Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Where in the World was Kellie Hazell: Europe by Train, 1996

Not too long after I graduated from high school, I said a fond (hopefully temporary) farewell to my European Adventures by hopping on a train with some pals and taking in Paris, Barcelona, Lloret de Mar (resort town in Spain), and Geneva. The primary focus of the trip was a few days in Lloret, but I think the entire journey lasted 6-7 days. Here's how it worked: for an astonishingly small fee, we bought a week EuroRail pass that got us on a certain class of train (so not the ultra fast ones, but the regional ones), and that one pass was good for 5 days of travel in any of the participating countries. (If you want to see a lot of Europe on a budget and a backpack, I highly recommend these passes; no rental cars, you can sleep on the train and cut some hostel costs, and those European trains are very effecient and travel through some amazing sites--if you're awake to appreciate them.)

So early the first day, we loaded up our backpacks, joined up at a local regional station, waved good-bye to the 'rents, and were on our merry way to Paris. This was the third time I had been to Paris, but this was the first time I actually went up in the Eifel Tower. When I went with my girl scout troup back in 1988, I was waiting for an elevator to go up the tower and freaked out about falling so I just hung around the grounds waiting for everyone else to get down. This time I scoped Paris from the highest observation point and was overjoyed that it was a sunny, clear day so I could actually see the city. We wandered through Notre Dame and ate lunch by those freaky glass pyramid thingies at the Louvre (but we didn't have enough time to actually go into the museum, darn the luck), and tried to find Jim Morrison's grave. But what I remember most about Paris on this trip was Sacre Coeur and the artist's colony on Montmarte. After living and traveling in Europe for nine years, I had seen a lot of churches and basilicas and cathedrals and whatnot. Some of them dripped with gaudy gilded decor, some of them imposed with their extensive and infamous history, some of them overwhelmed with humongous organ pipes, some of them entertained with intriguing bells and/or clocks, and some of them managed to make you feel right at home with their understated beauty and atmosphere. Sacre Coeur was one of those. It helped that its design was not your typical European cathedral both inside and out. It helped that the grounds were extensive and set apart from the bustle of the city. It helped that it was a warm, sunny day. It helped that I was there without a chaperone and a schedule and had wandered there because I wanted to. The artist's colony was just a ton of fun to explore, especially at sunset.

Then it was on the train to sleep our way to Barcelona. This leg of the trip marked our only strange encounter on the EuroRail. Our pass didn't let us use the individual rooms. We had to take the generic seats. Luckily the train wasn't too crowded, and each of us got our own two-seater to fully relax and get cozy for sleep. I hadn't been asleep too long when I woke up to someone talking at me in an agitated voice (and a language I couldn't discern--at least not in my groggy state) and grabbing at my bag. After some frowning and sleepy "Parlez vous Engles" mutters, I moved my bag to my feet, thinking he wanted the seat. But then he just left to the next car. I shrugged and went back to sleep. In the morning, we discover that one of our number had been robbed. It's a good thing I'm a light sleeper. (We all donated a portion of our own funds to our suddenly poor pal.)

Barcelona was a blur. I mostly remember the train station. We did spend some time at the Sagrada Family basilica, which is a bit of an acid trip even when you're not a zombie after a few hours of sleep on a train. Every damn corner of that place is sculpted or decorated or something. It was pretty fascinating, though. Mostly because I kept wondering about the designer's sanity. And, of course, lots of history to ponder there.

We cut our sightseeing short so we could hurry down to Lloret de Mar and the beach. There we encountered a problem at our hostel. They had apparently overbooked. There may have been more of a snarl to that, but we were able to get into an actual hotel for even less without too much bother. Then it was all beaches and discos for a few days. One day we did take a boat over to a nearby town haunted by artists, Cadaques. The boat ride made most of us seasick, but the town was really nifty, and the Mediterranean really does have some amazingly clear blue waters.

Speaking of blue, we bought a skinny blue raft for our shared use in the sea. I think it may have been dubbed the Blue Penis, and I'm sure we though ourselves very clever for it. Although only the boys used it...interesting. There was a little bay off the beaten path from the bustling beaches of Lloret de Mar. Plenty of rocky outcroppings to just sit and watch the water--or dive off of as was the case of the boys in the group. NOTE: No ridiculous adolescents were harmed in the making of this trip.

After we got sick of sunning and clubbing, we hopped back on the train and made our way back to Germany via Switzerland. We spent a rather cold, gray, and rainy Sunday afternoon in Geneva. Just about everything was closed, and the things that were open were unspeakably expensive (lunch at Mickey D's cost us $10 each). What I remember most about that leg of the trip was catching glimpses of waterfalls from Alpine valley floors as the train wove its way through Switzerland. Very pretty.

I think I crashed for a good two days when we got back home. That sort of trip, while budget-friendly and time-efficient, will wear you out in a hurry.


Joel said...

But what an experience!

Kellie said...

Most definitely!