Panic struck when we heard the conductor say, “Dieser Zug hat technische Probleme. Wir bitten Sie, am nächsten Bahnhof umzusteigen.” The train then came to an abrupt halt. We didn’t speak German. We didn’t have an adult traveling with us, and we were in a foreign country! This was supposed to be a simple train ride from Utrecht, Holland to Cologne, Germany, but everything went astray. Although the train ride was short with no stops, this was the first time my brother and I would be traveling alone without a chaperone in a foreign country.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
The train ride to Holland proved to be smooth. I remember peering out the train window and absorbing the serene countryside, Holland’s famous colored flowers, and cloudless sky. Our luck, however, wore off on the ride back. “All aboard!” shouted the conductor in German. We loaded the ICE train (the fastest and biggest train in Germany), and went in search of our seats. After searching forever, I bolstered my courage and asked for help. We did not have reserved seats, but rather first-come first-serve. So, we ended up sitting on the floor in the nasty luggage compartment. The smell of soiled and well-travelled suitcases made for a long trip! Time seemed to pass, then the conductor announced the train had mechanical problems and everyone had to switch trains. “Now what?” I said out loud.
Granted, I had been gaining more European independence, but I still was only 15 years old traveling with my 13 year old brother. No one spoke English. Not even the train workers understood my panicked questions. We didn’t have a cell phone to call the Oberlanders, our German friends, to be our digital translators. Then, complete chaos erupted as everyone poured off the train. My instincts told me to follow the biggest crowd hoping they were headed in the right direction. Fortunately, I found a lady who used broken English to convey “You’re on the right train but you’ll need to switch trains two more times.” Oh, great, I thought to myself! These last couple of trains were a far cry from an ICE train and after being cooped up like chickens on the last train, we finally arrived in Cologne! When it was time to bid Germany goodbye, we boarded Lufthansa for our 10 hour flight. When I called my mom to give her the news that we arrived in one piece she then gave me the bad news: “You’ll have to go through Customs all by yourselves.”
The Holland train debacle then flashed across my mind and I assured her that if I can survive that nightmare, I can handle this Customs thing! Looking back, I realize that this experience, together with my other trips to Europe, have gradually matured me and made me more independent. This last trip, however, proved to be my biggest test and I now know with a little bit of resourcefulness, perseverance and determination, I can get through anything.
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