Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Trip Takeaway: Engage in life.

Cat at Neuschwanstein Castle enjoying some gluhwein in Western Bavaria, Germany

From visiting the REAL "Sleeping Beauty" castle to an emergency trip to the US Consulate in Munich, some thoughts on our own "European Vacation"...

Before I get to the numbers, the BIG TAKEAWAY from me is that I want to incorporate some things from this tour into my life, namely, less electronics and more conversation.  

I should stop feeling like I have to "do" something.  Sitting and staring at a beautiful view or even a city street IS "doing something!"  I should not allow my kids' schedules, or ours, to dictate our "lifestyle."  I should never spend my days rushing from activity to activity, but instead, plan breaks, downtime and rest to make a frazzled life an enjoyable one. 

I need to take a breather in the afternoon by having a real kaffee break.  I need to...take the extra five minutes and brew a fresh cup...ditch the paper and plastic and replace with glass and china...and, never, ever, ever eat over the sink!  I need to sit down...to relax..to enjoy...look up from my device...see people...talk to those around me...to engage.  I need to engage in life.  

Life is always worth living well...every minute of every day, every time.

1. Disconnect.  Though we visited some large cities with accompanying First World conveniences, much of our time was in the country and mountains at small inns.  We experienced some sketchy internet connection, unreliable power sources for recharging, and TV was all in German.  We had to--gasp!---talk to each other.  Good.

2. No news from "The Hill."  Being in a news blackout didn't bite.  It didn't bite at all.  I learned about flight #9525 via CNN International in English at the US Consulate two full days afterwards. We had very little US news, and sports were of the European variety not Final Four.  Grateful for zero, zilch, nada US political blather.  My mind was at peace.  REFRESHING!

3. Security.  The US Consulate security is waaay more intense than TSA.  No microscopes, but close.  They made me drink my bottled water in front of two separate officials, and they refused to touch the bottle until I had done so.  They kept all of our electronics, including cords, mouse, and converters, under lock and key until we were done and had left the secured area.

4. Thankfully, we lost a passport in Europe and not _______...just sayin'.

5. Stores close at night.  Restaurants in the country close early and stores aren't open in the evening, even in the city.  People go home and spend time with their families.  They go to cafes and drink espresso/kaffee and bier and maybe eat some kuchen in the afternoon.  Most cafes offer lap robes so you can sit outside in the cold and sip your beverage of choice, enjoying the company of others, or the sights, and the fresh air.

6. Language.  It was fun to sprechen ein bisschen Deutsch, and though most people speak English, they were appreciative of our attempts.  Out in the country, they spoke less English, so I helped a friend with an order.  Thankfully, Schmidty, who spoke fluent German, taught me a bit.

7. Phone addiction.  From what I experienced (and I'm sure this is debatable) US and Asian tourists spend a lot of time staring at and tapping on their phones, not so much the Europeans or European tourists that I saw.  All tourists--Europe/Asia/North America--take copious amounts of pics, mostly on phones, and some groups were really attached to their selfie sticks--watch out as they swing 'em around.  I often felt like a pinata!

8. Cash is still king.  No matter how many variations of chip credit cards you have, you still need plenty of Euros.  And, maybe a few Swiss Francs for Switzerland because some smaller places in Schweiz won't take Euros.  The exchange rate this trip was .96 EUR to 1 CHF, and from mom and pop vendors we received change at a 1:1 ratio and always in Francs.  US Dollars to Euros was keen for us on the trip as we got .98 EUR to 1 USD (plus the exchange fee) and we mostly used Euros or credit cards when we could for a better deal.

9. Diet.  PTL indeed that we did so much walking and hiking otherwise I would have gained 10 pounds instead of 5, ha!  I truly relished my diet of gluten-rich kuchen, brot, brats and schnitzel!  I went back on gluten about 3 weeks before we left so I could get my body used to the poison.  Also, a shout out to NON-GMO foods!!!  YAY!!  Our tour offered gluten-free, kosher and vegetarian options for the included meals, yet there were a couple of people "starving" on the trip.  Planning, people.  Just call your tour company in advance and let them know.  One. Phone. Call.   

10. Tours.  Tours aren't a bad thing, but some people are "tour people" and some people are not.  Personally, I can do both: enjoy a group, or plan my own.  Flexibility is key to enjoying a tour.  People who are "people persons" do better on tours.  And, one must simply accept that there's always that one guy/gal or family.  I personally keep my sense of humor handy--it's a great tool for any situation.  Just go with the flow!

11. Day trips and travel.  Our Austrian guide was shocked when I told her we lived less than 3 hours from the mountains (NC hills) and also the beach but we only go about once or twice a year to each.  She wondered why we didn't go a few times a month?!?  Now, I'm wondering, too...

12. We learned to waltz in Vienna. We took a boat cruise on the Rhein.  We took a cog railway up a mountain, and a gondola lift down (Mt. Rigi)--white knuckles for me the boy.  We drove through the Alps--more white knuckles on the switchbacks.  We saw castles and palaces and places older than sin.  We saw museums and treasures and stuff older than sin.  We ate delicious and interesting food that I will dream about, and we even endured bad food, but it was the adventure that counted.  We drank delightful coffee and espresso, fresh cakes and pastries, and really good German beers.  (Wine?  Meh.)  We visited Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Leichtenstein.  We toured Vienna, Salzburg, Munich, Lucerne, Schaffhausen, and Heidelberg, plus points in between. 

We've already planned our return trip.  Howard and I sans kids!!  You know...

And, there's more.  I'll write about it later. 


vanillasugarblog said...

kitty cat you are such a gifted writer
love reading this, and couldn't agree more about the no news; its very refreshing and actually good for you. I remember reading an article from Dr. Weil about how bad the news is for our brains stress-wise.

Alfonso Galan said...

I'm glad you had such a nice time. I really love the countries/cities you visited. I have to say that I'm content sitting at a cafe, whereas Jenny has to cram as many tourist-y sites as possible in a day. Slow down and smell (and drink) the espresso (sorry, not roses this time).

Staceemaree said...

Mmmm, I will vacation vicariously through you. I will dream of the views that you witnessed, and take away the life lessons that you've learned. And in doing so... I want pictures!!