Wednesday, March 14, 2007

End of Term & Train trip

The university where I teach over here operates on a trimester system. So, after ten weeks of teaching I have allowed a brief respite before I begin the Spring term.

I have traveled to Brussels and in a few days I will leave for Barcelona. The advantage of living on the Continent. To get to Brussels I took a flight from Bratislava to Paris, then a train to Brussels. If you, my dear reader, am confused as to why I chose this particular route to get to my final destination I will soothe any frowns with this simple answer. It was faster. A flight from Bratislava to Brussels involves a stop over in Munich. I am sure that Munich is nice, but after spending five hours in its airport I wish not to experience it again. Since the whole trip should only take approximately three hours and my first trip to Brussels had leave in the morning and arrive in the evening I was looking for something else. So, an hour and half plane journey to Paris and then a hour and forty minute train journey to Brussels. Simple, concise and easy.

Upon arriving at Paris Orly airport I followed the signs to the train, bought my ticket and proceeded to take the Metro (blue line) to Gard de Nord. Once there I collected my pre-ordered ticket and made my way to the track. However, two things happened that I found particularly intriguing. The first was that I was asked by a gypsy for money. I fell into the trap quite quickly, since I had had my back turned and only heard 'do you speak English?' Maybe it was my luggage. But then maybe it was how I was dressed that gave off the impression that I was a local, but educated enough to speak one of the universal languages. This seemed to be the case on the train not ten minutes earlier as I had helped a couple on vacation navigate the crowds and their map. So with this memory still fresh in my mind I assumed it was another lost tourist. I was mistaken. When I told her truthfully that I did not have any euros she empathically stressed she wanted dollars (quite the shred businesswoman). Unfortunately for her I did not have any dollars only Slovak crowns and a 1 euro coin, which as I was telling her that I had no American money fell out of my wallet rolling on the ground. I was soon forgotten as she scrambled for the coin and I promptly left.

My other intriguing observation was the rolling countryside of northeastern France. Whether it was the chateau sheltered by trees that I saw for the briefest moments as the train ran by or the fields of flowers and wheat. I was overcome with the sense of history (the professor and nerd inside me crying out for the train to stop) imagining the very same rail track taking blue coated soldiers to the jagged scars across the landscape in 1915 or the herd of refugees roaming across the fields one step ahead of the advancing German Wehrmacht in 1940. This was not too hard to do since stone pill boxes can still be seen, if you know what you are looking at.

I will write on Spain soon.

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