I am bright eyed and bushy tailed, bristling with that kind of energy that can only come from a malfunctioning body clock. Let’s talk about the flight over, the drive up here, the feel of snow crunching beneath my snow boots that had the dust blown off them 48 hours ago and are about to be worn to death. Again.
So I’m not too sure if I’m sold on Europe via the Middle East. 14 hour legs are nobody’s friend, particularly when there’s the crushing realisation there are another six hours to go, nine if you count the three spent adrift in an airport. That aside, the 20 hours in the air passed in a whirl of goulash on a bed of rice, systematic film catching-up and the sort of desperate, uncontrolled sleep where you offer up your vulnerable, naked sleep face for hundreds of people to observe.
I appeared in Frankfurt airport with feet too swollen to fit into boots, therefore shoved, sock-coated, into gold flats. Passport control took an age, my own subjected to the beady eyed question of ‘and why are you back this time?’ I could have, had I the energy, and were I not saddled with carry-on luggage that seemed to have birthed new bags as the flight progressed, sprung into the policeman’s box and throttled him, shrieking, ‘because I made the fatal error of falling in love with a German, why else, why ELSE?’ which would have likely transferred SG and my romantic reunion to an interrogation room. Besides, my swollen feet were stuffed into my boots so firmly I couldn’t get the leverage required to spring.
Our reunion wasn’t particularly romantic anyway. By the time I had wrestled my suitcases off the belt – almost the last two left, passport control had taken so long – and piled up the 40kg that had cost me a heart-stopping amount in excess baggage to get across, and walked through the doors as fresh as a trampled, 24-hours-in-transit daisy, there was no romance left about me. I eyed SG from beneath hooded lids as I made my way down the ramp. Later, he would say to me, ‘I loved our meeting. Before you came out, women were dropping their luggage and jumping into their boyfriends’ arms. But not us.’ I explained the boot issue. And that, post passport grilling to enter this God forsaken place, I was in no mood to jump anywhere. I even went so far as to role-play my dream response, which was along the lines of, ‘I come from a country far better than yours, why would I …’ before SG calmly stopped me.That’s romance for you.
The drive to Weiden took three hours. Bavaria is under a blanket of snow and those naked, stark trees against the wintry blue sky were so familiar. The fields that I left lush and green in the summer are now white, the lakes that had seemed to inviting, now frozen. Darkness fell completely at around 6pm and soon after we crunched into the driveway of our apartment in Weiden. Winter air over here has a smell to it, this cold, fresh smell. Everything is being cleaned by icy water and inky, freezing nights. We lugged my stuff up into our apartment, turned on the heaters, woke the place up a little bit.
The house devoid of food, drink and tea/coffee making appliances (all of them perched up in Kiel waiting for us) breakfast the next morning was sourced from a beautifully stocked, warm, inviting bakery up the road. The woman serving pink faced customers was dressed as a lemon. I didn’t even notice. After we ordered our coffees and I resolutely avoided making eye contact with the vast array of donuts, pastries, cheese covered breads, cakes, biscuits and pretzels, SG said, conversationally, ‘she is wearing a costume.’ Even tiny bakeries in Weiden get into the spirit of Karnival.
The drive to Kiel, embarked upon after more packing, zipping, stuffing and stocking the car with heavy winter wardrobe garb, took six and a half hours. Add that to the 24 hour flight and the three hours to Weiden. Nearly 34 hours in transit to get to this little apartment in the sky. Bavaria became Saxony, the snow blankets thickened and then, the further north we drove, it all seemed to melt away. We pulled into our new street and lugged bags to the top floor, both of us egged on by the notion of pizza, wine and beer, which had dangled like a carrot since we’d both eschewed McDonalds somewhere around Saxony-Anhalt.
And now, Kiel. The third city/town in this country I have had the pleasure of calling home; the setting for the tales of the next six months. I’ve almost finished unpacking. A solid grocery shop needs to be done. I need to fix the coffee machine, buy flowers, wait until it’s a decent hour to put a load of washing on (I had almost, but not quite, forgotten the dutifully respected silence rules when it comes to apartment living in this country). Outside the sky has lightened, begrudgingly. From our windows I can see the red tiled roofs are covered in snow. It has just started snowing and the tiny little things are falling on my window, melting as soon as they touch glass. There are seagulls wheeling about – I have never before associated their mawkish cry with snow. But that is what this is all about, isn’t it. Changing expectations, newness. Snow and seagulls.