For once we left a location at a reasonable 12:30 p.m. instead of the crack of dawn. I had actually been looking forward to this long train ride. I wanted to read, to relax and become lost in the pages. Finally taking advantage of downtime by rail. So I gleefully filled about three hours of time with High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.
We chatted with several very pleasant English ladies traveling on business. We were all in an uproar on one end of the train, whilst the Germans sat silent, starring or head-phoned-up on the other. Zack is great with languages but does a horrendous British accent.
We crossed the border into Germany late afternoon. On a whim, we decided to take the Dusseldorf stop. It was my fault. For days I’d been pondering a black leather jacket I spied at a boutique the day we arrived in Europe. The boys thought I should, indeed, have it. We stopped by Campus to buy the ultimate souvenir.
Then, to Essen, to spend some time in Zack’s city. First thing we did when arriving at his apartment… Laid on the couch and watched two episodes of The Wire on DVD. Our good intentions of picking up a few groceries at the market on our walk home earlier turned sour. Joe and I were too tired and Zack was too sickly to cook.
The lovers were prompted to take a date night, venturing out into the unknown without our German-speaking escort. Not gonna lie. We were kind of anxious. Zack sent us up the street to a legit Bavarian place. They speak English, he said, if you get in any trouble. We did enjoy the stroll to the restaurant, arm in arm peacefully through the stone streets at dusk.
We took a table at Der Lowe and began to study the menu. I’ll have the Weizen. We studied and studied and could not discern any that Zack had told us were his favorites. The sounds just do not match the spellings. And Joe took the notes, so I was frustrated when he couldn’t decipher what he’d written down. Pouty Aarika.
Wait! They have English menus. Okay. Wait! Does that show that we ordered non-alcoholic beers? Say it with me “al-ko-hol-frei”. Hahahahaha… Give me the other kind of Weizen then. My dish was pork meat loaf, fried potatoes and red cabbage and apple salad. Joe unfortunately ended up with a flatbread pizza. I swear I pronounced weisswurst in perfect German, but the server just ignored me.
We moseyed back to the apartment, put Zack’s leftovers in the fridge as he grumbled “thanks” from beneath a blanket cocoon, then fell into bed and slept.
The next day we were all wide-eyed again. I got to see my brother’s flat for the first time in the day. Flooded with natural light. His ties and shoes presented neatly. The balcony overlooking a park. The concrete courtyard outside where he does calisthenics. Tulips on the windowsill.
This was our Essen Day, Bub’s day to show us all his quintessential spots. We spent it gallivanting from corner to corner. The walkability in town was splendid. First pop-in was Konsumreform – Café / Shop / Mobility. There was a thrift store in the back. There were scrumptious stuffed pies and fresh salads in the display case – and on our plates.
Second pop-in was The Chocolate Room, with the absolute best hot cocoa I’ve had IN MY LIFE. I believe I got the “Peru.” Tough to sort out because they offer nearly 10 varieties. Yeah. We (well, Zack) spoke with the cutest little old lady while we sat on sofas in the storefront, sipping delicately. The first truly friendly German.
Next few pop-ins were different locales in search of souvies. I wanted an Essen-centric coffee mug. (I collect mugs, for when I enjoy my ritual morning coffee I like, even for an instant, to be reminded of great times.) We were fairly insistent on buying a scarf for Joe. When in Europe… And it’s cold… The man had never had one. Not being able to decide between the scarf Zack and I doted over and the garnet and black dressy scarf that he uncannily uncovered on his own, Joe bought two. Then we all bounded down the road giddily, scarf dreams fulfilled. (Picture us skipping.)
A blessing, we were able to Euro-trip during my brother’s birthday, February 22. To celebrate in the true bro-sis fancy style, we planned a dinner in Dorsten at Zum Blauen See, a highly-ranked restaurant recently evaluated and rumored to be receiving an extra star. Four Star quality at Three Star prices, for the meantime.
Zack’s friend Ben picked us up and drove us via the Autobahn. We didn’t quite know what was happening until the BMW jets up to 200 kilometers-per-hour on the dial. We suck back into our seats and grin while trees, signs and other cars fly by. Dinner is exquisite. Wine and beer. Four-course meal. Tuna sampler, vegetable bisque, lamb shanks and berry dessert assortment. We were swimming in luxury. Tradition lives on. And is tops. And I love Zachary Michael Woods very much.
One final train ride. One final night in Germany.
The next morning we barely have time for coffee. We say our goodbyes. Our cab scoops us and delivers us to the Dusseldorf airport. Flight to Newark, layover, flight to Charlotte, drive to Gaffney… Twenty-one hours of travel, longest consecutive IN MY LIFE, and we’re home.
All in all, the holiday couldn’t have been more worth it. I saw my brother who I miss dearly. I spent quality time with my beau. I saw a lot of the world that I’d previously only dreamt about. It was excellent timing. I needed an escape. Everyday life has its woes. Europe was absolutely refreshing and astonishing. I think about a leisurely yet conscientious lifestyle. I think about efficiency and balance. I think about a renewed sense of priority and beauty. I hope to hang on to every bit of whimsy.