23 August 2013

It was our last day in England and it was a good one.

In the morning, we went to retrieve our things at Tim’s. We took a long, three part tube journey over to his place. First we went out for breakfast together in Potters Bar. It would be our last Full English Breakfast of the trip. We chatted over breakfast before we would have to leave.

Then we went back to Tim’s place, resorted our bags, and got all packed up to leave for the airport.

It was a long tube journey to the airport- almost an hour and a half. We were a little late getting to our plane because of it.

The plane ride went really smooth, and I managed to stay awake through the entire thing by watching a number of movies. My favorite one that I came across happened to be Disconnect. That film was intense, and really good.

At LAX, we were met by Matt, Matt’s girlfriend Sam, and Deanna’s mom. Apparently a whole bunch of paparazzi had just left the area, following after Gwen Stefani.

Dee went back to Bakersfield while Matt and Sam took me to Sam’s place in LA. The warm summer night was a contrast to most of Europe, and it felt good to be back home.

Sleeping Arrangement - Sam’s apartment.
Money Spent - $0
Lesson Learned - We were made to crave connection.
Mental Snapshot - Teasing Deanna about only digging on the airplane.

22 August 2013

Finally, after all kinds of efforts to make it back to the UK, Deanna and I were able to get on board our bus at Belgium and head north across the channel. The bus left in the morning and it was a smooth and easy ride back to England. And we had something pretty unexpected for the first time with Eurolines- an American driver. During one of our roadside breaks, we asked him how he ended up over in Europe and he mentioned that he was there on an exchange.

We arrived in the UK in the afternoon and then we made our way to the hostel in West Ham. The area wasn’t too particularly exciting, and it didn’t seem like there was much over there for us. But we checked into the grubby $10 a night hostel and worked our way outside because we wanted some food.

Since Barking didn’t look to promising, we went to go try our luck by taking the tube to West Ham, which ended up being very, very futile. We then took the tube again to Abbey Road and then to Stratford before finally finding some civilization.

Stratford had some pubs, which is what we wanted- some classic English pub food before leaving. Unfortunately, we discovered an odd feature about Stratford’s pubs. While many of them posted menus outside, they were all false. None of them really served food. That was disappointing, so instead, we got sausage meals at a café, then went out around town.

We hopped into a WH Smith for a while to do book browsing, then afterwards, we fulfilled our pub desire. We ordered a cider and a Guiness and soaked up our second to last day in England.

Then we went back to the hostel to watch a movie together before bed. We settled on the Lorax, during which Deanna fell asleep.

Sleeping Arrangement - Globetrott Inn
Money Spent - £15 for food and topping up
Lesson Learned - Know how you process life, and what you need to do so.
Mental Snapshot - Talking with Deanna at the pub.

21 august 2013

With a full day for us to explore Brussels, we set out early to go all over town.

The first spot we had in mind was simply listed on the map as the “labyrinth” and it looked like an elaborate hedge maze. We were initially disappointed to see that the hedges weren’t exactly a maze, but a pattern- one that would’ve been way too easy to solve. But we later learned that the entire surrounding gardens area was the labyrinth. It offered plenty of hidden walking spots and it was a nice, romantic area.

From there we went onwards to get something to eat. The day before we read a recommendation for a really good ice cream stand. We followed our map and we wound up at an ice cream shop that really was good. I got a salted caramel ice cream and it tasted pretty homemade.

We still hadn’t seen the Atominium yet, but with its distance to town, we didn’t exactly want to trek all the way out to see it. As an alternate plan, we found a really tall parking garage to climb. That ended up being a cool spot because it offered views over all of Brussels, with the Atominium hanging in the back. Up closer you could see the tops of other old buildings and churches.

Part of what helped me learn to appreciate Brussels more this time around was understanding that Brusselians took ownership of their city. They acknowledged that it was ugly- or at least nonsensical in design. They’ll plant a beautiful cathedral next to a dumpy office building. They have three train stations, none of them looking all that important despite being the “capital of Europe.” Their mascot is a small peeing child. But Brussels is all about being itself and letting its quirks shine. It isn’t Paris. In Brussels, trendy is an insult. It’s better to be original.

Deanna and I got lunch at a French-Belgian restaurant where I had a really good scalloped pork dish. The waitress who ran the restaurant was incredibly nice. The food was amazing but her service alone made the meal worth it. Plus the restaurant was quaint and sweet.

We then went to the southern part of the city to try and find its “Little Africa,” but we had no luck. Instead we found a single African curio shop.

Then we went to what was listed as a hidden romantic spot. It was a really neat garden behind a political building. We got to lay on the grass and talk.

In the evening, we wanted a last round of Belgian delicacies. We went back to the central area where Mannekin Pis stood and got the obligatory Belgian Waffles.

Sleeping Arrangement - Hello Hostel
Money Spent - €15 for food
Lesson Learned - The best people to be surrounded by are those with whom nine hour long conversations feel too short.
Mental Snapshot - Laying in the grass with Deanna at the Hidden Romantic Spot.

20 August 2013

Sometime on the bus ride over from Prague, I got a little bit sick. Not enough so that it ruined my time in Brussels however. Actually, this was probably the best time I’ve had in Brussels yet.

This would be my third time in Brussels, and to be honest, the other two felt a lot more out of obligation. I used at as a hub before to return to London, and once as a pit stop to get me to Rome. Both times I wasn’t so impressed by the city, in the past I’d visited when it was rainy and also, it just seemed very run down. I saw a couple of fights on the street and it seemed pretty unappealing then. But I’m glad the city got this other chance to redeem itself with my impression of it.

The bus arrived and Deanna and I got into our hostel. We unwound from the ride with tea. We then went online to figure out how to get ourselves back to London. After searching for a while, we found that biting the bullet and buying Eurolines tickets was still the best option.

After buying our tickets, we wanted to have some fun. We were super hungry so we went out looking for food. After passing the Bourse, we found an area with several cafés and restaurants. First we shared a cone of Belgian fries with a spicy sauce, and they were awesome. I’d take Belgian fries over its waffles, beer, or chocolate as it’s best culinary feature. Then we found an Asian restaurant for more substantial food.

Before going back to the hostel, we found the town center. We hopped into a tiny souvenir shop and browsed a little. We also then worked our way towards Mannekin Pis and found the small, kitsch statue.

We’d have the whole next day to explore Brussels- a nice contrast to hopping around so much the past few days and not seeing anywhere new.

Sleeping Arrangement - Hello Hostel
Money Spent - €40 for a bus ticket, €20 for food
Lesson Learned - Don’t be hesitant or overly skeptical when doling out second chances… wait and see what a restart can be like.
Mental Snapshot - Eating pho in Belgium with Deanna.

19 August 2013

The bus going to Prague arrived sometime close to noon. We went outside to try and get something to eat. In terms of food, the Czech Republic has been one of my favorite places that I’ve visited. We were able to get a large and delicious meal for really cheap, and that includes beer.

Since it was rainy, as it’s been every afternoon that we’ve been in Prague, and since we already saw a good deal of the city the last time we were there, we decided to forgo any real sightseeing. Instead we stuck to old familiar grounds. We made our way back towards the hostel we stayed at the last time so we could use the internet and restroom at a nearby café. We once again navigated the metro lines and found ourselves there.

We camped out here for most of the afternoon, while it was raining. We chatted, got caught up on work and some travel plans, and enjoyed some neat Czech drinks. I ordered the same thing I got last time and got something completely different, but that was fine by me.

In the evening we poked into a church just to explore, and then we headed back out towards the main station.

There we got dinner and also loaded up on supplies to take on our bus ride to Brussels, which would probably be our longest one of the trip.

We boarded close to midnight and slept fairly easily.

Sleeping Arrangement - Eurolines bus to Brussels
Money Spent - CZK 400 for lunch, a drink, and bus snacks.
Lesson Learned - People with a sincere calling don’t need to ask others for permission, they need to ask others for help.
Mental Snapshot - Sitting inside the Prague station near the Burger King joking around.

18 august 2013

We woke up at the A&O in Munich fairly late and got ready to start our day. Since it was a Sunday, there wasn’t a whole lot to do in Munich, but we found a nice place for breakfast just across the street. I actually ended up having a cheesecake for breakfast, too. German cheesecake is a lot less sweet and a lot more cheesy, so it seemed a little more decent.

We made it back the the hostel. One of the guys in our room was still asleep and stayed that way until the afternoon. I figured he was a traveler on a long trip who needed a rest day, but he also might’ve been sick.

In the afternoon, Deanna and I decided to try and find the Eurolines office. While I expected it to be closed on Sunday, like almost everything in Munich, it was open for a few hours in the afternoon. We went in to reserve our tickets to London.

“It’s full.”

Apparently there’s some sort of pilgrimage to London taking place.

“Amsterdam?” I asked as a substitute.

“Full.”

“Brussels?”

“You might want to try Prague.”

Although Prague was a step in the opposite direction, it’s at least a well connected station, so we took her advice.

Afterwards, we got some Turkish food and ate in the park. We had a good conversation as we strolled, and we ended up walking all the way into central Munich which was still shut down, but people were out and about anyways.

Later that night, as we made it back to the hostel, the sleeping guy awoke. I soon learned that he only spoke Spanish and that he was from Uruguay. After he discovered that I could speak Spanish, he went from being the quietest guy in the hostel to being a social butterfly.

Sleeping Arrangement - A&O Munich
Money Spent - €5 for Turkish food.
Lesson Learned - Speaking somebody’s language opens up many, many doors.
Mental Snapshot - Sitting at the bench at the park, eating döner.

17 August 2013

Unfortunately, I can now say I have a least favorite European city. Zurich. Namely for two reasons- the first being that it’s ridiculously expensive. That itself isn’t a dealbreaker. Norway, Sweden, and Denmark were similarly priced, but I had awesome experiences there. But Zurich proved impossible to escape when we needed to and despite it’s location, its connections to other cities weren’t workings so well.

Our plan was to meet up with Juliette at the hauptbanhoff, make reservations for our tickets out of the city, and then go enjoy the town for a little bit until we had to leave. We were looking to leave for Budapest at 15:15, and we’d have to head out to the bus parking lot where the Eurolines office that resembled a hot dog stand to make our reservations.

We met Juliette at the station. She went downstairs to get her train tickets to Basel while Deanna and I went to the bus parking lot. Although we were told by both a person and a sign that the Eurolines stand would open at nine, we were there at eleven, and nobody was present. Without anybody around or any tickets being sold, we weren’t sure how we would be leaving the city.

Since we didn’t have anything else to do, we looked over a posting of the timetables. As we were reading, a man appeared in the window. We asked to reserve tickets to Budapest.

“Bus is full,” he informed us.

We looked back at the timetables, and most of the buses outwards, towards Austria or Slovakia especially, would be that same bus.

“What about Frankfurt?” I asked, figuring we could just connect to London from there and that we might just enjoy more time in Dublin.

“Full. I can get you to Milan.”

“Okay,” said Deanna. “Just give us one second.”

Deanna and I conferred whether or not we should go for it, and we decided we should. Italy is much cheaper compared to Switzerland and fairly well connected.

“We’ll take it.”

“It’s full.”

“Well, what’s not full?”

“I don’t know, I can’t look it up.”

The Eurolines guy was getting cranky and he seemed to just be interested in making things difficult. We got the feeling he didn’t like us, and it just didn’t look like we’d be making it out of Zurich with Eurolines.

But we really wanted out. Zurich was such an expensive city that one day in town cost us far more than most other cities we could visit.

I went back to the main station to meet up with Juliette again. We decided to all go to the Burger King to use their wi-fi to figure out our options. We also got some food since we hadn’t eaten all day. As an idea of how expensive the city is, CHF10 got just six pieces of chicken nuggets and coffee. And it cost CHF2 to use the bathroom. And unfortunately, the 30 minutes of wi-fi we got didn’t lead to any solutions.

We looked further for some wi-fi, but that was futile. A lot of places had networks that for one reason or another just simply didn’t work on our devices. We found kiosks down in the station that allowed us to look up things on the train railways website. As options, we found tickets for CHF60 to either Stuttgart or Strassborg. That was still crazy expensive, though, so we held off. But if we couldn’t find anything, we’d have to go with that.

Finally, we had the idea to go to the international bus terminal to see if we could find another bus line going to another city our pass would work from. After awhile, a magical green bus pulled up with an outside that advertised “Zurich to Munich, 5x a day, €15.” We asked when the next departure would be, and that would be four.

We went to a Starbucks to try and use their wi-fi. The only device between the three of us that could access it was Juliette’s smartphone, however we were able to use it to book the bus. Finally things were solved and settled. We were getting out of Zurich and onwards to Munich. And for only €15 too!

The bus came at four, and we got on board. The ride to Munich was smooth, and we passed through some neat looking German towns.

We arrived at night. I found the same hostel company I used in Hamburg, and we were able to get a room upon arrival. It was definitely a big relief once that happened.

Sleeping Arrangement - A&O Munich
Money Spent - €15 for the bus ticket to Munich, CHF20 for food.
Lesson Learned - Things can go wrong in the middle and still work alright in the end. Actually, that’s usually how it goes.
Mental Snapshot - Taking the ferry to get back to Germany.

16 August 2013

One of my lifetime goals is to make it to every country in Europe. Just ballparking, I’m about a quarter of the way to this goal, which is made just a little bit more difficult by the presence of five microcountries- ones not necessarily hard to get to, but a bit out of the way means some extra costs for a typical backpacker.

Sandra drove us from Kölliken to Zurich and we checked in to the guest house we reserved over there. The owners of the place, “Meet Your Friends,” gave us all sorts of information about Zurich and then were surprised to find we were just using it as a hub to get to Liechtenstein. Oh well.

After checking in, we went towards the hauptbanhoff to meet with Juliette- another friend made through UCSB. Juliette is in French, and originally we had planned to meet in Nice (which I had originally planned to use as a gateway to Monaco.) That didn’t work out, so those plans changed to Lithuania. Then that didn’t work out, but finally, we were meeting in Zurich. We met up at a Burger King at the station. Before leaving for Liechtenstein we tried to find our way to the Eurolines office to reserve our tickets to Hungary the next day. It was surprisingly difficult to find, and when we got there, we were a bit disappointed to see that it was practically the same sort of structure as the hot dog stand right next to it, and that it was closed. We decided to save that ordeal for the next day, today was a journey for Liechtenstein.

We bought our train tickets. They were a bit pricey, like practically everything in Switzerland. But it proved to be an incredible ride. The train went over a couple of lakes, and around the Alps. The further away from the city we got, the more and more scenic the ride became. The train went around cliffs and mountains that jutted straight up from the ground. The mountains were soft, blending with the clouds, but the clouds were well defined and the water was a sharp blue.

We arrived in Sargans, and from there we found bright green colored buses that we could use to get into actual Liechtenstein. We hopped on and the ride continued to be scenic. Crossing into Liechtenstein hardly involved a border, and the line wasn’t even marked. I simply knew by the sudden presence of flags of the principality all over.

Our bus arrived at Vaduz. There was only one real “attraction” I knew of in Liechtenstein, and really it’s the only real sightseeing place in the country. That would be its castle. The bus driver let us off at the center of Vaduz and from there we found a map. According to the map, the castle should be just feet in front of us, but all we could see were shops and nothing that looked particularly like a castle. Then we looked up. Atop a mountain that towered 25 meters above us sat the castle- in true castle style it was nestled in the mountains which kissed the clouds.

Fortunately for us, one of the shops was a tourist center, where we learned that the castle wasn’t really visitable. We could go up to it, but not inside, since the Liechtenstein royalty was actually still living inside. We weren’t exactly up for climbing that mountain just then, anyways.

Instead we explored the main street. It was a quiet center, and with expensive boutiques and restaurants, it was surprisingly like La Jolla. We walked calmly and perused a few gift shops. There were a lot of Asian tourists. So much in fact that a quick image of the streets would make Liechtenstein look like it was 40% Asian.

We also found a few quirky museums to visit, including a modern art museum and a postage stamp museum.

Later, we decided to follow a map we got at the tourist office towards the “old town center.” Here we found vineyards that people owned, and quaint village houses. This part of town was really pretty and really spirited. Liechtenstein flags hung everywhere. We probably saw more Liechtenstein flags in the small country in a few hours than we did across all of Germany in the weeks we spent there. The vineyards would slope and dip to reveal spiky mountains that charged up into the clouds. The houses looked simultaneously simple and ornate, with stone bases and wooden exoskeletons.

We walked slowly around this area, taking pictures and enjoying the views. Humorously, Liechtenstein is so small that our map was drawn incredibly precisely. The houses were drawn with their exact colors and styles of chimneys and everything- it was like a map of Disneyland.

In the evening, we reversed our journey, to Sargans, then back to Zurich. Liechtenstein was small and obscure, but it turned out to be gorgeous.

Sleeping Arrangement - Meet The Friends
Money Spent - CHF70 for the train ticket, CHF6 for food
Lesson Learned - Sometimes the path towards your goals will take you through some bizarre places.
Mental Snapshot - Walking around the vineyards of Switzerland.

Seeing new places is nice, but my favorite part of this trip has been running into old friends. (And making a few new ones)

15 August 2013

On our last morning with Andrea and Stefan, we had yet another wonderful German fruhstück. The hospitality we received from the two of them over the few days we spent at their place was absolutely amazing. It’s part of my upcoming goals to be able to put myself in a position to give that sort of hospitality myself. After pretty much spending a year as a nomad, that desire tends to get quite kindled.

Anyways, to top it all off, they would drive us towards Zurich, which was a couple hours away from where they lived. Technically, we’d be going to Kölliken, which is where Andrea, another one of Deanna’s past au pairs lived.

On our way down, we stopped by the city of Friedburg, an old German town with the hustle of modern life at the same time. Small water drainage systems formed tiny canals that ran around town which little kids loved to play with. Deanna and I had fun looking at some of the small boutiques in the area, which were a little more artsy than your standard fare of tacky tourist souvenir shops, but still with plenty of the knick knacks you’d pick up while on holiday. We also got a good look at the old church tower which stood in the center of the town.

We went into a central food market to get something to eat. If found an Argentine food stand, but opted to order up some currywurst instead. Deanna got some crépes, and we enjoyed all this with radler and beer.

After lunch, I fell asleep a little too easily in the car and woke up past the Swiss border.

As the GPS directed us into a neighborhood and closer to a house, we saw two young boys on bikes staring at us, and seemingly biking around us. Then, Sandra, Deanna’s old au pair, and her husband Michel came out to meet us. The two boys were their kids, Cedric and Louis. They invited us all in for cakes and coffee. German cheesecake is pretty good- more cheese and less sugar. After the mid-afternoon snack, we said our goodbyes to Andrea and Stefan.

We got settled upstairs and also hung out with Louis and Cedric. They had a lot of geography-oriented toys in their room, and a “learn English for kids” audiotape. They were really friendly, and we even got right to wrestling, even though I was never able to understand them.

Sandra and Michel offered us to let the kids go on a nature walk with us. Well, we would walk, and they would ride their bikes ahead- but we’d be around to lend a hand if the uphill parts ever got too steep. We made our way deeper and deeper into the woods. It was kind of funny as the kids kept leading us deeper and more away from the main path on their bikes while Deanna and I were unable to understand them. I don’t really understand much German as it is, but Swiss German is a whole other ballgame.

We made our way back home for dinner- bread in a cheese fondue. We had a good talk with Michel and Sandra over dinner. The food was excellent, and right afterwards, Cedric and Louis wanted to play some football, so I joined in with them. It was a fun match, and after they questionably grabbed the ball with both hands, I ended up lifting them and carrying them into their own goal. We had a blast, and even though I might’ve accidentally nailed Louis in the face once, they kept asking if we could play more.

Deanna and I went to bed that night enjoying the start to Switzerland, and prepared for a rather unusual day the next day.

Sleeping Arrangement - Sandra and Michel’s.
Money Spent - €4 for currywurst.
Lesson Learned - Play regularly.
Mental Snapshot - Meeting Bianca and Ines at the Stuttgart station.

Sheep. Sheep everywhere.

14 August 2013

Deanna and I hopped aboard some trains in the morning to take us to Stuttgart. There we would reunite with my friends Bianca and Ines who I met while they studied abroad at UCSB, like so many other good friends I’ve been meeting up with on this trip.

On one of our trains the train car was packed with elderly people. There were seriously maybe only about two other people without grey hair on this cart in addition to me and Deanna. But the elderly German folks were a party. Some had bikes and were in bike outfits, and others came with hiking sticks and other gear. I pointed out that the elderly folks there were a blast and I told Deanna that I wanted to retire here, where I could go hiking with the other old people. I made a note that the most boring people on the train were the young ones, and indeed, it was only us and the other two young people who rode silently.

We rode onwards and soon arrived in Stuttgart. We went to the meeting point and there we found Bianca and Ines. The two of them were so sweet and right away they presented me with a gift- a stack of bars of German and Swiss chocolates. I’m glad we got the chance to meet up. Originally we were going to meet in Munich, but the plans just didn’t work out. But now they did.

As we walked around Stuttgart, Bianca and Ines gave us a bit of a briefing of the city. Stuttgart is Germany’s Detroit- except there are still people living there and the city seems to be doing alright. But it does hold the headquarters for both Mercedes Benz and Porsche and those are a pretty big deal. One of the biggest conversations surrounding the city was the deliberation of whether or not to renovate the train station. As things stood, it looked like it would soon be remodeled.

Bianca and Ines themselves were also visitors to Stuttgart, since they lived further south, so we explored it together. We got Thai food to go and ate it out on the grass of a nearby park. The picnic was nice and we got to catch up on each others lives.

After lunch, we went on ahead to the Mercedes museum. The people there were sympathetic and let me go in for student pricing even though I didn’t have an ID. The museum itself was pretty neat. Everything about the building screamed Mercedes, including the elevator which was lined with the sort of padding you’d find in a luxury car interior. We made it to the top where a few of the oldest models of Mercedes were displayed. This included some funky wagon things that barely qualified as cars.

The rest of the museum wasn’t so much car focused, but more like a museum of the 20th Century. Displays on the wall covered major events like WW2, JFK’s assassination, or the introduction of the Euro. Of course with every display, the museum took the opportunity to note the role that Mercedes Benz has played throughout history. But still, it was more like a Museum of Recent History, sponsored by Mercedes.

Afterwards, we found some Coke to quench Bianca’s thirst, and some shopping outlets to quench Ines’ shopping urge. We then found another nice spot on the grass to settle down and chat.

When we realized the day was moving quickly, we went to find somewhere to eat. Ines and Bianca wanted to go to Vapiano, an Italian-German chain that was only found in Germany’s major cities. We ate there, and while the line was long and complicated, we made it to the front where they prepared our custom pastas right in front of us.

After dinner, it was time for us to go. We took a picture on the steps. The nice girl took our picture. We said bye to Ines and Bianca and made our way back towards Hauptbanhoff.

While it seems like this is where our day ends, it turns out that this is kind of where a whole other adventure starts. Like it said on our return ticket, we boarded the train leaving at 19:00 from platform 9.

We’d been on the train for a few minutes when I thought something might be up. I looked at the stops we were passing and a map and I noticed that the train did not turn west when it was supposed to. For whatever reason, this train was headed in the wrong direction- North towards Heidelberg.

Well, that’s not where we wanted to go, so we got off and waited 20 minutes for a train headed back in the other direction. It finally came and so we took a train to the stop where our first train was supposed to turn West.

We got out to read the timetables. Unfortunately, the next train set to leave West wasn’t scheduled to leave for another two hours. Since Andrea would be picking us up at the Appenweier station, we couldn’t keep her waiting like that. At that point we decided that our best option would be to go back to the well-connected Stuttgart where we could start from scratch. It was another 20 minute wait for that train.

At Stuttgart once again, we found the train to the station we were supposed to go to- Karlshrue, which would connect with Offenburg. Once again, we were at platform nine, where we could get to Karlshrue. We called Andrea to let her know what had happened and gave her a new ETA.

That’s when two new problems occurred. For one, my phone died. Anticipating this, we wrote down Andrea’s number. For another, there was a 40 minute delay for our train. This nearly tempted me to get us on another train going back towards one of the cities we transferred from on our morning journey, but with all that had already happened, we decided to play it conservatively.

We made it onto the train finally and from there we were hopeful to connect to Offenburg. Our plan was to meet Andrea at Appenweier, which would be one stop before Offenburg. We weren’t quite sure how all of this was going to go down. That’s when one train employee stopped and asked to see our ticket. We were on a ICE high-speed train (one that went so fast our ears popped) and apparently our tickets were only valid for the regular trains. Before Deanna could pull out any money, I started to tell our story as quickly and dramatically as possible, occasionally telling parts in German even though the guy spoke perfect English. He ended up being sympathetic and we got to take the train without any hassle.

We still needed to find our connection from Karlshrue to Appenweier. The conductor gave us an idea of when our next times would be. I asked a guy behind us to borrow a phone to call Andrea. Unfortunately, we didn’t get through to her- only a recording.

Finally, we arrived at Karlshrue. Only one train journey left to take, but we were hours behind schedule and we had no way of getting ahold of Andrea. We used an electronic kiosk to figure out train times. One was leaving at 22:40, but it would again be an ICE train, and I didn’t want to try our luck. Plus it went to Offenburg, and there would be no guarantee that it’d also stop at Appenweier, the meeting point. So instead, we waited for the 23:30 train to Offenburg, stopping at Appenweier.

That’s when we tried to get ahold of Andrea. Deanna tried to use a payphone, but it wasn’t quite working. In the meantime, I went from person to person, getting one hell of an evening for practicing German. Through the bits I knew, plus some creativity and hand gestures, I managed to borrow five or six phones. While my German was getting better, our situation wasn’t. Deanna found a payphone that sent texts, so we tried to tell Andrea our predicament without hearing a reply. Hoping for the best.

Finally, we got on the very late train to Offenburg. We arrived at Appenweier. The right place. But it was time to see if we made it at the right time.

We got out and there was no Andrea or Stefan. What made things worse was our orientation of Appenweier was pretty useless. Neither of us knew their address. The best we could remember is that there used to be a statue of stork near their neighbors and that there was a sign that said something I forgot. Not the most helpful bits of navigation.

I found a payphone and tried to call Andrea. It once again failed. Deanna suspected the number we wrote down was wrong. She would try to call internationally, to have her mom look up Andrea’s number in her email. Unfortunately, the phone didn’t make international calls. Out of options, we called the police.

“Spirgen sie Enlgisch?”

“Nein.”

Well this will be an interesting chat with the police.

Somehow I managed to explain our situation, and they sent somebody our way. At least maybe they could get us to the internet.

A few backpackers came by and asked if we knew the way to Strassborg, thirty minutes away. We didn’t know, though.

Then, a blue Skoda finally showed up. Andrea. She had been checking the station every now and then, and Deanna’s suspicions were right- we missed a digit when writing down the number.

We made it to her place, and cooled off with radler.

Sleeping Arrangement - Andrea and Stefan’s
Money Spent - €4 for the Mercedes Benz museum €10 for dinner.
Lesson Learned - When the best receivers are also the best givers, and when people see themselves as blessed, generosity becomes economy.
Mental Snapshot - Meeting Bianca and Ines at the Stuttgart station.

Adventures in Deutschland on philippelazaro.com

"Most Germans will tell you that theirs is a tricky language, but apparently, that’s how most people feel about their own language- English doesn’t seem like one I’d like to learn non-natively. I’d say that while the accent is fairly tough and while I get confused with the articles all the time, English does have Germanic roots, and while I’m far from fluent, or even conversational, one month of study through Podcast and practice books made my tour through several German cities better.

I ended up seeing a good amount of the region. Most of the cities I went to are known for fairly distinct dialects of German. But I wanted to soak up some more. While in Hamburg, I was a bit shy with the language. In addition to getting to test drive the German I’d studied, I also got to meet a bunch of old au pairs of Deanna’s and take on a number of different adventures.”

13 August 2013

After checking our schedules and touching base with our friends Juliette and Bianca- who we were scheduled to meet, we discovered that we had a whole day entirely free in the Black Forest area. It didn’t take long, though, before Stefan and Andrea had found some awesome things for us to do on this bonus day.

First, we went with Andrea to the area where her parents live. Along the way, we stopped by a really beautiful, picturesque, tiny village and explored a museum. The village itself looked like something from a storybook, as the buildings were crafted with the traditional wooden exoskeleton, and the streets were narrow and steep. Based on its size, it reminded me of the small italian towns that surrounded Siena. It also looked a little bit like Solvang, but real. Also, just beyond the village, the hills and peaks of the tree-covered Black Forest poked out, contrasting against the grey, textured sky. I took quite a number of photos here.

Then we arrived at her parents place. I can’t remember the name of it, but from the looks of things, it was deeper within the Black Forest. Her parents were incredibly kind and warm, having memories of Deanna’s last visit, over a decade ago. They reminisced, mostly using Andrea as translator. They also fed us and they fed us really well. We had schnitzel and spaetzle, and given that it was homemade, that’s pretty much as authentic as it gets. The food was wonderful and so was spending time with them.

Then we drove to where another one of Deanna’s old au pairs lives- Pellingen. I fell into a bit of a food coma while we were driving and I woke up by the Pellingen town hall to meet Utei and her kids.

She invited us up to her place in the middle of town and we had a look around. It was another town that reminded me of Siena. The city center was still enclosed by its old walls, and people continued to live within those walls. At the center was a cross, and at three ends stood three different towers or churches.

Very close to the center of the cross is where Utei lived with her husband, also named Stefan, and her kids- Katarina, Marvin, and Anika. Katarina and Anika went on a walk with us around town. We got gelato, looked at one of the churches, and Utei told us about a few of the different buildings.

We made our way to a high, industrial tower. It looked like an electrical outpost tower so I was surprised when Anika pushed the door and was easily able to enter. The tower was steel and had grated floors you could see through, so it was a bit of a nerve-wracking climb upwards, but it was far less closed in than Saint Peter’s in Munich. If anything, it was just the opposite. We made it to the top and we were again rewarded with a great view of the city.

After that, we climbed back down and made our way to a great playground where Anika got to enjoy some pretty neat equipment. I hadn’t seen many of the state-of-the-art pieces of playground equipment that they have in Germany. Anika is a very daring six year old, who doesn’t seem to fear gravity all that much.

We went back home to meet Stefan. From there, Marvin joined us and we went towards the forest to check out some of the other waterfalls. This time, our escapade in the forest involved less hiking and getting lost and more stair-climbing to catch a view of the gorgeous rocky waterfall. As we walked towards it, we noticed a ropes course above. If it were open it would’ve been a perfect playground for adults.

After the mini-trek, we went out for dinner at an Italian restaurant. We had pizza and brats, and afterwards, drove to meet up with Andrea, getting just a bit lost along the way. But we did get a good listen to some of the local German radio stations.

That was an exciting day.

Sleeping Arrangement - Andrea and Stefan’s
Money Spent - €0
Lesson Learned - Paying attention to generous people I’ve met has made me realize that one of the best things they’ve given me is an example of a great way to live.
Mental Snapshot - Eating spaetzle and schnitzel with Andrea’s parents.