Today is Sunday, and I have done nothing except bake, cook, Skype with Paul, and lounge around on my bed, catching up on the Daily Show and Colbert Report episodes from last week. This is in stark contrast to my foray from Greifswald to Feldkirch, Austria, last Sunday. I had packed the night before, so Sunday morning was fairly stress-free, and unhurried. Backpack secured, I took the bus from my apartment at 8:57 to the Hauptbahnhof. An hour later, I boarded my first train. Roughly 5 hours later, I had read the entirety of Brave New World, and the first 100 or so pages of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and stood, shivering, at the train station in Naumburg. There was some confusion among those of us awaiting the next train, since the announcements over the loudspeaker were wholly incomprehensible. The cute young man standing next to me shook his head, and joked about Deutsche Bahn. I asked him where he had come from, where he was going. (Halle, Munich.) He was curious about my accent, and we chatted while the wind sent tiny snowflakes to assault any bare, exposed skin. Andreas’ has an American girlfriend, who lives in Philadelphia. We commiserated over this, over long-distance relationships, and having to wait months and months before seeing our respective sweeties, again. When the train finally came, it was too crowded to sit together, so I returned to the struggles of Toru Okada, who, after losing his cat, lost his wife (and I mean ‘lost’, not that they died). Now and then, Andreas and I made faces at each other, expressing annoyance at delays, surprise and amusement at the loud cackling of another passenger, sympathy for how looooong that train ride was. We were delayed enough that the train conductor instructed anyone who wanted to go to Lindau to stay on the train to Munich, instead of transferring at Nürnberg.
18:37. I had finally made it to Munich. I transferred to my third train, going to Lindau.
22:00. I boarded my fourth and final train, from Lindau to Feldkirch.
23:15. The lights from the station were thin and weak against the darkness, against the night. Feeling more asleep than awake, I dragged myself down the street. Walking from the Hauptbahnhof to the hostel should take 15-20 minutes, according to the infallible Google Maps. The route looked fairly simple, as well, but just to be sure, I asked every person I met if I was going in the right direction. During the entire walk (and, to be honest, the last four hours), I fretted over whether or not the hostel would actually be open. I had a reservation, but I was showing up after hours, and 1 1/2 hours later than I told them I’d be. One of my fellow Fulbrighters had done me the favor of emailing the hostel to inform them of the train delay, but I couldn’t be sure if anyone had actually read the email. What, I wondered, would I do if they were closed? Sleep in their doorway like a hobo? Break in through a window? Throw myself on the mercy of the next person I saw? There were several hotels in the area, but their windows were dark and forbidding, proclaiming no welcome for stranded travelers. I knocked on the hostel’s door, and held my breath. Someone was inside, I could hear noises! I knocked harder, louder, creating a level of noise that was certainly impolite and indiscreet. Then the door opened, and I was welcomed inside, invited to share in the warmth and light. The lady working that night checked me in quickly, happy to finally see me, so that she could go home. She had indeed received the email. I was saved from the sad fate of becoming a homeless vagabond in Austria.
I found that I could not sleep, though, at least not right away. I had reached that point of tiredness when you are too tired to sleep. I decided that a cup of tea was in order (I strongly believe that a hot cup of tea will make anything and everything better). I grabbed one of the little yellow plastic packages I had stashed in my backpack, and headed downstairs. In the common room, I came across a young man perusing the internets via his small iPad. I greeted him in German, and he responded in kind. During the course of our conversation, I learned that he hails from Puyallup, of all places. PUYALLUP. I now I meet him here, in a little Austrian town (population 30k). Encounters like this give meaning to the phrase “it’s a small world”. When he mentioned something about tea, I was reminded of my purpose, of my quest for a cup and hot water. “Speaking of tea,” I said, holding my precious tea bag, still encased in its plastic sleeve, up. “Do you know where I could make tea?” He had such a strange look on his face, I could not comprehend it. Don’t people from Puyallup know what tea is?
Then he confided that, for a moment, he thought I was holding out a condom. Um. AWKWARD. SO AWKWARD. What does it say about him, that his brain jumped to that, entirely wrong conclusion, so quickly? And what does it say about his opinion of me? Well, I guess we have known each other for less than an hour. But, still. AWKWARD. I was just totally taken aback by this. However, the next thing he did was lead me downstairs to the guest kitchen, and the electric tea kettle, so I (mostly) forgave him for that exchange. Boy From Puyallup wanted to know why I was in Feldkirch, of all places, in February, of all times. I explained my quest, my plan to trek across Liechtenstein by foot. He nodded, as if this was the most sensible thing to do, and declared that he would come with me. (When I told this story to my roommates, they decided that all Americans are totally crazy.)
Monday morning, I awoke still tired, but determined to caffeinate any sleepiness out of my body. I was packed, fed, and ready to leave by 10:30, but there was no sign of Boy From Puyallup. I decided not to ditch him, and went hunting through the hostel. It didn’t take very long, since the hostel is quite small. “Hey, Puyallup,” I called into his room. “You still coming?” I interpreted the series of grunts I got in response to mean yes, I’ll be ready in 20-30 minutes. About 40 minutes later, we were on our way. Feldkirch is only close to the border, not actually at it, and it would have taken 60-90 minutes to walk from the hostel to the Austrian-Swiss border. Fortunately, Puyallup (as I thought of him) knew a bus we could take to the edge. It saved us a lot of time. We hopped off the bus at the last stop before the border, and began walking. Although the ground had been relatively dry on Sunday, overnight 8 inches of snow had fallen, making our trek considerably more difficult. Some of the places we walked had no sidewalks, and 8 inches of snow comes up relatively high on one’s pants. It didn’t help that I was wearing improper footwear. They were comfortable enough, but absolutely lacking in water-resistance. They were like a sponge.
We had been walking over an hour before we remembered we didn’t know each other’s names. I just thought of him as “Puyallup”. I wonder if he had a nickname for me? If so, he never used it. His real name is Christopher. I secretly want to call him “Kit”, because I think it would be hilarious to say, Kit and Kat in a sentence. For example, today, Kit and Kat walked across Liechtenstein. See? Uproariously funny.
Walking across Liechtenstein, from Feldkirch to Buchs, took us only 2 1/2 hours. I think we were both quite relieved to have company, especially given the miserable weather. When we finally crossed the river dividing Switzerland and Liechtenstein, we were in high spirits. It is not everyday one walks across a country, and, as an American, I find the entire notion slightly mind-boggling. It would take me longer to walk across most states.