I’m pretty sure R.E.M.’s 1991 song is about the Poles…or not. We arrived in Krakow from Prague Saturday morning on an overnight train that started off badly. And it’s unfair of me to point to the Poles’ grumpiness, as the Czechs are none too sparkly themselves. It was a Czech conductor/ticket taker who tried to make our ride miserable and, to some extent, succeeded. When planning our three-week tour in early November, I had bought our tickets from a number of train-company websites. Some specifically say that the tickets must be printed at the station. Some, like Deutsch Bahn, encourage e-tickets by asking customers to download their app, which I did, and showing the “mobile phone ticket” to the DB employee. So following the clear train company instructions mostly worked fine from Paris to Prague. Then the instructions became not so clear. The Czech train company, CD, does not have a mobile phone app nor does it call their ticket a “mobile phone ticket.” They did, however, e-mail me three tickets that they called “etickets.” That pdf file showing the three tickets does not say anything about the need to print them. The kids and I arrived early at the train station but waited until a few minutes before the train was too leave to go to the platform. Usually the train arrives about two minutes early so there’s no point in standing on a cold platform before that. As we were about to step on to our car, there was a CD employee standing outside the train. (The Deutsch Bahn trains don’t have anyone standing around to help you. If you get on the wrong train, too bad! It might be a half hour on the train before a ticket taker comes around.) Instead of kindly directing us to our seats or wishing us Bon Voyage, he told me that we couldn’t get on the train without paper tickets as electronic tickets are not valid on international trips. I told him that’s how we arrived in Prague – an international train trip with e-tickets. He said, “No, no.” I said, “Yes, we did!” It was comically stupid. I said that I didn’t have time to go back in the station and print them and if printing is necessary why isn’t it obvious where or how to do that in the station? He said that was too bad – that we had to have them so we would just miss this train. A young couple had a question, and when he started to talk to them, I told the kids to hurry on to the train. We found our sleeper booth and a few minutes later, the train was moving. CD guy came to our section and just kept saying the same thing over and over. He’d walk away then come back a few minutes later and say it again. “You can’t go on an international train without paper tickets! What if your battery dies?!” (There’s an outlet in the sleeper booths to charge electronics.) I would show him that the ticket says “eticket” and does not indicate anywhere that it has to be printed. He would wave his hand and say with disgust, “Forget about it!” and then walk away. This happened at least three times. A woman ticket taker came and seemed fine with our tickets until the guy came and talked to her in Czech and seemed to be telling her that we shouldn’t be allowed on. Finally they both left, but the guy knocked on our door another time – Who cares that I have two kids who need to go to sleep and that I clearly paid for our tickets! – and said, Woe unto us when the Poles come aboard at 2:30 am and want to see our tickets! Am I so foolish as to think that the Poles will accept e-tickets?! They will not! They will kick us off the train right there! Or they might allow us to buy three new train tickets – I guess if they’re feeling especially generous. So…the kids and I got in our bunks and tried to sleep. I had caught Laurel’s cold and Charlie caught mine so there was a lot of labored breathing, but the numerous threats didn’t help. At 2:19 we could feel our train car being uncoupled. We could tell, based on the announcements at the Prague station before we left, that certain cars went certain places, so it’s important to be in the right car! I thought this would be a few-minute event/layover. It was 50 minutes until we were coupled to another train and moving again. During that time we waited for the dreaded, dragon-headed, Polish immigration/train official to knock on our door and demand PAPER! The knock never came. As the kids and I lay awake during the layover, Laurel posed a possible reason for the extended uncoupling. She wondered if all the passengers in our train car were being punished for our sin of e-ticketing. She suggested that we and our fellow passengers would live out the rest of our days here in the countryside of the Czech/Polish border. We would live out of the train car which would become overgrown with weeds, and we would farm the surrounding area. Decades from now, the world would find out that we were here and would ask what happened. Laurel would say in a cheery voice, “Oh, I don’t even remember why.” “I do!” our fellow passengers would angrily retort. “They hate us,” Laurel said. “They ate us?” I asked from the bunk below. “They hate us,” she clarified. “Although they might have to resort to cannibalism.”
I was going to talk about what we did today, Sunday, on this post; but it would be inappropriate given the flip title. I’ll do another post about Auschwitz, but probably not tonight. It’s 11:09 pm, and we have to get up early to do a salt mine tour tomorrow. A salt mine! How exciting! But this is one that has all kinds of fabulous salt sculptures done over the course of many centuries by the men who worked in the mine. And that will be yet a different post. On Tuesday we’re taking a taxi to Budapest. Yes, a taxi. Trust me. It’s for the best.