The Anonymous Widower

Rescued By Eurostar

I hadn’t got a ticket for Eurostar, as let’s face it, what good would it have done me, as I didn’t turn up in Brussels at a date and a time, remotely near anything I could have expected.

So when my number was called after a wait of a few minutes, I approached the ticket counter with more than a little apprehension. After my luck, I fully expected to be told that as it was a Friday and the start of the school holidays, that no seats were available until Tuesday at the earliest.

But the pleasant lady smiled broadly, like air hostesses do in adverts, except that she meant it, and said she could get me on a train in an hour for €190. Expensive, but then it was a last-minute walk-up and what else could I do, as I can’t swim? I then asked how much Premium Economy was and she said €204.  So I paid the extra fourteen euros and within an hour I was on my way back to Blighty. Incidentally booking now for next Friday, I’d save somewhere around £80.

On the train, I got a fulsome apology for not being served a gluten-free meal, but I knew that to get one, you have to book in advance. But at least the food was infinitely better than the rubbish you get on German trains, where gluten is compulsory in all snacks.

The train had a very unusual passenger.

A Very Unusual Passenger

A Very Unusual Passenger

The balloon was tied to a child’s buggy.  It did give one of the stewards a bit of a fright, as he came through the door.

I was of course, on time in London. But let’s face it, Eurostar have one great advantage.  With the exception of the Channel Tunnel and various junctions, it is a virtually straight line largely under their control. So could we expect that HS2 will be a more reliable railway than the West Coast Main Line? I think the answer will be yes!

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Food, Transport | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exercise On The Go In Brussels

I saw this crazy device, called a Workstation, with a guy peddling away on it, in Brussels Midi station.

Exercise On The Go In Brussels

Exercise On The Go In Brussels

I suppose, I could do with a bit more exercise!

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Transport | , , | Leave a comment

Impressive Structures At Liege Station

In this home run from Stockholm, I didn’t see any good modern station architecture, until I got to Liege station.

Impressive Structures At Liege Station

Impressive Structures At Liege Station

So why can’t the Swedes, Danes and Germans, do what the Belgians obviously can?

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Transport | , , , | 1 Comment

From Osnabruck To Brussels By Train

On the Friday, I decided that I would go home the direct route, by taking a train to Brussels and then using the Eurostar.

By eight I was on the platform waiting for the 08:37 train to Cologne, for an onward connection to Brussels.

I waited and I waited! The only entertainment was several car carrying trains going through.

Car Carrying Trains At Osnabruck

Car Carrying Trains At Osnabruck

i could have sworn that the same train went through first one way and then the other.

I did meet a German lady, who was probably a lot older than me and she was on her way to Paris, after a change at Cologne.  Like me, she had a First Class ticket on the 08:37. Even with the advantage of her native tongue, she couldn’t even ascertain what was happening. We did get messages like this.

Zugdurchfahrt

Zugdurchfahrt

Google Translate says it means train passes.  Passes what? Wind? We were also treated to the site of trains going to Cologne that seemed to be running normally.

Hamburg Köln Express

Hamburg Köln Express

But as these were the Hamburg Köln Express or HKX, our tickets weren’t valid. The HKX has Internet-only ticketing and runs what the lady said were clapped-out ex East German carriages. So it would appear that HKX is something like a German version of Grand Central, running trains in competition to the incumbent operator. But looking at the rust-buckets running on HKX and listening to the lady, they appear to be about ten classes below, those of Grand Central.

In the end we sat and waited on some of the most uncomfortable seats I’ve found in a public place.

Uncomfortable Seats

Uncomfortable Seats

Seats are generally noticeable by their absence on German stations, as I suppose the operators assume that the trains turn up on time and you don’t need to sit down. Uncomfortable seats mean that stations don’t get cluttered with passengers. I suppose though, we could always have played hopscotch.

Hopscotch

Hopscotch

But then I never have and don’t know the rules. And anyway like baseball (i.e. rounders), it’s a girly game. The words are Dutch and mean that the train leaves in 40 mins? – no problem.

They should be so lucky!

We waited for well over an hour and a half, before a train arrived. I got in and found that as the corridors were so congested with bags, it was like crawling through a tunnel to get to a First Class carriage, where I did find a seat next to an amiable German electrical engineer, who spoke excellent English. The highlight of the run to Cologne was catching a glimpse of the amazing Schwebebahn at Wuppertal.

A Glimpse Of The Schwebebahn

A Glimpse Of The Schwebebahn

I think I might have done better to go to Wuppertal the previous day and ride up and down on this amazing train. I’ve ridden it before and there’s a video I made here.

At Cologne, I had to get my tickets endorsed for another train to Brussels, as my intended one was now probably on the way back from the Belgian capital. But I didn’t get the right endorsement, and for a moment, I thought, that I’d be thrown off the Thalys to Brussels.  But I found a seat and just sat put, although I did lose my temper with a Frenchman, who said the seat was his.  So he stood to Brussels!

For the last part, I decided to stand and moved to the end of the carriage, which like all trains of the past few days was full of luggage. But sitting on top of it, were a group of Canadians, who had ten minutes to catch the Eurostar out of Brussels.

At Brussels, I stood by, as cases went everywhere and just piled up on the platform.

But I’d made it back to civilisation from the hell of German railways. And for the first time since I took the Underground to Heathrow, reasonably on time too.

I’d also made it back from Osnabruck, without one word of apology from any of the staff I met.

All I expected now, was for Eurostar to get me to St. Pancras.

I

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Transport | , , , , | 1 Comment

Would I Go Back To Hamburg Again?

Hamburg disappointed me.  I think most of this was because I couldn’t get a decent pocket guide and it was just so hot and humid.

I suspect, I won’t return, as if I want to spend a night in that part of Germany, I’ve found a good alternative in Osnabruck. But I would take the Bird Flight Line again!

June 20, 2013 Posted by | World | , | Leave a comment

From Hamburg To Osnabruck By Train

Although, I was intending to go from Hamburg to Amsterdam, as I said in this post, things didn’t work out as I and probably Deutsche Bahn intended.

The train was a few minutes late out of Hamburg and my First Class carriage seemed to be missing  from the German IC train I was on. (Note the missing E!)  Or possibly I couldn’t get near it, as the aisles were blocked with cases. If I’ve complained about Virgin’s services to Glasgow in the past, then this was complete travel hell, that I’ve never encountered on British trains in the worst of times.

At Osnabruck, I was supposed to change onto another IC train for Amsterdam, but of course by the time we got there I’d missed it.

I waited for perhaps two hours on the station at Osnabruck and nothing seemed to be happening.  There was no information posted and those in Information, told me to wait for the next Amsterdam train.  But they had no idea of when it would arrive.

One lady, who lived locally, had told me that the hotel by the station wasn’t at all bad, so as I had nothing to do I took the precaution of seeing if they had any rooms. A pleasant fraulein told me they had a few at €80 including breakfast.

So about ten, I put myself out of my misery and booked into the Advena Hotel Hohenzollern.

Advena Hotel Hohenzollern

Advena Hotel Hohenzollern

It was a decision I didn’t regret.

I thought that I might regret going to McDonalds for a bite to eat, but the fries and Coke had no effect. The trouble was that the information on the back of the paper on the tray is unreadable because it’s so small. So I assumed that they were as in the UK, and gluten-free! I did think though, that McDonalds were showing some very unsuitable adverts for their target clientèle.

On the other hand, breakfast in the hotel of fish, scrambled eggs, juice and coffee was excellent.

I would certainly use this hotel or one of the other, Advena hotels again. Also as a lot of the trains seem to go through Osnabruck, this hotel is a convenient place to break a journey.

June 20, 2013 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , | 10 Comments

German Trains Don’t Have A Coach 13

German stations like a lot of continental ones, have a poster showing where your coach will be on the platform.

DSCN3058

German Trains Don’t Have A Coach 13

It looks to be a good idea, but just imagine the system at somewhere like Clapham Junction or Crewe, where we seem to run many more trains than our European cousins.

Incidentally, I don’t think we have a coach 13, as we give coaches on long trains, like those out of Kings Cross and Euston, letters rather than numbers.  Several times though, I’ve travelled in coach M.  Is that unlucky?

June 20, 2013 Posted by | Transport | , , , | Leave a comment

No Maps At Hamburg Station

There were no maps at Hamburg station. But there were cigarette adverts.

No Maps At Hamburg Station

No Maps At Hamburg Station

In fact, there were cigarette adverts all over the city.

June 20, 2013 Posted by | World | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Few Hours In Hamburg

I got to Hamburg about eight in the evening and my first priority was to get a hotel. It was a new hotel by the station and I booked for two nights.

Hamburg Station

Hamburg Station

The hotel was a disaster, or more likely the weather was, as my meter was showing 32°C and 70% humidity. I had to wedge the window open with my shoe and that just made the room hotter, as the air outside got in.

When the Tourist Office opened at ten, I was outside and got myself a free map, after a breakfast of orange juice and coffee, as true to form, there was nothing gluten-free in the station.

The map wasn’t the best, as it was far too large and was gradually disintegrating in the heat and humidity.

Hamburg's Street Map

Hamburg’s Street Map

As the picture shows, it was impossible to hold with one hand. Luckily there were a few decent signposts and maps.

A Map In Hamburg

A Map In Hamburg

Eventually, I found my way to the impressive Rathaus.

Hamburg's Impressive Rathaus

Hamburg’s Impressive Rathaus

I had heard of a restaurant called Rudolph at Hafen City, that did gluten-free pizza.  If this was as good as those in Munich, then this looked to be worth investigating for supper in the evening. The Internet entry said, that it was near to the U-bahn station. So I went into the U-bahn, quickly and easily bought a ticket and then spent thirty minutes wandering underground trying to find the platform for Hafen City. If I sometimes find Green Park and Kings Cross stations bad in London, they have nothing on the Rathaus station in Hamburg.

Eventually, I didn’t get tpo Hafen City, as the station hasn’t been built yet. So was this a case of “We have ways of getting you lost!”.  It was also so unlike Munich, where things the information systems seemed to work well.  But I also had a good map from the hotel.

It was then that I said that I should cut my losses and move on. So I went back to the hotel, packed my bag and then returned to the station, where I bought a ticket for Amsterdam.

June 20, 2013 Posted by | Food, World | , , | 1 Comment

Would I Go Back To Copenhagen?

The most interesting part of Copenhagen was the journey by which I left to Hamburg. I suppose though, that the grotty hotel ruined it and if I go again, I’ll certainly stay somewhere better.

But I have this feeling that I like quirky and unusual places like Spittelau and the gasometers in Vienna, the Vasa in Stockholm or the Rock in Gibraltar. So perhaps Copenhagen is far too sane for my tastes.

I also like to explore in the early morning and it seems a city that gets up late.

So I doubt I’ll ever return again.  But who knows?

June 19, 2013 Posted by | Transport | , | Leave a comment