Monday, April 30, 2012

Around the World: Returning to London

April 30, 1992

Yesterday evening began the journey by train and ferry from Paris, across the channel to Dover and on to London.

On the ferry, Jane discovered that she is not a fan of sea travel. She was a rather vivid shade of green when we arrived on England's shores this morning.  Finally on solid land, we slept soundly on the train to London and I wasn't at all unhappy when the announcement came that we would be late arriving in Victoria Station.

Once we arrived, I went off to change some money for us and while I was gone, Jane found us a deal on a hostel for tonight.  She showed me the flyer with a map and I couldn't believe our luck.  £9 is a steal for accommodations in London!

We took the Underground to Paddington Station and found the hostel.  Eager to get some air and familiar with the city, we explored London, walking past Trafalgar Square, St. Paul's Cathedral and London Bridge, which, for the record, is not falling down.

Back at the hostel, I realize my top bunk is on a serious tilt.  This could make for a very interesting, and possibly painful evening.

• ¤ •

"A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for."
~Grace Hopper

Friday, April 27, 2012

Around the World: La Tour Eiffel

April 27, 1992

Today, Jane and I walked from our hotel to the Eiffel Tower.  It's a long walk, but the vendors along the Seine all had something wonderful to look at, jewelry, paintings and trinkity knick knacks.  Whenever we tired of walking, we found a quiet spot to set up a little picnic and once contentedly fed and refreshed, we continued on again.

The Champs du Mars that lead to the Eiffel Tower makes a perfect picnic place to finish all the food and drink we were carrying with us. We climbed the stairs to the second tier to make the elevator ride less expensive and caught the elevator to the top.

The view is magnificent.  The Seine meanders through the city, and under bridges as it divides Paris. Streets create pie shaped wedges that meet at five point intersections.  Trees and parks pepper the grey stone of buildings.  Paris is so easy on the soul, as lovely to look at as it is to be in.

We took our time walking back to the hotel, stopping for a few bottles of wine and some easier-to-eat-than-a-can-of-beans snacks along the way.  Sitting by the window, we spend the evening savouring the tapestry of Paris with some food, music and wine.  Our last days in Paris will be spent visiting the nearby shops and markets as today's walk has pretty much finished our feet.

• ¤ •

"Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time."
~Steven Wright

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Around the World: Pere Lachaise

April 26, 1992

Jane and I are off to explore Pere Lachaise cemetery, where several famous people are buried.  I've heard many stories of people becoming lost amongst the tombstones.  In my head, I picture a typical graveyard, orderly plots, row on row, as it were.  I can't imagine how someone could get disoriented in a cemetery.

... and then I walked inside.

As we make our way toward the grave of Jim Morrison, I quickly realize how easy it is to get lost. Following the cobblestone streets between towering tombs is like walking through a city of the dead.

but the neighbours are really quiet.

Over 1 million bodies are buried in the 110 acre cemetery, among them, Oscar Wilde, Georges Bizet, and Frederic Chopin. Many of the tombs are several feet high and merge together like a wall.  Spray painted across the tombs are directions to the cemetery's most popular resident.

the directions are thoughtful, but the method is in poor taste.

When we finally find the grave of Jim Morrison, it is surrounded by a small crowd of people singing songs by The Doors and playing guitars, others light candles and the smell of pot is thick in the air.  Jane and I make ourselves comfortable on a nearby stone and share some of the wine we brought with us.

music and munchies

We continue to walk along the paths between the tombs and found the resting place of Oscar Wilde.  It is tradition to mark the monument over his grave with a red lip print. His tomb is covered in kisses.

We also found the graves of Chopin, and a small gravestone with the name Bugatti. It's a bit of a mystery which of the famous performance car designer family is buried here, as Ettore and his son Jean are both interred in Alsace.

After several hours of exploring, Jane and I come to the unanimous conclusion that we are hopelessly lost. Approaching us is a small group of older women, one of which has a map.  In my best french, I approach her and announce, "J'ai perdu."

In french, I understand her response as, "You poor girl," and she does her best to show me where we are and how to get to the entrance.

Jane and I make our way back to our hotel and enjoy the rest of our wine.  I have rigged the luggage rack to support a can of beans that Jane is heating up over a candle. 

• ¤ •

"No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn."
~Jim Morrison

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Around the World: Paris Encore

April 24, 1992

Neither Jane nor I felt safe staying in the hostel last night.  After speaking with the hostel staff about the theft, they were sympathetic, but unable to help.  This kind of thing, unfortunately, happens frequently.  When I asked to cancel our reservations for the night, they apologetically returned the fee for our beds.  Fate was also kind enough to have a train bound for Paris leaving just shortly after we arrived at the station.  We pulled into Gare du Nord in Paris just after 5a.m. this morning.

Gare du Nord, Paris
Photo courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons

As the train approached the border, there was no shortage of drug sniffing canines doing a thorough search of the train.  I'm not sure what the penalty is for trying to smuggle drugs out of the Netherlands, but I'm sure it's less than pleasant.  Much like Thailand, help yourself while you visit, but leave it behind when you go.

Exhausted, Jane sits with our bags at the station in Paris while I search the surrounding streets for a place to stay.  Just around the corner from the station is a small inn, l'Hotel du Champagne.  The guy at the front desk says the nightly rate for a double room is 300 francs ($60 CND). It's a little more than my budget allows, but I'm tired and in need of a little personal pampering.  I return to the station for Jane to show her our home for the next few days.

The lobby has a vending machine stocked with beer.  None of that juice, water or cola crap.  Just beer.  We drag our tired selves and the backpacks up the winding marble staircase to our third floor room.  The room has a shower, two very comfortable beds and french doors that open to a narrow balcony overlooking the station and the traffic jammed intersections of Paris.

Did I mention the beds?

• ¤ •

"No day is so bad it can't be fixed with a nap."
~Carrie Snow

Monday, April 23, 2012

Around the World: The Dark Side

April 23, 1992

Jane and I went to our favourite bar/cafe/restaurant this morning and had a delicious brunch.  After a long and slow wander through parks and along canals we end up back to the hostel.  My camera, some film, the photos of my trip so far and some money are packed in my day bag, ready for a late afternoon picnic. We plan to slowly make our way back to The Grasshopper for a late dinner.

I see Jane having trouble with the locker.  I put my day bag on my bed and go to help her cram her luggage into the locker.  While I'm pushing on the door, trying to get it closed so Jane can get the lock on it, I see someone walk past carrying a bag that looks very similar to mine. 

Lock in place, I return to my bed to find my day bag is missing.

I race down the stairs in hopes of finding the culprit either still in the hostel or out on the streets, but my search is in vain.  My bag, all my photos, my camera.  Gone.

tear by mebilia on deviantART

Jane didn't see the person walk past.  When she finally catches up to me, I am pacing in a panic outside the hostel.  Trying to explain what has happened is more than I can bear.  She hugs me comfortingly while I mourn the loss of a journey's worth of memories on her shoulder.

• ¤ •

“Have you ever lost someone you love and wanted one more conversation, one more chance to make up for the time when you thought they would be here forever? If so, then you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back.”
~Mitch Albom

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Around the World: Amsterdam

April 22, 1992

Amsterdam is a sight seeing dream.  I went through two rolls of film snapping photos of statues, boats on the canals, bicycles, buildings, trees and flowers.  Everything is so interesting.

Jane and I went on an exploring wander in no particular direction, stopping at the occasional coffee shop to rest and refuel.  We spent hours walking and enjoying the sights and smells of Spring in Amsterdam.

Febo kroquette.  Nom nom nom.

The discovery of the febo, we agree, is the greatest invention of fast food distribution.  Behind a wall of little windows are cooks preparing individual portions of tasty treats.  Customers can browse and purchase freshly made food that is replaced as the windows empty.  Brilliant!  I took a chance and picked a breaded, tube shaped snack, called kroquette.  It's stuffed with a minced filling that tastes like a turkey dinner.  Something this delicious can't possibly be good for you, but I'm going back for more anyway.

Photo by Helen Olney

Amsterdam takes personal and lifestyle choices to a new level of tolerance.  If it doesn't hurt anybody and no one is being a nuisance, it's generally not a problem.  The city has that easy going air about it. Nothing is worth losing your head over.

• ¤ •

"Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle."
~Hellen Keller

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Around the World: Sex, Drugs and Bicycles

April 21, 1992

I arrived in Amsterdam yesterday afternoon.  The hostel is busy, but still had a few beds available and I was able to get one for myself in the dorm and reserve another for Jane's arrival later today.  Yay!

Amsterdam, what a fantastical place!  Idyllic cobblestone paths that line a grid of canals mixed with the crowds of urban existing.  The liberal attitude toward sex and soft drugs makes for an interesting walk through the area.  Parents watch their children play in parks, tourists meander along the canals as they visit the many coffee shops offering a selection of marijuana that can be chosen from a menu, women pose in windows at all hours of the day and night waiting for interested men seeking their services.  It's all so orderly, socially acceptable and openly displayed.  Quite a difference from the "war on drugs" and street corner prostitution in the shadows of night that I'm used to.

Amsterdam.  Sex, drugs...

The attitude at home is that selling sex and using drugs is bad, a scourge of society that leads to crime and other terrible things.  Yet, as I get my bearings in a strange city, carrying a backpack and walking around with a map, I am an obvious target for anyone looking to take advantage.  I don't feel any less safe here than I would at home.   In fact, I feel safer here than I have felt in many of the other places I've been.

The people in the busy hostel keep to themselves.  Beyond civil pleasantries, it's hard to strike up a conversation with anyone.  I stuff my bag into a locker and head off to Schiphol, Amsterdam's International Airport to meet Jane.

... and bicycles

Jane is jet lagged and a little disoriented, trying to take in a new place on only a few hours sleep.  We return to the hostel to tuck her bags into a locker before planning a quiet day acclimatizing to a new place and a new time zone.  We pick up some picnic supplies for a relaxing day in a nearby park.

• ¤ •

“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”
~John Green

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Around the World: Namur

April 19, 1992

Today, I am being lazy.  No train trips, just exploring the area around the hostel with my hostel mates.  We followed a trail to a hill with a vertical face that begged to be climbed.  Two guys had ropes and proper climbing gear to scale the hillside.  We were content to watch those with more experience climb to the top, about 100 feet up until Hans, my South African hostel mate, removed his shoes and proceeded to climb the face unharnessed and barefoot.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons

Wendy, also from South Africa loudly quips, "You should change your name to Foots!"

Hans makes it look so simple, we all decide to conquer the mini mountain before us.  Hans is the only one able to climb to the top.  A few others discover a steep path to the side while I learn at an altitude too high to abandon my climb, a very important piece of information that should have been considered much earlier.

I'm afraid of heights.

I start to carefully climb down and find a crevice along my route.  Tucked inside, I discover Jill has made herself quite comfortable.  She is also frightened of high places and like me, often forgets that a love of climbing and a mild case of acrophobia don't mix well together.  After realizing she was stuck, afraid to continue up or go back down, she crawled into this small crack in the rock, hoping someone might send help.  My offer to descend together gives her enough courage to make an attempt and we manage save ourselves. 

• ¤ •

"Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others."
~Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Around the World: Leuven and Michilen

April 18, 1992

A long lie in this morning almost cost me breakfast.  I made it just in time to pick from what was left of the buns and some cold meat slices.

I would prefer to be lazy today, but decide to visit Leuven.  The town hall is opposite the train station, which makes it really easy to find without a map.  A crowd is gathering in anticipation of a multicultural parade.

Leuven Town Hall.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons

Another train ride brings me to Mechelen.  In the late 1600's, town residents rushed to fight the fire they thought was tearing through St. Rumbold's tower.  It was only a reflection of the moon, the clouds created a flickering illusion on the tower's windows.  Since then, residents of Mechelen have been known at "Maneblussers" or moon extinguishers.

St. Rumbold's cathedral.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons

Right beside the town hall, a street vendor has socks for sale, but when I open the package, I discover they are children's socks.  Half the sock for half the price.  Another vendor has army coats for sale.  I barter the price down to 900 Belgium francs ($30), the price of staying warm.

I was able to change some money into guilders.  I am so excited to see Jane!

• ¤ •

"The loveliest faces are to be seen by moonlight, when one sees half with the eye and half with the fancy"
~Persian Proverb

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Around the World: Belfrys and Boredom

April 17, 1992

I am on the train to Ghent.  To amuse myself, I am trying to see how long I can keep a small tuft of lint airborne over the vent.  Eventually, it catches a current of air and floats over the seats in front of me, landing in another passenger's hair.  My amusement is gone and I have officially become a nuisance.

The treaty that officially ended the war of 1812 between Britain and the United States was signed in Ghent.  The belfry, one of the city's notorious three towers, has been used since the late 1300's to warn residents of an approaching enemy or to announce victory.  The gilded dragon on the top was brought from Bruges.  The upper portion of the tower has been rebuilt several times over the years as bells were added.

The Belfry of Ghent.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons

Bruges is just a short trip west toward the coast. Referred to as "the Venice of the North", the small city has struggled for survival throughout it's 1000 year history.  After a storm in 1134 re-established access to the sea, Bruges became home to a thriving wool and cloth industry. It was here, in 1473 that William Caxton translated and published "Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye", the first book printed in English. In the early 1500's, the floor of the Zwin channel started to rise.  Without access to the sea, the population of Bruges dwindled until a new port was constructed in 1907.   Bruges is now one of Europe's busiest and most important ports. 

Belfry of Bruges.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons

One of the city's most famous landmarks, the 13th century Belfry of Bruges, employs a carillonneur who plays the tower's 48 bells at regularly scheduled performances.

On the train back to Namur, I find another amusing piece of fluff to entertain me for the trip, this time using extra care to not to lose my toy.  When I arrive at the hostel, I'm told that someone broke in last night and stole the VCR.  I didn't even know we had a VCR.  

• ¤ •

"The cure for boredom is curiosity.  There is no cure for curiosity."
~Dorothy Parker

Monday, April 16, 2012

Around the World: A Really Good Day

April 16, 1992

Bird song is my alarm clock this morning.  Breakfast is an all-you-can-eat buffet and I have the freedom to explore beautiful Luxembourg without a backpack to lug around.  What a gorgeous place. It's cold, but the sun is trying to poke it's way through the clouds.

Adolphe Bridge, Luxembourg

It starts to snow as I'm ready to leave and is coming down heavy by the time I reach the train station.  At the Belgium border, the snow has changed to rain.  The sun is out in Namur.  I can see it will be difficult dressing comfortably here, as each town seems to have it's own unique weather.

The hostel in Namur has a kitchen, but it's not functional.  The lady at the front desk offers to let me use the staff kitchen after 9pm, as long as I clean up after myself.  Dinner is a decadent arrangement of waffles and cheese.

Namur YHA, Belgium

I share my room with three other girls, Jill and Sharon from Australia and Wendy from South Africa.  The four of us meet up with two guys, Brent from Vancouver and Hans from South Africa in the common room.  It feels so good to laugh, and there is laughter in spades all evening.

There's a phone just outside the common room and I get some wonderful news from home.  My good friend, Jane, is planning to meet me in Amsterdam!  

• ¤ •

"A single rose can be my garden... a single friend, my world."
~Leo Buscaglia 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Around the World: Three Trains and a Bed

April 15, 1992

I opened my eyes just as the train was pulling into the station in Aachen, just on the border with Belgium.  This is where I must make the connection to continue on to Brussels.

I have no luck finding tourist information at the train station in Brussles.  Too tired to wander aimlessly around a big city, I decide to get on another train that brings me to a friendly looking town called Namur.  A very nice lady at the information booth gives me a map, even though I am obviously disturbing her lunch.  I follow the signs to the hostel, only to be told on arrival that the place is full of students and no beds are available.

Seeing my disappointment, the clerk reserves me a bed for tomorrow and offers to mind my bag for the night.  She also provides very simple directions to Luxembourg, two hours away.

The hostel, tucked into the valley

Luxembourg is as scenic as places come and the hostel is very comfortable.  Breakfast is included, there's a common room with a TV and a hot shower in the six bed dorm.  After cleaning up and snacking on the leftover nibbles I brought with me, I find a comfy spot on the sofa to stare at the television broadcasting CNN.  I'm not one to follow the news, but I am surprised to discover just how disconnected from current events I have become.  Exhausted from the day's travels, the most exciting attraction in Luxembourg at the moment is my bed.

• ¤ •

"Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths."
~Etty Hillesum 

Photos by iGoUgo

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Around the World: Berlin

April 14, 1992

Finding information at the little "i" at the train station in Berlin is a joke.  When I ask the lady at the desk for a map of the city, she hands me a subway map and says, "Alexander Platz."  Maybe people only come here to see one thing.  Hopefully it's the same thing I've come to see.

The wall.

The subway map doesn't help much, other than to tell me I've walked too far in the wrong direction.  I find another tourist information booth where I am handed yet another subway map.  When I show the clerk my subway map and explain that I want a street map, she hands it to me laughing and mutters, "Stupid tourist."

Friendly bunch, they are here in Berlin.

At a nearby park, I stop for a snack and to feed the sparrows, who incidentally, are much friendlier than the people, before walking the rest of the way to Checkpoint Charlie.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons

The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) to prevent Eastern Bloc citizens from defecting into West Germany and onto other Western European countries.  On November 9, 1989, the GDR announced that East Germans could visit West Berlin and West Germany.  Thousands of East Germans gathered at German checkpoints demanding to cross into the West.  Border guards were instructed to stamp East German passports with a mark that would deny them entry back into East Germany.  When the East German authorities would not accept responsibility for orders to use lethal force, the border guards opened the gates.  East Germans poured through the gates and were greeted by West Germans carrying flowers and champagne in celebration.  West and East Berliners climbed onto the wall rejoicing in their new freedom. 

Souvenir hunters chipped and chiseled away at the wall, and in the weeks that followed, several people brought sledgehammers to dismantle sections that created several unofficial crossing points.  Crowds cheered on bulldozers that removed large sections of the wall to reunite roads that had been separated since it's construction.

The physical dismantling of the wall continued until last year, leaving only a few small sections and watchtowers standing as memorials.  Checkpoint Charlie, once the most visible crossing point between West and East Berlin is now a museum that documents the wall's history.  There is a distinct difference in architecture from east to west.  Standing on Friedrichstra├če facing East Berlin, the buildings are practical, basic, unadorned structures.  Looking toward West Berlin, the buildings are artistic, decorated with ornate details and statues.

Architectural differences between East (L) & West (R) Berlin

Poster prints of the artwork and graffiti that covered the wall are for sale.  I buy one of a hand breaking through the wall offering a white rose to a hand bound in chains.

I follow the scarred ground where the wall used to stand on my way back to the train station.  Perhaps this is what makes the people so irritable, scars of a terribly disturbing past that have yet to heal.

Wall graffiti

The train to Aachen is attached to another long line of army green cars.  I discover this as the orange cars pass me, still standing on the platform as the train pulls out of the station.  When I inquire about another train at the reservations window, the clerk tells me I cannot make reservations here.  Fortunately, the train returns to the station and I have a chance to board.

After walking through two full cars, I finally find a couchette with an empty seat, quite possibly the last available seat on this train.

• ¤ •

"What happened in Berlin last week was a combination of the fall of the Bastille and a New Year's Eve blowout, of revolution and celebration. At the stroke of midnight on Nov. 9, a date that not only Germans would remember, thousands who had gathered on both sides of the Wall let out a roar and started going through it, as well as up and over. West Berliners pulled East Berliners to the top of the barrier along which in years past many an East German had been shot while trying to escape; at times the Wall almost disappeared beneath waves of humanity. They tooted trumpets and danced on the top. They brought out hammers and chisels and whacked away at the hated symbol of imprisonment, knocking loose chunks of concrete and waving them triumphantly before television cameras. They spilled out into the streets of West Berlin for a champagne-spraying, horn-honking bash that continued well past dawn, into the following day and then another dawn. As the daily BZ would headline: BERLIN IS BERLIN AGAIN."

Photo courtesy of PBS, November 10, 1989

 ~Freedom! The Berlin Wall by Time columnist George J. Church
Monday, November 20, 1989

Friday, April 13, 2012

Around the World: Oslo

April 13, 1992

Yesterday, I met Wolfgang at the ferry dock and we headed back to Stockholm.  Wolfgang let me borrow his Walkman and I listened to my fill of Pink Floyd and "Hotel California" while I cut his hair.  Wolfgang is going to Copenhagen to visit his sister and gave me all his travel snacks, including a large brick of very delicious cheese that has a pungent smell of old socks. It has a wonderful sharp, nutty flavour but holy crap, does it stink.

I arrived in Oslo, Norway this morning.  I spent the day in Gustav Vigelandpark admiring the many carved statues depicting milestones in the journey of life, from childhood experiences, falling in love, starting a family and growing old.

I have reserved a berth for the trip to Berlin.  I'm having a nice conversation with another girl on the train who is seeing Europe after returning from India and Australia.  Among the many topics our conversation covered, we spent quite a while discussing feminine hygiene hints and tips, lunar cycles and the like.  There is lots of laughter as we openly discuss the challenges of taking care of a girl's needs in the different places we've been.  A train employee arrives to convert the bench seating into bunks.  I make myself comfortable on the top berth and prepare to drift off to sleep as other passengers arrive.  When two passengers can't fit their suitcases under the lower berths, two very skinny guys are discovered hiding underneath.

If they understand English, both of them are now very well educated in menstrual cycles.

• ¤ •

"Life is a thing that mutates without warning, not always in enviable ways. All part of the improbable adventure of being alive, of being a brainy biped with giant dreams on a crazy blue planet."
~Diane Ackerman

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Around the World: Helsinki

April 11, 1992

The ferry is enormous!  There are eight decks that include a huge duty free store, a disco, three bars and endless cabins.  Among the passengers like myself that have not booked a cabin, is a guy from Germany named Wolfgang.  His unkempt beard and hair give him a wild, Grizzly Adams look, but despite appearances, he's quite gentle and kind.

The ship's disco plays songs by The Clash, David Bowie, Simple Minds, Bob Marley and UB40.  Just hearing something familiar is a great boost for my spirit.  I find a space on the dance floor and let the music move me until fatigue guides me to a quiet corner in the foyer and catch a few hours of sleep.

The ferry docks in Turku just after 8 a.m where Wolfgang and I will catch the train to Helsinki.  Customs is thoroughly checking everyone as they disembark.  The cover of my Canadian passport is sufficient for customs.  When the guard sees Wolfgang and his German passport, he is pulled aside and two guards start grilling him with questions and demand to search his bag.  I step off to the side to wait, but one of the guards tries to encourage me to leave.  I explain that I'm waiting for my friend, convinced that Wolfgang is only threatening in appearance.  The guards look at me and back to Wolfgang and thankfully conclude that neither of us have any intentions to cause trouble.

Helsinki reminds me very much of any northern Canadian town, just in a different language.  It even has the same rinky-dink touristy trinkets, the kind that nobody local buys.  There's a plentiful selection of reindeer and elves, Finland's version of maple leaf shaped fudge and miniature mounties.

Feeling very at home in a foreign land

I'm exhausted from three nights of cat napping on trains and ferries.  Wolfgang remains in Helsinki while I head back to Turku for the comforts of the hostel.  A hot shower and a good solid sleep in a stationary bed feels  like heaven.

• ¤ •

"Luxuries are never so comfortable as are the familiar, ordinary things of home."
~Eucharista Ward

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Around the World: Stockholm

April 10, 1992

This morning, I woke up in Stockholm, Sweden.  The train was loaded onto a ferry again, but I was so tired, I barely noticed.  Stockholm is very cold and I think I'm catching one myself.  I bought some post cards and stamps and searched in vain for Ikea.  It requires a long bus trip and I just don't have the motivation to get there.

Instead, I strolled along the ferry docks and made inquiries to get to Helsinki, Finland.  The first person I asked told me the earliest I could go was on the 17th.  Disappointed with this answer, I thought I'd ask someone else and compare responses.  The next answer is very different.  I can get on the ferry tonight to Turku and take a 2½ hour train ride to Helsinki from there.  The lady at the information desk warns me that it is a very busy route and offers to make reservations for the return trip back to Stockholm.

Stockholm, at least the part I'm in, is a very clean, very generic and orderly city.  It's cold enough to be uncomfortable walking around outside and I'm not feeling well enough to exert the effort to seek out Stockholm's more interesting side.  I decide to seek shelter in a bar with a pleasant view close to the harbour and wait until it's time for the ferry to leave.

• ¤ •

"It is amazing how much crisper the general experience of life becomes when your body is given a chance to develop a little strength."
~Frank Duff

Monday, April 9, 2012

Around the World: Copenhagen

April 9, 1992

After spending yesterday afternoon trying to pull my melancholy up, I kicked it off and tossed it in a trash can on the way to the train station last night. There's something in the air here, an allergen possibly, that makes me travel weary and I'm not ready to go home just yet.  Maybe it's the chill in the air.  Maybe it's Germany.  The plan was to head to Berlin and sleep on the train last night, but that's not what happened.

I've learned not to argue with the fates.  The train going to Berlin was missing.  I'm sure someone knew where it was, it just wasn't where it was supposed to be, on the track in front of me.  Instead, there was a collection of army green coaches, either heading to or coming from Poland.  Through the windows, I could see the coaches packed with furniture, chair and table legs, lamps, drawers all piled in a heap around the passengers.  Further down the platform at the end of the train, are three empty orange coaches.  The train will split along the way and these orange cars are going to Copenhagen.

Well, why not?

Very early this morning, the conductor wakes everybody up in Puttgarden to announce that the train is going to be loaded onto a ship.  When the ship arrives on Denmark soil, the train is unloaded and the two passengers in my couchette leave.  I now have the entire couchette to myself.  After my ticket is checked and the conductor leaves, I realize the door is jammed shut.  I'm only going to sleep and it looks like no one will be bothering me without a good reason, like rescuing me when the train arrives in Copenhagen.

The air here is definitely different.  I am trying to control the urge to laugh out loud remembering the words of Jorn, one of the many backpackers from Sunny's Guest House in New Delhi.  Every morning, the same Indian waiter would come to take his tea away, asking, "You finish?" to which Jorn always replied, "No, I'm Danish."  I can feel that same silliness in the air here, and it's making me giddy.  Someone approaches me speaking a language I don't understand.  "Sorry, I don't speak Danish" I respond. Or turnover, or strudel.....

I have to find tourist info to get some Danish krone and a map.  The first challenge is figuring out how to use the coin operated locks with Danish instructions.  My backpack doesn't fit in the less expensive, smaller coin operated lockers and I need to purchase a special token for the larger one.  The machine that dispenses tokens only accepts 10 krone coins and the only krone coin I have says "20".  A nearby hot dog stand can't help me.  It appears that changing my 20 krone coin into two 10's is a major undertaking and I am directed to the post office, where my dilemma is resolved while waiting in line.

My next mission is locating a place that serves coffee.  A nearby cafe makes yummy smoked salmon sandwiches for ridiculously cheap.

It's brisk, but pleasant enough as long as long as I keep moving.  I stop to feed some ducks in a few parks, take pictures of a mermaid statue in the harbour and buy some postcard size prints of paintings by Salvadore Dali. Copenhagen seems to have cured my melancholy.

• ¤ •

"If you're feeling low, don't despair. The sun has a sinking spell every night, but it comes back up every morning. The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain."
~ Dolly Parton