13. the night train to Florence

we took the night train to Florence
a twelve hour journey

the train stopped
it was still dark
I looked out my window
heard people talking
saw the cherry of a mans cigarette

they were on strike
we were near Venice
I was concerned
no worries she said, it was common

three hours later the train started moving
how bizarre

finally the next morning
we arrived in Florence

12. au revoir

there was a farewell party
a basement pub
german food, wine and beer
served around one long table
family style

blithe man on the accordian
german folk songs
memories of my dad

before our train to Florence
we got a sandwich from the bakery
fresh hard roll with salami and cheese
we packed it for our trip

au revoir
goodbye to her French family
whisper cheek kiss right, then left
again whisper cheek kiss right, then left

note to self
mouth kissing is not included in the French salutation
awkward

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11. the plan

I was completely exhausted
having not slept much on the train

she visited a friend that night
I crashed

she had two more days of school
I wandered Vienna alone
beautiful gardens

the family she stayed with was French
they graciously welcomed me in

we talked about where we would travel
being a German Swede
I favored Germany and Sweden

note to self
Sweden is in Scandinavia
a different country than Switzerland

she suggested Italy
she was there on spring break

we decided
Florence, Rome, Sorrento and Paris

I would drop her off in Paris

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10. the train to Vienna

day turned into night
people came and people left
the sound was hypnotic
ta-tum, ta-tum, ta-tum, ta-tum

I couldn’t sleep
night turned into day
ta-tum, ta-tum, ta-tum, ta-tum
I had to brush my teeth

hauled my luggage to the toilet
warm water and a small metal sink
barely enough room to wash my face

looked at my watch
still hours away

finally the train pulled into Vienna
got off with luggage in tow
I started to recognize fragments of German

found a cab
showed him the address to her school
in minutes we were there
I had just enough schillings to cover my fare

she was surprised and excited to see me
I was two days early

9. a touch of class

the compartment was cozy
big cushy leather reclining seats
friendly travel mates
and a window seat

it was perfect
that is until the conductor came by
I was sitting in first class
my ticket was coach
he made me leave my cushy seat

I got off the train
luggage in tow
started down the platform
way down the platform

showed my ticket again
still more down the platform
finally I found coach
and after being in first class
it kind of sucked

stowed my luggage
tried to get comfortable
the seats were hard
it was going to be a long day

8. Calais, France

once ashore
we pressed on to the train station
down a flight of stairs
and up a flight of stairs
me and my luggage were ready to part ways

when I finally made it up
I stood before not just one train
but row after row after row of trains

how was I ever going to find mine
no one spoke English
if I got on the wrong train
I could easily end up in the wrong country

so I took out my ticket
and started making my way down
at each row I stopped and showed my itinerary
until finally I got a nod

relieved, I hopped into the first car and stowed my luggage

6. lost on the underground

I started getting confused
was I even on the right train
did I miss my stop
panic slowly stirred in my chest
I could be on this train all night
I froze and couldn’t move
how long would I be stuck on this train

a young man approached me
he must have read the fear in my eyes
he asked me if I was lost
I handed him the flyer
I should have gotten off two stops ago

he offered his help
cautiously I accepted
I just wanted a place to drop off my luggage and sleep
he carried my luggage and helped me check in

we grabbed a bite to eat
he took me back to the train station
I purchased my ticket to Vienna

he showed me Big Ben and Buckingham Palace
took me to my room
and arranged to pick me up in the morning
we were going to spend the next two days together

I couldn’t do it
it was out of my comfort zone
I just wanted to get to Vienna to meet up with my friend

the next morning I showered and left early
I found my way back to the train station
exchanged my ticket to leave right away
found my way to the train
and settled in for the long 24 hour ride Vienna

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace

 

Victoria Palace Theatre
Victoria Palace Theatre

 

3. all my bags are packed and I’m ready to go

all the arrangements were made
passport, ticket, travel checks
it was all I could think about
my marked calendar was proof
that I was counting down the days

my dad was irritated
I didn’t have a hotel reserved
why should I reserve an expensive hotel
I had the book “Let’s Go Europe”
it had everything I needed
places to visit, eat and sleep

my grandmother had given me
luggage for my graduation
yellow Samsonite suitcases
I was so excited to use them
right, I would be backpacking across Europe
with yellow Samsonite suitcases

I had it all planned out
three days by myself in London
then take the train to Vienna
It played out pretty well in my head
It didn’t even cross my mind
that things could go any different

the John Denver song “leaving on a jet plane”
played over and over in my head
I wasn’t leaving anybody
but I had always dreamed that one day
I would wake up early one morning
to fly somewhere on a jet plane

I was about to make that dream come true

2. the idea

as I looked through her photo almums
I was amazed at all the places she had been
It was like looking at scenes from a movie
Rome, Amsterdam, Paris

she was home on winter break
a second grade teacher
an American international school in Vienna
she convinced me to visit her in the summer

we could travel together
there was a whole world out there to explore
I was curious
I had never stepped foot outside the states
Canada, but that didn’t really count

so that’s how the idea came to be
from looking at her pictures
from the realization that there was more out there
from the burning desire
to experience something new
from the realization that if I set my mind to it
I could actually make it happen

1. first flight

the couple next to me played gin
as her cigarette burned in the ashtray between us
it was my first time ever on a plane
a charter flight from
Minneapolis to London

the flight was exactly
as I imagined it would be
I wasn’t the least bit afraid
my parents and my baby sister saw me off

I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t
get to walk the tunnel into
the plane as I had seen so many others do
we boarded from the outside
so I had to climb the stairs
directly onto the plane

mom snapped a picture of
my sister and me just before I boarded
capturing the plane in the background
I had just celebrated my nineteenth birthday

for the next month I would be completely on my own
no rules, no curfew, and no schedules
I was free to explore life and to just be me

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