As an amateur, I've paid the price riding the trains like a fool. I've decided to publish this old post in memory of my 20 year old self while she ran around Amsterdam's busy Centraal Station arena.
This is a small guide to how you're NOT suppose to ride the train...
Payment: Though the seemingly high-tech ticket machines might make you think otherwise, the Netherlands’s rail system only accepts cash or a Dutch bank account Maestro card. If you plan in advance, though, you can buy online here. Otherwise, wait in line.
Route: “The Netherlands NS Highspeed train” naturally sounds convenient, but don’t take the name for granted-unless you have a direct route. The Highspeed train travels to a few places in between, but I didn’t certainly didn’t luck out. My ticket required five switchover platforms, sometimes with only five spare minutes for the switch.
If you miss one platform or a stop, then prepare for a long way home. More than that, tell an official that you missed your stop, then prepare yourself for the consequent disapproving glance (yes, you are a tourist, and yes, the official thinks that you’re an idiot).
“Holland’s high speed has not developed any direct routes. You have to be a pro at train hopping in order to escape this country,” says a 30-something Dutch passenger.
A wild grin stretches across his face; my helpless expression amuses him. Luckily, this fellow stays with me from Maarssen (where I was NOT supposed to be) to Utrecht, where he shows me a platform for Hengelo—where I foolishly lose the ticket due to what I call, “amateur travel panic.”
Missing the Ticket: If you lose it, you’ll pay for the consequences. But sometimes even a conductor can screw up. Having to pass Hengelo – where I was suppose to switch – I had no choice but to ride until the last stop in Enschede with an intimidating conductor.
“Fee of a lost ticket will cost you 30 Euros,” she gargles while staring me down. “You’re coming with me to Enschede and getting another ticket.”
The hefty woman escorts me to the vacant Enschede station. No ticket booths were open and the information centers stood closed in the dark. It’s 8:30pm and we stand awkwardly.
“My colleagues—such idiots!” she shakes her head, fumbling with her tracking device and beating the ticket machine.
“I guess this means the ticket’s free of charge?” I smile.
She turns to me with a stern expression. “Well, listen, I won’t charge you now. You’re going back to Hengelo on this train.” She points to Platform Two, which is nearly deserted. “Then you’ll reach the border. You’re on your own. Good luck.”
I’m shocked. “I thought you guys were on top of things! I have to go back to Hengelo?!”
“Yeah, we have our issues too. I’m from the city, not from cow country like this,” she chuckles, and walks away.
Directions: A ticket bought from the machine will not state the platform switchovers OR train stops OR times to disembark. From my experience, such details only exist on the ticket machine screen or online, not the ticket—tough luck if you don’t have a pen or a good memory for these tedious details.
Likewise, a train can have numerous destinations depending on the specific car. I approach a man waiting on the platform in Bremen, Germany.
“You’re going to Hamburg?” I ask.
“Hamburg? No, I am going to Krakow,” he replies. He cocks his head sideways in confusion. He grasps my ticket and squints examining it. “Well, yes you are in the right place. But perhaps you need to be on a different car,” he says.
I stare blankly at him.
“I know it’s confusing, but I think you need to be riding the car going to Copenhagen,” he says.
He points to a sign on the edge of the platform. He was right. I leave the station on the first car, which states Copenhagen as the destination with no mention of Hamburg. The train literally split upon reaching Frankfurt. The conductor on board, though, confirms Hamburg as a stop.
“Poland can wait,” I think, as I press my face against the cold window.
My trip from Amsterdam to Hamburg took 12 hours when it was supposed to take six. But I guess I deserved it. Cheers to amateur travel. We all gotta start somewhere even if we end up nowhere.