The hidden dangers of international train travel…
After finishing the month of July on a high, both literally and metaphorically speaking, I was to begin my month-long holiday cycling around Czech breweries. After wasting hours on bus and train websites trying to find an easy way to get to Prague without having to fly, and without having to put my bike in a bloody bike bag, I was on the point of giving up. It seemed no bus company was willing to take my bike (which I knew was the case, having previously been forced to bribe bus-drivers into carrying my bike, even in a bag, but thought I’d have a go sending it as freight), and the only train that allowed bicycles took 24 hours, with at least 8 changes, and cost 300 Euros. But finally my friend came to the rescue with a special cheap ticket she’d spotted going overnight from Aachen: she booked it, and all I had to do was type in a number and pick it up in Aachen… easy. Or so I thought, until my friend called me up the evening before I left saying she’d accidentally printed the tickets herself in Frankfurt, and that there was no way to get them to me. I decided to take the scanned copies she’d sent and try my luck with the German ticket inspectors, but had pretty much accepted I was going to have to pay the full fare again, whatever horrific value it would probably be.
Arriving in Aachen on a Belgian train, I headed straight for the ticket office to explain the situation, applying as much self-depreciation as I thought I could get away with, whilst also playing the idiot/confused tourist act – which has got me out of many uncomfortable situations. Not this one. The ticket chap laughed, said there was nothing he could do, offered to sell me another, but also suggested I try my luck anyway… He pointed me in the direction of a pub, where I could spend the next 3 hours waiting for the train. Which is exactly what I did, welcomed very warmly by the locals of Aachen, who all seemed, without exception in this small bistro at 6pm on a Sunday evening, to be completely drunk. I left the pub 3 hours later, in a very similar state, in what I recall was a very Hollywood-esque, blurred, slow motion farewell, with everyone waving, having paid for only two beers, but having consumed far more, including one that the bar man had given me as I tried to leave, mistaking my tip for another order. My original fear that the smell of beer would damage my chances of convincing the ticket-inspector about my situation, was replaced by the (in retrospect) very optimistic view that actually he’d sympathise more, seeing a tourist pushed to drink by the stress of international train travel. Whatever actually did happen I’ll never know: I fell asleep and awoke 2 hours later in Wuppertal for my connection. I switched trains, and before I’d even found my seat the night-train inspector ordered me to pay 10 Euro extra for my bag, gruffly demanded I show him my ticket, and then grumpily stamped the rather pathetic scanned versions I had in my hand before I’d even begun to explain… I fell asleep and awoke in Prague the next morning, rather baffled by the turn of events, and slightly hung-over.
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