I romanticize the trains here in Europe. The train system is, indeed, amazing here and like a lot of Americans, when I think of Europeans, I rarely imagine them driving, but rather training to their Euro-destinations. When we imagined ourselves traveling here, we imagined the same for us: rail to Prague, rail to dinner out, rail to shop in the city for the day…
Yet the actual Europeans I hang with say, “The train? NO WAY! It’s a hassle – you have to drive to the station, then wait, then pay more than gas costs, and it’s stuffy and smelly and slow…”. POP! There went my Euro-bubble. We still hold onto the fantasy though and see ourselves as potential trainers despite all the drawbacks, but the fact is that it’s confusing to take the train.
Deutsch Bahn, the German train system, is a tangled web of tracks with different levels of trains all crossing over each other – the inter-city, the regional express, ICE, the S-1, the S-3, and so on. There are different pricing levels for each system and different pricing levels depending on where you are coming from and where you are going, of course, and it’s based on some sort of calculus or something that I’ll never be able to figure out. There’s a website, but to navigate it requires a high level of savvy-ness, and if you don’t possess it (we don’t), you overpay. There are machines right at the track, and customer service counters with tired, disgusted and hurried employeees manning them, but if you don’t navigate them correctly as well, you overpay.
I guess I’m just afraid to overpay! But even if I get a good train fare or go with a group, something always happens that causes me to hyperventilate, like a last minute track change, or that we’re traveling on a weekend and fail to notice that certain trains that run every day don’t run on Saturdays from 2:00 on, or whatever. Sometimes trains even pull into stations and half the train gets disconnected and stays there at the station and half continues on – if you don’t remove yourself promptly you get left behind!
We’ve been burned is what I’m saying, and it’s left me a little shaken, but being a resiliant and determined little bunny, I wanted more than ever to get over this train hurdle.
So we had a free day yesterday and felt tipsy with the blankness of our slates, so I planned a train trip, the kiddos and I, to Mannheim. I even went to the station the day prior and bought my ticket – a 24 hour pass to travel to this particular region: Mannheim, Heidelburg, Speyer, the wine country – they’re all near each other. I found an itinerary system online that gave me all my connections, train numbers, etc (hello? Savvy? Is that you knocking on my door?). Until I woke up and it was POURING. The park that was my destination was a zoo/gardens “with over 100 Hectares of outside fun” so yeah – not happening. I decided something indoors was better and we remembered the Speyer Technical Museum was somewhere around Mannheim- my ticket’s region, so I hopped online, found a new itinerary, printed it and went to the station and folks – it all went off without a hitch! There was even a bus from the station in Speyer to the museum and my train tickets covered that and it was on my itinerary as well. There was a near-miss in a small town we stopped at in the wine region. Half the train stayed, half continued – I heard the announcement, started hyperventilating and some kindly German man in the opposite seat told me to “just sitz down”. I did. Thank you Herr Mann.
Here are some pics from our day. Click to be taken, as if by a winged angel, to our web album: