Gone Away / Journeys

Europe by Eurail 1994

En route to Annecy, France

— We caught the first southbound train in the morning after breakfast. Getting to Annecy from Geneva still involved two connections: one in Chambéry, the other in Aix-les-Bains. When we finally got to Annecy in the mid-afternoon, Kirsten and I were both ready to find a place where we could just crash for several days and relax. Annecy seemed like the place. It had a lake with public beaches and warm water, and the tourist office pointed us to a nice, centrally-located hotel called Hôtel du Nord, that included a shower and private W.

En route to Annecy, France

— We took a train to Karlsruhe in the mid-afternoon and caught another ICE train to Basel, Switzerland. On board we met an older couple, the husband of which was a model railroad enthusiast who just loved the on-board information screens on the ICE. He told us some stories about the train we were on, including one about a train wreck which is the reason the train goes particularly slowly around a certain curve, and the reason there are two Basel train stations (one belongs to the German railroad).

Heidelberg, Germany

— I can’t say I slept well that night. The clean, inexpensive room in Heidelberg lacked a window and it was very stuffy. Breakfast was the worst so far. Kirsten hated her hot chocolate, and the cream for the coffee was spoiled and made disgusting lumps in my cup. We checked out around 11:00 a.m. and brought our stuff to the train station and stuffed it in a locker (1,0 DM). We still had plenty of time left on our twenty-four-hour pass, so we went to see Heidelberg’s primary attraction, the castle.

Heidelberg, Germany

— It was still as hot as hell in Europe (well over 30º C) everyday without a pause. It was Monday, and Kirsten and I decided to go to Heidelberg, Germany. We boarded an ICE (Inter-City-Express) train to get us as far as Karlsruhe, and it was wonderful. According to the literature, it travels twice as fast as an automobile and half as fast as an airplane. It was nicely air-conditioned and had jacks to plug in headphones for eight-channel music listening, which we actually used, and had adjustable pillows on the reclining seats.

Zürich and Lugano, Switzerland

— I arrived Zürich at about noon. Zürich was very expensive, and I had little idea what I wanted to see, if anything. I had earlier thought that I may spend the time doing a little bit of gift shopping for some of Switzerland’s fine merchandise, but I forgot I’d be arriving on a Sunday, so everything was closed. I bought a newspaper (0,8 SF) and a soda (3,5 SF) and stashed all my stuff in a locker (3,0 SF) after getting 100 SF from a cash machine.

En route to Bregenz

— Three Mormon girls (they volunteered the information) boarded the train at Munich and sat in the same little seat section with me. They are students at Brigham & Young University in Utah, with names of Lisa, Julie, and Camille. They were planning night trains for the rest of their trip because both of Lisa’s credit cards were no longer valid; one because she entered the wrong PIN at the ATM, the other because she used her mother’s card, which is a big no-no in most places (although I’ve personally yet to have anyone check).

Munich, Germany

— I’m laid over here in Munich and I’ve been taking an impromptu walking tour of the city, which is compact and quite seeable in an afternoon without going too in-depth. I found a lively beer-garden near the town marketplace. The beer is “Münchner Hell”. A half-liter cost me 4,20 DM and it is delicious. The Bavarians know how to make beer: this really hits the spot. I was a little intimidated by the full-liter beers; they are exactly twice the price of the halfs, so I figured I could go back.

Mutters, Tyrolia, Austria

— I’m sitting here on the balcony from our room at Haus Wolf at Dorfstrasse 48 in the beautiful village of Mutters in the outskirts of and hills surrounding Innsbruck, Austria. This place is so wonderful that we haven’t even bothered to go into the city of Innsbruck since we arrived on the train a little after one o’clock yesterday afternoon. We found out too late yesterday that our day pass for Innsbruck’s transportation wouldn’t get us to Mutters; we had to take a tram up into the hills from a private tram company (52 ATS round trip).

Mutters, Tyrolia, Austria

— Haus Wolf is listed as a best bargain both by Let’s Go and Frommer’s, and that’s about all the advertising she needs. The Stubaitalbahn (STB), the train into the hills from the city of Innsbruck, seems like extortion at almost 5 US$ for an 18-km round trip. But one can really appreciate the breath-taking views that are included in the fare. In any event, Mutters was so nice that we didn’t need to use the STB again except to return to the train station.

Salzburg, Austria

— A nice breakfast was served at Tauernhof, but there was no meat. The first stop on our day tour of Salzburg was the post office, where Kirsten mailed about a half-million postcards by airmail at about 80 cents (8,5 ATS) a whack. At that point I decided that only immediate family would receive postcards by Flugpost, everyone else would wait for surface mail (7 ATS each). The first real stop was Mirabell gradens, a beautiful place with all the beauty of Versailles or Herrenhaüser but without the grandiosity.

Arriving in Vienna with neither hotel reservation nor money

— When we arrived in Vienna we made a bee-line for the hotel reservation desk, only to have it occur to us that we had zero schillings. So Kirsten held a place in line and watched our bags while I ran upstairs to an ATM. I came back to find Kirsten had not moved at all in line. Reservations put us at the Pension Bosche (13, Keilgasse) for 335 ATS per person per night, plus 35 ATS fee (Kirsten and I split the fee, so 17,50 ATS) where we stayed for two nights.

First use of our Eurail passes, Paris to Vienna in one day

— Friday morning we actually, really, truly, honestly got up at 6 a.m. We checked out of the hotel and took the RER and Metro to Gare de l’Est. We had our Eurail passes validated and found out we were too late to make reservations, which we tried to do on Thursday, but when we went to the station, Kirsten did not bring her ticket. In any event, we found seats in a six-person cabin in the smoking section, yet somehow we made the 13.

Paris, visiting the sewer museum instead of the Eiffel Tower

— Kirsten actually did meet me on time at the Eiffel Tower. We’d both been up on it, and we had done Sacré-Coeur on Monday which was actually a better view; the line was enormous and we decided our money would be better spent elsewhere. We walked down the street to start a sewer tour (20 FRF). (Our student ID cards had already paid for themselves at this point.) The tour was very interesting and educational but, of course, smelly.

Sitting on park bench near the Eiffel Tower, waiting for my fiancée

— I’m sitting on park bench near Eiffel Tower. I got sick of waiting for Kirsten all morning after getting up at 8 a.m. and enjoying the relatively cool morning air, which she squandered away debating over next week’s accommodations. I bought us some croissants for breakfast and a coffee (4 FRF) at McDonald’s for myself. After sitting around the room for hours with Kirsten, I left for place St. Michel and got myself a hot gyro from one of the ubiquitous Greek restaurants.

Purchasing the Carte Orange week-long Metro pass, Paris

— After a couple days of getting familiar with Paris and getting some relaxing quiet time together, Monday was the day Kirsten and I really began the hard-core sight-seeing in earnest, despite the fact that we slept in pretty late, lingered through breakfast, and left the room after noon. Our first order of business was to purchase the Carte Orange week-long Metro pass. This little-known offer essentially separates tourists from residents because the it is available only for Monday through Sunday usage and is almost never advertised in any language other than French.

Balmy afternoon at the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

— We woke up around 10:00 a.m., refreshed and entirely hungry. After showering and dressing, we walked down the avenue MacMahon, looking for breakfast. We came across a pleasant open air market and seized the opportunity for a picnic. A bakery supplied the croissants, a small grocery supplied the fruit juice and water, some pushcart vendors supplied the fresh fruit, and an apartment building supplied the steps to sit on, making our perfect picnic in a busy Parisian neighborhood.

An afternoon of anticipation walking around Paris

— Anticipation was the key word of the afternoon. After waiting for over an hour at Angelina’s, I realized that I either had the wrong place or Kirsten was not coming. I decided therefore to find her hotel, Hôtel MacMahon, suspecting that she might eventually end up there. To find the hotel I bought a good map of Paris and left the rest up to my feet. I was disappointed when I got there to find out that Kirsten had not even checked in yet.

Re-familiarizing myself with the Right Bank of Paris

— After resting my jet-lagged body for a few hours, I went out to a local store and stocked up on spring water. Then I did a little exploring. I took the Metro to the Hôtel de Ville stop on rue de Rivoli and walked all the way to the Arc de Triomphe. It was an excellent opportunity to re-familiarize myself with the right bank of Paris. I rediscovered sights like Musée du Louvre, Jardins des Tuileries, Avenue Champs-Elysées, and the Arc de Triomphe.

Early morning arrival at Charles de Gaulle, Paris

— I arrived in Paris early this morning at Charles de Gaulle airport to find a temperature in the low 70’s, drizzling rain, and overcast skies. Passport control would have been a snap, but I filled out my tourist card with the point of disembarkation rather than the point of embarkation. Two of my biggest fears were squelched upon arrival: getting transportation from the airport to the city, and finding a cheap place to spend the night.