When Travel Gets Tiring
Now I know why people recommend longer stays in fewer places when traveling around the world.
Due to my style of travel, my thighs have turned into iron rods and my pecs are… actually forming. And yes, this has earned me the attention of many an international admirer (awkwardly; I don’t recall Americans commenting on my body as forwardly as Europeans do).
But being thin isn’t as glamorous as it seems – I’ve probably lost much of my fat through the very un-sexy process of “copious sweating.” As it turns out, running up and down stairs, racing to and from airport terminals or train platforms, and biking across entire cities can be some very unwelcome exercise.
Let me give you an example.
A Typical Story of Me Almost Missing a Mode of Transportation
It’s October 18, 2012. I’m in Berlin. My host and I just went to Tempelhof – a former airport converted into a community-style park – and I returned home to pack and shower and tidy up my space. (I also got her flowers on the way home – it’s of the utmost importance to be a good guest!) Being the sloth that I am, each activity takes on average 1.3x my estimated time. I literally run out of the house (making goodbyes – something I’m notoriously bad at – much easier) and down to the U-Bahn station just around the corner. I don’t buy a new ticket, even though my five-day pass has expired three hours earlier. It had never been checked before, and I run the risk that it won’t be checked this time around either.
The U7 towards Rathaus is waiting at the platform – waiting for me, I later realize. But I let it go; I’m convinced that I actually have to head to Rudow, but wanted to consult a map first. Had I gotten onto the wrong train, it would have been detrimental time-wise, plus it wouldn’t have been the first time I’d missed something on account of boarding the first train I saw (I missed my tour at the Federal Reserve because of this exact reason… but that story will come soon). In any case, the U-Bahns come every five minutes or so, so I’ve never had to wait long.
I get onto the Rudow-bound train. I check my map. I realize I’m going in the wrong direction. Of course. To get to Hauptbahnhof (“main train station;” every German city has their own “HBF”), I have to jump from line to line until I ultimately walk from the final station. Time is tight as is, and now I’m heading directly away from the station. A woman sits down next to me – close enough, actually, that I start to worry I’m going to be pickpocketed. There are enough seats on the bench I’m on that she didn’t have to sit directly next to me, but it’s an awkward thing to bring up. I decide to befriend her in hopes that I will get to the train station before my train leaves, ideally with all of my possessions. She seems concerned; apparently Berlin HBF is not very easily accessible by the U-Bahn. She recommends a taxi. She recommends it soon.
So I jump out at Mehringdammstraße (“schtrau-ssah” meaning “street”) and flag a taxi down. I urge him to go quickly. I’m slightly disappointed in myself – for two months, I’ve gotten away with never needing a taxi. But as Justin Bieber might say, never say never. (Oh god, even making that joke hurts.) But luckily, I get to HBF with about twelve minutes to spare, though out ten euros for a relatively short taxi ride. I’m not too concerned – I know which platform I need, and I have time. My heart stops palpitating and returns to a relatively normal rhythm.
But as I ascend the escalator to the platform, I hear the whistles of German efficiency. It’s 12:37, and a train nested in my platform is about to head off. I scan the electronic board of departures, and to my horror, I see Hanover listed amongst the cities this train will approach. “But my train is supposed to leave at 12:49! How could it be early?!” I run up to the train, trying to pry the doors open, and a conductor points to a wagon three cars ahead. I look like an idiot, I’m sure, but I sprint to the door and get in seconds before the train takes off.
So here I am, covered in sweat, trying to figure out where to sit, and still baffled by the fact that my train left early. I ask a very severe woman if there’s a section of the train dedicated to riders without a seat reservation. (Oddly, seats can be reserved, for a fee, anywhere in the train – if a ride opts to not reserve a seat, they run the risk of needing to move every time a new batch of passengers gets on. Not really the best system…) She looks at my ticket, then tells me I’m on the wrong train.
Um, what? What do I do? She tells me to get off at the next stop, Berlin-Spandau, and jump on my train once it comes through, ten minutes later. I can’t understand why there are two trains leaving to the same place around the same time that make stops both at HBF and at Spandau, but I hesitantly agree – I’m sure she knows what she’s talking about, but the concern that I’d be abandoned at this random station was a bit difficult to overcome.
I get off at Spandau and get onto the correct train, having to move once due to the seat reservation conundrum. I end up sitting in front of a screaming child. Though I am definitely more in favor of children recently, I return to my age-old opinion that children are the worst. I put in my headphones and drown it out. We arrive at Hanover, I grab a sandwich in the station (for 2.69 euros; Germany is cheeeeeap), then I get onto the four-hour train ride to Stuttgart, which has been thus far pleasant and scenic and without too much complication.
The Moral of This Story
I’d say I’m a pretty well-seasoned traveler; in fact, the Czech Republic will be the 20th country I’ve visited! I don’t get flustered when traveling alone – actually, when it comes to connections and arrangements, I prefer it. But confusion and near-misses happen to everyone, and it’s an inherent part of the unpredictability of travel. Don’t let this account deter you; I wouldn’t say this is my experience all the time, but it’s good to be aware that such things can happen to anyone (particularly someone whose sense of time is as bad as mine). Plus, wasn’t that a (semi) funny story? 🙂
(I just realized that I somehow got away with not showing the conductor my ticket, just by staring at him confusedly when he started asking in German.)
I have one more transfer in about twenty minutes, and I’ll be in Tubingen in about an hour and a half! Cody will be waiting at the station, and even if he isn’t, I finally have a phone (as of yesterday – my number is +49 152 144 68646). I’ll then probably eat some dinner, hang out for a bit, then pass out, the day essentially dedicated just to getting from point A to point B.
The Next Day (A.K.A. The Actual Present)
Edited to add: currently sitting in Cody’s 14th story student accommodation, looking longingly out at the beautiful clear sky and trying to rouse my lazy ass up. For some reason, I’m very sore – Cody speculates that carrying almost half of my body weight probably puts a strain on my muscles. It turned out to be a good thing that I had a phone, since we had a slight delay in meeting, but soon after dropped my things at his graduate school and head to dinner. I had ordered a lemon daiquiri, which amusingly came with a pink raver bracelet. We walked a bit around the city, hopped on the bus (for free – gypsy life!), and then chilled sleepily at his place… that is, until the fire alarm went off at 2 AM. We tried to ignore it for about 20 minutes, but I started to get concerned. We went out to the kitchen balcony, where other sleepy (and hilariously drunk) students were checking on the status of the faux-fire. What an annoying thing to have to do at 2 AM! However, I got spoiled with eggs and tea in bed, due to my justifiable morning exhaustion. Not too shabby..
Thoughts, Reflections, and The Future
For as much as I love traveling, it’s seeing people and places that I prefer – physically moving about so often is exhausting and time-consuming, and it takes away from the pleasure of seeing new things! On the flip side though, I am now an expert traveler, and can navigate any subway, train, or plane system. Luckily, I still have another month and a half in Europe – I can go and do whatever I want, and right now what sounds good to me is posting up in a tiny Spanish villa, eating so much they have to roll me out of the restaurant and going for cliché long walks amongst beautifully decorated houses and vineyards.
And now for a brief interruption:
OK, so for as much as I complain about traveling, I still have a fair bit to do. I’ll be heading to Prague for a week after Tubingen, then returning to Berlin for Halloween. After that, I’m thinking of renting an apartment in Cinque Terre for around ten days, as well as visiting friends in Paris and San Sebastian for around the same time. My mom mentioned coming to visit; I think she’ll enjoy the countryside even more than I will. I’ll hopefully keep you guys updated – I know I’ve been slacking, but I’m eager to make that up!