Archive for November, 2013

Seeing The Best In Paris, Edinburgh, and Germany

Sometimes things work out for the best, and that is exactly what happened with the last trip I just returned from. I have been trying to get back to Europe for a while. Last spring I had my heart set on a visit while work had dried up for a few months. I wanted to see Astrid and meet her new daughter, and my friend Robyn was in grad school for a year in Edinburgh, which seemed the perfect time to check out a city I had always wanted to see. Things never seemed to come together last spring, Astrid was away or I was finally working again so the time dragged out and the trip didn’t happen. I was crushed each time plans fell through especially when Astrid invited me to meet them along the Baltic at a cabin. But as I said sometimes things work our for the best even when we are frustrated when at first they do not work out how we would wish.

My summer steamed along fast and full after a dry spring of work turned into a busy summer. After 7 jobs, 17 flights, 2 trains, and one road trip I had some time off on the horizon. I knew I had to get to Germany while Astrid still had her maternity leave until November (an entire year at 60% pay in Germany, what a system!). We found a time that worked for her family and me, and then it just so happened that Robyn would be back in Edinburgh for graduation around that same time, so I could see her and Scotland as well. And as it happened when I was in San Francisco over the summer Suzanne mentioned that she was going to be doing an apartment swap around this same time with someone in Paris. This is where I should give a warning to everyone that if you are doing an apartment swap in some great city you might not want to mention it to me because I have no shame in inviting myself; and I said to Suzanne would you mind if I dropped in on you and your place in Paris. So a flurry of e-mails ensued to Astrid, Robyn, Dörte in Berlin, and Suzanne. Flights were booked and a month later I was back in Europe after a little over a year.

On my first afternoon in Paris as we walked along Pont Alexandre with views of the Eiffel Tower behind us and the Grand Palais before us Suzanne mentioned an Audrey Hepburn quote “Paris is always a good idea” and I could think of nothing more true.

It had been four years since I was last in Paris and that was right after my mom had died, on a trip where we were supposed to be there together after Astrid’s wedding. On that trip I felt the first crushing waves of grief. My hair had started falling out the week before in grotesque handfuls and in Paris I started to feel nightly panic attacks. At 4pm as the sun would set my chest would constrict and tighten to the point where I had to convince myself I was not having a heart attack and if I was that France had socialized medicine. The only thing between 4PM and 8PM that could take my mind from what felt like an elephant stamping on my weak and tender heart was to walk and walk, to keep in movement constantly until my feet and legs hurt but my chest was at some rest. I would fall asleep and say if you feel this way tomorrow morning you will fly home. I made it through that trip when the first devastating waves of grief found me, but I was still somehow relieved to be there.

On my last day I sat next to the Seine on Ile De La Cite behind Notre Dame and I was grateful for my time in that city, and I made a wish that I would come back someday. Paris was one of the first places I ever went when I was in high school; it was the first place I traveled to alone in my early 20s; it was the best place to be heartbroken after my mother’s death; and indeed as Suzanne said the quote it will always be true for me” Paris is always a good idea.” I hope after this trip that I can return yet again and again through my life.

After a few days marveling at one of the most scenic cities in the world and visiting my favorite haunts and discovering the canals a new marvel for me, I headed north drawn by bagpipes and the promise of new city. I had heard from so many people of how much they love Edinburgh and that Scotland is magic, indeed this is all true.

I was fortunate to have no rain the first two days, which is pretty unheard of. Robyn had made all of our plans for us and I met her; we had a late lunch in Princess Street Gardens, then we started to discover the city and all of its endless views. We climbed Arthur’s Seat, which was something I had dreamed of doing, as the sun was just starting to set and the heather waved in the sea breeze. We could see Edinburgh lay out before us and Leith in the distance behind us and the sea. We caught the last of sun atop Carlton Hill.

The next day I had the special experience of attending a Scottish Graduation. I walked the afternoon up and down the Royal Mile and hills of old town marveling at one view after another. I drank tea, beer, and even became a fan of whiskey.

On the last day Robyn and I took a day trip through the highlands and what magic they held. Robyn’s friends from Edinburgh had laughed and joked with us the night before about the mist and how it would drop and rise and drop and rise and indeed it did which added to the stunning mood. We visited Linlithgow Palace where Mary Queen Of Scots was born. We saw mountains, lochs, waterfalls, towns, forests, and such stunning nature as the trees turned golden, amber, and red against the deep green. We visited the town and castle of Inveraray which is still in use and was in fact having a wedding the day after we were there. We paused by the shores of Loch Lomond. The country of Scotland was more than I could ever imagine, its stunning beauty and the stories that went with it enthralled me.

A long day of travel brought me to Chemnitz in Germany and Astrid. I arrived late after the children had already gone to sleep but to much excitement in the building as Astrid’s upstairs neighbor had gone into labor and was having a home birth. Nothing like being welcomed into a home with a child being born right above you. We had a lovely few days together, playing with the kids, getting to know Björn better, and catching up with Astrid. We went to two castles close by, ate apfelkuchen (apple cake) by the side of a river, walked through small towns, and went to playgrounds. There was a young boy who lived upstairs from Astrid who came with his brother to play with Astrid’s son one afternoon after school. He can’t walk but was able to get around on his own; he was 11 and he came right up to me eager to speak English. We went to the playground with him and I watched him go down fire poles that still scare me and I watched him find ways to get up and around on a play structure. It struck me as I marveled at him that he was neither scared nor letting himself be held back by anything. I was so impressed and inspired by him. I hope I can remember his strength and courage the next time I say that I can’t do something as small as it might be.

I ended my trip with a few days in Berlin, another of my favorite cities visiting Dörte. It was wonderful to be back in Berlin and Dörte is always such a fun joy for me to spend time with. I combined my time in Berlin seeing a few new things and doing some of my favorites like eating at W Imbiss and Turkish food, walking along the Spree, looking at the incredible graphite, a stroll along Under Der Linden and remembrance at the Holocaust Memorial. On this trip I finally reached the top of The Reichstag Building, which I have wanted to do for years and the views were everything that was promised. I also had read about this new life for an old school for Jewish girls that is now an arts hub with galleries, Kennedy Museum, and two restaurants including a New York style Delicatessen. Ehemalige Jüdische Mädchenschule and the building’s history are alive in the hallways and stairs and the new life that is reverberating through it is pulsing; plus it took me to a new part of town and all of the art galleries. My last night in Berlin a friend of Dörte’s encouraged us to check out this market that happens every Thursday night and hosts all of these amazing international food stalls, wine, beer, and the most electric vibe; a truly Berlin night to remember and end on.

From frustration last spring when trips kept falling through, to seeing Paris again, to experiencing Scotland’s magic, to reconnecting with dear friends who live so far away, the best found its way into my days and I am eternally grateful. To those who shared parts of this trip with me, to those who opened doors and welcomed me, to the ones I love so much an enormous thank you.

Love,

Ra

 

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11 2013