For a long time, Ive loved to travel by train.
While we lived in the U.S., I commuted by train for years and once
took a very long train ride, coast to coast and back. On that trip,
there was a 42 hour leg from Chicago to Seattle that required two
overnights. On one of those nights, we gathered in a lounge car and
sang songs until the wee hours. Its been twenty years and I still
remember that night and that train ride with a lot of fondness. Ive
long been an advocate of train travel but had I not been an
experienced train traveler, I may have changed my mind after what
just happened to us.
Here in Europe, trains are used much more
frequently for long distance travel than in the U.S. and this past
weekend we took a train to Berlin. In a subsequent post, I will talk
about Berlin, but for the moment, I will confine myself to only the
train trip, the Train Ride from Hell. It almost turned into the
Train Rides from Hell plural.
Early Friday morning, we happily left home for
Berlin, our longest trip from home so far. Berlin is about 400 miles
from here. Paris is about 300 with a bullet train so it was only a
three hour ride but from Amsterdam to Berlin its scheduled for more
than six hours and were almost an hour from Amsterdam. We easily
made our connection in Amsterdam so we were off.
Because the Netherlands is a small country, they
have to adapt. All announcements on international trains are made in
Dutch, English, and in this case, German. After about two hours we
crossed the German border. The Germans are the big boys in town with
a population of almost 85 million, the largest in Europe. They have
the largest economy. They dont adjust to you, you adjust to them.
Therefore, the first stop in Germany was announced in German. No
Dutch. No English. There was something familiar about this setup but
I couldnt quite put my finger on it.
We were moving along quite nicely for about three
and a half hours when the train came to a rather abrupt stop. We sat
there for about 20 minutes when an announcement was made. In German.
There was a collective groan. Lynn and I looked at each other. We
were aware of no other English speaking people in our vicinity, so
we waited for a conductor. After a while she came by and we asked
what was going on. She said she didnt speak English so well but
would try. "Acksidension." "There was an accident?" I asked. "Ja,
accident mit menshen." "With a man?" I asked. She nodded. I pointed
to my heart and asked, "Heart attack?" She shook her head no. Then
she made a gesture with her left hand and put two fingers in the
shape of railroad tracks. She took her other hand and made a walking
motion across the tracks. Finally, she took one finger, placed it at
her throat, and drew her finger across the front of her throat. Lynn
and I replicated the groan that we previously heard from the other
passengers. This had to be intentional. The train was riding on a
berm that was about 20 feet high on both sides of the tracks. It was
heavily wooded on both sides but the woods were pretty narrow, about
30 feet. He couldnt have wandered on the tracks by accident.
After about two hours we went on our way. When we
got to the next station, everyone got off the train. Someone told us
that there was a train malfunction and we would need another train.
We waited at this station in the middle of nowhere for about a half
hour when the new train pulled in. We all climbed on and away we
went but this time making lots of local stops. I dont know how long
we were riding when we got to Hanover. Everyone got off the train
again so we followed. We never found out why. After about 40 minutes
we got on another train. This was also packed. There were no seats
for us in the passenger compartments. Trains here make
accommodations for bicycles. These areas have relatively
uncomfortable seats and racks to tie bikes up to. There were five
bikes there and one open seat with some young folks sitting on the
floor. Lynn took the seat. I carry a little portable seat with me so
I opened it up and parked myself up against the bikes because there
was no other room that wasnt in the path of the foot traffic
between cars. Some kid with a bike came in and asked me to move. I
asked where he wanted me to go as there was no other space. He told
me it wasnt his problem. I assured him it was his problem as I was
already there and I wasnt moving because there was no place to move
to. He leaned his bike against something and I spent much of the
trip making sure his bike didnt fall and wondering why he was
glaring at me each time I looked up from my book.
We were due in Berlin at 5:30 p.m. We finally
arrived at close to 9 p.m. We were given a form to fill out to apply
for a refund using their on-time guarantee program which says they
will arrive within 60 minutes. I stood in line for about 20 minutes
to find out that the refund was worth a whole 5.
On the way home we knew we golden. What else
could happen? At the last stop in Germany, several German police
entered the car wanting to see everyones passport. When I asked
why, I was told it was "identity control" and that it was "normal
procedure." Naturally I felt much safer that my identity had been
controlled but wondered why it hadnt happened in the other
direction and why others told us they hadnt seen it before. Then it
was announced, in English after we were back in the Netherlands,
that there was a derailment just south of Amsterdam and that there
would be bus service from Amsterdam to another station where we
could continue our journey by train. We were due in Amsterdam at
about 11 p.m so this news was not thrilling. A conductor came
through and asked where our final destination was and we told him.
He suggested getting off at Amersfoort, changing to Rotterdam and
then home. It turned out that we got home about 20 minutes earlier
this way. The second calamity actually worked in our favor and we
had a great nights sleep.
More about Berlin soon. And in case youre
wondering, Im still a train advocate.