Week 6 was one of the longest weeks of my life and it will most likely take multiple posts to cover it. Often when people refer to something as the longest of their life it is in a negative aspect, but this one was a whole mix of adventure that just makes me smile when I look back on it.
We started off the week with church, of course. We went early so that I could drop off thefamily and drive over to the children’s hospital to see my friend Marina and Baby Ben whose finger had been crushed. Visitors were not allowed up to this point and I wanted to try and be an encouragement to her. This, I might add,was the first time I had driven in downtown Mannheim. Often Mannheim is described as an easy city to get around because of how it is sectioned off into blocks. However, this isn’t the case with the entire city, only the very central part. Of course the hospital was on the outskirts of this area where the roads literally go in all directions and diagonals.
A little background on me, I’m not one of those useful minister’s wives who can sing or play piano. However, I have always been an asset to my husband’s ministry in that I’m pretty good with directions and navigating. We’ve been to numerous large cities, NewYork, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles etc. The only one, up to this point where I have gotten totally turned around is Houston, which is awful! Now I can add another – Mannheim. I am so thankful for GPS systems in newer cars! Seriously, I couldn’t have done Europe 20 years ago people!
So, here I was trying to listen to this GPS tell me where to go when I noticed a car to my right and a motorcycle who are both motioning to me like I’m crazy. Then it dawned on me, I was totally in the wrong lane where oncoming traffic would be approaching any second. Funny thing was, neither the car nor the motorcyclist would move to let me over – go figure! When I finally got myself settled in the right lane, I made it to the hospital parking lot. As I pulled in the guard in the booth, who spoke impeccable English, asked what business I had there. I let him know I was there to visit a friend and their child. He frankly told me that I was in the wrong parking lot and that it was only for people bringing their own children into the hospital. I promptly apologized and asked for directions to the proper lot. Instead. he found it easier to let me know that he would let me in, but that I’d better read the signs well or else I would be charged 200 euro! He informed me that not knowing German would not help me in the matter and just not to be stupid in my parking (his actual words!) So, with some trepidations I drove on down into the parking lot and found a spot that didn’t seem to have any ominous signs around it and went in for a visit.
Baby Ben was in very good spirits and getting along so well even though his little hand was all bound up! Truly, he is such a happy contagious little fella. Marina seemed to be doing well too, as much as a momma can who has been stuck in the hospital with her little one for days. We had a great visit and I returned to the church only 20 minutes late – a success under thecircumstances.
That night after service we had our monthly pizza fellowship where my friend Asha, who is a British young woman working as a nanny in Germany, made me some actual British scones! I make scones for Lynn’s Sunday School class back home in the states, so it was fun to try an authentic recipe, which was outstanding and yes – I gotthe recipe! She was so pleased that I put the jam on first and then the cream as I guess this order of toppings is debated throughout the UK from village to village. Thank you, Asha!
Our big plan for the week started on Tuesday. We really wanted to fit in a trip to Italy while we were in Europe. This was a little bit complicated as we had a Bible Study every Tuesday night which kind of breaks up the week and the time for travel. However, we were undaunted by this challenge and came up with a masterplan to work around our limitations.
One thing Americans think of when they think of Europe is rail travel. In theory it sounds like an easy and obvious way to travel. However, it is a littlebit puzzle-like to fit the plans together. For instance we hear of night trains that will whisk you off to your destination while you sleep! Sounds great in theory, but the problem is getting to the night train. Our closest one that went to Italy was in Munich. The problem was that we couldn’t get to Munich in time to catch that train. So, instead we had to piece together an overnight trip that turned into a grand adventure. Another, weird thing about rail travel is that they sell you on rail passes, but that doesn’t necessarily get you everywhere you want to go. More than likely any large trip you take will entail purchasing reservations on the trains you want to catch. So after piecing together your route, you then have to add together all the reservation costs. It takes hours in the planning for a family our size, and I never did find where anyone would help. This would be a great job – being a train travel puzzle solver.
Our original grand plan was to get home from Bible study about 8:45-9:00, sleep for a couple of hours then head to the train station to catch our first train at midnight. This first train really only took us right back up to the Mannheim train station, but we wanted to park the car for free and where someone could watch it for us. Lynn is discipling a man every week who can’t get out because of health conditions. His apartment looks right over the parking area where we left the car, so that worked out nicely. Anyway, our train from Mannheim didn’t actually leave until 3:30 in the morning (I know!Crazy right!?) So we planned to just hang out in the terminal area until then. Here’s where the adventure started to unhinge. When we arrived in Mannheim, we were greeted with the realization that they actually close the inside of the building from midnight until 4:30am! We were faced with having to wait for 3 hours outside in the freezing cold! We tried to huddle up against the doorway out of the wind where an elderly couple were doing the same thing. It didn’t help – at all. After a few minutes of this we got on our phones looking for an all-night coffee shop or something that might beopen. No coffee shops were open unfortunately. I told Lynn that maybe we could just go to a hotel and sit in their lobby for a little while. He eventually went up and around to the street view and the elderly man followed. A few extremely long minutes later he reappeared and said that there was a doner (shawarma type place) open across the street from the train station and maybe we could go over there and buy some food and sit a bit. This seemed like a good plan so off we went wheeling our luggage behind us.
Immediately when we walked in, I knew this was not going to be a good experience. The place was crowded with people, smoke, and a whole sketchy atmosphere. A couple of things to note here: 1. It was the week of Fasching,which is like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It’s a carnival time of partying the week before Ash Wednesday for the Catholics. Most of the country celebrates this time with raucous parties and dressing up in costumes, similar to what people do at Halloween time in America. 2. Germany doesn’t have the same kind of anti-smoking-in-public-places laws that the U.S. has. So there we sat in the smoke-filled room with people in costumes coming and going. It was quite the education for our family in social anthropology as we watched people like Pirate man with his two devil ladies on his arms coming in to get a late night/morning snack. Lynn ordered a couple of doners, but we weren’t exactly hungry, and the atmosphere was killing the appetite as well. I noticed the elderly couple did the same as us, but only stayed about a half an hour before leaving. I’m not sure where they went or maybe they had an earlier train than us. I saw a single young woman come in wheeling her luggage behind and my first thought was “wow, that seems kind of dangerous for her to be out in the middle of the night with luggage by herself. She must be a student and/or avid traveler.”I couldn’t help but overhear her talking on her phone in English – she was American. After finishing her middle of the night meal she retreated into the bathroom which was only inches from my chair where it sounded like she was sick. On my left were a couple of men who were playing on the slot machines. They were there for the entirety of the night/morning while we were there. We didn’t see any of them win anything, but the coins kept going in as the cigarettes kept getting lit. Then walked in a blond girl with a funky haircut and leather jacket. She reminded me of some kind of 80s punk star or something and she was twitching like crazy as she ate her doner. I’m pretty sure it was a tweaking kind of twitch from drugs. It definitely wasn’t normal and as she finished, I noticed her reach into her purse and grab a pill from a folded-up piece of foil and pop it in. Pretty soon one of the slot machine men noticed her and bought her a drink and well, let’s say they left for awhile. Meanwhile, the young woman in the bathroom was concerning me as she had been in there for over 30 minutes. I was thinking all kinds of mom thoughts,like was she ill? Was she doing drugs? Did I hear crying? Did someone follow her in there? Is she even alive? I was about to go investigate like Angela Lansbury from “Murder She Wrote”, when I finally saw her come out of the bathroom and I whispered a prayer of thanks and relief to God that she was ok. Or at least seemed ok. Throughout our loitering we noticed cars pull up and deals (probably illegal) go down. I was stuck between feeling awful that my kids were getting this kind of exposure to just not even caring because at least it was warm. I was so happy to see 3:00 show up on my clock.
When we got over to the station, we hardly even cared that we were in the cold again, we were all a little bit traumatized and glad to be out of the doner place. It’s funny what perspective can do for an attitude. We heard an announcement over the speakers, but it was all German, so we didn’t understand a word. When we saw 3:30 come and go without a train, we asked a man who was there in the cold with us what the announcement was saying. He informed us that our train was going to be an hour late! I looked at Lynn and said, “I can’t go back over to that doner place! Please don’t take us back over there.” Which was a silly thing to plead as he wasn’t about to take us back over there. However, that left us on the freezing cold platform in the dark cold night to wait.
We all tried to find our own way to cope. Jarod curled up on a bench and tried to just get into a tight ball like an armadillo. The girls sort of did the same on the other side of the bench. Lynn and I literally closed ourselves into a phone booth (yes, they still have some of the old time looking Superman-changing telephone booths over here). The gentleman who had let us know about the delay took a double look at us and just smiled and shook his head. We were desperate and didn’t care. Yes, it is beginning to sound redundant, but it literally was one of the longest hours of my life.
When the train finally arrived, we were delighted to be in the warmth. Then I realized that my seat next to the window had some sort of air vent that was blowing cold air that I couldn’t control. I was swept back in time when we would go on youth activities with the teens at church on our big MCI touring bus and it would blow cold air at your face all night. However, it wasn’t quite as bad as being out on that train platform, so I curled up and just tried to sleep.
Our traveling adventure wasn’t over yet though. We had two more train changes before we would make it to Rome, so I had to set a timer on my phone so as not to sleep through our stops. Because of the first train’s delay, it had a domino affect on all the other trains for the day and we had to keep getting in lines to get our reservations exchanged. I will say that throughout Switzerland, the train station personnel are very helpful when travelers find themselves in these situations. Thankfully the rest of the day’s travels went relatively smoothly thanks to them. We rested and took in the picturesque landscapes like going around Lake Lucerne Switzerland and pleasant people that we got to meet like the American widow who had moved to Europe for a change of scenery after losing her husband. She was encouraging and helpful with tips and warnings for our time in Rome.
Speaking of Rome – well, I’ll write about that adventure inmy next post…