You might be wondering how, exactly, a mother of four young children can pick up and travel solo to Europe. All I can say is I owe my husband–big time! As much as I romanticized the notion of backpacking through Europe when I was younger, I never had the chance to do it. I love to travel, but the “backpacking” part of it got old pretty fast and is much better suited to the younger set. That part was purely accidental anyway since the airline lost my luggage, and my backpack was literally all I had in addition to the clothes on my back. Given my propensity for mishaps, this isn’t surprising.
Going to Germany all alone wan’t the least bit intimidating. I knew I could figure things out, like train schedules and restaurant menus. I got really good at asking “Sprechen sie English?” as soon as I needed help with something. Most Germans seem to know at least a little English. When they don’t, a few hand gestures work just fine. Of course, I had a few hiccups along the way. Aside from my lack of luggage, which was remedied with a shopping trip after twice having washed my underwear out in the bathroom sink, I did misinterpret my train schedule one evening. Without realizing that all trains to Aachen stopped at 11:20 p.m., I had a late night rendez-vous with the station master in Belgium. He was kind enough to call a taxi for me once we established, with cave man talk and hand gestures, that I had missed the last train and was stranded. Alone. It was an expensive mistake, as I ended up paying 55 euros for the taxi back to Germany.
I really enjoyed my day in Belgium and would love to go back soon. Brussels and Antwerp were both amazing cities to visit. The beer, the chocolates, the waffles–all delicious! Brussels, especially, will hold a special place in my heart since this is where a handsome, young waiter generously gave me an ego boost which, at this stage of the game, is a gift. At 38, with four children, I’m pretty sure my sex appeal has fallen away like the leaves on my ficus tree that never gets watered. After chatting with this fellow for a short amount of time, relying on his suggestions for food and beer, he asked what hotel I was staying in and would I like to have some company! As creepy as that might seem, I was flattered and will be eternally grateful to him, even though I did decline…I swear!
Antwerp is an energetic and eclectic city, where I talked to a Hassidic Jew, a Texan expat, an Irishman, and had lunch in a pub owned by Russians who served Croque Monsieurs. There are really great jazz clubs and museums, breweries and restaurants, and many, many bicyclists. I loved how the city center has bike lanes that were more crowded than the actual streets. Even ladies in dresses and heels were commuting to work on bikes. No wonder they’re so thin!
The whole reason for this trip, which took me from Washington, D.C. to Aachen, Germany and Antwerp, Belgium, was to conduct research for a book I’m writing. It will be loosely based on my great-grandmother’s experience emigrating from Germany to the U.S. in 1904, as a 16-year-old girl. Her story has always intrigued me, so I’m taking bits and pieces of it, adding my own imaginings, and turning it into a historic fiction novel. Stay tuned!