Saturday, January 31, 2015

Relocating, and Other Stories from Public Transportation

Many of my most memorable experiences did not take place at a destination.  It's always the getting there, the journey, that incurs the most fun.  Well, at least what I call fun.  You might call it hell.  It's all a matter of perspective.

The first time I visited Finland, I traveled by ferry boat from St. Petersburg, Russia to Helsinki.  Having hopped off at the ferry terminal and walked just a few blocks to the Russian Embassy to renew my visa, I distinctly remember hauling my luggage back out of the consular office, down a tree-lined street, sitting down in the sun on some giant moss-covered rocks, looking out over the Baltic sea on the horizon and the Helsinki city skyline, and deciding right then and there:  I'm going to live here someday.  I had been there only four hours when my heart - not my rational brain - seemed to commit itself to a pursuit of residence in Finland.  

That was in April 2010.  I wouldn't actually move to Helsinki to start my master degree until September 2012, but when I finally arrived I wasn't all that surprised to be back.  It just seemed right.  I struggled financially as a student there, working and studying 16-18 hours a day for the first year and still barely making ends meet.  But nevertheless I was genuinely happy.  I was exactly where I dreamed of being, in an incredibly beautiful city built around forest and sea and archipelago.  My school offered amazing facilities and opportunities at the low cost of free tuition, and my classmates were creative and inspiring.  And during that first year and a half I grew more in my personal life than I had since my first international move to Belgium six years prior: amid my intense lack of resources, I learned to rely on God completely for provision and in the process grew more spiritually than I ever had before.  It was in Helsinki, walking each evening along the seashore or riding a city bus across bridges connecting islands, that I found a quiet place -- not only externally but somewhere inside my own heart and mind. As I began to avail myself of those moments in solitude, I developed a habit of praying through everything that was going on in my life, laying it all out there in conversation with God.  And for the first time in my life, in that quiet place my ears became attuned to God's voice, to what he was saying, doing, and teaching.  I began to see my prayers answered in incredible ways, far beyond what I had requested.  I thought to myself, God will never take me away from Finland; this is my sanctuary. 

Apparently I've been caught in my sanctuary, sunbathing near Finnish waters.
Sunny real estate is at a premium.  Must maximize sun absorption in the summertime to stock up on Vitamin D for the long winter ahead.







When I met new people, the inevitable "What brought you to Finland?" question always arose quickly.  Everyone was always surprised that I came voluntarily rather than being dragged here by a boyfriend or husband.  They were even more surprised when I told them I didn't plan on leaving.  In fact, I was often asked, "Really, if you could live anywhere in the world, you would live here?"
I always replied, Yes, and at the moment I can't even think of considering living anywhere else.  I think I'll be here for at least 10 years.  The only other place that seems appealing to settle down in is maybe Switzerland, but I don't have any connections there.  I'm quite happy here. 

Little did I know that just a year or two later I'd be moving to start my Ph.D. studies in....  Switzerland.


As I've come to Lausanne this week for a short visit before my official start date to get acquainted with my new campus, new apartment, and new colleagues, I have had the pleasure of previewing my near-future lifestyle during the past few days.  Switzerland's public transportation infrastructure is amazing, allowing a passenger to reach even the tiniest villages with incredibly few connections.  For example, I'm moving to the village of Perroy:  1,407 inhabitants in a total area of 1.1 square miles.  I take a bus, a train, and a metro to reach the campus in about 45 minutes.  I usually only have to wait 4-5 minutes for my connections, but somehow in the past three days I've managed to end up in two slightly major transportation mishaps.  One was my fault, the other clearly was not. 

Watching the sun set from my kitchen window in Perroy








My morning commute to Lausanne (the border between Switzerland and France is drawn through the middle of this lake, so you can see the French Alps on the other side, include Mont Blanc, Europe's highest peak).


A CASE OF CARELESS EMBARKATION

Last night I was on my way home from Nettra's fondue party when I boarded an "IR" train headed for Geneva instead of the "RE" train I was supposed to board, also going to Geneva.  Apparently IR = InterRegional while RE = RegioExpress.  The IR trains make few stops, and only at the bigger stations.  RE trains are local trains and they tend to stop at all the little villages along the way.  So, living in a village of 1,407, I definitely should have boarded a RegioExpress.   But in my haste to board the first train that came (I was cold and it was 11pm), I realized 15 minutes into the journey that I was going to be whisked past my intended stop and on for another 12 minutes before I could disembark.  

When I got off at Nyon it was about 11.30, snowing, and the departures board showed that the first RE train going to my home station would arrive at 00.53 ... about 1am in the morning.  I almost began to cry, and thought of all the possibilities of getting out of the cold, including taking a taxi home at the hefty price of 60+ Swiss Francs (about 68 USD) and taking an approaching train all the way to Geneva where I knew I had a friend who'd kindly let me sleep over in any emergency.  Just before the tears began to freeze into little icicles on my cheeks, my flatmate came to the rescue with a text message containing alternative directions to get home at a reasonable hour via public transport.  I was saved.  I thought, Okay, the obligatory getting lost on public transport has happened; now I can relax and just be satisfied that I learned a good lesson about boarding trains.  

And then tonight came. 

A CASE OF BAD INFORMATION

After attending the wonderful public thesis defense of an acquaintance and watching him receive his doctoral diploma (which one of my teary-eyed colleagues claims is a ceremony she enjoys "even more than a wedding"), I decided to head out around 19.30 in hopes of getting home a bit earlier than the night before.  My first two connections went smoothly.  When I arrived at my home train station, however, there were two buses parked outside.  I asked the driver of the first if he passes by Perroy village; he said, "No, it's the bus ahead of me.  Get on that one."  So I did, avec plaisir.   After about 10 minutes, though, I didn't recognize the landmarks on the route nor the names of the stops, so I asked the driver to confirm that he passes by my house.  "Uhh...no." he said.  "This bus makes a circle around the village of Rolle.  I don't go to Perroy.  You should have gotten on the bus that was behind me."

Hmm, that's weird, I told him, because I explicitly asked the driver of the other bus if he passed by, and he told me to get on your bus!  
"Quel machin!" The old driver started to get excited.  "You're going to have to stay on this bus until I circle around back to the train station, then you can change to the other bus and get home really late," he said rather sympathetically.  "Take a seat."

I sat down near the driver, frustrated that I just couldn't seem to get home correctly and feeling sorry for myself that I had been tricked.  But after a minute I just couldn't tolerate my horrible attitude. 
Well, looks like I get the grand tour of the little village of Rolle!  I said to him enthusiastically.  It was actually a really cute little downtown.  And I suddenly had the feeling that maybe it wasn't an accident that I ended up on this bus.  Maybe this sweet little older man driving the bus needed someone to talk to.  I've only been here two days, I told him, I'm going to be moving here from Finland, and I haven't actually seen what this little village is like, so maybe this is my great opportunity.   

"Oh, that's great!" he exclaimed.  "I was driving a bus in the big city of Lausanne for 28 years, but now I've moved out here and I live on top of that mountain over there.  It's great out here; all the people are nice and I know everyone."  We talked on a bit longer; he told me how he came from Portugal, and asked me about my work.   Just about then we entered a roundabout, and then in an act of true spontaneity, he says, "On y va!  A Perroy!" and puts the pedal to the metal.   We accelerated much more quickly than I expected a bus possibly could, and it took me a few seconds to grasp that he had decided to leave his route and take me home.  I looked around behind me and the bus was empty; I was the last passenger.  The sweet little Portugese bus driver tapped his clock, "I don't have to start my next route for 25 minutes."  

It was the sweetest, kindest thing a bus driver had ever done for me.  We pulled up right in front of my apartment and he let me off, then made a U-turn and disappeared into the frigid night, his tail lights blinking between the rows of grape vines in the vineyard à côté.  


I think my time in the little lakeside village of Perroy is going to be just great.  


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