After experiencing Verdon earlier in the year, I thought a long road trip through l’Hexagone would be a good test of whether my rusting French was loitering in the background or if it could be restored to its former sheen simply through daily usage. To my luck, Germany decided this year to observe both the last day of October and the first of November, so I took bridge days on both sides and rolled up my sleeves in preparation for practicing my first foreign language again. Only… like my London photos, I never got around to planning any such road trip, so a couple weeks before I was due to leave I started looking at how else I might get in a dose of French before the calendar flipped to 2018. It turns out flying to Nice on Swiss was cheaper booked on Lufthansa’s website than on Swiss’ own (for the same booking class, even), so I ended up with a road trip through Germanic countries into the German-speaking region of another. But a short flight over cloudy Alps later, I was where I could practice French at long last.
If a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday in Germany, or at least in Bavaria, there is a tendency to use the day between the holiday and the previous or following weekend as a “bridge” day in order to create a four-day weekend with just one vacation day. Normally, such a weekend is spent in the Allgäu, storming summits and chasing contrails. This year seemed wetter and most weekends were busier than normal, so a good number of trips fell over those deceptively-short weekends. On one such weekend, maybe the warmest one this year, I ended up in England instead of the Allgäu.
Being behind on blog posts affords the benefit of having more time to contemplate my experiences but adds the risk of forgetting nuances. Blowing the dust off a three-month old trip and the thousand photos that accompanied it is a bit of an endeavor, but this post starts another month and a half before that. In January, I had a business trip to China that began with me watching the sun rise from business class, a perk of work travel while on a German contract.
The trip was short and didn’t leave much free time to ponder. The last time we saw blue skies was just before we descended into the industrious smog, but on our last day rains the previous evening washed away enough particulate to allow the sun to poke through just after sunrise.
Less than two months afterward, I would watch a sunrise coming into the same airport (albeit from “poky” economy class), this time, though, en route to a destination where the forecast predicted no smog but rather enveloping fog.
I thought my 2016 travels would end with Vienna, but any remaining frugality gave way to a lingering hunger for the high mountains. It started with a landscape photographer‘s exhibition in nearby Isny; after seeing his photographs I wanted a panorama that I myself could print two meters wide and knew exactly which scene I wanted for that hanging. Or, perhaps, it started with my awoken mountain fascination in 2007 and was thereafter stoked with my discovering Zermatt in 2011. But so it was that I forwent Thanksgiving 2015 and borrowed a set of snowshoes to take that panorama of a lake I had photographed nearly a half-dozen times. The mountain pass was frozen and closed, so again I took the car train under the mountain and to my lost valley. Different year, different month, different car; same inexplicable thirst.
Going to China used to be the “big” vacation trip of the year, not only because it was usually around a 24 hour one-way journey that required at least three flights and a visa but also because it used up just about all of my vacation days for the year. Germany’s vacation policy offers far more than ten vacation days, so this year again I could head back to my birth country without the weight of vacation planning on my mind. With a nonstop flight from Munich to Beijing, the flight logistics also weren’t an issue, so how rough could the experience be?
Twice during the trip, my buddy asked if I would go back to Scotland. Both times I was pensive but hesitant, unsure what hadn’t been sitting right in the few days I had been there so far. It wasn’t until my penultimate night, watching the sun set en route to my overnight on Islay, that the reason for my unease began to dawn on me.
This has been a rather odd start to the year — for one, it’s the first time I’ve lived abroad in winter, but beyond that my trips have come rather unexpectedly quickly and furiously. Somehow, a trip to another German city was snuck into the itinerary, though only thanks to a visiting college friend who found time during his work trip to meet me in Nürnberg. Unfortunately, we were about a month late to make it in time to see the Christkindlmärkte, so we decided to check out the museums instead.
Germany, and indeed much of Europe, has a rather less-limiting vacation policy than the United States and also allows the accumulation of flextime; I had both to get rid of both before the end of the year. I decided to go somewhere whose native language wasn’t one I already spoke, but also one whose fabric wasn’t completely foreign: I had little time to plan the trip, would fly back to the U.S. the day after I returned from the trip, and was hosting friends the weekend I left so had little time to prepare and pack.
The weekend of my trip east, we visited Neuschwanstein on a Saturday afternoon. One of the highlights of the castle tour is a balcony that faces mostly west. In the evening, the balcony apparently closes before the castle does, so it’s only natural that the sunset that night was spectacular. Fortunately, there is a large window on the now-locked door to the balcony, allowing me to bid farewell to mountains for a month.