The Path to a Palace…Finding Joy in the Journey (Part 1)
A couple of months ago, one of my best friends texted me saying, “Melissa, what’s it like to travel alone? I really want to book a trip and just go...but I'm so nervous!” I instantly lit up. Her desire for life made me feel alive again.
And her question made me realize I never blogged about my solo trip to Germany and how empowering it felt to not only travel to another country alone – but to a country where I don’t even speak the language. (Definitely learned flughafen & guten morgen along the way!)
Solo travel is a legit soul search. And travel in general is one of my greatest joys.
Once upon a time, I went to Bavaria. Here's my story...
Chapter One – Picking the Place to Pin on the Map
What exactly compelled me to hop a plane from Nashville to DC, fly from DC across the Atlantic to land in Munich, proceed to take three trains all the way to the Austrian border, and embrace a faraway land called Füssen? The thrilling challenge of actually doing it & the Neuschwanstein Castle, of course! (Completely fitting for my Cinderella-esque heart.)
I am also disgustingly introspective, always trying to iron out my personality flaws. And the personality flaw I worked on getting wrinkle-free via this adventure (one I am still working on every single day) is to become a journey-focused believer. Simply put, to consciously find joy in the journey.
If you’re like me, you understand what I mean when I say I am very destination focused. To the point that I am prone to depression when I haven’t yet arrived. (Seriously, it gets ugly in this mind of mine when I don’t deem myself as having achieved a sought-after goal.) I do yoga for the savasana. I love published articles but loathe editing. I am stressed when songs remain roughs on my iPhone and haven't been sung alive in a studio yet. I want the run to be done before I've begun.
Essentially I thrive to arrive. (The songwriter in me is loving these rhymes right now. Ha.) I have a tendency to be a future seeker and a present killer.
So with my sights set on Germany, I booked my flight, and I barely made a plan. By barely, I mean I didn't even book my hotel until I was on the third train and almost to Füssen. I decided to let God be my guide. (Side note: at this time in my life, I was severely questioning His existence. I was one week from leaving Nashville. My emotions were all over the map...along with myself apparently. This was a true season where I felt like every prayer was hitting the ceiling and never getting heard.) In my desperation to hear God, I decided to talk to Him the entire way – in my head and out loud. (The out loud parts were in the hotel room. I didn’t wanna get arrested in Europe for looking like an insane person.) Anyhow, I was like, "Hey God, You always strategically place me to be alone. In a lot of ways, it makes me happy to know I’m independent. I can live alone, eat alone, run alone, walk alone, play guitar alone, sing alone, fly alone. It’s fabulous...but alone is also lonely. So You’re coming with me and You better speak to me. For real." (This is the less vulgar version of my convos with God during this time.)
Chapter Two – The Night Before Takeoff... (and all through the house...not a bag was packed...not even a pouch. Haha. Had to.)
The night before my trip, I didn't get home from work until about 7:27PM. I know this because I hadn't packed yet, my flight to DC was early the next morning, and the very second I got out of my car, I dropped my iPhone face down on the concrete. The whole screen shattered. I was momentarily panicked (and peeved.) I tried to see if I could still use it and ended up cutting my finger. Which made me realize the intense symbolism – when you don’t confront what’s obviously broken...you hurt yourself, rather than heal yourself.
I sped to Verizon Wireless. Got there five minutes before closing. (Which I hate doing to employees. But they were mega nice. TY VZW Brentwood!) And I got a new phone. I should also mention – my broken phone had been alerting me for months that I was almost out of storage, and the battery was going bad. My new phone came with more-than double the storage and a fresh battery. Unexpected blessings through a momentary mishap.
By the time I got back home, it was late, and I contemplated not even going on the trip at all. I was thinking my iPhone breaking might be God saying, "Don't go."
I shook the thoughts, packed, fell asleep, woke up, and flew to DC.
Chapter Three – Ladies & Gentlemen, the seatbelt sign is on as we prepare for takeoff (Oh, also, this is where I shift to speaking in present tense...so it's like you're on the journey with me.)
From DC to Munich, I get upgraded to Polaris first class. (Three cheers for champagne on a plane & seats that extend into beds! And three more cheers to being an airline employee! That was the reason for the upgrade. I promise I'm not that fancy.)
I drink wine (blissfully), eat chicken potstickers (the best), watch Breakthrough (and bawl), take my contacts out, and sleep. When I open my eyes, I am in Bavaria! Woo!
Chapter Four – Welcome to Germany (obviously saying this in a Kristen Wiig Bridesmaids tone.)
I'm putting my contacts in, and one is ripped in half. (???) But have no fear, I have a spare pair. (Thanks Mom...for ingraining my brain with reminders to always bring extra contacts.)
I deboard the plane and head for the first train. The MUC (airport code for Munich) employee who helped me buy my train ticket barely spoke English, so I am a bit freaked out that I might not be getting onto the right train. And traveling solo, I don't have anybody else to confirm logistics with.
On the train, I approach the first person I see and ask if he speaks English. He says yes. So deciding he's my new
friend, I plop down and become that annoying person asking a bunch of questions about getting to Füssen. (The poor man is probably thinking, "It's 7:30AM. I'm tired. And this American girl won't stop talking my ear off.) He shows me an app (Deutsche Bahn Navigator) to download to view which platforms I need to be on for each train. He tells me to pay close attention to platforms changing.
Thank God he told me this because my next platform did change, and I have less than three minutes to get to it!
Second train, I do the same thing. Find a guy who directs me to my third train.
Third train, I'm feeling good. Like I truly am succeeding at enjoying the journey to get to the castle! When the train
stops, I see signs for Füssen. I stand up to get off and I trip on a step. In front of an entire train car full of people, I fall directly onto my kneecap. And it really sucks. And it's embarrassing. And a giant bruise forms pretty quickly, claiming my knee as its temporary home. Feeling vulnerable, I pull myself up and limp off the train.
Lucky for me, one foot forward onto the fairytale cobblestone streets instantly shifts my mood from beauty & the bruise to a whole new world. Wide-eyed like a little kid, I'm already undeniably excited and haven't even caught sight of the castle yet.
I go through the doors at the Best Western Hotel, and the nice man at the front counter lets me check in early. My phone is almost dead, and out of respect for my mother’s sanity, I know I need to get it fully charged to stay in contact.
I unlock my bedroom door and quickly discover my European adapter doesn't work. I'm kind of freaking out. Front desk guy for the win (again!) loans me one he keeps behind the desk.
After I'm refreshed, I go to get a pizza in the city center of these storybook streets. The sun is beating down beautifully, and I’m feeling calmly excited. This outdoor cafe I stumble upon is adorable, so I get a table for one and take a seat, determined to devour a delicious Margherita pizza. The pizza pie arrives, and I notice it’s not sliced. So I take my knife and fork and Americanize it, slicing it into eight big triangles. Picking up a piece, I get a few strange looks. (Note: I had no idea why until way later when texting with a friend who asked me how I ate the pizza. Apparently it is frowned upon in Germany to eat food with your hands, and it is custom to use a fork and knife…even with pizza. She, like me, cut her pizza into pieces to pick up when she visited the country. So she knew right away that I probably got some looks of dismay. Oops. Dear Germany, I promise this wasn’t ethnocentrism…just a moment of naive innocence.) Anyways, I’m wearing a white shirt. And I splatter sauce all over it on my first bite. (So...first, I pick up my food…and now I’m wearing some of it. Classy first impression.) I'm a tad irked but it's hard to stay irritated in a place like Füssen. Plus, I'm still consciously aware of working on finding joy in the journey.
My plan is to hike to Neuschwanstein the following day, but I figure why not just go get close enough to catch a glimpse before dark? So I start walking, snapping photos with almost every step. But before I even make it a half mile, it starts to downpour. Jagged streaks of lightning are up ahead where the castle is. So I can't see anything. And I'm soaking as I hustle back to the hotel.
I fall asleep to rest while it rains, and when it stops, I go back out to see the city center lit up by charming street lamps. Couples are kissing. And there's a man playing accordion by a water fountain and kids eating ice cream nearby with their parents. I feel so at peace. And fully present.
To be continued in next blog post...