Daily Prompt: Trains, Planes and Automobiles

You’re going on a cross-country trip. Airplane, train, bus, or car? (Or something else entirely — bike? Hot air balloon?)

Photographers, artists, poets: show us TRAVEL.

Waiting for the train Solothurn station

I have done a lot of travelling in my life, perhaps not worldwide on tramping expeditions, but enough to get from one place to the other. Today a cross country trip does not interest me so much: too much stress, on the go from morning to evening. It is, of course, much easier to travel from one place to the other, different as it was in earlier days. I can hop on a train at my local station and in ninety minutes or even less; I would be in Basel/Bâle on the Swiss border to Germany and France: been there, done that. The journey to Chiasso takes 4-5 hours and brings me to the Italian border. Switzerland is an island in the middle of Europe with super train connections everywhere. By car it is even easier. No waiting at the station for the next connection, just drive on the motorway and through the customs to another country.

We have a few airports, so the world is at your fingertips. I leave my home in the morning, board the plane in the early afternoon and am at my father’s house in the evening in London. The world has shrunk.

I would now take you back to forty six years ago. The first time I travelled to Switzerland. A job was waiting for me, a new place to live, a new country speaking a different language, and a different way of life. How did I arrive? Things were different in those days. Travelling by plane was an expensive journey. Luggage allowances were limited. I was twenty years old, did not have a lot of travelling experience, just a couple of holidays in Italy and Paris, all with a travel organisation. Now I was on my own.

I decided to travel by train. It was cheap and I could take as much luggage as I could carry.
The first part of the journey was boarding the train in London to Folkestone on the English coast. Mum and dad decided to accompany me on this part of the journey. Of course they had their worries. I think I was the only one that was not worried. I knew that the part to the English coast was the smallest step to take.

I arrived in Folkestone some time in the afternoon and transferred to the ferry across the English Channel from Folkestone to Calais. I was lucky as the sea was smooth enough and the journey took the usual ninety minutes. The next connection in Calais was by the night train, the Aarberg Express, to Basel. The train was already waiting where the ferry docked in. I went through a few customs formalities and there I was all on my own on the coast of mainland Europe in France.

I boarded the train. I had booked a couchette, meaning my compartment in the train would eventually become a travelling bedroom. The train departed around eight in the evening. At some time the conductor came along and showed us how to transform our compartment into beds. There was room for six sleepers, three bunks on one side and three on the other of the carriage. We were a mixed bunch; men and women, various nationalities, but this was my first big adventure. Did I sleep? I think so but not a solid sleep through the night. Now and again the train pulled in at a station, names like Lille, Metz and Strasbourg flashed up from the various stations.

I believe it was around six in the morning when the train finally arrived in Basel – I use the German name for the Swiss border town. I remember my first view of Basel being the Basel Zoo, the largest in Switzerland. Not that I actually saw the animals, but it there were posters nailed to the fence surrounding the zoo where the train passed.

My journey was finished?: no, not quite. I was entering Switzerland with a work permit and the Swiss do not allow anyone to arrive and go to work. You have to be certified as being healthy, meaning that a medical examination was necessary. Of course I had three days to report for the examination, but I was informed by the people in my Swiss job that it would be advisable to get it behind me at the border when I arrive. I arrived at six in the morning and the border control only opened at eight, so I spent a couple of hours wandering around, finding where the medical would take place, drinking coffee and having my first Swiss breakfast in the restaurant at Basel station.

Luckily the building for the examination was very near the station. When I eventually entered, I found I was not alone. There must have been at least one hundred people waiting, from all over the world. Arab countries, the states, other European countries, we all had to be examined and certified. This was a long while ago, but I still have a few memories. First of all they took my passport. Afterwards they took my blood and finally I had a chest x-ray. The Swiss did not want any tuberculosis being dragged into the country.

I was told to come back in two hours for the result.

“Huh! and what about my passport?”

The unfriendly answer “When you come back and everything is in order, you get your passport.”

“And if things are not in order?”

“Your problem.”

I returned after another long wait somewhere in a restaurant, feeling now very tired. I was clean, healthy and ready to go. They gave me my passport: no word of congratulations, nice to see you here. Just “now you can go”. I remember vividly a young American girl where they had found something on her x-ray. Her right of entry into Switzerland was refused. She was in tears; she had a job waiting for her and felt completely healthy. I am sure the results of her medical examination were true, but I really felt sorry for her.

I again went to the main station in Basel, where I boarded the train for Zürich. I arrived at Zürich station where the wife of my new boss picked me up in her car and took me to my new apartment, which was in the same house as she and her family lived.

I arrived around midday and lunch had been cooked for me. I remember unpacking and having a lay down on the bed. I fell asleep and awoke again at eight in the evening. Can you imagine, my internal clock was completely out of time.

This was my first cross country(ies) trip of a lifetime and I am still in Switzerland. A few other jobs and homes later, but I have arrived. I lived 20 years of my life in London and 46 in Switzerland: work that one out.

Daily Prompt: Trains, Planes and Automobiles