Monday, 21 October 2013

To Wasen

The platform was filled with young revellers in traditional garb, accessorised with beer bottles and cigarette packs. There was a lot of chatter, some boisterous singing. I watched them, intrigued. It was relatively chilly, but I suppose the thrill and excitement of going to VolkFest (a beer festival and travelling carnival) at Canstatter Wasen, Stuttgart, was keeping everyone sufficiently warm. Other commuters not making a beeline for the event looked indifferent at best, and apprehensive at worst.

The train quickly filled to the brim with these youngsters heading for the next station about 5 minutes away. It appeared as if the train had been chartered for them and it took a few minutes of boarding before the doors finally closed. From my little corner next to the door at the other end of the train, I watched bodies pressed gleefully against one another: boys in checked shirts and berms, girls in dresses that generously displayed their ample bosoms. Boys sat gingerly on each others' thighs, while the girls looked a little more comfortable in their boyfriends' (at least I assumed them to be) laps. A couple standing right in front of me couldn't stop sticking their tongues down each others' throats as their friends engaged in random banter.

The train emerged from underground and the site of the festival came into full view. One of the girls standing next to me squealed with delight at the sight of a huge ferris wheel and started bobbing on her feet. A guy next to her put his arm around her from the back and smiled. The kissers stopped momentarily and cheered together with the others.

The station arrived and calls rose for the doors to open. Then they started to spill out, as if the train could not bear their load anymore. Some boys started singing again, the girls chatted and laughed. Within a minute or two the train's interior made itself conspicuous again. There was space, there was an uncomfortable silence, accustomed as the ears had become to a cacophony of voices.

I remained behind, together with a few passengers around me. We were accompanied by the gentle roar of the carriage being pulled along to the next stop, together with the bottles rolling and clinking as they met on the train floor.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Baby, you are gonna miss that train..

This was first written on 1st October, 2013

I arrived at the Dresden Hauptbahnhof (main train station) fairly early and loitered around with a cup of hot chocolate. Downing the remnants of the contents of my cup, I dragged myself and the trolley bag to the platform where I found the train taking a breather. Ahead of me was an American couple -- one was struggling with bags, the other trying to find a way to open the door. I stepped up to the front and pushed a button and let the woman board.

The train ride itself was largely uneventful save for the occasional guffaws of the American woman (they were seated diagonally across from me). However my mind was elsewhere: the train has to reach Nuremberg on time because I need to catch my connection to Stuttgart, that too with a window of just 9 minutes. But going by how this train was making its scheduled stops on time, I was becoming comfortable with the thought that there would be no reason for a delay.

But of course, things go wrong when you take the side of complacency. Towards the end of the journey, the train made an unusually long stop at a station which looked like it had been hastily put together to stall our progress. I cocked my head this way and that from my seat, hoping to determine the cause of the delay or at least find out the name of the station. The American couple was also getting agitated. From their conversation, I discovered that they were travelling on to Munich from Nuremberg. I was comforted by this new piece of information.

Minutes before its scheduled arrival in Nuremberg, the train made another stop, this time in the middle of nowhere. There was no way to determine where exactly we were because trees obstructed our view on both sides. At some point, the American couple gathered their bags and made for the exit. I did the same just as the other passengers around me, mostly Germans, put on their coats and took the few steps towards the door.

Then came an announcement in German, the contents of which I understood from gasps that escaped the lips of the women in front of me (and a check of the time on my phone). I had already by this time made out the German words for 'platform' and 'fifteen'. They repeated the same words, and I knew I definitely had company.

As the train slowed to a halt, the American couple, at the head of the line, had trouble with the door again (the fact that I had opened the door in front of them earlier did not help them register how things are done). Thankfully, someone behind them jabbed his/her finger into the button that opened the door. My fellow passengers and I hit the platform running, quite literally, with our bags. I ran down the stairs towards our designated platform as if my life depended on it, jumping two steps at a time on the stairway, and emerged on Platform 15 to find the train still standing. For reasons that escape me now, the first few seconds were characterised by sluggishness, a belief that I could take my time finding my coach. Thankfully I did not have to go far, because my coach was right next to the stairway. I climbed in, relieved, as were those puffing away ahead of me: 'we made it with barely seconds to spare!', one woman seemed to say.

I thought of Geet from Jab We Met and chuckled.

P/S In the event your connecting train leaves before you reach the station, go to the train information counter/sales office. The staff will issue you a ticket with the next available connection.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

People II

The second collection of my People series.

Left: I spy, at a Soviet era cafe in Lviv, Ukraine.

Right: Cafe in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Right: I was walking around Istanbul, Turkey, close to the Hagia Sofia when I saw this boy, who I suppose had pulled himself away from friends standing not too far away, fascinated by these pigeons.

Left: This kd was out with her grandfather and couldn't decide if she really wanted to ride her little bicycle. (Mumbai, India)

Right: A couple in contemplation. (Zadar, Croatia)
Left: These kids were part of a school group visiting the Nek Chand Rock Garden in Chandigarh, India. We smiled at each other, I pulled out my camera, and he stuck out his finger in surprise.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Train to Heidelberg

It was towards the end of breakfast that the germ struck: I should do a day trip to Heidelberg. Immediately I reconsidered the option. Maybe it would be better to walk around the streets of Stuttgart a little. It cannot possibly be unbearably uninteresting. But what about Heidelberg? I had heard positive things about it and not going would be a shame and a wasted opportunity.

Let's decide at the train station, I told myself.

It was 1028hrs, and according to a quick check online, the next train to Heidelberg would leave Stuttgart's main station at 1039hrs. So began the vacillation with the idea of going for the day trip. Perhaps it would be a better idea to head to Tubingen -- it was closer and Nari was considering it too. But she had yet to reply to my text.

The next few minutes were spent fiddling with the ticket machine. Destination, one way ticket -- or return? Might be cheaper? No, the same as the onward journey. What time? 1500, 1600hrs? How much time would I need there? I'll get in at around 1120 if I hop onto the 1039. Hmm Cancel.

Let's try again.

Destination, immediate travel, one adult, single journey, 26 euros..
Insert card?

Why not? I don't have to commit for sure -- I'd still have to enter my pin.
Card enters the reader.
Card panel says I should Bitte Warten.

My card slips out and the main screen says 'Your ticket is being printed.'
'Your receipt is being printed.'
I pull out both pieces of papers from the tray. But which is the ticket? Neither says which train I'm supposed to catch, nor does it say what time I depart.


I run to the nearest approachable person who, as it turns out, speaks little English. Refer to the board, she tells me. I look at the big blue electronic display overhead and hunt the platform number for the 1039 train. 
I forgot to mention that the platforms at Stuttgart's station require some legwork because of construction works. So I run, alongside my fellow commuters, to platform seven. Once there, I ask around for help and a fellow passenger and the train conductor confirmed i was on the right track. 
Then I waited for the train to pull out of the station. 
It 1055hrs.

Friday, 11 October 2013

on the road: Dresden

Cashier at ZARA: I'm sorry but this isn't the right price.
Me: Oh ok.
Cashier: Yes, that's the price for Spain. 
Me: I guess I don't have a choice unless I go to Spain to buy this (chuckle).
Cashier: Hmm. So you take this?

on the road: Brussels

American: Where are you from?
Me: Singapore.
American: Boring town but close to Phucket (as pronounced).
Me: Yes, but at least we don't go on random shooting sprees.
American: (Ignores me) In Europe, they kill you in different ways. 
Me: Such as?
American: Taxes, socialism, lack of empathy, corruption..
Me: I'm sorry the rest of the world isn't perfect like America.
American: (Ignoring me again) So you're visiting.
Me: Yes. You?
American: I've lived here (Brussels) 10 years.