I love riding trains in Europe. You never know who you’ll meet. Today, I’m sitting across from an intense young man, about my son’s age (he’s 33) who pulled out a notebook to write. Turns out he’s a young Swiss /Albanian comedian from Basel (our train’s final destination) who said he bombed during his first standup performance in Frankfurt so he was writing down his notes/thoughts in a little notebook with German writing on the cover.
I’d seen the same one in the book shop at the train station (I always get to train stations way too early) and wondered what it said. He told me it was the old Oscar Wilde saying: Everything is going to be fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end. He bought three so he gave me one as a gift. Wise words.
He said he doesn’t write post show if it goes well. Apparently the crowd was full of women and if you lose the women right away, you’re sunk, the men won’t go for you either. He had 8 minutes to grab them. his favorite comics: Dave Chappell (the greatest, he says) and Trevor Noah plus two English guys and a Finnish guy. he’s only been at this for about 5 weeks (and has other game full employment.) He was also a big fan of Eminem. And had some interesting geopolitical views. He was very current on the mass killings in the U.S. (17 to date this year, he mentioned) and saw this as one of several signs our top dog status is drawing to a close. He showed me a sign with his name lit up that he puts beside him when he does his standup so I took a photo since he promises he will be a famous comedian some day.
Fortunately we had only a little snow and rain this morning because thanks to the one-day rail strike, we had to walk with our suitcases to the Gare Part-dieu in Lyon. No taxis available. And hey, our train is operating so we are feeling fortunate. Our helpful Lyon hotel staffer also checked and the #1 metro in Paris appears to be working so we can get at least part way from the Paris train station to our hotel. Too much fun. (Update: The #1 Metro WAS working when we arrived in Paris on strike day but it didn’t make all its usual stops and whizzed right through our stop to get to our hotel so we had another 25 minute walk with our suitcases. Fortunately the weather cooperated.)
Another stroke of luck, the food hall named after a famous Lyonnaise chef (les Halles de Paul Bocuse) was on the way to the train station (sort of) so we stopped to shop for lunch and to gawk at the gorgeous food displays lining each aisle that we wheeled our suitcases along. Some items we recognized from our meal at Le Musee. We ended up getting a baguette and a soft super creamy mild local cheese, Saint-Marcellin that we just ate on the train. Superb!
We’ve had a few mishaps with the trains. On our way from Paris to the small country town, Amberieu-en-Bugey (where I visited France’s diary archives, for my book) we managed to make our connecting train fine but then got off the train one stop too early. We stood outside the closed train station in mixed precipitation trying to figure out what to do and ended up going into a nearby restaurant where a diner tried to help us out (when my phone wouldn’t work due to crap internet service) until the restaurant proprietor shooed us out of the restaurant. I got the impression she thought we were disrupting her meal service.
We figured out that there were no taxis but there was a bus which, once we learned where/how to buy the ticket (in a machine new the closed rail station), got us to our destination. No taxis there either but the people I was interviewing kindly arranged for transport. (Our return driver was a local innkeeper from the countryside whose car trunk was lined with dirt and perhaps straw.)
Today, we managed to find our platform for the TGV and the place we were supposed to stand for our car (#17) but when the train pulled in, only #18 was marked. So we rushed to the next open car, which turned out to be #8. There wasn’t time to go back to 18 so we stayed put. There are plenty of open seats and the conductor was cool with it. (He explained that this train is actually two trains combined, one with cars 1-8 the other with cars 9-18 or some such but there’s no getting from one train to the second.) Whatever. We are chugging through rolling green fields, some dusted with snow, past the occasional grazing cattle, wind turbines, and village of white stucco homes with mansard roofs that remind me of my childhood home in Michigan.
We wanted adventure, we got adventure, here in a sleeping car with a bunk bed en route from Gdansk to Krakow. Our Polish friends all came to see us off at the station near midnight – Adam and his mother, Michel and his girlfriend Anna ( who came with a parting gift – bottle of Goldwasser, the Gdansk liquor that includes visible flakes of Gold. (See foto below) Our luggage is pretty boozy…D already has a bottle of Ukrainian vodka he got for a gift.
Our Polish friends took care of us well throughout our three day trip, eager to show us around and very generous, which was very sweet and gave us some insights into real life in Gdansk and Poland that we would not have gotten otherwise. yesterday, Adam and his mother ( in another foto below) picked us up and whisked us off to the Bishops cathedral, home and park landscaped with lovely flower beds. There was a Saturday morning organ concert in the cathedral and my eyes were not deceiving me: the gold trumpets of the angel statues embedded in the ornate organ really did move around when the music played. They also drove us past Lech walecsa ‘s house nearby. Then Michal picked us up and drove us about an hour away to Malbork Castle, an enormous 13th century castle housing Teutonic Knights from Germany who were also, oddly, monks as well as hired guns for Poland to fight Russia who later ended up fighting and defeating Poland. At night, we went to The modern high rise apartment outside the old town where Adam and his mother live for a huge meal of cold cuts, various salads and cheeses and meat spreads and chunks of white cream with a layer of red jello with strawberries. Next stop, the Baltic Sea pier in Gdansk where there was a lively disco and some restaurants and some people swimming in the dark cold water. From there we went to the high tech domed observatory of adam’s former school where he showed us Saturn and various stars through a telescope. We didn’t get back to the hotel until about 12:30 pm.
This morning, Adam picked us up and we went to the very interesting Roads to Freedom exhibit documenting the Solidarity Movement, complete with replicated shops showing the scarcity during communist times and lots of test old photos and footage of the struggle during the 1970s and 1980s. A new larger museum is in the making but I really liked the simplicity of this one.
Adam handed us off to Michal and Anna who drove us to the nearby resort seaside town of Sopot which was packed with vacationers on a spectacular summer day. We met up with Michal’s mother and had very good pasta and risotto at one of the many busy restaurants surrounding a wide plaza that leads to a long wide pier jutting out into the Baltic, and a little marina with very large pleasure boats. you had to pay to walk the pier, which was a bit surprising. we were joined by some very well healed pele, including some stunning, presumably Polish young women.
Michel and Anna patiently joined us as we shopped for some amber gifts back in Gdansk on Mariacka Street, then Adam and his mom returned and took us back to their house for dinner, shopping at. Huge tesco for train provisions and a visit at sunset to the Dramatic 1950s era monument across the river from old town marking the start of World War Two. What a visit. We loved seeing our friends (Michael, Adam, Anna who we last saw in Des Moines in 2009) and their lovely mothers and city. Here’s hoping we meet again.