The Little Engine that Couldn’t

When it was time for me to leave Deutschland on a 4:00 pm Sunday train out of Munich, I arrived at the station early to make sure I caught the train to make it home before midnight; better safe than sorry, I always say! I climbed aboard the trusty locomotive, found my assigned compartment, and stared dumbly at the German sitting in my seat. “No reservations,” he said. It had changed to a first come, first served situation, and an old train.

And with the events that followed, it’s a miracle I ever made it back to Amsterdam before the sun rose the next day…

Sunday (times are approximate):

4:00 pm – On the first leg of the journey, a 5-hour train from Munich to Duisburg. I am standing with my heavy backpack outside the WC in the rattling connector between two cars, next to a German man who doesn’t speak English but is able to suffocate me with breath worse than the stench coming from the toilet behind me.

4:20 pm – I find a seat on the floor in the narrow aisle outside the compartments.

5:15 pm – Enough passengers get off in Nuremburg that I am able to get a seat by a window. I relax.

5:30 pm – They begin to make announcements in German to which the other passengers react negatively. I cannot understand a word. Announcements occur roughly every 15 minutes.

6:45 pm – The train arrives in Frankfurt, not Duisburg, and it is the end of the line. The girl next to me tells me to go to platform 18 to catch a direct train to Amsterdam. No one knows what happened with this train, but at least they’ve given us accurate instructions for next steps.

7:00 pm – I buy a Coke and a water in the station, not bothering with food.

7:10 pm – I find an aisle seat (again, no reservations). It’s a new train and I feel relieved. Surely, nothing will go wrong with this one.

8:00 pm – I am enjoying Running with Scissors, which I found on my train from Amsterdam to Munich and am now extremely thankful to have it. The breathing of the woman next to me sounds like a helicopter with the engine dying.

8:15 pm – They begin making announcements in German to which the other passengers react negatively. The German announcements are very long, around 5 sentences, and after each one they say in English, “Ladies and gentlemen, there will be a slight delay. We apologize for the inconvenience.” The announcements occur roughly every 10 minutes.

8:30 pm – Announcements are made in which they mention Amsterdam multiple times. The helicopter next to me does not speak English and I have no idea what is going on.

9:00 pm – I finally get up to ask the people in front of me to translate. What I gather is that there was something on the track, we had to go back, there is a delay, but ultimately this train will go to Amsterdam.

9:30 pm – The train makes a routine stop in a small town near the Germany/Netherlands border.

9:45 pm – The train is still sitting there.

10:00 pm – All the lights turn off, then back on.

10:15 pm – The entire train makes a sad noise and then shuts off. We sit in darkness. I am staring at the sign outside with the name of the town, but can no longer remember it and it is too small to easily find on a map for the purposes of this post.

10:30 pm – More announcements. The man speaking sounds tired. I move up a seat and befriend the woman across the aisle. Her name is Ambaar and she is returning to Utrecht (near Amsterdam) from a 3-week trip to India. From now on she will translate all the announcements for me and provide pleasant conversation.

10:45 pm – I use the WC. It has no running water. I then go to the cafe car where they are handing out free food, and bring a club sandwich and a jumbo Twix back to my seat.

11:00 pm – The train people admit defeat and announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, this train is out of order.” We wait.

11:30 pm – They are sending for a bus to come get us and bring us to Amsterdam. We will have to wait 1-2 hours for the bus to arrive. They offer to let people stay in this tiny town at a hotel for free.

Monday (times are approximate, as I am barely conscious by this point):

12:00 am – Announcement: there will be no bus. Instead there are taxis assembled outside that will take us to the city of Arnhem, where we will then get a bus to Amsterdam. Everyone walks outside. There are about 60 people, and outside we find only 2 taxis, each one holds 6-8 people. Now we are waiting in the cold.

12:15 am – Ambaar investigates and only one taxi is going to Arnhem. We slowly creep through the unmoving crowd and are the first ones in the taxi. Off we go through fog and darkness with about 8 others.

1: 00 am – We arrive at the train station in Arnhem. The cab driver lets us out and sends us to the other side of the large station where there are busses already waiting.

1:10 am – We get to the other side, and there are no busses. Only cab drivers offering to take us to Amsterdam for 200 euros.

1:30 am – I am waiting outside the empty station in the cold in Arnhem with about 15 strangers. Ambaar has taken a cab to Utrecht. I feel like I’m on Survivor. Perfect strangers placed on a deserted island and forced to figure it out. People are heckling cab drivers and debating possible solutions. I stand quietly.

1:50 am – Still waiting, cold, and growing nervous.

2:00 am – A train station official comes outside to find out who we are. There are taxis assembled on the other side of the station to take us for free to Amsterdam. People begin to run. Yes, run.

2:15 am – I get in the front seat of a taxi with 3 others in the back, and we leave for Amsterdam. I am phsycially incapable of keeping myself awake.

3:30 am – We arrive at Amsterdam central station. The trams are no longer running. Another woman and I convince the cab driver to go into the city and take us to Keizersgracht. He gets lost, and I direct him the rest of the way. After only 2 weeks in the city, I am proud of myself for this.

3:45 am – I pay and walk down the street to my front door.

4: 00 am – I call a friend at home. Someone has to hear this.

4:15 am – I sleep.

7:15 am – My alarm goes off, and I go downstairs to get the boys ready for another week.

This post is about as long as my journey was, so kudos to you if you got through it. I thought German trains would be efficient and reliable, and when they weren’t, I thought the officials could figure it out. They couldn’t.

The end.

Prost! to travel. Anything can happen.


2 Responses to “The Little Engine that Couldn’t”

  1. 1 Dad
    October 27, 2008 at 8:31 am

    Well this proves that you can handle just about anything. You kept your wits and made the best of it and got home safe and sound. A good growing experience if nothing else. You are coping with life’s little challenges quite well, and I am proud of you.

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