Travel’s addictive for many reasons, not least of them being the problem-solving involved. Curiously, blogs and Instagram accounts show us the impossible glamours of visiting far-flung locales but never seem to mention what airport transportation they took or how they bided their time waiting at the gate. (Hello, people, those details can be the most interesting part!) A lot of labor goes into going places, and, when it comes to coordination, what looks like SATC II might feel like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
Of my more recent travels, one of my most choreographed days required taking trains from Bratislava to Salzburg. While I got to Bratislava by the wonders of hydrofoil, no such transport was available over the ~237 miles westward to Salzburg. Overall Europe’s trains are friendlier than the United States’, but, like any mass transit, taking them can require a presence of mind I wasn’t totally sure I had. (Others can correct me, but I feel like trains are 90% planning and 10% luck. There’s not a lot you can do about strikes, incorrect platform signage, etc.)
My 5-hour journey between the cities required two trains:
1. Bratislava to Vienna: While just an hour, this trip was complicated by my being unable to speak Slovak or buy a ticket until physically in Bratislava (they didn’t sell online or in Vienna). Also, to shorten the trip time and make transferring simple, I needed to use a more-out-of-the-way station.
2. Vienna to Salzburg: Fortunately, I was able to buy this ticket ahead of time and print it out in Vienna. Because Wien Meidling (the Vienna station where I transferred trains) is so large, my main concern was that it would be a challenge to transfer platforms in 20 minutes’ time.
Since it isn’t particularly near the historic center, I took a cab to the Bratislava Petržalka train station. (Though the tourist office did say taking a bus to get there would be easy.) Considering godforsaken pictures of Petržalka I’d seen, its contemporary interiors were a small surprise. None of the ticket vendors spoke English, which I’d been mentally prepared for if not verbally.
Once on the platform, I couldn’t find the train to Vienna for the longest time. Then, only after seeing a couple people walk off to the right, did I realize it had been sitting there (way, way off in the distance, past the platform–not even visible in this photo) the whole time. Close call! Luckily, the seats were mostly empty and in decent shape. Because I toted around my trusty Eagle Creek daypack during the trip, finding room for luggage wasn’t a problem.
And then we rolled into Vienna, and I listened to the overhead announcements extremely carefully. While I knew there would be stops before Wien Meidling station, it can be easy to lose your bearings during that stage–especially when everyone else is exiting and you’re one of the only passengers left.
Arriving at Wien Meidling
Eventually, after many stops and starts, the train rolled into Wien Meidling and I disembarked. With 20 minutes on the clock, I ended up finding which platform to wait at by… looking it up on my smartphone. And finally, at 11:57 AM, my train appeared on the sign overhead, arriving 3 minutes later.
Train #2 rolled up and we all boarded–finding a seat wasn’t hard at all. For the next few hours I was happy to sit back, listen to podcasts, and enjoy the hills…
Salzburg Hauptbahnhof Station
By the time I reached the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof station (which, pictured below, has all your sauerkraut needs covered), I was both proud of my rail journey and ridiculously tired. Wonderfully, my hotel was just a block away, presenting a great opportunity to nap, shower, and look forward to castles and mountains in the days to come.