Chasing Trains Day 2 (Part 2): Plan B

(Click here for Part 1 of this crazy crazy day)

So where were we? Right. Chur. 

When I arrived in Chur I was in a post-Glacier Express daze, with crazy eyes and an ear-to-ear grin. I had some time to spare before the succession of train transfers that would take me to good old Italy, so I wandered about the station and chanced upon some free internet terminals where I can check the train schedules and such.

As it turns out, one of the trains I was about to take requires a reservation, of which I have none. I was shocked and just a wee bit annoyed at myself for the oversight. And I thought I had planned this whole thing out so well. Tsk.

So, panic attack. I rushed to the information desk, and asked the very nice kuya if I could please please please get a reservation on the train. To speed things up, I showed him the itinerary I have created (in MS Excel!) to prevent any confusion over train numbers and destinations and things.

Obsessive-compulsive travel planning

This whole itinerary planning style I copied from an ex-colleague who planned all our trips during our year-long stint in Japan (hi Debid!). When we did the original Chasing Trains adventure, we each had a copy of our train itinerary which not only had all the train names and schedules and platform numbers, but also the alternatives to take should things go awry at any given point in the trip, including the extra money we had to fork out (as in: if we miss train X then this is the route we take and that would cost us an additional so and so yen). And true enough, we missed a train! So my key learning was if it's possible for your journey to get screwed in Japan, land of legendary efficiency and technological awesomeness, it's possible for your journey to get screwed anywhere. There should always be Plan B.

So the kuya hands me my reservation, notifies me that my next train (as per Plan A of my itinerary) is leaving in 9 minutes, and with a very warm smile wishes me good luck on my travels. I swear the Swiss are some of the nicest people I've ever encountered. Switzerland, I'll be back, and I shall stay longer.

From Chur I was off to Zurich, and that went off without a hitch. I then transferred to another train that will take me to Bern, and that is when things got a bit tricky. Although the train left on time, it slowly but surely got delayed after each stop. Not supremely so, just by a minute or two, but my transfer time to my next train is a measly six minutes. Six! And as this is the one that requires a reservation, I have to catch it (there is a Plan B, but it involves prayers and crossed fingers and toes).

So the train stops at Bern, a good four minutes delayed, and the moment the doors opened I was hurtling across the platform. Thanks to my obsessive-compulsive itinerary I knew exactly where I was headed - the platform right next door, which would've been great had I been able to jump across the train tracks. But no, I had to go up to the connecting bridge and back down again. Gah. So near yet so far. And I only had two minutes! Oh, and did I mention I had a trolley? Thank goodness for that Red Bull I chugged on the train to Zurich.

So I scaled the insanely long staircase, and then scurried down the other insanely long one going to my platform, all while dodging people and bags and children and dogs and whatever other obstacles are present in a Swiss train station. I wish I could tell you the train doors shut the moment I snuck in, because that sounds so much more dramatic, but the reality is I had a good minute or two before the doors closed.

So now all I have to do is find my seat, and I could rest my dying feet all the way to Milan. And because I am so awesomely lucky, it happens to be on the other end of the long, long train packed with people. Good heavens.

Somehow I managed to squeeze my way to the very first car - I even stopped by the dining car to get some chips and soda (I deserved it!) - and finally plopped my weary ass down the huge comfy seat.

I dozed off after stuffing my face full of empty calories, and woke up to find a bunch of dudes wearing black boarding the train. Passport check - we were at the Italian border (apart from this instance I have never been checked while flitting from one country to the next).

So here's the thing. Because I'm a bit praning about losing my passport after all the stories I've heard, I have taken to placing it in one of those pouches you wear around your neck, underneath your clothes. So you can imagine how awkward it is to reach under your shirt, in front of the immigration officer, no less, to take the damn passport out. But he just smiled and asked, "Are you from Korea?" Apparently that is their passport hiding place of choice. "Are you a student in Switzerland?" Flattered, but no. Two for two, officer. I watched as they left the train, and crossed the train tracks to the next platform. I found myself wishing I could be an Italian immigration officer so I could cross train tracks too (without the hefty fine). Me and my random dreams in life.

By midnight, I finally reached Milan. The end.

No, not really. From here I'm taking yet another train to Rome. Crazy? Yes. Why did I do it? I don't know. Does the stress ever end? Ermm, here's a closer look at the departure information.

I have never seen so many cancelled trips in my life. Apparently there was a labor strike or something. As it is the dead of the night and I had no hotel reservations in Milan, I was scared shitless as I scanned the information board. My train is on schedule! Giant sigh of relief.

See, I'm taking an overnight train. It seemed like a good idea because not only do I get to places while I sleep, I also save on hotel rates. The reality is you get very little sleep, if at all, and what you save on the hotel you spend on the reservation fee for a decent compartment (unless you are fine with sleeping for eight hours on a chair that does not recline). But it does afford you more time for sightseeing as opposed to traveling.

I still had a good hour and a half to spare before I head off to Roma, so I decided to grab some dinner. The only places open at this time were a cafeteria-style pizza place and a Burger King. Not wanting my first meal in Italy to be a whopper, I went for the pizza. Pepperoni and margherita were sold out, so I settled for a giant slab of dough with anchovies and capers and things. It was a sad-looking thing, but surprisingly tasty.

Bit before I snapped. I was hungry and stressed and stuff.
Milan station is a wasteland at this time of the day night, and it also lacks central heating which makes it a very bad place to stay on a cold winter night. And my very wonderful train decided to get delayed, but given that most of the other trains decided not to come at all, I was not complaining.

When the night train finally arrived there was a mad dash towards the platform. In the crazy confusion I managed to find my designated car, which was number 5. However, when I tried to open the door, it wouldn't budge. So, I tried to be smart about it and boarded car number 4 and entered the correct car from there.

Good heavens that compartment was ugly. And just plain creepy. I distinctly remember thinking an overnight stay in Milan station might be more preferable. And I even paid a bit extra to get a "better" seat! As I sat there on the filthy seat slash bed, feeling dejected, one of the train personnel saw me through the window. He then boards the car (from car number 4 as well), proceeds to my compartment, and says, "Signorina, you stupid twat, this is not where you are supposed to be." Okay, so he might not have said that (all I understood was "signorina"), but he did motion for me to get off the train and directed me to the correct car.

Now I must mention that at this point the train was about to leave. So, with some newfound adrenaline, I found myself hurtling across the platform yet again. Oh, the joys of running with a heavy bag. I was rewarded, though, with a significantly better cabin, which I was supposed to share with three other women but I had all to myself.

The entrance to my humble abode (for six hours or so)
Like before I had a bit of difficulty going to sleep, but once I drifted off it was actually pretty comfortable. At around 7:30, I awoke to a soft (okay, intense) knock on my door by the train kuya. We're arriving in a couple of minutes.

Next stop: Rome :)

To see all posts in this series, click here.

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