I'd been on a long train
trip before. Zhengzhou (China) to Hong Kong took 27 hours. But I didn't
have to change trains. However, my trip from Amsterdam (Holland) to
Aas (Norway) was quite a different story. This would take me 26 hours,
and I'd need to catch a tram, followed by 8 different trains, through
6 countries. And some connections had only 6 or 7 minutes to spare
between arriving into the station and departing on the next train!
So it would only take one train running late, to leave me helplessly
stranded somewhere, alone and possibly without any local currency.
I quickly did the sums in my head and came to the conclusion that
I should've paid the extra 200 euros (about 400 Aussie dollars) for
a one and a half hour, one-way flight from Amsterdam to Oslo (Norway).
Indeed, it would be a miracle if I got to Aas on time.
So let me tell you about
the miracle of getting to Aas �
But first of all, let me
tell you about my luggage. I was carrying about 50 kg of luggage,
but fortunately the larger suitcase (30 kg) had wheels and a long
handle, which enabled me to place a large carry bag on it and drag
the whole lot around as one. All my papers were stored in a large
satchel, making it quite heavy. But it had a long strap, so I put
my arm and neck through the loop, and swung the bag around so it sat
comfortably behind my back. My small personal bumbag also went around
my neck, but I swung it to the front. Now I could walk relatively
freely without bags bouncing around all over me.
Monday, October 7, 2002
8:15pm - I
left Nico's (my Amsterdam Host's) place earlier than necessary, so
I could allow lots of time to mail my postcards and then catch the
tram which would take me to my first train connection. Fortunately,
the post box was opposite the tram stop, and the tram arrived only
2 minutes later. It took 10 minutes to arrive, literally, into the
centre of the Amsterdam Lelylaan Railway Station, where the escalators
took me from the tram stop straight up to the above railway platform.
8:30pm - My train wasn't
due until 9:08pm. The railway staff warned me to watch my bags carefully
because there were thieves around. That's the last thing I wanted
to hear. Not only did I have to worry about catching my trains, but
now I had to worry about getting my bags stolen too! Anyway, I could
catch the earlier train which would give me some breathing space between
8:50pm - I arrived into
Amsterdam Centraal Station, 30 minutes ahead of schedule, hoping to
repeat my time-saving exercise again. I don't know about you, but
it's bloody hard to understand those train schedules which are displayed
in every station. But in this station it was worse. There were 7 different
schedules displayed, and I didn't know which one to begin looking
at for my Maastricht train listing. As I was struggling with all this,
a beggar came over. Could this be one of those thieves I'd been warned
about? So I gave him 2 euros (about 4 Aussie dollars) and watched
with pleasure as he bounced merrily downstairs clutching his generous
donation firmly in his hand. At least I wouldn't have to worry about
him, I thought. Back to those bloody train schedules again.
Moments later, a young,
scruffy-dressed New Zealander came to my rescue. And within seconds
he'd found the listing for my train. But unfortunately there wasn't
anything I could catch earlier. So I was back to my scheduled run
again, and back to the mercy of fate. Then, just as he was about to
leave, he confessed that he'd always intended to ask me for some loose
change, but that it really wasn't necessary any more. I was glad to
give him 2 euros as well, and didn't even mind when I saw him a little
later with a nice, cold bottle of beer in his hand.
9:27pm - I left Amsterdam
on my train bound for Maastricht. This would be my first test. The
trip would take 2 hours 37 minutes, and my connecting train would
leave 6 minutes after my arrival. All I needed was for the train to
run on time. But for most of the trip it was running 7-9 minutes late!
Already I was thinking about contingency plans. Maybe I could sleep
on my bags in the railway station and try again the following morning.
I mean, what else can you do when you miss your train, and you're
stuck in a foreign place after midnight. But then, what about those
Tuesday, October 8, 2002
00:06am - I
couldn't believe it! We only lost 2 minutes, and I still had 4 minutes
to catch my next train. But where the hell was Platform 5a? Luckily
I spotted a couple of guys in railway uniforms, and luckily they spoke
English. After they confirmed I wanted to go to Liege, they assured
me I needed to go to Platform 6. I'd already lost a minute, so I started
to run. I even ran up the stairs which took me to the overpass leading
across to Platform 6. And then I ran down the next staircase as well.
Isn't it amazing, in a time of need, where you find the strength and
energy to do the otherwise impossible.
I got to the train at Platform
6. And just to double check, I glanced at the departure screen. Nothing!
There's no bloody way I was getting on an anonymous train. I could
end up anywhere! So I looked around for some sort of confirmation.
On the opposite platform, 3 railway workers sensed my plight and shouted
out that the Liege train was on Platform 5a, just as my ticket had
indicated. But as I looked around on Platform 5, I couldn't see a
train anywhere! It was now 00:10am. I'd used up my 4 minutes! And
those freekin' trains are always so fastidious about leaving right
In desperation, I looked
at the railway workers again, and they pointed to the top end of the
line. So I craned my neck around an advertising billboard, and saw
a small 2 carriage train in the distance, and started running frantically
again. Surely they'd wait for me. Wouldn't they? I got closer and
noticed the train guard was still outside the train. Casually he boarded
the train just before I got there. But I did get on!
Seconds later the train
set off, and I took the next 5 minutes trying to catch my breath again.
But I was a happy soul. This was my tightest connection. And I'd made
it. Thirty minutes later I'd be arriving at Liege-Guillemins, and
catching the sleeper train to Hamburg (Germany). But I had 14 minutes
between connection. Surely they couldn't be delayed more than 14 minutes
on such a short trip.
00:40am - I arrived at Liege,
and instantly realised that I wasn't in Holland any more. The railway
employees were all speaking French. Wow! I'm in France, I thought.
It wouldn't be until daylight the following day that I'd be informed
I was actually in the French-speaking sector of Belgium. What a bummer!
I was in another country and couldn't even enjoy it! Had I known,
I'd at least taken a photo of something.
00:54am - The train on the
platform was going to Berlin (Germany) and the Hamburg train would
arrive after this one left. But then there was a change of plans.
All passengers going to Hamburg would have to get onto this one and
catch the sleeper train at the next station. Fair enough, I thought.
And we were soon off.
00:56am - As I got off the
station with the other 3 passengers, I felt a sense of deja-vu. The
image I got was something like the image of the jews getting off a
train on their way to a Nazi concentration camp. This was the smallest,
darkest and most primitive station I'd been to. In fact, the escalator
taking us up from the underpass to the opposite platform, seemed totally
out of place when compared to the gravel platform and the total lack
of buildings or shelters. I'd hate to be stuck out here in the rain,
I thought. But as I looked around, I wasn't too happy about being
out there in the dark either! I hoped the train would come soon. It
01:20am - Eventually the
train arrived. I'd made a reservation for a couchette (sleeping bunk)
and my bunk was on carriage number 120. When the train stopped, I
was standing right alongside the front of it. Because of the gravel
ground, I couldn't wheel my luggage any more. So I picked up all 50
kg of my luggage and walked up to the first carriage. And I read the
carriage number, "90". These had better not be in numerical order,
I thought. So I continued looking at the carriage numbers, 91, 92,
93 � by the time I got to 97, I started to panic. A couple of train
guards were now returning from the back of the train.
"Where's carriage 120,"
I asked desperately. One of them turned and indicated that it was
just beside the last light pole on the platform. This was the very
last carriage on the train! Fortunately, the carriage after 99, was
119. But I was still exhausted once I finally got to number 120. In
fact, I couldn't even lift my suitcase into the train until I'd taken
a few moments to catch my breath once again! Could this trip get even
more challenging? Could this trip get even more exhausting? I'd have
to wait and see.
Once I was safely aboard,
I started my mental arithmetic again. The train was already about
30 minutes late, and there was only 7 minutes to spare before I caught
my connecting train. But this leg of my trip was due to take 6 hours
and 27 minutes. Could it make up the lost 30 minutes? These thoughts
were still going through my mind as I clumsily attempted to make my
bed in the dark sleeper cabin. Five other passengers were already
fast asleep when I got there, so I didn't want to wake them. Fortunately
I'd booked a bottom bunk (there are 3 levels on each side of the cabin)
but my suitcase couldn't fit under my bed. And I needed to get my
pyjamas out of my carry bag. And I had to get the fabric bag, with
my food in it, off the floor in case someone stood on it. And � Stuff
it, I thought, and I switched the light on. Several bodies stirred
as I began to put my gear away as best I could. But no-one said a
word, except for the lady who'd left her backpack on my bunk. Could
I slide it under my bunk, she asked. So I did.
As you can imagine, I didn't
sleep very well. The sums kept going through my head. My previous
travel experience in sleeper trains had often seen me stuck in the
middle of the carriage passageway just before the train was due to
arrive at my final destination. Passengers in the other cabins would
move their packed bags into the narrow passageway, therefore blocking
it, and just wait until they could get off the train. This wasn't
normally a problem, but now with my schedule being so tight, I couldn't
afford to risk losing a few precious minutes, while the other passengers
(without tight connecting schedules) simply ambled about on their
way to the exit. I'd get up at 5:45am, I determined. This would give
me lots of time to gather my things together, take them to the exit
door and freshen up in the bathroom. Then I wouldn't have to worry
about the traffic jam when we arrived at Hamburg.
I only got about 2 hours
sleep that night, so getting up early wasn't a problem. It is normal
practise for the train staff to take your ticket off you when you
board sleeper trains. This is so they can wake the passengers 15 minutes
before arriving at the destination on their ticket, and nobody has
to worry about sleeping in. So once I'd moved my gear to the exit,
I collected my ticket from the train staff. With a puzzled look, she
said I didn't need to get off at the next station, because we wouldn't
be arriving at Hamburg for another 1 hour 20 minutes. So I explained
my dilemma to her, and my strategy for trying to save precious minutes
at Hamburg Station.
"But the train in Hamburg
is expecting you, and will wait for you if we're running late," she
enlightened me. After travelling by train for the last 2 months, no-one
had ever mentioned that before! I'm sure if I'd known, I would've
been able to sleep much better. But it was too late now. I'd just
have to wait. A couple of stops later, we were pulling into Hamburg
� 5 minutes early! Incredible, I thought. Stressing over something
that ended up working to my advantage. And as the train stopped, I
read the name of the station. "Hamburg Humberg". Surely this must
be the right station. So in a questioning tone, I said, "Hamburg?"
to the lady standing behind me.
Then as she tried to pass
by me, I said, "Wait a minute. I'm getting off too."
So I grabbed my bags. But
just before I could lift them of the floor, she said, "No, this isn't
the main Hamburg Station. That's the next stop." And quickly squeezed
past me with her 3 young children.
My God, I thought. If she
hadn't been there, I would certainly had got off the train, making
my next connection impossible.
07:21am - The train arrived
at Hamburg Station right on schedule, and I found my next train quite
07:28am - This train was
bound for Copenhagen (Denmark). No worries about time on this leg
of the trip. It would take 4 and a half hours and I had 1 hour and
37 minutes to spare before my next connection was due to leave. So
I settled into my reserved seat opposite a lean and scruffy bearded
guy. This ended up being the most interesting passenger I'd ever travelled
with. He was a mathematics teacher in a Norway university ("Norway
students aren't very smart," he'd keep saying). And he always referred
to himself as 'a mathematician'. And I never doubted this for a moment,
because the book he was carrying for some light reading was called,
"Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Geometry, Trigonometry and
Logarithms, But Were Too Afraid To Ask". And he would study it carefully
every time there was a lull in our conversation. Which wasn't very
often, because he was such a chatty sort of guy. Maybe he felt comfortable
talking to me because I was now sporting a fairly significant grey
beard of 5 weeks growth. Or maybe it was because I was an Australian,
and he wanted to practise his English, which seemed pretty good to
me anyway. But whatever it was, this 60 year old guy became my travelling
companion, and interpreter, for the rest of the trip, as he was going
to Oslo, half an hour further than my final destination.
Now that I knew my connecting
trains would always wait for me, and now that I knew I'd be travelling
with a Norwegian guy who knew this route very well, I relaxed totally,
and enjoyed the balance of my trip. It was daylight again, so now
I turned my attention to the sights. And there were many:
1-Windmills - I saw dozens
of tall and sleek power-generating windmills in Germany. These modern
erections looked like an army procession of Star Wars creatures
as their slim propellers spun eerily in the strong north european
breeze. Many more of these would be seen on the Denmark side of
2-Train Boards Ferry -
Believe it or not, the train crossed the sea from Germany to Denmark,
not over a bridge, but by ferry! The 3 carriage train parked itself
in the ferry's parking bay along with a bus, 4 trucks, and a large
number of cars. Then 45 minutes later, it rolled off the ferry tracks
and back onto the mainland train tracks. Luckily I'd bought a Magnum
(ice-cream) on the ferry, because in Denmark they only accept the
local currency, Denmark Kroner. This meant I'd be unable to purchase
anything else for the rest of the trip.
3-Wild Deer - I saw wild
deer (little Bambis) on the grassy plains, on 4 separate occasions,
and always in pairs. And a couple of times they were near clusters
4-Coppenhagen - I took
advantage of the long stop in Copenhagen to go out into the city.
The mathematician (we never introduced ourselves!) had pointed me
in the right direction and told me I should at least photograph
the Mayor's House which was only a short walk from the station.
So I braved the cold weather (it's bloody freezing out there) and
even though I had to take my luggage with me, I chose not to miss
out on this opportunity. The Mayor's House looked more like a castle
than anything else, so it wasn't as insignificant as I'd initially
imagined. But thirty minutes, and 6 photos later, I couldn't bear
the cold any longer. So I returned to the station trying to find
somewhere warm where I could sit and rest. Boy, was I stuffed!
5-Yellow Houses - Once
we were in Sweden, the houses took on an immediate change in appearance.
First of all they were almost all wooden, and painted in a large
range of colours (one colour per house). But the most favoured colour
was a rich yellow. It became quite an enjoyable pastime looking
out for the yellow houses in the next cluster of buildings. But
my favourite yellow house was the one with the red roof � just like
their dog's kennel!
6-Customs Police - Seeing
Customs Officers on the train was a new experience for me. It must
be a Scandinavian concern, because even though Denmark and Sweden
are both in the European Union, they insisted on questioning every
passenger on the train. And this also happened in Norway, which
was more acceptable because it isn't part of the European Union.
In Denmark, the mathematician
was questioned and had his small backpack searched. This didn't seem
to bother him at all because he knew he looked like a drug addict.
He then related a story to me about an occasion some years before
when he was travelling with his long haired son. After half an hour
of questioning and searching, he was finally asked what his profession
was. And as soon as he said he was a Maths Teacher, he was released
without any further incident. In fact, when we boarded the next train
going through Sweden, he was so shocked that they didn't search his
bags, he complained! But they still wouldn't search him. They were
much more interested in the poor young guy, with the Iranian passport,
sitting in the seat in front of us. They searched his bag. They went
through his wallet. They even frisked him. Boy, was he nervous. And
he couldn't speak any English, so he didn't know what they'd do to
him. In the end, they were satisfied he was 'clean' and left him alone.
And me? I just told them
I was an Australian citizen. Then I showed them all the luggage I
was carrying. Maybe it was more than what they wanted to look through.
Or maybe drug traffickers and terrorists travel light, so therefore
I couldn't be a suspect. But whatever the case, they were gone in
an instant. Lucky me.