I was really itching to go travel, so I took the opportunity to use a four-day weekend to visit a friend in Germany. If you remember, I lived with a German girl named Eva for a few months before she went back home. I missed her terribly sometimes because she was always so excited about what was going on with me and she always fed me chocolate. She woke me up early one morning after the second term started and asked when I was coming to visit. I was convinced by the pleading in her voice to go online and book a ticket for the January puente, even though it was a bit pricey. I figured the hospitality and free tour guide were worth the extra cost.
I left sunny Sevilla on Thursday afternoon and headed to Düsseldorf, where Eva’s family lives. Actually, I flew into Weeze because RyanAir likes to make up for its low fares by flying you about 3 years from your desired destination. When I got off the plane, I was immediately stung by a damp cold I haven’t felt much here in Europe and a bit of drizzle. After the bus took us about 100 feet to the door, I walked past just three baggage carousels and out into the arrival area of the teeniest airport ever. Eva was standing just behind the ropes eager to hug me. I didn’t think she was ever going to let go, but her mother Gaby, a dark-haired woman with a round face, wanted in on the action. We’d talked several times on the phone when she’d call Eva, but it was wonderful to meet her in person. I immediately understood why Eva missed her so much when she was here in Spain.
We drove about 45 minutes towards Düsseldorf to the suburb of Lank-Lanten. Eva’s town has 9000 people but makes up a part of an eight-town cluster called Meerbusch. Her home is wonderful – open, friendly and inviting. Her mother put out all kinds of food on the table for me, from sandwiches to milkshakes to cheese to chocolate. She went to the grocery store especially for me! Eva and I stayed up talking for several hours about everything, as if we were just catching up from a day of work. I realized at that moment how much I had missed having her around to tell me about her adventures to Lidl allllll the way on C/Evangelista or how she spent three hours doing nothing in Maria Luisa. And I did most of the talking.
The next morning, we woke up early to travel to Koln. The drunken neighbor, Udo, with his scraggly red beard and penchant for saying inappropriate things at opportune times made for an interesting breakfast. Gaby had bought fresh bread and fruit for us to munch on for breakfast, and we headed out early. The bus never came (just like Sevilla!!), so Gaby drove us to the train station. We had major problems figuring out how to use the automated machines, but watching the small towns and fields go past on the way was delightful. Germany is kind of like Iowa, but with more woods and green pastures. Even with the gray skies, the whole place looked lush and was dotted with farm houses and farm equipment between towns. Most of the places along the route seemed very suburban – small shops and lots of living quarters. Much of this area was devastated by bombs during WWII, which is why the buildings all look so retro. But being in another place seems ot transport me places, and I don’t even seem to notice the ugly things so much.
Koln was bustling. We got out of the huge underground station in the shadow of the Dom, a large mass of spires and flying buttresses not destroyed in the bombings. Since I’ve been in Europe for close to six months now, I’m beginning to think all the cathedrals and churches are all the same. However, I’ve developed quite the penchant for wanting to see a city from the highest point in town – to watch the river bend, the roads lead to the church spires, the colors of the roofs. I’m sick of the Seville cathedral and could do without going in it ever again, but I gladly jump on the opportunity to hike 35 ramps to the top of the Giralda tower and see my adoptive city from up top. We paid 2E to walk up some 400 stairs around a small spiral staircase of one of the towers, leading to monstrous bells and still more stairs. I looked at the graffiti in scores of languages, examining it more closely than the intricately decorated spires. The city, despite the heavy fog and dreary drizzle, was enchanting up there, with the barges moving back and forth down the river and the street vendors with furters and pretzels. Street food is quite a novel idea.
After grabbing some, we were off to explore the busy shopping district on our way to the Colgate museum. I was definitely contemplating buying a one meter beer, but it was 11am and I wasn’t in Iowa, nor Spain.
At the chocolate museum, we ran around like kids through a Willy-Wonka inspired wonderland. We watched cocoa beans being split, molds being poured for hollow chocolate bunnies, truffles being coated in powder and got to indulge in plenty of samples. Though the price of 4,50E was probably a bit too much, watching Eva get really excited about a whole exhibit of chocolate was priceless. Despite living so close to this magnificent city, she hasn’t been to the Dom or chocolate museum. Seems like a shame that she hasn’t been taking advantage of everything. After walking through more of the city, Neumarkt and grabbing a berliner (like a jelly donut), we sat down at a restaurant to eat. I love trying new, authentic foods when I travel, but the name of the restaurant tipped me off to the fact that I wouldn’t be eating traditional food. It was called Chicago steakhouse and had pictures of Michael Jordan and Jazz on the wall. Regardless, I ate some delicious chicken for once and had a baked potato with sour cream. Afterwards, we went to some lame-o Roman history museum.
On our way back into Meerbusch, we found two of Eva’s friends from high school. It’s shocking how many Germans peak English and many of them speak it really well. They all spent a year in HS abroad, which reminded me of that German dude who was a freaking stud at WWS when we were juniors. He could drink a beer in about three seconds flat. It made me feel bad and stupid and ignorant for only mastering English. We met Eva’s friend Steffi for a beer before Gaby made us some wonderful pasta and we slept a little before the night out.
Eva’s friend all came over to meet me and we opened a bottle of champagne and had a few beers before taking a bus and train into downtown Düsseldorf. It was windy and rainy and really disgusting, but we had a really fun time. Her friends are incredibly warm and funny, and it made for a really interesting night.
The next morning, sufficiently hungover, we were joined by Udo and another friend, Juda, who came with us to Dusseldorf. The weather was horrible – windy, stinging cold – and there was no one on the streets as we walked through the Ko (a ritzy shopping district) and passed a lot of churches, parliament buildings and overturned chairs and plants. Apparently a huge storm called Emma was supposed to ground planes and uproot trees, but it never came. Instead, we encountered fog and were nearly thrown off-balance from the gusts. The only thing we really visited was the huge tower, from which we could see the empty city. It was so dreary out that it was difficult to enjoy the city. We ate at another American style restaurant before heading back to say goodbye to Gaby and get me to the airport. I was really sad to say goodbye to her mom, who had made me food for the plane and sincerely thanked me for being a good friend to Eva when she was lonely and had no one. Juda, Julia and Eva drove me back to Weeze and stayed until Eva’s car nearly got towed. I was ready to be back in sunshine and to not feel like an idiot for not knowing the language, but I had a kind of empty feeling for leaving Eva again.
When I got back to Sevilla, I could feel the warmth upon exiting the airplane and finally smell the azahar, the smell of the orange trees once the fruit falls. I fell in love with the city again after having some doubts about staying here.
Sanne and I took advantage of the sun and nearly 75 degree heat by heading down to Cadiz on Sunday. The beach was swamped with people, but seeing the city in the daytime not wasted and full of broken bottles nor windy and rainy was spectacular. It’s a wonderful place. And having a picnic on the beach, getting really pink and enjoying the quiet trash of waves was the perfect way to end the weekend.