How not to see Europe

The Netherlands / Germany, 22/11/12: …and the day got off to such a good start.

We were leaving Den Haag for our next destination, Horn-Bad Meinberg in Germany – a country hamlet nearish Hanover and about 6 hours on the train. We managed to get ourselves up and out in good time and after farewells to John & Marie, hopped onto our early tram to Den Haag HS station. We even had time to pick up some breakfast for the trip.

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Up til now, the Dutch train system had been great – punctual, plenty of info and kind to foreigners. Today, however, the displays were all down so we were forced to revert to the quaint practice of asking people in broken Dutch (or English if we were lucky) which train was ours.

Using this approach we managed to get to our first change point, Amersfoort. Flushed with the success of this approach, we next learned that our second train to Bünde was running late, so we anxiously watched a train leave our designated platform at the designated time, 85% sure that it wasn’t ours.

When the next train eventually arrived, the boards still down, we conducted a hasty vox pop and, through the malaise of crappy Dutchglish (editor’s note: Nicole has indicated that she is offended by this description), concluded with reasonable certainty that this train was indeed headed to Bünde. On we scrambled.

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Settling in for a glamourous cross-country voyage

This was to be a longish leg of the trip and the one that crossed the Dutch/German border, so when maybe 40 minutes in our train stopped somewhere called Zwolle and everyone got off we started to get concerned. After a minute or so of nervous waiting and some Dutch announcements over the train PA, it became clear that this train had terminated. Dang.

Hauling our gear onto the platform at our mystery destination, we assessed our options.

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The train information system was still not an option.

We found a conductor with some English and a hand-held device that provided answers. After some stern button-pressing and lively conference with another train person, she deduced that our best chance now would be to hop on another train to somewhere called Deventer, some way south and our nearest international station, and ask them what to do. So after a short wait we did just that.

Some time later and we were discussing options with the patient ticket lady in Deventer who plotted a new course for us that left shortly and would see us at our destination by about 5. Not too shabby, so back up to the platform we went.

Bear in mind that intercity trains usually arrive at the a few minutes early to give passengers a few frantic minutes to fight through the crowds and find their wagon. We certainly bore this in mind as we boarded the wrong train and headed in the wrong direction for 15 minutes. Double dang.

The good news was that getting a train back to Deventer was easy. The bad news was that we’d well and truly missed our intended train. Tails between legs and weary from hauling suitcases on and off trains, we slunk back to the Deventer ticket office where the slightly less patient ticket lady recharted our course, now departing in two hours time.

By this time I was growing tired and stressed and my own patience was wearing thin. Tourists til the end, however, we took this opportunity to explore Deventer. 90 minutes was just enough time to haul our luggage into a shopping street, look at some outdoors apparel shops, get abused by a homeless guy and then drag our luggage along with our sorry selves back to the station. Up yours, Deventer, I thought, struggling for something to blame for our predicament. I might have muttered it out loud once or twice as well.

So finally we’re on our way to our next connection point, and this time on Deutsche Bahn. At last! Swift, German efficiency – exactly what we needed to see us safely to our destination.

But, alas, the European rail network was not done with us yet. Somewhere on the way to Osnabrück, our train slowed and then stopped. Following 30 minutes of confused glances exchanged with other passengers, occasional slow forwards movement and garbled German announcements, it transpired that our train had in fact broken down. Another train was stopped just outside that could take us to Osnabrück, so again we heaved our luggage down and, along with the other human cargo, headed for the exits.

Only I couldn’t open the door. Must be that I’m tired, foreign and don’t understand these German doors, I reasoned, so stepped aside to let a native have a go. Same result. We can see our train outside, waiting to leave. We clambered to another door: no dice. What on earth is happening?? We’ll be found dead here next Spring.

Tortuous seconds and minutes passed as we remained trapped in our capsule, forced to stare at our salvation, like orphans outside Scrooge’s dining room. Finally, however, the doors relented and we ran another suitcase steeple chase to our new train.

A brief interrogation of our watches and some elementary mental algebra yielded the disquieting but predictable result: we would miss our next connection. The helpful and well-spoken German man in our carriage who suggested we call DB to complain did not really help us. In my mind I was wondering if we could survive the cold night on the streets.

But by now we were savvy enough and close enough to our target that we could improvise. On alighting in Osnabrück, Nicole selected another train that got us nearer to our destination and from there we were only a couple of hops from Horn-Bad Meinberg.

Mercifully, the remainder of the journey went relatively smoothly – if not quickly – leaving us shivering on a dark, empty platform at our one-horse destination at 8:30pm hoping for a taxi to arrive (it did). We realised too late that we had actually purchased a first class Eurail passes so could have at least been stressed out in comfort, but never-the-less I rationalised that by turning a 6 hour journey into 12 hours we really got good value out of our day pass.

Furthermore, it felt nice to be in Germany at last where even if we were lost, we at least had a better chance of communication. And salty Brezels.

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Desperate and hungry towards the end of our journey

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One response

  1. Wow! What a trip. I’m a bit surprised that there was not more English spoken in Holland. I hope the next day in Germany was worth the effort.

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