Ode to Transport

sillage n. A scent that lingers in the air; a trail left in the water, an impression made in space after something had left.

Lately I’ve been complaining a lot about transport, and that’s because I’m sick of it.  I’m sick of the small irritations, the minor annoyances, the things that don’t go the way they’re meant to, and all the stress that comes with it. Perhaps I’ll title my first travel memoir, Tales of a Traveler Who Hates Traveling.  Catchy, right?  Airports I think are still slightly higher on the scale of things I hate but not much. 

On my most recent, and last major journey of my travels (save for my trip home), the trend was not broken.  I had an absolutely horrible time getting from Munich to the small town of Alpnach, Swizerland where I would be staying with an old friend from high school for the last ten days of my travels before going home.  It was going to be a wonderful and relaxing time in a tiny Swiss village and I couldn’t wait.  Naturally, I had to have one last (hopefully anyway) extremely stressful incident to go out on.  I left Munich early in the morning on what was meant to be a five-hour bus ride to Zurich.  From there, I had two hours to wait until my booked train to Lucerne then Alpnach.  Now normally, two hours is plenty of a buffer for transportation delay, but in my case it apparently wasn’t.  Due to traffic and bad weather, my bus was two hours behind schedule!  In fact, at the time we were supposed to be getting into Zurich, we were only in Constance, a town just on the German side of the Germany/Switzerland border.   I actually got out at tis stop thinking it was Zurich only to find out form a kindly old woman that I was not in the place.  Lucky I had asked.

On the whole, I’m a pretty laid back person, at least I have become significantly more laid back since I started traveling.  But I still have my anxieties, my neuroticisms, and my pet peeves and when all of those pile up, my temper comes out and it equals one anti-laid back Amber.  Transportation days are all of these things.  They have become the bane of my existence.  If I could pick a theme song to transport days, it would be George Strait’s “I Hate Everything”.  I’m more moody on these days than Order of the Phoenix Harry. And thus, as the bus grew more and more behind schedule, I became more and more angry, through the ferry ride into Zurich, through the passport inspection at the border (haven’t had one of those in a while), all of it.

By the time we pulled into Zurich, I was severely stressing out about missing my train, and when the bus got stuck in a traffic jam TWO BLOCKS from the damn station, I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown.  For God’s sake, I could have walked there faster than the bus was moving but the driver wouldn’t hear of it (trust me, I asked).  As I returned to my seat, trying not to freak out, the woman from the seat in front of me turned around and asked if I was okay.  I told her I was about to miss my train and that I really needed to get to the station.  “You’re from the Tent in Munich, aren’t you?” she asked.  The minute she said it, I recognized her as the New Zealander I had spoken to on my first day at the hostel.  They had left the following day to go to Constance but now here she was again.  If I can’t been so pissed off, then might have been the appropriate time to start doing a little jig in the aisle of the bus singing, “It’s a small world after all!”

Finally, the bus pulled in and I bolted off it to the luggage hatch.  I had eight minutes to catch my train.  The bus driver was taking his sweet time and I couldn’t have that.  Instead, I crawled in the luggage hatch myself and started throwing pieces of luggage right and left until I finally spotted Nellie’s burnt orange color, at the bottom of everything (of course).  After a considerable bit of struggle and choking back sobs of frustration, I yanked her out from under the pile and sprinted to the nearby train station.  As I looked at the departure board to figure out my train’s platform, it was as if I suddenly forgot how to read, because the named and numbers all blurred together and I was entirely unable to make out which platform I needed to be on.  As my panic became visible, a woman came up and asked me what was wrong.  I showed her my ticket and she gently showed me which platform I needed.  Sure enough, three slots down on the board was the word “Lucerne”.  Only an idiot could have missed it and an idiot I was in that moment.  My next issue became finding the platform.  This station was massive and I had absolutely no idea where to go.  As if predicting this issue, the woman said, “I’m going in that direction, too.  Just come with me.”  I thanked her profusely as she showed me to my platform then bid her farewell.  I got to the platform with four minutes to spare.

It was in that time that I discovered that the charge converter on the end of my laptop charger was missing.  It must have fallen off somewhere in my frantic digging through the luggage compartment.  And that was when I broke.  I threw down all my stuff and sat in the middle of the platform floor digging through my bag to make sure it hadn’t fallen elsewhere in there.  Nope.  Nothing.  It was gone.  And I started crying.  I had literally no will to maintain my dignity or act my age and instead I sat there in the middle of the platform sobbing because I didn’t have something as simple a charge converter and all I could think about was that if I couldn’t find another one, I couldn’t talk to Mom or blog or anything.  I was done.  In that moment, I just wanted to go home. As I sat there, a woman came up and asked if I was okay and I blabbered something incoherent about it just being a really bad day. “You lose something?” she asked.  My dignity?  My ability to be connected to the world?  My will to live?  All of the above.  Instead I just nodded and said, “Yeah, but it’s stupid.  Just one bad thing on top of many others,” and she left me alone.

A few seconds later the train pulled up and rose, hoisted up my stuff, and boarded.  No matter what, I would keep moving, always rising again.  I was still sniffling when I settled into my seat on the upper floor of the double decker train and if I had been in a better mental state, I probably would have appreciated how nice it was.  Travel is Switzerland is extortionately expensive so I guess it’s good that their train system is at least nice enough to justify that.  Hearing my sniffles, a young man seated behind me reached around the seat and handed me a pack of travel tissues.  “Oh, no, I’m okay, I actually have some,” I said, showing him a wad of torn up paper towels I had taken from the hostel bathroom.  “Just take it,” he said, and walked away.

Over the hour long ride, I couldn’t help but think about how much I wanted a travel companion in that moment.  Normally, I love solo travel, but alone I am lured into the false sense of security of being surrounded by strangers.  My actions have no consequence.  I can act as much like a child as I want because I will literally never see these people again.  With someone, however, I am more motivated to hold it together, to give off that strong tough girl image I have build around myself like a brick wall.  But solo travel erodes that completely.  It exposes us as we really our, in base forms, raw and unapologetic, the parts of ourselves we don’t like.  For me, it’s the inner child that just wants to curl up and cry in the arms of her father or grandfather.  I managed to slowly pull myself together over the train ride and by the time I got to Lucerne where Sinah was waiting to surprise me (but I’ll get to that in the next post), I was feeling better, cleansed.

And now, my days of travel are virtually over and I don’t need to worry about transportation for ten more days when I only need to make I back to Zurich and hop on a plane (which is a nightmare I’m not even going to consider yet).  Oddly enough I feel a bit sad.  Transportation has been a constant for me over these travels, and while I have spent just about curse word in my vocabulary on it at one point or another, none of this would have been possible without it.  Regrettable as it is, I did not get my Hogwarts letter when I was 11 years old and thus I did not get to go to a magical school of witchcraft and wizardly (though Oxford and Arcadia both come close) where I could learn how to apparate.  I must instead rely on muggle transportation and which it is a massive pain in the ass, I am grateful to it in some weird twisted sort of way.  In the words of Tine Fey, “I have a uniquely German capacity to vacillate between sentimentality and coldness.”  So now this post takes a turn from a giant bitch-fest to a sad and reminiscent reflection on my time spent on public transport.  This is my ode to all of it.

It has taken many forms: trains, busses, minibuses, trolleys, trams, metros, ferries, taxis, hitchhiked cars, you name it, I’ve ridden it.  And it’s taken me over many different paths.  I’ve been on four lane highways lines ditch to ditch in cars speeding their way into giant metropolises and I’ve also been on empty one lane dirt roads winding through quaint little villages.  I’ve clutched the edges of my seat as I’ve sped around the Balkan mountains with a solid rock wall on one side and sheer drop on the other.  Smooth paved roads, potholed roads in desperate needs of repair, train tracks, trolley tracks, sparking metro lines that illuminate the dark tunnels beneath cities, of course the great whale road of the Baltic Sea sloshing against the ferry.

Over these routes, I’ve seen it all and I’ve had the chance to view the world in a different way, as a removed passenger, not in the middle of it, but as a quiet observer on the sidelines, complacently watching from behind a pane of smudged glass.  From there, I’ve seen thousands of miles rushing past in blurs as trains have reached speeds up to 300km per hour while minutes later, coming to a complete halt at a station.  I’ve taken in orchards and vineyards and barren plains, lush fields of wildflowers and concrete jungles, massive cities and village gone in the blink of an eye.  I’ve seen mansions, castles, and manors, and cabins and cement shanties.  There have been slums heaped in trash, and resorted decorated in gold, forests and factories, grey clouds through rain splattered glass and sunny skies, sunrises through bleary eyes and sunsets through ones filled with wonder (sometimes both in the same day), the bliss of closed eyelids and the itch of insomnia, endless dichotomies that show how diverse the world really is.  I have seen little things like colorful laundry lines and massive mountains the tower ominously over the little towns at their base.  I’ve seen seas of graffiti etched along concrete walls and actual seas stretching out for endless miles onto the horizon. 

In short, I’ve seen it all, the beautiful and the ugly, the best and the worst, set to a constant soundtrack of what music I’m in the mood to listen to on that particular day.  All in all, it’s like living art, something I am witnessing without having any hand in myself.  It’s a different type of travel but an important component to it nonetheless.  Taken with the right frame of mind, transportation can be a beautiful experience in and of itself, but you need to accept the bad parts of it as well.  The longer I traveled, the more I forgot about this simple and basic rule that has come to define my existence.  While learning it in other facets of my life, I overlooked it in its most glaringly common form.  So while transportation has given me a lot of grief and I will not be sad to see that Glenside sign roll up in the Septa window, I have come to appreciate transportation for everything it has given to me, good and bad.