by Lois Patton
“Das ist nicht korrekt!”
We didn’t need to understand German to know what the burly ticket agent was telling us. He glared at us, but I was not to be intimidated.
“This schedule has to be right! The agent in Melk told us we could return on this train at this time.”
Our day’s adventure had begun with our English-speaking Viennese relatives tearfully seeing us off at the Westbahnhof. With our Eurail passes in hand, we pulled our suitcases to one of the dozens of train tracks to head west through Austria and into Switzerland.
After one quick retracing of our steps to get to the right track, we were off on the first leg of our journey by train in a country where we could not speak the language. Eagerness overtook anxiety.
“Let’s get off at Melk. Look at the beautiful abbey here in the guide book,” I suggested to my husband, feeling incredibly adventuresome.
“Great idea. It’s early in the day and there are plenty of trains to get us on to Salzburg by dinner. Let’s do it.” Spontaneity is natural for him.
This time there was no confusion about the tracks. The tiny station had single tracks heading in each direction and the one person in attendance who told us to leave our bags with him. We could retrieve them when we boarded our train to Salzburg.
We walked leisurely through the picturesque little town and wandered into the ornate Benedictine Abbey to admire its towering silver organ pipes and gleaming baroque interior. Afterward, as we sat in a sun-drenched outdoor cafe, I thumbed through the brochures we had picked up at the Bahnhof. My eye stopped at the page that listed boat trips east up the Danube, back towards Vienna.
“I wonder if we could take the boat cruise to Krems, and then take the train back here to Melk? We still have the whole afternoon ahead of us.”
We found a woman at the dock who spoke English. She reassured us we could easily take the 12:30 cruise to Krems and catch the train that would take us through St. Poulten and bring us back to Melk. She suggested we leave our luggage at the Melk station, picking it up as we came back through.
“Sounds good. How far is the station in Krems from the boat dock?
“Just a short walk. Here, I will write down the train number and the time for you.”
“Danke, danke,” we said, with grateful smiles on our faces.
We stopped back at the train station to tell the attendant of our plans. We told him which train we would be returning on, and which car, so he could put our bags on for us as we came through on our way to Salzburg. “Danke, danke.”
All afternoon we basked in the sights of springtime on the Danube; castles hugging the vine-covered hillsides, storybook villages greeting us on both banks. I kept an eye on my watch, knowing we had a schedule to keep.
As we disembarked, we searched for the signs directing us to Krem’s bustling Bahnhof. The short walk equated to a hike. Twenty minutes later, breathless, we arrived at the station window to get our tickets for the easy trip back to Melk. We had ten minutes to spare.
“Das ist nicht korrekt.” Arguing didn’t help; we had been given the wrong information in Melk. We had missed the train.
With our stomachs in knots, we looked at the directions the frowning agent scrawled on a piece of paper. A commuter train would get us to another little town, where we would change to yet another train, which would return to our original destination—three hours later.
“Oh, my God! What if the Melk attendant puts our luggage on the train to Salzburg?” I envisioned myself in the same jeans and jacket for the remainder of our trip. Even more problematic—where would I be able to replace my supply of make-up and toiletries? With no concern about airport security, I’d tucked them in my suitcase, quart-size Ziplock bags and all.
We had no options. Nerves tingling, we waited at the designated track for the commuter train. Once aboard, high school students laden with backpacks entertained us as they jostled each other before hopping off at the stops along the way. When we reached St. Poulten, we changed trains. After twice being sent to the wrong track, we were relieved to climb aboard the train back to Melk. The sun was sinking low in the sky.
“Ralph, what will we do if our luggage isn’t at the station? What if it gets put on the train to Salzburg? How will we ever find it?” Some of these questions I asked myself. No sense being reminded whose idea this was in the first place
Six hours and two train trips after we embarked on the two hour Danube Cruise, we pulled into the station at Melk. It was seven o’clock at night and no one was in sight.
We ran into the station. My too-large red garment bag stared back at me; Ralph’s stuffed black suitcase glared accusingly. I nearly wept with relief.
The last train to Salzburg would be coming through in an hour and a half. Light rain fell from the dark skies. I sat on a bench, guarding our luggage as Ralph went in search of something to eat. The local patrons at the nearby tavern, unaccustomed to tourists at such a late hour, gave him strange looks as he ordered “zwei Biers und zwei Brot mit Rindfleisch.” No one was in sight as we sat under the overhang on the station platform, watching the rain drip from the eaves, eating our gourmet dinner of beer and beef sandwiches.
Relieved, we piled onto the train and hoisted our bags to the racks overhead. In three hours we would be in Salzburg. It would be 11:30 and we had no hotel reservation.
published 26 March 2014