I sat down on the bench across from the train station to get my bearings. After forcing myself to stay awake through a solo overnight train journey, I was absolutely knackered. I had opted for public seating due to budget constraints and warnings that Switzerland was expensive. With lengthy stops in quiet towns, travellers stepped on and off trains at all hours of the night and morning. Some appeared suspect. In the brief moment I did nod off, I awoke to a bedraggled man eyeballing me from across the coach. I stayed awake as the train pulled in to Zurich.
The fresh air was welcome, and I couldn’t wait for a hot shower, clean sheets, and food. But just as soon as I ran my fingers along the map that would take me to the hostel, I was interrupted by a booming voice speaking French. The voice belonged to a Swiss policeman, and it was directed at me. Stunned, I uttered a mixture of what little French and broken German I knew: “mon français est très mauvais, sprechen sie Englisch?” (My French is very bad, do you speak English?)
Judging by the intensity of his tone, I was under the impression he thought I was poking fun at the situation. He then demanded my passport in English and escorted me to the back of a police car. While his female partner sat in front, he radioed someone in French and repeated my passport number over and over again. My thoughts were jumping all over the place: What have I done wrong? I am going to lose my hostel bed because I have not shown up in time. I am afraid. Who can I call? What are my rights? My family thinks that I am backpacking with friends. I am just a kid. Zurich will forever feel stained. The policeman continued to hold my Canadian passport, but I felt assured because I was also carrying my Irish passport.
One long hour later, the female officer asked me where I was from, coming from, and going to. As if my Canadian passport, giant Let’s Go Europe guide, and Canadian flag sewn to my backpack were not a tell-all, I explained I was a Canadian citizen based in Dublin and was backpacking through Europe. My last stop was Berlin. I offered my Euro rail pass that detailed past stops as well as the address of my hostel.
They called my hostel to verify my stay (something I felt they could have done much earlier on), and proceeded to drive. The cruiser rolled up to the hostel entrance, the policeman opened the door, handed me my passport, and told me he had been monitoring illegal drug activity near the park bench I had decided to sit on. He wasn’t sure if I was picking up or selling. I managed a nod and walked through the hostel entrance way. Wide awake, I might say…
Planning a new adventure abroad? Don’t forget your travel insurance.