- Posted December 2, 2013 by
Thankful in Deutschland
No lines? Hassle-free check-in? Quiet terminal? This couldn't possibly be JFK International Airport the night before Thanksgiving...
While most Americans are rushing to get to their in-laws house before evening falls or back to their hometown for another indelible holiday, I am one citizen who is "thankful" for this holiday in ways one wouldn't think. Cheaper and easier international travel.
Think about it. Americans spend twice - sometimes triple the amount to get home for the holidays, but who is actually leaving the good ole USA for Thanksgiving? Me, that's who.
For the past 7 years I have spent Thanksgiving abroad. Call me crazy, but I'd like to say I'm smart. Travel savvy even. I've saved hundreds, might I dare to say thousands of dollars traveling to as many as 8 different countries... my 9th as I sit here in this empty terminal in what Wikipedia claims is the US's 6th busiest airport.
I laughed as I clocked my fastest time on this "busy" travel day: less than 15 minutes to check-in AND go through security. My best to-date and that was with the hype on every news station about the weather delays, live feeds of long lines and miserable looking travelers. This proud moment can only come when leaving the US on our largest national holiday. And proud I am; smiling as I sit in an empty terminal, tapping my foot to some early Christmas music, and remembering what memories I've made on Thanksgivings past.
I've chowed down on paella in Barcelona, watched American football in a beer hall in London, stayed in the breathtakingly beautiful Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City and happily froze my butt off on some roller coasters in Tivoli in Copenhagen. And that's only to name a few.
This year I'm on my way to Berlin. To not only see the sights, but to also partake in their Christmas ritual - Christmas Markets or Weihnachtsmarkts. Thanksgiving is the holiday to kick-off our Christmas season here in America. We have to wait until the annoying relatives have left with the last piece of apple pie and all the leftovers are gone to get into the full Christmas swing. For those in Europe and Canada this joyful time starts earlier and I'm happy to have had many opportunities to get a head start on it along with them. With Berlin hosting 54 Christmas markets in the 2012 calendar year and more promised this year, I am ready for the challenge!
I have to admit, the Germans really know how to celebrate Christmas. They put Rockefeller Center, Macy's windows, and Lady Gaga's Christmas Muppet special to shame. Each market had its own charm and schtick. From the largest in Spandau to tiniest off the grid, they each had a draw all their own.
I was able to drink mulled wine at 9am to keep me warm as I walked through Alexanderplatz, scream my way down a four story tall toboggan tube ride in the middle of what I called "the German Broadway", ate some candied grapes after racing my brother through a mirror maze (which I definitely did not come out victorious) and happily dunked into garlic mayo every fried vegetarian food I could possibly get my hands on. Fattening and delicious. Don't judge.
Yes, traveling in the summer is wonderful. The warm weather, the long lines, the crowds of tourists, the jacked up prices, the lines. Did I mention the lines? Lines: the bane of my entire travel-loving existence. I'd trade warm weather for no lines quicker than you can say "bitte" (German for please). This is why I only travel to Europe in the winter. My distaste for long lines far outweighs my need to view the East Side Gallery on a sunny day in July.
For all of you amateur photogs out there... you should also be thinking about winter travel. Like I said, summertime brings out the throngs of tourists with their iPhones and point-n-shoots in tow. Each wanting to pose for a selfie in front of the Brandenburger Tor or climb to the concrete slab in the Holocaust Memorial site all while ruining a great photo opportunity for someone like you... or me. Someone who wants a picture without a grinning stranger in the background mistakingly or purposely photo bombing your entire vacation.
Just days after remembering our 35th president John F. Kennedy's horrific assassination, it was nice to visit Checkpoint Charlie. Maybe it was more poignant to me since anniversary specials just televised or maybe I'm just a sucker for some history, but it was the defining moment of this trip for me. Yes it is the biggest tourist trap Berlin has to offer. Yes there is a giant McDonalds ruining most pictures take from the east looking to the west. And yes there is a "guard" charging 5 euro to stamp your passport to prove you visited the checkpoint. But for some strange reason, at that moment, JFK's words rang true. "Ich bin ein Berliner." And I'm thrilled I was able to take more than just a souvenir passport stamp with me.
Berlin was exactly what I hoped it would be. A fried food Mecca, a piece of shared history between America and Germany, a real life Santa's workshop, a reminder that art is subjective and comes in many forms, and an indescribable feeling of history you get when simply walking down the cobblestone streets.
Two thumbs up from this traveler. Berlin is a must-see. Just be sure to pack the pants that are slightly too big for you.
One final note: I gave thanks and celebrated with my family a few days before leaving. Thanksgiving isn't only the last Thursday in November. To me it's every single time you break bread with the people who love and support you. The very same ones who encourage you to plan your next vacation on a holiday and are excited to hear about your adventures when you come home. And so next year my Thanksgiving will be the weekend before the actual date as I will surely be somewhere, anywhere other than New York.