It seemed simple enough. We needed to have two packages sent to us while traveling and we were going to be in the Paris area for 10 nights, five of which would be spent at the Holiday Inn Saint Germain des Pres. Julie is a Platinum member with Holiday Inn because she traveled so much for work so she had points to burn. We had stayed there four years ago and the hotel was comfortable and the staff cordial. We decided to have our packages shipped to the hotel because people do that, right? Her name was on both packages and her name was on the reservation. We had a ten day window, how hard could it be?
The first package was our cellphone that I had to ship back to the US for repair because I broke it. Unfortunately, Samsung doesn’t ship repaired phones internationally, so we had it sent to Julie’s mom so she could then turnaround and ship it to us. It was shipped UPS 2-day air with a tracking number and everything. Piece of cake. We would definitely have our phone back before leaving Paris.
The other item was an envelope from Deutsche Bahn containing our German rail pass that we had purchased. The DB website said that rail passes had to be mailed. Why they think it is a good idea to mail $500 worth of train tickets through regular unregistered mail is beyond me, but I put my faith in German efficiency and expected them to be in our hands well before we left Paris.
Upon checking into the Holiday Inn on Monday, June 9 we told the gentleman working the front desk that we had two items that would be arriving for us. He assured us that since they were in Julie’s name there would be no problem. Nothing arrived our first four days there. We checked the tracking number on the UPS/cellphone package and it stated that it would be arriving Saturday. Excellent. We had a confirmed time. When we checked out on Friday to head to Le Mans we let the person working the desk know that we would be returning on Sunday and that we had two items being sent to us, one of which would be arriving the following day. He assured us that there was no problem and the items would be held for us.
We returned to the Holiday Inn on Sunday evening looking forward to finally having our phone back. We asked if either of our deliveries had arrived and were informed that no, neither of them were there. I checked the tracking number on the UPS/cellphone package and it was sitting at Charles de Gaulle Airport in customs. “Your package is at the clearing agency awaiting final release.” Well, at least it was in Paris.
On the morning of Monday, June 16 we checked out of the hotel and moved to the apartment we had rented for the next three days. Upon checking out we told the gentleman working the front desk that two packages were supposed to arrive but had been delayed and that they should be coming in the next few days and that we would stop by to get them. He assured us that this wasn’t a problem and put a note in their delivery log book that two packages would be arriving for Julie.
Monday evening we checked the tracking on the package again, “Additional documentation is required for clearance. We’re working to obtain this information. / We’ve contacted the receiver to request additional information.” I don’t know what email and phone was listed for us on the shipment but there were no messages in either of our voicemails and no emails in our inbox.
Tuesday we set about getting in touch with UPS in France. After several phone calls with busy signals and in person conversations that went nowhere I finally called UPS in the US. The very nice and patient woman who took my call let me know that there were some forms that had to be filled out. She updated the email and phone information and would contact the customs broker to inform them to try contacting me again. While we were moving in the right direction I now knew better than to expect this to be wrapped up before we left Paris in 48 hours so I had her change the delivery address to our next apartment in Strasbourg. She told me that an address change would require a day of rerouting at the warehouse but that we would have it the following day when we arrived in Strasbourg. Finally.
The customs broker promptly emailed me the required form that was basically us stating that the phone was a personal item and we would not be selling it in the EU. We completed the necessary bits and sent it back. Problem solved. The package was released from customs and scanned in at the UPS center.
Feeling good about the UPS package I turned my attention to our DB rail pass. Since they were sent via regular mail there was no updated shipping information in my DB account. I tried calling their hotline but couldn’t get through. They have no online support so the only option open was email. I sent an email and waited.
Wednesday arrived. Our last full day in Paris. We were still waiting for a response from DB. I decided to check the tracking on our UPS package just to see how it is going. Apparently the address change hadn’t gone into effect yet because it was out for delivery. Awesome! They’ll drop it off at the hotel and we can go pick it up and we’ll finally have our phone back. Hey, look! It says it has been delivered. Yes! “The company or receiver name is incorrect. This will delay delivery. We’re attempting to update this information.” What? Wait, what does that mean? According to UPS that meant that the desk people at the Holiday Inn who had repeatedly assured us that they would accept our package and who had written it down in their little log book rejected it. If they rejected that, what about our rail pass?
Deutsche Bahn finally got back to me Wednesday to inform me that my order had been processed and mailed out a week and a half ago. Delivery usually takes between 5-10 days and we were on day 8. We decided to make one last stop at the Holiday Inn to see if the train pass had arrived. I wasn’t even going to bring up the UPS package. It was on its way to Strasbourg so it was immaterial to me. The pass had not arrived. The staff at the Holiday Inn told us that they would forward the ticket envelope to Strasbourg and to email them with any questions or inquiries about it so we did. We sent them all of our mailing info in an email per their request and headed to Strasbourg.
When we arrived at our Strasbourg apartment our package was not there. Again I checked the tracking and it said that it was still sitting in Paris. I called UPS again and they informed me that address changes can take two days when being rerouted at the warehouse and that it would arrive the next day. That was fine. We were in Strasbourg for a week. As long as we got the phone back it would be okay.
Friday arrived and while waiting on our package I tried to resolve our rail pass issue. Holiday Inn hadn’t responded to any of our emails and that was starting to look like a dead end. Having lost all faith in the possibility of getting our train pass I returned my attention to Deutsche Bahn to see if we could get it reissued or refunded. I called the Deutsche Bahn Hotline. My German is a bit rusty so I picked an option at random just to get an operator. He forwarded my call to the rail pass section where I sat on hold for over 20 minutes. Since the phone call wasn’t free I finally had enough and hung up. Then I turned to what is quickly becoming my preferred choice for customer service inquiries: Twitter. It worked. I received a very quick response. Unfortunately it was not the one I was looking for: “Unfortunately, your pass cannot be replaced. Please purchase a new one. The closest station to buy one is Kaiserslautern.”
Now, there were two problems with that. The most obvious one being that I ididn’t have an extra $500 just laying around for a new train pass. The second problem is that the website said that passes had to be mailed. If I had known that I could just stroll into a German train station and buy a rail pass I never would have ordered the damn thing in the first place. I went around and around with the Twitter people trying to get a direct number to their rail pass folks to no avail. I decided to call Holiday Inn one more time hoping that perhaps, maybe, the train pass had arrived.
I psyched myself up for the potential battle I might have to have with a Parisian hotel clerk and made the call. In my most professional voice I explained the situation and asked if our train pass had arrived in the last few days. The man who answered the phone put me on hold and went to check. After a few seconds he got back on the phone.
“I’m sorry there is no envelope here from Deutsche Bahn.”
Profanities start running through my head.
“…but there is a package here for you. A UPS package from the United States.”
I was speechless, I didn’t know how to respond. I wasn’t expecting that.
“Yes, it says it is a cellphone. Would you like us to forward this package to your current address?”
For the love of god, yes. As I was emailing the details to Holiday Inn so they could forward the phone to us it dawned on me that it was there the last time we went to check for our rail pass. We were ten feet away from our phone but didn’t think to ask because UPS said it had been rerouted. All this time I had been directing my hate at the staff of the Holiday Inn and they are the ones who did what they were supposed to do. So what did this mean for the rail pass? If they accepted the phone then they would have accepted the rail pass….did it ever even show up?
On Monday I called the Holiday Inn again just to follow up and make sure the phone had been shipped and to get the tracking number. The woman on the phone told me it had been shipped and then read off the tracking number to me. It seemed a few digits shy so I asked her if it had been sent via UPS. No, it had been sent via La Poste. “It usually only takes three days so it should be there on Thursday.” Great. We were set to leave Strasbourg on Thursday. We could be moving on without our phone again.
Since our train situation was still in flux for Germany and it was looking very unlikely that we’d be able to get a pass reissued I found a place across the Rhine in the Black Forest so if our phone didn’t arrive in time I could easily make the day trip back to Strasbourg to pick it up from the owner of the apartment. The train ticket would probably cost $40 but I didn’t care.
While waiting for Thursday to arrive Deutsche Bahn finally responded to an email I had sent the previous week letting me know that I could get a refund for the pass if I sent the unused pass back to them. That doesn’t help much when no one knows where the pass actually is.
Thursday arrived and it was time to move on. We were able to stay at the apartment for a few extra hours until the mail arrived and I had booked an afternoon train so we’d have some extra time just in case. The mail was delivered and our package wasn’t with it. The tracking on the La Poste website said it was still sitting at the Strasbourg sorting center. We loaded up our backpacks and headed down the stairs to catch the tram to the train station. As we turned the corner to exit the building we see a man in a uniform standing outside the front door of the building with a clipboard and a pile of packages next to him.
“No &%$*#&* way!”
I opened the door and asked him if one of the packages was for us and it was. Finally, we had our phone back. We were relieved to have at least one problem resolved. I was happy that I wouldn’t have to make a return trip to pick it up and spend even more money. We made our train and headed to Germany. After we settled into our apartment in the little village of Fischerbach, and after taking in the view as well as the quiet, we decided to scrap our original plan that required us to use the train pass. Instead we were going to stay in southern Germany and village hop for a couple of weeks. We weren’t going to buy a new pass never told us they received the pass I chalked that one up as missing. So I called my credit card company and contested the charge for the rail pass. I don’t know if DB will fight it or not but they can’t prove that it was ever received because there was no tracking and it is never going to be used because you have to be me and have my passport to use it. I’m sorry but if there is no product or no service then there is no payment.
I am actually happy that the rail pass situation went the way it did, aside from the stress and frustration of course. If we had received our rail pass we wouldn’t have ended up where we are and we are having a more fun, relaxing time than we would if were in the larger cities in the north. Lessons learned? Well, how about if you’re going to have something shipped to you while on the road a ten day window is not enough. Three weeks out, minimum. Don’t send anything without a tracking number. Buy your rail pass at the train station. And if you have to contact Deutsche Bahn for customer service, good luck to you.