“Bhai, Noytar train koytay charbe” – this was a common joke about the railway services in Bangladesh around 20 or 30 years ago. This means asking someone when will the nine o’clock train actually start. I am not sure if it still happens every day, but I guess that it happens every other day. Only, I was not prepared to experience it here – in Europe.
My first train journey was in 2009. I was going for a university admission test and, luckily, the train was on time. The sound of the moving train, the long cackling whistle- it all sounded like a sad orchestra. A ballad calling humans to ride to unheard-of places. I was staying near the train station and could hear the orchestra often. The call for wild adventures scared me; I did not want to answer its call. I went to the exam but I just sat there without writing. I was already determined that I would not listen to the call, I would not leap into an adventure. I kept this to myself at the time, however, later, when I confessed it to some people about it, they thought I was crazy. I just lost the opportunity to study at a renowned university for no apparent reason.
The train journey was fun though. It is amazing what happens when you put strangers or friends next to each other or face to face. It is unlike other public transport, like buses or planes. There is a magical spark when you can see a person eye to eye. I can not remember the journey going there because it was not the usual four-people face-to-face booth; there were isolated seats. The journey coming back was different; a six-people booth with three young students sharing the row, gossiping about the latest revolt on their campus. It was an exciting night.
All these memories were under the dust of time. They all came back to me on my cross-country train journey from Mons, Belgium to Copenhagen, Denmark to attend the EMA GA 2022. It was possible and easy to take flights. I opted for this and the service provider even booked flights. But then I heard it was possible to travel by train – crossing Germany along the way - and I wished to have that experience. The SNCB train ride from Mons to Brussels was uneventful, it was not bad but a common occurrence for my Erasmus life in Belgium as I travel this route quite often. The Thalys train from Brussels to Koln was equally uneventful. In Germany, the excitement started and it dusted off my memory from its hiding place.
The German train from Koln to Hamburg was late How late? Nearly an hour late! I could not believe my eyes where the electric board flashed multiple delays – the legendary German efficiency was broken into time-pieces! As the Koln to Hamburg train was delayed, we were bound to miss our connection to Copenhagen. We were to take the last train of the day which was, unfortunately, on time. Thanks to the quick action of the service provider we got tickets for two more trains from Hamburg to Copenhagen. The story continues when the train did not even reach Hamburg but stopped two stations early. There I was, in a country where I had never set foot before, with a little time in hand, stranded in a small station.
I made friends on this journey. Then, it me again – people all over are the same!
Misery brings people together they say. In this case, it brought together other Erasmus+ people on their way to the GA who shared their metro–train adventures. It is great how quickly people can meet each other in the least expecting situations and find the common thing that brings them on the same page – Erasmjus+! Yes, we talked about politics, yes we talked about gender and identity, and about life in Europe. We talked about norms, and cultures, and we talked about shared food (sorry, I could not bring more Speculose to the GA!). I made friends on this journey. Then, it me again – people all over are the same!
I had come to this realization during my first semester in Spain, but this fact recurring in life still amazes me! We just need to bring the right catalyst to the table to accommodate the perfect reaction to bring out the “same people.” Somehow, people on the night train in Bangladesh, and people on the night train in Denmark became the same reflection.
This journey was more than 18.5 hours long. Shall I take more cross countries train journeys in the future? The answer is – always a yes!