One thing that really struck home for me today about being in Germany, is that the rest of Europe is not across the Atlantic Ocean. It is often strange enough for me to realize I am actually in Germany, but it is even stranger to realize that France is to Germany what Ohio is to Michigan. Case in point: I hopped on the train today, spent the afternoon in Frankreich, and am now back home. Granted, the journey was longer and more convoluted than that summary makes it seem, but this was only because I was trying to go on the cheap. Were I to do things the normal easy way, my trip would have probably been a mere one and a half or two hours by train. Granted, the major difference between going from Michigan to Ohio and going from Germany to France is the language barrier… I have my doubts about Michiganders ever communicating with Buckeye fans.
No no, seriously. I was lucky to be traveling with a group of au pairs that included one from France, because otherwise I might have been in deep trouble. Strasbourg, the city we visited, is only barely over the border into France, but amazingly, they all speak French there–not German. (This is not to say my German is anything amazing, but I can communicate with it these days. Mein Deutsch ist nicht immer richtig, aber die Leute können meinstens es verstanden.) I was therefore lucky to be traveling with a group of other au pairs, including one fellow American, one Parisian, and two Finns. Thanks to the French au pair, we were able to make our way around and not get cheated out of money by waiters without scruples. (I was going to phrase that differently, but I can never remember if it is “unscrupulous” or “inscrupulous.” I see spell-check tells me it is the former.) We also communicated primarily in English, as all five of us were still working on our German, and the non-Americans spoke English better than French. All in all, we had a lovely day. Strasbourg was beautiful, and would have been even more so had the sun been out. I look forward to going back. Déborah (die Französin) found us some good places to eat with real French food, we watched street artists doing caricatures, saw another freaking amazing cathedral, took pictures of the mimes… The only hitch was that the bus I had to catch to get there arrived twenty minutes late. The Shönbuchbahn was closed for repairs, which would have made things so much easier, but even with being late things worked out. As I said earlier, we were traveling cheaply. This meant buying a 27 Euro group ticket for the five of us, and then taking slow trains, switching four or five times before stopping just outside of the French border, where we had to take two more buses and a tram to get to the inner city because the Baden-Würtemburg ticket does not apply for France. The way back was a little easier. We decided to skip the two-buses-and-a-tram part, and just make a quick jump on the train across the border. Still, we had to switch another three times before we were all back in Böblingen, and even then I had to catch a bus home. Next time I go, I will definitely look into a simpler way of getting there.
That being said, I still love riding trains. It would be nice if America had a good rail system like Europe. Maybe it does and I just never use it, but I am pretty sure this is not the case. There is no train stop within walking distance of my house, nor the houses of any of my friends. Here, they are all over. Holzgerlingen is one heck of a tiny town, but it has three train stops. I could almost set my watch by them: when I see a train go by, I know it is either quarter past of quarter till the hour. I think I will miss them when I go home. Like the bell towers. I love being able to hear the bells. Particularly on Sundays, when they ring almost all day. They toll the hour, the quarters of the hour, before Mass starts, at the consecration… I usually have to be outside to hear them well, but if I listen closely I can sometimes make them out. It is easier late at night. But I digress. (You know I never do that here.) I was talking about trains. One of the nice things about them is that when you ride them, you are free to read, or talk, or look out the window, or write letters… I did all of them today. There is also lots of waiting around in the station, and this is not so nice. And people… lots of people. Public transportation is like that, I suppose. Public means it is not just for you. But I did have a great time on the train. The country outside, when we could see it in the morning, was quite stunning. I have mentioned this before, but Germany is gorgeous. Also, the Finns were amazing.
If you were hoping this would be a short post, this is the point where I realize I have more to say than I thought. This has been a public service announcement…
Right. So back to the Finns. They were a pair of second cousins, one of whom was only a week older than me, but the oldest of twelve siblings. The youngest in her family was only five months old. I was excited for her, and told her that I thought it would be amazing to have such a large family, and she gave me this big grin and said she loved it. Of course, I guess these days most people consider a family of seven to be large, but compared to the families I grew up with, five kids is nothing. So the Finnish second cousins were really sweet, and looked alike. Straight blonde hair, light grey eyes that slanted upward just a little, and high cheek bones, and the same mouth, although here my powers of description fail me. I could draw it much better. I loved listening to them speak Finnish with each other. Perhaps its obscurity struck my fancy, but something about it made me think it was one of the most beautiful languages I had ever heard. And although neither of them spoke very good English, the way they used the English they did know charmed me. For example, because it was cold out, we were talking with them about what Finland is like in the winter. Winter is beautiful, they told us. Especially when it is twenty or thirty degrees out (I assume below Celsius), and there is snow on the ground, and the stars are shining… “they are like diamonds,” one of them told us. The casual way in which she said it struck me, and made me wonder if Finns are natural born poets, to be able to speak in clear metaphor in a language largely unfamiliar to them. And as I was pondering this, the same girl added, “oh, and the candles in the ice are so pretty.” Did she add a comment about the Northern Lights? I forget. I was too blown away by candles in ice. I know we talked about that later. But of course, what made the Finns so endearing was how they could be speaking of the beauties of their homeland one moment, and the next make a joke about how (very important) Finland is where Santa Claus lives. And as beautiful as I find their language, listening to them reciting Finnish tongue twisters is one of the funniest things I have ever heard. Also, Finns are wild about saunas.
Well, that is quite all for now. The other thoughts I had can be saved for another post, this has gone on quite long enough. Also, it is past one in the morning for me, which is much later (earlier?) than I ought to be attempting to write. Especially after a day like today. Ich bin Müde.
You will also note that this is the first time die Amerikanerin has spoken Deutsch on her blog. As far as she can remember, in any case, although I dare not rely on my memory this early in the morning. I even switched between first and third-person perspective in that sentence without meaning to. Ha ha. Good night. Schlaft gut.