Posted on July 26th, 2003
What I thought was going to be a pricey, splurging of funds
for a couchette (bed compartment) on the over-night train to Munich surprised
me, twice. The equivalent luxurious trip in Norway had cost me nearly $90.
I only dropped a little over $30 for the ticket to Munich. I briefly lightened
up about Germany. If nothing else, it was reasonably priced and even a tourist
on a budget could live comfortably. Then I got on the train.
Instead of the sumptuousness comfort of the Norwegian trains,
I got the prison-like, bare-bones transport of Germany. No sink. No towel.
No drinking water. And instead of having two roommates, I had five!
Yes, they shoehorn six couchettes into a German train cabin, three high on
each side. Five Germans and me. I was the last to arrive and I was on one
of the top bunks. The others had already settled in and were casually talking
as the train pulled away from the station. For their part, they seemed like
friendly and polite people. I had a hard time processing this information
based on what I had experienced in the four previous days and even pinched
myself just to check. None of them even inquired whether or not I had been
living in a high school boy’s locker room which wouldn’t have
been a bad guess after all of the sweating I had done that day.
I struggled violently to squish the Barge through the 18 inch
wide cabin door and then wedge it under one of the bottom bunks as the Germans
watched the show from the safety of their beds. This went on for far too long
and caused no shortage of turmoil within the cabin as the others moved themselves
and their stuff around to make space for me and the Barge. After that, in
my haste to get out of the way and attain the quickly fading prospect of a
low profile, I swung the Office onto the top bunk and clamored up after it.
Just as I was getting comfortable and the wake of my loud, clumsy entrance
was rippling off into a renewed calm, I realized several unfortunate facts
in quick succession. I hadn’t removed my contacts, I hadn’t brushed
my teeth and I hadn’t taken my Happy Pills. None of these three details
could be ignored until morning without serious consequences. (Yes, even the
teeth brushing. When you don’t have dental insurance we’ll
see how nonchalant you are about your oral hygiene.) I sighed heavily
and climbed back down to begin the process of yanking out the Barge and digging
for my bathroom kit bag. One of the women asked if I needed any help. I wasn’t
sure if she was referring to the physical task at hand or if she was suggesting
something along the lines of an all-around assisted living solution. I waved
her off as I strained to pull my kit bag out of the one corner of the Barge
that I managed to exposed and unzip. I quickly took care of business, shoved
everything back under the bunk ascended to my bed and quietly went to sleep.
I briefly gained consciousness the next morning as the sun was
coming up. I rolled to my side to take the pressure off my delicate and temperamental
lower back only to see that the woman on the opposite top bunk was sleeping
deeply and brazenly in nothing but her panties. I f*cking love Europe!
My hostel in Munich was within Barge flinging range of the train
station. This was a huge perk after the all of the busses, trains and trouble
I had to go through to find my hostels in Berlin, Vejle, Copenhagen, and Stockholm.
I was heartened by my arrival in Munich in several ways. The
hostel was nice, the weather was much cooler (upon reflection, I don’t
think I stopped sweating the entire time I was in Berlin.) and the first six
people I encountered were very helpful and polite. I acquired a map of the
city and headed out for exploration. I wandered down the main pedestrian mall,
saw the requisite statue guy and my first statue woman! (pictured) I waited
around and watched the fourth largest glockenspiel in Europe do it’s
thing. Very over-rated. Munich had plenty of sights of (my) general interest
within easy walking distance. In Berlin I had to take a 20 minute metro ride
and stagger around for untold blocks to get from one place to another while
in Munich, once I was done staring at one sight all I had to do was look around
and inevitably something on the next block would catch my eye and I could
just skip-to-my-loo right over to it. I went from the glockenspiel to the
royal residence, to the English Garden (Europe’s largest metropolitan
park), to a bizarre spot on the man-made river that flows through the English
Garden where the water rushing over a barrier created a constant wave effect
that people could surf on, staying in one place, to their heart’s content
(pictured), to a ¼ mile trek through yet another unmarked nudist area
that was primarily frequented by middle-aged men and on and on for almost
three hours. This is how I became hopelessly lost in Munich. You’d think
I’d have had better sense by that point.
Once I had decided that my feet were starting to ache enough
for me to head back to the hostel, I realized that I could not get my bearings.
The map that seemed like a welcome change from Berlin at the beginning of
the afternoon ended up being a liability. The tendency to only list about
30% of the streets on maps appeared to be a nationwide trend. This confounding
approach to map making was further exacerbated by the fact that the Munich
street names changed every two or three blocks. I could walk in a straight
line in any direction and the street signs would transform every time I looked
up for help. Little did I know that Germany was the land of mystery (which
way is north?) and the unknown (what street am I on?).
If, after I’m done slagging this place you’re feeling
lucky and decide to visit Germany, I suggest that you purchase and bring along
most, if not all, of the following items:
· A professional, satellite charted, fully detailed street
map with a complete alpha listing of the streets on the back for every city
you plan to visit before you arrive, as they are not available within Germany
· A compass
· Ten miles of string
· A European-network cellular phone
· A GPS wrist watch
· A bi-lingual, ambidextrous guide with at least 20-20 vision, who
has spent a minimum of 10 years traversing the streets of Germany
· A clairvoyant and
· A sherpa with a full Himalayan expedition-issue gear pack and food supply, including
a mountain yak to carry everything
If you do not have these items/people/beast, you will be doomed
to spend most of your time lost and confused, with one of those itty bitty
muscles in your eye twitching uncontrollably as a result of your dangerously
heightened blood pressure.
Using the “map” and landmarks, I tried to get back
to the central train station. Over the course of the next 2 and ½ hours
I walked in three, very large circles. I was tired, sun burnt, dehydrated,
smelly, pissed off (again) and in dire need of an immediate, dual foot transplant.
As I approached my starting place for the third time, I started to curse loudly
in three languages, so any bystanders that were privy to my tirade would definitely
know that I was livid about something and not a just another babbling drunk.
I was so desperate that I went against my better judgment and asked someone
for directions. Either this person was very nice or she gave me the right
directions by mistake, because she was absolutely right. In 15 minutes I was
in familiar territory and I made it back to the hostel before I could seriously
consider paying someone to throw me off a bridge into heavy traffic and put
me out of my misery.
The next day it rained like a bastard.
At this point, I accepted the clear message from the travel
gods and plotted a course to get the Hell, Norway out of Germany altogether
and never return for anything less than a five figure bribe.