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: 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: 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.

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: Leaving America


This is the first 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.

Those who travel overseas know how challenging it can be. Not only do you have to do a gazillion things to get ready for your trip, but you also have to prepare yourself psychologically for the paradigm shift that happens whenever you immerse yourself in a new and different culture. It can be emotionally draining to move overseas and be away from home. This is particularly true when you travel abroad for the first time. Sometimes it’s downright frightening to leave behind familiar surroundings, family, and friends for a strange new place where you know hardly anyone.

I faced these challenges and more when I moved overseas for the first time in 1994. I lived in Graz, Austria as an exchange student from February to June; toured Western Europe in March and April; and visited Eastern Europe, the Russian Federation, and the People’s Republic of China in July and August. An International Studies (IS) major, I enjoyed traveling and learning about foreign cultures, although my international experience outside the United States at that time was limited to brief trips to Canada and Mexico. I assumed that as a fourth-year IS student I was prepared to live abroad; however, I soon realized that academic exercises were no substitute for firsthand experience.

My journey from the United States to Graz was filled with fun, excitement, pain, and frustration. As a proverbially starving college student, I decided that the most economical way to get to Austria’s second largest city was to fly to Frankfurt, Germany, and then take the train to Graz. A rail pass cost at that time cost much less than paying for a connecting flight to Graz, so it seemed logical in theory. In reality, it would have been much less of a headache to fly.

I kicked off my trip from my then-home in Idaho. Driving home from college in February 1994, I stashed most of my belongings at my parents’ house and stuffed the rest of my life into one suitcase and two large duffle bags. These were my constant and burdensome companions all the way to Graz.

My parents drove me to the airport early on a Sunday morning. After a fond farewell and a cheerful reminder that I would finish school when I returned home, I hugged them goodbye and boarded a small puddle-jumper-of-a-plane bound for Seattle. I waited four long hours in Sea-Tac International Airport for my connecting flight. In the days before electronic gadgets like media players and ultra-portable laptops, I had few options to entertain myself and spent the first of many monotonous hours sitting idle in transit.

The flight from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. was on an even smaller commuter jet. I chanted prayers for a safe journey. The propeller-driven plane had only three seats per aisle, but the 45-minute flight was so short that I did not have time to fear for my life. It’s still the smallest aircraft I have ever flown overseas, even though I’ve logged hundreds of thousands of miles since then. There’s a small comfort in flying in a large commercial airplane, in spite of the fact that large planes can crash as fatally as small ones. Perhaps it’s the added turbulence you feel when you’re flying in a prop plane.