The cost—and the lesson

I’ve made a dumb mistake. I’ll be on my way back from Sargans at 2pm instead of at my appointment. The email I sent my physiotherapist earlier today was not cheery.

After three and a half years of taking Swiss trains, I got on the wrong one today, costing myself 2 1/2 hours, upwards of 30 CHF, and a missed physio appointment.

Ugh. I was not meant to be in Sargans.

How it happened

Most Thursday mornings, I join the Writers and Illustrators of Zürich group at the delightful bookshop/café in KOSMOS. Today was our last get together before summer break. After a productive couple of hours and some lovely chats, I walked ten minutes toward Zürich HB, the central train station for Switzerland’s largest city. Google Maps informed me I had just a few minutes to catch a train to Oerlikon, where I’d transfer to Tram 10, which would then deposit me nearly at my door. A very common route for me—and almost perfect timing.

I fast-walked onto platform 11, feeling like my best self as I checked in using the Fairtiq app and grabbed a seat. The train departed a moment later.

As we picked up speed I got a little concerned that the screen showed “Sargans / Chur.” I doubled checked Google Maps. Yup. The final destination for IC 13 (which stops at Oerlikon Bahnhof) is Chur. Perfect.

But we barreled on without stopping.

Popping out of a tunnel several minutes later, I realised my mistake. I had gotten on the IC 3 instead of the IC 13.

Maybe it was the heat (we’re cresting +34° C / 93° F) or my own distractibility (plus a bit of over-confidence) or the full moon yesterday. Whatever the root of my confusion, I was going the opposite direction from where I wanted to be. Quickly. The next stop wasn’t for almost an hour. And my phone was at 26% battery.

Problem solving mode clicked in.

I wasn’t concerned about having a valid ticket (Fairtiq would take care of that), as long as my phone didn’t die. (Swiss transit authorities fined a 90-year-old for buying a train ticket a minute and a half too late, so I am appropriately terrified of fare evasion.)

And I had my computer and a lightening cable, so I’d charge my phone that way.

Without a common language, I negotiated with my seat mate to clear his backpack and sleeping roll from the other table-facing chair (dude was taking up three of the four seats in the cluster — WTF?!?) and slid out my laptop. My cleverness ended when I pulled out the cable and realised I was trying to connect old skool USB to USB-C.

Right. My computer’s three UBS-C connections are frequently useless without adapters.

I decided to stop using my phone, knowing it would likely last until Sargens. There, I hoped, I’d find a loan-able power bank (like Chimpy), which are common at train stations across Switzerland. I’d never used one before, but I was certain I could figure it out when I disembarked at my unintentional destination.

The upside of a longer-than-expected journey—with no distracting phone—was having no excuse not to write. My laptop was well-charged and I bashed out an almost 1,000 word chapter for a novel I’ve been working on since January.

Sarganserland

The Sargens train station was spartan. No place to borrow a power bank. And, more surprisingly, no water fountain. (Zürich has over 1,200 that dispense beautifully cold potable water and every Swiss village I’ve visited has had a generous handful, so I suspect I didn’t know where to look.) At least I was able to grab a sandwich and a beer before embarking on the reverse trip.

Cold beer helps with a not-so-cool train car

My phone had dipped to 6% (I don’t think the heat helped 🥵) when I boarded the train back to Zürich HB and checked in with Fairtiq. I asked a stranger if they would plug it in (thank goodness for random acts of kindness!) and by the time our fares were checked, my phone battery had reached over 25%. More than enough power to get me off the train at HB and home on the 10.

The ride back to Zürich wasn’t as well-chilled, but it was tolerable—and the beer made it better.

An un-awful diversion?

It was not the most pleasant way to spend an afternoon. But it also wasn’t horrible.

I wrote. I watched the Swiss countryside speed by. I had a cold beer and really appreciated the exuberant air conditioning of Tram 10. I was reminded that people are often nice.

Yes, I missed a physio appointment, but close proximity manual adjustments aren’t much fun when it’s hot. Thankfully, I’ll squeeze in another physio session next week and the clinic isn’t charging me for the missed appointment (probably out of pity for the Canadian who doesn’t understand trains).

And I’ve learned a lesson three and a half years in the making: double-check the train before it leaves the station!

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