Sunday, September 20, 2015

Travelling with the Syrians

I had not expected to be travelling with the Syrians yesterday, but life sometimes delivers the unexpected.

Earlier in the week railway staff in Maribor told me it was difficult to predict whether there would be delays getting from Maribor to Munich via Salzburg but to give it a go. However when I got to Graz yesterday I learnt that the border between Salzburg and Rosenheim was completely closed and no trains were travelling that way.

'"Go to Salzburg anyway and from there you can catch the connection to Innsbruck, but you'll have to be quick," said a young conductor.
"And where would I go to from Innsbruck?"
"I don't know the connections but it takes three hours to get to Innsbruck."
I did a quick calculation and realised my seven hour trip might turn to fourteen hours or that I might be spending another night in Austria ... or perhaps longer? How does one get over a closed border actually?

An elderly conductor had heard my question and as I climbed onto the train I saw him discussing animatedly with his colleague, so when he was free I leaned out the train door and asked if there was an alternative.
" Yes via train, bus and train," he said. "I'll come and tell you."
He climbed into the carriage next door, the doors snapped shut and we were off, but he was as good as his word and came through to explain.

He said I would probably miss the Innsbruck connection anyway if we were a couple of minutes late and my best bet was to get off the Salzburg train at Selzthal, take the railway bus to Kirchdorf as there was track work today, then a regional train to Linz where I could catch an ICE (Intercity Express) to Passau which is in Germany. From there I could find my way south again to Munich.

Leaving Kirchdorf on the bus
I have much to thank that gentleman for,  as I took his advice and made the ICE without a hitch. On the way I saw a good deal of picturesque countryside (and the inside of tunnels) as we wound our way through the back alleys of Austria.

The ICE from Linz was packed. In the corridor just ahead of my seat a young English woman and her husband were caring for their baby among those standing but ten minutes into our journey a young  man in the seat behind me stood up and offered her his seat.
" Yes please, I insist," he said."Sit next to my wife and son"

The Englishwoman sat down gratefully and the two mothers chatted as their babies ( both 18 months old) kept each other entertained.  People around them were charmed by the two children and we couldn't help overhearing the conversation between the the two women. The English woman and her Austrian husband were taking a weekend away to celebrate her birthday. The other young woman said that she was from Syria and travelling with her husband and son to Germany. The English woman asked if she had travelled long and the Syrian said yes, first by boat then lots of trains. It had been exhausting and once in Europe her son slept through two whole days.  (I could see the young man yawning as he stood in the corridor, so he was tired as well.)
"Where do you want to go in Europe?" asked the Englishwoman.
"Anywhere safe," was the reply.

I sneaked a peek at the women behind me. They were both lovely, one blond and one dark both holding their almost identical babies who were sharing pieces of the Syrian child's apple.  Then I looked around me and realised there were other Syrians in the seats nearby. Perhaps they were travelling as a group.

So these were the refugees we all had heard about. The young woman spoke excellent English, as did her husband who had given up his seat. I had thought he might be English himself before overhearing the women's stories.

The English woman got her husband to bring a baby book from the luggage which she gave the Syrian mum. She expressed in this gesture what those listening would like to have done. We all smiled at each other.

The Englishwoman told the Syrian not to be worried about all the police who would be in Passau, that they were there to help and often had translators with them.

There were indeed lots on black clad police in Passau but they were chatting and relaxed and very non-threatening despite their uniforms.  I couldn't help comparing them to the thuggish 'border force' officers travellers have to deal with going through Sydney airport. A group of Australians in Maribor had shared their airport 'border force' stories one evening and every single one had had an unpleasant experience with them.  I felt so proud of Germany (and so ashamed of Australia) on that train. These people would warm the hearts of any observer.

I left the train at Passau and took a regional train back south. All the train staff on both sides of the border were very understanding about me travelling on trains for which I had no ticket. On the Passau train no one inspected tickets at all.

Rainbow in Bavaria
As my final regional train chugged its way to Munich it rained as the sun was shining, then out the window we saw a brilliant rainbow.

I took the rainbow as a good omen for those refugees and I think it must have been because this morning on the news I heard a local politician say that yes, all the refugees would change Germany, but it would be a change for the better. Go Germany!

1 comment:

marcellous said...

Lovely post, Elizabeth.