Escape into Europe – Part 3

To pick up from last time…it took us just under two hours to travel the 300 odd miles to Strasbourg near the German border from the French capital. Not bad going considering this journey would likely take around 4 hours, 30 minutes by car! After a very smooth journey to Strasbourg we had arrived slightly late and just missed the earlier optional train to Offenburg. This wasn’t of to much concern however as we knew we would just catch the next one an hour later, meaning our two next connections before Berlin would still fit into our make shift schedule.

We wondered through the train station and bought some baguettes (had to be done in France), before wondering out the entrance into a grassy area. It was about 8 pm as we devoured our packaged French delicates in silence. As I ate I looked at the small square we had found ourselves in and wondered whether we were missing something by just passing through Strasbourg. In fairness, our chosen place to seat hadn’t looked that inviting, with lots of rubbish and serious looking old mannies (you get them everywhere), but maybe there was some hidden gems around the next corner.

However, we didn’t have much time to hang about and were soon making our way back through the train station to the platform we needed to wait at. When we reached said platform I must admit I was struck by the fact that it was so much smaller and further away from the other platforms. There was also maybe two benches giving the impression that our next destination wasn’t a particularly popular one. While we waited for the train the sun was preparing to drop below the horizon bathing us in a fantastic orange light.

When we boarded the small train there was the sense of relief that we felt everytime we managed to catch the right train. I sat down and checked I had the passports and interrail passes as I always did before and after moving anywhere. For some reason Rory had thought it wise to leave his passport on my person meaning there extra pressure to actually not lose something for once. The train kept a slow but steady pace through the outskirts of Strasbourg before entering the flat surrounding countryside. It didn’t take long before we could tick another country of our list as we crossed the Pont de l’Europe (Europe Bridge), passing two large German flags.

The train arrived in Offenburg approximately 30 minutes after its departure and after getting off we walked to the platform we needed to be at for the train to Mannheim. Two trains down. Two to go. We still had a bit of time so wondered around looking for advice on whether we should buy tickets for the next train just before boarding. To our disappointment we couldn’t any staff, asking an armed policeman who wasn’t overly helpful. We would just have to board as we were. Everything was going to be absolutely fine.

As our departure time came closer I couldn’t help but notice that the entire station was almost deserted. Scarce passengers and three armed police officers were dotted along the platform. Surely more people were getting on this train. The other concern was that ten minutes prior to its arrival the Mannheim train wasn’t up on the board, Baden Baden being the next location displayed. Rory pointed out that there was information scrolling along the bottom of the board, and hurriedly struggled to translate it through Google. It read that due to rail works north of here all trains would be terminating at Baden Baden, only 12 minutes further up the line. This was not good and it seemed although our plan had been suddenly thrown out of the window.

We hurried to try and find an alternative, reaching for the railway map and bringing up the app on our phone which provided us with train times (this was a life saver, thanks intterail!). It was becoming increasingly stressful as everytime we were provided with a possible option we quickly realised it wasn’t going to work. Eventually we realised we would have to go south, a long way south. Our new plan would include taking a arduous looping route through Switzerland and Austria, before re-entering Germany from the south-east near Munich. Also factored into this was that we would have to spend a night in Zurich train station, before we could catch the next train into Austria. We got on the southbound train at around 10.30 pm, and headed towards our next stop off point, Basel.

As the train whizzed through the now pitch darkness I wondered what type of landscape we were passing through as we headed towards the mountains of Switzerland. When we arrived in Basel just after midnight, we had a quick connection to make for the next train to Zurich. We made this no problem and arrived in Zurich 40 minutes later, contemplating what the rest of the night was going to bring. We searched the train station for somewhere to get a seat with the aim of spending the next five hours. Before we could have a proper look we were guided out of the train station for closing time. This was a certainly a game changer.

We walked out of the train station and headed into the area we thought looked the most central, finding a bench to sit on. This would have to be where we spend the night. A few minutes after sitting on our accommodation for the night, we witnessed a scuffle across the street involving the police. I suddenly felt slightly unsafe, wondering whether we would be confronted. Thankfully our only interaction was with a  local who wanted to purchase some weed. Unfortunately neither us could provide him with this, him being kind enough to translate his request into English for us.

The time on my digital watch seemed to change very slowly as we sat shivering on our wooden bench, looking out at the city lights being reflected onto the River Limmat. Likely a stunning city in daylight, at 3 am it felt rather lonely and hostile. Two hours later we set off to see if the train station was open yet, wandering around the area surrounding the huge building before it finally opened. We found somewhere to sit and Rory instantly fell asleep, while I desperately tried to stay awake, worried that we might miss our train at 6.40 am.

After just about managing to stay awake it took a wee while to shake Rory awake before making our way to the correct platform. Luckily the train was already there and we boarded our train which would take us to Kufstein in Austria. I realised quite quickly that the seats were fairly upright making it difficult to sleep. I found myself in a horrible kind of halfway house between being extremely sleep deprived while being unable to sleep. In some ways this was actually a blessing in disguise as the scenery was incredible. As the train winded its way into Austria the mountains became higher and more dramatic, seemingly rising out of nowhere with slopes which seemed to rise at an almost impossible angle. It was a shame we were so sleep deprived.

When we arrived in Kufstein we had to run for our next train to Munich, just catching it in time. As we re-entered Germany for the second time the landscape suddenly became much flatter, the chatter of German tourists not being enough to keep me awake, as I had 40 winks for the first time in about 30 hours. It didn’t take long to get to Munich and we prioritised getting food during the 30 minute wait for the next train. The huge train station wasn’t dissimilar to a shopping mall as we found a Burger King.

After some well deserved food we walked down to the right platform. The train was labelled as going to Hamburg, causing us some confusion. Though it was quite funny when Rory asked a train conductor whether he spoke English. His was answer was simply “NO!” as he barged past us. Some of the passengers were more welcoming to our appalling lack of German and reassured us that the train also went to Berlin. After a slight struggle to find unreserved seats we were forced to sit across the aisle from each other. I sat beside a businessman in a fancy black suit. We didn’t chat. Finally it looked as if we going to make it to Berlin, almost 24 hours later than planned.

The seats on the super cool, fast German “ICE” trains were much more sleep friendly, and I slept for a large portion of the journey. Awaking sometimes, worryingly close to the shoulder of the poor man I was sitting beside. He cast many strange look at me during the journey, though it remains a mystery as to whether I actually used his shoulder as a pillow. The journey lasted six hours and when we reached Berlin we decided to get off at the first station to make sure we had actually made it. It seemed inconceivable to me that we had actually made it to Berlin!

From Berlin Sudkreuz station we got on the easy to navigate over ground system, taking us to the area where our hostel was located. We expected and wanted a nice place to sleep, being totally shattered and very grumpy. Unfortunately this wasn’t this case, finding out that my 30 euros had been spent on a double bed which fitted perfectly into our room for the night. It would have to do and we soon collapsed onto the bed in exhaustion, looking forward to what Berlin would bring tomorrow…




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