I don’t know what I was expecting out of Germany but it certainly was not hospitality. What I got, however, was a small town kindness and a family reception that would have made Paula Deen or Martha Stewart or any other professional hostess proud.
After the daredevil diving and the tantalizing tastes of life along the equator, this journey up into Europe, well, I don’t know, it’s kind of not the same
Months and months of living far outside the bounds of my comfort zone and then something funny happened. The conversations through language barriers and the constant currency conversions and the reliance on strangers and the uncertainty of where I would be sleeping in a week or two or three, all of those things that pushed and pushed and pushed me for months, suddenly they weren’t so bad. Suddenly, it seems, those towering boundaries guarding my comfort, well they expanded just a shade, to include life in the unknown. And suddenly, without warning, I was comfortable.
But then there I was in Europe with my comfort zone uprooted again.
You heard all about that process in England, walking on carpets and drinking milk and grocery shopping. It’s strange though, writing about Europe. It’s hard because it was easy. The roads were smooth, the foods were recognizable, the people looked like me. It was familiar.
But hard or easy, traveling always offers you moments for learning, moments for loving, moments for expanding your heart and your self and your idea of normal.
Every connection in a train station, every order at a local cafe, every time you go for a pint or go for a jog or go for your laundry, you are meeting people. And when you are meeting people and they are meeting you, they are seeing you and your differences. You look different, you sound different, you have different customs and comfort food, you pursue different pastimes and you work different jobs.
The greatest thing about being an ambassador is the fellow ambassadors.
Fellow people from all over the world coming together over their shared responsibility, their shared love, their shared desire to see the world and meet the people in it. It is our duty to learn and to share with others who are learning and sharing. Which is how I ended up on “the Continent.”
I spent a week in Germany, staying with a friend from the Seychelles. The friendships forged traveling find you in corners of the world you may have never had reason to step foot in otherwise. And looking back, that was what Europe was for me. Revisiting the people who had given me 10 months of memories, adventures, sunburns, and smiles.
Germany found me in a small town on the River Rhine, calling for “ein mass bier bitte” (“one more beer please”), sipping eiswein (icewine), and devouring daily home cooked meals. Oktoberfest in the German countryside. Picnic benches and polka bands. Neighbors embracing, raising glasses and voices, and sloshing their drinks.
We spent meal times with his family. Through his enthusiastic translation assistance, we explored our cultures, our beliefs, our similarities, and our differences, deepening our friendship as he opened his world to me. His mother cooked traditional German meals every night, from bratwurst to sauerkraut, roulade and spâtzle, goulash and grumbeersupp. Carbs and beer and tubular meats.
My very favorite.
We spent days driving through the countryside, along the Rhine, through the hills. We stopped for currywurst with a view of the world.
We explored crumbling castle after crumbling castle, learning the tales of the warring lords who claimed land around every river bend.
We scrambled up the Lorelei and took in the expanse below.
We watched the sunset over the icewine vineyards and cruised under the stars with the convertible top down.
As fall approached, the hillsides glowed red like spreading wildfire. The mornings grew frosty and the evenings brought bonfires.
We ate and we toured and we drank.
We ended the days with a family meal and hours of conversation. They shared an unexpected generosity that made this weary traveler warm to the core.