Thursday, July 17, 2008

Train Ride to Amsterdam

My first stop after Copenhagen was Amsterdam, on a 12+ hour night train with beds inside many cabins!  Even though I had a ticket for this train ride, a reservation was compulsory.  But both times that I went to Copenhagen’s central station to make a reservation, they told me that they could not because “the German system was down”.  In hindsight I wasn’t exactly clear on what this meant, but it sounded official enough for me to believe.  I asked if there was anything I could do, and they just told me to talk to the conductor and go to the train.  So I thought to myself, “This is Europe.  I’m sure it won’t be a big deal.”

            I wasn’t the only one without a reservation when boarding the train.  Many around me held panicked discussions wondering, “what will they do to us?”  Each cabin sits six people and many of them have beds in them, and I found one with five guys in it, around my age.  Two were college kids studying in Utah and Colorado respectively, two were college kids studying in Copenhagen, and one was a German student studying in Sweden.  They had reservations. 

            We spoke and got along well.  Shared stories, ambitions, perspectives.  About an hour in we made a stop, and soon after a very tall and domineering fellow stood before our cabin looking back and forth between his ticket and the numbers written on the wall.  I quickly got up, grabbed my bags, and headed off to a different part of the train in search of a new seat. 

            I found one in a different section of the train where the cabins were bedless.  This cabin had three young, blonde-haired Finnish girls who struck me as incredibly exotic.  Then there was a couple from Utrecht in the Netherlands.  I would later learn they were animators and we had a great discussion about stop-motion animation and how they go about their work.  As I was sitting getting to know my new cabin mates, the conductor, a young and power-hungry German blonde, came by and asked to see our tickets.  When she saw I had no reservation, she instructed me, “you will have to get off the train at the next stop and wait until the morning when you can make a reservation.”  The others in the cabin looked at me.  I furrowed my brow and internalized my disagreement and just said, “thank you.”  She left, and I grabbed my bags and went to yet another part of the train.

            This time, instead of just sitting down in the first open seat I could locate, I found the car’s conductor and asked her if she had any open spots.  Indeed she did!  So much for the ravenous German blonde.  I found myself in a cabin with beds and 5 others.  One was a Danish schoolteacher, one a mechanical engineer at a Swedish coffee factory who drank 15 cups of joe a day, a social worker, and a guy in a Yankees hat who spoke very little, but just enough to comfort any doubts I might have had about his sanity.  The engineer and social worker were friends who had a third travel companion with them who had to bail out at the last second, leaving me with a quite a fortunate opportunity. 

            The next morning after a pleasant night’s sleep in my train bed, I walked around the train and noticed many of the fearful from the day before were gone.  When I asked about them, I was told they had gotten off to wait for the next train, like the conductor had instructed.  Ultimately, I made it to Amsterdam in one piece, ecstatic to establish my own impression for a city with such a strong reputation.

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