All Roads Lead to Rome ... Eventually

Posted: Dec 10, 2003 5:32:44 PM

The tourist is a class unto itself: a transient, hapless, enthusiastic, clueless, diverse, and irritating class, but certainly a cohesive community. Albeit of a strange kind. And when things get a little hairy, they react in strange ways. I have had two such experiences in the last few days, so in this report I'll give you an idea of exactly what the group dynamics are in times of mild or extreme pressure.

The first incident was relatively mild: Greta and I, like so many others, were climbing the towers of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. But the stairs are very thin (See!) and so a backlog quickly developed. Stand still, take one step up, wait, take another step up, and so on.

At first, everyone is silent save for those who are lucky enough not to be seperated from their companions in the crush. Gradually, things thaw out, and I'm happy to say that I contributed somewhat to that. An American above was commenting - in English - to their friend that they had dropped their camera case somewhere. Without a second thought, I called out down the stairs: "has anyone seen a camera case? pass it on." And down the spiral the message echoed, and rebounded, and came back up again from a dozen throats: "what colour is it?" A quick enquiry from the now highly bemused Americans established that it was grey, and before we knew it a camera case was being passed from hand to hand, back to its owner.

The only thing that I feel really bad about is that the subsequent communal spirit that this engendered was lost on those parts of the crowd who didn't speak English, but before long a couple of them found out how to break the ice. A plaintive cry - male - came thundering up the stairs: "Maria!" Then, from far above, a - female - reply: "Pedro!" Everyone simultaneously envisaged two lovers running towards each other in a grassy meadow, and had a good laugh as the calls continued for some time, now with an edge of trans-linguistic humour.

The Sagrada Familia was fun because of that, but a much less pleasant example came on the overnight train from Barcelona to Nice. Because the Spanish and French train systems are operated by seperate countries, there is a train that takes everyone to the border, and it is from there that they meet their appropriate overnight train. A good system, except when things go wrong.

The connecting train broke down two minutes from the changeover station. A massive electrical failure, plunging the whole train momentarily into darkness.

I felt like such an overprepared tourist, because I happened to have two torches on my person: my little pocket light for reading maps and finding my bed in hostels late at night, and a larger torch that I bought to properly appreciate the Paris catacombs. Thankfully the darkness didn't last long, because no-one else had a torch.

At first people sat mute. Then, as it became apparent that this train wasn't moving again in a hurry, little groups developed of people who all spoke one language, islands of noise in a sea of silence. I, feeling fairly miserable, remained amongst the group of adamantly silent frowning males standing by the doors until I could take it no more and moved to a seat where I quickly struck up a conversation with a very nice Norwegian couple and two people from Japan. This made the situation much easier.

Time passed. Engineers walked through carrying large pieces of greasy unidentifiable metal, impervious to all inquiries as to their progress. The lights went out again. They moved everyone into a single carriage, apparently with the idea of detaching that one and getting another engine to take it into the station. You can probably imagine what being in a completely packed car did for the mood of us inmates.

Eventually, after two hours without moving, they flagged down a passing train to take us to into the station (not the one two minutes away, but another further down where our overnight connection was waiting for us). Unfortunately, this was no ordinary train: it was a hotel train. For those of you who have never encountered these beauties, they are trains, but (duh) also fully equipped hotels, with proper rooms, a bar, and a restaurant. They are very expensive also, which is why it must have made such an amusing picture for there to be scruffy dirty backpackers squatting in the aisles of the lounge, particularly when they are grumpy and tired after two hours waiting motionless on the tracks.


So we led a revolt. It was far too crowded, and there were quite a few of us, so we decided to annex the bar and restaurant, which at this time of night were completely empty. Most of us behaved perfectly politely, in the bar at least, and so the staff were not upset, but the conditions in the restauruant were much worse. Or so I assume: two people came charging out, yelling at the head waiter in Italian. Both had cigarettes hanging from their hands. Our bartender yelled at them as well, and the female of the couple burst into very angry tears, before all of the residents of the restaurant were evicted back into the lounge. Thankfully they hadn't yet cleared the bar, so a bunch of us started ordering drinks, and suddenly we weren't parasites, we were clients. I had my new friends teach me some Norwegian and Japanese, and before long the bartender was joining in and joking in several languages, and all was well. We made the connection three hours late, and I made it to Nice.

The overnight train from Nice to Rome was an ordeal in itself (I was stuck in a very small sleeping cabin with five loud French 14-year-olds on a school trip who smoked and played bad music through to the wee small hours) but no matter, I'm back in Rome, the Last City of Europe, and I'm catching up with everything I missed last time. Like what's in this picture. It is very impressive, and even now, near to the very end of my trip, I have boundless enthusiasm for these wonders. My flights are confirmed; in a few days I will be in Osaka, Japan.


Anne   Dec 10, 2003 8:36:46 PM

Am I the first to read this report? There are no comments yet, so I will have to post one! Really enjoying all your reports, good luck for the rest of your journey.

Charlotte   Dec 11, 2003 12:01:29 AM

*grin* I hope your new Japanese friends taught you some useful travel phrases. My Japanese isn't as strong as I would like it to be.

And hopefully nothing goes wrong with those confirmed flights to Japan!

Helen T   Dec 11, 2003 1:04:25 AM

Great to keep reading of your adventures Damon. Hope you have a safe and uneventful (although not too uneventful I hope!)trip home. Look forward to seeing you again in the New Year. Happy Christmas.

Fraz   Dec 11, 2003 7:44:34 AM

the goose, is still getting fater,

Damon   Dec 11, 2003 10:08:27 AM

Hi Anne! Good to see you posting, and thank you!

And merry Christmas to you and everyone at Massey, Helen. I suppose the holiday break will be starting soon? Hope exam-marking hasn't been too chaotic.

Sahi   Dec 11, 2003 1:29:25 PM

Just dropping by to say I still love all these reports.

Maladroit   Dec 11, 2003 2:30:03 PM

What Sahi said.
Only you should also know, my "little green monster" is about 4 stories tall, breathes fire, and has a bad case of acne.

Damon   Dec 11, 2003 7:59:04 PM

Shucks, thanks guys. And I'm jealous now too: I want a four-storey-tall fire-breathing acnied green monster of my own. Gojira! Gojira!

Peter   Dec 12, 2003 2:01:27 PM

Great report once more, Damon.
And I'm glad to see, that you're weird ideas keep working very well ;)

Peter   Dec 12, 2003 2:04:07 PM

* sorry for the all caps spam *


If someone has contact information for Tiny (especially E-Mail, please forward that information to Aan Allein).


*we now return you to your irregularly scheduled trip reports*

Damon   Dec 12, 2003 6:54:59 PM

Okay, last posting time before I fly out to Japan (tomorrow). Bye Europe!

Captain Roberto T. Fruitbat   Dec 12, 2003 10:03:24 PM

Enjoy you´re last evening in Rome and "gute Reise"! Mata dozo!

Charlotte   Dec 12, 2003 11:59:44 PM

See you in Osaka!

Charlotte   Dec 13, 2003 12:02:02 AM

Oh yeah, I have Tiny's email address so I'll try email it to Aan.

fangler   Dec 13, 2003 12:56:32 AM

have a fun and sleep filled flight!

Captain Roberto T. Fruitbat   Dec 13, 2003 3:14:26 AM

Found it finally: Dochu gobuji de!

Fraz   Dec 13, 2003 1:56:11 PM

Ok DAmon, could you please tell me , when you fly in to nz & what time you get in to wellingtion ?, what we have writen down hear, is different to what you have on this site.

Tiny   Dec 14, 2003 1:38:52 AM

I have contact information for Tiny!

... too late, as usual :)

Peter   Dec 14, 2003 10:18:12 AM

Well, the call for information on this board was just as effective as Damon's masterpiece on those stairs... if not quite as stylish ;)

Damon   Dec 15, 2003 3:37:01 PM

I shall let you know as soon as I can, Fraz: do not have the actual information on me right now.

Arrived safe and sound in Osaka, and now we are in Kyoto, having a blast.

lian   Dec 15, 2003 7:23:51 PM

Damn...I wish I could say something witty in Japanese now ;)
Still: Say hi to the whale sharks from me!

Damon   Dec 16, 2003 9:24:30 AM

Only one, actually. The other one died.

Fraz   Dec 16, 2003 10:11:50 AM

the goose ate to much,

Charlotte   Dec 16, 2003 3:50:38 PM

Time is speeding by very fast here in Kyoto. So far there have been temples, shrines, bicycles, Japanese school girls, museums, towers, gardens, Wendy's Hamburgers and Taiko drums to name a few of our activities and incidences. All very good fun, but I will let Damon explain in his usual delightful way. :-)

Damon   Dec 17, 2003 1:29:52 AM

I will write a new (long, funny) report as soon as I can find the time. So much to do! So much to see! So much that is so different!

Tamsyn   Dec 30, 2003 2:22:08 PM

I hate French fourteen year olds. Oxford is full of classes of them, and they all chainsmoke and pee on the public buildings.

Including my chapel. ACK! Bloody French.

This report has been archived - for new reports go here.