Sunday, October 25, 2009

Trains and planes

Our Cisalpino train between Brig and Bern from website

Inside of train (from website)
During our stay in Europe, we rode in many different trains. Some placed us into little compartments in which you usually got to know your compartment mates well on long trips (although we had to share a compartment with 2 women from hell from Milano to almost all the way to Sestri Levante-they were rude, loud and would never, never shut up-one of them was able to rant for 4 hours straight with her friend occasionally trying to speak over her to get a word in edgewise). The Regionale trains were usually old-some of them double deckers. But the Eurostar and Cisalpino were very deluxe, even in 2nd class, and new and shiny. Of course they were alot more expensive for us.
The more interesting of the trains was the Cisalpino developed in a joint venture between Trenitalia and SBB CFF FFS (the official name of the Swiss railroad-note to Swiss: rename your country with its 30+ letters and get a better name for your railroad). This train was equipped to handle sharp curves at high speeds by tilting so they could breeze through the Alps. The Italian name for the train was 'il Pendolino"-little pendulum. Earlier models didn't work out as planned: riders got motion sickness from all the tilting and it was difficult to keep the toilet contents in the right place with the swing cars. We were lucky that the second generation trains just came out for our use: no nausea and the toilets were adjusted. They still tilt but I couldn't feel it. Indeed on the way back, we seemed to be stopped a long time in Visp (right before the train becomes scenic). I told myself I could rest a bit and then wake up when the train started moving. When I woke up, we were in Brig meaning I never felt any motion whatsoever and I missed out on the best scenery. Rats. But Teri said it was very cloudy and I didn't miss much.
The planes: We had a 6:20 am flight to Amsterdam from Malpensa. We got to the airport at 4:45 am thinking that it was an international flight but no, not really as it was between two EU members. But it was no fun waking up at 4 am. I chose this hotel specifically for it having the earliest, free shuttles.Two other hotel guests were chomping at the bit(words by the way, you never use in front of non-native speakers as they would just think WTF) to get to the airport early. I asked Teri if she were ready to go at 4:20 am (NO!!!!!-she apparently was looking for a passport-she was a bit more relaxed at 4:25 am when it reappeared). We cleared the skimpy security easily and found ourselves without coffee as it was all before security. Rats. Finally something opened at 5:25 am and we were happily caffeinated. I fell asleep as soon as we boarded waking up only for more coffee and cute litttle Dutch breakfast buns and their syrup wafers.
Officially we had a 2 hour layover in Amsterdam but they wanted us to board 1.75 hours early. Hell no. We did some last minute shopping-plenty of stores in Schiphol (pronounced like Ski-pole). I got some bright green (pesto) Gouda I had tasted there before and some other cheeses. However we had to cross their so-called Schengen passport control line-very long-and still we weren't free to board. There were two security checkpoints at the gate alone and they moved very slowly (thus the 1.75 pre-board time). They decided that Teri needed to remove her shoes but I didn't. She had thick soles: I did not-but that's a guess. The plane was filled to the brim. In front of us were 2 very unhappy toddlers who screamed for a good part of the flight. Behind us was a group of 20 Dutch teens all excited to be on their way to the US expressing their exuberance by kicking my seat if I ever fell asleep in the rare moments the screamers were asleep. Extra bonus: the video system shut down so I couldn't see the ends of the movies I had started on the way out. For compensation, we got $50 certificates to be used as a day pass to the airport lounges or 5000 Delta miles. On the side, were 2 pleasant Canadian ladies who had been visiting their ancestors in Ireland. I had asked if they were mistaken for Americans (they live in Windsor on the border). No. They were careful always to wear Canadian flags. (not the Canadians fault that American policies have wreaked their worldwide damage).
On the positive side, we had a tail wind instead of the usual headwind, left the gate early and thus would be early. Customs in Detroit also had no lines (travel must be really down) so our trip was soon over.

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