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.
A week after the comment that there were too many people in the Zermatt area, I ended up going again. That’s a third time in a month: of the five weekends in October, I went to Switzerland for three of them and worked the other two. I left work and headed west, catching the sunset from my favorite mountain pass along the way.
This time, even though the weather was arguably even better than on the prior two trips, the trails were just about deserted.
The first several weeks of my assignment were hectic, from both the perspective of getting settled / moved in and that of the amount of work I’ve had. Fortunately, the workload has since decreased, so naturally to take the place of working breathlessly I’ve chosen to be literally winded: “The mountains are calling,” so the saying begins, but conveniently the strain of getting to be in the mountains is left to the imagination.
Since middle school, I always figured if I lived internationally it’d be in France — I spoke the language, I had studied abroad in the country, and I even visited the Caterpillar factory that was the reason behind my learning the language in the first place. It was also in Grenoble, I think, that my love of mountains was subconsciously awakened. It is thus admittedly strange that three of the past five Independence Days I’ve spent not in France but rather in Germany, and that the language I’m beginning to resort to is now German rather than French. This, the neighbor to what I thought would be my foreign language destination, is now my home for the next months. Round two began quietly, not in Stuttgart as before, but in the Allgäu, heart of the German Alps.
Winter was rather cold in Charleston this year, though sometimes swings in weather bode well for colorful skies at dawn and dusk. I missed a good sunset two weeks ago so headed to Pitt St later that week to make up for it. Clouds extinguished the setting sun quickly, but the trees had started to bud: summer is coming!