30 June 2007

Trains Hate Me

I was up early to catch my train to Germany. Correction: trains. I was going from Brussels to Liege, Liege to Aachan, Aachan to Bochum. Now, when I think of train travel in Europe I think clarity, ease of use and timeliness. Wrong, wrong and wrong. My first train from Brussels to Liege left on time but moved slower than a horse-drawn cart (literally, a horse-drawn cart passed us), meaning I missed my connection in Liege. After checking the big board with train departures I discovered the next train to Aachan didn’t leave for another three hours. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, only the train station in Liege is completely under construction, which meant I got to spend three hours sitting on the curb listening to and watching big cranes build the new “futuristic” station.

When my train finally arrived I was shocked to find that it was full of trash (there was actually a layer of garbage lining the floor). It appeared to be a throw-back from the Soviet block. My third train was commuter rail, which meant we stopped every three minutes for an hour and an a half. The bad luck continued throughout my trip. The next day, when Sophie and I went to visit Germany’s first-ever Youth Venture team, we got on what we thought was our train that was supposed to take 20 minutes to get to our destination. An hour later when we never passed our stop, we got off the train, only to find out that there was an error in the track assignments, meaning we had actually gone an hour in the wrong direction. AWESOME. On the way back from the site visit we took a short train ride to the subway, then got on the subway going the wrong direction. When we finally realized what had happened, we got back on going the other way, only to miss our stop because we were both totally engrossed in our conversation. PERFECT.

Then I had to take a 40-minute train from Bochum to Koln for our big event with Staples. I boarded but had no seat assignment, assuming no one had a seat asssigment. Wrong. Each seat had it’s own little sign for the day that indicated when the seat was reserved. I had no seat assignment, however, I didn’t understand the system in the slightest so whenever we stopped and picked up more people, I was obliged to move to another seat. I moved seats 7 times in 40 minutes and did NOT get a nap, like I had hoped.

Of course, it did not stop there. I had decided to upgrade my return ticket to Brussels from three trains on commuter rail to one high-speed train that would cut two hours off my trip back to Brussels, all for only $5! No-brainer, right? Only if you actually get on the train…I was up at 7AM to catch the 8:14AM train. The board (and my ticket) said track 8, so I went to track 8. The big screen their said “8:14AM – Brussels.” Right place, I thought. Then, 10 minutes later, the sign changed to “8:18AM – Amsterdam.” It was only 8:08AM and my train had yet to arrive, so I asked the very friendly (read sarcasm) train attendant what I should do. “This is the right place. Just board the train at doors D, E or F and you will go to Brussels.” So the train (to Brussels even though it says to Amsterdam) pulls in and I board at door D. 8:14AM comes and goes and we aren’t moving. 8:16AM and I decide to ask once again, as nothing inside the train (signs, etc.) offer any indication that I might be going to Brussels. I step out and ask the attendant. He points to cars E and F, which are now pulling away and says “Oops. I guess it was just cars E and F. Bye bye train. It looks like you aren’t going to Brussels right now! Haha.” Haha? Why, dear German train attendant, is this funny? By now it’s 8:18AM and the doors of the train to Amsterdam begin to close WITH MY BAGS ON BOARD. So my stuff is going to the Netherlands and I am stuck in Germany. I jump back on the train, throw my big backpack in space to stop the door, strap on my little backpack (with my computer inside) jump over my big back and then pull it out of its wedged position in the door, all whilst this train agent stairs and watches me. I ended up having to spend $4 more to get the next high-speed train, which didn’t leave for another 2 hours…thanks Germany, thanks.

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