doing the continental

Some days Europe is surprisingly, almost shockingly, small. Other days you travel cross-country by train from Bruges to Munich and it takes twelve hours and you think, who knew it could take more than three hours to get anywhere in Europe?

Admittedly, some of those hours were spent on unmoving trains and platforms (also unmoving). We had just enjoyed a couple of days in Belgium where the temps had been pushing 30 degrees, and it only got warmer as we travelled into Germany. After cool weather in the UK I felt like we’d crossed more than just the channel.

When I’m in transit, I wear as many of my clothes as possible without looking like Bernard Black on his way to Oxfam, and up until now this has worked perfectly. It’s cold, I’m layered up, and my bag is ever so slightly lighter. 8:00am at the train station in Bruges and I’m already regretting the thick jumper, coat and long pants. I shed within the bounds of decency but all the way to Brussels the sun beats through the window and we change to our next train as hot as ever.

At Frankfurt the delays begin. The midday sun beams into the hangar-like Hauptbahnhof and beautiful as I find big European train stations today I’m simmering. Our train arrives thirty minutes late, and we speed off at nearly 300 kilometres per hour.

Just before Stuttgart, still sweltering by the window, I look up and suddenly realise the landscape is markedly different. We are looking out across densely treed hills dotted with white houses under a bright blue sky, and on such a sunny day it feels a little bit Mediterranean.

Perhaps it’s this impression that gives the rest of the trip a holiday feel.

At Stuttgart station we are delayed again. The announcement comes in German without an English version, so I ask our neighbour what they said. She can speak English like every German person, but it’s a little halting. “The station ahead is ah… blocked,” she says, smiling through her owl-like glasses. “Don’t know why.” The next announcement explains that this is because a person is threatening to jump, and she translates this update with a sad look. We wait, mellowing in the warmth, detached from whatever drama is unfolding down the line. Later, people start milling around outside our carriage before piling in with their bags, taking every available seat. Another announcement – there is smoke in carriages three and four.

The new passengers are jovial, speaking excitedly, about what I don’t know but I can guess they are each telling their experience of smelling the smoke, or being told to move carriages, or how their family is waiting for them. They laugh a lot in the manner of strangers who have banded together in a mild catastrophe.

Finally we are off. By Augsburg most of the passengers have departed the train and the holiday feeling is wearing off for me. We’ve been on the road (so to speak) all day and I’m hot and tired. At Munich we drag our luggage off the train and traipse over to the S-Bahn and the train – the one train we need – is delayed by twenty-five minutes. Of course, I think. It’s almost funny.

We arrive at our host’s place two and a half hours later than planned feeling gross and tired, but there is a barbeque cooking on the balcony and cold showers and he greets us like old friends because he lived in Australia for a while. The next morning we walk down the road with beach towels instead of backpacks and swim in a cold, clear Bavarian lake, and then I realise: summer is here and it’s amazing.

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