At An Odense Commune

Richard’s excellent reports on Eurotrip 2011 show how interesting travel can be.  You’re an American, knocking around Europe solo, and before you know it you’ve made some friends and had an interesting adventure or two.  My travels through Europe after college, three decades ago, involved similar experiences.

One notable adventure occurred in Odense, Denmark.  Odense is the third largest city in Denmark and was the birthplace of Han Christian Andersen.  It wasn’t on my itinerary.  However, I had met a fellow American, a Californian named Dan (last name now unrecalled), and we began traveling together to save a few bucks on rooms.  We were on an overnight train from Oslo to Copenhagen that I had booked as a cost-saving measure — if you slept on a train you didn’t need to pay for a hostel, of course — when Dan said he couldn’t sleep on the hard train seats and was going to pay for a sleeper car.  I stuck to my guns and dozed on the upright seats.  When I saw him the next morning he had made some new friends who had shared his sleeping compartment.  They were Danes who lives in an honest-to-god commune in Odense, and they insisted that we come and stay for a day or two.  How could we refuse?

I don’t remember their names, but they were about the friendliest folks I had ever met.  They opened their hearts and commune to us.  About a dozen commune members chipped in to pay for the house, which was in the middle of town, and supplies.  They plied us with food, beer, aquavit, and schnapps and were intensely curious about the United States.  What was it like, really?  Were some Americans really going to vote for a former movie actor for President?  What did we think of Europe in general and Denmark in particular?  Dan and I reciprocated by pooling our money one night and taking them all to a nearby pub where we drank a lot of strong beer, but that was all their generosity would allow.

The last night we were there they served a huge feast where we all drank too much and Dan hooked up with one of the commune residents named Oosa.  When we left on the train for Munich the next morning, heads pounding, they gave me a blurry Polaroid photo that I’ve long since lost.  And after we got to Munich, Dan decided it might be a good idea to go back to Odense and hang with Oosa some more — which he did.  I never saw him again.  For all I know, he’s still there.

The Toilet Paper Towel-Off At The Hotel Kabul

It was the summer of 1980.  My college graduation present from Mom and Dad was round-trip airfare to Europe on Laker Airlines, which was the low-cost carrier of that day.  I saved up enough money for a Eurail pass, borrowed a shoulder bag from Mom, and set off for the broadening experience of foreign travel.

My first stop on the continent was Amsterdam.  After a day of visiting the museums and the Dam I decided I needed to secure lodging for the night.  A travel guide had said the Hotel Kabul was the cheapest night’s stay in Amsterdam, and I was more interested in saving money than anything else.  When I arrived at the Hotel Kabul, however, I began to question the wisdom of that approach.  The hostel was in a run-down part of town a few blocks from the red-light district.  It was dark and dingy inside.  But it was inexpensive.  I paid for the cheapest sleeping accommodations, which turned out to be the bottom half of a bunk bed in a barracks room filled with perhaps 20 bunk beds and a number of scruffy looking miscreants.  The bedding was marginally clean.  That night I slept — fitfully — in my clothing, trucker’s wallet pushed deep into my pants pocket, using the shoulder bag as a kind of pillow.

As the first gray light of morning filtered into the dim sleeping area I groggily decided I really needed a shower.  I took my stuff to the bathroom, secured a shower stall, and rinsed off in a tepid stream.  I emerged from the shower . . .  and looked in vain for a towel.  Being a complete rube, I hadn’t realized that hostel users either brought a towel or rented one at the front desk.  I had done neither.  So there I was, dripping wet and feeling like a complete imbecile, in a grim bathroom in the cheapest hostel in Amsterdam.  What to do?

The options were few.  I could try to wipe myself off with some of my other clothing and then cart the wet clothes around as I did my day’s touring.  I could sit around until evaporation worked its magic.  Or, I could resort to the toilet paper towel-off — and that is the option I chose.  After first congratulating myself on the solution, I quickly came to realize that this was not the greatest idea, either.  The Hotel Kabul’s toilet paper was — not surprisingly — ridiculously cheap.  It somehow combined a pulpy scratchiness with gossamer thinness.  As I tried to swab myself dry I realized that I was instead being coated with a flaky crust of toilet paper dust and tiny nubbings that stuck to my skin like glue. I tried to remove all traces of my resort to the bathroom tissue option, but you don’t really want to spend a lot of time in a strange communal bathroom picking objects that look like lice off your skin.  I know I was unsuccessful in ridding myself of all of the toilet paper trappings.  So, I skulked out of the lobby, keeping as far away from the front desk as possible, and relied upon the good manners of the friendly Dutch to refrain from telling me that my skin was streaked with a weird white residue and I was leaving a trail of toilet paper pellets as I walked on.

My European tour was underway.  From that point on, I gladly paid to rent a towel at the other hostels I visited.

Backpacking And Eurailing Through Europe

For the Webner family, the countdown has begun.  We’re about a month away from Richard’s departure on a four-month trip through Europe and adjoining countries.  His itinerary calls for an arrival at Istanbul and a departure from St. Petersburg more than four months later.  In between, he will go where the wind blows and interest carries him.

I’m hoping that Richard will share some of his planning and preparation for his trip on this blog, and then do some additional blogging about his adventures when he is across the Atlantic.  In the meantime, I can only give him kudos for excellent travel preparation.  He has carefully researched where to go and prepared a rough itinerary of where he wants to go and what he wants to see.  He has purchased his Eurail pass and requested the necessary visas.  He has analyzed, and in some instances purchased, the lightest, slimmest, most comfortable necessities to take on his trip, and he has further reduced the weight of his baggage by opting for a Kindle rather than heavy and bulky books.

I’m envious of his coming voyage, and I’m going to live vicariously through any accounts he may decide to share with us.  In the meantime, his trip reminds me, inevitably, of my four weeks of travel through Europe after I graduated from college in 1980.  Steel yourselves, O Webner House readers!  I’ll be posting accounts of some of my misadventures and observations from the 1980 trip in the coming weeks.