Look at that beautiful train. So romantic. This image was exactly what I was hoping to capture to define my journey through Europe; as a character from a Fitzgerald novel, waltzing through stations in wooden heels, blowing kisses from lipstick stained gloves. Emerging from the steam as if walking through Monet’s Gare Saint Lazare...
What’s that in the distance…?
Oh that’s just reality coming to punch me in the throat and burn my eyes out in the form of steamy, rancid train station air. My senses were turned off long enough to snap the poetic photo you see above, until a wave of hate from the gods of pessimism blew hot musk into my face. So I took a quick picture of what the beautiful steam engine was tugging: tanks and coal, which I’m assuming was the source of the stench.
And so it begins… My almost traumatic, near disastrous day of train travel.
I left Berlin this morning with a skip in my step, freshly washed clothes and a hot macchiato. Arriving at the station with 30 minutes before my train, I approached the ticketing agent. In my well-practiced German accent, I proclaimed, “I’d like to travel to Wesel (Vayzel) today please.” (note: the parenthetical spelling indicates how I pronounced the city name. This is not necessarily correct). She replied with a grin, “sure,” printed my connections and sent me to my platform. I board the first train, sit happily and the train takes off. Literally, the second it moves, I think to myself “Did I say that right?” Frantically opening my bag, I unfold my ticket and read “Berlin to Basel.”
Basel. Not Wesel. Let me tell you now, if you are traveling through Germany and you do not know how to pronounce words properly, do not even try. If you say Guten tag but it sounds like Guddentag, prepare for a kick in the shin because you’re wrong. I don’t even know what guddentag could possibly mean but if it’s not said correctly then they will laugh at you as if you’re speaking with a severe lisp and no bottom lip. Get it right or you may as well be using piglatin. This does not mean the Germans are insensitive to an American’s completely ridiculous attempt to cough up an “r” or chew up an “l”. They would just rather speak english in these cases; and when it comes to booking the correct train, it is most beneficial to everyone involved to stop parading around shouting “hallooo” and admit you don’t speak German! This was my first lesson learned.
But in a fairly easy fix, I hopped off my train, threw it in reverse and started over. With a written note spelling “Wesel,” I got the right ticket and went to my platform.
That’s when the double espresso macchiato became present in my dime-sized bladder. Here’s my next piece of advice. If you are traveling through Europe and you know you have the bladder of a field mouse, go ahead and pack yourself a set of Depends and quick-dry satin britches because bathrooms are about as common as a supermodel in Denny’s.
I left my platform with 14 minutes before the train was set to arrive. Plenty of time…
Exactly 9 minutes later I find out from the information desk, after running a marathon in search of WC signs, that the only restroom in this monstrous station is under construction. “You can use the Starbuck’s but you’ll have to buy a coffee.”
In a mad dash to Starbucks, I throw a fist of coins that may have added up to 3 euros at the barista and demand a small coffee. It’s possible that I hurdled the elastic rope marking the end of the line as I barely made it to the stall before pissing in my boots. Bolting back upstairs to my platform, holding a shitty American coffee in my unwashed hands, I made it back to platform 4…
Just in time to watch my train go by without me. But I couldn’t pass the chance to snag a self-portrait in the passing train windows. Note the coffee in my hand.
Lessons learned. Never fake a language if you don’t have to, and start wearing diapers.
And I did finally make it to Wesel for a lovely evening. More on that later.