I just wanted to visit my birthplace in Germany for my 50th birthday in December 2019. It ended up snowballing into an eight-country tour over seven weeks. I figured if I was going to travel all the way to Hamburg, Germany why not travel around a bit and see some more of Europe? What if this was my last chance to visit Europe? (Sadly, as you read this article around the time of publishing, you know the probability of this is high.)
Returning to Where I Started
I was 7 months old when we left Hamburg for Canada, so I have no memories of Germany. My parents of course did but they are now both deceased and I regret not probing them about their life in Europe. I was last there on a family trip when I was 18, but of course, at that age, my history wasn’t much of a priority. Now, 32 years later, my birthplace has developed tremendously but I still had to see it for myself. I was hoping to research and find some birth records, but this was Christmas time, and I knew I wasn’t going to accomplish much. (Europe shuts down early for the holidays.) But what I did accomplish in Hamburg in 48 hours was truly amazing and that story will be shared in another blog.
Travel as You Go, European Style?
Several weeks of planning with the help of friends and new overseas connections led to a very vague travel plan by the time I left Phoenix AZ on a red-eye on December 5th, 2019. I’m a structured, detailed-oriented person who doesn’t have much vagabond blood running through her veins. But I have been crawling out of that box in the last few years, slowly. Most of us know, the older we get, the less likely you want to take risks, especially as a female traveling alone. The only “book-as-you-go” activity I did was a 10-day period in Bali, early 2018, and that was in a warm sunny climate.
So, I knew my ability to “trust the process” and “let my travels take me wherever” will be immensely tested this time in cold Europe, where the sun goes down by 4 pm. I did it anyway. Perhaps this was my crazy out of character thing many do when they turn fifty and push their limits, like skydiving. I was good with this because I have no interest in jumping out of a plane or off a cliff.
I will disclose, I wasn’t completely alone. Except for the train from London to Amsterdam, I traveled alone between cities and countries. And in most destinations, I either stayed with friends or family or stayed in my own rental and met up with them.
I reconnected with some family in England including cousins I met for the first time. I returned to one of my other favorite countries, Portugal, to visit my friend who’s like a brother to me, Dr. Doug, and met another American chiropractor friend for the first time in Munich. What really fascinated me was how some connections from my Facebook female traveler groups manifested into timely and well-orchestrated meetups in several cities. I was so fortunate to meet some of the loveliest people who took me on tours and ended up being lasting long-distance friends. (Look out for those stories on Amsterdam, Hamburg, and other destination cities).
Alone in Berlin.
The only city I had completely to myself was Berlin. What an incredible experience having that solitude to explore such an amazing city. It felt like a breather, yet at times I was anxious, not sure if I was making the most of my short days there. The wandering however led me to some experiences I wouldn’t have had with a travel companion. This city is just too big for 3 days.
Dead Cold Days.
It felt like the dead of winter. I’ve been living in sunny Arizona for 16 years and hadn’t seen snow for more than 10 years. I’m a summer-loving person. My coldest moments were standing on the deck of the Hamburg Philharmonic, on top of the Olympic Tower in Munich (photo below), and on top of the Austrian Alps in Innsbruck. There were a few other moments when I thought I was crazy for doing this (like getting lost at night alone in the streets of Prague trying to find my way back to my Airbnb). In the end, it was all worth it. I grew, toughened up, built cold resistance, and a stronger appreciation for the beauty and wisdom in the people I met from different cultures.
I was amazed I didn’t get injured, didn’t lose anything valuable, and didn’t lose my mind along the way. But I must admit, I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the support and encouragement from friends here at home, friends in my Facebook group, some who were embarking on similar solo travels, and of course, my friends and family in Europe who kept their doors and phone lines open to me. And to this day, one year later, it warms my heart knowing kindness and generosity is a cross-cultural, borderless phenomenon.
15 destinations in 8 countries in 7 weeks
This was a combo of a birthday trip, connecting with loved ones, and research health and culture for this blog. Most travels after Munich were booked as I went along. So, I had wiggle room to explore Western Europe. I just needed to get back to London by a certain date for the return flight home. Except for London, Hamburg, Lisbon, and Milan, all destinations were new to me.
December 6th to 10th – London. Visiting family and new friends in my health industry.
December 10-12th – Amsterdam with Carla from Melbourne Australia, a new Facebook group friend doing a similar tour around Europe for (coincidentally) the same seven weeks. The city I wandered relentlessly. I need to return in the spring.
December 12th to 14th – Hamburg, Germany, the pinnacle of this trip involving deeply mixed emotions. I connected with more new friends here than any other stop, including a long time family friend I met for the first time : a connection to my late mother.
December 14th-17th – Berlin, Germany. Solo exploration. I interviewed a local sports chiropractor. This city is incredible.
December 17th to 21st – Prague with Carla two days. Cold, cold, cold and majestic architecture.
December 21st – 24th – Munich to visit a colleague and friend, Dr. Matt. More Christmas Markets and local biergartens.
December 24th to 25th – Innsbruck, Austria to see snow and ring in my birthday (ironically not in Germany but close enough.)
December 25th to 27th – Munich to say goodbye to Germany.
December 27th to 28th – Verona Italy. The start to a whole new authentic Italian experience.
December 28th to January 6th– Milan and Como. New friends, a traditional New Year’s, amazing private tours, food, fashion, history and views.
January 6th to 16th – Lisbon, Portugal. Visiting friends Dr. Doug and Claudia. Immersing myself in Portuguese culture and an increased appreciation for the amazing food and people.
January 16 to 20th Sevilla, Spain – Meet up with local Flamenco Dancer and friend Muriel for a private lesson, personal local tours with Guillermo, and new food experiences.
January 20th to 23rd – Back to Lisbon for more research and meetings.
January 23rd to 26th London, Kings Cross. Meeting cousins for the very first time, reuniting with a friend I met in Bali in 2018, research at London Centre of International Champissage, and circled back to my newly adopted London family.
January 26th, 2020 Return home to Arizona, USA, with a heart full of love and my head spinning with wonderful experiences…. and ready to go back to my sunshine state.
Why am I writing this blog one year later?
As soon as I arrived home at the end of January 2020, I learned there was a virus making its way around the world from China. Before I could even process the last seven weeks in Europe I was in full swing with work and life events including a move. Despite the grim current situation around international travel, I feel there is so much to share with people who may need some inspiration, some tips or a little hope for the future of global connecting and healthy travel. I hope you continue to follow this blog as I publish my chronicles of this remarkable adventure and post my favorite resources for the healthy-seeking traveler.
Below is a photo one of my Spanish friends sent me in April, 2020. Prior to this pandemic, La Encarnación square in Sevilla, Spain was always swarmed with locals and tourists. You can see the base of Las Setas, the famous architectural structure.