Time is a crazy thing. It passes quickly without you even realizing it. Four months had gone by since I had been in Michigan, and it was nearly time to head home. Taking advantage of my last days in Europe, I wanted to schedule a couple small, last side trips before leaving the continent. I would end up meeting up with a former co-worker and mentor of mine at Oktoberfest. Finally, I moved my way for a (too) short stay in London, where airfare back to DTW was much cheaper than about anywhere else in Europe.
Prost! So Much Beer
The 26th of September rolled around quick. I bid goodbye to my fellow Kubs for a month’s time and headed my way towards Sofia airport. I arrived in Munich after a layover in Warsaw and finally was able to leave the airport this time! I had flown into Munich on my way to Belgrade and stopped there en route to Portugal. It was nice to actually see the city instead of just the airport, even if the airport is super nice and fancy.
The evening I arrived, I made my way off the plane and to the train that took me from the airport to city center. I then transferred to a bus that took me the remaining distance to my Airbnb located close to the river and within a metro ride of the beer festival, yet far enough away for some breathing room at the same time. Fall has already taken a hold of Munich by now, with trees visibly showing color and dropping leaves. Evenings were rather cool, barely reaching 50 at times. The days were warm but the air remained crisp, perfect fall weather to celebrate one of Germany’s most well-known festivals attracting beer drinkers and party seekers from around the world.
The festival itself is larger than life: taking place on large open festival grounds, there are 14 large tents and 20 smaller tents that are set up solely for the festival. Rides and roller coasters are scattered throughout the grounds. Games and food stalls are many in number, set up along the walkways. Large pretzels and beer are ubiquitous, found in the hands of most festival-goers.
I journeyed to the festival to meet up with a former coworker of mine who said he’d be in town for a few days. The next morning, I woke up, got ready, headed to the festival, and met up with him and the group he was with.
The beers were exceedingly large. I managed one and a half before getting to a fairly comfortably tipsy point. I took the advice of the German girl sitting next to me who suggested getting half-lemonade, half-beer so as to hydrate but also pace yourself. I know you may be thinking “lemonade in beer?!”. But like a lemon shandy, it was actually quite refreshing.
The bathrooms were interesting, reminiscent of the old Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Trough-style urinals there allowed several many men to simultaneously urinate their beers into the drain to make way for more. Yuck.
After a while, I went outside to stretch my legs and find some other food. I found some fries that were decently tasty. However, upon returning back to the Hacker tent, I wasn’t allowed in because I had my Michigan draw-string bag. I knew this would eventually pose a problem! They let me in earlier in the morning, but I guess as the afternoon went on they enforce more strict security regarding bags and such. Thus, I ended up separated from my group. When I finally managed to sneak my way back in, they were no longer at the table due to their reservation time expiring. I looked around the tent for 20 or more minutes to no avail. Oops.
I decided I should have a proper dinner as the evening was setting in. I made my way west several blocks from the festival to a restaurant called bodhi – veganes restaurant & bar. I make it a point to find vegetarian and vegan restaurants in each of the cities I am in. This one was good, tasty! I sat outdoors in the coolish-mild temperature and watched the sky get darker as the autumn sunset quickly came about.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it back to the beer-laden festival, as I had to take a work meeting at a late hour. I wasn’t able to meet back up with Derek. Womp womp. Our paths will cross again in the future, I am sure of it. I wound down with a glass of lemonade at the small bar adjacent to my apartment.
To The Motherland
The next day, I grabbed some groceries from the local health foods market down the street and made my way towards the train station. I took the train towards the Munich airport for one inter-European departure for London. Leaving mainland Europe was bittersweet. While I was excited to check out Britain, I definitely felt that this was my last stop before returning back to Detroit. Nevertheless, I prepared to see the beautiful English city that is so world famous in many regards. Two days time was not nearly enough to get around London, but I did the best I could with my limited time.
I arrived in the late afternoon. I came into London Luton, which is a bit of a distance away from the city center. I then boarded the train that took me from the distant airport to London proper. Along the way, I was able to see the English countryside, long and winding. I also realized that…we were on the wrong side of the road! Or at least the left side which is contrary to both the US and in fact most of mainland Europe where traffic drives on the right side of the road.
When we got into London, I had to transfer to the Underground. It was at this moment I put two and two together….everything was in English! What a relief. I had spent the last four months navigating my way around foreign road signs and street names with only a smartphone to direct me the right way. While I realized and benefited from the significant number of people who speak English as a second language (ESL), it was comforting and nice to be around an environment that spoke it as a primary language, removing an element of challenge and surprise: trying to make sense of street names, subway stops, and the like. That being said, I did have more misunderstandings in conversation with people in London than in other countries. I believe this was due to the heavy English accent which I was a unprepared for. Funny how these things work.
I arrived at my small Airbnb which was located just near the Soho neighborhood outside of the Tottenham Court Road Underground station. This was a lively spot to be, with restaurants, shopping, and all kinds of city life right outside my window. The Airbnb itself was a bit…quirky. This was accurately described in the listing, I suppose. The stairway up was winding and very narrow, barely wide enough for two people to walk it simultaneously. The amenities were sparse. A kitchen was located downstairs next to two toilets, only one that contained a shower. There was no WiFi…despite the fact it was listed as available on the listing. Lame. This wasn’t a total deal-breaker as I had some cellular data left on my SIM, but with no good way to measure this, it made getting around harder. I also didn’t account for the fact that the UK uses different style outlets than the rest of mainland Europe. Why can’t they just be the same?! So I ran off of my battery pack for most of the first and second days before finally succumbing to buying a UK power adapter.
First Night: Reunion II
The first night I was able to meet up again with my cousin Dylan, who is attending school via a study-away program that puts him in London this semester. I felt like an old, grizzly dude with my 26 years among these 21- and 22-year-olds at a college party. We played beer pong and just like old times, I didn’t blow anyone away. But we did manage to have a respectable showing, which was nice. We hung out until about midnight when we parted ways. He was leaving for Oktoberfest the next day – trading places much!
London In… Basically A Day
I really only had one full day to venture into London and see the city. Definitely not enough time to get a taste of London culture. However, I made the most of my waking hours when I was there. I had a hit-list of places to see and activities to do with my limited time.
- See Big Ben (even though it was under restoration)
- See Piccadilly Circus
- Take a double-decker bus tour of the city
You know, typical tourist stuff. My first stop was the famous clock tower. Unfortunately, it started renovations during the summer and will remain silent for 4 years as it is worked on. Therefore, I was not able to hear the iconic chimes of Big Ben. Also, some of its facade was obscured by scaffolding being used to work on the tower. Nevertheless, the timeless, iconic figure stood proudly in the London sky. I did learn that Big Ben is leaning slightly. This restoration is also in part to make sure it does not lean any further!
Moving right along, I headed my way towards the London Eye. This is a Ferris wheel-style attraction along the Thames River with 360-degree glass pods that rise over 135 meters (443 feet) above the ground below. This offers some spectacular, panoramic views of London.
In typical London fashion, the skies were gray and overcast most all of the day. After taking a spin on the Eye, I met up with a former remote Kate who had moved to London temporarily following her exit from the Remote Year program and subsequent six week stay in Barcelona. Meeting up at the WeWork, near the Tower of London, we found some lunch at a tasty pizza restaurant, which offered gluten-free and vegan options to both our delights. We shared a nice lunch with conversation about work, travel, and the future as a digital nomad. Kate is a really good mentor and coach – if you’re looking to talk to someone on how to develop your professional aspirations, check her out.
After our lunch, we bid goodbye and I made my way to check out a double-decker bus tour to get a brief orientation of the London area. While waiting, I ended up getting rained on. I took refuge in a nearby Starbucks until the rain slowed down a bit. I took this opportunity to research a good tour company and while I was able to find one, after the rains I wasn’t quite sure where to pick up their bus. There was a map on the website indicating pick-up and drop-off points, but this was not obvious as it related to a real-world location. So I scrambled for about an hour trying to figure out where to pick up this bus. The stop was not marked for this particular tour company, so that was frustrating. Eventually, I found my way on a double-decker bus and sat aboard as I toured my way around the English capital.
Vegans Around The World
That evening, I met up with a UK-based vegan I had met through a mutual Facebook group. It just so happened her birthday party celebration landed on one of the two days I was in London. I thought this was a really unique opportunity to meet and discuss veganism with someone from 4,000 miles away from home. Her party was at a juice/smoothie bar which had a delicious array of fruity concoctions. I talked with her and her family and friends, giving my perspective as an American and listening to their perspective as Brits. It’s nice to see the spirit of compassion growing around the world.
I stayed for a short time then parted ways with new allies and contacts from the United Kingdom. It was so nice to meet these people! Again, kindness and compassion really can go far if you allow it to. I rarely encounter negative energy around vegans and that’s something I’ve really enjoyed about this lifestyle — the engagement and activism of the community is about unmatched.
All good things must come to an end. That evening ended quickly, as I needed to be back at my Airbnb by a reasonable hour so I could arise early for my 6 AM flight to Amsterdam. Taking the Underground at an unreasonable hour was doable, thanks to it being operational that early. I then got on the train to take me to London-Heathrow, where my carrier home awaited me. I navigated my way around Heathrow, getting lost once or twice due to poor signage, then found my departure gate. The short jaunt over to Amsterdam was quite that. We got up to cruising altitude for not more than half an hour before landing. I got coffee but had to guzzle it down uncomfortably quickly.
We landed in Amsterdam a short time later. I had a short layover, so I wandered around. Finally, the time came to board our flight bound to Detroit. Getting through passport control involved answering a few questions, wondering for a second if I’d be able to get through with my story. Eventually, however, I did, and I got on the plane for an 8-hour air ride back to North America.
Our plane left Amsterdam around 1 PM local time. Several TV shows, a movie, a would-be nap (still never really fell asleep despite the presence of eye masks), and some reading later, we landed in Detroit around 4 PM local time. I got off the plane, in a blur and in disbelief about the fact that my journey had ended. I made my way to the concourse in DTW, passing through border control, collecting my luggage, and headed outside to be greeted by my lovely parents who picked me up and hauled me away towards Downriver, as if nothing had changed and no time had passed. I got to see my Buddy at least, whose episodes with seizures over the summer left him a bit more subdued in his older age. However, it was still wonderful to see him and made me realize how much I missed that dog while I was gone.
Being back in America felt so strange — the reverse culture shock was even more intense than when I had arrived in Europe. Suddenly, I was back to my old life which seemed like a distant memory. It felt surreal. I wished to be back with my travel group almost immediately, missing my impromptu adventures in foreign lands I had never known. But as a friend used to say, adjustment just happens. My first meal back at home was at Taza Fresh Grill, a local Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurant that serves possibly the best baba ganough this side of the meridian. That filling meal helped me to feel a bit comfortable again.
My European journey has concluded; my adventures were over…for now.