Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My European Adventure - Part III: The Train Ticket Story

So who wants to hear the train ticket story?? Some of you have had the absolute pleasure of hearing me tell this story in person, so please feel free to skip this post if you want. But this story is so awesome, I am betting most of you will sit through it again....

Are we ready? Nice and comfy?

Okay, so you know how we took the train from Berlin to Amsterdam? Well we also planned to take the train from Amsterdam to Brussels 3 days later. As soon as we got off the train in Amsterdam, Dee and I booked it to the ticket counter to purchase the tickets to Brussels. We were at a smaller train station, the Amsterdam Zuid, so the ticket counter was just a little booth with two men inside. Dee and I entered in a whirlwind tizzy, dragging our suitcases behind us.

We explained to the attendant that we needed four tickets to Brussels for Thursday. Ubes and I had purchased the tickets to Amsterdam for all four of us, so Dee was going to pay for the tickets to Brussels. Except she had a limited amount of cash and the guy behind the counter said we could not pay with a credit card. The tickets were 160 Euro, so Dee and I split it and agreed to work out the details later.

I watched Ticket Guy put two pieces of paper in a red envelope and slide it across the counter to me. I grabbed the envelope and walked out, leaving Dee at the counter waiting for her tickets. I handed the red envelope to Ubes, asking him to put it in my backpack so I wouldn't lose them.

Fast forward three days.... We got up early Thursday morning. We planned to check out of the hotel, grab a quick breakfast and head to the train station to catch the next train to Brussels. According to Ticket Guy, a train left every hour. So before we went down to the lobby to check out, I went through my checklist: Passport, wallet, iPod, camera . . . train tickets.

I pulled the red envelope out of my backpack for the first time since I purchased the tickets. I opened the envelope and pulled out the two pieces of paper.

Wait a minute.

What is this?

These do not look like train tickets. They look like a photocopy of . . . something that sort of looks like a train ticket. All of the train tickets I have ever had before looked like boarding passes for an airplane. The same size, color, etc. This looked nothing like the train tickets I was used to.


I opened the envelope again. Empty.

I opened my Kipling backpack and peered into it. I started pulling out everything. Magazines, brochures of museums, my travel wallet, camera case, my jewelry pouch, the clear cosmetic bag I used for chapstick, tylenol, hand sanitizer and gum, my book. I opened up all the magazines and shook them out, then did the same for the museum brochures, I sorted through receipts, scrap papers, napkins, etc. I went through my wallet, too.

Nothing. No train tickets.

I went through my suitcase, pulled everything out and sorted through our travel books and all the documents we brought with us with all of our flight and hotel info. Nothing.

I asked Uberman if he had opened the envelope and he said no. He had put it in my backpack and that was the last he had seen it. I sat on the floor of our hotel room thinking. I started feeling sick to my stomach. I had never opened the red envelope. It had been sitting in my backpack in the room since we arrived. I walked three doors down the hall to Kenny and Dee's room and knocked on the door.

Dee answered quickly. "We are almost ready," she said. "We'll meet you in the lobby."

"Is this what your train tickets look like?" I asked her and showed her the pieces of paper I had.

"I haven't looked at them," she said. "I have to find my envelope. I honestly thought you had all of them."

"No," I told her. "I only got mine. I thought he gave you yours separately in another envelope."

"I don't remember," she said. "I'm sure I have them. I'll dig them out and show them to you in the lobby."

I walked back to our room. Something wasn't right. I could feel it.

Ubes and I went down to the lobby, where I proceeded to argue with the girl at the front desk about a 30 Euro telephone charge we did not make. Finally she agreed to remove the charge from our bill, and I had the great big giant coconut balls to pull out the red envelope and ask "Can I ask you a question? Do these look like train tickets to you??"

Front Desk girl looked at the photo copies and immediately made a face.

"No," she said, her Dutch accent was faint. "Those are not tickets. They are photocopy of receipts for reservation."


Dee came into the lobby with a panicked look on her face. "I don't have a red envelope, April," she told me. "I looked everywhere. I don't think he gave me one." We had been teasing Dee the entire trip about her George Costanza wallet. It was stuffed so fat with papers and receipts. We had watched her go through it a million times trying to find her public transport tickets that she thought she had lost every time we were getting on a subway or bus. I rolled my eyes at her thinking to myself "Oh my God this girl loses EVERYTHING!"

I looked back at Front Desk girl. "What do you think we should do? We purchased tickets, I don't think he gave them to us."

"Do you have your credit card receipt?" she asked.

"No," I said. "He said we had to pay cash."

She immediately made a face that made my heart fall into my stomach.

"That's very odd," she told me. "I don't understand why you had to pay cash."

"Great," Dee said. "He screwed us!"

"No," I said. I was getting irritated. "Let's stay positive. We'll figure this out. We have to."

Front Desk girl spent about ten minutes trying to make phone calls for us, but couldn't get any answers. Finally she advised us to go to Centraal Station, the main station in Amsterdam and plead our case to the Euro Rail people.

"We didn't purchase the tickets at Centraal Station," Deanna told her. "We purchased them at Zuid."

"Centraal is bigger," Front Desk girl said. "You might have more luck getting help because there are more agents there."

"And if they can't help us?" I asked.

Front Desk girl looked at us and shook her head. "Then I am sorry. You might be fucked."

I looked at Dee with my eyes wide. "Did she just say . . ."

"Yes," Dee nodded. "She said we are fooooked."

Kenny and Ubes were sitting in the lobby shaking their heads. I could tell we were all on edge about his, all of us worrying we had been taken advantage of. Ubes and Dee both wanted to go back to Zuid because that's where we purchased the tickets, but I thought Front Desk girl might know what she was talking about and insisted we go to Centraal Station because it was bigger. So off we went, the four of us, again dragging our suitcases behind as we rushed off to catch a tram to Centraal Station.

Centraal Station is huge. Enormous. Busy and full of people. We were directed to the Euro Rail area and were still stunned to walk into a GINORMOUS waiting area where we were given a ticket and told to have a seat until our number was called. It was basically just like the DMV. Fifty million people waiting around for their number to pop up on TV screen. They were on number A34. Our ticket was C53. Awesome.

We sat for what seemed like forever, but was more like 45 minutes. Finally our number popped up and Dee and I rushed to the counter with our number flashing above it.

The woman at the counter stood in front of us, sipping a cup of coffee and looking totally uninterested as we showed her the red envelope and told her our story.

"Why did you pay cash?" she asked between gulps.

"He told us we had to," I told her. She rolled her eyes and waved her hand dismissively.

"Why didn't you check the envelope before you left the station?"

"I didn't know to do that, ma'am. I am sorry but we don't travel by train in America. We have never had this problem before. I saw him put these slips of paper in the envelope and I just trusted he did his job." I was doing my best to hold it together. To stay positive and to stay polite.

She rolled her eyes again and sighed heavily. "Wait here," she snapped. And walked off.

"She's not going to help us," Dee said. "I mean look at her. She doesn't care. She's more interested in her coffee."

We waited. And waited. And waited. Finally she came back.

"I'm sorry," she said. "You have to go back to Zuid."

Dee glared at me.

"Ma'am," I took a deep breath. "We have to go back to our husbands and tell them we have wasted our entire morning and now have to go back to Zuid. When they originally wanted to go to Zuid but we were told you could help us here because there were more ticket agents. Please promise this is going to end in our favor."

She smiled at me, finally showing a touch of empathy. "I'm sorry. But they sold you the tickets, they are the only people who can figure out what happened to them. I am not sure if they will be able to help you, but because you didn't buy the tickets here, there isn't anything else we can do for you. They are waiting, they know you are coming."

Ubes and Kenny were PISSED. And everyone was losing faith this situation was going to end without us shelling out more money for more tickets. We rode the Metro in silence to Zuid. I felt nervous and sick, but still wanted to believe we could work this out. When we arrived at the ticket counter, I was so excited to see Ticket Guy, the same ticket guy, already waiting for us.

"Hi!" I called to him. "You sold us tickets on Monday, to Brussels. Do you remember us?"

"Yes, of course," he said. He looked nervous. We explained the issue to him, that we did not have the tickets, that we didn't think he put them in the envelope. He went through his process for us.

"I print the tickets and then I staple them to the receipt. I fold them together and stick them in the envelope," he said.

"We don't have anything that looks like a ticket," Dee told him. "What does a ticket look like?"

He picked one up from his work station. It was a small gold colored card, about the size of a credit card, maybe a little bigger. I had never seen anything in all of my belongings that looked like that.

"We don't have them," I said, shaking my head. "And there are no staple marks in the receipt." He pulled a report to make sure he printed the tickets. The report indicated the tickets had been printed. He made some phone calls to see if loose tickets had been turned in anywhere.

"Can't you just reprint the tickets?" I asked.

"No," he said. "I am sorry. That is not a possibility." We were starting to get upset. Frustrated. Irritated. A supervisor came over to find out what all the fuss was about. He explained to her in Dutch that were stupid and were accusing him of swindling us. I don't know if that is what he really said, but I don't speak Dutch so I am just guessing.

She turned to us and made some snippy comment about them not being responsible if we lost the tickets. By this point I was pissed.

"We didn't lose the tickets," I glared at her. "You didn't give them to us."

Kenny jumped up and turned to Ticket Guy.

"Sir," he said in his nicest Reasonable Guy voice. "She has looked through all of her stuff. We don't have the tickets. We have spent the entire morning trying to deal with this. We had our hotel calling for us. We went to Centraal Station and waited there, they sent us back here. We would not be wasting your time and our time and our entire day if we had the tickets. Please. Is there anything you can do?"

Ticket Guy got on the phone again and started speaking Dutch. Dee, Kenny and I crowded at the counter watching him. Ubes sat in a chair with his head in his hands. The minutes ticked by. It was almost 1:00 in the afternoon. We had wasted our entire day dealing with this. Ticket Guy kept talking on the phone, waving his hands and looking frustrated.

"I don't think he is going to be able to help us," I said. "We are going to have to buy our tickets again. And now they are a lot more money."

"April, you checked your backpack, right?" Kenny asked.

"Yes!" I snapped at him. "I emptied the whole thing. I don't have them."

"Maybe you should check again," Kenny said.

"Ken! I checked it!" I was totally exasperated.

Kenny looked at me and said firmly, "Check it again. Please."

I rolled my eyes and stalked away, exhaling loudly. I threw my backpack on the chair next to Ubes and shot Kenny a dirty look as I opened it. I started pulling everything out. My wallet, camera, magazines, cosmetic bag. The only thing left at the bottom was my book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Have you seen the paperback version of this book? It's yellow.

Almost goldish.

The color of train tickets.

And if there had not been a light, directly over my head, shining down into the depths of my black Kipling backpack . . . I never would have seen the light reflecting off the tiny corners of four gold train tickets sticking out of the book.

I stood. Frozen. Staring down into the backpack.

Briefly contemplating whether or not I should just throw everything back into the backpack and say "Nope. Don't have them."

But Ubes, sitting next to me, immediately reacted to my silence. He looked up at me, and he knew. He could see my face was completely white.

"Son of a bitch," he said quietly as he put his head back in his hands.

I reached into the backpack and pulled the tickets out of my book. I held them above my head and looked sheepishly over at Ken and Dee. Ken just turned around and wouldn't look at me. Dee looked like she was going to bust a gasket.

"Get over here!" she yelled through clenched teeth. In the 25 years I have known her, I have never seen her so angry. Kenny took a deep breath, banged his fist on the counter and said quietly, "Let's go."

He grabbed his suitcase and walked out of the ticket area, Dee and Ubes following him, me sulking behind them.

Ticket Guy followed us out the door breathing a huge sigh of relief.

"I am so happy you found them!" he said, wiping sweat from his brow. "I didn't know how to tell you you would have to buy new tickets." We all talked over each other, apologizing.

"I'm so, so very sorry," I told him, blinking back my tears. "I am so embarrassed. Really. Humiliated. They must have fallen out of the envelope and slipped into my book. I don't know. I am just really, really sorry."

"It's no problem," he laughed. "I am just so relieved. I felt so badly for you. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?"

We laughed, all of us in shock that he was being so kind to us after all of that. We politely declined his offer and asked him to direct us to the next train. Then we hauled ass to the boarding area.

I was devastated. Embarrassed. I wanted the floor to swallow me whole. I could not believe what I had just put everyone through. Especially after I INSISTED I did NOT have the tickets. We stood in silence, waiting to board the train as I contemplated throwing myself in front of it. We got on the train, and to my horror, discovered we were sitting in a foursome of seats with a table in the middle, two sets of seats facing each other. Awesome. No avoiding them. Super.

We sat down, taking off coats and scarves and digging out reading material and iPods. Ubes leaned back and closed his eyes, Dee started flipping through a magazine, and I stared out the window, feeling like a complete moron. I was exhausted and humiliated. I couldn't stop the tears from flowing down my cheeks. Kenny reached across the table and took my hands.

"Sweetie," he said. "Tell me the exact thing that went through your mind the moment you saw the tickets in your bag. Walk me through everything that you felt." He smiled his big smile at me, sticking his tongue out a little so I knew he was teasing me.

"It's too soon Kenny," I shook my head and sniffled. "I don't want to talk about it."

All three of them giggled a bit. Dee waved her hand absently at me as she flipped pages in her magazine. "Aw, it was no big deal," she said. "It could have happened to any of us."

Five minutes before, they wanted to kill me. And now it was funny and no big deal. But it wasn't funny to me.

It's hilarious now. But I was the only one not laughing then. But we are family. One minute we want to kill each other . . . and the next we are on a train to Belgium talking about waffles and beer and how lucky we are to be on such an adventure together.

But needless to say I'm not allowed to hold the train tickets anymore....


Anonymous said...

April your story brought tears to my eyes at the end! I totally felt how you felt! Poor you! But you have great friends and a great story to share with generations to come... love you xx Catherine xx

Leigh Leigh said...

You poor, sweet, precious girl. I got all teary reading this tale. I'm so glad it all worked out and I don't have to tell you how unbelievably blessed you are to have such an amazing husband and friends. I can think of a few people in my life who would've pushed me in front of the train if I'd done the same thing!

DevilsHeaven said...

This made me remember a tale from my first trip to Europe. We had gone to England to attend a best friend's wedding. We spent two weeks there. Earlier in our trip we went done and "purchased" tickets to see Les Mis. We were given a "recipt" and told that we could pick up our tickets on the day of. Having never done this before, we believed the lovely Englishman Ticket agent. We expect something like the "Will call" we have here, right?? Several days later when we went to attend said play, there were no tickets. And we were informed by current Eglishman ticket agent that they never do that. I thought my very quiet, attending-college-to-be-a-3rd-grade-teacher-friend was going to launch her 5'2" self over the counter at said current ticket agent. We instead were given tickets to see Jesus Christ superstar and his dream coat. A very lovely English lady even escorted us to the playhouse because we had no idea how to get there. All in all, it turned out ok, but still, I know that same sinking feeling you do. Let's screw the dumb Americans.

caroline said...

I agree with the others, you are incredibly blessed to have such wonderful friends. Sorry you had to go through this, but what a wonderfully entertaining story! And I was getting all mad at that ticket agent!

The Maid said...

Glad to know that in the end, you weren't "fooooked."

:) Envying your adventures, just a little bit..even the crazy ones! ;)

WILLIAM said...

I really enjoyed this story but even more so is they way in which you wrote it and "told" it.

Nicely done April.

Sue said...

I absolutely loved how you told this story April. I almost felt as if I were there with you.