Tuesday, 27 June 2017

An Unexpected Treat

Last Friday, I was on a work-related trip to Ulm. Depending on what train you take, you can reach Ulm within 1 1/2 hours. All was well on the way in, and the small conference I attended there was interesting.

On such occasions, it is hard to tell when we really finish, and at what time I can be back at the train station for the ride home. Therefore, I always buy a ticket that allows me to board whatever train I happen to catch.

That Friday, I arrived at the station with 3 minutes to spare before the next train was going to depart for Stuttgart. So, without further ado (i.e. without checking anything else about this particular route), I hopped on that train, leaned back and took my kindle out to read.

The loudspeaker crackled, and I expected to hear the usual bored voice make the usual announcements. Instead, a friendly man's voice, speaking in a natural and lively manner (without the artificially assumed cheerfulness you often hear on trains and planes), informed us passengers about today's trip. I thought, now, that's unusual, but nice, and turned back to my reading.

The train started to move, and there were more such friendly announcements with every stop coming up - and there were many! As it turned out, of all trains going to Stuttgart that afternoon and evening, I had chosen the slowest, stopping at almost every small town and village between the two cities. 

And then, the train driver informed us in his by now familiar friendly manner of our next stop - a break of 28 minutes, as is apparently always scheduled for this particular route, in a small town called Süssen.
When I first heard that we were in for a 28-minute-stop, I though "oh great...", but then the train driver added: "And, by the way, there is a real good ice cream parlour near platform 1, if you are looking for a way to spend the next half hour. I always go there myself when I am on this route."

This sounded like a much better idea to me than sitting in the parked train, especially as it was such a beautiful summer's day. So I got off, just as the driver stepped off the front and made his way along the platform. I waited for him and told him that I was going to check out his recommendation, and we went to platform 1 together.

A table in the half-shade was quickly found and ice creams ordered, and we started talking. The driver told me he was only having three more weeks of work here and then leaving for good to make his childhood dream come true: Move to Switzerland, living in the mountains and driving the famous Glacier Express. 

He told me that he really liked his job, but was very unhappy with the way the German Bahn (Railway) was being managed. It is a topic often discussed in our national media; from what used to be a very reliable and efficient system, the Bahn has turned into what appears like a bunch of greedy managers, making money on the back of notoriously overworked staff. Late and cancelled trains, lack of information, high ticket prices, dirty trains with toilets and A/C out of order etc. are everyday occurrences, and the company have to pay refunds to fed up passengers all the time. A lot of people only travel by train because they have no choice, and "my" train driver told me that things were going to get worse within the next five years. "You'll see," he said.
We talked about the railway in other countries, and it turned out he knows the North York Moors Railway and the National Railway Museum in York. 

That way, we spent a pleasant 25 minutes, enjoyed delicious ice creams, and when it was time to get back on the train, he paid for my ice cream, too! I really did not expect that, and there was not even the slightest hint of anything untoward in his manner, just saying thank you for a friendly encounter and spending his break in pleasant company.

Taken in Ulm with my mobile phone on the way back to the station

I said good-bye and went back to my former seat, wishing him all the best for his future. 

Isn't it sad that those who enjoy their job and are good at it are driven away by mismanagement and wrong decisions? But isn't it nice that people like that still exist, and in spite of how terrible the world looks whenever we switch on the news, there are still such nice surprises happening to us (if we let or make them happen)?

This whole experience reminded me of an older post of mine; back in 2011, I wrote this about a similar situation - also in connection with a train trip.

20 comments:

  1. What an lovely post about a lovely person and a lovely experience. Thank you. (And two for the price of one with the other post). It is indeed a shame that people who care are treated thus. It is also disgraceful that profits from privatisation are destroying services. Ironically in the UK rail services are privatised and everyone hold up continental railways as paragons of perfection. Apparently not necessarily so.

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    1. My experience with trains in England is much better than what I know from Germany. It wasn't always so, but things have changed a lot in the past 10-15 years. Mr. Train-Driver said he finds train services in the UK the most reliable in all of Europe.

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  2. you took the words out of my mouth Graham. Two delightful reads. The rest seems to be a universal truth. I would be delighted to brighten my day with a chat with either of you two lovely people ... I always try to chat to people in passing. So much nicer than ignoring or sullen looks...

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    1. Thank you, Fi! I must confess I am not always in a chatty mood. Most mornings on my way to work I am quite happy with my kindle for company.

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    2. I love to meet new people for a chat when traveling. Everyone has a story and it often makes a boring journey interesting when connecting with someone for a little while. He sounded like a very nice person - but how does one get to move to Switzerland? It's a country which has so many rules and regulations (not a bad thing) regarding taking in new residents. I hope it works out for him, especially with the railway job on the Glacier Express which would be awesome!
      The only German train I've traveled on was a short ride from Warnemunde to Rostock and back on a Sunday afternoon (2014) - and it was lovely, with clean efficient equipment.
      We were impressed with train travel in Ireland last year - on time, very clean and comfy.
      Here in the US I've not been on a train in many years so don't really know how they are these days.
      Have a good week -
      Mary

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    3. Thank you, Mary, you too!
      I asked the train driver the same thing, as I know Germans living and working in Switzerland and know that it is not always easy for them. But he said his new employer has done everything for him - he did not even have to find himself a house, and they took care of all the forms for him to gain work and residence status.

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  3. This kind of serendipity can be fun. Trains are a subject many people feel strongly about, and I expect he was delighted to have the chance to discuss them too.

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    1. It was fun and turned what could have been a tedious long trip home into something worth blogging about :-)

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  4. How nice that he bought you that ice cream! It must have been nice for him to be able to have a nice discussion about trains and other things in general!
    Trains...I could only say that I used to love to ride the trains in England during the 1980's, they were so comfortable then and much more dependable. There, that is the extent of my train knowledge! :-)

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    1. We both benefited from each other's company in that we spent a pleasant half hour instead of an impatient wait for me or a dull break for him.

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  5. I've always wanted to take a train journey somewhere. One of these days I will do it.

    How sweet of the man to buy you an ice cream! And it's so nice that the two of you had such a good chat--I'm sure it made his day. I'm always thrilled when I meet a true book lover at work and get to have a nice talk about our favorites, trading recommendations and such. Meeting a kindred spirit during my workday is a rare treat.

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    1. It is, isn't it!

      You've made me curious now, Jennifer. Where would you like to travel by train? Do you have a specific trip in mind or is it just generally travelling by train that you want to try?
      I use trains to go to work almost every day, and of course on weekends going to O.K.'s and back. When all goes according to plan, it is a good and easy way to get around. But when it doesn't, it can be really frustrating - most of all because of the lack of reliable information.

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  6. Sometimes the memories of a brief meeting with a stranger can stay with us for life. One never really knows (until later!)... As for trains, I used to travel by train quite a lot (mostly within Sweden) but now it's been 12 years (where does time fly?!) since I last tried it, as my neck does not like the vibrations, and I also can't handle the amount of luggage I'd need to be away for a while. That aside - in those years, travelling by railway has also in general changed so much that I hardly know how ones goes about getting a ticket now. What I do know is that one cannot just go down to the station and buy one any more. (If one doesn't have a computer I suppose one has to do it by phone, but I have no idea where, in that case, one is supposed to pick up the actual ticket.) I also know that while we used to have basically one national railway company, we now have like half a million of them competing with each other on the tracks, and ticket prices no longer seem to relate to how far you're going to travel, but rather to how far in advance you order the ticket. And on top of that, not a week goes by without news of trains standing still or being delayed for this, that or the other reason. (I suppose that on the whole, most trains probably still do run and arrive more or less on time. But that, of course, rarely gets mentioned on the news!)

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    1. Yes, such encounters certainly enrich our lives.

      I imagine that if you book a train ticket by phone, you can have it sent to you by post (if you book long enough in advance) or pick it up at a ticket machine at the station. When I travel to Yorkshire, I always book our train tickets from home on the internet, and we then pick them up at a machine at the station with our booking code.

      Prices here can vary from one day to the next, and then depend a lot on what type of train is involved; the slower, regional trains are cheaper than the fast ones. I don't mind paying for good, reliable service, but it annoys me when I have paid a lot of money and what I get for it can not even be called service.

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  7. What a lovely man and a magical interlude in your journey. He paid for your ice cream because he had enjoyed your company and wanted nothing more from you. Acts of kindness may exist in themselves without expectation of any payback whatsoever.

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    1. That was certainly the case in this situation, and I took it exactly like that.

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  8. I loved every minute of your surprising adventure.

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    1. I enjoyed the unexpected treat, too!

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  9. A welcome reminder that most people in this world are nice - we forget that sometimes. What a lovely occurrence on an otherwise everyday, ordinary journey. Thank you for sharing it with us. x

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    1. You are welcome, Gillian! Yes, sometimes we are under the impression that there is nothing but cruelty, terror and sadness around, but kindness, beauty and happiness can still be found.

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