Boarded my flight to Europe in New Orleans. Destination: Paris, France. Purpose: pre-tour detail checks, a week-long tour in France with 12 people from Houston, and some additional research for upcoming tours, including a Slow Food tour to Italy for late October.
My flight to Atlanta went smoothly enough, but I was highly disappointed to see the folks at Delta close our gate early, after selling off the tickets to five people, myself included, arriving from connecting flights. We were there fifteen minutes before the posted departure time. My bag made the flight - which I found out (and suspected would happen) when I got to my final destination. The Delta Flight Assistance desk in the international terminal was most helpful. This agent got me a flight, routing through Munich. I told her that would suffice, as I didn't care to have another layover in Munich before finally arriving in Paris. I have to go to Northern Italy and Southern France before my tour commences on May 19th, and this was a stop I planned to make at some point, anyway. It's virtually guaranteed that I'll make a five-day pit stop in Berchtesgaden to see some of my favorite people on the planet and enjoy some long overdue hiking... Two and a half months of the sedentary American lifestyle has rolled back all I accomplished in the three months I was in Bavaria the last time around.
So off to Munich... and true to my nature, I befriended the coolest lady from Germany on the flight over. She visits the USA constantly, has a French exchange student living with her and her daughter (who spent a year as an exchange student in Minnesota), and is a true traveler. She also speaks French! What a blast to sit and converse in three languages and talk about culture, travel, and the inevitable Europe vs. USA comparisons. The folks at Delta had indeed sent my bag to Paris, and she then insisted that I stay with her, her daughter, and their student, in the nearby town of Erding.
So here I am...And it can be HIGHLY unsettling to leave the comforts of home. I was taking a bit of a nap after only four hours of sleep since Thursday morning, but easily able to muse over the fact that I was sitting in my bed back in the States, less than 24 hours ago. Yes, I can get those little pangs of homesickness, too. I love my parents, my dog, my car, my friends there, my 24-hour convenience stores, and the general populace in the South who can be especially warm and friendly. We are indeed creatures of habit.
It is indeed perfectly normal to be afraid to travel and leave the creature comforts. However, those are the downfall of too many narrow-minded people, whether they be the suburban American or the fiercely proud Bavarian from a little mountain town. The key perspective to have is not on what you are losing or leaving for a period of time, but rather on what you're getting to see, experience, and the people you're fortunate enough to meet. For every move I've made and people I have left behind, there is always the giant counterbalance of the new friends I have made and the new places I've explored and come to love. This has certainly turned out to be no exception!
I have heard of this German reputation for being blunt, gruff, and cold. Yet time and time again, I simply don't have this experience. I have so many genuine, trustworthy, and helpful friends in this wonderful country. Who knows? Maybe the jerks all live up north, but the same stereotypes often exist in America. And the bottom line is this: it's a global village. It's simply wonderful to be a citizen and connect with others who continue to strive to meet and know people on a case-by-case basis. I wasn't expecting to end up here, but this is hardly a stretch for me. It's not like I've ended up in Mogadishu!
The sun was shining brightly until we dropped down into the cloud cover over the entire region as we descended for landing. The weather is naturally cooler than in Louisiana, but I love it. Just enough bite to kick up my energy levels, but not so cold that it goes through the bones. As a kid growing up in Belgium, I have come to love the cooler, overcast weather. It brings back a million amazing childhood memories. It explains my similar affinity for San Francisco, in fact.
My new wonderful friend's daughter picked us up, and we headed off to a market. I had asked her on the flight what her rituals were for her visits to America, as I have mine for coming to Germany - or when I've been away from New Orleans for a significant length of time. Most habitual travelers have a favorite dish, drink, or shop they seek out. My tradition has been leberkäse, and we stopped for her to buy me two delicious sandwiches on excellent German bread rolls, topped with spicy German mustard. Her return ritual is a proper German pretzel and a cup of strong coffee, as she's not terribly impressed with the much more watery American kind.
Armed with our food, we headed home and sat down to a pleasant lunch. She had purchased several things for her daughter from the States, and they had their little show n tell. I washed the dishes, a customary habit I learned from my parents - which shows deserved respect and thanks for the hospitality. I then headed to my room, after being given a proper tour of the house. Four hours later, and I finally pulled myself up off the bed so that I could enjoy the evening and go to bed at a decent hour.
My delightful hostess headed out for a planned dinner date, and I just had a terrific Bulgarian style salad, made by her vegetarian daughter: feta cheese, green onion, cucumber, and tomatoes. My health and waistline are happy to be back here, where food seems to be a lot cleaner and healthier. That and some hiking in the days ahead, and I'll be right as rain...
It's going to be interesting to see how these next few weeks unfold. I've got to head into Italy, before venturing over to the Cognac region in France to brush up on my language skills even further and check out one of the key regions we'll be enjoying on the upcoming tour. Italy is a high priority, as that tour planning and research has to be completed before mid-May. Perhaps some of your reading this will join us, but I've got some great locations, food, and wine to explore with a New Orleans native who got a master's degree from the Institute of Gastronomy in northern Italy where she still resides, after taking a job with Slow Foods International.
I think all of the bugs, jitters, and attachments to home in the States have been removed rather effortlessly in a matter of hours. It's always an adjustment to Germany, because this culture runs with a subtle intensity and vigor that I don't find much in America. It is eerily similar to how my parents ran our household, however, and I'm truly right at home.
A great day, indeed...