Flight-free Travel

I’m now in Amsterdam for ApacheCon next week. I set out late Friday evening, and arrived later than expected on Saturday, having successfully avoided flying. The experience was mixed, but mostly positive.

To begin at the beginning, waiting for the bus to Plymouth onna Friday night was ‘interesting’. The bus station is a regular spot for all our local underage drinkers, and there were also two other mature men with character catching my bus. All in all, a little more lively than usual. Thankfully there wasn’t anyone inflicting mobile-phone-ghetto-blaster or similar noise on the bus.

Next the overnight train to London. This was my first time on a sleeper train in the UK, and I had little idea what to expect. I got a tiny compartment to myself, so privacy was a definite plus. The bed was made up, but was very narrow, and the mattress was lumpy – ugh. On the plus side, it remained surprisingly quiet as the train travelled. On the minus side, I couldn’t open the window, but had to rely on their ventilation system (which at least worked).

They served me a complimentary cuppa just before five, after which I took the tube to Liverpool Street. It’s many years since I used Liverpool street. It’s changed, and not entirely for the better. The main departures board is incredibly high up, and set against blindingly bright lights in the roof. I couldn’t read the b***** thing at all! Other departures information was hard to read, too. But eventually I got the train I needed, the 06:18 to Harwich.

Checkin at Harwich involved queueing, made 1000% worse by the bloody muzak. Still, at least we no longer have smokers making such queues a misery. Another very stupid thing: there are no gangways for foot passengers, so at both ends they packed us onto a ghastly bus and drove us on/off. At the Dutch end, this meant waiting until everyone else had gone.

I had three options for my big backpack:

  1. Check it in airport-style.
  2. Keep it with me throughout.
  3. Carry it on, but leave it in the secure (locked) room by reception during the voyage.

I chose the third option. That was great but for the fact we were late setting off, and they were therefore late coming to lock it. I waited around, which was tedious.

The boat was very big, and clearly a mainstay of European trade, having a large area devoted to huge ro-ro containers. The truckers are clearly valued regulars, and have some dedicated facilities such as a fast-track reception desk separate from the riff-raff. But it was a pretty decent experience even for mere plebs, with ample, comfortable space inside, and the opportunity to go up on deck (though alas no decent outdoor seating). Lunch on board was very nice indeed, apart from the ripoff price and miserly portions of anything to drink (even a glass of water or cup of tea). Overall, I liked it.

I already mentioned the stupid wait at the dutch end. But that was only the start of it. There were no trains running from Hook of Holland to anywhere, and the only information available was by asking around. Eventually we ended up taking a coach to some station with a train service, then a train to Rotterdam, and finally a train from there to Amsterdam. Instead of arriving at about six, we made it to Amsterdam at eight.

Just to round off the story, a tale of hotel overbooking and a very long and tedious checkin process. But I’ll leave that for now.

Posted on April 29, 2007, in apachecon, travel. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Glad you got there in one piece, Nick. I haven’t travelled on the square-wheeled express (to the uninitiated, that’s the affectionate nickname for the Penzance to London sleeper train) for some time, but I’m pleased it was saved in the most recent rail franchise – they were threatening to cut it on cost grounds. Of course, the London to Scotland route retained its sleeper service without a fight, but then Scotland features on the Westminster government’s political radar whereas, to politicians, the far south west of England is just a region of country bumpkins and holiday homes. I suppose I ought to use the sleeper again for my trips up to London. I like the privacy and proper sheets, and I still think UK sleeper trains are the most civilised way to travel overnight. Unfortunately I’m very sensitive to abrupt movement, and have hearing like a bat, so I rarely actually sleep on the things. Peering out of the window at the deserted platforms of Bristol Temple Meads Station at 3 a.m. doesn’t do anything for me, I’m afraid! So I tend to stay in hotels now instead.

    On a serious note, good luck with the conference.

  1. Pingback: First class travel, economy price! « niq’s soapbox

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