Published on July 23rd, 2010 | by Ann Rickard0
On the trains – heading for Germany
We’re in Germany now even though I didn’t know I was coming here. Explanation: We booked a river cruise called Europe Heartland and I admit I was so stressed before we left Australia to embark on this long trip involving a variety of expeditions, I didn’t have time to sit down and look at the cruise itinerary or where the cruise actually started from. I just knew we booked it for the day after our Ooh La La! Culinary Tour had ended. The only other thing I knew about it was that we had to go to some place called Triers to begin it.
Well, my friends, what a terrible day getting there. I didn’t know Triers was in Germany, thought it was in France. We had to take 6 different trains to get there!!! Mon dieu, if I’d known that when we left Amanda and St. Maximin that morning I would never have gone.
The first part proved okay, the TGV from Avignon to Paris. I actually love the TGV, it’s so fast and efficient and you can buy wine and food on the train and have a merry time. But when we got to Paris Gard Nord (I think that’s what it’s called but don’t trust me I’m just a travel writer) we had to get across to Paris Est, wherever the hell that was.
There was no information desk within sight at the chaotic Gard Nord station and we struggled with our big suitcases and hand luggage up and down stairs (way over packed, never ever doing that again). We wandered around looking for a way to get to this Paris Est station where we were due to get the next TGV to Luxembourg (didn’t know where that was either) and a young woman came up to us asking if we had change. Being very aware that pickpockets and thieves adore train stations – it’s their workplace – I shooed her away, but in a kindly manner, and then felt bad and said: “Sorry, we are distressed, we don’t know where to go or what to do?” and she said: “Can I help you?” She was a young American girl visiting her sister in Paris and trying to buy train tickets herself from a machine and needed coins and didn’t have any.
Well, won’t bore you with the details, but this kind kind young woman assisted us to the ticket machine, got tickets for us on the Metro while we fought off a couple of hundred gypsy types asking for money, and then she told us how to change stations on the Metro, and then she even took us to the correct platform to ensure we didn’t get on the Metro heading for the opposite direction to which we wanted to go. So kind, so helpful.
By this time we were sweating, distressed, beside ourselves with duress and SO GRATEFUL to this young woman. She even helped us get through the turnstiles with our heavy luggage (no easy feat when you have to insert your ticket in a machine and go through a tiny slim space waiting for these trapdoor thingamajigs to shoot open, and then you have to rush your big body along with your big bags through before the trapdoor slams on you.) This kind young woman led us to the correct place and just I was opening my purse to give her money so she could go and buy more tickets for her own travels, our train came in and she ran off. I shouted after her to come back for some money, at least some effusive thanks; I so wanted to give her something – but she was gone, disappeared into the chaotic crowd. Kindness does exist at crowded train stations. .
Heaving heavy bags and hand luggage – never do it, always pack light even if you have to wear the same knickers two days in a row – we squashed on to the Metro train with a thousand others and I thought ‘if we get off this train without being pick pocketed or pillaged it will be a fortunate day indeed despite the stress. We were so jammed in with the crowds, anyone could have slipped fast fingers into pockets or bags and relieved us of wallets, cash, passports, important documentation. BUT IT DIDN’T HAPPEN.
Then it was off the Metro with the crowds, heaving heavy bags up more steps and out into another big station and then on to the TGV for Luxembourg. We had lost about three kilos in weight at this stage with all the stress (the only good part of this story.)
Finally we relaxed a little bit. Saintly, lovely, Geoffrey who was a Queen Scout in his teenage years and knows the benefits of being prepared, had packed baguettes and water bottles filled with wine for our journey. (I hadn’t even seen him do it.) Off we sped through the countryside eating baguettes and drinking pink wine (he had even put plastic cups in) watching the names of the stations we zipped through. Now we had left France the names became very complex, with many syllables. The further we got in to Germany the more unpronounceable they became:(Geurtzamenalzipmynkumphschlosszip) and the like and so different to the gorgeous sounding French names we’d become used to these past weeks. Finally we arrived at some place called called Shitzemkamph or something and then it was out and up more steps with heavy bags and on to yet another train. We were now on to regular trains, no fast moving TGVs with comfortable seats. These were old rattlers of the kind I used to endure in the 60s. Smelly things. And would you believe, Germany was going through an unprecedented heatwave. When it should have been a top of 20C it was in reality 40C. Hot slow trains, much stress and long teeth-jarring journeys and then we arrived at some other Godforsaken place that I don’t recall, and don’t want to either, and there were more steps to heave bags up and another hot smelly train to get on, and there I was thanking God and Geoffrey for the baguettes and the wine and about six hours later we arrived in TRIERS…in GERMANY.
It was an incredibly long and stressful day. And when we walked out the of the station, exhausted, soaked with sweat, smelling worse than the old rattling trains, deeply disturbed with aching arms from all the heavy bag carrying, we came into a German town in full-blown celebration mode. Germany had just won the finals of the World Cup and every local was out in his car, honking his horn incessantly and waving a big flag out the window. People were dancing in the streets, blowing whistles, hugging each other…and you couldn’t help but be cheered. For a little minute there Geoffrey and I were Germans..
We got a taxi to our hotel and flopped down on the bed in an emotional state, vowing never ever to get on another train for the rest of our lives.
Tomorrow we board our river ship for the Europe Heartland cruise – and we have just realised we have no idea the name of the ship or where the port might be.
Leaving you now with that little cliffhanger.