That Time I was “Lost” in Europe

Spoiler: I wasn’t lost.  I knew where I was.  But no one else did.

 

I’m typing today from a cute little dorm room, in Albertville, France, tucked right into the French Alps.  How in the world did I get here?  That’s a whole story itself.

It all started with a paradigm shift in my brain this last spring.  2 shifts actually.  I took my yearly weekend retreat to pray and reassess and ponder all the things that God has done in the last year, and look towards what he has coming, I realized that my kids, especially my older kids, were getting to the age when training them in kingdom work will start shifting more to Knut and I modeling ministry work.  Knut and I have always been involved in various areas of our church.  However, I have pulled way back in the last few seasons in our family.  I felt like it was time to jump back into things.  For many years, I have felt like I have been looking for significance and ministry outside my home, and God kept pointing me back to my kids and showing me that I had plenty of ministry to do right there.  Through my time in prayer, I felt like God didn’t so much open doors, as He said that doors were going to start opening to minister to people outside my home, and I didn’t have to be afraid of saying “yes.”  It was a removal of fear.  It was like the timing was finally right.

The other thing I learned is about people and relationships, but that’s for another post.  (Although it is connected here too.)

One of those opportunities that came up was just a pipe dream to visit my friend, Sonja, who moved to Albertville for the year with her husband and kids, as they do language training before moving to Africa.  Then my siblings kept reminding me that we got buddy passes from one of my sisters, if I wanted to fly anywhere super-cheap.  Then Knut not only didn’t say no, but kept saying yes.  Repeatedly.  Hesitating here and there, but mostly yes.

But enough with the back story.  Here’s my travel story.

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My mom used to joke that I was the kid who could get dropped off anywhere in the world, and find her way home.  I’m good at reading signs, and figuring things out.  Language barriers haven’t always bothered me.

I had 3 flights there, all standby.  Fortunately, my sister booked me for some pretty empty flights, so the trip there was long, but relatively simple.

When I was waiting to get on the 3rd flight, from Washington DC to Geneva, Switzerland, I met a woman named Janet.  I found out that Janet was roughly 80 years old, and a seasoned world traveler.  She had gone to Europe many times, and has spent decades being a “host mom” for exchange students from all over Europe, so she spent her retirement from her career in pharmacy, visiting all of the kids who had lived with her for a year at a time and had grown up.

Janet reminded me of my grandma who just passed away, with her dyed red hair, and her chattery, nature.  When my neck started stiffening up, and I stood up to do some exercises, after we had been talking for awhile, (there ended up being a mechanical delay with the plane) Janet offered me a variety of her left over pain killers, which I turned her down, and that reminded me of my other grandma who is still living.

Finally we boarded the plane.  I watched movies for awhile, ate the chicken they served.  I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t get comfortable.  Finally, the last 1.5 hours of the 8 hour flight, I dozed off.

I had woken up to start the trip at 4am, Minnesota time.  By the time I landed in Geneva, it was 1:30am Minnesota time, though it was 8:30am Geneva time.

This is where my plan slipped up a little.  The plan was for me to use just the wifi part of my smartphone for the duration of the trip.  But the Geneva airport was under construction, and I was having the worst time trying to connect with their wifi.  I wanted to let my husband and my friend know I had landed, and was going to get a train ticket, etc.  But no wifi.  No phone.  No nothing.

So I just walked over to the train station attached to the airport.  There was a row of 5 ticket kiosks.  I went over to the kiosk, and I couldn’t find “Albertville” as a destination.  I knew it was 2 hours away.  I had memorized the names of the stops I needed, but didn’t recognize any.  Was it considered a multi-European country ticket?  Did I need an 18 hour ticket?  What train was I supposed to get on?  Where were the prices for any of them? I couldn’t see any personnel, so I walked back into the airport and asked the ground transportation information desk lady.  She told me to go to the kiosks.  I said I tried that, and I can’t figure it out.  I needed some help figuring out which ticket I needed to buy.  She told me in broken English to go to the kiosk again.

So I walked back to the train station, and while I was waiting in line for a kiosk again, I saw in the corner of my eye, a train ticket office at the end of the corridor.  So I decided to go into the office, take a ticket and buy the correct ticket from a human being.  The guy at the counter was nice, but I’m not entirely sure if he was speaking English or French, as his English sort of sounded French-ish, like his French accent was so thick with his English that it was pretty much the same.  However, I can read French much better than I can speak it, and the right destinations were printed on my ticket, and he showed me on my ticket where which train numbers on which platforms at what time all were.

My friend Janet was in there waiting to talk to a person too.  She was all turned around, with all the construction, and wasn’t sure which train she normally took.  She was mixed up, and said was going to stick with me to make sure I got a ticket too.  So Janet and I talked awhile longer.  I found her so refreshing to the non-friendly-travelers in my smart phone generation.

So Janet and I had the first leg of our train journey together, about 5 minutes.  We parted ways at our first stop.

My first train was on platform 7, which was on the other side of the tracks where I was.  I went down the stairs, through a tunnel, and ended up in what looked like an empty customs office all by myself.  The guy in a uniform in there was waving at me to move along, and shouted something in French I didn’t understand at all.  I walked toward him, but he just pointed me to the end of the tunnel.

I guess I had just crossed into France, which was on the platform 7 side of the train station.

The rest of my journey was a 2 hour long train ride.  I had to find my train, stay on it for 1 hour, and then switch at the half way point, and get on a different train for the 2nd hour.

I was so hungry at this point.  I wanted a cup of coffee.  I still couldn’t get wifi anywhere.  No one knew I had landed, bought train tickets, or what time I’d arrive at the train station.  There wasn’t really much for me to do but get on the train in time, and deal with the whole communication issue at a time that wouldn’t make me miss my train.  I had an Excedrine Migraine in my purse, which is basically aspirin and a whopper caffeine pill.  That would keep me awake and deal with the pain I get associated with fatigue.  So I took one of those.  It made everything better, except I really needed food to hold it down, and I only had a few pretzels left in my purse.  Note to self: pack more snacks next time.

At the half way point, when I got off the train to switch, I looked for coffee and food.  I didn’t find coffee, but I did find a place with croissants and shortbread cookies with chocolate.  So I walked over there and ordered some…in French.  It was a big moment for me.  I was ridiculously proud of myself.

Because I stopped for food, I made the next connecting train with about 2 minutes to spare.  I just took the first seat I got where it was pretty crowded, but everyone was so nice.  I had to use the bathroom, but didn’t want to leave my stuff.  Also (TMI men, avert your eyes) I’ve been weaning Bjorn, and have had him down to only night feedings, and only on one side.  I brought my pump just in case I got uncomfortable, giving up that last feeding.  Well, I hadn’t fed him in well over 24 hours, and one side of me was very, very painful.  There certainly was no place to pump just enough for a bit of relief.  So I sat there, having to use the bathroom, having to pump, eating a croissant, trying not to get nauseous from the medicine, and watching gorgeous mountains from the children’s story Heidi pass before my eyes.

I arrived in Albertville, France, just after noon.  Still no wifi. By now I wanted a bed, and bathroom, and just to hold my friend. I walked around the town for a bit, hoping some business I walked passed would have some free wifi.  No luck.  So I picked the closest restaurant, ordered some food, and when they gave it to me, I asked if I could have their wifi password, as I need to contact my friend, and my phone wasn’t working.  The guys spoke basically no English, so we used a lot of gestures and pointing, and he wrote down the password for me.  I couldn’t get it to work, and in the end, he ended up typing it in for me.

I learned how to say “merci” a lot.

Then the world of communication opened up.  My friend, Sonja, was like “What!? You’re here!  You just got here!” and she walked down the street to get me, and we walked back to the language school together.

I texted Knut then, too.  Fortunately, he got my text when he woke up.  So the text he got from our friends hours earlier wondering if I had made it, and they hadn’t heard from me at all, and didn’t know where I was, came at the same time as my text that said I made it.  He only had a 2 minute panic or so, wondering where in the world his wife ended up, and wondering why no one had heard from me.

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My friend, Sonja, got me a nice little dorm room to stay in at their language school.  I took a little nap, and then joined them for supper, and to spoil the kids with some little presents.  We have some plans for the next few days.  She and I have work to get done, but mostly I just want to love on her and her kids before they make their next big move.  We’ve decided that before I fly home on Saturday, she’s coming with me back to Geneva on Friday, and we are going to do a night on the town together, and catch up just the two of us.  I want to see St. Peter’s Cathedral there.  I’m wild and crazy like that.

So while most of this probably could have been avoided if I was slightly more experienced, and maybe planned a bit better.  But it all worked out.  I’m just pinching myself that I’m here.  I’m already missing my babies and husband.  But for now, it’s time to spend a few days ministering to some people outside my family.

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