Monday, October 11, 2010

Tram Stories IV

Public Transportation Frustration

 (I didn't mean for it to be so long in between posts, but I have good excuses and sea-breeze fresh material!)

I settled in for my six-hour train ride. I wasn’t sure if it’d be easier, now that Luca was eleven-months old, or harder. The great thing about trains is you are never restrained to your seat. I paced the platform area in between cars, Luca wrapped tightly against me in a long mossy green scarf. It worked. He slept. The hours passed with naptime, playtime and snacks in their regular order. 

 “Piece of cake,” I thought smugly. “I am a Super Mom.” Are you getting a hint of foreshadowing? Or a whiff of first-timer pride? Hey, at least I said “a” super mom!

We reached Strasbourg in the northeast of France and rejoined my mom, our friend Rebecca and her baby, and my mom’s midwifery assistant, Kaydee. We spent a weekend warmed by the sun and the welcome of a dear friend’s parents, who served as guides. I was thrilled to converse with these French Christians. I felt refreshed by their testimony and fellowship, as much as by the white Riesling wine and pizza-like flammekueche (a paper thin crust, topped by sour cream and bacon! I have it on good authority that they serve it in heaven. ;)

Monday, I left the convenience of public transport for a rented car. As grateful as I am to be conducted me along given routes at frequent times, spreading my junk around a car is such a glorious luxury! We drove to Heidelberg; the history of the ruined castle and the small town charmed me with my first view of Germany. I was blown away by cleanliness and comfort of the bleached hotel room, its beds decked with snowy down comforters and pillows set on a fitted sheet. Food being very important to me, I think I will continue to dream of hearty whole grain breads and sandwiches.

The next day, I found myself “amused” by other types of transportation; namely, a bus and my own feet. We had tours at the adjoining castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein, built by the Bavarian king and his son, respectively. It is no surprise that fairy-tales rose out of these black forests, just as these delicate turrets rose out of the mists. We bought out tickets and were told the bus was just up the hill on the left. We joined a swarm of people, hurriedly counting out our euros coins. The driver let my mom and Rebecca on, saying she didn’t ahve anymore room. Since we were all together and Luca was once again in wrapped in his scarf in the Bavarian drizzle, she relented and let Kaydee and I in through the side door.

The crowds parted obligingly. A man insisted I take his seat. Luca turned his smiling face to say thank you, to a chorus of oohs and ahhs. He was thrilled with his audience and began clapping. We were surrounded by tourists; some Russians, several ladies who spoke Spanish and a few people who spoke French. The lady beside me began telling the others that she though his name was Luca. She asked his age. Everyone called out “Luca, Luca” as he did all his pretty little tricks.

The bus came to a stop, Luca gave a reluctant bye-bye to his fan club and we rejoined my mom. However, one of the hazards of public transportation had arrived; even if it’s the right bus, you may still go where you didn’t intend. Our first tour was to be at the father’s castle and we found ourselves at his son’s. We rode the bus down, resolved the problem and hurried to the sturdy marigold walls of the Hohenschwangau

Our tour was guided by a delightful university student with a good accent and charming sense of humor. We then found ourselves back on the bus, through the forest mists to the inspiration for Disney’s signature castle, the Neuschwanstein. We crossed Luca’s fans, who were disappointed that he was sleeping cuddled against me, and wished us a good tour.

The Bavarian Prince, now king, had an incredible fascination with the composer Wagner, and the castle was indeed dedicated to him. After nineteen years of construction, the king moved in, but died mysteriously six months later.

As we exited into the now softly streaming rain, we tried to remember which of the two paths we had come up from the bus. Mom asked the gatekeeper, “Is this the way down?”

“Yes. Way down,” he nodded vigorously.

So we started off, Rebecca’s baby, Michael, under the rain cover of the stroller, Luca in his scarf wrap under the umbrella. Six steps downhill, I slipped on the wet forest leaves, which coated the asphalt, so my mom took my arm. Luca began screaming his need for sustenance and rest. After fifteen minutes, we were all beginning to think that bus hadn’t been quite that far away. Rebecca, who has not only good common sense, but a good sense of direction, confirmed my fears. “We must be on the forty-five minute hiking path.”

 (This photo is Rebecca and I with our babies in slings in Bordeaux)

We all agreed that it would take longer to go back up and then down to the bus. So thinking longingly of my beloved if fickle public transport, I was obliged to continue under my own steam. Luca finally calmed down after several lullabies and my attitude improved with the sugar rush of an apple.

Damp and tired, we were eager for our hotel and for easy access to food. The receptionist said the hotel’s restaurant was good, so we sat down in the late evening gloom. I was eager to satisfy my gourmandise with something regional, and regaled my taste buds with venison, which I had never tried. Its robust morsels were in a brown sauce of wild mushrooms, a pile of Spätzle egg noodles beside it, with a baked peach covered in red currants. This woodland princess dinner was crowned with a walnut cake torte; layers of cake and dreamy cream, delicate and not too rich or sweet.

Transported again by the car, we arrived in Zurich, Switzerland the next afternoon. Assured by the concierge that it was madness to take the car downtown, we waited for the tram. After fifteen minutes we were sure there was a problem. So we waited for the bus, which was to replace it. Ten more minutes and we weren’t so sure the bus was coming. An English-speaking gentleman helped us find an alternative bus route, which involved changing once. By now, however, we were savvy European travellers; we weren’t scared. We found our way to the lake in time to see the snow-bonneted foothills of the Alps just before sunset. 

We visited the churches and historic buildings along the Limmat river. We had hoped to shop for the rest of our gifts and souvenirs here, so we went to the train station district, finding a magnificent chocolate shop (Swiss chocolate, anyone?).

Once again trying mélange of trams, foot-power and vague directions from many kind-hearted people, we arrived for a late dinner at a raclette restaurant. At first we were told there was no table for two hours, however we were welcome to an outside table when one opened up. At that moment one did, so we carpe diem’d. Melty cheese on potatoes and pickles is bound to please anyone (except maybe the lactose intolerant, poor souls). Here, it was also served with a pear, which I had never heard of in France. With a sprinkle of nutmeg, the delicate pear and cheese flavor was extraordinary and will not soon be forgotten.

I am always looking for a funny story, and often inadvertently bring them upon myself (I think it’s a good Christmas story, don’t you sisters?). Heady with excitement (and no, I had drunk NO wine due to a headache), I gleefully grabbed a sac off the table, knocking a wine glass. I cringed, expecting the sound of shattering glass, however, the glass obliging held on by its pedestal to the edge of a brown paper sack from the chocolate shop. No harm done, and a good laugh produced. I do what I can ;).

Thankfully, the trams were once again running well, and we were able to easily find our way to the hotel to put exhausted wee ones in bed.

The next day, Mom and Co. left for the airport. Luca and I loaded the stroller, the forty-pound backpack and diaper bag and headed for the train station. I was rather glad to be back on public transport, with the incredible ability to independently move around the country! Several people helped me, including a British girl who shoved my bag up on the rack next to the stroller. I was feeling good about our return trip, even though it necessitated going on the Paris metro to switch train stations and return the borrowed stroller. Foolish assurance of youth (or optimism)!

I found my way down to the metro, with elevators right up to were you go down; then it’s all stairs. Thinking it was easily to have the umbrella stroller open, I strapped the back on my back, the baby on front, the diaper bag on one arm, pulling the stroller on the other. Paris, here I come. I let people help me lift the end of the stroller down the stairs, thanking them, but still feeling like I could manage.

I was to get off at Montparnasse. I looked at the metro plan; one more stop. I got off and went up, then realized this was horribly wrong. I had not waited that one stop more, I had just gotten off. I turned around to go back down, but would have needed a new ticket, coins for the ticket etc. A young man realized my distress and inability to get through the gates, so he held them from the other side. I got on the metro and off at the next stop, only to realize in my rush I had gone one stop farther from my destination. No, I must humbly tell you, that in my almost three years in France I have only made this kind of mistake one other time. I feel justified in saying I am transport savvy.

I went up again, a lady helped me through the gates once again. I heard the metro below…I was late for the stroller meet…a ten minute wait would make me late for my train…I made it down the stairs dragging the stroller and…splat. I landed on my knees, scraping them as my skirt came up. I sheltered Luca with an elbow, losing my shoes under the stroller.

It was so sudden that I was breathless, lying on one side, unable to move. I was barely a yard from the metro. A large African mama passed me. “You don’t act that way with a baby!” she yelled. “You are too loaded down to be rushing!” Her scolding stung as much as my raw knees. The driver had seen, or been told, what happened and waited to be sure I was ok. I tried to wiggle the sack off my back, trying to decide whether to start wailing or pull myself together. Luca looked up without a sound. As often as he falls in his pursuit of walking, he didn’t seem to find it that odd to be suddenly on the ground. Yet he was also waiting for my response. Since it was my stupidity in rushing and taking on more than I could do that landed us here (literally), I knew it was up to me to be the mama.

I managed to stand to see a metro car full of people staring at me. Two or three came to my aide as I found my scattered cell phone, shoes and baby toys. I assured them I was fine and hobbled onto the metro as they put the stroller and sack on. A middle-aged lady in a white suit with traces of coffee, gently remonstrated. “The metro is no place to be as loaded down as you are. Don’t come down here; take a bus from one train station to another. You can just roll the stroller on. Here’s Montparnasse; are you sure you’ll be fine? I’d help you go up, but I’m not getting off here.”

I had a call from our friend, who agreed to meet me at the metro. I assured the kind lady that I wasn’t going anywhere without help. As I was anxiously watching the time (fifteen minutes until my train left for Bordeaux), he appeared, took the stroller and directed me to the trains. I arrived in plenty of time and was seated of at least five minutes before the train started rolling homewards. Again, a kind businessman had placed my bag. I went directly to the snack car, since I hadn’t had time to refill my water bottle and was desperately in need of a coffee for my jangled nerves. No one was in the seat next to me. “Please, Lord. Don’t let anyone come,” I prayed. “I know You are Almighty, yet You take care of these small things for Your children. Help me again for these last few hours.” No one came to disturb us and we had a calm ride home, sleeping, reading and playing.

Vincent was to bring the car and meet me on the quai. “Whew! I won’t need help from anyone else today,” I thought. Of course, evening traffic in the city, along with September road work slowed him down. A lady with gently-greying bobbed hair dragged my bag off for me. I thought of going to the front of the train station, where it would doubtless be easier for Vincent to find us. “Have you not learned your lesson?” my knees screamed as the soft folds of my suede skirt rubbed against them. “You are not all self-sufficient, self-sustaining, self-empowered. ‘No man is an island’…over a dozen people have helped you today. Accept their help with humility. Realize that it is the Lord who gives you power to will and to do. So stand there and be still.”

So I did. I tried to turn my public transportation, my public humiliation and my public frustration into the tired prayer of a daughter to her Father. While it was briefly interrupted by a strange man asking for money (whom Luca wanted to befriend), we managed to wait fairly patiently for our final mode of transportation home.   

By the way, my sweet sweet man had prepared a lovely dinner of white wine, squares of puff pastry topped with camembert and mushrooms, white fish with shallot sauce, steamed medley of carrots, leaks, onions and mushroom, and melty chocolate and almond cake. I love that man, and I love his cooking. He said it was just to make sure I always come home to him, whatever adventures I might have enjoyed. I don’t think there’s any danger of that…

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Jenna! I now wish we would have just met you at Gare de L'Est. Glad you made it home. So sorry for those people who scolded you. You were doing your best, I'm sure! It was very fun to read. :) ....Sarah :)