I joke that people shouldn’t travel with me because I have terrible luck with most forms of transportation, but usually airlines are my main tormenter. I’ve never actually missed a plane from sheer negligence, i.e. I overslept, got stuck on public transport, or misread the time. However, I still have quite a repertoire of stories about plane travel gone wrong from canceled flights to missing luggage to running through airports. Not that trains, buses, or even cars have been better to me. There was the time the trains in Italy misconnected and we almost missed our ferry to Sardinia. Or the time I was on a train from FL to NC that hit a car about 30 minutes into my journey and stranded us on the tracks with no power in case a fire broke out. Or the time in NZ when we hit a huge possum and crashed into the side of bridge bending an axle and destroying our car. You get the point now. I have a lot of ‘funny-after-the-fact’ travel stories.
Recently, though, I’ve been feeling pretty good about traveling in that all my flights to and within Europe have been on time and without incident. The trains have been prompt and even the buses have been without incident. Because of this, I was lulled into a false sense of security because when my train journey back from Berlin derailed (pun intended), I almost lost my shit. Thus the story of my interesting train journey back from Berlin.
Things started really well. We headed out from the flat near to on-time and arrived at Berlin HBF with enough time to get food and get to our platform. Once on the platform things went awry. The train sign showed 2 trains showing up at 14:49, one was #544 and one was #554. How can that be we thought? It said our train number (544), so we waited on the platform as the minutes ticked past 14:49. From what I had heard the German trains are supposed to be notoriously on time, like in Japan. Thus, as each minute crept past our supposed departure time I got worried. Announcements were made, in German of course, but no train appeared.
Finally, at 15:03 a train pulled into the station. This train was much nicer than the train we took TO Berlin, so I was worried that this wasn’t the right train. Then the train car numbers were not in the ballpark for the one we were assigned. Also, the sign on the outside said #554, NOT our train number. I hopped on board anyway hoping to solve the puzzle of this train, but chaos was everywhere. Everyone seemed lost, confused, or a tourist so I remained unconfident that this was, indeed, our train.
I stepped back off the train and must of had the wild eyed look of a confused tourist because a nice train woman asked me if I needed any help. I showed her my ticket and she replied “Next train” and then the doomed words “You stay right here”. Ok, we figured we had chosen the correct platform but our train was due to arrive next. Then we stood on the platform and watched the beautiful, fancy international train pull out of the station.
More announcements rang out in German indicating that the Amsterdam Centraal train that was also delayed was due ~40 minutes late. Then the sign on the platform flipped to the next train to god-knows-where, which was not Druisberg-my destination, at 15:17. Slowly the realization of what was happening washed over me. I found an extremely blunt and unhelpful train man who informed me that “the train left”. No words of what to do followed. Just “It came and left”. OH SHIT! Now the sinking feeling set in that we had truly been on the correct train yet had gotten off of it. I told the grumpy train man what the woman had said about “the next train” and he informed me that there were 2 trains connected and at some point along the way they would separate them to send them along to their respective locations. Well that explained why she told to get on the next train, but why did she tell me to remain on the platform? To that the blunt train man had no comment or words of wisdom, instead he just repeated “your train is gone”.
Now it was time to regroup, but my blood sugar was low and I was again about to lose my shit. We collected ourselves and ran down to the information booth in the station. I was too crazed to speak to the woman so my friend did all the talking. She looked up stuff in her computer and rerouted us on the delayed Amsterdam train leaving in ~5 minutes. She stamped our tickets and sent us on our way without seats.
We raced back up to the platform with a few minutes to spare and then hopped on the train towards Amsterdam. We get seats even though most people seem to have assigned seats and our journey home began. Of course, this isn’t the last of the travel troubles.
Our train is almost at the border of Germany when an announcement rings out in German on the train. My friend can kind of understand German and starts to look surprised, but can’t make all of it out. As he is making unhappy noises I hear the word “Polizei” and think OH SHIT! What is going on now? I ask a man on the train, who is looking visibly upset, what is going on and he informs us that the train has to stop at the last station in Germany because there has been a robbery at the first station in the Netherlands and the police have closed it down for an investigation. Therefore, no trains can get through. Instead we are to go into the station and wait for a bus, which will take us into NL where we will ultimately board trains to our final destinations. How do you rob a train station? I have no idea. I am not even sure what was stolen, a train?!
We get off the train and go inside the terminal to wait for the buses. Some brave people try to wait outside so they can be first on the buses, but it is really cold and the wait turns out to be 45 minutes so they all end up inside anyway. As we wait, people get antsy, but they are mostly calm. The train people come through to find out where we are all supposed to be going because they have to get us all home at some point. Eventually (~40 mintues later) the buses come and we get on them for the short drive to the next station where lo and behold no trains are running because of the robbery. Duh! We all get off our German buses, walk into the train station only to see that we can’t go anywhere, so we head out to the Dutch buses. Outside the Dutch buses a man is directing people onto 2 buses that will take us up 1 more train station where we can board trains to our final destinations. Eventually enough of us ask him if we should go to the very next station because our connections were through another city, Deventer, so he assigns one of the buses to go directly to Deventer; thus saving us all a lot of headache and train connections. Yay to the Dutch for quick and efficient decision making. Also in our favor is that the train guys are on our bus, which means they can tell us all how to get home.
The issue has now become the time. At this point it is around 11 pm on a Sunday night. At some point very soon, the last trains will run and the only ones left will be the night trains. For Utrecht, my destination, the last train was at 12:30 am and the next wasn’t until 5:30 am. The bus departs for Deventer and we sit patiently hoping to make the last train.
This where I talk about how awesome the 2 train guys were. They got on their cell phones and other planning devices to find out when the last trains would be leaving for everyone from Deventer. As we were pulling into the station they were giving announcements for every destination indicating whether you would take a train or would have to be sent by taxi and the time of the train. They even got the Utrecht Centraal train held for ~10 minutes. There were quite a few of us on that train, so it was awesome. We got off the bus and hurried over to the train for the final leg of our journey. All in all we only arrived an hour and a half later thanks to the amazing efficiency of the Dutch/German train system.
TO Berlin: 2 trains
FROM Berlin: train, bus, another bus, train
This was definitely not the worst travel story I have, but it was the first one in a while. Let’s hope I move back to good fortune with the traveling gods.