So, the husband and I are off to Germany in a few weeks for a quick visit to Berlin, my parents’ native city and, quite frankly, where I might as well have been born as I’ve inherited far more krautedness than my siblings. Just ask my hairdresser how square my head is…
Now, I love travelling with my husband. LOVE IT. We both like city vacations. We both like visiting grocery stores and food markets when travelling, especially in the States (we were gleefully dumbfounded by the entire aisle of pudding at a Wegman’s once…seriously, an entire aisle of pudding cups. Who needs that much choice in pre-made pudding?). We both like museums and we both like to shop. We’re in agreement about eating cheap while travelling to afford at least one splurgey dinner at a fine restaurant. And finally, we know when to call it a day. One of the nicest moments of many on our honeymoon in California was when, at about 1:30 on our last day in San Francisco, we turned to each other and said, “I’ve had it. I can’t look at anything else. I need to flake out at the hotel.” It was so wonderful to me that I’d found someone who travelled at the same pace as I did and was willing to forgo squeezing every last moment of sightseeing out of a trip in favor of a little flake out time.
My mother, however, is not of this camp. My mother is the energizer bunny made human. My mother, who (along with my father) we’re meeting in Berlin for a week of international togetherness, does not know the meaning of “flake out time” while on vacation. In fact, I'd argue that the woman doesn't know the meaning of "flake out time" at all, being of the you-can-sleep-when-you're-dead school of thought.
I fear for my husband’s feet. And nerves.
The first time I travelled with my mother (whom I adore, don’t get me wrong, I truly cannot find a pedestal high enough for her), I was 14 and she took me to Germany for 6 weeks. I have many wonderful memories of that trip which took us from the top (Hamburg) to the bottom (Mittenwald) of the country, with a one day foray into Italy to see Venice. It was an amazing experience; the food was fabulous, hanging out at the “disco” with my older cousin was beyond fabulous (though cringeworthy to think of now), the access to European music magazines and 12 inch singles (it was 1984, this was important stuff!) was amazing, the architecture was spectacular. What wasn’t so great, though, was my mother’s unflagging energy for sightseeing. There I was, 30 years her junior and there was NO WAY I could keep up.
Naturally, even though at 14 I thought the world revolved around me, not every sight we saw was geared towards my interest. I’ve childishly never really gotten over the entire day wasted (in my view) at the bird zoo, or the afternoon spent rattling around in a horse drawn hay wagon over the Luneberger Heide. “Why are we doing this?,” I peevishly asked over the surprisingly loud clopping noise of the gigantic horse’s hooves. “It’s a special place,” mum replied, “It’s the only place in mainland Europe where they have Scottish heather.” Which was all fine and dandy except no 14 year old finds botany that interesting and it wasn’t the right time of year for the heather to be in bloom, so it just looked like a big, old, dumb field to picky, adolescent, whingey me.
The hardest were the train journeys. I don’t know about you but the rhythmic sway of a train car is an instant ticket to the Land of Nod as far as I’m concerned. I’d just about manage to get out of the station and into the countryside and then, like a light, I was out. Until my mother started poking me with her sharp little finger and hissing, “Wake up! You’re missing it. You’re MISSING EUROPE!” and I’d have to make the effort to open an eye and peer out at the landscape before falling asleep again. And God forbid my head should fall over on her shoulder as I snoozed – out came that sharp pokey finger, right in the ribs as again I was told to wake up or I’d miss Europe. As though it was going somewhere, I thought.
But really, taking a 14 year old anywhere for 6 solid weeks is an act of motherly love and devotion and believe me I was grateful for the experience. We’ve travelled together countless times since then, and truly, until my husband came along, my mother was my first choice companion on any trip. Not only have I come to appreciate her energy, but I’m also smart enough to appreciate her incredible planning capabilities. Not willing to waste time dithering, my mother likes to have a plan for each trip so that she can maximize every moment. Since we share a brain, I can trust that (bird zoos and heather fields aside), my mother has chosen good things for me to see and experience. She’s also an incredible navigator, taking the weight of route planning completely off the driver’s hands, which is nice (and she’s more fun than a GPS system too!). And finally, she travels on her stomach – no, NOT like a snake – and will plan your trip and route around the best eats she’s had on the road, always eager to share the out-of-the-way breakfast place or forgotten diner experience with you.
So, as I said, I do fear for my husband’s feet and nerves. He’s never had the full-on Christel International experience and it might be a little overwhelming. Luckily, my mother adores her son-in-law and is quite intent on making this a good trip for him, so she’ll likely tone it down. Also, as the only fluent German speaker among us (though she does speak in the Berliner slang of 1959, the last time she lived there, which is apparently hilarious to our relatives over there), she’s going to be quite tired herself as the sole translator of the group.
But I still won’t use the term “flake out time” around her, that’s for sure.