This is a blog series about my European Tour 2009. Each blog post will have at least one song accompanied with it. Please read day 1, 2, 3, 4-5, 5.5, 6-7, 8 & 9 before proceeding. If you haven’t downloaded the soundtrack for this blog series, please do so here. Song to be played (repeat if necessary) while reading this blog post: The Decemberists – The Crane Wife, Pt 3.
Stepping off the ICE bullet train from Frankfurt to Cologne, I breathed the cool summer morning air of Germany. Looking to my right and then to my left, I saw what I was looking for. A tall, dark and handsome German was waving his hand high and smiling at me. I smiled and waved back as I headed towards him.
“Hello!” He said in his thick German accent.
“Hello Björn,” I replied smiling.
We embraced each other with a long hug.
Björn was my old neighbor three years back. We first met when I knocked on his door, shortly after moving into my first apartment, asking if he had a can opener. We befriended each other and kept in touch when he moved back to Germany. He has visited me twice since he returned home and today, it is my turn to visit him.
With Björn was a beautiful girlfriend, Marian. If you ask me, they could be mistaken for models. They were two gorgeous people and with the most beautiful hearts around. Joining us for the adventure was Nicole, Björn’s sister, and her boyfriend, Matthias; they were visiting from Vienna for the weekend.
Walking out of the Cologne HBF, I was greeting by the towering Dom, the Cologne Cathedral. One of the most magnificent churches and structures I have ever seen. It’s been 4 years since I’ve last seen this breathtaking site when I was last here for WeltJugendTag in 2005.
After a simple breakfast, Björn and I departed to climb the Dom while the rest wandered along the city center.
“Ever climbed the Dom before?” I asked him.
“Ya,” he responded, “Long ago.”
His voice didn’t sound reassuring. Sure enough, as we about to start our ascent to the top of the Dom, we were greeted by a sign informing us that it will take about 30 minutes to climb 475 feet and 533 steps. I looked at him and he looked at me. We both smiled knowing that 1. this is probably a bad idea and 2. it would be a lot of fun.
As we ascended the magnificent structure, the stairs became more narrow and more steep. The cool morning did not lend its way into the tiny spiral staircase, as sweat and humidity build up from the amount of effort of people climbing the Dom. To make matters more interesting, the stair case was a two way street with little place to stop and rest lest you hold up the line behind you.
Step by step, one by one, we climbed higher and higher. I was trying to prove to Björn that being a runner now, I am fit. He was trying to prove to me that just because he’s not a running, though very fit, that he could keep up. Half way up, we turned to each other and nodded. We stopped. Out of breath, we laughed at our feeble attempt to conquer the stairs in one fearless attempt. Sweat was breaking from our faces as we panted.
Arriving to the top of the Dom, we were greeted by fresh, cool air and a spectacular view of the inside of the spire. Breathless not from the stairs but from the colossal beauty that was before us.
With Cologne below and us high above, we marveled not only at the beauty of the Dom but the friendship that we have, keeping in touch all these years across two continents. Looking out towards the southeast, I paused to smile and appreciate the adventure I have experienced so far. So far, I have traveled to 4 countries knowing no one. Amid uncertainty, losses and much joy, today marked the beginning of the end of my journey. No longer am I alone in my adventure, for today I share my adventure with friends for the rest of my trip. Today, I am lucky to share it with Björn.
The drive from Cologne to the northern German countryside was quite epic. Björn, Marian, Nicole and Matthias were laughing at me. I didn’t care, I was on the Autobahn. I was bouncing in my seat as a little kid as we sped over 250 kph. I was flying!
Shortly after 9 am, I was biking through the small German town back to where Björn & Marian lived. I successfully attended a German mass in the town’s only church. Sure, I did turn a few heads being that I was the only non-German present, but I was use to being a minority.
Cruising through adorable town on a damp gray morning, I couldn’t help but think back at the previous night. I was welcomed to the home of Björn & Marian, where I was treated not as a guest, but as a family member. And as family, I was invited to dinner to celebrate Björn’s aunt’s birthday. Though not German, they welcomed me as one of their own. After dinner, Björn & Marian took me on a tour of their lives in neighboring towns, where we had drinks, shared stories and laughed throughout the night. I was blown away by their generosity & hospitality.
Still reflecting on the previous night’s adventure, I turned down the main street leading towards home. Slowing approaching me on bike was a warm smiling face.
“Ready for breakfast?” Asked Björn
“Ya.” I replied.
I’m not a huge fan of breakfast, but offer me a German breakfast, I will never decline. Dark bread, ham, cheese, Nutella, fruit and coffee? Om, nom, nom!
As it turns out, we were only 15 minutes from the Netherlands. Being that we were so close, I asked if we could cross the border so I can check another country off my list. Björn & Marian laughed at my novel approach to visiting new countries. Björn suggested that we visit the first town across the border so I can see a little more than the border. So after breakfast, we attempt to bike to the Netherlands, only to turn around to get the car because of the forthcoming rain.
During my short time in the Netherlands, I was quickly taught the difference between a “coffee shop” and a “cafe”. Not to mention, I had my obligatory beer from each country. Though amused, Björn & Marian kindly went along with my desire to drink as much foreign beer as possible. They were more coffee drinkers (from a cafe) themselves, but I wasn’t going to complain. I was in the midst of amazing company. No, I was with amazing friends who made me feel at home when I’m so far away. They treated me like family. They became my family.
After returning to Germany, we headed off to the carnival in a nearby town. Prior to entering the carnival, I thought I knew what to expect. Alas, I was wrong. The carnival before me took over half the town. Block after block of streets were shut down for rides, games and food. It took us over an hour and a half to walk through the whole carnival. Never in my life have I seen a carnival this large; heck, I had a hard time believing that a carnival could be this big. Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised. These two days have been filled with amazing little surprises and been beyond wonderful.
That evening, Björn, Marian and I made up for our failed morning bike ride by biking through the German countryside to a nearby town for German ice. It was my last night and I had to leave extremely early the next morning to catch my flight. I didn’t want to leave. Sadden by the though, we made the best of our last hours together. I truly enjoyed and cherished my time with them. Never did I expect the amazing time I just had; but more importantly, never did I expect to find a place to call home abroad. Björn & Marian were spectacular hosts and one of the most amazing friends I have ever met.
The bike back was soothing as we leisurely weaved through the countryside. Behind me was my past. With me are amazing friends joining me for my journey. And before me was a new adventure, ready to be experienced and conquered.