I’m in Antwerp! And it took me a long time to get here. Those who know me/talk to me for more than 2 minutes know I will go to great lengths to avoid flying. There is nothing a Xanax can’t fix…except being suspended thousands of feet above the ground in turbulence.
I opted for a train ride that originally claimed about eight hours from Berlin to Antwerp. I wouldn’t have care if it was 24 hours! I wasn’t getting on a plane!
-Berlin to Köln in a bit under four hours.
-Köln to Bruxelles Nord around three hours
-Bruxelles Nord to Antwerp 45 minutes.
Getting me to my airbnb around 18:00 to check in.
OR SO IT SEEMED
I’m at the station 45 minutes early this morning (just in case) and my train number comes up and it’s the only one with a weird scribble next to it and German explanation. Panic.
It’s ok, I figured it out…by asking a station worker in English. It meant that one half of the train was going to detach at some point and go in a different direction than Köln…like a Star Wars getaway portal. I kept that part to myself.
I get on the train and find a seat in the back where I can keep an eye on my bag. It doesn’t seem like anyone reserved seat numbers including myself…€4.50 for a number? Amateur hour!
I managed to select the only seat that someone had reserved. Of course an elderly lady paid the 4.50 to make sure she was sitting exactly where I had chosen. I moved and wept inside.
At some point I realized we must be running very behind and then there were a bunch of announcements in German followed by a conductor handing out apology letters with an option for being reimbursed. Is this what I had been missing in Italy? When your train is late you’re lucky if they don’t slap you in the face for opening your mouth to complain.
I was not the only confused one and thankfully a German man translated what happened into English for some people sitting ahead of me. Sadly someone had committed suicide on the tracks and we ended up running about 70 minutes behind.
I did a little bit of (bad) math and realized I would miss both of my connections. I had no data to use Internet to contact the airbnb I was staying at and couldn’t call their Belgian number. I was as the French say: Le fucked. Thankfully I got through to Valerio before crossing the border out of Germany and he contacted them.
Once I arrived in Köln I could smell the madness before I even got off the train. They had announced that a train on the opposite platform would adopt us since a bunch of people missed their connection. But I don’t think they told the other train that.
I got ready to try my best (worst) German with one of the conductors to ask if I was getting the right replacement train. Then, to my abject horror, I realized they were all….FRENCH!!! My French is worse than my German! I clumsily waded through the throngs of people who were all just a sea of rage faces to me at this point – confused and looking lost. I went up to the closest conductor who was being swarmed by the masses. He had that whole French nonchalant thing going on….I think I super imposed a cigarette in his hand in my memory of him. A woman in front of me was raising her voice in French, but I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. I heard one of the final warning whistles and just helplessly stood there. Then I looked at the woman in front of me again and realized how familiar she looked…I had met her three days before! She was the student after me in my voice teacher’s studio! She had even said: your French diction is very bad, I will help you when we are in Antwerp. She was also on her way to the masterclass I was going to. I couldn’t comprehend the coincidence and she started to storm away obviously displeased with this French train conductor and his imaginary cigarette I made up. I hesitantly poked her shoulder and she whirled on me. I didn’t know if this was the best time to ask her for help, but I was desperate. I blurted out, “YOU’RE ONE OF ABBIE’S STUDENTS!” She looked at me like I was a crazy person and then recognized me after a minute and gave me the most welcoming charming smile. That’s literally all that was said and we were fleeing down to the last car of the train with our luggage. I couldn’t help but smile at how incredibly lucky I got. Not only a fellow student, but one with a French passport.
Once on the train, we re-introduced ourselves and I relaxed as she explained to the conductors our conundrum. Saved by the French.
After making all the connections we arrived at the famous central station in Antwerp and it is stunning. Truly a site in itself! Very traditional and opulent with modern touches on the platforms.
I don’t know why I do this, but every single time I’m traveling to a different country I just assume it’s going to have third world country conditions and I’ll need to bring every possible toiletry with me. And then every time, I get there and it’s usually more modern and well-functioning than where I was coming from. Here I am at the last minute writing reminders to pack a travel toothbrush in case I can’t find one in Antwerp and then I arrive here and go on an escalator that adjusts to the incline of what part of the station you’re in on your way up.
I’ll never learn. And I’ll NEVER FLY!
But from now on, I will always trust the French.