I’m home, back in my nest, after an all around wonderful week in Germany.
Here are some key take-aways:
- Germany is lightyears ahead of the US when it comes to the environment. Wind turbines and solar panels cover vast stretches of the countryside. Plastic or paper bags aren’t offered anywhere – whether you buy groceries, books, or a new sweater.
- Taxis have integrated children’s booster seats that just fold down from the back seat. Amazing!
- Outdoor public pools are covered by insulated blow-up roofs and thus enable swimming even in the winer. What!? Come on, NYC, we can do this!
- Germans are nice. We get a bad rap as a nation of stuck-up grumps with no sense of humor, but this trip proved that we are a bunch of likable, chatty people who will humor you if you’re just a tiny little bit friendly yourself.
But now back to my trip: I had a mostly sleepless flight to Frankfurt. I was seated next to a rather large man who wasn’t shy about the space he was using or tapping me on the shoulder to ask me to get up in reliable intervals. Anyway. I arrived safely in Frankfurt on Monday morning and took the ICE train to Stuttgart, all the while taking as many photos of trains and soccer advertisements in the airport as possible – for the boys, of course.
In Stuttgart I spent two full days in the office. I got to meet everyone I had gotten to know only via phone or email, and we had a really great exchange. I left feeling energized and completely exhausted at the same time. Tuesday night my dad met me in Stuttgart, and we had dinner together. One of the best things about my dad and me is that no matter how much time has passed since we last saw each other, we always pick up right where we left off.
Over the next three days my dad would drive me half-way across Germany. First stop: Bamberg.
I went to university in this picturesque, incredibly beautiful Bavarian town where I not only earned a degree, I most importantly made some of the best friends I’ll ever have. I met up with my friend Karolin right away, and when we ran towards each other and hugged, all we could do was cry and laugh and hug some more.
To say we had missed each other would be an understatement. We had coffee at the café we spent hours upon hours in our 20s. I got to meet her adorable daughters. We strolled around Bamberg.
For dinner that night my dad and I met up with another old friend of mine, Nora, and caught up over steak and lots of red wine.
Our next stop was Neuwied, a small town by the Rhine River, where my parents made their new home about a year ago. We ate lots of cake and pasta and drank wine and watched soccer. All good, solid German fun.
The next morning my dad and I drove to Cologne.
We did some shopping for the boys (soccer stuff, books) and met with my friend Nicky and her daughter Johanna (my goddaughter) for lunch at a brewery near the Dom. Nicky and I have been friends for almost 20 years, ever since we departed together for a year as au pairs in Minnesota, and through a stroke of luck lived near each other in that mostly frozen state – and we’ve been friends ever since with now five kids of our own between us.
Our last leg of the Germany tour took us to Düsseldorf, where we visited my sister, her husband, and my three adorable nieces. I just couldn’t believe how much they had grown; it had been three years since we last saw each other. They were so excited, so cute – I was head over heels.
We went to a restaurant around the corner, where about 10 minutes after our arrival my littlest niece Pippa lost her balance and smashed her face into her sister’s chair. We pretty quickly realized it was more than a bloody lip; her two upper front teeth had taken the brunt of the fall and had been pushed back. So off we went to the ER. Because no trip is complete without checking out the local medical facilities. Kids, man. But Pippa and I really bonded over this tragedy. She sat on my lap and let me comfort her, and even fell asleep as we waited.
The emergency dentist pushed the teeth back in, and many tears later we went home. My sister and I ate cold Greek take-out, too indifferent to really care, shared a beer, and also a bit of a laugh – because during my quick visit three years ago, my middle niece broke her foot pretty much right after we had arrived. I am not sure why my nieces are hurting themselves when I’m around, but I hope that unfortunate run ends here. I have one more niece who so far seems unaffected by my presence. [Spoiler alert: One of the teeth had to be pulled on Monday; there is still hope for the second tooth. Now Pippa looks like her older cousin, Julian, who knocked his front tooth out at the age of 14 months.]
Speaking of Julian. And Arthur. And Jeff. How did they manage without me? Totally fine, it turns out. Maybe I’ll let Jeff write about his week here at some point, but from what I can tell everyone was fine and well fed and had amazing lunch boxes for school and all their school work done and enough sleep and opportunities to play soccer. Arthur did accidentally eat half a pecan one day, so there was the potential for lots of drama, but it’s one of his lower allergens, and he was fine.
The boys picked me up at Newark Airport, sign in hand with German-flag-colored balloons. As soon as I saw my family, I had tears in my eyes. I had missed them, very obviously, but I had also had such a full and love-filled week that it made missing my boys more bearable. But now that I am back home I can’t stop hugging them, and I’ve made sure to give them enough kisses to make up for the ones I missed out on.