Sunday, August 8, 2010
My upcoming European vacation
I haven't written anything in a long time on this blog, mainly because I've been too busy, not because nothing is happening in my life. I hope to be able to go back and fill in the gaps, but not today. Today I want to write about my upcoming European vacation.
A couple of weeks ago, I got an email invite to my dear friend Rebekka's 50th birthday party on October 30th in Hamburg, Germany. She's invited 300 people, including other friends of Maya's and mine: Iris, Thomas & Annette & their children, Rita and her daughter Alina, and of course Rebekka's three sons. I haven't seen any of them since Maya passed away 3-1/2 years ago.
My 82-year-old grandma "Oma" and I met Rebekka in 1987 in a tiny village in northern Thailand called Pai. Rebekka was staying alone in one of the rustic huts and we hit it off immediately. Pai is memorable also for the 3-hour ride on real working elephants. Instead of taking tourists in circles, like they do in Chiang Mai, these elephants do logging. They pull down whole trees, then drag them to a truck or raft for transporting to town. Oma rode with a Swiss friend who we'd also met in Pai, while I had my own elephant. The wooden slats of the saddle were loose and kept pinching my butt the whole way. When we finally got off the elephants, after resting our butts a bit, we rode back to our huts on a bamboo raft.
Before Oma and I left Pai for Mae Hong Son, Rebekka gave us a note for her friend Iris who was staying there with a Thai boyfriend named Toe. Like all Thais he had a really long real name and a very short nickname. Iris and Toe invited us to stay in his beautiful wooden home, filled with books in English, much to Oma's delight. As it turned out, Toe had lived in Santa Cruz before with his former American wife.
On that same trip to SE Asia, I ran into a friend from Santa Cruz in Singapore who was traveling with an Australian woman he'd met. I told them about Toe (Iris had already gone back to Germany). They stayed with Toe in Mae Hong Son also. As fate would have it, the Australian friend Louise stayed on with Toe, eventually marrying him, opening a guest house Sang Tong Huts together, and having three sons. They eventually divorced. The last I heard of Toe was a memorial notice from a German girlfriend Babs, the last before he died at a young age.
Iris has been to the U.S. several times, once with Thomas, who is now married to an East German named Annette and they have two children. Maya and I met their toddler son when we were there in 2005. She and I also stayed at Rebekka's, hung out with Iris, and went down to Baldham, a village outside Munich where we stayed with Rita and her daughter Alina. I had met Rita through Rebekka in 1989 on another trip to Germany. Maya and older Alina became fast friends. Alina owns a horse, so she took Maya riding and we watched her in a horse show. She gave Maya the traditional Bavarian dress that Maya wore in the play "The Pied Piper" in 3rd grade. And we all went to a Schützenfest together. I hadn't been to a hunting festival since I lived in Stemshorn, the summer of 1974 through the Youth For Understanding program.
As luck has it, my German host mother "Mutti" will be celebrating her 82nd birthday on October 26, so I will fly in early and take the train directly to Stemshorn, where my "Familie" still runs a gas station. My German "Schwester" Christine now has two grandkids who I've never met. When Maya and I were there, Christine's son Andreas and Susanne had just married. Every time I go to Europe, I visit the Droop family. One time, just before Maya was born, they came to California. We toured much of the state together and also flew over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter -- a real treat for me.
Since I'm going to Europe and spending 40,000 AA Frequent Flyer miles to get there, I figured I should visit some eastern European countries that I've never been to before. I tentatively have my return flight reserved from Bucharest, Romania for November 17. I get a free weekend stopover in NYC on the way to Europe. Coming home is quicker because you gain 9 hours with the time change, so I'll get home the same day I leave.
I'm seriously considering a 15-day Eurail pass for $629. That's $45 a day, which seems pricey, but trains in Europe are not cheap. And I was planning to see Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Romania anyway. With the 21-country pass I'll have complete freedom to go anywhere I want. I can sleep on overnight trains to save money on hostels. Because I'm over 26 (by double), I'm forced to buy the first-class pass. I never rode 1st class before, but as I remember they always had plenty of space and the seats flatten out into beds at night.
I'm a total train nut, so I'll enjoy seeing eastern Europe through a train window. You can get up and walk around, meet people, and stop off on a whim in little villages too. You never have to wait in line to buy tickets either. I've gotten train passes before and I love the ease and convenience.
So if you have any "must-sees" in eastern Europe, please let me know. For sure I'm going to Auschwitz in Poland. I've already seen Dachau near Munich. But the rest of the 15 days are wide open. I'll end up in Bucharest and spend a day or two there before flying back on November 17. I'm sure Andre will be glad to see me by then. We haven't been separated this long since he arrived in the U.S. more than two years ago.
The only thing that could get in the way of this exciting trip is a baby. Andre and I are still on the waiting list with PactAdopt.org. We finished our home study in December 2009. We're waiting for a healthy newborn black or mixed race girl. I guess that's why it's taking so long. Either she comes into my life soon and goes on a European vacation with Mommy. Or she comes into my life after I get back from Europe. Or she could interrupt my travel plans. Or she never comes along. I have no idea which way it'll go. But until then, Mi Vida Sigue.