Saturday, September 6, 2008

Travel by Train!

I have now arrived in Budapest. Despite my strong desire for a shower, I am first posting this entry, written this morning while onboard a train.

Train is perhaps my favorite mode of transportation – the futuristically sleek ICE that glides across Europe at 200+ km/h, the festive Denver-Winter Park Ski Train, the obsessive punctuality of the German DB, and even the dated happenstance of Amtrak, (which is as obsessively late as the German trains are punctual) – I love it all. At present, I am watching the plains of Hungary glide by under the early morning sun, keeping my eyes peeled for the first signs of Budapest.

Yesterday morning (Friday), I left Switzerland to meet up with Conny’s youth group in Munich. Serendipitously, they had a prearranged trip in Munich, and I needed to be there to catch the train to Budapest. Conny’s group had left the night before; I was supposed to be with them, but a silly mistake on my part delayed me until yesterday.

I awoke Friday morning to a picture of green Alpine meadows and craggy peaks jutting through the mist. As Conny’s mother drove me down the mountain to the train station, we descended through the clouds into the valley of the Rhine River headwaters. It was as if I was returning to earth from a dream – a fitting image for my time with Conny.

We have had a great time together this past week and a half. We dozed away a day on the shores of the Caumasee, only daring to dip into the chilly water once. Later, Liliana and AnnaMaria (Conny’s sister and mother, respectively) explained that scientists have been unable to determine the lake’s water source, despite great effort. Last Sunday, I joined Conny’s family for her grandfather’s 90th birthday. There was good food, good company, and a small choir recital. We have taken hikes and went to a dinner party, and throughout the entire week I have met Conny’s friends and extended family, who always took an interest in my presence.

In Munich, we got a tour of the Paulaner Brewery; this was especially exciting for me as Paulaner is one of my favorite German beers. I had heard the tour included a tasting…I later discovered that “tasting” meant over half a liter of beer. Munich is in Bavaria after all…and the home of Oktoberfest. Afterwards, we sat in the beer garden, enjoying wurst and fries. If ever in Munich, skip the tourist-packed Hofbrauhaus; the locals are all at these beer gardens. (From a previous visit, I also recommend the Augustiner Keller.)

Then it was back to the main station, and onto the train! For the 9.5 hour haul from Munich to Budapest, I have enjoyed the comfort of a sleeper car shared with one other person. This afforded me a private cabin with a sink, a pre-made bed, snacks, and a morning coffee brought to my door by the steward. All this for only 69 Euro! For all those traveling in Europe, I highly recommend looking for specials offers from die Bahn.

That’s all I got written on the train, but it’s probably plenty for you to read. Last Saturday, I was helping Conny move to Basel, where she will soon be starting University. A week later, now it’s time for me to unpack in my new home. So, I will end where I began: travel by train!

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