Europe, Part 7.

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

I’ve been writing about our recent tour of Europe in several parts. This is the final installment.

The Long Way Home

Great adventures always seem to come with great costs, and with a day and a half left in our trip we were about to settle our debts. Payment would come in the form of travel—an extensive day and a half journey to Paris, where an Air France 777 would be waiting to take us home.

First, we hopped a train in Rimini for a 4-hour express trip back to the central station in Milan. Still gun shy from our ride on the curséd train number 785, I decided to pony up the extra Euros for a first class cabin. At the ticket window, I discovered that the difference in price between first class and general seating was minimal, and I cursed my luck for not having learned that helpful fact until the end of our travels. Holly and I had a six-person cabin to ourselves and we took full advantage of the extra space, stretching out our long legs to give them a much-needed break. We passed through Modena, and I watched our home base in Italy zip by us to the right. The sun was setting behind the mountains that just a few days prior had served as our welcome wagon to this wonderful country.

We arrived in Milan as the last minutes of daylight were retiring for the day and settled in for a two-hour wait for our next train. We were bound for Dijon Ville, France, and while fellow international traveler and compadre Matt Skinner told me that the trip was a scenic one, we would be making the journey under cover of darkness. Our train pulled up to its platform, and we boarded car 86. Since this was an overnight train, we found our compartment to be a departure from those on any of the trains we had previously taken. 6 beds, stacked 3 to a side extended from the walls to the left and right. The set up was not too different from what you would find on your average tour bus, minus the handy privacy curtains that surround each self-contained bunk… That, and the fact that on a tour bus one usually has the luxury of traveling with familiar people. Holly and I took our assigned bunks on the second level of each side and spread out the neatly wrapped sheets and pillow provided for our comfort. 4 complete strangers took their assigned bunks in the tiny space with us (the compartment was no bigger than a large walk in closet) and the lights went out as the train pulled away from the station.

I found sleeping difficult– we were on a tight schedule and I was afraid of missing our stop. I stared out of the large picture window at my feet with bleary eyes and watched the lights of the countryside pass by us. Three hours passed, and I began to see boats moored to docks along the southern edge of Lake Geneva 30 or 40 feet below the tracks. Rain started to fall, welcoming us to Switzerland. We arrived in Dijon at 6:30 AM and waited for our connecting train to Charles De Gaulle. The sun began to rise behind the thick cloud cover as the rain subsided. France was exactly as I had imagined it as a high school kid sitting in a classroom taking lessons in the language—rainy and overcast. The 7:00 AM train took us directly to the airport, and we checked our luggage and hustled to the gate just in time to board the Houston bound jet. We found our seats and prepared for the final leg of our journey back home to the United States.

With the help of friends both new and old, we had somehow managed to complete a 12-day whirlwind trip through Germany, Italy, San Marino, Switzerland, and now France. As I settled in for the 10-hour flight, I thought of everyone who made our trip memorable. Nina, who had opened her apartment to Holly, Rodney, and I, and who had sacrificed the last remaining days of her vacation to show us around her home city and take us to and from our show in Gottingen. Sebastian and his father, who took a train all the way from Berlin to catch our show. The kind strangers who helped us find our first gig in Hamburg. The couple that made it out to our second show in Hamburg and gave us a ride back to our hotel. The talented musicians with whom we shared the stages in Germany. Christian, Simona, and Max in Italy. Gianluca and Francesca. The countless fans who came to our shows. And of course, the dreaded train number 785. All of the people, places, and things that had made this trip so memorable—for better or for worse (in the case of that damned train)—danced through my head. We were truly blessed, and in more ways than I could count.

The plane taxied down the runway, and with Holly already fast asleep, I hoped that once again Bernoulli wouldn’t let us down.

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