I cannot recall at what point we decided that we would visit Germany, or to be exact, visit one of my dearest friends, Michaela. Michaela and I met in Indiana in the USA some 18 years ago, way back when I worked on a summer camp in Indiana. We hit it off from day dot. At the time, Michaela was 19 years old and studying to become a translator. Apart from her effervescent and bubbly personality (you can just imagine how we were drawn to each other), I was stunned at how well she spoke both English and Italian….to the point where I felt her Italian was better than mine! This was the beginning of a very special friendship! I would go and visit her in Germany a few years later, in 1992, but after that it was letters (which eventually morphed into e-mails) and the occasional phone call. Communication was not always necessarily frequent, but we never lost touch!
Before I left Australia, around a year ago, I called Michaela and told her of my forthcoming trip around-the-world. I also told her how how I really wanted to visit, but that I could make no promises, as I simply did not know how much time we would have by the time we reached Europe. I always hoped, but could not see how it could possibly eventuate! I later found out that Michaela always knew in her heart that it would eventuate, and continued to hold on to this belief. I believe that this is a large portion of the reason that we were reunited again, after 18 years!
This is a story about love, friendship and commitment. It reads like something out of a book or a movie, but it is the real-life tale of how a “novel” became a reality. Across the miles, neither Michaela nor I ever lost contact, and our friendship grew stronger. On this trip, hope eventuated into something tangible and real.
I am not sure at what point it happened, but Alex and I started discussing a potential flight to Germany, to visit my long-time friend Michaela. It could not have been much longer than a week before booking the flight! We had originally wanted to spend some 12 days in Japan, leaving Paris, and going via Hong Kong around the 4th of August, but all flights between Paris and Hong Kong were fully booked, our scheduled flight being for the 9th of August. As the time grew closer, although we were wait-listed for the Paris to Hong Kong sector, it was becoming increasingly evident that it was not going to happen. What to do with all those “extra” days then? The solution seemed simple. Why not visit Michaela? I must confess that this had crossed my mind a few times prior, but I pushed it to the back….I mean, we were on a waitlist that would eventuate, right? Wrong! I told Alex of my plan, and we immediately began an internet search for a potentially cheap flight. I would like to say that Lady Luck was on our side, but I truly believe it was destiny. Yes, some really terrific deals were indeed available. It seemed as though the planets were aligned, and ready to offer Michaela and I a gift. Bursting at the seams with excitement, I promptly e-mailed Michaela, and asked her how she felt about receiving some visitors IN a few days FOR a few! Needless to say, the answer was affirmative, but I cannot even begin to imagine what Michaela thought when she received that e-mail.
Over the next few days, I tried to change the date we were flying from Casablanca to Paris. This involved making Madrid only a quick stop-over (originally, we were supposed to be flying from Casablanca to Madrid, stopping for a few days, and then continuing onto Paris). A few e-mails to the Flight Centre in Australia to change the dates on our around-the-world ticket, working out when Michaela was available, and getting a super cheap deal from an airline company called German Wings (2 euros return trip, Paris – Stuttgart plus taxes)……it all seemed to work out, and before we knew it, we had booked a flight to Stuttgart on the 4th August, coming back on the 8th. I couldn’t believe it, and I am not sure that Michaela could either!
Whilst Michaela is not your typical stereotypical German, in that she is very relaxed and easy going, she definitely has that brilliant German attention to detail. She sent me a wonderfully detailed agenda of how and where to go on reaching Stuttgart Airport (that only a German could). We were to catch a train from the airport to the central Stuttgart station, and then another to Karlsruhe. From there she would be waiting “with my arms wide open” ( I have quoted her here) for us. Herxheim, where she and Matthias live is then a half hour car ride away. Too easy!
The flight over was short and comfortable, and I would highly recommend German Wings. On landing, I could hardly contain my excitement, and Alex could clearly see this. Despite Michaela’s detailed information on how and when we would arrive at Karlsruhe, we actually arrived at the Stuttgart central station earlier than anticipated (as we had left the airport earlier…….Michaela had not calculated on us getting our bags so quickly), and thus we could get an earlier train to Karlsruhe, which would arrive an hour earlier. I stumbled over my own feet, in order to get to a phone, and ask Michaela is this was OK. Needless to say it was.
The train ride to Karlsruhe, as expected, was efficient and fast, and needless to say, clean! No need to sit on magazines and cover the headrest with a plastic bag here! Alex could sense my excitement. The hour flew by, so to speak! The train had arrived, on time and to the minute! The people in front of us seemed to take forever to get off! I wanted to push them off! Alex was looking at me, and his eyes said what his mind was possibly thinking, which was that I would be off soon enough! It wasn’t soon enough for me!Finally, we were off, and as I walked with my two backpacks, and with my chest thrust forward, I scanned and strained my eyes until I saw Michaela, waiting with Mathias, her husband. As we screamed (and I do mean screamed, with not the slightest exaggeration) out each other’s names, I hurled my small back pack into Alex’s (waiting!) arms and we ran towards each other, and hugged, and hugged and cried and hugged some more! We were both so emotional! The two husbands stood there and watched, and more importantly, understood! After a few more hugs, and kisses, and certainly more tears, Michaela introduced Mathias to me, I introduced Alex to her, and we introduced the boys to each other! It was like no time had ever lapsed, and I believe that in a true friendship, you can always take up where you left off! Michaela and I looked into each others eyes in a way that belies words. Our hearts and souls captured the moment beautifully!
It was a truly emotional welcome”, and Michaela made us feel at home from the second we reconnected. Our time in Germany was short, but it was a precious reminder that what truly counts in life is quality and not quantity! Michaela and Matthias, live in a typical little “gingerbread house” village, called Herxheim, in the beautiful German countryside. In this neck of the woods there is no smog or pollution, just lots of green rolling hills, vineyards and tranquility! Just what the doctor ordered! (or in my case, perhaps, just what the naturopath ordered…or the chiropractor!). Michaela and I chatted all the way back to Karlsruhe, which was half an hour nonstop…..oh yes, the trip was half an hour, but I am referring to the talking here! The guys did not get a word in sideways! No sooner had we arrived than we were being treated to brunch, including various cheeses, breads, sweet pastries, and excellent coffee (which we continued to indulge on for our entire duration with Michaela). It was good to be “home”; when travelling, special friends, special moments (and Alex would argue, special food!) is the closest we get! The rest of that afternoon was spent on chatting, relaxing and walking around the gingerbread village, with a stopover at “Enzo Tornatore Gelateria”…..those Italians get around! Whilst the others opted for various shades of ice-cream (including milkshakes), I went for, you guessed it, (more!) coffee!
As our next day was a Sunday, we were all able to spend it together. We had two excellent tour guides, and were “escorted” in a personal vehicle. I must say, after months and months of lugging backpacks and food, and jumping from one form of transport to another, this was a refreshing change! First we visited Speyer, and its famous Imperial Cathedral, which is the greatest Roman Church in the world, with construction dating back to approximately 1030 to 1124. The township is another gorgeous little gingerbread village, right on the river Rhine, which we took the time to walk along, but not before stopping for a snack at one of the several eateries, close to the plaza on which the cathedral sits. Later, back in Herxheim, it was snack time again, this time at “Eiscafe Venezia”, this placed owned by Renzo, a Venetian. I told you, they are everywhere those Italians. But as long as they take their good food and drinks with them, that’s mighty fine by me! Here we were joined by Michaela’s parents, who both speak English and Rosemarie speaks Italian too. Again, although it was the first time I had met Rosemarie and Dirk, I felt like I had known them all my life.
On the Monday we were able to catch up on answering some e -mails and other bits and bobs, as Michaela and Mathias were both busy for the day. That night was dinner at “Brauhof” in Landau, some 10 kilometres from Herxheim. It brought back so many good memories, as it is one of the places I had come to eat with Michaela, all those years ago (at the time she was living in Landau). Alex tells me that the beer was excellent! It would want to be! This IS Germany! My enormous baked potato, was bursting at the seams with a variety of different veggies and cheese. No skimpy portions in this country!
Our second last day (minus Mathias, unfortunately) we were treated to a phenomenal breakfast at Cafe Ruelzheim in Landau, by Dirk and Rosemarie. It was almost like an English breakfast with tea….but this was a German breakfast with coffee…..as well as bread, fresh pretzels, home-made marmalade, a variety of cheese, cut meats, and fruit. We have been so spoiled lately. This would be the last time I would see Dirk and Rosemarie. What truly wonderful people! When my mum was alive she would say, “Dimmi con chi vai, e ti dico chi sei”, which loosely translates to, Tell me with whom you go and I will tell you who you are. In those days, I would scoff a little, as mum was always full of anecdotes and sayings with meanings and morals…… probably because she was nearly always right! But as I hugged them both before we parted company, and cried, I told them that it was clearly evident why Michaela was such a wonderful human being. Travelling can sometimes bring sad moments, but they are without a doubt overshadowed by the happy ones. I have so many special “footprints” in my heart. I hope it’s big enough to hold them all. I think so!
Later that afternoon, it was on to visit a “shoe city” (Hauenstein). It had more shoe shops in a solitary area than I had ever seen. We also passed some very impressive castle on clifftops, including Trifels Castle. From the distance, it looked exactly as a medieval German Castle should, large and imposing. Later, some more sightseeing around the region where Michaela lives, including Leinsweiler, located in the German wine district (Weinstrasse). Again, more gingerbread houses…..I was waiting for Hansel and Gretel to pop out of one of them! There is something serenely tranquil and soul-lifting to be amongst such lushness and greenery, with so few people, with spectacular vistas and to not only be in the moment, but to be part of that moment.
Our few days in Germany were going far too quickly. We had all bonded so well, and both Mathias and I as well as Michaela and Alex, had some long and interesting conversations, well into the early hours of the morning. On Wednesday, our last morning, we got up at 7.00am so that we could have breakfast with Mathias, as he was leaving early, and it would be the last time we saw him. Mathias and I had become firm friends over the last few days, and I was so incredibly happy that Michaela had met somebody who was her soul-mate and such a terrific person.
Oh, and somewhere in amongst the eating, eating and more eating, we went to Alexandros Greek restaurant in Herxheim. It was run by a Greek family, whose four sons all played a part, from cooking, to waitering to being behind the bar and serving terrific espresso coffee (you Greeks are catching up on how to create a good shot of liquid gold, hey!). It was exactly like watching a Greek family in Australia, but here Greek was interspersed with German rather than English. That old adage is so true: “You know where you are born, but not where you will die!” Efcharisto for a delicious meal, and all that ouzo and espresso!
We knew that our time was wrapping up, and on that last morning, whilst Alex kept himself busy with the computer, Michaela and I had some D ‘n’ M (deep and meaningful) conversations about a number of things, as well as watching “The Secret” together, which was both uplifting and inspiring. We truly can do ANYTHING we want to do, but we need to believe in both ourselves and the fact that it is possible! Lots and lots of food for thought.
Finally, it was time for Michaela to drive us to Karlsruhe, from where we would catch the train back to Stuttgart, and then the plane back to Paris. As we hugged goodbye, we both felt a wave of serenity…….”This is not goodbye, it’s merely until we see each other next time”. And we will see each other “next” time! I await you both in Melbourne….with the exact open arms that you greeted me with on my arrival in Germany! Until we meet again Michaela! And we will meet again!
Dedication: To my beautiful and special friend Michaela, and yes, you are indeed my soul sister. Thank you for a brilliant, short but impressionable few days in Herxheim. It was above and beyond a pleasure to connect with you again, and meet your gorgeous husband Mathias, as well as your parents Dirk and Rosemarie. I felt like I had known all of them my entire life. Thank you for believing that reconnecting was possible and part of our destiny. Know that you occupy a very special place in my heart, and that neither distance nor time will ever divide us. It’s “The Secret”…….close your eyes……..and I will be there! – Baccioni carissima amica!
Next: Our fleeting but memorable time in Japan.
” I have found that if you love life, life will love you back”. – Arthur Rubinstein (1886 – 1982)
(Photos: 1.- This is what Michaela had to say about me 18 years ago! 2.- Michaela and Ombi, renited. 3.- What gives you the feeling we were so happy to see each other? 4.- Having a snack on the train from Stuttgart to Karlsruhe. 5.- Did I mention what a great cook Michaela was? Ombi, Michaela and Matthias in their apartment in Herxheim. 6.- Life in Speyer, with the cathedral in the background. 7.- Alex having a beer, Speyer. 8.- Outside Cafe Ruelzheim, with Rosemarie, Dirk and Michaela. 9.- Hansel and Gretel, oops Michaela and Ombi, outside a gingerbread house, German wine district. 10.- Ombi and “the boys” at Alexndros Greek Restaurant. L to R: Theo, Ombi, Dimi and Pasqualis, Herxheim. 11.- Ombi and Mathias relaxing on the Rhine, near Speyer. 12.- A “group” photo…..sorry, someone has to take the photo, this time it was Mathias.)