I’ve come to the reasonable conclusion that I’m rooming with the ghost of the crocodile from Peter Pan. Last night I swore I heard, “Thump, thump, thump, creeeeek, tick-toc, tick-toc, tick-toc, thump, thump, thump, clank, shuffle, shuffle, tick-toc, tick-toc, tick-toc, tick-toc, tick-toc”. My roommate left the door open again! I shut it not long after. I woke up in the morning at 6am and there was no one in the bunk. The blankets had been shuffled around this time though.
I put the last of my things together and headed for the metro. I made my way to the train station and walked around as much as I could. Today would be a LONG travel day. When my train was called I walked down the terminal, took one last look at the view, and boarded the train. I sat in my seat. Moments later a man walks up to me and motions to his seat which is next to me. He says in English (with a French accent), “you take the window, it’s a better seat.” He begins to chat with me. Small talk. His name was, “Pierre” and he was on his way home to France. He was a short man with a big round belly. We had a very interesting conversation about travel and so fourth. He had questions about why I was traveling, where I had gone, where I was from, and what I did back home. He said that when he travels in Europe that it is hard for him to find clothes that fit since he belly was so big. I said, “You probably wouldn’t have that problem in America.” He replies, “I love going to America, makes me feel skinny….like a Playboy!” We laughed for a while and then he says, “I love travel, I’m in the travel business you know” Turns out that Pierre is the Executive Director of his own travel company. He said he wanted to put me in touch with his lead travel operator in San Francisco. I was humbled. We talked a while longer. He then said, “let me buy you a drink”. He grabs the attention of a train personnel and asks for two glasses of wine. The man comes back with a manager and they talk in Spanish. Pierre didn’t look too happy, but he wasn’t overly angry. When the men left Pierre said to me, “He said that they are not serving drinks anymore and that I would have to go up to the bar myself.” Pierre got up and went into the bar car. He came back not long after with two bottles (single portion) of wine and a questionnaire. He said that he was going to complain about the way the train manager spoke to him. He said that he has never been turned down for bar service at his seat in all his years of traveling. Moreover, that he books this particular train for tours occasionally and was not happy about the service he got. We talked and joked about it for a few moments. Pierre had a terrific sense of humor!
The man who was sitting in front of us walks into the bar and comes back. He stands in front of Pierre and they begin to talk in Spanish. While Pierre is talking to the man he occasionally nudges me with his arm and says, “señor”. They talk some more and then begin to laugh. The man then picks up his coat and walks into the next car. Pierre then turns to me and says, “Apparently the guy sitting in front of us is one of the executives for this train line. I told him that my American friend was shocked at the level of service that they have here in Europe on this train and that he was overly offended.” I laughed! Next, one of the train personnel comes over with a reimbursement for the wine, two additional bottles of wine, and four bags of mixed nuts. Pierre pours us the wine and says, “Cheers” and I say, “Salute” as I look him in the eye.
Pierre turns to me and says, “You know, I bet we can ask for whatever we want and they will bring for us.” He laughs and continues, “Maybe I should ask for a bottle for the road?” We continue to talk about this and that. As his stop is approaching he goes into the bar. He comes back and says, “I asked for one for the road”. The train attendant comes over with two bottles of wine, two bags of mixed nuts, and two bottles of whisky. When he leaves Pierre turns to me and says, “All of this is for you, if I go home tipsy I’ll have to explain what happened.” I was speechless.
When we got to Pierre’s stop he said that I’d be hearing from him. I shook his hand and he exited the train. I sat back in my seat and started to laugh as I said to myself, “What the hell just happened?”
The next stop was mine and I switched trains. I had a all the seats around me to myself and a large table. I spread out and got some stuff done. I loaded photos, charged my iPod with their power outlet, and took some notes about what I need to do to prepare for my flight. After an hour a family of four boards the train and they come up as if I was in their seat. I was! I was in the wrong train car. This is another reason why the trains in France suck. They numbers on the outside of the train car indicate the number of the car just before it. So when you board the train the number on the side of the train car says “#12”, but the car you are getting into is #13. The number on each train car appears on a separate car. It’s annoying! At least with the AVE trains in Spain they have the number of the car posted inside each car. In France, not so much! At least the bar cars are always appropriately labeled so at least they know their priorities.
Well, I move into the correct car and now I’m sitting with three elderly ladies from France: One was very old, snored, kept kicking me under the seat, and would occasionally hic-up very load without warning. It was scary! One lady spoke only French and she seemed very pleasant, but she didn’t talk much. The other lady spoke a little English and was traveling with her mother around Europe. I think she might have had Parkinson’s because she kept shaking whenever she talked. They had just gotten back from the UK and she was eager to show me photos. She said that she absolutely loved the town of Bath. I made the mistake of telling her that my photos from Bath got deleted. She said, “Here look through my photos and I’d be happy to e-mail you mine.” Yep, she was serious. I was laughing inside. She showed me her photos of Bath and even funnier is that she was in all of the photos. Ha! As polite as I could I told her that I was fine. Thankfully, she didn’t seem bothered by me not taking her up on her offer. We chatted for quiet a while and she told me about how she used to hitchhike in the US. Nice group of ladies.
When I got to my stop I had a little wait before boarding a train to Strasbourg. The train to Strasbourg was nice. I just popped in my iPod and was just dandy. The train stopped at a station and got a little delayed. Once we started moving you could tell that we were going faster to compensate for time. The train shakes a bit more and the turns are a little sharp. Well, I turning the trip I get up to grab something out of my bag in the overhead. As I’m doing this the train makes a sharp turn and all of the wine and whisky come stumbling out of my bag. The people next to me look at me as if I was a drunkard. It was funny!
Well, my train arrived well after midnight into Strasbourg and was only about 15 minutes late. Not bad, considering I’m was on the French rail system. I grabbed my bag and headed out of the station. I walked through the plaza, down the busy street filled with kebab shops, and crossed the river. As I was on the bridge I realized that this was my last trip into Strasbourg. I remember at the beginning of my trip thinking about this moment when I’d be here for the last and wondered how I’d feel when that time came. I arrived at Deb’s and walked in the door. Deb said, “So, how was your trip?” and I replied, “You know Deb, I never thought this day would come. The trip has gone by so fast.” Deb was nice enough to feed me some soup and salad. After, I had to get some serious sleep. Sadly, tomorrow is my last full day in Europe.