Cardless in Geneva: No longer clueless

I was cardless and clueless for a moment but things worked out. A fax provided the right number to call for cash transfer confirmation. I got my money and could breathe a lot easier.

A recap: ten minutes after the ATM confiscation I had my card canceled and a new one ordered. Twenty hours later I was able to pick up emergency cash at the local post office and my immediate concerns for the duration of this week-long trip were over. Rapid assistance, indeed.

I learned some lessons from this cardless adventure:

1. No matter how careful you are, you can lose your card due to machine failure
2. Check the fine print for your card, find out if there is an emergency cash option and whether this option is accessible 7x24. Will the card issuer answer the phone when you call?
3. Always carry a phone and make sure you know the right number to call when you lose a card
4. In case you lose your card at the worst possible moment (probably before checking into your hotel upon arrival) bring sufficient cash to last until assistance can be expected or bring a second card
5. Obtaining emergency cash required long overseas phone-calls as well as associated service fees, not to mention the trouble of finding and visiting a post-office at a time when I had other plans. None of this would have been necessary if I had brought a second card.


On the bottom of the Rhine

Dear Rick, 

I saw one of your operas last night; you know the one with the swimming Rhine maidens, the smith with the silly helmet, the big snake and the rainbow. The Rhinegold, first part of that 4-pack series The Nibelung's Ring. Quite impressive really. After 125 years you’re filling the Royal Opera in Stockholm to the very last seat (well, except those reserved for the royals themselves but they rarely go no matter what’s playing). 

Unfortunately I didn’t understand one iota. This first part is supposed to be fairly positive (one critic even referred to it as comedy) but to me it was all gloomy, bombastic, mostly incomprehensible and entirely boring. Sorry Rick, but that’s how I felt. I’m no opera expert but I’ve seen quite a few over the recent twenty years so I wouldn’t consider myself a beginner. Last night I really felt like one. You know that feeling when you’re the only one in a crowd who doesn’t understand the common language. 

But I suppose it’s just me. The others seemed thrilled to be there. Concentrated from the very first note, appreciative afterwards. Maybe I’ll try another one of your operas. Not anytime soon though. 



Cardless in Geneva: Disconnected

I woke up to another cardless day in Switzerland anxiously waiting for that miraculous call from the Emergency Folks who where supposed to arrive any minute with a pot of gold or at least some dough to take me through this week. 

The phone stayed silent so I went about my business which happened to be some work this day, specifically a meeting with a software vendor. An hour went by. Yet another hour. And then – the call! I was quite nervous and cell coverage was lousy with bits and pieces of words and sentences lost so it took a while and some confusion (mostly on my part) before we managed to agree on where in town I should be able to pick up my cash. I asked for a fax confirmation and they wanted me to call them back on a specific number to confirm before a certain deadline. Sure I could. 

Oh, no, I couldn’t: “the number you’re trying to reach has been disconnected”. Great. What now? I was running out of time as well as ideas.


September in Storulvån

Getryggen, Storulvån Posted by Picasa

There was rain, blue skies, snow and drizzle and all kinds of weather on that day. My third and final visit to Storulvån last year ended with a lovely sunset. Waiting for the bus back to Enafors I took dozens of pictures of "Mount" Getryggen in its autumn costume. Go see.


Cardless in Geneva: On the phone

Suddenly I was cardless

It’s kind of funny I suppose that someone as conservative as I who seldom rely on credit cards would find myself cardless and bewildered upon arrival by Lake Geneva. The ATM seemed quite confused as well. Having successfully demolished my plans for the next day it started complaining about being temporarily out of service and didn’t accept any more customers.

Time for the first international cell phone call in this matter, to my bank in Stockholm. What a lovely invention, a bank you can call at any odd hour! They agreed that the card must be blocked and a new one ordered and sent to my home. But I needed cash. Did I want to use the Emergency Cash service? Didn’t have much of a choice really and agreed. It would cost SEK300, I was told. At which hotel did I stay? What was my passport number? How much did I need? Someone would call me back, maybe the same evening but probably the next day, and have this fixed. 

With my phone turned on I went to sleep, grateful that I had decided to check in to my hotel before the ATM adventure.


Railing along

International train traveling isn’t what is used to be before the age of low fare air travel. Well, don’t blame me. I keep doing my part. Recently I went to Geneva via Copenhagen and Essen (and home again) in a most comfortable and civilized fashion. The environment needs better transportation but a number of factors must be addressed if railroads should gain some ground again. Here’s my top-ten list, in no particular order. 

The price. It’s not unusual for a first class train ticket to cost more than business-class on the plane. Deregulation with competing operators should help a lot. Who establishes a “Ryan Rail”? 

The reservation system. I tend to do my own research, finding out my favorite route from A to B with exact connections as well as seat requirements. My specification is often complete. Still it can take an hour (or two!) on the phone before the person taking my call has succeeded with the reservations and implemented my collection of tickets. This is outrageously awkward and only true enthusiasts would go through that twice. 

The packaging. I leave Stockholm with a bunch of tickets. Each one is an agreement with a specific national railroad company, for instance the German DB. Their responsibility begins and ends on their own train. Where I come from and, more importantly, where I’m going is of no interest to them. No one is responsible for transporting me from A to B. This becomes painfully evident whenever there is a delay and I miss a connection. 

The view. Window-cleaning on trains is badly neglected in the Nordic countries. Learn from the Swiss, they understand that tourists actually want to see something through clean glass. How difficult can this be? 

The monitors. In Swedish stations monitors are used to provide up-to-the-minute information on arrivals and departures. On the continent there is often one major centrally located wall-covering display but few if any monitors. Instead, there is a display on each platform indicating the next event for a particular track. The difference is significant. If your connection is moved to another platform you won’t be reading about it while waiting at the usual platform. If you miss the load-speaker announcement, you might miss your train as well. 

The food. A long-lived and nowadays totally unfounded myth says that Swedish SJ serves poor food in general and plastic sandwiches in particular. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’d advise anyone interested to try the three-course meal served at your seat in X2000 business class. It’s a delight. Likewise in the bistro or conventional restaurant car where I’ve seldom been disappointed. In other countries it’s another story. I’ve had a depressing and expensive lunch in a Swiss train crossing the Alps (although the view compensated for the food!) and the Intercity from Rome to Sicily with its Chef Express has been a gastronomical scandal every time I’ve tried it, most recently in November 2003. 

The language. Slowly, slowly we’re moving towards the day when you can easily make yourself understood with English on any major train and in all major stations in Europe. On my latest trip to Switzerland there was only one elderly woman in a German ICE who lost her temper, shouted “Sprechen Sie Deutsch mit mir!” and turned her back on my question (about a malfunctioning AC, incidentally). She was the only exception on this trip. The other staff were friendly, helpful and most of them fairly fluent in English. Things have improved considerably in the ten years I’ve been crisscrossing the continent by rail. 

The air. European trains are increasingly smoke-free these days. Sweden took the decision several years ago. Even Italy has joined these days, who would have believed that? Way to go, Silvio! Pockets of resistance remain, like in Switzerland, but there is hope. What a relief. 

The security. In terms of accidents, trains are statistically among the safest means of transportation. That’s all fine but security for your belongings is another story. On a long journey you cannot possibly bring your luggage with you all the time in the restaurant car, to the toilet and so on. Amazingly, there is no way to lock your compartment from the outside in some continental sleeping cars. A simple cardkey-system couldn’t be that difficult to adopt? 

The speed. On real long distances, like Stockholm-London, trains cannot possibly compete with airplanes in terms of speed. But as high-speed connections, such as the Eurostar under the channel, become more frequent the disadvantage decreases. And on mid-distances it’s just as fast to travel from city to city and avoid commuting to and from airports as well as excessive check-in margins. We need an integrated European network of high-speed trains, twice the speed of the current Swedish flagship X2000.


Cardless in Geneva: Card retained

It was a hot night in Geneva when my troubles started.

Having arrived a few hours earlier and already checked into my hotel I decided to get myself some cash. I had all my tickets and I’d pay the hotel with my card so CHF200 should be more than enough. Took a stroll to the Cash Service in the Cornavin station. Chose the right out of two
ATM's, selected English as my language of preference, the amount desired and finally entered my pin code. The machine paused for a while, as they usually do, but apparently everything was in order and it merrily prompted take your card. Its mechanics started buzzing in a friendly fashion and a light began to blink just at the slot where my card would appear. Soon. Well, any moment now… More buzzing, more blinking. Then a few seconds of silence before the screen announced card retained.

I suppose the heat contributed to my slow reaction. It took a couple of minutes before the reality of the situation became apparent. The CHF200 never materialized, my credit card had been confiscated for no apparent reason and my cash supply wasn’t anywhere near sufficient for the hotel bill let alone other expenses over the next four days. It was 7.30pm on a busy Tuesday afternoon and I had been robbed by a machine.

So it began, my cardless stay in Switzerland.