Friday, 12 October 2007

Whirlwind tour of summer part 2: Saarbruecken train trip

August: Saarbruecken - of all the dates to have a one day workshop on intonation it had to be my birthday. Really celebrated it in style. No actually I enjoyed the train trip a lot. And it got me out of doing Amsterdam with Richard and Mum BB which I likely as not wasn't up to with all the galavanting I'd already done (see part 1).

Finally got to catch the yellow lego train that I can see from my house (in the winter, when the leaves fall off the trees along the train line). Turns out the reason I never took it before is that it goes to a little place called Venlo of very little significance apart from being on the German border. That took an hour or so and then I changed to a German lego train. Finally after many hours of passing through remarkably underpopulated bits of sunny dutch countryside and some overpopulated parts of Germany I got on a swish German train somewhere on the outskirts of the other side of Cologne.

It was a Saturday, middle of July, nice and hot and I had bought my ticket late so I hadn't got a seat booked and had to keep hopping around when one became free. There seemed to be a Turkish family consisting of two women and millions of children in my carriage (turned out later to be an unrelated couple sitting downstairs having a nice peaceful kid-free trip). The kids were running up and down the aisles upsetting passengers trying to enjoy the view. I found the whole things quite jolly and I got to hear people say in a number of different languages 'What the mother is doing wrong is.... (add your own parenting theory)". The view was quite spectacular. We spent a lot of time going along the banks of the Mosel and the Rhein. There were mountainous banks with small castles and vineyards going up the sides. Small hills get me quite excited after having been in Holland.

At Koblenz the Mosel split off from the Rhein and the little spit of land in the middle has been made into an overly germanic piece of stone with a giant statue involving a man on a horse that's rearing up (called the Deutsches Eck - German corner). Together with the millions of sunbathers on the grassy banks it made an odd picture.

Eventually we arrived in Saarbruecken where I enjoyed giving a paper without having to stand up and talk in front of a whole lot of linguists. There were three of us working on it, so the other two talked and I cheered. Got to see some people from Melbourne which was nice. The workshop was a preparatory event before the international phonetics Olympiad (otherwise known as the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences). So I got to smell the tension and excitement in the air without having to do or die myself.

I don't have too much to say about Saarbruecken. It's there that I first got a taste for fanciful buildings made out of deep red sandstone. But I saw more of that in Strasbourg, which as it happens is only 2 hours from Saarbruecken, but I had to go back to Nijmegen in between for Mum BB's visit. Still I can't complain about that as I enjoyed the trip back to Nijmegen on the train almost as much as the way there.

The exciting part along the river only seemed to take about an hour on the way back. But it was still nice. Can't remember exactly where I changed trains to get on the snazzy fast one but there was a lot of confusion. The sign on the platform mentioned two different destinations (e.g. Berlin and Cologne (can't quite remember). It split half way along the journey and one half of the train went one way and the other half went the other way. I managed to lend a hand to some confused spaniards and a guy from Warnambool.

The guy from Warnambook turned out to be a bit of a character. He had been on the train all the way from Zurich already. He was headed for Holland but had forgotten his passport in Warnambool on the first trip to Tullamarine, so had to go back to get it and get on the next plane, which went to Zurich so he had to get the train to Holland. This bloke whose name I've forgotten, develops milking robots. Surely I knew about this develoment - it had been in the paper (The Age?). Not only Warnambool but Gippsland had some now too. According to him the cows don't have to go into barns to get attached to milking machines anymore, they just walk up to these things in the middle of the field, when they're feeling overly full-uddered. Hard to believe but... he was quite convincing.

Also rather chatty, as country types tend to be. Kept looking out the window to check out the farmland and saying 'How'd you be.. I couldn't live like this'. Meanwhile I was quite happily enjoying the train. We even went to the restaurant car, where he ordered heartily on his company account. The most abject thing for the poor Europeans it seemed to him was having to go away for the weekend. 'How'd ya be ... having to go away for the weekend.' As a man who owned a piece of land near Warnambool and got to sit on his verandah all weekend watching his kid ride his motorbike around, it seemed quite sad that these poor Europeans live in such rotten circumstances they are forced to go away for the weekend to seek a meagre drop of happiness.

And here was I thinking these couples putting their bikes on the train and then trundling off for a little bike riding weekend along the river had it quite good. No loading up the car, traffic jams etc. I had a feeling Holland wasn't going to impress him.

After we parted ways, one of my trains was delayed and I ended up having 45 minutes to spare in an unheard place called Monchengladbach somewhere between Cologne and Venlo. Wandering around quite aimlessly, I began to think he might have a point. Even with the warm sunny weather, which is like a miracle for the few weekends it appears around here, the place had a lot of people and very little to show for them. I traipsed out of the train station through the bus depot to a little shopping street. There were a few shops with cheap clothes, $2 shops. A lot of people who could have been Turkish or Moroccan, looking not particularly pleased with their hand. And the rest looked decidedly dodgy.

I tried to find a photo of Monchengladbach online but couldn't. I found this photo, which has some obsene appeal.

Warnambool looked pretty good from there. Still you can get on the train and be anywhere, if you've got a few bucks. Which some of my co-travellers on the train from Monchengladback to Venlo didn't. The dutch border is mainly of interest to those on the other side because it signals the availability of cheap good quality hash. The young guys sitting opposite me seemed to know this and were trying to make it even more of a bargain. But two conductors caught them out, presenting them with their punishments in a rather motherly way. There was quite a bit of laughing and joking from both sides. Maybe the fines aren't too high in lego world.

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