I recently toured German-speaking lands with a Eurail Flexipass, a pocket atlas, a pocket English-German, German-English dictionary and a child's German reader. All have proved indispensable.
With my Eurail Flexipass, I avoided interminable ticket lines in major railroad stations and did not have to cope with making myself understood by non-English-speaking ticket sellers in out-of-the-way places such as Quedlinburg in what was formerly East Germany. I traveled 800 miles in 11 days.Though my Eurail Flexipass permitted me to travel first class, I chose second class in keeping with my memories of traveling in Europe as a student.
This time, my companions included a be-ringed, many-skirted gypsy and her 9-year-old daughter, sporting not only rings but false fingernails.
Also on the trip were a Finnish linguist who spoke English with an Australian accent and a singer with the unlikely name of Irene Capella.
My rail journeys began at Frankfurt's Airport, where a shuttle train whisks air passengers, in 15 minutes, to and from the city train station. Dresden was to be my first stop abroad. All of Lufthansa's direct flights were booked, so putting my Eurailpass to immediate use seemed the logical thing to do. I had 25 minutes before the Dresden train left, I learned from Rail Information in the airport basement.
Thanks to the wheels on my suitcase and a relatively light carry-on, I was able to sprint for the shuttle, and, once in the Hauptbahnhof - the main railway station - have my Eurail Flexipass validated. I then sprinted for the train to Bebra where, Rail Information had told me, I would have to "umsteigen" - "change," trains to get to Dresden.
Clutching my dictionary and my pocket atlas in one hand, I scurried as best I could for Bahnsteig (Track) 8. "Bebra?" I asked the first conductor I saw. I understood him to say that I should board either the "grau" (gray) car or the "gruen" (green) one. My ear was not yet sufficiently attuned to German nuances to be sure which he had said and I felt shy about asking him to repeat. So I climbed aboard a green car that said Goettingen on it. (The pocket atlas indicated that Goettingen was in the right direction.)
The train was trundling through pretty countryside, I noticed whenever I woke up, but since I had been flying all night, I spent most of the trip happily snoozing, rocked to sleep by the motion of the train.
It was after 6 p.m. when I reached Dresden. I spent two days there, seeing friends and visiting museums. Then I climbed aboard a train for Leipzig.
Major European train stations are equipped with virtually all a traveler needs - money changers, snack bars, rail and city information offices, rest rooms and restaurants, flower and booksellers and luggage storage. At Leipzig's city information office I discovered that I had arrived at Spring Trade Fair time.
Though hotel rooms were all booked, a room with Frau Paller in her apartment near the station was found. We had a fine time, she and I, with the aid of my dictionary and beginning reader. It was filled with pictures of cats (Katzen) and dogs (Hunde), squirrels (Eichhorchen) and bears (Baeren). Our conversation was minimal, and, in view of the pictures, largely limited to discussions of German wildlife.
I spent the next morning exploring Leipzig. Frau Paller had given me a key to the apartment, but had promised to be home to send me on my way in the afternoon. I was later getting back than I had expected. Though I got inside the apartment building without difficulty, getting into the apartment after my luggage wasn't so easy. There were two locks on the door. One opened readily enough; the other, controlled by a long skinny rod that didn't look like a key at all, simply would not turn, and when I rang the bell no Frau Paller responded.
The next stop on my itinerary was to be Erfurt, for which the last train left at 3. Though all I had left inside Frau Paller's apartment was my red carry-all, it was not something I chose to leave behind. In any case, I owed her a night's rent.
I headed downstairs again, looking for some one who might be able to get me inside the apartment door.
In the elevator I found a white-haired grandmotherly sort before whom I made desperate key-turning motions with one hand while I said "Schlussel, Schlussel" ('key") and "Frau Paller," "Zug" ("train") and "eine Stunde" ("one hour"). She got the picture.
Frau Paller, she explained in German, had gone to the country to visit her mother, it being a sunny Sunday afternoon.
I continued my key-turning gyrations and my frantic explanations of time and train and, after awhile, the white-haired lady followed me down the hall and opened Frau Paller's door.
Of course, having her friend's interests at heart, she wanted to know how much I owed her for my overnight stay and if I had paid her. I pulled forth the room registration form I had received from the City Information Office and proffered it and the marks it specified I was to pay. I scurried for the bedroom where I had left my bag and reappeared with it at the hall door. But where, my benefactor seemed to want to know, was the money to be left?
By that time, only 15 minutes remained before my train was scheduled to leave. Frau Paller's apartment, admittedly, was just across the street from the train station, but the street was a wide one; the Leipzig station is a big one. With 26 platforms, it is one of the largest in Europe. My large bag had to be gotten out of storage.
Then my benefactor had a brainstorm. She knocked on the door of Frau Ypinsky's apartment. There was a long discussion with Frau Ypinsky about money and keys, receipts and change. Finally, Frau Ypinsky took my money and the key. I scribbled a note that said "Danke" - "Thank you" and fled for the station.
I got my bag, but of course I headed for the wrong track. I shouted, "Erfurt? " to a conductor questioningly as I hurtled by. "Elf," ("Eleven,") he shouted back, appending the warning, "Zwei minuten" ("Two minutes.")
Away I went and with the help of two hefty conductresses I and my baggage were hauled aboard as the train began to chug out of the station. I was off again with my Eurailpass.
After a day in Erfurt with friends, I headed for Berlin.
Enroute, there was considerable clucking over the Eurail Flexipass. No one in this part of what used to be East Germany had ever seen one before.
Eurailpasses include bus and ferry travel and in Switzerland I took advantage of that to tootle around Lake Lucerne on a ferryboat.
From Lucerne, I took the train to Switzerland's capital city of Berne with its old shopping arcade and colorful fountain figures and pit full of bears. Then, on another side track, I went off to Murten (Morat in French) where the city's ancient walls rise over its lake.
I made my way back to Lucerne via Berne after that and soon was All Aboard again enroute to Salzburg, Austria, where I paid a visit to Mozart's birthplace in this year in which his death 200 years ago is being remembered.
By then, I only had three days of travel left on my Eurailpass and I used one of them returning to Frankfurt for my flight home. It had been a good three-country journey in Europe - pleasantly paced, comfortably traveled by train.
I packed my packable essentials - pocket dictionary, pocket atlas and basic reader - into my suitcase in the Frankfurt Airport. Then, back in the 20th-century era of transportation, I boarded my Boston-bound plane.
IF YOU GO:
Eurailpasses, which must be purchased in this country, are $390 for travel for 15 days; $498 for 21 days; $616 for a month.
Flexipasses allow five days of travel within 15 days for $230; nine days within 21 for $398, or 14 days within one month for $498.
Youthpasses, for those under 26, are $425 for one month's travel; $560 for two months' travel. A Youth Flexipass is for 15 days of travel within three consecutive months and costs $340.
All are available from travel agents; Rail Europe at 230 Westchester Ave., White Plains, NY 10604, or GermanRail at 747 Third Ave., New York, NY 10017. Informational brochures are available from Eurailpass, Box 325, Old Greenwich, CN 06870.