In Germany, there was a lot of walking. I spent at least four hours a day just walking from Point A to B in the ridiculous cold just because it made no sense to pay cab money. Conversion rates made me feel violated. Every time I had to hand over Euros, I did math in my head. What? PhP 900 for a box of rice with a few strips of beef and vegetables tossed in? PhP 120 for a bottle of water? Php 450 for a cup of hot chocolate? Eventually, I had to strong-arm myself to stop these little mental calculations, if only because my heart could not take any more pain.
Make no mistake: the walking was terrible. It was the coldest winter in recent memory, locals say, and even now, I remember the unrelenting cold. I piled on at least three layers of socks on top of insulating foot pads every day, and yet, I trudge about with feet feeling like they’ve been iced, fingers half dead.
But oh the beauty that surrounded me! Even in winter, with most things around me either dead or in slumber, Germany was beautiful. I remember staying awake throughout the six-hour train ride from Cologne to Hamburg because outside my window, everything looked postcard-perfect.
But oh the cold! Even now, I remember how my gloves chafed my hands, how my fingers felt like they’d fall off. I remember how dry my face felt and how, each time my scarf rubbed against my cheeks, they’d end up scratched and reddened. Sometimes, the cold made me want to stop mid-walk, curl up in the snow, and go to sleep. I heard later on this was how the recklessly young and hopelessly old died. They go to sleep in the snow, and never wake up.
Surprisingly, though the cold reddened my cheeks and blistered my skin, it never reached my bones. The beauty around me kept me quite toasty, I guess. Looking back, it kept me so warm I could have lit whole towns with the heat.
I remember standing in front of the Kölner Dom, tongue-tied by its grandeur and feeling like the luckiest girl in the world to be standing in front of something so magnificently gothic and beautiful. At that moment, my happiness could have powered rockets straight to the moon.