Michael’s red jacket and pack flashed in and out the crowd as he bulleted around each person. Craning my neck while avoiding a confused man to my left, I attempted to keep him in my sight. We were all together in this, running for our lives to make that train connection with one minute left on the analogue clock above me.
Bounding over each step as if my life depended on it, my grey hiker’s backpack pulled me down, adding to gravity of the situation. The intercom came on and a calm woman explained something in French, the only words I recognized were the destinations of my train. It was the last call.
Shooting a quick glance back, my worries were somewhat alleviated as I saw Rachel close behind. Whatever happened, it would happen to both of us.
However, Michael reached the train doors 200 feet ahead of me and pulled his way inside. “This is it,” I thought. It’s the moment when the group gets separated and we have no way of contacting each other from our dead European cellphones. I leaned forward, not caring what other people thought, determined to make our train.
Out of breath, I threw myself into the train. Then I whipped around to make sure Rachel was on too. No man left behind. With a huge, almost delirious grin on her face she reached my side. We were flushed red from the bitter cold that hit us as we ran, but we made it.
Train stations, your main source of travel in Europe, are daunting at first. Learning to utilize the Euro Pass without missing connections can be tricky enough. Add in the language barrier and it becomes scary. Being prepared, organized, and knowing the basic ideas of train stations is key to making your next connection.
Even though your travel might prove to be hectic, the good news is most stations have similar symbols, signs, and layouts. As you step off the train, quickly orientate yourself with the station. The main sections (if you need to find food or information) are often located upstairs, but sometimes are below the trains. I often just follow the crowd; they are usually headed toward the way out.
You should carry a list of your stops along with the times and platform numbers on a piece of paper. There are always large monitors showing current platform listings and potential delays just in case, but using that as only a backup is much more efficient. When you are racing against the clock, efficiency is important.
After finding the platform number, you only need to arrive at that platform approximately five minutes before your train. Sometimes, when lucky, the train arrives early and you’ll get to escape the cold faster.
Below are a few basic symbols worth noting:
Tourist information sign (for when you reach your destination)
– If a train is delayed it often says, “approximate arrival time…”
Don’t forget that WC (water closet) means restrooms in Europe – Try to go the bathroom on the train because in stations and most places you will have to pay to use it.
Traveling is a learning process and traveling by train is all about the experience. You can be prepared by familiarizing yourself with the common signs, but it is also about experiencing it, messing up a few times, and catching on the train culture. Some common etiquette tips are not to put your feet on the seats (they don’t like that), giving an elderly person your seat if there’s none left, and keeping your backpack within sight.
Finding fun ways to keep entertained on these long journeys isn’t too difficult either. Check out our idea of entertainment on a Valentines Day train we took to Prague.
Once you travel a few times you’ll start to understand this complicated system. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help if you need it. And if you run your heart out and still don’t make, don’t worry too much, there’s always another train.
About the author:
My name is Jaime Lusher and as a San Diego, California native I am used to warm weather and beaches. I attend Baylor University deep in the heart of Texas, which is a large change from my hometown. I love it there and have had this wonderful opportunity, through my school, to come here and study at Maastricht University for a semester. My major is Public Relations with a minor in Film and Digital Media. What I want to do with that in the future is still unknown, but I love every minute of college life so far.