Thursday, April 29, 2010

How to Get Stranded in Europe (part 2 of 2)


Take the fast train (at over 300 km/hour, the ICE makes Amtrak look like the slug on the shell of the proverbial tortoise) from Paris to Mannheim. Write a letter in your head to President Obama, urging him to mandate more railroad funding. Get dizzy when you look out the window at the too-green-to-be-true fields whizzing past your view.

Arrive in Germany. Be confused at how the country, language, people, culture, signage have all changed in the space of a three hour train trip. Walk through the train station, listening to people talk with all their sch's and eisen's. Stumble into the sunshine and laugh out loud when you see your Roanoke cousin standing in the Mannheim station - entirely out of context.

Laugh again when you see the giant bulldog standing next to her.

Walk the European streets, passing pretzel vendors and sidewalk cafes to your cousin's apartment in one of the only pre-war buildings still standing in the town. Marvel at how clean, organized, and good-smelling it is. Compliment her balcony flowers.

Get Thai takeout - in Germany. Be impressed that even Thai takeout in Europe is better than Thai takeout in America. Continue to consume nothing less than excellent food for the remainder of your stay. Make sure to photograph it for posterity.

Pull down the outside blind and sleep a long, long while. Wake up to sunshine slipping in through the cracks. Open the window and be surprised that you are actually in Germany. Listen to the classical pianist upstairs play beautiful tinkling sonatas all morning long.

Learn that an Icelandic volcano with an unpronounceable name has spewed enough ash to close every inch of European airspace. Wonder if your flight, 3 days away, could possibly be affected. Dismiss the idea, but keep the BBC ash cloud map up on the desktop.

Wander around town. Listen to your cousin, whose southern accent has always been more pronounced than your own, speak unfamiliar German sentences with confidence. Sit down at an outdoor cafe and eat something infinitely delicious (the very German-seeming combination of cream and ham and onion cannot be beat).

Buy unbelievable cheese from a very friendly man at the market. Go to the grocery store. Pay for a cart, get completely confused by strange vegetables and weird labels. Buy spaetzle and German beer. Learn that pumpernickle is actually an aphrodisiac.

Cook German things with your cousin. Assess the results as above and beyond what either you or your mothers would have ever expected from either of you, based on your adolescent attempts (which remain immortalized on video). Eat.

Take the train to Heidelburg. Walk down narrow streets and recognize that this idealized picture is what you have always thought the entirety of Europe looked like. Realize how wrong you were. Appreciate the street more.

Take the mountain climber train straight up to the castle. Marvel at the view.

Sit in the castle lawn and soak up the year's first dose of genuine vitamin D. Get a bit sunburnt. Eat cheese and salami and almonds and grapes and - most importantly - German gummibaren.

Realize that you have eaten outside in the sunshine every single day that you have been on this continent. Continue to do so.

Tour the castle. See the largest wine barrel in the world. Imagine how long it took to empty the gargantuan cask. Try to decide what you would do if you owned a castle. Think that a record-setting wine barrel seems a good idea, but settle on something more like the overnight construction of a beautiful gate for a birthday present.

Check the BBC. Notice that flights are still being canceled. Get a bit worried. Go to sleep. Wake up, pack your bags, get ready to take the train back to Paris to catch your flight back to America. Check your flight status compulsively. Will the volcanic ash to disappear. An hour before you should leave, watch as your flight gets canceled. Get on the phone. Have the airline rebook you on the first available flight. Which is an entire week away. Wonder what the heck you will do in Germany for a week. Be grateful for your incredibly hospitable cousin, who offers you the air mattress for the week. Stay.

Take some time and do a lot of nothing. Eat cheese, and gummis, and sleep a lot. Have picnics every day. Visit the amusement-scale park in town.

Take the dog for walks. Laugh at his random wallerin' ways.

Be brave and adventurous and take the train to Baden Baden.

Get a bit lost. Be incredibly impressed with your cousin's navigational skills.

See 2,000 year old Roman bath ruins. Wish you knew more about architecture. Marvel at the fact that people have lived (and bathed) in this spot for 2,000 years. Wonder if Jesus knew about Baden Baden, if Caesar visited.

Sit down at a sidewalk cafe on a charming little corner.

Drink coffee. Watch people. Do nothing. Feel European.

Exhaust your cousin's supply of German-speaking guts. Hang out at home. Cook more. Eat more. Watch Jason Bourne cavort all over Europe. Recognize Parisian streets. Wish you were home.

Create silly evaluations and mail them to your grandfather. Watch Saved by the Bell. Walk along the river. Create jewelry. Shop for shoes. Find the perfect purple European scarf and research the best way to tie it. Buy lots of chocolate. Eat lots of chocolate. Buy more. Drink coffee. Read Victor Hugo. Realize you haven't spent this much time with your cousin since summers of elementary school. Feel like all your lounging and cooking and playing is a throw-back to those days. Be grateful for the time, the place, the people.

Get on the fast train, wave goodbye to your cousin and the dog. Sleep in a hostel, get on a week-delayed plane. Notice no trace of gigantic ash clouds in the sky. Land in Chicago, shed a tear at the completely corny customs line video welcoming you to America. Fly to DC, drive to Winchester. Stay up late chatting with your friend, even though you've been awake for over 24 hours. Agree that traveling opens your eyes, and your heart.

Drive home. Breathe a sigh of relief when you see your mountains. Tell the stories. Laugh at the ways the world erupts and disrupts your plans. Be glad and grateful that you are alive and in the world; created and surprising; deeply and richly blessed.

Write it down.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you described the week beautifully. :)