One of things I find most scintillating about traveling in Europe is how quickly you can move from one culture to another. Just a hop, skip and a jump across a border and suddenly the language, the food, the customs, even the side of the street you drive on – they’ve all changed. You can get on a train in France with a croissant in hand and when you step off in England a few hours later, you’ll have to be reminded to look the other way before you cross the street to buy a scone.
Sometimes the change can be jarring. For instance, my recent return journey from Italy took me from Naples to Munich to Washington. The Naples airport is chaos. It’s crowded and loud and basically a continuation of the mayhem on the streets outside. My gate was both hard to find and labeled with two different numbers, which seemed unnecessarily complicated. As I was waiting in a completely disorganized and slow-moving knot of people to board, I noticed a middle-aged man in front of me with a permanently furrowed brow. Then I saw that his passport was German, and I understood why he looked so unhappy.
When we landed in Munich, we might as well have landed on a different planet. The terminal was vast, quiet, and immaculate. Signs directing me to my (clearly labeled) connecting gate not only pointed the way, but also helpfully told me how long it would take me to get there. I could imagine the unhappy German passenger sighing in relief when he stepped through the doors; in a betrayal of my German heritage, I have to admit I was a little relieved, too.
Unfortunately, Italy’s delicious espresso had been left behind as well. But I could console myself for that loss with a good German pretzel as I waited for the orderly boarding process to begin.