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.

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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.

You’re the Adventurer–Planning Ahead


Welcome to an experiment. You’ve been a spectator reading my travelogues about life overseas from Korea to Zambia, but now it’s your turn to go on your own adventure! Immerse yourself in the story and make key decisions by choosing from among several options. Your selections could make the difference between a great trip or a travel disaster! Read and make your choice, and stay tuned as your story unfolds.

If you haven’t read the story from the beginning, stop reading this post! Click here to begin your journey.

Your destination is set, and now you have to arrange your travel schedule and handle the logistics. Travel overseas isn’t like getting into the car with a suitcase in hand to visit family or friends. There’s more to it. You’re going to visit a different culture and have to anticipate what you’re going to need before you leave. Grabbing a piece of paper, you jot down a list of things to do.

Flights. Driving isn’t an option. The thought crosses your mind that it would be fun to take an ocean cruise but dismiss the thought when you realize how long it would take — days or weeks. You’d rather spend your time enjoying your final destination. Flying it is! You search online for airline tickets and compare prices, exhaling as the sticker shock hits you, and finally purchase an affordable one with a couple of stops and several hours in transit.

airplane

Lodging. The online options for lodging where you’re planning to stay are mind-boggling. Beyond a few well-known hotel chains, most of the names mean nothing to you. Travel websites give you a variety of hotels, motels, inns, and bed and breakfasts to choose from, and you book places to stay close to your preferred attractions. They look quaint and clean in the photos with a list of amenities like complementary breakfast, but who knows what they’re like until you show up in the lobby with luggage in hand.

Ground transportation. Moving around the country might be easier in a car rental, but you’re not sure about local driving conditions. Cities may be crowded and perhaps dangerous if you venture into the wrong part of town. The rental may offer challenges like right-hand driving or manual shifting into tight spaces. Without GPS, driving could become a misadventure you didn’t anticipate and don’t want. You decide to use public transportation, taxis, and organized tours to get around.

taxi

Travel guides. You research online for travel information about your destination and dig up dozens of websites with a wide range of data of varying quality. Some have great pictures but scarce information about the country, while others read like encyclopedias that leave you perplexed over a dizzying array of choices. You decide that travel guides on electronic media like smartphones don’t adequately replace old-fashioned paperback guides. You check the ratings on a few of the more popular ones and choose a guide that vaguely registers in your memory, throwing in a local phrase book for good measure as you don’t know if or when you’ll need to speak the local language. While English is a second language for many worldwide, it might not be widely spoken in some places you’ll visit.

luggageBaggage. You dig your luggage out of storage and lay them out on the floor. Opting for one large suitcase and a smaller carry-on bag, you wonder whether your soft-top bag will be sturdy enough to handle the journey and recall a time when you saw another traveler’s broken, splintered hard-top suitcase flailing about on the baggage carousel, its contents spilling out of the bag for gawking bystanders to ogle. Soft top is fine, you think. You make a trip to the store to buy luggage tags and belts and TSA-compliant locks.

Electronics and cameras. You grab your digital camera that’s been anxiously waiting to take great travel photos and all the electronic equipment begging to join you. Unsure whether theft will be a major concern, you consider which items you can keep safe on the road. You opt not to bring an oversized laptop that won’t fit into a locked bag or a hotel lockbox or your cell phone that won’t work at your destination. Instead, you jot down the phone numbers of your hotels, the nearest embassy in case of an emergency, and other contacts to input into a local cell phone after you arrive. Whatever you can carry in your carry-on bag will go with you. The lucky items cheer their good fortune.

Power converters and plug adapters. You discover that your electronics are incompatible with the plugs at your destination. You check to make sure that all your equipment uses 220-volt power, avoiding the anguish of your electronics blowing a fuse after an electrical surge. You stop by a local store to pick up a set of universal plug adapters that will fit any foreign socket.

plugs

Clothing. Local weather reports help you plan your wardrobe. The forecast suggests that temperatures will be variable with a chance of rain. You recall the different latitudes and hemispheres where the seasons are reversed and decide to bring both warm- and cool-weather clothing. You’re careful not to pack too much to avoid an airline charge for overweight baggage; enough clothing for a week is sufficient with downtime to do laundry.

Insurance. Uncertain whether your insurance will cover accidents and theft overseas, you check online and learn that a serious incidents overseas such as a medical evacuation or lengthy hospitalization may not be fully covered. You decide to play it safe and check out travel insurance coverage in the event you’re injured, robbed, or worse.

Money. Although the thought occurs to you that it may be better to purchase travelers’ cheques or local currency from a money exchange before arriving at your destination, you realize that cash and credit cards should work where you’re traveling. You make sure that you have your credit cards’ personal identification numbers (PINs) handy, mindful to keep them separate from your cards.

money

Travel documents. You check your passport to make sure it’s still valid. It’s close to expiring, and you wonder whether you should renew it before you leave. You’re also unsure whether you’ll need a visa to enter the country. Reading International Travel Information, you learn that Brazil and China require visas, but South Africa does not. You should also get the recommended immunizations from your doctor and an International Certificate of Vaccination — better known as the “yellow shot card” — issued by the World Health Organization.

passport

With your trip planning well in hand, you breathe a sigh of relief. While not much fun, you feel better knowing that most of the logistics are done to help make your trip a good one. Crashing on the sofa, you ponder what to do about your travel documents. You hope you have enough time before your trip, but you’re leaving soon and aren’t sure if you can get them back in time. If you apply for a new passport, you risk not getting it before you’re scheduled to leave. Applying for a visa can be a notoriously slow and time-intensive process. Adding a visa to a new passport will take even longer, possibly jeopardizing your trip. You can get vaccinations and a yellow shot card, but who wants to gets shots? Maybe the immunizations aren’t required and can be avoided.

What should you do about your travel documents?

Click here to travel to Brazil with your current passport.

Click here to travel to China with your current passport.

Click here to travel to South Africa with your current passport.

Images courtesy of Microsoft.

buythumbM.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.