A Bicycle Trip  Around Taiwan


Swiss Church

A Swiss village near the Gotthard tunnel.



A lake in Switzerland

A lake in northern Switzerland.

I was on my first Mediterranean cruise, aboard USS America. The aircraft carrier had a scheduled port visit to Naples, Italy, and I had some leave I needed to use. I knew that my brother-in-law, Ed, had a mother and her husband living in Gissen, Germany, so I decided to take a train trip, through Italy and Switzerland, and visit them in Gissen. I wrote a letter to Ed's mother, knowing that she spoke a bit of English, telling her of my plans to make a visit.

When the carrier anchored, I caught one of the first liberty boats ashore and went to the train station in Naples. I bought a ticket to Gissen, and paid for an upgrade to second class, where I would get a reserved seat. The train left in the evening and would travel all night through Italy, getting to Switzerland early in the morning.

I found my car, and found my compartment. It was already filled with an Italian family that had pushed ahead of me, and my seat was taken. I showed the lady in my seat my ticket and she seemed not to understand. I showed it to the other adults in the cabin and they shrugged their shoulders. The conductor acknowledged that I had the correct ticket, but made no effort to remedy the situation. I was a newly commissioned officer and a gentleman, and was not going to dislodge a lady with children, even if she was sitting in my seat. Alas, I spent the night standing in the aisles, or on the back platform, and quite enjoyed what scenery I could see in the darkness.

In the wee hours of the morning, we crossed into Switzerland, and as if by magic my seat was suddenly available. To the Swiss, if my ticket said that I had a seat, then I had a seat. In fact, everyone on the car would have rushed to rectify the situation had they sensed the tiniest impropriety.

It was a gloomy morning in Switzerland, but that was not enough to conceal the beauty of the scenery. Everything looked like a postcard; the mountains were sharp and rugged, the farms were picturesque, and even the cows looked like the huggable ones in a child's story book.


Swiss Farm

A Swiss farm in a lush valley.


Rhine Valley, Germany.

The flat farmlands of Germany as we approach Frankfurt.


Gissen Railroad Station

The Gissen railroad station.


I arrived at the Gissen railroad station after about thirty hours on the train, and asked someone directions to the address I carried. I was able to walk to a townhouse not far away. When I knocked, Herr Krawutshke answered the door. He clearly spoke no English, and I could see that he was irritated that this American G.I. from the nearby base, had mistakenly knocked on his door. I tried to ask if his wife was in, but he said she was gone. I saw a photo on the mantle of Ed and my sister, Dorothy. In my forgotten collge German, I said, "Ich bin der bruder der Dorothy," pointing at the photo. "Dorothy ist die frau der Eduard." He allowed me in, and then, on the table I saw the letter I had written, unopened. I managed to convey that I had written the letter. The good Herr gradually warmed up and served me some sparkling water. His wife would not be back during the two days I had planned to be there. He indicated that I could sleep on the sofa and stay.

He then took me around Gissen. He had managed a railroad switching station for many years and he took me there. He told me that both of his sons were killed in World War II, fighting the Allies. That explained his cool reception. We visited their gravesite. He rented a small plot in a community garden, and we went there and gathered some vegetables for dinner.

The next day we went to a bar, where he met some old friends. I could tell that plenty of sarcastic remarks were exchanged at my expense, and yet they were friendly when talking directly to me. I spent some time exploring on my own and taking photographs. The following morning we said goodby, and I got on a train back to Naples.


Herr Krawutske switch station.

Herr Krawutshke standing in front of the switching station where he had worked for many years.


Grave of two sons.

Herr Krawutshke had lost both his sons who had fought the Allies in World War II.


At his farm plot.

In his rented garden plot.


Washing up.

Cleaning up before taking fresh vegetables home for dinner.


Ducks in a pond.

A hen protects her ducklings at a town park.


Gissen swiming pool.

I pose at the Gissen swimming facility. I would have tried it out, but transportation was going to be an issue.


My trip to Gissen was one of the first adventures that I did while aboard aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean. What I learned from the trip was to head straight for the train station when I had even just one day off from duty. Ship ports are full of bars and other businesses that are out to prey on sailors. Too many shipmates never made it past these districts. I quickly found that by just taking the train even a few stops down the line, I had a much better time, with people who were in their everyday surroundings.

Don Webster

The End