Saturday, January 21, 2017

And Now, an Illustrative Parable about Trains

Apparently, trains are harder than I thought.

And I'm not just talking about the security checks on iternational trains (which, I know I should have been surprised that they happen, but you try figuring out security when you're not expecting it, you don't know the rules, and it's happening in French), I'm talking about the deceptively straightfoward process of getting on and off trains.

Problem the first: The doors on German trains do not always open. There's a little button to push if, for whatever reason, you want to escape die deutsche Bahn. This is a helpful little tidbit to file away if ever you find yourself mournfully watching your stop drifting away from you as the doors remain resolutely, malevolently closed.

Problem the second: not all train stations are created equal. So if you're expecting a platform or a building, and all you're greeted with is the side of the road, don't run up and down the train in a panic looking for the station until your stop slowly drifts away from you and the doors remain resolutely, malevolently closed.

The obvious subtext here--I missed my stop. For many reasons (at least two!) The good news: I'm perfecting the art of getting lost in Europe--I managed to get off at the next stop (I picked someone who looked like they were getting out and I followed them and did exactly what they did. They probably thought I was stalking them by the end), and then decided to walk back to my original destination (only a few KM). So I missed my stop, but I got to stroll along the Rhine for an hour, which was lovely.

But this isn't the end of the story.

Problem the third: many of the train stations I'm encountering don't have people who sell tickets; just kiosks. It's 2017. I get this. I can use a kiosk like a grown up and smile while doing it.

Problem the fourth (or maybe Problem the third, subparagraph 1): these delightful machines do not take 20 Euro bills. Nor do they take cards. Would anyone like to guess what I had in my wallet while trying to buy a return ticket?

Problem the fifth: not necessarily a train-related problem. Oestrich-Winkel, the lovely, picturesque village I was visiting, is profoundly uninterested in selling anything other than wine. So if, hypothetically, one wants to buy something quickly to get smaller bills and doesn't want to buy 40 euros worth of authentic Rhine valley wine, one may or may not be hypothetically out of luck.

Obvious subtext #2: after hours of walking and touring in the cold--a really wonderful experience--I was looking forward to getting on the train (yay heaters! yay sitting!), only to be confronted with a horrible Catch-22: in order to get on the train, I needed smaller bills, and in order to get smaller bills, I kind of needed to get on the train.

In all of my time in Oestrich-Winkel (roughly 5 hours), I encountered exactly one business that was open and selling things that wouldn't break my bank: a bakery.
This bakery had no menu. No signs on its products. Just various pastries and one very taciturn baker.

My German isn't bad--in fact, it's rather good. I've had no trouble communicating, negotiating, etc. But I've apparently drawn the line at learning words for pastries, the names of which I wouldn't know in English either.

Here follows a transcript of my transaction:

Me: I would like... of those things.
Baker: mean the (insert unintelligble German here. It had something to do with nuts.)
Me: ....yes. Exactly.
Baker: (glares)

The good news, part 2: whatever I bought was delicious.

The part that proves I'm an idiot, part 1: I remembered on my way back to the station, having missed a few trains during my bakery quest, that you can buy tickets on the traIn, and can use a card.

The part that proves I'm an idiot, part 2: there was a man behind an info desk not 10 feet from the kiosk in the station the whole time. I hope he enjoyed watching my panic enfold in real time.

The moral: trains are hard.

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