Once I had made a definitive plan to travel to Germany, I knew I absolutely could not be that close to Amsterdam, the iconic must experience it city, without taking a hop over for a visit. I mean, who doesn't want to go to Amsterdam at some point? Amsterdam, the home of the beautiful canals, the art, the history, the crazy nightlife, and of course, coffee houses... Yes, swinging over to Amsterdam was a "must do."
During the planning phase, my friend Kathrin suggested that the easiest and most economical way to get to Amsterdam, would be taking the ICE train. She lives in Germany, and has visited Amsterdam many times. Of course she was right. I didn't even question it. I was able to go onto the English version of the DBahnhoff website at home, schedule our trip, and purchase tickets for what seemed to me a very reasonable price, months ahead.
In my younger years, I had my own personal version of Murphy's Law, which stated: If something can go wrong, when Rox is involved, it will go wrong in a very dramatic way. Over the past couple years, I thought perhaps my life had turned in a new direction, and my little Murphy's Law had left me behind. However, if you read my pre-flight anxiety and day of departure experiences in post one, you know that suddenly Mr. Murphy had shown back up, and seemingly, with a vengeance. Well, he was about to pay me another visit, on the train to Amsterdam.
In the US we have a common belief that the trains in Germany are always on time. Ask a German about that, and they of course, will tell you that it is certainly not true, but I don't think they mean anything even close to what was about to happen to Travis and I on our train trip..
Our train departed Dusseldorf at 10:50, and we were scheduled to arrive in Amsterdam at 1:30 in the afternoon. Not bad for traveling to an entirely different country. We were arriving so early in the day, I had some sightseeing planned for the afternoon, after dropping our backpacks at the hotel. We boarded at 10:48, quickly found vacant seats, and departed on time.
For the record, ICE trains are clean and comfortable, with plenty of room for bags, even in second class. There is more leg room than your plane seats, and even a footrest. The bathrooms are spacious enough to stand up and take a couple steps. There is even a snack counter near the back, where you can purchase bottled water, coffee, tea, wine, and of course beer, as well as small items to eat. We were quite satisfied once we were enroute.
Our train was moving along on schedule, stopping at various stations in the larger cities, picking up additional travelers. As we approached each station, an announcement was made in German, French, and then English, informing us which city we were approaching. Each stop was brief, allowing only two or three minutes for travelers to exit or enter the train, and we moved on. At some random point, a conductor came through and punched our tickets. Soon, we had left Germany, and moved into the Netherlands.
Then our train stopped near the town of Arnhem, Netherlands. After the normal few minutes, we expected to continue onward, but the train did not start-up. We assumed perhaps we were ahead of schedule and had to wait to get back on schedule. Then 10 minutes more passed. Mr. Announcer came on and informed us, in all three languages, that he apologized, that this was an unexpected stop, and we would move on as soon as possible. Passengers joked about this, some younger people saying "oh well, we are going to Amsterdam. Who cares if we are a few minutes late. We won't remember it later anyway."
Another 15 minutes passed. The apologetic announcer came on and told us that they had little information, but the Dutch authorities were prohibiting the train from continuing. We could not proceed, and we could not exit the train, as the station was not big enough to accommodate the train. We looked out the window, and indeed there was no platform at our car. We could hear whispers of concern around us, as some passengers expressed concern, and that they had to find out what was going on. We heard discussions of those checking Twitter, Facebook trying to find a news agency with information online..
After a few more minutes of whispering and phone searching, the announcer informed us that they had opened the doors to the front car of the train, and anyone who needed to "smoke a cigarette" could move to the front, and go outside. Several people from throughout the train moved forward to get outside, some to smoke, and others to escape from the trapped feeling. Travis and I took this opportunity and walked through the numerous cars toward the open exit. Near the front of the train, in the first class section, there was a group of ten young men playing cards, drinking beer, and having a regular party. Travis actually recognized a couple of them as popular YouTubers that he had watched at different times.
After we maneuvered our way through the party area, we finally got outside, and could get a little air. We walked around a little bit, but kept our eye on the door. We really had no idea what was going on, or specifically where we were. We had seen how suddenly the trains closed up and departed, and certainly didn't want to get left behind. After 10 or so minutes, we went back inside the train, and did the "excuse me," "pardon me, " thing, back to our seats.
More time passed. Mr. Announcer informed us we were over an hour delayed, and now free drinks were available at the snack car, and by the way, if we needed to smoke a cigarette, we could exit through the front car. He really didn't mean free DRINKS, which might have been very helpful at that time, but there was free water, coffee or tea, at least until it ran out. Several passengers made their way to take advantage of this. A couple of the YouTubers came and exchanged 10 empty beer bottles for full ones. The Turkish girl across the aisle frantically tried to reschedule her flight on her phone. The German woman in front of us found another newspaper to read. The four American college kids a few rows up got louder, still trying to find out what was happening through social media. The French couple across the aisle, held hands, smiled, whispered, and attempted to secretly grope behind bags, jackets and newspaper. I hate to be stereotypical, but that is exactly what was happening! Travis and I decided to go outside again.
We walked around on the platform and tried to find something interesting in the environment to discuss. There was the bicycle repair shop, the sandwich shop, houses with gardens, a church with two bells, a factory in the distance. It looked like any other town in the northern/western hemisphere. I took some pictures to occupy the time. We walked around and talked about how crazy this was. But again, we were worried about being left behind, and went back into the train.
This time, as we made our way through the party zone, we overheard the words "hostage situation." We don't know if the YouTubers learned this through some of their online connections, but that was who we heard it from first, and soon it was all over the train. We were well aware the President Trump had issued an international travel warning to all US citizens the morning of our departure, and of course we assumed the worst. It was probably a terrorists incident, and if that was the case, we were lucky we were stopped here, on the train. Perhaps everyone felt this way, because the unrest soon became silence, and we all just sat, and waited. I had all of those thoughts, that I was glad my affairs were in order, that my premiums were all paid, that I had left "the envelope" with my son.. The envelope contains all of my passwords, account and policy numbers, and insurance contacts for my family. I leave it with my middle son, Adam, whenever I travel abroad, just in case. He never opens the envelope, but he knows it would contain all of the information he needed if anything every happened to me.
When we had been detained for two hours, we could go to car 26 and get a notation to later obtain a refund for our tickets. If we had missed connecting transportation, or events that had already been paid for, there was an instructional sheet on what documentation to provide to get refunds for these things as well. The transportation authorities were now arranging buses to come to this station, and transport us all to Amsterdam. And, by the way, the front door was still open for anyone who needed to smoke a cigarette.
Some passengers could not take it any longer, and we saw them taking their baggage out, and meeting taxis below the platform. Curious onlookers from the town came onto the platform and looked into the train windows. Bits of developing news slowly moved through the train. It was not a terrorist hostage situation. It was a crazy man in a grocery store holding hostages. There were bomb threats involved. The SWAT team was involved. Negotiations were taking place. The tracks were being inspected. The crazy man was stripping down, as he had stated he was wearing explosives. Then there were media pictures of the overweight man in gray boxer-briefs and handcuffs, being taken away by police. We were all breathing a little easier..
Finally we could see the buses convening in the grocery store lot across the highway to take us all away, when Mr. Announcer informed us that the train had been cleared to move on. Those of us who wanted to go by bus could exit, but the train would depart in five minutes. At last the train began to move, and we traveled to Amsterdam in a very quiet train. We would later get the remaining details of the situation on television news, and online international news sites, which you can still find by searching: Arnhem hostage situation May 2017.
As we approached the station, Mr. Announcer came on to apologize profusely, in all three languages. I speak a moderate amount of German, and a small amount of French, so at every announcement, I was aware of the gist of it, prior to the English version, and would relay it to Travis. In every translation situation, there are words that do not translate particularly well. I find the German words for size to be examples. English has far more adjectives to describe size than German does, and it can be funny. So, at the end of our journey, I knew what Mr. Announcer meant, but what he told us in English was "It has been a great delay, and we hope you continue to be delayed in Amsterdam!" We could only laugh.
We missed all of our afternoon events that day. In my head I was trying to work out a way to reschedule the remaining day and a half we had, and took random pictures, as we rode the tram to our hotel. I told Travis that I was glad we were safe and alive, but that pretty much ruined our day. We checked into our hotel. Then I said well, since our day is ruined, we might as well go to the Holland Casino, which was two blocks away. I got no argument from Travis.
Between the two of us, we cashed out 1800 Euros over the next 3 hours.
Take that Murphy!