Our journey to Germany was largely to visit two friends of mine. One, Moni Simoneit, lives in Frankfurt. She met us in Prague for the weekend, then we passed through Frankfurt to visit her there. The other, Vjollca Islami, is from Pristina, Kosovo. I met Vjollca, her mother, Zenepe, and her younger sister, Shpresa, 5 years ago in a refugee camp in Albania during the Kosovo Crisis. I was doing some volunteer work in the camp where they were staying. Vjollca is my age and was a journalist in Pristina. After they repatriated back to Kosovo I visited them 3 different times in 1999 and 2000 while doing volunteer work for World Relief. I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to be part of their family and was thankful for the internet as a way to keep in touch with Vjollca since I was last there 4 years ago. In April Vjollca married a Kosovar Albanian who has been living in Germany for about 10 years, so she moved to Germany after their wedding to be with him.
In addition to visiting my two friends we also tried to fit in a tour of a BMW factory. With these intentions we jumped on a train from Prague to Regensburg, Germany (northeast of Munich) and picked up a rental car to give ourselves more flexibility. Unfortunately, none of the three plants in the area (Regensburg, Dingolfing, and Munich) could accommodate our last-minute schedule (Munich was booked til mid August). We found ourselves in southern Germany, staying in the pleasant little town of Landshut (about 30km northeast of Munich) with an 8 hour drive up to Dusseldorf to visit Vjollca. We had thought she was in Karlsruhe, about half the distance, but her mother was in Dusseldorf visiting her sister and Vjollca was with them for a week. I was very excited that I would also get to see her mother, but it made for a long day of driving.
Driving the autobahns of Germany is quite an experience. Unfortunately our little Peugot 206 didn't harbor the horsepower that the tricked out Beemers, Mercedes, and Audis possess, so we had to be careful to stay out of their way. They will literally run you over if you're not careful. Most of the autobahns we were on were just two lanes, which requires a lot more attention from the driver. The right lane is all the trucks and slow vehicles cruising along at a very un-German 50mph. The left lane is dominated by all the Nascar-wanna-be's flying by us at about 110mph, as if we were standing still. So, the issue is, the regular driver who wants to go about 70 to 80mph does a lot of active lane changing to try to get around the slow trucks without accidentally cutting off the huge mercedes who doesn't have time to slow down for a lil' ol' Puegot. Snowden did an excellent job of weaving in and out of traffic while I did my best to thoroughly confuse him as I was trying to discipher the map and make sense of the road signs. He was, understandably, exhausted when we finally reached Dusseldorf. It didn't help that every time we got off the autobahn we seemed to be completely lost. Feeling it was much safer to just stay on the autobahn we were tempted to just keep going up to Hamburg, but our map didn't cover northern Germany.
Though our visit with Vjollca and her mother was brief it meant a lot to me to be able to see them. We had a chance to get caught up on our lives over the last four years, see some pictures from their wedding in April and share news about our families.
Our drive back to Frankfurt to see Moni and her husband, Patrick took us through the town of Limburg. In Limburg we stumbled across Biwak, a mini REI (an outdoor gear store for all of you non-northwesterners). Back in Greece when Snowden sat in paint and had to replace his pants I managed to get some on my shorts. Mind you, not to the degree he accomplished--there were no Rorshak bunny sightings on my rear-end, but enough that a replacement was not a bad idea. I was very excited to find a new pair of shorts (it doesn't take much to get us going), but only the very observant will notice a difference in the pictures as I was able to find the exact same color--not a requirement for new shorts, but more of an effort to avoid getting khaki shorts and thus matching yet another item of clothing to Snowden's wardrobe.
In Frankfurt Moni and Patrick treated us to a delicious, home-cooked dinner, lively conversation, and lots of Italian wine. They took a four month trip through Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand a few years ago so there were lots of shared laughs about the realities of life on the road--i.e. the simple appreciation of something as basic as a clothes drier. Our clothes received their first artificial blast of heat in Moni and Patrick's drier during our visit.