Jamie –- an Air Force wife who blogs at Delightfully Coconuts -- has toured towering castles, visited traditional Christmas markets and sipped on hot-spiced wine while living near Ramstein Air Base in Germany. But that doesn’t mean her time there has always been a fairy tale. Check out the Question & Answer section below for Jamie’s honest account of the ups (the travel!) and downs (waiting for on-base housing!) that comes with moving and living overseas.
|Jamie and her family pose for a photo at Burg Rheinstein, a castle in Germany.|
|Burg Rheinstein is perched on a hill, high above the Rhine River.|
Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: Hi! My name is Jamie. I am a mom of two who is living in Germany. I have a degree in Photography and am prior military. I met my hubby in 1996 when we were both Active Duty Air Force as Airman. We met, got engaged and married within four months. Now, I am a Stay at Home Mom and he is a Medical Service Corp Officer (MSC). He currently is doing Medical Readiness for the Surgeon General here but normally he works in a hospital or clinic doing Logistics and Readiness.
Q: You have a blog called Delightfully Coconuts. What inspired you to launch the blog and what topics do you write about on it?
A: My blog first started out as a food blog! I love to cook and people were asking me for my recipes and I was posting them to Facebook. I thought a blog would be a better platform and I also wanted to show off some food photography. I started it on WordPress. Once we found out we were coming to Germany, I started blogging less about food and more about that. It was a very short-notice PCS, so I was a bit stressed. When I got over here I changed the blog over to Blogger and started it more into a family blog.
Q: When did your family move to Ramstein Air Base?
A: We moved here August of 2011.
Q: In your blog, you are honest about the fact that you were not a fan of living in Ramstein -- at least, not at first. Why not?
A: My biggest reason is I never wanted to live overseas. I had no desire at all to try it out. I know a lot of spouses WANT to come here, so right off the bat I wasn't thrilled. I love America, I love anything American. I like that typical life of a beautiful house in a desirable neighborhood with my kids school and activities nearby. I guess you can say I had no sense of adventure. LoL. I am also extrememly close to my family and at the time we were stationed in California, which was far enough from the mid west and now I was even going further. I also had been here before TDY while I was in (the military), and it was only okay to me. A nice place to visit, but no place I ever wanted to live. The Internet, cell service and television takes getting used to. We go through a lot of steps to be able to watch a TV show. LoL. Gone are the days of DVR and sitting on the couch surfing channels. Americans are very spoiled!
Q: What do you do or where do you go to cheer yourself up?
A: I have made great friends here really fast. They cheer me up no doubt. I have both kids in school so I am free during the day to meet with my girlfriends for coffee, the local bazaar or just to watch Glee from my couch. (I am a Gleek!) If I didn't have them here to keep me sane I am afraid I would be having a much harder time. I also am content with being in my home here. I am usually a busy body that way but just hanging out with my hubby watching a movie or scrapping with my girls makes me happy.
Q: What are some things you love about the Ramstein area?
A: The base itself is pretty awesome. They have so many different restaurants to try out. It also has a Chili's and Macaroni Grill! But there are so many different kinds of places to eat here, it is unreal. The BX is the biggest BX there is and it is more like a mall with a huge food court. It is still typical BX with BX items and a lot of time things are sold out for months but at least it is there for us. The schools are also good. The area itself isn't that appealing to me. There are way more beautiful areas in Germany. There are a lot of off-base stores and restaurants to check out, though, and there is always a festival going on.
|Jamie's family visits picturesque Rudesheim.|
A: We are off base, but on the list for base housing where we are currently number three. We thought we would be moving soon but just found out we cannot because we are locked into a year lease and housing will not offer us a house while we are. They originally told me it would be 12-18 months before we would offered a house so we didn't think being in a year lease would matter AND we thought getting base housing would break that. Well, here it is seven months and we are up for the house and no breaking the lease for base housing in Germany! Housing here is extremely hard to get into. We are on the Company Grade Officer 3 Bedroom list. We started at 48 and now are at 3 so it wasn't too bad for us. But the FGO or four bedroom lists are LONG. Plan to live off base when you get here and move (if you want) once you get offered a place. And don't do a year lease if you plan on moving on base. Do a month to month!
Off base housing is hit and miss. We took the first decent place we found since we wanted to get settled and the girls had just started school. We have a nice modern home, but ... we only have 1 bar- size sink with no disposal, we have to hang the dryer vent out a window to dry clothes and our oven is elf sized. We are very close to base so our place is smaller. The further out the more you get for your money. Off-base housing also has no storage. No closets and the bathrooms have no cabinets anyplace. Plan on buying things to organize your home. There is an Ikea nearby and stores like Mobel Martin and Mobel Fundgrube to buy storage furniture. FMO does give you wardrobes for your clothes but we had to buy an additional one for our jackets.
Housing here is stairwell housing and town homes. There are no free standing homes (well for Generals there are.) Junior enlisted will get a stairwell. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. We had one for our pet TLF (more on that later) and it’s a nice remodeled three bedroom apartment (or two bedroom if that is what you qualify for). Senior enlisted can get offered town homes or stairwells; it’s all just luck. For us -- my hubby being a captain -- we would either get a townhouse or an officer stairwell house, which is sort of like a duplex. There are four families living in these. They are currently gutting these and remodeling them and then filling them up with families. So that is why our list is so short. They have very few CGO town homes at Ramstein. Most are FGO. FGO will always get a town home but again, the wait it is very long. You can also live on Vogelweh or Landstuhl. They offer more housing and I am not quite sure how it all works for those bases. You can sign up for all three bases. We chose just Ramstein as our kids go to school here and we don't want to change schools.
Q: Were you able to bring your appliances to Germany? Do you need to use converters to make them work? Any tips for military families on this topic?
A: No, you do not bring your big appliances. We stored our extra fridge and sold our washer and dryer. FMO lends you both a fridge (don't expect it to be very big, they are tiny, no shelves on the door of the freezer tiny) and a washer and dryer. Depending on your house you could get a German or American set. I had a German washer but it took so long to wash and it was so small I traded it out for an American one. But now I have only cold water to wash in. German washers heat there own water so there is no hot water going to the washer.
As far as your other small appliances: bring them all. For one, on base housing has American and German plugs so you can always use them there. Off base you can use a lot of your items. I was really surprised. My hair straightener was able to just use a converter and still work. If you take a look at the technical stuff on the appliance and it says 100-240v you can use it with just a converter. My laptop, computers, Wii, Ipod docks, all can just use a converter. You can buy those at the BX and they are cheap. If it only says 110v you cannot just plug it into an outlet with a converter. You need a transformer. FMO lends you two of these but you can also buy them. We plug our TV's into the transformer and our vacuum. The vacuum is a pain as I have to drag the converter around the house (they are heavy) but my German vacuum does not work at all. I also heard this can ruin your vacuum when you try and plug it back in in the states so you will have to decide if its worth it. Mine was about to go in the garbage anyhow and I wanted to get a Dyson but I am just using it for now and will get rid of it when we move. Most of my kitchen appliances are stored for now and I got German ones. It is way easier than having a transformer sitting on your kitchen counter. People sell their stuff when they leave and that is where I got mine. There is a website called www.ramsteinyardsales.com where you can buy stuff like that.
Q: What about cell phones? Did you have to get new ones in Germany? Or did the phones you use in the states work in Germany?
A: We had to get new cell phones since we had Verizon and their phones do not work here. Basically, it was because they didn't have a SIM card. If you have AT&T or T mobile and have a SIM card you can use your phone here. You have to get the phone unlocked though from your service provider though. Then once you get here go to any of the cell phone places and get a new SIM card and account and you are good to go. They have a place at the BX called TKS where you can get cell phone service and Internet. They charge more than if you go off base but I guess some think its worth the convenience. I pay 25 Euro per phone per month for my service. I got a free smart phone (it is a crappy one though) with my 2 year contract through Telecom which is T Mobile over here. At TKS you can get an iPhone with a contract and pay around 70 Euro a month so you have to decide what its worth to you. I have heard there is an awesome place right off base called The Comm Shop. They will help you set up all your Internet and cell phone service and they speak English. I didn't know this when I got here and I went directly into the store, which was fine too, the guy was very helpful.
Q: What are your favorite restaurants and places to shop in the Ramstein area?
A: I am probably not a good one to ask this subject as we don't eat out often. It is expensive to eat out in German restaurants and it's a long night when you do. There are exceptions, of course. But Germans view eating out as a three-hour experience. They take their time, drink their beer or wine and have conversation. We have done that a few times and left spending $90 for a meal! A few places that are more American-ized in their service and prices are available around the base. I like Cantina Mexicana which has great lunch specials and free refills on drinks. Most German places you DO NOT get free refills. And you pay close to $3 for one small coke with no ice. Water is also not free. Germans do not typically drink tap water so if you order water you get a glass bottle of water and will be charged a couple euro for it. Ok, so back to Cantinia Mexicana... they also have a play room for the kids and all the servers speak English. Another few places are around base are Thai Thai, Big Emmas (HUGE German schnitzel there), Presswells Fish and Chips and Nicks Chicken and Ribs. There are a lot of small stand type places to get food also. There is no shortage of places to eat around here!
For shopping I mainly shop online or on base. A few times I hit the German stores. Real and Globus are like Wal Marts. There is a Toys R Us also. Saturn is a Best Buy type store and Toom and Prakiter are like Home Depots. One thing I noticed here is the stores sell it all. You can be in a toy store and they will have spring decor in the back. Or in a clothing store and they will have Christmas decor. Bakeries are in every major store. There is a lot of one stop shopping off base. You can find some unique things in German stores! Clothing is all bought online as I do not like the German clothing at all and the BX doesn't have much I like either. Ikea is about an hr away also.
|Jamie's daughters at Edelweiss Lodge and Resort. The military resort is|
nestled in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area of the Bavarian Alps.
Q: What are your favorite things to do as a family there?
A: We haven't done too much yet as we moved here right when school started but I would say the traveling is our biggest thing we will do. We are going to the Canary Islands and hoping to do a cruise. My girls and I just did Disney World a few weeks ago too back in Florida.
Q: You have two girls. What do they love to do for fun?
A: My girls both take piano, gymnastics and dance, which they absolutely love. They also love to go to the big park on base and play with their friends. They also like this huge German indoor play place called Yabadoo. They are pretty easy going that way. Sad to say that is pretty much all they get to do as they are so busy with school. Once summer hits we hope to do some more exploring!
Q: You've taken trips throughout Germany. Tell us about some of the favorite places you've visited and why you liked them so much.
A: We have been to Edelweiss, which is a place everyone seems to visit and enjoy. It is a military resort at the base of the Alps. It is gorgeous there. You can ski in the winter and explore in the warmer months. We went in the late fall, too cold for a lot of exploring and no snow yet so we need to go back! We have also done a couple tours though the USO. We saw some castles and did a small cruise on the Rhine River, which was very fun and relaxing. I did a trip to Strasbourg, France, with my girlfriends for a Christmas Market also. That was one of my favorites.
Q: Any tips you would like to share about traveling in Germany (via car, train, Space A, on a budget, etc.)?
A: I just did a Space A flight back to the states with my girls while my hubby was TDY and it went great. What an awesome deal we get to use that. Check out the Ramstein Passenger Terminal page on Facebook for tons of info on Flying Space A. I haven't tried flying within Europe Space A, but they do fly to Italy a lot.
We have driven and taken the train for small trips. Both have pros and cons. They train is usually pretty affordable, especially if you buy the tickets 90 days out. Taking the train to Paris and Disneyland Paris is a great way to go. Most people do that. If you drive you have to worry about parking which isn't very abundant in Germany. :)
I will say one thing: it is expensive to travel in Europe, especially with the current exchange rate. Just plan on spending some dough to see Europe. Our Canary Island trip is costing us over $3000 for an all-inclusive. Even a weekend away will cost a bit, so just be prepared. You can find deals, though, if you are flexible. Ryan Air flies all over Europe and you can find some good prices through them if you aren't rigid with your travel dates. Also, renting an apartment or house for vacation is cheaper than a hotel.
|Zugspitze, the highest point in Germany, according to Jamie.|
Q: I saw a post you wrote about Christmas decor in your home. They look beautiful! Are they all from the states or did you buy any in Germany? I hear, for example, Germany is known for its Christmas markets.
A: Most my decor is from the states still. I didn't buy anything from the Christmas Markets as the stuff isn't really my style; it is very traditional. They do have more modern decor in the German stores, like a place called Depot. It is like a Pier 1. I got a gorgeous painted wooded wreath there I love. But yes, the Christmas markets are very fun! They served a hot-spiced wine called gluhwein and hot chocolate for the kids. And the food!! Crepes, schnitzel, brats mit broten and their bakery items are all yummy. And the lights are gorgeous at night!
Q: Anything else you would like to add about life at Ramstein?
Not everyone has as hard of a time as I did when I got here but a lot of people do. Don't feel bad if you do! I felt like everyone LOVED it and I was the only one who didn't. But the more I wrote about it the more people confided in me that they felt the same way. Moving here is stressful. Finding housing is stressful. Figuring out your Internet is stressful (expect to have no Internet for weeks. Not sure why but it takes them forever to set it up here) I lost a lot of weight in the move because I was so stressed out. And our move wasn't too bad. Nothing went wrong at all. We had a great TLF room (most have a hotel-style room. We had a huge three bedroom apartment since we had a cat...go figure!), it was warm when we got here, our car was here waiting for us (ship your car over right away. It’s easier to rent a car for a couple weeks in the states than it is here. It takes about six weeks to get your car), both hubby and I had been here before so we knew our way around a bit and we found a house right away. So I am thankful for all that. It is just the unknown. I had so many questions and I did a lot of research. Give yourself six months at least to get used to it here. Somebody told me "you will hate it for six months and then you will love it and not want to leave!.” I just hit my six-month mark and I am slowing starting to like (not love yet!) it here.
Oh, also get a magic jack. It allows you to call back to the states through your computer and gives you an American number. You can also add international calling to your home phone for cheap, but we just use the magic jack.
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