Filed under: twitchhiker project
Breakfast time at the hostel proved how reserved the English reserve actually is. I felt a genuine rush of anxiety when another guest decided to have both cornflakes and Coco Pops in the same bowl. Outrageous behaviour. If you’d told me you’d seen it with your own eyes, I wouldn’t believe you. I mean, it’s not natural, is it? I still don’t trust people who add fruit to their Weetabix.
Then there was the middle-aged couple sat opposite me. He was quietly trying to enjoy his baguette and runny jam, while she was furious with him for losing his wallet. The English are rarely sporting enough to enjoy a full blown argument in public unless they’re drunk, so he cowered into his breakfast while she whispered at him in outraged tones:
So how much was in it?
Fifteen euros? You know what we could have bought with fifteen euros, don’t you?
And my bank card.
Well, we’ll have to cancel that. You brought the bank’s phone number with us, didn’t you?
No? But I told you to bring it in case this happened. Why do you never listen to a word I say?
And so it continued, a furious debacle that everyone was entirely unaware of, except the person sat opposite – me. He clearly hadn’t meant to lose his wallet and obviously felt this was a discussion best suited to somewhere other than a crowded dining room.
I worked through the morning and into the afternoon, exchanging gifts with Genevieve, the half-English, half-French manager of St. Christopher’s Inn. Gen presented me with a very smart hostel t-shirt, and I handed over @ikangaroo’s French postcard, which she promised would adorn the wall of reception forever. If you ever visit and it’s not there, call me immediately and cancel your reservation.
I was pleased to be moving on from Paris. I had no qualms with the hostel but I’d seen nothing of the city except my immediate locale, and two days of occupying the bar with my nose buried in a MacBook had left me lonely and homesick. Time to move on.
After a headless-chicken moment on the Metro, I reached Gare du’Est and boarded my train, taking a moment to check I hadn’t wondered into first class by mistake. The carriages were light and clean, smothered in oak panelling and and contemporary fittings. And I had legroom, oodles of it – my gangly legs enjoying a full six inches of space, my abused knees in no fear of being crushed by the ignorant bastard in front who drops into his seat as hard as possible. The man over the aisle was troughing his way through a paper bag of fast food, as though he hadn’t eaten in days, unsure of which piece of grease to fist down his throat first. At least I something to cross off my shit train journeys bingo card.
My arrival at Saarbruck saw me finally meet @pluripotent and rather unexpectedly, a German film crew. Before beginning my travels, I hadn’t given much thought to the type of person who would help me, but I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be somebody like Andrea; a middle-aged, middle-class lady living in a sumptuous family home with her two children, running a successful family business (@JuchemFood) that was founded by her grandfather.
The weather was grim and moist, no different to home, and Andrea drove us to her home, half an hour away on the autobahn. The cameraman asked to accompany us in the back seat and film the journey, which seemed a reasonable request; he also asked that the interior lights be switched on so we were illuminated for his shot. This led to the trouser-browning experience of sitting on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road, with the interior lights and pouring rain reducing visibility to near-zero, while watching the speedometer creep past 140 kph.
Andrea’s home in the village of Eppelborn was magnificent and welcoming, a grand labyrinth over four floors. One whole room was dedicated to the building’s history; a glass panel depicted a timeline of the dwellings that had stood there for several hundred years. A tall glass case displayed artifacts found buried beneath the land during renovations, some pieces dating back as far as the Napoleonic Wars. It was a home of character and warmth, qualities it shared with my host who had gone to the trouble of bringing me here, this small corner of Germany near the eastern border of France.
The film crew spent another hour interviewing Andrea and I, while Andrea’s daughter Johanna (@chailatteogo) and her boyfriend cooked a vegetarian curry for dinner. Johanna studied A Levels at Framlingham College in Suffolk, and her English was pristine. Andrea’s grasp of my mother tongue was also impressive, despite her assurances to the contrary. Nothing makes you feel quite as inadequate as spending time in the company of those who speak more languages than you.
It’s Thursday morning and I’m half an hour away from Frankfurt airport. I don’t know how much more I’ll write until tomorrow; I’ve now got to bounce back to Amsterdam for my flight to JFK and I won’t arrive there until after 8pm EST. If the queues are small and the Customs & Immigration staff are in a gracious mood, I may see the skyscraping lights of Manhattan before 10.30pm. The travel is already beginning to tire me out; I’m about to add ten hours of flying time to nine hours of train journeys and 17 hours of sea-crossing. It’s also interfering with my work, for which I need wi-fi; another reason to spend the extra night in New York rather than keep moving.
My host is @M4RKM, who had originally offered me a flight from New York to LAX earlier in the week. Mark has agreed to meet me at JFK, pay for my transfer to Manhattan via the Air Train and subway and put me up for the night. As I’ve learnt since accepting his offer, Mark also flies into JFK this afternoon – he’s a Yorkshireman enjoying his eleventh trip to New York, to celebrate his 30th birthday. I dare tonight will be drunken carnage as we both enjoy the city we adore, after which I’ll be sleeping in the spare king size bed of his luxury hotel room. He’d better not snore.
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