Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Italian Work Visa: Not for the faint of heart...

When I first came to Europe back in 1998 I came to Germany. While here, I kept hearing people referring to something called "German efficiency". For the life of me I just could not understand where the term came from because this country was far from efficient. Two years later I moved to Italy and immediately realized that, in comparison, Germany must seem to Europeans to be the most efficient place in the world.

During my 6 years in Italy I was constantly amazed at how disorganized and inefficient the country is. Most Americans that I worked with down there just could not get used to it and couldn't wait to leave. A select few of us learned to live with it and were the lucky ones. The past couple days however, my love of - and patience with - Italy was severely tested. Come with me now as I relive the tempestuous journey to receiving my Italian work visas...

It started several weeks ago when I was notified that I had been selected for my old job. I was given a litany of documents I had to acquire before I even applied for the work visa. I finally had everything I needed and emailed the Italian consulate in Frankfurt to set up my appointment. The gentleman I corresponded with was Signor Morganti who seemed very pleasant and helpful. My appointment was for Tuesday, October 28th at 1000. All of us had to apply in person so we got up early and jumped on the train. The visa applications that I carried had the address as 17 Beethovenstrasse so I had google-mapped it the day before and was happy to see that it was a walkable distance from the train station. Of course it rained so we got a bit wet. I was adamant that we be early to avert any last minute crises that might come up. We arrived on Beethovenstrasse at 0930 and all seemed well. Since we had a half hour til out appointment, we popped into a little cafe and got something to drink and a sandwich. As I'm paying for the sandwich I said to the girl "The Italian consulate is on this street, yeah?" She replied "Oh no, they moved a long time ago!".

Panic set in immediately as I tried to size up the situation. It was now 0940 and I only had 20 minutes to figure out where the consulate had moved to and then get all of us - including Luca, who was in a baby stroller - there. The girl says that she has been working there 4 years and the consulate had moved THREE YEARS AGO. I showed her the visa application that they had sent me which said Beethovenstrasse and she made a few comments about "Typical Italians...". Apparently we were not the first ones to make this mistake. Fortunately she knew where it had moved to and asked if she should call me a cab and assured me that the two kids would be able to ride in the cab so I agreed. The cab arrived and we rushed to get everyone in but we were blocking traffic and the cabbie was in such a hurry that we ended up riding all the way with both the X Man and Luca (in his car seat) unsecured in the backseat which made me very nervous. But we arrived at the consulate without incident.

We checked in and waited. Finally the old bald guy at the desk said "if you or the children need to go to the bathroom, please go now because in 5 minutes we will go downstairs and there is no bathroom there". 5 minutes later he took us downstairs where we joined a group of about 6 or 7 other people waiting. 10 minutes later Sr. Morganti came out and called my name and took us into his office. He spoke really good English but I still used my Italian as much as I could because that usually gets you better treatment. As he did the applications we bantered about his hometown of Bologna, soccer, Italy in general and things seemed to be going well. He finished up and said he was going to try and get them finished quickly but he had to take care of everyone else as well. I asked if we were going to get them back same day and he said probably. I was pleasantly surprised. It would be short lived. It was about 1045 by that time and all the other people that were in the waiting room with us were gone so I figured we wouldn't have to wait that long. So we waited. And waited. The X Man was getting bored so I started playing cars with him on the floor. We waited some more. I had to pee but there was no bathroom. We waited some more. Finally, sometime after noon, Sr. Morganti came out and asked me to follow him upstairs to the cashier to pay for the visas. I was elated as I thought sure I was going to have to make a return trip to Frankfurt a few days later when the visas were ready so the fact that we got them same day was great. But it was not to be. I paid the 300 euros (about $400) - visas cost 75 euro each - and then Sr. Morganti informed me that we could wait for the visas if we wanted to or come back. I said we'd come back after lunch and he said "No, sorry, the consulate is now closed so you must either wait now or come back tomorrow". I asked how long the wait would be and he got that classic Italian look and said he had a staff meeting and it would probably be at least 2 hours. The thought of waiting down in that room with two kids, nothing to eat, nothing to read, for another 2 hours...well, it just wasn't happening. I told him I would come back first thing in the morning and we left.

Thus ended day one of my Italian visa saga. Coming tomorrow: "Day Two"...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Anniversary pics

Celebrated year number six with dinner at Il Bianco Cavallino, then drinks at the Dubliner. Loaded a bunch of pics on my Facebook page:

Anniversary Photos

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Celebrating 6 years of wedded bliss today!

Seems like only yesterday we were tying the knot. Six years on, it's been quite an adventure that I wouldn't trade for the world...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Conversations with the X Man

X Man: Daddy...ask me how my burger is.

Me: How's your burger buddy?


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How do you say "racial profiling" in German?

This is Monty:

Monty is the NCOIC in the office where I work (NCOIC = top enlisted soldier). He's been here a while now and we've become really good friends in that time. Both he and his Dutch wife Marlene are super people, easy going and fun to hang out with.

About a week ago, Monty was running in the morning before work on the Bismarckplatz near our house. It was early in the morning and there usually aren't a lot of people out around that time. At one point there was a lone German woman walking a bit ahead of him and as he was getting closer he let out a little cough. She heard the cough and turned around and as soon as she saw Monty, she immediately clutched her purse, shifted it to her other arm and adopted a terrified look. Fortunately, Monty is not one to be offended by such things. In fact he usually has a sense of humor about them, so as he passed by the woman, he got sort of close to her and let out a huge "AAAAHHHHHH!" with his arms spread out to his sides. Scared the hell out of her. Then he turned and laughed and said "I'm not going to steal your purse, don't worry!". She obviously recognized how silly she must have looked because she started laughing as he continued to run on, suddenly aware of her faux pas.

But we all got a pretty good laugh out of it in the office...

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Red Ox: Boiled beef with a side order of shame...

One of the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) things about living right in the Heidelberg "Altstadt" is the plethora of fantastic restaurants. Pretty much any kind of food you like, you can find it in the Altstadt. Over the past couple years we've tried quite a few of them and have seldom been disappointed. Believe it or not, the ones we usually avoid are the German restaurants. I do like German food occasionally but it's so unhealthy that I usually avoid it. Germany is a meat and potatoes country for sure; unfortunately, the preferred meat is usually pork or sausage and the preferred potatoes are usually french fries (pommes). Seriously, it seems like every German restaurant serves pommes as a side dish.

Yesterday we were taking our afternoon walk, looking for a place for lunch. I decided to try someplace new but nothing was seeming all that appealing so we just kept walking and eventually were up near the castle where I spied the "Roten Ochsen" (Red Ox). The Red Ox is a Heidelberg institution, very historic and famous. Several celebrities have eaten there over the years such as Ernest Hemingway and John Wayne. I'd heard all about it but several people have told me that it's gotten so touristy over the years that it's lost its luster. I've looked over the menu a few times and found the usual German fare, so all of these things together have prevented me from ever stepping foot inside...until yesterday that is.

I looked at the menu yesterday and saw a few things that looked appealing so I told the wife we might as well try it once before we leave, if only to say that we've been there. The moment we walked in, I fell in love with the place. As I sat down and took in the ambiance, I immediately felt great shame that I have been living here over two years and had never tried it before. It is about as old-time as any place I've ever eaten, the walls are covered with memorabilia and old photographs. There are ox horns hanging from the ceiling and old style beer steins everywhere. Believe it or not, the place goes back to the year 1703. And the menu! Sure there were the usual suspects - bratwurst and saurkraut, schnitzel, etc. - but there was a good selection of other stuff such as deer steak and sauerbraten. I could not decide between the boiled beef with horseradish sauce and pumpkin or the grilled turkey steak with mushroom gravy so I got the beef, the wife got the turkey and we shared. The bolied beef dish was so amazingly delicious that I started thinking that maybe I didn't want to share after all! But, since sacrifice and compromise are paramount to any marriage, I held true to my word and switched plates with the wife halfway through. And damn if the turkey steak with the mushroom gravy wasn't every bit as tasty as the beef dish. I was just floored at how good the food was, I cannot remember enjoying a meal so much in a long time.

With only a few weeks left here, I am ruing the fact that I have only just now discovered the Red Ox. We'll definitely eat there again at least a couple times before we leave. Here's their website: Roten Ochsen if you'd like to check it out.

And here's a few photos from our lunch yesterday, click on the pic to enlarge...

Friday, October 17, 2008

I love being a Red Sox fan.

I wake up this morning at 0445 and turn on the TV hoping to find my beloved Red Sox ahead in game 5. To my dismay, they were losing 7-0 in the bottom of the 7th inning. I was so disgusted that I changed the channel. A few minutes later I thought to myself "Well, it's the last time I'll get to watch them this year so I might as well torture myself" and put the game back on. Shortly after, the Red Sox scored a run and I thought to myself "Well, at least they didn't get shut out". I got up to go make my morning espresso as Big Papi strolled to the plate with two men on base. I put the mokka on the stove and went back into the living room just in time to hear the announcer saying "and just like that, it's a 3 run game!". I was unimpressed as I figured it was too little, too late. But at least they had made it close. I continued to watch.

One inning later they tied the game on a JD Drew home run and a Coco Crisp single. I was excited.

One inning after that, in the bottom of the 9th, they won the game on a JD Drew single. They were down 7-0 with a mere 7 outs left in their season and somehow, someway, they pulled it out. They now go to Tampa Bay for game 6 and if they win that, they will play game 7. If they win that, they will go to the World Series. Yesterday at this time, they were down 3 games to 1, looking horrible, and my boss (who is from Tampa) was relentlessly rubbing it in. They still have to win two more games on the road against a very good team but at least there is a "Ray" of hope (pun intended)...

I love being a Red Sox fan. And I have developed a severe man-crush on JD Drew.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Nightmare on Elm Street der Hauptstrasse"

So I met Freddie Krueger at the Herbstfest a few weeks ago...

Some good news for a change...

Just introduced the landlord to a guy who really wants to move in here after we move out and after some extensive grilling, a urinalysis test, and a body cavity search, they finally agreed to allow him in. They wanted him to put down his first born as collateral but as he is 54 years old and single, they were forced to settle on his right pinky finger. He is very excited and I am very relieved as the first hurdle has been successfully navigated. I have to wait until we get the work visas before I know exactly what day we'll be moving out but my guess is somewhere around the first or second week of November. At least that's what I'm shooting for.

In the meantime, I'll try to post some pics of our place in the next day or so...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Update on the Italy move

OK, here's the deal. My tentative start date in Italy is November 9th. It's tentative because it is dependent on us getting the proper documents first and that is no small task. When you work in Italy as a civilian, there are a lot of document/visa issues you have to wade through before you even step foot in the country. I'm not sure if we're going to make the November 9th date or not but it's looking pretty good at this point. The only other trained, experienced guy at work took another job as well and left a couple days ago so my workload just doubled, right at the time that I am trying to start all my outprocessing, making things even more difficult. I have several issues here to deal with before we leave which are making things hard and on top of everything, my drivers license got suspended for two months due to a speeding ticket back in April which is making things nigh impossible to manage. I'm trying to take things one day at a time so I don't get too stressed out. Don't want that aneurysm coming back, lol...

The main thing right now is that I had to agree to a 3 month termination notice when we moved in here. At the time it was the only thing standing between us and the palace we currently live in so it seemed like a small concession to make. Now however, it is extremely problematic because of the Draconian laws in this country. I gave notice yesterday but it doesn't take affect until the end of the month. That means that I am technically on the hook for the rent until the end of January. My LQA (living quarters allowance) will be stopped once we clear the house, which could be by the end of October. If that happens, that means I pay three months rent and utilities out of my own pocket - to the tune of about $3,000 a month. OUCH. The only way the landlord will let me out of the lease early is if I am able to find someone to move in before we leave. I'm hoping this shouldn't be too difficult because anyone who has seen this place knows how amazing it is - it sells itself. Sure enough, I have showed it to one guy so far and within 2 minutes of walking in, he declared that he wants it bad. But, in keeping with my "things are never easy" theme, the landlord has to personally approve of the person(s) first. So I've been coaching the guy on how to talk and act when he meets Herr Klinge.

Anyway, that's pretty much where we are. I'm actually starting to get really sad at the thought of leaving this place, Heidelberg has been very good to us. I can't imagine a better place to live - the only bad thing about it is that, well, it's not Italy!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The X Man's kung fu is stronger than yours.

The X Man's new favorite movie is Kung Fu Panda and it has inspired him to become a Kung Fu Master. Here, he shows off some of his moves...I think this is Shaolin Style...

Monday, October 06, 2008

Sunday, October 05, 2008

I'm back baby...

Well, I am back from my 1 week in the States at Scott AFB, right outside of St. Louis and I gotta tell you - while I still think the US is the best country in the world, I am not missing living in the US at all. It's kind of ironic that just about the time that Michelle Obama is finally proud of her country, I am starting lose my pride in it.

Rude, overweight, ignorant, self-important people seem to be the norm now. It saddens me. What happened to the country I grew up in?

Have I just been in Europe too long?