This is a quick update. I am counting this as day 3, even though it is technically my fourth day here. It is 2am, and for the first time, I seem to be experiencing “jet lag,” though it’s hard to tell. I am often up at 2am.
One of the things I am most enjoying about this trip so far is the opportunity to get to know my mom a bit more.
When I was growing up, she was my mom. Now I am old enough and have enough distance to appreciate her more as a person. This is how I am finding our relationship has changed—evolved—over the years.
Last night we stayed up well past my bedtime. I was drinking a beer. She was drinking a Diet Coke. And we talked about religion and politics, two subjects one should never bring up in polite company, but which have always been topics of fascination for both of us.
There are also nice moments when I say to myself, “Oh! So that’s why I am the way that I am.” Like this morning, her coach said we should grab breakfast around 7 and leave at 7:45 or 8. She woke up at about 5:30, and we were both packed and ready to go by 6:15. We decided to go and have breakfast then. I drank coffee and ate a pear. She sipped tea and munched on cucumber and tomato slices (German breakfasts are different). And we talked some more about—you guessed it—religion and politics.
We did the tourist thing yesterday, rode a bus and listened to a narrator tell us about the Berlin Wall and the official drink of Berlin (a light beer with a shot of some kind of syrup, which apparently now only tourists drink). After that, coach Val and his wife Irena stayed and out did whatever they do (partied or something, I guess). My mom and I went back to the hotel. I FaceTimed my kids and then took a nap. She knitted. After that, we both went to the grocery store to see about buying a special kind of chocolate for my sister (no luck yet, Joan), some treats for my kids and Stephanie (it’s her birthday), and something light to eat. We went to three different stores. We finally split a veggie sandwich on a baguette.
Not to be a buzzkill, but I was thinking earlier that my mom is not going to be around forever. We went back and forth a bit about whether or not I was going to come on this trip, as she tried to figure out whether I really wanted to go, and I tried to figure out whether she really wanted to take me. I am glad she did. Germany is fun. I am glad to have stayed a couple nights in Berlin. What I am most glad about is the chance to spend some time with her, to get to now her a bit better, and, like I said, to get to understand myself. She is a big reason I am the way that I am, and for that I am grateful.
I am sitting in the lobby of the Days In on Kögelstraße in Berlin, listening to some pretty awesome pop the desk attendant is playing, and drinking a Red Bull, because in Germany they are sane about the hours they ask people to work. The convenience store opens at 7. By American standards, that’s not very convenient. But people here seem to know when to stop working.
So far I love this trip. Getting here was not “half the fun.” It was pretty disorienting. This is my first time in Europe, and my body is not used to flying so far against the sun, so to speak. I consider the fact that I woke up at 3:30am, my usual time, to mean I have successfully overcome jet lag.
There are lots of little things I could post pictures of. I successfully used my German four times. Everyone here speaks English. Some guys from Vietnam were checking in yesterday afternoon, talking to the person behind the desk in English. There was one maintenance guy at the airport and a security guard in a Bank who either did not speak English or could not figure out within two seconds that we were Americans. Mom’s coach, Val, was trying to buy Euros. The security guard invited us to stop hanging around by the door and step into line, and since I could not, in that moment, puzzle together something like, “We are waiting on our friends,” I just replied, “Wir bin gut.” But now that I think about it, the Urban Dictionary connotation of that statement might have given the wrong impression.
Back to why I was talking about German in the first place, I do not want to be the kind of American who assumes that everyone else should speak English (dammit!). I figure it is polite to make an effort “auf Deutsch.” Once the other person figures out I am an American, they switch to English. It is easier for them, and they do not have to listen to me butcher their mother tongue.
I can read German better than I can speak it. My mom asks me what certain signs say, and I have so far been able to tell her. Google Translate helps me with some vocab I cannot remember and basic phrases I have not used since high school.
Me: Wie ist der Berlinerkindl (How is the Berlinerkindl [beer]).
Man Behind the Counter: Er…it costs 1.60€. [I have no recollection of what his actual German words were.]
Me: Um…ist es gut Bier? (Is it a good beer?)
Man Behind the Counter: Ah! Yes. It is a good beer!
And he was right. It was a pretty good beer, a lot better than what I could get in Nashville for about $2.50. That is one thing I have noticed about Berlin so far. Beer is cheaper. So is chocolate. Beer, chocolate, and not working 24/7. These people have their priorities straight.
I am sitting in my inlaws’ living room, waiting for my old iPad to restart, typing a blog post on my phone. I leave for Germany soon. My mom is picking me up in a couple of hours. We are going to drive with her coach to Chicago, and from there fly to Germany with a stop over in Ireland. We are going to stay a couple days in Berlin and then head up to Stralsund for the competition.
I am not sure of the competition schedule after that. I tend not to plan my itinerary when I travel. My mom has Berlin all planned out. I will be watching my mom compete, and apart from that I have no idea what I am doing. The adventure for me is in not having a plan, but when I arrive, looking for something non-touristy to do. Like last time I was in New York, I walked, looking for a diner, and wound up at the one that inspired Seinfeld and the song, “Tom’s Diner.” I enjoyed eavesdropping on the conversation between the guys behind the counter and a regular they called, “Professor.” I think he was from Columbia, doing something with political science, but the guys behind the counter seemed to think he was a meteorologist because they asked him if they were supposed to get a lot of snow this winter. It was charming.
So that is some of what I expect will happen, but I am really not sure. I have no plan. I do have my passport and will be updating my blog as I travel. Stay tuned.
Preparing for my trip to Germany, I got on Verizon’s webpage and used their trip planner to try to determine which international options would be most cost-effective for me. As I kept trying to fine tune my estimates, I noticed that it kept suggesting the same plan. So then I tried something:
What happens if I kick all the settings to their maximum?
I only have a few moments to type this update because I am a bit sleep deprived. The past two weeks have been kind of nuts. First, the transmission that started acting up in June finally gave out. So we have been trying to figure out transportation. I am currently taking the bus while the car sits in the shop’s queue. I hope to have it back by Wednesday. This means I had my first Uber experience, and Stephanie has been having the time of her life being the sole driver. The upside to all of this has been that I have been getting good writing. Once my car is fixed, I think I will start taking the commuter bus once or twice a week. It is an extra couple hours for me to write. I do good writing on a bus.
Then I have been interviewing potential instructors for Vanderbilt Summer Academy. So far, the candidates have been great. The challenge is finding the right balance of courses. Thirty three spots. There are scheduling conflicts, personality conflicts, and a balance of courses to try to work out. It is all one big logic problem.
That’s it for now. The kids are being destructive, and I have a bus to catch.