Why trains suck, and how I managed to make it to Italy.

I caught the train from Prague at 5:15pm, headed for Munich. It’s called “Munchen” in German. When you say you want to go to Munich people look at you like you’re stupid; when you say Munchen, they suddenly go ahh, yes. Munchen. Needless to say, just buying the ticket was a pain in the butt. Saying goodbye to my new friends at the train station didn’t help either. (I miss you Veronica! I miss you all!)

Then I got on the train and as it got further and further away from Prague (or Praha, Prag, or Praga…it goes by all three depending on which language you speak…apparently I speak the wrong one…) more people were getting off the train, until it was just me and about 6 other people. Of course it was dark by then so I was starting to feel a bit like “ew” and creepy. But we made it across the border into German and the German “polizei” boarded the train and asked me for my passport. They stamped it and the train continued, but not on time. Oh no, my train was taking its sweet time to Munchen.

“Zees train ees not timed!” was the only reply I received from the conductor when asking “do you think we’ll get there on time?” I knew I only had 14 measly minutes to switch trains in Munich to make the 2nd leg to Italy. So I was well into freak-out mode by this point. I called Maurice to ask for help on what to say to let the conductor know that because we were late I may not make my connection, and was there anything he could do. Of course my phone died in the middle of the conversation so I started crying like a little baby and cursing the German language, the European train system, and cell phones. I think the woman polizei took pity on me because she goes “ok ok I call zee train” and that she did.

So my train ride continued to Munchen, arriving 15 minutes late. When the train stopped, I threw my luggage off (there was no time for delicate handling) and ran as fast as I could, pulling one suitcase behind me, with my backpack bouncing up and down on my back. Lo and behold, what do I hear?

“MISS BRALISH! MISS BRALISH!”

Alas, there was an escort there on a golf cart who swooped me up, put my luggage on the cart, and drove me to my awaiting Italian train! Everyone in the train station was staring at us as we drove madly through the station, with my train-escort-person shouting stern things in German to get them to move. I made it onto the train and two manly-men hoisted my luggage onto the train. I stumbled into the correct railcar which was important because in Austria, the train was to split in two…had I not made it onto the proper railcar I would have ended up in Bratislava, or somewhere equally non-Italy, no doubt.

I found my seat (#55, car 288) and plopped down with a huge sigh of relief, all sweaty and stinky. But alas, I was aboard the Italian-bound train, safe in my little seat, with my passport in hand and no dignity left. The gentleman sitting across from me was to be the only gentleman I encountered on my journey. He was a fellow of about 60 years of age who was quiet and spoke no English, which was just fine by me. At least I knew he’d be quiet and let me wallow in my English-speaking sorrow for the next 7 hours.

My journey continued rather uneventfully for the next 3 hours until we reached “Brennero” in Austria, which is in the Alps. It got really freaking cold. Like, boogers are frozen to the inside of your nose cold. I was inside the train trying to keep warm, curled up on one seat like a pathetic hobo on the street corner. The Italian man laughed and said “Brennero” and just shook his head. As the train descended into a more hospitable elevation I warmed up again, which meant that the stink I had been wafting about earlier came back to fill the cabin with that oh-so-familiar-and-unpleasant “I smell like a Czech person” aroma. Mr. Gentleman got off the train in Verona and told me it was only “due proxima a Vicenza” which I actually understood! Two more stops to Vicenza. The (hopeful) end of my voyage was near.

After Mr. Gentleman got off, two more creepy guys got on the train and sat in my cabin, and laughed and stared at me for the remainder of the trip. I made a point to run over one of the fellas’ feet with my suitcase as I yanked it out of the cabin and jumped off the train. When I got off, Angelique was waiting for me! Hallelujah! I put my luggage in the back of the car and we drove away just as the sun was coming up. We went out for cappuccinos and a croissant, and then I collapsed when we got home for a few hours. I napped like nobody’s business,Β and when I woke up we went for a walk through town and got some gelato.

Things Nikki is thankful for:

getting on the right train
not murdering anyone on the train
managing to pee INTO the toilet on the train (and therefore avoiding peeing on my pants, shoes, etc.)
Angelique & my new family
naps
laundry detergent
and soap (to wash the stink away)
Italy
and my Maurice πŸ™‚

It turns out when my phone cut out during the “I’m on a German train bound for who knows where and nobody will help me” phone call to my sweetpea, he called the Munich train station and arranged for the golf-cart-escort-man to pick me up and take me to my train! Maurice is my hero, my German-speaking knight in shining armor. I love you! I love you! πŸ™‚
…and they lived happily ever after.

– THE END

Austria – Germany – Prague

Hello! It has been an eventful past two weeks! I apologize for the delay in writing but I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the boonies with no access to a computer. It’s been kind of nice except now I have a lot of catching up to do!

First things first…Maurice and I are engaged! Maurice proposed to me on the steps of a little church in Italy, in a town called Bolzano Vicentino. It was very romantic and sweet, and we are looking forward to making plans for the wedding and getting on with our future together! We both want to share the news with the people we care about, so consider this a “hello” from Maurice as well πŸ™‚

Italy was wonderful! We spent a really nice day in Venice, window-shopping and walking along the canals. Some of the buildings are built about 2 feet apart with little cobblestone pathways between them. There were a lot of stores selling Murano glass, which is made on an island near Venice. The rest of our time in Italy was spent with Maurice’s family and taking little day-trips to nearby towns. One town of particular interest was called Marostica. They have a gigantic chess-board in the main square built into the pavement, and every two years they have “human” chess games! It is an old medieval town with lots of charm, and great pizza.

After Italy we drove north to Germany, stopping in Austria for breakfast. We drove past Innsbruck

Innsbruck Austria

Innsbruck Austria II

Innsbruck Austria III

and then into a little town off the autobahn, and had some fresh brotchen (rolls) and jam. It was the cleanest establishment I’ve ever been into – meticulous! The drive was about 8 hours total. From Austria we continued north and into Germany, driving past Munchen (Munich) and into the heart of Bavaria.

Maurice grew up in a TINY town called Birnfeld (sound familiar?!?!?) which is about 20 minutes away from Schweinfurt. Birnfeld is an adorable little hamlet of traditional German houses, an old “Schloss” (think miniature castle or really large estate) where monks now live, a bakery, and a lot of ducks. There are ducks waddling around everywhere, everyone seems to have a cute little dog or cat, and the fields are the greenest green I’ve ever seen! The hills just rolled on and on, speckled with little homes and shops. Oma told me that the stars are wonderful because there aren’t any big lights to ruin the view. Unfortunately it was cloudy the entire time we were there, but I can imagine how it must look. Most of Maurice’s entire extended family lives there and we had a great time. I even learned how to make a traditional dish called “Lende” which is like schnitzel. We ate Marta’s famous yogurt cake

and of course, we drank a lot of gluhwein.

From Germany Maurice and I caught a train to Prague. It was a 7 hour ride from Schweinfurt to Prague, through some nice hills, but mostly through old communist villages that would look right at home in Houston (no offense, but it’s true). After arriving in Prague we were able to find my apartment rather easily, with the exception that I brought WAY too much luggage, and as a result sent Maurice home with half of the things I brought, hehehe. Anyway, we did some exploring of the city together, I tried my first glass of white Moravian wine (not bad) and have spent the rest of my time settling into classes and trying to get my sense of direction. Now I am fully engaged in my classes and trying to adjust.

Well, that’s about it for now! I apologize for the lack of pictures. Neither Maurice nor I have been especially good about taking them, and the ones we do have are on his camera, so…hopefully he can post them online soon πŸ™‚ I love you all and have you all in my thoughts and prayers! I hope you are all well, and look forward to hearing from you soon.

With Love,
Nikki

Buongiorno a Italia

Bonjorno, ya’ll!

We made it to Italy safely! Our flight went well, it didn’t take too long at all. It was bumpier than I prefer but I was probably overreacting. The wings and engines didn’t snap off, and my Tylenol PM did a good job of knocking me out. Yeah! Air France gives you those little eye cover thingies that old ladies wear so I put mine on, put a few Tylenol PM’s down with champagne (yes, champagne) and knocked myself out! We arrived to Paris late but when we got off the plane we had an escort waiting for us. Not the police kind of escort, but a monsieur who took us through the airport/security/immigration and to the gate of our next plane. We were the last two folks on the plane but we didn’t miss the flight – merci monsieur!

The flight from Paris to Venice was beautiful. All of the countryside was covered in snow, and then the Alps appeared! We flew over the Alps and didn’t crash there either, and
before I knew it we were descending into Venice. We flew right over the island but couldn’t really see any gondolas or anything.

Maurice’s mom picked us up so I finally got to meet his mom! She is wonderful. We drove home, about 1 hour from the airport, but I couldn’t see much because it was dark by that time. The drivers here in Italy are just as scary as those in Costa Rica, except they use blinkers here before they cut you off. They fly down the autostrada! You know how we have gas stations along our highways? They have little espresso stations – I kid you not!

Anyway we made it to Maurice’s parents’ home and met everyone, including his new niece who is a perfect looking baby. Rosy cheeks and everything, and she
just smiles! πŸ™‚

Saturday we went with his niece Kyla and sister Angelique to a farm so that Kyla and Angelique could ride horses. Kyla takes riding lessons and she’s quite good! The farm was hilarious though – a donkey greets you at the front gate, and then they had about 12 horses in the stables, a half-blind shepherd dog of some kind, and cats everywhere. AND they had Texas license plates hanging up all around the place! The folks that live & work there were all in cowboy boots and wranglers, and belt buckles! I never thought I would end up in Italy surrounded by Italian cowboys! πŸ™‚

We had supper yesterday at a little restaurant that was fabulous. They have a set menu more or less, you can choose different sauces for your pasta, but you get a delicious salad with rucula, marinated onions & fresh tomatoes. Then you get pasta, mine had a really good red fish sauce. After the pasta you get an entire freshly grilled pork chop with hot lemon juice on it – yum! You also get an entire bottle of aqua frizzante (the bubbly stuff) -and- an entire bottle of wine (about half the size of a regular bottle but still, a good 3 glasses), -and- a cappuccino at the end. There was no way I could eat all that food but we sat there and had a great time talking and laughing and catching up with each other. All of that for 9 Euros!

Last night we were invited to their neighbors’ house, Giuseppe (Angelika’s hair dresser) and his wife Giana, and they have a daughter named Giorga and a son named Giacomo. Talk about Italian, and they were all hilarious! They had us laughing all night, and kept feeding us different pastries and of course lots of wine, cappuccino, grappa, and champagne. We were all goofy by the end of the night but today – no hangover. Sweet! πŸ™‚ I got up with the sunrise and have only had a little trouble adjusting to the time change.

This morning we went to the market in a town called Camisanno, about 1/2 hour from their town (Bolzano di Vicentino). They had everything – fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, beautiful flowers, clothes, SHOES, and lots of characters. I didn’t buy anything for myself but I did pick up some nice tulips for the Belleville’s. Now we are all relaxing, I am about to make
some salsa if his parents can find all of the ingredients at the commissary…tonight his parents are going to teach Maurice and I how to cook Indian food! Their best friends are from Bombay and taught them how to make authentic Indian food.

Oh, and did I mention you can see the Dolomites from their neighborhood???

This place is amazing, every bit as beautiful as you think it is when you think of the Italian countryside. The people are really named Giuseppe and they really drink espresso often, the women wear beautiful leather shoes, and there are people riding bicycles and driving little Cinqecento’s everywhere. I love it!

Maurice sends his best, and so does his family. Mom and Dad – they look forward to meeting you guys, I think you will all share some good laughs!

Ciao!

P.S. Just in case you were worried, I did find a good straightening iron so my hair is nice and straight. You can breathe a sigh of relief now. ha ha!