Last Thursday at 11PM, tired and stressed out but mostly excited, I boarded a train. I was headed to Munich for Oktoberfest but I had a 4-part, 12-hour journey to get through first. My travels went smoothly until 1AM, when I found myself in the small border city of Venlo with 4 hours to kill before my next connection. I had expected to spend this layover sitting in a train station cafe or reading a book but when I arrived, I was immediately rushed out and told the station would reopen at 4:30AM. I sought warmth at the closest open establishment, a bar where the bartender took pity on me and gave me a free drink. When that bar closed I walked to the only other open bar in the area, only to find that it was closing as well.
Venlo is probably cute when it's not cold, dark, and almost completely deserted
Cold and desperate, I asked a girl who was unlocking her bike nearby if there was anyplace still open. She smiled and told me to stick with her. Her name was Laura and she introduced me to her friends, one of whom turned out to be a semi-famous football player for VVV-Venlo, the city's official football club. I followed them to a very small club where they knew the owner who, upon hearing that I was a visitor from America, welcomed me with more free drinks. I spent most of that night talking to strangers in what I like to call Nederlanglish (don't judge me, okay?) and marveling at the strange serendipity of it all. At 5AM, one of Laura's friends offered to give me a ride back to the train station on the back of his bike, and I hugged the kind strangers goodbye and laid this bizarre and wonderful night to rest in my memory.
Six hours of fitful sleep later, I found myself safely in Munich. I met up with a friend from school who was studying abroad in Barcelona and a friend from home who was living three hours away in Stuttgart. We did a little exploring, tried bratwurst, and I was able to buy a dirndl, a traditional Bavarian dress and an Oktoberfest necessity, from a street vendor. In the evening, we headed to the fairgrounds and I was surprised to find that Oktoberfest is more than beer tents; it's an entire carnival, and it's enormous.
even better than you thought!
We spent the next two hours waiting in line outside a beer tent, which would have sucked if not for the strangers we met. We befriended three Englishmen only a couple of years older than us who were friendly and hilarious. Together, we headed to another tent where we were able to get in immediately and spent the night passing around liters of beer, dancing on tables, and singing along at the tops of our lungs surrounded by hundreds of happy fellow festival visitors.
so many friends!
Hostels in Munich are in high demand during Oktoberfest so we stayed at a nearby campsite instead. I didn't know what to expect when we first booked tents for the weekend, but the campsite turned out to be my hippie dream come true, a kind of self-sustaining community run by young people from all over the world with rows and rows of tents, a bar, and even a general store that sold both lederhosen and toilet paper. I definitely recommend staying in a tent rather than a €100 per night hostel but be aware: Munich gets cold.
home sweet home
Saturday, our second and final day at Oktoberfest, was also my birthday. We spent the morning teaching a group of Hungarian and Romanian tourists the "Cotton Eyed Joe" dance and making friends with some very nice Italians who helped cement my desire to eat my way through every major Italian city. After a brief but much needed nap, we headed back to the fairgrounds to meet up with the British boys we had met the previous night. One of my friends spoke a little German and was able to get us into a tent by telling the security guard it was my birthday, which marked the first of at least seven rounds of happy birthday that were sung for me that night. We made friends with a couple of wonderful Norwegians who enjoyed spontaneous sing alongs that prompted everyone around us to join in and we drank and toasted with shouts of "prost!" (German) or "skål!" (Norwegian) or "cheers!" until the festival was over and we literally could stay no more.
I somehow ended up with a goofy birthday hat because life is wonderful and strange
Despite the 8 hour journey home and my severe exhaustion and aching back from sleeping in a tent, I could not have asked for a better place or better company to spend my birthday with. Thank you to everyone who made this weekend incredible and to everyone back home who sent birthday greetings and well wishes. Prost to 19, a transformative year, and to making 20 even better
and prost to friends, new and old!
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<p>Hallo! My name is Aniqa Raihan and I am a junior at the George Washington University majoring in international affairs. I'm hoping to take my international education beyond the classroom by spending a semester in the beautiful city of Amsterdam. Join me as I meet new people, explore new places, and hopefully, find my home away from home.</p>