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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): August 2011

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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Location: United States

After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bye, Bye Blogger....

Like an old boyfriend, I am discarding you, sorry!  You couldn't give me what I needed, so I think it's best we part ways.  I don't want to "try to be friends" nor do I want to "stay in touch"....clean break, okay?  And to my readers, if things go know where to find me on Facebook to let me know the errors of my ways (cause you know that's how I learn)!

I thought I would post a warning here first.  I'm not smart enough to investigate how to transfer over any subscriptions or RSS feeds and am sorry to say that if you are still interested in hearing what I have to say (or do), please rejoin me at the new site which you should be redirected to in the next few days as I plod my way through this with a little apprehension and the wringing of the hands.

This is LLMW signing out for the last time on was wonderful while it lasted and thank you for all the good memories, because there really were some!  Wordpress, looking forward to our first date and a hopefully lasting relationship where we can both learn and grow together...not necessarily in that order.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Six travel mistakes I've made this summer

In Oslo's Vigeland Park
I know.  LLMW does not make mistakes...aghast...but she really does...and bad ones sometimes too.  Just because you have a lot of knowledge does not mean you know, you sometimes forget or are lazy or just don't know any better.  I made this site not only to help others but to have others help me!  So before you laugh and get a kick out of that, see what I did that was less than perfect as we all tend to do.

I planned and arranged a trip to Oslo.  Because this city will make even the richest person feel poor and have an empty wallet before it's over, I thought I would save and get a hotel outside the city center.  That part was just fine...we saved literally THOUSANDS of euro, and it was a luxury hotel to boot, mysteriously being upgraded to a business suite with two rooms, two bathrooms and a wonderful buffet breakfast (boy, did I score brownie points for that one).

Sure, I saw that it was on the main metro ring with connections every minute and only six stops from downtown, and certainly wasn't worried about us getting around.  I planned how easily we would get there (no problems actually), but I got LAZY and just assumed I would do the same thing on the way back for our early Ryanair airport bus.  Imagine that sinking feeling you get, when you get down to the metro platform at 0610 and see the first train comes only at 0649, only 11 minutes before you have to catch your paid-for bus back to the airport to catch that flight.  Oops, it was a Saturday with less metro connections.  Can you say "oh sh*t?!"

After a nanosecond, we raced back up to the hotel, had them call a taxi (which arrived in less than 5 minutes) and arrived in plenty of time for the bus.....but $40 poorer.  Lesson #1 learned, follow thru from beginning to end in trip planning, especially if you absolutely have to be somewhere at a certain time!  Also watch time schedules on holidays (know what they are for that country) and on weekends!

This summer I also had an ambitious notion that we would relax in a wonderful country cottage in the peaceful countryside in Normandy.  I had visions of us seeing the sites during the day and then viewing some wonderful countryside vistas driving back to our wonderful retreat.  I carefully researched many, many cottages, B&Bs and even a few chateaus.  Since my plan was VERY ambitious and it involved going in exactly two different directions (St Malo and the famous Mont St Michel vs. the Normandy Beaches), I thought I would split the difference and try to find something in between.  I found the ideal place in the most idyllic setting...on paper.  The first day was peaceful and relaxing after we finally arrived (that'll be my third mistake below).  Once we started visiting the sites, I realized my mistake.  Yes, it looked like only x amount of miles from this destination to that one on Google...but try to actually drive the winding and narrow country roads and you quickly realize it takes MUCH longer to drive them in person.  After two days of it taking us two hours to get somewhere and then two hours to get back at the end of the day, with me in a nauseous stupor, I came to the conclusion that we needed to pick one area OR the other and leave our pastoral place.

I chose a wonderful historic hotel near my beloved sites in Normandy (our main goal to see) and was then happy for the rest of the trip.  Even though the WWII battle sites and of course the many other sites along that part of the coast were spread out, we still spent no more than 45 minutes driving to any one site for the rest of the trip.  Don't remind me that I forfeited the rest of the money we had paid for the country cottage (I try not to think about that) and then had to shell out another 70 euros a day for our nice hotel room with no cooking facilities...but you know what?  I was happy and we all know what happens when momma isn't happy.  What's the lesson here?  There's Lesson #2.  Take the time to see what kinds of roads there are at your destination.  Take the time to really see how long it'll take you to drive everyday to see what you want to see and prioritize which direction you want to travel in!  You can't see everything!

Of course, also on this trip, our home had a slight issue that needed immediate attention.  Of course, it needed attention on the morning we were due to leave for our trip.  Doesn't it always happen this way?  After finally getting things taken care of, we hit the road at 0900.  I know I have mentioned before to check the German school holiday site and stau situation.  I also know the Belgian schedule from living here.  Why oh why did I not check the French schedule?  Can you say "bank holiday"?   I don't know.  I'm still wondering about that.  All I know is that we waited anywhere from 20 minutes to ONE HOUR at EVERY SINGLE TOLL BOOTH going thru France along our route.  It wouldn't have mattered if we had a "fast pass" either (which many Brits rent or buy to allow them to breeze thru the auto lanes).  The traffic was well backed up before all the lanes even decided to split.  This turned a four hour drive into an EIGHT HOUR drive!!!  Lesson #3, ALWAYS, ALWAYS...and then again...check the school holiday schedules for the countries you will be traveling through and to!

On one of our trips to a country with a different currency, a certain someone in my family suggested to use the rest of that currency to pay part of the hotel bill.  I hesitated...well, what if there is an emergency and we need some quick change?  Luckily, a last minute taxi ride that was NOT planned was payable by credit card.  I even tried to tip the driver in Euro, our home currency in Belgium, but he would not take it and kept telling us not to worry and to catch our flight.  He was such a nice man.  The amount I used in that foreign currency to pay part of the hotel bill would have paid the taxi driver almost EXACTLY...with enough left over for coffee...which I desperately needed at the airport and couldn't buy because I didn't have a foreign coin to my name.  Lesson #4, I think the peace-of-mind is worth it to keep at least some bills in that foreign least enough to pay a taxi or some other quick emergency!  With so many military families traveling all over, you can sell your currency, especially if you have bills, at a later date.

This summer has been unusually cold and rainy, from start to finish.  Yes, we packed plenty of shorts and swimsuits we didn't get to use, at least when we were outside for the most part.  We brought rain and cold weather to each of the four countries we vacationed in this summer.  We had more rain days than sun days.  You think I would've learned by the third trip at least to bring more warm clothing.  No, I was determined to pack pretty much the exact same things I had packed previously.  I ended up recycling my fleece pretty much every day and found out that the combo of fleece and a rainjacket on top can be pretty toasty.  Me and my fashion sense were non-existent.  Lesson #5, even in summer always have raingear AND something warm to wear...doubled...unless you don't mind wearing the same thing over and over again.  The good thing about fleece is that it rolls up very nicely in your suitcase and is very lightweight to boot!

In Amsterdam, we were in this wonderful little restaurant.  Now, you know that Europeans don't do doggie bags like we do doggie bags.  In fact, if it wasn't for the Americans running around in Europe, there would be NO doggie bags.  Europeans don't do them!  I always prepare myself for the errant look I get when asking if I can take my leftovers home.  I've been given newspaper, waxpaper and butcher paper to wrap my stuff up.  I've had stuff leak thru those flimsy wrappings, and it is not pretty.  My to ALWAYS carry a few ziploc bags of a few sizes...of the freezer variety due to their sturdiness.  I'm not going to tell you to do it, but if you want to make your kid...or you and the family a little sandwich from the breakfast buffet for later...I'm not going to tell you not to do it either.  Well, in making my list for the trip, I thought I'd be slick and download an Iphone app specifically for packing....I missed a key item in the transfer from paper to app....ziploc bags.  Not only did I not have it for my leftovers but I also didn't have it for the wet swimsuits or the opened bag of goldfish that wanted to jump out all inside my purse nor for the pile of receipts I like to keep in order til I get home.  Crap.  Lesson #6, travel with a few ziploc bags of various sizes.  You won't know what you will use them for ahead of time, but somewhere and somehow, you WILL end up needing them!

Of course I learned a few other lessons, but they are not worth the paper I would write them on, so I will end here.  Do you have any lessons learned from this summer?  Any summer?


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Video: A Visit to Bavaria, Germany

I was recently running around in Bavaria….Oberammergau and Garmisch area in Germany.  As usual, I'm all over the place throwing out tips and advice….take it or leave it! 

I love to hear from my readers, which means you gotta post below about your own adventures and advice! This blog is made possible by all the great tips and advice shared by you...yes YOU!

On this particular video, you’ll hear me talk about food….more food…hiking, things to see and do down here and tips for saving money of course like always!

I hope this has inspired you to get out and ENJOY your current duty station, wherever that may be! There is ALWAYS a hidden gem and fun is what you make of it!


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Podcast #9 - Travel Tips in Germany (Oberammergau)

Join me as I walk down the mountain along a babbling brook.  Rounding the bend in our two hour hike just outside of Oberammergau, Germany, I thought I needed something to keep me going those last few minutes...hence, the podcast!  I share a few tips that are all over the map...literally!

Some of the things I mention in this latest audio podcast:

  • Shopping tips on vacation

  • Visiting the town tourist bureaus

  • What is a "Ferienwohnung" and why you should know this

  • Getting money from German bank ATMs (Sidenote:  You can access many of these foyers by sliding your ATM card thru the card reader at the door after hours)

  • Money Tips Overseas

  • Pool Rules

  • What is FKK?

  • Eating Out Tips

  • How to pay our restaurant bill

  • Why is the butcher so important?

  • The Laberbergbhahn (gondola) in Oberammergau

  • What is a Kurkarte, and why do I need one?

  • The Edelweiss Lodge in Garmisch

  • Random musings I know, but hopefully you can take something out of it!


    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    Space A Magic

    Visit for more Space A information!
    I know for many of us, flying Space A is a big unknown.  I've only flown twice myself, as a military dependent many years ago.  We waited many days in Dover, Delaware trying to catch that perfect flight to Germany to visit my grandparents.  It's clear in my mind that we went to the terminal every day, only to be told there was no flight that day or that a previously scheduled flight was cancelled.  We made the best of it, enjoying the shore and some beach time and luckily, my parents had budgeted to stay in a hotel off post nearby.  We waited just about a week.  The flight we ended up taking was a military craft with the seats suspended inside.  So this is what the guts of a plane looks like I remember thinking.  But what sticks out the most in my mind was a mid-air refueling training mission (yes, they did warn us), and WOW, it was enough to make you think you were riding a roller coaster...up and down...up and down...enough to make you blow your lunch which the air crew handed out in little boxes a few hours before.  One of our readers, Jo recently flew Space A and offers these tips for us below.

  • The first and most important thing to remember is that Space-A is a privilege, not a right. If you aren't on an open schedule (meaning, come and go as you please) then it's VERY important to have a back-up plan).

  • Where are you trying to go? What is your closest AF Base that can get you there or somewhere you can transfer from? Some bases have regularly scheduled flights (ex: On Monday, Wednesday and Saturday there is a flight departing XX base, and it stops at YY and ZZ).

  • Visit this link to get an idea of where some of the bases' frequent stops are located.

  • Have all your valid and required paperwork to travel. Are you flying with or as a servicemember? They/You will need to be on leave before they can even 'register' for Space A. If you're flying and your spouse is currently deployed, you will need a letter from his CoC stating you are allowed to fly Space A while the servicemember is out in theater. This letter needs to include your information, along with any traveling dependents and your spouse's information as well.  You will also need to bring proof that you are command sponsored, meaning that you were included on his orders to his current duty station.  The S-1 or admin folks of your husband's unit can type that up for you.

  • REGISTER - Once you have an idea of where you would like to go, register with the bases that you may be flying out of. You can register in person, by fax or via email. Sign-Up email addresses can be found here.

  • If a servicemember is traveling, they CANNOT register until they are ON leave. The email you send needs to include leave start and end date. If you are traveling sans SM, scan and email a copy of your CoC issued travel letter. Email any and every base you may be using. Better to be safe than sorry. Registering early is important because if there are three Active Duty (AD) Category 3 personnel on leave trying to fly, the person who registered FIRST gets priority. Once you register, it is active for 90 days (or 60 days, so double check) so you won't need to register every single time you fly so long as it's within that timeframe.

  • You should receive a confirmation letting you know that you are registered. If you don't receive it in 24 hours, call the base. It's possible that they may have an incorrect email listed. Be proactive and don't make assumptions. Again, it's better to be safe than sorry.

  • All that squared away? Great! Now you're probably wondering "well, how do I know when the flight is?". Most bases do not provide a flight schedule earlier than 72 hours out. Some have automated answering services that give you a destination and how many tentative seats there are and a "showtime". Showtime is when you need to be checked in by. Continue to call everyday within that 72 hour gap to make sure the flight info is accurate. They are subject to change (this happened to us) and you could get stranded somewhere you didn't intend on staying.

  • Please pack a sweater or blanket in your carryon, especially if you are flying overnight. You won't know what type of aircraft you'll be on and a C-17 can get very cold. We shivered our entire trip to the east coast. Lesson learned for us.

  • Show up! Make sure you have your proper IDs, Passport (if going overseas), and bring your CoC issued letter or Leave form. Although you may have submitted it, keep it on you. I'd also print out a copy of any confirmation messages or emails you may have received showing your 'registration' date. Once you arrive at the AMC Terminal you will mark yourself' present' so they know you would like to take a flight out. Afterward, you'll wait until they call your name. This is done by category. If you are flying with an Active Duty (AD) servicemember, then you'll be category 3 and for the most part, you're at the head of the line. The only categories flying ahead of you are Emergency Leave or those on PCS orders.

  • Have a safe flight! flying Space-A may not be the most convenient in terms of time, secured seats or comfort but it's free! I'll deal with all of that vs paying an outwards of 1000K for a flight overseas.

  • Thanks so much Jo for your input.  Stay tuned where Jo will talk about her family's personal experience in an upcoming blogpost.  The only think I would add...and try to pound in your head, you absolutely have to be flexible and need to have the time to do this.  If you want to try to use it during the summer, I would definitely re-think that.  It is the heaviest PCS travel season, and you could be trying to get on a flight for days.  If you have the time and patience, go for it....if not, find an alternate means of travel.  I believe MAC flights also only take you to the first point of entry in the US.  You need to keep that in mind when planning the rest of your transportation to your final destination.  Will you grab a commercial flight the rest of the way?  Rent a car?  Have family come get you?  Have it all planned out including alternate ideas.  MAC flights may only get you so close, and the rest of the plan is yours to figure out.

    Something interesting I have found when friends have traveled from Germany, is that every plane can be different.  Do you know the G5s have space sometimes?  Yes, I know it's a $50 million aircraft!  Yes, I recently read about a military wife who rode a G5 plane from Korea to the US....plush leather seats and personal service usually reserved for generals. How she snagged that, I don't know.  I owuld post the link with her happy smiling child...but I can't find it, sorry!  Coming out of Ramstein, be prepared for flights loaded with wounded going back stateside...some in fairly grave condition.  I had a friend who passed on one of those flights, because she was afraid to expose her children to so many injured soldiers.  I am not saying that was right or wrong, just something to think about when accepting a flight or not.  You may even have a flight with NO SEATS.  Yes, I had a friend fly on a military craft that didn't have any, and there must have been many veteran Space Aers on the flight, as they rolled out their sleeping bags and hung out using their pillows as luggage!

    One more resource to throw your way, be sure to check out the AMC's Space A Facebook page.  It's a great resource and what a great way to get your questions answered should you have any.  If anyone has any other sites or stories to share, please do so below.  I would love to hear them!

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