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Have you ever had one of those travel days where nothing goes according to plan? My ridiculous travel day started when I planned to take a series of 5 local trains from Cologne to Munich. The trip was only supposed to take a few hours, but my German friends were skeptical.
“The trains never run on time.”
“Don’t expect to arrive when they say you will arrive.”
“Okay, you let me know when you arrive then,” they said while laughing.
But I was feeling lucky and a ticket on the local train was about a hundred euros cheaper than the direct ICE trains, so I decided to give it a go.
On the first leg of the journey, I listened to one of the fifteen songs I had on my phone (it was running out of space) and the man across from me flipped open his newspaper before starting a crossword puzzle. Sia was belting music into my ears and I was fantasizing about the beers I’d try in Munich when the train stopped in the middle of the tracks.
“Delay,” the man said with an eye roll. Ten minutes into my train adventure across the country and we’re at a standstill.
The delay meant I missed my connecting train by four minutes, so I sat on the platform waiting to catch the next one.
I see a girl who looks exactly like Kate Winslet in Titanic walking down the platform looking as downtrodden as I feel. Her bright red hair and brighter red raincoat make her stand out from the crowd of black jackets.
She sat next to me. And we started talking.
“Are you waiting for this train?” I asked and showed her my ticket.
“Yes the same one, we can ride together.” She smiled and we sat shoulder to shoulder on the cold metal bench until our train arrived an hour later.
I forgot about the delay as soon as I saw the Rhine. For several hours, my train traveled right along the river, slowly chugging through villages nestled in the foggy mountains.
Every few kilometers, the remains of a castle would peak out from a mountain perch. I tried to take pictures but the movement of the train made it difficult to get a clear shot.
My pictures ended up looking like white smudges on a background of blue and gray smudges. I swear the white smudges are castles.
Because I was already an hour behind schedule, I missed my next connection and got a new itinerary from the train help desk. Another hour was gone, but at least I had a new itinerary now.
Back on track, I caught my next two train connections without incident. One more train to go!
It was dark outside as we chugged along toward the last platform. I tried to relax but I could tell this train was taking its time. We were behind schedule and I knew my connection time would be tight.
My red-jacket friend got off a few stations earlier and I was sad to lose her company, even if it was just friendly glances we exchanged with each other from across the aisle.
I stared at the industrial digital clock at the front of my train car watching the minutes tick faster and faster as we seem to be getting no closer to our destination. My connection is tight, only five minutes, and this train was supposed to arrive two minutes ago. Three minutes ago. Four minutes ago. Five.
In my heart, I knew I missed it. But a missed train is the least of my worries.
The station where I was supposed to be transferred was a local station which meant it wouldn’t have a help desk or WiFi to check the train schedule. It would just be a platform in the middle of suburbia somewhere in Germany.
I had no idea when the next train would come or if there would even be one.
Six minutes late.
The train slows and I can’t believe my eyes.
Even though it was supposed to leave fifteen minutes ago, my train to Munich is sitting right there on the next track, glowing in a happy red halo of light, calling me over.
“It’s here! It’s here!” I scream out loud in the empty train car.
I frantically push the button to get out of the carriage and nothing happens. I push the button a thousand times, begging the door to open before the Munich ones pulls away. .
Pfff. The door opens with a release of air and I ran across the platform for my last train, connection number five, with tunnel vision. I don’t see anything except the door and the little electronic plate reading Munich hbf – aka heaven on earth.
The door opens and I burst into the brightly lit carriage, narrowly avoiding a night spent on a train platform. Inside I spin around – euphoric – then I see my reflection. Or at least I think it is my reflection.
At the exact same time, one door down, my red-jacket friend bursts through the door and does the same happy dance I’m doing. We catch each other’s eyes and run toward each other, laughing and crazy. I thought she had gotten off earlier and I felt so relieved that I actually hadn’t been alone this whole time.
We meet in the middle of the carriage and embrace like long lost friends just as the train starts to move. We caught it by seconds.
As if choreographed, we sit down side by side and both slump down in the seat with a relieved humph.
Armed with adrenaline, thankfulness, and a camera filled with grainy castle pictures, I arrived in Munich exactly 12 hours after leaving Cologne. In my mind, a made a note to ALWAYS travel with a phone power bank, cellular data, and a backup plan in the future.
That night, I drank familiar German beer. I had plenty of adventure for one day.
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Oh Nic, I am so exhausted and nervous after reading that last “Adventure”???? How scary and, you are too brave. Don’t do this to your poor old nannie anymore.
Luckily it was the most beautiful train ride I’ve ever taken! All is well that ends in beer 😉
You are the bravest young woman I know! Any lessons learned from this particular adventure? I’ll send you the money for future ‘direct’ trains if you like. Be safe! Gale
Always take a picture of the FULL train schedule before leaving, in case of delays! Or only transfer trains at main stations with help desks! 🙂 Even though it was stressful at times, I really enjoyed getting to see so much of the country! Riding along the Rhine was gorgeous. I’ll remember that forever! 🙂