Sunday, September 18, 2016

Evacuation Complete

I like to think we're good people.  We try to do the right thing.  We try to help others when in need.  We do things that merit good karma.  Well, somewhere along the line, we must have done something terrible because our karma on this move has just not been so great. While this week wasn't as bad as being stuck in Turkey during a coup, there were concerns that we were going to be stuck outside of Frankfurt.

We flew to Frankfurt on Monday night after spending the entire last week unpacking (I'll do another post on that once our house is presentable and I can take pictures) and took the train outside the city to Wiesbaden, where our hotel was.  There is an Army base there (where some people from Izmir went during the evacuation), as well as our car that had arrived from Turkey! It was the last step in completing our evacuation.  We had our household goods, an apartment and, soon, our car. Our plan was to pick up the car on Tuesday and head to see some fellow Olmsteders in Freiburg, Germany on Wednesday and Thursday, as well as stopping in Leichtenstein (checking off countries!) and some other German towns along the way home.  We were excited to have the car and make our own schedule as we headed back to Berlin.

 We knew we would have to get our driver's licenses, register the car and get temporary military plates in order to be issued our car.  Luckily, the office is right next door and all of our research (okay, just Mike's...I leave the military stuff up to him) told us that they only took walk-ins.  There was no need for appointments.  We got up early on Tuesday with the thought that it might be crowded and we might have to wait.

As we were walking to the building, Mike and I were joking and saying "what do you think the new rule is going to be?"  It seems like whenever we try and do anything related to the move, there is a new rule that makes things infinitely more difficult.  Sure enough, when we arrived at the building to register and take the driving test, there was a sign that stated, "Beginning September 1st, we will not be accepting walk-ins.  Appointments only."  We just laughed because there it was.  The new rule that was going to make things difficult.  We walked in and asked if we could make an appointment to take our driving test and register the car. Since it was 8:00am, we had missed the driving test by a half an hour and the next one wasn't being issued until Wednesday.  On top of that, the next appointment they had to register the car was Friday at 12:30.

In complete shock and despair, we went back to the hotel to reevaluate our plan.  At this point, we had three options.  First, we could stay in Wiesbaden all week, which was not something we wanted to do (there's nothing there except an Army base). Second, we could rent a car for the week and head down to Freiburg before coming back on Friday, which would have been fine, but we weren't expecting to pay for a rental car and we would have to sacrifice the rest of our trip.  Third, we could fly back to Berlin and just try again another week, which would have been expensive and accomplish nothing.  We opted for the second option after finding a cheap rental car and were out of Wiesbaden before you could say "Appointments only."

After two nights in Freiburg with great friends (I'll do a separate post on that!), we headed back to Wiesbaden.  The testing center for the licenses offered a 7:30 test time and we had made an appointment for a 12:30 registration.  The test was actually really hard because a lot of the signs are different and there are all sorts of rules like "If your car breaks down, you have to put the warning cone 200 meters behind your car" and only Mike ended up passing.  Luckily, I can retake it online (which would have been nice to know before because we could have just taken it at home, but alas...) and then I just have to go to a base to get the actual license.  I was really hoping that was going to be the worst part of the day, but I guess that just wasn't bad enough karma.

After the test, we headed to the registration office.  We had an appointment at 12:30, but it was an hour early and we wanted to see if they were available so we could get things rolling.   They did, in fact have an opening for us (makes me wonder if they had appointments earlier in the week and we didn't have to wait until Friday, but I don't like to think about that!).   Let me just preface this next part by saying that I understand working in customer service has to be hard.  You answer the same questions a million times and deal with people who have no clue what is going on.  That being said, you should give everyone at least one chance before treating them poorly and should probably be a little understanding when they get frustrated over things that are justified.  When we got to the guy's desk, we were prepared.  We had all the documents needed to register the car and had filled out the proper forms.  Our next hurdle came when he realized that our military mailing address was based in Berlin, not Wiesbaden.  He made a call and came back with some bad news.  We had to go to Sembach where the head of car registration for all military serving in Germany is.  Sembach is an hour away.  It was 12:30.  The latest we could pick up our car was 4:00.  If we didn't have any traffic or any issues at Sembach, we would be able to make it back in time, but that was a big if.

This is where the guy could have shown a little sympathy for our frustration.  We had been waiting all week for this appointment.  Unlike the people stationed at Wiesbaden, we couldn't just walk home and try again later. Without the car, we would be stuck in Wiesbaden all weekend until we could try again on Monday.  Mike was visibly frustrated and instead of just saying the simple words of "I understand how frustrating this is.  I'm sorry there isn't anything we could do," he just said "I don't know what you want me to do."  I thought Mike was going to lose it.  In fact, he kind of did, but luckily it was as we were walking out.

We went next door where the car was and explained the situation to them and luckily, the lady in charge was extremely friendly and sympathetic.  She gave us her cell phone number and told us to call her if we didn't think we'd make it back by four and she'd probably be able to hang around until we got there, barring it wasn't too late.  Thank God.   With that, we hopped in the car and headed to Sembach.

Side note: I was starving at this point, but there was NO WAY that I was going to ask to stop for lunch.  I probably would have been left on the side of the road. :)

We made it to Sembach in record time (probably thanks to Germany's lack of speed limits on the Autobahn) and got our name on the list.  Luckily, we only had to wait about ten minutes before Mike met with someone who was able to get the car registered quickly.  While Mike was doing that, I got to sit in the waiting room and watch the Today Show.  Oh, the joys of being on an American base!   Thankfully, the registration process isn't actually that long and Mike was done only ten minutes after his name was called.  We stopped at another office to quickly get a gas card (gets us gas without having to pay German taxes....aka cheap gas) and I stocked up on Cheez Its and Peanut Butter M&Ms.  Y'all, it was a stressful day.  I don't normally eat a lot of junk food, but this was the only way I was going to keep my sanity.  Plus, if there's one way to Mike's heart, it's peanut butter m&ms. I figured we deserved it at this point.

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We hit the road back to Wiesbaden and, once again, thanked the good Lord above for the lack of speed limits on the Autobahn. When we bounded into the office where we could pick up the car with huge grins on our face, I'm sure we looked like we had just won a race.  In fact, we did.  We won the race against the clock.  The lady who we spoke to before looked so surprised to see us back so soon, but quickly showed us to our car where we checked for damage, put the plates on the car that we got when we registered it, and signed the paperwork to make her all ours again!  I don't know if Mike and I have ever been so happy to have a car.   I thought about giving a hug to the lady, Cristal, who handed us the keys, but figured I should save any shred of sanity she thought we might have and went with a handshake and smile instead.

Oh Anya, we didn't realize quite how much trouble you would cause, but we're glad to have you back.  Hope your trip from Turkey was enjoyable.

After we got the car, we had to return the rental car.  We knew it would be a few hours late and were willing to just accept the fine.  When Mike ran in to turn in the keys, there was a distraction and the guy didn't even notice that it was four hours late! Hallelujah! I guess we've earned some good karma somewhere along the way. 

Our last stop was completely for me and Mike probably would have just skipped it completely if doing so wouldn't have warranted a complete meltdown by me. Mike had promised me a trip to the commissary before he knew how this week was going to turn out and I wasn't going to let him forget it.  I figured after the week we had, we deserved American brand food and some of our favorite things. Plus, at this point, it was almost five, so we were going to be getting home late anyways, so we might as well just add an extra half an hour to our trip. Amiright?  Guys, I was like a little kid in a candy shop.  I was SO HAPPY to be at the commissary.  I went a little crazy, buying all sorts of things, like peanut butter, Wheat Thins and four cans of canned pumpkin to make all sorts of things fall-ish.  It's a good thing we didn't have a way to take home any perishable goods because our grocery bill would have been double the $103 it already was.  I didn't even care.  I was so happy.  Like a kid in a candy shop, I tell ya.  Don't worry, Mike stocked up on his favorite things too. That ramen is all for him.  Now you know, if you ever are in need of a gift to send us, American food is the way to our hearts and will not go unappreciated.

We made one last stop at the food court on base for our first meal in way too long before hitting the road at 6:30pm, six and half hours after we expected to.  We arrived home around midnight and didn't even unload the car.  We just walked upstairs in a daze, sat down on the couch, and were grateful that we can officially say the last part of the evacuation is officially over.  At one point on the drive home, we were reflecting on this little tidbit of information and talking about all of the easy and difficult things that came out of it.  It's funny because, while the military took great care of me while I was at Ramstein and I'll be forever grateful for that, it's been the military stuff that has been so hard to deal with.  We've encountered red tape almost every step of the way after I was evacuated that made everything so much more difficult.  Funny how that works out, isn't it? You would think moving to a foreign country would have problems dealing with foreign things and, while there have been a slew of those, they've paled in comparison to the issues we've run into with the American side of all of this.  It's a learning experience, y'all and a humbling one at that!

After our tumultuous week in Wiesbaden, traveling was just not in the cards for us this weekend.  Instead, we are enjoying a quiet weekend at home.  I ordered groceries online (judge away because I'm judging myself), hung the last of our pictures, and are excited to watch some American football tonight.  The calm AFTER the storm.