The last bit of my Christmas holiday journey I never finished writing. I’ve certainly had the time to blog but procrastination comes on a lot harder the less pressure there is to complete a task. It’s been nearly seven months since I’ve been held accountable to pretty much anything, and for some reason I thought a gap year would actually help me focus before my final year of university – HA.
Germany didn’t take long to warm up to. On prior presumptions, I really didn’t think much of visiting Munich. Schnitzel, and sausages, even beer isn’t really my thing. I was travelling with my same two friends as in Venice and the three of us boarded a direct train from Venice to Munich, super welcoming after spending a lifetime on a eurolines bus through the north of Italy to get to Venice. Trains are great. Because we didn’t book together I sat in another coach and hoped that we’d see each other on the way out because I wasn’t staying at the same hostel as them but with a couchsurfer. I’m not really sure how often the average German or Italian must travel between Munich and Venice but it did seem to be a train packed with tourists. My first encounter with a german couple was very pleasant. My contact had slipped and ended up underneath my eyelid which every contact wearer knows is the worst thing ever, so after rubbing my eye trying to blink it out for 15 minutes I asked the woman across from me if she had a compact mirror, this took another 3 min to describe and I can now proudly tell you the German word is Taschenspiegel. So shout out to the kind lady who didn’t bat an eye while I molested my naked eye trying to blink out a contact while getting my dirty hands all over that pretty little mirror.
My 2 euro phone plan does not work outside of France, which is not a big deal since nearly every place I end up has pay phones. I was to call my couch surfer when I made it to the subway stop he lived closest too and he and his girlfriend would meet me there, great. I figured I’d call him just to let him know I had arrived at the train station on time and everything was cool. No problem, but of course, he reminded me he wanted to know when I arrived at this stop, silly Canadian, can’t follow directions exactly as requested, file that under German-Canadian cultural differences. The problem was when I got to his suburban subway stop the pay phones were no longer tourist friendly. I love German, I really do but am not at all able to work with a payphone in only german instructions, I tried button mashing a couple times hoping I wasn’t wasting money and the call would go through. No luck. Next plan of action, ask a german to borrow their phone. I approached a gentleman of about my age waiting on a bench and in the stupidest, most condescending voice asked “Do you speak English?” to be fair, it was only condescending because in France and my experience in Italy nobody seems to either be keen to speak English or doesn’t know how to. In a near English accent he said yes and I asked if I could borrow his phone, no problem at all. He asked where I was from, why I was in Munich all the lovely little chit chatter you have with a stranger, in pretty much perfect English. Germany was making a great first impression. Eventually getting a hold of my surfers and meeting them only 5 minutes later I happily arrived at their place. If I haven’t said it before, couchsurfers is one of the greatest little communities. I love hostels too, but surfing is getting a peak into the everyday lives of the people who live in the country your visiting. For anyone truly interested in people when travelling, couchsurfing is fantastic. It’s arriving late in a foreign city but having someone welcome you as if you’re home. Staying up testing shots of Bavarian liquors and discussing world news from the perspective of someone of the other side of the story. It’s learning your lives aren’t so different yet rich with different ideas, customs and culture. I spent only one night with my hosts in Munich but their hospitality and being schooled on a dozen german and other european liquors was a warm welcome.
In the morning I checked into my hostel and met up with my friends. Munich was a lot of time spent walking than taking in sights, which regrettably I did not do much. One evening one of our friends convinced us to show up for a beer tour, which we all thought sounded like a massive tourist trap but had potential for fun anyways. They set you up for disaster with one free beer at the beginning, and afree beer and jagershot at the end- WHY SEND YOU HOME LIKE THAT. We all happily downed pints at each of the three beer halls we went to, I seem to recall a lot more of the stories our charming tour guide, Dennis told us about the Bavarian beers and beer halls at the beginning of the walk than the end, hmm.. The following morning I was supposed to meet Lindsay and Kalynn for a tour but slept in, ended up going back to one of the beer halls for lunch (that was a challenge) and received the most disgusted look when I ordered orange juice at the beer hall, apparently people don’t do that.
And then it was New Years, we had a pretty tame night. Watching the fireworks from a massive crowd gathered in Marienplatz. I don’t know who was organizing this but there were fireworks going off from within the crowds hitting buildings with massive cracks. It was an incredible sight to see the fireworks dance around so close to Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall). Also a little frightening because it looked like at any moment I could get a flame to my eye. Retiring to bed I wasn’t sure what I was going to do the next day. My friends were heading to Frankfurt, a stopover before Amsterdam but I had lined up a car pool to Berlin for the next day, somewhere I’ve really wanted to see here. I told them, either way I’ll meet them at the train station and it’ll either be to say goodbye or with my bags to come along. In the end I decided to come along. As fate would have it the day before an Australian couple had given me their two German railpasses assuring me they’ve never been asked for ID before and if I planned on doing more travelling in Germany it was still valid and they were heading home. I thought this was a great reason to keep travelling with my friends because now going from Munich to Frankfurt would be totally free.
I got caught. Of course.
The officer nearly immediately asked for ALL our passports on taking our tickets. This was also the first time Kalynn and Lindsay had been asked with their Eurorail passes. And for the record, I have done many journeys via train and never even had my ticket checked. In this moment I had to decided very, very quickly what story I was going with. At this point Kalynn and Lindsay were stone faced without a clue what would happen to me, Lindsay strategically burying her face into pocket planes. I handed over my passport and ticket making a point of not looking at either. After what felt like 3 minutes she asked why the names don’t match, to which I replied “huh!??”. I said omg, Elise, she was in my hostel! I must have switched tickets! The officer was not impressed. She said “This is not good, not good at all, I’ll go make a call” and left with the ticket and passport. I had no idea what the penalty was for this but I was trying to remain as calm as possible while my imagination went wild with images of german jail cells. She came back eventually, again repeating “This is not good, not good”. She really didn’t need to remind me. Not offering any actual solutions I asked her what my options were. She punched some numbers into her pocket machine and told me I’d have to pay 200 euros. Shit. I really wasn’t left with anything else to do because I couldn’t insist my story was true and I did buy a ticket or railpass, if they hadn’t already they would have searched my passport number and saw I never purchased anything. So I told her, well I guess if that’s what I have to pay. She pressed some more buttons and then said 100 euros. I would have to pay 100 euros to go to Frankfurt. Not sure if it was my extra effort at politeness or she realized that was indeed the actual price but it was the price I saw when I checked the booth before getting on the train. I decided if it was inexpensive I could just pay the fare but nope, decided to risk it and then got caught.
Well situation that might have been worse potentially avoided but 100 euros lost. It get’s even better when we realized the three of us had all booked the wrong hostel, the airport hostel rather than the downtown hostel. Great. Not wanting to go through the hassle of changing because we were in Frankfurt for only one night we stayed and commuted downtown for the evening. The first thing you notice is the skyscrapers. I had paid 100 euros to come to a city that looked like a North American city, no matter, make the most of it. We attempted unsuccessfully to find where the student bars may be or even some entertainment, we couldn’t find anything. The sole piece of redemption was stumbling upon a Mexican restaurant that served nachos, that was magnificent. After nachos we retired to our airport hostel, Kalynn and Lindsay were to catch a train to Amsterdam the next morning and I was going to figure out the most cost effective way to get my now broke ass back to France. Checking car pools and couch surfing working out cheap bus lines and reading schedules in German, I was getting pretty frustrated at this point. I guess that’s been a pretty big point of growth for me, I’ve always been a procrastinator and really comfortable with not having a plan but at this point I was really worn down. I was also having problems accessing money on both my French and Canadian bank accounts with the both being declined at random places for no reason I could figure out. In a last ditch effort, I checked the trains knowing perfectly well last minute train tickets are often very expensive and I had to get all the way from Frankfurt to Grenoble. But there it was, SNCF, the French rail lines offering me a ticket for 90 euros with a train leaving 2 hours from then. Direct train, Germany to South-East France, 90 euros. I abandoned my plan to try to find the cheapest way home and went with the train that day because it meant I’d be back in Grenoble, not have to stress and the likely hood that I could get carpools, bus tickets and places to stay WHILE making it back in time for work on Monday, was unlikely.
By midnight that evening I was home. 200 euros over budget, but otherwise successful trip. Germany, I will be back.