Last weekend I downed two beers, one was a Granville Island Honey Lager, the other a Corona. My belly rebelled, blew up to a ghastly size, to the point I was sure a child could anchor a string to it and punt me off into the sky. Sometimes, my alcohol consumption just goes awry, much like Connie Hum’s trip in Vienna. But, as the mystic sages say, live and learn. Please inform yourself with today’s Summer Chick Tale.
There are some travel experiences that just stick with you. Experiences that, no matter how much time has passed or whatever new experiences you may have encountered since, are simply etched into your mind and remain as vivid as the day it occurred. My 2005 Vienna trip is one of those experiences.
It was a steaming hot day in Vienna. I had purchased my train ticket to Croatia, a destination I was excited about exploring, from Westbahnhoff train station the day before. As I packed my things, I glanced at my train ticket and discovered that I had less than 20 minutes to get Westbahnhoff in order to catch my train! Whoops!
I stuffed the rest of my things in my bag and rushed out of the hostel. I ran all the way to the train station, which wasn’t too far way. I made it inside the station with three minutes to get on the train. Skimming my ticket for the right platform number, I continued running up the stairs to the platform landing, panting and sweating from the heat and weight of my backpack. Still in full stride, I turned the corner onto the platform, relieved that I was going to catch my train. But wait! The platform is empty. There is no train! NO!!!
Frantic, I ran to the train conductor man on another platform and asked him in my broken German, “Where is my train?”
He looked at my train ticket and then, taking in my desperate state (I’m out of breath, dripping with sweat, and my backpack is now dangling heavily from my shoulders) he gives me a slow, pained look.
“Sudbahnhoff,” he said softly, almost apologetically.
I don’t understand. I had bought my train ticket to Dubrovnik at Westbahnhoff just yesterday. I was here on time, albeit just in the nick of time. What does he mean, “SUDBAHNHOFF?”
Yes, it took me a minute to realize that I had gone to the wrong train station. Then I was furious! What was I going to do now? No one told me that the train ticket I had bought was departing from another train station!
(Kindly keep in mind that this is one of my first major international trips. I was not yet anywhere near a wise nor adaptable traveler. Plus it was hot and I do NOT fare well in heat.)
I stormed down to the ticket counter where I had bought my train ticket just the day before. Plopping my backpack and daypack down at my feet and straddling my belongings as I explained, rather annoyingly, my predicament to the ticketing agent.
He wasn’t as helpful as I would have liked though in hindsight, he was probably as helpful as could have been, he just couldn’t transport me through space and time onto my train from Sudbahnhoff to Dubrovnik.
I’m not sure when it happened because I was constantly looking down to make sure my things were still there, but at some point not too long after my ranting began, I noticed that my bright red daypack was no longer between my legs.
INSTANT PANIC! I scanned the surrounding area. No bag! There was no one in the small ticketing room, but yet still NO BAG!
I ran out of the ticketing office, hoping to catch sight of someone making off with my daypack, but nothing out of the ordinary, just the hustle and bustle of a busy train station caught my eye.
My mind and body was in absolute chaos over what to do, I staggered back into the ticketing office where the worker was now standing watch over my remaining possessions, which seemed so meager now. I burst into uncontrollable tears. I have never been robbed before!
Everything was in that daypack! EVERYTHING! My passport, my Eurail ticket for Western Europe, my flight home (don’t ask me why I had a paper ticket) to the US in five months, all my credit and bank cards, my camera with at least a week’s worth of unsaved photos, over 1,000 Euros in cash, a chocolate pudding cup, and my travel journal, among other things.
The police came to escort me to their office so that I could fill out the necessary paperwork. Once I calmed down, I was able to fill out the paperwork and get my head on straight about what I was to do with myself now that I was stranded in Vienna with no passport, money or any means of getting money.
Ultimately, the situation worked itself out. Someone about six times removed from me lent me cash in hand while a friend of a friend took me under her wing and gave me a place to stay as I waited for my new rush-order passport to come through.
It was during this horrible experience that I first began to truly appreciate the kindness and hospitality of strangers. It was also this harrowing experience that taught me the invaluable lesson to ALWAYS stay calm and collected when you travel.
I paid a high price to learn this lesson. Hopefully you won’t have to either!
Author bio: Connie Hum quit her job and left New York City in 2009 to travel and give back positively to the world. Since then, she’s lived in Istanbul, sailed the Mediterranean, slept in a Bedouin cave inside the Petra mountains, belly-danced in the streets of Cairo, learned a lost meditation technique in India, trekked the mountains of the Himalayas and volunteered in Thailand. Connie is now temporarily calling Hong Kong home. Follow Connie’s (mis)adventures on www.connvoyage.com or Twitter at @connvoyage.
Summer Chick Tales was conceived from my love of the season and my obsession with slurpees. I always have one every summer. I also love women writers. Lots. If you want to submit a story or be in charge of the mojito station, see the editorial schedule. Come on, join the XX chromosome party.
If you haven’t heard, I’m participating in the Ultimate Train Challenge starting in September. Part of the Ultimate Train Challenge is our commitment to raising $10,000 for charity, by partnering with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and the Da Nang Association of Agent Orange Victims. Each dollar will go directly to children at the center near Da Nang who suffer from the effects of Agent Orange to this day. You can help donate by purchasing Eurail tickets through my website or donate directly by going through the Ultimate Train Challenge site. I’d like to thank our European sponsor, Eurail for supporting this important cause.