We got to take our first, family, out-of-the-country trip this last weekend to Heidelberg, Germany. We left on a Friday, March 9, and returned on Monday, March 12. We had a great trip and got to visit the historic old town and the Heidelberg Castle. I forget how young America is until I go to cathedrals and castles that were built in 1500. That is old, historical real estate!
The most exciting part of the trip was our first, international train trip, complete with 3 transfers just to challenge us all the more. (extra credit for over achievers!) We were especially excited to ride the "Hi-Speed", one of the super-fast trains in Europe that make getting from one country to another in 4-5 hours a reality. We rode 2 "regular" trains and then transferred to the Hi-Speed train in Dusseldorf. It was a 1 1/2 hour trip and we'd only been riding for 25 minutes when the train stopped in a station. The conductor announced something in German and all of the passengers looked at each other and kind of chuckled. I wasn't in on the joke and, being totally in the dark, I assumed the worst and thought that something was either wrong or she had told everyone to check out those weird tourists in Car #22 - us. Then, she kept talking and made another announcement which made everyone groan. OK, it was bad news or she had just told a really bad joke. Then everyone stood up, collected their luggage and began exiting the train. OK, she couldn't have been that bad so this was an ominous sign. Jim grabbed the attention of a passenger across the aisle and asked what was going on. She explained, in wonderful English, that there was a mechanical problem with the train and all passengers needed to get off and find another way to get to their destination. Just like that, we were in a foreign country, couldn't speak the language, didn't know where we were or how to work the system to find an alternate route to Heidelberg. After we picked up our luggage and stepped off the train, Jim continued to talk to the 2 women who had been sitting across the aisle from him. I think they felt sorry for us since we had 2 children with us and we looked so pitiful - plus we had been the butt of the conductor's jokes so they felt like they owed us one. Remember, we in the US are use to marching up to the ticket counter at the airport, thumping on the desk and demanding that they find us an alternate flight to Detroit. The train stations in Europe feel no such pressure for stranded passengers. The women told us we could follow them to a bus headed for the Koln ("Cologne" in the US) airport. We weren't sure how that would help us, but talk of an airport did make me consider flying back to the Netherlands. Then, the more techy woman pulled out her iPhone and looked at her train schedule app. I almost kissed her at that point but was afraid she might lose her concentration. She said we would need to catch a train from that station that would take us to the Koln train station, then transfer to a second train that would go straight through to Heidelberg. The second train that departed from Koln left at 3:17. I looked at a nearby clock - it was 3:04. To say we hurried is putting it mildly. We thanked them profusely and ran to catch the first train that left at 3:08. As soon as we jumped on, it left the station. It took about 3 minutes to reach the Koln station and we began running for the second train. It was to leave at 3:17. I looked at a clock as all four of us ran through the station - it was 3:12. We arrived on platform 7 and checked the digital schedule board. The announcement for the Heidelberg train was flashing, meaning that it was pulling into the station. Whew! Made it! And then I looked at the board more closely - the train was leaving from platform 5! I yelled to the troops, as only a panicked mother can, "We have 3 minutes, RUN!!" We ran past platform 7 and then 6, running into several people on the way. Poor Jim and Grace were carrying the luggage and running as fast as they could. Finally, we got to platform 5 and jumped onto the train, just before it left. I was never so happy to board a train in all my life. About an hour outside of Heidelberg, we rode for miles along side the Rhine river. We saw tiny towns with little chalet houses and huge castles on the mountain tops. I kept repeating, "This looks just like Germany!" Even though that seems to be a no-brainer, it is always nice to visit a foreign country and find that it matches your mental images just perfectly. Thank you to the lovely lady with the great English, thank you to the smart woman with the train app, and Danke to Germany for being so beautiful.