Sunday, April 25, 2010

eurorail passes

Eurorail passes are amazing Europe-wide train passes that allow you to be denied a seat on all European rail lines.1

Most rail passes, or even "tickets", permit you a seat on a particular train or set of trains, but the Eurorail pass gives you the comfort and assurance that there is absolutely no way you will catch that essential train to Madrid, no matter how many times you attempt to catch it, and no matter how many cities you attempt to catch it from.2

On those days that volcanoes don't stop you from reaching mainland Europe, the Eurorail pass allows you to stand in line in a variety of countries and cities; instead of using those handy queue-begone electronic ticket machines, you are granted the pleasure of waiting for an actual attendant. Sometimes this blessed experience will involve the Frenchman in front of you suddenly, without warning, spinning around and shouting at you accusingly in French, then leaving for another line.3

Once at the front of said line, you have the joy of finding an attendant who can speak to a poor sap in English. Strikingly, however, English is surprisingly well spoken by our brethren across the seas; in particular, the word "no" appears to be in vogue.

For example, most conversations proceed along the following lines:

Me: Are there available seats on a train to Spain?

Attendant: No

Me: Bayonne?

Attendant: No

Me: Gruyère?

Attendant: No

Me: Bordeaux?

Attendant: No

Me: Are there seats to anywhere in France?

Attendant: No

Me: Is this pass not worth the paper it's printed on?

I think you get the idea. This magic word magically spans cultures and languages, as well as countries and train companies.

Utilizing these counter agents, however, gives you a dramatic insight into how customer service works in a variety of cultures.

In France, for example, there is usually one dude at the counter serving several hundred people, with two or three apathetic-looking managers sitting directly behind him menacingly watching you.

Spain has a similar setup, except the managers are standing and walk around on occasion, often to back rooms, from whence appear other managers who pace around the back and look generally unhelpful.

Italy is similar to Spain; however, every twenty seconds or so the managers or employee will suddenly start screaming at each other (or a customer) in sing-songy shouts.4

On those glorious occasions when you do manage to finagle your way onto a train using your ever-so-useful rail pass, I wish you luck in attempting to find a seat. In the event you do enjoy standing for long periods of time, let me recommend to you the rail routes from Tours to Poitiers, or Bordeaux to Bayonne, or Frankfurt to Cologne. Each of these routes present the perfect amount of standing to induce severe distress with one's life, and cause serious reflections as to how one got one's self into one's situation, and why one didn't go straight to Switzerland or some other non-strike-stricken nation.

In summary, the Eurorail pass is an excellent way to travel to cities nobody else wants to go to at times and in ways that nobody else wants to travel. Therefore, it's probably best suited for individuals who prefer experiences like flying standby during the holiday season, while getting simultaneously slapped with an angry tuna. Or maybe for that special person in your life who likes watching mud dry while buried in an anthill during the rainy season in the Congo.

Should you find yourself with one (a pass, that is, not an anthill), and arrive at Tours in one in the morning (having nowhere else to go), I have but two things to say to you:

  • The dude at the Holiday Inn is willing to go down to €90. I think you can talk him down further.
  • May God have mercy on your soul.

1. To be fair, that's not always true. Sometimes it takes a cataclysmic event, like, say, a volcano, to force everyone in Europe to decide they need to travel THIS WEEKEND, and make a run on train tickets and "reservations", thereby negating the benefit of your "global" train pass.
2. Paris, Tours, Bordeaux, Irún, San Sebastian, just to name a random set of a hypothetical few. I might also mention an overnight bus I may have been forced to take from Northern Spain to eventually make it to Madrid, to be allowed the privilege of spending five hours there, but that is another subject and post entirely.
3. I am not making this up. He yelled at me, motioned frantically, got the attention of a station attendant, and then he moved along. That's one nice thing about the French; they get over things quickly.
4. I'm pretty certain Italian was invented to scream at people. It's a good angry language. I don't think I managed to go anywhere in Italy without hearing people yelling.5 I was also not able to go anywhere in Italy without being offered an "umbrelly" for sale.
5. This includes a very late night on a train somewhere north of Rome when I had the audacity to pull down bed 56 when my ticket indicated bed 56. Apparently, after getting a very large mustachioed attendant screaming at me for several melodious minutes, I was supposed to bed down in bed 54, not assume I was to bed down in the area indicated by my ticket. My Italian is shaky, so I could be wrong.6
6. I might here add that getting berated in a foreign language while alone in a night train traveling through a foreign land while about to sleep two feet away from an older disheveled man who bears no small resemblance to a pedophile arrested in San Jose last year is slightly disconcerting on a multitude of levels.


Unknown said...

I am laughing. I have some horror stories too.

megan said...

I hope you quacked at all those meany-faces.