…and we’re home. This is the unofficial part of the trip that falls between ‘the end of the trip’ and ‘the resumption of real life.’ I am home, and hobbling on somewhat sore and extremely tired legs, and I’m dealing with the oddity that is culture shock in my own country.
On the nine-hour flight back, I tried to think through some of the questions I expected to be asked.
How was it? Amazing. Time stretched in strange ways; in the moment the trip felt long long long, and then the moment I got in the cab to go to Heathrow, I could feel time contracting, making the entire trip feel like one quick blur. I know I spent a week in Germany, and it now feels like five minutes, if I don’t stop to think about it in detail.
Did you enjoy it? Yes.
Were there down sides? Yes.
- Getting caught outside in a rather nasty storm at 1:30 a.m. in Munich, trying to get back to my flat? With no umbrella? Not awesome. Those clothes needed three days to dry.
- Getting caught outside in another nasty rainstorm right after landing in Amsterdam? With an umbrella, this time? Also not awesome, but less crappy than the previous rainstorm.
- Foot / shoe issues in London? Not awesome. I referred to it as the Cobble Hobble; the hobbling you do after walking day after day on cobblestones that hurt your feet.
Were you lonely? Not often. I’ve been feeling pretty psychologically beaten down for some time now, and I found the rhythm of seeing things during the day, picking out good takeout, and then settling in each night to edit photos, read, or chat online with friends to be just the right amount of interaction.
Did you have a favorite city? Two, actually. I liked each city I stayed in, and none could be mistaken for any of the others. I wanted much more time in Lyon (and more French fluency) and London may be a grimy smoggy old beastie but we got along famously and would definitely see each other again if we could make our schedules synch up.
What do you miss? Lots of things.
- Époisses de Bourgogne. Damn my hosts for addicting me to a French cheese that I cannot get at home. There’s a version of it made with pasteurized milk that is sometimes sold in the USA; I hear it is not so awesome. It is gloriously stinky and runny, and it will always stay in my memory as the cheese I fell in love with while sitting on Aurélien’s back porch.
Cheese plate after the market
(It’s the little orange one in the middle.)
- Mass transportation. Our love affair with the automobile and the open road means we miss the point of having walkable cities with usable, omnipresent mass transit.
- Dual-flush toilets. Sensible, really. Press half the button for a small flush, both halves of the button for a larger flush.
- Clotted cream. I’ll be ordering this one and hoping the pasteurized version doesn’t make the Amy cry.
Scones: afternoon tea at St. Paul’s Cathedral
- The complete lack of Valley-speak. Not once did I, like, hear someone, like, talking like this, y’know? I heard it before I even made it through passport control in Chicago, and I was surprised at how quickly I imagined choking the poor woman.
- Living amidst history. I’m aware there are definite down sides to living in a place where buildings are old, but here in America we boggle when something is Two! Hundred! Years! Old! I stood on Roman ruins and mentally counted the centuries while standing in front of Edward the Confessor’s tomb (circa 1066). I desperately needed time, space, and emotional distance; reading grave markers at Westminster Abbey can do wonders for making your life’s struggles realign into a more manageable context.
There are more. I’m sure I’ll talk about them endlessly. Not tonight.
What don’t you miss?
- Tiny bathrooms. I walked into my own bathroom yesterday and it felt like a palace. I didn’t have to turn around, squeeze past anything … and not only does my shower have a grab bar, it isn’t a stall shower AND there are mechanisms in place to prevent water from getting evyerwhere. A proper shower and a leg-shave in Europe takes effort!
- The lack of air conditioning. It was okay most of the time, because the temperatures were bearable, and reasonably easy to regulate by opening windows, but until the record heat wave in Germany broke, everyone without air conditioning was pretty miserable.
Die wärmste Woche des Jahres
Doesn’t need much translation, I suspect.
- Line-drying all of my clothing. It’s doable and it works, but Amsterdam was so damp that clothing took two days to dry. For someone who only had three changes of clothes, this was problematic.
You went carryon-only. Regrets? Things you wished you’d had?
No regrets. I watched hordes of Olympics tourists miserably lugging huge (and obviously heavy) rolling suitcases up the multitude of stairs freely available to all comers at any Tube stop. It made my life easier, having so little, and it served as a good reminder of how little you need to be happy and content when traveling.
I made some smart guesses.
- I was cautious, and assumed I might accidentally drain my camera battery partway through the trip. I brought my charger, and was right to do so; I needed it in week three.
- I brought a second pair of shoes. These proved to be vitally necessary. See also getting caught in two rainstorms.
- I remembered that I’d get an extra shirt at the conference, so I subtracted one shirt and added in a pair of shorts at the last possible minute. Germany had a heat wave, and I was grateful for the shorts.
- I shipped extra items home. No trundling them through multiple airports, just mail them off and sort it out when you get home.
I also made some dumb guesses.
- I only packed one pair of socks. I should have brought two, and they should have been of better quality.
- If I do an ultralight trip like this again, my jacket should be an ultralight rainproof outer shell with a detachable lining. Though, in fairness, the storm in Germany was so bad that the rain was gusting in horizontal sheets, so I would’ve been soaked in whatever I wore.
- Silly me, I thought I was going to have downtime to sew. I packed a small sewing kit, and didn’t touch it. This surprises me, even now. Most days, I walked so much that I was too tired to even consider picking up a needle at the end of the day.
- I severely underestimated the length of time I’d be walking on cobblestone streets, and I forgot how painful those are to your feet. I wore walking sandals + packed the Chucks, because I wanted to get through security more easily. European airport security doesn’t require you to remove your shoes, so I lost my advantage. Next time, I should pack the walking sandals and wear the hiking shoes + sock liner + socks.
- I didn’t think I would need the wide-angle lens. Major failure on my part. To be fair, I only had room for two lenses, and I forced myself to rank my main lenses and choose the most useful two. When photographing castles and other monuments, I longed for that wide lens that didn’t make the cut. Next time, I kept saying to myself. Next time.
Would you do it again?
A thousand times yes.
I’m already asking myself where I’d go next.
I’d try for a slightly larger backpack next time, to give myself just a little extra room for things like extra socks and that third lens – but if that’s my only real grump, I did this trip right.