When I was 6 years old, my parents, my 7 year-old brother, my 4 year-old sister, my other 2 year-old sister, and I moved across the ocean to live in a tiny country called Holland that is right next to Germany and Belgium. We lived in Europe for another 3 years, and moved once within the Netherlands, and once to England.
Having lived a large part of my childhood in a different culture, speaking a different language, eating different foods, and being with different people, it was somewhat of a counter-cultural experience when we moved back (with one more kid) when I was 8.
In Holland, the forms of transportation were more different from America’s than you might think. For the first six months we lived there, we didn’t own a car. We biked, rode the bus, walked, or, the one I remember most vividly, rode the train.
Riding on a train was an experience I’ll never forget. At one stop in Paris, we were crowded in so close that my little sister, on the floor, couldn’t breath. However, that wasn’t the norm. On most of the trips on trains, we would walk up to the counter, ask for 2 adult tickets, and 4 child tickets. The teller would hand my dad the tickets, along with 4 activity booklets that you would get with each ticket. These booklets contained mazes, games, punch-outs of trains, word finds (in Dutch) and things like that. These were the highlight of our train trips and would occupy us for at least five minutes after we boarded the train. Once we were on the train, it was a simple matter of sitting back and enjoying the ride, although when I was six enjoying the ride did not include sitting back.
One of the best parts about the train rides was when we got on a train with two levels. All of us kids would scramble up to get the best seats by the window. The worst time that I have ever been on a train was when we were riding from our own small town to another small town near us. I was crunched up near the door, and finally the train stopped. As the flood of people poured out the doors, I stepped out with them. I thought that that was our stop, but when I looked over my shoulder back at the train, and saw my family still inside, motioning frantically with their hands and calling me, I realized that I was wrong, and it wasn’t really our stop. I stepped back inside easily enough, but my heart was pounding and I never did that again.
However, for the most part, the trains were an enjoyable part of our life in Holland. The train stations were a different story.
In the train station that was near our house, there were elevators to get onto the different levels of the station. These elevators were not regularly cleaned and often when we rode in them, there would be old rotting food or puke on the floor. One time we were in a train station and there was stuff all over the floor of the elevator. I was six and didn’t think before I spoke. When we were going up in the elevator, I sniffed the air and then remarked, “It smells like a zoo. Are we in a zoo?”
My family never lets me forget that time in the elevator, and the only thing that was really important to me about that experience was that the elevator really did smell like a zoo, and elevators shouldn’t, in any country or place, smell like zoos!
Now, having lived in America for another 6 years, cars are the normal transportation, and trains are just a memory of a different place.