BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
My Paris – Vienna trip included a stop in Stuttgart to change trains. As I arrived there, I heard the bad news: the connecting train had been cancelled. This was right in the middle of the intense heat wave afflicting all of Europe. I dragged my two heavy suitcases to the information center, hating myself for packing so many clothes. The heat was intense.
Europe is not equipped for extreme hot weather. The inside of the station felt like a furnace. At the information center, a stone faced attendant handed me a printout of the next train’s schedule. It was set to leave an hour later. She didn’t give me a chance to ask her more questions about my reservation, such as my seat number. I folded the paper and put it in my purse. Then I looked for a coffee shop with WiFi and air conditioning.
The first leg of my trip from Paris to Stuttgart was so pleasant. It felt like I was traveling in first class. I had an assigned window seat. The coach was not crowded, and no one was sitting next to me. From my window I enjoyed watching the landscape – miles and miles of unobstructed pastures in different shades of green. I had three hours of bliss. I opened my iPad, and caught up with my writing. I was looking forward to the rest of the trip, thinking it would be just as enjoyable. Well, it wasn’t.
Somebody told me there was a Starbucks downstairs. The news made me happy. Through my travels in Europe, Starbucks with its fast WiFi was like respite to me. I took the escalators downstairs, found the shop and dropped wearily into a chair in a corner. While I was thankful to find a Starbucks, I was quite surprised to see little flies roaming around. Another surprise: the air conditioning was not at all as strong as I expected to find in a Starbucks in a developed German town. This was not a third world country.
As the time to catch the train drew close, I headed back to find the platform for boarding. There I met a gentleman who spoke English. He offered to help me with my suitcases. However, as the train arrived, passengers filled the coaches instantly. I was not able to jostle my way onto the train. The gentleman, who was wearing a suit, told me that he no longer was going to board because the train was too crowded.
He called for an attendant in German to help me. The attendant, pushed my two heavy suitcases, one by one, inside. I was still standing on the platform when the train started to move and its doors closed. I was stunt!
Luckily, the attendant who was already inside with my belongings, acted fast and turned a special key to stop the train so I could get in. I can’t express how frightened I was at the prospect of losing all my luggage in an overcrowded train overseas.
In that small entry space, suitcases were on top of each other and people were crammed together. There was no room to move. The merciless sun shone through the closed windows and made the little chamber like a sauna. A man and a woman had found a space on the steps to sit down. They were soaking wet in their own sweat.
Nobody was complaining about the situation. Or maybe they did, but I didn’t understand German. After a while, I forced my way into the main coach, thinking there might be some relief from the heat and the crowded situation. Indeed, inside the coach it was a tad better, but people still were crammed together and standing in the aisle. It was a first class coach, but the sun and too many people made the compartment seem like steerage.
Not long after I entered the first class coach, the attendant came in and with his special key opened the two top slit windows to help air circulate a little bit. He also left the door between the coach and the chamber open so people over there could breath.
The next major stop was Munich in two hours. At one of the smaller stops, an official came aboard and brought two cases of bottled water, the expensive kind, in compensation for conditions on the train. The water was room temperature, not ice cold, the way we are used to drink water in the U.S.
Fortunately, when we arrived in Munich, most of the passengers left the train. I found a seat to drop. At that moment I realized that I should check on my luggage. As I entered the vestibule, I didn’t see my big suitcase. I looked around and realized that somebody had taken my suitcase out and put in on the platform. With great fear I jumped out. With my heart thumping, I called for help. A young guy who had just boarded the train, came to my rescue. As soon as he pulled my suitcase in, and I got on board, the train moved. I had foiled another fateful event. Phew!
I finally arrived in Salzburg around 9pm. I took a taxi from the train station to where I had booked a room. Salzburg is a city in Austria on the German border. Its known as the birthplace of Mozart, and the setting for the film “The Sound of Music.”
With the Salzach river that divides the city, views of the Alps and the maze of narrow pedestrian streets all contribute to make Salzburg a city to fall in love with. I stayed there for just one night.
The following day I took a three-hour train ride to Vienna. The ticket was €25.99 and I paid the taxi driver another €25 to take me to the train station and help me find the platform and carry my luggage. I could have paid the taxi driver less, but I constantly remind myself to be generous. The taxi driver was very helpful. He parked his car and helped me find my way around. He was a 35 year old guy from Turkey.
In the train on my way to Vienna, I was wondering: Why am I putting myself into so much pain and inconvenience? Is it for the love of writing or the joy of adventure? Maybe more for the satisfaction I get for sharing my adventures with my readers.
Catherine Yesayan is a contributor to Asbarez. You can visit her blog, beyondthebluedomes.blogspot.com/