Category Archives: travel

Travel made easy

Back from Brighton a couple of days ago.

That’s kind-of more newsworthy than a simple journey should be.  Travel to Brighton has been disrupted, first by a lot of general disruption on Southern Railways, and more recently by strikes adding to travel problems.  Brighton’s commuters have a lot of horror stories about their troubles.

By planning my journey at specific times of day, I can travel from here to Brighton on just two trains, both operated by First Group, and changing at Westbury.  So I can easily avoid the disrupted trains.  However, that puts me on a short train of just three coaches for the Westbury-Brighton journey.  And from Southampton, it’s a stretch served also by much longer Southern trains, many of them eight coaches.  So the worry was that my train might be overwhelmed with refugees from disrupted Southern services.

So I took a few precautions.  I booked in advance, and avoided not just any Southern services, but also their strike days.  Booking in advance still seems to be a nightmare, but I eventually managed.  Phew!

Come the actual travel, everything is far better than I’d dared hope.  Not only are the trains running smoothly and on-time, but I find I have ample space to spread out.  Indeed, a double-seat to myself throughout both outward and return journeys.  Even in January low season, that’s unusual!

I can only infer that the news of disruption has driven potential passengers away.  People with a choice about it are avoiding travel, not merely in the regions affected by disruption, but also on the mainline service from London to southwest England, well clear of the disruption.  All the better for those of us who do travel!

Advertisements

Don’t they want my business?

How hard can it be to buy a train ticket?

I’ve been trying to buy in advance, to take advantage of cheaper advance fares.

First attempt: go to nationalrail.co.uk, enter details of my journey, select my trains.  It gives me a price, and I click to buy.  It offers a couple of options (forward or backward, window or aisle seat etc, no commitment on their part).

So far so good.  But then it takes me from nationalrail’s site to firstgreatwestern.co.uk for the actual purchase.  Except, FGW shows me the timetable for my selections, but tells me the journey I selected doesn’t exist!  Huh?  OK, click on my selected trains on the timetable, nothing happens.

Try again, same thing.

Try a different tack: start from the beginning on FGW site.  This time it takes me through to a point where it invites me to log in or register.  There is no option for what I want to do – just buy an effing ticket for the journey I’ve just selected, if you please!  Grrr … OK, let’s play along.

By the time I can log in, it’s telling me my journey doesn’t exist.  Again!

OK, google for other sites that’ll sell me a ticket (hope I don’t stumble on a fraud site).  thetrainline.com gives me the same journey and then the same effing login/registration crap: bugger that.  Raileasy and Railsaver both timeout trying to show me a timetable.

Finally I get to a site called mytrainticket.co.uk, which appears to work and after some annoying crap it presents my options rather nicely.  Only by now, the cost of my ticket has just doubled, and is no longer any cheaper than an open ticket.  It’s doubled at nationalrail, too – I guess all my queries have told their system this journey is in lots of demand 😦

At some point in all this I also tried ‘phoning FGW.  Even the bloomin’ ‘phone cut me off after I selected the “buy a ticket” option.  Is this managed by the same people as the website?

Grrr ….

On a separate note, I also had a look at travel to Brussels for FOSDEM.  I asked for a ticket from Plymouth through to Brussels, which was OK.  But then I also tried to see if it would let me book a package inclusive of hotel, after checking the place I’ve stayed in recent years and been less than enthused by this year’s price.  Eurostar’s site tells me it’s not possible to book a hotel because my journey starts in Plymouth!

Yeah, right.  If I’m travelling to Brussels on the Friday and returning to Plymouth on the Monday I must be wanting a hotel for three nights in [guess where]?  Here’s a clue: it’s the same as if my starting point had been London.  Evidently that guess is too difficult for Eurostar’s developer.

Bah, Humbug.

Train+Boris-bike

I don’t think I’ve blogged this before.  Has anyone?

When you get a train ticket valid via London, it includes a tube journey to connect the mainline stations of your arrival and departure.  Or you can walk it – some connections are not unpleasant (for example, Victoria to Paddington is 40 minutes and largely across the park).

Now London has Boris-bikes, we have at our fingertips an altogether more pleasant alternative.  But since I rarely go to London, I’d much rather get one-off journeys than a season ticket.

So, rail companies and TFL, when will you start selling via-London tickets that offer the option of one journey on a Boris-bike as an alternative to that tube journey?  You know it makes sense!

On the slow train

When Flanders and Swann romanticised the memory of the slow train (at a time when many lines were closing, and they may have envisaged the prospect of its complete disappearance), one of their chief tools was the long list of evocative place names.  The (unglamorous) slow train was to be written into history as an element of the mythical rural idyll for whose ruin it had no doubt once been blamed.

Inexplicably they omitted Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, the place famous for its name and nothing else.  It’s still a station served by some of our remaining slow trains, and I couldn’t resist taking a snap of the old-fashioned station when I found myself on a train stopping there en route home from Ireland.  Although the name is descriptive, I can’t help feeling it owes more to the Welsh tradition of having a quiet laugh (c.f. Llareggub Hill, that creation of the most famous bard since Taliesin) than to the more prosaic and succinct place naming conventions that give us names like Plymouth or Aberystwyth.  Even the most expansive English names, like Buckland Monachorum just a few miles from here, don’t come close.

Weekend with a difference

The apache meetup has been very different to bigger ApacheCon and comparable (or bigger) conference events[1].  It feels like a halfway house between a holiday and a working event.  The smaller numbers and informal agenda, coupled with the remote location and fine weather, make for an altogether more intimate event.  Within an hour or two of arriving I’d met two of my esteemed HTTPD colleagues who had hitherto been just names, along with (of course) a lot of other old and new friends.

The downside?  Having to get up at 5am to travel out here, and nearly as early tomorrow for the return journey.  And the youth-hostel accommodation, including the mandatory snorer (though the four-man room is, these days, en-suite) And being isolated here leaves no choice but to eat food that … left something to be desired.  Though come to think of it, it was better than the food ApacheCon 2003 in Las Vegas, when I first gave a public presentation on an Apache topic.

Thanks to Noirin for organising the event!

[1] There is no ApacheCon in Europe this year.  This low-budget developer-only meet is all.

The power of the uniform

Travel to FOSDEM ran smoothly, with just the one glitch.  But it bothers me, because it shouldn’t have happened.  And if it can happen once, …

The Eurostar arrived back at St Pancras a couple of minutes late, but nothing serious.  If I could get to Paddington in 25 minutes, I could get the 13:06 train; if not I’d have to wait another hour in London.  Not a prospect I was keen on, especially since the sleet was falling (there had been snow crossing Kent).  So I headed straight for the tube.

… where I was refused entry.  My ticket was one issued by Eurostar, from the Eurostar terminal through to Plymouth.  It was in a large size, so I couldn’t just use the automatic entry.  And the dumb woman on the manual entry refused to recognise it!

A moment later, another passenger appears (presumably from the same Eurostar train as me) with a similar ticket.  When she too is refused, she explains that she makes this journey regularly and it’s never a problem (well, why should it be?)  Eventually she convinces the idiot to let her through.  Since my ticket was the same, I assumed she’d now let me through too, but no, “I already told you, you have to go to …” well, I’m not quite sure where, but I think it must’ve been someone’s ticket office.  So that’ll be queue up to be told I have my ticket and I should just go ahead and … be turned back again by the idiot in uniform.

Still trying to convince her, I pointed very clearly to where my ticket said “From  LNDON ESTAR CIV”, and the little cross that denotes that a ticket includes a tube connection.  “So where the hell is LNDON ESTAR CIV if it’s not here?

At this point, I see another London Transport uniform: a little man has appeared alongside the moron.  So I tried showing my ticket to him.  He starts off with “That language you used to my colleague is not acceptable“, to which I agree but point out extreme provocation.  He goes on to say that is assault on a member of staff – I guess that’s his training showing through.  But to his credit, he takes my point, and finally lets me through.

I arrive at Paddington at 13:08 for a 13:06 train.

All of which leads me to wonder, what’s the point of having any ticket at all, if a person in uniform can just arbitrarily refuse it?

And next time I hear some horrifying figure for the number of assaults on London Underground staff, I shall know better than to take it seriously.  I wonder how widely that particular nonsense extends?  Perhaps it’s the norm amongst public-facing organisations, at least in the public sector?

Grumble

So once again I’m in Amsterdam.  My hotel room is hot and very noisy, but at least it’s a comfy bed and there’s internet access.

Yesterday started off just fine.  Flight was half-empty, but on a propellor-driven plane which was noisier inside than I’ve encountered before, and vibrated quite a lot.  I had an excellent view of the left propellor, and it created some strange visual effects: a very static shadow whilst on the tarmac, and a rainbow shadow on cloud.  Bit of a drama getting to the plane, too: they put us on a bus but it wouldn’t start, so they brought another bus.  The distance the bus had to take us was 1 minute’s walk!

There were quite a few Apachecon folks around when I arrived in Amsterdam, so after a shower I joined them in the bar.  Later we went out for what was originally going to be an indian meal.  But then they ended up going into a b***** steak house.  Faced with a choice of going in or going off alone, I did the wrong thing and went in, to eat their only vegetarian option: a deeply uninspiring platter amongst which the only bit with any taste was the two one-inch-diameter mushrooms.

With a start like that, things can only get better.  Can’t they?

ApacheCon fun

Well, I’ve left booking apachecon far too late this year.  Results: mixed, somewhat interesting.

Travel is a pain: I was unable to book my usual dutchflyer journey (inclusive train+ferry ticket for a pleasant journey at a fantastic price).  So I’ve done a very bad thing, and booked a single flight out (13:30 from Exeter – and it seems I have to take a taxi to get there in time for it).  For the homeward journey I was fortunately still able to book a dutch dutchflyer-equivalent single journey by ‘phoning Stena Line’s dutch booking number.

Booking ApacheCon was slightly irritating, because it insisted that my ASF-members discount code wasn’t valid.  So I declined to pay online, and will argue that point with them before they get my creditcard.

Most interesting was the hotel booking.  I booked the Moevenpick – the conference hotel – as a line of least resistance, despite my very bad experience with them two years ago.  Following the apachecon link to booking at the apachecon price, it told me nothing was available.  But it did give me a price for general booking, that was €242 cheaper for five days!  It’s still 50% more than I paid for the vastly nicer Renaissance hotel in Brussels for FOSDEM last month, but a worthwhile saving on apachecon’s rates, or the last three years ApacheCon hotel prices (both Dublin and Amsterdam being hideously overpriced).

Expect some apache-focussed blog entries over the next week 🙂

At FOSDEM

OK, I made it to FOSDEM 🙂

Friday morning at Plymouth station, they confirmed there was no disruption due to the weather.  That proved to be half-true: the train was delayed at Exeter waiting for a driver who was stuck on the roads.  But nothing too serious, and I was in London in good time to get on the Eurostar at 14:34, which is exactly what I’d planned.  That too went smoothly subject to some niggles (my seat was double-booked, and more seriously there was some shit with a “personal” stereo audible throughout the carriage – why can’t Eurostar introduce quiet carriages)?  The food was, alas, basically just an airline meal: I guess free booze makes it a supposedly-premium service, but it was too early in the day to enjoy it.

In Brussels, the weather was fine, and after orienting myself (easier said than done[1]) I was able to walk to the hotel.  It turns out to be pretty decent: no complaints there, though alas the sport centre/swimming pool have limited opening hours at the weekend, so I may miss that.

The beer event was seriously overcrowded: little chance even to stand still in one place, let alone enjoy a beer and seek out familiar faces.  I battled with it for a couple of hours, and when I left I’d lost my Brussels map.  Aaargh!  Eventually found my way back to the hotel, where I realised I stank of smoke from the beer event.  Ugh.

FOSDEM itself is huge: much bigger than any other conference I’ve been to in recent years.  There are a few familiar faces, and more half-known people who I’ve no-doubt encountered online.  I’ve met a few new folks and had some useful chats, and seen some good talks.  But that’ll have to keep for another blog entry, if I get around to it.

[1] I thought I was going to benefit from the GPS on my new phone.  But turns out I need a ‘net connection to download the Brussels map data from Nokia, and I need to figure that out before that feature works for me.

Travel trouble

I’m getting very doubtful about getting to FOSDEM.  No problems here in the southwest, but checking several points en route to London, it seems that as soon as you hit the southeast, more “heavy snow”[1] is forecast.  Whereas London itself is forecast clear and Taunton (Somerset – the far end of southwest England) gets only sleet, as soon as you cross into Wiltshire and Berkshire it’s heavy snow.  I checked forecasts for Westbury, Newbury and Reading, representing perhaps 100 miles of the journey, and all are to get the snow.

I’ve already refrained from booking a Eurostar ticket, because they’re non-refundable.  That’s a pain, but I confirmed on the ‘phone that if I just buy when I arrive at the station, the price will not be worse than a fully flexible ticket.

I have booked a hotel in Brussels.  I had originally thought of returning to the Grande Cloche where I stayed in a very nice room for OSCON in – I forget – either 2005 or 2006.  But a look at the map shows that’s a long way from FOSDEM.  Never mind: a quick visit to tripadvisor and I got a price of 69 Euros/night on a highly-rated 4-star hotel, the Renaissance (and as bonus, a 50-Euro voucher for my next stay at a Marriot hotel).  I’m looking forward to it, and it has the redeeming feature that I can cancel on the day if I am unable to get there.

I guess a deal like that means that it’s the best of the low season at Brussels’s hotels, and that they’re in healthy competition for my custom.  It’s a shame there’s no such competition in means of transport to get there, and I have to put up with Eurostar’s pain.  There isn’t even the option of a flight or ferry without going to London.

[1] That’s english for any snow that’s sufficient to settle on the ground, where it rapidly becomes slush if warm, and ice thereafter if it freezes, causing huge transport chaos.