Nom de Plumage

August 2, 2013

Reflections

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Today is a milestone, for it is six months since I have left home and it is also the day that I shall be leaving the European continent, bound for Britain. It is then only fitting, that I should reflect on my adventures and prepare myself for new ones.

My three-day visit with the French woman did not entirely play out as planned. Although, I did get to see spectacular scenery and fulfil my dream to see the Somme Valley and the war cemeteries, it was not without some dramas. I did something very out of the ordinary and excepted an invitation from a stranger to stay in their home. I have always felt uncomfortable about such things and hence the reason it took so long to confirm my visit. My hesitation was in tune with my intuition and I should have listened to it. Without going into too much detail, basically the woman suffers from severe depression and made me feel very uncomfortable and through her jealousy and insecurities, she judged me unfairly. It was hard to overcome such ill-treatment, but I am wiser for the experience and leave France sadly on a sour note.

I experienced something also that I believe many travellers, regardless of their sex or age must experience, and that is pursued by someone who is married.  It is while I was in Lucerne that I met a man who worked in a bar and throughout one evening he flirted. This time, I listened to my intuition and decided against returning any flirtation because of my imminent departure and eventual return to Australia. I ask advice from some friends and they all said that I should not have been so quick to fob him off and that I should go back and see where it will lead. It lead to my finding out from a third-party that the man is not only married, but has children. He did nothing to deny it and could only muster a sheepish smile. Thankfully, nothing happened and if not for the fact that I regretted wasting the money to return to Lucerne, it did save me embarrassment and eliminated the dreaded ‘what if’ ?

My three-month Eurail Pass has now officially expired and it is with a wonderful sense of achievement that I store the pass away as a reminder of my unbelievable destinations. Before departing on each train journey, I needed to fill out the form (to validate each journey) on the pass. I had used my pass extensively, that while in Berlin, I needed another form. The two attendants at the train station, were in shock that I requested another form, so much so, that they read the form to see what countries I have visited. Impressed, they laughed and handed me a new form and wished me well.

If you had asked me just one question before I even left Australia about what I fear most on my journey, you will be surprised to know that it is the fear of not being able to communicate with people. True! It is because I knew that I could not learn every language of the countries that I shall visit. I have read and heard countless stories of locals being rude to tourists who will not/cannot communicate in the language of the people, that I was very nervous. And for what? I will not lie that I did not meet a few rude people, but once I had made some attempt to communicate in their language, the language barrier dissipated and communication (either verbal or hand) is established. Funny, that even though I could not understand the actual language spoken, I somehow could understand the meaning behind the words. It is the unwritten law of communication and it surprised me that with some effort, we understood each other. Unfortunately, I missed not being able to read everything that surrounded me, or even have a meaningful conversation with the locals.

Of all the train stations in Europe that I travelled to/through, it is undoubtably Gare de Nord in Paris that was the station I visited the most. Not my most favourite of stations and yet it is fittingly the last station that I visit as I leave Paris bound for Britain on the Eurostar. I make my way up the stairs towards the UK customs and it is with relief when the customs officer speaks to me in perfect English. Ahhh! We spoke while he was processing my ticket and then he stopped and shook his head while he was flicking through my passport. The dreaded stamps from Berlin! I tried to make light note of it and although he laughed and informed me that many tourist also make the same mistake, he reiterated politely and strongly the foolishness of my actions. What now makes perfect sense, then seemed sensible. In fact, for a five euros and five stamps, each of countries that now do not exist, I had in fact committed an offence. He assured me that I will not have my passport confiscated because many other tourists fall into the same trap, but he warned me to think twice about my actions and that passports are legal documents that must not be tampered with. Point taken!

I believe that I may have had high expectations of the Eurostar train and it was only when I enter the train, reality hit. In fact, the train was very cramped, leg space minimal, luggage space minimal and the decor is a faded and worn grey colour. The journey itself was barely two hours long, but it was the experience of travelling under the channel that I was anticipating the most. Twenty minutes; that was all it took. Barely a blink and I was on British soil.  I exited the train at St Pancreas station, and became euphoric at the sound of the English language. My journey got that much easier simply because I could put the fear of not being able to communicate behind me, to a world where I could read and communicate perfectly. Bloody marvellous! My journey on the London metro was not so easy, especially when it is almost peek-hour. But it also does not help when I am carrying a very big back-pack and the metro train is very cramped and narrow. I was very taken back and had to contend with being jostled about.

At my destination, I had no idea where my hostel is. The hostel is operated by a private company and they do not provide directions. I tried looking for a taxi and could not find any or the taxi stand, so I went to ask someone at the station. The guard directed me to a place around the corner and still I could not find it. Went back to the station and he informed me again what I need to look for. It is in fact, a tiny shop (without a sign) and when I peered inside the large window, there was a large group of men of many different ethnicity playing cards. I hesitantly walk in to ask if this is where I can get a taxi. A quick discussion of whose turn it is next, a little Jamaican guy jumps up and takes me to his taxi. No sign and no meter. I am nervous and he senses my hesitation and assures me that it is a flat five-pound fee.

When I reach my hostel, I knock for about ten minutes before someone eventually hears me and opens the door. I had to telephone the office that I arrived and they inform me that they emailed me informing me that I have to go to another of their properties. Thankfully, the secretary comes to pick me up and it is only a short drive to the hostel. It is more like a huge house, clean and very comfortable and full of Aussies. I feel right at home and in good company.

 

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