July 28th also
Still being fairly novice Eurail Pass users, we had visited the Paris de Nord train station the previous day to check train times and see whether we needed a reservation to take the night train to Prague. There, we discovered that we did not need a reservation. Not yet. In fact, we couldn't make one until we got from Paris de Est. to Frankfurt am Main, predicted to arrive at about 21:00.
Based on physical layout alone, the Frankfurt am Main station varied only slightly from larger stations in France. However, the contents of the restaurants and the snack bars, as well as my first legitimate exposure to a non-Romantic language, aside from some minor Icelandic, were more than enough to indicate that a serious change of location had taken place. German identity percolated through the scenery and the people. We saw food venders marketing mass varieties of pretzels, beer and sausages, and the language stirred invigorating intrigue within me.
German is a language saturated with heavy consonant usage. Even a friendly conversation sounded like angry shouting between conflicted parties. It was awesome!!! German may very well be my next language to take on. I know that it would be highly enjoyable to learn a language that sounds as harsh as possible, so that I can continue to speak softly or be friendly as much as I want but it will be inevitably accompanied with irate edginess!
Forward we marched toward the ticket offices, as I secretly felt like a budget travel rock star with my bright orange pack strapped on tightly. One of the two new German words I learned was Fahrkarten, which means ticket. We pulled a number and were eventually invited to a ticket booth. We approached a large blond woman, with highly distinct German features, who held our future in her computer system.
The overnight train direct to Prague left at about 1 AM, and it was full. (Damn. What now?) The woman explained to us (fortunately for us, most ticket counter workers spoke English quite well) that this was the only train going in that direction tonight. She said that it actually left from a different tiny station about 15 minutes away, and that about a half hour before its departure time, we should head to that station and just see if they would let us on. We decided that this was worth a shot (what else could we do?), and if we didn't get on we could hang out somewhere in Frankfurt until another train undertook the voyage to the Czech Republic.
Once we had found our way to the minor station that the train to Prague was set to depart from, we saw that it was already there. We also saw, according to sheets of printed office paper on the car doors, that half of the train would actually split off at some point in the night and switch destinations to Berlin. We found an official looking man in a uniform and approached him with quizzical expressions, uncertain as to whether he'd understand a prompt in English. I lifted my arms in a shrug and said, "We want to go to Prague, or Praha. No reservations." He replied with the knowledge that we were already equipped with; the train was full. I retorted with a rambling explanation about the ticket woman who directed us to check to see if we could still get on the train. He looked at me as if I was utterly insane.
At this point, we were the only people who hadn't boarded the train set to leave at any moment. We had, however, drawn a small group of other train workers to our attention. The original man we'd confronted whipped out a gadget that resembled an I-Phone and started conjuring up solutions for us. I was thinking to myself that we didn't have a shot of getting on this train to Prague, and that I would somehow have to get us back to the main station and find us a place to crash in Frankfurt.
I was right about one thing. We were not getting on that train to Prague. We were getting on that train, and we were going in the direction of Berlin. We got on board, still quite unsure as to what was going on but we'd held up the train long enough. We then waited to buy our reservations and receive further instructions at the bar. The same bulky man, seemingly irritated but with a hint of sympathy, returned with a little printout that would direct the rest of our journey. We'd first get off at Halle (where not a single other person disembarked) at 6:00 in the morning. Then, we'd hop on a train to Leipzig and then onto Prague finally.
The irritated yet sympathetic man's last contribution to our excursion was to send us in the direction of the seating car that we were permitted to occupy. It was after 1 in the morning now as we bumped our way through the already darkened train past numerous sleeping cars to find our "seating" car. We eventually found the very last two cocoon shaped seats in a car that was filled with train-like noises, actually produced by humans, as well as a mixture of unpleasant and unidentifiable odors.
That train ride was absolutely bazaar! I had to fumble to brush my teeth with non-potable water in the dark, smelly bathroom, and we had to inhabit our cocoons with our packs between our legs. I realized that I wouldn't be sleeping that night after trying for only a short while. I was too anxious about finding this mystery train station, especially because I was uncertain about whether the sun would be up at that hour, and about whether I could see through shut blinds or understand any kind of announcement that might be made. So instead, I took in the sounds and smells, as well as the extremely odd sights. I loved this experience! It was another true backpacker excursion! Apparently, German people like to eat crisp green apples at 3 in the morning…