Saturday 13th June
As we left the accommodation we made one final journey to Wernigerode station. We watched a train depart and then I said my goodbyes to dad and Jenny. It had only felt like a few days and was hard to believe it had been a week. I’d have loved to have stayed and explored more of Saxony especially Dresden with them and I know I’ll feel slightly envious when I hear how the rest of the trip went.
I sat on Wernigerode station and my train to Goslar arrived and left exactly at the scheduled time of 11.20. During May railway staff had been on strike however luckily they were currently in mediation which meant there couldn’t be a strike until the second week of June and I wouldn’t be affected.
My internet booking told me what platforms I needed and which I’d arrive on so when I arrived at Goslar (on time) I saw I had an easy change from platform 5 to 4. I was well aware a delay on this stage would be unrecoverable so I was thankful it was as easy I’d anticipated.
In the UK a 9 minute transfer would have been tight and risky if not reckless especially as bookings do not state in advance which platform a train departs from so you are entirely at the mercy of Sods Law. I’m sure this information could be provided and if not it really begs the question why. Is there really no routine to which platform a long distance train will arrive and depart from and does our network therfore run on organised chaos and chance? When it comes to trains in my recent experience Germany wins handsomely.
The train to Hannover was also on time and quite empty. I was pleasantly surprised to note there was an electric socket so I could add a bit of juice to my tablet which still had to last another 10 hours. I had a break from writing and had some of my lunch and snacks. I finally finished off the pretzels I brought enroute to Wernigerode and which had served me well for 5 days when I’d been peckish. I don’t normally opt for pretzels, in fact I never have and I don’t really know why I had on this occasion but they had certainly done what was required.
At Hannover I had no difficulty finding the platform but felt more anxious than on the previous journeys. On the regional trains I hadn’t had a seat reservation and could sit anywhere as they were relatively empty however for my train to Koln I did have a seat reservation and the platform was heaving. Whilst I understood in theory which carriage (32) and seat (window 62) I had reserved when the train came in I had no idea where to actually go as there were no numbers on the side. All I knew was to stay in the back half because it appeared the front was going to Dusseldorf.
Luckily the station porter was able to explain and I made my way to the second to last carriage. It was chaos on the inside with suitcases everywhere and people that had got on the wrong carriage blocking the path as they stood confused looking at boards. Eventually I was able to make my way to my seat and as a bonus it was by the luggage rack.
Someone was in my seat so I took theirs because I wasn’t overly fussed about being by the window and they’d taken their shoes off and clearly made themselves at home. I wrote a bit of my blog before slowly dozing off and I woke up with a start realising the guy next to me was standing on his seat trying to check his bag. I offered to get out but he refused and so I dozed off again.
By the time we arrived at Hagen Hbf (station) we were running slightly late though I wasn’t overly concerned as I had 30 minutes before my train to Brussels from Koln. As we approached Wuppertal I looked out for the schwebebahn and whilst I saw the route briefly outside the window opposite I didn’t catch a final glimpse of any of the trains.
When we finally arrived in Koln we were over 10 minutes. I couldn’t see an information board showing my train to Brussels but thankfully found an information desk. Ironically the platform I needed was the one I’d just come down from so I made my way back up. This time I found my carriage straight away as they were more clearly labelled and took my seat by the window which had a electric socket.
The German trains had been fine but the Thayls which wasn’t run by DB somewhat predictably ground to a halt 15 minutes outside of Achen with an accompanying announcement stating “no further information about this delay is available”. It was slightly unnerving when we had stopped but I knew whilst I had to check in 30 minutes before departure I had allowed an additional 50 minutes just in case. When there was finally an announcement in a mixture of French and broken English I became slightly concerned when I thought it said the delay would be 50 minutes due to the line being closed. However fortunately shortly after we left and I realised it had probably said 15 minutes.
I had relied on 5 train changes but as I pulled in to Brussels I knew I was well and truly homeward bound. I had been on the train for just over 7 hours and 30 minutes and the fact I was only 18 minutes late didn’t seem that bad. As I made my way to the Eurostar I debated in my head which language I should say hello. By now I was quite used to attempting to speak German but I was in Belgium with a arrow ahead clearly saying “To the UK”. I decided on a cheery bonjour and in a rather surreal way they replied ‘Ello in a typical friendly cockney accent.
At baggage control I got overtaken by a group of over excited adults of my parents generation as I calmly ensured I’d removed everything that would cause the machine to bleep. Not heeding my actions they then delayed everyone behind as each one caused it to bleep and for bags to be taken to one side. They received a glare and a tut off me, not that I was in any hurry but it was the principle.
I still remember when I travelled on the Eurostar to Waterloo from Paris on my first and only journey in the late 1990s and how modern it felt. The first thing I noticed this time more than 15 years later is how much the carriage I was on had aged. I suppose I had been spoilt by the larger German trains but I was amazed at the lack of leg room and space. I’d booked my tickets quite late and I was probably lucky to even get a seat considering the Brussels to London train isn’t that frequent but for the price I’d paid I expected more than what the carriage offered (not even an electric plug). A refreshing complimentary glass of champagne in a gold goblet would have gone some way to making amends but I assume this isn’t available to cattle class.
I caught up with my blog and contemplated reading my new book but in the end I decided to relax with my music. It had been quite a hectic build up to the holiday as I’d left my home of 5 years the week before and moved to a new flat share in Balham. I hadn’t seen much of my new housemates in my first week and as I entered the tunnel I knew I was quite excited to properly be starting my next chapter in London. Recently I have met some great mutual friends that share my sense of adventure. Unfortunately one of them is due back to the ‘Land Down Under’ soon and all it’s done is reinforced my belief you just have to make the most of life’s experiences whilst you can.