May 28, 2012: From Zurich to Munchen

Today was supposed to be our easy day.  We had everything figured out ahead of time.  We had plenty of time to make everything work.  We knew exactly what to do.  Argh.

So we got up early this morning and got moving right away so that we could check out of the hotel, get downtown Zurich so that Dominica would get a chance to see it for a little bit and then get to the hauptbahnhof with plenty of time so that it would be a nice, relaxed day with our direct connection right to Munchen (Munich) with about four hours on the train.  Nice and easy.

I was pretty tired this morning after my really long, stressful day yesterday.  Dominica was not feeling well this morning either – we are guessing that it is a result of the lack of protein.

We got into Zurich without a problem.  Of course it was bright and warm again so the walk to the train station was long and hot – not the way to really start the day.  Then the S6 ride which is a little stressful just because it is full of people and we are so loaded down with luggage that even the most trivial things become really hard.  Anytime that we don’t have our luggage things are good.  Anytime that we are moving our luggage, things are stressful.

We spent some time trying to figure out how to store our luggage, as Rick Steves recommends, at the train station in the lockers there.  That took about half an hour and by the time that we found them, figured out how to get to them and figured out how they worked we had a maximum of an hour and a half to see Zurich and we needed the huge lockers that cost nine Swiss Francs which is way too much money to pay to store luggage for an hour and a half.  So we abandoned that plan.

Instead we decided to just take the luggage with us, walk the river towards the lake and get some coffee at a cafe along the way and call that our sight seeing of Zurich.  Zurich is a city to live in anyway, not a city for tourists.  Other than the beauty of the city itself, one museum that I really want to see but can’t and some Chegal church windows, there isn’t much.

Walking the city with the luggage, and the girls, is not trivial.  We are carrying a lot of stuff.  But if we didn’t do this walk this morning there would be no chance to see Zurich for Dominica at all (other than from the train windows en route to Luzern) and none for me except seeing it in the dark last night.  So we trudged on.

Of course, it was late so the breakfast options were gone already.  And it is a holiday (Pentecost) so most everything is closed.  There were a surprising number of people out on the streets though, mostly walking and bicycling.

We decided that none of the cafes that we saw really looking to be all that inviting.  The menus were lacking and none had a good view and everything looked really expensive.  So instead we found a doner stand just opening (doner stands are completely ubiquitous in western Europe) and got falafel sandwiches and a pizza for Liesl.  It turns out, and I had no idea, that Dominica had never had a falafel sandwich before!  Doner stands like these are just as common in New York City as they are here, or nearly so, and I’ve had falafel sandwiches so much that it never occurred to me that she did not eat them regularly as well.

Dominica completely loves falafel sandwiches.  We have a new travel food now.  Falafel is pretty healthy and always vegetarian so a perfect choice for us.  It is usually a really cheap meal too.  In this case, it was not, but it was probably pretty cheap compared to other options.  Our sandwiches were nine Swiss Francs each!  That’s crazy.  Basically ten dollars.  That would be two to three dollars in New York City.  They were quite good, though.

We ate our food standing in a shaded spot on the river in Zurich.  A great spot and there was hardly anyone around where we were.

Once we finished eating we walked back to the train station.  We were very tired already and had probably walked two to three kilometers hauling all of our luggage behind already today and that was wearing us out quickly.

We got back to the train station without any issue, double checked our train information and headed to the platform.  In Switzerland, Germany and France we have never, ever seen a train schedule be wrong unlike Belgium where they appear to be incorrect around half of the time.  So we tend to panic when we have no need to do so.

This is where our trouble began.  We were so early for the train that we had to wait on the platform for a while.  The first train came and went.  But when the next train came Dominica was sure that it was our train.  It sure could have been – sometimes they arrive quite early and sit on the platform for a while just because of how the schedule works out.  Sometimes you get to a platform thirty minutes early and your train is already there.  So when this train was thirty minutes early I was surprised but it was a real possibility, even if unlikely, that it was our train.  I asked her if it was our train and she said “yes” and we boarded.

Now we’ve had this discussion over and over again on this trip – we can never trust just one person’s judgement as to anything to do with the trains.  We are constantly making mistakes and need everything double checked whether it is departure times, track numbers or whatever.  Now, to be fair, I did set about immediately attempting to double check the train once we were on it.  What I failed to do was walk down the platform and read the sign telling what train it was.  When I asked Dominica if this was the train I had assumed that she had read that sign and there is no way to misread that.  But in fact she had misunderstood my question and thought that I had read the sign.

Unfortunately we have so much luggage and with the kids getting onto the train and even doing something as simple as checking the exact time is a major exercise.  So it probably took ten minutes to get the luggage stowed, Luciana out of her harness that I was carrying her in and the laptop plugged in, as it was out of juice and could not power up, so that I could see the time.  The moment that the laptop came up I looked at the time and knew that we were sixteen minutes before intended departure time.  The instant that I saw the time…. the train started to move.  Crap.

I knew what had happened instantly and looked at Dominica and said “It’s too early, this is the wrong train.”  We grabbed the first person we could find and asked where the train was going…. Basel.  Thank goodness.  This could have been the express to Milan.  In fact, that was a decently likely possibility.  Basel was very likely the case for the “wrong train”.  But even so, our low stress, easy train day just turned into a disaster.

Basel is fifty minutes away, in the wrong direction, from Munchen.  So we had to rapidly come up with alternative travel plans.  We found the Berlin run leaving Basel very shortly after when we would arrive so it would be a rush but we should be able to make it.  That would take us up the Rhine past Freiburg and get us to the east – west run to Munchen.  So instead of four hours and no transfers we are now six and a half hours and two transfers.  Sad face.

For those who have never traveled with two little children and a ton of luggage you really can’t understand how painful a transfer is.  To make a transfer we have to pack for ten minutes prior to arrival (and watch the clock carefully the entire trip to make sure that we don’t miss our prep window) and get everything off of the train very quickly before the train leaves again.  This is harder than it sounds and is physically strenuous and is a leading reason why we are in so much pain.  Every train day results in a day of not being able to move my head from side to side because of the physical strain.  Then we have to figure out in a split second how to navigate a new train station (without the aid on English signs) and about one out of four have no lifts so we are stuck running everything up and down stairs which is so hard that the easiest thing for me to do is actually to pick up the stroller with Liesl in it and run the whole thing down in one shot no matter how awkward or heavy it is.  Then find the right platform for our next train, get to it, make sure that we are getting on to the correct train (hardy har har) and load everything onto that train.  Then it takes nearly ten minutes for us to get all of the luggage stowed, release the children and settle in.  It is hard and it is stressful.  Avoiding it even once is a really big deal.  And each transfer is when we are terribly fearful that we will lose something else.  It was a day like today when we lost my fleece jacket going from Brugge to Boppard two weeks ago.

The laptop was dead this morning so we used every moment possible on the first train, an SBB line, to charge it as the DB trains often do not have power yet but SBB reliably does.  Although I have been trying to figure out if this is because we mistakenly road second class on DB for the first several times and should have been in first class and since we started using SBB we knew to always look for first class.  It might be something that simple.

The transfer at Basel was fine.  No spare time to get coffee or anything but that was okay.  We know the Basel station and it is very low stress, as stations go.  In fact, it might be our lowest stress station.

The ride up the Rhine was pretty short.  So we didn’t really have time to relax.  The rapid transfers take a toll on the girls tool.   They don’t get a chance to settle in and we don’t let them nap or get set up with their toys which is really tough.  The ride is still long and having almost nothing to do is hard for them.  But Liesl remains pretty positive and is always excited about a new place and a new train.  She is the best traveler ever.

The transfer along the Rhine also went smoothly.  We really had to rush for this one having just enough time to leap from one train, run through the station and leap onto the next but we are experts at this (not at reading the signs but at getting rapidly through the stations) and it was fine and not really a panic to any great degree.

Once we were on to our final train we knew that we had a really long time so we could settle in, unpack and relax.  We could take out the toys and sprawl out as it would be over three hours.

This train is an older DB IC train that has the traditional, old individual cabins with the closing doors.  Now this is awesome.  We managed to get one just for our family which is perfect.  It has six individual seats that you raise the armrests and it turns into two benches.  We close the door and we can talk normally, the girls can walk around and we don’t have to follow them constantly or worry about the noise level.  Now this is how to travel.  The cabin even had power.

That would all be perfect except for one little thing.  The heat.  The train had no air conditioning, the windows do not open and even the fan in our cabin was broken and only blew for a small portion of the journey.  Needless to say, it was hot.  Really hot.  Dominica was not handling it well at all.

That made for a really long ride but, overall, it really was not that bad.  Without incident we arrived in Munchen.  Far later than we had intended and far, far more tired but we are here safe and sound and everything is okay.

The Munchen Hauptbahnhof was nice and easy to navigate.  We were out the door and on our way to the hostel in which we are staying which is just less than a kilometer from the train station.  That was a moderately long walk after such a long day and, again, hauling all of our luggage with us but it was very doable and we are quite used to this.  There was no way to get lost as it was a straight shot and not very hilly and the weather in Munchen is beautiful.  The sun was low behind the buildings and the air was cool for a change.  This was much better for a long walk.

We got to our hotel and checked in.  No issues except that the baby bed was broken – or at least they could not figure it out.  So we had to do without but they gave us a free breakfast for tomorrow.

Once we were settled in Dominica immediately went and did a load of laundry.  I went down to the lobby and managed to upload one SGL post.  Lots more to get posted though and it takes forever.  Then she sent me out to go find some food.  I walked all the way back to the train station (1.6km round trip) and got cash and falafels and pizza and brought it all back to the hotel.

By the time that I was back both Liesl and Luciana were fast asleep.  It was around then thirty.  This was a very long day for all of us and we are all completely exhausted and, like we have found pretty much everywhere in Europe, our hotel room is quite warm.  We got off to bed as early as we could.

Dominica decided that tomorrow is going to be a down day.  We will be doing very little in the hopes of catching up on rest, feeling better, getting posts done, etc.  I am hopeful that I will be able to post some pictures tomorrow.  We have not been able to do that at all yet for several days.  And hopefully at breakfast I can get everything that I have for SGL posted.