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.

Thoughts & Sayings (October 2012)


Here are some thoughts and sayings I posted on Twitter and/or Facebook in September. To my knowledge, I made these up (for better or for worse). Sit back, relax, and enjoy the write!

peddlingEncouraging Words

1. Keep on peddling, but don’t oversell.

2. I may bite my tongue if I say something tongue in cheek.

3. I have champagne tastes but a beer budget and had to trade my flute for a mug.

4. If technology were a pet, I would send it to obedience training.

5. After two failed attempts, I’m back to fail again.

junkTwisted Words

6. One person’s junk is another’s Chinese vessel.

In Its Own Write

7. I’ve turned a page and am headed in the write direction.

Holidays & Events

8. On Labor Day, America rests while the rest of the world labors.

9. Today at the political party convention, the candidate will deliver this month’s speech of their life.

barkRandom Musings

10. Overheard at a linguistic convention: “I speak Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish.” “Yes, but what about Finnish?”

11. I flew to the other side of the world to get away from jetlag, but it followed me.

12. My bark is worse than my bite, but I do bite.

13. Disruptive technology: The day Twitter shakes up the 140-character limit by varying it.

14. When I moved to the Southern Hemisphere, my world turned upside down.

globe

Click here to read the previous batch of Thoughts and Sayings.

Images courtesy of Microsoft.

alexthumbM.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.

Luciadagen


Tonight my attention turns from Korea to Sweden and Swedish culture.  My wife’s coworker invited us to join them today for a St. Lucia’s Day celebration at the Seoul Club sponsored by the Swedish Women’s Education Association (SWEA).  We had a great time, met some nice Swedes, and came away with a few prizes.  You can’t beat that.

What is Luciadagen (Swedish), or St. Lucia’s Day?  Here is a synopsis of Luciadagen by Bill Petro, another blogger:

In Sweden, December 13 is Luciadagen, or St. Lucia’s Day.  It is the beginning of their holiday season.  St. Lucia was a young woman who lived in first century Rome.  She was a Christian who would not give up her faith to marry an unbeliever.  She was tortured and killed by order of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian.Stories of her courage were brought to Sweden by missionaries where she became known as the Lucia Bride [Lussi or Lussibruden].  Old people said the Lucia Bride would go out early in the morning to bring food and drink to the poor.  She wore white robes and a crown of light.The story is acted out in Swedish homes with the oldest daughter playing the Lucia Bride.  Early in the morning on December 13, she brings her parents a tray of sweet saffron buns [

Lussekattor] and some coffee.  She wears a white gown and a crown of greens, often made of holly.  Her sisters and brothers dress in white and follow her.  The girls carry lit candles and the boys wear tall, pointed caps and are called “star boys.”St. Lucia is also honored in Sicily, where she was born.  Christians there gather to celebrate her day with bonfires and torchlight parades…a fitting celebration since Lucia means “light.”

I should also add a few other interesting tidbits about the holiday, which is celebrated by both Swedes and Norwegians.  To many Scandinavians, St. Lucia’s Day serves as the advent of the winter holiday season.  In Swedish lore, St. Lucia symbolizes winter and rivals Santa Claus (Jultomte) in stature.  I find it intriguing that although St. Lucia was actually from Sicily, she is honored in Scandinavia as well as in Sicily.  Reputedly executed by Emperor Diocletian on December 13, A.D. 303, her final resting place is in the Church of Santa Lucia in Venice, Italy.  Although some claim that St. Lucia visited Sweden, this is highly unlikely unless her potential suitor was of Viking origin.  I believe that Scandinavia, with its emphasis on egalitarianism, embraced the celebration in order to honor the role of women in Swedish society.  The fact that it became a Swedish national holiday in the 1920’s underscores this assumption.

It is also interesting to note that girls no longer wear lit candles during the holiday because of a few Michael Jackson-esque accidents in which head and hair frequently burned.  Apparently, nowadays crowns of candles are battery powered.

We had a great time tonight at the St. Lucia’s Day celebration.  The event started with a narrative about the holiday.  I’m glad that the language spoken was English, not Swedish.  Then, a procession led by a girl adorned with acrown of battery-powered candles representing St. Lucia marched to the front of the room.  They sang a medley of beautiful holiday songs in Swedish.  When the performance ended, we enjoyed glögg, lussekatten and other pastries, and European coffee. The children joined Santa Claus for a photo op, and I took my son up to stand next to Santa. Unfortunately, he was too scared to sit on Santa’s lap. The evening ended with a raffle. It went on for over an hour. We walked away with a pearl necklace and a gift pack of crispy bread and three kinds of herring. My wife will thoroughly enjoy both gifts. The evening put us all in a festive spirit. I posted some photos of the event as well as a photo of Seoul Tower lit up for the holidays. Enjoy!

From the “Things the Make You Go…Hmm” Department: Surely I’m not the only person who finds it ironic that someone named Bush won the Heisman Trophy (Reggie Bush, USC), beating out a player from Texas (Vince Young, University of Texas). Then again, sports and politics make strange bedfellows.