HelloEurope! Part 1: Wherein I embark on the most epic adventure of my life with only 4 hours of sleep

HelloEurope Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?

I’ve never considered myself, or my family for that matter, very travel-y. Sure, we’ve done the Disneyland thing a few times, and ventured out-of-state to the wild and distant land known as Oregon. But I’ve never been to Yosemite. Or the Grand Canyon. The one time I went to Vegas was with my dad on a business trip, and it was pretty freaking boring. My family’s “big vacation” every year was to the same small town on the coast – which is my favorite place in the world, mind you, but the only part of the Pacific Ocean I ever saw for the longest time. And this is just typical West Coast stuff. Forget cross country road trips and time zone changes. As a family, we just didn’t go anywhere.

That’s why the summer of 2012 was a pretty big deal for my family. For some reason, as soon as it was announced that London would eventually be hosting the summer Olympics, my dad had it in his mind that we were going. As the years went on and we began to save and daydream more, the plan expanded to include “nearby” places like Rome (a weekend in Paris was on the list at one point but we later opted for the less-stressful Cambridge, which – foreshadow alert – ended up being stressful anyway). My uncle had recently moved to southern Germany as well, so Dad decided to send my brother and me over there two weeks ahead of the rest of the family, because why not? In the year of turning 18, graduating high school, and acquiring a driver’s license, this was supposed to be the best thing that had ever happened me.

And, spoiler alert, it pretty much was.

DSCN1860

Though poor Luna would probably consider it the most tragic thing to ever happen.

Now, I considered London to be the heart of the trip, so that was what I talked about and planned for. The other places seemed cool, but I didn’t know what to expect (and didn’t really feel like researching) so I figured I’d let Germany and Rome surprise me. But in retrospect, I could have really done with some research on Germany. I knew nothing about the country outside of history lessons. The only German word I knew was hallo, and I’m pretty sure a two year old could guess what that means, so it doesn’t count as any level of language proficiency. I didn’t even know what we would be doing the whole time. German things? It was a mystery, and added a level of ambivalence, to be quite honest.

That said, I was still pretty excited to be traveling, and thus barely slept at all the night before. Later, as I would begin to get my feet wet in college and try a whole assortment of new experiences, I would find this to be a pattern with me. First day of school tomorrow? No sleep tonight. Job interview the next day? Not gonna sleep. Whether I’m excited, nervous, or a little of both, the thought that something new is going to happen, something I have no experience with, just sucks all the sleepiness right out of me.

But anyway. No sleep. Airport early in the morning. I felt great. Completely clueless about what was coming, but eager to embrace whatever it was anyway. Alex and I sat around the Fresno Airport Terminal (a stunningly bland name until you look at the initials and burst into a fit of juvenile giggles, which I totally did not do) with Dad for what seemed like forever, only to go through security and then wait around some more. Apparently that’s the thing about airports, if you’ve never been in one. It’s all about waiting. Check in early, and then wait. Go through security, and then wait. Board the plane, and then wait. Land, and then wait. It’s pretty insightful to see how certain people handle their impatient-ness, because let’s be honest here, nobody is perfectly fine with that amount waiting. For example, there are the pacers and the fidgeters. Then there are the snackers, and closely related, the I’m-just-going-to-keep-going-to-the-bathroom-until-it’s-time-ers. You’ll also find the sleepers, the talkers, the gamers, and every once in a while, the complainers. It’s all very fascinating to witness. Maybe that’s why I later ended up being an Anthropology major….

I don’t remember the exact times or anything, but eventually we got to board the plane. It was just a small connecting flight to LAX, where a much longer flight awaited, but memories were still made on that little puddle jumper. Once we took off, I discovered that I loved flying. All the other flights I’d take on this trip would just reinforce my enjoyment. I can’t explain what it is, but I just really, really love flying! The rollercoaster-like thrill of gaining speed and taking off. The occasional turbulence that reminds you of being in the heart of Mother Nature. The perfectly portioned sugar and cream packets they give you to pour into your complementary tea. Mmm. I’m getting warm fuzzies just thinking about it. Of course, this particular flight also provided a beautiful bird’s eye view of California, which if you remember from like an hour ago when you began reading this post, I hadn’t previously seen much of. I’m sure my plane ticket price went toward things like aircraft maintenance and worker salaries, but I’d like to think I really paid for the view.

DSCN1886

Hey look, the Hollywood sign! I wonder what landmarks I’ll see in Europe…

We arrived all too soon at LAX. I remember Dad going over with us the week before how to get from our landing terminal to the international one. Something about an island and a shuttle? It all seemed very confusing, but ended up being incredibly simple. That’s the other thing about airports: they are full of long hallways and signs with big arrows that are really hard to misinterpret. Though it’s foolproof in getting you where you need to go, for someone like me who likes to get a “big picture” look of wherever I am, it’s a little disorienting to blindly follow arrows all the while ignoring all the other hallways and doors and places because if you dare feed your curiosity about them, you’ll get horribly (and probably illegally) lost.

The LA airport involved, you guessed it, more waiting. We couldn’t even go through security and stay at the gate for a while, so we just hung around the terminal. Sparing you the more boring details, we basically just ate at an overpriced Panda Express and browsed through random shops (I bought a discount copy of TRON: Legacy on DVD, because adding an extra, unusable item to my luggage was a smart thing to do, obviously). We were also convinced, for some reason, that we would see someone famous there. LAX is a popular airport so surely a celebrity will be going somewhere international while we’re here, was our line of thinking. It turned out to be very wishful thinking, and this was the closest we got to making it come true:

DSCN1900

A motorcycle racer nobody’s heard of. This will go far in the bragging circles.

After going through security (which, I’d like to briefly mention, is not as bad as everyone likes to believe) and finding our gate, Alex and I discovered that our seats were in completely different parts of the plane from one another. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. My dad, who has more travel experience than the rest of our family combined and then some, somehow overlooked the seating arrangements when booking our tickets. I personally wouldn’t have minded sitting all by myself, but Alex insisted we get it sorted out. Through some sweet-talking, and more waiting, we were able to snag two seats smack in the middle of the plane. No legroom. No window seat. No problem. Even through a long flight, I was happy. We were flying British Airlines, so the flight attendants had accents and wore ascots. Every seat had its own screen, so Alex and I took advantage of this independence by choosing the exact same movie and hitting play at the exact same time. I don’t remember anything else about the flight except that I still couldn’t sleep, and that Alex got a special vegetarian meal that smelled weird.

We landed in Heathrow, and would later rub it in my parents’ faces that we, technically, were the first ones in London. I don’t remember the exact timing anymore, but I do know that a whole day had passed despite having only been in the air for… well, I don’t remember how many anymore, so let’s just go with ten. Ten hours, but it was the next day. Time zones are trippy, man. We followed some more arrows and passed through another security check and did some more waiting, and then we got on our final flight to Stuttgart, Germany. On board with us was a troop of young British teens, part of a school trip it looked like. They screamed practically the whole time. It was very annoying. (And a detail that will become relevant again, so lock it in your memories, folks.)

The view, however, more than made up for it. The biggest thing that struck me about entering Germany was how green it was. Trees everywhere. Even the farms had sprawling grasses and hills. Land in California (especially here in the Central Valley) seems to consist of a few spotty patches of green, surrounded mostly by various shades of brown. We also noticed several solar farms, large areas filled with rows of solar panels. I’d never seen anything like it. Germany would prove to have many more beautiful, novel, and somewhat odd sights see.

Compare

Guess the country by color.

As I (finally) wrap up this introductory post, I would like to point out that these airport exchanges for us went very smoothly. Alex and I were pros at figuring things out calmly and cooperatively. The two of us hadn’t really fought since we were in the single digit age range (though “fighting” really just meant throwing slices of bread at each other and tattling to mom; we were very mature for our age). So there was no drama, no communication issues, no public scenes being made. Just a brother and a sister making their way through the world hand in hand. Not literally, of course, because that would be gross. But figuratively, because that’s sweet and touching and will later help prove a point when we join up with the rest of our family and all hell breaks loose.

PS: You probably didn’t expect to read a whole post about airports, not after being tempted with a such a juicy title. But if you’ve managed to wade through and get to this point, hopefully you’ve seen how the journey can be just as important as the destination. From here on out, though, it’ll mostly be destination stories with just a few journey anecdotes. Promise.

Up next: mouthfuls of letters

Up next: details about the German train system you’ve always wanted to know

HelloEurope! Food Gallery

HelloEurope! Part 2: Wherein I very briefly live my dream of being a professional race car driver

HelloEuropePart2 Previous episode recap: Dad sends my brother and me off to our uncle in Germany, I do nothing to prepare, I enjoy flying more than is socially acceptable, and I arrive with only four solid hours of sleep and a half-hour of spotty napping on a plane.

That last bit is significant. Apparently it makes jet lag that much worse, because despite my uncle’s best efforts to keep me on a normal schedule, the day after we landed I literally (like, literally literally) passed out from fatigue in the middle of the afternoon. I woke up around dinnertime, ate, and then went back to sleep for the night. So Pro Travel Tip #1: Don’t travel to the other side of the planet with only four hours of sleep. In fact, I’ve heard that it’s best to change your schedule to that of wherever you’re going a few days before leaving (while you’re still at home, presumably not doing anything important). I’ll try out this technique before my trip to London in a few weeks and let you know how it goes.

We spent two whole weeks in Germany, mostly in Stuttgart where my uncle lives, but we also travelled to some other places around the south (within Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, for you geography enthusiasts). If you’re as big a geek as I am, you might remember Stuttgart as one of the locations in the first Avengers film. Well, little fun fact: it wasn’t. They said they were in Stuttgart, but really they filmed it in Cleveland, Ohio. Dumb, right?

Anyway. Quick disclaimer: those two weeks in Germany were packed with new experiences, and while I do remember a surprising amount of details, some things are a little fuzzy. It’s been three years, so cut me some slack. I’ve managed to find the names of places online, and piece together some of the timeline based on pictures. But I’m sure there’ll still be inaccuracies. I had hoped to use my travel journal as a reference while writing this, but after searching everywhere for weeks, I can’t find it. I’m so upset. I don’t even remember what it looks like. I just know it has priceless, information gold. Now lost. Hang on, I need to go cry.

Okay, that’s out of my system now (not really), and it’s time to get on with the stories! So strap on your patience seat belts, kids. Here we go with Germany: Week 1…

Uncle Eric, my dad’s older brother, had moved to Stuttgart a few years previously to work on the U.S. military base there. He continued working while we were there (since Dad just kinda threw us on him), so Monday through Friday until dinnertime Alex and I were on our own. Uncle Eric was a gracious host, however, and plopped us right into the heart of Stuttgart on our first full day, leaving us to fend for ourselves.

DSCN1926

Living in suburban Fresno just doesn’t prepare you for this level of shopping

The “Königstraße” (könig meaning king, and straße meaning street) is like Stuttgart’s Main Street, essentially a shopping district mixed with some businesses and historic-looking statues. Alex and I wandered numbly among them, still emerging into the culture shock phase of our travels. You wouldn’t think Germany could be too different to a white American (of some distant Germanic descent, as it were), compared to, say, an Asian or South American country. But cultures are often different in unexpected ways, and it’s even possible to experience culture shock within your own country. For us, navigating the trains, paying in Euros, deciding which of the two buttons to push on the toilets, and seating ourselves at restaurants were some of the many little things we had to get used to. And many were things they don’t prepare you for in guidebooks (not that we really read ours, but I imagine there aren’t any sections dedicated to the intricacies of European toilets).

What is this madness?

What is this madness?

Additionally, neither my brother nor myself were particularly fond of shopping at the time (for the record, we are now; just ask our bank accounts). So we passed by most of the stores and buildings and just sort of took everything in. And ended up in places we shouldn’t have been. We accidentally walked into an art museum that required you to pay. We accidentally sat in an outdoor restaurant with lunch from a different eatery. We accidentally wandered into a courtyard that was being set up for some kind of event. We were probably not supposed to sit on the public park benches, either, because an old lady came up and started reprimanding us in German. Or maybe she was just paying a compliment. It was hard to tell. You might also remember the screaming British school kids from the flight over. They were there, too. Still screaming. We avoided eye contact with them as much as possible.

Oh, and here’s something you might find interesting. When we got back to the apartment later that afternoon, we thought some TV would ease our culture shock struggles. While there were several channels in English (the Disney channel and Friends reruns became our go-tos) we did check out the German ones, too. And… we came across this little beauty:

DSCN1925

Um… what?

If you can’t tell, it’s the German version of Sesame Street (Sesamstraße), with its own set and puppets and completely in German. At first we were entertained. Then we became a little weirded out and decided never to watch it again.

You might also be interested in the food we were presumably eating. Germany is known for its sausages, sauerkraut, and beer. So what was I eating? Hamburgers that didn’t really look like hamburgers, baked potatoes that didn’t really look like baked potatoes, and boxes full of pasta. That’s right, you heard me. I went all the way to Germany and ordered Italian food.

So this leads me to Pro Travel Tip #2: Don’t order Italian food in Germany. This is literal and figurative. If you go to a country that has its own cuisine, then get that country’s cuisine. Don’t get some other country’s food. Don’t go to McDonald’s. Don’t stick with your hotel’s room service. Accept the fact that you are in another country, and eat the food that country is known for. There are only a few exceptions to this rule, but I’m not even going to mention them because you should never focus on finding exceptions. Stop trying to be special and just follow the rules, doggone it!

So yeah, those first few days I made some pretty embarrassing food choices. But I did eventually learn and started ordering sausage and spaetzle and “bäckerei” items. I created a gallery of the food we took pictures of for all you foodies out there. I’ll be updating it as I go along, so be sure to check back.

Navigating the trains turned out to be a piece of cake (food reference unintended), so our next adventure was taking one out to a little medieval-looking village called Esslingen. I don’t remember much about this place besides not knowing what to do. The museums we found were all closed, including the visitor’s information booth. We ran into the British school kids again. So we just wandered around for a bit taking pictures and then left.

Esslingen

1) Wall and moat, 2) Church door, 3) Random courtyard

The next day, however, was much more successful for our spur-of-the-moment sightseeing (Uncle Eric would basically give us a brochure of something the night before of a place we could visit the next day). This day, we were off to the Ludwigsburg Palace. I wish I could remember the details of when it was built and who all lived there, but we’ll just have to settle with ooh-ing and ah-ing over the beauty of the architecture.

DSCN1996

My new dream home.

Alex and I completely walked past the entrance, which is hilarious because it’s kind of hard to miss.

DSCN1997

The R stands for “…Really?”

We got probably half way around the property (a lot farther than it sounds) before backtracking.

DSCN1979

At least we got a view of the backyard.

Once inside the gate, we booked an English-speaking tour and were led around with a small group of others to view the Palace. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in certain areas, but the ones we got should give an idea how marvelous this place was.

DSCN1985

If you don’t have statues on your staircase, you aren’t decorating your Palace properly.

I vaguely remember walking down a long hallway full of royal portraits, though I couldn’t tell you which family or from what time period. It was at least whenever they still used chamber pots and dumped buckets of perfume on themselves to make up for the fact they hated taking baths.

DSCN1984

To help you get over that unsanitary image, enjoy this ornately decorated ceiling…

So that was a nice day. Next on our travel itinerary, thanks to Alex’s interest in cars, was the Mercedes-Benz museum. Did you know they have museums for car companies? I didn’t, either. But it ended up being one of my favorite sites and I’d definitely go again.

So. Many. Cars.

So many cars, and we’re only half-way up on the elevator.

It’s hard to tell in that picture, but the museum’s designed as a spiral. You start at the top, with the first Mercedes models, and wind your way down through the timeline to the modern Mercedes at the bottom. Every floor also has a small room off to the side, showcasing special sets like service vehicles and celebrity cars.

DSCN2035

Example: the Pope’s pimped out Mercedes

When you get to the end, there’s also a section for the Mercedes race cars, from back-in-the-day until now. Formula 1 is a pretty beloved racing series in my family, so we quite enjoyed this part.

DSCN2060

And as I fit perfectly into the model of Mika Hakkinen’s car, I discovered my secret dream of being a professional racer might not be that far fetched…

If my timeline thus far is accurate, we’ve now made it to the weekend. On Saturday, Uncle Eric took us a bit outside of Stuttgart to spend time exploring Hohenzollern Castle.

DSCN2104

We did not miss the entrance this time.

Because it’s way up on top of a hill (as all great castles are), we had to climb a freaking ton of stairs to get there. In high altitude. For my untrained body, it was torture. And apparently being too winded to speak made for good comedy, as Uncle Eric and Alex teased me about it. “Look, more stairs!” would become a running joke among the three of us. Needless to say, by the end of my travels, I was a stair climbing master.

Started from the bottom...

“Started from the bottom” has never been a more appropriate caption

Another inside joke that sprung up at this time was “But dad, I wanna build a castle!” Once we got inside (no pictures allowed), and put on these big slipper things over our shoes so the floors wouldn’t get scuffed, we went on another educational tour. Again, I don’t remember many details, but I do remember the place was built because a prince whined about not having his own castle until daddy gave in. See? History can be humorous.

DSCN2099

And also terrifying, as evidenced by this tunnel of prison cells.

And because we weren’t allowed to take photos inside, I’ll go ahead and leave you with a little collage of the Hohenzollern’s outside.

Hohenzollern

It just doesn’t get more castle-y than this.

By the end of the first week, I had learned more about cars, German history, and what not to do when in a foreign country than I had ever imagined. But despite these amazing sites and experiences, I was struggling. Reliance on my uncle to give me things to do made me hesitant to get out and explore on my own. The language barrier and residual culture shock kept me on edge. I missed my bed and my cats. My acne had spread rapidly, making me look like I had some kind of disease. I felt unprepared, bored, anxious, and totally out-of-place, which then made me feel guilty because I wasn’t as excited to be there as everyone else was. I can look back now with fondness and laughter, but at the time I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into.

I don’t mean to end on a downer; I just want to be honest. I was immature and inexperienced back then. I had a bad attitude about some things. I regret that now, but that’s kinda the good news. Three years doesn’t seem very long, but I feel like I’ve grown so much. I learned a lot from that trip, and I’ve learned a lot since. Maybe I didn’t appreciate things as much as I should have, but I definitely do in retrospect. And that puts me in a better position to go on new adventures and make new memories that I won’t regret.

DSCN2134

Also, speaking of cats, a surefire way to judge the greatness of a new place is by how many cats you see. At this point in the story, the Cat Counter is at 1.

HelloEurope! Part 3: Wherein I discover the true meaning of pine cones

HelloEuropePart3 Welcome back to the Great Europe Adventure of 2012! Before we get to see what Germany: Week 2 was like (hint: more adventures, less complaining), I’d just like to take a moment to reflect on reflections.

See, you distance yourself from something long enough, and when you finally come back into contact with it, you have a whole new perspective of it. It’s like you get to experience that thing all over again, only as a different person. You learn even more about yourself back then than you did at the time. You surprise yourself with the little random details you remember, and get frustrated with the ones you’ve forgotten. You look at a photo and realize you see so much more than what the camera captured. Reminiscing can be pretty rewarding in that way.

Okay, weird, abstract thinking time over. Time to get back to the main program…

So we finished the weekend with a trip to Heidelberg, another historic town with a castle. This one wasn’t in the best condition, and didn’t come with a knowledgeable tour guide. But it was nice to walk around the ruins and soak in the view.

DSCN2175

At least I have a better excuse for not knowing anything about the place.

I guess with that picture, it would be a good time to bring up the fact that approximately half of the country was under construction when we were there. Every place we went, there was either a road torn up or scaffolding covering up part of a building. We never saw anyone work on anything; just places blocked off for future maintenance that seemingly never came. To this day, whenever my brother and I see multiple construction sites in an area, we jokingly complain, “What is this, Germany?”

Heidelberg itself was a nice looking town. The Neckar River runs through the middle of it, and the architecture there is just incredible. So many different styles all eclectically mushed together, but never tacky or obnoxious. Many of the other towns and cities we’d visit that week were similar. There’s just no comparison in America.

DSCN2247

Though the States are a bit better with the whole don’t-drive-where-people-are-walking thing.

Another pretty amazing thing we saw there was the second largest wine barrel in the world.

DSCN2223

So large, it won’t even fit in the shot.

Never mind where the first largest is… Just be jealous that I’ve seen, touched, and stood on top of the world’s second largest wine barrel and you haven’t.

DSCN2225

Just for some perspective… And yes, there is actual wine in there.

Speaking of beverages, the water situation in Germany was quite bizarre. In the States, water at restaurants is free and the waiter often pours you a glass while you’re scanning the menu. In Germany, we had to ask for it. And that day at lunch, we discovered you also had to be specific with what type you wanted, otherwise the default was sparkling. Let me just tell you, there is nothing less refreshing after a day of walking among castle ruins and giant wine barrels than carbonated water.

And thus ended our weekend, but the adventures kept on coming. The next day, Alex and I went to the Wilhelma Zoo. Looking back, I have mixed feelings about this. I’m undecided what to think about zoos in general, but this particular instance of going to one in another country seems questionable. Maybe if it had some kind of rare animal species or breed that you couldn’t find anywhere else, or maybe if it was renowned for some kind of unique exhibit or design, then it would’ve made sense to go. But going just because you don’t know what else to do seems like it might warrant another Pro Travel Tip warning.

DSCN2284

Brought to you by my beautifully intimidating friend the Snow Leopard.

However, we were able to pick up on some subtle cultural nuances that would’ve otherwise gone undetected. For example, we discovered that outside of California, Sequoia trees are a pretty big deal.

DSCN2345

This is actually my first and only time seeing a Sequoia in person. Some Cali girl I am, right?

As are farm animals…

DSCN2392

California cows are too busy leading the country in dairy production to be put on display.

And we learned that the Justin “Beaver” insult is actually rooted in German zoology…

DSCN2319

Obviously the most useful fact we could’ve gleaned from this trip.

Getting to and from the Zoo was a learning experience, as well. Up until then we had only been using the “S-Bahn” trains. The other type was the “U-Bahn,” and I don’t know the difference but for some reason we wanted to just stick with the one Uncle Eric had shown us how to use. Well, there was no direct S-Bahn to the Zoo, so we either had to transfer to a U-Bahn line or walk. We decided to walk. It ended up being a tragically long trek that involved us roaming through sketchy streets and getting lost in sudden parks. So while I may be hesitant to completely discourage visiting a zoo in another country (this one was pretty impressive, I must admit), I will go ahead and pose this. Pro Travel Tip #3: Know what transportation method is best for a certain situation. You might not be familiar using a train, for example, but compared to your terrible map reading skills it would still be more convenient than navigating on foot. A certain method could also be safer over another, or cheaper, or more rewarding, or more culturally acceptable. It’s just something you have to think about.

Okay, so moving on to the next day, where Uncle Eric arranged for us to stay at a nearby hostel. Apparently we would be staying in one when we visited Münich later, so he wanted us to try one out in a city we were already familiar with. Hostels, if you don’t know, are like dorms that you can rent while travelling. They’re typically cheaper than hotels, too, so it’s preferred among the thrifty, backpacking type of travellers.

We didn’t get any pictures of our Stuttgart hostel, so you’ll have to use your imaginations on this one. I was put in a four-bunk room with a small bathroom. One other girl was in the room with me that night. She only spoke German, and I only spoke English, so communication ended once that was established. Alex I think had two or three other roommates in his room across the hall. Overall it wasn’t too bad; I just wish someone had told me it was a bring-your-own-soap-and-towels kind of place.

After we had checked in early that afternoon, we went off to another car museum for the day. The Porsche museum was a little smaller than Mercedes since the company hasn’t been around as long, but it was still fun.

Not exactly a race car, but I'll take it.

Not exactly a race car, but I’ll take it.

We had breakfast the next day at the hostel. Breakfasts for us at Uncle Eric’s apartment consisted mainly of cereal, fruit, and tea. But at the hostel, we were treated to the full German spread. Cold cuts, bread rolls, more cold cuts, some cereal and fruit options, and… cold cuts. Being a pescatarian, Alex found some difficulties creating a substantial meal. And being a person that doesn’t enjoy meat in the morning, I was a little disappointed as well. I don’t remember what we did for the rest of the day after we checked out. Probably something really exciting like watching TV.

Then it was off to Münich. We couldn’t check in to the hostel until later that afternoon, so we decided to wait at yet another car museum.

DSCN2612

Guess which one.

The BMW museum was split into two buildings. The “Welt” had a lot of newer models on display that you could get in, including a motorcycle section.

DSCN2608

I’m telling you, I have a future as a racer.

The main museum was pretty much like the other museums we’d gone too. Lots of cars. I really enjoyed this one, but I still think my favorite is the Mercedes.

Though this car makes BMW a close second.

Though this car makes BMW a close second.

A few hours later and we could finally check in to the hostel. At this particular one, we were placed in a co-ed room that took up the entire top floor and must’ve held at least fifty beds. We didn’t interact with anyone, and because that sounds like such a lame thing to say, I have to make Pro Travel Tip #4: Talk to people. If you’re fortunate enough to be in a place where multiple cultures/ethnicities/countries are represented, don’t pass up the opportunity to get to know those people. Ask questions. Share your observations. Invite friendly discussions. Make new friends. And be grateful you’re not the antisocial loser in the corner.

The next day we went to the famous parts of Münich, the Rathaus-Glockenspiel and the Hofbräuhaus. The Glockenspiel is this old thing that plays music at certain hours and has little figurines that play out stories. The whole town square in front of the building was packed with people when it started playing.

glockenspiel

Honestly the most boring, overrated tourist attraction ever.

Finding the Hofbräuhaus proved to be our biggest fail yet. We weren’t interested in drinking there, we just wanted to see it and maybe buy a commemorative stein to take home. But the one little sign we found had an arrow pointing in a very vague direction, and long story short, we spent a good hour walking in a completely different part of town before giving up and going back to the city center. Uncle Eric eventually met us there, and then proceeded to drive us no more than a block away to the Hofbräuhaus.

hofbrauhaus

Okay, I give up on navigating.

After touring the beer hall, we than began our three-day road trip weekend. Now, I don’t want to rush through anything, but come on. I’ve been dragging this blog out for like a million years, and we’re not even halfway through the whole vacation, and my tangents are making babies cry, so let’s just skip all the fluff in between and look at the highlights, okay?

That said, a quick bit of background info is needed first. Our road trip was planned along what’s known as the Romantische Straße, or the Romantic Road. It’s supposed to connect all the pretty, historical sites in southern Germany for tourists like us. We didn’t feel like going all the way to the end, in Füssen, so we just started at the next stop, Schwangau.

DSCN2794

Oh joy, more construction.

You probably don’t recognize that castle because of the freaking construction. So here’s the view from the back.

DSCN2843

This involved a hella ton of climbing to see, so you’d better appreciate it.

Look familiar now? Neuschwanstein is a pretty well known castle, and it was built solely for looks and not function. The word is Disney based Sleeping Beauty’s castle on it. Because no one ever lived in it, we skipped touring that one in favor of Hohenschwangau, a functioning castle on the adjacent hill.

DSCN2795

Can no one make a castle that’s stylish AND comfortable?

That night we ended up in Augsburg, a city with a lot of pine cone imagery everywhere. Consulting my Germany guidebook for the first time, I learned that the pine cone symbolizes fertility. And because that’s hilarious, we went into a gift shop and got an assortment of souvenirs with pine cones on them.

DSCN2869

And took pictures of every pine cone we could find because we’re mature like that.

Uncle Eric stayed at a hotel while Alex and I went to another hostel. Our rooming situation here was more like the one in Stuttgart. Because I had decided against taking a shower in the co-ed Münich hostel, I took one here. To my conservative horror, the shower doors were completely see-through. See through, people. I had to shower next to an elderly lady with only a slightly fogged up screen for protection. Oh Germany….

The next day we drove up to Dinkelsbühl, a quaint and charming little village. And yes, you may giggle at the name; it is pretty funny.

poopoo

So are these, er, detailed signs we found…

We walked around the whole outside village wall, toured some dungeons, and climbed a church tower.

DSCN2946

Dinkelsbühl is just so stinkin’ cute.

After Dinkelsbühl came the last stop on the not-very-romantic tour, Würzburg. We checked into another hostel for the night, this one built inside an old stone building right beneath a castle. Alex and I shared a small room just between us. The showers (and toilets as well) here only had a flimsy curtain for privacy, in case you were wondering.

251921_10150989615134092_735617234_n

Germany: the land of ruining picturesque moments with dumb cranes and scaffolding.

We toured the Würzburg Residence the next day. You might recognize it from the Three Musketeers movie with Orlando Bloom a few years ago.

DSCN1933

Or you might not because you’re not a cool movie geek like I am.

This is also where you can find the world’s largest ceiling fresco. The Sistine Chapel actually isn’t the largest, because it was done in sections and pieced together. You’ll see what I mean when we get to the Rome post (if we get there…).

DSCN2892

I don’t have a picture of the ceiling, but I do have this one. Germany Cat Count: 2.

We took a quick detour to Nürnberg before heading back to Stuttgart. I don’t remember much about this part, only that I desperately needed to pee and the bathroom (called Water Closets by the locals) I finally found had a little gate that required you to put in coins before entering. A similar situation would later happen in London, and I just can’t for the life of me figure it out. I feel like I can accept a lot of cultural differences, but paying to pee? Are you serious, Europe?!

And now, at long last, the Germany stories come to a close. It was quite the first-time-out-of-the-country experience, but you haven’t seen anything yet. Once Alex and I reached London and met up with the rest of our family, things went from weird and adventurous to wild and crazy.

Pictured: two kids who have no clue what's coming...

Pictured: two kids who have no clue what’s coming…

HelloEurope! Part 4: Wherein I represent my country by watching other countries in the Olympics

HelloEuropePartFourSweet, sweet English!!

Those were pretty much the first words to come out of my mouth after arriving at Stanstead airport. Nothing too memorable about this airport experience other than almost getting in trouble with immigrations because I didn’t know what hotel we were staying at. Seriously, no one prepared me for any interrogations! I’m barely a legal adult, so stop asking me adult questions!

I realize there are too many exclamation marks in these first five sentences, which the TA in my fiction writing class last year said makes for bad writing, but I hated that guy so I’m going to leave them there. (Is retroactive spite a thing? It is now.)

Eh em.

Sweet English. When you’ve been in a country where you have to decode signs just to figure out where the bathroom is, you’ll be glad to move to a country that speaks your language, even if the culture is a little backwards (like driving on the left/wrong side of the road, or saying chips instead of fries). Okay, I’m only joking. Cultures are never “backwards,” they’re just different … and I happen to enjoy many of the differences in British culture.

But at that moment I was just really, really happy they spoke English.

IMG_2319

And sign language.

I’m not against speaking other languages, mind you. Taking the fact that I didn’t prepare myself for visiting Germany and the attitude I had while there I hope you’ll forgive me for being an apathetic a-hole (pardon my German, I just liked the alliteration). I would like to think if I was plopped in the middle of a non-English speaking country right now, that I would embrace the language barrier and not complain about it. I guess that’s another one for the regret list. The best way to learn a language is to be immersed in the culture that speaks it. I went to Germany but didn’t learn much German. And now my current dream of one day being a polyglot is still a long ways away. Thanks, naïve younger self.

But what am I doing still talking about Germany? It’s time for England!

Alex and I rode into the City on a bus and met Dad on Baker Street, where we then ate dinner at a nearby pizzeria before going to the hotel to see Mom and Emma. They had arrived earlier that day, so the boring parts like getting Oyster cards and picking up Olympic tickets had already been taken care of. We were also already accustomed to the time difference (London is only one hour ahead of Sttutgart), so no naps were needed for us. Emma, on the other hand, fell asleep almost everywhere.

EmmaSleepyHead

So cute.

We did some things as a family, but most of the time we were split up. Mom and Emma did a lot of things around the City like seeing a live production of Shrek and going to a tea party. Dad, Alex, and I went to the Olympic events. That is, after all, why we had planned this trip in the first place. The first event we went to was water polo.

DSCN3018

Not the first sport I would’ve chosen, but you can’t be too picky with these things.

Now, quick interlude about getting our tickets. I don’t know if anyone remembers the backlash London got for their ticket system, but it really was awful. Many empty seats at a lot of games. People secretly trading for better tickets in back alleys…. And as Americans, we had no information about what teams were playing when we ordered our tickets months before; we just picked an event and a time and hoped for the best. With water polo, we ended up watching Montenegro vs. Hungary and Spain vs. Croatia.

DSCN3026

Ethnicity aside, they’re just men in tiny speedos.

It was pretty fun, though, and it was the freaking Olympics, so no complaints.

Once in a lifetime...

Once in a lifetime…

Afterward, we met back up with Mom & Em to tour the Churchill War Rooms, where I accidentally skipped a whole section and ended up exiting ahead of everyone and had to wait outside with no clue where anyone was for fifteen minutes. It was around this area that a train of cars with lights and a security detail drove by. We’re convinced it was Will and Kate.

IMG_2365

Cross “kind of maybe see Royalty” off the bucket list…

We ate dinner at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, because Mom’s a big fan of him. We discovered after our meal that Brits don’t do “doggie bags.” You eat what you can, and leave what you can’t. It’s a bizarre idea for an American. (PS: remember to keep checking in on my food gallery to see yummy food pics!)

The next morning we toured the Tower of London. This place is amazing. If you ever go, I highly recommend you join one of the free tour groups because the tour guides are retired armed forces and dress up as “Yeomen Warders.” The guide we had was hilarious and kept advertising his Twitter account.

Pictures of the actual Tower will come when I visit again in less than a week!

Pictures of the actual Tower will come when I visit again in less than a week!

We then split up again so the fun, sporty people in the family could watch a soccer match at Wembley Stadium.

*tear* It's so beautiful.

*tear* It’s so beautiful.

There are some things that just get me about this experience in retrospect… For one, it was South Korea vs. Gabon, which I would be pretty stoked about today because I’m kind of in love with Korea. But this was before I even knew what Gangnam Style was, so I rooted for Gabon just because Dad and Alex were.

IMG_2425

They tied 0-0 so it didn’t matter anyway.

The other thing is that apparently we were sitting next to The Fine Bros (of YouTube fame). Alex knew at the time but didn’t say anything because I had no idea who they were. Again, I would’ve been so much more excited than I already was if I was the person I am today.

IMG_2433

Someday when I’m famous on the internet, I’ll show them this picture and we’ll have a good laugh.

The next day we toured Westminster Abbey and quickly looked at Buckingham Palace before going over to St. James’s Park for women’s beach volleyball.

DSCN3311

Dat view of the London Eye do…

The first game was Germany vs. Netherlands, and because we were sitting behind a bunch of Dutch fans (the people in orange) it was pretty entertaining. Then it was Great Britain vs. Russia… the energy was just wild; everyone was rooting for the home team. And finally, much to our satisfaction, was USA vs. Spain. Though it was the second string team (no Misty Trainor or Kerri Walsh), we were still happy to actually watch our own country play something.

And this guy was pretty fun to watch, too…

We had one last day in London, which we spent as a complete family walking around the City. We went over the famous bridges, took pictures of the famous sites, and stumbled across this cool place called the Burough Market. Lots of yummy food everywhere. Emma got wild game on a stick and Mom found a raw milk truck.

IMG_2545

Farmer’s markets have never been more stylish.

For dinner we went to a quintessential British pub. However, our waiter was from Spain and there were some translation issues in regards to the menu. One of the items was listed “gammon.” We’d never heard of this kind of meat, so we tried to ask the waiter what is was. Here’s a rough sketch of what that conversation was like…

Edins: Is it like beef, or pork, or…?

Waiter: No, no, no. It’s gammon. You know, gammon.

Edins: No, we don’t know. What animal is it from? A cow?

Waiter: No, no, no. Bigger than a cow.

Edins: Bigger than a cow? So what, like an elephant?

Waiter: No, no, no. Smaller than an elephant. Between a cow and an elephant. It’s gammon!

So Dad ordered it just to see what the heck this thing was. Turns out it was just pork. Apparently pigs are somewhere between the size of a cow and an elephant in Spain. You learn something new every day, kids.

This blog not sponsored by the Devonshire Arms.

This blog not sponsored by the Devonshire Arms pub.

But after such a great time eating and sightseeing and watching Olympic games, it was only natural that things would start going sour. Later that night at the hotel, we got some pretty upsetting news from back home. We’d left our bulldog, Tonka, with one of Dad’s coworkers since he had a bull terrier that got along well with her. But apparently Tonka had escaped under their fence and was missing. My grandma emailed us updates all night (well, all night for us) as they looked for her. She was eventually found by a neighbor, but the damage had already been done. The rest of our trip would have some merits, but we’d also be going through quite a lot of stress and illness, too.

The illness part happened right before we left the next morning to spend the weekend in Cambridge. Emma started throwing up, probably from her meat on a stick earlier, and would stay sick in bed the whole time in Cambridge. The rest of us had to rotate shifts staying with her so we could all get a chance to see the town.

It pretty much looked like this.

It pretty much looked like this.

That first night we had tickets to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A Shakespeare in the Park type of deal. Mom volunteered to stay behind, so Dad, Alex, and I were once again off on our own. The park it was in, however, was weirdly designed and didn’t have signs anywhere. We spent probably a good forty-five minutes walking around, looking for anything Shakespeare related. By the time we found the right spot, tucked away in a corner with nothing but a little poster on a nearby fence, we’d missed the first twenty minutes.

IMG_2645

It was a good show, though.

Our last day there we mainly rested and leisurely walked around. Because it likes to sporadically rain in England, we had to duck into some shops every once in a while. One of them was H&M, which I had never heard of before, so when they built one here in Fresno not too long ago I thought it was a British thing (it’s Swedish, in case you were wondering).

We also went in the famous Hardy’s candy shop, walked through another farmer’s market, and ate baked potatoes at a place called Tattie’s.

And dramatically looked at whatever this thing is.

And dramatically looked at whatever this thing is.

It was kind of hard to really enjoy anything, though. Our BnB was small and smelled weird. The weather was a little warmer and more humid than in London. And to top it off, the night before we would leave for Rome, Alex started vomiting too.

And thus the “fiasco” part of our journey would begin…

Sneak peak: it involves airports

Spoiler: it involves airports

HelloEurope! Part 5: Wherein everything goes wrong at the eleventh hour… several times

HelloEuropePart5

This post begins where the last one left off: with vomit. Poor Alex heaved and retched the whole ride to the airport, and I’m not going to continue this line of thought because it’s nasty and I’m about to hurl right now just thinking about it.

But hopefully you get the point, because that actually wasn’t the worst of our problems there at the Heathrow airport. Because we didn’t get out the door in a timely manner (typical, I can hear my mom say), there wasn’t a lot of time to sort out the problem of not having all our tickets printed out. Apparently, Dad had only printed his own ticket while thinking he had printed all of them. And printing the rest there at the airport would cost a ridiculous amount of money.

So some negotiating happened. Some running around happened. Some line cutting (and subsequently being cussed out) happened. It was all very stressful. Mom was ready to cut the rest of the trip off and just go home. Dad was determined to make it work as cheaply as possible. Alex was off hugging a toilet somewhere. And this was all happening so early in the morning, the sun hadn’t even come up yet.

By the time Dad finally got us checked in, our flight was already boarding. We weren’t even past security yet. Everyone and their mothers seemed to be trying to get through at that exact moment, so we coughed up some more money to use the “express” lane, like we were at an amusement park but without any amusement. We then booked it to our gate which, you guessed it, was aaaaaaall the way at the other end of the terminal. Poor Alex and Emma. I was sweating and feeling queasy, so I can only imagine what that mad dash through the airport was like for them.

But we made it. Just barely. And before we knew it, we were in Rome.

IMG_3061

Glorious.

I’m going to be honest and admit that I have no idea why we went to Rome of all places. I mean, it’s not exactly in the neighborhood of London, which is where we started this whole trip. Ireland and Scotland would’ve made sense, but Italy’s quite a bit out of the way. And the distance between London and Rome is roughly the same as between Fresno and Dallas, TX, but have we ever gone to Dallas? No. Well, actually, we did, later in this trip. But that’s irrelevant. Point is, there is no logical explanation for why Rome got added to the itinerary.

But the fun thing about it is that no logical explanation is needed. I went to Germany and London and Cambridge and Rome (and Vatican City, spoiler alert), all in one summer. How cool is that?!

Answer: hella cool.

Answer: hella cool.

Rather than stay in a hotel in Rome, we rented an apartment. In the big picture, this was a good idea, and something I’d highly recommend. We were in a great location, we had a kitchen and laundry room, we didn’t have to worry about maids going through our stuff…. Pro Travel Trip #5: Don’t use hotels. I don’t know what service my dad used in Rome, but I’ve heard great things about AirBnB. It’s similar to what we did. You can rent a whole place or just a room. They’re usually very affordable. You get all these amenities that make you feel like you live there. It’s just a more authentic experience.

Getting into our apartment wasn’t smooth (but don’t let our misfortune turn you away from the idea). There’d been a miscommunication with what time the apartment owner was supposed to meet us, so we had to wait around for him to hurry over. The doorman of the apartment complex, however, wouldn’t let us wait in the lobby. At least, that’s what we understood from his tone and wild hand gestures; he didn’t speak English. As the guy yelled at us and we tried to explain ourselves, a lady who lived in the complex happened to walk by and began translating for us. She calmed the guy down, but he was still adamant about us not being in the lobby. So she offered to let us leave our luggage in her apartment while we waited at the nearby fountain.

IMG_2723

Hanging out with the locals is more exciting than hanging out with tourists.

Practically every neighborhood in Rome (perhaps in all of Italy, as well) had its own little community square with a fountain. It’s “the” place to meet up with friends, relax in the middle of activities, or hang out with coworkers during siestas. Or wait for the guy with the keys to let you into your apartment. Unfortunately, at the time of day we had to sit there, all shade was gone. Summer in Rome is pretty much the same as summer in Fresno: dry, hot, and awful. Alex was no longer vomiting, but both he and Emma laid lethargically on the fountain edge. Dad, Mom, and I were pretty uncomfortable, too.

The guy eventually came, and we finished our day doing laundry, taking showers, and enjoying the A/C.

Our humble home for the week.

Our humble home for the week.

Our first full day was pretty chill, too. We walked around the neighborhood a little bit, finding some local pizzerias, markets, and gelato shops. Mom made spaghetti for lunch, and it was probably the best damn spaghetti I’ve had in my entire life. Dinner, on the other hand, was less than spectacular. We ended up getting suckered into a tourist trap of a restaurant that charged way too much for pasta that tasted like it had been reheated. We stuck to homemade meals and our favorite pizzeria for the rest of the week.

The next day we all felt rested and healed enough to actually see some sites. We bought a two-day pass that gave us access to the Roman Forum, Colosseum, and all ruins in between. That first sightseeing day we only made it through the Forum area.

DSCN3593

At least there aren’t any stairs…

Yes, at first glance it is just a bunch of rock and rubble strewn around in some dirt. Compared to the castles in Germany and dungeons in London, the sites here seemed almost nonexistent. But then you start to really look at that slab of rock that a placard says was the foundation of some well-to-do Roman citizen’s house, and you take in the little hole in the ground that supposedly was the burial site of Julius Caesar, and you walk along the broken columns and statues of an old bathhouse… And you realize that this is two thousand year old history. People used to live here so many generations ago that their lineage probably can no longer be traced. People used to walk through here, going about their daily business, living in a culture that is now so ancient we have to study it in school. People made decisions in this very spot with no idea that thousands of years later some random family from a place that’s not even on a map yet would come by to wonder what these now crumbling structures meant to them.

Maybe it was just the heat and dehydration that made me have those crazy, existential thoughts. But history is beautiful and mind-blowing, and if you can’t appreciate a bit of rock for what it used to be two thousand years ago, then how can you appreciate anything, honestly?

Just look at how history and present day can exist side-by-side and tell me that's not remarkable.

Just look at how history and present day can exist side-by-side and tell me that’s not remarkable.

That evening Mom led the way to St. Peter in Chains (or San Pietro in Vincoli), a church with some pretty remarkable artifacts. The chains that held St. Peter were there, as well as Michelangelo’s statue of Moses and some cool frescos and mosaics. But because this trip was still on a downward spiral, I couldn’t admire any of it because now I wasn’t feeling well.

DSCN3616 2

Like I could complain, though. Others have had it worse.

It was probably a remnant of what Alex and Em had, coupled with the heat and dehydration of walking around Rome in the summer. As we left the church to then see the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain, I gave up. I took Em back to the apartment with me because she was getting cranky, and proceeded to toss and turn in bed with some weird stomach ache for the rest of the evening. Later that night I vomited.

stepsfountain

Mostly out of illness, a little bit out of jealousy.

I felt weak and had a small fever the next day, so my family also went to the Colosseum without me. Now, the Colosseum is more than just a bit of rock and dirt. It’s pretty amazing. I had walked by it while touring the Forum, and would later drive by it on the way to the airport, but I never got to go inside. I would feel just crappy enough for the rest of the week to not be able to go. This easily tops my biggest regrets in life list.

Looking at a picture just isn't the same...

Looking at a picture just isn’t the same…

Before coming back, my family had stopped by a market to pick up some dinner items. The story goes that some big drunk guy started threatening Dad in one of the isles for no reason. Dad says the guy was so close to throwing a punch before the store manager shooed him away. See what you miss when you get sick? An iconic historical site, and your dad almost getting knocked out in a grocery store.

Friday (I think it was Friday… keeping track of the days of the week is kinda pointless while on vacation), we all went out to the Vatican. Fun Fact: Vatican City is the world’s smallest country. So technically, I’ve been to four countries outside of the U.S. I was still feeling weak and had to sit down a lot. Emma was still struggling, too. She got a slight fever again and we had to cut our walk through one of the museums short so she could rest. What we did see in the museums was pretty incredible. Ancient Egyptian mummies and artifacts, iconic paintings and statues and tapestries…. Have I ever mentioned on this blog that I love museums? Because I do. I really, really do.

DSCN3753

A doorway to fun.

To get to the Sistine Chapel you have to walk through the world’s longest hallway along with, like, a thousand other people. And when you get to the Chapel, you realize it really is just a small chapel of a room and not the grand cathedral you expected. No pictures were allowed inside. And there were seriously people whose job it was to just walk around saying Shhh! any time you opened your mouth to breathe.

St. Peter’s Basilica was much more grand. We toured it in shifts so someone could stay outside with Emma while she slept on a bench. Call it a miracle or mere coincidence, but she would later wake up and feel almost 100% better for the rest of the trip.

DSCN3797

Incredible architecture does have that effect on people.

The Basilica really is amazing, though. I don’t want to rush past this part because it deserves to be ooh-ed and aah-ed over. So many popes and saints had their tombs in here. Statues everywhere. The ceiling itself could take hours to stare at. And then you walk outside and there’s even more.

DSCN3856

Marvelous.

We even found a pinecone statue.

Apparently the Vatican is a fertile place.

Apparently the Vatican is a fertile place.

I don’t remember what we did on our last day, probably because I still wasn’t feeling well and thus just hung around the apartment like a lazy sack of potatoes. Sorry, can you tell I’m really upset with myself? Pro Travel Tip #6: Don’t get sick. I know it’s not exactly something you can control, but it really does ruin the whole trip. So maybe a better tip would be pretend you aren’t sick. Take some pain meds, get over yourself, and make your expensive flight to the other side of the planet worth it.

Here's a quick reminder to check back at my gallery of food pics. Newly added: homemade Italian food in Italy!

Here’s a quick reminder to check back at my gallery of food pics. Newly added: homemade Italian food in Italy!

And now we come to the end of our journey, but it’s not quite the end of the craziness. The big problem of the day was figuring out how to get to the airport. Both of our flights (Alex and I would fly separately from the rest of the fam) were early in the morning, and because you have to be at the airport even earlier, there was no way we’d be able to take the underground or get a taxi. We ended up getting a nearby hotel to talk a taxi driver into picking us up late the night before, and we spent an uncomfortable night in the airport.

Right beneath this weird sculpture that everyone felt compelled to take pictures of. Awkward much?

Right beneath this weird sculpture that everyone felt compelled to take pictures of. Awkward much?

What made things even worse was Alex losing his bag, which contained his passport, wallet, and camera. He had accidentally left it on a hook in the bathroom, and by the time he went back to get it, it was gone. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a such a look of panic and despair than on my brother’s face at that moment. Dad talked with security while Alex ran up and down the terminal, looking to see if anyone had it. I don’t know how long this went on for; time sort of disappears in moments like these. It seemed like forever.

Alex decided to take another look in the bathroom, just in case. After some time, he emerged … miraculously, thankfully … with his bag. He had just happened to look up and notice the strap hanging out of a panel in the ceiling. His theory is that the janitors, who had been cleaning when he first went in, stashed it up there and planned to come back for it later. All the contents were still inside, and we once again dodged disaster.

Alex and I eventually left Dad, Mom, and Em to board our own flight. Ours had layovers in Heathrow and Dallas, but it was the stop in Heathrow that put the icing on this whole let’s-make-everything-difficult-for-the-Edins business. For one, Alex got pulled over by security for an extra pat down because, you know, gingers don’t have souls so they must be terrorists. Then, we sat on the plane for half an hour before being ushered right back off. There was something wrong with something, I don’t even remember anymore, and we had to wait back in the terminal while they changed planes. No one would give us any answers as to when everything would be worked out, but we were given free food vouchers because that solves problems.

Hours went by, and I was losing it. So much had happened and all I wanted was to go home. To see my cats. To sleep in my own bed. Alex paid money to use a computer and send an email to Mom and Dad, and Grandma, so they’d know what was going on. That was our only communication.

When we finally got to board a new plane, Alex was pulled over yet again by security. Like he was going to turn into a different person with different motives while waiting a few hours in the terminal? Whatever. We fly off to Dallas but don’t get in until midnight. Because pretty much everyone on the plane with us missed their connection flight out, we were given free accommodations at a nearby hotel. We paid to call Mom and Dad, who didn’t sound as worried as we’d expected, and ended the long day watching the Olympics closing ceremony on TV.

Now, we’d been told upon landing that only two flights were leaving for Fresno the next day, one in the morning and one in the evening. Obviously the one in the morning was booked, so we were scheduled for the evening one. This created more problems, since we were required to check out of the hotel by noon and didn’t want to wait around at yet another airport. So, we took a chance. We checked out early, went back to the airport, and spoke with this classically old southern lady about possibly getting on the morning flight instead. She called us dears and sweeties and looked about ready to give us a hug and feed us apple pie. I don’t for sure remember her name, but I want to say it was Phyllis.

So Phyllis put us on a waiting list for the morning flight and told us to try our luck and hang out at the gate. She said sometimes people cancel last minute or don’t make their flight and seats open up. We went ahead to the gate, waited a little bit, and wouldn’t you know it, we got on! We wanted to skip and dance we were so thrilled. Our flight to Fresno went off without a hitch, and in the blink of an eye, we were HOME! And I just want to add, it is a really bizarre feeling to come back to suburban California after being in historic European cities for so long. I definitely felt some reverse-culture shock for a while.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is the end of the Great Europe Adventure of 2012. I mentioned all the way back in Part 1 (posted circa a decade ago) that this trip was the best thing to ever happen to me. Though now that you know the details, you might wonder if that was a joke. I can understand. Crazy mishaps with your family in foreign countries are rarely seen as “the best thing ever.” And that’s okay. If there’s any lesson to be learned here, it’s that whatever happens, happens. And you can get upset and turn those experiences into regrets and refuse to talk about them with your relatives at Christmas. Or, you can move past the in-the-moment feelings of worry, boredom, and fear, and look back fondly on all the moments that came together to make up your life.

And with some free time and a couple turns of phrases, you can then dump those memories into a blog and pretend that other people want to read about it.

Good times. Good. Times.

Good times. Good. Times.