‘You’ll love it. It’s an amazing place.’
I’ve heard this each time I’ve mentioned to someone that I’m going to Berlin for two weeks. I’ve got notes and lists of everyone’s ‘must do’s’, ‘must eat at’s’ and ‘must see’s’. Last year’s Scotland adventure has sustained my imagination for twelve months. Providing an escape from daily life. I want that again, something that I can relive and use to sustain me for the coming months.
There’s a lot riding on this trip. My husband constantly reminds me that, ‘we can’t just do this’ or ‘can’t just do that,’ because we’ll have a baby soon. The idea that a holiday might be off the table for a while is shattering. It’s sweet that he’s prepared for his life to be different and yet infuriating. I’m still the same person. The world won’t stop because we have a baby. The yearning for connectedness to things beyond our country is something he doesn’t share with me.
I decide to just go with it for now,
‘Yep. I know that’s why we’ve got to have a great time on this trip.’
I’ve packed both our suitcases. I do this deliberately, giving him the larger one so that I can stash souvenirs in there for the return trip.
He rolls his eyes and holds up the passport but he doesn’t say anything. We made a pact after our last trip when he lost his passport and I:
a. Didn’t get angry,
b. Handled the situation calmly for both of us (he’d already lost his temper),
c. With the assistance of friendly car rental staff managed to locate said passport at an airport coffee shop and
d. Convinced car rental place to agree to rent the car to both of us despite only having my passport handy.
On that auspicious day he agreed that I could, from that moment on for the rest of our lives, enquire as to the whereabouts of his passport and that he would respond without annoyance or rudeness.
‘This is our first family trip.’
I’m not showing yet and we haven’t told anyone. We’ll, I’d accidentally told my best friend. She’d cornered me with the ‘so when do you think you’ll start trying’ question and I’d found myself strangely lost for words. Aside from that we’d agreed to wait until the twelve-week mark.
‘I know!’ A little thrill pulses through me at the idea of our secret.
‘Yes! Isle seat.’ I never get the isle seat and if I do I always end up giving it to my husband because he’s tall and likes to stretch his legs into the isle.
‘Yeah, lets swap.’
‘Ah no. Ba-by!’ pointing to my non-existent stomach. ‘I’ll need to get up walk around. Pee.’
‘Plus I’ll probably be starving because someone didn’t put me down for a gluten free meal.’
‘Oh my God. I did pick gluten free. I don’t know what happened.’ We’d checked in online the night before to find out the gluten free meal option had not been selected. We’d tried to change it but couldn’t and the airport staff had said it was too late to change it. I’d purchased packaged snacks from the supermarket but it was unlikely they were going to cut it on the twenty-three hour flight. The flight attendant brought me platefuls of fruit, which was nice of him, but not terribly filling.
I’m determined not to be an unwell, complaining pregnant woman. Like its something you can make a decision about. I’ve definitely started to feel queasy. A strange sensation in which I can’t determine if I want to vomit or if I’m starving. My game plan is to ignore the idea of spewing and take small tentative bites of food. Akin to the hangover dilemma I try to calculate the precise moment to eat, the quantity to eat and correctly select food that creates a cosy comfortable and restorative stomach lining.
Somehow I’ve also acquired a superhuman sense of smell. Scents I generally enjoy are just too much. I stop wearing my perfume and hold my breath when highly perfumed colleagues walk by. Now I’m stuck in a giant fart-tube hurtling through the air.
We have a much-needed stopover in Doha. We kill time by walking, stretching and feigning interest in the expensive shiny garbage for sale in the shops. The splendour of the airport is impressive,
‘Is that a fashion parade? Seriously?’
Eventually we reach our destination, hungry for adventure and food. Through the taxi window I scour the scene attempting to take in everything. I want to be swept up, longing to feel the romance of foreignness. Hmm maybe we’re not in a great part of the city.
My husbands’ speaking at a conference and our accommodation has been selected by the conference organisers. On arrival it’s apparent that it’s been chosen because of its proximity to the conference.
‘We here all week?’
‘Yep and some of next week. Everything else was booked out. There’s an event or something on.’
The room is simple but it’s clean. We’re only sleeping here. We settle in for the night exhausted and yet I can’t sleep. It feels like the bed is a concrete slab and the pillow is high and stiff. I imagine it coming in handing should I require a murder weapon. Is the bed really uncomfortable or it this some strange symptom of pregnancy?
Slowly turning my stiff neck I negotiate the continental breakfast. Being a coeliac my choices are always limited but now the game is more challenging. I look at the soft cheeses, cold meats. Nope. Cereals all contain gluten. Nope. Sausages. Gluten maybe, who knows? Scrambled eggs and more fruit. Awesome. This is going to get old very quickly.
‘We need to find a supermarket and gluten free places to eat.’
‘I’ve already looked up some.’
Nibbling at some egg. That strange queasy feeling isn’t going away.
‘Quick.’ The queasiness is fast becoming bile rising as I run back to the lift and fly through the door to our room. Strange yellow bile exits my body. Now feeling feint I sprawl out on the bathroom floor so that I don’t fall. So, this is morning sickness. The dizziness disappears and I am now starving. I head back downstairs for cold eggs and fruit salad. A new morning ritual of bathroom bolting, vomiting and loading up an uncomfortable belly ensues.
We walk the streets quietly. I’m trying to disappear into beautiful holiday mode but rather than slipping blissfully away, everything feels abrupt and harsh. Ambulances scream around the streets and the sound rips through me. The pathways and roadways seem filthy. Everything feels dark. We visit museums, holocaust memorials, and Wall exhibitions. We try out the things on our ‘must do’ list. I’m not getting it. I feel like I’m missing something. We’ve been to other parts of Germany and found them beautiful. Everyone I spoke to said I’d love it here.
I could leave. Scotland isn’t far from here. I’m so annoyed we’ve come across the world and I’m so unhappy.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe, this is what the hormones have done to my perception of the world. We walk under a busy overpass on our way to the train station. The ground is blanketed with pigeon poo. Thick white mounds of the stuff, feathers drift down from above, we can hear them cooing from their concrete ledges. I try not to breath but a lung full of the stench has already entered my body and bile begins rising. Clapping my hands over my mouth, I start involuntarily convulsing and dry reaching. It’s the longest overpass in the world, even at a run it still feels as though I’ll never get to the light at the other end.
I make it out. Somehow managing not to vomit. Sucking in air and swigging down water, I look around me. Even out of the overpass there is no relief in the surrounds. I think bitterly on the plane ride, it would have taken the same flying ordeal to be somewhere beautiful, like Scotland or Ireland and we’re here. Stuck because the conference is smack bang in the middle of our trip. I could leave. Get a short flight and be in a whole new beautiful world.
‘I hate it here!’ I spit out the words that I’ve been holding back since we arrived.
‘I don’t like it much either.’
Relief floods through me. It’s not just me. I have companionship in my miserableness.
‘I don’t understand. I’ve never hated a place before.’
‘I don’t hate it. It’s just not the holiday we really wanted. We need open spaces. The outdoors.’
He’s right a short stay here would have been fine followed up by country exploring and hikes.
This is our last baby free holiday.