Sunday, November 24, 2013

(Less) Temporary Living

In moving to this new land we needed two things to begin settling here: transportation and a place to live.  My first several weeks were spent in hotels and driving rental cars but that quickly got old and I’m happy to say we’ve taken some big steps toward more permanent solutions.

As Kristin mentioned in the previous post, we bought a car.  It’s not the car we initially wanted but it’s even better because it’s being built to our specifications (in South Carolina, oddly enough).  Unfortunately this also means we won’t get it until February and until then we’re driving a (very nice) borrowed car.  It’s much better than a rental but it’s still not “ours.”

I’m also out of a hotel but currently just renting a furnished apartment I found on  It was my first time using the site and they actually make it pretty easy to find a place.  I’m in a small one-bedroom that a lady rents out when her kids aren’t in town while her and her husband live in a bigger house in a village nearby.  She is very hospitable, loves Americans, and even has sent all three of her kids to the USA for high school.  Again, it’s a great to have a place to myself with a washing machine, good internet, and a kitchen but it’s still not my place with my stuff.

Luckily we were able to find a great apartment and have signed the lease to move in December 1st!  It’s in Stuttgart Süd (south) with easy access to public transportation (bus & U-bahn trains) and also a quick drive for me to work.  Soon we will move in with our suitcases of stuff and an air mattress to sleep on and then after Christmas our furniture and other things we haven’t seen for 3 months will arrive.  And with that, we will have finally “moved” to Germany…so come visit!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hotels of Stuttgart

When moving to a new city, I think most people would be satisfied with finding a home base while they  check things out and find an apartment, but I'm not most people.  When presented with a buffet, I like to sample a bit of everything before deciding what to load up with on round two and at this point I've stayed in 9 different hotel rooms in the Stuttgart area.

Sindelfingen Marriott

There are two Stuttgart hotels that come up on my company's travel website and this is one.  Thanks to United's match program, I have gold status with Marriott at the moment so this meant free internet and access to the executive lounge with free breakfast in the morning and drinks at night.  And I get more Marriott points toward future stays.  Sounds pretty nice, right?  Unfortunately the hotel felt neglected, like it was built 15 years ago and hasn't been updated since.  They just prey on unsuspecting American business travelers looking for a brand they know.  How long has it been since you've had a CRT television in your hotel room?  Look no further than the Sindelfingen Marriott.  That being said, I like free stuff and Marriott has a promotion where you get a free night for each 2 stays so I have stayed at this one 4 times.

There's a gym in the basement and on my way there I also found this door but haven't been brave enough to venture inside.  I'm especially worried about the top left guy with the stink lines.

Pullman Fontana

At the advice of a coworker, I decided to try the Pullman hotel in Vaihingen next.  It was a huge step up. The location was great, right next to the train station and an easy walk to the restaurants and bars in downtown Vaihingen.  The lobby and room were also top notch . I liked the room and view so much that I sent these pictures to Kristin.  Unfortunately the hotel was so good I could only stay a few days so I had to pack up and move again because the (cheap) rooms were all booked.


Another coworker recommended the acrona MO.HOTEL so I moved there, and was happy that it was also downtown Vaihingen and only a couple of miles from my work.  The Pullman felt European in an elegant way, while this place felt European in the too modern for me way.  The staff was not very friendly, the parking garage was cumbersome, and the room didn't have many of the comforts I would expect. It didn't even have an iron!  When you have a month's worth of stuff in 2 suitcases, it's hard to look presentable without an iron.
Leaving the parking garage, Wal-Mart guy wished me a "good drive" with threatening eyes


Le Méridien Stuttgart



Mercure Hotel

There must have been a few events going on around Stuttgart this week because all of the hotels I had stayed in previously were suddenly full.  Fortunately I have the power of the internet at my fingertips and some quick cross-referencing between and TripAdvisor helped me find this place.  While a bit of a mouthful, the Mercure Hotel Bristol Stuttgart Sindelfingen ended up plain but nice.  This was the only place where I felt like I might be the only American staying there but the front desk staff did speak perfect English.

Kronen Hotel

This is one of those gems at the sweet spot of meeting your needs without paying for lots of extras, exemplified by the facts that it's rated a full star higher (4.5) than the Marriott Sindelfingen on TripAdvisor and yet it cost half as much.  The room is smaller but it's in the heart of downtown and a great place to spend my last weekend in a hotel before moving to a furnished apartment (more on that later).  The front desk lady even helped me carry my 10 suitcases and bags up to my room after I insisted she didn't need to.  Side note - all of this fit into 5 suitcases and a backpack between our three plane trips over, so it's unclear how it has expanded so much!

I've enjoyed getting a feel for so many different hotels and neighborhoods, and this has solidified my desire to live in Stuttgart-South.  It will minimize my commute while providing a great neighborhood and access to all that downtown Stuttgart has to offer.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

We Bought a Car!!!

We've enjoyed our time with the Ford Kuba, but we think it's time to return it!  Rental cars are so expensive!  And Kristin will not miss the standard transmission, although she's been doing a great job practicing around the outskirts of town. 

Big car. Little parking spaces.
So one of our first orders of business has been to buy a new car.  Since Matt's company didn't pay to send our cars over, we decided to sell his oldish Wrangler and Kristin's very old G20 and become a single car family in Stuttgart.  (Auf weidersein 2002 Infinity and Jeep with the plastic windows, hallo shiny new car!) 

Matt's parting moments with the Jeep

Because we are in Germany under SOFA (The Status of Forces Agreement), we don't have to pay German VAT when we buy a car.  Instead we pay the taxes on the value of the used car if and when we bring it back to the states. It has similar tax advantages to the European delivery program that some of our friends have done for BMWs.  Rather than only being able to keep the car in Europe for 6 months though, we get to keep it here the entire time Matt is working in Germany. 

We quickly narrowed our choices down to the Audi Q5 and BMW X3.  We wanted a small SUV that had 4 wheel drive for adventures in the Alps, and we figured a German car was the most appropriate.  

Most of the car companies that target US military employees have locations right outside of the base gates. At Patch Barracks, there are two military-specific dealers with tiny lots, one for Mini/BMW and one for Audi, VW, and Toyota. 

Tiny lots means a really small selection of cars to look at, test drive or buy quickly.  Most folks order a custom car for delivery, but we were in a hurry so that we could return the rental car.  And most of the cars that the dealers do order are black and white, the two colors we really weren't interested in. So we didn't have a lot of promising leads. 

We checked out the BMW dealer at Patch. We test drove the only X3 they had, but it had a bigger engine (and less fuel efficiency) than we were looking for.  But it was really fun to drive on the Autobahn!  Then on to the Audi dealer right next door.  The Audi dealer had just sold the only Q5 they had on the lot so we could only look at the car, but not drive it. It was a lovely car, but we needed to drive it before pulling the trigger. 

Time to take a car buying road trip!  In order to look at more cars, we needed to travel to other dealers located near other US military bases in Germany. We headed up for a 7 hour round trip drive to Mainz and Schweinfurt.

Despite the intermittent rain, the drive was lovely. We got to see more of the countryside than we had seen before and also had our first taste of speed-limit-free driving on the Autobahn.  It was really fast. And we weren't going nearly as fast as most of the people on the road. 

Stay out of the left lane unless you are a serious driver.
We started at the BMW dealer, who had been recommended by a friend of Matt's at work.  We were able to test drive a car with the engine we thought we wanted, and with a lot of extra bells and whistles. It was definitely a fun car to drive on the German roads. When we sat down with the salesperson, he actually had a few X3s in stock (or nearly in stock) that we were interested in. They had a gray one that was pretty basic with a moonroof and heated seats, and a blue one with a few more features. When we left the dealer, we were pretty sure the gray one was our first choice (especially since it was such a great price), but we wanted to see what the Audi folks had available. 

Now there's a serious driver.

The Audi dealer was ... Interesting.  The folks were very nice, but it was definitely a less polished operation.  And when we got there, they had just sold the Q5 we were there to test drive.  Super. We'd been driving for over 4 hours at that point, so it was a bit disappointing.  But in the end they broke company policy and let us drive the car -- just not on the Autobahn.  

Taped on license plates are klassy (with a k).  Like Kristin.
The salesperson checked the stock, and he didn't have a single car available with the engine we were interested in. Ordering one would take at least 2 months. 

Once we heard how long it would take to get the Audi, coupled with the fact that BMW would ship our car home for free when we moved back to the states and the dealer was willing to give us a loaner car until our car arrived, we knew the X3 was the right decision.  We then needed to decide between the gray one and the blue one. The heated steering wheel in the blue on spoke to Matt, and Kristin liked the interior details -- so the blue one is the winner! We can't wait for it to arrive!

UPDATE:  Apparently they sold us a car that was already sold.  Disappointing, but with a happy ending.  The nice people at the BMW place agreed to let us borrow the loner car until our new, custom ordered car comes in!  So we've been nailing down the options we'd like and hope to have our new car by the end of January.  We can't wait to drive around our first visitors in it -- it will have rear heated seats.  Why haven't you booked your ticket yet?!?!?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Stuttgart-City Leuchtet (S-City Aglow)

One of the best benefits of living in Stuttgart is all the activities they have in the downtown area.  Although the city is known for its huge Christmas market that we can't wait to visit in a few weeks, there are festivals going on all year round.

We walked from our hotel only a few blocks to the center of town find a number of vendors set up on the pedestrian areas of the city.  They were having a festival called Stuttgart Leuchtet (Stuttgart Aglow), where many parts of the city center were lit up and the shops stay open extra-late.  It seems to be the unofficial start to the Christmas shopping season. 

Neune Schloss (New Palace) -- I think it is always lit up.  They should try harder for special nights.
Then we headed over to the Schillerplatz (named after German poet Friedrich Schiller) and saw the Stiftskirche (Collegiate Church), which looked lovely when lit up.  

The most important part of the adventure for Matt was the food.  Too bad he's decided he really doesn't like curry wurst as there are lots of better uses for encased meat.  Matt plans to try them all.  

Kristin stuck with the basics -- a glass of sparkling wine and a ham and tomato crepe.

Then it was time for the main event. The Markthalle!  The Markthalle is a gourmet food market with a number of different vendors under one roof. For the festival, the place was packed, with many of the vendors selling more substantial hot food in addition to their normal offerings.  There were lots of fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses and baked goods.  Since the Markethalle is only a few minutes from our apartment, Kristin should be able to buy delicious things there regularly.  

Once we were done drooling over the food at the Markthalle, it was time to check out the fireworks which capped the night.  

On the walk back to the hotel, we were able to take some of the note famous and picturesque buildings of Stuttgart. Not a bad walk to our (temporary) home!  And a really fun activity for a quick dinner out.