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…