Of Siblings and Train Rides
I spent the summer with my brother in Holland where we stayed with a close family friend in Hoofdorp, just a few towns away from Amsterdam. During that summer we made some friends through Church and they took us in their wing and would take us around, other times my brother and I made trips on our own.
In Europe, the most popular mode of transport is by train. Their trains can take you anywhere from the neighboring city to other neighboring countries. Typically in train rides, I like to put on my earphones and listen to music or an audiobook. Other times I like to go people watching, where I look around the train from my seat and make little stories in my head or with my companions in our native language (so as to not be understood) about the people I see. But if I’m not in the mood for any of those, I simply take the time to take a nap.
As much as I would hate to admit it, some of my fondest memories from that summer were made over train rides with my brother. We’ve experienced missing trains, misreading train schedules, scouring our pockets for loose change just to pay for train tickets, catching the very last train and the very first train, waiting on the wrong platform – the list goes on and on. We even found out that you can actually get off a station even if it’s not yet your final destination, just in case you just feel like checking out that particular train station, and then catch the next one from the same line that has the same final destination.
Growing up, we didn’t get along that much and fought like cats and dogs. This trip together definitely changed our dynamics as siblings because of all the time we’ve spent being tourists getting by in a different country. Sure, we still get on each other’s nerves here and there, but we get along so much better now that we can actually hold decent, funny, and intellectual conversations.
One time my brother and I took a trip to Boxmeer to visit the Carmelite community where he had his OJT in 2011 after his JTA (Junior Term Abroad) term in Germany. Boxmeer is on the southern side of Netherlands, about 2 hours away from Amsterdam, and so it involved a number of train rides to get there. Typically we don’t stray away from Holland, so visiting a different province in the Netherlands was a little daunting for me. Boxmeer turned out to be great though – it’s a quiet town with cobblestone streets and it reminds me of the town where Belle from Beauty & the Beast comes from. The town is also right next to the border of Germany, and it was pretty cool that we got to have our dinner in a different country before going heading back home.
While we were at the train station in Boxmeer waiting for our train going back to Amsterdam, I teasingly asked him about his love life. He gave me a cryptic answer and I just laughed because I thought that he was bluffing. He then asked me, “Do you believe in soul mates?” Without much thought, I said, “Yeah, I guess. Do you?” In return he asked me, “Do you think they always end up together?” And without much hesitation I said, “For sure. I mean, isn’t that the point of the whole soul mate phenomenon?”
I don’t think anything would’ve prepared me for my brother’s reply. “You know what I think? I think that everyone has a soul mate, your perfect match, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that both of you end up together in the end. It can be for a whole lot of reasons – wrong timing, for example – but that’s why there’s such a thing as falling in love. Two people can be polar opposites but there is a beauty in learning to love the other person’s imperfections.”
I was caught off guard, and his insight definitely molded my then premature view on this topic. As much as I wondered where that came from, I guess I was just pleasantly surprised that all the time we’ve spent travelling around and in trains has brought about this milestone in our siblingry where we’re finally able to talk about other-worldly things and not just get on each other’s nerves for conversation.
One of the more practical life lessons that I’ve learned over riding trains came from our cross-country train experience. A week after the trip to Boxmeer, we made plans to conclude our summer by spending a week with our Uncle in Zurich. We bought our train tickets and saw that it involved a couple of transits in Germany, which didn’t seem intimidating at first.
The morning of our trip to Zurich didn’t start off that well because we almost missed our train. Luckily we got to board our train 5 minutes before the scheduled departure, and it took a while before we finally found our designated cabin. At that point, I thought that the hardest part was over but as it turns out, our morning struggle was just a warm-up for the stress that is involved in transits.
We had two stops in Germany where we it involved switching platforms, and I personally had a hard time lugging around my suitcase because the stations we were in didn’t have elevators and escalators. I couldn’t ask my brother to help me because he had his own suitcase to take care of, so I had to suck it up and muster the strength to get my luggage up and down the stairs to get to our next platform. Surprisingly, instead of letting our frustrations get the best of us, what definitely got me by was my brother, because even in our moments of struggle we found a way to make it more bearable by just laughing at our misfortune. We literally stopped in the middle of a flight of stairs to stop and laugh at the stupid ways we’ve tried just to get to the top of the stairs.
As beautiful as Europe is, that summer definitely made me realize that it’s not just about the destination but it’s about the journey. Sightseeing, tasting the local cuisine and the like – that’s the easy part. But what really counts is what happens behind the scenes, how you find the words to communicate with locals, finding your way around the city with just a map and a few instructions, generally being out of your comfort zone – that’s what makes a holiday turn into an experience. All those conversations in train stations, almost missing train rides and transit struggles were definitely the more prominent memories from that summer with my brother, and I honestly wouldn’t want to have it any other way.