Friday, July 20, 2012

Vodafone. Can I just be no fun for a second?

When we arrived in 2006, we signed up with Vodafone for phone and DSL service.  A year or so in, Vodafone sneakily added extra charges to our phone bill that we had never signed up for.  After a few months we noticed, called them on it, and they gave us the money back that we'd paid for whatever it was.  Since we'd been burned, we then moved our phone service to O2 at the end of our Vodafone contract.  We kept Vodafone DSL.

We should have switched DSL, too.

In November 2008, Vodafone switched us over from an old account to a new account.  They never shut down the old account.  We did not realize this had happened because we continued to get only one bill in the mail. Apparently the bills for the other account were online-only and we didn't know it because we never used their website.  However, money for both accounts was coming automatically out of our bank account.  It was coming out about 15 days apart - just enough that any time I had a quick look in the account - which was the only kind of look I ever really had at the account, since it runs itself and never got super-low - I never saw both charges.  Yes, I'm an idiot, and this doesn't need to be pointed out.

In January of this year, we effectively went without pay for a month as my husband was switched over from a contract that pays on the first day of the month to one that pays on the last day of the month.  Combined with Christmas, this was ugly and I had to watch the bank account like a hawk to make sure we didn't overdraw on checking.  That's when I noticed that Vodafone was charging us twice every month.  And to my horror, I discovered it had been going on for more than three years without me noticing.

So, January 2012, we realize Vodafone has been double charging us since November 2008, and for so long they've now received approximately 1140 Euro from us for something we did not sign up for or use.

My husband dealt with this because of another of my failings - inability to deal with contractual German and phone German.  So, I'm the baddie again, but anyway.  Guess what? We're still paying for both accounts.   First we got a runaround from Vodafone that they had no idea what we were talking about, so leave them alone.  Then they told us we must have signed up for both accounts.  They told us one of them was a surfstick account, which we have never had or used. They told us they could close one if we really want, but it would take 6 months.  None of this seemed right so we started going to the store to talk to people in person instead of over the phone.  Again, we got put off week after week that someone would call us, a ticket had been filed, nothing had happened with it yet, etc.  Meanwhile, still paying an extra 30 Euro per month.  Finally a month or two ago, there just happened to be someone competent working at Vodafone while we were there.  She called in and pushed until it was figured out.  They had switched us over, and forgotten to turn off the old account.  This is their fault.  So, she said they'd close it and we were happy with that, briefly, thinking at least we could stop bleeding money-for-nothing to Vodafone.

Turns out they decided to close both our accounts.  That's not really what we intended, but fine, since we don't want to deal with Vodafone anymore anyway.  Unfortunately, one of them won't be closed until October, and the other in August. And, we still don't know which one we're actually using.  And we're still paying for both.  Since January, that's another couple hundred Euro for which we get nothing and some dick at Vodafone who is already wayyyy richer than us gets to sit on his laurels.  And, it looks like we won't be getting any of the money back, although the person on the phone could not tell my husband why not, so we still haven't figured that out. 

Anyone dealing with a DSL company other than Vodafone that they can recommend?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hard Times for Hausfrauen (and the Euro. And GEMA?)

Every wall in my apartment is vibrating like this. The construction is two floors down and one apartment over, and I'd expected it wouldn't affect my life too much. Har har. Noise-canceling headphones with music in the bathroom with the fan on doesn't even cover it up. Maybe if I added blood-curdling screams of torment, that would drown it out?

In other news...the Euro is down to $1.22!! It was at $1.21 when we moved here in 2006 and had only gone up from there. I hope it doesn't go below that, but I guess it doesn't really matter so much to us right now even if it does.

In yet more news...back when Spotify was sweeping the US, I tried to install it here but could not since Germany didn't have it yet. Then I just forgot about it, but way back in March Spotify arrived in Germany. I finally remembered to install it yesterday, and it's great. I can't believe GEMA is allowing or it or they're able to pay GEMA enough or whatever is going on that is making Spotify possible, because it seems way too good that I can play anything I want any time in a country where YouTube is useless and Grooveshark was chased out. Hope it lasts! I'm enjoying the new Hot Chip right now, which I thought was going to be crappy from the one song I'd already heard via a music blog. Turns out that was just the crappiest song. Yay!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sorry, Bayern


I've been working on this puzzle of Germany without using the box or any other map as reference.  I've not gotten out all the pieces yet, but it already seems clear that I have some deficiencies in  my German geography knowledge...

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Heaven & Hell in Venice

Venice in June wasn't my idea. My friend was going to be in the area for a class and wanted someone to join her for a couple of days in Venice, and I wanted something to do because my husband was going to be away at a conference. So, I planned to go...but I sort of dreaded it. I don't like heat, and I don't like crowds. Traveling to the hot south during peak travel months is something I would normally not plan to do.

Googling for info made it worse. Reports of Venice teeming with more tourists than residents, monster mosquitoes, stinky canals, obscenely expensive restaurants, and pickpockets seemed to constantly show up in my search results. After a couple of days of this, I abandoned Google and turned to a map of Venice I had in a book. Maps always make me feel positive about a place. Looking over it at Campo this and Campo that - I was in. I wanted to know this place - even if conditions weren't ideal.

The one-hour flight from Frankfurt was amazing. We crossed over the cloud-shrouded Alps, beautiful green valleys, and finally, had a perfect view of Venice in the evening light just before we landed. It was so incredible as to render me dumb and inspire brilliant Captain Obvious-style thoughts like, "Oh my God. VENICE IS REAL." Unfortunately, the tourist problem was also immediately real. From the plane you could clearly see massive cruise ships at port dwarfing even the church towers.

I met up with my friend and we had a lovely dinner at Ristoteca Oniga followed by gelato at Grom (both recommended by a friend) and a walk around. We remembered reading on Trip Advisor that the prices at Oniga were very reasonable, but they seemed pretty high to us. We just didn't know yet how it could be. Later in the trip I saw an ice cream joint advertising Spaghetti Eis for 10 Euro. We ended up defaulting to take-out pizza to keep the costs down.  Beware these though - at one, my friend ordered lasagna and it came still packaged in a frozen-food container.  They didn't even make an effort to pretend they'd made it. (My pizza from the same place was quite good.)

My first impression that evening was that Venice was a bit claustrophobia-inducing. I felt very hemmed in by the tiny alleys, some of which are only three paving stones across. The feeling passed the next day; maybe I just felt that way because it was dark. Later I couldn't get enough of narrow alleys, abandoned residential campos (squares), and quiet dead ends. They were heaven. Every time I found one, I fantasized about moving to Venice to live on one - heat, humidity, high prices, and tourists be damned.

But oh, the tourists. As one, I sometimes felt a little guilty at our collective overrunning of the island. We spent Sunday on the outlying islands of Torcello, Burano, and Murano in an attempt to get away from any extra weekend crowds, then hit the big stuff - namely, St. Mark's Square & Basilica - on Monday. We made sure to go very early to enjoy them in a bit of peace, so we arrived at the square around 8am. It wasn't bad - definitely a tourist attraction as there were some matching-shirt groups and plenty of cameras around - but not bothersome at all. Around noon we came back through the area and it was complete insanity. The calles were so full you couldn't even get through. It was hell. The bridges looked like they'd collapse under the weight of so many people, all vying for perfect photos of the Bridge of Sighs. The photos - so many churches banned them inside, and it annoyed me. Photos help jog my memory of a place. But after seeing this, I understood why, and it has nothing to do with the sacredness of the site. It has to do with everyone thinking they're a damn ace photographer. You'd never be able to move or a see a thing in St. Mark's if everyone had their giant lenses up 6 inches from every beautiful detail.

 While cooling off in an air-conditioned bookstore, I skimmed a small book called "Dear Tourist" written by a Venetian. The book blamed city leadership for letting so many cruise ships in, and declaring that they'd happily let in still more. It also cited studies showing that Venice is currently at or beyond tourist capacity. Another study indicated that Venice could withstand 100,000 tourists a day if only they were spread out evenly over the island. You can clearly see in my photos that this is not the case. There were silent abandoned corners everywhere. Everyone is at St. Mark's (and for a reason!), the Rialto (don't get the appeal there), and on the streets in between. I'm glad there were places to get away and enjoy the serenity which is part of what made Venice famous in the first place.

I've let a week go by since returning home, hoping that all my contradictory feelings about Venice would settle into something more solid, and that I would be able to come up with some kind of recommendation on how to go about visiting Venice. But, neither has happened. I liked it. Some of it I loved. Some of it was pretty sad. The expense can really ruin a good time - as can the bug bites (I got over 20, all overnight, and don't know if they were mosquitoes or bedbugs) and the oppressive humidity. I don't know what to think. But....I still kind of want to go again. There really is something about Venice.

Enjoy the photos.

Venezia Jun 12