Eurotripping across the pond

A few weeks ago I went home to Illinois to hang out with the parents — I hadn’t seen my Dad in nearly a year, so I felt it was time to head back and enjoy the long weekend with me Dad.  It was amazing, we had a really good time, which included a 22 mile bike ride through my college town – it was the furthest I had ever biked – my dad calls this a mere warm up.  It was a perfect last minute planned trip home.

One of my connecting flights back to Wilmington brought me into Charlotte with a 2 hour layover.  What to do, what to do?  I started wandering the different terminals to find dinner, and finally settled on an overpriced sushi spot (it was really good!).  For dessert, I decided to head over to the Rum Bar in Terminal D for a pina colada.  I wasn’t flying the plane!  I sat up at the bar and a few moments later, the gentleman to my left asked where I landed from.  I answered and asked him where he was headed.  “Dublin, Ireland, with my friend here, ” he said pointing to the guy sitting next to him; both had been drinking heavily.  “Then we’re spending a few days in London.”  I smiled.  These were 2 of my favorite cities in Europe and I told him he would have a fantastic time – it was their 1st time out of the country.  They planned to drink their way through both cities and enjoy the sights.  They couldn’t have been older than their late 20’s.

“So, do you have any tips?” he asked.

“Well….,” I began.  I’m not really good at small talk and I had no idea what their itinerary was.  I mentioned the touristy spots in Dublin and then started inquiring about their trip.  These poor gentlemen had no idea about international travel.

I told them that most credit card companies charge a surcharge when using the card on foreign currency.  They also neglected to alert their credit card companies that they were leaving the country.  “Call them, right now, or you’ll use it about 2 or 3 times before they put a fraud lock on them.”  Their eyes got big as one of the guys got on the phone straightaway.  They were also misinformed about the Eurozone: England is on the British Pound, not the Euro.  They tried to tell me different, but even the Israeli guy sitting kitty corner from us, listening to our conversation was getting a chuckle out of that one.

“Where are you staying in Dublin?”  I asked.  “Not sure, we got a few leads on hotels,” came the reply.  I gave him the address to the hostel I stayed at and told him it was central to everything and my great experience there.  They had never experienced a hostel before, and as most Americans, they were leery about the whole experience.

“How are you getting to London?”  “Well, there’s a train thing -”  “No, use Ryan Air!”  They wrote all this down.  I explained what a “watering hole” (a bar) and “the tube” (the subway in London) was.  I also suggested this hostel in London.

We talked a bit more about travel and what to do and then it was time for my flight.  “Thank you so much for all the information,” the guy said as he shook my hand.

I then sprinted to my gate and I got there just as they were announcing to board.

I was glad I was able to help someone’s European adventure and save them from the pitfalls of international travel.  I keep wondering how their trip went, what kind of adventures and discoveries they had.  I never got their names.  I’ll never know how it all turned out.

Ah, but such is the life of a traveller and those you meet along the way.

Other random things from the road….

Finally, to recap our Ireland/Germany adventures….

Despite the fact there are 3 college degrees between us, we couldn’t figure out how to make an out-of-country call (Germany to Ireland).  Someone got cold feet about renting a car, so we skipped out on our car rental after 3 failed phone attempts and took a bus to the west coast of Ireland.  Bus trip was a fantastic idea, by the way.

Our travels in Ireland led us to Bunratty Castle, just outside Limerick.  Amazing!

In the castle there was an old relic from the Celts found on the property when they were restoring the castle.  It’s a fertility symbol of sorts and the guide said if you touch it, you have twins within the year.  So, we, um, touched it.  A part of me freaked: is this idolatry?  I fully believe the Lord will do with us as He will, and I only want what He wants for our lives – He supersedes it all.  I’ve decided this I’m filing this under making wishes with birthday candles or at 11:11.  Come what may, the Lord has it all in his hands.

The overhead PA system in German train stations is just pointless.  No one can understand what they’re saying.  The could be piping in Hitler speeches for anyone knows.  It’s garbled German.

My favorite part of the trip?  Leaving our hostel at 0600 after a couple hours nap, running across Dublin in the cold pouring rain (no umbrella) to catch a bus to the coast.  I love having a rough idea of a plan and just going with it.  I think it’s because my job is so technical and regulated – I like the spontaneity.

We met a few random people we exchanged numbers with, but no strong friendships were made this time.

Interesting Berlin facts: The only Nazi building still remaining is now the German tax office. Most. Hated. Building. In. Germany.  There is graffiti everywhere — except on the Holocaust memorial.  Why?  Because it’s painted with an anti-graffiti paint.  Who made the paint?  The same company that also made the gas for the chambers in concentration camps.  Oops.  I guess it all comes full circle, huh?  Lady Victoria, the chick in the chariot on top of the Brandenburg Gate, is glaring at something.  That something is the French Embassy.  And they say Germans have no sense of humor.

Ireland was founded by the Vikings.  This explains much.

I still hate Guinness.  I love strawberry-lime cider.

Nothing related to the Islamic uprising happened or even hinted of happening.  No one was upset we were American – quite the opposite – they spoke English to help me out.  I also realized that Germany is currently holding up the EU with their wallet.  No one wants to tick off the Germans.  If my mom’s family is any indicator of the culture, they don’t forgive and forget easily when they’ve been wronged; unlike America.  You never want to upset the country that’s bank rolling your country in these economic times.

The weirdest part: My passport was not stamped back into the USA.  We thought this was strange.  The General was especially upset, as he wants as many stamps as possible before his passport expires in a few years.  We went through a 2nd “American” screening at the airport in Dublin on our way home.  How was it different?  We took off our shoes in the security check.  Ha!  We filled out our I-94 forms in Ireland and turned them over to an American customs agent there.  When we landed on American soil, we were allowed to leave without further screening.  Odd, indeed.

I cannot wait to go back.

Onto the next: Portugal/Spain in 2016.  Unless we have those twins.

iPhones

Everyone in Europe has an iPhone.

I think that if you claim EU citizenship, it comes with a passport and an iPhone.  I don’t think I saw an Android platform or a flip phone in the entire time I was there.  It made me sad to go back to my 1st generation smartphone, and the fact that we’re downgrading our services to the point of where I will only be able to check my email.  I’m going backwards, technologically speaking.  And I’m not quite sure how I feel about it.  As a Mac person, I have been considering the iPhone for quite some time…..but really, do I need it?

Maybe I should move to Europe.

Eire/Schland aka Ireland/Germany

Now that my body is operating fully on Eastern Standard Time, here are the updates from my trip!  Because 2 weeks is a long time, it’s going to take me awhile to digest everything.  I would have blogged from the road, but internets were hard to come by.  We traveled sans phones because our phones were too old to be used overseas.  So we kicked it old school with maps and false starts: but it went well.  I am even more in love with my husband after this journey — which is good — considering we were together the entire time we were there.  We work really well together and this trip proved no different.

Because this is so expansive, I am going to break it up into small posts as I recall stuff so no one is completely bored with my drivel.

I will say this:  I miss Europe.  It’s been like 72 hours since I left and I’m already pining for when I can go again, which won’t be for quite some time.  I love the culture, the people, the food, the traditions — it’s so different from the USA.  I know this is a broad assumption on my part, but I feel that they have a better handle on things over there.  I know it isn’t so, but to me it is.

So here’s the journey….

Land of the free, home of the brave

I love how every time I plan to go to Europe, something happens.  Shoe bombs? Why, yes, I’ll take off my shoes at security, circa 2004.  Subway bombings?  I’ll be riding them within the month, as I did in 2005.  Of course I’ll stow all my liquids in a cute little baggie in 2006.  And I am not on a no-fly list, here is all of my information Mr. Airline – in 2009.

And now this.  All the civil unrest in the Muslim world and where am I heading?  Germany.  They overtook the German Embassy in Sudan, which is a far cry from Berlin proper, but I must say I am slightly alarmed at everything that is going on.  I’ve been reading the Berliner Zeitung (Berlin Newspaper) and so far, all’s quiet on the western front (please ignore the WWI pun).  I went to CNN today to see there are riots now in Australia.  Good grief.

I must say, though, despite the chaotic world we live in, I have never had any sort of problem overseas <insert knocking on wood here>.  I remember seeing a solider with a large machine gun on a street in London’s east end while I was there in 2004 – that was a sight to behold!  And even then, in “downtown London” there was a huge protest against America; they claimed absurd things like President Bush was killing babies and protested our paradoxical oil interests.  Some of it was true, some of it wasn’t.  I ignored all of it by walking on the opposite side of the street.

It’s often been said to me while traveling in the post-9/11 world to downplay the fact I’m an American.  “Say you’re from Canada,” various advisors said.  Like most in America, people assume one person or group speaks for the entire population.  “Oh, you’re from America so you think you’re better than everyone else.  You hate Muslims.  Your country has no business being in Afghanistan, you just want everyone to be like you.”  It’s much like how the south is characterized by a bunch of uneducated rednecks.  And there are some out there, believe me, but the vast majority of people here are not only educated to some degree, but also incredibly kind.  This time, however, I find myself trying to figure out ways to not only distance myself from my American citizenship, but also my religion.  I’m not wearing the cross I usually wear when traveling, nor am I bringing a Bible or my journal (too much to pack, really).  The small purse I’m bringing says “Wrightsville Beach, NC” on it and now I’m going to try to find one that doesn’t have writing on it.  I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I am not from there.  Or than I’m a “practicing” Christian.

The one thing I have going for me is my face.  A friend of mine who immigrated here from Southeast Asia once commented that I don’t look American.  My features are very chiseled, my eyes are deep set, and I have a straight brow and a large nose: I look very German (thank you Great-Grandma Magdalena and Great-Great-Grandma Julia).  My husband, took after his mom’s side which is all Polish (mixed with Scot-Irish), so he looks European.  And I can speak a little German, not very well, but I could get us around.  I hope. “I’m going to blow my cover the moment I open my mouth, ” says The General, who’s very American accent is a mix of northeastern slang and southern drawl.  “I’m just not going to say anything and let you do all the talking.”  The General is very worried he won’t be able to read a menu or find things in a store because of the language barrier.  This coming from the guy who navigated Stockholm like it was his hometown.

There’s a lot of anxiety on this trip.  I keep pulling The General out of his comfort zone – and mine as well.  The Islamic world is on fire and I hope we don’t get caught in the cross-hairs of unfriendly retribution because of what my passport says.  I’ve never been to Berlin before.  We’re going to a country that speaks the language of our ancestors, but my only training is from a high school German class 15 years ago, Jersey Shore, learning modules on Rosetta Stone, and random German TV shows.  Needless to say, I sent an itinerary to our friends and family in the unlikely event the fit hits the shan.

Nonetheless, I plan to fall more deeply in love with Ireland and embrace Germany like it is an old friend.  I love adventure and this trip is surely going to bring it.

Just Say No

I love trying new foods from different countries….and now that I am currently seeking treatment for a Nutella addiction, I figured I should branch out a bit.

World Market has some of this stuff called Marmite aka Vegemite that is popular in Britian, New Zealand, and Australia.  It’s a vegetable spread that is made from what’s left over of the yeasty stuff when making beer.  A native New Zealander said it was amazing, so I bought some.  An itty bitty jar cost $5 for 125g, but I figured, why not?

We got home and I immediately tried it on a cracker.

I don’t think I have ever tasted something so awful in my life.  I think the worst part of it was leaving the hoppy taste in my mouth and was unable to find anything to get rid of it with……old tea, water, and a plain cracker helped. Oh my.

Even The General was a little squeamish about it and he loves thick hoppy beers.

So if you come to my house, you will be offered a bit of Marmite on a cracker; it will be for my entertainment if you have the same reaction I did or if you love it, well, you just got yourself a free jar of Marmite.

Tonight’s dinner is a also a conglomeration of cultures: Low Country and German.  The menu includes crab cakes from the kitchen of Chef General and Spaetzle Casserole with swiss cheese and sauteed onions by yours truly.

Landing on Mars bars

“Do you have anything to declare?” asked the customs agent in Philadelphia, as The General and I arrived back in our home country after a week in Stockholm, Sweden last summer.  I had checked the “yes” box for food on my I-94 form.

“Mars bars,” I replied, opening my bag and showing him the mass of Mars bars – about 10 total – some fun size, some normal size.

He looked a little befuddled, but stamped us through.

Despite living in America, I have only been able to find Mars bars across the pond (they’re a candy bar, if you’re completely lost).  I discovered them in a train station the 1st time I went to England in 2004 and was hooked.  When I went back in 2005 with a friend, she tried to tell me they sell them in the States.  They’re not, I looked.

Every time I go back, I eat my fill to hold me over until I can get back across the pond.  We stumbled up on a candy store in Stockholm so I stocked up and brought some home to live in my freezer as my not-so-secret stash.  They lasted until autumn, which is saying a lot about my restraint.  I have what some would call a sweet tooth.  In every tooth.

Tonight I got out of work early to head to Wal-Mart to get some paint brushes for the finishing touches on my moulding project.  As I was standing in line, I looked down and saw Mars bars!  With almonds!  Wasn’t the same as in Europe, but they were Mars bars!  OMG!  For $0.64!  Wow!  So I got 3 (for now) and they are so good – just as I remember.

I was shocked to see them but it really made my night!

Now if I can just find WKD Blue and Briska (my favorite alcoholic drinks overseas), I would be set.