Those Who Trespass (#Amsterlin Part 7)

The morning of Monday 4th July was bright and sunny as we arrived at Berlin Haputbahnhof for our train home. I was in a bright and sunny mood. After three nights in Amsterdam and a further three nights in Berlin, we were capping our trip with an epic train journey home.

From Berlin we would take the 10:46 train to Cologne. Then the 15:40 from Cologne to Brussels. Then the 18:56 from Brussels to London. Which should arrive in London at 19:57 – plenty of time for a leisurely stroll up the Euston Road to get the 21:07 London Euston to Liverpool, depositing me in my home city just after half past eleven. That is 14 hours, covering 800 miles.

The railway gods were not smiling.

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Babble on Berlin (#Amsterlin Part 6)

Large statue of a yellow bear, with "I love sausage - do you?" emblazoned across its chest. Berlin was in the midst of a mini-heatwave, the temperature nudging past 30C every day we were there. It was perfect weather for a spot of nude sunbathing in the Tiergarten (not that I did that… ahem) but otherwise, much of our time was spent darting from one shady spot to another, to keep the fierce sun off our backs. Still, we crammed in plenty of sights while we were there.

We availed ourselves of the famous 9-Euro-Ticket. First made available in June for a three month period, this ticket gives unlimited access to all local transport across Germany. The ticket is subsidised by the German government and was meant to offset increasing transport costs for commuters, but seems to have been largely used by leisure travellers, with resultant overcrowding on tourist routes as Germans headed to the beach en masse. Even for us, staying in Berlin for just three days, it saved us money (a standard day ticket for just Berlin costs €8.80).

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Three Pessimists Tour Europe (#Amsterlin Part 5)

We were back at Amsterdam Centraal bright and early (well, early, anyway) the next morning. Our time in the Dutch capital was at an end, and it was time to continue on the next leg of our tour, to Berlin.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it in passing, but I like Berlin, and I was looking forward to showing Mark and Peter some of the highlights. But first, we had the small matter of a train journey.

There was just time to stop and appreciate the splendour of Amsterdam Centraal station, before heading for our train.

Interior of Amsterdam Centraal station, showing high ceilings and arches

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Utrecht: The Ex-Railway Station (#Amsterlin Part 4)

NS railway "double arrow" logo on a yellow background, with a red nameplate that reads "DIANA"

In all my international train travels, and despite visiting Amsterdam twice by train, I had never actually travelled on Nederlandse Spoorwegen. Yes, I have never entered one of their bright yellow trains – shameful. It was high time we put that right.

Mark had suggested we take a day out to visit the Spoorwegmuseum, the Dutch national railway museum. It is in Utrecht, just a short train ride from Amsterdam. Naturally, I didn’t need much convincing, so on Thursday morning we marched back into Centraal station and trekked to Utrecht.

We purchased our train tickets from the NS ticket machine at Amsterdam Centraal. Nearly all train tickets in the Netherlands are issued on smartcards, either the reusable OV-Chipkaart or – if you are ignorant tourists like us – on a single use disposable card, which nevertheless contains a chip, and costs an additional €1 for the privilege (the Dutch word for this supplemant is “toeslag” which to English ears sounds like something you’d put in a Grindr profile, but… I digress).

Dutch train ticket - day return from Amsterdam Centraal to Utrecht Maliebaan

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An Amsterdam Amble (#Amsterlin Part 3)

Hotels in Amsterdam are expensive, and our “three-bed room” in the Ibis was clearly just a normal double room with an extra bed shoved in where normally there would be a little chair and table. It was rather cramped, and much of the time in the room was spent getting in each others’ way. Still, it was the only place in the centre that was remotely affordable, even booking at three months’ notice, so I can’t complain. Oh I just did.

The big compensation was the hotel’s closeness to Centraal station – in fact, it literally straddled the platforms, and access to our room was via a footbridge over the tracks, offering splendid views of arriving and departing trains.

View of Amsterdam Centraal station tracks, with two trains visible and the setting sun low in the sky

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Chunnel Chums (#Amsterlin part 2)

Side entrance to St Pancras station (a glass frontage with many people coming in and out)

It was a grumpy, annoyed Robert who ordered breakfast in the Wetherspoons at St Pancras station. Things improved with the arrival of Mark and Peter, whose train from Brighton had also been cancelled (although they only had to wait 15 minutes for the next one).

I felt a little better after I had finished my breakfast of scrambled eggs and black pudding (which is a perfectly cromulent combination, no matter what judgmental types may say). Together, we headed for the Eurostar check-in and Priti Patel’s Security Theatre.

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The Avanti Aversion (#Amsterlin part 1)

It was a trip over two years in the making.

Way back in January 2020, I was busy planning another European train adventure in conjunction with my friend Mark. The central plank of this trip was to be Eurostar’s new direct London-Amsterdam service. After a couple of days in the Dutch capital, we would travel onward, again by train, to Berlin, for a further few days.

We were almost at the point of booking it. The only problem was that booking for the Amsterdam to Berlin train had not opened for the dates in the summer of 2020 that we wanted to travel. We waited impatiently, refreshing the Deutsche Bahn website several times a day to see if the trains had gone on sale.

Then, the world went mad. COVID swept across Europe, borders were closed, and train services were deemed off-limits to all but essential passengers. I continued to make plans, fully expecting all this to blow over in a few weeks, in time for the summer holiday period. After all, locking down for months on end would be ridiculous, right?

We did not go away in 2020.

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Berl10n

Photo of the Brandenburg Gate

Today marks ten years since I first set foot in the city of Berlin. Since then I have banged on about it regularly at quite some length, to anyone who is prepared to listen (a list which grows shorter with every passing day). And on this momentous anniversary, I’m afraid I’m doing it again. I won’t stop until everyone I know has visited at least once, so hurry up and get on with it, people!

My first visit was with my aviation geek friend Andrew, who wanted to see the new airport that was due to open that summer (ha!). So, if you ever get bored of me going on about Berlin, blame Andrew for introducing me to the place.

First impressions were not brilliant. We landed at the old Schönefeld Airport, which seemed to have been run-down in anticipation of the new airport opening. The attached railway station had zero customer-facing staff, just a row of ticket machines that accepted only cash or German debit cards, with very little explanation to the many arriving visitors of what ticket to buy or what train to catch.

Fortunately, things could only get better, and we had a splendid time wandering the city, visiting museums, riding the U-Bahn and spilling out of gay bars in the early hours of the morning (ahem). By the end of the trip, I was completely enamoured with the place.

Berlin 2012, blogged: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

Remnants of Berlin Wall on a street in the city centre

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Man goes to Gran Can for five-day span after travel ban. The plan? Get tan, ride catamaran

Photo of three palm trees against a clear blue sky

Nearly six years after my previous visit, it was time to reacquaint myself with Gran Canaria. When my friend Andrew used his impressive travel booking skills to obtain cheap flights and a bargain self-catering apartment, I was only too happy to accompany him, and escape rainy Brexit UK for a few days.

And then, as the departure date approached, I felt a little twinge of fear. Omicron COVID was still very much a thing. Gran Canaria was at Alert Level 4 (the highest level in Spain). I did not want our holiday be spoiled by the faff and inconvenience of COVID restrictions, necessary as they may be. Matters weren’t helped when the Spain Travel Health website kept giving cryptic errors as I tried to upload my vaccination certificate.

Even as I packed my T-shirts and shorts the night before, I had to ask the question: was going at this time a good idea?

As it turns out… the answer was absolutely (I speak Spanish now).

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Clockwise

After seeing the Baumhaus, a quick glance at Google Maps revealed that I was quite close to the station at Ostbahnhof, so I walked there.

Ostbahnhof is a station which I have visited multiple times, although I have never hung around for long, preferring to head straight for a train. I had some time to spare (I thought) so mooched around for a bit, thinking I could maybe grab some lunch from one of the many food outlets. I didn’t get anything to eat, but on the concourse, I discovered yet another coin-operated model railway. Naturally I had to put in a couple of coins to watch a train go round in circles for a few minutes.

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