From Edmonds to Paris: German castles, apple strudel and my transformation to tour guide
As I mentioned in my last post, I spent a recent long weekend in Germany, where I met up with my aunt and cousin and visited family friends from Mountlake Terrace who live near the giant Air Force and NATO base in Kaiserslautern in the Southwest of the country as English teachers. “K-Town,” as the non-German locals call it, features a population of which over half are American military personnel and their families, making it the largest settlement of Americans outside the US. I had the awesome opportunity to visit this “little America” in addition to visiting some adorable little German towns in the region. In addition, my aunt and my cousin were beginning their own European voyage, inspired by my stay in Paris, and they were to meet me in Kaiserslautern to stay the weekend before moving on to France.
On the first night, we visited the Landstuhl castle ruins which dates from the 12th century. We climbed the castle’s tower to see a breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape: the lush green rolling hills, the orange roofs of the adorable villages, the colorful autumn forests. We proceeded to the castle’s restaurant for a delicious dinner: I indulged in a rich and creamy pumpkin soup, followed by spinach and ricotta ravioli in a delicious white sauce.
I slept off my full stomach and was plenty energized for the next day, where we made a trip to the sweet little town of Bernkastel/Keus, situated right along the Moselle River. We immediately hopped on an hour-long boat tour to float down the Moselle. We bought a bottle of delicious Riesling as we passed infinite hills covered up and down in vineyards. We listened to the Germans singing folksongs and shouting and waving to a tour bus driving the same speed on the adjacent road. After we finished the bottle, we realized the boat had been in motion for over an hour without turning around. Instead of making the wise decision to ask what the deal was, the Riesling in us instructed us to order yet another bottle of Riesling. After we finished that bottle, we realized we were quite far from our starting place and the driver had seemingly no intention of turning back. We were hungry and with only the sweet white wine in our stomachs, were getting a little too tipsy for sitting on this boat all day long.
The attendants finally informed us that this was, in fact, a one-way boat, which was dropping off a group of tourists to be picked up several miles down the river. Hence the tour bus following the boat on the adjacent road. The attendants called ahead and ordered us a taxi to pick us up at the next stop. A van arrived with an English-speaking driver who asked us if we prefer the cheaper and quicker route up and over the mountains. We stopped listening at cheaper and quicker and nodded enthusiastically, with nothing but the thought of dinner on our minds. The mountainous road was incredibly narrow, windy and treacherous and the driver seemed to have forgotten where his breaks were — I guess the autobahn mentality extends to rural roads? He at one point looked in his rear-view mirror and commented that we all looked green in the face, which I didn’t doubt. We finally arrived, found the closest place advertising apple strudel, and felt again prepared to continue the journey.
Later that night we arrived in Trier, the birthplace of Karl Marx, to visit the “Porta Nigra.” The enormous stone monument once served as the Roman city gate and was built in the first or second century AD! The cool history continued on my third and final day in Germany, when we visited the picturesque and very well reconstructed Heidelberg Castle. The views from the top of the castle were incredible as we looked over the village’s church steeples and the river Neckar below, and of course more rolling green hills and autumn landscapes.
I was then escorted on to the Kaiserslautern base with my family friends for a little taste of home in this “little America.” We stopped first to eat lunch at Chili’s. Now I don’t normally eat out at chain restaurants even in the United States, but I have to say, it was pretty incredible to munch on chips and salsa, to scarf down an enormous portion of quesadilla, to sip on a strawberry lemonade, to have my water glass refilled every eight seconds, to not have to ask for the check, and to be in and out of a meal in under an hour. We then moved on to the giant American-style grocery store, complete with an enormous parking lot and pumpkin pyramids outside the entrance. I walked in and felt like I had died and gone to heaven — it took quite a bit of restraint to not put everything I saw into my basket. Cheddar cheese! Black beans! Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough! Kraft and Nestle and Sargento and every American brand of comfort food that I had been missing so desperately in Europe. I settled for a couple staples that would preserve well and make for some tasty meals back in France. I bought as many cans and boxes and bottles and bags as I could carry on the train ride home. Thank goodness I wasn’t flying RyanAir!
It was a perfect weekend of relaxation and family, a much-needed break after living in the huge city day in and day out. However, the very next day, I had a friend from college arrive in Paris. I was excited — while feeling a little obligated — to play tour guide. I was proud of my city and didn’t want to let him run loose and see all the wrong places in the little time he had. However, it was also midterms week, so I would show Eric a particular area of Paris for a few hours after my tests each day, then I would return home late at night to study for the next day’s tests. And when my tests were finally over at the end of the week, my aunt and cousin arrived in Paris for a five-day stay. I showed them the same monuments that I had initially shown myself, and then to Eric: We hit the Eiffel Tower, the Sacre Coeur church on the Butte of Montmartre, the gardens, Concorde, Notre Dame, and Saint Michelle. (Eric and I also made an overwhelming trip to the Louvre, after which we headed to the nearest happy hour as fast as we could.)
Eric left, my family left, and I was left with a few days to myself before two girlfriends from college came to visit me: Karla, whom I had visited in Spain, and her close friend Katie, who is studying in Grenoble. We hit all the same stops on the all-inclusive tour that I had now given three times (I gotta start charging for this) but we girls also had to stop to gawk at Louis Vuitton and to buy a Lauduree macaron on the Champs-Elysees. They, too, fell in love with Paris, and I was once again thrilled to have given someone the very same experience I had undergone after first arriving in Paris.
After these three consecutive weekends I was exhausted and hadn’t prioritized my hygiene or appearance, exercise, sleeping, eating, emailing, laundry, or blogging, but it was all worth it to see the faces of my friends and family light up each time we entered a new area of Paris. I felt incredibly proud of the city’s beauty and I was thrilled to see how it had impacted others the way it had impacted me. And I have to admit, I played it cool when they “oooo”-ed and “ahhh”-ed at the sights, but inside I got butterflies every time.
The weeks have gone by so incredibly quickly. I’m thrilled by the change of pace because it has made me so sure of my choice to come to Paris: It took some time, but I am finally having the time of my life. I miss home and I am rather excited for the next six weeks to pass quickly, but at the same time, I feel a bit anxious that I won’t accomplish everything, that my language skills won’t have advanced enough, that I won’t have visited and seen everything that Paris has to offer. But I am reassured by the fact that I am only 20 years young and will have plenty of opportunities to return. Le monde m’appartient, the world is my oyster.
Au Revoir from Paris!
Amanda Waldron, a 2010 graduate of Edmonds-Woodway High School and a junior at Santa Clara University, is studying in Paris this fall and has agreed to write about her experiences for My Edmonds News.