rains have always carried a cathartic value for me. As a young military brat living for a period at my grandmother’s in Georgia, I would fall asleep to the somber whistling from a mile away. In this way, trains entered my life and would forever alter it.
Upon my arrival to Kaiserslautern, Germany, I found that modes of travel were to my liking: cheap and scenic. My parents, living in the humble 320 person town of Heimkirchen, were to escort me to my final destination, Edinburgh, Scotland. Driving through southern Deutschland, we temporarily bid adieu to the tall grassy hills and mixed our way through a jumbled mass (Germany is not fond of lines) to join the cow car flying north.
Chaos is what best describes my beginning encounter with Scotland. So that I might be surprised upon my arrival, I had looked at no photographs. Landing in blank darkness kept me in vague wonder. We were pushed along to a train, my first since moving to Europe where a voice, twanging with an accent I had never heard outside of movies, murmured over the intercom our upcoming arrival to Glasgow.
Let us pause for a moment and assess the fatigued travelers. My mother and I carried two large bags full of my “needs” for the upcoming months. My father carried their luggage as well as a bicycle box full of, well, bicycle. Why it ever went through my mind to take a mountain bike all the way from Germany to Scotland is beside me.
“Last stop: Glasgow!” spoke the intercom triumphantly. Moving bodies pushed past us as we stared warily at our items. We were just beginning to hoist our bodies and luggage when a second voice beamed over us, “Canne help ye?”
Yes, yes you can. This angel of a man hefted the bicycle box over his shoulder and in a language we could barely understand, escorted us to a taxi-cab. Luggage packed away, he waved goodbye. By 3 AM, we were in Edinburgh.
Pictures would not have given justice to the yellow lights illuminating wet cobblestone streets spidering left, right, forward. In our arrival, I fell in love in a way I had never known; this was my city.
Three days later my parents were to depart from Waverley Station. The weight was lessened by luggage, but increased by heaviness of hearts. As they boarded the train taking them to Glasgow, tears streamed down my mother’s face. Would I be okay by myself? This was not college, this was an internship, alone, with a society of Scottish artists most of whom they had never met.
I would be okay. The train carried them away as my mother cried and waved next to my father. For the first time in my life, I felt truly free. A comforting whistle bid farewell while I moved away from the tracks.
Months later I was temporarily traveling through Europe, once again by train. I had decided that with this newfound freedom, I would escort myself to Barcelona, Spain, making a short vacation out of Sete, France.
Something Americans do not know the import of is Bank holidays. Traveling from Germany to Avignon, I made an extraordinarily long stop in Montpellier due to the large amounts of travelers. This led to an 11 PM arrival to Avignon and a frantic call from my worked up mother. Thanks to her instinct, she found a hotel for me to stay in overnight.
With a bright red backpack, flashlight, and considerable map, I touristed my way through the midnight streets of Avignon. It was no surprise to my overly pessimistic mind when I turned down the misted street with wobbling men carrying bottles of who knows what ahead of me. Naturally my hotel would be down this way.
Upon arrival I noticed no lights. Oh dear. Knocking to zero response led to my first moment of panic. Suddenly, I was aware of a brightness behind me. Headlights.
This was the moment I was waiting for. Turning around, I saw a BMW parked in the side street of the hotel, lights bright towards my direction. Acclimating to the luminosity, I noticed this was quite a nice BMW. As I advise every nineteen year old babe to not do in the middle of the night in an alleyway with an unidentified car, I walked up to the vehicle.
Rolling down the window slightly, I saw a kind fourteen year old face peer back at me. I looked into the car; it was a family.
“Français?” she asked.
I shook my head, “Deutsch?”
She shook her head, “English?”
“Yes!” and in broken English I learned that this gregarious Italian family had made reservations at the same hotel to find it closed. The father kindly came around and loaded my backpack in the car and gestured for me to get in. Thus commenced the journey for a hotel with a loud Italian family that now included me. After thirty minutes of searching, we found a pleasant hotel, fully lit, welcoming us in.
The sky was blue with white full clouds the next morning as I departed from the hotel to ride to Sete. Arriving to the peninsula, I left the train in search of my hostel.
I wound through city streets looking more like Italy than France. Discovering directions to the back entrance, I climbed a 30 degree hill up to gates. Gates that were locked. I lost it.
Ranting profanity and crying, I pouted as I read the sign,”Gate closed on weekends, please use front gate around the hill.” Fifteen minutes later I found the gate to what looked like Utopia. Water splashed in rainbow spray from someone washing their car in the driveway. Green exotic trees filtered greenish gold light through their leaves. I approached the counter to greet the hostel owner; and I broke down.
He didn’t know quite what to do. He asked, “Are you alright?” Sobs followed. “May I help you with anything?” I mumbled more tear soaked words. He became agitated and then broke out, “Tonight you will eat dinner with my family!”
That night I was treated to Italian and French sea cuisine, full of mussels, linguine, bread galore, and sorbet. Laughing at my absurdity of the morning, we jovially enjoyed candid conversation through the night. Sete was indeed a vacation after all.
Trains have taken me to places that I recollect as joyful and full of adventure. They are a way of transportation not just of person, but of story. Most importantly, their whistle takes me back to warm Georgia nights.
Erin Connally is a writer and painter working out of Waco, Texas. Erin and her husband’s studios can be found in their yurt abode. She enjoys time spent baking bread and running the trails of Texas.