Monday, December 1, 2014

A Different Thanksgiving

Well, this marks my first year away from home for Thanksgiving. First year without turkey and cranberry, yams, or homemade rolls. No pumpkin pie (or any pie for that matter) either. First year with no Macey's day parade, no family within a thousand miles, no chaotic but cherished gathering of crazy cousins (everyone please appreciate the alliterations there). This Thanksgiving was a different one in many ways, but I believe it ultimately made me more grateful for the many blessings in my life. 

The holiday break started Wednesday as soon as class finished. Girls throughout the Centre had planned different trips to Rome, Salzburg, Barcelona, Florence, and Paris; all were rushing about finishing up packing, printing plane tickets, and calling out the door. How incredible is it that we live within an hour to two hour plane ride of so many different cities and countries? It blows my mind. I am grateful for the chance to travel to new countries and cultures. 

Me, Ellen, Olivia, and Keturah chose to go to Munich, Germany. I am here to report it was an excellent decision. Only regret? Not realizing that "it's going to be cold in Germany" translates to "it's going to be frigid and you should probably bring every warm thing you own." But hey, you live and you learn, right? What's a trip to Germany without a little surprise and adventure? I am grateful for the warm scarf my amazing roommate Morgs knitted for me last year because it saved my butt. She is the best human being I know folks.  

We arrived Wednesday evening, took a train to our hotel, and just crashed that night so we could get an early start and make the most of the next day. When we went down to breakfast the next morning (Thanksgiving day!) to our pleasant surprise we found what was easily the best hotel breakfast I have ever had. SCORE. At the Centre we just have cereal, toast, oatmeal, yogurt, and bananas/oranges available for breakfast. This.. This was a feast. They had EGGS. Delicious scrambled eggs. Not the gross ones hotels usually have. I am talking homemade. Along with fresh bread, fancy cheese, turkey slices, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, mix fruit salad, cereals, etc. It just was so great.. I have missed eggs for breakfast so much. I am grateful for scrambled eggs and hotels that provide them.
After our wonderful breakfast we walked ten minutes down the street and around the corner to the train station to meet up with a tour group headed to Dachau. For those who don't know, Dachau is the second largest Nazi concentration camp. It was actually the original and longest running (twelve years). It was open for many years before war was actually declared and the first five years Hitler only had German politicians and other important Germans who were a threat to him inside of it. Our tour guide knew basically everything about the war, Dachau, and Hitler. He had gone to school at Dachau and took us through the site. We saw the shower room where they were tortured frequently (easy to wash the blood away in there..), original striped pajamas, footage from when the American soldiers liberated the camp (I will never un-see those images), barracks built for fifty that housed hundreds and spread disease like wildfire, and last but not least, we walked through the cremation ovens and gas chambers that 'disposed' of thousands of lives and bodies.

Needless to say, the whole experience was incredibly heavy, humbling, horrifying... But it also made me think of the thousands that survived or the thousands that maybe did not survive but helped others to. The ones to spread hope in a hopeless situation. The ones to did not forget who they were or lose themselves in the threat of war and dehumanizing events happening all around them. Ones like Anne Frank, who could find beauty in the world and still believe people were naturally good at heart. It made me think of how our Savior suffered every pain, suffering, and trial that occurred in this world so these people were never alone. He was with them the whole way, strengthening them and helping to bear the burden of the awful things happening. It made me see the strength of the human heart and I am grateful to know that we are never alone in the hard times of our life. 
I am grateful for the experience I had there and things I learned, as hideous as the place was.

After Dachau we headed back to Munich to visit the Christmas Market! (After stopping by our hotel really quick to add more layers to our clothes, that is..) Thursday was actually the official opening so we got to listen to the Mayor speak to the town, which was way cool. It was all in German of course so we had zero clue what was being said, but there was a cute little band playing classic German songs in their classic German outfits and they lit this giant tree with lights. It was very neat to see and feel a part of their culture. We spent the evening wandering through all the markets, scoping out what we might want to purchase the next night and trying a few German treats. I am grateful for markets; they are my favorite European thing. I vote we bring them back to the States in a stronger presence. I am also grateful for Christmas lights. They must release something that makes everyone who sees them happier instantly.

For Thanksgiving dinner we went to the most adorable German restaurant off a street alley! Seriously, it was precious and very German. Luckily our waiter spoke English, as almost everyone does there. (He was also not too hard on the eyes, if you know what I'm saying..). It was all decked out for Christmas; Pine boughs everywhere, candlelight, and red and green decorations in a completely cliche (in the very best way) manner. I had chicken with broccoli and rice. Not the usual, but very very good. I am grateful for kind strangers who take pictures for you outside of restaurants and I am grateful for good chicken; I love chicken and broccoli. Honestly might be one of my favorite combinations (right up there with graham crackers + milk and peanut butter + strawberries on toast).

There was a Christmas tree coming out of the ceiling..? Who knows. We just went with it and loved it. 
Friday after another perfect breakfast we took a two hour train ride to the tiny town of Fussen to see the famous Neuschwanstein Castle--the castle Disney modeled after. Well, when we arrived my heart sunk a little because it was SO FOGGY. You honestly could hardly see twenty feet in front of you. They pointed and said "right above that building is the castle!" ..... Nothing. Could not see a single thing but fog. We started to hike up the mountain and I just was praying for the fog to clear enough to see it when we reached the top. The interior was cool, very different from any of the castles in England, but the part I was most interested in was the exterior. Well. I am grateful for prayer because by the time we hiked up past the castle to a viewing brigde the fog had cleared just enough for us to see it perfectly! It was perfect. It appeared to be floating on the clouds. I promise I took this photo (with just my phone even)! It truly was that beautiful. Crazy kings build gorgeous castles. 
Do you see a castle or am I just blind?

That evening we returned to the Christmas markets to do some shopping and try some more German food. I love the German people, language, culture, and entire country. I only got to see a very small part but it only took a glance to fall in love with it. Their architecture is adorable and the people were all so kind. Oh! This is one of the best parts: a local guy in Fussen who I bought lunch from gave me the best compliment ever. When I walked up to order he started rattling off in German to me before noticing my look of terror/non-comprehension. He then laughed and said, "Oh sorry, you look much more German than American. What can I get for you?" SCORE. One of our goals here every day consist of just trying not to look like tourists. Basically I felt like I was winning at life because a german man at a tourist shop with all Americans thought I was German. Hooray! I am so grateful for the chance I have to see other cultures and amazing places with some of my best friends; I really am the luckiest girl in the world and it is just not fair to everyone else. 

Their architecture is nothing less than perfect. 

All in all, it was a successful Thanksgiving. I was sad to miss the family festivities going on back home, but hey. I got to go to GERMANY! And if you can't be home for the holidays you might as well be visiting another country because that is the only thing that is almost as good. I am grateful to know that I will be with my family forever and grateful to know I will see them in just ten short days from now. They really are the best and the real reason I am the luckiest girl in the world. 
Love Always, Aimee

Snapshot from our beautiful walk up the mountain to Neuschwanstein