Saturday, February 18, 2012


Note to self for future reference:

2 trains + 1 hotel + 1 shuttle + 3 flights + 150 pounds of luggage + extreme jet lag = Recipe for disaster

In all fairness, my journey back to America started out quite smoothly. After a tearful goodbye to the family I worked for (have I mentioned that I am REALLY going to miss those kids?), I caught the train to Hamburg on Friday night. Once in Hamburg I hauled my bags across the street to the metro station where I took a 25 minute tram ride to the station closest to my hotel. A nice man even helped me get my luggage down the three flights of stairs separating me from the street (no elevators!). I then walked 2 blocks to my hotel and, around 9:30pm, checked in. I ordered room service and was even treated to complimentary ice cream before settling in for a short 4.5 hours of sleep before waking up at 4:00am to head to the airport.

Now, I’ll admit, I was nervous about my luggage. I knew it was heavy—heck, I literally have blisters from dragging it around Hamburg—but I wasn’t exactly sure how heavy. I had weighed it back at my apartment and knew it was right on the edge of the allowed limit and I prayed I wouldn’t rack up a fortune in fines when I placed my bags on the scale. The first suitcase I weighed was overweight by 2 kilos. However, the second one was slightly underweight and the very kind American Airlines lady let it slide. J

My first flight (to London) went very well. I was even able to navigate the monstrosity that is Heathrow Airport with relative ease and on our descent I spotted Big Ben (those of you who have been around since my adventures studying abroad will remember my obsession with this particular monument), which reminded me all over again how much I adore that city. Unfortunately, the universe must have thought I needed a little more time to rekindle my love affair with London because my flight to Chicago was delayed. For 5 hours.

Of course, a five hour delay plus a nine-hour flight meant I wasn’t getting in to Chicago until after 6pm on Saturday (which felt like 1am on Sunday to me—hello 24 hours without sleep, my name is Christina). By the time I cleared customs every flight going to Minneapolis was either gone or sold out. Every. Single. One.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I ended up spending my first night back in America in a hotel room in the Windy City.

Instead of a happy reunion with my family I am alone in Chicago, fighting sleep in an effort to reacquaint my poor body with Central Standard Time. And, I have to admit, the situation is not ideal. But, in spite of everything, I can’t call it a total loss. After all, when the customs agent stamped my passport and said “Welcome Home,” those 2 little words I’ve been waiting and waiting to hear, something like joy tap-danced in my chest. It’s good to be home… almost

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Baby Love

On my second to last night in Germany it will surprise no one to learn that I am both incredibly happy and a wee bit sad. I am thrilled to be going to my family and friends, to a language that doesn’t trip me up every time I want to use a preposition, to the potential for a legitimate “big-girl” job, to a place that feels like home. But, on the flip side, I will miss Germany very much. In the last six months I have grown very fond of the bakeries, the bread, the trains, cobblestone streets and, of course, the family that I work for. I will miss the children most especially and, after dedicating half a year of my life to their care, it’s difficult to realize that I will no longer being seeing them every day.

So, in honor of the three children who I have come to truly adore, I would like to post a list entitled “10 Things I Learned as an Au Pair.” It’s a little funny, a little serious and a lot true.

1. Baby laughter can make even the worst day sunnier.

2. “No (Nein)” and “Mine (Mein)” are a two-year-old’s favorite words in any country and any language.

3. It’s a lot harder to explain the English language than it is to speak it.

4. “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” can stop a flood of tears in an instant.

5. There is nothing that will melt your heart like having a baby fall asleep in your arms.

6. Kids can bite really hard considering how small they are.

7. Being silly is an important part of life.

8. It really is possible to read a book so many times that you memorize it—even in a foreign language! (“Huhuhu!” weint der kleine Hase, “Mein Ball ist weg, mein schoner bunter Ball.” … and so on and so forth)

9. Dance parties in the living room are good for the soul

10. Patience really is a virtue. Really. It is.

It may not be a list worthy of Letterman, but it ranks pretty high in my book...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Last Saturday

One week from this very moment I will be landing in Chicago, and even though I will have to endure yet another flight before finally making it back to the freezing wilds of Minnesota, I will effectively be home. And, after half a year away, home is exactly where I want to be. Of course, it’s never as simple as walking onto an airplane, plugging in your iPod and enjoying the ride. First, there is the packing.  

Now, I generally consider myself to be a pretty good packer. I’m quick (it took me less than 3 hours to pack for 6 months in Germany), I’m efficient (I am a hardcore list-maker so once I’ve decided what I’m bringing all I have to do is throw it in the suitcase and check it off) and I’m compact (I regularly travel with little more than a small backpack in tow). Additionally, I am not by nature a “shoe person,” which I understand is a weakness for many women, and since shoes are heavy and take up a lot of space, I see lack of a footwear fetish as an extreme advantage in the packing realm.

A clear winter day in Hamburg
I am not, however, a very good re-packer. In fact, I am a terrible re-packer. At the end of a trip I will wait until the very last minute to frantically toss my unfolded clothes back into my suitcase, shoehorn any souvenirs into the open spaces and then squish the ends together and pray that the whole thing zips. Of course, this mad dash to the finish inevitably ends with me leaving something behind when I go. I’ve left sunglasses in Texas, mittens in Paris, my favorite sweatshirt in London and half of a bathing suit in the Turks and Caicos Islands. By now I pretty much expect to come home missing something I never intended to get rid of.

And yes, the rational side of me realizes that if I just thought things through a little more and packed my bag the night before instead of the morning of my departure, I could avoid the lunacy. Yet, here I am, twenty-four years old and a fairly seasoned traveler and I am doing everything in my power to avoid repacking the things I carted with me to Germany. To make matters worse, when I was cleaning my apartment yesterday I also came to the horrifying conclusion that I have accumulated an awful lot of crap in the last six months and shoving it into two suitcases is going to require some serious finesse and one of Mary Poppins’ magic carpet bags.

Hamburg Rathaus (Town Hall)
So, on my last Saturday in Germany, when I ought to have been organizing my life and hauling my suitcases down from the rafters, I ignored the intelligent plan of action and took the train into Hamburg one last time. I window shopped, bought myself ice cream even though it was freezing cold outside and said a few nostalgic goodbyes to the people and places that have become so familiar in the last six months. I even happened upon an English bookstore and bought a 1,300-page novel, which I am hoping will keep me occupied as I traverse an ocean and seven time zones next week.

It was a good day, a happy day, and as I boarded the train back to Stade I was glad I had decided to avoid the disaster zone that has become my apartment for a few hours. Of course, no happy day in my life is complete without a crazy story and this was no exception…

 As soon as I got on the train I knew it was going to be a long ride. The cars were full to bursting and so I ended up standing. As more and more people squeezed their way on I was pushed further and further to the back of the car until I was standing with my back against the wall. In front of me was an old woman with a black ski cap who kept yelling at anyone who tried to get on the train (and while I appreciated the sentiment, she was making quite a fuss). Next to me was a man and his dog (it is quite common for people to bring their dogs on buses, trains and subways here). Somehow, in the midst of the chaos and the yelling the dog ended up sitting between my feet. Now, I like dogs and this one was cute and seemed well-behaved so I didn’t think much of it… until he started licking my pants (Remember that ice cream I mentioned earlier? I may have spilled some of it on my jeans). So now I am squished between dozens of strangers with a strange dog licking my pants, scrambling to find something to hang on to as the train zips out of the city. And all I can think is that this utterly bizarre experience is the perfect end to my last Saturday in a country that has made me laugh and cry and dance and scream…