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.