Kim's Austrian Adventure

My year as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Graz, Austria. Yes, there are other cities in Austria besides Vienna.

22. Jänner 2007

"Who puts the phrases in these guidebooks anyway?" or, How Kristen and I almost went to Italy.


  • Reading: Journal

  • Listening to: Kim's songs of America: David Bowie: Let's Dance

  • German Word of the Day: Regen

  • Translation: Rain

  • Example: Ich habe Schnee lieber als Regen./I like snow better than rain.
      I've been reading "The Risks of Sunbathing Topless... and Other Funny Stories from the Road" (great read, especially while traveling). On the way back to Munich from Neuschwanstein Castle, I mused that our trip had run surprisingly smoothly so far.
        Don't ever do that. I've discovered that while traveling, it's better to be pessimistic, so that when (if) things go right, you end up pleasantly surprised. If you have a touch of the Eternal Optimism like me, however, it's difficult to be pessimistic.
        Kristen and I were booked on a night train from Munich to Lucerne with a train change in Lugano. We would arrive in Lugano (in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland) at 6:08am and be on our way to Lucerne (in the German speaking part) at 6:55. My alarm on my phone was set for 5:45. Fantastic.
          I gave up hoping for a good night's sleep after my ticket was checked for the third time. It seemed that, just as I was off to la la land, there would be a knock at the door. Putting on my best smile, I politely asked the passport guy for a stamp. No dice. (It was then that my frustration with Swiss German began.)
            Every hour on the hour my eyes opened. The last time I checked the clock on my phone it was 4:30am.
            The train stopped moving and I groggily eyed the door, waiting for some other Crazy Swiss to demand my passport or ticket. When no one came, I looked over at Kristen, who asked, "Are we here?"
            "No way," I replied. I hadn't heard my alarm go off. A glance out of the right window showed some random sign in Italian. My hand flailed around my bag and, upon locating my phone, I gasped. Six twenty-two am.
            "Holy CRAP! We're HERE!" I shouted, running around (as much as one can in a six seater compartment), simultaneously throwing on my hat, putting my shoes on the wrong feet, and tripping into the hallway. From the left window I saw "Lugano" -- the sign I had seen at first was a supermarket.
            Before we could drag out our bags, the train started to move. Kristen and I stared wearily at each other.
            "We'll just get off at the next station," I said, wondering exactly where that was. As I turned, I stepped smack into two guys, who came into our compartment and started blathering away in Italian.
            "Ummm... English oder Deutsch," I said.
            "Oh, you are American? [insert stereotypical Italian hand gestures here] We are from Sicily. You know, mafia? Bang-bang-bang-bang-bang! [Shooting noises, more gestures]"
                        I searched through my Western Europe guidebook for a way to describe our situation. Unable to find the phrase "We missed our train, " which would be a really excellent phrase to learn in many languages (I'm looking in your direction, Let's Go), all I could find was "I am lost."
                        Their eyes lit up. "Come with us to Milano! We makea a party!" This dubious phrase was entirely too Borat for words and I didn't want to hear any more suggestions from these guys.
                        Italian with occasional English-sounding words prevailed, with Kristen and I helplessly agreeing to take pictures with them. (They'll probably end up on tiredlostamerican.com or something similar.) The train started to slow down and we lunged at the hallway, throwing our bags and ourselves off of the train.
                          "Arrivederci!" our Italians yelled at us, waving from the window.
                          All of this after two crazy, jet-lagged days in Munich, a lot of non-sleep, and before 7am.
                            I looked at the map in my guidebook, finding the stop where we ended up alighting. It was Chiasso, Switzerland. The next stop was Como, Italy.
                              So close.

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