Six European Train Tales

Train Yin and Train Yang

Getting Kicked Off Trains
I loaded my bike aboard this non-bike-carrying Swiss commuter rail and hid myself in the opposite corner. Moments before the scheduled departure, the conductor stormed into the compartment. I have long attributed a sixth sense to personnel of European rail services, and this guy clearly had an inside line on rule-breaking. I pretended the bike was not mine, but when he picked it up and headed for the door to throw it off, I got to my feet and wrapped a hand around the top tube.

I tried not to plead, to give away my need, but the truth is that I had to be at the other end of this train's route within an hour to catch another train with some friends. One way or another, I had to be 12 miles up the road. So I put my finger on the button that holds the door open while I insisted that I planned to stay aboard, with all my gear.

The conductor's face turned several shades of purple as his jaw dropped. Things like this, you see, they just aren't done. He explained that we were already 45 seconds late! On my end, I knew that as long as I kept my finger on that door button, my future was secure. I could use every moment as leverage to keep myself aboard. Most conductors eventually give up on troublemakers like me.

This time, however, my plans were melted to fondue as the conductor forcibly wrenched the bike from my hand and more or less tossed it out the door.

For 12 miles, I rode like Fausto Coppi and arrived (looking less than presentable) just in time to meet my connecting train.

In reference to growing populations of foreigners crashing the Swiss party, a Swiss friend told me,"Always we have the system, and now with more people, the system it's breaking down."

Ahh . . . I did my share that day.

Train Romance
It was the night train from Venice to Munich. My friends and I stumbled aboard, found our compartment, and stashed our gear. As we entered, I crossed paths with some Puerto Ricans chatting with a blond girl.

The Venetian July was humid, dripping. As travelers do, we did the obligatory "car dog" with our heads out the corridor windows to cool off as the train set off. The evening sun dappled across the horizon.

When the train got up to speed, I went and started chatting with the Puerto Ricans — a nice chance to use my Spanish. The blond girl emerged from her compartment and the Puerto Ricans strangely faded away to let us be alone together, though this was not what I intended. Still, in my life, I have experienced few environments better for breaking the ice than on a train. The whisping fields of the Veneto flew by outside the window.

My blond friend's name was L; she was a rower at Princeton on a hiatus from an insurance industry internship in Munich. She had an adorable charm, a bad traveling companion, and scrumptious arms that hung her black sundress in a very attractive way.

At some moment, when the corridor was empty and our spirits felt free, we came together in a slow kiss. Neither of us saw any reason to stop. We found one another sexy, we would each be getting off in Munich and heading our separate ways, and for now there was this moment.

The conductor entered the compartment and, having seen similar sights more times than I can imagine, declared E destino! — "It's destiny!" — with a twinge of very practiced humor in his voice.

L and I meanwhile had grown very attached to our dirty dancing, which continued for hours, was totally harmless, and charged my batteries for days. Or at least until the next train. We traded several e-mails from the road in the weeks to follow and haven't spoken since.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 22 Jun 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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