Tag Archives: transport

How not to see Europe

The Netherlands / Germany, 22/11/12: …and the day got off to such a good start.

We were leaving Den Haag for our next destination, Horn-Bad Meinberg in Germany – a country hamlet nearish Hanover and about 6 hours on the train. We managed to get ourselves up and out in good time and after farewells to John & Marie, hopped onto our early tram to Den Haag HS station. We even had time to pick up some breakfast for the trip.

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Up til now, the Dutch train system had been great – punctual, plenty of info and kind to foreigners. Today, however, the displays were all down so we were forced to revert to the quaint practice of asking people in broken Dutch (or English if we were lucky) which train was ours.

Using this approach we managed to get to our first change point, Amersfoort. Flushed with the success of this approach, we next learned that our second train to Bünde was running late, so we anxiously watched a train leave our designated platform at the designated time, 85% sure that it wasn’t ours.

When the next train eventually arrived, the boards still down, we conducted a hasty vox pop and, through the malaise of crappy Dutchglish (editor’s note: Nicole has indicated that she is offended by this description), concluded with reasonable certainty that this train was indeed headed to Bünde. On we scrambled.

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Settling in for a glamourous cross-country voyage

This was to be a longish leg of the trip and the one that crossed the Dutch/German border, so when maybe 40 minutes in our train stopped somewhere called Zwolle and everyone got off we started to get concerned. After a minute or so of nervous waiting and some Dutch announcements over the train PA, it became clear that this train had terminated. Dang.

Hauling our gear onto the platform at our mystery destination, we assessed our options.

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The train information system was still not an option.

We found a conductor with some English and a hand-held device that provided answers. After some stern button-pressing and lively conference with another train person, she deduced that our best chance now would be to hop on another train to somewhere called Deventer, some way south and our nearest international station, and ask them what to do. So after a short wait we did just that.

Some time later and we were discussing options with the patient ticket lady in Deventer who plotted a new course for us that left shortly and would see us at our destination by about 5. Not too shabby, so back up to the platform we went.

Bear in mind that intercity trains usually arrive at the a few minutes early to give passengers a few frantic minutes to fight through the crowds and find their wagon. We certainly bore this in mind as we boarded the wrong train and headed in the wrong direction for 15 minutes. Double dang.

The good news was that getting a train back to Deventer was easy. The bad news was that we’d well and truly missed our intended train. Tails between legs and weary from hauling suitcases on and off trains, we slunk back to the Deventer ticket office where the slightly less patient ticket lady recharted our course, now departing in two hours time.

By this time I was growing tired and stressed and my own patience was wearing thin. Tourists til the end, however, we took this opportunity to explore Deventer. 90 minutes was just enough time to haul our luggage into a shopping street, look at some outdoors apparel shops, get abused by a homeless guy and then drag our luggage along with our sorry selves back to the station. Up yours, Deventer, I thought, struggling for something to blame for our predicament. I might have muttered it out loud once or twice as well.

So finally we’re on our way to our next connection point, and this time on Deutsche Bahn. At last! Swift, German efficiency – exactly what we needed to see us safely to our destination.

But, alas, the European rail network was not done with us yet. Somewhere on the way to Osnabrück, our train slowed and then stopped. Following 30 minutes of confused glances exchanged with other passengers, occasional slow forwards movement and garbled German announcements, it transpired that our train had in fact broken down. Another train was stopped just outside that could take us to Osnabrück, so again we heaved our luggage down and, along with the other human cargo, headed for the exits.

Only I couldn’t open the door. Must be that I’m tired, foreign and don’t understand these German doors, I reasoned, so stepped aside to let a native have a go. Same result. We can see our train outside, waiting to leave. We clambered to another door: no dice. What on earth is happening?? We’ll be found dead here next Spring.

Tortuous seconds and minutes passed as we remained trapped in our capsule, forced to stare at our salvation, like orphans outside Scrooge’s dining room. Finally, however, the doors relented and we ran another suitcase steeple chase to our new train.

A brief interrogation of our watches and some elementary mental algebra yielded the disquieting but predictable result: we would miss our next connection. The helpful and well-spoken German man in our carriage who suggested we call DB to complain did not really help us. In my mind I was wondering if we could survive the cold night on the streets.

But by now we were savvy enough and close enough to our target that we could improvise. On alighting in Osnabrück, Nicole selected another train that got us nearer to our destination and from there we were only a couple of hops from Horn-Bad Meinberg.

Mercifully, the remainder of the journey went relatively smoothly – if not quickly – leaving us shivering on a dark, empty platform at our one-horse destination at 8:30pm hoping for a taxi to arrive (it did). We realised too late that we had actually purchased a first class Eurail passes so could have at least been stressed out in comfort, but never-the-less I rationalised that by turning a 6 hour journey into 12 hours we really got good value out of our day pass.

Furthermore, it felt nice to be in Germany at last where even if we were lost, we at least had a better chance of communication. And salty Brezels.

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Desperate and hungry towards the end of our journey

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We’re on a boat

The English Channel, 16-17/11/12: I didn’t quite know what to expect for this trip but the website said there would be casinos and discoteques. Not far wrong – for a 7 hour overnight trip there was a ludicrous amount of entertainment and lounge space.

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On-board hoops. 8' ring for the flabbier cruise-liner set.

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Chillaxing on deck

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Catching some rays

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Having a lovely time 1

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Having a lovely time 2

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New friend

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Mousse

It might have been nice to stay up all night, soaking up the opulence, but we must’ve spent ourselves in Harwich, plus our old chum jet-lag was still hanging around like an unwanted party guest so we pretty quickly retired to our cabin.

Apart from comfy beds, my other favourite feature in the cabin was the Doggy TV channel, which played a live feed from the on-board kennels, like Big Brother for woof-woofs. Unfortunately, there were few if any of our canine friends on board that night so it was only marginally more interesting than regular Big Brother.

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Boat external

Harwich. We’re in Harwich.

England, 16/11/12: The best thing about Harwich was leaving Harwich. Stop saying Harwich.

We said our farewells to our Warwick hosts Val & David and set forth on British Rail to the coast where, that evening, an overnight ferry would romance us across the Channel.

Farewell Val & David

We stopped in London for just long enough to make me think we could get from Liverpool St Station to the London Bridge and back without missing our connection. Almost true – with our suitcases rumbling behind us we got to within a few hundred metres before retreating back to the station. Close enough.

Eventually we arrived in Harwich. Harwich is where boats to the Netherlands go from. Since we were starting the day in Warwick with three train trips in between, I booked our tickets to get us there in embarrassingly good time – four hours prior to departure. The terminal is suggestively called “Harwich International” – surely a bustling and cosmopolitan port and therefore an easy place to kill a few hours, right?

We were instead greeted at 4:30pm by darkness, a think fog, some vacant carparks and shipping containers and two bored attendants in an otherwise abandoned terminal building. One attendant suggested we could kill some time at a local supermarket, 20 minutes down a dark road, just past a derelict service station on the left, so off we went. We tried to make the best of things.

Success! A long walk down a dark road led to the glamour of a discount German supermarket. Guitar and keyboard stands were going cheap here. Tempting.

In fact there were two supermarkets and a home & garden store on offer. We camped in a cafe section in one of them (dinner closed at 7 though) and whiled away the hours until, inevitably, we headed back on the same long, cold, dark road. This time, however, there was the very real prospect of a ferry ride at the end.

The ferry at the end. Could that be some obtuse metaphor for something? No, just a ferry I think.

So London, here we come

The plane, 12-13/11/12:

After a dinner of Aunty Barb’s 4-and-a-half star lasagne, Mum & Dad took us for the tradionally panicky drive to the airport. With minimal queuing at the airport, this left plenty of time to take in the glamour of airport duty-free.

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Driving the free samples in

I actually enjoy long-haul flights to a point. It forces me to be fed and mindlessly entertained for hours without the nagging sense of having something better to do.
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We were in the big fancy Emirates A380’s which feature a top deck for the master race. A curved staircase and primly-dressed attendant prevented me from seeing it for myself but rumour has it they feature full-size beds, a cocktail lounge, light-up disco dancefloor, a shooting range, a cryostasis option and live show-jumping.

Still, Emirates treats the peons pretty well too. Tonight’s entertainment included two films I actually wanted to see in Moonrise Kingdom and From Rome With Love. The abitrary meals served (dinner, breakfast, breakfast again, lunch) were far better than what Qantas offered us days earlier with some interesting Arabic Twix, I mean Arabic twists.

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Interesting Arabic Twix

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The Arabic Selection breakfast

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Well that's good enough for me

However, for all the fun of being battery fed and infinitely amused, the sleepless, upright crazies invariably set in after about hour 8.
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We managed though and even came out of the time/matter transfer at Heathrow, 11:30am, feeling basically human. Good times.

Braised gristle

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Perth to Melbourne. Airplane food: I still enjoy the format but the actual message left a bit to be desired. At least it’s hard to mess up a cherry ripe.