Saturday, January 26, 2013

Chip and Pin....aka The Reason I Almost Had A Stroke Today

There are many aspects of living anywhere overseas that are incredibly annoying.  Drivers, rudeness, xenophonbia, cultural differences, etc. but none more so than chip and pin/EMV technology.

Today, I dropped off Thing 2 at a birthday party and proceeded to go to the grocery store.  I went to a store that I have been to many times where Visa and Mastercard are clearly listed as forms of payment. Shopping took about 45 minutes.  I pull into checkout and start loading and reloading my cart (I bag groceries at the car in peace and solitude).  I go to pay with the same Mastercard debit/credit card that I have used in the past that is linked to our bank account.  I run it once.  Transaction failure! (just like that with exclamation point and all).  I figure I inserted the card incorrectly so I run it again.  Transaction failure! The cashier takes my card and runs it.  Transaction failure! I was annoyed since we got paid this week and I had yet to transfer funds to the Austrian bank (that was my first mistake).

Luckily (or not, as you will see), I had a Visa CC on me so I proceeded to use it . She runs it once.  Transaction failure! She runs it again. Transaction failure! I say screw it and have them hold my purchase as I go to the Bankomat to get cash out to pay (should have done that in the first place!). I insert my bank card and it is rejected due to not having enough funds. WTF! We just got paid and I know there are funds.  I just wanted to get out of there at that point.  So, I try to use my Visa CC. Sorry but your card is not accepted at this machine. WTF x2.  I had my phone and proceeded to get on my US bank app to see what was happening.  Much to my horror, my account had been wiped out by three charges from that same store!  I go check the app for the Visa and two more charges were on that card!
Almost $1500 wiped out!

I knew what happened.  Every time the card was swiped, it put a hold on the card for the amount.  Nonetheless, I was livid not to mention embarrassed for holding up the line and looking like I didn't have money to pay for groceries! I go back to the cashier with my apps and show her all the charges that were made on the card that now were preventing me from withdrawing cash to pay for the purchase.  She spoke no English but understood when I told her to get the manager.  The manager speaks no English and brings an English speaking employee with her.  I explain what has happened.  They tell me that I am going to have to call their headquarters on Monday to have the charges reversed.  She asks me if I understand that I can't take my groceries home without paying.  I literally said "yes, it works the same way in the States, thanks."

Thank goodness for my Vonage phone app.  I called my US bank and the Visa credit card in question. To increase my frustration, the phone kept going in and out so I had to go out into the bitter cold to hold those conversations.  Since I was fuming (smoke was probably coming out of my ears), the cold felt welcome. The Visa customer service did not resolve my issue except to say that charges had not been processed.  She told me to try running the card again but the store clerk refused fearing that it would fail again and put them on the hook.  So she told me to try to use it at the ATM, but again it was not accepted there.

Getting nowhere fast, I hung up with the Visa and called my bank to deal with the debit/credit card.  I explained what happened and he completely understood why I was upset. He took the holds off restoring my account to its previous balance and told me to use the ATM.  Finally it worked and I was able to leave with my groceries.  So my 45 minute shopping trip turned into a 2 hour ordeal.  I felt my blood pressure rise to the point of feeling dizzy and initiating a headache. I had to take several deep breaths

I went back to get Thing 2 at the party since the car was an icebox.  I was greeted with cake and a glass of wine that I gladly accepted!

US travelers beware! We are about the only country that doesn't have chip and pin/EMV technology.  This technology requires a pin to purchase anything with a credit card or a debit card.  Unlike the US where you sign for purchases over $20, here you have a unique pin attached to your bank card and/or credit card. US issued cards only have a magnetic strip that may require a pin (debit cards) or not (credit cards.  The good thing is that US cards still work at bank ATMs.

If you travel anywhere outside the US, you should take at least two cards and plan to withdraw cash to avoid the hassle I just went through today.  I had been to this particular store in the past and paid with my US bank card with no problem.  The chip/pin US card issue is a crapshoot.  You can go to one store and they accept it without question and then you go to another and the card is denied.  It has happened to me at two other stores before, but I had a friend who bailed me out and who I went to the ATM to pay back.  I will note that while living in Warsaw we did not have this problem with our US bank card and I didn't encounter it when traveling to Germany, Czech Republic, France, etc. back then either.

Most banks limit your cash withdrawals.  But, if you are traveling, you can request that they switch your daily limit to whatever amount for the duration of your trip.  Even with that, in Austria you can only take out 400 euros at one time. So if you need more than that, you have to do separate transactions.

I contacted all my card issuers prior to leaving the US to see if they offer an EMV card and none of them do.  The US is one of the only nations that do not have this which puts us at a disadvantage outside of CONUS.

Here is a really good article that I so can relate to:

As for me, I just give up! Come next pay day, I will be depositing a US check into my Austrian bank account and using my chip/pin card.   If you can't beat em, join em!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Life in German - Leben in Deutsch

Wow! It's been a while since I last blogged.  Fall was a bit of a blur with awful, debilitating allergies I had never experienced and the holiday season was a blur for other reasons one of which was too much glühwein.

With the new year, I have found myself reflecting on the whirlwind that has been our life over the past 6 months.  Life in German has its challenges especially since High German and the German spoken in Vienna (Viennese) can be quite different.  They have different words for certain things and just a different way of doing things than Germans I've met.  I recently had to learn to tell time in German and Viennese.  Telling time in German is similar to the way we tell time in English.  The Viennese, however,  confuse it a bunch.  To say it's 4:15, you basically say "viertel fünf" which loosely translates into "a quarter has passed on the way to five".

Another gem in this language is that there is no rule as to how many nouns you can string together to make a word.  The longest word in the German language is "Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitan"which means "Danube steamship company captain." I'm not making this up. There is a reason people do not interrupt German speakers - you have to wait for them to get to through all the nouns to understand what they are trying to say!

Life in German has become far easier after several months of German class preceded by Rosetta Stone. Don't get me wrong, the majority of people speak English. But working knowledge of the language makes it so much easier.  It's an easy language in the sense that English borrows many of its words from German.  My teacher who studied linguistics says that if you took a book written in Old English and one written in Old German, the texts would look almost identical.  No coincidence when you think that the British were known as Anglo "Saxons" for some time.

However, the written language, whether German or Viennese, can be confusing.  Capitalization is tricky.  In English, you capitalize the names of persons, places or things.  In German, ALL nouns (dog, cat, etc) are capitalized.  You can have a sentence with multiple capitalized nouns stuck in a long noun string. Pronouns are also never capitalized, not even I/ich.  But You/Sie, the formal form of "you" (as in Usted or Vous) is ALWAYS capitalized. It's confusing at first because "sie" with no capitalization refers to "she" and is never capitalized unless at the beginning of a sentence.

Then, there is the separable verb issue.  First of all, verbs MUST come in no later than the second word.  Second, some verbs with prefixes are considered separable. Take abfahren which means "to depart." You have to separate "ab"(from) from "fahren" (drive).  You conjugate "fahren" which turns into "fahrt".  Then to make a sentence, you have to add the "ab" back in at the end of the sentence.  So the sentence "The train from Frankfurt to Munich departs at 9:45" is written "Die Bahn (or Zug) fahrt Frankfurt nach München um neun (9) Uhr fünf und vierzig ) 45 ab." Crazy right? I will not even try explaining irregular verbs.

I can now read (rather skim) the "Bezirk Zeitung" (district newspaper) and get the gist of what a majority of articles are about.  When in doubt of a particular word, Google translate steps in.

A word about Google Translate....It tends to translate in a literal way not taking into account grammatical differences.  Hence, using Google Translate ends up leaving the original sentence lost in translation and not making a lot of sense. I run my Google creations by my teacher to ensure the grammar is correct.  Great for looking up words though.  

Those are just some of the joys of studying a new language every couple of years. I have now studied English, Spanish, French, Polish and now German in depth and have dabbled in Italian and Portuguese (so similar to Spanish).  I find myself really interested in the evolution of human language.  All languages evolve but some older forms can be found in places that are cut off from the rest of the country, like rural areas, which is why the new way to say something is lost if you travel out to the countryside.  I may consider pursuing another degree in this field in the future since it mixes history with language, two things I really enjoy.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

International Dot Day

Tomorrow, September 15th, is International Dot Day.  Being that it is Saturday, the school is celebrating today.  You may ask, huh?  What is International Dot Day? That is what I said.  So here is what I have learned:

Dot day celebrates creativity by encouraging children to make their "mark".  It started 5 years ago to celebrate the publication of The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, a Massachusetts based author.  The story follows Vashti, who does not believe that she can draw.  Her art teacher encourages her to make a mark on her paper, which she does by drawing a dot.  The story is depicted in this short You Tube clip:

So this week has been filled with activities encouraging kids to be creative using a dot.  Thing 1 had to write about being a dot while Thing 2 drew pictures with dots. But the major point is that you cannot leave your mark if you don't try.  Great message, especially for Thing 1 who is reluctant to try anything that he thinks he can't do.

Today they were encouraged to wear clothing with dots.  Thing 2 was not a problem, but Thing 1 has no clothing with dots.  So we improvised by placing blue sticker dots all over his sleeve. Thing 2 then decided to place stickers dots on her cheeks.  This is how they went to school this morning:

And other than the funny looks from their Austrian counterparts, they made their mark:-)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Driving in Vienna

Please note that I did not say Austria. I will stick to Vienna's city limits for now since I know that driving on Austria's highways is similar to driving on US highways.

We received our vehicle last week.  The Cat drove it home and it sat there until this week when we had a few functions at the school and decided to drive because the bus that goes up that way only comes around every hour.

Driving in Vienna is far from similar. Don't get me wrong. Roads are far superior to what we found in Warsaw. But, in retrospect, driving in Warsaw was far easier even with no stop signs, triple lane U turns, traffic circles (which I think are awesome), the common practice of jumping medians when traffic wasn't moving fast enough and my favorite - parking on sidewalks! Rules seemed to be guidelines.  Not following them did not get you in much trouble. In 3 years, I never got a ticket in Warsaw nor did I get into an accident. It was lawlessness at its finest.

In Vienna, things are different. For one, there are too many rules and, unlike Warsaw, they are enforced. The most important one is do not speed. This is not a difficult concept unless you consider that most speed limits are between 30-40 kilometers which is between 15 and 25 miles per hour! With those speeds, you may be inclined to push a bit further in that pedal. Don't. The Austrians have rigged speed cameras throughout the city that are obstructed from view. Sometimes they are out in the open, but they blend into their surroundings so well that if you don't pay attention, you may just miss them as you speed by.  Diplomatic plates may help you in the sense that the polizei may decide not to stop you because they know the interaction will be just as frustrating for them as it will be for you (language barrier and all). But, the cameras don't care. So you may be speeding along thinking nothing of it since no one is in front or in back of you and a few weeks later, you receive a ticket in the mail, or like some unfortunate acquaintances, several tickets. Oh, and with diplomatic plates, the tickets get sent to the Embassy so everyone knows you got a ticket.

Parking can also be a challenge.  There are plenty of parking garages in some areas that are free.  These are great because there are signs pointing you in their direction that indicate how many free spaces are at each garage. Inside the garages, each parking space has a little green light (free) or red light (taken) above the space.  No more wandering down each aisle hoping to find a spot.  But as you move away from the inner city to the outlying districts, there may only be street parking.  We have a parking garage underneath our house, but while our CRV fits, it is a tight fit.  Therefore, we will only be parking there when it snows.  In our district, it is not required that you buy a parkscheine (parking voucher) to park on the street. The problem is that some districts require while others don't and its a bit of a guessing game to figure out if you need to use one. These parkscheines are purchased at the local tobacco (Tabak) stores for minutes to up to 4 hours. You place them on your windshield after circling the date and time you are leaving your car. Don't circle the date or time or place on the windshield an you get an automatic ticket. Some people buy a bunch at a time and just keep them handy.  When in doubt, put it on your windshield.

Back to driving....the most troublesome aspect of driving here has to do with the trams.  Vehicular traffic and tram traffic share certain roads, usually the main ones.  So you are not only trying to look out for the cars around you, but also for the trams, the cyclists and the pedestrians.  Crosswalks at tram or bus stops are throughout the city and drivers are expected to stop if anyone is waiting to enter a crosswalk.  

The other curious aspect of driving around here is that besides traffic lights, there are hardly any stop signs.  Instead, there are yield signs at intersections.  If no one is coming, you don't have to stop.  This is the same concept as traffic circles, which at one time scared me to death.  I now embrace them because they keep the flow of traffic going.

I remember going to New York City with friends when I was 20 years old (some of you may remember joining me).  We drove there from DC and we also drove all over the city.  I was the driver. Despite, the massive traffic and the notoriety of NY drivers, I was not nervous about driving in NYC. In Warsaw, I don't recall being nervous about it either.  But, perhaps, since I am a bit older, with my fully developed frontal lobe, I see this as riskier than it once was.  I am pretty sure this is the reason that auto insurance rates drop once you turn 25. 

This week, I stuck to the streets where only buses travel because this is what I am used to.  I know one day, the Cat will call me to say that we have packages at the Embassy and I will have to wander into the Gürtel. Until then, I will take the excellent public transportation the city has to offer and keep the car and myself in one piece.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Grüß Gott, Frau Magister!

This week, the Cat and I started German language training.  It is an opportunity offered by the Embassy at all posts to help us foreigners ease more into our host country's culture.  So, not only do you learn the language but culture as well.  

Today, part of the lesson focused on formal and informal greetings and goodbyes.  Guten tag, guten morgen (morning), guten abend (evening), auf wiedersehen are some common ways to formally greet or say good bye to someone.  However, more commonly in Austria, you hear grüß Gott for a greeting, auf wiederschauen for an in person good bye and auf wiederhören if you are saying goodbye over the phone. Luckily, I'm taking notes! There are also rules in regards to which greetings you use with friends vs people you don't know vs elders.  For friends, you can say "Hallo" for hello or "Tschüss" for bye. For strangers, you would stick to the more formal greetings listed above. Also, it is not proper to tell someone older than you that they can call you by name, but an elder can tell you to call them by their name only instead of "Frau or Herr so and so." 

Since we were on the topic of greetings, I brought up titles.  Last night I was on the TMobile Austria site and was changing our address from our temp housing to current address  They had an option for title, but it wasn't Mr, Mrs, Miss, Master, or Dr. in the drop down.  There were at least a hundred titles to choose from.  I had already heard about this custom, but didn't quite understand it because it makes no sense to us Americans and possibly many other foreigners.  

Titles are a form of hierarchy here in the same way as you go from enlisted to General in the the US Army. The higher your title the more respect you are given.   In the United States, it is common to call someone who has earned a PhD or MD a doctor when addressing them.  But you never hear someone addressed by their other degrees or profession.  If you are a university professor and happen to be have a masters degree, you would be greeted, for example, as "Herr/Frau Professor Magister so and so".  If you have a double masters degree, that is acknowledge by saying "Frau Professor Magister Magister."  If you have more than one profession say, for example, you are a pharmacist with a doctorate degree and you teach at the university level, you would be addressed as "Herr/Frau Doktor Pharmazeut, Professor so and so."

My professor is from Germany and she shared that when she moved to Austria she did not understand it either because this is not done in Germany.  She has been told that since Austrians never had a noble class, they wanted to have something to show societal status.  I have also heard that they take pride in their accomplishments and want them acknowledged.  For foreigners, it will seem that they are showing off, but, to them, this is the way they do things.  

My professor encouraged me to use the title Magister (master's degree) in my name because she states that locals will treat you better if they know you hold a master's degree.  Therefore, you may now refer to me as "Frau Magister Soziale Arbeiter, Mother of All Things":-)  

Friday, August 31, 2012

Back to Schule

Seems like forever since my last post! The things returned to school last week after what seemed like an endless summer - to me, anyway.  What do expats do about school when they are away from home?  That depends, but most of us USA expats send our kids to one of the many international school options unless your kids happen to be fluent in the language of your host country. Austrian schools, in case you're wondering, start on September 3rd.

Here in Vienna, there are many more choices than there were in Warsaw.  I attribute this to the large United Nations prescence here as well as other international organizations like the IAEA.  There is the American International School, The Vienna International School, The Danube School, The British School, the Lycée Français de Vienne, the Vienna Elementary School, the International Christian School, Mayflower Christian Academy and, for the more musically inclined middle/high schoolers, the Amadeus International School of Music. 

Parents seem to send their kids to the one where most of their coworkers send their kids. Preference is given to diplomats.  The Embassy allows us to choose.  The tab is paid by the Embassy or parent employer.  This is an amazing opportunity to send your children to a private school that is paid for by someone else.  Bus transportation via PostBus to and from is also paid by the Embassy.

Most of these schools are large compounds that house K-12 on a sprawling campus.  Some, like the one Thing 1 attended in Warsaw, are very modern, state of the art new facilities.  The school the kids are attending in Vienna is not as impressive on the outside compared to the one in Warsaw, but once you're in inside and see what is available you realize that opportunity within the walls far exceeds the exterior presentation.  

Our school is on top of a hill in the 19th district bordering the Vienna Woods.  Not having a car, we hoofed it up there for orientation.  Being that the school is built in to the hill, there are lots of stairs to climb just to get to class.  My children were not amused.  Thanks to all my incline walking, I did not have much of a problem.  However, the heat is what was broke me.  

Why heat?  Because like every other place in Vienna, the school is NOT air conditioned.  So, while walking up all those stairs is not a problem, your increased hear rate will prompt you to break a sweat with no remedy for cooling off.  The school opens all windows and some rooms like the music and computer rooms are air conditioned because temp control is required.  Unfortunately, the few days have brought us temperatures in the 90's which can make it unbearable.  I attended a PTA meeting last week in a room that was not air conditioned and packed with parents.  Thankfully I, and many others, had something to fan themselves or we would have passed out.  Everyone keeps saying that the cool weather will arrive in a few weeks and stay through June 2013. There is truth to this as today the mercury is not getting far above 65 degrees. Relief is in sight!

The school is divided up into elementary, middle and high school.  For the purposes of this entry, I am focusing on the elementary school.  The school covers pre-K to 5th grade.  In addition to the regular curriculum of reading, writing and arithmetic, students are expected to take German up to five times per week, play a musical instrument (beginning in 2nd grade), take art, music, computers and PE up to three times per week. They also go to the library once per week and have character building lessons with the school counselor on a rotation. There are classrooms for German, art, general music, instrumental music, an upper and lower gym, soccer pitch, a sports hall and a theater.

After school activities are also incorporated into the school.  These are paid by the parents and include martial arts, basketball, gymnastics, choir, guitar, swimming, arts/ceramics, theater arts, yoga, dance, and even digital photography.  Sign ups took place Wednesday and it was like getting concert tickets. We managed to secure 4 days of after school activities for both kids and will be paying about $1230 USD for four months worth of activities for two kids. To compare, last year, we paid $3500 for one semester for Thing 1's martial arts after school program.

The Parent Teacher Forum (PTF) is the school's version of the PTA/PTO we have in the USA.  Besides meetings that are held in a really hot room, they sponsor activities throughout the year for both parents and families.   The school itself also sponsors certain activities like UN Day in October and the Ski Trip during winter break in February.

Speaking of breaks....there are lots of breaks here.  There is autumn break (1 week) in October, Thanksgiving Break (same as USA), Christmas Break (3 weeks), Winter Break in February (1 week), and Spring Break (1 week).  This does not include all the Austrian holidays, state and religious ones, when school is closed.  The kids get a ridiculous amount of vacation with ample opportunity for travel. 

Finally one of the better aspects is the communication between the school and parents.  The school is in many ways more technologically advanced than our experience back home.  They have a presence on Facebook and Twitter.  They have an iPhone app where you can check on bus status, news, and find phone numbers for whomever you wish to contact regarding the school. 

Each grade has a website which is further broken down by teacher. The sites include units of study on each subject matter and lets parents know what the kids are learning in class.  There is also a section on homework.  The kids bring homework home, but it is also posted online.  There is no excuse for failing to complete homework.  Each teacher has a blog forum where parents can post questions and discuss topics related to the class or their kids.  There is a section for announcements, online and other student resources as well as a contact form where you can communicate with the teacher.  Parent-teacher communication is done online with the exception of any requested conferences.

Thing 1 will be given his own laptop next week which he is going to be using at home and at school.  He is expected to bring it to school daily, fully charged and will be taking it to his different classes.  The laptops are issued, updated and maintained by the school.  Hence the 350 Euro refundable deposit we had to make back in May. They will be given to us at Back to School Night next week.

But, the best thing I could have hoped for was the reaction from my kids when they came home the first day.  Thing 2 cried a bit when I dropped her off the first day, but if you know her, it was mostly drama that she soon got over.  She was all smiles when she got home. Both kids were sharing the words they learned in German class and what specials they had that day.  But, Thing 1, made my heart sing.

As many of you know from my random Facebook postings, we struggled watching the treatment that Thing 1 received from his peers when he entered his local public school almost 4 years ago.  He was teased for the stutter he had (which disappeared within a few months of being back in the US), then it was for not being athletic or being the youngest and smallest, etc.  It hurt to watch him want to have a friend so much but being rejected when he tried.  Eventually, he made some friends, but I don't think he ever forgot how it felt to be rejected and he stopped trying to approach kids unless they were new in school (he knew what that felt like).

My biggest concern for him was whether or not he would come out of his shell and be a bit more outgoing with other kids. Well, my concerns were eased rather quickly.  He came home telling me that he was sitting at lunch by himself and another 5th grade boy said "Hi, are you new? Do you want to come sit with us and be friends?" And like that, his entire confidence changed.  He has been doing his homework and reading without me even having to remind him.  It's almost as if he was having such a rough time socially the last couple of years that he had given up on school both socially and academically. Now he is riding the bus (which is chaperoned) and has friends on the bus and at school.  He is even trying new foods and signed up for ball sports (never interested him before).

Thing 2 will thrive in any environment. Thing 1 thrives in this one.  This environment celebrates differences rather than the schools at home where being the "same" is celebrated and being different gets you laughed at, teased or threatened.  If we are blessed with the opportunity to do a lateral assignment after this, we are going to go for it, if only to help get Thing 1 through his adolescence with as much self esteem as possible.

It looks to be a great school year!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The House: The Good, Bad and the Ugly (not so much ugly)

We moved into our new home last week and have been busy finding a place for everything.  While the house is larger than I expected (not larger than Poland, however),  storage space is an issue.  We spent the latter part of last week and the weekend trying to make everything fit.  We were only able to clear the bedrooms and hallways.  The living room is scattered with an mix of entertainment options and decor along with furniture the Embassy needs to remove. This includes the queen size bed my husband dismantled to make room for our king size bed.  We just could not go three years without our sleep number bed ;-)

The house is really four stacked apartments, each two stories.  Ours is one of the top two stories. Our front door neighbor is also our landlord even though anything that goes on with the house needs to go through the Embassy.  Our neighbors downstairs are Australians working at the UN. All the neighbors have small children which will make the noise coming from my children the least of their problems. There is a chocolate lab that belongs to one of the Aussies that has made good friends with our Sneetch (our dog in Seuss terms). They love to play in the yard.  

The top floor of our house was given to the kids and there is a guest room up there as well.  We gave the kids the larger rooms as they have way too much junk to fit into the smaller room.  Thing 2's bedroom is next to the guest room and Thing 1's is at the other end of the hall.  Thing 2's bedroom also has a balcony/terrace. We brought our patio chairs and they will remain there for the next 3 years unused because Rapunzel's tower is blocking entry to the balcony.  This is a good thing if you know Thing 2 personally.  In between, there are two bathrooms. One is for your toileting needs and the other is for your bathing and showering needs.  This kind of helps in the "she's hogging the bathroom" department.  The flooring in the bedrooms is wood while the hallway, stairs  and bathrooms have a grayish marble tile.  

Proceeding downstairs is our bedroom adjacent to the master bathroom.  In Europe, the master bath is not located within the master bedroom.  It is more like a master suite that could easily be another room. Our master bathroom is also our laundry room as the washer and dryer are stacked in a corner.  It is different, but not an entirely bad idea since most people remove their clothing to shower or bathe. The appliances are front loading which was new to me and I can now tell you that I will never buy a front loading washer or dryer.  Not having owned one, I was unaware about leaving the door open after a wash and removing wet clothing immediately after washing.  The stench that emanated from that thing when I went to do another load was horrible. Ewww! So imagine my surprise when I googled "bad smell in dryer" and got a ton of links about how common this problem is with front loaders!  I had to bleach it and that cleared it up, but jeez! The instruction manual didn't even mention it!

Moving right along is the hallway that contains the toileting bathroom which leads to the kitchen room.  It is a room, not a space. A very small room at that and the only part of the house that I wish I could change.  To give you an idea, the master bath suite is bigger than the kitchen.  Since the roof slants all over the house, it makes it feel even smaller.  The living/dining great room is next to the kitchen/hallway and is sizable. The furniture is standard issue Embassy furnishings although I am glad that the couch colors changed from our last post.

One thing I do like about this house are the windows. There are floor to ceiling windows in the living room and our master bedroom and large windows for the kids bedrooms. I also love the European windows that can open up like a door, or, with the turn of the handle, be set up to open slightly at the top.  On a hot day you can open the window completely and on a cold one just slightly for ventilation.  This is very important because the one thing after the kitchen that I hate is that there is no central air conditioning.   To say that I was not happy when we arrived is an understatement.

The Embassy provides these portable units that work well but are cumbersome in the sense that they have a hose to filter the hot air from the house.  It needs to be placed outside through a window because otherwise it blows the hot air right back in.  This is problematic because the hose is too short to fit over the slightly opened window which means the window needs to be opened like a door to accommodate this hose.  There are no screens on the windows which means that insects can freely seek solace from the heat in your house.  After killing several wasps/bees, the Cat fixed this by tying twine to the handle and a part of the frame and place the curtains over the hose/window to keep the insects out.  The portable units make it much more comfortable and make me happier. I can say I have even had to shut them off at times because it gets too cold.  

Along these lines, we noticed that there is not a radiator in sight. I'm glad about this, not only because I hate heat, but because radiators gather dust and cobwebs and are a pain to clean.  We had them in Poland so I was happy to see none in our new place.  But, what to do about heating...well, heating comes in through the floor.  If you have ever lived in a cold climate and placed your feet on a tiled or wood floor in the winter, you probably would feel a very cold floor.  Not here.  The floor is what gets heated and since heat rises, voila - instant heating.

Overall, we are pleased with our new place.  When you take into account that we have no mortgage, rent or utilities to speak of, I can take the small kitchen and less than desirable a/c unit. The only instance where a person can get free housing is on section 8 and what they get for free is a fraction of what we have and usually not as nice.  And they still have to pay utilities!