"A bend in the road is not the end of the road... Unless you fail to make the turn." -Unknown
Five months ago we set out for Europe, unsure exactly what we were doing and how it would end up. At times, the road has been narrow, winding, frustrating, and scary. At other times, it has been euphoric, healing, beautiful, and joyful. Alas, it is all part of the journey, which has undoubtedly changed us in ways we have really yet to understand. For now, this is the end of the road in Europe. The time has come to return to the United States as another commercial salmon fishing season is quickly approaching, and thus, we are wrapping up our European leg of our World Trip. By the numbers, we traveled 16,500 kilometers across 22 European countries. This does not tell the full story, of course, but hopefully my previous updates can fill in most of the gaps (#1, #2, and #3).
We are incredibly grateful for the experiences we've had and reflect on the past 5 months in awe, gratitude, and nostalgia. Simultaneously, we are tired. I don't think most people realize the toll long-term travel takes on a body and mind. For us, a break from traveling comes at a good time, as we're both ready for some familiarity and consistency, surrounded by those we know and love and working jobs we both enjoy.
The final month of travel in La Tortue Blanche was as wonderful as the first four, covering parts of Eastern Europe and Germany. Since my last post from the farm in Slovakia, we traveled north to Slovak Paradise National Park. We saw a few cool hikes we wanted to try and with a name for a park like this one, how could we pass it up? It was a fun and quirky hike through a gorge where ladders, railing, platforms, and catwalks have been installed for hikers to climb one-way up waterfalls and cliffs along the riverbed. It was a ton of fun and unlike any other hike we've done!
We then continued on to Southern Poland, stopping for a night in Krakow. We were feeling really tired on this day and almost skipped going into the center of town, but I am SO glad we pressed on (thanks for the encouragement, K&A)! Krakow was one of my favorite cities we visited... much like Paris with beautiful parks and squares with outdoor cafes everywhere you turn and as clean as a whistle. It was a fascinating city, and I really hope I get a chance to visit for much longer in the future!
The next day, we finally ventured to Auschwitz-Birkenau. We had already visited the Anne Frank and Corrie ten Boom homes in Amsterdam and Omaha beach in Normandy, France, and this was the final WWII stop on our itinerary. However, we anticipated it would be the most difficult to witness. I am incapable of putting into words or honestly comprehending the evil that transpired in these camps. As we walked along the dusty streets between the numbered blocks and past the crematoriums and gallows, we could feel the weight of what occurred there, aware that we could never truly understand the pain and grief of those that endured the holocaust and the generations following behind them. We were moved to tears watching a group of young Jewish students openly weeping as they passed by us, draped with flags bearing the star of David. This experience was certainly a transformative moment in our travels and one I will remember for the rest of my life. This visit was not comfortable or easy, but it was incredibly important.
From Poland, we headed east through the Czech Republic, settling just outside of Prague for a few days. We really enjoyed Prague and thought it was one of the prettiest cities we had seen in Europe! We made sure to watch the famed "cuckoo" astronomical clock of Prague, which to my surprise has statues of the 12 disciples as opposed to the traditional cuckoo birds that I was expecting... Perhaps the most hilariously underwhelming tourist attraction we've seen, yet so worth it just for the laughs!
We continued on to Germany, stopping in Coburg to meet a dear friend. In 2000, my mom joined an online book club that soon spun off into a private group of women from around the world that have become very dear friends over the years via email. One of these beloved friends is Gabi, whom we finally had the pleasure of meeting and spending a few days with (much to the jealousy of my mom)! We had a wonderful time in Coburg as we celebrated her birthday by flying over Northern Bavaria in a friend's Cessna plane, enjoying dinner with all of her friends, sightseeing across Coburg to the famous landmarks, eating all the typical Franconian cuisine, and relaxing in her beautiful garden over long conversations. Gabi was a phenomenal host, and truly a wonderful person to spend time with to see Bavaria at its finest. Thanks for the warm hospitality Gabi... We miss you already!
We worked our way towards the western border of Germany en route to returning the van in Dusseldorf and managed to see some of Jaimie's high school friends that are stationed outside Frankfurt along the way, which was really nice! We then turned and went north, spending a couple days in Luxembourg. We were really impressed with the beauty along the eastern border of Luxembourg and thoroughly enjoyed visiting Vianden castle and taking the touristy cable car to the top of the mountain for a gorgeous view of the surrounding area.
Finally, it was time to return our van, and thus, we made our way back to Dusseldorf and spent a day cleaning La Tortue Blanche and preparing to say goodbye. Before we took off from the rental company in January, they told us, "if you get in an accident, fill out this form and call us." I remember telling him confidently that I would not get in an accident. He corrected himself to emphasize the point saying, "When you get in an accident, call us." Thus, I think it may be my proudest moment in life when we drove the van back into the rental lot without a single new scratch, ding, or dent whatsoever. I will always remember the look on the guy's face as he read our beginning and ending mileage, chuckling to himself, "16,500 kilometers ...and no damage." Surely, there was an office bet on how much damage the young Americans would have on the van when they returned five months later, and we had beat all of the odds. I may count that as my single greatest accomplishment in life. We pocketed our full security deposit refund, thanked them for the incredible experience with the van, bid a tearful farewell to La Tortue Blanche, and quickly walked away to find the bus station.
Although we were initially planning to relax for a few more days in Frankfurt and then arrive home on June 5th, we found ourselves back at the Frankfurt Airport on June 3rd, rescheduling our flight for that afternoon in order to get home to surprise my dad on his birthday the following day. It all worked out perfectly! We booked a 5 pm flight from Germany, relaxed in the United lounge in Chicago on a long layover, and finally arrived in Denver a little after midnight on June 4th. My brother managed to sneak out of the house that night and drive to the airport to pick us up, allowing us to sneak into the basement. The next morning, Jaimie and I came upstairs and brought my dad his birthday coffee, much to his surprise! We celebrated his birthday in perfect Morgan fashion: Brunch at Lucille's Creole Cafe, an afternoon nap, and working on the next building project here at the house.
All in all, it is GREAT to be HOME, even if it is only for a brief time. However, they say that it isn't the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn, so we're turning our attention to the summer and the adventures that are ahead. In about a week, I'll return to Alaska with my brother to commercial salmon fish for the season. Jaimie will be splitting her summer between working in Colorado and performing in a musical in Texas. In September, we will reassess our energy levels, bank accounts, and career opportunities to see where the road is leading us for the rest of 2016 and beyond. While there are many places we still want to travel to, namely Australia/New Zealand and South America, we're also looking at other opportunities and holding plans with open hands.
So there it is, the European leg of the World Trip 2015-2016, coming to a close! It was an incredibly wonderful year for our marriage, and we both feel that we've grown individually in more ways than we can measure. To that end, I call it a wildly successful trip. I anticipate continuing to write while in Alaska about the things we've learned over our time traveling since September and thank you all for following along our journey thus far. We receive so much encouragement and love from so many of you, and that really has fueled us on so many occasions. The quote at the top of my site resonates with me so much to this day, and truly is the best way to describe our journey:
"Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."
I hope each day challenges our ideas of living--wherever we are--and that we find beauty and purpose in each moment. I hope that none of us are at the "end of the road," but that we all continue to look forward to each upcoming bend along the road of life with joy and anticipation.