When in Berlin... Part 1. Letting Go.
2019 has been crazy travel-wise... And it all started with Berlin...
It's funny how you always think of yourself as one type of person - in my case, daring, wanderlust-obsessed, party monster - until a few years (or fifteen years, to be more precise) fly by with the speed of light, you turn around and realize that you would like to be that person, but, alas, you are not. Let me elaborate...
Something happens to us, women, when we have children. The daring part of our personalities takes a step back into the oblivion, and Mother Hen comes out - controlling, always having a schedule for 6 months ahead for an entire family and very-very-very much afraid of letting go and parting with her offspring even for one day. For some reason, 2019 so far has been a year when I decided to tell Mother Hen to take a chill pill. Over, and over, and over.
So where does Berlin come into the picture, you ask. Well, last November I received an invitation to come to a video game developer conference in Berlin where I could potentially find some future clients for us (when I don't ramble on about life, I run a translation agency that specializes in translating video games into multiple languages). We usually do all our marketing online, and that was the first opportunity for me to come out of my shell, so to speak, and meet some video game peeps in person. Mother Hen squawked that there was no way SHE could leave her family and fly across the pond, but luckily my husband Chris stepped in and announced that I absolutely had to go. So I charged the airplane ticket, hotel stay and the conference fee to a credit card - with Mother Hen incessantly squawking that thanks to my "frivolous" behavior, we will lose all the money we had managed to save - and started getting ready for the trip.
Life has a curious tendency to work out and create scenarios you yourself couldn't have possibly imagined. One evening, over a glass of wine, I nonchalantly mentioned to a few of my good friends that I was heading to Berlin in February and already in a week's time, two of them booked their airplane tickets, and I had not one, but two girlfriends joining me on my impromptu trip. You say, "Where do you get friends like that, Elena?' I say - I have some crazily awesome and awesomely crazy friends :).
Two and a half months flew by, filled with Christmas holiday madness, work - and lack thereof - and a multitude of responsibilities, and suddenly it was time to jump on the plane and go on an adventure.
My friend Shae picked me up from my house, where I, trying to no avail to keep my composure, said my good-byes to my boys, Liam and Max, who looked VERY bewildered (Mom is going WHERE?) and my husband Chris, cast a scornful glance at my baby girl Chloe sleeping peacefully in her crib, and got into Shae's car, fighting the omnipresent urge to run back into the house and announce to everyone that it was all a rather terrible joke and that in reality I was not going anywhere. As I was waving to Chris and the boys, and my home was disappearing from my vision, I started to sob uncontrollably, with Shae keeping a diplomatic silence.
We made it from Jacksonville, Florida, to New York's JFK, with no problem, and soon we were kicked back at an airport bar, sipping on our first drinks of the trip and staring at our green Transatlantic Aer Lingus airliner, which was going to take us to Dublin, from where we'd hop on one more plane to Berlin. Quite a journey. So I just kept on drinking :).
Even before we set out on the trip, I told Shae that I was terrified of flying. Something happened to me around 2014-2015 - where the little tummy-churning anticipation of adventure - akin to the one you get when you're about to ride a roller coaster, morphed into a petrifying sort of fear that had actually been preventing me from flying for 4 years. As we sat there on the plane, ready to take off and fly across the ocean, all my fears materialized, getting unbearably scarier with every second. The engines revved up, I cast Shae a pitiful "help me" look, and she squeezed my hand in silence.
And then the next six and a half hours followed, with me constantly drinking wine and constantly peeing, us flying through the sheer and pitch-black darkness of the Atlantic, us hitting that inevitable turbulence you always mysteriously hit about an hour off the coast of Ireland, me quietly crying and praying during the turbulence - and finally, as it always happens - us landing safely in Dublin Airport and me feeling ridiculous for having yet another in-flight breakdown.
Dublin Airport met us with never-ending corridors that kept on weaving and turning, leading the zombie-like, jetlagged passengers of our plane God knows where for at least twenty-five minutes. Finally, when we already started to believe that we were walking to Berlin, we ended up in a medium-sized lobby with glass walls and no central heating. Airport staff were wearing thick winter jackets and hats, and this was where we were supposed to spend the next three hours waiting for our plane to Berlin. I took one look at my sockless feet, and I knew that we were doomed.
The long three hours ensued, and soon Shae and I were covered head to toe with Shae's shawls, which she had so thoughtfully packed in her carry-on, looking more like Russian babushkas sitting on benches in my snowy motherland. And just when we thought that the endless wait was over, we were invited to go outside and wait for our turn to board THERE. I was so cold and tired, I couldn't even be mad anymore and only laughed hysterically when the shivering Shae arched an eyebrow and skeptically noted, "I thought you were supposed to be Russian".
By the time we finally boarded our third plane, we were beat, physically and emotionally. All I recall is the distraught Shae casting me a helpless look from across the aisle and saying, "I can't believe that all of this is still going on". My readers who took more than two planes to get somewhere will know this feeling to the tee - raw, pure, utter exhaustion bordering madness. I vaguely remember the third flight, our arrival or our taxi ride. I just know that at some point, finally, we made it to InterContinental Berlin.
My second friend who decided to join me on this adventure, Emma, had arrived a day earlier, since she was flying on a different plane from Charleston. She already managed to recover from the debilitating jet lag, and as Shae and I were checking in, we heard her cheerful voice behind our backs, "Elena! Shae! You're here!!!"
After we hugged in excitement, we picked up our bags and took the elevator to our connecting rooms. There, as soon as I laid my eyes on the beds that looked blissfully comfortable, I realized that I wanted to sleep so much, it almost made me want to cry.
"Elena the Paina," announced Emma at that point. "I know exactly what you are thinking, but you two cannot sleep - under no circumstances. You've got to stay awake today - to get over the jet lag." I knew she was right, but I wanted to murder her at that moment. The truth was on her side though, and the bed had to wait for at least seven or eight hours. So after wrestling with our coffee machine (on a side note, we still to this day have no idea why and how German Keurig-like coffee machines will make you a full cup of tea when you insert a tea pod in it, but will only give you a tiny bit of espresso when you insert a coffee pod. If you live in the States, you know that you NEED to have that enormous cup of coffee to at least make you feel like you are waking up...), we finally hit the streets of Berlin.
The German capital met us with slate-gray imposing buildings, cold rain and the unforgiving sky without even so much as a hint of blue. After all, it was February. When we hopped on a bus and started our journey through the city, things began to look up. At least for me. I was watching people get on and off the bus, some laughing, others - with troubled expressions etched on their faces, preoccupied with work-, money-, family-related burdens, like the rest of us, and I started getting that feeling back. That feeling that Mother Hen made me almost forget about. That thirst for traveling, for seeing people in their environment, for listening to them speak in a foreign language - oh, it was like music to my ears! Suddenly, Berlin was not at all gray anymore. Suddenly, I was nineteen all over again. Suddenly, I was ready to explore, and party, and hang out with my dear friends all the night until daybreak.
So we got off the bus somewhere in the vicinity of the Reichstag and walked down wet and shiny streets, with gray clouds reflecting playfully in the puddles. We took pictures by the Brandenburg Gate, we strolled all the way down to the majestic Berlin Cathedral and got some mulled wine right in the street. As we sipped on the delicious mixture, feeling its warmth blissfully spread all over, the bells of the Cathedral started to sing, the flock of ink-colored birds soared up high towards the sky, and we all laughed. Everything felt just right. Just the right kind of magic.
That night, after we grabbed some late-night dinner at the amazing Greek restaurant that was going to become our favorite place to hang out during the trip, we finally made it back to the hotel. I called Chris and the kids, who were just getting up to get ready for school, and my heart skipped a few beats. I missed them terribly, but I was also enjoying that little adventure of my own - and that somehow made my love for them deeper, more real, more natural.
As I hung up the phone, I looked at the lights of Berlin flickering through the dark window and smiled. Tomorrow, the big adventure awaited us, but for now... For now, I would just enjoy long hours in the amazing and soft bed that had been calling my name for quite a while. I switched my bedside light off and turned around on my bed, my eyes already closing uncontrollably.
"Good night, girls!" I said.
"Good night!!" Shae called out through the open door of the connecting room.
"Good night, my beauties," yawned Emma. "Don't let the bedbugs bite!"
To be continued...
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