“Now, here’s the part of the conversation where you’re going to hate me after what I have to say to you”, the intoxicated German guy uttered to Christina and I at 5:00 AM on January 1, 2016 on a dark street corner in Heidelberg amid thousands of broken bottles, the remains of spent firework casings, and the stink of gunpowder still hanging in the air from the new years eve festivities that, at this hour, didn’t show too many signs of letting up.
Christina and I found ourselves standing on this particular corner with all of our luggage, backpacks, and possessions in tow talking to a drunk man due to an unfortunate miscalculation on my part. Our flight was departing today, and we needed to make our way to Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof (the train station) and catch the 6 AM train to Frankfurt airport for our 9 AM departure. The previous night, new year’s eve, Christina asked if I thought I might call and reserve a taxi to pick us up the following morning. “Nah,” I said, “people don’t reserve taxis the night before, you just call them when you need them. I’ll call when we get up in the morning.” And so I found myself at 4:30 AM on departure day calling every taxi company in Heidelberg that I could find on Google. “Every f***ing number I’m dialing is giving me a busy signal!” I exclaimed to Christina after trying the 15th taxi company. “I didn’t even think busy signals existed anymore – I thought they disappeared along with landlines!” It was now nearly five in the morning and we should have been comfortably on our way to the train station in the back of a cab. Instead, we were reduced to making our way to the streets in the idealistic hope that we could somehow hail a taxi. Desperate and short on time, we gathered our possessions and headed out of our apartment into the damp and detritus hewn streets – the remains of the most chaotic new year’s eve celebration of which I’ve ever stood witness.
It immediately became obvious that we were competing with about 10,000 inebriated college students for the attention of a handful of taxis. After eventually managing to grab the attention of a passing cab, we were told by the driver that it was a cash only situation. “Great,” I thought. I had intentionally spent my remaining Euros the previous evening, knowing that we’d be departing the following morning, and not wanting to come back to the states with foreign currency. That taxi moved on, and I asked a bystander if he knew where the nearest automat might be located, and he vaguely gestured in a direction down a narrow cobblestone paved alley. I reluctantly tasked Christina with staying put with all our luggage so that I could quickly find the ATM in question, grab some cash, and get back to flag down the next taxi. With time ticking and our train’s departure becoming more imminent, I darted down the alley searching for our salvation.
Now, there is new year’s eve at midnight tipsy, and then there’s 5:30 AM “I’ve been going at this since 6:00 PM the previous day” smashed, which is what I encountered all the way down this street, dodging drunks falling out of bars, vomit lined sidewalks, and staggering hordes of college students trying to find their way home. Meanwhile, the fabled ATM was nowhere to be found. I found my way back to Christina, dejected, to find the aforementioned German fellow talking to Christina where I had left her. “I see a lady standing here with all these bags, and I ask myself, what is this person doing here with all these possessions at this hour? And so I have come to find out.” This, or something along these lines, was what the guy was saying as I walked up to let Christina know I had been unsuccessful in my quest to procure cash. “Oh, you won’t find a taxi around here,” he helpfully informed us. “You can follow me and my friends and we can help you find a taxi.” This didn’t seem like the most promising avenue to me, and made the decision for us to just walk to the station on our own, all 14,000 pounds of luggage in tow, down cobblestone streets in the dark, foggy pre-dawn hours. Which brings us back to the start of this story.
“Now, here’s the part of the conversation where you’re going to hate me after what I have to say to you”
Shit. There we were, two helpless foreigners, hopelessly late for our train and with no discernible way of getting ourselves to the station, with all our valuables on our person, and this guy is about to say something that is going to make us hate him. Like what? “Give me your wallet”, or “I’ll be taking those bags from you now”? “Here comes the switchblade,” I thought to myself.
“I don’t really like the American way of thinking”, he says.
Phew. “Well, okay buddy. I can sit here and pontificate with you all night about the flaws of my homeland, but we’re kind of in a desperate situation at the moment, if you haven’t picked up on it.” I didn’t actually say this to him, but instead just sort of scurried away in a rush with our possessions in search of the Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof. He was actually a very nice guy in hindsight, and his generous offer to help us find a taxi was much appreciated, but wandering the streets with a group of loaded 20 year olds did not seem to be the most promising of avenues to get us on our airplane in a timely manner.
With that send off, we took to the streets on foot toward the train station, a 45 minute walk away, rolling luggage clattering behind us on the cobblestone, 45 pounds of belongings strapped to my aching back.
After some time, we finally arrived at the train station. The time: 6:25 AM. Our 6 AM train had long departed, and so I made my way to the automated ticket machine to find out when the next departure for Frankfurt would be. After conferring with a ticket agent, Christina quickly informed me that the next train was departing in exactly 2 minutes, and I had better hurry my ass up and buy those tickets because we had little time left. After grabbing our tickets, we ran down the stairs at full sprint, arriving at our train, just as the doors began to close. We managed to squeeze in just as they were closing shut, taking a seat, completely exhausted.
A couple of connections later, we arrived at the Frankfurt airport at 8:00 AM. Our flight was due to board at 8:30. There is a good reason you’re told to arrive at least 2 hours prior to an international flight: customs, security, and all the other pleasantries that come along with travel in a post 9/11 world. After encountering a ridiculously long line to check our bag (which I completely and shamelessly cut by walking right through an exit only gate at casually strolling up to the counter as though I belonged there – desperate times call for desperate measures), followed by security, pre-customs(??), real customs, post customs, we made it into the terminal and began the dash to our plane. The time: 9:00. Boarding had begun long ago, and the doors should be closing at any moment now. Mercifully, Lufthansa held the plane at the gate a bit longer due to the high volume of travelers that day – apparently we weren’t the only panicked passengers, and we boarded.
Our holiday trip to Austria and Germany was bookended by chaos: On arrival in Munich 11 days prior, the elderly lady that had sat in front of me on the flight fell backwards down the escalator right in front of me upon debarking, and our departure being marked by nearly missing our flight. The actual, physical act of travel can be stressful at times, for sure. It’s the experiences that come along with it that make those minor inconveniences completely worth it. In between the rocky beginning and end of the trip, however, we had some amazing experiences and renewed our love affair with the Alps.by