I stayed late at the office this evening talking to my creative director(s), and somehow we got onto a conversation about Amtrak. Roger asked what kind of security Amtrak has; do they screen baggage?

For once, I had a clue.

Mom, Dad and DIY took Amtrak from Chicago to KC last week, and while they did seem to check for ID’s, there certainly wasn’t screening like you’d see in an airport. There weren’t any lines — we walked right up to the counter, dumped the bags, and headed to McDonald’s right there in Union Station.

(Speaking of McDonald’s, I ate there twice today.)

There’s something soothing about train travel. It’s far better than a car or plane — you can get up and move around without feeling cramped. And the rhythmic pattern of the train chugging along is great bait for the sandman.

Craig gave me a ride home tonight (since I live on his way), and he brought up a trip he’d taken with his wife and daughter on an overnight train from Amsterdam to Leipzig (Germany).

I once rode through Leipzig on a train in the middle of the night, and it was the last leg of a most memorable trip.

It was Christmas 1995, and my college roommate Heidi had come to visit me in Germany while I spent a year abroad. Heidi arrived on the 27th, and we set out with two of my other American friends on an 8-day whirlwind train trip from Giessen (where I lived) to Hamburg, to Luebeck, to Berlin (for New Year’s), and then Krakow (Poland).

The whole trip was damn cold. Like never-been-so-cold-in-your-life cold. I swear it was below zero every day.

Kinda makes you wonder why we decided on a whim after partying in Berlin for New Year’s Eve that we should go to Poland. We hopped on an overnight train for Krakow.

At 6:08 a.m., we disembarked, and the usual suspects offering apartments approached us about accommodations. (This was typical in Eastern Europe at the time.) One guy offered us a place for $6/night, so we accepted.

There was at least a foot of snow on the ground, covering a good 6 inches of ice. And when we got underway on the bus with him, we noticed that he was using expired bus passes to take us a ways away from the train station. We should’ve jumped ship right there.

We got to the house, which he appeared to also live in. There was no heat. The beds had nasty sheets. The bathroom had old razors everywhere. And all we could do was laugh in disbelief. (Yes, I have this incident on video.) About 30 minutes later, the dude showed up with a couple German guys who had been duped into his scam.

What to do? Make the best of it. We ended up heading out with the German guys to a historic salt mine a bit outside the city, which was really an amazing sight. Never mind that we could barely figure out how to get back downtown on the one 1950s-style bus that managed to appear.


We then dined on borscht, and took home a bottle of vodka for good measure.

That night we nearly froze. Heidi and I spooned in full winter outdoor garb (coats and all), just to keep from freezing to death. My other American girlfriend found refuge in the arms of one of the Germans.

The next morning, we escaped to McDonald’s (via a very long and frustrating bus ride  that ended with Heidi pumping her arms like the wheels of a train, saying “choo choo” to signify that we were trying to find the train station). Lo and behold, once there, our house dude showed up demanding payment! We yelled back. He left. We ate Egg McMuffins.

in Krakow

Tish was puking in the snow outside, and we were all beat. So instead of going to Auschwitz for a tour, like we’d planned, we hopped on the next train for Frankfurt.

In train

It was an 18-hour ride. Then we found another McDonald’s.

Fortunately tomorrow I’m going by plane to Kansas.


2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Heidi said,

    OMG, that was such a fantastic trip! And I’d forgotten about Rob! Any idea where he’s at? He married…Peggy? Is that right?

    And it’s a damn good thing we had that vodka and our coats to stay warm. I’ve stayed some interesting places since then, but NOTHING like the hovel we shared in Poland.

  2. 2

    Mary E said,

    Have I got a movie for you! Twice at mickey D’s in one day??? You must see
    “Supersize Me” and make sure you watch all the extra stuff on the DVD, especially the
    piece about the french fries…….makes you think twice!

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