In the last week, I have been on the first two train rides of my life (unless the ride at Tweetsie Railroad counts), and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The similarity of the German train system (in appearance and organization) to the London Underground meant that I felt accustomed to the operation pretty much right off the bat. However, the comfort and ease of travelling by train far surpassed the Tube, and I must agree with Aaron that “Travelling by train is my favorite way to travel.”
My first ride was a short trip: just from a station outside Spangdahlem down to Trier. Captain Payne picked me up from the hotel in the wee hours of the morning, and we met the group we were to travel with. It was led by an indomitable German man: wine-taster and connoisseur, chef, hiker, backpacker, and guide. He was basically the equivalent of a cultural Gandalf, and I asked him many of the questions I’d had about Germany since landing over a month ago.
The group was an extremely diverse one: one young couple just arrived, a civilian contractor who looked more European than most Europeans (she was actually from Florida, I think), a few other singles (Aaron had to work, so I was soloing this time), and several small families. We bused to the station, but then when our guide (pretty sure his name was Andy – I missed it at first and didn’t have the courage to re-ask!) went in and talked to the stationmaster, we heard that the train was going to be a few minutes late. I decided to take a look at the station, which was a brick castellated building, surrounded by woods and the ever-present bike-trail.
Soon our train arrived, but we had not been on it for more than 10 minutes when an announcement in German came over the loudspeaker: alas, our train was going to have to drop us off at a nearby station and another would pick us up. I never found out why the trains switched, but sure enough when we reached the next station (this time attached to a tiny German village) the train stopped and everyone went to the doors. I made a mental note to always ask in future if I heard an announcement over the speakers that I didn’t understand! We had about 30 minutes of standing around on the station platform, so I walked up and down the village front to see if the village had a bakery or cafe – alas! It was only houses.
Before long another train had arrived, and in no time this one was zipping into Trier with all of us safely on board. We got off at the giant (comparatively speaking) Trier Hauptbahnhoff (main-station), and headed downtown, led by our German Gandalf (can I just call him Germdalf or Gandman? I can’t even remember if his name was actually Andy…). I had already seen many of the landmarks that he pointed out, but he was able to shed new light on a few of them, and I learned all those interesting historical tidbits that the best of guides knows.
We lunched at the famed Kartoffeln house (that means potato house for the uninitiated. It is very German and quite delicious!). As we ate, Gandman (I’m just going to go with it) told us all about the local wines (apparently the white Reisling is the best) and how to drink it. He told us about how and where he got his vegetables and fruits, and I listened attentively to that. Our new village has no grocery store, so getting fresh vegetables is going to be an interesting challenge.
After lunch, the group had several hours of free time. I joined our guide and a few others who went to a local bookstore so that Gandman could show us the best hiking maps for our respective area. I left with one myself, already daydreaming about hiking all along the creeks, fields, and forests of my new neighborhood. I split from the group then, and in the remaining hours before our train left, I walked down the main street and then sat drinking a cappuccino at an outdoor cafe.
As I sipped my delicious coffee I realized that it was the moment thus far in my trip when I felt (simultaneously) most at home in my surroundings and most definitely in Europe. My previous trip to Trier and the coffee in my hand explained the security and comfort, and the sunny stone-paved street, the cheerful cafes sprinkled about with people on tables (none of whom were on their phones, by the way) and more people strolling by with their shopping or ice creams explains the feeling of consummate European-ness.
After a while I headed back to the station, meeting up with my group along the way. We had a pleasant, uneventful ride back to Spangdahlem, and I left that evening thinking with gratitude of the all the things I had learned; not the least of which was that now, at last, I felt at home here in my new surroundings.
P.S. Keep an eye out for Cross-Country Training part 2 – a trip to Cologne!