>>> The Rollercoaster of Drama
By staff writer Simonne Cullen

September 3, 2007

Europe. One small word. One big continent filled with many countries, and yet everyone you meet speaks English. Except France, where the population doesn’t speak, but communicates to each other by turning up their noses, cursing at American tourists, and of course, employing vibrant mimes.

The first time I traveled to Europe I flew on Air Italia. And if that airplane was the Titanic, my friends and I would have been classified as steerage. No flotation devices. No lifeboats. No individual television screens. The list of amenities gets shorter and shorter. It was just the three of us sitting in coach looking like bobble heads with all the turbulence, not to mention the verbal abuse inflicted upon us by the flight attendants. There were only two evil trolls/flight attendants working the entire airplane. One of them asked us if we wanted meat or fish as our main entrée. When told her, “Three fish please,” she replied with, “NO FISH, JUST MEAT!” followed by some other colorful words in Italian, then threw down the microwavable Kid Cuisine meals in our laps.

“You can’t remember the name of a single church, only a useless fact they were attached to.”

This time around, after learning the hard way not to fuck with Air Italia’s coach, I used my mom’s job perks to their full advantage and ended up in the first class cabin of the airplane for free on our way to Germany. Not only was there free champagne, a variety of cheese trays, and several different imported wines being passed around, but there were menus. Breakfast and dinner, all four course meals by Charlie Trotter. I also got my own mini-entertainment system and a seat that turned into a bed. I’m pretty sure I could have arranged for a hooker if I had asked.

Twelve hours later we arrived in Berlin. I was refreshed, full of good food and booze, and the next thing you know I was asking the guy next to me how much I should tip my masseuse.

Our first night in Berlin was spent at the Hilton. After that we'd be regulated to the youth hostel territory. It was April and my trusty “Everything You Wanted to Know About Germany, But Were Afraid to Ask” guide had already failed me. It had promised me springtime sun, daisies, and a plethora of sweaty sausage vendors, but Berlin was cold and rainy, and I only had a denim jacket and an “in case of emergency poncho” to protect me from the elements. I’m sure I blended right in with the natives wearing lederhosen with what was essentially a large garbage bag hanging over my backpack Quasimodo style.

Why do people insist on taking photos with their ponchos on? It’s not like you can frame it or show it to your friends when you get home. Like, “Yeah, it rained but we had a great time anyway.” Then they notice the photo of everyone standing around in neon orange ponchos, no make-up, damp hair matted to their heads, with a fake smile in front of the tenth church they had seen that day.

What drives me nuts about Europe is all the churches they’re packing—and they’re all fucking special. But when you’re going through your pictures when you get home, you can’t remember the name of a single one of them, only a useless fact they were attached to. “Oh here we are in front of….um….what was this one church called? Um…St. Someone who was blind and forced to eat rats for twelve years straight but never got an intestine infection. Oh well, it rained that day too. Luckily we bought some nuclear green ponchos from the gypsies.”

Unpredictable weather. That’s Europe’s calling card. And that’s when the average college student becomes braver than they had ever imagined, because it takes so much money to get there and you usually only have like ten days to make the most of it. There could be a series of violent tornados tearing up and down the English countryside, but you briefly set down your beer and push forward. “We shall risk death! We shall triumph over stormy weather! Is there no better reason than needing a photo of our group in front of Stonehenge to post on Facebook? I think not. Let’s go. Big stony rocks in a circle await!”

But back to Germany. Refusing to use the poncho, I rolled my luggage on down to the Hilton and eventually collapsed on the preheated goose down comforter, narrowly missing a case of severe bronchitis. The hotel was spectacular. We were middle class girls living in a 5-star hotel world. We put on our soft fuzzy terry cloth robes over our swim suits and headed down to the indoor pool and whirlpool. No doubt about it we were on the prowl for sustenance. Preferably some English-speaking lads with incredibly ripped bodies.

We arrived at the indoor pool—more like an indoor Garden of Babylon—but found only grandpa-esque men wearing tight Speedos and Birkenstock sandals. Full of disappointment and with our heads hung low, we headed to the sauna. Only a handful of women in there, but plenty of bush to go around if you know what I mean. It’s amazing how Europeans can speak three different languages, revolutionize techno music and indulge in sauerkraut on a regular basis, but they still haven’t figured out how to use a razor to its full capacity. Seriously, it felt like we had traveled back in time and ended up in a 70’s porn.

The lifestyles of the poor but lucky ended the next day, and Aggie and I headed into our first youth hostel of the trip. It was clean, but that’s about all worth noting. When it comes to youth hostels, as long as it’s clean and there’s a sturdy lock on your door, that’s really all you can really hope for. Getting South Park dubbed over in German on the television was just a bonus—Cartman is even more incomprehensible if you can believe that.

The adventure continues next week, with more youth hostels filled with hostiles, Japanese tourists in the beer garden, sausage, lederhosen, and singing on a mountain—and possibly photographic evidence of us in ponchos.