Sunday, April 04, 2004

Even though I won't be typing this until I'm back home in Mannheim, I'm blogging today on a hotel notepad at the Quarto d'Altino train station (and adjusting the date and time accordingly). I've got lots of time for blogging--we've got 2 hours to kill before the next train into Venice.

Think maybe we should have checked the schedule last night when we arrived? Lovely, if late, idea but we were exhausted and assumed trains to the city would be frequent. Apparently, they are--both before 10:30 a.m. and after 1:30 p.m. Between those times, there's exactly one train--at 12:35 p.m.--and we arrived 10 minutes too late for the 10:30 train.

This, in a nutshell, exemplifies the problems with changing towns frequently while traveling. There is a fairly steep learning curve that goes with getting settled in a new place. When you don't stay put any longer than a day, you don't get to take full advantage of all that hard-earned knowledge. While we are having a wonderful time on our adventures with Frank and Teresa and their 2 boys, the whole trip has been one learning experience after another.

It started Thursday night when I took a good hard look at our train reservations and discovered that we had gotten stuck in the smoking section for our 90-minute trip the next day to Ulm, on our way to Legoland. Fred (who had just returned from 4 days in Kuwait and really needed to be packing for the trip) and I jumped in the car and took off for the train station to try and get it fixed. Turns out that with large groups, they will stick you in smoking even if you specifically request nonsmoking if the nonsmoking section is full. And they won't tell you about it.

LESSONS LEARNED: (1) Book early, especially for the week before Easter. (2) Look at your reservations earlier than 12 hours before you plan to get on the train!

Friday morning we arrived at Günzburg, the jumping off point for Legoland, right on schedule. We assumed that we would be able to stash our bags in the train station lockers. We had quite a shock when we realized that Günzburg is a tiny station with only about a half-dozen lockers, most of which were already occupied. Fortunately, there were 2 free lockers--1 big, 1 medium--that would fit our bags.

LESSONS LEARNED: (1) Never assume. As the saying goes, when you assume, you make an ass out of "u" and "me." (2) It is better to be lucky than good.

Our second shock Friday morning was discovering that while our hotel was indeed "just across the street from the Bahnhof," it was just across from the Leipheim Bahnhof, not the one in Günzburg. The hotel was lovely, and I would gladly stay there again, but it did add an extra layer of inconvenience by requiring us to add a local train (and another the next morning on our way to Italy). It would have been nice to have been aware of this before the last minute.

LESSON LEARNED: Know where your hotel it. Find it on a map.

Our next learning experience was at the end of Friday, after a fantastic yet thoroughly exhausting day at Legoland. We sat on the bench at the shuttle stop for a half hour, waiting for the 6:30 p.m. bus. Six-thirty came and went, and no bus. Finally, a man walked over from a nearby building and said, "No bus!!" He showed us on the bus schedule where the German fine-print indicated that the 6:30 shuttle operated only on certain days, one of which was NOT Friday, April 2d.

We walked back up towards Legoland, which was by then closed up tight as a drum and found a Legoland Tours employee who was on her way out to her car. She opened up the office and called a taxi for us. (She had even offered to drive us there, before she realized there were 8 of us, 12 if you count the German family of 4 that was also foiled by the stupid schedule.) I plan on commending her in my letter to Legoland in which I rip them for having the last shuttle leave exactly at the same time as the park closes. And for not having a sign more clearly indicating the schedule. Too bad I never caught her name.

LESSON LEARNED (but obviously not well or I wouldn't be sitting on this damn bench working on my sixth handwritten page): Always know when your next train or bus is leaving.

Speaking of trains, I'm now sitting on the 12:35 train to Venice--hooray! (And, we just met a fellow on the platform who knows our old backyard neighbors from our second stint in Fayetteville. Small world.)

There are other elements of getting familiar with a new place that don't necessarily spring out of error or oversight. You have to find the good (and cheap) places to eat. You need to know where you can buy noncarbonated drinking water after the regular stores close. Once you've found these things, it would be nice to get a little longer to enjoy them.

Arriving Venice, Stazione Santa Lucia, so I'm signing off for now. I'm sure we'll have plenty more learning opportunities as we journey tomorrow from Venice to Luzern and then on to Mannheim Tuesday night. Oh, joy.

POSTSCRIPT TO THIS POST: We arrived in Luzern at 4 p.m. Monday night and made the hike out to our hotel. Mike was sick and the bags were heavy, so we were relieved to finally get there. We were greeted by a sign on the door of the darkened building that said: "Due to an unexpected death, our reception desk will be closed until 6 p.m. tonight." So we wound up hiking around with our bags for an hour before finally returning to the hotel with the plan that Mike and I would sit in the doorway with the bags while the others mosied around downtown. When we got there, Mike gave the door a push, and to our great surprise, it opened! So we all sat in the darkened foyer for the next hour eating treats I bought at the newstand 3 doors down.

LESSONS LEARNED: (1) You can't prepare for everything. (2) Pack light so that you can handle your bags for longer than you think you're going to need to. (3) Europeans toss around the phrase "within 1000 meters from the Bahnhof " like it means "just across the street." It doesn't. (4) And what the heck? Push on the door. It just might open, even if it looks locked.

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