Friday, 8 July 2011

Travel and Transformation

After being away for some time from familiar places, it's curious, or so I think, to notice that these places no longer look the same, on one's return. And I don't just mean in terms of verdant growth, though there is that of course, the burgeoning honeysuckle hedge and thick grass covering the garden. But even the familiar road from town to my house, and the house itself, all seem to have undergone subtle transformations. The way space, furniture and the angles of walls are arranged, all seem to have shifted. The evening light was soft and there were only a few clouds in the sky. The light lingered as if it had no desire to leave. Perceptions in other words, have changed.

Travel broadens the mind laughed P when he was interviewing me. It feels more as if I have been picked apart and reassembled. As if the Master Baker has seized this lump of dough, pulled pushed squeezed and folded me so that a yeasty and expansive process has enlivened connections, so there is more room to breathe, and the sense of constriction has melted away. I am as happy to be home as I was happy to set off. Yet these two happinesses are not the same. I find it fascinating, this process of restructuring.

I left three weeks ago, phoning at the last minute, an afterthought really, to make a reservation for the night train from Köln to Budapest, via Munich. Turns out this was just as well, as I could not have done it at Köln station. I was sent an email with my reservation number, and a document of several pages, describing how to operate the machine in order to get it to print out my reservation. Operating these machines in German airports and stations turned out to be the hardest part of the whole journey, with the possible exception of getting a seat on a train to Paris, towards the end. Arriving at Köln airport at night, there did not seem to be anyone who could tell me how to get to Köln Hauptbahnhof. A couple of passengers I asked did not know. I followed a sign for Zug and came face to face with the first of the dreaded machines. It's not so much that my mind goes blank when confronted with these machines, but what I read does not reach the area of the brain that illuminates meaning. There is a logic to machines but it's not the way my mind works. Still, I managed to figure it out to the last step, at which point I asked a man who was doing the same at the neighbouring machine, and he helped me. Such a feeling of success when the ticket is disgorged from the logical belly of the machine. I was now equipped to reach Köln's main railway station and face the next hurdle – the printing out of my reservation ticket.

My emailed instruction manual differed somewhat from the actual screens on the machine - just enough to sow seeds of doubt in my mind, especially as I had been warned not to get it wrong, as I only had one chance. I did make a mistake when typing in the reservation number but fortunately I was able to correct it in time. The sense of accomplishment when the ticket was duly delivered into my hand is hard to describe. The sense of relief when I got on the train – which was a little delayed, so it was now after midnight - showed the ticket and reservation to the inspector and climbed into my couchette, was like having passed an exam or an initiation. Luck – or Providence – was clearly travelling with me. I resolved to cast all doubts aside. The rhythmic rattling of the train and its rocking motion was pure bliss. At some point I fell asleep and woke up before we arrived in Munich. I took a short walk outside the station before getting on the Budapest train.

This notice says it is forbidden to park bicycles here.

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