A couple of weeks ago, a friend was visiting Köln and invited me to join him for a tango workshop and milonga there. He also promised pizza beforehand. It was a Friday night, I was alone for the weekend, and he told me exactly what bus and tram to take to get there. I said yes.
The trip there was much easier than I expected. I took a high-speed ICE train, so the train ride from Aachen to Köln only took about 35 minutes. From there I hopped on the tram, went a few stops, and met my friend for dinner. The milonga was near the Köln Hauptbahnhof, which made it easy to catch the train home. Due to his jet lag and our relative lack of interest in the dancers at the milonga, we left early enough that I caught the 12:15 AM train home. Very early for tango dancers. (Despite it feeling very early to me, all the bars around the station were already closed or closing before midnight. On a Friday night. In the center of a major city. There was nowhere to grab a quick drink before heading home. Amazing.)
This weekend, my husband and I thought about taking the train into Köln for a tango marathon happening there. (We would have driven, but we can’t at the moment. That’s a topic for another post.) We knew we needed to be back home the next day, so we decided to take the train there and come home the same night.
This milonga is a bit off the beaten path, so it wasn’t going to be a quick train ride straight into the center of the city. We also had the added complication of wanting to get a discount on the train tickets. My husband has a local transit pass, so on weekends we can both ride for free to the edge of the Aachen area, meaning that we only have to pay for part of the train ride. With two people making a relatively short visit, it’s worth the discount. However, we can’t get the discount when buying from the (very handy) ticket machines, so we had to visit the ticket counter.
We arrived at the train station half an hour before the train we wanted to take. There were about 15-20 people ahead of us in line, but things seemed to be moving quickly. After about 10 people, however, they closed all but one ticket window. And that agent took at least 10 minutes to serve one person. (Despite having another agent right there behind the counter, they didn’t see this as reason enough to reopen a second window. Have I mentioned my dismay at customer service here? Truly awful.)
The minutes ticked away, and it became clear that our number wouldn’t be called in time, even though the train was delayed by 5-10 minutes. We tried in vain to get service, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to pay full price at the machines. I checked the train schedule, and the next train would be leaving a full hour after the one we wanted. In other words, it would take a huge chunk out of our milonga time. Plus, the last train from Köln back to Aachen leaves the main station at 2:15 AM, meaning we would have to leave the milonga well before 2 AM to get home. (Have I mentioned that everything shuts down surprisingly early here? If only the milongas went all night—then I could have a proper Spanish-style night out and take the 6:15 AM train home …)
After considering the complexity of getting to the milonga (RE train + S-bahn + taxi or walking) and the prospect of having even less time to spend there, we gave up. We walked across the street to a lovely little Italian restaurant, had very nice salads and pizza, and went home. I love dancing in Köln, but it just isn’t worth the public transit headache. And this is coming from someone who traditionally loves public transit and trains. I can’t wait until we can drive to milongas again …