Right now, I am sitting at my desk, responding to emails and going about my day. But my mind is somewhere else—navigating through cobblestone streets, exploring palaces and castles, climbing towers, eating goulash and dumplings, sipping wine in a café, tracing Jewish history…
I'm just back from a trip through Europe with my husband Mike. It was a dream trip for us that we had been planning for years and now that it's over it feels like it was a dream. I'm having a hard time getting back to reality—and jetlag is only partly to blame.
During college, I studied abroad in Spain and spent six months overseas, traveling from country to country and absorbing each new culture in a way that only a 20-year-old without a care in the world can do. I look back on that time with fondness and marvel at how adventurous I was. It's an experience that makes up the essence of who I am and one that I'm grateful to have had.
But that was a decade ago, and I was anxious about going back.
Back then, my friends and I would show up in a new city guidebook in hand, and play it by ear. Aside from where we were staying, we didn't plan our next move. It didn't matter—we always had the best time.
This trip was different. I'm older, maybe a little wiser and definitely more neurotic now. With this being Mike's first trip to Europe and having limited time in each city, I didn't want to miss a thing. So we had a plan, and an ambitious one at that—three cities in 10 days.
Mike had long hoped to visit the cities where his maternal grandparents were born and lived until they each fled during the war to Shanghai, where they met. His grandfather was born in Berlin and his grandmother in Vienna—places I had not yet visited—so we decided to visit those two cities with a stop in Prague, which had been one of my favorite cities during my time studying abroad.
Thanks to Mike's family records and with the help of the Jewish archives in Berlin, we were able to locate and visit the original building where Mike's grandpa was born, the synagogue (now community center) where he celebrated his bar mitzvah and the Berlin Zoo, where he hid during his last nights in Berlin before leaving for Shanghai. And in Vienna, we visited the building where Mike's grandmother lived with her family, and another building where they owned a store. It was surreal, standing in those places, picturing their lives there and realizing how much had been taken away from them. Even though I never had the chance to meet Mike's grandparents, I felt close to them in those moments. How remarkable to experience so much history and emotion, just a few subway stops from our hotel.
In addition to tracing Mike's roots, we saw and experienced everything these cities offered, exploring their rich and fraught Jewish histories, eating and drinking everything in sight, and most importantly, going on this amazing adventure together.
As I write these words, I realize I cannot sum up this trip in one post. I'm still processing it all—still dreaming.