On night trains, you tend to meet characters; strange and interesting characters.
On this train we shared a room with a Korean who spoke four or five words of English. His words: Sake, baseball, beer, military. And he got particularly excited when we mentioned Godzilla. With that, we asked him to watch our things and we joined our friends in a nearby compartment. On our way we met two old men, one a Turk, and the other a Sicilian. One of the things I enjoy most in life is communicating with people in a language different from English. (I can manage in French and Italian.) It shows them that no, you don't think America is the only country on the planet and yes, you are willing to invest your time and energy in learning the language and culture of countries in another part of the globe. This hits people a minute or two into a conversation and I can see it in their eyes as they cock their head to the side and realize, “Here's an American speaking someone else's language.” I like to do my part in breaking down this sadly true-ish perception of Americans. If you can't spend the time to learn a new language, just look up “I don't like Bush,” and you'll have a café-full, bar-full, train-full or wherever-you-are-full of new European friends. From my experience, it works every time…everywhere. In Italian it is “Bush mi fa schifo.” It's a stronger version, but that's OK, don't worry about it.
Anyways, the Turk was a successful fur trader and was on his way to Bern for some kind of business deal or convention. He was a bit shady and liked to talk about expensive prostitutes. The Sicilian was a smiley old man on his way to visit family in Germany. Due to his fear of flying, he was in his 18th hour of train travel out of 30. I could tell he was struggling to translate his dialect into common Italian, as Sicilian is practically its own language. Inevitably the conversation turned towards politics and we started discussing the 2008 presidential campaign. I told them I liked Obama and asked them which they would go for. The Turk would go for Hilary Clinton, but the Sicilian said he liked neither Democrat because one was black which was accompanied by a back-handed rubbing of his jaw line, and the other, a woman accompanied by a different gesture. He would go for McCain. Traditions run deep in Sicily, and new customs aren't easily introduced. We tried to get him to talk about “La Cosa Nostra” or the Mafia, but as most Sicilians will say, they don't know about it. Of course it is still around but good luck trying to get them to discuss it with a foreigner. And by foreigner I mean anyone not a native of their corner of Sicily, let alone the island.
After a while we took a picture and said goodbye to our new friends to join our American classmates in the next compartment. We packed ten in that one: eight sitting on the two lower beds, and two laying in the top ones. It was our friend's birthday that night. It's a sad thing to spend your 21st birthday on a night train but we made sure she had a good time. After several toasts, I returned to our compartmentt with the Korean and passed out.
In the morning, we had to transfer onto a commuter train to Interlaken. From Interlaken, we took a tram to Lauterbrunnen. From Lauterbrunnen, a bus to Schtechelberg. From Schtechelberg, a gondola up to Gimmelwald. Finally we reached our home for the next two nights and began what one of called “the best weekend ever.”
About This Entry
You are reading "The Rome to Swiss Alps Not-Express Night Train", an entry posted on 25 September 2008 by Andy Steves.