I awoke this morning to pouring rain. It had been so clear and sunny until today, and then suddenly, the rain came pounding down. I caught the 3:00pm train to Basel, Switzerland from Paris’ Gare l’Est. It was my first time using the Eurail Pass. The pass, which I bought before I left New York, gives me 15 days of travel over 2 months.
The train to Basel was very clean and the ride was surprisingly smooth. I spent some time working on my journal in between eyeing the picture-perfect French countryside. A young, French soldier sat across the aisle from me. He had a large backpack, too, and I wondered if he was going backpacking as well. So when he gestured at his watch, presumably asking for the time, I took the opportunity to ask him where he was headed. He knew not a single word of English though, and despite my hand gestures, he could not understand my question. He grew frustrated and asked the man sitting in the seat behind me whether he spoke English. The man shook his head no. Then to my embarrassment, the soldier made a loud announcement to the whole carriage. I gathered he was asking for an interpreter. I had simply been making small talk, and it didn’t seem necessary to make such a big fuss. The soldier was determined though. A young man who looked North African stood up from a seat further back and offered to translate.
– No, the soldier was not going backpacking.
– No, he was not going to Basel and would be getting off at the next stop.
– If I needed any help whatsoever, he would be happy to oblige.
I thanked him for his kind offer but declined. We shook hands, and he deboarded at the next stop.
My interpreter introduced himself. His name was Faisal, and he was on his way to Belfort, where he would be attending a Master’s program in September. He planned to stay a week in Belfort, and then he would return home to Marrakesh in Morocco for the month of August. A tall, lanky fellow, he had just returned from a six-month internship in Florida. His eyes sparkled when he spoke about America, and it was evident that he had an amazing time there. When I told him that I would be in southern Spain in August, he insisted that I come to Marrakesh and stay with his family. He seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of my visit and even offered to help me find airplane tickets. I assured him that I would make every effort to come, especially now that I had someone to show me the city.
I arrived in Basel around 9:00pm to a downpour. Though I had an umbrella, I was soaked by the time I plodded into the YMCA Youth Hostel. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well-kept the place was. Very clean and furnished with modern decor and appliances, the hostel is quite cozy. I got a bed in an 8-person room for about $25 per night.
I soon met several other young backpackers, and we quickly became friends. There are two Danish girls, Heidi and Nendt. They are friends who travelled through Europe for about a month and are now on their way home to Denmark. Tom is an Australian attending a design program at Basel University. Zane, a South African, bicycled around Europe for a month and is now headed home. Daniel is a Mexican who has been travelling for about two weeks on a turbo-tour of western Europe. He is headed to eastern Europe eventually. There is Rueben, another Mexican, who was completely inebriated by the time we met. His unintentionally funny antics kept us entertained all night. Alex, a Spaniard who looked Indian, joined us a bit later. Turned out that his mother is German and his father Indian, and he was born and raised in Malaga, Spain. Finally, there is Cat, another Aussie, who just arrived from Morocco. She is on her way to Dubai to teach primary school kids. We hung out playing cards until late at night and made plans to see Basel tomorrow. Alex, who lived in Basel for some time, offered to show us around.