Thursday, July 14, 2011

Between three places to vacation

Alas Ile d'Yeu is like any paradise not meant to be a permanent location. After just two short weeks my plans took me to the golden anniversary of my German high school graduation, my Abitur. Getting there was another matter. I was thoroughly unprepared for the trip that awaited me.

My brother had suggested this trip because he had attended his reunion last year, and he had told me that I simply had to go. I would love it because of the person who organized it.

Let me put it this way. Things are not the way they used to be. You really do need reservations, especially if you travel using a Eurailpass as your ticket. In the past I had been able to reserve my seat for the train by just getting to the railroad station about half an hour early. Nowadays you have to be aware of the fact that the train management reserves the right to only allot a certain percentage of seats to Eurailpass holders. That means the train may be half empty and you still won't get a seat.

I had all my reservations. I obtained them with difficulty at the Gare Maritime in Ile d'Yeu. The ticket sales people had never heard of Eurail. So I had to convince them of the pass' validity. In the end everything went smoothly. Or maybe not so smoothly. Unfortunately, because of the Eurailpass rules, the trip had to go in anything but a straight line over Strasbourg, Offenburg, and Hamburg-Altona to Meldorf, the former capital of Dithmarsia.

I left the island at 4:00 AM--the tides dictated that--to meet the bus to Nantes and the TGV to Strasbourg.

I arrived in Fromentine around 5:00 AM. It rained cats and dogs. There was nobody in the street. There was nobody to ask where the bus stop had moved from the last time I had been there. My suitcase got drenched all the way through. My clothes inside got wet. I asked two garbage truck operators who had no interest in helping me to find the stop. Then an early morning delivery truck arrived in front of a furniture store. I ventured over there. The men told me that I had to wait at the fish store, the one with the blue sign saying Poisonnerie. But I had already waited there. That was definitely not the bus stop.

I circled the rain-drenched square one more time and found a man who was just getting into his car. He pointed to a large parking lot right close to where the ferry had arrive. It was still dark and I couldn't see the schedule above the bench. Finally a man arrived who identified the stop as the correct one for the bus to Nantes. I was saved from doom.

In Nantes I still had a bit of time before the train left. So I walked over to the Hotel "Terminus." During the whole two week at paradise I had been wondering if the shoes I had left at the hotel would still be there. I didn't have much hope. But it was worth a shot. So I asked the concierge about the shoes I had left in room 57. In no time they were located, and I had a little more faith in people.

I caught the train to Strasbourg on time and negotiated the regional train from there to Offenburg in Germany.

In Offenburg I had a 7-hour wait. The first thing I did was buy a book to pass the time. The store owner told me that the thrillers were all best-sellers. The book "Begraben", a translation from the French of "Intrusion" by Elena Sender was my choice, and I was not disappointed. But I won't go into that. If you like thrillers, that book will keep you reading.

I read at the train station until night fell. I still had time to kill. Fewer and fewer people were milling around the station, and suddenly it was deserted. Shady figures sat down next to me, and wandered around me. I kept my suitcase and my purse close. A young man sat behind me.

Suddenly two policemen appeared and asked the young man if he carried a weapon. They asked him how old he was. He was 18. Could he identify himself? No. He was told to leave. Next a man came up to me and asked if I could give him money for the train to Budapest because somehow his ticket was not valid. I told him that he needed his own money. I later found out that he was asking everyone in sight the same thing. Only minutes later a drunk came by unable to hold himself upright.

Around 23:00 PM I ascended the train. I had reservations for a car that had "Liegesitze". This train furniture was meant to give a good night's sleep. What I saw was something like the "Night Camp at Grenada". From the first I was wondering in what country these cars might have been designed. They could not possibly have been thought up by anyone who was likely to ever use this type of accommodation. The seats were very uncomfortable, like hammocks made of concrete.

Some time during the middle of the night a man with very greasy disheveled hair sat in front of me. I didn't get the feeling that he had a ticket. And even though a conductor came by to check all the tickets, he was not asked to produce one. Was he on the train to be taken out of the country?

At about 3:00 AM he proceeded to search noisily through a bag. He found a chocolate bar with metallic foil covering which he noisily crunched and pressed until about half an hour of turning the foil and wrapping and re-wrapping this object, a man across the isle admonished the man to not make so much noise eating chocolate and crackling the metal. The greasy man said he could eat his chocolate as long as he wanted to. More words were exchanged. The man didn't stop. Then I heard: "Halt Dein Maul" and the greasy chocolate crackler retorted "Halt selber Dein Maul!" "And if you don't shut your trap, I report you. Do you have a ticket?" "That's none of your business." It finally got quiet after about an hour.

At some point the conductor came by, and I mentioned how uncomfortable these seats were. I am still curious where these seats were designed. I also wanted to know why the train had been standing in one place for over an hour, and the conductor said that he was sorry, but that there had been a person on the tracks trying to commit suicide.

Bushed I arrived in Hamburg-Altona in the morning. I took the Westerland train to Itzehoe where I had to change trains because the Westerland train doesn't stop in Meldorf anymore.

Guess why I didn't take any pictures of this leg of the trip?


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