Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Guten Tag!

Well, friends, I have made it back in one piece from Deutschland... though I must admit, my mind can’t seem to leave it. The rest of me feels pretty confused about which way is up, my body is constantly asking itself, what time is it? Should I eat? Sleep? Drink more beer? Work? (Oh, god no, not that!) Hey, a little confusion is well worth the time I had abroad.

First of all, Amanda and Peter are fantastic hosts. They’ve settled into Kassel just like you would expect an Ex-Pat to do. Peter’s half-German, so I suppose that complement goes out to Amanda... already she speaks German really well, and reads it too! It’s amazing how quickly she’s adapted to her new life, learned the do’s and don’ts of living in Europe as an American (of course it doesn’t hurt that everyone thinks she’s German), and just fits right in like she’s lived there for eight years, not just eight months. She and Peter are totally in love and adorable together. He’s a kind and generous person; serious and studious, but also funny and charming. He has a big heart (which fits since he’s like 6’4” or something ridiculous) and loves Amanda very much. I felt welcome in their home every moment I was there, and in fact, when I realized that Sunday morning was already upon us, and that I’d be heading back to the US, I was sorta shocked how quickly the time flew. It snuck up on us as fast as the daily weather change.

Kassel is an easy town to navigate- big, but not overwhelming. The local tram and bus systems are stellar- efficient and clean- but expensive. And like the rest of Europe, the train will take you anywhere you want to go. Even though these resources are readily available (most days), it is also extremely easy to be bipedal. Amanda and I biked and walked EVERYWHERE. Peter even threw me on the back of his bike and we kicked it Double-Dutch style through the park one day (after having many beers in an effort to wait out an afternoon rain storm). I forgot how fun and scary riding tandem can be. But man, riding everywhere made me all-over-mad-again that some dickhead stole my bike back here in DC. This trip reaffirmed my love of the beaten path, and I may have to suck it up and buy a new bike (though I guarantee it will not be as freeing as riding in Germany... people in the District are unfortunately, not very bike friendly... jerks).

Anyway, America is not the topic at hand... it’s just hard to know where to start to even try and sum up the trip and my vagabond-self... So, I guess let’s just start with Day One. I arrived in Frankfurt on Monday morning at 7am, greeted immediately by Amanda and Peter (complete with rental car!). We made our way lazily down the Auto Ban, talking freely and enjoying the German country-side. It is so green and lush, trees and hillsides rolling beyond any line of Horizon you can image, dotted with farms and rows of little cottage houses and little towns. Upon our arrival in Kassel, they took me to what Amanda called, “the ugliest building on the block”, A.K.A their home. A sweet little apartment with the tiniest kitchen you’ve ever seen! You thought ours at The Baird were small, pu-lease! This little guy, separated from the rest of the main room by a very thin bar and cutting board space, can only handle the proclaimed “bathroom sink”, gas stove and a mini-fridge. As well as a couple of properly positioned shelves and carts (procured from various sidewalks and little thrift shops around town, Amanda is the best bargain-hunter after all). The main room (my bedroom!) has hardwood floors, a great old sewing table (also a discarded sidewalk-find) and a cute little four-top wooden table that sits right under the sunroof. It’s cozy and intimate, but by no means cramped, which makes for a nice hang out spot, and ended up being where we spent a great portion of my visit. The bedroom is nice and spacious, and completely full of light. Their apartment on the whole is warm and inviting, and we managed to be very good at meeting every one’s needs without getting in each others way (whether it be as simple as what time someone had to get up (or not!), a shower, a bite to eat, another beer... whatever!, we fit easily into each others lives, which is of course no surprise, this is Amanda we are talking about... and Peter is just as pleasant to be around- again, no surprise that our girl would marry a good man.

We spent the better part of Monday just chillin’. We drank crisp white wine, German pilsner, ate homemade Goulash, played Kniffel and cards, all the while talking about everything and nothing all at once. Perfect first day abroad.

We awoke to a lovely (albeit slightly hung-over) Tuesday and headed to town to have brunch and a much-needed dose of caffeine before Peter had to work. Brunch was delicious- fresh eggs, yogurt and Muesli, crisp bacon, toast and jam. Mmmmmmmm! The food standards are very strict, so anything and everything tastes like it is straight from the farm. After breakfast, Amanda showed me around the city square and we shopped a bit, had a mid-afternoon coffee and people-watched the busy Germans made their way around the city. Later we went back to collect Peter and do something about dinner. It was decided that Stir-fried rice would be a good meal, so Amanda and I biked to the grocery store and bought supplies. We spent a nice quite evening at home, repeating Monday’s debauchery (though on a much lighter scale as Wednesday was going to be a big day for us all).

The next morning we rose to join Amanda’s classmates and colleagues on a trip to a town called Bad Sooden-Allendorf, a place that is still a little divided in terms of East and West Germany despite the fall of the Berlin Wall. It luckily sustained very little damage during World War II, though many of the surrounding towns did not, including Kassel. It makes for a killer history tour as some of the houses are still standing after being built in 1664! AMAZING! They look like picturesque little cottages, and cost next to nothing to own... something that is more tempting than you can imagine when our own economy is so shitty. Amanda and I quickly ditched the group and went on our own tour of the two towns (that are now technically considered one) and managed to get completely wasted by like 5pm.

Ahhh, a little dab’ll do ya! It’s just so easy to say, “Yeah, we’ll have one more round” when the weather is fine, the scenery is beautiful and the company is superb. We toted bottles of beer around with us to have later, but as you can imagine, by the time we made it back to Kassel, we were hungry and starting to get grumpy from the no longer drunken state we had so easily achieved just a few hours prior. We decided to go Greek and try out The Zeus Restaurant in town... In Germany! It was sooooo good, but man, those Germans can EAT! Amanda got a piece of beefsteak that could have easily feed a family... so huge! We came home to Peter full and happy, beers in tow...

Thursday started out as a beautiful day, perfect for biking, so we met Peter for lunch at the Orangerie which is this gigantic Palace positioned on the most stunning park ever! It was like 5 times the size of the Quad at UNCA, and our bike ride across it couldn’t have been any other way to enjoy the weather. Though, just as we completed our delicious lunch; the weather turned grey and then to rain... Yikes! Did that stop us from enjoying the afternoon? NEVER! We hid out at this little bar that used to be a really big well. It overlooks the city and the river, and has a great relaxed feel to it. Needless to say, we may have been dry on the outside, but we were not on the inside. After a drunken bike ride home (that included a tumble into the grass and the aforementioned Double-Dutch ride), we ventured out for dinner and more beer. It was a great day, rain, grass and all.

Friday was equally as relaxed... we had fruit and yogurt, ice cream (twice!) another trip to the grocery store, hit up a thrift store and more hiding out from the rain. That evening we had decided to have Thai food… which sounds funny to even consider whilst in Germany, but it was DELICIOUS! Pad Thai never tasted so good. We tumbled around town, checking out some of Amanda and Peter’s favorite hot spots, then hit the hay to prepare for my last day in Germany! So sad.

Saturday was a straight up tourist day. It was muggy out, and kinda grey, so we weren’t sure what all we could do, but we managed to squeeze in a Bratwurst for lunch, a stroll through the downtown Flea Market, half a Nutella crepe (Peter obligingly ate our leftovers), and a tour of one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen! A CASTLE, a real-life kings and queens and knights and shit CASTLE! From like 1700 something or other. The Lowenberg or “Lion’s Castle” was so fucking cool. We got to go on a walking tour with this extremely knowledgeable and excitable German dude. There were a bunch of kids with us because one of them got the castle tour for his birthday. He was five, and the tour dude knighted him while we were in the armor room, leaving us with “Sir Nicholas” on the tour with us... so cute and really smart for a 5 year old.

The castle was one of the most amazing historical landmarks I’ve ever seen. They had armory dating back to 1552! So cool. After the tour, we decided to relax at the Castle Pub and snag a beer (I mean, really, you have to relax after a castle tour, obviously a beer was needed). We hung out up there for quite a while, got a great view of the cityscape, and then hiked down the mountainside back to town to grab some dinner. I got to enjoy another favorite German dish - Toast Hawaii, which is pretty much what you would imagine it to be: like Hawaiian pizza. Pineapple, ham and melted cheese on top of toast. MMMMM! To top off the night, and truly call it a successful day, we headed to Amanda and Peter’s neighborhood bar and played some cards, listened to live music, ate more Bratwurst and drank really good wine. God I've never eaten so much meat in my life!

Everything about my vacation was EXACTLY what I hoped it would be. I got to relax, talk into the wee hours of the day and night with Amanda, get to know Peter better, eat good German food and see some cool, old shit. I highly, highly recommend a trip to the Castle Schimunek, it will not disappoint.