Amsterdam is Amstermazing!

A few weeks ago, my friend “A” asked me on Thursday if I’d like to meet her in Amsterdam for the weekend.  I thought a bit, asked my boss about taking Monday off, and then let her know a few hours later that I was up for the trip.  Amsterdam had been on my list of places to go and I didn’t have any other plans, so why the heck not?

So, I set off for Amsterdam by train Saturday morning, arrived early Saturday afternoon, met up with A, we checked into our hotel, dropped off our bags, and set out on our adventures!

A had spoken with a colleague who’d recently been in Amsterdam and gave her a few tips.  One of which was that you need to arrange tickets to the Anne Frank house in advance.  Often the tickets sell out well in advance, but A lucked out and caught the website when they’d just released a few tickets, so we had tickets and were ready to go.  We arrived a bit before our scheduled time, and got in line.  The museum was really well done and it’s really moving to see how they lived and to learn more about the challenges they faced.  As time marches on and we’re more and more disconnected from what happened during the Holocaust, museums like the Anne Frank House serve as important reminders of the enormous tragedy and as a warning to us to remain vigilant against such things happening again.

After that, we started wandering toward Winkel 43, a cafe a good friend had recommended as having the best apple pie in the Netherlands!  Natuurlijk, we had to check it out.  But, on our way, we got sidetracked by the Tulip Museum.  I mean, who can resist popping in to the Tulip Museum when in Amsterdam?  So, we did and learned that tulips came to the Netherlands from what is now Turkey and that tulips are beheaded annually to help the bulb grow bigger.  We naturally decided that, if we ever started a band, we would name our band “The Tulip Massacre”.  After seeing videos of the tulip slaughter, we made our way on to Winkel 43, where the apple pie was, indeed, amazing.

 

After indulging in the amazing apple pie and catching up on what’s been going on in one another’s lives for a bit, we meandered back to our hotel and just enjoyed taking in the sights.  After relaxing at the hotel for a bit, we decided to venture back out for dinner.  Of course, we had to check out the three-story, floating Chinese restaurant we’d seen earlier.  The food turned out to be pretty good and we had a good time.

On Sunday, we got up early to head to the van Gogh museum.  We stopped by a Starbucks for breakfast and were greeted with a warm “Merry Christmas!” from the barista, who was rocking out to some most excellent tunes.  We had a nice breakfast and then headed on to the van Gogh museum.  A had once again planned ahead and organized tickets for us at 9am, right when the museum opened.   We got there a bit before it opened and wandered around a bit, finding the nearby U.S. Consulate General, the Rijksmuseum, and the iAmsterdam sign.  We then got to the museum and entered as soon as it opened.  A is a big van Gogh fan and had a plan on what to see in which order, and it worked out really well.  We went straight for some of the more popular paintings, and reached them before a lot of the other visitors did.  I’m no art expert, but I do like a lot of van Gogh’s work and I really enjoyed the museum.

After that, we were hungry and found a wonderful cafe, called Blushing Amsterdam, near the van Gogh museum.  I had a super-yummy omelette and A had amazing pancakes.

We then proceeded to the Rijksmuseum and spent several hours exploring.  It was truly overwhelming to see so many of the pieces on display.  Amazing artwork, Delft pottery, doll houses, Yves St. Laurent dresses, and more!  By the end of our time there, our feet were sore, but it was an amazing museum.  We then headed back to our hotel to relax for a bit before it was time for dinner.

A colleague who’d recently visited Amsterdam insisted that we try a restaurant called “Blauw” (blue).  The restaurant served Indonesian street food and it was really yummy.  The entrees came with a lot of different sides to try and it was almost all delicious.  Definitely worth the trek out to the restaurant, which was a ways away from the city center where we were staying and had spent most of our time.

On Monday, we visited the Amsterdam Flower Market and marveled at the vast array of tulips (and other flowers) available.  I couldn’t help but think about how much my dad would have enjoyed it.  Gardening was one of his main hobbies and he would have just loved all of the variety of tulips, bulbs, etc. available.  I could practically hear him exclaiming about he’d never seen this variety or how interesting that variety was.

After we checked out the flower market, we wandered around a bit, took a one-hour canal boat tour, found another neat cafe called De Drie Graefjes for lunch.  The food was delicious and we had a great time people watching.

After lunch, we parted ways and I headed back to the hotel to pick up my luggage and head on back to Frankfurt.  All in all the weekend was amazing and Amsterdam was a super fun city.  We definitely lucked out on the weather and had a couple of lucky breaks with getting tickets and reservations.  But, nonetheless, the city was amazing and I would gladly go back again, even if I was repeatedly reminded how bad my Dutch has gotten. 😉

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Filed under Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Friends, Germany, Pictures, The Netherlands, Travel

Yeah, so about those updates…

I’ve been lousy about updating.  And, I can’t promise that I’ll be much better in the future.  But, a lot has happened over the last year and a bit, so I’ll at least do a quick run-down of some of the highlights.

  • Spent seven weeks in Berlin as part of a really cool program organized by the German Foreign Office for “young” diplomats.
  • Traveled to Istanbul, Bucharest, Amsterdam, Luxembourg City, Madrid, and Split for fun.
  • Traveled to Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Munich for work.
  • Covered for my boss for three months while she was out on maternity leave.
    • Also covered for two of our locally engaged staff who were out for significant parts of that time.
  • Got promoted (finally).
  • Visited my host families in Belgium.
  • Worked my first Secretary of State visit.
  • Worked the Vice President’s first trip overseas as VP.
  • Worked a ridiculous number of other visits.
  • Wrote some cables.
  • Went home to Texas twice.

Looking forward, I have a couple of trips planned in the next couple of months and some thoughts about some other travel goals for my last year or so here.  My boss will rotate back to DC and her successor will arrive this summer.  I’ll bid on my next assignment this fall.  And, I’m sure plenty of other stuff will pop up.

If the motivation strikes, I may write up some of what’s happened over the last year in more detail, but sadly can’t guarantee I’ll get around to it.  But I’ll at least try not to wait another year to update this thing. 😛

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Filed under Amsterdam, Belgium, Berlin, Bidding, Bucharest, Croatia, Family, Frankfurt, Germany, Hamburg, Holidays, Home, Istanbul, Luxembourg, Luxembourg City, Madrid, Munich, Pictures, Romania, Spain, Split, Stuttgart, Texas, Texpat, The Netherlands, Travel, Turkey, Vacation

Here and there

Well, true to form, I’ve been bad about updating my blog.  The last three months have been pretty busy and I’ve had a chance to do some traveling, too.  And, I had my first visitors!

October continued to be quite busy with official U.S. government visitors, primarily from DC, but also from Berlin.  In November, the consulate’s Marine Security Guards held their annual ball and I went to Brussels, Belgium for training.   December was a bit slower, as both U.S. and German contacts were on vacation for much of the time.

Christmas was really, really nice.  My mom came to visit for about 10 days and we made it to three different Christmas markets, did some sightseeing in and around Frankfurt, and also visited Munich for a couple of days.  My aunt also came for a couple of days.

And, on New Years’ weekend, a friend of mine from Ciudad Juarez, who is now posted in Berlin, came to visit and we did some sightseeing in and around Frankfurt.

So, it’s been a busy few months and I’m still very much enjoying my tour here in Frankfurt.

Without further ado, here are some pictures from the last couple of months.

Munich's Christmas Market

Munich’s Christmas Market

 

Frankfurt's Christmas Market

Frankfurt’s Christmas Market

 

Brussels City Hall

Brussels City Hall

 

USMC Birthday Ball

USMC Birthday Ball

 

Downtown Frankfurt at Night

Downtown Frankfurt at Night

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Filed under Belgium, Berlin, Brussels, Christmas, Ciudad Juarez, Family, Frankfurt, Friends, Germany, Holidays, Mexico, Moving, Munich, Pictures, Thanksgiving, Winter

Busy, busy bee

Since I last posted about a month ago, things here have been busy, busy.  We’ve had a ton of official visitors, which requires a lot of work to set up and execute those visits.  So, it’s kept me on my toes.  But, I’m still enjoying the work, my coworkers are still great, and there have been some fun things mixed in, like going to Berlin and Stuttgart for work and catching up with a good friend in Berlin.  I’ve got a couple more work and fun trips planned in the next month or so, and I’m looking forward to that.

Without further ado, here are some pictures from the last couple of months (including a couple from the Paris trip I mentioned in my last post).

The Bull and Bear outside of Frankfurt's stock market

The Bull and Bear outside of Frankfurt’s stock market

The Eiffel Tower in Paris

The Eiffel Tower in Paris

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

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Filed under Berlin, France, Frankfurt, Friends, Germany, Paris, Pictures, Stuttgart, Travel

Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated

Ok, ok, so there aren’t any rumors of my demise (that I know of) but I obviously haven’t posted here in more than two months.  So, the 3 of you who read this thing might have been worried that I’d met my demise….or not.

In the last two months, I’ve been busy with getting settled in to life in Frankfurt, learning the ropes of the consulate and my job, and a couple of quick trips.

Frankfurt’s a great place to live and settling in has gone fairly smoothly.  My HHE, UAB, and car and all arrived without any apparent damage.  I say apparent, because I still haven’t fully unpacked my HHE, even though I’ve had it for more than a month now.  But, I’m making progress.  That counts for something, right?  😉  I’m through most of the hoops and paperwork for things like my diplomatic ID, car registration, internet set up, etc.  There are couple of things I’m still waiting on, but most of the paperwork has at least been submitted.

Work has been busy.  Even though the consulate here in Frankfurt has more than 1,000 people working in it, I’m working in combined Pol/Econ section that’s much smaller than any section I’ve worked in before.  That has a number of advantages, in that I’m getting experience in a lot of new areas, but also means that the pace of work is generally a bit more hectic and I’m also having to learn a lot of new things.  But, all in all, it’s going pretty well.  My boss and coworkers are great, which can obviously make or break a tour.

I’ve managed to squeeze in a couple of trips, so far too.  I’ve gone to Stuttgart for work, to Mainz and Wiesbaden with my aunt who was in town for work, to Belgium to visit one of my host families from when I was an exchange student, and I just got back from spending Labor Day weekend in Paris visiting a friend from Ottawa.

So, I’ve been busy with getting settled in and taking advantage of some of the travel opportunities around, now that State has finally let me get on a plane and go overseas, not just over rivers. 😉

Hope all is well in the blogosphere!

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Filed under Belgium, Canada, Family, France, Frankfurt, Friends, Germany, Moving, Ottawa, Paris, Stuttgart, Transfer, Unpacking

In Deutschland!

As the title says, I’m in Germany!  After a hectic couple of weeks after passing my German test, I arrived in Frankfurt on Tuesday.  After the German test, I had a week of leadership training, then a week for packout and other administrative stuff that one has to take care of before one leaves for post, like getting the Diplocat’s paperwork in order, shipping my car, etc.  Fortunately, everything went fairly smoothly.  There was a small hiccough with my apartment complex, but fortunately it got resolved fairly quickly and painlessly.  🙂

Then, I left DC on Monday and flew to Frankfurt.  Fortunately, things went smoothly with the flight, which was the Diplocat’s first flight.  She did pretty well, and only meowed some during the last half of the flight.  I had ordered some supplies for her ahead of time and my boss brought them to the hotel we’re staying in temporarily until my apartment is ready in a couple of weeks.

My boss (who is also a fellow Texpat!) and other colleagues seem really great.  When we bid on jobs, we may or may not know much about our future colleagues, depending on when they rotate, so it’s a bit of a guessing game.  But, I seem to have lucked out here and have pretty great colleagues. 🙂

This week was mostly about getting checked in, getting accounts set up, getting the HR processes started to get my permit to stay here for my whole tour, and things like that.  My air freight shipment is already here and can be delivered to my apartment the day I move in, and the rest of my stuff and car should be here by the end of July, which is great news.  Next week, things will move more toward my normal job duties as we prepare for a few events that are coming up in the next few weeks.

I’m slowly getting over the jet lag.  Wednesday and Thursday were rough, but today was a bit better and hopefully, it’ll get even better over the weekend.

So, it’s been a busy few weeks, but I made it to post and things seem to be off to a good start here in Frankfurt.  I hope all is well in the blogosphere. 🙂

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Filed under Diplocat, Frankfurt, FSI, Germany, Moving, Paperwork, Texpat, Transfer, Travel, Washington DC

Erfolg!

So, my German test was on Wednesday at high noon (cue tumblweed rolling down the hall at FSI).  Despite being nervous as heck, because hey, if I don’t pass, then I don’t get to post on time, which inconveniences my future coworkers and no one wants to be *that person* who gets to post late, I passed the test.  Woot!  Rational me knew I was well prepared and based on how others had performed on the test, I felt good, but terrified me was sure that I was going to get in there and accidentally try to refuse some visas in Spanish or something.  But, all’s well that ends well.  🙂

So, now I have one more course at FSI, then packout, admin stuff, and then flying on to Frankfurt in just a few weeks!  So. Much. To. Do.  But, also so exciting!  Almost six years in to my career in the Foreign Service, I finally get to get on a plane.  😉

Hope all is well in the blogosphere.  I’ll be over here trying to sort stuff in to UAB, HHE, and suitcases until the movers come. 🙂

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Filed under Frankfurt, FSI, Germany, Moving, Washington DC

And then there was one

As this post’s title alludes to, I am now in one-on-one German training.  I came in with some German from living in Germany as an exchange student back in the day, so have had about 1/3 of the normal course and am on a different timeline than the folks who started from scratch.  When I started German, they put me in a class with students who had started the course in September and the normal end for that course is in mid-May.  So, my two classmates and many other students in the German department had their exams about two weeks ago.  Fortunately, many of them, including my two classmates, passed the exam and have moved on to other courses, their posts, and such.  However, there are still some of us left and because of different abilities, schedules, etc. and the fact that there are now far fewer students in the section but still the same number of teachers, a few of us are getting one-on-one instruction for awhile.

The one-on-one instruction is a truly wonderful opportunity to really get a lot of practice and to focus on things that I struggle with, but I have to admit that my brain is complete mush by the end of the day.  While reading an article in German at the end of the day, I found myself stumbling over easy words that I know that I know.  However, hopefully, it will all pay off in the end.  My test is soon, and based on how others have done, I feel like I’m well prepared, but I’m still a bit nervous, since there’s a lot riding on it, and not passing means either having to delay my arrival in Germany or asking for a waiver of the language requirement, which can be hard to get.  So, wish me good luck and drückt mir mal die Daumen, as they say in German. 🙂

In other news, I continue to work on all of the admin stuff that has to happen before I can move.  I’ve scheduled my packout, made arrangements to ship my car, taken the Diplocat in for her vaccinations and discussed the paperwork she’ll need with the vet, applied for my visa, etc.  I’ve also continued to catch up with friends.  Several friends have had birthdays recently and friends from Juarez and A-100 have been rotating back in to town as they get back from overseas posts and start new assignments in DC or training at FSI.  So, it’s been good to see some folks I haven’t seen in a long time, some of them even since I left for Ciudad Juarez in 2010!

So, that’s what’s new here.  Hope all is well in the blogosphere!

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Filed under Frankfurt, Friends, FSI, Germany, Moving, Paperwork, Washington DC

Catching up

Greetings!  For once, when I talk about catching up, I’m not just talking about catching up on blogging.  After feeling like I’ve been living under a rock between homework for the Econ Course and playing catch up on missed classes for awhile, I’ve managed to catch up with several FS and grad school friends in the last few weeks now that I have a bit more free time.  I’ve been catching up with FS friends who are moving back to town and grad school friends in the area whom I’ve neglected to reach out to in a long time.  It’s been really good to hear what’s new with them and to see people whom I’ve missed.

Other than that, I haven’t been up to anything much exciting, with one exception.  Last weekend, I saw on Twitter that Colonel Chris Hadfield was signing copies of his books at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the National Mall.  I was covering space issues in Canada while he was on the International Space Station, and it was amazing the buzz he created and how well he connected with people through various forms of social media.  So, it was exciting to hear that he was in town and I wanted to get his new book anyway, so I went down to the Air and Space Museum to get the book.  One of the fun things about living in the DC area.

The German continues to German.  I had a progress test a couple of weeks ago and they said that I was where I should be, which was good.  It’s not over until I actually get my 3/3, but it’s good to hear that I’m on the right track toward it, so hopefully I’ll get my 3/3 and get to Frankfurt on time.   I’m also working through meetings with DC-based people I’ll work with once I get to Germany and doing some of the other stuff I have to do in DC before I head out.  I’ve also gotten my orders and housing assignment, which makes it that much more real. 🙂

So, that’s what’s new here.  Hope all’s well in the blogosphere.

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Filed under Canada, Frankfurt, FSI, Germany, NASA, Ottawa, Smithsonian, Tourist, Washington DC

5 Pros and Cons: Ottawa Edition

Ania over at The New Diplomat’s Wife started an FS Blog Roundup on the topic of five pros and cons about your post with her lovely review of being posted in Copenhagen.  FS bloggers did these a couple of years ago and I came up with five pros and cons of being posted in Ciudad Juarez last time around but never did one while I was in Ottawa.  Since a few people have already covered life here in the DC area, I decided to focus on Ottawa for this one, even though I’ve been gone for several months.  So, here goes.

Pros

1. People – Canadians are nice, friendly, and easy to meet.  It’s easy to get out and be involved in the community in Ottawa and I made some wonderful Canadian friends while I was posted there.  It’s easy to blend in in Ottawa and you don’t have to rely on the embassy community for your social life, which I enjoyed.

2. LQA – Ottawa is an LQA post, meaning that you get an allowance and find your own housing instead of being assigned housing from a housing pool like in most posts.  There are some cons to it that I’ll get to later, but after having safety and security frustrations with my house in Juarez and feeling like I had no power in the situation, it was so nice to pick out something that I liked.  I had a lovely apartment and very nice landlords, so overall had a pretty good experience with LQA.

3. Pet friendly – Ottawa is very pet friendly and it’s very easy to import pets to Canada from the United States.  I don’t know if it’s different for dogs, but all I needed for the Diplocat was a rabies certificate, and they weren’t at all interested in seeing it at the border when I entered with her.  Vet care in Ottawa is very good, though more expensive than in the States.

4. Safety – Ottawa is a very, very safe city.  Coming from Ciudad Juarez, it was sooooooooo nice to live somewhere safe, where I never felt like I had to look over my shoulder, worry about my safety, etc.  Maybe if you’re coming from the U.S. or are coming from somewhere else where it’s safe, this wouldn’t make quite as much of a difference in your quality of life as it did for me.  But after spending two years in Juarez weighing the security risks of simple decisions like going to the grocery stores, it was just such a breath of fresh air to be able to go about my business without safety concerns.

5. The summer and fall – Ottawa is BEAUTIFUL in the summer and fall.  The summers don’t get too hot and everything’s nice and green.  There are a lot of fun events in the summer and lots of great outdoor opportunities in area parks and lakes.  The fall is also beautiful, with changing leaves, crisp air, etc.  Again, lots of fun hiking opportunities with beautiful fall foliage.

Cons

1. Winters – There’s no way to beat around the bush.  The winters in Ottawa are really long and really cold.  It gets down to -20F with wind chills down to -40F.  And, the winters last from about November to April.  Maybe this is no big deal if you’re from Minnesota, but the winters were rough for this Texan who’s used to being able to wear flip flops throughout most of the winter.  And, after two years of being trapped in my house because of the violence, feeling trapped inside by the cold, snow, and ice was a bummer.

2. Expensive – While I was there, Ottawa was a pretty expensive place to live.  The U.S. dollar has appreciated considerably against the Canadian dollar since I left, so I’m not sure if this is still the case, but it was expensive to grocery shop, go out to eat, etc. in Ottawa.

3. LQA – While being able to choose your own housing was liberating for me, there are also downsides.  You have to have a chunk of change ready to cover initial expenses.  There were several hiccups in my case that were not normal, but at one point I figured out that I was out over $10,000 in LQA and unreimbursed travel voucher expenses.  It’s also stressful to decide on a place to live when you first get to a new city or sight-unseen before arrival.  There’s also a lot of extra paperwork involved in getting the housing approved and reconciling the costs at the end of the year.  So, while there are a lot of good things about LQA, there are some down sides, too.

4. Internet connections – This may seem surprising since Canada’s very much a first world country, but while I was there, internet packages usually had a monthly GB cap and you could incur very high fees if you went over your monthly internet usage.  The speeds were also nothing to write home about.  That said, looking back at the website of the internet provider I used then, it looks like they do now offer unlimited internet traffic.  So, maybe that’s not as much of a con now as it used to be.

5. Deceptively similar to the USA – There are a lot of things about life in Canada that are similar to life in the United States.  You’ll see many of the same products on the shelves in stores in Canada as you would in the United States, there are even many of the same stores in Canada that you’d find Stateside, there aren’t language difficulties (usually), etc.  So, you can feel a lot like you’re in the United States, until you run up against one of the weird differences like the internet download limits, etc.  Then, because the difference came out of nowhere, it hits you that much harder.

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Diplocat, FS Blog Roundup, FSI, LQA, Mexico, Moving, Ottawa, Snow, Texas, Texpat, Transfer, Washington DC