By the time this journey ends in late June I will have visited 11 countries and 22 cities. Sometimes I flew from one place to another and sometimes I took a bus, but mostly I rode the trains around Europe. I am a woman in my early 70s with bad knees and one heavy suitcase. It’s not a particularly large suitcase (middle size) but it weighs about 30 pounds when fully loaded. In addition I have a computer bag on wheels that contains my small computer, my slightly heavy camera, a stash of tourist brochures and a tea pot purchased for five euro at the flea market outside my door in Palermo.
Reading this you’ve probably guessed that getting my luggage on and off all those trains was a challenge. The hardest part is that train stations in Europe are usually quite old and that it’s very often necessary to use stairs from the platforms to the street level. Some stations have become more accessible and have elevators (lifts) at each platform but most do not. This post is written to declare that people are good to one another everywhere!
For every train ride I took at least two people helped my with my luggage, getting it on and off the train. In addition, very often men would offer to help me on those stairs. Sometimes young women would give me assistance. One I remember in particular was a girl scout (on her way to camp) in Lecce who took my bags down the stairs and onto the train. I remember, too, a woman who drafted her husband who was waiting for her on the platform to haul my bags up the stairs.
But the kindness I experienced didn’t end at railroad stations. I’ve written before about the young man who walked with me to the train station in Lecce with my bags. I didn’t tell you about the problem I encountered on the other end of that journey, in Bari. The railroad tracks divide the town and I walked about a mile with my luggage before I found an underpass – with about 40 stairs down and up again. Luckily, as I stood there wondering if I could handle that, a delightful young man came along and swooped up my bags and carried them for me. Not just under the tracks but all the way to my hotel, some distance away.
Sometimes a walk from a train station to a nearby hotel became more confusing than expected. In Trieste a young woman I asked for directions walked with me to my hotel. The same happened in Palermo. My bus from Kiev to Odessa began its journey in Moscow and didn’t show up at 9:00 as it was supposed to do. A very nice young man waiting for the same bus spoke English well and kept me from panicking by verifying that the bus was on the way.
Only once did I nearly miss a train. In Colmar France I stayed in an AirBnB room at the home of a gentleman named Fred. It is a beautiful home and Fred is a fine host. He not only met me at the station when I arrived but also walked back with me when I left. Good thing for me because I had the departure time wrong. Fred ran ahead, carrying my bags, found the conductor and asked him to hold the train for me – which he did! Fred gets the AirBnB host of the year award from me for 2018.
My 2019 award goes to the husband of my hostess in Palermo. Her apartment was so perfect that on the day I arrived I asked to stay another week. That apartment wasn’t available the next week but she has another, in the center of the city, a third floor apartment. I agreed to rent it but asked if her husband could bring the car for my move the following Saturday. Not only did they help me then but Siria’s husband carried all my bags up three flights of stairs in one trip!
People in hotels and AirBnB hosts were often very helpful. A young woman at the desk of the Ibis hotel in Kiev was very good to me, helping me arrange trains and buses and a pedicure. The desk clerks at the Hestia Hotel Maestro in Tallinn were very friendly and helpful. The staff, men and women, at the Royal Street Hotel in Odessa were great! Hotel clerks everywhere were friendly and helpful but these in particular went “above and beyond the call of duty.” Taxi drivers were often welcoming, pointing out historic places and providing information about their cities.
Tourist office employees are always helpful but two in particular became “instant friends.” I arrived at the rail station in Lviv very early in the morning, having traveled overnight on a sleeper. I couldn’t arrive at my AirBnB apartment until 2:00 pm. During the hours that I spent waiting Anya, from the tourist office in the station, helped me in a number of ways. A couple of days later I went to the tourist office in the city center for a map. Oksana not only helped me with information and called a taxi for me, she walked with me the two blocks to the cab. A couple of days after that I returned to the tourist office and found both my “new friends” were working that day. Together they got me into another cab and on my way “home.” They are very bright, friendly young women who represent their city well.
Holidays stand out in my memory. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve I became very ill suddenly with a high fever. When she returned from work I asked my AirBnB hostess in Venice for aspirin. Instead of giving me that she called a doctor in the neighborhood who came to see me quickly. He wrote a prescription which Sylvia took to a pharmacy immediately. That medicine made me 100% better by Christmas day.
I was pretty unhappy in Rabat, Morocco on New Year’s Day. A young woman I met there, a physician, took me out for a long walking tour of her city. We visited the old fortress and the kasbah. She made a bad day good for me. (That’s my “guide” in the Kasbah at the top of this post.)
I’m sure I’m forgetting to mention people who deserve my personal Award for Good People. There were so many people who helped me. I think discovering the kindness of people everywhere was the best experience of my long journey.
PS: The photo at the top of this post shows my impromptu guide in the kasbah in Morocco.