Europe by Train, with Strings

by littlesarahbigworld

So I’ve gotten into this really bad habit of retroactively posting stuff, BUT NOT THIS TIME. Here is something I wrote TODAY about something that happened BACK IN DECEMBER–Europe Tour 2009 with Will Sartain. Enjoy!

(For a more in-the-moment experience, you can read excerpts from my Tour Journal. Which I posted retroactively.)

First off, minus six points at least to Mr. Will Sartain for outing me as an American. You see, what with my ambiguously ethnic looks and intuitive knowledge of underground transportation, combined with a decent scarf collection and an efficient, determined stride, I tend to blend in when I travel—I’m more likely to be asked for directions than to be offered directions (in fact, today a couple stopped me in Madrid to ask where the nearest McDonalds was. And of course I knew the answer). But with Will we spoke English and got lost and looked quite American.

Then minus, like, six thousand points to the European Union for getting all United States-y and not stamping my passport every time I change countries. I WANT MY PASSPORT TO BE A RAINBOW OF VARIED ETHNOGRAPHIC TRAVELS, IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK?


The currency blew my mind. It’s, like, 7 Danish Kroger to the euro, so everything costs 100 this and 75 that and seems really expensive.

I had the most delicious pancakes in this little vegan café where Will got what he deemed “The best veggie burger [he’d] ever had.”  And there was fresh juice.

People seemed happy, healthy, hard-working. Like everyone had a good attitude. Like, even though it was December and cold, they still put out little tables and chairs in front of the cafés, as if to say, “Why fight it?”

Mental image: our host, in the morning, stretching in his bright orange tighty-whiteys, completely unashamed of his massive boner.


I was really, really awed by how clear and beautiful everyone’s skin was. A healthy glow, all around, and when we went out to the bar everyone made an effort to speak in English, even amongst themselves, because I was there.

The café we played at, the people we met, the fashion, the music—it all seemed to me to be a hipster’s paradise. And I mean this as a compliment—I really wanted to move there and surrender myself completely to hipster-dom.

There was also this very cozy, homey feel that appealed to me. Stina (one of our hosts) brought us a late-night snack of brown bread with pinto bean spread and homemade pickles, arranged on a tray with tea. We snacked and drank tea in their warm little apartment.

Mental Image: Jacob, our other host, materializing out of nowhere in the crowded café where we were anxiously waiting, removing his big hood and announcing that he was there to take us home.


Homemade spaghetti dinners, tea and gingerbread, walks through the park. Bremen and our hosts were very simple, quiet, sincere.

We went to a music festival in a warehouse by the train yard. I talked to the touring American songwriter, and Susie and Uly taught me the German alphabet. I missed home and thought about Wachira, but I also felt so lucky to be exactly right where I was.

Mental Image:

"Look, Sarah--you're a ghost."


Best quiche/salad/quiche-salad combination I’ve ever had in my life in the kitschy little café/bar where we played.

They fed us, paid us, and then gave us a place to stay for the night. We had a “roommate” from Spain. He let us do laundry.

The part of town where we stayed was very “funky” (for lack of a better word) with lots of good graffiti, but it was a huge city, with a classy business district and also the random neighborhood where I bought this book.

Mental Image: The Vietnamese kid who performed before us, rocking back and forth and squirming on the piano bench like a little kid who has to go to the bathroom.


Amsterdam was an accident—we got on the wrong train trying to go to Paris and then just decided to make the best of it.

We stayed in a hostel room with a bazillion other beds, but the only other people in the room were three French girls. Turns out December is a good time to visit Amsterdam—it’s cheap and there’s not too many people.

We went to the Anne Frank house, something I’ve always wanted to do and didn’t know that I would be doing on this trip. It was different than I’d expected (did you know there’s no furniture left?), but absolutely worth it. We also checked out red-light district.

Mental Image: The deep, hollow, colorless depths of my own despair, where I swam for a good part of the night after having two drinks and then picking a fight with Will.


Oh, man, did I have that Metro system figured out. I was like, “We’re here, we need to get here, we take this one and then transfer here.” Bam.

Drank a LOT of beer and couldn’t find a place to crash so we wound up staying at a cheapy hotel, but we did talk them down from 60€ to 50€.

The weather was really nice, pleasant, like early spring, but I couldn’t even enjoy it because it felt too much like global warming. I wanted winter, and I wanted to sit in a café and drink a hot beverage and eat French pastries, but Will’s vegan so instead we had shitty pan-Asian food.

Mental Image: Me, crouched-down like a little squirrel in the shower, trying to maneuver the hand-held shower head and the low, low shelf with my shampoo and razor.


We stayed with friends of Will, Coralie and Arnaud, and they showed us the town. It was a cute college-y town, with a precious little historic center and some mighty fine beer.

I got to speak French with Arnaud!

We dried our clothes in a dryer—first time for me since September.

Mental Image: Coralie, rolling and smoking cigarettes, very slim and slight in her tall black boots.


All three bands ate together, family-style, at a big, long table in the backroom of the venue (a big space separated off by an even bigger curtain), before the show. The bartender/chef made us a raclette/potato/ham casserole, which Will couldn’t eat. So he asked Will “Do you eat rice? (Yes) Olives? (Yes) Tomatoes? (Yes) Onions? (Yes). Okay.” Then he brought out a big bowl of all that, topped off with a huge amount of tuna fish. Which Will couldn’t eat.

Chatting in French with Eric, who saved me from the creepy older dude that wanted to talk to me about the same thing on a loop all night. I mouthed, “Help. Me.” from across the room, and it worked, but then later I still had to let that aging, lingering thing kiss me on the face.

We all slept at Antoine/Marie Laure’s house in the foothills, and in the morning we went for a walk in the mountains and got dusted with light snow. I think we needed the breath of fresh air, if you will.

Mental Image: Will, running like a wild child up and down the frozen path in the woods, while the rest of us looked out over the valley.


So much delicious food—flammkuchen, and then gluhwein, then dark, foamy beer followed by late night durum falafel (best I’ve ever had) with little crunchy bits. Good thing we didn’t pay for anything, because Zurich is EXPENSIVE.

We made a music video! Who knew that was going to happen? NOT US. My fingers were frozen, and I felt so self-conscious because I’d been sleeping in random places and riding on trains for a week and wasn’t wearing makeup. But it turned out well.

Our host, Tito, and his sister Olivia were friendly, optimistic, open, generous and light-hearted. Also tall, thin and beautiful. And they run their own café/restaurant.

Mental Image: Olivia taking long, loping strides through the slick stony streets in her neon parka while Tito grins affably and Will and I shuffle along, dazed, on our way to a jazz club.


Home Sweet Home, except that I realized that while Will was going to wrap up the tour and go back to Salt Lake, I was going to stay in Madrid. I wasn’t going “home,” and that bummed me out some.

Still, it was nice to speak the language, see my roommates, SEE LAURA (who brought me a Santa Claus cactus—Planta Claus), and sleep in my own bed. I showed Will the sights (Sol, Plaza Mayor, Museo de Jamón, El Retiro) and made us late-night microwave rice with tomato sauce and veggies.

Mental Image: María Oviedo, running down the stairs, scarf flying, breathless, to catch the last bit of the last song we played.

Mental Image: Will and I, sitting on my bed in our PJs, watching music videos on YouTube. Then the next morning I got up and went to work, and when I came home Will had already left for Barcelona. Just me again.