In my short 3 weeks of trekking through Europe, I have missed 7 trains.
That´s right, 7. I´ve spared you 6 of these redundant tales, usually ending with me crashing my knees to the pavement, raising fists to sky in rage-filled moments of despair. The big one worth sharing was my episode in Berlin where I tried to communicate in first-grade German and tinkled my britches as my train abandoned me at the station. And while I thought those were my two big lessons learned in train travel, I was mistaken. So as I sit in San Sebastian today, (I should be in Porto right now sipping sweet dessert wines) I am compiling my ten commandments of train travel. Because after missing my 7th train last night, I feel like an expert on what NOT to do when tackling the world with a rail pass.
1. Thou shalt not fake a language when attempting to book a train. (Refer to Lessons learned: Platforms, Pastries and the Pisser.)
2. Thou shalt refrain from consuming any beverage within 48 hours of boarding the train. Otherwise go buy yourself a kicky pair of baggy yoga pants to hide your Depends. (Again, refer to above.)
3. Thou shalt never approach a patisserie, formaggeria, or gelateria in the train station. When you know you have 4 minutes to board the last train out, DO NOT let your inner nom-nom-nomnivore order a double scoop of stracciatella or chocolate croissant for the ride.
4. Thou shalt trust thy instincts. When you are standing on platform 2 waiting for train number 613 to Amsterdam, DO NOT board that train that is unmarked with an ambiguous city name on the destination screen. There are many trains that will come to your platform, don´t board the first one that toots its horn!
5. Thou shalt never succumb to train station slumber. You´re about to board a 12 hour trip across an entire country where the sandman is your only companion. Shoot a triple shot Americano and keep those lids open because your internal clock will NOT alert you when your train has arrived.
6. Love thy neighbor, but never trust thy neighbor. If you are sitting confidently on the correct train, finally headed in the right direction, do not gather your belongings and leap off when the stranger across from you tells you the train is travelling to Switzerland when you are trying to reach Spain. They are obviously disoriented, black-hearted, or suffering from a mental disorder. (Refer to Commandment 4).
7. Thou shalt learn to count. It seems simple enough… 13:00 is 1:00 pm. Therefore, 15:00 is 3:00 pm… not 4:00 pm, oddly enough.
8. Thou shalt never leap over blocked entry gates. In Spain, you must go through all varieties of trickery and Tom-foolery in order to reach your platform that has been placed on a distant island, surrounded by barbed wire and circled by sharks. If you notice your platform is blocked, do not assume you can pull off a Lolo Jones style hurdle without being questioned. You must simply purchase a local ticket for 1 euro.
9. Thou shalt honor thy ticket. Don´t try to be sneaky and plea ignorance when you write a date in pencil on your rail pass. They will force you to wear a dunce cap while you write it in permanent marker, and then refuse you coffee while everyone around you gets to munch cheerfully on cookies and sip hot cafe con leche.
10. Thou shalt never help thy neighbor. This final commandment was my big lesson learned which has landed me with an extra night in Spain and a cancelled hostel in Porto. Waiting patiently for my night train to arrive at 19:10, I stood on my platform ready to bid farewell to San Sebastian. At 19:05 a train across the platform was momentarily parked where I noticed a young woman struggling to lift her stroller full of pudgy baby on board. Naturally, I darted over and lifted the stroller up the stairs. In that exact moment the doors closed, trapping me in a tunnel of regret as I watched in horror my train arriving 10 feet away from me. We pulled off and I dramatically slid my limp body down the doors as I left the station against my will. For five minutes I wailed curses and cast hexes at the door until I noticed everyone staring in awe. Then I made eye contact with the pudgy infant, hoping for a cute giggle to make it all worthwhile. Then he opened his mouth and upchucked his morning Gerber at my feet.