At 5:31 in the morning, my alarm was going off, and someone was knocking at the door. I soon realized that I had slept in and the knocking on the door was my German and Spanish speaking airbnb host trying to take me to the train station. I rushed to get my things together, got dressed, and ran down stairs and into her car. She started driving and her windshield quickly fogged. She motioned for me to grab something by the door. I found a rolled up t shirt and began whiping at her windshield to no effect.
She dropped me at the station, saying something I didn’t understand and gently waving goodbye. I ran in to buy my ticket, but the machine required exact change, which I did not have. I rushed in to the convenient store next to the station and bought a bottle of water. When I came back out, the train had already left, so I waited five minutes for the next one.
I boarded the train and double checked with the conductor that I was in fact at the right train, she reassured me I was, so I took a seat towards the front. At each stop, I would check the time and think to myself, there’s no way I’m going to make it. Sure enough, when I finally got to my stop, I was in such a rush to catch my train, that instead of going into the central station, I went down into the metro. I did not catch my train.
After brooding in the metro McDonalds for a while, I made my way to the information center and spoke with a very kind German man. I showed him my ticket and asked if I could book another one. He read over my ticket aloud, can only be refunded or exchanged before the time of departure, then replied, fuck, that sucks. Okay, go over there and they will help you buy a new ticket.
After buying my new ticket, I boarded a train and asked a German family if I was on the right one, determined not to miss another train to Paris. The mother said I was on the right train, and then she double checked my ticket. I sat down close to the family and made sure to stare at the display that constantly flashed the next stop. My eyelids were so heavy, but I couldn’t fall asleep or I might miss my connection.
I got off the train at Stuttgart and found my way to a bakery on the platform. I bought a blueberry muffin and what I thought was a quiche, but was actually a cream cheese tart. I ate them both while standing in front of the platform where my next train was to pick me up.
Some time passed, and I checked the board to see how much longer it would be until my train came in. There was something written next to my train that I couldn’t decipher and that google translate couldn’t help me with. I saw a curly haired French girl with a huge backpack and an even bigger suitcase standing in front of the platform and asked for her help. She immediately knew I was going to Paris and said that she had just checked it and, according to the French website, the train was still coming, but was delayed. She quickly decided to double check and left to go ask information. When she came back, she had some bad news, the train had in fact been cancelled, but there was another train we could take and then we’d have to make a connection. I told her I would follow her and she said, yes, okay, like a little handbag.
We got onto the next train and we talked about ourselves, our lives, our families. She kept saying she felt like she was talking to much and then asked what I was doing in Paris. I gave her my life experiences spiel.
When we got to our next stop, we immediately made our way to our next platform. I helped her carry her heavy suitcase even though she felt it was her responsibility. We waited at the platform, but our train never came. She asked a group of people working for the station where our train was and a small German man replied. She asked something else and he started to get visibly upset. Her voice rose in response and he seemed to become even more upset. Eventually, she said something and walked away. I asked what had happened and she said, he was telling me the train was right before this one, but we were standing here and there was no train! We walked in and talked to information and the man at the counter said the same thing, the train had already left, but again, she said, we were there, there was no train. He called someone on the phone and then, upon hanging up, spoke to us in English and said, okay, I’m sorry, it looks like the train was moved to a different platform. There was an announcement, but I guess you missed it. He then gave us replacement tickets to Paris that left in an hour and a half.
I asked the girl if she was hungry and she suggested we eat somewhere outside of the station. We walked across the street to a small cafe. She ordered a focaccia and a cherry torte, I ordered something with artichoke and cheese wrapped in filo dough and a strange poppy seed dessert. We sat outside and talked about music and art, each of us sharing some of our favorites. We talked about heavier things and the meaning of life. She then translated a translated quote from the Dali Lama, the question is not what is the meaning of life, but what meaning can you give it? At this point, one of the women who was working in the cafe walked up to us and asked if we were going to Paris. We said we were and she asked if one of us was missing out ticket. The French girl replie that she was not, but after some top notch sleuthing on my part, I discovered that I was. The kind woman brought me my ticket, I thanked her repeatedly, and we headed back into the station.
We boarded the bus and found that the bus had been overbooked, which supposedly is a common occurrence these days. This meant that there was not a guaranteed seat for everyone and people were sitting on staircases or standing in the aisles. The curly haired French girl and I found a pair of seats at a table and sat down. It didn’t take long though for the rightful heir to the seats approached and we were banished to join the ranks of those lining the walkways.
We made our way to the second story of the train and walked around looking for a pair of seats. When we found none, we resigned to sit on the luggage racks. Again, we continued our talks of life, love, and art. The French girl noticed a woman whose scarf she had earlier admired. I asked the French girl if she had told the woman how much she liked her scarf and she replied that she had not. You should tell her, I replied. She began talking to the woman and the woman thanked her and continued the conversation. The woman and the French girl talked back and forth eventually leading to woman looking at me and saying something I didn’t understand. The French girl translated and the woman began speaking to us both in English. She was traveling to Paris to get very special yarn with vibrant colors that she couldn’t find in Germany. She told us she made the trip every few months.
The train, at this point, began having some technical issues. We were taking short breaks at stations and along the way. The French girl and I continued to talk with the woman with the scarf and a blonde haired German woman joined in on the conversation. She did not speak English, but the French girl was kind enough to, again, translate for me. We eventually found out it was the blonde haired German woman’s birthday and I thought how terrible it must be to be stuck on a train on your birthday. I asked the French girl if cake on your birthday was as big a deal in Europe as it was in the states. She replied, of course it is! I asked if I should get the blonde haired woman some cake and the French girl thought it was a great idea.
I made my way to the cafe at the front of the train and bought the blonde haired woman two different kinds of cake, as I didn’t know which kind she preferred. I brought them both back to the woman and presented them. The French girl began singing happy birthday in French and encouraged me to sing along. I told her I only knew it in English and she started singing again. When we finished and the tiny applause from our row was over, the blonde hair woman said something in German. The French girl turned to me and translated, she’s telling us we have good hearts. The woman then said something else and the French girl leaned in from the seat next to her. They hugged and kissed each others cheeks. Then the French girl got up and the blonde haired woman motioned for me. I leaned in, hugged her, and received a kiss on each cheek. (This woman would later accidentally burn my arm with a cigarette as her, the French girl, and I all grouped together for a picture of which I, regrettably, did not get a copy of.)
After our hugs and kisses, the French girl decided it wouldn’t be a real celebration without wine. She asked the blonde haired woman her preference and headed off to the front of the train. I, then, sat down next to the blonde haired woman who tried to speak to me. I motioned that I didn’t understand. Then, a voice above me quietly whispered, Americans, always needing someone to translate for them. I looked up and an elderly German man was hovering above my head, smiling. He said something in German to the women in my row, they laughed, and he turned around and sat back down.
The blonde haired German woman began trying to talk to me, and I pulled out my phone and tried to use google translate. I tried to tell her I didn’t think it was right for someone to have a birthday, but no cake. She typed something into my phone that google half translated and again, I monitored that I didn’t understand. She then pressed her hand to her chest, then to my chest and said, gut. We both nodded as the French girl came back with a tiny bottle of white wine. The two of them drank and the French girl said to me, that was a great idea. You are very kind.
More technical issues with the train and we were stopped again, this time in France. This is where the blonde haired woman would accidentally burn me. We also discovered at this stop that there were lots of issues with the train, and the French girl was going to miss her connection to meet her parents.
When we got back on board, they were handing out meals to try and make up for the delay. We decided to split one as neither of us was feeling particularly hungry. It was here that we also found out that the elderly German man who had whispered to me had a small boy with him that was also going to miss his connection due to all of the delays. The French girl was nice enough to offer up her phone for the boy to call his parents as the reception on the train was terrible, but she somehow had reception. The little boy and the French girl walked downstairs to make the call.
At this point, I was so tired that my conversation skills were nearly nonexistent. When the French girl returned, I let her sit in the seat next to the blonde woman and I stood in the aisle behind them.
When we got close to Paris, the French girl gathered her things and told me we should get close to the door as it can be a mad rush to get off. We pulled up the station, got off the train, and begin walking towards the gate. Thankfully, there was another connection available for the French girl. She gave me a small indication of where to go and then I asked her how French people say goodbye. Do you guys do hi fives?, I joked. She said, no, we kiss. Once or twice? I asked. Twice, she replied. I hugged her and we kissed each others cheeks. I waived and started the long walk to the hostel where I would sleep for 13 hours.