I left Amsterdam excited about the challenge of having to survive the rest of my trip on my own. What would I do without Ashley’s expert use of GoogleMaps? What if I had to turn on my phone’s cellular data risking going over my international plan (which allows for approximately 2 seconds of internet time per month) and getting a $25 charge for every overage? What if something actually bad happened???
Well, I boarded the train to Mainz, Germany and hoped for the best. Luckily, by now, I have pretty much figured out how to not get totally lost, and found my way to both the train station and to my train with plenty of time to spare. I watched a man eat an Airhead for breakfast, checked the train times 100 times, and waited. The train was late, of course, causing me to miss my connection. The train attendant must have noticed my trying-not-to-panic face and brought me over a handwritten card listing the next few connection trains I could get on.
“Don’t I need a new ticket?” I asked.
“Just show them I wrote this.” She replied.
I was unconvinced that the ticket collector on the next train would believe me, but he did. Maybe they write each other notes all the time and he knew her writing? A train attendant love story taking place over handwritten time cards. So romantic!
I got to Mainz with minimal stress and found my way to Hannah’s apartment. Hannah and my older sister, Brooke, have been best friends since Kindergarten and she actually seemed excited when I asked if I could stay with her.
“You know I’m asking to stay for like…. a month, right?” She agreed without hesitation, and I am so thankful to have her!
I walked up to the apartment building and rang the bell, knowing her roommate Connie was supposed to be home. The front door opened, and as I walked in, I realized I had no idea which apartment was theirs. I stood in the doorway like a lost puppy for a few seconds, people staring as they walked by, until a (pretty cute) guy looked at me on his way out and said, “Are you Hannah’s friend?” I wonder what gave it away. Was it the backpack with the stack of ratty luggage tags hanging off? Was it how I said “Hello” instead of “Hallo”? Well, whatever it was, he clearly knew instantly that this lost American must belong to the other American in the building. “Fourth floor” He said as he smiled and walked away.
Connie welcomed me to the apartment with a mug of tea and a big hug. I instantly felt at home, and was so excited to have a sort of home-base to come back to for the remainder of my trip.
**Sidenote: I’m writing this while sitting in a cafe and keep forgetting to eat the food I ordered, so the waiter just came over and made sure everything was ok…Luckily, I don’t think he wants me to leave he is just genuinely worried that I don’t like my food.**
Back to the story. For my first night in Mainz, Hannah took me to dinner at Eisgrub where I learned the wonders of wiener schnitzel which, with Hannah’s recommendation, I ordered with roasted onions on top. It came with fries (Europeans love french fries more than Americans do, I swear) and it was delicious. It was also MONSTROUS. I could have feasted for days on this thing. After eating about half, we both threw in the towel and went to meet some of Hannah’s friends at an Irish pub- go figure.
Two of her friends- Americans- welcomed me to Mainz and asked me questions about how I liked Germany so far. Hannah explained to them that we had just come from Eisgrub and her friend Ashley knew immediately. “Ohhh, you’ve got a schnitzel baby, huh?” You’ve been warned: a food baby is bad, a schnitzel baby is worse.
We went to another cute little bar near Hannah’s apartment for a drink and the most German thing ever happened. All of the sudden a man with a basket walked through the door of the bar ringing a big bell. I looked at his basket, expecting one of the bar tenders to escort this crazy man back outside, but then I saw them. His basket was filled with pretzels. The Pretzel Man! He walks into bars, sells drunk people giant, soft pretzels, and I assume he makes bank. What a genius! Hopefully no one steals my idea, but I’m thinking of heading back to UMass and being the pizza girl because I honestly think I wouldn’t have to work a day in my life after a few weeks of that.
Hannah apologized for only having a pullout couch for me to sleep on, which to me looked like a California king with a Temperpedic mattress. I slept so well, feeling perfectly at home. Clearly my body felt at home too because I woke up with a salivary gland the size of a golf ball protruding from my face. Every six months or so this happens to me due to Sjogren’s Syndrome, and for whatever reason my body decided now was a good time. It was, to be honest, because I got to spend the next four days lounging around and resting while the antibiotics I brought with me worked their magic.
*Travel tip: tell your doctors you are leaving the country! If you have any medical conditions, even anything that only happens rarely, prepare for it. It’s really hard to get medical attention abroad, and if you don’t want to have to spend all your travel money on finding someone to look after you, bring anything you might need.
I wasn’t completely lazy the whole time though, I did bake a birthday cake for the cute guy who asked me if I was Hannah’s friend. Turns out they were having a small birthday gathering for him a few nights later, and I offered to put my baking prowess to the test in a foreign country. The cake was pretty successful, even though baking powder doesn’t exist here and I had to improvise. (I also shopped and went to a cafe. Perfectly productive.)
“What is this mousse?” A friend asked Hannah. She was referring to the buttercream frosting that I had made and frosted the cake with. Apparently Germans don’t frost their cakes, so if that becomes a trend here, I take full credit. Props to Hannah on the decoration though.
Thanksgiving- a holiday that is a big deal in my house (I’m talking like 10 plus side dishes here). I was pretending to not be sad to miss it when Hannah told me a friend had invited us to her home for Thanksgiving dinner. I was so excited! So excited I decided to make a trifle in a foreign country.
Baking in another country is almost impossible, let alone a dish with multiple layers and ingredients. Even after spending an hour Googling replacements for American items, I looked like a headless chicken running around the grocery store for over an hour- still leaving a few ingredients short. Making a cake was easy, as was getting good chocolate. But trying to find things like heavy cream, Kahlua, and butter toffee turned out to be a challenge I am not mentally equipped for. I ended up making my own homemade versions of Heath Bars and Kahlua, and the trifle came out successful even after the German grocery store shenanigans.
Here I am protecting said trifle at all costs, even while sleeping on the bus.
Reilly and her German husband Fabian prepared the most beautiful dinner for us, complete with every Thanksgiving side dish I could want. We even got to meet Fabians Grandparents, who were hilarious. I keep saying it, but these are the experiences that make a trip a life-changer instead of a vacation.
Right as we walked into Oma and Opa’s house, the sekt was flowing. We each had a glass or two, and I tried to understand their dialects with the small amount of German I remember from high school. Shout out to Herr Wolf- I actually remember stuff! Opa Rudi would still fire jokes off at me, ignoring that they all went right over my head, but I loved it. Taking us down into his basement, he told us that he had built a bar so that his kids had a safe place to have a beer, so he would always know where they were and that they were safe. What a guy!
The cellar was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Dark wood benches, red lighting, and two swings that took the place of bar stools. It was awesome. A little 50 shades of Grey, but awesome. Opa Rudi kept the schnapps flowing, making sure my little shot glass was always full of Goldwasser, a sweet liquor with pieces of gold flake floating in it. Like Goldschlager but it doesn’t make you want to die. We said goodbye to Opa and Oma and headed back to the house for dinner where I ate more than I would like to admit. *I also had my first Thanksgiving turkey in as long as I can remember after being a vegetarian for 10 years!* It was perfect.
Dinner back at Reilly and Fabian’s was amazing, filled with food, friends, and fun. We laughed, ate, and ate a little more.
After dinner we were feeling so full we needed to get up and walk, so we walked through their little town of Kuppenheim to Favorite Palace, where the wife of a duke or something used to spend her summers. What a life. The house was beautiful, and it started to snow on us making the walk around the garden feel even more magical. While we couldn’t see much, we had tons of fun taking pictures of our own shadows and singing Christmas carols.
Snow covered after our walk, we dug into Reilly’s pumpkin and chocolate walnut bourbon pies and my trifle while warming back up. The desserts were amazing, and I was regretting the amount I had previously eaten therefor hindering my dessert consumption.
I had noticed the music all night long, Fabian DJing and playing Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, and Jamie Cullum. Now, I don’t know how well you know my musical taste, but if he had thrown in some John Mayer or Dave Matthews he would have essentially played my “Top 25 Most Played” playlist on iTunes. I had to comment because I was feeling a little bit like he could read my mind, telling him that he was playing all my favorite music.
“That just means you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.” He said back to me.
I went to bed with a full belly and a full heart.
Apparently these are common in Germany, but the windows of the room we slept in were covered by large plastic shades that roll down over the outside of the window. I woke up in the dark, confused as to why I could hear voices at what must be around 5am. Looking at my phone, I realized it was 11 and we had successfully slept away the morning. Fabian and Reilly greeted us with a beautiful breakfast spread of fresh rolls, cheeses, veggies, and of course leftover pie.
They drove us to the train station where we hopped on our bus and headed back to Mainz. I was so grateful to have had this weekend, and to have been welcomed so warmly into Reilly and Fabian’s home. It was the perfect Thanksgiving away from home!
Next I’m off to Austria for a few days, then to Prague to Czech out the Christmas Markets! (See what I did there??)
Bye for now!