Inter-City Express

Jet trails scar the pale sky above. It’s before dawn and we’re on a train making our way towards Copenhagen from Amsterdam. I didn’t find it as difficult to get out of bed at 5.30am as I thought I might. There’s a certain child-like excitement about travel to a new country. It’s not something I think that I’ll ever become immune to.

The train slowly rolls out of central Amsterdam, through suburban residential areas and into the countryside. Fog hangs low in the fields. Thatched barns sit next to large-scale modern sheds. Cows chew their cud and ignore the passing train. Alas, I spy no windmills to complete my imagined Dutch scene.

A uniformed conductor checks our tickets and slowly the cabin fills up with strangers. Space is silently and politely negotiated. That’s something that I’ve noticed quite a lot during our four days in Amsterdam. Physical space is shared by many people and somehow it seems to work. On the street, cars, bikes and pedestrians weave their way through each other without much fuss or horn usage. This is in stark contrast to my time spent in New York City where cars are convinced they own the roads and toot their horns to show it.

Our Inter-City train winds east and before long we cross into Germany. Here, we wait for an engine change. Three young German policemen patrol the hallway. I sit up straighter in my chair. The early Autumn sun streams in through the large window, warming up our small room. Only a few high clouds break up the blue sky. Before long, we continue on through the German countryside which looks much like the Dutch countryside only without the expectation of windmills.

The first of our two transfers occurs at Onsabruck. The train pulls in at platform 11 and we have to hustle for our connection to Hamburg. A small tribe of us hurry along the platform and up the stairs to platform three. We are snug again onboard while the train barrels alternatively through industrial sections and past fields which lie bare, their soil turned over ready for the winter planting.

Another conductor checks our tickets and this time she offers coffee. It’s definitely time for coffee. Coffee with milk is generally an understood term throughout the different countries we’ve visited, much more so than café latte or flat white which can produce quizzical looks. A reduced expectation of the quality of coffee has also been helpful.

After said hot beverage and a couple of podcast episodes, Hamburg arrives. More accurately, we arrive in Hamburg. We gather our possessions and disembark the train. It’s almost lunchtime by now so we seek out a bar near the station for something to eat and a drink. I say bar because they’re more than a café but not always a fully blown restaurant. They don’t seem to have an Australian equivalent. They’re often open from morning til night, serve coffee as well as draught beer and all sorts of drinks in between. You can go for just a drink or a three course meal. It’s casual table service and you’ll find people from all demographics seated side by side. I’m not sure what to call it, a brasserie? That’s not a term that rolls off my tongue.

Anyway, we found one opposite the station and chose a table outside. There is a cool breeze so I go to grab my cardigan. ‘Bugger.’ I know immediately where it is.

‘What?’ Steve asks.

‘I left my cardigan on the train.’

‘Oh, really.’ His eyes flash back to the station which is clearly in view.

‘The train will have left by now,’ I go on. ‘There’s no point even asking about it. We won’t be back here.’

‘Bugger,’ he says.

‘I hung it up on the hook behind the seat. I saw a woman do that with her coat on the last leg and I thought – that’s sensible.’ He nods. ‘Oh, well. No point worrying about it now.’ That last bit is more to myself than him. ‘How about a beer?’

He looks around for a waitress and says ‘Thought you’d never ask.’

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