Eurasia: Getting Up in Europe


This is the tenth installment of a story about my travels in 1994 as a college student. The six-month journey took me to 20 countries in Europe and Asia. This happened on my first full day in Graz, Austria.

Thursday, March 3, 1994

I woke up in the morning to the sound of cooking and the smell of breakfast. Wiping the sleep from my eyes and peering through the fog toward the kitchenette, I saw a stranger making eggs and toast. I assumed he was my roommate Stephen and had slipped into the apartment when I was in a deep sleep. The delicious smell of breakfast crept into my nostrils and teased my stomach.

“Guten Morgen,” I greeted him with a croak. My throat felt hoarse after days of travel and cold winter wind. The long, hard sleep left me feeling groggy, and bad German poured from my mouth like a drunken man trying to find his tongue. “Hallo, ich bin Mike.”

“Hallo, I am Stephen,” he said in crisp English accentuated by the loud clink of a plate on the table. “Welcome. You must be my new suitemate, Michael.”

“Yes, I am,” I said, sitting up in bed and giving him a sheepish wave. Fortunately, he seemed to prefer English to rudimentary German; my brain was too muddled to speak anything else.

Stephen invited me to eat some breakfast and shared some of his meal, as if he had seen my conspicuously bare side of the kitchenette shelf and knew that I had nothing else to eat. I devoured the eggs and toast like a castaway recently rescued from a deserted island. My roommate didn’t seem to mind.

“Danke Schöen,” I suppressed a belch. “Do you know where I can buy some groceries?”

“Yes, of course,” he answered. A man of few words, Stephen seemed a quiet sort or reluctant to speak English. Or perhaps he wasn’t in the mood to chat. It was difficult to tell.

I spread a large city map of Graz on the dining table. He drew a circle around our apartment with his finger and said matter-of-factly, “We live here. Walk this way a bit, and there you will find the grocery store.”

His finger traced a red line on the map representing the street passing by our apartment and pointed near the river. I noted the location and said, “Great, thanks.”

“You are welcome,” he said and stood up stiffly. Washing the dishes and drying his hands, he said as if in a hurry, “I must be going now. Goodbye.”

“See you later, Stephen. Thanks for your help.”

Without another word or a look, he donned his coat and scarf, grabbed his satchel, and left our apartment.

The odd exchange addled in my brain as my hands collected a few items and tossed them into a small backpack. I had a long and busy day ahead getting to know my adopted hometown. I felt like a stranger in an unfamiliar land but was determined to learn my way around the city.

I bundled up for a cold winter’s day and headed downstairs. The payphone near the front door of the apartment building reminded me I needed to call home to let my family in the United States know that I arrived safely. Inserting all the change in my pocket, I dialed my fiancée’s phone number. Moments later, I heard a sweet voice say, “Hello?”

“Hi, honey, it’s me! I made it to Austria.”

“Hi! I’m so glad you made it,” Jing said. Her voice sounded lovely. Suddenly, she didn’t seem so distant.

“I’m tired but got here safely,” I said as the rapidly depleting payphone credit caught my eye like the countdown of a ticking time bomb.

“That’s great,” Jing said. Suddenly, another woman’s voice interrupted the line to inform me that I needed more credit. My coins were gone! I said, “Honey, I’m out of money. Sorry, I’ll call you as soon as I…”

The balance hit zero, and the line went dead. I slammed the handset back in the cradle and stomped out of the building. Pocket change was a priceless link to the ones I loved. My search for more coins had begun.

To be continued…

Graz 6

Previous installments of Eurasia:

 

  1. Leaving America
  2. Vancouver to Frankfurt
  3. Adventures in Frankfurt (Part One)
  4. Adventurers in Frankfurt (Part Two)
  5. On to Munich
  6. A Respite to Rosenheim
  7. Rosenheim, Germany
  8. The Austrian Express
  9. Settling in Graz

 

Map picture

 

M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Coming Soon from M.G. Edwards


Dear Reader,

My blogging has slowed recently while I focus on writing projects. I hope to pick up my blogging pace again soon and publish more travelogues with photos. In the meantime, I want to update you on exciting news about some big launches that I have in store for this year. My literary factory, The Wordshop, is working overtime behind the scenes to produce a steady stream of new material, and I’m happy to give you a glimpse of things to come.

Ellie the Elephant Children’s Book – April 1

Ellie the Elephant, book two of the World Adventurers for Kids Series, will be available as an e-book on April 1, 2013. Ellie the Elephant is an illustrated picture book that encourages children to follow their dreams. A young elephant named Ellie who lives in Thailand dreams of joining the elephant polo team and playing in the Elephant Cup polo tournament, but her parents want her to work in the rice fields. Will she realize her dream of playing polo?

Inspired by the author’s adventures in Thailand and real elephant polo matches, the story features Ellie and her family, Monk the Monkey, human boys Ball and Mallet, and a host of elephants. Fun for kids and adults alike, the story will introduce readers to the amazing game of elephant polo and inspire children to dream big.

Cover 8 (cartoon small)

Cover 8 (small)

Zoe the Zebra Children’s Book – June 1

Zoe the Zebra, book three of the World Adventurers for Kids Series, will be available as an e-book on May 15, 2013. Zoe the Zebra is an illustrated picture book that teaches children not to bully. A young zebra named Zoe who lives in the African bush joins forces with her friends Emma the Impala and Barry the Baboon to protect their friend Wally the Warthog from a pack of bullying hyenas.

Inspired by the author’s safari adventures in Africa, the story features Zoe and a host of safari animals. Fun for kids and adults alike, the story will take children to the African plains and teach them how to handle bullies.

Zoe Cover (small)

World Adventurers for Kids Books #1-3 – July 1

World Adventurers for Kids Books 1-3 will be released on July 1, 2013. It will feature the first three e-books in the illustrated picture book series: Alexander the Salamander, Ellie the Elephant, and Zoe the Zebra. The collection will take children on adventures in South America, Asia, and Africa and encourage them to listen to authority figures, to follow their dreams, and to respect others.

The first book in the World Adventurers for Kids Series, Alexander the Salamander is about a salamander named Alexander living in the Amazon who joins his friends Airey the Butterfly and Terry the Tarantula on an unforgettable jungle adventure. Set in the Amazon region of Brazil, the story teaches children the importance of listening to teachers and other authority figures. Co-authored by M.G. Edwards and his son Alex, the story was inspired by their 2008 visit to the Amazon.

Book two, Ellie the Elephant, encourages children to follow their dreams. A young elephant named Ellie living in Thailand dreams of joining the elephant polo team and playing in the Elephant Cup polo tournament, but her parents want her to work in the rice fields. Will she realize her dream of playing elephant polo?

Book three, Zoe the Zebra,  teaches children about bullying. A young zebra named Zoe who lives in the African bush joins forces with her friends Emma the Impala, Barry the Baboon, and other animals to protect their friend Wally the Warthog from a pack of bullying hyenas. Can they help him and stop the bullying?

The World Adventurers for Kids Series features illustrated adventure stories told in a way that children ages four to nine will find entertaining and educational. Filled with illustrated photos and moral tales, they will take children all over the world.

WAfK Front Cover (small)

New M.G. Edwards Website – July 2

M.G. Edwards and World Adventurers will merge into one website on July 2, 2013. My relaunched website, www.mgedwards.com, will feature a completely new look and will be a single resource for my books, travelogues, photos and videos – including this blog.

Eurasia: Getting into Travel in Europe and Asia – November 2013

Eurasia: Getting into Travel in Europe and Asia, the second book in the World Adventurers Series and follow up to Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, will be released as an e-book in August 2013. It’s a coming-of-age memoir that chronicles the author’s adventures in Europe and Asia as a college student on a shoestring budget in 1994. The six-month journey by air, rail, and foot took him to 20 countries from Spain and Ireland to Russia and China — and almost everywhere in between.

Join him for an amazing journey through fascinating countries and cultures, encounters with memorable people and personalities, unforgettable moments and madcap misadventures . Love, ambition, and self-discovery mix in a story about a young man discovering the world and getting into travel – and trouble – for the first time.

Bavaria 1 (2)

Other News

All of these books should be available in print soon after their e-book releases.

I’ll update this page and publish new posts as more information comes available. Stay tuned for more news and information about these upcoming releases!

clip_image001M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Eurasia: Settling in Graz


This is the ninth installment of a story chronicling my travels in 1994 as a college student. The six-month journey took me to 20 countries in Europe and Asia.

Wednesday, March 2, 1994

More than two days after leaving the United States I arrived at my new home in Graz, Austria. My deadweight bags followed me into the train station to a nearby phone booth to call my local contact, the exchange student coordinator for my adopted college, Karl-Franzens Universität. I set the handset back in the cradle when it occurred to me that I didn’t have any Austrian Schilling, the country’s currency before the euro. My dollars and German deutschmark were useless.

payphone

Fed up the large duffel bag and two suitcases, I booted them over to the nearby Geldwechsel (currency exchange) to buy some Schilling. It cost a pretty penny for some multicolored banknotes demarcated in denominations that gave me the false feeling of being richer with thousands of Schilling instead of hundreds of greenbacks. Unusual coins with completely foreign faces and features jingled in my hand. I inserted a few into the pay phone to call my contact, Gisele, and beg for a ride to my new home. The absence of cell phones and phone cards left no other option. The call went through, but a man’s voice answered in a local dialect and hung up before I finished my greeting. Trying a different number, I reached Gisele on the second try. She assured me that she would come soon, and the phone went dead.

I waited half an hour in the late afternoon at the entrance of the Hauptbahnhof station until Gisele arrived. She motioned for me to get into her compact sedan and drove me to an apartment just two blocks down from the train station. This is in walking distance, I sighed, appreciating the lift nevertheless.

She helped me drag my repulsive bags up two flights of stairs to my new university-owned studio apartment and gave me a set of keys, a city map, and a brief orientation about the residence, university, and Graz. With that, Gisele was gone. I was again alone and unsure when my new roommate, an Austrian named Stephen, would return to the empty apartment we shared. I looked around the room and chuckled, “Welcome home, Mike.”

I walked over to the big window overlooking the busy boulevard, Keplerstrasse, and listened to sounds of the heavy traffic reverberating against the three-story baroque buildings crowding the street. Home is going to be quite noisy, the thought crossed my mind as I gazed at the street, its lights growing brighter as the sky darkened. The urban location was a far cry from the fairytale version of Austria drawn by media stereotypes. The sound of traffic drowned out The Sound of Music.

I turned and looked at the single bed surrounded by my belongings. Stephen’s bed sat opposite near the small kitchenette where we presumably would share meals. I surveyed the closets, student desk, and bookshelves on my side of the room before wandering into the common area that led to a shared bathroom, another apartment shared by Elise and Monique, two Frenchwomen, and a third unit belonging to a German woman named Katarina. It was oddly quiet for a residence with five occupants. The din of traffic echoed in the suite with its high ceiling and acoustic floors.

Graz room

My stomach grumbled as I stowed away the millstones that were once luggage. Hunger pangs drove me to bundle up and brave the cold in search of a nearby grocery store or restaurant. The dim hallway leading to the street looked as if it should have been in a haunted house with the lurking ghosts of former residents scaring up creaking and bumping noises in the dark recesses of the old building. The mailboxes and a payphone stood under a klieg light posted near the heavy front door. Its hinges ground on my ears when I pushed it open.

I spilled onto the sidewalk, almost clipping a passerby. Frozen breath blew in billows as I looked up and down the evening street looking for a cheap meal. Scores of shops on Keplerstrasse were closed for the night, some pulling the shutters as I passed. Everything in Graz seemed to shut down after 6 p.m. A modest Greek restaurant down the street beckoned me to enjoy my first meal in Austria. The delicious but small gyro plate would have to tide me over until the supermarkets reopened the next day. Still hungry but unwilling to spend more on another petite meal, I staggered into the cold and headed back to the one place in this strange reality that was vaguely familiar. After such an arduous journey half way around the world, I had little reason to complain. I was home.

street

To be continued.

 

Previous installments of Eurasia:

 

1. Leaving America

2. Vancouver to Frankfurt

3. Adventures in Frankfurt (Part One)

4. Adventurers in Frankfurt (Part Two)

5. On to Munich

6. A Respite to Rosenheim

7. Rosenheim, Germany

8. The Austrian Express

 

Map picture

 

Pay phone and street scene images courtesy of Microsoft.

clip_image0013M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Eurasia: The Travel Memoir


I hope you’ve enjoyed the travelogue series Eurasia chronicling my 1994 journey through Europe and Asia. It features some of the stories you’ll find in the upcoming travel memoir of the same name. Available in mid-2013, Eurasia will follow Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill as the second book in the World Adventurers Series.

The maps below show the travel routes I took during the six-month, adventure-filled trip. I flew from the United States to Europe in February 1994, and then traveled around the continent until August 1994, when I visited Russia and China. The whirlwind tour left me with many a fun tale to tell, from encounters with royalty and colorful figures to memorable experiences and sticky situations along the way.

Stay tuned for more Eurasia news and travelogues.

 

Eurasia (small)

Europe Rail (small)

Eurasia map courtesy of Graphi-Ogre. Europe rail map courtesy of Bernese Media.

Previous installments of Eurasia:

 

  1. Leaving America
  2. Vancouver to Frankfurt
  3. Adventures in Frankfurt (Part One)
  4. Adventurers in Frankfurt (Part Two)
  5. On to Munich
  6. A Respite to Rosenheim
  7. Rosenheim, Germany
  8. Austrian Express

clip_image0013M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Eurasia: Austrian Express


This is the eighth installment of a story chronicling my travels in 1994 as a college student. The six-month journey took me to 20 countries in Europe and Asia.

Wednesday, March 2, 1994

I stood freezing on the platform at the Rosenheim train station awaiting the train to Austria and chilling under the bright morning sun too cold to warm the air. My frozen breath swirled thick over the tracks at the platform’s edge. Bystanders waiting nearby chatted with hearty laughs.

“How can they be so cheerful at a time like this?” I grumbled to no one. Shivering, I let out a faint cheer when the diesel train with a handful of passenger cars chugged into the station and screeched to a halt in front of me. It waited long enough for me to toss my life on board before taking off again. Pausing in the sheltered breezeway, I cupped and blew on my gloveless hands to warm them. The frosty air trapped inside my jacket and pants rebuffed attempts to unthaw.

In a passenger car filled with commuters, I found one seat next to a friendly, sixty-something German woman named Gertrude. She seemed excited to serve as my impromptu tour guide while the train chugged through the Bavarian countryside. A native to the area, she gave names in English to the scenic towns and villages, forests, meadows, and lakes that passed by. I marveled at how beautiful and orderly the southern German landscape was. Every town was like a Potemkin village and every farm a tourist showcase. Even the jagged, frosty mountains looked fashioned by hand. The grazing cows that shrugged off the cold weather seemed to have their own assigned places in the pastures; every forest tree planted by hand. Bavaria was like all the gorgeous rural scenes I’d ever seen rolled into one, from the grasslands of the Midwest to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the soaring peaks of the Cascades, with picturesque Alpine villages thrown in for good measure. Daylight painted Bavaria in a broader, more colorful brush than its reputation for beer, sauerkraut, and Oktoberfest.

bavaria 3

As Gertrude described her home, she piqued my curiosity about what life there must have been like in days past. Peaceful and pristine, Bavaria was once wracked by the tumult of two World Wars, instability, Nazism, division, and a Cold War. Fresh from reunification, Germany had only recently undertaken its most recent post-war transfiguration. For a moment I wished that I could have glimpsed the past through her eyes. She kept talking about the beauty of her country, unaware that my mind was contemplating the past as much as listening to her present.

Gertrude said farewell at her home village not far from the Austrian border. I smiled and bid her Tschüß. Once again, the luggage resting above my head was my sole company.

In the early afternoon, Austria appeared in the window as the German train ended its journey at the border. Reluctantly vacating the warm compartment for the brisk winter air, my belongings weighing me down, I felt like a penguin waddling on a frozen beach on the way to Immigration and Customs. A policeman and two plainclothes officers stopped me in front of the Salzburg train station and demanded to see my passport. Handing it over, the thought crossed my worried mind that they had singled me out for special scrutiny because I looked like a vagabond. The fear that they would strip search me or rifle through my bags nagged me. I stood stoically, silent, as they examined my travel documents. They handed them back a moment later and waved me on without a word. Out of earshot and across the border in Austria, my exhaled sigh of relief billowed like a cloud.

I barely made it on the train to Bischofshofen before it started moving. Winded and feeling fatigued, I sank into a seat and glanced out the window at my adopted homeland. The quaint city of Salzburg filled with baroque architecture evoked images of Mozart and The Sound of Music. Then it disappeared like every other beautiful place I had seen. Feeling a bit despondent, I lamented that the trip was so rushed it left no time to enjoy what could have been a spectacular visit.

Austria

As the train crawled eastbound through the valley away from the Alps, the rugged landscape crumbled and gave way to decaying terrain recovering from dormant strip mines and unsightly factories strewn between the towns of Leoben and Brück an der Mur. The grayish Mur River followed the train like a shadow. Uniform pine trees marched by like a dispassionate military parade.

The village of Bischofshofen was little more than a quick stopover to catch the train from Vienna to Graz. As I sat alone with my thoughts at the deserted rail platform, loneliness and longing for my fiancée weighed on my mind. The realization that she wouldn’t be waiting dawned on me as my final stop drew near. We wouldn’t see each other again for six long months until our reunion on the other side of the world in Shanghai, China. No one, friends or family, would be there when I arrived in the city of Graz. Nothing would be the same for the next six months. This unfamiliar world promised to be new and different, yet the newness would undoubtedly grow old.

Time crept to a near standstill in the late afternoon as the train I caught in Bischofshofen approached Graz. It coasted casually into the Hauptbahnhof train station as if it didn’t have a care in the world. The city spread out and fell away from the train window into a valley where the old town clustered below a tall hill adorned with a clock tower. The view seemed to shimmer in a postcard panorama lit up by the sun peeking through the clouds. Seeing my adopted home for the first time triggered the same emotions — anticipation, weariness, impatience, curiosity, and frustration — that I felt when I touched down in Europe.

Suddenly, the city disappeared behind a grassy knoll. The train slid into the station and ground to a clanging halt, an unceremonious end to my journey. Home at last, I thought.

Graz (small)

To be continued.

Previous installments of Eurasia:

1. Leaving America

2. Vancouver to Frankfurt

3. Adventures in Frankfurt (Part One)

4. Adventurers in Frankfurt (Part Two)

5. On to Munich

6. A Respite to Rosenheim

7. Rosenheim, Germany

Images of Bavaria courtesy of Microsoft. Photo of Graz property of M.G. Edwards.

Map picture

clip_image0013M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Eurasia: Rosenheim, Germany


This is the seventh installment of a story chronicling my travels in 1994 as a college student. The six-month journey took me to 20 countries in Europe and Asia.

I stepped onto the deserted platform at the Rosenheim train station at almost midnight, the only soul in sight. Silence greeted me until the train roared back to life and disappeared into the night bound for Austria. The bright lights on the platform cast a long shadow over my silhouette. An unexpected feeling of loneliness hit me even though I had been traveling solo for days and miles. For the first time, I was truly alone.

train (small)

My friend Brigitte had promised weeks ago to meet me at the train station in Rosenheim, Germany, a small town 60 kilometers outside of Munich, on vague assurances that the midnight train would arrive on time. It passed through town like clockwork, but in spite of Germans’ penchant for precision, I second-guessed whether our timing or communication was messed up. Across the tracks was a small, brightly lit building with nary a soul. Maybe she was waiting there.

I hoisted my duffel bag on my shoulder, now wrought with painful sores, and dragged my luggage along the platform and into the pedestrian tunnel under the tracks. Emerging inside the station, I looked anxiously around for anyone who resembled Brigitte. My heart raced faster as my eyes scanned the open building but saw no sign of her.

A cold breeze blew through the porous building. On a freezing February night, the frosty air nipping at my body warmed by a heavy jacket and the friction created by unwieldy baggage, I dreaded to think what would happen if she didn’t appear. Perhaps I could have found a cheap youth hostel or waited in the train station until the attendants kicked me out. Freezing outside on a cold winter night was out of the question.

I left the station to look for her and noticed two women waiting outside near the main entrance. One looked like an older version of the six-year-old photo of Brigitte in my wallet. Waddling toward them, I asked, “Brigitte?”

She answered with a warm “Ja!” What a relief! After a long trip half way around the world from America to Germany, I was more than ready to rest. We hugged and greeted each other in a mixture of English and German. Brigitte introduced her mother, who ushered me into her small red Renault hatchback. Somehow, my luggage found room inside the tiny trunk. My not-so-svelte frame wiggled its way into the back seat of their car; tight but a sight better than braving the cold in search of cheap lodging.

As her mom drove slowly on icy roads through the quiet city, Brigitte asked me about my trip and initial impressions of Europe. Her wide eyes listened silently in the darkness as I recounted the journey and adventures along the way in Germany. An occasional chuckle escaped her lips. Curiosity nudged me to steal glimpses of Rosenheim. Its orange lights twinkling like little fires offered limited visibility in the darkness. The car’s dim headlights cast black shadows on the road.

We pulled into the driveway of a house not far from the train station. The dim exterior of the split-level home painted in ghostly hues by the porch light was eerily similar to that of an average American home. I trundled out, pulled one suitcase from the car trunk for my overnight stay, and followed Brigitte up the slick driveway to the front door. The interior of her home was rustic with a detached foyer, polished stone floors, and wood-paneled floors reminiscent of a Bavarian hunting lodge.

“This is cool,” I murmured as my eyes wandered around the house. I fought the urge to explore its corridors and look for secret passageways, coats of arms, and cuckoo clocks.

“Hast du Hunger?” Brigitte’s mom ushered me into the dining room and asked as if she had heard my stomach grumble.

“Ja, ich…ich habe Hunger,” I stumbled in German. She smiled with a look that said thanks for trying. Brigitte sat on the opposite side of a stout wooden dining table that looked like it had been hewn from a single pine tree. Her mom reappeared moments later with plates of wheat and rye bread, ham and würst cold cuts, four types of cheese, and mineral water. It was a better meal than any I could have asked for at the midnight hour. After a day of airline meals and stale junk food, it was simply divine.

Clad in a bathrobe, Brigitte’s father walked into the dining room and joined us for a chat. We talked in English about life in America and Germany while my taste buds savored the würst. Hearing their stories of idyllic Bavarian life left me regretting I couldn’t stay longer to enjoy the nearby mountains, forests, lakes, and castles. An album of photos from home added color to my stories about life in America.

The conversation crept into politics. With Germany five years removed from reunification in 1994 and heading into one of its first elections as a united country, the family seemed eager to talk about how far they had come since the end of the Cold War. I vowed not to embroil myself in tricky political discussions as a house guest but gave into the urge to debate, a leisure sport popular in Europe.

Exhausted, we retired in the wee hours of the morning. Brigitte’s mom put me in a room with her 18-year-old sister Lisa, who slumbered peacefully. I slept in a different bed but felt awkward spending the night with an unconscious stranger I’d never met. Not wanting to fill the room with the less-than-pleasant odor clinging to my well-traveled body, I took a shower in the adjacent room and savored my first bath in ages. The mirror reminded me of the stubble on my face, but my shaver rendered useless by an incompatible plug, I let it grow until I reached Austria.

My mind wandered as my body sank into bed. Thoughts of places seen and people met — Francisco, Thomas, Koji, Brigitte, and others — drifted through my fading conscious like spirits in the wind. I had finally met a longtime pen pal for the first time. Brigitte was nice but quiet; I wondered if she enjoyed our brief visit or what she thought of me. Perhaps seeing for the first time the boy she only knew through pen, paper, and a single photo was surreal to her too. Our friendship flourished in the days before the Internet made communications instantaneous, when a message’s transmission speed depended on whether it traveled by ship or par avion.

I woke a few hours later feeling refreshed. Searching for my watch, I noticed the time “8:30 a.m.” reflect in my eyes. It was only a few hours before the midmorning train bound for Austria passed through Rosenheim. A soft light peeked through the window curtains. My fingers gently peeled apart the shades for an incredible view of the German Alps just beyond Brigitte’s back yard. The postcard-perfect scene of the jagged, snowy mountains and lush pine forests begged for a castle or ski resort. It would have been an ideal image for a jigsaw puzzle.

bavaria 2

I clenched my teeth knowing that I would soon leave this idyllic place and felt the urge to move in with Brigitte’s family. Looking around with a sheepish grin, I noticed that Lisa was already gone. She’d woken up to find an unconscious stranger she’d never met sleeping in her room. How ironic.

Rolling out of bed, I wandered to the dining room where Brigitte’s mom served a scrumptious Bavarian breakfast of toast, cheese and meat, bread with peanut butter and chocolate-hazel nut Nutella spread), and orange juice. What a life, I thought as I sat down next to my friend, who finished eating before leaving for work. Her father had already left with Lisa. As Brigitte stood, she smiled and said, “I wish you could stay with us longer.”

“I do too,” I replied. “Sorry the visit is so short. I hope we will meet again soon.”

We said a fond farewell, and then she was gone. I wished then that I had the foresight to give my friend something to remember the brief time we shared together.

Brigitte’s mom drove me to the train station after breakfast. Well rested, I enjoyed the return trip. Rosenheim looked beautifully Bavarian in the morning sunlight. The majestic, snow-covered Alpine mountains soaring above the town were breathtaking.

She helped me pile my luggage on the curb and bid me a fond farewell. I gave her a hug for good measure I hoped wasn’t too forward and waved enthusiastically as her red Renault drove away. I was the first American to stay with Brigitte’s family. I hoped the visit was a good one for them too.

bavaria

To be continued.

 

Previous installments of Eurasia:

1. Leaving America

2. Vancouver to Frankfurt

3. Adventures in Frankfurt (Part One)

4. Adventurers in Frankfurt (Part Two)

5. On to Munich

6. A Respite to Rosenheim

Images courtesy of Microsoft.

Map picture

clip_image001M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Eurasia: A Respite to Rosenheim


This is the sixth installment of a story chronicling my travels in 1994 as a college student. The six-month journey took me to 20 countries in Europe and Asia.

I woke up from a fitful slumber unsure of my location until I remembered that I was on a train somewhere in Bavaria far from anyone or anyplace I knew. I didn’t even know where I was in Germany! The night kept me from getting a good look at the countryside as the high-speed train sped toward Munich like a bullet on silver tracks that cut through the darkness like a knife. The occasional lamp post flickered by, reminding me of a firefly leaving behind a wobbly trail. The luggage stowed overhead groaned as the train’s wheels bounced on the rails. For the time being, this was my world.

The train arrived in Munich about 9 p.m. My only view of the city was a broad boulevard as wide as a runway that stretched away from the train station. It was lit up like Christmas by cars, street lights, and neon signs, the biggest of which was the oversized BMW medallion adorning the company’s headquarters. This was my sole memory of Munich at the time. I have to come back and check out this place someday, I thought, a promise I fulfilled years later.

Germany

I disembarked at Munich’s Hauptbahnhof train station to catch my connection to Rosenheim. Throwing my luggage and myself on the platform, I struggled to locate my departing gate from among the mess of local connections scattered across the byzantine reader board. Rosenheim was just one of several stops on a slower commuter route through Bavaria. My eyes wandered from the board to my ticket to the trains and back until an attendant pointed me in the right direction.

The same drill I learned in Frankfurt played out in Munich as my feet trudged to the gate to wait what seemed like an eternity for the Rosenheim train. The building’s interior reminded me of the German stations depicted in World War II films with its aging architecture that once had a pre-modern elegance but had grown blighted by cracked pavement, sooty fixtures, and smoky air spewing from older trains. Time moved ever slower as I waited to leave, anxious to move on.

Trains 2

I dragged my life onto the train, tossed it overhead, and settled into a wagon with few seats to spare. I sat down next to a young Japanese man named Koji who was headed to Vienna. His affable demeanor gave me a nice respite from the monotony of listening to the sounds of the rail, a common soundtrack in the days before the birth of portable MP3 players. Conversing in English and bits of Japanese, Koji told me of his frustration in exaggerated expressions of traveling by rail in Europe. I laughed at his mimes, flailing hands, and his gruff, smoke-laden chuckles that kept me entertained all the way to Rosenheim.

We were two weary travelers getting by in a strange land, but somehow we managed. Koji spoke little English or German, and my knowledge of the Japanese language was limited to “hello,” “goodbye,” “thank you,” car brands, and sushi dishes. At least I could speak the local language, albeit marginally.

When the train arrived at the Rosenheim Station, I waved goodbye to my new friend and disembarked. I never saw Koji again. I’m not sure how he fared but was certain he finally reached his destination.

Munich

To be continued.

 

Previous installments of Eurasia:

1. Leaving America

2. Vancouver to Frankfurt

3. Adventures in Frankfurt (Part One)

4. Adventurers in Frankfurt (Part Two)

5. On to Munich

Images courtesy of Microsoft.

Map picture

 

clip_image001M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Storiesand Alexander the Salamander, a children’s story set in the Amazon. His books are available to purchase as an e-book and in print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.