I read over my emails, checking that I had downloaded the correct PDFs for my seat reservations. I was moving on to Konstanz and leaving Verona. I opened up the email from Interrail, and scanned the information. That was when I noticed it. The email confirmation I’d received did a) not include my ticket reservation, and b) stated very clearly that the tickets were prone to being found in people’s Spam folders.
I am someone who habitually clears out the Spam and Bin folders in my email account without so much as a quick glance.
I am spontaneous and fast moving. But sometimes, it seems, it pays to pause, read your emails, and take a moment.
I have learnt my lesson.
I can remember doing it. I remember seeing the top two emails in the Spam folder, noticing that they were different, thinking nothing of it, selecting all, and hitting the Delete Permanently button.
I emailed and tweeted Interrail. I knew it was too late. I knew there was nothing they could do. It was 9:00am and my train departed at 11:02am.
I decided I would board the train regardless. I had my Interrail ticket. I had booked the reservations so there would be a free seat allocated to me, and maybe I would just happen upon it.
I boarded my first train from Verona to Milan, and found a spare seat.
Just look confident but unassuming.
No one checked my ticket.
I got to Milan and found myself somewhere reminiscent of Paddington Station. It was bustling with people moving in different directions. A crowd gathered at the departures screens waiting for their platform number to blink into existence on the LED board. I had an hour wait before my next train to Zurich.
As I dawdled around the platform, Sion rang me. “So, how’s it going?”
“Well, I’ve got to Milan.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Blag it and rely on the kindness of strangers.”
The train from Milan to Zurich was a EuroCity train. It was heaving. Every passenger on there had reserved a seat.
I am not going to find my seat on this train.
Looking for the one spare seat would have been akin to searching for a needle in a haystack.
I decided I would stand.
I’d walked around all the places I’d visited instead of using public transport. Standing couldn’t be any more tiring.
I wedged my rucksack in the luggage hold and leant against it.
I was standing in the space between two carriages.
I could see a woman coming up the aisle of the carriage to the right of me checking tickets.
I waited for her to reach me.
“Ahh, yes. I have an Interrail ticket.” I rummaged in my rucksack.
“And do you have a ticket for this train? A reservation?”
“Yes I do.” Not a lie. “Although I’ve given up finding my seat. It seems chaos.” Also not technically a lie. The train was utter chaos. Children clambered over seats while adults tried to make them sit still. Everyone was attempting to find a slot for their baggage amongst the mountain of piling bags.
We smiled and laughed.
“I can help you find it.”
“No, it’s OK. I’m fine.”
“I don’t mind.”
If she insists on helping me find my seat then I’ll have to tell her I’ve lost my reservation.
“I’ve got a lot of stuff. I can’t be bothered carrying it. Honestly, don’t worry.”
“I can help you carry it.”
“No, it’s OK, but thank you.” I smiled.
“Well, if you’re sure…” She raised an eyebrow, smiled, and walked on.
The first two hours of the train ride weren’t so bad. I had finished reading When It’s Over and had started reading Stardust by Neil Gaiman. I listened to music. Enjoyed the view out of the small window in the door of the train. Watched people in the two carriages either side of me. Let the tiredness sink into me. My feet grow heavy, grounding me to the floor as the train rocked from side to side. My muscles tensing and releasing with each bend in the tracks to stop the sway from pushing me over.
When the third hour came I started feeling tired. I was loathe to buy anything. Travel days are good for making savings.
I wanted coffee and chocolate.
I had an apple in my rucksack. I ate that in the hope that it would placate the craving.
I walked down the carriage to my right to the restaurant cart. I ordered an americano and a chocolate wafer bar. It cost me €7. I didn’t care. The coffee was short and black. I stood at the counter and ate the chocolate slowly. Trying to make my time in the restaurant cart last as long as possible.
A group of people sat at one of the tables drinking larger, laughing and joking.
When I got back to my spot I took out my laptop from my rucksack. I would write.
I balanced the laptop on top of some bags and stood there typing. I could see some people in the carriage to the left of me watching me, wondering why I wasn’t sitting down, why I was still standing after two and a half hours on a reservation only train.
I changed positions. Crouched down into a squat and balanced my laptop on my knees with my back against the wall. I was sitting next to the train door now and had a much better view out of the window.
We were passing through Switzerland. The mountains were stunning.
Their bumpy surfaces like a woman’s body, curvy, deposits of loving fat protruding, folding, thick bones, and child bearing hips. The mounds and crevices covered in a lushious blanket of green grass.
They were gorgeous.
I was an hour away from Zurich where I made my next change. Sion rang me. “How are you doing?”
“One more hour to go, and then my next train is free and easy.”
“No more reservations?”
“Nope, this is the last one. My next train is fine.”
The train slowed to a stop. I stood up, packed away my laptop, and let people file out past me.
A scattering of seats became free. I waited for the train to start moving again before I pulled my laptop back out and moved into the carriage to the left, sitting down for the last hour of my journey.
I arrived in Zurich with time to kill so I wandered around outside of the station, trying to absorb as much of the city as I could before I had to leave. Trying to gain an impression of Switzerland.
As I boarded my final train to Konstanz, I was delighted to find a small curved staircase in front of me. This train was a double decker. I rang Sion, “I’m on a double decker train and I’m so excited! I’ve never been on a double decker train before!” He laughed.
“I’m surprised this is the first one you’ve been on. I thought they were quite common across Europe.”
A woman sitting on the aisle adjacent to me overheard my excitement, smiled and laughed at my glee. Our eyes met. We shared a smile.
I met Alex and Sonja earlier this year when they were touring Britain on their motorbikes. We hosted them through Couchsurfing and they stayed with us for two nights. It was nice to be able to stay with them in turn. One of the benefits of Couchsurfing is the connections you can make with people across oceans and the places those connections will take you. I would have never visited Ljubljana or Konstanz if it hadn’t been for the Couchsurfing community and site.
The night that I arrived, Sonja and her boyfriend Thimo were having a party. Alex was there too. It was nice to see them all and meet Thimo who I’d heard so much about. Throughout the evening people flicked between speaking English and German, everyone making an effort to ensure I didn’t feel excluded.
Having showered and had something to eat, I felt refreshed and was eager to catch up with Alex and Sonja. We exchanged stories and drank beer. Guests started to trickle in and soon there was a small gathering of people in Sonja and Thimo’s flat. Sonja became occupied with her friends. I was thankful to have Alex there. I stuck by him for company. We talked about beer, language, travelling, shared experiences, anecdotes, and cultural customs.
“In Germany, when you clink glasses with someone, you should always look them in the eye as you do it, and nod your chin too.”
The table debated whether Alex was correct or not.
“OK, maybe not the nodding bit, but definitely always look them directly in the eye.”
There was a murmer of agreement.
We all clinked glasses. I felt awkward looking each person in the eye. It felt unnatural. Invasive, somehow.
It’s strange how things we are not used to can feel wrong simply because they are alien to us. But I liked the custom. It felt affirmative. Direct. It made the act of clinking glasses less passive. An acknowledgement of the other person as well as a moment of celebration.
Tiredness started to creep up on me. It had been a long day, and eventually I found myself sinking to the back of the room. I was content to let the hubbub of friends enjoying one another’s company wash over me, and watch the happiness and kinship between these people fill the room with warmth.