Troubles and the Alpine Heights

Sitting on the floor in the basement luggage room of the hostel surrounded by my packing cubes, I wonder how this could’ve happened. “It wasn’t there” said Kathryn. Shit. Not in the kitchen, but then again I knew it wouldn’t be there to begin with.
She sits down next to me. I’m looking at the emergency information keychain, where they outline a plan of action: report to the police, go to the nearest embassy, call study abroad program, call parents, print off copies, etc. “We’ll have to go to The Hague”, I say, “I’ll buy a ticket to Amsterdam, and then we’ll go the embassy and get the temporary passport. I’ll fly home to Bristol, and then I’ll catch a train to London to get my passport replaced.” Logistics fill my mind as my emergency plans take form. How could I be so irresponsible? I was sure I had locked it up. Did that creepy guy in the bed next to mine take it in the night? Should I ask for his things to be searched, for all my roommates things to be searched? But do I really want to throw around accusations when I’m not sure?
“Let’s go figure out where the nearest police station is”, I say. Wearily, I begin repacking my bag. My arm plunges into its depths when… Oh my!… my hand grazes an ever so familiar flexible plastic envelope deep within. “No way!” I move aside my few packed things not on the floor and pull out the gloriously radiant, if not badly crumpled, blue plastic envelope that contains my passport and my Eurail pass.

Euphoria and dopamine flood my mind as all the contingency plans fade away. I can’t believe I found these life lines, these documents, these double hearts that, together, have pumped life throughout my vagabond lifestyle, allowing each day to occur with ease . I suddenly have an urge to gorilla tape them to my torso and never allow them to depart from my skin; to horde them and never let anyone look at them but train masters and immigration attendants. No stranger shall ever know where my hearts lie! But, then, this plan’s impracticality comes to the surface and I instead place them in the zippered pocket of my pac-safe purse and vow to be more vigilant concerning their whereabouts in the future.

That whole vignette of my life occurred naught but 2hrs ago, and if you haven’t noticed, I’m still feeling the rush. I’m so glad I didn’t have to go to the police, or have to deal with the bureaucracy of replacing my passport and my eurail pass. On the other hand, what an amazing convenience it is of western society that, even if those documents of mine were lost, there are direct and surprisingly simple (if not tedious) channels to follow to replace them.

Well, last time I updated you, we were just leaving Milan. Since that point Kathryn and I, and our anthropomorphized slew of rain clouds, “Freddie”, have walked along picturesque lakes in Lucerne; gazed upon the tallest mountains of Europe (though Freddie blocked them when we first arrived) and climbed along the Alpine reaches of the Jungfrau in Switzerland. We have walked along the castle walls of Salzburg in the night, strolled the streets of Mozart’s home, and seen his giant chocolate balls for sale in the marketplace. We have gone to remote hamlets in Austria, reachable only by ferry, and eaten pastries on their picturesque streets while we  watched as much of a sunset as the cloudy skies allowed. We have climbed the tallest bell tower in Germany, all 509 steps; ridden carnival rides that made you feel as though you were both flying and free falling, and eaten the freshest chocolate, specially tailored to our specifications, in a museum dedicated to the celebration of the cocoa bean (aka, the chocolate museum in Cologne).
Let me tell you about our experiences with the alps. Here is an excerpt of some writing of mine: “The mountains in Switzerland looked fake. I had only seen mountains like this in movies, but never in real life.They had mythic proportions. I couldn’t look up far enough before they seemed to surpass even the blue barrier of the skyline. The valleys plunged in deep v’s which were deepened by the towering shadows of these goliaths. I have seen mountains many times in my life, climbed to their peaks, and looked out from their climes, but never have I felt so barricaded, so isolated, so separate from the world than when I walked amidst the Alps in Mürren, Switzerland.

That morning we had defied gravity and human natural capacity by mechanically climbing from low altitude to high in a matter of hours. We went from a comfortable 567m above sea level to a breathtaking 1634m. I say breathtaking because we would actually get winded if we tried to talk too quickly to one another. This made our hike from Mürren to Gimmelwald and back all the more pulsating and frustrating due to the frequent stops we needed to take to catch our breath. It was amazing on our descent the next day into the lower reaches of Austria how palpable the changing oxygen levels felt in our lungs. Even now I draw a deep and satisfying breath remembering only too well the thin air of those few days. What hearty people must be produced by nature to live, work, populate, and thrive amidst such frigid, harsh, and staggering peaks. Almost all other mountains would be ruined for you, as they could hardly be comparable to your alpine playground. It is in these moments I am thankful for growing up in Indiana. Having been raised amidst its flat farmland, I have nothing but admiration for any change in geography I encounter. Also, on the advice of “Rick-Steves Guidebook to Europe” we went to the little village of Gimmelwald. While this was such a cute, and quaint little village, I wouldn’t quite herald its praises to the extent of my guide-book. Definitely a worthwhile stop, but overall not quite the utopia of traditional Swiss-living I had been led to expect. The Alps were lovely, and stunning, but Switzerland itself is So. Stinking. Expensive! Since Kathryn and I had spent the night in the Geneva train station and met a Serbian on the train who lived in Switzerland (and informed us of how “cheap” Italy was compared to Switzerland) we prepared for our food costs by buying groceries in Italy to last us through our time with the rich Swiss. This plan worked very well and my meals only began to show their desperate creativity near the end when a jelly-granola sandwich with Swiss cheese served as a poor dinner.

Our next planned adventure was to Hallstatt, Austria. Hallstatt was delightful, very quaint, mysterious, and lovely.

Thus far, while the places we had planned to go to far in advance were lovely, I think Salzburg and Cologne, our two spontaneous destinations, have been my favorites. Something about arriving without agenda and allowing the city to unravel its mysteries to you in it’s own time has been both exciting and refreshing. Most of our time in Salzburg and Cologne has been spent wandering the streets. In Salzburg we followed the advice of a local and went to a tiny Austrian restaurant called Andreas located in a small, clean alley parallel to the river. We walked in and were given a tiny table where a tiny candle shed light upon our meal as we drank locals brews and ate a hearty meal. The beef stew and bready dumpling gave my stomach a deep and contented feeling as we walked back that night to our hostel.

That same evening we strolled along Salzburg’s well-lit streets, ogled at their statues, and huffed as we climbed to the fortress atop the hill in the center of town. There we looked at the tiny and multiplicitous lights that illuminated the city’s many winding streets. The lights seemed oriented much like a human’s veinal system, the lines of light grew bright at the hubs of activity and glowed gently dimmer as they withdrew into the suburbs

Yes, Salzburg was a delight. Cologne, where we’ve just departed, was also an unexpected adventure. While getting there from Austria was a bit of an ordeal (arriving at our connecting platform and boarding the train only to find we had boarded a train that had been delayed by 40min, which was confusingly not only departing from our train’s platform, but departed at the exact time our train was scheduled to depart, and going in the opposite direction), we reoriented ourselves, pretended we were British students at the train station in Mannheim for an hour (this meant speaking in a posh accent and saying things such as “clever”, “cheeky”, “keen”, and “brill”, to our own personal delight), and arrived in Cologne naught but two hours later than planned. The next day we ate breakfast and played cards in the sunny plaza before the massive Cathedral, walked across massive bridges, and arrived just in time for the opening of the Chocolate museum.

But, we have arrived in Amsterdam, and I must say that I am rather sleepy after walking across the canals all day. I’m going to try to finish out this post including Cologne in more detail soon!