Luxembourg? Never heard of the place.

Three months ago I knew nothing about the country of Luxembourg. I knew so little that I didn’t acknowledge it as a real place. While looking for flights into Europe I found that Luxembourg International was the most cost effective destination to meet up with family in Southwestern Germany.

As we made our decent toward LUX I find my self looking out the window in awe. The landscape beneath me looked like something from a fairy tale. Small hills, farmlands and green grass as far as the eyes could see. Occasionally you would see a large historical church or castle as well.

luxembourgUpon landing I realized that the LUX airport has an eery feel. It’s quiet. Almost too quiet. In nearly any public space in the USA you will hear people speaking along with background music playing over the public announcement system. In Luxembourg I felt out of line when speaking to my wife and kids while waiting in line to pass through customs.

Speaking of customs, these border police are intimidating. When I stated that I was staying for a month the customs officer looked at me and said “Hmmmmmmmmm” in an unhappy tone. When he asked where I was staying I said Germany. Apparently this was a relief for him and his facial expressions and tone of voice changed.

The Rental Car Issue

With our bags in tow we walked toward the Hertz rental car counter. I was greeted by a women speaking French. Now I took French for six years between Jr High and High School, yet when I had the opportunity to speak to someone my mind went blank. In fact I couldn’t even recall how to ask if she spoke English. I defaulted to full American and just started speaking in English.

Luckily everyone involved in business, travel and hospitality speaks English in Europe. I told the Hertz employee my reservation number. She looked through and said “I can’t find it, are you sure you reserved this through Hertz?”. She looked through various systems while my worries grew. I need a rental car I have too many people to transport. Eventually she found the issue.

My reservation was made for yesterday.

I didn’t know if the issue was caused by me, Hertz or rentalcars.com. Not so luckily for me, my credit card was already charged in full for the rental. I was told I have to take this up with rentalcars.com and not Hertz. Luckily Hertz had an additional car to rent that met my requirements. Renting directly through them also ended up being cheaper. I paid $209 to rent a car for a month. She stated that I shouldn’t need extra insurance as American credit cards have enough coverage.

Read that last line again. Go ahead, do it. She talked me out of additional insurance on the car. Clearly I am not in the USA. My next concern was the amount of miles / kilometers that I could add to the car over this time. No problem here.. it’s unlimited. I’m still in shock over how cheap the rental car was.

Where is reverse?

While walking through the parking garage I noticed something strange. I felt like I was about to be in the middle of a zombie movie.  It was like the moment where everything is silent in the parking garage before a horde of brain eating bastards comes out of nowhere. After taking a quick stop to listen to the sound of an insulated and sound dampening garage we found our four door fiat. 

Once everyone was secured in the car I jumped in and turned the key. I expected the sound of the engine turning over. Instead I was greeted with the sound of failure. Not a damned thing happened. I looked around the dashboard to see if I missed something, yet not matter what I did I couldn’t get the car to start.

That’s when I realized this is a manual transmission car. DOH!

I’ve been driving manual cars for half of my life. I know how they work, I know how to start them. I can only imagine that this was skipped over because I have never had a manual rental car before. Anyways.. the car finally started.

In the USA we are accustomed to parking garages with plenty of room to navigate. Even a massive SUV can get around one of these garages without much of an issue. That is far from the case in Europe. I had to navigate this fiat with utmost care around every corner. This parking garage was ridiculously tight. To make the issue worse I took a wrong turn and backed myself into a corner.

Looking at the shifter I noticed that first gear and reverse appeared to be in the same spot. For twenty minutes my wife and I fought with this car trying to get it into reverse. We even tried to read the manual (in French) to find how to get the bloody thing into reverse. Finally I noticed that there was a small ring immediately below the shifter knob. I pulled this upward while attempting to place the car into first gear. 

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FINALLY the backup camera appeared on screen and I was able to back out of my predicament. After stalling the car a few hundred times I managed to get out of the parking lot unscathed. 

Sadly my exploration of Luxembourg on this day would be limited. The sun was starting to set and Badem, Germany was still an hour away.

3 Weird Things They Have in Europe That We Need In The USA

You will learn a lot while traveling the world. While there are many “big concepts” related to government and laws of a country there are also many little things that make an impact on you. Over the past month I’ve traveled through Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands. Here are three little things that The USA needs to get onboard with.

Shopping Cart Rentals

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You know the scene. When you walk through any American shopping center parking lot you will see carts everywhere. Some are in the proper cart corral, others are placed in an empty parking spot, or propped up on a curb. Of course when the wind picks up carts can easily crash into vehicles causing damage.

When you walk through a European shopping center lot you won’t see any misplaced carts. They are always returned to the proper location.

Why is that?

In Europe you deposit money into the shopping cart handle before it is released. Typically these will take a 50 Euro cent or 1 Euro coin. Once the coin is inserted and locked into place the lock on the cart opened and it can be removed. When you finish shopping you return the cart, plug in the lock, and your coin is released.

Automatic Cleaning Toilets in Public Restrooms

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Have you ever had to use a public restroom on a long road trip? I’m going to guess that you have a memory of an disgusting public restroom. Throughout Europe there are two different types of public restrooms along the motorways. You have free rest stops like the USA. These are typically disgusting and somewhere you don’t want to visit. 

The alternative is using the restroom at a gas station. To access the bathroom you will pay somewhere between 50 cents to 1 Euro. Once you are inside you will find a well maintained bathroom that is frequently cleaned. As an added “bonus” the toilets here clean the seat after every use.

These toilets take it one step up from those that automatically flush. The seat is sprayed with a disinfectant and then spins through a device that wipes the seat. After the seat makes a few turns through the cleaning mechanism it is placed back onto the toilet for the next use. Click here to see a video of one in action. 

Miniature Forks

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There are times when you don’t have a sanitizing wipe for your fingers. After touching high traffic areas you shouldn’t put your fingers near your mouth. Sure we do it all the time with fast food..but we shouldn’t.

In Europe they give you a miniature fork when you order fries or other finger foods. I’ve loved using these since my first order of fries here. My kids have enjoyed them too. I don’t know how they will function without them back in the States.

Aside from sanitary reasons these pieces of miniature cutlery keep your fingers grease free. No one likes greasy fingers on their phone or tablet touch screen.

These three “little things” have amused me since coming here last month. There are others, but these three made the cut for this list.

Have you been “across the pond”?

If so what “little things” do you wish we had in the USA?

Berlin – Topography of Terror and the Current State of the USA

It’s a long drive from Amsterdam to Berlin.

The distance is longer than the drive from Phoenix to Los Angeles yet appears to go by at a different pace. Maybe it’s the lack of bare desert landscape. The drive is filled with beautiful green scenery, bridges, rivers and gas stations where you must pay 50 Euro cent to use the toilet facilities. At least the toilets have an automated cleaning system. Those nasty truck stop restrooms in the USA could learn a thing or two from the European rest stops.

Once you hit the last leg of the freeway you will notice something a little odd. Bleachers. The A115 Motorway has tattered bleachers right next to the freeway. While they are currently covered in graffiti and rust they once served a purpose and were known as the AVUS.

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AVUS is an abbreviation for Automobile Verkehrs und Übungs Straße. This section of road started construction in 1913 but was halted by the first world war. By 1921 the AVUS acted as a high speed motorway by week and a racing venue for cars and motorcycles on the weekend. By 1999 the A115 held it’s final (legal) race due to safety issues.

As you drive further into Berlin you will see an interesting mix of architecture. Many parts of the city appear 100+ years old with 1970’s style buildings packed in between.I suppose that’s what happened when you city is nearly destroyed by war.

Berlin consists of twelve different Boroughs. Our hotel was located dead center in the Mitte district. This was somewhat strategic as I wanted to minimize driving. The fear of driving here was amplified as we sat down for our first meal in the city.

As I sat sipping on my cappuccino we heard the telltale sound of brakes being slammed, tires skidding followed by the sound of metal colliding at a high speed. We were seated on the patio and the nearly everyone there stood up to see what happened. A car had rear ended a city bus, then fled the scene.

The waiters acted in a familiar way. Hands covered their mouths, their eye brows raised in surprise and the German equivalent of “Ohhh shit!” came out of their mouths. This was followed by light amounts of jumping around and slapping each others backs before going back to work. It resembled a group of guys watching an NFL (American Football) game in any American town.

Once finished with the meal I walked to the grocery store while my wife took the kids back to the hotel. In the 10 minutes I was gone my wife an kids witnessed another wreck at this same intersection. This time a car went through the fence smashing into parts of a construction site. 

Yeah.. I’m not driving in this town.

That night we made the mistake of reading too many reviews of Berlin online. This started with a Facebook comment from my wife’s sister. She recently visited Berlin and stated that this is where she felt the “least safe” during their trip to Germany. They had an aggressive group of males approach them, and witness someone get assaulted on the train in front of them.

Since coming to Europe there have been four acts of terrorism that made news headlines. Everything from axe attacks on the train system, a mall shooting, a suicide bomb at a concert and a knife attack. Of course all of these took place on German soil.

It’s one thing to be sitting at home in Arizona watching the news about events like this. Being in the nation that is experiencing these events takes your sense of caution to a completely different level.

I ended up reading stories about Arab gangs that have taken over the Berlin. These gangs have been around for ages and typically run various gambling and prostituation facilities. Some of these gangs have transitioned into a far more violent approach by taking advantage of the Syrian refugees. The refugees come here with little to no money. People often see shortcuts as the best route so the young and physically fit males are recruited into these gangs to perform muggings, pick pockets and whatever else the “bosses” ask of them. They are told that the “worst case scenario” involves the individual landing in German prison, which is far better than prisons in the middle East. 

By the time we had turned off the lights and heard the sound of police sirens for the 10th time we felt as though we had made a mistake in coming here. We wanted to leave and forgot all about exploring Berlin.

The following morning I said screw it. We are doing what we want and we are not allowing the experiences of others to rain on our parade. We left our hotel and started to walk toward the famed “Checkpoint Charlie”. A crossing point that separated where US and Soviet line began. We made a detour to the “Topography of Terror” as we noticed a crowd. 

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The Topography of Terror is where the Gestapo headquarters sat from 1933 to 1945. It is home to museum and an outdoor display where you can read about the events that lead to Hilter coming to power. The anti-semitic and racist themes started to appear in the 1870’s through Völkisch Nationalism. Over time these themes and ideas grew into the National Socialist party AKA the Nazi party as we know.

What shocked me the most about the Topography or Terror display is the propaganda from the 1930s on display.  The images, the structure of words, the themes. All I though was “Holy hell… this is the current political situation in the USA”. Now I know many  people will nod their heads and say “Donald Trump”. That’s not the individual I am pointing at. This is about Trump, Clinton, the police brutality and  blatant media manipulation sweeping the USA.

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I wasn’t the only one that thought this. After leaving the Topographies we walked across the street to the Curry Würst stand. While I was eating my fries I overheard the conversation from the table next to us. It was a group of Canadians in their 20’s and 30’s. When you are in a foreign country it becomes far too easy to eavesdrop when you hear people that are speaking your native tongue.

The lone female in the group started taking about what she saw while walking through the Topography of Terror. She mentioned the history and what she saw on the signs. That when I heard her say “Do you know what all of this makes me think of?” Simultaneously the others in the group said “The USA”.

Crap.

Of course we finally made it to Checkpoint Charlie. This was a disappointment. It’s not worth your time. You will see someone dressed as either a Soviet or American soldier next to a guard shack in the middle of the road. In short, it’s a tourist trap. I recommend spending more time at the Topography of Terror which is a block or two away.

Is my GPS drunk? AKA – Welcome to Amsterdam | Travel Blog

When I was a kid I always imagined Holland being somewhere else in Europe. I assumed it was further north, such as the Scandinavian region. I never pictured it across from England.

I remember learning about Holland in school. The wooden shoes are what I remember the most. It was probably second grade where we started to learn about the Christmas season throughout the world. We even had someone in my class bring in a pair of wooden shoes to show off. I always thought it was a weird thing and wondered what type of people come from Holland.

Klompen!

For the longest time I assumed that my paternal grandmother’s last name was Van Ry. That’s how I heard it pronounced for the longest time. Then right before this trip to Europe I Googled by grandmother’s name. I came across an obituary for one of her sisters that passed away in 2013. Turn outs “Van Ry” is incorrect. The real name is “Van Rij”. According this obituary my great grandfather was actually born in South Holland.

I guess I have some Dutch blood in me. Go figure.

We made our way from Etten-Leur to Amsterdam in a few hours. I booked a hotel that was a about 7 kilometers away from the city center. It was a Best Western near the airport and not that expensive for a few nights stay. It also looked new online and advertised Air Conditioning. After Brussels there is no way I am staying in a non air-conditioned building.

But I have a problem.

There is this major asshole that I’ve been stuck with this entire trip. He misled me a few times in Brussels, but I’m fairly sure he consumes a keg of two of beer each morning before we meet up, This jerks name is Tom. His last name is also Tom.  He’s the built in GPS unit in my rental car.

Fuck this guy.

Sure he’s a “harmless” GPS device in the car. He’s also a liar,  a drunk, and homicidal . Tom Tom was not our friend from the moment we tried to find our hotel. He couldn’t keep up with the location of the car. He would alert us that we had to turn 110 meters AFTER we passed the street. Of course making a U turn isn’t easy in this part of the world. One-way streets and canals are ubiquitous. One missed turn can easily add 10km onto your drive.

After being deceived by TomTom a number of times we arrived at the hotel. As listed on the website, the Best Western Amedia is modern, clean and pretty amazing. Wooden floors that are spotless. A mini kitchen with a sink, microwave, stove top and refrigerator. The most important feature : a bit of privacy for the adults. The kids had their bed on one side of the kitchen. The wifey and I had our bed on the other side. The room had two TV’s so the kids could watch TV from the sofa bed and stay out of our hair for a few minutes.

After a quick unpacking we jumped back into the car and drove toward Amsterdam. If you’ve never driven in Amsterdam it is NOT an easy feat. The roads are confusing. The street signs are in small text and light rail trains buzz within inches of your car. Add in the complication of taxis that drive on the train tracks (don’t follow them) and bicycles are everywhere. The bicycles riders seem to make up their own rules of the road. Red lights mean nothing to them.

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We found a Vegan food spot where my wife got to satisfy her craving for “a plate of vegetables”. It’s easy to crave this after being in a region where people consume bread with nearly every meal. The little shop had board games and a few creepy dolls in the corner for kids to play with. The kids had a delicious juice made from beet, oranges and lime while they played Scrabble. I tried to eaves drop on the other people in the shop but I couldn’t make out may words in this strong guttural language. I was worried that someone was going to need the Heimlich maneuver. Dutch sounds like someone is choking on their food. Especially when someone speaks with food in their mouth. Yet, I want to learn to speak Dutch. 

We walked around Amsterdam a bit more before coming across a Bagels and Beans (as in Coffee). I ordered a gluten free bagel with maple syrup and banana. I always worry about ordering food when we are out, but I had no issues from this shop. Bagels and Beans are all over Amsterdam, so if you need a quick gluten free pick me up, stop there.

The following day we returned to downtown Amsterdam and ventured further into the city center.   Parking is a nightmare in this town. When you finally find a parking spot it will run you 4 euro per hour in the city center. Yeah yeah.. public transportation is best. Well doing the math, it was about the same cost to park as it would have been to take the bus / train in from the hotel. Paying for four people is a completely different ballgame than you solo travelers.

The canals are amazing. Watching the bridges lift and boats go by was a treat for the kids. I enjoyed the graffiti and reading the signs about town. Apparently there is a big EuroPride event taking place around this time. The government buildings even had the Rainbow flag proudly displayed on their rooftops. They also had signs showing which countries allow same sex couples to adopt children with statistics about same sex vs heterosexual parents. Studies show that same sex couples do just fine raising children. Just throwing that out there for my LGBT friends that love to travel.

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We eventually made our way to the Rijksmuseum where the “I Amsterdam” letters can be found. My kids enjoyed climbing all over these while I took photos. Behind us a break dancing group started to put on a show. They had this rehearsed to perfection. We also walked through the garden grounds at the museum.

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After getting back in the car we drove around the city a bit more eventually finding a vacant parking spot. We walked away from the car and walked a few more kilometers. Three hours later.. we forgot where we parked.

My phone was dead and no one wrote down the street address on paper. Shit. We walked a few kilometers (with a three year old) while trying to locate the car. Eventually I told my wife to sit on this bench and I will return when I find the car. She later told me she thought that would be the last time she ever saw me. She watched me walk into the labyrinth and saw my bald head vanish.

Luckily I found the car within 10 minutes.

After running back to find my wife we made our exit from the city. With kids, two days in Amsterdam city is enough. Without kids, I could spend a few weeks here venturing through each street and canal.

After putting the kids to bed I drove into a town a few miles away to pick up supplies. It was just a short 5km trip. Easy enough, right? Nope, not with Tom Tom the asshat leading the way! This pile of crap turned my 5km trip into 50km!

Wrong turn here, wrong turn there. Next thing you know he shows that I am driving through field. A few more wrong turns and I find myself back in downtown Amsterdam not knowing how I got to this area. I followed the signs to the airport and found my own way back.

Upon pulling into the hotel my wife messaged me on Google saying she was worried. She sent this sometime earlier in the night, but my cell service is disabled here. Only WiFi for me. Of course me not responding only makes the worrying worse.

When I told her that TomTom mislead me and lied to me (again), all she could do was laugh. She’s seen the issues with this GPS unit.

Tip – download city maps from Google before driving around. It will save you hours of agony and avoid putting any trust in TomTom the jerk. 

More pics of Amsterdam:

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Etten Leur, Showers and Pinworms – Hello Netherlands

I needed a break from the city.

Before leaving Brussels I found a hotel room in Etten-Leur, Netherlands and booked it. I had no idea what to expect from a small town in the Netherlands. The hotel advertised that they had air conditioned rooms which was the only real requirement on my list.

We navigated through the crowed streets of the EU capital city before hitting Motorway E19. From there we headed north toward The Netherlands. We drove by Antwerp and noticed that the signs had been changed from predominately French, to Dutch. The north half of Belgium is Dutch speaking, or Flemish to be exact. The Flemish version of Dutch includes different loanwords from French. I’m told that it’s a much “softer” sounding language than “Nederlands Dutch”, which I was soon to hear for the first time.

A quick transition onto Motorway E19 and we continued further north into The Netherlands. You wouldn’t think that the countryside changes much in such a small area. Similar elevations, yet the the types of trees appears to change.

As we made our way to Oosport exit we saw a familiar sight: McDonalds. Look, I haven’t eaten meat in nearly three years, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to restrict my kids from it. I’ll leave that choice up to them and right now they are hungry. While seeing a McDonalds was familiar a row full of bicycle parking in front of the entrance wasn’t.

Upon walking in realized I was in the cleanest McDonalds I’ve ever seen. Everything was spotless. I remember going to McDonalds as a kid and realizing how dirty and old everything seemed, but I didn’t care. I wanted my Happy Meal and I wanted to play. I walked up to the terminal and place the order while the kids went to play in the playground.

We hungout here for a few hours while we waited for checkin time at the hotel. The kids ate and played. After a while the manager started walking around offering free samples of their smoothies to patrons because of the heat wave. Again, not something we see very often in the USA.

We gathered the kids and drove the few kilometers into town. We saw architecture that was very foreign to our Arizona mindsets. Some homes even appeared to have straw roofs. Eaten-Leur was also the most “cookie cutter” town of everywhere we had been in Europe. Rows of homes that looked the same. The neighborhoods almost looked like they had an HOA that governs what can or cannot be in each yard. Maybe they have them here too?

We arrived at large building next to a school. This place did not look like your standard hotel at all. Upon walking in I saw a large restaurant downstairs, and what appeared to be a banquet facility. Someone approached me and started laughing and saying something to me in Dutch. I gave him a deer in headlights look and asked “Sprecht u Angles?”. He responded “yeah a little bit” then continued to carry on a conversation in English without a problem.

When I say “I speak a little” of a language I can say “Hello”, “Goodbye”, and “Where is the toilet”. I can’t carry on a conversation with someone when I “speak a little”. No way. I suppose that shows the difference in the American education system and other countries. I asked around and found out that to pass high school in the Netherlands you must speak, read and write english well enough to carry on a conversation. Go figure.

We checked into he hotel and found an amazing clean and modern room. A double twin bed (like a king size) and a sofa bed for the kids. This hotel even had a real shower. If you’ve been to Europe you know how much of a treat a shower is. Most of the time you are stuck washing yourself in a tub with a detachable shower nozzle.  If you are ever in Etten-Leur, I highly recommend staying at Het Turfschip. Our room was only 99 euro for the night.

After a short rest we went to see what the town has to offer. We made our way to the town center which was a brief walk from the hotel. We always check out the grocery stores first to determine if there is anything in the town for me to eat. This town had a Jumbo brand market which has a few gluten free items along with fresh produce.

We sat down at a local restaurant. Just like the man at the hotel I asked the waitress if she spoke English. She replied with “a little” then carried on a conversation without any issue. We ordered “crazy meals” for the kids while the wife and I ordered fries. The waitress asked if we wanted a “snack” too. I’m not 100% sure, but I think the term “snack” in the Netherlands implies a fried meat in an appetizer format. We passed on having a snack. I mean, after all aren’t fries a “snack”?

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After eating we walked around town a bit more. We discovered the greenbelts and parks that the town has. The kids had a blast playing and thought the playground equipment was “old”. It was brand new and made of wood. To a kid from Arizona that apparently implies old.

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*Warning – this part gets gross*

We went back to the hotel and started to get ready for bed. While my youngest was using the bathroom we heard her laughing in there. She then yelled out “Daddy there are funny little worms on my poop”. The wife and I looked at each other. She told me I had to go check. Sure enough… pinworms. My wife started getting itchy and feeling sick from the idea. I just had to laugh. She lectured the little one about putting her hands in her mouth. We washed all pairs of her underwear in the hottest water we could find.

While she was sleeping we noticed her starting to itch her butt. Here’s the thing: pinworms like night time, and they hit full growth during a full moon. They come out (via the butt) to lay eggs. What happens is the host scratches their butt, then gets the tiny eggs under their fingernails. The pinworm hopes that the host puts the eggs back into their mouth, thus starting the cycle over. We examined here and sure enough, there was a pinworm dancing on the kids bum. Ewwww.  We grabbed a wipe and cleared that bastard away.

Then we took a boiling hot shower.

The next morning I went to the pharmacy and bought anti parasite medication. Trying to give those nasty pills to a three year old is not an easy task, but we managed. Now you are probably thinking that she got the worms somewhere in Europe. Our theory is that she first got them back in the USA based upon the life cycle of a pinworm. Don’t be worried about getting worms in Europe. Your chances of getting there are no different than getting them in the USA. 

More photos from Etten-Leur. Don’t worry, no pinworm pictures here 🙂 

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Attack of the mosquitos in Brussels.

The heat in Phoenix is completely different from what I’ve discovered in Brussels. I can handle 120 degree weather without a problem back home, but 88 degrees here is hell. It could be the 43% humidity adding a new element to deal with. It could also be the lack of air conditioning at our hotel.

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We are staying at Hotel Du Congres, a three start hotel in the historic district. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad hotel. By the look of the building I’m going to guess that it was built sometime in the early 19th century. It offers the amenities you would expect from a foreign hotel of this caliber. We aren’t in the USA where everything is remodeled and brought to our current standards of living.

Aside from the heat we also have these wonderful guests in our room. I suppose they were here first. It could also be that they come and go as the please thanks to the window being open all day and night. They are annoying as hell when they buzz in your ear as you are trying to sleep. Not flies, that would be to easy. Mosquitos. Brutal little buggers that have wrecked my little three year old. They seemed to like her the most. I think I counted twelve bites on here. Poor thing.

Trouble finding Gluten free food

I initially booked this hotel because it was near a restaurant called “Moon Food”. This place caters to vegan, vegetarian and gluten free diets. I looked at their menu while sitting in Germany and started to crave the “cheesecake”.

We decided to take the 1km walk to the restaurant. Keep in mind walking 1km with a three year old has a level of difficulty that non parents won’t understand. They want to stop every 12 feet to look at the ground. They have temper tantrums over the slightest thing. Next thing you know you are carrying the little one because they are too tired. Ok, maybe you have a high maintenance adult friend like this, but I swear it is different. 

We made the walk only to find out that the restaurant is closed for three weeks. What gives? Where am I suppose to eat now? I looked up a few other places that cater to food allergies and made the solo walk to them. Guess what? They are all closed too!

I managed to find a little grocery shop where I stocked up on items to eat for the next few days. Gluten free crackers, vegetables and fruit are going to be my meals for a bit. Couple that with all of the walking we are doing and I am going to be shredded by the time I get back to the states.

Visit to Grand Place and Mannequin Piss

You can’t visit Brussels without a visit to the Grand-Place. According to the internet this place dates back to the 12th century. Merchants from the region would gather and sell their wares within the massive marketplace. This carried on until 1695 when troops of Louis XIV destroyed it in three days.

Of course this caused a massive rebuilding campaign to take place. Since the rebuild very little has been changed. Knowing that even the rebuilt areas are older than the entire United States are a testament to the building methods of that era. Can you imagine all of these cookie cutter homes lasting for 300+ years? Me either.

Let me say that photos do not give justice to the beauty of this. The building have gold that glimmers in the sunlight. The details in the brick work are unlike anything you will see even in the oldest American city. If you have the chance, I suggest visiting the Grand-Place at least once in your life. 20160719_100745

From here it’s a brisk walk to the corner of Rue de L’etuve and Rue Des Grands Carmes where a famous 61cm tall statue resides. The Manneken Pis or “Little Peeing Man” in Dutch was designed in 1618. There are many stories about the origin of this statue. You can go ahead and jump in Wikipedia to check them out. No need to rehash the info about this.

Now.. I was shocked to see how small it was. This statue is pretty famous and has appeared in various movies and TV shows. It’s not even the original statue! Yet, here is a large crowd of people taking pictures of this tiny statue. There was even an early 20’s Russian woman doing modeling poses in front of it. This made me laugh. She was getting an sexy for the camera while who I assume to be her mother took pictures.

As we started to walk back toward the Grand-Place we stopped at a Waffle stand. Even though my eating issue prevent me from consuming a Belgian waffle, it doesn’t mean my wife and kids have to miss out on it. For only one euro you can get a waffle with nothing on it. My kids wanted the works so we ordered one with Nutella, strawberries, bananas and more. It put us back five Euros and 50 euro cents. Not too shabby.

As the wife and kids sat on the side walk eating their waffle I walked into a chocolate shop. Look, I know dairy upsets my stomach a little bit. I’ve been lactose intolerant my whole life. I can however handle dairy in small amounts, unlike gluten that I have to avoid at all costs. Lucky for me this chocolatier had a Gluten Free bag of chocolates ready to go. It’s like they knew I was going to walk in.

One bite into these morsels of heaven and I knew this was nothing like chocolate from the US. You can buy “Belgian” chocolate in the US and it’s still nothing like this. I don’t know how they process it over here, but it makes a world of difference. The way it melts on your tongue hitting the right combination of tastebuds. So good. Just jump on a flight over the Belgium and buy some. You won’t regret it.

Didn’t want to go to these neighborhoods. 

After leaving the Grand-Place we decided to drive around to kill some time. Of course we wanted to cool off in the air conditioned Fiat. It’s pointless going back to the scorching hot hotel to relax.

I’ve heard on the news that there are a few low income areas that you want to avoid in Brussels. Lucky for me we ended up driving right through two of the “worst” ones. First off was Shaarbeek.

Shaarbeek ended up being only a few blocks from our hotel when we reviewed the map. We drove up Rue Royal and ended up turning down a smaller street. This was bustling street full of immigrants from the middle east. Vendors crammed into smaller spaces than you would see in city center. Signs written mostly in Arabic. To someone that completely fears Muslim people this would have been a nightmare. Luckily I have known a number of great people that happen to be Muslim. With that said, this area has been a hotbed for radicalized individuals. Whenever a terrorist attack happens in the EU, you can guarantee that law enforcement is going to have a visit to Shaarbeek planned.

After making our way out of Shaarbeek we circled the rest of the city. We came across beautiful architecture from various moments in time. We watched people interacting on the streets. Some in business suits, some in full body armor. Yes, the Belgian military is on patrol throughout Brussels, especially around the EU building.

A few more turns and we found ourselves into a another troubling neighborhood. To my left I noticed a number of individuals that appear to be shooting up (probably heroin) under a statue. As we drove further into this region I asked my wife to look on the map. “Sint-Jains Molenbeek” is where we are she said.

The number of panhandlers on the street quickly increased. They even approach your window looking for a handout in this region. They don’t wait for your signal, they approach and ask. Once again I found the quickest way out of this neighborhood and headed back toward the hotel.

Originally we planned to stay in Brussels for three nights. We bailed after night number two. The heat and mosquito bite became too much for us. Of course I had to pay for all three nights.. but I’m glad we left when we did. Around the time we left Brussels there was a bit of a scare that occurred.

More Photos from Brussels:

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Prost Prost, Kamerad. My Adventure in Badem, Germany.

I never understood the term “sleepy village” until I came to Badem.

If you blink while driving through Bundesstraßen 257 you will easily miss this town. The main drag consists of a bakery, a small grocery market, a Turkish Kebob shop, a soccer field and a bar.

This is a huge contrast to someone who came from a large US city such as Phoenix. If this village was located in Phoenix it could fit within the footprint that any shopping mall can consume.. 

Turning down next to the bakery will lead you to Kirchstraße. It took me a few days to learn that the street names are a concatenation of two words. In the US we would write “Church Street”, not “Churchstreet”. Kirch is the Deutsch word for “Church” and straße is the word for street. This street leads to the focal point of the town. 

Badem-Church

This beautiful work of architecture and craftsmanship was finished in 1842. Stepping up close and admiring the slightly distressed brickwork will pull you back a century. Looking at the cryptic chalk writing next to the doorway will have Any American confused. The writing reads like an algebraic equation without any variable definitions. I asked around and found out that this is a blessing. It’s also found on most doorways around this little village.

german-blessing

Strolling further through town will lead you to various barns that have seen better days. Some residents have modern homes with what us Americans would consider luxury cars sitting in the drive way. I don’t know if BMW and Mercedes are “luxury” here as they are a common domestic brand. Either way, I can’t look at an M series without wondering what it’s like to drive it on the Autobahn.

badem-wheat

badem-flower2

At the edge of town, you will find nothing but lush fields. Some fields contain nothing but green grass for the cattle to graze. Other fields are full of wheat and stocks of corn. The wheat looks different from what you see growing in the USA. The stocks aren’t chock full of wheat berries like their genetically modified equivalents in the states. GMO crops aren’t permitted in Germany.

I could go on about the way that the buildings bring you back in time. We all know that architecture is a big part of travel and experiencing new sights. Yet, it’s not what really defines a place. What defines any locality is the people.

I spent nearly a week here before meeting any locals. I walked past many individuals and said the casual “Allo” or “Guten Morgan” over the past week, but that’s not a real interaction. My adventure with the locals started late on a Saturday night.

I had returned to town after visiting Burg Eltz. My wife and her niece went to another village for a wine tasting. Jeff (who is technically my nephew) and I stayed at home with the kids and put them to sleep for the night. A few hours later Jeff received the call that it was time to pick up his wife and mine.

He returned home and said that he dropped them off at the local bar. The kids were asleep so he was fine with me heading out too.  It was late, but I thought it would be a good experience to check out what this tiny village offers. I grabbed my wallet and walked the 550 meters to Jedermanns, the local Gasthaus.

I walked in and my wife was surprised to see me. She looked a little bit tipsy from the wine tasting, but she sat with a local brew in front of her. She was excited that the bar tender spoke English and kept asking her questions about the town, and how to say certain words in German. We learned that the “head” of a beer is called “Schoam”. Easy enough, it sounds just like foam. I ordered a Coke and listened to their stories about the wine tasting event.

Around midnight we started to walk home. As we walked past the soccer field we heard music playing and observed people around what seemed to be a mobile bar. We decided to investigate what was going on.

We listened to the mix of German and English songs playing over the speaker. My wife and her niece had a few more drinks while we listened to the locals laughing and singing what appeared to be drinking songs in German. My wife said she was determined to find someone that spoke English before we left for the night. She walked over to a female and asked if she “Sprechen ze English”. My wife lucked out, as she picked someone in the local group that is a fluent speaker of our native tongue.

This little action brought us into the existing social circle. This circle consisted of people from ages eighteen to thirty (ish).  Eighteen is the legal drinking age in Germany. Most of the locals spoke some English.  Even the ones that spoke very little communicated with body language well enough.

Music was a common bond. I wore a shirt of the punk band Rancid. This caused a few of the males in the group to converse with me. Our conversation consisted of saying band names and getting excited if the other party had seen them in concert. I was told that I need to come back for Wacken Open Air, which is a massive Metal festival that occurs in the Northern part of Germany in August of each year. This is actually an item on my bucket list.

Then I felt an arm on my shoulder as someone asked my name. His name was Lars and he was absolutely excited to meet someone new. He asked me if I was living here and working in the US Air Force, or just visiting. When I explained that I was visiting he insisted on buying me a drink. I tried to explain that I can’t drink beer due to a food allergy. He persisted and wanted to buy me something. He asked me if I drink “Kofee”. I said that I occasionally drink “Coffee”. He shook his head no. Not “Coffee”, but something different.

Lars took me to the mobile bar and ordered two “Kofees”. I’m probably murdering the proper spelling of this drink. It’s pronounced “Co Fee”. It’s apple wine mixed with Coke. I’m told that this is a drink of the Eiffel area in Germany. Any local bar will know what I mean if I say the name.

I don’t drink alcohol, but why not. Anyone who watches Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern knows that culture is heavily influenced by food and drink within a region. This was my chance to experience something new with great people.

Lars and I talked for a while about the region. He’s lived here his entire life. He told me about the soccer field and why people were here at 1 am. It’s the week of Sportfest. I was told the story about how much the town has changed over the years. When Lars was younger the field would attract everyone in town for this event. The bleachers would be bustling with enthusiastic community members. Now, only a small portion shows up for the event.

badem-sportfest

We talked about Germany and what happened in 1939. He was not proud of what his country did to the Jewish people during this era. He was disgusted and knew that it gave his homeland a bad reputation to many other countries. This bad reputation still haunts Germany to this day nearly 80 years later.

Lars then talked about the people of small villages how they welcome visitors. When a visitor comes to town, they will treat them well. The big cities have lost this aspect of hospitality. That’s why he was adamant that the guests of the town have plenty to drink and have a good time.

We raised a glass and I said “Prost”. That’s when he thought it would be a great idea to teach me how to say “Prost” properly.  The proper way when with this group is:

“Prost Prost Kamerad”

“Prost Prost Kamerad”

“Wir woll’n noch einen heben.”

“Mitte,

“Titte”

“Sack sack sack”

I then shared a conversation with a local girl named Melina. She didn’t like to speak English, yet she spoke it very well. She asked me about Arizona and I showed pictures of the Saguaro Cacti and told her that it was currently 49 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit). She was shocked to hear that I live in that type of heat.

We talked about the acceptance of tattoos and piercings in Germany versus the USA. I explained that some professions don’t care about the visibility of tattoos, yet others are highly conservative. Germany is very conservative in this aspect. The large cities are more accepting, however, visible tattoos are more frowned upon than in the USA.

This is what I wanted out of coming to Europe. I wanted new experiences and to hear about life from the perspective of others. What’s the point of going somewhere if you don’t experience the local culture? The two and a half hours I spent with the locals of Badem are something that I will never forget.

More Pictures of Badem:

badem-playground badem-building badem-ping-pong badem-bench badem-farm badem-bard-wire

Goodbye Sky Harbor

I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. I simply wanted to enjoy the last few minutes of my king sized bed. My wife’s body pressed against mine as I lay like the big spoon behind her. This is my home, and in a few hours I am leaving for a longer vacation than I have ever taken. A vacation is that’s not fully planned out. We are winging a big portion of this trip.

As we scuttle around the house trying to get last minute preparations completed a proverbial bomb has dropped. My mother in law who followed my wife back from California last week sates that she doesn’t feel well enough to take care of the dog. The exact reason that I wanted her to stay here. Placing my dog in a boarding facility easily runs $1000 for the length of time we are out.

A week ago I had started to setup interview with house sitters. In retrospect I should have gone with my gut and taken this path. Sadly the assure of saving $500 by having family stay got the best of me. Note to self (and everyone else)  go with your gut. Don’t be persuaded to by the thought of saving a little.

We lucked out that our standard kennel had space available for out last minute request. Our total : $997. Once tax is added on along with other fees I’m sure this will be closer to $1200. All because I wanted to save a few bucks. Just another unexpected travel expense. 

Once the dog situation was sorted we continued to pack. This is somewhat counter intuitive when you have a three year old that feels the need to remove everything from her bag. She is very particular in her likes. She has sensory processing issue and her main concern is clothing. Everything causes her to itch uncontrollably when stress is introduced. It took me 20 minutes to finally locate a pair of underwear and clothing that I could convince her to wear. All of her other preferred clothes had to remain in the bag.

Last week we started to look into the cost of getting to the airport. Uber was the first idea. We researched the cost for a trip to the airport and it would have been about $140. Keep in mind we need a larger vehicle (more $$)  due the the number of people and bags.

Parking at the airport would run about $120 per week. No way am I paying that. Long term airport parking located at independent parking lots was slightly cheaper at $250 for the length of our stay.

Then we stumbled across something a little bit different.

There are companies that have agreements with local hotels to rent a parking space. The hotel then takes you to the airport via their shuttle service. This ended up being the most cost effective option for us. Some hotels even include a 1 night stay for a few dollars extra. Our total for parking : $107.99. 

We arrived at the hotel and “checked in” our car, then jumped into the shuttle. No major hiccups yet.

Upon arriving to the airport things started to take a turn for the worst. As we checked in our baggage the three year old went a bit crazy. She did not want her bag to leave her. To make it worse someone else touched the bag. This was the end of the world for her. She dropped to the ground an broke into a huge tantrum. I could tell other people checking into the air line had concerns. I wouldn’t want to be on a flight next to a kid acting like this. 

Things escalated even higher when we checked in her car seat. She said that she never wanted to see the seat again because someone touched it. The seat was ruined and dirty. Yet her she is rolling around on the airport floor.

My wife sat down on the disgusting airport floor next to her. She held the little one until she finally calmed down enough to reason with. I believe the promise of riding the escalator proved to be enough of a distraction.

We approached the security screening and all seemed well. Until the three year old realized that now her carry on bag had to leave her. I quickly removed all of my items and placed them into the plastic trays to work with the little one. Her knuckles were white was they gripped her bag. She was not going to let this go. I had to pull the bag away as she could not be reasoned with. I threw the bag into the tray and watched her hit the floor.

She started to roll around immediately in front of the metal detector. Other passengers could not figure out if they should wait behind this tiny demon child or pass. I motioned them to walk around us. The TSA agent stated that I could walk through holding her.

Once we passed through I showed her that the bag was going to be just fine. This was not good enough. Her stress level was now through the roof. I looked down and say that she was trying to take off her clothes, right here at the security checkpoint. In fact her underwear was already on the ground. I pulled them up while a few other travelers snickered at my dilemma. She started to pull off her dress as the “itchy” feeling was in full force. I had to pick her up and hope that this would calm her. Trying to contain her while putting my boots back on was a challenge, but this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve got this. 

A few minutes later she was back to her happy self. Especially when she saw the kids play area within the terminal. This wasn’t anything special, but it was something to keep her entertained. 

Now here I am sitting on the airplane over Goose Bay Canada. We are about ready to cross the Atlantic. 

British Airways Gluten Free Meal

Earlier on the flight  I had the gluten free meal, which was OK . I didn’t eat the main entree as it was chicken, but the salad and other items all worked out well. I even watched Deadpool on demand. Yes, this airline has this amazing movie for all to see.

Now at 12:42 am my little one is passed out next to me. The eight year old is struggling to fall asleep in these cramped conditions. She needs to learn that you don’t always get a bed to sleep in. Sometimes you just have to lay your head where you can.

On that note, I need to catch a few minutes of sleep myself. I’ve got a long day a head of me.

I’m changing my life. How are you changing yours?

 

 

Complacency. 

You think that you are immune to it, until the day it sneaks up on. 

That’s what happened to me. 

I wake up early in the morning. I jump into my car and head toward work. I’m tired due to a lack of sleep from the night before so I need grab a little pick me up. Nothing like caffeine and empty calories to the rescue. 

I join the other sleep driving people and head off to work. 

I arrive at my cubicle and put my headphones on to block out the sounds of the outside world.

Sometimes headphones are the only sanctuary from the sound of people acting busy. 

I eat more garbage food. I work more hours. Then I head home to do it all again the next day, like a good little soldier ant. 

Then one day I started to see the world as a program. 

I started to question what would happen if variables are changed. I started doing things outside of the norm. I tried my hand at public speaking, I started networking with others, and I started to learn more about self improvement, psychology and social dynamics. Thing started to get better, but I realized there was still something missing. 

I needed to break out of the loop. I needed to do something drastic. I needed to trigger an exception. I saved up some money, then one day decide it was time to do something ballsy. 

That’s when I quit my job.  

 I created a course on Udemy and began looking into different methods of semi-passive income. 

This wasn’t enough. I needed something else to REALLY take me outside of my comfort zone and reprogram my life. For some reason, Europe was calling my name. I answered the call and booked tickets to Germany. 

Unlike most travel bloggers I’m not going solo. I’m taking my wife and kids with me. We are changing the variables, causing exceptions and breaking out of our comfort zones. We are re-writing the programs of our lives.

Join me on this adventure.

Keith

P.S

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how-to-make-money-on-udemy

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