On the Train Between Varenna and Venice

A Lesson: Always Speak to People Sitting Near You on the Train —
After the train ride from Varenna to Milano Centrale station, we found Carozza Uno de Treno 37 — the first-class car — for the two hour and thirty minute ride to Venice. After settling in, a very pleasant woman sat next to me who spoke fluent English and Italian with a cultured-sounding German accent. After a period of silently looking out window at the round hay bales and red poppies, we initiated the usual ‘where are you from?’ … ‘How long have you been around Como?’ She learned that we were going later in the week to Vienna, Melk, and Salzburg and told us that she was a native Austrian, traveling on business and very much approved of our destination choices. She was especially interested on our plan to take a boat up the Danube from Krems to Melk, and took out her MacBook Air laptop (about 1/4-inch thick), connected wirelessly to the Internet, and showed us pictures of a boatride she recommended starting from Vienna instead of Krems. She also recommended a day trip from Vienna to Bratislava for dinner and the Opera, returning to Vienna the same evening — she showed us the website.
I asked, “What brings you here?” She was on her way back to Innsbruck (Austria) from visits to Madrid and Milan with a group from the university at Innsbruck, working with the European Union Parliament. She handed me her business card. It identified her as follows:
Eva Lichtenberger
Member of the European Parliament
Vice President of The Greens/EPS Group

Next to the EU Parliament logo, the addresses indicated that she had offices in Brussels (Bruxelles) and Strasbourg.  It turns out that she represents Austria on the E.U. Parliament, a member of the minority party (“hopefully gaining strength,” she said).
We talked about the difficult challenges the E.U. is facing. A big one, she told us, is Turkey. “There is pressure  from the U.S. government to admit Turkey to the E.U. The U.S. has good reasons for that position,” she said, “to keep Turkey aligned with The West and pull them away from forces in their neighborhood that are hostile to Western interests.” On the other hand, “It would cost us a great deal.”
She talked about the struggle to incorporate states that have such a gulf between rich and poor, which is the case on Turkey. “Like Greece,” she said, “which is not a poor country, not like your Louisiana, which is a poor state. Nothing you can do with the currency can bridge a productivity gap.”
She talked about her travels to San Francisco, Mexico, New Orleans, Washington, and elsewhere for E.U. meetings and made the point that the cost of rebuilding poor states (like New Orleans after Katrina) is difficult for even the wealthiest countries, like Germany, France, and the U.S. because they have their own commitments to finance.
She told us that the discussion about admitting Turkey the the E.U. “Is a lot like the discussion you might have about admitting Mexico to the United States.” She said. “Turkey would cost us more than Mexico would cost you.” But still, she said, “the reasons for making Turkey a committed member of The West are world-wide reasons. It will be a difficult decision.”
I told her that there is strong interest in the U.S. for the success of a strong Europe (she knew that) and that there has been much written in the U.S. about the need to follow a monetary union with establishment of a political union. She agreed that was the inevitable direction for Europe, but recognized the fear among strong nations of giving up too much sovereignty.
She got off the train at Verona for her return trip to Innsbruck.
The Lesson: Always initiate conversations with people sitting on the train. You never know who you might meet.
Meanwhile, we wend our way through the wine country on our way to Venice.

2 Responses “On the Train Between Varenna and Venice”

  1. Joe III says:

    Dan,
    Your story today reminds me of my late Uncle David, who spent his annual family vacations hauling a house trailer around the country many times and always, regardless of where he went, seemed to run into someone he knew from back in California! Once it was someone in a car next to his at a stop light in downtown Manhattan! I always thought it was magic, but I once came close myself. I was in the middle of a 10-day drive from Pittsburgh to Niagara Falls, and then through Rochester, Albany, Pittsfield MA, VT, NH, Maine, Boston, NY, NJ, northern PA and back to Pittsburgh.

    At the halfway point, in Portland Maine, I walked into a local diner for breakfast. It was full and as I was alone I was seated at the counter. I do not normally start up conversations with strangers, but the guy beside me did the honors. When I answered his query about where I was from with “Antioch”, he had heard of it — because he had served in WW II and been trained at Camp Stoneman in Pittsburg, CA (without the “H”!) on his way to the Pacific!

  2. Andrea says:

    Fascinating. I love travel like this. Don’t think I’ll have a similar experience next month in Colorado.

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