Just as the majority of the group boards their flight for Dublin (I am staying in Europe longer) and the program comes to an end, I finally have the time and a bit of energy to write. I had the misfortune of getting sick just a few days into the trip and have remained sick since. The combination of a full schedule, an intense head/sinus/throat/chest 'thing', minimal amounts of sleep, and pregnancy (surprise!) have given my body quite the beating.
Despite all these personal health struggles, I greatly enjoyed the past 2 weeks touring and engaging Germany with a superb group of Buffalo participants and local hosts. The participants have proven themselves flexible, self-sufficient, interested, and positive...excellent traits for group travel. John and I each had a rental car for transport, but our hosts were so helpful, and the participants were so willing and excited to use public transportation, that we did not have to spend hours in the cars dropping off and picking up people for our excursions. I'm so grateful for that!
Throughout the majority of the program all of us lived with host families who provided lodging and companionship. Because of this we were able to gain a familiarity with much of German society and culture that we would not otherwise experience if we stayed in hotels/hostels. Our hosts shared favorite local spots off the tourist track, answered our questions and explained what we are seeing better than any guidebook could.
I consider this a great gift.
It has been fun to learn what US to Germany differences the students are noticing - from "weird" doorknobs to "brilliant" traffic lights, from the temperature of drinks and lack of window screens to availability of public transportation and lack of litter. I was pleased to see how they are able to laugh at their responses to awkward encounters with these new bits and pieces of everyday life in Germany
For me there are many differences I enjoy - especially in the state of Baden Wurttemberg where we stay. One that I most greatly appreciate is the extent to which the communities conserve and reuse, then separate and recycle materials.
Our hosts have a place for everything before it moves on to its next stage of life...a compost bin for unprocessed food waste, a basket for paper scraps, bags for all the bits of packaging that come with food/clothing/goods purchases, and crates for returning glass and plastic bottles. They advised us that, in their area, the recycling will be picked up regardless of how much/often it is put out, but there is a set amount of garbage that will be retrieved; and if residents need more service for garbage they will be charged a fee.
Even the train stations have separate bins for every type of waste, and many waysides have compost bins. It would seem revolutionary if it weren't so obviously the right and possible thing to do. Perhaps the US will catch up one day but for now...
Germany is my 'green dream' world!