It was Saturday evening December 1st when I parted company with Angelica and Helmut and left Munich on the train headed west toward Ulm and on to Amsterdam. Since my student rail pass did not allow me to sit in first class coaches, I had learned to board a train at either the very first or very last second class coach so I could walk through all those coaches and check out every possible compartment without having to double back. In this case I had boarded at the very back, and walking forward I had found none with other young backpackers like me or other young people I might share my current passage with. All the compartments were very full, so in the forward most second class coach, I finally entered one with what looked like one big family, with mom, dad, a young male teen, and two younger female children. In theory there should be a sixth seat for me, though the compartment was pretty full with the five of them and all their suitcases, tote bags, toys and other stuff. My thinking on choosing this compartment was that maybe the family would get off at one of the upcoming stops and then I’d have the compartment to myself. Maybe then another fellow young traveler, boarding at a later stop, might join me.
It was Monday December 1st and I awoke in Angelica and Helmut’s guest bedroom in a real bed with real, clean bed linens. The last time I’d slept in a real bed was three weeks ago in that hotel room in Paris, where stealth Nazi Hugo had gotten a room with two beds and Steve and I had shared one. I was so grateful last night when I called them from the Munich train station around 10pm and Angelica answered the phone, said that of course I could stay with them, and offered at that late hour to come and pick me up. I felt so bad that I had boarded the train to Munich in Bern, forgetting to call them from there like a more proper guest. After I hung up I had had a moment of angst wondering if I had displayed too much entitlement in expecting her to retrieve me and put me up that late on a weekday evening, without any prior notice!
It was still Friday November 30th when I parted company with Beth at the Interlaken train station and boarded the train to Bern. She had been the last vestige of the little community of backpacker types we had put together briefly in Grindelwald. The past two weeks, really since meeting Morgan and then Jen in the Rome hostel, had been the best of my odyssey to date, particularly these last three days up in Grindelwald. Now it was just a fond memory, and I was on my own again.
It was Friday November 30th and I awoke to the diffused light through the high windows of the bunk room indicating another cloudy day. Because of all the physical exertion yesterday afternoon in the snow I had finally fallen asleep and slept pretty well, even though my mind had buzzed for a couple of hours with so many thoughts about the experiences I had had here in Grindelwald over the past three days. Pondering the little temporary community we had built here. Feeling like this had been the climax to my European odyssey of sorts, high in this winter wonderland, and that now I was starting my long journey home down from the real and proverbial heights.
It was nearly dinner time on Thursday November 29 1973 when us six guys trudged back into the hostel with our rosy cheeks, aching muscles, but that juicy sense of wellness that one can get from a day of playful exertion in the snow. We managed to arrive just before the group returned from their cog railway odyssey. From the deck we could see them trudging up the road to the hostel, through the now deep accumulation of snow, with more still lightly falling, Monika in the lead, as usual.
My libido would be remiss if I did not once again mention her breasts, which pointed the way forward, and noticeably oscillated from side to side under that t-shirt as she planted each step. Oh to see her naked, like Michael supposedly had and more, though he never confirmed their sexual encounter, and I had no intention of asking him. I pondered whether my reluctance was motivated by respecting their privacy or minimizing my jealousy, probably more of the latter. He and I and several others waved at them from the deck, and Monika replied with her signature finger flutter. A few others behind her waved, though Ragna just continued to trudge ahead, head down. We retired from the deck to the common room to greet them. Schuman was at the piano playing the beginnings of Jethro Tull’s musical epic “Thick as a Brick”, his shivering tenor voice quietly grasping for the lyrics…
Really don’t mind if you sit this one out
My word’s but a whisper your deafness a shout
I may make you feel but I can’t make you think
Your sperm’s in the gutter your love’s in the sink
It was Thursday November 29 1973 and I woke up to a softer more diffuse light coming through the small hostel bunk room windows, high up on the walls so you really could not see in or out very well. The energy of the outside felt very different, subdued and very quiet. A couple guys were still sleeping but most were up and out. I generally slept in a t-shirt and underwear, my long underwear here in wintry Grindelwald, so I pulled on my jeans, grabbed my towel and washcloth hung on my pack frame overnight to dry, dug my toiletries and my flannel shirt out of my pack. I sniffed the shirt to make sure it did not stink too much from past days’ sweat… so so. I headed to the bathroom and tried the shower to make sure it would actually get warm this morning before committing to taking my clothes off and entering the stall. This place had been the exception to the general rule that hostels did not have hot water in their showers, but after two morning’s of glorious hot showers I still did not trust it. But the water was hot, so for the third straight day, after a deliciously long hot shower, my body started the day completely squeaky clean.
It was Wednesday November 28, 1973 and I awoke that morning from a memorable yesterday, my first full day in Grindelwald, a day full of camaraderie and special moments. When I emerged from the bunk room after a long hot shower and getting dressed, I could see out the big picture window that the sun was shining, and so presumably the clouds had finally lifted and the featured mountains would reveal themselves. I went immediately out on the balcony and the view was stunning beyond anything I had anticipated.
The hostel sat on the north slope of the little valley, looking south with the village below at its base. Rising out of the other side of the valley were three magnificent mountains that seemed impossibly high and gave me vertigo just to look at them. The winter morning sun was behind them, and though their northern faces were shaded there was enough diffused sunlight to see that all three of them were sheer rock and ice, literally rising from the valley floor almost three kilometers (a mile and a half) nearly straight up like giant teeth. Their jagged snow crusted tops caught bits of the sunlight behind them and glittered silvery, making their shaded faces that much more foreboding, like one was viewing those teeth from inside a humongously large gaping maw. Then to the right of these three, two other peaks loomed just a bit farther off, more conical in shape, the last completely white, more apparition than corporeal mountain.
It was still Tuesday November 27, 1973 in the Grindelwald youth hostel, and as most of us were finishing our yummy hostel supplied dinner, somebody in the group shouted out, “See you at the pub!”, and most everyone else laughed. I noticed that some people were hanging on to their plastic trays after bussing all their dishes and silverware, including the Cleveland gang. I looked at Derrick and pointed at the tray in his hands.
“Transportation” he said with a grin, “At least getting there!”
It was Tuesday morning November 27, 1973, and given little good sleep on the long overnight train ride from Venice the previous night, I ended up sleeping in and missed the breakfast I had paid for. It was 9:05 when I got down to the little dining room and breakfast was served just until 9:00, and things ran on schedule in Switzerland. They were lowkey about stuff but they stuck to their schedules. My first reaction was frustration, not so much because I was hungry and there was nothing to eat but more because I had missed a meal I had paid for with my precious remaining funds. I had figured with a big breakfast I would even skip lunch and save that money. But after contemplating my initial reaction for a moment I realized that the good long sleep probably had been more than worth it.
It was Sunday November 25, 1973 as I perched on a bench on the platform at the Venice train station waiting for this dormant steel beast in front of me to come alive. It was the train that would take me to Switzerland, and my anticipated Alpine paradise, soon to open its doors and let us board. As it got close to its departure time, I saw a group of four other what looked like Americans roughly my age with their long hair and backpacks. I kind of recognized them from the hostel. They all looked a few years older than me with their stubbly unshaven faces. (At eighteen, I still wasn’t growing facial hair yet, but gratefully at least pubic hair!) I could hear them joking with each other but in a sharp edged jocular sort of way, like Derrick, but even more so.