When we started discussions about our trip, John and I decided to be un-American and avoid renting a car for as long as possible. From everything we read, and recommendations we received, travelling by train or bus appeared to be completely doable. This may not seem like a big deal to someone who lives in a major city and uses public transportation as a means to get around, and avoid traffic and parking. However, we are two Rockfordians, lulled into the security of going anywhere at anytime in our own vehicle. No other schedule but the one of our own making. We never paid for parking in Rockford, except for a special event. And traffic, even at rush hour, was never that bad. So, having a car- in fact, 2 or 3, was a fact of life and affordable.
We are now seeing how much of the world actually travels. I do think it is a primarily American attitude that a car is a necessary expense because of the convenience. Much of the world cannot afford that expense, and actually lives in a place where it’s an unnecessary one. Although time is wasted waiting for the next bus, train, ferry, etc., we both have found train travel to be very relaxing and less stressful than trying to figure out the roads.
We did not have train tickets from Strasbourg, FR to Trier, Germany but were able with the help of our hotel to figure out a route. There is no direct train, and almost every route had us changing trains twice. Initially tickets looked like they would be over 200 Euro, but total our tickets ended up costing about 60 Euro a piece. One can also buy a reservation on the train- in second class, not necessary but recommended. We decided to go to the ticket counter, rather than use a machine- there’s a limit to the amount of frustration we can handle. That proved to be a good thing as the agent explained we could not buy tickets for the train we wanted while in France. We had to buy a ticket in Germany at our second exchange to go on the German rail system.
Once on the train, a very nice German helped us understand the announcements- namely, that our train was being rerouted due to a fire on the tracks, and we would most likely miss our connection(train #3) to Trier. This created a small amount of panic, as we were not sure how often trains ran to Trier. Once on train #2, we planned to ask the on-train agent what to do, and hopefully figure out the right train to take. Then Charlotte (my mother) worked her heavenly magic. Frauke sat down next to us- born in Germany, she lived in Texas for 5 years, had perfect English and tremendous patience. She took the time to answer our questions, and we talked for most of the train ride to Mannheim about Trump, college debt, and educational systems(she is a secondary teacher).
When we got off in Mannheim, she took us to the ticket machine, gave us a lesson in German ticket buying, and helped us get to our gate. Turned out we had almost 45 minutes to spend, and she directed us to a nearby “castle”- now a university. We took the short walk there, snapped a few pictures, and sweated our way back to the station- just in time to grab drinks and gelato (stracchiatella- my favorite). In the end, Frauke gave us her cell #- just in case, she said- to call if we needed help.
We have now been in three countries- Switzerland, France and Germany- and in each one, people have been friendly, helpful and kind. I am sure that we will eventually run into the unhappy person, but overall, people are good. They want to help- and they are curious about the U.S., where we are from exactly, and how we are surviving Trump.