City Metro travel can be a harrowing experience depending on how well you know where you’re going, how to get there, how crowded the train is and how many people are in your group (complicated further by young children and teens in casts). Our first experience with the city metro was the U-Bahn and S-Bahn in Berlin. I thoroughly studied/analyzed the metro map trying to remember one Platz from another, mapped out our first route and off we went, descending down into the depths of the unknown, underground metro culture. We quickly learned that you have a total of perhaps 60 seconds to on/off load. We got good at it, but at first, I found myself yelling, “Go! Go! Go!” in classic tourist style – mother worried about losing her children.
We referred to this metro blunder in an earlier blog, I think, but I’ll recapture it here. We were training to Versailles which requires transferring to a slightly longer distance train from the basic within Paris metro system. We weren’t sure just how to do this and the train we thought we needed roared into the station so fast we weren’t able to read the destination sign on the front. It all happens very quickly so we just jumped on, pretty sure it was correct. My mind was racing on the train thinking about the train stops/direction and I became increasingly uneasy about whether this was, in fact, the right one. So, I approached a couple that looked like they might speak English and asked if this train goes to Versailles. The man spoke both German and English so he asked a German guy on board who started shaking his head and furrowing his eyebrows. Looked like a bad sign to me. The train stopped at the next station and the German guy hopped off to look at the arrival/departure screen on the platform. He looks at me with big eyes and motions for me to get off quickly. He had no idea I was part of a much larger group, one member handicapped. I motioned frantically to my family to get off fast. Ella was standing on the other side of a vertical hand railing just inside the train doors. Instead of walking around the railing to exit, she (in her hurry) decides to try to squeeze between the railing and the closing train door. She got her first leg thru the gap and out the door (bear in mind both her arms are broken) thinking the doors would automatically reopen when encountering a foreign object, but they didn’t. They just kept pushing, trying to shut. Ella was yelling, “I’m stuck! I’m stuck!” I was outside the train on the platform imagining the train leaving with Ella’s leg hanging out. I jumped in between the doors with my back on one door and my hands and one foot on the other and superman powered the doors open. Ella slid out followed by the rest of the entourage. The German guy was staring at us with incredulous, wide eyes. We made quite a scene but managed to all get out. The German man jumped back on and the train sprinted off into the dark tunnel. We all stared at each, gasping for air – another one for the faux pas journal.
The day after Versailles, we were headed to Giverny, France to see Monet’s Gardens. This requires purchasing a separate train ticket as Giverny is about an hour outside Paris. We knew, thanks to Rick Steve’s guide books, that a train usually leaves at 8:20 each morning so we showed up early at the train station to purchase our tickets. Nothing is as easy as it should be and we couldn’t figure out where to get the tickets. Of course we were in a hurry. We were sent to the office next door to the place we thought we should be. So we all dashed over there, waited in line just to be told to go back to the original ticket office. Now it’s getting very late. So we all (I thought) ran back to the 1st office, but apparently Ben didn’t follow. None of us noticed in our extreme focus on getting the tickets. I guess Ben stood there in near tears and a kind worker took him by the hand and led him next door to the office we were in and delivered him to us. I felt awful – so did Ben. Losing a child in Europe was my #1 fear.
In Cinque Terre, the trains that run between the 5 villages are often times extremely crowded with tourists traveling town to town. Again, the transfer time to unload/load is very short. The train is actually very long, but the platform is very short so the train extends front and back into the tunnels that cut thru the cliffs. One option is to walk down into the tunnel to wait on the train and board there where it’s less crowded. Sometimes we did that if the platform was super crowded. This day we just waited on the main platform. When the train arrived everyone waiting groaned b/c the train was bursting with passengers. The doors slid open, few people exited, and the rest of us wanting to load scattered looking for a coach with space available. All Kinsingers ran in one direction, trying to stay together. Anna, with her very blonde hair, was wearing an orange shirt and carrying a day pack. A girl in front of Jay with very blonde hair, an orange shirt and carrying a day pack wasn’t moving fast enough so Jay pushed her along saying, “Go! Go! Go!” She looked back at Jay, questioningly. Oops! It was a young lady in her twenties. Jay exclaimed hurriedly, “Sorry!! Wrong girl!” and ran on hoping he’d never see her again!