Last year, the stars aligned and I crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the very first time. Jamaica's Ministry of Tourism is making all the right moves because I was able to fly from Montego Bay directly to Munich on a Eurowings flight that cost me $459.98 USD. You read that right, I pretty much paid the cost of a ticket to New York and ended up in Europe after a hassle free visa application process. America, what's good?
Friday, December 28
I arrived at Donald Sangster International Airport with a pocket full of locally bought Euros (rookie mistake) and my carry-on (#travelthelocalpathway). After being warned by my host to layer, I made sure to pack sweaters and t-shirts, leggings to go under my jeans, thick socks and a scarf plus knee high boots and winter coat in hand because how would they fit in my carry on? Also packed: breakfast for the next morning and my laptop for entertainment. Both came in handy since my basic ticket literally only got me from point A to B with water as the only refreshment offered and not one free movie choice #worthit.
When I met my friend Markus outside, he offered me another jacket. "I'm fine", I said, "I lived in Colorado that one time and it snowed", I reminded him, "How cold could it be? I'm wearing a t-shirt, a sweater, a jacket, gloves, leggings, jeans and boots", I argued. Silly me. By the time I got into his car I was wearing the jacket he brought, a thicker scarf and a skull cap. Winter in Europe is colder than a brain freeze.
It is free to enter but an audio-guide rental costs €3 so unless you're fluent in German, add this to your budget. As I walked up to the gate, the words Arbeit Macht Frei (work will set you free) caught my attention since they were wound into the top of it. According to my audio guide these words graced the top of the entrance gate to many other concentration camp sites. Immediately across from it there is a monument with this inscription in four languages: May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 - 1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow man. The exhibit is very comprehensive so I recommend starting there and watching the film before going to survey the rest of the property which includes the barracks, old S.S. (schutzstaffel) office, bunker, chapel and several monuments. The most chilling part of the tour was my visit to Barrack X. To describe this place with words is beyond my skill because I cannot begin to craft the sentences necessary to let you, as a reader understand the feeling of walking through a gas chamber. I couldn't even take a picture but my friend got one of the crematorium (picture 3 above) where they would burn the bodies after.
An hour later, we set off to a happy place. Neuschwanstein Castle, or as you may know it "the castle that the Disney World castle is based on", an incomplete medieval style castle about 1 1/2 hours away from Munich.
When we arrived, I had my first taste of Glühwein and after trying it multiple times on the trip, I can safely say the best one was from a little cafe at the base of the castle. There are horse-drawn buggies going up the hill but I recommend walking so you can stop at the stalls along the path to browse but be warned, the walk is steep. Electronic entrance and modern heating system aside, Neuschwanstein was so much like the medieval castles you see in the movies that I felt like I should be wearing a corset and a long layered gown (honestly, I would have probably been warmer if I did so maybe next time). The throne room was my favorite part of the castle because of its sheer opulence. I haven't used that word in years but there are no synonyms to do it justice. Even if I was allowed to touch things in there I'd hesitate and calculate whether or not I could afford to replace the furniture, gold moldings and art work before I dared to move.
Sunday, December 30
Dear Diary, I woke up in Italy today. If I wrote in diaries,this is how my entry would start because it was my first thought before I raced to get ready and out the door as if I would suddenly wake up for real back in Kingston unless I moved quickly.
Italians don't eat much at breakfast and portion sizes are tiny. Pictured above are a chocolate croissant, "medium" cappuccino and Aperol Spritz. Here's what I learned: all chocolate croissants taste like Ferrero Rocher, coffee in Italy is not as good as Jamaica's Blue Mountain Coffee and Aperol Spritz is clearly for the kind of people who enjoy Campari because it is just as bitter.
The breakfast disappointment faded soon enough because the Italian Alps were calling. In Merano, where I was based, there was no snow (climate change) but the surrounding peaks were blanketed in white and Merano 2000, a nearby winter sport attraction that caters to all levels of skiers, snowboarders and ice skaters was open for business.
Not trusting myself to maintain balance on the slopes, I chose what in my estimation was the safest option and made my way to the ice rink. Children as young as four years old were doing figure eights and a bunch of burly men who one might expect to tumble over, were playing hockey. Then there was me, hanging on to the penguin for dear life, in everyone's way, and at the moment of writing this blog almost ten months later, still unable to ice skate.
Monday, December 31
For the second time in my life, I was in a helicopter. The winds were strong. Fear and excitement warred inside me. I must have said a dozen silent prayers while circling the Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Thankfully, the Elikos pilot handled the helicopter very well and landed safely 15 minutes after takeoff with me, Markus and a nice Lithuanian couple.
Later, Markus' sister-in-law invited us to a fondue dinner party which I was shocked to discover involved cooking raw meat in boiling soup and not the bread dipped in cheese that I expected. Tastier than it sounds, I promise.
Tuesday, January 1
That was the first of many glasses of prosecco I would indulge in that night while watching fireworks before walking back at about 2 am. With nothing planned for the day, we decided to drop in for lunch at Markus' mom's house. I've never had a better risotto in my life and the apple juice was straight from her little apple farm in the backyard (Fun fact: everywhere I went in Merano had fresh pressed organic apple juice because South Tyrol is an apple producing region).
At the Christmas market later that day, we ran into Markus' co-workers, neighbours and some friends all of whom were in a sharing mood. So again, I endured glass after glass of prosecco...because I didn't want to offend their hospitality, of course.
Wednesday, January 2
I always expected to visit Venice with someone I want to cozy up to in a gondola. Since MArkus is not that someone, I skipped the gondola experience and did the walking tour with a friendly local guide instead #travelthelocalpathway.
Venice - A beautiful city that was covered in fog when we arrived early in the morning. As the day progressed, sunlight revealed the many bridges, floating markets and lovely little squares where locals gather, churches around every corner and mediocre gelato (Devon House for the win). The closer we got to Piazza San Marco the more luxury brands we encountered. Got my dad a little something from Salvatore Ferragamo as a thank you for financing my trip and their customer service was so impressive, you'd think I'd just gone on a shopping spree. The narrow streets are full of fabric stores, handmade mask stores, cafe's, and interestingly ancient looking fresh water pipes...yes, that's me below about to drink from one. I'm counting it as a good sign that I didn't die.
For lunch we picked a random restaurant by the Rialto Bridge and I've been disappointed ever since. Disappointed that I'd been eating Italian food outside of Italy my whole life! Now, I don't care where in the world you've ever had Italian food, believe me, if it wasn't in Italy you've never had Italian food. Must be something in the water because I used to think I didn't like lasagna but I found myself stealing bits of Markus' even though I had a delicious Scialatielli ai Frutti di Mare. Honestly not sure I can ever go back to ordering Alfredo.
Thursday, January 3
Since I was leaving on an early flight the next day, Markus and I agreed it would be best to spend the night in Munich instead of taking the three hour drive from Merano. He especially wanted me to experience Hofbräuhaus due to my newfound love of German beer.
It was a definite workout lifting those big ass beer mugs or Maß [pronounced: mass] which are designed to hold one litre of beer and I'm still shocked that the tiny waitresses carried up to six at a time. No idea what happened to my videos for this but Rick Steves' YouTube clip is as accurate as it gets.
Friday, January 4
Departure was delayed due to snowstorm but I had WiFi, a food voucher from the airline and earphones so I didn't mind. Passed the time browsing the shops, watching Netflix and trying to eavesdrop on conversations using Google Translate.
I expected to feel rushed spending only a week away in Europe but I had a very balanced experience so I'm doing it again. This year, I'll be doing the NYE trip from December 27, 2019 to January 3, 2020. Flying direct to Brussels from Montego Bay and from there I'll take a day trip to Amsterdam and another day trip to Paris! Who's coming with me?