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  • In a small, cramped compartment on an overnight train from Vienna to Venice, I sat across from Christina, my travel companion. We were hot, tired, and unaware of the journey about to unfold. The two gentlemen to my right are sitting in our seats, but they don't care.

    "Couple of Americans think they can just sit wherever."

    That's what I imagine they say. I'll never know for sure. Regardless we remain in the middle seats of an already uncomfortable and stuffy compartment. A train attendant comes in and let's us know that we have "hot wheels," and will be unable to move until another train engine car arrives. I had a sneaky suspicion she didn't mean the same Hot Wheels I played with when I was a kid.

    In any other situation, that would be alright. It's an overnight train. We can just sleep. No, no, no. We have a very short window in which we can connect with our train in Salzburg that will take us to Venice. As time creeped by in that awful train compartment, it became evident that we would miss our train.

    But low! The attendant says the train is waiting for us at the station. An entire train to Venice held up for two people? Impossible. I didn't believe it. Finally our new engine car arrived and we were on our merry way to Salzberg. So what if we were a few hours late. No big deal. We can take it. I looked over at Christina. All would be well.

    Shortly before we arrived we received the news. Our train had left. It was too good to be true. Oh well. They said we weren't the only ones who missed that connecting train. Things were being arranged and we would all have a way out of Salzburg.

    A pretty solid deal for two people who can't speak any German or derivative of said language. So we waited until we arrived at Salzburg. There we were greeted by a man in a navy blue jacket. He held up his arm. A group of us travelers mozied over to him. I asked,

    "Venice?"

    He stared back, then motioned to follow him down a flight of stairs. We followed like cattle being led to pasture, although it felt more like slaughter. A few other English speakers had gathered that we were taking a bus to our next destination. What is the destination? Nobody knew. Rumors circulated, but nothing was confirmed. On we walked, down the stairs, around some corners, and onto the street. The driver stood outside, ready to take our bags.

    "Schwarzach!"

    "I'm sorry, what?" I asked.

    "Schwarzach," He replied. "Look for flag."

    He might as well have said "Death Bus," because that was all I heard out of his mouth. Unsure if this was the right thing to do, we boarded, aware that this very well could be the last time we were ever seen again. I had visions of grainy security cameras capturing my last moment at the bus platform of the Salzburg train depot. I took a breath, and stepped onto the doom mobile.

    In the back we hunkered down next to those previously mentioned English speakers. We got our information together and "figured out," that we were taking this bus to Schwarzach, apparently a town outside of Salzburg, and from there we would take a train to our destination. Some were going to Slovenia, others elsewhere. Myself and Christina were the lone Venetian pilgrims.

    What was supposed to be a short, 45 minute ride seemed like hours. Nobody really knew what was going to happen to us when the bus pulled up to its, and our, final destination. A fellow travelers joked that we were going into sex slavery. We laughed, but as the laughter subsided, we all thought it was a plausible reality that awaited at the end of road.

    Well, we didn't go into sex slavery. Better yet we arrived at the station to find an English speaking train attendant who told us that he would "take care of us." Had I heard that going on the bus I would have screamed, but I didn't panic at that moment. There was something about his voice and demeanor. I felt like he might actually take care of us. He led us to the correct car, gave us our own compartment, and told us we were headed to Villach, a small town in Austria. From there we would connect to Venice. The door closed and the train pulled away from Schwarzach. Christina and I let out a sigh of relief. The nightmare was almost over.

    With our guardian angel onboard, Christina and I settled down, taking our shoes off, changing into different clothes, using the facilities, and sitting with our feet up, a luxury we didn't have for a long time. At this point we were well into the A.M., probably around three or four in the morning. Light was beginning to creep into view. Everything was still pretty dark, but that would all change in a big way.

    As if this all happened for a reason, we came out of a tunnel and were witness to one of the most heavenly sights I have ever laid my eyes on. Pressed with our faces against the window, we peered down into a valley where a small town sat nestled in the slopes of the Alps. Moving our eyes over the rooftops, through the conifers, and up the rocky slopes our eyes met the snow capped peaks of those iconic mountains. The sun just starting to kiss the mighty mountains created a breathtaking display of nature at its best.

    Like a Lionel train we whizzed in and out of hillside tunnels. Below a river snaked around the town to which I know not the name of, but I wish I could live in forever. As we descended lower and lower into the valley the Alps became more and more magnificent, towering above the train like Titans. I felt like I was in the presence of something my mind truly couldn't comprehend. It's a feeling I'll never forget.

    Nothing lasts forever, and before long we were in Villach. We thanked our guardian and waited for a bus that would take us to Venice. As the train pulled away we were virtually alone in this small, quaint Alpine town. We walked down to where our transportation would arrive. We walked across the way to a small cafe and had breakfast. I can't say for sure, but the glass of orange juice I ordered was the most delicious tasting thing I've ever had in my life. Having been awake for 24 hours with nothing but a granola bar for the last eight, I would have been content with eating my shoe, which at that point had already walked all over seven European cities. Soon after breakfast the bus arrived. We climbed aboard, and conked out, waking up just outside of the Venice Ferry.

    That night I learned a valuable lesson. Even when things seem so bleak and uncertain, you have to hold on, and you just might come out on top. If I didn't get on that bus to Schwarzach I never would have seen sunrise on the Alps, and I never would have gone to Venice, my favorite city in the world. To those who are down and out, fear not, for tomorrow the sun will rise. Although it might not illuminate a mountain range, it will rise, and another day means another opportunity to turn things around.
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