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11 years in EU

My first night in Europe

May 2000 —

I spent my first night in Europe in Bad Breisig, Germany, in a castle on a hill where my friend Ian and his girlfriend had been living.

They met me at Gatwick International. The end of their UK trip coincided with my arrival. Why I had booked into Gatwick or how I was planning to get to Amsterdam that night, I don't know.

Ian and I had been in contact via email and heíd said they would meet me at the airport. They did, and we took a train to London. We went to Victoria Station — themselves, myself, and Angie, an American girl I had met on the flight — and we had cups of soup, and watched the pigeons and the people.

Ian and Christina suggested I come to Germany for the night. Through some effort, they found a French train departing to Cologne in about two hours.

We went to go see Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. Naturally, we spent a bit of this time in the tubes.

The tubes in London are a massive set of hypermodern tunnels in several layers of depth. Their feeling is a bit of the futuristic antiutopian society. They seem safe, letís put it that way; pay no mind to the officers at the computer terminals up in the glass-enclosed command centers.

With a few changes of level and direction, we came up near the bottom of the clocktower.

A few steps one way is Westminster Abbey, government buildings, and a large bronze of Churchill* — the other way is the Thames, and across that was the Millenium Wheel, a gigantic Ferris wheel.

I saw for the first time cars driving on the left-hand side of the road. And many of them, too; Londonís busy. London cabs are beautiful funky old little round-cornered microvan-type numbers, many in black.

That was about all we had time for; we stood over the Thames for a bit.

We got back in time to catch a train through France to Belgium. I was pretty fatigued, having gotten a bit of an ear infection over the Atlantic.

I remember the red-tiled French country houses, some of our conversation, and drinking some of the bottled water that Ian and Christina had brought. I slept quite a bit.

We switched trains in Brussels. There, I got my passport stamped — the only time I had to produce it at a border [while] on the Continent.

In Cologne, we had a Thai dinner and toured a bit of the town on foot. A large dark cathedral that was spared the bombs of World War II dominates that part of the town. There are remnants of Roman occupation, including a low stone arch and a tile floor at basement level visible from streetlevel windows — both near the cathedral. We went down by the Rhine. It is a mighty river that flows rapidly through town — usually but not always within its stone-walled course.

Later, we went up to Bad Breisig — at least I think it was up; upstream on the Rhine, that is. It was about an hourís trip on the slower, frequently-stopping local train.

Bad Breisig, a small town, was closed down and lights out. We hiked a ways up the road, along the train line, along the rivercourse, to a steep rounded hill. At the top was the darkened castle. We hiked the road curving up the side. Ianís colleague and flatmate — if youíd call one a flatmate, in a castle — showed me around the place. There was a beautiful large round room with a table in the center, and windows over the Rhine valley. There was a smaller, round, domed music room with a small organ, which he played. And no, I donít remember his name. Something very German. Not Karl or Jan. I donít remember.

He showed me to a small room, at the top of a tower. He explained that the hot water would take a very long time to reach the bathroom in the morning. We chatted for a while, then said our goodnights.

I promptly went to sleep.

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*There's a large bronze statue of Winston Churchill across the street from Big Ben, and roughly between the two houses of Parliament. My friend Ian told of a legend about the statue, that it's electrified to keep off the pigeons, and pigeon-shit. The legend says Churchill stipulated that, himself. I didn't see any pigeon shit on it.

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