Sunday, May 26, 2024

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Joe's Travel Blog

Always bring an extra sandwich on your train picnic


Let’s begin with the obvious — my wife and I are lucky dogs. Duh. Here we are flying to France by way of Amsterdam, we’re watching nonstop movies for seven hours, and we’re requesting red wine when we’re tired of the white. Do we deserve our luck? Of course not. Who does? We are the product of all sorts of entitlements based on skin color, geography and parents, to name a few. It’s not fair, and someone should lodge a complaint with the front office. But… is that chicken pasta on the menu?

My wife and I are not petite. We are from good Iowa stock, and our length does not quite fit into economy class airplane seats. And since we are from good Iowa stock, we still think, at nearly 70 years of age, that it is fiscally irresponsible to upgrade out of economy class. Fiscally responsible people wear stocking caps to bed in cold weather and don’t complain if their knees are hitting the airplane seat in front of them. And that crying baby with the solo mom? Of course, she will be seated near us and, of course, my wife wishes she could help in quieting the child. It’s what Iowans do. I, on the other hand, turn up the volume on my movie.

Des Moines to Chicago. Chicago to Amsterdam.

We arrive in Holland and walk out the kissing-Dutch-boy-and-girl doors to our future life in Western Europe. A future life that will need some immediate naps to survive.

But a nap is not on the horizon. A high-speed train to Paris, a high-speed train to Strasbourgh, and two local trains to Belfort, France, are on the horizon. Oh my.

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So with my wife’s green backpack and my red backpack, we stumble through the train stations into the eastern heart of France.

I love the trains. Silent. Smooth. Quick. Their presence all over Europe seems to echo back to an older time of elegance and romance and brown fedoras with sharply creased crowns — all of this with a futuristic, George Jetson-flying-car feel. The train no longer speaks with a clickety-clack like the old days but gives an emphatic whoosh that propels you from Amsterdam to Paris to Strasbourg in the blink of an eye.

With packs stored overhead, I sit back in the roomy seat and study the train car. Men, women, children — all of us bundled together at nearly 200 mph. The iron works of the train yards quickly give way to fields of bright yellow zooming past the window. These rapeseed or mustard fields (I can only identify corn or soybean fields, like any good Iowan) are just cheerful and splashy under the overcast skies. Add these colorful fields to the tiny roads and low sloping red rooflines, and it looks like we have landed on the set of a musical. My wife urges me not to sing.

And then the people on the train start opening their “picnics.” Oh, now I get it. A sign in the train station at Gare de l’Est in Paris invited us to bring along our picnic for the train ride because there is no bar car in this French budget train, Ouigo. Really. And, at the train stations, they sell all sorts of baguettes with sandwich fillings — with ham and butter as the hands-down choice for this crusty bread. For a little more than 3 euros, you can eat like royalty, or is it eat like a peasant per Marie-Antoinette? No matter, like many a French person, I am in love

So as the train whisks along, I spread out my napkin, pull out my French coffee, set a pastry to the side for dessert, and reach for my delicious butter and ham sandwich. But… it is gone. My train picnic is ruined.

Although it would be nice to blame my wife, I must confess this problem has happened to me before. It is why whenever I pick up a pizza, I always return home with one slice missing. Get a dozen donuts as a treat for the family, and there is always only 11 in the box when I plop them on the counter. Clearly, the sandwich was eaten BEFORE boarding the train. Someone is stealing my food.

But let’s not point fingers. Isn’t that the trouble with our judging world today? The lesson from this trip is clear — always bring an extra sandwich on your train picnic.

You can write that down.

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around Des Moines as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines and abroad on his blog:



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