Monday, 28 February 2011

Transit in Europe

Steve shares his unique transit experiences.
Europe does transportation very, very well. Trains, parallel roads covered in tramlines above subway stops. The amount of tourist and travel traffic means that they’re always crowded. The European pension to strike over just about anything makes them even more so.

Sew a big Canadian flag on your backpack and you’re bound to meet people. Mostly other Canadians. There’s some atavistic urge in us to escape our giant, empty country for the exotic hustle-bustle of Europe. You meet people in hostels, but you also meet going to hostels.

Europe is a hub of tourists. Even the small, quaint villages usually have exchange students or backpackers getting off the beaten trail. Everyone goes everywhere and they all speak English, or at least broken English that isn’t as good as your French but they’ll insist on speaking it anyway. Meeting new people while travelling gives a sense of moving forward, of exploring toward a destination. A feeling of accomplishment and possibility at the same time. At the destination you get lost in the crowd. But on the way there, you’re a part of it.

I'm going to share with you the things that you may or may not experience while in transit in Europe.
  • During the French train strike when we got on the only train leaving Geneva for Lyon that day, there was standing room only and a crush of other young kids. A few sang traveling songs, more broke out booze and a few joined our card game which didn’t work at all due to the train’s jostling.
  • You’d take the metro in a new city and someone would shout out, “Hey, Canadian?” and they’d be beaming and usually from the Maritimes. 
  • They’d usually know a better hostel than the one you were going to. Then when you were taking the tram or the bus to the bar later there would be someone speaking English with a large suitcase or bag and you’d get to talking to them too.
  • They’d know a great bar or a party some Spanish guy invited them to that’s at a strange club with photographs tiling the walls and people wearing strange, extravagant clothing. And you could get there because you can get anywhere on public transport in those tiny countries.

Steven Parker is in his fourth year at Wilfrid Laurier University. He studies languages and during the winter term of 2010 he studied for a semester at l'Universite Jean Monnet in St. Etienne, France.

You don't know, 'til you know!

Alex visits the Great Wall during his studies in China.

My first haircut in Asia. What an experience. After receiving odd looks as I walked into the barber's shop on campus I was ushered to have my hair washed. 

I'm pretty sure I counted four intervals of wash and rinse. Maybe she was just collecting herself for what was about to happen, I don’t know because the language barriers prevented us from the typical friendly chit-chat that so often accompanies a haircut. 

Once sitting me down she gave me a magazine of haircuts and perms, none of these looking like anything I wanted but it was too late too turn back. I made my best effort to describe what I was looking for using a combination of hand gestures and visual aids but soon I would find out it would not be enough. 

As hard as it is to believe that there is a haircut out there that would make me any less beautiful I think I had found it! But if there's anything my parents have told me, “it's what's on the inside that counts.”

Alex Boot is a fourth-year business student at Wilfrid Laurier University. He attended the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology during the fall term of 2010. 

Detour, Bozi Dar

Joseph and Matt battle the elements in the Czech Republic.

In between my two semesters of study in Marburg Germany, my good friend Mike came to visit me for three weeks of gallivanting across Europe during which one of our more memorable stops was Bozi Dar in the Czech Republic. Bozi Dar is a tiny hamlet on the border of Germany and the Czech Republic that revolves around its ski resort and promised a cheap alternative to the crowded slopes of the Alps. Mike and I had been in Prague for a couple days before and then headed off to Bozi Dar, which meant a train, then a bus, followed by local transport. 

Being so small, English wasn’t widely spoken, and upon our arrival I asked the bus driver if he knew where the town was. He responded with a puzzled look. I then tried again in German with a similar result, after which he shrugged his shoulders, closed the door and drove off. Great.

Finding ourselves outside a small B&B we decided to see if there was anyone we could communicate with inside. After a semi-coherent conversation in German, Mike and I had some idea of where to go, we were told it would only be about a two kilometre walk to the ski village. We set off in the -20 degree weather with winds whipping in our faces and backpacks strapped to our fronts and backs. 

After about an hour and half trudging uphill in ankle deep snow we found the hotel at the top of the ski hill we were under the impression was ours. Of course this was not the case and yet again no one spoke English or German. Just as we were about to throw in the towel and give up a maintenance worker on the lifts overheard us and approached us asking if we needed some help, in English. At last! 
Unfortunately we were then informed that in fact the village we wanted was back at the base of the hill, about twenty minutes away from where we had started. 

So nearly three hours later we finally were in the right place and proceeded to try and find a decent place to stay, and that’s when we found out it was a holiday weekend in the Czech Republic and just about everywhere was fully booked. After wandering the village for another half hour and ready to collapse from cold and exhaustion we found somewhere to stay where we promptly cracked a beer, collapsed in our beds and proceeded to watch some terrible Czech TV and a movie about Werewolves in German which I attempted (quite poorly) to translate for Mike’s benefit. 

Though probably the most difficult/frustrating destination the skiing made up for our trials and tribulations. Though we both vowed that next time we decided to go to an off the beaten path town with a population under 1,000 perhaps learning a few key words like “Where is the...” might save us some sore muscles and cursing, but it ended up being one of those experiences I’ll always remember.

Joseph White is a history major in his fourth year at Laurier. He minors in political science and German and spent the Fall and Winter semesters of 2009/2010 in Marburg, Germany.