Of course, we had to start our first long weekend trip with a travel all-nighter. Our brains were already bleeding out our ears from that British Studies exam, and we figured we didn’t have that much more to lose. One weather-delayed train ride, one London night bus, and a whole lot of airport security hassle later, my friends and I were sprawled out on the cold Stansted airport floor, attempting to sleep in shifts before our plane took off at 8. We arrived in Aachen, Germany around 11 the next morning.
Understandably, our first day in Germany is a bit fuzzy in my memory. The one thing I do remember quite clearly, however, was the language barrier. Whether butchering an order of Apfeltasche in a bakery or half-heartedly flipping through paperbacks in a bookstore or even trying to read the plaques in an otherwise-awesome cathedral, we were continually and blatantly reminded that we were tourists who didn’t speak a lick of German.
The German couple we stayed with was kind enough to translate pretty much everything for us; however, their two boys didn’t speak English. Playing games with them got pretty awkwardly creative when communication was reduced to sign language, guesswork, and our mutual appreciation of the Pixar movie Cars.
We spent our final day in Amsterdam. Having left our helpful host family in Germany, we congratulated ourselves on successfully surviving the train ride to Amsterdam, only to run into a reality check when we found that all the signs in the station were in Dutch. Okay, now, breathe. We were college students; we were smart, resourceful, and mature; but—argh—let’s face it, we were hungry and starting to panic a little bit.
Actually, after the initial shock and bewilderment, we came to our senses, got some food, and found Amsterdam beautifully easy to navigate. We experimented with the transportation system, visited the Van Gogh museum, developed a love affair with the classic fries with mayonnaise, and one of my friends ended up falling head over heels for the Dutch language. So, it worked out.
And we learned some great lessons that weekend. The thrill of leaving the U.K. for the first time. The value and personal quality of staying with a local family. The perspective and cultural appreciation one gains from not being able to speak a language. Oh, and the importance of stringently sticking to airline liquid and baggage restrictions! (Trust me on this.)