October 23, 2022

Yesterday marked our third form of travel day on our exploration of Europe.  The trip begun with a long (20-hour) and taxing flight (with two transfers and layovers) to Basel, Switzerland.  The second were the night passages, and one travel day viewing the Rhine castles, by ship.  Although we spent hours on busses to access sites away from the water, we were lucky the recent rains had refilled the Rhine River to a level where we were not forced to disembark and travel around low areas as had some tours just weeks earlier.  After leaving The Hague (and our tour group), we were now on our way to Paris with my sister and brother-in-law.  Rather than taking the short flight we had decided it would be fun to ride the Bullet Train from Amsterdam that was depicted in the movie, The 15:17 to Paris.  Our rapid trip by train morphed into our third long travel day.

When the trip was booked it appeared an easy passage.  We hop on the train at Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam) and take a direct route to Paris.  As the train was being booked, my sister found out the track was under construction, and we needed to take the direct intercity train to Brussels to catch the Bullet. While Melissa was apprehensive, I had asked several persons and knew we had this down.  It turned out that was not the only track being worked on.  We were scheduled to meet at Schiphol, but you could not get there from where my sister was originating in Amsterdam Central.  We realized this just as the last direct train pulled out of Schiphol Station.  We received alternative routing that involved two transfers and arrived after our scheduled departure for our reserved seats on the Bullet.  After several adventures on the intercity trains (including missing one train), we arrived in Brussels to find that since our train had left, we were not able to have a seat on the sold out bullet that was about to depart.  The agent did suggest we go to the train and ask, but he made not guarantees.  After several tense discussions the train manager (conductor) agreed to let us ride on the fold down seats between two of the cars and we agreed.  Melissa and I affectionately called this “toilet class” travel.

Sitting on the small (1 square foot/0.09 m) fold out seats gave us a different perspective on our 1 ½ hour train ride to Paris.  Not only were we seated next to the toilet, but we were also there with three other passengers (and four seats between the five of us).  One of the passengers kept acting oddly as the train pulled out of the station, seeming to go to the toilet every time the conductor came by.  Then about 15 minutes into the trip, the conductor came to check tickets.  Although our tickets were for another train, we were allowed to ride.  The man and small son next to us on the foldout seats had tickets for another train company (they had also missed their train) but were allowed to purchase tickets for this train.  The hiding man was not so lucky.  When he was questioned, he had no ticket, no passport, and no money.  He had managed to board and was now a stow away on the train.  He was escorted to the front car for an inevitable date with “la Police” in Paris.  We would have missed all this seated in the comfortable second class seats.  Viva le Toilette!

THOUGHTS:  The stressful part of missing the train was the insecurity of not knowing.  When the direct train had left our station that I was tempted to jump on, but I waited to take the journey with other family.  It turned out we never did connect, and they arrived on the next bullet train 1 1/2 hours after we arrived.  They did not get to ride toilet class but had comfortable second class seats.  Even with the stress, I have found Europeans to be gracious and willing to help.  Most people in the cities seem to speak English fluently, and even those that do not had gone out of their way to help using what broken English they knew.  Tourists are generally treated well in the US, especially in urban areas, but the same cannot often be said for Immigrants.  Negative stereotypes are often applied to both.  We should do better.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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