This past October I was one of the lucky Firm Grounders who made their way to Europe for vacation. Between Tom, Abbey, Nick and myself, we have sent quite the delegation across the Atlantic in the last six months. Out of pure coincidence, Nick and I both happened to plan portions of our respective trips to the exact same place over the exact same timeframe and yet did not manage to run into each other and take the what would’ve been legendary Firm Ground selfie. Although we did not see each other, we both planned the first stop of our respective trips to Munich for a small gathering of beer-lovers the locals refer to “Oktoberfest.” In reality there isn’t anything small about Oktoberfest: it’s basically a much larger version of the Minnesota State Fair except everything revolves around beer. Though Nick and I didn’t see each other at the festival, my friends and I did run into another Minnesota fixture. While sitting in one of the beer halls, we heard a large group of people at the table across the aisle speaking English and shortly after that learned that were the owners and family of Schell’s Brewery! We discussed our favorite local beers and mourned about the Vikings failed Super Bowl destiny and took obligatory photos with our newfound friends.
After Munich we took the train to Salzburg, Austria and tried to avoid the tourist traps related to Sound of Music being filmed there, which it offered in spades. It turns out most of the locals we talked to actually detest the movie. We spent a day in the nearby Alps and explored the world’s longest ice cave at one of the peaks. The ice has been forming for thousands of years and has taken on very sculptural and spatial properties that reminded me that Mother Nature is truly the greatest designer.
The train brought us to our final destination of Paris. Paris is one of the cities I had learned about most in school and thus the city I had the most preconceived notion of. After a day of scheduled stops at all the must-sees (which were exactly as expected and flooded with other tourists), another unexpected interaction occurred. At one of the many Parisian sidewalk cafes (which are experiential highlights of the City), I got to talking to a local about film and books we had experienced. I ended up spending the rest of my short time in the city with my newfound friend as we spent an unseasonably warm day just strolling around Paris as she showed me all the local gems that I would never have experienced otherwise. This sort of absent-minded strolling and café-hopping while conversating was one of the most memorable and effective ways of absorbing a place. It slows things down and garners an appreciation for the fabric of the city that transcends an itinerary. If you’re familiar with Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise film, my experience in Paris was uncannily similar and right out of the movies!