I was lucky enough to travel to Berlin with work this week, and to meet colleagues from across Europe. Along with the absolute treat that was staying in a five star hotel, I was also reminded of how lucky we are to have the freedom and ability to hop across the channel; that within hours we can be sitting in a café in any number of European cities, eating a croissant or a bratwurst or a beef goulash; drinking a Cava or a coffee or a beer (I don’t even like beer but hey, you get the picture I’m trying to paint. It’s romantic!).
Despite the fact that we are geographically so close – and I’m sure this is only my romanticised, been-there-for-a-week-on-holiday viewpoint – I find such a positive cultural difference between the UK and the other European countries I’ve visited. People seem more passionate, more engaging, more open; daily life seems somehow more relaxed – there’s always time to sit and drink a coffee or to spend hours talking over dinner, or to have a conversation with a stranger. I realise I’m being horribly general. Maybe it’s just because they’re speaking a different language which my small mind finds somehow exotic. I don’t care, I love it!
One of the things I enjoyed most about my time in Berlin was simply having the opportunity to spend time and speak with people from other places. Living in London, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the whole world isn’t contained within the M25, that elsewhere in Europe people have similar, yet interestingly different ways of doing things, thinking about things, going about their daily lives. How fascinating to hear about a Norwegian colleague’s journey to work across the Fjord, to learn that driving around a herd of elks on your way home is completely normal in Sweden, to hear such a range of beautiful accents (all speaking perfect English of course), to greet people with two (or even three if you’re Dutch) kisses on the cheek.
And I must also give mention to the PASTRIES! Nothing in the UK ever compares to the buttery goodness of a continental pastry or a breakfast bread basket (complete with salty, creamy butter of course) – and I feel genuinely sorry for anyone who has the misfortune of being gluten free in Europe. A continental buffet breakfast is an actual dream.
We’re so lucky in the U.K. that we can pretty well go anywhere and guarantee that we’ll be able to make ourselves understood. Even the man selling sausages from a giant sausage-shaped backpack near the station speaks perfect English. I am totally in awe of anyone who speaks more than one language, and feel universally embarrassed that we as a nation are afforded such a laziness when travelling abroad that we often don’t even try a basic hello.
Having completed GCSE German many moons ago (A* might I add – check me out), I had even managed to throw a few danke schons around the place by the end of my stay in Berlin. Sadly I didn’t get to use the one phrase I do remember from Frau Dibb’s classes – Ich trage ein grun rock – but hey, you never know when you might meet a blind German person who desperately needs to know what colour skirt you’re wearing.
My experience of Europe has probably been fairly typical, and there’s still much I have yet to see. But what I have seen has left me with many great memories – holidays to France and Spain with family: long, boiling hot days spent in the sun-bleached garden of a French gite drinking Peach Ice Tea; trips to Carre Forre to buy new school stationary (when things were actually cheaper abroad), or discovering that you could eat a three course meal with wine for ten euros in Northern Spain (bye bye exchange rate, it was good whilst it lasted). Waking up to the gentle sound of cow bells in the Spanish countryside, marvelling at endless fields of startlingly bright sunflowers in the South of France, or tulips in Holland. Being completely dumb-struck by a visit to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, or amazed by the light and colour in Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona; eating the most unbelievable marshmallows on a trip to Lille with my Mum – never to be found again, no matter how hard we looked.
There was of course also a completely culture-less trip to Magaluf, age 18 – the less said about that the better (I’m shaking my head at my juvenile self, lugging a backpack full of cheap wine and vodka onto the plane in the days before anyone spoke about terrorism and there was a 100ml liquid limit); a hen do in Berlin where – in classic Brits abroad style – we made our young, trendy guide (nose ring, Doc Martens, backpack – at stark contrast with our ‘girls on a hen do’ dresses and heels) pause the pub crawl so we could make a pit stop for pizza at 7pm (dreadfully uncool) following a day cycling around the town on a ‘beer bike’ (we drank Prosecco instead). Weekend breaks and trips with friends – discovering local bars and restaurants, smoking shisha in a ‘ruin pub’ in Budapest and nearly missing our plane the next day, drinking fruit beers in a hidden cliff-side bar in Dubrovnik, overlooking that amazing blue sea, seeking out a tapas bar for locals in Barcelona and ordering way too much food embarrassingly early.
We’re so lucky to live so close to so many countries of rich culture, beautiful food and amazing sights – and it breaks my heart that in these dark times the world seems – in a way – to be getting smaller again; that people may be scared to travel to Paris or Brussels; that others might not be able to gain access as easily as they might once have done, that children born today may not have the same freedom to cross borders, to explore, to see more and learn more. Whoops – maybe this has turned into a bit of a Brexit post. Without knowing what the future really holds, let’s make the most of it whilst we can: book that EasyJet flight, drink that third beer (even if it does cost ten euros at today’s exchange rate), try that weird looking fruit (it will most likely be tasteless) – eat as many pastries as you possibly can!