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First time traveling to Europe

The S Bahn train in Berlin.

I knew before I left for Europe that Germany and France are my inherited motherlands. My father’s side of my family is German descent and my mother’s is French. Ok, technically, we found out mom’s side is French Belgian, but essentially, that side is French. I didn’t try to seek out any possible family. Maybe some day, I will join and see if I can connect with either family’s roots still living in Europe.

There were so many things I could have done differently to travel and arrive better. However, part of the fun of the trip was having those foolish learning experiences that make a fun anecdote to share a parties.

Flying through Canada

I chose to fly Air Canada all the way there and also to return. That was sort of a mistake. It created more effort than I needed for my flight. Essentially, I passed through customs twice,

An indoor stream at Vancouver Airport.

because I still had to go through Canadian customs to go through Canada. I really didn’t need to go through customs in a country I wasn’t staying to visit, but now I know.

The main upside of my flight was the day and time I flew out was about the best day and time you could ever take a flight. I flew out early Saturday morning. That’s when the airport is nearly a ghost town. There were maybe ten other people going through security that morning when I flew out of Portland. When I got to Canada, despite the hassle of customs, I was the only one going through at the time I arrived. In fact, the customs officer got up as I approached and excused himself for about five minutes. I stood there alone. When he returned, I got through in no time.

The flight itself was nice. I slept some, but honestly, I was so excited to go, it was difficult. I entertained myself a bit with music and reading.

At one point, I noticed a guy playing a Monopoly game on his phone. I decided to download it when I had the chance. I finally dozed off and awoke as we arrived in Munich.

Flying in over Berlin.

A security guard checked me, but it took a moment before he realized I didn’t speak German. Then, we took a tiny flight to Tegel airport in Berlin.

Landing at Tegel airport and navigating from there

I arrived in Tegel and got my phone onto Wifi as soon as possible. My friend let me know that I could use Wifi for my phone, although it wouldn’t be quite as good as in the U.S. Still, it helped. He let me know to take the S-Bahn. I had to take a bus to get to the closest station first, but that was easy to figure out. He sent me a message I didn’t read until I got on the train where there was no Wifi. He said for me to message him when I started toward the train. Oops.

I got to the station he mentioned and found four possible exits, two at each end of the platform, one on each side. I had no idea which one to exit out of. I looked around for a moment and eventually picked one.

My friend on the right and his friends.

I rolled my luggage up and out (actually carried it up) and waited for a few minutes. I realized I didn’t know which exit to meet him at.

One thing I did before having no more access to Wifi, I took a picture of a Berlin map in enough detail to find my friend’s place. However, I still needed to find him, and I wasn’t sure where that would be. I started wandering about. I went close to where his apartment might be but never really found the right street. I went back toward the station and then started looking for a spot where there might be Wifi. I got close enough to a restaurant to mooch off of it.

We finally managed to connect thanks to the Wifi. We figured out where to meet and thankfully found each other. By then, I was both tired and hungry. However, it was a lovely day out. He guided me to his apartment, which I realized I was not too far away from earlier. I just hadn’t made quite the right turn. I set things down and we went to a French restaurant to eat. I found it amusing.

We listened to live jazz at a nearby bar.

The whole episode took about an hour and half or so after my long flight to Europe. I don’t think I will ever forget it. It wasn’t my only turn around.

Oops…not my train

I booked a train from Berlin to Paris. My friend told me I got quite a cheap ticket for such a late booking. I got to the train station with a bit of time to spare. All I did was lounge around.

Tip to the new train traveler in Europe. Familiarize yourself with any station you get to. I ended up getting on the wrong train, because I couldn’t tell for sure which train I needed to get on. I assumed that trains there were much like trains here. They would likely run only one every couple of hours. Not so. They’re more like buses.

I didn’t see any train with my number, but I knew which platform to be on. I got there only fifteen minutes ahead of my scheduled time, and there was a train. I assumed it was the one I needed to be on. I boarded and promptly found someone else sitting in my seat. I looked around for any confirmation I was on the right train, only to hear the door close the moment I saw the train number was not the train I wanted.

A view of the station platform from inside the train

I panicked and found a conductor. I asked what I needed to do. He used his two-way radio to find out where I needed to go. He then told me I just needed to get off at the next stop and wait for my train there. Whew. That was an easy fix, but I could have easily ended up in the wrong place had I not seen anyone in “my seat”.

I had to transfer along the way, too. This time I knew I had to confirm information, but I couldn’t find a single current schedule. I also needed to eat, so I raced around an unfamiliar station, grabbed food and raced around some more to find someone I could talk to. They gave me the information I needed, and thankfully, I had enough time to get to the platform.

Flying and taking the train were enough adventure in themselves. Now I know better, and should I get back to Europe, I’ll be sure to orient myself better while avoiding flying through countries I don’t plan to visit.

I took a picture of this German town I passed by while taking the train to Paris. I have no idea which one this is.

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