Towards the end of my time living in Germany, my brother decided to visit me for a little over a week. It was sure to be a time filled with fun and adventure that we were both really looking forward to.
As soon as he arrived, I got a call from him saying he was in the Zurich airport considering renting a car. He said it was $900 for the week and I told him we could get a much cheaper rental in Stuttgart (a city that is responsible for much of the world’s automotive industry). He was convinced that was the right call, so he hopped on a train and made the 1-hour trip over to Germany. For anyone wondering why I didn’t go to the airport to pick him up, I hope I can be forgiven because a round trip train ticket just to the Zurich airport could cost almost as much as the flight itself. I’m exaggerating but still it’s close to 100 euros.
Once my brother got into Konstanz, I decided to show him around the city. My brother and I are pretty much the same person when it comes to travelling. We find the things we want to do and then we pretty much don’t take “no” for an answer. This time, we wanted to ride the current down a narrow canal that ripped right through the city. I lived in that city for 5 months and I had not seen another person swim there the entire time, but we were dead set on it. We asked a few of the locals if we were allowed to swim there and they said “not really”. We asked if we could get arrested and they shook their heads. Good enough for us! We jumped in the river and started to drift down. This was such an amazing experience. Even though we were in the middle of a city, the crystal clear water and the bright yellow sun shining through trees overhead made it seem like we were in a forest. The current started to pick up towards the end, and we found ourselves scrambling to dodge the hanging branches in the water. Eventually we were pushed out to the main lake, and we suddenly found ourselves in a busy boating lane. We decided that we should probably quit while were ahead and we decided to swim back to shore.
The next morning, we woke up early, scarfed down a bowl of Muesli and headed to the train station. At this train station, you get all your tickets from a machine right next to the tracks. My brother, who minored in German in College, opted to use the German language setting on the machine. We selected 2 tickets to Stuttgart and our departure time was 15 minutes from now. We took a little time to relax and I kept reassuring my brother that the trains usually come about 5 minutes early and then wait for everyone to board. With 2 minutes left until our departure, we finally started to get a little concerned. We started asking people where the train was until we finally found someone who took one look at our ticket and said “This isn’t a train ticket…. This is a boat ticket!”
I don’t think that woman could have said anything that would’ve surprised me more. “What? A boat ticket?” But there was no time for questions. It was 8:59 and we had a boat to catch. We sprinted to the docks and arrived just in time. We had no idea where the boat was going, we just knew that we needed to be on it. The boat began to pick up speed and we embarked on our impromptu boat trip across the Bodensee. For those of you that don’t know, the Bodensee is perhaps one of the most amazing places on Earth. It is the largest lake in Germany, but more importantly it is a shared border between 3 countries, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. There are no official borders here, the three countries simply share the lake with one another. The Bodensee is pretty much an international zone, and you never know exactly what country you are in. Surrounded by the Swiss alps to the South, and the beautiful picturesque German towns to the north, we were truly in a magical place.
With the sun coming out over the snow-capped peaks and the cool lake breeze in our faces, we decided to take a minute to appreciate the serendipity of this moment. “This is much better than being stuck on a train!” I said. We both wanted to look a little bit more into where exactly we were going, so we talked to some of the other passengers about our ticket. Apparently, we had purchased a train ticket, it just happened to be at a station a few miles away on the other side of the lake. We would be docking in Friedrichshafen, a small German town famous for its Zeppelin museum. There we got a train up to Stuttgart and while we were on the train, we found that the car rental placed closed in about one hour!
Having been to the Stuttgart train station a few times before, I knew what to expect. It can be quite overwhelming the first time, but you eventually learn to make sense of it. We sprinted down the stairs to the local trains that take you around the city. I jammed my leg into the door as it was closing and we got the train to the car rental place with a couple of minutes to spare. Of course, when we got there the manager decided to pack up early. “What do we do now?” I said. “Now might be the time to take that Heidelberg trip we’ve always wanted” my brother said, optimistically. He had studied in Heidelberg a couple of years prior and the city had always had a special place in his heart.
What started out as a simple trip to pick up a rental car, turned into one of the craziest days of my life, and it was about to get even crazier. We would catch a train up to Heidelberg that evening and spend the night their with nothing but the clothes on our backs.