On not wearing a Canadian flag

It is now slightly more than five years since my first trip abroad; one thing I’ve come to see is that the first day is always memorable.

[image:Frauenkirche.JPG:left:tall]In the early summer of 2005, I picked my backpack up from the cart of other oddly shaped luggage which had not been sent to the carousel and staggered towards the Munich airport rail station with a very nice young couple from Texas whom I had just met on the plane. Machines being labeled in German and our collective knowledge being remarkably insufficient, the three of us managed to figure out how to buy a ticket, the all-day, multi-ride ticket despite only needing to get into the city – fortuitous as it turns out – after barely 10 minutes of frustration, once someone pointed out that we desperately needed assistance. The thirty-minute train into the city saw me conjuring images from war movies as though the corn beside the train was somehow different from the corn in the Midwest. I had crossed into the mythical land where history is from, such being my stated rationale which made this trek crucial to my future as a Mighty Historian.

Although this account is rather delayed in coming, it serves to point out the significance of a handful of moments which managed to etch themselves into my memory for one reason or another. I had plead with my parents to fund my little adventure and they had graciously agreed; I think that may well have been one of the times I benefited from the strife between my parents following their divorce. I had shifted my major from engineering to history a year before and had lept quickly onto the bandwagon of belief in ‘life-changing experiences’ which could ‘only’ be had by participating in the early twenty-something humanities student ritual of carting a hiking pack across Europe. I caught the wave at an interesting point, when individual travel fell into the category of being downright easy, but before the current wave of developing states as destinations had particularly emerged as part of the standard college narrative.

After quickly finding the hotel room reserved by my recent companions where they were able to drop their luggage, the three of us sought out the iconic entry point into Bavaria’s true historical significance: beer.

German purity laws and Bavarian drinking being what they are, an evening spent with a group of Canadians at the Hofbrau House can prove devastating for a jet-lagged skinny kid who hadn’t particularly imbibed fermented beverages until a year prior, and in no substantial quantity between even that point and stepping off the plane. [image:augustiner_lion.JPG:right:tall]The few weeks leading up to the trip a few of my thoughtful friends had taken it upon themselves to see to it that I could at least mildly handle my alcohol, such that I wouldn’t end up dead on the trip. Their effort, though valiant, was perhaps not enough to prepare me for my first Mass of high percentage, real beer. Certainly it was not sufficient for my fourth that night, as prompted by my northerly neighbors.

At this point I feel I should point out a critical note from an earlier moment in this story: my Texan companions from the flight had a reserved room awaiting them. It turns out that if you don’t know where to look and don’t have an address for a place or a map, it is just as difficult to find a place in Europe as it is in the US. Additionally, my assumption that there would be clear directions, anywhere one looked, pointing to the nearest youth hostel, suddenly seemed a little suspect right about that moment. A mild subtlety I had avoided when planning based on the stories that hostels abound across Europe, was that I might want to know where I was going to sleeping before starting in on the beer my first night and that such knowledge might require some kind of guide or search. A first lesson learned.

Thumbing through the pages of this amazing book every group of backpackers seemed to have called ‘the Lonely Planet’, I quickly found many of those minor pieces of information such as maps and addresses and even directions to hostels from the nearest rail station or bus stop – incredible! Almost immediately I found the place I would venture off to for the night (by this time ‘morning’ is a better description), a chateau from the 17th century, located a mere two kilometers from the last stop on a rail line; I had found History!

Again, I’ll bring up the point that I had accidentally purchased the much more expensive day-pass for the train and note that this might have been just the circumstances I would like not to have been in while trying my hand at getting a new rail pass. After the train, two kilometers and a bag which had me staggering even in the airport made for a significantly longer walk that I anticipated, with more than one stop along the way to relieve myself of fluids in one form or another. A little while after 1 in the morning, much to my relief I reached the door of the chateau. Setting my pack down, I let out a hefty sigh and pulled the door handle nearest the sign pointing at reception. Quite predictably, the door only rattled against the floor lock. Lesson learned number two.

[image:Munich_Hostel.JPG:left:tall]Mercifully, one of the desk workers happened to be doing rounds and heard me at the door. After informing me that they were closed – and curfew was nearly 3 hours earlier anyway – and that they were full, he majestically transformed into my hero for the day when he offered to let me stay in one of the employee rooms. It turns out, a worker was off travelling for the night, leaving his room open. I can’t say that I remember being more thankful for a twin been up to that point in my life.

The next morning (by that time ‘afternoon’ is a better description) I packed quickly and stumbled out into the sunlight, only to again find the whole of the place – and reception – empty. The chateau was part of Youth Hosteling International and has a daily curfew during which you can’t be in the hostel as well as one at night; I had managed to sleep through that (by a few hours) and since there wasn’t a record of me checking in at reception, no one made sure I was out. Having no idea what a bed cost and no one to ask, I left a thank you note and went on my way. I still had another few hours before my first day of the trip would be complete.