Our first train experience was an extreme ignorant tourist faux pas. We biked to the Frankfurt main Hauptbahnhof (train station), found someone who speaks English, found out that while we have automatic tickets per Eurail passes our bicycles needed a ticket. So we bought those and were told to go to platform 23 which was downstairs; take the 2nd set of elevators; oh, and get on any coach/wagon with a 1 on it (a.k.a. 1st class – b/c of the eurail pass). So we, esp I, were nervous enough about figuring out how to find and get on our train and what in the world to do with the bicycles which were fat and heavy, being fully loaded for touring – 5 of them, no less, and one a tandem. Anyone who’s trained in Europe knows how fast the local trains speed in, exchange passengers, and dash off again; it’s like a 1-2 minute flurry of activity and stress – even less time for city Metro systems (referred to in later faux pas’).
We were, as I said, heavily loaded plus we had our helmets hooked on our handlebars which impede steering maneuverability so I, apparently in a wild-eyed state as the train approached, suggested (strongly) that everyone put their helmets on. While I jammed my helmet on, the kids, apparently, looked with raised eyebrows at each other and their dad, who shrugged his shoulders and didn’t follow suit. The train roared in. We quickly located a wagon with a 1, and proceeded to shove all 5 bikes into 1st class, jacking them up and over seats and anything else in our way, frantically making sure we didn’t lose any kids in the process. The coach doors closed and the train sped off, while we gasped for breath looking utterly dazed and confused: “surely this is not how people transport their bikes on trains”. We barely fit and, unfortunately, there were 3 other people in that coach as well. They, as well as the plentiful amount of people sitting in the adjacent section, were gawking at us and shaking their heads like, “You did it wrong!!” The kids all thought it was hysterically funny, esp me with my lone helmet on my head.
End note: We later learned that there are specially marked 2 (2nd class) wagons with a bicycle drawn on the side with an area just for bikes. The proper way to manage this feat is to get on the wagon with the bicycle sign, secure your bikes and then walk thru the trains (they connect to each other) to first class. Then, just before your exit station, return to the bicycle coach, prep the bikes for a hasty dismount and skedaddle immediately when the train stops. A little explanation from the ticket guy at the train station could have saved us a lot of stress and embarrassment. The kids are still harassing me about the bike helmet.