Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Vegas to London: Koln and another beggar

**This was written in Koln on Sunday 18 April - posted later**

The train pulls into Koln at half past nine. For the first time, I am something close to optimistic though I will not allow myself to feel good until I am in my seat on the Eurostar and the train is moving.
Again, I have no idea what it will be like at Koln station. Perhaps the relative quiet and normality of the Rhine journey was an illusion and thousands of stranded types are already recreating the bung that was Milan.
They are not. Again, the station is busy but it is German people getting home in time for bed and work in the morning.
I will feel better if I get a ticket to Brussels tonight. There are no queues at the ticket machines but you can only buy some types of ticket through the machines. Again.
My ideal train is a Thalys at 1044 but you cannot buy Thalys tickets through the machine - only Deutsche Bahn. And I cannot find the right button.
From my left, a smartly dressed Asian man asks me if I want to buy a day pass 'for all trains'. I say no but he appears not to understand and begins to tell me that it will take me anywhere I want to go. I say no but he appears not to understand.
From my right a small man in a red jacket asks me where I'm going. His breath smells lightly of beer but he is not at all drunk and speaks perfect English with no more than a hint of an accent.
I am annoyed and tell him I'm going to the ticket office because I need a train to Brussels.
'You can buy that here. Look ...' His fingers are already playing the buttons on the touch screen like some silent musical instrument.
'Here. You can buy this ticket. The 0843.'
It is earlier than I want. I am tired. Very, very tired and the thought of waking up early dismays me. But it is a train. And I will feel happy to be on something. I say OK.
'Here. First or second class?' Second.
'You wanna book a seat.' For some reason I say no.
'OK. Here. Put your card in. You won't need your PIN.' He is right. I don't. He has done this before. Clearly. Often.
I pick up the ticket.
'So maybe you could give me some change?'
I give him five euros and he is content. It is not begging. He is running a small service industry which is better value than most.

My son has booked a hotel for me. It is right opposite the station and the Dom; the stark and slightly scary Koln cathedral. It is perfect. Two minutes from the station.
In the hotel room, there is a strange, alien smell. It is me.
During the night, there is a small riot in the platz outside the station and policemen smashing batons into people but I hear nothing. It happens in the couple of hours that I'm asleep. Not a long sleep but a very deep one.
I hear about it in the morning.

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