01 August 2006

are you who you say that you are?

When Erin and I stumbled off our night train from Istanbul in Thessaloniki, Greece, we quickly discovered that Germany was at least two days away by train. Not anticipating this little snafu, we left our luggage at the train station and spent a hour hunting down Thessaloniki's only internet cafe to find a cheap flight to somewhere. A few miles later, we booked a last minute flight the next day to Stuttgart, Germany, only a two hour train from Saarbrucken. Since we didn't get in touch with David's family in Thessaloniki, we set out to find the beach and figure out a place to sleep later. Another lost mile or two, a wrong bus, and an amusing round of charades at Ikea (yes, Ikea is a major bus hub in Thessaloniki), we found ourselves at the less-than-beautiful city beach. At the time, we didn't know about the "other" beach, so we plopped down in some lounge chairs and ordered margaritas (is there anything else to drink on a beach?). We had a cultural learning experience with our server when we taught him about the wonders of frozen drinks, but without a blender, it was only trivia for him. After a gorgeous sunset (see pictures, the only ones I took in Greece), we wandered further down the beach to find dinner. Attracted by a row of tables sitting right on the water's edge, we stopped at a random restaurant. Our waiter struck up a conversation with us, and when he asked us where we were sleeping (a common question in the Mediterranean countries, we've found), we told him we'd probably just sleep on the beach. He promised to come and visit us when he got off work, and we thought that was that.

Two hours later, freezing in some lounge chairs, he came by with some juice for us and stayed to chat. Between the mosquitoes and the cold, Erin and I silently decided to work our magic and get a warm bed for the night. We talked about our studies, and it turns out he's a chemistry major. Like Hakan and Ersin in Turkey, he's stretching out his studies and planning to go for a PhD to avoid the military. Seems compulsory military service isn't so popular with those who have to serve. After our friend (whose name we never did catch) went to great lengths to explain that he didn't live with his mother, he told us that since Zeus was the god of hospitality, it was un-Greek of him to leave us out in the cold, and invited us back to his flat to sleep on his floor. When we walked in the door, who do we find sitting at the kitchen table, patiently waiting for her son to come home, but mother herself. Greek hospitality meant that Erin and I shared the (twin) bed while our host slept on the floor, and mother changed the sheets while we took hot showers. The ridiculousness of our trip just keeps creeping up on us no matter where we go. The next morning, mother brought us obscene amounts of food for breakfast (encouraging us to take the leftovers with us) and even offered us a pair of (tiny) shoes as a parting gift when we left to catch the bus back to the train station to claim our bags and go to the airport. Absurdism at its best.

After another bus mishap and a taxi ride, we made it to the airport in time to find out that our Germany flight had been delayed an hour and a half. We landed in Stuttgart around 730, and I walked off the plane to be greeted by my beloved four-sided German trashcans in the baggage claim area. I love this country. The Deutsche Bahn representative, after explaining he only spoke "a little" English, fluently described our path to Saarbrucken and sold us the ticket including the S-bahn to the train station and our change in Munich. J'adore German efficiency. David met us at the train station and took us back to his flat with - wait for it - hot water, a flushing toilet, and a drain in the shower. Pure heaven. After a few beers (I'm beginning to realize I was too quick to judge German beer), we went to bed. We woke up the next morning to breakfast (score another for Greek hospitality!) and left to mail the 12 kg box we'd been hauling around since the Turkish DHL wanted to charge us 260 euro to send it home, then wandered down Bahnhofstrasse (Train Station street, formerly Adolf Hitler Blvd) to find a cheap lunch.

After lunch, we went to Saarbrucken University to see David's lab since it was "bring girls to the engineering school" day. Even though it was in English, we still had no idea what was happening. David tried valiantly to explain, and as near as I can figure, it has something to do with the deterioration of spark plugs and some graphs with pretty colors. Aahh, how I love the useless simplicity of my liberal arts degree! I love that I have so many revoltingly brilliant friends, I just wish I understood what they were doing. That night, we went out with some of David's coworkers for one guy's going-away party. Half the group was Argentinian, so Erin and I were finally surrounded by a foreign language we could understand. We can communicate in four languages between us, but sadly none of them have been useful yet. We've been feeling painfully monolingual American of late, so the Spanish evening was refreshing. David spent the night telling us about how much fun we would have had at his family's house near the pretty beach in Thessaloniki, where we would have had a big bed and lots of food, had we only called them. Since there's no internet, David's brother didn't get my email until the day we left, and I felt strange calling a family I'd never met to ask for a place to sleep. Somehow it was less embarrassing to flirt our way into a random apartment...go figure! Regardless, Greece was beautiful, now I have a reason to come back, and I'm pleased to discover that I love other parts of Germany as much as Berlin. We're spending the weekend in Paris, a city I've been dying to return to since I visited in high school.

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