Monday, October 8, 2018

Germany & England & Ireland & Germany


Before this September, I had never left the country.

Sure, I had booked a trip to the Bahamas when I was in high school and then backed out of it the night before because I was afraid of traveling with a former best friend who hated me… but that doesn’t count.

I blame my lack of international travel on anxiety and being afraid of language barriers and immigration and all the overwhelming nonsense of traveling abroad. Now that I’ve done it though, I’m ashamed because it’s literally nothing more than a SMALL extra step upon arrival in a new country. When I arrived in Frankfurt it was no big deal, and when I arrived in London it took almost an hour… but the actual process went a little bit like this:

“How long are you staying here?”
“Answer.”
“Have a good time.”

*stamp*

Done.

Traveling far away from home, in countries where I couldn’t take my phone off airplane mode, helped me truly relax. I could just give in to new experiences because I had no other option. I was 5-6 hours ahead of my usual time zone, barely had internet access and couldn’t call my family or friends. This would typically bring me great anxiety, but for whatever reason (Cymbalta) I chose to LIVE MY BEST LIFE.

The reason for this trip was primarily work. Back in April or so, my colleague (Judith) and I found out that we’d have to travel to Herzogenaurach, Germany for work in early September… and that we’d also have to be there two weeks later. That left a week in between where we’d be in the U.S.

For me, traveling back to Boston would have been a minor inconvenience… but for Judith (who lives in Portland), we’re talking about a 9+ hour flight. I decided that I’d do some traveling in between because I’d never been abroad. Judith also had some convenient arrangements (a son whose father lives in England, a partner who was traveling to London for business during the week we’d be there, a sister who lives in London with spare bedrooms, etc.)

So, that is how a three-week trip to Europe happened for Ms. Patty Barrett.


GERMANY PART I

Did you guys know they serve meals on transatlantic flights? For free! With wine! And refills of wine! And Baileys! Followed by another meal?!?! I was shocked. I actually don’t remember if the food was good because I was too excited. The flight was only about 6 hours, which is basically the same as the flight to Los Angeles or Portland, so I couldn’t believe all the additional benefits flying over an ocean brought.

My cross-country expectations have now been raised, and it is doubtful they will be met.

I landed in Frankfurt at 5:00 am and took another quick flight to Nuremberg and eventually made it to my hotel around 7:30 am… which was about 1:30 am in the U.S. So, naturally, I slept away my first day in Germany. That is until my boss texted me and asked if I wanted to, “Go on an adventure for snacks.” I thought he was embellishing a quick walk around the corner, but he actually meant we were bike riding through the German countryside to an Aldi.

It sounds pretty, and it was, but I haven’t ridden a bike since I was a teenager and I was terrified of riding on a bike that I was too short for... in the street… without a helmet.

Whatever, I’m alive.

The week was spent working in a training space titled “The Shed” so what I’ll say about my week in Germany is this:

  • Tiny German towns with medieval towers give me heart eyeballs
  • BUTTER PRETZELS are delicious
  • I love glass bottles of Coke Zero and glass bottles of EVERYTHING
  • Any country that provides cold cuts for breakfast is good with me
  • I love tiny little Nuremberg sausages! And that is not a euphemism
  • My favorite German word is “Feurwerzeufaht” which essentially means firefighter access… I just think it’s a fun word

ENGLAND

I could write a love letter to London.

It was the first city I’ve visited in quite a while where I just fell completely in love and wanted to move immediately. I kept saying everything was “delightful” and “charming.” My friends kept laughing at me for being so smitten. But it’s true, everything was delightful and charming! Have you been? Don’t you agree?

Before leaving for my trip, I watched The Crown for the first time. People have been suggesting it for years, but I never cared much for the British royal family. (Meaning, I had no feelings either way.) However, since I was traveling to England and the queen the show is about is still reigning, I thought it’d be cool to get a quick history lesson.

To no one’s surprise, I loved the show and became obsessed with the British monarchy. The entire time I was in London, I also watched Victoria (because it was available on England’s Netflix) and fell in love with the Victorian era. And yes, I did travel across an ocean just to lie in bed and watch Netflix. Deal with it.

The coolest part about this trip to London was that I stayed with Judith’s family in Barnes/East Sheen. Normally, I’d be afraid of burdening someone with my presence for that long - but she convinced me that we’d be very welcome and that I’d be foolish to turn down a free stay in London.


 I took her up on her offer, and I’m so glad I stayed with strangers. Hilarie (Judith’s sister) provided me my own little (delightful, charming) room and staying there was my favorite part of the whole trip. Not only did I get to experience London for the first time, but I got to know new people (including Hilarie and an 11-year-old girl named Lucy, who is basically my spirit animal) and I was able to have experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Experiences like attending a high school rugby game at a private school in the country (which would have been creepy under different circumstances), seeing Tom Hardy at a posh restaurant, ordering curry while watching Strictly Come Dancing, taking the tube and bus everywhere, and having a drink at a local pub filled with men who did not want me there! 



Other highlights from my ten days there:

The Tower of London was by far the coolest experience ever. We saw the crown jewels, a traitor gate, an old chapel from the 1300’s and a TORTURE CHAMBER. It’s always nice to spend a Sunday afternoon in the place where King Henry VIII murdered his wives!

Warner Brothers Studios Harry Potter Tour was unbelievable. I got to see all the sets and costumes and learn new facts that I never knew (like all the crew members are the people in the portraits at the school.) It also had a HUGE model of Hogwarts that they used for all the exterior shots. It was unreal. It was also funny to visit with Judith’s son, Beau and his dad, Noel (who is Judith’s ex-husband.) Hilarie was there as well. It was a funny little crew, and I had such a great time.

Harrods, where I was finally able to buy a Paddington Bear stuffed animal surrounded by women shopping at Hermes.

Dinner at Murano, a Michelin star restaurant.

Fish and chips at a “posh” pub where Tom Hardy was also drinking a pint with his wife. I didn’t believe Judith when she said it was him, but then her nephew Hugh said he saw Tom Hardy touring his boarding school that day.

Marks &Spencer. Judith talked so much about Marks and Spencer (a food market/department store) and then we finally went and I tried on hideous velour dresses with Hilarie while Judith shopped for “knickers”.

Sunday roast dinner by my lovely host, HIlarie.

My time in London was seriously special. I can’t wait to go back!


IRELAND

I have yet to mention that Judith and Hilarie are from Ireland. They have the most (charming, delightful) Irish accents. It was so much fun to hear them talk to each other. They both spoke so quickly and I had no idea what they were saying most of the time… but it was still fun.

Judith felt that since we would be in Europe, she’d be remiss if she didn’t stop by and visit her mother, who is ill. She invited me to tagalong for a night in Limerick and since I’m of Irish descent and have always wanted to visit Ireland, I figured it would be a missed opportunity to not go with her.

And I am not kidding when I said it was the coolest, most hilarious 24-hours I’ve spent anywhere in my life. The Irish were hands down the friendliest people I’ve ever met. It was incredibly noticeable. It was more than waving or saying hello… it was clear that anyone would go out of the way for a complete stranger and was actually interested in what they had to say and where they were from.


I explored the city and visited a medieval castle, potato market, riverside walking path and an old church. It was really beautiful. There were even swans in the river! But the best part of all was dinner. I assumed Judith would be taking me somewhere very local and Irish… and she did. We went to Jasmine Palace. The best Chinese food in all of Ireland.

And you know what? It was really good Chinese food.

We met one of her other sisters, her friend from college and friends from childhood and had the best night. Upon hearing it was my first time in Ireland, they refused to let us go back to the hotel and sleep for our early flight. They took us out for a pint (which is Guinness, you don’t even need to specify in Limerick) and all the pubs were filled with laughing Irish folk of every generation. It wasn’t like Boston, where everyone goes to their own spots geared towards their age demographic. Every generation was out in the same pubs. We saw bachelorette parties, groups of old men, old women, people in their thirties, young kids… and everyone was SO RIDICULOUSLY NICE.

It made my heart swell, and it made me proud to be Irish.

The girls all promised that if I ever came back, I had tons of places to stay. Now that I’m less afraid of being a burden, I may take them up on that. But even if I get my own place, I am definitely calling them to drink some pints and eat late-night chips covered in various gravies.



GERMANY PART II

On Sunday night, when we were heading back to Germany, I was likely in the worst mood I had been in during the whole trip. I could have cried, and not just because we were back at London Stansted flying on RyanAir which is the worst airline and the worst airport. Officially.

But somehow, I found the strength to be a good friend to Judith… just kidding, she was a good friend to me and let me be miserable while also telling me to get my act together. But really, I got the strength because right before our plane was about to board they changed the gate (those fuckers) and I literally JUMPED the stanchion and RAN like I’d never run before so that we’d be first in line at the next gate.

We were. Judith trailed behind me laughing her ass off.

Getting to Nuremberg from London was a disaster that I don't need to go into, but RyanAir is quite an experience and I wouldn't recommend flying them if you can avoid it. But, then again, the tickets are SO CHEAP.

We spent our first day shopping in the town center of Nuremberg which is full of cobblestone and gothic cathedrals and even a castle! But more importantly, I bought a NEW COAT from a saleswoman at Zara who made me cry and then I fell while entering a restaurant and almost sprained my ankle! 

Our next four days in Germany were spent sleeping, working, complaining a little bit, eating schnitzel and the best Italian food we've ever had (?), drinking tons of Coke Zero and finally calling it a trip. 

Oh, and I also found out through a StrengthsFinder assessment that my top 5 strengths are: Strategic, Input, Empathy, Intellection, and Developer. My strengths lie heavily in strategic thinking and relationship building. So, that’s a cool thing I know about myself now.

One of the questions I was asked, now knowing this information, was “What can people expect from me?”

“A socially awkward, emotionally intelligent, highly aware and lively individual who promotes others and builds relationships through shared personal experiences.”

So, all in all, it sounds like this trip was far more than a European adventure. It was an adventure… to my soul.

Nope, sorry about that.



HOME

Traveling for three weeks was exciting, amazing, eye-opening, lovely, CHARMING, DELIGHTFUL and tough AF on my anxious heart. I thought a lot about the good parts of living in the U.S. (and the dumb parts that are super dumb) and my perspective has increased immensely.

There was also something oddly cool about working in Germany and having my own badge to get into the campus. I felt like I had arrived. Where? I don’t know. There was just something about this trip that clicked for me. I finally feel like I’m in the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time.



But the best part of the whole trip was spending so much time with my pal, Judith. I met her this year… on Skype. She works in Portland, and I work in Boston. We had only been together in person three other times this year. Yet, I don’t know a person I have ever felt so instantly bonded to.

On my second trip to Portland (after only meeting each other once), she was insistent on picking me up every day from my hotel and driving me to work with her. We call each other at least once a week, and not because we need to for work. Our jobs are totally independent of one another. I feel so lucky to have met this warm, lovely, wise and hilarious friend this year and have spent 3 full weeks abroad with her as my support system at work, and then staying with her sister, meeting essentially her entire family, and then becoming part of it.

Experiences like that are a dime a dozen. And even though I’m not writing a guidebook any time soon based on my travels, I feel like I had a trip that could never be duplicated and an experience nobody else could have. I won!

As expected, I have been bitten by the travel bug and I’m already looking up flights for my next trip to London… and basically everywhere else in the world.

If I could leave you with any advice, it’s this:

Sometimes, it’s GOOD to take candy from strangers… as long as they adorably call them “sweets” and offer you a spare bedroom.  

And, do something that scares you. Get out of your comfort zone. You will grow tremendously and become A WIZARD 'ARRY! ... or just a new person. 

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