Here’s a funny story where I look fairly stupid, and the only reason I’m telling the internet this is so no one else makes the same mistake (though I doubt anyone else would).
Vienna, as we (the English-speaking world) know it, is spelled Wien to the German world. This I knew. I’ve seen it on maps. But the French call it Vienne. So I bought train tickets from the french website to Vienne. And Vienne turns out to be not just the capitol city of Austria, but also a small town in France, about a half hour south of Lyon. I realized my mistake in the Lyon train station around 5pm on September 30. Fortunately, we are in a pretty good financial state right now, and fortunately, my boyfriend is not the type of guy to get all crazy and mad about the fact that I totally fucked up (I had even gotten us a Hospitality Club host in Vienna, Austria for that night, not even thinking about how long it would actually take to take a train from Paris to Vienna). We weighed our options and decided to just keep heading east by train. It was about 6pm. The best we could do was buy tickets for Geneva, plan to stay there for the night, and then figure out what to do next. The train was supposed to come at (about) 6:38pm and when a train pulled up at about 6:30pm, we got on, figuring it was our train. Guess what? It wasn’t! We realized our mistake as soon as the train started moving about 8 minutes before it was supposed to. I kept hoping it was something super-regional and we could just hop off after five minutes, but 20 minutes later, we were still going. When the train conductor came around, M. did most of the talking and impressed the conductor enough for him to not care that we had the wrong tickets, not charge us for the right tickets, and strike up a friendly conversation about god knows what, but we sure did a lot of smiling and laughing and nodding.
We get to Macon, a small town about 45 minutes from Lyon, wait an hour or so for the next train BACK to Lyon, get in touch with our HC guest to tell them we won’t make it, get back on the right train, get to Lyon, and called it a night. Let’s just stay here, we thought. It’s a big city, there will probably be a hostel, lots of internet cafes, or at least a million cheap hotels and tons of places to eat. After getting stopped and thoroughly searched by the cops, we went looking for a place to sleep. The cops in the Lyon train station were everywhere, and they were kind of assholes. There wasn’t any reason for them to stop us and demand our papers, but then again, the law in France is that there doesn’t have to be a reason. So we had to go back to their office, have them take all our carefully packed clothes and whatnot out of our bags, question our visas, etc. The main cop even questioned how we knew each other, since my passport was from Los Angeles and his was from Philadelphia. We were not fazed or intimidated by these guys (since we don’t carry drugs or weapons and our paperwork is in order) so eventually they became friendly.
Last year, we had arrived in Dresden (Germany) in somewhat similar circumstances (though we were hitchhiking and just dropped off somewhere near the city). It was dark, we had no idea where we were, no plans about where to stay, but within 20 minutes we had found an internet café. After a few minutes, we got the numbers of some hostels and viola, we had a place to stay for something like 11 euros a night. It was easy and we had time to go out and enjoy the night. This was not the case in Lyon, AKA the Lamest City In France. We ended up at some hotel for 60 Euros (which was the cheapest we could find, and actually felt lucky about it) after walking through a MALL, which seemed to be the Saturday night destination for anyone in Lyon who wanted to eat after 9pm (at applebee-type restaurants). However, I have to say it was nice to have a nice shower and clean, private room to crash in after such a bizarre day. We ended up having to eat at a real restaurant (rather than just a quick sandwich), but actually, the restaurant was pretty great, and decorated in retro-style vinyl furniture.
Moving on! The next day, on October 1st, we went to Geneva, where we only stayed long enough to have a sandwich and coffee. From Geneva, we decided to head to Interlaken, Switzerland. I mean, we had already totally messed up our planned schedule, so we might as well enjoy it, right? We had never been to Switzerland and I had always wanted to go, and since it’s a pretty expensive country, it’s probably better that we went now (at a more financially stable time). I had this picture in my head that everything in Switzerland would be pristine, efficient, easy to understand, and safe, and that’s pretty much exactly what Interlaken was like. The trains were really, really nice. The scenery was breathtaking. And we had picked a good day to travel (all in all, about 8 hours on the train) – it rained all day! As soon as we got off the train there were really exact directions on how to find every hostel and hotel in town and very clear maps. We walked to a nearby hostel and ended up getting in a private room (4 person dorm, but no one else showed up). It was expensive, but then again, so is everything else in Switzerland, so we sucked it up.
October 1st had actually been a really nice day of travel. Watching the land go by out a rainy window, reading books, figuring out schedules. But it was also really nice, on Oct 2nd, to finally have a day where we could enjoy being in a new place. The weather was beautiful, the view outside our hostel window was incredible, and we spent the entire day outside. We hiked up the mountains, took pictures of the snow-covered alps, and found a supermarket so we didn’t have to keep wasting money on cafes. We had decided to only stay one night and take an overnight train to Vienna (for real this time), which left around 8pm, but after a full day of hiking and exploring, we were dying for showers. So when we went back to the hostel around 6pm to get our backpacks, we just casually kept walking into the shower area, and kind of “stole” showers. It worked out great, and we were finally on our real train to Vienna the night of October 2nd.