Close Encounters of the Train Travel Kind

Yesterday, waiting in the Hamburg Bahnhof for the ICE train that would take me to Copenhagen, I met a couple from Denver. He’s originally from Detroit and he spotted my Red Sox cap. We’ll know in a few hours if my Sox will play his Tigers to see who goes to the World Series, so he knew we had something in common to chat about before he said hello. He’s a “bank regulator” and is working very hard collecting evidence sufficiently damning to nail two bank executives somewhere in the West. “If we go after them and if we win,” he said, “best case scenario is the bank getting hit with a big fine, which it can easily afford, and the two guys get off.” Unfortunately, I never had a chance to chat with his wife. She was born in Denmark and they were going to send their last week in Europe visiting her parents. They were in a coach at the opposite end of the train, so I missed out on what I’m sure would have been some interesting conversation.

An older couple was seated across the aisle from me on that Copenhagen train. We had exchanged a few words in English when we were all getting settled, but the rest of the time they were speaking softly to each other in what I presumed to be Danish. When they began to gather up their belongings after a P.A. announcement, I asked what was going on “When they drive the train onto the ferry boat” the old man said, “We must get off the train and go the the lounge. They lock the train during the crossing.” I grabbed my camera, then took my passport out of my shoulder bag and slipped it into my pocket … thus observing my personal and inflexible rule: Never ever become separated from the passport. As I followed the couple through an exit door and to a flight of stair leading to an upper deck, I wondered aloud why we had to leave the train. “It’s much safer in case the ferry sinks,” said the old woman quite matter-of-factly.

The day before, I had a chance to chat with a man and wife from South Carolina. Like me, they were waiting for the train to Paris in the little railway station in Beaune. The poor man was struggling with three large suitcases, a cardboard box tied up with cord, and two tote bags and I heard him fretting about whether they should head up or down the platform with all those bags to find coach number 11 when the TGV arrived. It was quite apparent he didn’t know that European railway stations have diagrams of most regular trains posted on the platforms showing where to stand to be within a few feet of your coach when the train comes go a stop. I went out to check, came back in and told him that their car would be the very first one up front. He was vastly relieved and we had a few minutes for some conversation before his anxiety returned and he decided it was time to continue their wait out on the platform. Off they went, she leading the way with one of the tote bags over her shoulder; he following behind, red-faced from exertion, trying with limited success to keep each wheeled suitcase from meandering off course. Watching him once again brought to mind a sage observation from veteran backpack travel guru and writer Rick Steves: “There are only two kinds of travelers: those who are traveling light, and those who wish they were.”  Everybody say “Amen!”