blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

In praise of trains

Typical view of northern France from the Eurostar
I love trains. There's always the risk of sharing a carriage / car / wagon with an annoying person or group of annoying persons, but even so.

On my last trip abroad I was on several trains. When I landed at Heathrow on May 5th it was late morning, so I decided to speed up the next part of my journey by taking the Heathrow Express to Paddington (I usually take the RailAir bus to Reading) before catching my intercity train to Wales. It turned out to be well worth it.  No need to buy a ticket at Heathrow––if you have previously booked on line as I had, the QR code on your receipt can be shown on board; otherwise you just pay the inspector.

London stations are ten times cleaner and brighter these days than they used to be, and Paddington has a quiet restaurant up the escalator from the main concourse with waitress service, where I sat in a padded chair eating a second breakfast and watched the other passengers coming and going. I then found my seat on the fast train to Cardiff (costing £18.50, i.e. less than the above-mentioned 15 minute ride from Heathrow to Paddington. Last time I'd taken a London to Cardiff train, without booking in advance, the price had been something like £100). Very tired after the overnight flight I didn't appreciate the continuous loud monologue from the upper class twit in one of the nearby seats, but I did appreciate my views of the lovely green countryside on that sunny spring day.

My grandson Alexander on a London train
At the end of the week I had a relaxing journey in reverse, Cardiff to Paddington, followed by a ride under London on the Bakerloo and Northern Lines, surfacing at Waterloo in time to catch one of the South West stopping trains to Fulwell, the closest station to where my daughter lives. We were there again the following morning for the day excursion mentioned in my last blogpost, using our Oyster cards.

Then after breakfast on Monday May 12th I crossed London yet again to catch the Eurostar to Brussels from St. Pancras. That was really enjoyable. I had a 20 minute connection in Brussels-Midi (a huge modern station) for my ICE train to Köln and made it easily, finding the Deutsche Bahn's free take-away magazine on board, containing articles I can use for my German conversation group in Ottawa. On this journey I was bemused by the announcements in English, French, Flemish and German, the order of languages depending on where we were, exactly. Crossing Belgium for instance they told us in Flemish that we would shortly be arriving in Luik which according to my itinerary wasn't on the list. Then they said it in German, "Wir treffen bald in Lüttich ein." What? Where? I had to wait for the French and English translations before I was sure that they meant Liège.

Houses in Belgium, seen en route from
the train to Köln
Köln, the Hauptbahnhof
I rolled into Köln on time and took a taxi to our hotel by the Rhine.

While in Germany Chris and I used the trains on several more occasions. I spent a day in Aachen (separate blogpost coming soon) getting there and back very quickly and easily on the double-decker Regionalzug. We had a lift to Bad Pyrmont in Karsten's Mercedes, but when he left us to our own devices we used a local train (bound for Hannover airport)––which looks like Ottawa's one and only O-Train––to visit Hameln, quarter of an hour away, and on the Saturday afternoon returned to Köln by means of a series of trains, via Paderborn, Hamm and Wuppertal through which the famous century old Schwebebahn runs: we saw it from the window.

The station at Bad Pyrmont

The Regionalzug that runs between Paderborn and Hannover
Our intercity train to Köln arriving in Hamm

Passing a double decker train in Hagen station

Inside Köln Hauptbahnhof, early morning

Chris on the other platform
On Sunday, the last day of our trip, we were ready for an early start from the Ibis Hotel at the station in Köln, said goodbye to our view of the cathedral, grabbed a sandwich for breakfast, bought Chris' ticket to Frankfurt Flughafen, and then said goodbye to one another, because we were leaving from separate platforms. I was travelling back to London that morning and Chris had to go in the opposite direction to catch his flight home. It was a poignant moment, waving from opposite platforms as we departed, our respective trains pulling in at more or less the same time.

With two hours to wait for my Eurostar connection in Brussels I decided to roll my luggage outside the station and explore, which wasn't very gratifying, the most interesting part of the city (and I assume the less scruffy part) being too far away to walk to. I gave up, and speaking French now rather than German, bought myself a croque Hawaienne on the Avenue Paul-Henri, which I ate at an outdoor table. Once again the journey was sheer pleasure all the way, the party of British schoolkids notwithstanding––high-spirited, but actually well behaved. I just gazed out of the window for most of it and noticed when the soil turned chalky as we approached the French coast and the Channel Tunnel. At Lille I'd made a note: There's a man getting on the train with a life-sized model chicken.

Approaching the Chunnel, in France
Back in London I stepped briskly down the travellators towards the Underground, crossed the city on the Victoria Line to Vauxhall (it saves time to have planned one's route before setting off) and so back to Fulwell station. And there was my family on the railway bridge, waiting to meet me.

On the bridge at Fulwell Station

1 comment:

CWC said...

I am not a train nut.

I did a little British train riding in 1986. The little wings on the seat backs at the head rest stuck me in the shoulder blades. Luckily an upgrade to first class solved that. My head brushes PTN's roof unless I slouch, those other "wings" were an unexpected problem.

We have three Bombadeer (Maritime pronunciation) trainsets, Photo taken long B.C. (Before Chris). And my 2005 stopover in Koln netted this,

On the Baenau Ffestiniog railway (back to 1986) the sign says "keep arm in". They mean it, the slate cliff wall is about 2mm from one side of the car but the view I didn't have out the other side is spectacular. I have a slide somewhere of my umbrella laid across the narrow gauge tracks for scale.

I am not a train nut.