Julia came with me to Roma Termini to see me off. In the attempt to make the most of my travel time, I had booked an overnight train from Rome to Munich. There, I would make a quick connection to a train to Frankfurt, and then a second connection to Mainz, where I would be spending the next few days staying with my friend Karola from high school and her family.
I boarded the train and began to look for my wagen and platz. Already not 100% enthusiastic about the prospect of trying to sleep on a train (I have had some rough times on night trains past; see also SARAJEVO TO BUDAPEST 2006) I had treated myself to a 4-person sleeper car. I *had* slept well in such accommodations on a night train from Paris to Barcelona back in 2002: booked by and shared with my college roommate, our compartment had four wide, comfy beds, a little sink, and collapsible tables. I looked forward to a similar experience.
I passed by several cramped 6-bed compartments (whew, glad I didn’t reserve one of those!) until I reached the end of the car and found my seat number. Inside were three fellow passengers… sitting in a cramped 6-bed compartment. Uhhhh…? It took me a minute to see that yes, this was the correct seating arrangement, and that technically we were still a 4-person compartment even though there were two empty beds squished between us. (Amy, if you’re reading this, I don’t know what kind of magic you worked when you reserved that awesome Barcelona train, but thank you). In the cabin with me was an African man who was currently residing in Naples, a pregnant woman from Eritrea who couldn’t have been much more than 18, and Peter, a filmmaker from Salzburg. When I mentioned that I would likely be passing through Austria on my way south to Slovenia, Peter and I exchanged information and agreed that we would try to meet up if our schedules allowed.
Also on the train were a slew of rowdy German-speaking teenagers who appeared to be on their way to either a camping trip or a festival. They screamed and shrieked in the hallways of the train car and occasionally lifted the outdoor curtain to see inside our compartment. Thankfully the compartment door blocks a lot of the sound once it’s closed! I busted out my dinner, took some photos of the sunset through the train window, and actually had a decent night’s sleep.
I love the intercity/express trains in Germany. So clean! So quiet! Bathrooms that don’t make you want to vomit! Train travel is one of the best parts of travel itself. I arrived in Mainz without a problem around noon. As my friend and her husband wouldn’t be home from work until 5:30 or so, I had some time to kill. I chucked my backpack into a locker at the train station and headed into town. I had been here two years earlier and had already seen many of the “must-sees” (the famous Cathedral; the Gutenberg museum, so named as Mainz was the site where Gutenberg first used the printing press; Chagall’s modern stained glass windows in St. Stephan’s church), so this year I planned to just relax. And relax I did, sitting on a park bench for several hours and finishing The Casual Vacancy just before my iPad ran out of juice.
It’s always a pleasure to see Karola (one of my best friends from high school) and her family. She and her husband Harvey graciously welcomed me to their home again. Their daughter Solveig is not quite three and already exhibits the brains and imagination of both mom and dad. Shyness aside, she immediately crawled near me on the couch and announced, “Ich bin eine maus!” (“I am a mouse!”) I always find it so funny to hear little children, especially children of English-speaking friends, speak another language. It’s one of their primary languages, of course, but my first reaction is always to think, “Wow: this kid is so smart!.” And then I sheepishly have to ask mom to translate what they’re saying for me :). In addition to other mice, Solveig likes: gymnastics, going down the slide, swimming, and bratwurst.
Jasmin and Chris were also able to take the train from Dortmund to visit me on Friday evening. We met for drinks, dinner, and ice cream, then wandered the square a bit watching the Germans pack the outdoor cafes to watch the World Cup matches. It was strange to see each other in street clothes (aka non-Camino gear!).
My next stop in Germany was to visit my friend Doug who is working in Bayreuth for the year. Bayreuth is famous for its yearly Wagner music festival, although I’ve heard that these tickets are nearly impossible to come by. On my first full day there, we took a long bike ride through the neighboring towns, stopping at a local restaurant for some schnitzel and beer for dinner
On my last night in Bayreuth, I went out to dinner with Doug and two of his friends. Because the weather had taken a turn for the worse and I was not properly dressed, I passed on going with them afterwards to try to find someplace to watch the Germany-Brazil match in favor of going home, warming up, and packing for my early departure the next morning. As I sat in Doug’s apartment later on, I heard a roaring from outside. It sounded like something from a battle scene in Braveheart. Here, Germany had defeated Brazil 7-1, and the entire town was going nuts. I missed one of the biggest German World Cup match victories of all time while I was in Germany. Doh!
I wish that I could lie and say that all this wasn’t my food. (OK, the pretzels were shared amongst the table, and I *did* take half of my spaetzle home to eat on the train the next day. But that is still a lot of food!)
Doug dropped me off at the train station the next morning. Austria was next on my itinerary.