It's my second day in Bad Blankenburg. I arrived yesterday evening sometime after 9pm on the 26th (7 hours ahead of Chicago time). Before I departed the United States, I spent the morning of the 25th doing last minute packing, map checking, train ticket printing and writing down some helpful notes to use when I was in Germany. Everything that I would need for 6 months was packed in an Osprey bag and a small camera case. After saying goodbye to all of my animals (dogs, chickens, cat), my mom, stepdad, and I started the drive to O'Hare.
Once at O'Hare, I checked in, we ate lunch and waited until it was time for me to leave. Saying goodbye was difficult, emotional, and I'm really thankful to have so much support from my mom and stepdad. I found my gate with a lot of people waiting to board. But there was some sort of delay in boarding the plane, and even leaving the airport. An hour later we finally took off to Iceland. A 5 1/2 hour flight + 1 hour of waiting before takeoff.
We landed at 6:35 am. I literally had 10 minutes to board my next flight to Berlin. The flight attendants handed out fast passes to quickly get through passport control for those flying to Berlin. From the plane, I took a bus to the terminal. It was pitch dark, windy and raining, which sort of added to the drama of catching a plane at the last minute. Thankfully, the plane was waiting for all of the late passengers, and I was able to take my seat. The sound of German chatter made me really excited to be in Berlin again.
In Berlin, I took a bus from the airport to the U-Bahn (underground train) station. Prior to leaving the airport, a kind man at the information desk helped me choose the best route to Gneisenaustrasse, the street perpendicular to where I lived last summer when I was studying abroad.
Off of Gneisenaustrasse is a place called Marheineke Markthalle, an indoor market filled with various vendors. There I went to visit my friend Valerio, a man from Italy. He works at an Italian stand selling pizza (literally rolling out the dough and tossing it in the air) and other Italian foods. Last year, I met him at his stand, we became friends, and when I returned to Berlin (Last year: Berlin -> England -> Berlin -> Bad Blankenburg) he helped me a lot with navigating the city and purchasing train tickets.
So I reconnected with my friend, ate some lasagna and watched him and his coworkers interact with each other. The men and the women in the surrounding booths were also Italian. Watching Italians speak to each other is one of the most entertaining things I've encountered. They're hilarious! Friendly, warm, and inviting.
Valerio clocked out soon after I arrived. So we found a coffee shop, sat outside and caught up with each other. While we were sitting, every now and then he would greet people passing and then explain that they were customers. It made me miss Greyhouse and all of the regulars I know. After coffee and conversation, he again helped me plan a route that would get me to the train station.
Another train/bus trip took me to the Hauptbahnhof, the central train station in Berlin. My first train took me to a place called Saalfeld. It was a 2-3 hour train ride (it was long, but I love the train!) with a 50 minute wait at a creepy train station at night. As I waited, there were a few others with me, including a man passing by talking aggressively at nobody in particular.
After pretty smooth traveling via public transportation, I got on the wrong train. I didn't realize until the train had already left the station and its number flashed across a screen. It wasn't the number on my ticket. I started freaking out a little bit, as I tried to explain to the ticket lady that I was on the wrong train. She seemed to have trouble understanding me. She asked me for my passport, as she examined my ticket very closely.
After some time, she returned my passport to continue her job of scanning tickets. But to my relief, she turned around and quickly mentioned that Bad Blankenburg was the next stop. Thank God! It was then that I realized that my day of traveling was filled with mostly strangers helping me in small ways. Some ladies and a german guy on the plane, the man at the information desk, a bus driver, my friend Valerio, a man at the train station, a man on the train and this woman checking tickets.
Upon arrival in Bad Blankenburg, three people were waiting for me: Alex from Ohio, his wife Milena from Russia, and Mariya from Kazakhstan. They were welcoming, friendly and asked me about my travels as we made our way to my new room. I also met Fernanda and Lucca, both from Brazil. They are all staff here. Together we ate something chocolatey, I drank some tea and we chatted briefly before heading to bed since it was late. Mariya was very kind as she let me borrow her toothpaste and shampoo since I did not bring my own.
That night, the realization of being away from home for 6 months struck me. I cried a lot and cried even more after reading a note my mom wrote me, that she gave me at the airport. I am not unhappy that I am here. But I do miss home. I've also realized that in a way my freedom is limited, as I am here to be a part of something and not to make my own schedule to do whatever I want to do. It's not a bad thing, and what I expected, it's just something to get used to. And something to learn from. So after a long day of travel across the world, I made it back to Germany and I'm so excited to be here!