I usually don’t try to do a narrative in my posts, but this one had to be done to preserve this experience.
St.Jude as I would later discover was the storm galloping almost all of Europe. I did not have a clue of it coming, and was happily heading back home after my brief vacation near the Nuremberg region in Germany.
After three days of peaceful existence, which gave me the time and ambience to compose myself better to get back at my routine, I was all ready and rejuvenated to take up my 14 hours train travel to Goteborg.
I like Deutsche Bahn (DB), although it is deemed expensive and the prices comparable to that of flying, the experience of train changing, while savouring the best of European landscape through the window never bores me. More so, the network of DB too is very compellingly admirable. Although the trains are not exactly on time, every time (talking in few tens of minutes of delay at max), but overall the experience makes every trip memorable.
So, on this particular day, a Monday I was expecting the trains to be decently crowded and I did not reserve my seat hoping that it won’t be hard to find myself a seat through my journey. That’s a good gamble, mostly works out well. The journey ahead comprised of three train changes – one at Wurzburg, then at Hamburg and the final train at Copenhagen. Having taken this route already once, and having seen the perfect coordination between rail networks, I was worrying less about missing the trains.
The first train hop was smooth at Wurzburg. There was a gap of only 6 minutes between the trains, but the second train was late by 20 minutes; that would not have hampered my next hop because it had 50 minutes transit time in Hamburg. The train to Hamburg was noticeably crowded, and took a while for me to find a seat.
Instructions on these trains are mostly in German, and a gist only of important instructions are stated in English. I was not expecting any major instructions, hence was engrossed into my laptop. As the 200 minutes journey was approaching its end, the train pilot kept on making long comments, but none in English – so I presumed nothing important. But then, I started to observe commotion in the train and I asked my neighbours what it was – a young couple, tried to explain to me that the train although will reach its destination (Hamburg), the connecting trains might not ply due to bad weather. I kind of dismissed the idea that my train to Copenhagen was going to be cancelled, but now the train was late and I was only hoping I would not miss the train to Copenhagen because of the delay. The couple were going to Copenhagen too, and as soon as we reached Hamburg we ran to the departure notice boards to see from which platform our train was leaving, a comment next to the train entry was present in German that I did not know. The couple sighed disappointedly, I thought we had missed the train – the lady said that our train was cancelled.
Cancelled? There was nothing extreme happening all through the trip to Hamburg. All I saw was trees sway and clouds move, which was not uncommon at all. We rushed to the DB information centre to ask for alternate options – I was still hoping I could somehow make it to Copenhagen, so that I don’t miss my next train to Goteborg.
The DB Information centre was clogged with people! No queues, and when you don’t find a queue in Germany, then things are really bad!
After some streamlining, and an hour’s wait I reached the counter, the German official said that there were no trains on that route, all were cancelled because trees had disrupted tracks, and trees were falling because of heavy wind. That seemed unconvincing, and he said I would be put to stay in a hotel and I can continue travelling next morning with the same ticket. I had no other option, and it would be that two more lectures I would miss. But already I was contemplating the prospect of going around Hamburg, a city I wanted to visit and happily accepted the offer.
I step out of the station, and I hear sirens of ambulances frequently within the two minutes I was out. Across the street I see few displaced chairs and tables, and the breeze was not a breeze. The wind was heavy, but had mellowed down by the time I was out. Chairs, tables, glass panes all remained shattered – I presumed it must have been the wind. I reach my hotel and at the reception engage with them in a conversation “Is this thing common? That trains get cancelled and we are put to hotels?”. The tall receptionist dismissed the questions even before I could complete “Nay, this happened last before eight years. Heavy winds are uprooting trees, and have shut down the airports too – flights are unable to take off. Winds of 180 kmph are blowing all around. I even saw two young men lift off by the wind!”, and I was feeling weird. While I wanted to seem worried, I was feeling special that I was experiencing something that was not very common!
I get to my room, and immediately get out to see the city of Hamburg! I decide to walk, and the winds had subsided, although it was not all normal – the trauma was seen. I walked around for a couple of hours, found some yummy food and brought it back to my room. Exhausted I hit the bed to wake up early and get back on my trip.
Morning, I check that I had trains at 6.20, 9.28, 9.30 and decided to get onto the 9.28 or next one after stuffing myself heavy at the hotel breakfast. At 7 I was again at DB information centre and the queues were still there! And also some sense of disappointment floated in the train station, like a foul smell. When I found myself at the counter, the official said no trains even today. I was like, “This is now getting bad” and headed to the other counter who put me to a hotel.
The queue there really long, and more organised – I was thinking, things are under control then. After more than half an hour’s wait, I was facing the official there who said no trains today, and we will put you to a hotel again today and he wrote me off to another hotel! I asked for alternatives, he said none because the tracks were not healed yet.
I got out from there and stood facing the departure notice boards. All trains were either really later, or getting cancelled. The 9.28 train got cancelled, but the 9.30 one did not receive any comment apart from the platform number. I waited till about 9 and then headed to the platform, and saw the train just then come by and stop with Kobenhavn as the destination! That seemed weird, the official just then said no trains until tomorrow and I see this train! All passengers were of course in the same state of confusion and boarded the train. I too boarded the train hoping that I won’t be missing another day of my new quarter classes. He did start at 9.30 and the pilot seemed happy, and relieved to announce that it was the first train after storm on the route and hence we were quite full. He also reassured us that we will be reaching Copenhagen, and the passengers on train exalted with relief. Winks and smiles were exchanged with strangers, and we were all getting used to the fact that we will reach our destination.
This is the weird train that boards a ferry to cross from Germany to Denmark. I was again looking forward to this experience. How often does it happen that a train boards a ferry!
After about an hour, the pilot made an English first announcement, stating that it was important and said that the train would ply only till end of Germany and the crossing of the Baltic sea on the ferry had to be done my walk to the ferry and on the Demark side, a replacement train would be ready for us.
Now, the commotion again increased but we had no choice. I was thinking maybe I should have stayed back at Hamburg and seen the city in its entirety. I would be wishing for that more desperately as the day progressed.
After we got down at the last stop in Germany – Puttgarden, we walked up to the stairs that would lead us into the ferry that crossed into Denmark. The ferry was not yet there, because of the delays in the train. After 45 minutes something the ferry docked and we boarded and landed on the deck directly.
This is a sail for 45 minutes, and we reached the other end into Denmark. It’s a marvellous experience always. The cell phone roaming instructions precisely change as we approach the borders. After getting off the ferry, we walked to the Danish train stop, I forget the name. And there was no replacement train waiting for us! It was substantially wind-ier, and it was colder. The trail of the storm seemed more evident here than in Germany.
Another 45 minutes wait, and my first time in double-decker train! This was again amidst lot of confusion : the train would not take us to Copenhagen but to another stop, where we had to change trains again. By now, my breakfast had vanished and was looking forward to some food. Even before the thought had passed my mind, a jeep with snacks and soft drinks was loading the train wagons with snacks, and the pilot announced it was free and we could refresh ourselves with it. That was so thoughtful of the agencies involved! These nuances are the aspects in comparison to what I might have expected in India that make Europe special.
The train started, and after some more time came to a halt in the intermediate station to Copenhagen. We were asked not to leave, because there were chances that the train would continue to Copenhagen. And as they said, it did reach Copenhagen after eight hours already since I left Hamburg.
At Copenhagen, in two minutes we had our next train to Goteborg. The other two Swedish friends and myself hopped out and sprinted to the platform where the train arrived and got in. The displays were reading Goteborg, and were finally relieved to have found the last connection. Hastily I sent out messages to everyone concerned that I was heading home! And, just then another announcement saying this train would not be plying to Goteborg and we had to get off the train! On the platform again another announcement was made, which no one could grasp. But when we asked some other passengers they said, no trains to Goteborg but we had to get to an intermediate stop in Helsingborg, Sweden and take a bus! I was imagining a longer day ahead! Now, I was drained out and feeling stressed too.
The train came but again said Goteborg Central, we got in and I was sitting in the most crowded train/bus I have seen in Europe. People could not board the train and had to leave many behind. When the train started it said it would reach Goteborg too in 3.5 hours! Again a sigh of relief. In half an hour, it read only midway and we were confused. And another half an hour it read it would reach Goteborg! After all this confusion, finally we came to understand that the train was indeed going to Goteborg!
But not without more drama. Almost midway to Goteborg, the train stopped inside a tunnel, and I also saw there was another train next to us. An announcement was made that the tracks did not have power and we could not proceed – I finally realized how bad the storm must have been! Another twenty minutes and the train picked up, but slowly with the pilot making an announcement that only one track had power – so trains from both sides would be using the same track, and hence we would be delayed. I was not worried about the delay, if I was reaching Goteborg!
And after some more starvation, exhaustion and extreme fatigue, the train peeped into known regions – I spotted the IKEA and then sighed a relief – ten minutes to the central station. We got off the train at Goteborg, and never have I been more happy to be home in Goteborg. Hugged the friends, who were at the verge of crying because the travel and headed home!
Overall, I have no complains about the experience, because like I was telling my European friends it would have been worse in India and I was just happy things were going on as they did. Also, the networking that happened under these conditions was more effective than other times, when people are more closed and reserve. This will go down as one of the most interesting of my experiences, while I look forward to top this with more awesome ones.