We hit the tarmack and switched our phones from airplane mode to find text messages from concerned friends. We glanced at one another confused, then back to the cell phone to discover news reports pronouncing something of a suspected terror attack that had been committed in Munich a few hours prior. This happened to be the final destination of the flight we were preparing to board in about 20 short minutes. We gathered what information we could from scanning the web: the shooting was being described as “acute” terror and three suspected gunmen were reportedly still on the loose, with a high-speed chase underway, and the entire city on lockdown. Though these sorts of things sadly occur daily throughout the world, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the dull ache in the pit of my stomach resulting from the uncertainty that would accompany arriving blindly to a foreign city with potentially nowhere to go.
Nonetheless, after a quick conversation with a German woman at the gate, and few text exchanges with our mothers, we proceeded with our plans.
Twelve hours later, I had laced up my shoes, and was running through the city streets, soaking up the German sun, as I admired fresh produce carts and couples chatting over espresso and cigarettes on the sidewalk cafe. All was business as usual in Munich. It was difficult to fathom that a mere half day prior, the couple we’d spoken with at breakfast had been forbade by local Polizei from setting foot on these very streets.
I suppose someone once suggested getting to know a city by becoming lost in it; we will go ahead and pretend the like is why we did just that; all the while gawking at old brick buildings, adorned with flower boxes on the windows. We walked and walked until we’d worn fresh blisters into our heels, finally arriving at the Hofbrauhaus for our first German meal. This authentic beer hall was complete chaos, just as I’d hoped it to be: packed with locals, chants audible throughout, and smelling of liters of bier (and a hint of sweat). After being advised the entire “wine system” was down (whatever that meant), watching Amelia work her way through a liter and a roast, and offering our struggling server a few words of encouragement on what we learned was his first day on the job; we set off in search of some grapes. The search came to a screeching halt, or perhaps a full sprint depending upon how you look at it, as the sky erupted with thunder and raindrops resulting in Storm #1. Upon entry to the hotel bar, to enjoy some Riesling, Amelia assured me I looked decent. Moments later, the bartender appeared with a stack of towels that he proceeded to offer me; my loyal travel companion burst into tears and admitted I was in fact, glistening. The first of many moments I would be envious of that little black umbrella she’d stowed in her purse.
After spending two hours locked in a train car with a dozen and a half elementary school aged Japanese girls, braiding one another’s hair and playing strange games, we hoisted our luggage onto the platform and hailed a taxi: Salzburg, Australia (as Amelia would accidentally proclaim it later that evening). We stashed our bags in the hotel room, conveniently located in the heart of Aldstadt, and took our new friend Johannes’ advice. What was originally described as a leisurely stroll up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress proved to be more of a hike. My hair had long since transformed into Afro status in this 95% humidity and I was embracing it. Our reward at the top: the most breathtaking view of this quaint city along the river, skirted by the majestic Austrian Alps. We made our way through the castle, noticing a dark cloud rolling in overhead. We determined it best to begin our journey back down, but did so far too late. Halfway down the dirt (now mud) path, we were warned by a couple of British Scout Masters that we “ought wait it out”. In the words of AD, “it’s officially our first Austrian storm!”
The showers seemed to slightly subside after about 15 minutes and we made a break for it, finding ourselves soaked from head to toe for the second time in three short days since arriving on this continent. Exhausted and delirious, we forced ourselves to remain awake a few more hours, strolling through old cobblestone streets, taking selfies with Mozart and admiring, in the words of my friend Amelia, “a big ass fountain” and some “old shit”. We stumbled into a cute little Italian place, where we discovered Austria was indeed a friend to the gluten frei. I made it through dinner, but only after being ordered to excuse myself from the table and take a quick lap, to keep from drifting off while Amelia captured the European Pokemon. We resorted back to the Goldener Hirsch where the Pokemon catcher herself, proceeded to break an entire cabinet of wine glasses, on a desperate hunt for the room service menu (which we later found hiding beaneath my bag), and finally allowed our heads to hit the pillow for some sleepytime.
Two things we had forbidden ourselves from doing on this trip: referring to the train as the “douche bahn” and talking about Hitler. On Wednesday morning, we visited his bunkers, not by means of the D-bahn, but instead, a tour bus guided by another new friend: Johanne.
We climbed to the peak and gazed into the alps, dressed in pockets of misty fog; the air was eerie. I crept to the tip-top in hope’s of securing the most jawdropping view, and was warned and threatened by Amelia that she was not about to push a wheelchair across the cobblestones should I fall and break something. From the nest, we made our way down, the steepest hill in all of Germany, to the quaint town of Bertschesgaden, which I’m referring to as the Aspen of Europe. The evening concluded with our second official Austrian storm, when our relaxing champagne cocktail hour on the dock was quickly transformed into a refugee camp for the boat tour gone awry. This trip is all about themes (in the event you have failed to notice), so of course the evening couldn’t end without broken glass #2, as I somehow managed to throw my champagne flute into Amelia’s lap. Cue, sleepytime.
Train game was on point this day. Around 6:45pm we arrived in the “infamous” Enkenbach, where my childhood neighbor Amy resides with her husband Marc, and three sons: Tobin, Jonah and Doren. We followed Amy’s explicit directions asking us to exit the train platform and “follow the dirt path”. A site, we were, as we stood with our luggage, staring down this path that appeared to lead nowhere, just in time for rain to begin: enter Storm #4 and that damn umbrella. In the distance, I believed I saw two little blonde heads. It had been at least three years since last visiting Toby and Jonah; highly unlikely either would recognize me. At any rate, I waved; they waved back and came darting toward us in their superhero costumes – to the rescue! In less than two minutes, we had arrived at the Holt Haus, where cousin Shawn was also taking up residence for a couple of nights. After a home cooked meal of beef stew, and a few lessons in German, Amy put the boys to sleep, while Shawn, Amelia and I headed to our favorite corner gas station, for a few bottles of wine.
The next three days would be spent throwing the football with Toby, watching Jonah make out with his ice cream, and unsuccessfully attempting to make Doren laugh. We would also pay a visit to Gartenschau in Kaiserslautern; this wonderful concept in Germany where kids can play at the park, while their parents drink beer. On our final night, I proposed that Amy should ditch her plans for momcation at the spa in Baden Baden and join us in Switzerland for a girl’s weekend. A hard sell that was(not).
We said our goodbyes and left the boys in Daddy Daycare (aka under the supervision of Marc and Shawn) and made a bee-line for Swiss Country. We climbed the staircase from the underground platform at Zurich HBF to find ourselves in, wait for it, Storm #5, and surely, our heaviest rainfall to date. The three of us searched for signs of the street car through muddled vision, before, concluding, “bye felisha, let’s get a taxi”. Five kilometers and fifty francs later, we arrived at the Sheraton Zurich, with our (unannounced) third guest, and were disappointed to learn that no larger rooms were available. Being the resourceful women (we claim to be) we pushed the two twins beds together, to form one giant bed. I slept in the crack for two nights; fearful I’d slip through to the floor each time either Amy or Amelia stirred (but never did).
My German phone flashed with Manuel’s instructions to “meet under the big fat ugly angel, next to the clock”. The three of us glanced up, smiled, and found ourselves in agreement with his description. We proceeded to tour the city alongside our Swiss friends, which included Manuel’s entire clan: his wife Corinna, his three-year-old daughter, Lavinia and his nine-month-old son, Keanu. We saw the sights, and enjoyed the occasional moments of comedic relief from Lavinia randomly undressing herself in public and being ejected from the stroller. We ended the day with a scenic train and small climb to Utilberg, the top of Zurich. The lake glistened and the green stretched for miles. We sat for a few moments to absorb it all before heading to the park. Never one to pass up the fun, I climbed into the swing. My hips didn’t quite fit into the seat the way I remembered them to, but nonetheless, I pumped my legs back and forth, rising into the air and enjoying the simple pleasures of childhood alongside my new little friends. By now, nearly sunset; we opted to make our way back into town to consume more things covered in cheese.
Our final day in Switzerland proved to be among the greatest, as we headed to Europe’s largest waterfall, gently perched along the Rhine River. We shared stories, and sips with Manuel, and apologized for not coming equipped with Gulfstream G6. We threatened to never return home, but alas, said our farewells, and made our way back to the hotel to pack up our things. It was at this point that I discovered I’d lost my American sim card, and Amelia proclaimed that I would forever remain “German Bangs”.