Public Transportation Faux Pas #2

City Metro travel can be a harrowing experience depending on how well you know where you’re going, how to get there, how crowded the train is and how many people are in your group (complicated further by young children and teens in casts). Our first experience with the city metro was the U-Bahn and S-Bahn in Berlin. I thoroughly studied/analyzed the metro map trying to remember one Platz from another, mapped out our first route and off we went, descending down into the depths of the unknown, underground metro culture. We quickly learned that you have a total of perhaps 60 seconds to on/off load. We got good at it, but at first, I found myself yelling, “Go! Go! Go!” in classic tourist style – mother worried about losing her children.

We referred to this metro blunder in an earlier blog, I think, but I’ll recapture it here. We were training to Versailles which requires transferring to a slightly longer distance train from the basic within Paris metro system. We weren’t sure just how to do this and the train we thought we needed roared into the station so fast we weren’t able to read the destination sign on the front. It all happens very quickly so we just jumped on, pretty sure it was correct. My mind was racing on the train thinking about the train stops/direction and I became increasingly uneasy about whether this was, in fact, the right one. So, I approached a couple that looked like they might speak English and asked if this train goes to Versailles. The man spoke both German and English so he asked a German guy on board who started shaking his head and furrowing his eyebrows. Looked like a bad sign to me. The train stopped at the next station and the German guy hopped off to look at the arrival/departure screen on the platform. He looks at me with big eyes and motions for me to get off quickly. He had no idea I was part of a much larger group, one member handicapped. I motioned frantically to my family to get off fast. Ella was standing on the other side of a vertical hand railing just inside the train doors. Instead of walking around the railing to exit, she (in her hurry) decides to try to squeeze between the railing and the closing train door. She got her first leg thru the gap and out the door (bear in mind both her arms are broken) thinking the doors would automatically reopen when encountering a foreign object, but they didn’t. They just kept pushing, trying to shut. Ella was yelling, “I’m stuck! I’m stuck!” I was outside the train on the platform imagining the train leaving with Ella’s leg hanging out. I jumped in between the doors with my back on one door and my hands and one foot on the other and superman powered the doors open. Ella slid out followed by the rest of the entourage. The German guy was staring at us with incredulous, wide eyes. We made quite a scene but managed to all get out. The German man jumped back on and the train sprinted off into the dark tunnel. We all stared at each, gasping for air – another one for the faux pas journal.

 

The day after Versailles, we were headed to Giverny, France to see Monet’s Gardens. This requires purchasing a separate train ticket as Giverny is about an hour outside Paris. We knew, thanks to Rick Steve’s guide books,  that a train usually leaves at 8:20 each morning so we showed up early at the train station to purchase our tickets. Nothing is as easy as it should be and we couldn’t figure out where to get the tickets. Of course we were in a hurry. We were sent to the office next door to the place we thought we should be. So we all dashed over there, waited in line just to be told to go back to the original ticket office. Now it’s getting very late. So we all (I thought) ran back to the 1st office, but apparently Ben didn’t follow. None of us noticed in our extreme focus on getting the tickets. I guess Ben stood there in near tears and a kind worker took him by the hand and led him next door to the office we were in and delivered him to us. I felt awful – so did Ben. Losing a child in Europe was my #1 fear.

In Cinque Terre, the trains that run between the 5 villages are often times extremely crowded with tourists traveling town to town. Again, the transfer time to unload/load is very short. The train is actually very long, but the platform is very short so the train extends front and back into the tunnels that cut thru the cliffs. One option is to walk down into the tunnel to wait on the train and board there where it’s less crowded. Sometimes we did that if the platform was super crowded. This day we just waited on the main platform. When the train arrived everyone waiting groaned b/c the train was bursting with passengers. The doors slid open, few people exited, and the rest of us wanting to load scattered looking for a coach with space available. All Kinsingers ran in one direction, trying to stay together. Anna, with her very blonde hair, was wearing an orange shirt and carrying a day pack. A girl in front of Jay with very blonde hair, an orange shirt and carrying a day pack wasn’t moving fast enough so Jay pushed her along saying, “Go! Go! Go!” She looked back at Jay, questioningly. Oops! It was a young lady in her twenties. Jay exclaimed hurriedly, “Sorry!! Wrong girl!” and ran on hoping he’d never see her again!

Sardines and Metro Culture

One particularly hot day in Paris, the metro trains were absolutely jam packed with people. We were stuffed in like sardines. We could hardly breathe; the air was thin in O2, and thick with humidity, heat, and body odor. I kept coaching myself, “don’t freak out; just breathe slow, steady and shallow; you’ll be off soon.”  Jay was the last person to wedge into our particular wagon and was wondering if he really would fit or not.  He was aware that the doors were about to shut behind him and would brush his buns as they slammed shut. Suddenly he was shoved forward as another man decided he needed on, too, by jumping on backwards, forcefully butt bumping Jay into the throngs of people. Needless to say, Jay was shocked and actually rather amused!

Another very hot and crowded day, Sarah found herself in an awkward spot with a rather large bellied Indian man. As we all crushed in together, she and the Indian man ended up belly/back spooning – his belly in her back! She was arching away from him as best she could while he was sucking it in as best he could. Awkward!

With the sudden stop and starts, Ella found it impossible to ride the metro standing up with two broken arms. As soon as she stepped on the train, she bee-lined for an open chair, which I thought were rare but she nearly always seemed to find. One day she wasn’t so lucky and found herself with nowhere to perch. Her sister, Sarah, wrapped her arms around her and hung onto her for dear life. Thankfully a sweet, old lady gave her seat up for Ella. How weird is that – the old lady giving up her seat for a teenager! Sweet.

As I mentioned earlier, you don’t mess around getting on and off the metro trains. On one such train in Paris, a lady was traveling with her tiny yip-yap dog. You know, the kind that is ultra pampered and usually rides around in a woman’s pocketbook. This one happened to be on a leash, but pampered none-the-less… until, the train stopped! She promptly rushed off the train with the yip-yap dangling by the neck!

For Ben, all trains are a gymnasium! He especially loved to hang from the horizontal top bars as the train was jetting from the station in hopes his body would sway sideways.

Another day in Paris, we leaped onto the metro we needed along with a group of other people. One unfortunate young man apparently dropped his iPod on the floor of the metro station. A ruckus of activity on the platform informed us all on the train of some urgency and a station worker was waving the iPod to catch the attention of the young man now on the train with us. The warning bell was ringing signaling imminent departure and the train doors began to close. Jay, being a good citizen, wedged his body between the closing doors to allow possible retrieval of the iPod. While sacrificing his mid-torso, the station worker and young man hand signaled to each other that the former would leave the iPod at the ticket window while the latter would train back from the next stop to get it. Another harrowing experience in the Kinsinger adventure!

Public Transportation Faux Pas #1

Our first train experience was an extreme ignorant tourist faux pas. We biked to the Frankfurt main Hauptbahnhof (train station), found someone who  speaks English, found out that while we have automatic tickets per Eurail passes our bicycles needed a ticket. So we bought those and were told to go to platform 23 which was downstairs; take the 2nd set of elevators; oh, and get on any coach/wagon with a 1 on it (a.k.a. 1st class –  b/c of the eurail pass). So we, esp I, were nervous enough about figuring out how to find and get on our train and what in the world to do with the bicycles which were fat and heavy, being fully loaded for touring – 5 of them, no less, and one a tandem. Anyone who’s trained in Europe knows how fast the local trains speed in, exchange passengers, and dash off again; it’s like a 1-2 minute flurry of activity and stress – even less time for city Metro systems (referred to in later faux pas’).

We were, as I said, heavily loaded plus we had our helmets hooked on our handlebars which impede steering maneuverability so I, apparently in a wild-eyed state as the train approached, suggested (strongly) that everyone put their helmets on. While I jammed my helmet on, the kids, apparently, looked with raised eyebrows at each other and their dad, who shrugged his shoulders and didn’t follow suit. The train roared in. We quickly located a wagon with a 1, and proceeded to shove all 5 bikes into 1st class, jacking them up and over seats and anything else in our way, frantically making sure we didn’t lose any kids in the process. The coach doors closed and the train sped off, while we gasped for breath looking utterly dazed and confused: “surely this is not how people transport their bikes on trains”. We barely fit and, unfortunately, there were 3 other people in that coach as well. They, as well as the  plentiful amount of people sitting in the adjacent section, were gawking at us and shaking their heads like, “You did it wrong!!” The kids all thought it was hysterically funny, esp me with my lone helmet on my head.

End note: We later learned that there are specially marked 2 (2nd class) wagons with a bicycle drawn on the side with an area just for bikes. The proper way to manage this feat is to get on the wagon with the bicycle sign, secure your bikes and then walk thru the trains (they connect to each other) to first class. Then, just before your exit station, return to the bicycle coach, prep the bikes for a hasty dismount and skedaddle immediately when the train stops.  A little explanation from the ticket guy at the train station could have saved us a lot of stress and embarrassment. The kids are still harassing me about the bike helmet.

Jay’s final muses

It is hard to comprehend that I am sitting here in my kitchen on a Wednesday when I was playing in the waves of the Mediterranean Sea on Monday. We left zero margin and miraculously made every single connection. The Italian rail system is notoriously unreliable. On our way to Rome we had an hour and a half delay. If that had happened this week, our whole schedule would have been toast.

 
I am having difficulty wrapping my puny little mind around the events of this summer. This trip was not what we signed up for. I find some comfort in the, sometimes wrongly used, pacifier verse, Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called to according to his purpose”. The verse doesn’t apply to those who a: do not love God and/or b: are not called according to his purpose. Was this trip God’s calling for our family or did I ram-rod my agenda? I probably will not know the answer to that question, this side of eternity.

 
We all made it home in one piece, not permanently maimed or worse. That is something that I take great comfort in! I know a few fathers who have had the experience of having their kids involved in horrible car crashes and miraculously walk away from the wreckage. The overwhelming feeling is of thankfulness that the child wasn’t killed or severely injured. As time passes he may have tinges of guilt as he mourns the loss of the car. I am exceedingly grateful that Anna and Ella will be okay. It was truly Gods hand of protection and His provision of the right people being in the right place at the right time. It is with guilt that I mentally whine about the years of planning, saving and anticipation of this amazing cycling experience, only to turn out to be not much of a cycling experience at all. We still had an incredible experience and we met most of the objectives of the trip, namely: family bonding, exposure to different cultures and education-international travel fires new synapse in the old gray mater like none other.

 
Advise for other who may want to take on such an adventure:

1) buy travel insurance and make sure your medical insurance is international
2) try to travel in places or at times when the exchange rate is favorable. To use a Perotism “that giant sucking sound” was money coming out of our bank account.
3) When your kids are still sleeping with doll babies and stuffed animals, it is probably not a good idea to let them cycle independently. Although, I wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone by mentioning names but her initials are Sarah Kinsinger, is fifteen-years-old and she still likes to sleep with a frayed fragment of her baby blanket “bubby”.

 
Ella and Anna showed tremendous courage in the midst of their injuries. Sarah AKA “arms” was very patient and generally compassionate as she had to carry/feed/wash, more than her share. Benjamin was a master of getting dirty/climbing/bouncing off things/entertaining us. Last but not least, I need to give a shout out to Andrea, my life partner and companion. I am so thankful to have a beautiful wife that loves to play and is able to compliment me and bring reality to my dreams. She’s an amazing woman! Thanks to all who have kept up and prayed for us along the way. We feel loved.

Editor’s note

Jay sent me some entries to do some catching up with, and to fill in some details.  He asked me to insert them in chronological order.  So please review the recent postings to make sure you haven’t missed anything.  I’m inserting quite a few.  As I type this it is very likely that the “Kinsinger European Adventure” has drawn to a close and they are home.  My “secretarial” support will no longer be needed.  Now we can all look forward to reading their personal reflections when they have time to post them.

Thanks for reading,

Becky

Finally vacation mode, Saturday 7/23

We finally shifted from adventure mode to vacation mode.  We are in a place called Cinque Terre which is a resort area.  Considered the Italian Riviera, but just barely.  Cinque Terre literally means five cities, Cinque is five, Terre is land.  Five distinct little cities, right along the coast, built literally into the cliff side.  Fishing villages originally, with each city having its own personality.  We have had fun travelling from city to city exploring, but our home base is here in Vernazza.  Today Benjamin and I hiked from Corniglia to Vernazza.  A nice little trail that runs along the sea-shore.  Before these cities were connected they were kind of separate entities, and some what inbred.  Everyone had to marry with in the community.  They opened up a trail, I can’t remember exactly when, connecting each city by a foot path.  Widened the opportunity, so to speak.

View from our balcony in Cinque Terre

Vernazza is one of the cities that has a beach.  There are really only two that have a beach, Vernazza is the smaller of the two.  The kids have spent a lot of time swimming and playing at the beach.  It has been very relaxing.  It is a little bit pricey.  We have learned a few tricks in our stay here in Europe.  I think they have three price schemes.  A price scheme for the locals, and that is lowest one.  Then if you dine under one of their little umbrellas, or inside, there is a higher price scheme.  In the middle is what they call take away.  To give you an example, in Rome we went to a little cafe’ where the waiter seated us outside at one of those stereo-typical little tables.  We had just a couple of cappuccinos and pastries and it was 14 euro.  Next day we went to a different cafe’ and bellied up to the bar, so to speak, like the locals do.  Had our cappuccinos and pastries and it was 4 euro.  So a big difference there.

The pieces of our final travel puzzle are falling into place.  We have a place to stay lined up in a youth hostel tomorrow by the train station.  Then we will be taking the train all day on Monday up to Frankfurt, Germany, which is our send off spot.  About a 12 hour trip.  We have a place to stay in the youth hostel that we began with in Frankfurt.  Then Tuesday morning, bright and early, we board the plane and fly home.

The Vespa ballet, Wednesday 7/20

We are in Rome, staying at the hotel Rosetta.  The Coliseum is about 500 meters from our hotel, it is really a prime location.  Yesterday we went to St. Peter’s cathedral, Vatican museum, and the Sistine chapel.  Very awe-inspiring to say the least, and I’m hoping the kids will blog on the details about that.

What I want to talk about is what I call the Vespa ballet.  I’m always the first one up every morning.  So while everyone else is  sleeping I like to go out on the town and watch what transpires.  I am absolutely intrigued by the traffic here in Rome.  Everyone told us before that it would be insane to try to drive here.  It might be, but it is a beautiful thing to watch.  Vespa is a brand of motorscooter. Vespa is to motor scooters what Kleenex is to facial tissues; the scooter may be made by Honda, Pugeot or Suzuki but everyone calls them “Vespas”.  Vespa drivers range from teenagers to elderly   They are all fearless, and they interact with the cars and buses in such a way that it is a beautiful thing to watch.  Cars are used as shields as they turn into traffic.  The center of the road is “their lane” as they fearlessly ride within inches of oncoming traffic.  They whip around huge city buses and get in front of them at stop lights because they can accelerate quickly.  I’m very impressed with the skill level of these scooter drivers.  Ironically, as I’m dictating this blog, a fellow came down into the courtyard, put a full size suitcase in the foot rest gap between the handle bars and the seat.  He draped his legs over the suitcase to hold it in place, and off he went.  That’s very typical.  You see people with all their groceries clamped between their legs.  It is an amazing thing to watch.  I am throughly entertained by it.