make sure your travel insurance plan covers it. If you're a military family, this is especially important. Make good and sure your coverage includes a military clause stating that you'd be covered in the event that your trip has to be cancelled due to a deployment, revoked leave, or any other military-related duty. If you're unsure about any part of the fine print, call the company directly for clarification.

4| Keep a copy of your travel insurance plan number and coverage description with you when you travel.
You never know when disaster may strike, so keep those insurance documents on hand--just in case. Add any important phone numbers and contacts you might need in the rare event you might actually have to file a claim, visit a medical facility, or have your trip interrupted.

Reputable Travel Insurance Companies:
Travel Guard (we have used this company)
Travel Insured International via USAA (we have used this company)
World Nomad
CSA Travel Protection

While there are many other things to consider before taking a trip, travel insurance should be a bullet point on your "to-do" list. Your time and money are important assets. If traveling is a priority in your life, you can't afford to leave those things to chance, so why not travel smart and give yourself some peace of mind. Fingers crossed travel insurance will always be just a precaution.

For more travel tips from my Travel Like a Boss Series, click here!

Jul 21, 2014

So, You're Moving To Wiesbaden? | WHERE TO EAT

Some of the top questions I receive in my inbox each week are about Wiesbaden, our former host city in Germany. Many people are planning their moves abroad, some have already began to call Wiesbaden home…but what they all have in common is their need to know the best places to eat, shop, see, and experience the wonders of their new home city. Over the last 3 years, I grew to love every square inch of Wiesbaden and feel very fortunate to have been able to live in such a beautiful part of Germany. Having lived so close to downtown (a mere 5-minute walk), D and I became quite familiar with the city center and all the wonderful shops and restaurants it had to offer. A sweet reader (and fairly new face to Wiesbaden-Hi Chrisy!) sent me an email asking if I'd start a series about Wiesbaden and share my top picks for dining, shopping, and attractions in the area. I'm not sure why I hadn't thought to do it before…but better late than never, right?! Here is just part 1 of my top picks for places you should be eating at in Wiesbaden and the surrounding area...ENJOY!

Ristorante Comeback | Goldgasse 13, 65183 Wiesbaden, Germany | +49 611 373802 
This was the very first restaurant D and I ever ate at in Wiesbaden...and like the name says, we always "comeback!" It's located in a charming alley downtown (appropriately dubbed "Italian Alley" by the Americans in town) and serves some of the most delicious fresh pasta dishes I've ever tasted. Their spaghetti Aglio e Olio is better than what I tried in Italy (seriously!) and the servers are all super friendly! A must-eat in Wiesbaden, for sure.

Vapiano |  Wilhelmstrasse 52, 65183 Wiesbaden, Germany | +49 611 1608773
Want fast food Italian without it tasting like fast food Italian? Vapiano is the restaurant for you! The concept is unique--grab a card, visit a food station (pizza, pasta, salad, etc.), choose how you like it, and your meal is made fresh to order while you wait and watch! Might I recommend their Caesar salad, bolognese, and carbonara salmone? Wash it down with a glass of Hugo and you've got a winning (quick!) dinner combo.

Aurum | Goldgasse 16, 65183 Wiesbaden, Germany | +49 611 3600877
Also located down "Italian Alley," Aurum is one of our fall/winter time favorites...mostly because of their AMAZING parmesan soup. It's to die for! Other favorites--margarita pizza, baked gnocchi, and the involtini mediterranean. Dine al fresco for the best ambiance!

Viva Los Tioz Tapas Bar | Goldgasse 10, 65183 Wiesbaden, Germany | +49 700 0567 8469
I can't even count how many times D and I ate here with friends over our 3 year tour in Wiesbaden. It's beyond delicious and such a fun dining experience! Located adjacent to "Italian Alley" in a small square, Viva Los Tios is perfect for a tapas-lovers night out. Best tapas on the menu? The chorizo, bacon wrapped dates, garlic dip (with bread), gambas de ajillo (shrimp in garlic), and patatas con alioli (potatos with garlic sauce). Basically anything with garlic will do. And if you're into exotic cocktails, try the caipirinha!

Enchilada | Schützenhofstraße 3, 65183 Wiesbaden, Germany | +49 611 45048350
 Germany isn't known for having stellar Mexican food, but if you're jonesing for a good margarita and burrito, Enchilada will fit the bill. Located in Wiesbaden's downtown pedestrian zone (Kirchgasse), Enchilada is easy to reach, has great happy hour drink specials, and has plenty of room for parties or a fun night out with friends.

Mexico Lindo (Mainz) | Adolf-Kolping-Straße 17, 55116 Mainz, Germany | +49 6131 228060
Another great option for Tex-Mex food, except this restaurant is located in Mainz, just a hop, skip, and jump from the Wiesbaden area. Mexico Lindo has excellent steak fajitas--best in town, I think! Owner is originally from Texas, so he knows a thing or two about spice and bold flavors. The taco salad and quesadilla are excellent choices as well!

Webers Wikinger | Grabenstraße 14, 65183 Wiesbaden, Germany | +49 611 307622
Hands down the best German/Viking food in all of Wiesbaden! We LOVE Webers...love it. Best dishes--the turkey escalope with fried potatoes and either the garlic or mushroom cream sauce, the bacon wrapped pork medallions, or the salmon fillet. If I were you, I'd eat the turkey escalope every single time...it wasn't my last meal in Germany for no reason! Reservations recommended.

Paulaner | Wilhelmstraße 58, 65183 Wiesbaden, Germany | +49 611 1667101
If you're hungry for traditional Bavarian cuisine, Paulaner won't disappoint. Aside from their famous beer, you can also find great schnitzles, yummy seasonal menus, and sausage platters typical of Bavarian cooking traditions. Their kasespatzel was my favorite in town! Located downtown right on Wilhelmstrasse.

Der Andechser RatskellerSchloßplatz 6, 65183 Wiesbaden, Germany | +49 611 300023 
Located under the Ratskeller in downtown Wiesbaden (just beside the beautiful Marktkirche), Der Andechers is most well-known for its monastery-brewed beer, but also serves a wide variety of traditional German dishes from rump roasts to afpelstrudel. I find the best part about the restaurant is the fun stube (beer/wine cellar) atmosphere.

Brahaus Castle (Mainz-Kastel)Otto-Suhr-Ring 27, 55252 Wiesbaden, Germany | +49 6134 24999
I've eaten at the Brauhaus Castle at least 3 dozen times. It's where I bring all our visitors for authentic German meals, it's where half of our squadron going away parties were held (large outdoor biergarten), and it's where D and I would go on date night every so often. Great schnitzles and spundekas, EXCELLENT salads (Rustica salad is my fave!), kitschy German ambiance, and wonderful beer brewed in-house. They also have tasty specials during spargle (white asparagus) and pumpkin seasons! Did I mention they have English menus and speak English? What's not to love about this place?!

Kafer'sKurhausplatz 1, 65189 Wiesbaden, Germany | +49 611 536200
If you're looking for a fancy French bistro-inspired night out, Kafer's, inside of the beautiful Wiesbaden Kurhaus, is the date night of your dreams. The restaurant itself is a piece of art--high ceilings, chandeliers, gilded mirrors--rich architecture around every turn. The food is quite the gastronomic adventure--lobster, lamb shanks, octopus salad--delights for all types of palates. While there is a small cover charge to eat there (roughly 3 euros per person), the food and atmosphere is worth experiencing at least once. Kafer's also serves a lovely Sunday brunch. Reservations recommended!

So many places to eat, so little time!
More suggestions to come in my next installment...so, stay tuned!
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