When my silly high school wouldn’t allow me to take French and Spanish at the same time, I took matters into my own hands; I enrolled in Second Year French at the local university, where I saw a red-haired girl with a bright white Obama shirt on – a brave move in a state that had voted Republican for 44 years before that election. I told her I liked her shirt and we became friends over the semester, secretly loving our French professor Brigitte’s ways of being super French in the middle of Indiana. So random, but we loved it. I moved away to New York City and Eirinn to Denver, and when I told her I was going to study abroad for a year in Paris to improve my French, she said those words we all hear when we’re studying abroad or traveling:
Can I come visit you?
The answer is always, “Of course!” but you shrug it off, because you know 80% of the time, they unfortunately never end up coming. With Eirinn, it was different. In mid-October of my first semester in Paris, she showed up with her best friend Amy for two weeks in Europe. I had just been “fired” from my job teaching English and was fully ready to skip out on lectures about French Philosophy to backpack around Europe by train. We took off to the South of France, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland – rotating between calling ourselves Dame, Aim, and Eir, and simply, the three Americans. Amy brought her bad b!tch camera and took photos of trip, which I’m so grateful for because it honestly pays to have friends who are good at photography. I can’t tell you why in each city Eirinn and I decided to do the same pose, reminiscent of the American Gothic painting, but I’m glad we have it as a way to remember the trip.
At a castle in Switzerland
On the overnight train to Innsbruck, Austria
Monaco City, Monaco
I remember arriving at one at one of the train stations in Paris and immediately being told all the train seats were sold out and that our itinerary was “impossible.” We ended up making it on the train, and managed to do everything on our itinerary. Of course we camped out in the café car, but eventually we arrived: Nice and Cannes, up first. Besides the fact that Obama was visiting for the G20 Summit, the cities were pretty uneventful. Well, aside from one of the train conductors hitting on Eirinn and Amy (we think?). With Europeans, you never know if they’re flirting or just talking normally.
We didn’t mind.
But they were also the same train conductors who thought I, a male, should be paying for my friends, two females, just because I’m a male and they’re two females.
That, we did mind.
We got on the next train to Monaco, where we spent a max of two hours because let’s be real, 1) we’re nowhere near owning a Mercedes, and 2) no one is trying to voluntarily spend money on casinos. We boarded the next train to Italy.
In Italy, I remember being greeted with a cocktail at a hostel in Rome, chilling in the lobby with our individual travel journals, and then showering next to each other because that’s how the showers were set up. That’s what you call bonding. The next day, we visited the Vatican, where we managed to sneak something through security – not on purpose, but because we forgot we had it. The city of Rome was not a favorite of mine, but I do appreciate the little moments – those moments like rubbing McDonalds extra virgin olive oil on our faces to moisturize – because we heard it was healthy for skin. Trying new things. We were just trying new things.
We visited Florence, where an American student rolled up next to us on her bike so obviously wanting us to ask her to guide us around. I understand though; I get that way in Paris. We saw the Statue of David – no wait, Amy saw the Statue of David, and then we took the train to Pisa. We managed to spend two hours in the city of Pisa – which consisted of simply running to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and running back for the next train.
Venice was the next city we visited – and our experiences there account for why it’s still one of my favorites cities. For breakfast, we walked with Italians in the morning commute and stopped into a corner café to have espressos at the counter. For lunch, we ate pizza – our legs dangling in the canal. We boarded the extremely overpriced Venice “metro” which is really just a boat…and then found out it was six euros one way. We came up with Italian out of nowhere when we tried checking into a hostel run by an Italian woman who was at least 80. She could not have cared less if you were in a hurry. She walked at a pace of approximately 1mph and only, only spoke to us in Italian. We loved it all, and somehow got the point across we wanted a room with three beds. Success.
In Austria, we walked around the city at 10pm and ate falafel in a sketchy grab-and-go kebab restaurant, then found our position in three uncomfortable seats in the train station at 2am to wait for the morning train. That was my first experience sleeping in a train station (but not my last).
In Switzerland, it became a joke that Amy would fall asleep in the most beautiful locations – we called her AmySleepsThroughIt.com. If there is one train ride you’re ever going to do in your life, make it through the Swiss Alps, and try to stay awake for it. We visited Geneva, Basel, Bern, and Zurich – all of which were extremely expensive compared to the measly American dollar of 2011. We stayed with a friend of Amy’s family, where we were taken in for dinner and served a mysterious “quince paste” that I had never eaten before. Over dinner, we discussed light topics such as the government’s heavy war machinery hiding in the hollow Swiss Apps, and the usage of Swiss army knives. And you thought Switzerland was always neutral.
All of that of course will never beat the time I literally got electrocuted by a fence while trying to take a photo with a Swiss cow.
But that’s a story for a different day.
Since the trip, I’ve seen Eirinn once and I actually haven’t even seen Amy. As cheesy cliché Hallmark card-y as it may sound, life takes everyone in different directions (literally), but one thing’s for sure:
Be the friend who says they’ll visit, and does.
Those are your real friends.