Train travel beats the pants of air travel. Less rushing, an order of magnitude more room, easier connections ... it all works. Until doesn't.
I awoke yesterday at 4:30 am. Not that I had to, mind you. It's just this little something my body does on travel days. I must be a throwback to my younger days when I overslept and missed a flight. Or bus trip. Or something. I can't remember. (Note to self: Make up an amazing origin story for this predilection of yours.)
Our train wasn't departing until 1:00 pm (which they call 13.00 in Copenhagen, and 24 hour time is much better than the antiquated ante or post meridiem designations), but I was up with little chance of returning to sleep. So I put the time to good use, getting fully caught up on email and assorted sundries while Sheila slept.
Departing KBH -- CPH or KBH are interchangeable designators for Copenhagen -- was uneventful. We'd hopped enough trains at the central station over the last couple weeks to have it mostly figured out. Mostly. We had very tight connections but the kindly ticket agent assured us we'd have no trouble.
Troubles began right away. Not even out of the city, the train stopped. Not at a station. It quickly decelerated (negative acceleration, physics nerds) and came to a rather abrupt stop. Not with enough force to toss us out of our seats, but enough to make me regret putting Sheila's bag full of depleted uranium (because that's what her stuff must be made from to achieve that weight) above our neighbors' heads. It, like the rest of the bags in the car, shifted a bit but stayed in position.
[Side note: In Europe, the concept of reserved seats on train cars is somewhat fungible. The seats are clearly marked, and everyone has an assigned seat in certain cars, but adherence is much more akin to horseshoes than skeet shooting. (Note to self: Work on your metaphors.) Sometimes the encroaching party will relocate as soon as he (always a he) sees you looking back and forth from your ticket to the seat he's occupying. Sometimes he looks morosely out the window, hoping you'll go away. Which, if there's another unoccupied seat nearby, you will. The then cycle continues when you're found to be trespassing. Some chains of seat-shifting look like a protracted game of Duck Duck Goose.]
The conductor(?) came over the loudspeaker and announced that computer errors were to blame and that they would soon be resolved and us our way. This, my sleep addled brain thought, is how the apocalypse begins. Not with Skynet, but with emergent sentience from a highly networked system of computerized railways. (Note to self: It may be possible to read _too_ much dystopian scifi.) But he was right, and I was wrong. We got moving again within a few minutes. And we arrived in Fredericia with plenty of time to spare.
From there, getting to Hamburg was no trouble. And by that I mean that we made it to the town of Hamburg. Getting to the correct train station, just one stop away, was problematic. Apparently the train ahead of us was having trouble and was effectively blocking our access to the main station. I tried not to assume it was another sign of self-emergence. I didn't do a very good job. My fear was compounded by the fact that we had, according to the kindly ticket agent, 12 minutes to make our next train, and we had to be at the main station to catch it. At the advice of the conductor(?) (Note to self: find out what the people who walk through the cars and check your tickets are really called.) we grabbed our excessive and over-weight baggage and left the train, with designs on catching a commuter train that ran on a parallel track. But just a dozen steps off our original train, the conductor(?) called us back, as he had just learned that the train blocking our way was moving. Hooray! But would we make our connection?
Well... yes. Because the kindly ticket agent at the start of this tale printed out an itinerary that departed KBH at 13.00 bound for Cologne, but it wasn't our itinerary. Sometimes the coin flips heads, and now we had a full one-hour layover, not just 12 minutes, leaving us plenty of time to grab food at the very large and very modern Hamburg rail station.
Except that credit cards aren't accepted in Hamburg. Cash, please. We tried three different spots, all with what appeared to be advanced point of sale systems and digital menus displaying available food choices. But pay in cash, please. [groan]
Fuck it. I had a bag of almonds left, and my flexibility points were spent for the day. The next train. Now. And nothing before.
[Side note: Finding your assigned seat (hopefully unoccupied) is challenging enough on rail travel. But first you have to figure out what car contains your seat number. Because trains are made up of detachable cars, you cannot count on them to proceed in sequential fashion. 21 could be followed by 23 (what the hell happened to 22?) and then by 4. They're mostly in order, but not always. Oh, and the number painted on the side of the train often has nothing to do with the digital signage that relates to the number on your ticket. And calling these dimly lit, sparsely placed, 10 cm square, electronic dry erase boards "digital signage" is generous.]
The train came and we were happy to discover our seats were in a semi-private room within a car. You're probably picturing a scene from a movie, where behind a sliding door sits two bench seats facing each other. Perhaps Jamie Lee Curtis is offering you Swedish meatballs. It was sort of like that, but the benches were actually six distinct seats, and the sliding door was glass. And no Jamie Lee Curtis. Or meatballs. Oh, they had meatballs for sale on the serving cart that comes by but no, fuck you and your credit card, you may not purchase any.
Three hours later, things were uneventful. But unfortunately, we were only at Dusseldorf, not Cologne. More specifically, we made it about 15 minutes past Dusseldorf when the train stopped on the tracks. In the middle of nowhere. Again. Much furious activity commenced, with conductors(?) walking very briskly -- purposely not running -- back and forth. Several announcements were made ostensibly describing the issue and allaying our fears. Or rather their fears. The announcements were only in German, and our cabin-mate spoke about as much English as I sprechen sie deutsch. But neither he nor the other passengers seemed alarmed, so we didn't worry about it. The train was bound for Cologne as its last stop, and that was out stop, too.
And then the train started going backwards. Yes. Back the way we came. These trains go fast, and it takes them a while to build up a head of steam. Without that steam (No, not literal steam. This isn't the 1800s. Even though they don't take credit cards.), it took over 30 minutes to get back to the station. Whatever was wrong was fixed -- I'm betting we were on the wrong track -- and we were back on our way. And very, very late.
We arrived in Cologne at just after 1:40 in the morning. And we were up at 6:30 to grab breakfast and make the 800 meter trek back to the station to catch the high-speed train to Brussels. Sheila's napping. And I'm writing this down, testing the limits of human endurance, because today was a travel day, and I didn't sleep much last night.
Cheers from somewhere in Belgium!