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.

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.

Eurasia: On to Munich


This is the fifth 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.

My journey from Frankfurt, Germany to Graz, Austria by train was filled with experiences that I will never forget—meeting interesting people, carrying an insane amount of baggage after my luggage carrier broke, and watching a mix of scenery pass by the window that left me feeling both satisfied and disappointed. This, after all, was my first trip to Europe, and I thought the landscape would fit my expectations. The train trip from Frankfurt’s main train station, the Hauptbahnhof, on February 28 lasted one and a half days with stops and transfers in München (Munich) and Rosenheim, Germany and Salzburg and Bischofshofen, Austria.

frankfurt

When I planned my itinerary, I decided to travel by train because I’d heard the rail system in Europe was one of the best options for point-to-point travel in a continent compact enough to traverse in a matter of days. I bought a Europass in the United States that let me travel around most of Europe for a couple weeks. A poor college student, I was grateful that I could be mobile for a pittance. At the time, before the advent of no frills discount airlines, rail was the only practical way to experience Europe on the cheap.

I made arrangements with my German friend Brigitte to spend one night with her family in Rosenheim and hopped on a slow-moving train to her berg about 60 kilometers from Munich. Brigitte and I had written to each other for several years as pen pals exchanging stories of life in America and Germany, but we had never met in person, and I was looking forward to a glimpse of the life she shared in her letters. She wrote me in nearly flawless English, but I would soon find out whether we would be able to communicate.

Without a shower and paltry sleep for the last two days, my jet-lagged body cried out for relief as I waddled through Frankfurt’s Hauptbahnhof with my luggage in tow and Europass in hand. My mind screamed for a bathroom and a bed, but time marched on toward my evening departure. The bags weighed me down like oversized balls and chains with two duffle bags slung over each shoulder and an overstuffed suitcase smacking my heels and the ground. I felt the unforgiving urge to find a toilet minutes before the train departed, but to my misfortune, I discovered that the only W.C. (or “vay-say,” as they say in Germany) in the train station was located in the farthest corner of the basement. My immobility and imminent departure kept me rooted to the platform. I tap danced to get my mind off the uncomfortable feeling gnawing at my abdomen.

trainnight

When the InterCity high-speed train bound for Munich pulled into the station, I tried to board as quickly as possible, but my ticket relegated me to second class at the rear of a long line of train cars. The ones nearby were reserved for first-class passengers. I jogged along the platform with luggage flailing behind me to the rear of the train in a 100-yard dash around a crowd of bystanders that would have impressed any obstacle course enthusiast. The hiss of stream and shrill whistle signaled that the train was leaving as I approached my assigned car. My teeth gripping my ticket, I jumped aboard as the impatient engine began to pull away from the station. I leaned on my bags piled against the wall next to the W.C. and chuffed with relief, catching my breath. I made it!

traindusk

My victory was short-lived when I peered into the adjacent passenger cars and saw that every seat had been taken. I would have to stand or sit on the grimy floor in the breezeway for who knew how long.

As the train made stops at stations from Stuttgart to Regensburg, passengers began to file in and out and pushed me aside in their harried rush to reach their destinations. About half way to Munich, I managed to snag a seat in one of the rail cars and hoisted my luggage into the rack above, leaving my jacket in the seat to stake my claim. Rummaging for my toiletries, I commandeered the W.C. and transformed it into a makeshift grooming parlor. I did my best to clean up as the rails jostled the small space and sent me swaying back and forth. The face looking back at me in the mirror was that of a vagabond with red eyes, ruddy complexion, and the start of a beard that looked like patchy scruff. I looked like hell. Not a good first impression for Brigitte’s family. I fished out my shaver and tossed it back when I realized it needed a European-style electrical plug adapter. My American one was useless.

Hunger drove me to search for something to eat. I stumbled to the dining car but headed back to my seat empty-handed when I noticed a hamburger cost U.S.$7.00 in deutschmarks and drinks $3.00. Instead, I nibbled on some snacks I packed for the trip. The sacrifice saved some money but didn’t satiate the unfulfilling feeling gnawing at me. The glamour of European travel diminished with each crunch in my mouth.

I stewed in my seat as the train blew through the German countryside that I could not see except for the faint twinkle of lights, recounting in my mind what had gone awry since I touched down in Europe. Regret that I had bought an unwieldy suitcase and two overstuffed duffle bags instead of a backpack fell heavy on me. The reality of moving from station to station and train to train with such bulk blew away my assumption that I was on a one-way trip to student life abroad. I would have been better off a penguin herding my progeny.

I dozed off as the monotonous sound of the train wore on, broken only by the abrupt screeching and sudden silence that came with each station stop. I counted them like sheep as they passed one after another on the way to Munich, careful not to fall into a deep sleep and miss my connection. The stretched cloth-covered chair that barely reclined would be my bed for the night, a rare opportunity to rest before arriving in Rosenheim late in the evening. Who knew whether Brigitte would be there to meet me. We had spoken briefly on the phone to confirm my visit a couple weeks before I left the states; that promise seemed tenuous now after my recent misadventures.

traindusk2

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)

Map picture

Images courtesy of Microsoft.

clip_image001

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, 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.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Real Dreams Featured in the Foreign Service Journal


dreamscoverThe Foreign Service Journal has featured my book Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories in its annual “In Their Own Write” compilation of books published by Foreign Service-affiliated authors in 2012. The Foreign Service Journal writes of Real Dreams (p. 49):

Mike Edwards wrote these 15 short stories over a period of 30 years, beginning in his youth. He covers a wide variety of themes and topics inspired by dreams and experiences over those years.

These stories encompass a boy’s fantasies and an adult man’s maturation. A young boy finds himself the protector of genetically modified army ants that have escaped from the military. An old woman considered to be mentally ill may have reason for her outbursts, while a prisoner of war writes letters of hope from his Nazi concentration camp during World War II. And a gloomy maintenance man turns out to have a terrifying history.

 

Real Dreams is a collection of stories I wrote between 1981 and 2011. Each reflects changes in my writing style and interests over time. I wrote the earliest story, “How Little Big Chief Calmed the Mountain,” as a young student, and the latest, “Evil | Live,” three decades later. The book is a story sampler rather than a cohesive anthology. The stories are grouped by genre. You will find some common themes, including hope, dreams, light, darkness, perseverance, and spirituality, wrapped up in some novel ideas. In some stories, the reader is left to ponder their deeper meaning. I hope you enjoy these diverse and timeless works three decades in the making.

Thank you, Foreign Service Journal, for including Real Dreams on your 2012 list. I am grateful that my book joined other superb works written by Foreign Service colleagues and alumni. I encourage readers to browse the books featured in “In Their Own Write” and read the Journal to learn more about the Foreign Service.

Real Dreams is available to purchase as an e-book or in print from these booksellers:

U.S. Booksellers

dreamscover2Available to purchase as an e-book for US$2.99:

Amazon.com for Kindle

Apple iTunes for iPad/iPhone

Baker & Taylor for Blio e-reader

Barnes & Noble for Nook

Diesel Ebooks for iPad and other e-readers

Google Play for Android

Kobo Books for Kobo e-reader

Smashwords for iPad and other e-readers

Sony ReaderStore for Sony e-reader

Available in print for US$8.99:

Amazon.com

Createspace-

International Booksellers

Available as an e-book or in print (prices vary by format and local currency):

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.fr (France)

Amazon.de (Austria and Germany)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.co.jp (Japan)

Amazon.es for Kindle (Spain)

Available as an e-book:

Barnes & Noble for Nook (United Kingdom)

Visit my websitefor a complete list of booksellers.

 

About the Foreign Service Journal

The Foreign Service Journal covers foreign affairs from an insider’s perspective, providing thoughtful articles on international issues, the practice of diplomacy and the U.S. Foreign Service. The Journal is published monthly (July/August issues combined) by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA). The November issue features its annual “In Their Own Write” compilation, the largest edition yet, with some 90 new books by Foreign Service-affiliated authors. The list spans almost every conceivable literary genre: from history and foreign policy to memoirs and biographies, and from novels and short stories to mysteries and how-to books.

About the American Foreign Service Association

Established in 1924, AFSA is the professional association of the United States Foreign Service. With close to 16,000 dues-paying members, AFSA represents over 28,000 active and retired Foreign Service employees of the Department of State, Agency for International Development (AID), Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), Foreign Commercial Service (FCS), and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).

Click here to read the original post on my blog, World Adventurers.

dreamscoverM.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 Stories and 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.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

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Eurasia: Adventures in Frankfurt (Part Two)


This is the fourth 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.

Frankfurt 2

Thomas and Francisco, two acquaintances I met after I arrived in Frankfurt, Germany, waited for me to respond to their offer to help carry my bags to the lockers in the main train station. I was unsure of their intentions and wondered how I could bid adieu without creating a scene. I suspected that they had ulterior motives, perhaps to relieve me of my wallet or other belongings, but I couldn’t dismiss the possibility that they genuinely wanted to help. What a mess I’d gotten myself into just hours after arriving in Europe! I hoped my brief stay in Frankfurt would not devolve further into a comedy or tragedy.

“Really, guys, I can take it from here,” I told them. “I really appreciate your help. If there’s anything I can ever do to thank you…”

Francisco held up his hand without a hint of malice and stopped me in mid-sentence. “Say no more, my friend. We’re happy to help.”

Thomas nodded, smiling. It dawned on me that the two were merely being helpful. I pursed my lips and chastised myself for being too mistrustful. Francisco held out his hand and shook mine. He said, “We wish you all the best with your travels, Michael. Take care of yourself. See you later.”

“Thank you very much,” I said, feeling a bit sheepish. “‘Bye…I mean, auf Wiedersehen.”

“Bye, Michael,” Francisco and Thomas said. They waved and disappeared from my life. I realized then that meeting strangers was one of the more fulfilling aspects of traveling abroad and that it was best not to assume the worst in a person at first meeting. Had it not been for their assistance, I might never have been able to square away my belongings. Instead, I might have spent time in a police station reporting some lost or stolen items. Francisco and Thomas were the greeters in Frankfurt that I expected all along.

I gathered my two suitcases, duffel bag, and shoulder bag and shoved the pile toward the locker room at the opposite end of the terminal. I moved them in stages, thinking each time I went back for an orphaned bag that I had a long trip ahead of me to Graz, Austria. I rented the largest locker available and stuffed the three large pieces into it and kept my shoulder bag to use as my daypack. I still carried my travel documents and wallet in my fanny pack, an accessory that I did not realize at the time was a great target for thieves who would rather have stolen small valuables than unwieldy suitcases.

Unfettered, I was all set to spend the rest of the day touring Frankfurt, but I wasn’t in the mood to see it. My ordeal from the airport to the train station soured my disposition. I still had more than three hours before my scheduled departure and did not want to linger at the station, so I headed to the city center for my first taste of Europe. I was not impressed. Despite being a major European city and the financial hub of one of the world’s largest economies, Frankfurt was a forgettable urban metropolis with a dearth of landmarks. Allied bombing during World War II destroyed the city, and most rebuilt modern architecture was rather bland. Die Römer, Frankfurt’s city hall, and the Opernhaus (opera house), were beautiful but nondescript gems hidden amid the high rises. Apart from street signs and billboards written in German, I saw few signs of Germanic influence.

Frankfurt 1

I missed home, my family and my girlfriend. I had no way to contact them with nary a phone card or a cell phone, which would not become an indispensable, disposable travel item for another decade. I told my family that I would contact them in a few days after I arrived in Graz and had no idea what I would have done if I got into trouble. With no travel insurance and on a limited budget, I needed to travel with care.

I sought comfort in the refuge of an American fast-food chain and ordered a hamburger, a dish that ironically originated in Germany but was as far from German cuisine as I could imagine. The burger tasted no better than it had in the United States, and while I thought it was a cheaper option than eating at a local restaurant, the meal cost more than I had budgeted. Leaving the restaurant, I went outside into the cold February afternoon and inadvertently stepped into some wet dog excrement waiting for me on Römerstraße (Römer Street). I rolled my eyes and growled with clenched teeth, “Crap, can anything else go wrong today?”

Scraping the feces from the bottom of my shoe with some tissue, I regretted my words for fear of jinxing myself. The day was far from over; there was still plenty of time for more things to go wrong. Jetlagged, frustrated, and dissatisfied by the bad meal that started to turn in my stomach, I opted to head back to the train station to wait for my departure. The last thing I wanted to do was miss my connection and find myself stranded in Frankfurt. So much misfortune had befallen me in Frankfurt that I was sure that fate would intervene again. As I sat in a subway car hurling back to the train station, staring out the window at the fuzzy emergency lights passing by me in the dark tunnel, I moped and hoped that the situation would get better.

Frankfurt 3

Previous installments of “Eurasia: A Poor Student’s Trek through Europe and Asia“:

1. Leaving America

2. Vancouver to Frankfurt

3. Adventures in Frankfurt (Part One)

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 recently published a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories available as an ebook and in print on Amazon.com. His upcoming travel novel, Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, will be available in March 2012. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex. Visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or contact him at me@mgedwards.com. Find him on Facebook or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Eurasia: Adventures in Frankfurt (Part One)


This is the third 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.

After a 19-hour journey from the Western United States to Germany (26 counting the 9-hour time difference), I landed without fanfare in Frankfurt. The transoceanic flight, the longest flight I had ever taken, was uneventful and monotonous. I hoped that something, anything, memorable would happen when I reached Frankfurt, although I had no idea what I wanted to transpire. Perhaps some imaginary people could wait for me at the gate to welcome me to Europe or congratulate me for surviving my first long-haul flight, although I thought nothing of the sort would occur after I touched down. I should have been happy to be alive. Not that I was at a major risk of being involved in a plane crash, mind you, but it would have been just my luck for my trip to be cut short by death.

I landed at Frankfurt International Airport (Flughafen) at about 3 a.m. local time. The time difference messed up my internal clock. Even though I arrived at the wee hours of the morning, my head thought it was noontime, and I was wide awake. I knew that I would be worn out long before the end of the day and that inevitably drowsiness would set in sometime after noon. I needed to conserve my strength for the long day ahead and straighten out my days and nights as soon as possible. I was on a new continent and needed to get used to it.

Far from extraordinary, Frankfurt at first glance did not look much different than what I left behind in America. The aircraft landed smoothly and taxied from the runway to a stop on the tarmac far from the terminal building. Except for the German phrases on billboards and runway markings, Frankfurt’s airport seemed like any other. I bid goodbye to my seatmates, disembarked from the plane, walked down the airstair, and hopped on a shuttle bus that took me for a ride to the main terminal. It dumped me off at an entrance, and I went inside without fanfare.

I followed a herd of passengers to Immigration and Customs and waited my turn to flash my passport at an immigration official. He waved me on without a word. Although I didn’t need a visa to enter Germany, I was surprised that he did not make me fill out an entry form. Incredibly, I had more trouble entering Canada, where the Canucks bogged me down with declaration forms and confiscated an apple that I brought from home. (Never mind that the apple grew up in shadow of the Canadian border – disallowed). Passing through German Customs without so much as a cursory baggage check, I made my way to the baggage claim and waited more than 45 minutes for my belongings. There was something to be said about being held up by border control while waiting for bags to arrive.

At the baggage claim, I met a nice Hungarian lady waiting for her luggage named Rosa, who spoke a little German and even less English. I enjoyed talking to her with a mixture of German and hand gestures. The time passed quickly while chatted. Finally, my checked-in baggage spilled on to the conveyer belt and passed twice around the baggage carousel until I collected them. I had two oversized suitcases, a large duffle bag, and a carry-on bag that must have weighed more than 45 kilograms (100 pounds). While I should have grabbed an airport luggage cart, I opted instead to use my own luggage carrier that I bought for my trip. I piled the mound of bags onto it. The thin metal frame designed to accommodate far lighter bags groaned under their weight.

I pulled my poor luggage carrier aside and recounted my plan to travel from Frankfurt to Rosenheim, Germany, a city outside Munich where I would spend the night with a friend. I would depart by subway from the airport to the Hauptbahnhof, Frankfurt’s main train station. I would leave my luggage in a locker at the station and spend the rest of the day exploring the city before taking an evening train to Munich, where I would connect with another train bound for Rosenheim. With this plan in mind, I set off with my overloaded baggage cart and headed for the subway level.

My trip took a turn for the worse when my fragile luggage carrier broke as I tried to pull it into the elevator, spilling my bags on the floor. Embarrassed, I abandoned the elevator to reclaim my luggage. I groaned and pulled them out of the elevator’s path. I squatted next to the pile that had once been my carefully crafted plan and set my most important possessions — my passport, Europass train ticket, traveler’s checks, and plane ticket — on the floor as I contemplated what to do. In my distress, I forgot that I brought along a fanny pack to secure my valuables. Suddenly, I had to figure out how to transport two suitcases, a duffle bag and shoulder bag — virtually my entire life — hundreds of kilometers to Austria. The luggage carrier lay at my feet in a twisted heap. I thought about using an airport baggage cart, but it would only get me as far as the airport subway station. I wished I traveled light, but it was too late to shed all those things I thought I needed but could have done without.

“May I help you?” a voice asked me. I looked up and saw a man standing next to me. He was casually dressed in a t-shirt and jeans with a small shoulder bag. I immediately answered, “Sure, thanks.”

“My name is Francisco. I’m from Venezuela but live here in Frankfurt,” the man said, holding out his hand. I shook it and introduced myself. “Nice to meet you. Thanks for your help.”

Unsure whether he was trustworthy, I scooped up my papers and money and stashed them in my fanny pack. Francisco helped drag my suitcases to a money exchange office, where I changed U.S. dollars into deutschmark (DM), Germany’s currency until it adopted the euro in 1998. Francisco waited patiently for me. As I gathered my belongings to go by myself to the subway, he said, “Look, I’m going that way. Let me give you a hand.”

I appreciated the help and agreed, giving him a suitcase to carry. We took the elevator down to the subway level of the airport. I bought an all-day pass for the Frankfurt subway at a kiosk. Again, Francisco waited for me. We took the train to the Hauptbahnhof. As the train barreled toward the city, the nondescript suburbs passing by in a drab blur, my newfound friend explained that he grew up in Venezuela but came to Frankfurt to study architecture and never left. He spoke excellent English with a Spanish accent. When I asked him how he learned the language, he responded that he needed it to communicate with colleagues and clients from around the world.

Frankfurt 2

I started warming up to Francisco but was still on my guard for suspicious activity. Something about him gnawed at me. Perhaps it was because he was willing to go beyond the call of duty to help a stranger for seemingly nothing in return. I heard stories of tourists who were conned and fell victim to scams — or worse. Nevertheless, I figured that I was relatively safe accompanying him in a high-traffic area of a low-crime city. And his story seemed credible enough. He explained that he had dropped someone off at the airport and was on his way home. He needed to take a train home from the Hauptbahnhof and did not mind accompanying me. He said with pride, “Frankfurters are friendly people who go out of their way to help those in need.”

After we arrived at the main train station, Francisco happened to meet his friend Thomas, a German man with unkempt blond hair who was dressed in fatigues, strange attire for someone living in a European city. Their happenchance meeting seemed to be more than a coincidence. Thomas had a look in his eye that told me he was a streetwise sort. The fatigues made him look as if he were ready for jungle warfare. I could not help but be suspicious of my new acquaintances. I wanted to trust these would-be Good Samaritans but could not get past the nagging feeling that I was being set up. Francisco had one of my suitcases. I had to find a way to get it back and say goodbye before they separated me from my luggage — or worse.

I asked them where I could find the lockers in the train station, hinting that I wanted to go alone. My apprehension turned to distrust when Thomas said, “You have to be careful here, man. The train station is in a bad area of town where a lot of people get robbed. We can help you out.”

Alarm bells went off in my head. I needed to get my belongings and bid them adios as politely as I could, fast.

Click here to read the previous installment of Eurasia.

Frankfurt 5

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