When I was 19 years old, my friends and I took a night train from Innsbruck, Austria to Krakow, Poland. This was a long time ago, before mobile phones and before the EasyJets and RyanAirs of the world. Train travel was the only option for starving students like us and we would say things like “Meet us in front of the Hauptbahnhof at midnight on Thursday,” and if you weren’t there, we waited ten minutes and left for Poland without you because we didn’t want to miss our train and we had no way of knowing you had overslept your alarm. And hey, maybe we’d get to Poland and you’d be there already and there’d be Australians involved. Or something.
We had booked ourselves a compartment on the night train to Krakow…the kind with the six worn red leather seats that fold out to become one large bed-like-thing. Luckily, we were all good friends. I remember tall men in gloves knocking on the cabin door throughout the night and asking for our passports. Blindly, we unlocked our compartment door and handed them over. Even though we had heard all about the gypsies who would gas train cars and take everything while their victims lay unconscious, we still handed our passports over. There is only one country between Austria and Poland, but there were many tall men in that night.
There was a porter on our train car who controlled the samovar. If you wanted hot water for anything, you went to him, an unwashed man. We must have made a few trips to the samovar through the course of the train journey: us in our unnecessary hiking boots, J. Crew corduroys and matching roll-neck sweaters concealing our not-very-concealed neck wallets of passports, Sprint PCS calling cards and dollar bills and Austrian schillings. He was a bit prickly, our porter, but he provided the hot water when we asked for it.
As dawn broke, we left our cabin and stood in the hallway of our train carriage, hot coffee and tea in hand, watching Poland go by. It was springtime in Poland and all was green and lush and beautiful. Later, we would see the hundreds of brides of Christ (the grooms too) in their best of white garments, weaving their way through the green lanes of Oswiecim. It was Holy Communion time, wasn’t it?
Our porter, who had spoken no English (or German) with us the night before, approached the six of us in the hallway as we watched Poland go by. He was visibly aggrieved, with us in particular. “I am not an Indian!” he shouted. And then he disappeared back to his samovar and we got off the train in Krakow and never saw him again.
This post is part of a travel link up hosted by Emma, Kelly, Rebecca and Sam. Head on over to any of these blogs to read about their lost in translation moments. I used to have another blog where I wrote narrative like this, but I closed it down last year for reasons I happy to explain over cocktails.