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  • "Do you think they will have outlets on the train?" a friend asked in the station.

    "No," I replied. One simple word.

    She looked disappointed and I thought I sounded sharper than I'd intended. I just meant to answer the question. I could not imagine outlets on the train. I wondered if the toilet would consist of more than a hole in the floor emptying onto the tracks, and I thought we were lucky to have assigned seats.

    "I think we will need to be on car five," I said, pointing at my ticket. "I am in seat 27."

    My friends pulled out their own tickets and looked. They hadn't gotten that far. They just planned to board and take seats. I think. Maybe. We had 24, 25, 26, and 27, respectively, or so it seemed to me.

    Throughout the trip, they let me figure things out and followed me. It was all Greek to me, and I had never been to any of the places before. I just had an eerie sense of direction and an uncanny grasp of time, distance, and maps. My friends decided what they wanted to do and where to go, and I made it work. I didn't much care, but if I wanted to go someplace in particular, I just took us that way. Nobody was any wiser. It seemed to work.

    The day before, leaving the ferry, I pushed, pulled, and prodded my friends toward the station to buy tickets for train. There are only two headed our way: One in the morning and one in the evening. If we missed the first, we might as well skip the second. I did not want to wait until we had dropped off our bags, cleaned up, and changed, not when we were so very close. We would have lost hours we didn't have.

    I looked at a map and I looked at my phone while a friend asked a stranger for the train station. He pointed us toward a big yellow building.

    "We need to go that way," a friend said.

    "I think that's the metro, not the train station."

    On the map, the two were side by side and forums had mentioned that beautiful building as home to the metro.

    "The man said to go that way," someone insisted and so we went. I didn't know.

    Along the way, we passed signs for the train station.

    "I think we need to go this way," I stopped, pointed, and said.

    "It looks like everyone else is walking that way," protested the group and so we kept walking.

    "I really think we need to go the other way," I said at the seventh or eighth sign with an arrow pointing in the opposite direction.

    Reluctantly, my friends turned and one shouted, "You have to stop making more mistakes! No more changing direction!"

    "OK," I muttered.

    The others trudged along slowly as I pulled ahead. At a bus stop they stopped and talked about taking a cab.

    "Let me just run to the corner," I said brightly. "I will scope it out. Just wait here."

    They set down their bags as I jogged toward the corner, which was really quite far (500 meters or more) and along the next street to check out a building across the way. I pretended I understood the words in Greek and determined that what I saw beyond the wall constituted train tracks.

    I ran back to my friends carrying all of my gear, my backpack, duffel, and purse, electronics, clothes, and books, and wearing too many clothes for the sunshine we found in Athens.

    "It's this way," I said, sweating lightly.

    Hesitantly, grumpily, my friends followed. They were hot and tired, too, and convinced I was wrong. The man in the port had pointed to the big yellow building. It just wasn't the right one. We bought our tickets.

    In the morning, after a very late night that constituted early dinner for locals, we rose early to store most of our bags and schlep the rest to the metro and train station.

    "Which way do we go?"

    There were two exits, and I stopped for a second.

    "That one," I decided. "It says OSE. That is the train."

    And it was.

    As we stood in the platform and waited, the crowd swelled around us, pushing and jostling. A woman asked something we couldn't pretend to understand so we apologized in English (though, I think I have learned it in Greek by now), smiled, and shrugged. The woman shrugged and smiled back at us.

    A stream of people walked behind me, pushing my backpack with every new passenger, and a friend noted the tension locking my jaw and furrowing my brow.

    "We can move," she said. "Which way do you want to go?"

    "I don't know," I replied. "I don't know which direction is five and we're in the middle here."

    "We can just head in that direction," another said. "We will have plenty of time to walk the train and find our seats."

    "Sure," I agreed even though I didn't believe it and we moved. "Thank you. I have trouble with crowds. It's part of my sensory thing."

    I could feel my nerves calming until the train approached, and I scanned the sides for numbers.

    "One.... Two...."

    "The two just means second class, right."


    I started walking/jogging through the crowd.


    We were on the wrong end. I kept going until I had reached the very last door on the very last car, which was one door too far but the right car. Next time, on the way back, I would get it right.

    I realized that I was the only one of us who'd ever ridden such a train in such a place. I had a whole range of experiences against which to bounce it and I filed the information away for later. I was the only one of us who knew, on some level, what to expect.

    "Do you think I could hop off the train and try to find something to drink at one of these stations?" one asked.

    "Do not get off the train," I said, grateful that we were heading to a terminal point. "It barely slows at each station and we are out in the country."

    I imagined her standing on the platform, empty handed, watching us pull away. If we were lucky, someone would pass through selling food closer to noon. If not, I had food in my bag, fruit, nuts and cookies, a sandwich and pastry.

    "In first class, they get food. There must be a dining car."

    I raised an eyebrow.


    I'd suggested a bakery in the early morning hours walking with a friend, and I ducked into one of the cutest bakeries I'd ever seen. Anywhere. Ever. Neither of us particularly liked sandwiches or pastries, but bread would do in a pinch. With a look of faint disdain, she settled on something while I winnowed my choices to just two from the loaves, sandwiches, and sweets. Manna from heaven.

    The other two in our group had nothing socked away for the five-hour train ride and ate little at breakfast after such a late night. I planned to share what I brought; I always did.

    "I'm such a mom," I said for the millionth time, but I am not. I don't have kids. I just plan ahead.

    Everything would be all right. Everyone would be fine, and it wasn't my responsibility. I wasn't our tour guide. I didn't know any more than the others around me. Not really. Not at all. But I would learn more about where we were going before we got there even though I wasn't the one who suggested the train ride.
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