So, the day has arrived. A morning trip to Taunton, a distinctly mediocre M+S sandwich for lunch (Awfentic British, innit?) and then an afternoon train to London.
Travelling via train in the UK still, for me, has the edge over bussing it. Or indeed driving, when it comes to Bristol-London. The routes are inevitably far more scenic than the equivalent road, and you can drink beer on it. Well, physically speaking you can also drink beer in cars, although it’s rather frowned upon. Do it on a bus and you enter a certain social category I’m not keen to inhabit.
The line from Taunton to Reading is a real treat. Passing through virtually uninterrupted countryside and past the White Horse near Westbury. Particularly at this time of the year, it’s nice to remind oneself that the English countryside is both unique and, whilst lacking the spectacular scenic excesses of elsewhere, a very pleasant place to be. Jumpers for stumps, tea and scones all round etc.
Despite this, there’s nothing pleasant about transiting through major UK transport hubs. Aside from the impressive Victorian architecture of St.Pancras station, and the sympathetic shoehorning of the Eurostar terminal into it, the modern-day contents are a pain in the arse. Clouds of tourists (Yep, me too) wandering aimlessly, nowhere to sit and by far the grumpiest security staff this side of the Eastern Bloc.
Still, I made it through virtually unscathed and here I am, ensconsed in the rather European-brutalist but undeniably comfortable environs of the Leisure Premier class on Eurostar. Kind of like a business class on rails.
At this point I have to thank the genius behind http://www.maninseat61.com for the booking tips. I’ve been a long-term visitor to this site and it’s an invaluable resource- In this case he flagged the German Railways London Spezial tickets which apply to the early and late Eurostars each day. Therefore London-Hamburg with an overnight stop in Cologne ended up a very reasonable 109 Euros, first class all the way, including a light meal on the Eurostar and hopefully some sort of schnitzel on the German bit.
I have a long-held fascination with foreign train travel, ever since my initial forays on Southeastern African trains during my gap yah. Sitting in the restaurant carriage of the Zimbabwe-Zambia train watching the sun go down over the plains whilst enjoying a slightly overblown three course meal with a Zimbabwean chemical magnate has kind of set the bar for me in terms of exotic foreign travel, and since then I have taken some amazing trips all over the world. Not without mishaps and diversions however- The aforementioned African trip ended unceremoniously on the outskirts of Maun in Botswana when I realised that, not only was I alone in my compartment but after a brief walk up and down the carriages, seemingly the only person left on the train. We didn’t appear to be anywhere that one would identify as a station, I think I had possibly just missed the last one so I ended up grabbing my bag, hopping off the train in the sidings and trying desperately to work out where I was. Which, as it turned out, was the middle of bloody nowhere.
Having walked to a dusty local mall I managed to hitch to the border on a pickup truck, then onwards into South Africa with a truck driver who only seemed to speak Oofrikaans and hence we didn’t fully understand each other’s route intentions. As such he dropped me at the slip road towards Johannesburg. Immense providence led the first car that passed my outstretched thumb to stop, and not only not murder me, but also to convey me to Pretoria and put me up in their spare room for the night.
So, there I was, and here I am. Writing this from the Pullman hotel at Brussels Midi. Very plush, and actually within the train station. Cracking deal online means I’m staying here for less than the cost of the Ibis over the road. Final ‘nice’ accommodation for a while as I need to not blow all of my savings before I’ve left Europe. I DEFINITELY cannot get used to this.
Tomorrow it’s a mid-morning train to Cologne and then Hamburg.
Tomorrow night, The Generator hostel in Hamburg. Very central, apparently. And unlikely to have a bed wider than I am tall, as I do tonight.