So last Friday, I landed in Detroit on my way into the US, land of the million ways to spend your money. I walked through the airport, grinning with delight at the sheer number of choices for food and novelty items, it felt so homey. Whereas the Frankfurt airport had one measly coffee cart serving vending machine coffee (yuck!), suddenly there were ‘freshly brewed’ signs wherever I turned my head. I literally had to stop in my tracks just to take it all in before deciding my next move.
It wasn’t too hard, though, once I saw the Starbucks. I ordered a latte and found myself counting out exact change for the drink. Then laughed at myself, cause it was so ghetto.
Every time I come back, I end up noticing the oddest things, which would never have entered my radar before now. For example, coming through immigration, the signs are no longer translated into French, German, and Spanish, but are now given in Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and Spanish.. in that order. Or like my grandparents’ neighbors who put up horrid bright green artificial grass in their front yard, ostensibly to ensure ease of maintenance. And the disturbing attitudes of people discussing online about the man who is suing Apple for violating California labor laws by forcing encouraging their employees to work evenings, weekends and vacation without overtime. Saying things like, “Nobody made that guy do squat. For 12 years. He was free to choose another line of work any time.” or “Give him some cheese with his wine.” which make me wonder how things could have gone so wrong.
For all the little things are familiar, home feels less and less like home these days.
It’s 4 a.m. and I am huddled on the floor in the Las Vegas airport, monopolizing the last remaining power outlet, my belongings fanned about me in a three foot radius. Why, you ask? You could ask it again.
It is such a surreal state of affairs. And this place does not help. There is something rather sleazy about lone persons sitting in front of slot machines at unearthly hours, something unsettling about the oblong, motionless bodies sprawled out on the waiting benches, something utterly goofy about sitting here, writing in my blog, nibbling on a small bit of melted chocolate that someone gave me before I left, which is the last vestige of food in this forlorn neck of the woods.
I have only myself to blame. Thursday morning I woke up early, studied all day for an exam, took the exam, ran home to pack, spent the rest of the evening schwenking with my friends along the Saar, all the way until five in the morning, at which point three of my friends walked me to the train station and off I went to my next big adventure. So far, so good.
I had a long 8 hour flight into Philadelphia, but something along the way must have flipped in my brain because at the gate for the next flight to Phoenix, they sent out a call for volunteers to give up their seat in exchange for a free round-trip ticket to anywhere in the continental US, as well as free hotel accommodations if you didn’t manage to get a later flight that day. I remember someone telling me that this was a great way to get a chance to travel if the opportunity ever came up. So I figured it didn’t hurt to ask.
They told me I could get a re-route through Vegas and be in San Jose only a few hours later. This sounded like a great deal, so I stood back as everyone rushed to fill the plane, then headed over to customer service to change my itinerary. I had no problems getting a new ticket, as well as my free trip voucher and a free meal for that evening in the airport. The trouble came later on. They were late boarding the flight to Las Vegas because they were cleaning the plane, and in the meantime and out of nowhere, storms rolled over Philly. Sigh. My brother’s wedding had to be fudged due to storms in Philadelphia. I should have known.
We were more than two hours late leaving the runway. When we arrived in Las Vegas, all of our connections had, of course, long departed, and we were ushered down to the ticketing counter to revise our plans. We were welcomed with a mile-long line of people hoping to do the same thing. Two hours later, my only option is a flight leaving at 10 a.m. to San Francisco, no free hotel bed just because the time constraint would make it impractical, and I still have to pick up my bags in San Jose. There is some consolation, however: I get to fly first-class as it was the last seat available.
At this point I just feel giddy with the lack of proper sleep and real food. I wandered the halls, hearing snatches of rants here and there from people who vow never to fly US Airways again, and all I can do is smother my giggles over my own nuttiness.
And pray, almost devoutedly, to be safe in bed soon.
After having completed what has been dubbed the Japanische Tour, I can now say that I ‘did’ München. Englischen Garten, small shopping jaunt in Odeonsplatz, Deutsches Museum, Oktoberfest, and of course, a pair of the most famous bavarian castles, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. Traveling by car rather than the train was a very different experience. For the first time, I was able to see the city in its fully impressive size, something which was lost to me as a tourist by foot. The last time I was there, I made it to the clock tower place of course, but my view being limited in scope, I found some of the surrounding areas somewhat dull. I was therefore astounded by all the incredible buildings, statues and monuments Ã la française, and the expanse and breadth of parklands which can only be noticed when you go straight instead of turning left, and have to prove your mettle as a map reader in a foreign country.
Oktoberfest was exciting. I couldn’t remember which tent was the ‘fun’ one, but I think we finally stumbled in on it in the end. After a stint in Paulaner with three older, rather grim and wrinkly-faced people, we realized that there was not enough action there. So at the risk of losing a table and not finding one again in another tent, we decided to get a bit of fresh air and see the sights (which for me are the kiosks with tourist junk). A t-shirt and some candied peanuts later, we found ourselves in Schaffenhoff.. Schattenhattel.. Schoffenhamer.. uh, the ‘sh’ tent, and what a marvelous sight met our eyes: the tent was packed with people and the whole gaggle of them were standing on the benches, shouting, singing, dancing, with ruddy cheeks and bright eyes. It is rather intimidating having to walk into a place like that when everyone but you has a beer and a place to drink it. Walking through the ranks of drunken revelers, trying to find a small opening and some friendlyish faces, is a daunting task at first. But once you find a spot, you can pretty much take over the table bit by bit, and stay all night. The best part about dancing while drinking is that the unpleasant alcohol buzz wears off, leaving me giddy and able to drink more. And finally, Markus was right: the chicken was absolutely delicious.
One of the aspects of life in Germany over which I often pondered was what to do when certain historical topics were introduced while in the company of German folk. What would I say? How would they react? Perhaps I worry too much sometimes. Last Friday, I introduced my new friend Danielle, from Israel, to my German roommate Michael. Their first exchange, Him: “So how do you feel about the war between Israel and Lebanon?”, Her: “How do you feel about the Holocaust?”. I had to smother my laughter. She also has a German boyfriend, a Saarlander. So of course, no wine-tasting in Trier would be complete without Michael declaring to the both of them, “it’s so nice to see how people from Israel and Germany work out together 60 years after the Holocaust..”.
We did have a marvelous time in Trier. Besides visiting the Saarschleife (the point at which the Saar river makes a large bend along the valley), we were free to have lunch where we liked as well as follow the guided tour through the city or wander off on our own. A small group of us chose the latter and I took many wonderful pictures. We ended the day in a small Vinothek along the Mosel river for a three-hour long wine tasting of 6 varieties. I believe there was a pinot noir at the beginning, which wasn’t very good (too light, too young), and the rest were sweet white wines, as well as one rosé. I bought their late harvest ‘Eiswein’ which I thought was delicious. Many of the students preferred the cheaper wines and had them opened for the bus trip back to Saarbrücken. Ah, such is European life!
German lessons of the day: One must always cover one’s mouth when yawning. Otherwise evil spirits will come in and suck out your soul, besides it being considered rude. When entering a restaurant, you seat yourself even if the table has not been cleared – the staff will eventually get around to doing that.