Where I’m concerned, Maverick has the coolest “out-of-office” program ever.
The first time I utilized Maverick’s Personal Development Fund (PDF) in February 2014, I ended up roaming through the deserts in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Last December I used the PDF again and this time I found myself trudging through the snow in Europe. Since this was the first time that someone raised in the tropics like I saw snow, I couldn’t help but be as excited as a small boy, taking lots and lots of photographs and videoclips of falling snowflakes.
The PDF, for those of you not steeped in Maverick-speak is the Personal Development Fund that the company sets aside for its staff for them to develop themselves through doing something new or going to somewhere they have not been before.
Now back to my trip: Besides experiencing the snow, I also had three other big “missions” in this trip: Christmas market hopping, moving from one city to another by hitchhiking & car sharing, and having a Christmas dinner with a European family.
So I started my solo journey in Köln, a charming city in Germany where I really enjoyed my midnight walks around its town square with the view of a very gorgeous old church. The morning after, I went to the Christmas market for the first time. It was pretty, but the rain dampened my experience.
At noon, I car shared via BlaBlaCar.com to Stuttgart, the where Porsche and Mercedes-Benz originated from. BlaBlaCar is a website that is commonly used to find a ride from one city to another. You pay for it either with money or by striking up a conversation with the driver so both of you would not be bored (hence Bla Bla).
My first BlaBlaCar driver was Pia Rommel, a girl from Stuttgart who is currently studying in Köln. That day Pia went back home for Christmas. It took three hours from Köln to Stuttgart, and we had many interesting conversations along the way.
When we arrived, I fell in love with Stuttgart’s Christmas market. It was big and quaint, just like what I expect from seeing too many movies. Dominik Jens Ryn, a German friend of mine, accompanied me to try a lot of the food there. He asked me to try glühwein (a very delicious hot wine with some orange drops and cinnamon), maultasche (the German version of ravioli, even better than the Italian), and Bailey’s-covered almonds. They were all so delicious that I was craving for them while writing this article.
My favorite place in this trip was Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a small town in Germany that inspired Walt Disney to create Pinocchio. It really looked like Gepetto’s village, with unique gingerbread-looking houses. Its Christmas market was also very lovely. I went there with my cousin, Sukma Aina, who has been living in Germany for a year. During our three-day trip we stayed at Ochsenfurt, a nearby town that was also very amazing! Max Langer, a local who provided a free hospitality for travelers via CouchSurfing.org, hosted us in Ochsenfurt. He was very kind and friendly, gave us an unforgettable experience with many stories about himself, his previous work at Heineken Germany, his one-month South American trip, and the stunning town that is famous for its framework houses.
On my bus ride from Ochsenfurt to Prague, I sat next to a Czech woman named Andrea. We had a very nice conversation about her travel plan to Indonesia and European culture. I told her that I want to spend Christmas eve in Prague having Christmas dinner with a European family. I had been looking for a CouchSurfing host, but everybody was traveling, spending their family time, or hosting other travelers. So I had to take that mission down from my list.
Surprisingly after spending a few more minutes to chat (and probably proving that I’m not a psycho), she invited me to come to her house for a Christmas dinner! She said her father, mother, and brother would be glad to have me there.
I directly said yes, and the morning after I spent my time buying them flowers for the table decoration and some bottles of wine. That was one hell of a memorable night; we had Andrea’s mom’s roasted turkey and baked potatoes. It felt really like in a Hollywood movie that featured Christmas dinner of a western family. Her family was so warm and friendly and made me feel at home.
Luckily, that was not the only family that hosted me on their warm hospitality. After Prague I went to Lublin, a small town in the eastern part of Poland. There, I stayed at Mateusz Sawka’s snow-covered house. I knew Sawa (Mateusz’s nickname) and Natalia (his girlfriend) when they traveled to Jakarta last August. In Lublin he introduced me to his adorable parents, Rajmund and Ewa, who always kept me warm despite the -7 degree Celsius weather. That was the coldest weather I have ever experienced, and also the first snowy day in my life.
Sawa and Natalia gave me a city tour around Lublin. That afternoon, I saw the most beautiful view I have seen in my life. Lublin’s old town is too beautiful to describe, especially with the white snow. It really looked like a travel postcard. Very peaceful, even though it had a dark history about the Jews under the Nazis. I left my heart there, and someday I will take it back.
The snow experience continued in Berlin, the coolest city I have ever visited. After spending a whole day sightseeing with an Indonesian friend named Rachel, I went back to my hostel by foot because no cab was available due to the snowstorm. I was all wet; my feet were buried under the snow. I was a little bit scared at first, but I really enjoyed the sensation. And in the morning, it was so pleasant to see Berlin in white. Everything was covered in snow; Rachel and I made some snowballs on the street and threw it at each other.
My most memorable hitchhiking moment happened when I traveled from Berlin to Paris. I was picked by a Congolese guy named Freeman who did a road trip all the way from Barcelona, Monaco, Rome, Prague, Berlin, and Paris with his two lovely daughters, Gdyina and Amélie. We shared the 11-hour ride with laughter and stories about everything. He made me richer by sharing his travel experiences, African culture, and stories about Congo. That moment I realized that in this trip I met a bunch of marvelous people along the way and made connection with them that probably will last a lifetime, and I was so grateful for that.
The same incredible thing happened in Paris. Besides spending my happy days at Disneyland and every corner of that romantic city with two of my good friends from Jakarta, I also met Antoine and Michael Guittet who let me crash on their air bed in Paris. These brothers beautifully closed my three-week trip in Europe, so I could fly back to Jakarta while smiling from ear to ear.
Posted by Zulfikar Fahd