So I told you about my mini-solo travel experience in Hong Kong. Next, it was Germany that tested me and I am grateful that they happened in the order they did. Rule #2: Always ask for help.
For months, I told my girlfriend, we’ll call her Vera, who is from Germany, that I’d love to go when she goes back to visit. At every brunch we had together, she’d gush about the straight-forward people, the historic architecture, the fresh food and of course, the beer. “Let me know and I’ll book my flight! I’ve got to have a beer with you in your stomping grounds.” And finally it was happening, she was there and I was going.
When I landed in Frankfurt, I refreshed my frizz in the airport bathroom and quickly realized how very little was translated to English. And unlike the Parisian airport, there was no friendly man waiting to sell me a portable wifi device, so I would have to rely on hunting for free wifi in cafes and public spaces. Once I found the train station, I kept Vera updated of my whereabouts. I bought a ticket for around $8 and was on my merry little way to Koln, about an hour anyway from Frankfurt. No one was staring. No one cared one way or the other that I was there and that made me very happy. It was like New York in that sense. I boarded my train to find the chrome doors parting as if I had boarded the Star Trek enterprise. It was beautiful and modern. Plush seating, chrome everything and wood grain everything else. I was in awe of how far my $8 was stretching! As we departed, a lush green countryside of rolling hills and the occasional castle unravelled. An attendant appeared to take my latte order and offered me an German newspaper. I continued to be astounded by the level of service! The complimentary wifi was the icing on the cake.
After about a half hour, another attendant approached to see my train ticket. She said something to me in German. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders as “no hablo Espanol” wasn’t applicable here. “English?” She asked me and I nodded again. “You have the wrong ticket. Do you have another?” It didnt take long before we figured out either I had bought the wrong ticket or I had boarded the wrong train. Either way, I had to get off at the next stop about 10 minutes from now. As she walked away, I gave way to a heavy sigh. Of course, this was the wrong train, it was way too nice for $8! I tried to look on the bright side, as I was about half way to Koln at this point. Another text to Vera and I boarded the train I was supposed to be on. This one felt like it cost $8 as it was much slower and had no bells, whistles or wifi. My map app was having trouble keeping up with my location. It was a gray icon instead of blue and this is where the trouble ensued.
I went “osten” when I shouldve went “norden.” I couldn’t figure out if I was at Klobenz, Neuwied or Andernach. All the names ran together. The announcer was muffled, the stops were about 15 minutes apart and I couldn’t make out which stop we had passed. As beautiful as the scenic ride was, I just wanted to get there and it had already been 2.5 hours since I had left the airport. I got off at the next stop, figuring out that I had passed the one I needed for a transfer. However, once I stepped onto the platform, I was lost again. I spotted a heaven-sent beer kiosk centered on the platform, but was sad to see it closed. Nothing was in English, there was no wifi to translate the signs and my translator app apparently never finished downloading offline. Panic started to creep up on me and I was already breaking Rule #1. I got the idea in my head that if someone were to hear my accent and discover that I am American, they would take advantage of me. I was afraid because this was my first solo experience in a country that was non-English or non-Spanish speaking. At least, if things were in Spanish, I would get by, but this was something else altogether. Even trying to pronounce the German words were a painful Hooked-On-Phonics lesson. I was quickly approaching the 3 hour mark, my friend was waiting for me and I started to feel embarrassed of my incompetency. I was completely alone and lost in the countryside of Frankfurt. I took a deep breath and tried to shrug it off. I found a weak signal of wifi and was able to determine my next move.
The only problem was, I was still unsure if my maps app ever knew where I was. Stop after stop continued to be in the wrong direction. It had been 4 hours now and I was near tears. After stepping onto the platform for the fourth time, I finally decided to ask for help. This wonderful female attendant saw the frustration on my face and personally escorted me up and down three different staircases to the correct platform. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and I hugged her. She immediately pushed me off, said “you’re welcome,” and continued on to help the next passenger.
Finally I arrived in Koln! My friend was there to greet me with the biggest smile, a smile I hadn’t seen almost a year. I missed her humor, her laugh and her fowl language! With what time we had left in the day, she graciously showed me around the shops, took me to have the best beer of my life and introduced me to her lively friends. It was her last night in town and it was such a treat to see her so happy and free. After a gluttonous meal of beer, blood sausage, mashed potatoes, and 2 hours of only German conversation, it was time for me to turn in. I bid everyone good night and walked the six blocks to my AirBnB, through the young neighborhood of people headed for a good time. I loved the energy and recorded tipsy-induced videos the whole way home.
Upon reaching my room, I decided I had to stay in Koln one more day as I had wasted a whole five hours of the first one being lost. I woke up the next morning to huge bay windows of the quaint street below. I showered, and went for local coffee and quiche downstairs. I sat for hours on the high-top chair staring out the huge windows of the cafe, curious about the people that seemed so reserved and mysterious. There was only so much I could write in my journal so finished my coffee, filled my water bottle and moved on to the chocolate factory about a 15 minute train ride from the cafe. Still, I didnt do well on the trains. Me, who prided herself for navigating the subways of New York, San Francisco, Miami, Buenos Aires, Atlanta, Dallas, and Paris was having so much trouble in Frankfurt. Oh, it definitely humbled me! This time, I asked for help way sooner and arrived only 15 minutes later than I should have. After finding the cutest knock-off Versace earrings at a decent price in an open-air market, the sun began to descend. I figured since my flight was so early in the morning, I needed to head to the airport now! I asked for assistance immediately upon entering the station and it took me being yelled at by a non-English speaking agent to buy the right ticket back into Frankfurt. I couldn’t even take offense to it because I was the one that was ignorant. This time, I arrived on schedule.
So much of the American media’s fear mongering propaganda caught up to me, as I was truly out of my comfort zone. I was so nervous of the unknown that I didnt even want to ask for the help I so desperately needed. There was never anything for me to fear. Many people were minding there own business or just doing their jobs. Also, I realized having a paper map in a country so unfamiliar to me would have made all the difference. Not everything on my Maps app was accurate, nor was it updating with my current location. I could have made notes on a real map and drawn route lines even with the rock-solid language barrier. As a guarded person, I took the same precautions I would on a dark night in an American city. However, my fear of the “angry German” was crippling me from moving forward or even in the right direction. I had to learn to trust that not all people are out to get me. Germany taught me more about myself than of the actual country, and that it is especially important in a foreign place to always ask for help.
Oh, there is definitely more! Stay tuned to see what I thought about my first true solo trip to Madrid, Spain!
Thanks for joining me!
(All the photos in this article belong to the author.)