Sunday, November 4, 2018

August - Amsterdam

I put off writing about Amsterdam for a while on purpose.  I needed to get past the 10 days of our airbnb rental being able to do anything, then writing my review of it, then waiting for the review to be posted.  And then really... just needed to let time pass so it was less fresh in my mind.

Amsterdam was Ian, Nicholas, and me.  We met up with some friends from Amman who were on their way to their next post in Istanbul. Amsterdam is filled with steak houses, so we had a great dinner together where Ian practiced some Arabic, and then perused the Van Gogh museum the next day.  Side note: I recommend watching "Loving Vincent" which happened to be made in the next city we visited, Wroclaw (in Poland). It's remarkable.

So.  The place we stayed at - this is the listing: . It looks lovely, no?

This is what we had:

When they said 5th floor, they weren't kidding.
My review: 

"I have no complaint with the location. It's not downtown, but that has pros as well. No, I have problems with everything else once we arrived. Let's start at the beginning... the key. It was left for us at a bar down the street - who had no idea it was there or what we were asking for. Eventually we did get it, thank goodness. 

Yes, the apartment is on the top floor. The listing says it's great for families and kids. I completely disagree. There is no way that parents with small children could safely go up and down those stairs, especially as several of the step mats had fallen off making the steps uneven. One floor - maybe. 4 floors? No. Nevermind that the front door doesn't even open all the way so even just traveling with carry-on cases we struggled to get in and out of the building and then up and down the stairs - there is no place to store a stroller or car seat if you could get them in the building. And the listing mentions not making noise. No noise with kids going up and down 4 flights (yes... no noise in the stairwell either) or on a wooden floor in the apartment? Thankfully we were 3 adults. 

Then we made it into the apartment. There were 2 notes on the table, both on soiled pieces of paper - one was a dirty postcard - with bits scratched out and written over and blurred. It sounds nitpicky, but when you don't want to touch the paper... come on. It was a little sad that there was nothing that looked professional or that it had taken any time - no guides to the city, no recommendations for nearby restaurants, nothing. Even if the limited info had been on a clean piece of notebook paper, it would have been an improvement. 

It appeared that the owner had vacated 10 minutes before our arrival. Beds were not made, and the pillows were, shall we say, well-used. I assume the linens were clean, but the beds looked tossed. Add to that the drying rack full of clothes next to the ladder to the loft, including a pair of underwear that had fallen on the floor. Every cabinet was stuffed with the owner's personal items, and every surface had personal items all about. Yes, the apartment is small, but there was no space to put any of our items, even a shelf or a drawer. From the photos we had planned to put our suitcases on the desk by the ladder, but the tops were covered with, yes, more personal items. The washing machine had clothing hanging on it and since the drying rack was "in use" there was no way to do laundry anyway. 

The listing also mentions that the couch can be used as a bed... it does not pull out, and if you have a family member that is over 5 feet tall, no.... Nevermind that the couch is ripped up, with a strategically placed blanket. 

There is no sink in the bathroom. I should have noticed that in the photos, but it means that any washing is done in the kitchen sink. The owner is very into coffee and alcohol so several counter tops are covered in those items. The kitchen area around the sink had some unexpected items like a used jar of shoe polish. 

Again, the listing mentions "good for families." The wiring was a hazard waiting to happen. There was a rats nest of wires on the shelf behind the couch, and wires hanging over a dining chair. The refrigerator was partially filled with 1/2 used... and 1/2 eaten... items. We used it only for a 6-pack of soda. And the freezer was so full it looked like the items might come out at a cube. No seriously, I'm glad we opened it and checked before bothering to get ice cream or anything of our own. We couldn't have put it anywhere without rearranging or cleaning out the freezer. 

After our first night, my family begged to leave and check into a hotel, but we had already paid for 3 nights. It so happened that the second day my husband fell ill, so we stayed a second night. But when he felt better, we checked into a hotel for the 3rd and final night. It was so worth it for us to have a clean, open, welcoming space to sleep in, even if it was only for 1 night. 

I said there was no guidance, and there wasn't - what to do with garbage upon our departure? What to do with the key when we left? We had to text the owner to find out the answer to the key question. 

There is a nice courtyard view out one window. This listing could be gorgeous, if it has been like the photos, clean and well-oriented. Unfortunately that was not our experience. The owner was easily reached, but we didn't feel that telling him our disappointment with the place could be fixed during our stay. We have stayed at dozens of home lettings and they've all had their quirks and charms. We've enjoyed them and considered them memorable experiences. This is the first time I've ever left a negative review. I so wish I could add photos here."

Lucky for you, I can post photos here.

None of us touched those rags.

Every item was 1/2 open or 1/2 eaten.

Yes.  The freezer.

Our guidance.

By the ladder to the "loft bed"

Where we'd planned to put suitcases. Under the chair...
a pair of underwear.

Guess we can't wash or dry laundry.

That does not bode well.

"Kid-friendly." There were other cords hung over dining room chairs.

The loft bed that looks pre-slept-in. The downstairs
"bedroom" was a converted closet that had a door, a slanted
ceiling, a light, and no window or cut-out.

So Nicholas slept on the sheet-covered couch.
Amsterdam was an interesting city. The apartment was in a decent area, with restaurant options and if you're into them, plenty of bars. It took about 20 minutes to walk downtown which was fine because the walk was lovely along canals and through pretty neighborhoods.

We didn't get into the Anne Frank house.  I was too late to try to get tickets 2 months earlier, and wasn't lucky enough to get the few available each morning. It is my one regret from our visit. We had a fun segway tour, ate some Dutch pancakes, and checked out the Red Light District. Oh come on, you know we had to.

Amsterdam is confused.  It has great art, decent food, cute streets, good shopping, and a lot of drugs and sex. When we left, I had a sense that I didn't know what Amsterdam was trying to be, and that Amsterdam didn't know what it wanted to be. I'm not sure I'd go back. Except to see the Anne Frank house.

Kent and Essex

Those are great pet names.

OK, fine...

In June we did a quick hop to England with Jonathon.  Thanks to his school counselor who chatted with him about what he was interested in studying in university, she recommended that he check out both the University of Essex and the University of Sussex.  We looked them up online, thought they were interesting, and book some flights. 

We stayed in Rochester, roughly half-way between the two, rented an airbnb type place, picked up Rebecca at Heathrow (flew in from the U.S.) and visited the two schools. Essex had their Open Day which was great and I think Jonathon got a good sense of life at school there.  We sat in on a talk with one of the computer science instructors, saw a computer lab and the robotics lab, and just enjoyed the day seeing some dorms, eating some food, and wandering about.  The University of Sussex wasn't having an Open Day, but we did visit the campus.  It feels a little older and smaller, but it is close to Brighton Beach where we spent the afternoon.

The application process is different both in content and in timing, so should he apply there,  he won't do it until roughly when U.S. decisions need to be made... around April.  In the meantime, he applied early action to a school already and we'll hopefully hear back in mid-December on that.  Cross your fingers.

Rochester is lovely.

We recommend the Deaf Cat Cafe.

Low tide.

Lovely place to stay.

We passed on the jellied eels.

Selfie at Brighton Beach!

University of Essex

A tradition started in Ireland.

Thursday, October 11, 2018


Nicholas tried out marksmanship in high school, and has since been to the shooting range in Mainz twice. Now that he's passed his IST (Initial Strength Test) and currently hopes to get into Security Forces and eventually Sniper School, it's a good place to be.

And if dad does it...

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Next Post: Still Baghdad

Ian works magic.  We'll leave Frankfurt the day after Jonathon graduates, have 3 weeks in the U.S. with one of those weeks for me at FACT, then off to post. 

That's only if I get a job though. My packet is in, I followed up again last week, it's a slow process - cross your fingers.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Dog update

Mokka has been with us almost a year and she's come a long way.

When we got her she was scared of...

The hallway
Loud noises
Quiet noises
The outside in general
Weather in general
Everything else

Things she was not scared of...

The cats

Now, she is no longer scared of...

The hallway
Loud noises
Quiet noises
The outside in general
Weather in general

*She has a dog friend in the building!  A 9 year old pup she gets so excited to see.  It's adorable.  She still doesn't like all other dogs. Puppies freak her out.

She's come so far!

I don't know that baths will ever be her favorite, and we took her to the dog beach for the second time today and she still doesn't like that water either, or all the other dogs wandering around.  And she doesn't care at all for rain.  I sense a theme.

She knows how to sit, lay down, jump up, spin, shake, stay, and is learning roll over.  She knows she's not allowed in the master bedroom and the kitchen, but there are places outside each room that she likes to lay where she can see what's going on. Yes, she goes on the furniture.  But she's better about the cats (and the cats are better about her).

She knows when it's frisbee day and that she'll get to go to the park and run around like a crazy thing.

She knows the time of day and gets really irritating when it's food time. Actually she gets really irritating a lot of times when she wants attention.  I haven't figured out how to get her to stop pawing us for attention. A cat pawing is cute and soft, a dog pawing leaves marks.

She has a stuffed pig.

She'll do anything for a piece of string cheese.

She's still learning to be a dog.  She doesn't know how to chase a ball, is completely uninterested in sticks, and rarely doesn't know what to do with the rest of her toys unless it's stuffed with a treat... or is her pig.  She really likes her squeaky pig.

All in all, though, she's a good pup.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Next Post: Baghdad

With our youngest graduating high school in June 2019 and a position in Baghdad opening up summer 2019, we figured now was a good time to throw in our hat. It sounds simple enough.  And then reality sets in.

We have 4 pets.  Why?  Oh, good question, but irrelevant at this point.  Four pets that need to go somewhere for a year since they can't come to Baghdad.  Not even one cat to keep us company.  We have plans for all the pets.

We have one kid who has graduated college but doesn't have a full-time job yet.  She's working on it, and we hope that by winter time she'll be all squared away. 

Another kid is planning to move off campus at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.  She'll have the dog by then and we wanted to be there to help her move.  It's flexible.

Another has enlisted in the Marines and should be graduating boot camp next April in South Carolina.  We wanted to be there for that.  We will be there for that.

The youngest graduates on 1 June 2019 and has the whole summer 2019 to fill before going to university, wherever he goes.

Germany is interesting - it doesn't allow families to stay in-country if the direct hire isn't at post.  It is not a safe-haven country.  So the day that Ian leaves is the day the rest of us leave.

Here's where it gets really interesting.

The youngest graduates on 1 June.  That's immovable.  Home leave (required at the end of each tour, or after 2 years if the tour is 4 years, consultation days and holidays are not included) is a minimum of 20 unworked work days - a full month.  You can try to wriggle it a little bit like take training first, or get it shortened a few days, but on the whole it is non-negotiable.  We arrived in Frankfurt at the end of July in 2016 and are given roughly 30 days on either side of that date in 2019 for departure, but that is flexible though it requires some hoop-jumping for HR.

So... when we bid on this job, we expected that we would leave on 2 June... do homeleave and training... and arrive to the next post mid-July.

The person he's replacing leaves in June.

We've been informed, in no uncertain terms, that gaps at post are not allowed.  For any reason.  Ever.

Ian is the only one that matters when it comes to timing of stuff - getting his home leave done, getting to post.  If I could stay in Germany with Jonathon after Ian left to get through exams and graduation, I would, but as far as I know I can't.

I'm open to suggestions on how this is supposed to work.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

We're melting and we've been melting for weeks.

So hot.

So hot.

The pets are wearing fur coats and are melting worse than we are.  99F outside and no a/c inside. Some rooms have fans.

So hot.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

What. A. Week+. Part 6

And even further back to May 20th.... This one graduated college!
We were able to fly back, and take her out to Morton's afterwards with the grandparents.

Now it's on to finding a job :)  

What. A. Week+. Part 5

Nicholas had his enlistment ceremony for the Marines! 13 June 2018

He won't ship out until 2019, but he's signed on the dotted line, so no backsies...