Thursday, May 15, 2008

May 14

Yes, it’s the fourteenth of May 2008, and where am I? Why, I’m on the ICE Express from Duisburg to Amsterdam, flinging from side to side on this unstabilised monster in a firstclass seat not nearly as comfortable as the one I’ve just done Hamburg-Duisburg in.

Of course, on the 14th of May I was supposed to be flying – something like four hours ago – from Amsterdam to Jersey. But I didn’t make it.

You know, last year my trip to Europe and on the seas went perfectly. Not even the shadow of a hitch anywhere. When I started to prepare this second edition, I had a foreboding. That this time everything would go wrong. So I carefully planned nothing preordained and/or prepaid until five weeks after the scheduled arrival of the Gazellebank in Europe. Guess when those five weeks ended?

It all started when we were several weeks late leaving New Zealand, and then we lost the power of one of the ship’s two engines. It was all right, it would be fixed after Singapore and I still had nearly a fortnight up my sleeve, even though my planned time with Kevin in Berlin had been halved. But, through the Suez, it became evident that we would lose more time. Winds and tides came into play as well, and for two weeks it was ‘will-we-won’t-we’ make it into the port of Hamburg on 13 May in time for me to catch that last train out to Amsterdam. Nerve-destroying. And, at the last minute, we didn’t make it. By a matter of minutes. The tide, a change of pilotage hour by the port people .. and we didn’t make it. So down the drain my trains, my pre-paid planes, my first nights in Jersey …

And it didn’t stop there. The taxi summoned to collect me from the ship at 7.30am was nearly half an hour late, the ticket computer on Hamburg station died at precisely the moment I presented myself, and then I ended up with a ticket that wasn’t at all what Kevin had told me it would be. Instead of changing at stop number three, Osnabruck, I was to go on to stop number umpteen, Duisburg. Disaster! How was I, with my known inability through deafness to use a telephone, to contact him and re-route him from meeting the Osnabrück train to meeting this thing?

Well, fate decided to be kind. A young fortyish German businessman sat down next to me at Münster and started work on his array of electronic whatsits. I tried not to look. He seemed to be everything I wouldn’t like. Sunglasses on top of head, jandals and frayed jeans teamed with immaculate, pressed white shirt, thick tinted and waved locks in an expensive cut, ‘ciao’ at the end of each brief phone call. But, dissolved in his calls, he missed the station names and asked me … and his nice crinkly face dissolved into the mostly stunning Stromboli smile. So I plcked up my courage and asked him if he could use one of his toys to call Kevin. And he did. (It seems I need a PDA -- manual not aural, you see). And he also turned out to be not only stunning but charming. Certainly made my day look up!

So, maybe from here on in, everything will look up.

Sudden though: Oh God I hope that text message went through and Kevin isn’t on the wrong station at the wrong time..

Footnote: My hopes were not, on this voyage of misfortune, realised. My second train encountered another accident, was 40 minutes late and Kevin and I missed each other by minutes. Instead, I touted my cases on foot through Amsterdam (my memory of the streets was better than I dared hope) to the Willemsparkweg, where I finally fell into a cold beer and a delicious barbecue with the friends I hadn’t seen for a whole year.

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