Planes, Trains, and more Trains

Planes, Trains, and more Trains

Is it just me, or has time flown by? I feel like I just wrote my last post yesterday, but it’s been over three weeks since then, crazy!

These past three weeks have been some of the busiest of my life (and most adventurous, but we’ll get into that). So much has happened since then, and I have tons to write about. So, ready to hear about Lucas’ wild adventure? It’s going to be a good one!

I wrote my last blog post sitting in a Munich airport hotel, waiting to fly home to Canada the next day. It had already been 6 weeks since I had arrived in Europe, so it felt good to know that sleeping in my bed was just 24 hours of travelling away. Bags were packed, papers in order, it was time to go.

Fast forward to the next day, my teammate Ryan and I are on the verge of stress-induced heart attacks as we frantically try and get in contact with anybody who can figure out our travel plans. Why? Lucky for us, Munich was experiencing an extreme wind storm the exact day we decided to fly, so every single flight had been cancelled.

Stuff happens, can’t control that. But there was a lot of disconnect regarding how we were actually going to get home. Our new flight itinerary had to come from the airline, to the agency, to our coaches, and finally to us. Which meant lots of loose ends to chase.

And so, there we were, stranded on the other side of the world with no clue when or how we were going to get home.

But, just because the wind storm blew away our travel plans, didn’t mean I couldn’t make the most of an unfortunate situation. Sitting on that cold airport floor, I came up with a brilliant idea: why not stay in Europe a little longer?

Back up, I need to explain why this was such a great idea. Someone very special to me lives on the other side of the world in the Jura area of France, and for a week before that flight, I’d been playing around with the idea of staying to visit a little longer. But flight change fees and complicated team travel plans made this idea a little hard to arrange, so I put the idea away.

Now, here I was, still in Europe with an airline ready to book me for the next available flight. I had an opportunity, so I went for it! Three… Two… One… Jump! Next thing I knew, an agent was listing potential travel dates with me on the phone. Three hours later, satisfied with my effort, I ended the call with a brand new plane ticket booked for February 27th.

Alright, so we have the ticket, time to figure out how to get from Germany to France. It’s Europe, take the train!… With a ski bag, a rifle, a small duffle bag, and two large backpacks. Yup, the train it is.

A quick online search provided me with a travel option going from Munich to Zurich by bus, and then from Zurich to Geneva by train. If all went according to plan, I could arrive in France by 11 PM that same day. Not bad! So, at 3 PM, I wandered to the nearest bus station, dragged my gear on board, and was off to the station.

Upon arrival at the terminal, I immediately made my way towards my bus. As I approached the lane, I was greeted by lots of pointing and yelling by the friendly German ticket man.

“Englisch?” I asked, without blinking an eye he made the switch.

“We don’t take skis on this bus”, my heart sank, good start.

“Why not, there’s plenty of space?” I attempted to reason.

“No, we cannot take skis because of regulations for the border, it’s too complicated!” right, we’re crossing Swiss borders, and I have a rifle in my ski bag…

“Yup good call, so what’s the plan? I’m supposed to travel to Geneva today, what do I do?” I could already feel my heart rate rising.

“You go upstairs, they will refund you for the bus ticket, and then you can ask for a different bus” conversation over, time to improvise!

As per his instructions, I got my ticket refund and began asking for bus options. No luck. For the next 24 hours, not a single bus was taking skis.

At this point, the train seemed to be my only option. Fortunately, skis are allowed onto trains in Europe, and I managed to find one travel option left for that day, the itinerary read as follows:

Munich 21:51 – Ulm 23:06
Ulm 23:21 – Friedrichshafen 00:36
Friedrichshafen 4:30 – Schaffhausen 6:05
Schaffhausen 6:17 – Zurich 6:55
Zurich 7:03 – Geneva 9:47

Complicated transfers? Long travel day? Cheap? Count me in!

Now purchased, I went to print my train tickets at the nearest counter, and then set myself up in a nice little coffee shop to wait out the evening. As time passed, the once busy station became a ghost town reserved for late-night travellers, and lost Canadians.

Munich HBF: The only picture I snapped during the whole adventure

By nine-thirty, it was time to head down to platform 15 to begin this journey. Boarding was smooth, even with all the skis and bags, I made it on without a problem. I settled into my seat and got ready for a short nap.

Next up, first transfer. I got off the train, meandered around for a few minutes, found my next platform and boarded my second train. “This is easy!” I thought to myself.

One power nap later, I arrived in Friedrichshafen Stadt station, which lucky for me was in the middle of absolutely nowhere, Germany. I knew it was going to be a fun time when as I left, the train conductor shouted “Gute Nacht” while turning off the train.

“Um, yeah, Gute Nacht!” I shouted back. There was only one other lady who got off with me, but she quickly disappeared. No worries, I’ll just rest up inside the station and wait for my next ride.

As it turns out, when the train station is too small, they don’t keep them open all night like the bigger ones. I didn’t know that, so when I go there, I was greeted by locked doors and a completely abandoned platform. Can’t win ‘em all I guess.

Sitting there, I looked at my watch, 1:00 AM. This looks like the perfect spot for a four-hour layover! Upon realizing that my only option was to stay outside, my brain kicked into full survival mode.

Shelter: Train station overhang, plus no signs of bad weather.

Food: Some cured sausage and crackers left in my bag. Option to hunt a wild vending machine from across the platform.

Warmth: Lucky for me, I had all my ski gear. Multiple jackets, various pants, hats, gloves, not a problem.

Water: My only problem, but I wasn’t too thirsty and it was far from warm.

Honestly, being stranded outside, in the middle of the night, in a foreign country, in the middle of nowhere wasn’t so bad. The real killer was the boredom! After all, I didn’t even have a phone with me! Oh yeah, about that. Simply put, my 5-year-old iPhone 6s decided that Europe was a great place to finally say goodbye to the world. So for most of my Europe trip, I took part in an involuntary technology cleanse, ideal for travelling.

The next four hours passed in a sort of surreal limbo. My entertainment came in the form of short power naps, station laps to warm up, and sausage eating. Then finally, when the clock struck 4, the conductor arrived to prep the train. It’s difficult to put into words the joy one receives from just seeing another person, and with some renewed hope, I boarded my third train.

In my mind, the hardest part of the journey was behind me, but the most stressful had yet to come. Upon arriving in Schaffhausen, I knew I had exactly 12 minutes to disembark, travel to the next train, board, all the while hauling my gear. This was a good practice run to prepare for the transfer that really scared me: Zurich.

Just as I was getting to the Swiss city, rush hour was in full swing. Now, this would have been fine if I had more than 8 minutes to complete the transfer and didn’t have to cross 10 platforms, with gear.

Here’s a summary of how it went down:

6:55, Arrival in Zurich.
6:56, I’ve disembarked and I’m running towards the stairs.
6:57, I’m running down the stairs, ski bag and all.
6:58, I’m now running through crowds of people while shouting a mix of “Sorry! Je m’excuse! Entschuldigung!”
6:59, Still running, still shouting (it’s a long station).
7:00, I see the stairs for platform 15.
7:01, I’m dragging my ski bag up the stairs as fast as my exhaustion will let me.
7:02, I arrive at the platform, and I see a train leaving…

Once again, my heart sank, did I just miss my last train? How could that be, they never leave early!

I maneuvered myself over to the nearest bench to catch my breath and collect myself. While I considered the possibility that I won’t have a ride to Geneva, I also noticed that many others were lining up on this platform as well. Could it have been the wrong train?

Around 7:08, another train begins pulling into our lane, and to my great relief, it was the 7:03 Geneva! The fatigue was crushing me at this point, but boarding the train is all I could think about. Ski bag strapped in, check. Duffle bag, check. Backpack, check. Other backpack, check. Lucas, check.

Gear in place, I found a seat close by and thought to myself, “At last, on the seventh hour, I shall rest.” And rest I did. When my alarm woke me minutes before my arrival in Geneva, it took a few moments to process when and where I was. But in the end, everything worked out, I arrived safe, and mostly sound.

As I walked out of that train station, I was a different person. Tired, yes, but somehow renewed. My adventure had finally come to a close, and the fresh Swiss air felt amazing. I’ve never taken on anything like that in my life, and it was arguably one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. I can’t help but admit that even though it was a little crazy, I loved it. The unpredictability is what made it fun, the challenges are what made it worth it, and walking away, I knew that I can face any obstacle that comes my way. Take your best shot world, I got this.

Until next time, until the next adventure.

Lucas

p.s. Mom and Dad, I know this is a little different from the story I told you guys, so don’t freak out. Just remember that I made it out in one piece and it was a great “character-building experience” 😉

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