Special Post – Riding German trains in the summer of 2017

Before we get back to beautiful Provence,  the Ramblers would like to publish a special post on a recent experience we had while traveling this summer. We enjoyed another river cruise a few weeks ago which ended in Basel, Switzerland. The Rambler had decided that it might be fun to take the train from Basel to Amsterdam where we were scheduled to fly home. All the other (sensible) persons on our cruise extension flew from Basel to Amsterdam or wherever they would board their connecting flight home. We alone stayed an extra day, and very relaxing it was at the Hotel D one street over from the Rhine.

View from our covered terrace, the Rhine is to the left and we looked down at Les Trois Rois where we had stayed for the Uniworld extension in Basel.

We spent the whole day taking it easy, mainly enjoying the view from the terrace of our top floor room.  Although we had planned to pick up lunch at the excellent department store on the Basel main square, the COOP, we learned that almost everything in Basel closed on Sunday, including most of the restaurants.  Fortunately the corner store next to our hotel was open and we were able to buy snacks and wine while the Indian restaurant across the street recommended by the hotel, was open for dinner.  The next morning , after enjoying some great pastry from a nearby bakery, we took a taxi to the train station, first making sure we went to the correct one. There are two, one German, one Swiss.

The Indian restaurant where we had dinner. Our table overlooked the Rhine.

Unfortunately  we got an unpleasant surprise when we got to the Basel Bad Bahnhof.  Because of a tunnel cave-in, all trains leading out of Basel in the direction we were going had been cancelled. Our only option according to the gentleman in the office (who spoke little English) was to take the next train, a special not on the schedule, which left in 4 minutes. From there we would have to make a series of transfers in order to get to Amsterdam that evening.

What we should have done was given up on the train right then and there and tried to get a flight to Amsterdam from the Basel airport.

But we didn’t. The Ramblers were dismayed when we saw that the only handicap access was a steep 50 ft ramp to the platform above. The senior Rambler had hurt his back getting off a gondola at Mount Pilatus the day before and was in pain. He also couldn’t walk very fast.  Although I tried my best  to get up the ramp as quickly as possible, the train pulled away as I neared  the top.

Evidently there would be another such train in an hour so we settled down to wait.  Sweaty and exhausted from the climb up the seemingly endless ramp, we sat glumly on a nearby bench and waited. The only other person waiting was a young man looking at his phone. I decided to see if he might be able to give us more information. As it turned out, Thomas was one of many helpful Germans who helped us surmount the seemingly endless obstacles that we had to face that day.

The travel I had originally  booked  had only one connection, first taking a train from Basel to Koln. There  after  a leisurely connection of several hours, we would board another train that would take us to the Amsterdam Centraal Station. There we could get a taxi to our club level room at the Renaissance Marriott on Kattegat street.

What we got instead was a series of transfers from train to bus to train before we finally ended up in Frankfurt. There we were reassured that we could take a train that would get us to Amsterdam that evening.  Each connection involved moving our increasingly exhausted selves and our luggage up and down a seemingly endless series of stairs. Fortunately every time we needed help, a smiling German stepped forward to carry our bags up or down the stairs.

Before going any further, the Ramblers can’t stress enough that if you have trouble with stairs or walking , DO NOT take the train in Germany or most other countries in Europe. The ADA facilities that we are used to in the US are simply not available except in the larger cities. This does not apply to the TGV or other high speed trains or if your destination is a large city, but everywhere else, you are not likely to find many elevators, except perhaps for bicycles and strollers. Instead there will be stairs and fairly steep ones at that.

When we got to Frankfurt we breathed a sigh of relief as one of the DB service employees helped the senior Rambler into a wheelchair and took us to the track platform where we would board the train to Amsterdam. We were still hopeful that we would get to Amsterdam that evening, but we were wrong…

Don’t know why I didn’t think of this then, but NEVER accept the word of a railroad employee that the train which arrives is going where you want to go. If I had only asked one of the people waiting to board,  if the train was going to Amsterdam, we would have avoided considerable discomfort and expense. But I didn’t. And so…

Frankfurt station, the first time…where we waited for the wrong train!

The conductress who looked at our tickets after we boarded  seemed confused, but she spoke Russian not English and this did not help. So we watched most of the people get off the train at various stations until we were the only people in the car. This seemed odd, but I didn’t realize that we had made an unfortunate mistake until a German railway employee walked into the car and told us we would have to get out because this was the end of the line. We were stuck on a siding by a small town and had actually boarded a local that had taken us in the wrong direction. After we explained that we couldn’t jump down from the car, the helpful trainman brought a little ladder that allowed us to get down, and he and another helpful young German got us over the tracks. Yes, we had to climb over a series of tracks and a concrete barrier (almost didn’t make that one) to get to the end of the station platform. Now what…

Our current guardian angel checked his phone regarding possible trains but it turned out we were stuck there unless we hired a taxi to take us back to the Frankfurt station. We agreed that it was our only option and he found a taxi driver who was willing to make the long drive. Although it cost 134 Euros, we were happy to at least get back to Frankfurt where we had a fighting chance to get to Amsterdam that night.

Unfortunately our troubles weren’t over. Our taxi driver wouldn’t accept our credit card, he wanted to be paid in Euros. We could understand this but had few Euros left at the end of the trip, so I had to find an ATM. It was up to me to locate one, as the senior Rambler found walking painful. WhenI finally found a machine in the station, it wouldn’t take my card. I went back to the senior Rambler and the cabby and he pointed out several banks across the street. Then yet another friendly German offered to take me to an ATM across a very busy street, but when we got there, that bank was closed. We tried another one and it didn’t work. By this time, I was pretty frustrated and wasn’t watching where I was going. Thus I tripped and fell into the bank that had a working ATM. Our helpful friend was concerned that I had hurt myself, but I just wanted to be helped up so I could get to that darn ATM. I had slammed my right arm hard against the door and hit the step with my ribs but adrenaline had kicked in and all we  wanted was to get on the right train to Amsterdam ASAP.

Our taxi driver happily paid off, we headed into the busy Frankfort station and went immediately to the information counter. There I showed the DB representative our tickets and explained what had happened and that we needed to get to Amsterdam to catch our plane tomorrow at 1 PM.  Silence… The manager was called. He looked at our tickets and heard our tale of woe. More silence…

Finally he told me that we wouldn’t be able to get to Amsterdam that evening because the next train didn’t leave until 5:30 AM.  It turned out there was one other option but it would involved at least 3 changes and a bus, and we were not up for this. He told us the DB would pay for a hotel close to the station and we would be able to get to Amsterdam by 9:30 if we took that early train. Since this was our only option at this point, we glumly headed for our hotel. We had wanted to take a taxi but he assured us that it was very close.

The exhausted Ramblers trudged out of the station, this was surely the worst experience we had ever had…but it was not over. We had to walk through a very seedy area to get to the hotel and walked right past the hotel because the manager had given us the wrong name. The senior Rambler now had to pull both bags because it was obvious that my arm was probably broken as it had turned amazing shades of black and blue. A gentleman from Florida saw that we needed direction and helped us find the hotel several blocks back. Not the Kaiserhof but the Mercure, and a fairly spartan one at that. However it was clean and they were able to print out our boarding passes. Of course our DB rooms were at the far end of a very long corridor. We picked up a couple of the worst McDonald burgers we have ever had–par for the course, since we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was now 9 PM.  As we stretched out on our tiny twin beds, I thought longingly of our club level room at the Marriott which I had been unable to cancel.  However, we did go to sleep, but not for long with a 4 AM wake-up call.

After another taxi ride to the Frankfort station, the area seemed even seedier at 4:30 AM than it had last night. We found our platform and waited for yet another train to arrive. This time I asked several people waiting for the train if this was the train to Amsterdam. It was, and we were happy to board. The head conductor helped us with our baggage and put us in a first class compartment for all our trouble. At last, we were on our way, and if we were lucky, we would make our flight.

It was a beautiful morning and the final leg of our trip unfolded as I had imagined when I booked our trains. We traveled through tidy farms and villages, and I even spotted a few old-fashioned windmills. Half-way through, we were joined by a pleasant Korean girl who had been visiting Germany. She too had experienced bad luck on the DB as while she dozed off on her previous connection, someone had stolen her backpack with laptop inside. Fortunately she had her passport on her person, but it was not a pleasant experience for her.

This time our train rolled into Amsterdam Centraal on time. We had another long walk to the taxi stand, but readily found a taxi which would take us to Schipol. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to check in. All we can say about our train experience in Germany is Never Again!

This is what we looked like when we arrived in Atlanta, we were really happy to be home.

 

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