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updated: Feb 27, 2010, 9:16 AM
By John McCafferty (aka McSeas)
Seats 9 to 12, where are you?
Two months of train travel was quite funny -- especially after having done it.
Sharon's notes on our most confusing departure of the trip:
First class was at the far end of the train. By the time we got there, the car was loaded with people. We managed to get to the end of the car, looking for seats 11 and 12, while the crowds -- a few adults and many children -- hoisted their luggage to overhead bins and settled into their seats.
There were no seats 11 and 12, but there were two easy chairs in a space between rear first class (seats 13 to 44) and front first class (seats 1 to 8), so we sat down in this space (imaginary seats 9 to 12), which also contained coffee and tea service and newspapers. A young man joined us. He was Norwegian it turned out, and spoke excellent English (as so many Europeans do).
"Have you seen seat 10?" he asked.
No, we had not. He muttered that he needed to work, so he sat on the floor and opened his laptop computer.
The tumult and shouting in "first class" continued as the train pulled out and away. We stopped caring about seat numbers.
Then a conductor came by and explained in Norwegian, and the young man enlightened us: A crowd of people had come on board without tickets. Norwegian conductors don't check tickets until the train starts moving. The conductor went away again.
Then he returned and rousted the ticket-less group. Again there was commotion, confusion and awkward baggage handling. He squired the confused and displaced passengers -- who were remarkably peaceful throughout, if noisy -- away. To where?
Finally he came back and escorted the three of us to the right seats with wrong numbers. The young Norwegian continued working and we settled in to enjoy the ride.
But why were we given tickets for seats that didn't exist?
At last the youth asked a passing conductor and translated for us: This was a substitute train. Oh. John and I looked at each other and shrugged. Whatever!
While we stood gawking in the station (I forgot which one; they're all alike) a wino startled us by appearing behind us in the near-darkness and asking a series of pointless questions, like where were we going. We yelled at him in a hostile manner about needing to be left alone so we could think, and he mumbled off.
We found our train platform number on the Big Broad, as I call it, with Sharon by this time getting REAL tired of my dumb puns. We ignored a guy who looked even more geezery than I, who tried to crowd ahead of us in a coffee shop that mercifully opened. He expressed his annoyance by tapping his ring loudly on the glass counter. I asked him to please stop it, and to my surprise, he did.
We boarded our train and settled into our seats. A railway employee sitting nearby asked us, as the train pulled out of the station and picked up speed, where we were going.
"Hamburg", I said. "Oops", he said. (Foreigners seem to like this American expression.) He told us the car we were in, at the rear end of the train, would be left behind at the second stop of the morning. But he would see that we made the change to a through-car at the next stop. I only suffered from anxiety for 40-some minutes, fearing an eternity at Frykkendoofus or some such farm town, standing on a barren concrete platform and wearing my customary look of despair.
We made the switch, thanks to my new hero, and I was finally happy.
Except that the first class bar car was out of coffee.
Sharon's turn again: The $4 T-shirt
I flunked geography, not to mention language and cultural issues. John needed a clean T-shirt (we travel lightly, and sometimes we get caught up short).
Outdoor vendors lined the pedestrian street between the Oslo, Norway, train station and our hotel, and one of the vendors had a big sign that offered "Good T-shirts," for the equivalent of $4 U.S. What a bargain!
Even though we were anxious to find a room before the gathering clouds dropped their heavy loads of rain, I paused long enough to pull one of the cheap shirts out of its plastic wrap and determined that it was made of 100% quality cotton. Extra-large, colorful logo, some sort of map, no cuss words - Sold.
Late in the balmy afternoon, after the rain, we took a stroll. People glanced at John's new T-shirt and some of them gave him odd looks. Others grinned at each other, shrugged, whispered. Something was off.
Back at the hotel, we asked the clerk what the logo was all about.
"It's a map of Scandinavia", he said.
Okay, no problem. How about the lettering?
"Scandinavia Without Sweden."
Oops. Sure enough, closer inspection showed the map to have omitted the entire country of Sweden and we hadn't even noticed.
"Some Norwegians would be happy if this were true", the clerk continued. "There is quite a rivalry between the two countries."
And the T-shirt did become a conversation opener. On the train to Bergen, a tall young man came up to us and said, "I am Swedish. I am wondering; why are you wearing that shirt?"
"My wife bought it for me", John explained, passing the buck to me.
"I didn't understand the words", I said apologetically.
"And you don't read maps", the big youth said. "You Americans are lousy at geography."
We nodded in agreement, smiling sheepishly.
"But it was only four dollars," John said, trying to laugh off the situation. "I'm an old guy on a fixed income."
The man backed off. In a minute he returned, smiling this time. "May I take your picture?" he asked.
I keep wondering if his photo will end up on U-Tube. So much for bargains. Happily, the day turned cool, and John put on his sweatshirt.
Trains are amusing, even a little exciting at times. On to Germany.
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