I know I’m showing my age, but when I came to Switzerland you bought a train ticket at the station. That’s the way it was. Period. No Internet and no i-phones. Each and every train station, big or small, had employees that would sell you tickets.
Each year, like almost all Swiss, Ben’s mom bought a 3 inch thick train schedule book. If you were smart enough you could figure out the quickest way to get from A to B. I wasn’t smart enough so I either asked Ben’s mom or went to the station and they told me.
At the Berne station you would choose one of many counters with the least number of people standing in line. Then hope no one in front of you wanted anything complicated. When it was your turn you could buy your ticket and then run for the train.
Getting back home to Berne was never a problem. If a train was going to or through Berne it was always indicated on the platform sign. Trains always stop in Berne, it is pretty close to the center of the world.
Train Stations Today
Ah, but times have changed. For one, in Berne there is now a food court where the endless ticket counters were. If you feel the need to buy a paper ticket you can use an automatic ticket box at any station. You can find the fastest route to wherever via Internet or app and pay for it with your smart-phone.
We have since moved from Berne (population of over a million) to Lengnau (population of five thousand). At the time I didn’t have an i-phone and all of the sudden getting home by train was more difficult. I learned quickly that Lengnau is never written on any platform signs. Also, not all the trains that pass through Lengnau stop there. In short, you have to pay attention. I figured out that some trains stopped only at major cities and others stopped at large cities. To get to Lengnau you have to take a train that stops at every town no matter how small. Those trains are called “strollers”, you get there but not particularly fast. I learned my geography and now know the names of the larger towns around us. Only that way can I be sure I‘m riding the right train in the right direction.
When we still lived in Berne, Ben was planning a weeklong trip with his school class. It was to be in the canton of Grisons in the eastern part of Switzerland. The dogs and I were going to accompany him on both the planning trip and the actual trip.
During the summer vacation Ben and I walked all the routes he had planned. We wanted to make sure we knew where we were going and how long it would take to get there. At one point we knew that after we crossed a mountain we would come to a village. There we could catch the last bus that would take us back to our hotel. We also knew if we missed the bus we only had one chance to catch the last train. We knew this because we had checked the route using Ben’s mom’s ‘smart-book’.
After crossing the mountain we saw the village below us just as we expected. We were short on time and hurried as fast as we could to get to the bus stop. Before we got there we saw the bus come and leave without us. Time for plan B. The train station was about 15 minutes away and the train was departing in 10. The train was our last hope. We kept up our fast pace and actually made it to the station with a minute to spare! There were some teenagers on the other end of the platform waiting for the train too. Time to relax; we had made it!
Right on time a train slowly approached the station. We stood up, picked up the dogs so we could board the train quickly and waited for it to stop. Instead of stopping the train just continued to slowly roll by. So slow in fact that we saw the conductor take a long questioning look at us.
When the train had left we waited thinking that must not have been ‘our’ train. ‘Our’ train would still come. After a couple of minutes Ben went over to the teenagers who were still there. He asked if they knew when the train was coming. They looked at him in surprise and said that was the train! If we had wanted the train to stop we should have pressed the “Stop on demand” button. They pointed to a button on the side of the building.
Even if we had known to look for a button we probably wouldn’t have found it. I have no idea if they use the same button-system today or not. We had no backup plan for our backup plan and it was going to be a long evening.
Eventually we figured out a plan C. If you want to know what happened while we were waiting for some friends to pick us up, read the ‘Restaurant’ paragraph in the post ‘DOG-gone it’.