The last few days I’ve spent in Germany have been very relaxing and amazing because I have gotten to spend it with the Nowak family. I first met Christian the second semester of my senior year of high school when I hosted him for 6 months as an exchange student who attended my high school. He was two grades below me but we ended up becoming great friends so he told me that any time I wished to visit him in Germany, I could do so. Four years later, here I am having met everyone in the family. Christian’s mother had come to the states briefly while he was staying with me but I had not met any of the other relatives prior to arriving here a few days ago.
Let’s back up for a second and finish up my time in Barcelona. The last night we had dinner with some friends in our hostel that we came to know and love plenty since we stayed for 5 nights. After dinner there was a soccer game and the friends were going to a bar to watch but Eliot and I had decided that it would be best to get some rest and pack since we would have to leave the hostel at 5:45AM to get to our flight to Germany. Earlier in the day, we had given our laundry to a staff member in the hostel to wash and fold for 8 euros. When we returned from dinner that night, I picked up the laundry to find that it was folded nicely but still very wet, and at the time I thought it was fine because I assumed that it would naturally dry after leaving it overnight. I packed and got all my stuff together in order to leave the morning, and I finished doing so at around 10PM. At that time, I wanted to make a brief trip downstairs to our hostel’s common room to chill with some people from the hostel one last time. When I went down, I only intended to stay there for 5 or 10 minutes then head to bed since I needed to get some sleep for the morning. I was talking with three American girls who had recently arrived at the hostel, and one of them and I decided we would hit around a ping pong ball on the table downstairs for 5 minutes then I would head to bed. Not only did we end up playing a full 21 point match, but we hit around the ball afterward, and following that, the other two girls wanted to try to hit around with me as well. So here I was stuck hitting the ball around with 3 different people (who were all great) all while other people who entered the room and watched us play ping-pong were starting other conversations with me at the same time. I felt great that so many people at the time wanted to be around me, but I was thinking about when I would go to sleep the whole time. Ultimately I socialized with all of those people until 12:40AM even though I had to be awake at 5AM to start getting ready to leave for the airport in the morning. I came back to my room in the hostel and warned them in advance that an alarm would be going off very early in the morning and they seemed to have no problem. Ironically enough, I woke up a few minutes before the alarm went off so no one in the room actually had to hear any sounds. I opened my backpack to change into some new clean clothes that had just been laundered, but they smelled absolutely rancid, worse than clothes that I would sweat in. Why did they smell rancid? Because I did not dry them, and as I learned the hard way, wet clothes that have not been dried smell absolutely terrible. I put on a new set of clothes anyway even though I could barely stand the smell. We were advised by our hostel to arrive at the airport 3 hours before our departure time since it was an international flight. At the airport, we found out that we don’t even know which gate we depart from until 2 hours before departure so we had to wait a little while in the part before security before we could even check in. Airports in Europe seem to work a lot more like train stations than like airports in the US. There is a big board listing flight airlines and numbers and departure times, then once we arrived at the gate we had to look at which “sub gate” we would ultimately be taking off from.
We arrived in Stuttgart about 20 minutes after the scheduled landing time due to some minor delays, but we claimed our baggage then were able to find Christian’s mother and father who picked us up, and were very welcoming right off the bat. We caught up a little bit on the ride to their house while they were giving us a little tour and explanation of the surrounding area. We arrived at the house which I immediately noticed was overlooking a beautiful view of Stuttgart, and the town is a quaint area with several walking paths, trees and hills. After getting a tour of the house and setting our things down in our rooms, we grabbed a delicious lunch with Christian’s mother and father, his brother Jonathan with his girlfriend, and his sister Sarah. For lunch I had a delicious sausage item or “wurst” as the Germans call it, but the highlight was the beer I had called a Radler. It was beer mixed with lemonade and I thoroughly enjoyed every sip of it. It was so delicious that everyone at the table wanted to have a taste as well. Surprisingly, the place also had a menu in English, most likely because there is a US military base in the area so there are some American residents as well. Afterward several of us went to a chocolate museum, learned about the origins of chocolate in Germany and we were allowed to taste many different kinds of chocolate in the museum as well. In the US I like a select few kinds of chocolate, but in Germany I thoroughly enjoyed many of the different types. One that stood out was one that had whole milk in it but I call it the Blue Chocolate because it has a blue wrapper on it. For dinner we had a feast with meat and bread among other delicious items. For dessert we had some tasty chocolate waifers as well.
The next morning we decided we would embark on a bike ride to a TV tower in Stuttgart that was about 8 miles away from the house since we had enjoyed a short bike ride on mountain bikes that Jonathan had taken us on right before dinner the first night. We thought that the bike ride would be pretty simple and painless since the distance was not that high and we had a GPS as well as data on our phones to back us up in case we got lost. This bike ride ended up being the biggest adventure of my entire trip to Europe. One thing that we did not think about before going on the bike ride was that a GPS is designed for cars on roads so it might (and did) lead us to roads with fast cars that were essentially impossible to bike on. About a half hour in, we arrived at one of these kinds of roads so we were looking for some bike trails in the woods which we found some that seemed to be going in the correct direction. The problem was that none of the bike trails we rode on went in exactly a parallel direction to the roads that the GPS was telling us to travel on, so we would have to stop often and look at the bike trail vs. the road. Eventually we got to a point where none of the bike trails were even close to being parallel to the road. We rode down those bike trails anyway and began to get lost from our main route. At one point, we arrived at a road where the cars were almost going almost as fast as cars on a highway and we decided that the road was not capable of being biked. The woods next to that road had many thorns, ditches and plants in the way, but we decided to continue anyway. After this portion of the ride, we became so tired and confused that we changed the GPS back to point home. We never ended up making it to that TV tower after all. The way home was a crazy clustering of trying to get the GPS to point us to back roads, and pointing our electronic compass in the correct direction. Ultimately we made it back home by looking at signs that pointed us to the correct town and then following the GPS. As a whole, our bike ride lasted for several hours. I was really happy that the ride happened because it was great exercise!
Speaking of cars going fast on highways, I was taken on the part of the Autobahn with no speed limit a couple of times and boy was it a great time. German cars can go incredibly fast without a problem, so at one point we reached 230 km/h! One other highlight of my time in Germany was watching the Germany vs. Ghana soccer game at a bar with a large screen outdoors. The atmosphere was incredible – people were wearing face paint with German colors, and all kinds of shirts and icons representing Germany. At this bar, I had many beers and a ton of food. I had three helpings of fries and a pork entree, and it was all worth it. The game ended up being a tie so I didn’t get to see a dramatically sad or happy German people afterward, but the game was a great time. I was watching the game with much of the Nowak family and some friends of theirs from the area. During a couple of the days, we made one day trip to France, and visited a castle in Germany which was from the middle ages. This castle had armor, windows designed for war, and a lower area for storing weapons.
Overall, this European trip has been an amazing experience. I’ve learned that I am a very independent person capable of making challenging decisions, and I can make sense of my surroundings in foreign countries even when I am unable to speak much of the country’s language. I have met some amazing people from all parts of the world as well and made some lasting friendships. Today I will venture into Stuttgart with Eliot and that will be my last adventure of this European trip. Soon it will be time to head home and get ready for my new career which I am also excited about.
There are a few people I would like to thank for making this trip possible and such a success. First of all, I would not have been prepared without having read many books from Amazon about backpacking. I would like to thank Eliot for being a wonderful travel companion and putting up with me even when I am sometimes difficult. I’d like to thank people in various hostels for being really social, friendly and welcoming to me during my adventures. I’d like to thank Christian and his family for being such excellent hosts while I have been in Germany. Lastly, I would like to thank my own family for supporting me every step of the way and doing everything they can to make sure I was happy and safe on this trip. I will not write a new entry about my last day in Europe, but when I am back I will be happy to answer questions about my experiences. As you may have noticed, I did not include everything in this blog about everything I did so definitely talk to me to fill in any gaps. This served as a journal and what was on my mind as I was writing. I would be happy to answer anybody’s questions about this style of travel, places to go, among other things. Thank you for reading!