I just arrived back from Germany yesterday morning, and what an adventure it was! We flew out of Charlottetown, stopped in Toronto to take a connecting flight, then flew to Frankfurt. In Toronto, Matt Zambonin lost his passport and since we couldn't find it, he and Terry (one of the chaperones) had to stay behind in Toronto till they could get a new one for him. We were all worried that it might take a long time to get a replacement passport because the whole passport application thing is extremely picky, but by the grace of God, they were able to get it done fast, get the next flight out, and meet up with us the next day in Germany. Day One
We arrived in Frankfurt, met Sara-Sour and Maureen there, and took the bus to Margretenhaun, a small village in the diocese of Fulda. We ate sausage for lunch, met German youth from the area, and got settled in with our host families. I was with a family in Steinhaus (a small village in the same area). Charlotte Steele and Maria Gaudin were my roomies. Actually, they had a double room and I had my own room - a sweet suite! The parents in the family had two young children - a girl who is about 9 or so, and a 2-year-old boy who is extremely hyper. He kept throwing hacky sacks around the kitchen and while we were playing Lotti Karotti (the funnest board game ever) with the little girl, he kept grabbing at the board and playing pieces till his mother put him to bed. The parents understand English and the father can speak it a little, so language barriers weren't much of an issue. Originally, I had been hoping to get a family with youth my age, but I liked this family.
Margretenhaun and Steinhaus are both small villages in the German countryside and the area is beautiful. They were like storybook villages - tiled roofs on white houses, winding roads, lots of farmland and open spaces, etc. The little Catholic churches in each town are so pretty and old-fashioned, and the chapel on the hill close to Steinhaus is beautiful.
Fun story - On our first day in Steinhaus, we saw some stray kittens in the middle of the road one time, and when a car was approaching, one of them stayed in the road, seemingly oblivious. The car noticed and stopped, and since no one wanted to pick up the kitten (it didn't look healthy and we didn't want diseases) Neal used his foot to gently nudge it out of the road. It looked like he was kicking the kitty, but he wasn't hurting it. Day Two
In the morning on our second day in the Diocese of Fulda, we visited a home for elderly people who are blind and/or deaf. Matt and Terry arrived that day and met up with us at that home. We met an old lady who has been deaf since she was two, and lost her sight later. The people in the home communicate through a "hand alphabet" because since they can't see, they can't use regular sign language. Joe, Troy, and a few others introduced themselves to her with that alphabet, and she was so happy to meet us and was enthusiastic about showing us her life. Since she can't see or hear, we couldn't knock on her door or ring a doorbell - the "doorbell" was actually a fan that blew air in the room whenever someone wanted to come in so that she'd know someone was entering. She showed us the sweaters she knitted - though she can't see anything she is a better knitter than I am! We all found that inspiring, especially when the director of the home told us that though she lost two of her senses, she is still thankful that she still has her senses of touch and smell. She is also luckier than some of the people in the home since she is able to communicate and even speak a little (though she can't articulate very much) - there was a man from Kazakstan in that home who can't speak German, so even the hand alphabet is useless for him. In our group, we were all glad to have visited this home, since it helped us to appreciate the simple things and think of what truly matters in life. Losing our sight or hearing would be devastating for us, but it's not the end of the world. I know that if it happened to me, I might think that life is not worth living, but this old woman is still thankful for the things she still has and can live in happiness.
We saw an organic farm in the area, with cows, chickens, and a little calf that sucked on the thumb of a girl in the group. We also rode on a tractor (one of which was driven by a very cute farmhand with dimples to die for!).
We were supposed to do a walking pilgrimage to the different parishes in the area, it rained so we stayed in the village we were in. Later, we went to another village by bus where there was a "meeting place" with locals and WYD pilgrims from around the world who also stayed in the Diocese of Fulda. We met a few people, and exchanged pins and nick-nacks. Someone from Michigan gave me an item that eventually became a hot commodity at WYD - a bracelet similar to those Livestrong bands, but it was yellow and white, and had a different inscription on it. "John Paul II" was on one side, along with his motto "Be not afraid". When you flip the band inside out, on that side there are 3 crosses and the name "Benedict XVI".
I also met people from Poland and Italy. During Mass, it started to rain again, and the Italian guy standing next to me shared his umbrella with me. Then it really started to pour, so we ran to the food tent for shelter. The rain stopped just in time for communion, and people outside the food tent were looking and pointing at something in the sky. At first I had no idea what was happening, but then I saw the most beautiful rainbow! It arcked all the way and it made me think of the old "If you want to see a rainbow you have to put up with the rain". Suddenly, the rain didn't seem so bad after all (as long as it didn't come back!). After Mass, there were a few presentations and acts involving music and dance. The Italians were so enthusiastic about the event and got everyone dancing. I met two Italian guys named Stefano and chatted with one of them for a long while. He introduced me to his friends, and they started teasing us - pointing to him and saying "he's a good guy!" and trying to get us to kiss for a picture. I also introduced him to my friends. One time, one of the guys in his group was holding what I recognized to be Chris' hat, and said that he found it on the ground and is trying to find the guy who owns it. He described Chris and I said "I know who that is, he's in my group" so he gave me the hat to give back to him. Later, when I finally found Chris I saw him panicking over the lost hat and I gave it back right away. Later, the other Italian guys told me that the last name of the guy who found the hat was Ferinelli - just like the 18th Century castrato! They had also told my roommates that his grandfather was a famous singer. Uh, if Ferinelli was castrated before puberty, I highly doubt that he'd be capable of having children (let alone grandkids). Hehehe... During the rest of the evening there was more music, dancing, socializing, merry-making, and we all had fun.
Leanne was lost during that time and we all started to worry because no one had seen her since the morning or afternoon, and we heard no word from her. In the end, she was found late at night at the train station in Fulda, and the reason we didn't hear from her is because when she tried to call Joe's cell phone, the call would never go through. We were incredibly relieved when she was found, because we had started to think that she might have been kidnapped!Day Three
The next morning, those of us who lived in Steinhaus went to the park. The Germans taught us a fun dance to a catchy Spanish pop song, and we all played a variation of ultimate frisbee. I wasn't keen on playing simply because I don't like sports and suck at them, but in the end I left the game early because the frisbee hit me in the face, right under my nose. I put ice on it so it wouldn't bruise, and just watched the game after that. That day we also saw the farm where we drank fresh milk. Also, the fire department brought in a fire truck with equipment, and people in the group had fun trying to put out a fire with a fire extinguisher, but since the fire was kept lit with a highly flammable substance, it would suddenly light up again if the person didn't use the extinguisher enough. Some also tried a hose that would give a sudden blow of water, and was so strong that it could have easily knocked them off their feet if they weren't careful.
We also played a fun game where each person puts a nail in the top of a log, and each player has to hammer the nail in, and the first person to finish wins. Sounds easy, but it's not. Each person only gets one hit per round, and if you miss, you have to wait for the next round. It's kinda like caps (the game where you use a beer cap to knock the cap off a beer bottle) - using a small surface to hit a small surface. One time, when it was Ryan's turn, whenever he was about to bring down the hammer, one of the German kids would distract him by yelling "scheiser!" (which means "shit" in German). When Matt lost the game (he was last to hammer his nail in), we made him stand on the log and dance. Later, he won and Ryan lost, so Ryan had to give him a back massage.
We visited another dairy farm that afternoon. We also saw some cute fluffy bunnies there, drank fresh unprocessed cow's milk, and rode around town in the back of a tractor. Since there were a lot of trees, we had to be careful about getting hit by low branches. The tractor ride was fun, it reminded me of riding in Miguel's pickup truck in the Dominican Republic. Later, there was a little ceremony in town with the mayor and other important people planting a tree to commemorate World Youth Day, and then we walked up the the chapel on the hill for Mass.
Then, my host mother picked us up (me, Charlotte, and Maria) and took us back to the house to change our clothes since it would be cold that evening, then everyone went to a sports field for more fun stuff. We had bonfires, a man there taught a few of us how to do diabolo spinning (Chinese yo-yo, I remember attempting it at Chinese camp when I was 12), and some people played a Canada vs Germany soccer game. I still don't know how Ryan managed to play barefoot... Then during the game, Norman got a concussion and had to be taken to the hospital after he blacked out. Thankfully, he was able to join us again later the next day. While eating supper, my friends started teasing me about chattin' it up with the Italian boys the previous night, because they saw me talking to Stefano "for hours" (slight exageration...). Father Jim heard us, and said "the only guy you should be picking up here is Jesus!" At the end of the evening, we had evening prayer and went back to our host families' houses.Day Four
The next day, we went to the city of Fulda for the day. It was raining but it didn't dampen my spirits in the morning. Even if it was raining, I still felt happy because the area was filling up with other WYD pilgrims and it was great to see so many people from so many places, there to celebrate the same thing. We had a big outdoor Mass at the cathedral of St. Boniface and that was the first time I took communion on the tounge instead of in the hand. I was holding a lot of things at the time so it was more practical that way. But later in World Youth Day, I kept taking it on the tounge at most of the Masses. That way I didn't have to worry about dropping the host, the wind blowing it away, or getting crumbs on my hands. There were a few concerts and events in town during the day, and the sun came out in the afternoon. We ate ice cream, walked around town, and each got a freebie that was given out to every WYD pilgrim - a pack with a guidebook, scarf, and cross. I traded my PEI hat for something that, like the pope bracelet, became a hot commodity at WYD - a blue hat that pretty much every Italian pilgrim had. I loved that hat, it looked cute and kept my head dry in the rain. Later, the rain started again and people started getting cranky so we decided to go back to our host families. I ran into Stefano again while in the lunch tent. Later, my host mother arrived to bring me, Charlotte, and Maria back to the house for supper.
While eating our last supper with the family, they offered us wine but since the chaperones had all expected us to make a commitment not to drink any, we had to refuse. Later, we found out that the two-year-old boy in the family had a crush on Maria. He sat on her lap during our last game of Lotti Karotti, but this time we kept the board far enough so that he couldn't reach and disrupt the game. Then when it was time to go to sleep, Maria gave him a kiss on the cheek and he went crazy! He started screaming in happiness and running all over the place! His mother put her hand on his forehad and said said "hot, hot!" It was hilarious! We also gave the family the gifts we had brought from home - PEI picture books, and one of the teddy bears that some people in our group had sold as a fundraiser. The family gave us each a cd of pictures they had taken of us during the week. There were also chocolates on the table in my suite, and we divided them up. We also ended up eating an entire box in one sitting. Mmmm... chocolate...Day Five
The next day, we said goodbye to our family, and the group went back to Fulda for the morning before going to Cologne. We went shopping, and I bought a cute pair of pink dress shoes for 12-13 Euros. What a bargain! Then we took the bus to Cologne, which took a few hours, and at a pit stop, we met other WYD pilgrims. A few hours later, we arrived at Youth Hostel Riehl, which was our accomodations for the rest of our WYD journey.
Well, that's it for Fulda. It was a great experience and we all really enjoyed it. Next time, I will talk about the actual World Youth Day events and stuff we did in Cologne. As I'm typing this, I'm eating some of the sweets I bought at the chocolate factory. Again I say - mmmm... chocolate...