Monday, 3 March 2014

The Key

‘Germans are a cold, uninvolved people’ so I was told before my travels to the country.
Do you agree? When you travel to a destination, is your interactions with the locals of relevance? It’s a deal clincher for me - interactions with people I meet each time I travel, they are the ones that transform an experience into a memory and to think I was on my way to meet cold, uninvolved people; hmm, I was about to test that.

It was our first morning in the city of Munich. We landed at 5.45 am and were to reach our home-stay by 7.45 am. Stephie and Stephan, the young couple we were staying with left for work early in the morning which meant we had to collect the key by 7.45 am. Reaching later meant hanging around with our bags for the rest of the day waiting for them to return back home.

As per earlier correspondences with them during bookings, we were also to give them a heads up from the airport once we land, that would give a fair idea about our time of arrival at their home. As it turned out, all stores were shut at the airport and our plan of buying a local sim card to get in touch with our hosts went kaput. So there was no way we could communicate with them about our whereabouts on the move should we reach late.

Logic – an evasive yet essential quality a traveller must possess. Though it is quite lost without the esoteric qualities of hope and impulse I assure you. But for this case let’s consider logic; which clearly said we were not going to reach in time even though we were in Germany, where things work; and that too at the speed of light. Expecting our hosts to wait back until we reached would have been a little too much. So the natural state of mind that early morning was not a groggy one but an alert and charged one at that.

As we headed out from the airport to catch the S8, the train line connecting us from Munich international airport to Hauptbahnhof, the city centre which is approximately an hour away; we met Noam, a musician from Isreal studying at the university. He noticed how wired we were and got chatting. My travel companion and sister Yuktie batted her eyelids and got right to it.

‘What, not you? You are the shy one?’ You might ask? Ah yes, contrary to what appears, this well travelled, globe-trotting girl is a shy thing. But ever so often when the moment feels like it she shares a part of her soul with a fellow traveller, but then it is just that. Not so much as a chat, a banter, connecting over Facebook after, no, none of that. Sharing a few thoughts with a perfect stranger and in turn being given a share of their experience, that’s half the simple pleasure I get from travelling. And then who knows, I might just meet them on another trip, in another part of the globe, and that would make for such a gorgeous story, yes!        

There I go again, aha, coming back to this story, where was I? Yes, on the S8 onward to the city centre, seeing my sister happily flirt away with Noam the musician I look out the tinted shield of the tube flying us through the landscapes of Munich, ever aware of that ticking clock, getting ever so close to 8’o’clock.  

It was 7.45 by the time we reached Hauptbahnhof from where we had to look for the connecting train to Schwanthalerhöhe, the station closest to the home-stay.

Did I tell you I failed a navigation exercise at a mountaineering course I did years ago? Getting lost is another forte it seems, and this is one of those moments I did it with flourish! Even though there were detailed maps all around us, Stephie had shared detailed directions too but in that web of trains and routes I was lost. How? You ask. Here’s a comparative example - if you are from Bombay. Imagine you’ve reached Dadar (central station) and need to head to Bandra. You find the right platform and happily wait for the train to arrive. But just after you’ve entered the train and look triumphantly at the map, you realise you have taken the train in the opposite direction towards Chembur! That’s what happened, by which time we had crossed a couple of stations. So with a backpack and trolley bag in hand we routed back to the central station and were finally directed to the correct platform, this time in the correct direction.

10 minutes to 8 o’clock and I was like a ticking time bomb. All those moments during college rushed back to my memory when friends called me a ticking time bomb, and I thought how right they were! Missing the first few minutes of a new film or being late for that musical was unthinkable and should you be with me for those minutes before an almost late arrival, let’s just say you would be best pals with the minutes and seconds handles on my watch.

Stephie and Stephan had shared with us elaborate directions of how to reach their home in the form of illustrated maps and coloured arrow marks; which I found extremely detailed and sweet coming from the reputation their country folk had. I swiped them out just seconds before the train halted at the station. Quickly stepping out of the train with all those bags in hand, high on adrenalin, swiping out my smart phone to check the next left or right. Yuktie reaches out to the person nearest as we head out for directions and before she could so much as say ‘Hi’ this tall, blue eyed man calls out, Hi, are you Diipti? I zone out of my state of panic and register this stranger with a bright smile; thinking ah I can’t be that famous already! He introduces himself  “Hi I am Stephan! I was heading for work and thought maybe I’ll find you at the station.”

He had been waiting for us at the station with the key to his home for ten minutes before heading for work that morning.

What were the odds of this happenstance? Trains and platforms as in all parts of the world are long and crowded. Yuktie and I were on the left-most compartment of the train. We could have gotten off and walked in the opposite direction. Stephan could have been standing at the other end of the station. But what were the odds of us arriving within a few minutes of him waiting for us there with the key, there - just at the spot where we got off! What were the odds.

Cold, uninvolved – not in the least! I can’t imagine a more involved, concerned gesture from a perfect stranger. Stephan not only was waiting at the station to give us a key to his home but also escorted us out in the right direction from the station almost heading back home with us. 

That right there is the best example of busting clichés and stereotypes about people when we travel.

The next time you visit Munich and are looking for a place to stay, I recommend Stephie and Stephan's home, they really make you feel like its your home.

(Note: This was a self sponsored trip, the hosts where adorable enough to spend time with us chatting about Stephie's recent visit to India and our mutual wanderlust.)

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