Now comes the fun time of attempting to decipher my chicken scratch notes from the trip to deliver the full report on Europe that I promised. I will date the blogs with the date we entered each city we visited. In reality, on May 17th, slightly before 7pm, is when the trip started in my mind. I was finished with work, all packed up (not frantically running around the house like normal), I had even emptied the fridge to avoid any nastiness upon our return. I cannot ever remember being more ready for a trip.
Before heading to the airport for our 11:30pm plane, I had a moment to pause, look out the window at Shanghai with the lights out and “Leave On” by Elton John playing in the background. I reflected back over the last six months in Shanghai and realized that all of the buildings I was staring out at were no longer foreign to me. I now know how to get around in the city and we have really made new lives for ourselves here. Things are not perfect in Shanghai, but we are happy. My moment ended abruptly when Andy said we had to go.
We met Patrik and Claudia at the airport. We were nervous about flying with Claudia as she is now notorious for freaking out on planes because she gets really scared and is convinced they are going to crash. Luckily she handled the flight well and the night flight was definitely the way to go because we arrived early in Munich rested (well, Andy couldn’t sleep on the plane, but I could) and ready to drive to Passau. The minute we arrived at the airport, Patrik and Claudia were so excited to see a random German bakery/supermarket chain and commented that it was not even a good bakery, yet it seemed so good compared to what is readily available in Shanghai. I say readily available because really in a city the size of Shanghai, everything is available, in theory…it is just that you do not find the things westerners are used to with the same frequency as those in our home countries.
The minute we had the rental car and were on our way to Passau, we all kept commenting on how green Germany was. A quote from Claudia, “they don’t even have that in a park” referring to the green forests in Germany compared to the lack there of in China. Mind you, we live in Shanghai so I am sure the green exists in China, it is just not close to our homes. Patrik decided at that moment that he really won’t extend his contract in Shanghai over three years because he suddenly realized how much he missed living in Europe. “Born in the USA” played on the radio in our jam -packed rental car and I had to smile.
Once we arrived in Passau, we quickly realized that it was one of those perfect, little Bavarian towns, but a college town version. The houses are what you might call in the US, “row houses” and they are all painted nice colors. The city has been around for a long time and the buildings are old, but kept in immaculate condition. Buildings that are 10 years old in Shanghai and many places in the US look much more run down. For awhile, we just sat outside commenting on how nice everything was…we really had become used to the pollution, the dirtiness and noise of the city and it took leaving to remind of us what we give up by living in Shanghai.
After we hauled our stuff up to Claudia’s third story apartment and met her temporary roommate from Ecuador and her boyfriend (they greeted us from the bathroom, together…hmm, long story that I won’t go in to), we went to park the rental car and get some breakfast. We all completely reveled in our own choice for a German breakfast. Andy’s and Patrik’s included beer and Claudia and I’s included wonderful cappuccinos. After that, we basically toured the town on foot and ate every time we became even remotely hungry. Patrik and Andy were determined to try every one of the favorite German dishes in less than two days. The weather was perfect in the perfect little German, university town.
Later that day, after all of the shopping and eating, mostly eating, we walked to Claudia’s friends house and she introduced us to them. By that time, Andy, especially was very tired so we tried to stay awake while Claudia caught up with her friends and filled them all in on the strange interactions she had had with her new temporary roommate. The group was very gracious and talked in English even though it was clear that they could get caught up with one another much more quickly in German. I was the only one who didn’t understand German so unfortunately was “that American who doesn’t know the language.” I always feel guilty in those situations, but hey, I am trying my damnedest with Mandarin…not much help in Germany though.
The following day, we woke up to Claudia coughing (we were all sleeping on one room, Andy and I on an air mattress.) By this point, I think Claudia has conclusive evidence that she is allergic to milk, so the cappuccino from the day before probably caused the coughing. Poor thing, she coughs for hours when she wakes up after consuming lactose.
Andy, Patrik and I went for an awesome run along the river down to a damn (in Austria). We could actually walk across the damn, I felt so free of “the security” of the overprotective US. It felt SO good (need I continue to reiterate) to be with nature again and especially running in it. The one bad part about nature, which turned out to be a recurrent theme on this trip is that I am quite allergic to it and my allergies instantly kicked in and I was sneezing and blowing my nose all day long. Another point for the city, no nature equals no allergies.
After a European shower, we had another wonderful breakfast right on the river. My new favorite thing that is abundantly healthy (I wish) is eating the bread like Germans with butter and then marmalade and/or honey.
Next we hiked up to the castle that rests above the city, took a few pictures then hit my favorite jewelry shop from the day before. This shop is incredible and has the most beautiful pieces from all around the world. Their prices were good (not China good, but good) except for the designer pieces. Guess which ones I liked the most?
We ended our time with Patrik and Claudia with an apfel strudel, one last German beer and then we headed to Munich on the Bavaria train. With our layover in Munich, we tried to go to our favorite beer house/restaurant from last summer, but it was too crowded because of a football (soccer) game later that night that caused all of the restaurants to be full. We didn’t want to miss our train and therefore found a gyro shop to eat at on our way back to the train station. One more note about Munich before I move on…it is an incredibly diverse city with all walks of life. It is probably the most diverse city I have ever been to, at least the downtown corridor area where we have spent our time.
We boarded our night train to Milan and quickly learned that we would be sharing our sleeper car with two German women. Luckily we had the bottom bunks and were tired enough to sleep the whole night through. It was quite the way to travel. I do wish we had a better train system in the US.
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