I am lucky to have met some wonderful people in my past, who live in Europe and so the last few weeks have been spent meeting up with a few of them again. As with so much of this trip, I hadn’t really planned it that way, but it just sort of happened that I’ve spent this time reuniting with old friends.
First, I spent a week and a bit with Loe in Bavaria. Loe was our Au-pair when I was seven. She lived with us for almost a year and we really loved her, then and now. Even my sister, who tortured our first Au-pair, was nice to Loe! I of course was sweetness and light to each of the nannies who came to live with us; I’m sure they would all agree, even the one who found rubber spiders in her bed. It wasn’t me! The Au-pair thing is not easy to do: to live with a family in a strange country, to take care of the children, sometimes cook and clean, to have to adjust and adapt to another family culture, as well as the broader culture and often a non-native language. I am really impressed by people who are able to do it.
My time with Loe has been such a lovely opposite to my time in Morocco. Loe lives in the countryside, outside of a small town. There is a bus that comes hourly, otherwise it is really in the middle of nowhere, but what a beautiful nowhere. The hills and views are just lovely, there are small forested areas to hike in, there is the WaldNaab (Wild Naab) river, and she even arranged for me to be able to catch an afternoon ride into town with a friend any day I want, so I have the ability to move around even without a car of my own. Loe of course has a job and leaves early each day, while I get to sleep in. It’s not really a rough life I’m living right now, is it?
Weiden, where Loe works, is a really cute German town. Cobblestone walkways with beautiful old buildings and lots of shops and cafes, of course all centered around a couple of older churches. I’ve been spending my time in Weiden really taking it easy. Visiting the town, going for walks in the countryside, spending time with Loe’s friends, eating lots of great food, and just generally relaxing. Being with Loe is like being at home – she’s family. Possibly because she was my Au-pair, but also because that’s just what it’s like with Loe. She’s come out to visit many times over the years and she has always been like family, a big sister or super cool older cousin. We came to Germany to visit Loe when I was about 12 and met her family, so it was exciting to see them again, but so strange also. They are still the same, they barely look older, yet it’s been 20 years! The passage of time feels a bit strange or off, meeting with old friends. When I am with Loe it is almost as if I am seeing two versions of her. There is who she is now, we are friends now in a way that of course we couldn’t be when I was a child. We really get along well and laugh and talk for hours. But then sometimes I look at her and I’m shocked that we are the same height, because a part of me still feels like I’m looking up at her, I am still her young charge and she’s my nanny. I still see her as 20 years old in my mind, despite the years and how much I know she has changed. It really is a strange, surreal feeling. Sort of like when I look at my younger cousins, and as much as my brain knows they are in their 20’s, I still sort of see them as 2 and 3. Maybe there’s a time or an age where people make the most lasting impression on you, and they are forever that in your brain, no matter how old you know they are?
Then I moved on to my old stomping grounds in Belgium to see Deborah. My first ever solo trip was a Rotary summer exchange to Belgium when I was 15 and I was placed with Deborah’s family. I lived with them for about a month and then she came and stayed with me in Canada – we haven’t seen each other since. Visiting Deborah has been really just….cool. I don’t think I can explain it any other way. It was too short, though, really like a whirlwind visit, that started and ended in craziness! Deborah picked me up at the train station, and we were 20 minutes late, so I got off the train in a dash to find her, and it was just like a movie – the crowd parted and Deborah came
running through towards me. We hugged, we cried, we laughed. She brought me macrons, which she thought I would appreciate more than flowers (how well she knows me, after so many years!). Then we fairly ran to the car and got the heck out of the centre of the city and the crazy traffic.
Deborah now lives in the town next to her hometown, so she took me back to see her parents, and surprised me with a tour of all the places we’d hung out when I lived with her. I couldn’t believe how I remembered everything so well, yet it sort of felt like seeing the set of your favourite tv show. On film (or in memory) it looks so warm, so much bigger, so much richer. Then when you see the set, it’s smaller, it’s different angles, it’s not quite as real. Seeing these places warmed my heart, but they were smaller, closer, of course older, but still a little different than I remembered. It was a strange sort of surreal, but it made me so happy to see. Of course they were huge in my memory – that was my first time leaving home, living abroad, experiencing a different culture, my first time getting drunk (oh Jupiler beer), feeling like an adult in so many ways. It was such a huge life-changing experience, of course my memories of it are larger than life!. And Deborah too, was larger than life in my memories: she was this bright passionate Belgian who was a little crazy and totally excited about life – so much fun to be with! But unlike the town of Marbehan, she is still that way. She is now married with small children (she has a wonderful family: great spunky kids and a really kind lovely husband), she’s truly grown up and changed so much on the outside…and yet as a person she has the same vibrancy, the same excitement about life, the passion she always had. Who knew you could keep living with that kind of passion for so long?
My five days in Belgium were crazy, I went to Deborah’s school (she’s an English teacher), we did the tour of Marbehan, we ran errands, played with her kids, went out to great restaurants, she brought me yummy croissants and pain-au-chocolate for breakfast every morning (oh my god, so good!!). We visited with friends and family, we went out for cocktails, we went to Namur (beautiful city at night), and then all of a sudden it was time for me to leave. For possibly the first time in my life, I screwed up the time! I usually check, re-check and then triple check the time for any ticket I have. This time, I thought I
was leaving on the 2pm train, and we had the day planned, bringing the kids to the train station so her son could watch the trains, some time to say goodbye before I left, it was going to be a nice trip. Then, just as we were about to leave I realised I read the ticket completely wrong and my train left 35 minutes earlier! So Deborah grabbed the kids, I grabbed my bags, and we took off for Luxembourg, flying down the autobahn as fast as her car could take us. I’m a little surprised we made it one piece! I had 5 minutes to grab my bags, run across the street, find which platform my train was on, and get to the train. I ran through the station like my life depended on it (and not just 30 euros, which in the grand scheme of things wouldn’t have been such a big deal to lose). I was actually completely shocked I made it with one minute to spare…as the train pulled away from the station I had to check and re-check the screens to make sure I was actually on the right one! The only really sad thing was that in all the madness I didn’t have a chance to really say goodbye to Deborah and thank her for such a great trip. Hopefully we’ll find a way to meet up again during the rest of my trip.
Finally, now, I have come back to Aschaffenburg to have a visit with Barbara, which has been so much fun. Barbara came to Canada with Loe as an Au-pair and they have been friends ever since so we have stayed connected as well. Coming to stay with her has been a blast. Barbara is an adventurer with a love of travel that dwarfs mine – she has been all over the world. I think she has been to almost every continent! She takes every opportunity to travel and she truly takes advantage of living in Europe! I hope to do the same when I am in Ireland. I am definitely envious of her adventures and it is so fun to hear about all the places she has been and all she has seen. So far we have visited Frankfurt, and we’re going again this week to shop (not that I have room in my bag for much more), she gave me great tips for where to visit around Aschaffenburg. We’ve eaten wonderful food, as well, there are great restaurants in Aschaffenburg – and Barbara took me for my first schnitzel in Germany!
Barbara is also an English teacher and brought me in as a kind of “show-and-tell”. Then she loaned me out to two of her colleagues, to talk to their classes too! It was so much fun, I really love kids, I love learning, I love that kind of atmosphere! I stood at the front of their classes and they had the kids ask me any questions they wanted, in English of course, so they could practice their speaking and comprehension. It was so much fun! Each class asked me similar questions, like my age, where I’m from, my favourite foods and colors. But Barbara’s 12 year old’s in particular became really interested in food, we talked about different world foods and what I had eaten where. They wanted to arrange a potluck so they could try some of my favourite foods and also I could try theirs but alas, it didnt’ work out. Food really is something that everyone can connect with! Barbara’s kids also offered to put together German lessons for me. One girl in particular kept asking me if I understood phrase after phrase in German, which of course I didn’t, even though they were really simple phrases. What I have been noticing, though is the ways that German and English have such similar roots. I knew that, they come from the same root, but it’s interesting when you really look and listen, to see those similarities. Good Day – Guten Tag. One – Eine. The days, like Sunday – Sonntag, Monday – Montag. The list goes on, of course.
I love languages, if I ever go back to University I think I would study linguistics and psycholinguistics. I am really excited for my Italian classes in May, but for right now I am enjoying listening and trying to learn even just a little bit of German. I wish I had bought a German-English book before I came here, I though I could find one here but of course they are all from the point of view of someone learning English, not German. Or how to speak “Amerikanisch”, which gave me a great laugh, but not particularly helpful in learning the language, unless I want to learn how to say “I have to piss like a racehorse” in German. That might be useful….?
All three of these visits have been so unique yet also somehow the same. Reminiscing about the past, talking about our lives then and now, learning about eachother again yet also knowing eachother surprisingly well. It’s such a strange thing to see people you’ve been close with, after time has passed. I was a child when I first knew each of these ladies, and I think I’ve changed so much, yet it seems like maybe there is some part of each of us that doesn’t really change? Deep down maybe that essential spark that is unique to each of us stays the same? Each of these ladies seems essentially the same. Even though they have been through so much and have in some ways changed probably more than I could realise, that spark still seems the same. I think that’s really kind of amazing. Every part of this trip (hey Sam!) gives me something new to think about – I love it.
Next week: Paris!!!