Mar 20, 2010 in Balkans 2010
Early the next morning we headed down to the station to catch the train to Belgrade. I slept most of the way, waking only to see endless flat green fields occasionally. Last time I’d crossed a border into Serbia, the guard had been remarkably jovial considering it had been 2am. This time, it was the middle of a beautiful spring day but the man who stamped our passports was definitely not happy. He looked at my battered document with some disgust, but stamped us in eventually. We got to Belgrade in the early afternoon and checked into a hostel. At first it seemed incredibly welcoming and cool. Over the next few days, though, we’d find that the Swedish owner was borderline insane, quite disturbingly racist and generally a bit unpleasant to be around. Still, they made me a coffee and that made me happy, and it was good to be back in Serbia. I always find it slightly weird coming back to a place like this – I like knowing the lie of the land already but it also makes me feel like I’m in a terrifyingly intense déjà vu experience. We headed over to the Belgrade Arena to pick [...]
Feb 17, 2009 in Belgium 2009
The Eurostar used to come into Waterloo Station. The terminal there cost a vast amount of money to build, and was then only used for 13 years. The new terminal is at St. Pancras, which cost an even more vast amount of money, but probably has a good chance of lasting for more than a decade and a half. Arriving at the station at night is definitely impressive.
Jul 17, 2008 in Balkans 2008
Early the next morning I walked down from Velania to Priština’s train station. I’d checked it out the day before, and found that one train a day left from here to Skopje, at 6.24am. The station was tiny and grotty, and I did not have any particular faith in the timetable. But I got there at 6.15am, after a nice walk in the dawn light through the deserted city. And the train left exactly on time. I was the only person on board. The train wound its way through southern Kosovo, through impressive forested valleys and alongside rivers. Only an hour and a half later, we were at the Macedonian border. I got no Kosovo exit stamp, but luckily I got a Macedonian entry stamp. I also made the acquaintance of an elderly Albanian man, who appeared at the door to my compartment carrying immigration forms and passports for himself, his wife and his daughter. For a moment I thought this might be because he was illiterate; in fact it was because all the forms were in Macedonian and English only, despite the large Albanian minority who live in the country. I filled in all the forms, and we all [...]
Jul 05, 2008 in Balkans 2008
The train was about an hour late leaving Budapest. I’d been getting paranoid that I’d missed it. On board, it was busy, and when I bought my ticket there had been no mention of seat reservations, let alone sleeper compartments. I found my way to a six seat cabin, in which I met two Serbs going to Subotica, two English girls going to Novi Sad, and a Hungarian who got off somewhere near the border. I chatted to the English girls for a while, then slept very badly. When we got woken up for the borders I felt so tired I hardly knew what was going on, but the Serb official who stamped me in was as jovial as any border guard I’ve ever met. At dawn we reached Novi Sad. The English girls got off, and I had the compartment to myself. Dawn was breaking as we crossed the Danube, rumbling over a bridge that replaced one destroyed by NATO bombs in 1999. I slept until we got to Belgrade at eight.
Mar 31, 2008 in Northern Ireland 2008
By the time we docked in Dublin it was cold and raining. There was snow on the hills along the Irish coast. I got a bus to the centre of town, where I had a couple of hours to kill before the Belfast train. I walked along by the Liffey, took a few photos and felt like I’d seen pretty much all there is to see in Dublin on my previous two trips here. I walked up to Connolly station and got on the train heading north.
Mar 31, 2008 in Northern Ireland 2008
The annual National Astronomy Meeting was being held in Belfast. Having never been to Northern Ireland, I thought I would go, and feeling environmentally conscientious I decided to travel overland. My train/boat ticket from London to Belfast and back was the same price as a flight, and I’d see all the nations in the British Isles on the way. My journey started with a train from Euston to Holyhead. It was raining when I left London, but sunny in Wales, as I got on the ferry for the three hour journey across the Irish Sea to Dublin.
Feb 24, 2008 in Budapest 2008
I walked back down Andrássy út, taking a right to head towards Nyugati station. I didn’t have much time left in Budapest, and I wanted to try and get hold of the soundtrack to Kontroll. But I was out of luck – none of the shops in the huge shopping centre by Nyugati station had it. I would have to come back. My flight was not until the morning, but it was leaving at 6.30am, so rather than pay for another night in the hostel and get up at 3am, I decided to go and sleep at the airport and get up at 4.30am. I got a late train out to Ferihegy, but when it got to the station I almost didn’t notice. We stopped for only a few seconds, and by the time I’d spotted the sign and got to the door, the train was already accelerating rapidly. I had to make a split-second decision – jump or not? I jumped, landed with a jolt but intact, and didn’t even have to do the combat roll I’d been planning mid-air. It was an uncomfortable night at the airport. Sleeping on a hard bench would have been tiring even if [...]
Jan 19, 2008 in Sweden and Denmark 2008
Our journey up the coast gave us some fantastic views of the sun setting over Denmark across the water. We arrived in Halmstad after dark, with our main aim being to check out the night life. But before we could do that, we needed somewhere to stay. My guide book said there was a place 4km out of town, towards the E6 motorway, so we headed out in that direction. We walked, and walked, and walked, and I began to regret wearing shoes that I’d only bought a couple of days previously, as my feet began to hurt. We walked on, and I started cursing Eldrik for travelling with a ridiculous wheely suitcase thing instead of an obviously more practical backpack. The constant rumbling got a bit tiring after a few kilometres, and eventually he started wheeling on the grass. After about an hour, we began to think that we weren’t in the right place. The hostel was supposedly on Växjögatan, and Eldrik grabbed a passer-by to practise his Swedish on. I could just about follow the gist of the conversation, and it went something like “Excuse me. Do you know if Växjögatan is near here?” “Växjögatan? I’ve never heard [...]
Jan 19, 2008 in Sweden and Denmark 2008
When we got to the station, we found that the next train to Halmstad wasn’t for another hour and a half. We decided that as it was only a couple of miles away, we might as well pop over to Denmark while we were here, and so we jumped on a ferry heading across the sound. We stood on the deck in the howling gales, and watched Kronborg Castle approaching. Once we’d docked, we had about twenty minutes to spare for a quick walk around town, before we had to get on the ferry back over to Sweden.
Sep 17, 2007 in Eastern Europe 2007
Braşov had an addictively laid-back vibe, and I spent another couple of days there doing nothing much at all but enjoying the fresh mountain air and sunshine. Eventually it was time to move on – I wanted to see a bit of Bucharest before flying back home – so I got a train to Sinaia, another mountain town on the line to Bucharest. I wanted to go up its famous cable car, which takes you up to an altitude of some 2200m, high in the Bucegi Mountains, but I’d picked the wrong day – it’s closed on Mondays. I had to content myself with a short walk into the hills and a look at Peleş Castle, which was massively more impressive than Bran Castle. Then I walked back to the station and got the train to Bucharest. The sun was setting and I had a great journey under blazing red skies. I got to Bucharest late in the evening, jumped on the metro and headed for a hostel.
Sep 14, 2007 in Eastern Europe 2007
At Bucureşti Nord station I said goodbye to Cristi, bought a strong coffee for breakfast, and then got on the first train to Braşov. The train was far nicer than the average British medium-distance train. I found a window seat on the top deck and sat back to enjoy the ride. A lot of the Romanians crossed themselves as we pulled out of the station for the three hour journey into the heart of Transylvania. We rolled through Bucharest’s northern suburbs under deep blue skies, and before long hills were rising from the plains. After an hour or so we were in the forested Bucegi mountains, where wild bears still roam. Rocky peaks towered over the train lines and although I was tired from the overnight train journey, I didn’t want to miss the scenery by sleeping. A couple of hours later we arrived in Braşov. I liked the town straight away. The air was cool and fresh, the sun was shining, and the atmosphere was friendly. I spent a day ambling around narrow streets lined with grand old buildings, and took a cable car to the top of Mount Tâmpa. The mountain towers over Braşov, and once you’re up [...]
Sep 13, 2007 in Eastern Europe 2007
After a couple of days I’d pretty much covered Chişinău, and so I walked down to Chişinău’s grand main station and bought a ticket for the night train to Bucharest. The train was quiet and I thought I might get a compartment to myself, but a few minutes before the train left someone joined me. When the train left at ten past five, I spent a while looking out of the windows at the beautiful Moldovan countryside rolling by in the evening sun, and then I got talking to my travelling companion. He was called Cristi, and luckily he spoke quite a lot of English. He was Romanian but married to a Moldovan, and he said he thought Moldovans were friendlier and more honest than Romanians. It turned out that he was on the first stage of a journey to Italy, where he was planning to work for at least a year. Romania had been a member of the EU for nine months and he was taking advantage of the free movement of labour that this brought. But I felt sad for him that he was leaving behind his wife, and didn’t know when he would see her again. As [...]
Sep 04, 2007 in Eastern Europe 2007
The next day it was raining heavily. Only a couple of weeks earlier, Ukraine had been in the grip of a fearsome heatwave with temperatures well over 40°C, but it had clearly broken now. Lviv in the rain was not quite as enchanting as Lviv in the sunshine, and I decided to book a train to Kiev for that evening. To do this, I went to the ticket booking office in town, and reused a method which had worked a treat when I was in Moscow – I wrote down my destination in Cyrillic, the time of train I wanted, and the word for ‘sleeper’, and handed it over. The woman behind the counter passed back a demand for a modest number of hryvnia, I handed it over, and I got a ticket for the night train to Kiev in return. The train was at 10pm so I had all day to kill. I met Johan and Brianna for lunch, which we had at a curious place that Johan had wanted to try out. It was called Kupol and the decor was pure 1930s. It was like having tea round a very old person’s house. But the food was cheap [...]
Sep 03, 2007 in Eastern Europe 2007
We arrived in Lviv in pitch darkness at 4.45am. I hardly remember arriving as I was tired beyond belief, but I know I found my way to a warm waiting room with my two travelling companions, Johan from Sweden and Brianna from the US. We slept in the waiting room for a couple of hours, before heading into the city at about 6.30am. As we walked out of the station the sky was just starting to get light. We didn’t really know which way town was, but we guessed that it would be in the direction of the impressive church spires we could see down the road, and we headed off. Our instincts were right, and after about twenty minutes we found ourselves in the centre of town. I found a hostel and straight away went to bed. I woke up much refreshed at 2pm, anxious to get out and see the sights. It was a warm afternoon and I headed out to Svoboda, the main street, to check out the atmosphere. Then I walked up to the historic centre, Ploshcha Rynok, and looked around there. In the evening I met up with Johan and Brianna for a meal. The [...]
Apr 24, 2007 in China 2007
It took me a while to buy my ticket to Hong Kong. The easy bit was knowing I needed to ask for ‘Jiulong’, the Mandarin for Kowloon. The much harder bit was finding the ticket office. After lengthy periods in three different queues in two different buildings near Shanghai train station, I finally got my hands on a ticket. While I’d been in Beijing, watching China’s English-language news channel, one of the stories was that the national rail network had just been upgraded and all journeys were now quicker. If I’d taken this train a week ago it would have been a 24 hour journey, but today it was down to 20 hours. I got a China exit stamp and boarded the train. We rumbled out of Shanghai, and for hours we passed through its vast suburbs. I didn’t see any significant area of green land before the sun set. It had been sunny when I left Shanghai. In the morning, we were in the rice fields of southern China, under heavy skies and with rain lashing down. I watched the terraces go by and we slowly approached Hong Kong. I went in search of breakfast, and found the restaurant [...]
Dec 01, 2006 in Finland 2006
On my first trip to Finland I hadn’t seen anything of Tampere beyond the train station. Arriving back there three years later was like a bizarre and intense déjà vu experience. As I had last time, I struggled for a while with ticket machines that unfortunately only display Swedish and Finnish text. I could work out how to buy a ticket in Swedish, but was not quite confident enough to actually put my card in the machine and so I decided to buy a ticket on the train instead. With a couple of hours to kill, I went for a walk around Tampere. It was late on a Friday night and things were pretty raucous. My guide book described Tampere as ‘the Manchester of Finland’, and just like northern girls back home, Finnish girls were wearing amazingly few clothes given the near-freezing temperatures. I walked up the main street beyond the centre, through a park, down to the river and then back into town, found a take-away pizza shop and took a giant vegetarian pizza back to the station. My train arrived just after 1am. I got on board and sought out a conductor, but none seemed to be around. [...]
Apr 03, 2006 in Bulgaria and Turkey 2006
I walked back to the train station and tried out some rudimentary Bulgarian to buy a train ticket back to Plovdiv. Obviously for this to work it required that the woman selling the tickets would understand what I said and not need any further information, but she said a whole lot of things, and then the word ‘putnichki‘ a couple of times. She wouldn’t sell me a ticket for the train I wanted, only for the next train after that. At first I was a bit annoyed but later I realised that ‘putnichki’ is Bulgarian for “deathly slow”, and she’d sold me a ticket for an express. It was leaving an hour later but it would arrive in Sofia an hour earlier. So I headed back to Sofia. The train journey was amazing, winding through a dramatic river valley. The villages we passed looked very ramshackle, with crumbling houses and horses and carts being common sights. We got back to Sofia at 9pm, and I needed some food. I just wanted some quick dirty snack, and I was a vegetarian in a meat-eating land, so this wasn’t straightforward. I came terrifyingly close to going to a McDonalds on Vitosha, but [...]
Apr 02, 2006 in Bulgaria and Turkey 2006
I got a night train back to Bulgaria. There were no fun people to share my compartment with this time, just an angry Hungarian who hadn’t much enjoyed Turkey and thought that more or less everyone had been ripping him off. The border crossing was quicker than it had been on my way into Turkey, and we were more or less on time when we reached Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second city, at 9am the next day. I met a Swiss girl in the restaurant car who was also going to Plovdiv, and we both got confused when the train stopped at a station in the outskirts of Plovdiv. We thought we needed to get off, but there was a very large woman with some very large bags blocking the exit, and the train only stopped for a few seconds. We thought we might not be stopping again until Sofia, but luckily we soon stopped at a much bigger station that was clearly Plovdiv’s main one. The station was still quite a way from the centre. I walked up Ulitsa Ivan Vazov to the central square, and without any particular aim in mind I strolled up the pedestrianised main street, eventually reaching [...]
Mar 31, 2006 in Bulgaria and Turkey 2006
It had been a long day, starting as it had at 5am in Aydin. I was tired as I boarded the train, and would have loved to go to sleep straight away. But just as we pulled out of Denizli, my carriage filled up with boisterous young Turks. The three in my carriage were very friendly, sharing food and practising their very basic English. This mainly consisted of the two boys pointing at the girl and saying “prostitute!”. which she responded to by pointing at one of the boys and saying “wanker!”. They probably thought I was pretty unsociable – I was too tired to make much of an effort to get over the language barrier. Night fell over central Turkey. In the morning, I woke up feeling very angry with my guide book for stating in no uncertain terms that buses were always better than trains in Turkey – I’d slept fantastically, and as I had a morning coffee in the restaurant car, we were rumbling along by the Sea of Marmara, with curls of mist slowly evaporating in the sun. This was far better than the night bus to Denizli. We got to Istanbul at 10.15am. We were [...]
Mar 24, 2006 in Bulgaria and Turkey 2006
As the sun was setting I walked north to the train station, to catch the train to Istanbul. At the station there seemed to be an organised scam operating, with people latching onto unsuspecting travellers, saying there were ‘tourist information’ and then demanding money for ‘help’ given. One of them spotted me looking at the departure board and ended up walking with me to the Istanbul platform. I gave him a couple of leva, worth about 60p, and he looked pretty offended. I saw another one further down the platform demanding five euros from a group of travellers. We left Sofia at 7.45pm, and for the first few hours I had a sleeping compartment to myself. At 11pm we reached Dimitrovgrad, and suddenly there was a lot of noise in the corridor. I could hear a lot of American accents, and from what I could gather there was a large group of them all trying to find spare beds. I had two, but I had liked having the compartment to myself and so I was considering quietly locking the door and ignoring them all, but then my conscience got the better of me. I opened the door and asked if [...]
Jul 11, 2003 in Italy 2003
I met up with my girlfriend in Florence. She was in Perugia for a month but was soon going to be moving to Florence for nine months, so we went househunting. It was phenomenally hot, and massively over-crowded, and I didn’t really like it that much. The best thing about the day was the views of the Umbrian and Tuscan countryside as we passed through on the train.
Feb 09, 2003 in Balkans 2003
In the morning I headed back to Trieste. I got a train to Opcina, and as we sped through the Slovenian countryside, the grey skies were gradually breaking up. The change in climate between the mountains and the coast was striking, and as we descended there was less and less snow on the ground, and the air was getting warmer and warmer. At the Italian border it was a bright sunny day. I got a bus from Opcina to Trieste, and then bought a ticket for the airport bus. I waited at the station for a long time, before someone came to tell us the bus had been cancelled. There were five other people waiting for the bus, and after we’d been refunded for our tickets, we headed for the station to get a train to Monfalcone. We were all on cheap Ryanair weekends, and we still had plenty of time before our flight. But at the station, confusion set in. We needed to get the train at 12.15pm, and by the time we’d all got our tickets it was 12.14pm. We rushed onto the platform, and there was a train there which half the group jumped on. But this [...]
Feb 08, 2003 in Balkans 2003
In the afternoon I got a train to Ljubljana. I shared a compartment with a Croat called Srečko, who was a journalist on his way to do an interview in Ljubljana. He said his German was better than his English, but my German wasn’t up to a conversation so we spoke in English. About half an hour out of Zagreb we arrived at the Slovenian border, and Srečko said that even now, eleven years after independence, he was still surprised by how close the border was to the capital. For most of the journey to Ljubljana we were rumbling along in the valley of the Sava River. Out in the countryside there was thick snow, and the green river was hemmed in by steep forested mountains. It all looked pretty stunning, especially when new snow began to fall. Srečko said he often travelled this way, but never got bored of the scenery.
Feb 07, 2003 in Balkans 2003
A week ago I’d missed out on a trip to Sardinia, when a couple of inches of snow had caused transport chaos and my flight had been so badly delayed that it just wasn’t worth going. So I was happy this week that the snow had long since melted, and when I bunked off the Friday afternoon at work it was not in vain. I was heading for the Balkans, and my route was via Trieste, because Ryanair was having another sale and the flights were very cheap. The last time I had been to Italy was five years earlier, when I went to Sicily, so I was looking forward to returning. My flight got to Trieste just after sunset, and as we descended over the Alps the snow was blazing red in the evening light. By the time I got to the centre of the city it was dark. Trieste seemed incredibly different to Sicily. It was part of Austria-Hungary for centuries, only becoming Italian in 1921. Then it was an independent state from 1947 to 1954. It definitely felt un-Italian to me. A wind was blowing in off the Adriatic but it was much warmer here than it [...]
Dec 28, 2002 in Sweden 2002
My trip to Norway earlier in the year had been a fantastic one. Hoping to replicate the experience, I decided to go to Sweden for New Year. If the trip involved even a fraction of the nightlife, scenery, atmosphere and sleep deprivation that the Norway trip had, it would be a good one. John and Dan were feeling wealthy and flew with SAS to Stockholm. Eldrik and I were feeling not wealthy and we flew with Ryanair to Västerås. We were all converging on Gothenburg. We landed in darkness to find Västerås covered in snow, as we’d hoped it would be. We got a train to Gothenburg, and it was a fantastic journey through the wintry night.
Aug 18, 2002 in Beijing to London 2002
I’d only meant to spend a couple of days in Moscow at first, but it had held on to me for six days and I really wanted to stay longer. But I was still almost two thousand miles from home and I had to be back at work in just over a week, so I bought a ticket for a train to Warsaw, via Belarus, and reluctantly left Russia. Compared to the epic crossing of the vastness of Siberia, I thought the journey might seem quite quick, and it did. We left Moscow at 3pm, and it seemed like about five minutes later that we reached Smolensk. The Russian border was somewhere soon after Smolensk, but we didn’t stop. It seemed that Belarus and Russia were only nominally separate countries. One thing this journey lacked was food. All throughout Siberia there had been home-made food being sold on station platforms, and it was delicious. In western Russia no-one was selling, except for a woman with a box of ice creams on Vyazma station, three hours out of Moscow. One ice cream is not an adequate dinner, and I would have eaten something more filling in the restaurant car, except this [...]
Aug 12, 2002 in Beijing to London 2002
I don’t think I’d been tipping when I ate in the restaurant car. In China, there was no tipping. The first time I tried leaving some change on the table, the waiter came after me with it, thinking I’d left it by mistake. Russia was completely the opposite, and tipping lavishly is vital, especially when there is only one place to eat and you have to go there every day. But I had got used to not tipping, and I kept forgetting. By the final morning they had clearly got fed up of me. I was going to have a final breakfast with a bunch of people I’d been hanging around with, but the woman in the restaurant car wouldn’t serve me. Everyone else got their food, but my order was met with a look of extreme disapproval and a sharp “nyet”. Then we tried to play cards as we watched western Russia slip by, but the woman came over and shouted at us until we left. Being hungry just added to the slightly melancholy air of my final morning. I actually didn’t really want to arrive in Moscow, and I would have been quite happy to sit on the [...]
Aug 11, 2002 in Beijing to London 2002
Today we crossed from Asia into Europe. The arbitrary line is marked by an obelisk which I imagine would be almost impossible to get a decent photograph, or even view of, from from the train, but everyone tries anyway. I tried, along with Martin from Sweden who I’d met in the waiting room at Beijing Station, and who’d been a regular in the evening games of Shithead. We walked down the train trying to find a window to try and spot the obelisk from, but people had been staking them out and every one was already occupied. Eventually we got to the restaurant car, and there was a door by the kitchen which was open, with just a small piece of rope to stop passers-by falling from the train. We thought this looked like a good place. But with two kilometres to go, the dragon who ran the restaurant car came and shouted at us, moving us on and looking like she wanted to kill us. By the time we found anywhere else with a view, we were already in Europe. The dividing line between the two continents is the Ural Mountains, and we spent the day winding through them. [...]
Aug 10, 2002 in Beijing to London 2002
With no border to cross during the third night, I got a good night’s sleep for the first time since leaving Beijing. I slept right through Krasnoyarsk and the Yenisei River, which I’d wanted to see, but I woke up in time to see us pass kilometre post 3933, marking the half way point of our journey. One thing that surprised me was how fast we were going. The only other trains journeys I’d done of anything like comparable distance were in Australia, and there the trains never felt like they really got going, rumbling along slowly and averaging about 30 miles an hour. Here in Siberia we were racing along most of the time, eating up the miles, but still needing six days to cover the whole five thousand. All across Siberia, there were women on station platforms selling hom-made food. At Mariinsk, I’d just bought a tasty bread thing with potatoes and herbs in it, when an out of breath German guy accompanied by two angry-looking Russians rushed up to me and asked me if I could possibly lend him 200 US dollars. I couldn’t, but Andrew from Australia who I’d been talking to had lots of dollars, [...]
Aug 09, 2002 in Beijing to London 2002
I was excited to be in Russia. Getting a visa had been the most difficult thing about my trip: I’d got my Mongolian one with the greatest of ease at 10am one sunny Monday morning in June, and so I thought I’d try and get the Russian one the same day. I walked through Hyde Park to Bayswater Road, and quickly found the queue. Equally quickly I realised it was going nowhere, and I decided to come back earlier the next day. I did that, but it was beginning to look like getting a visa would be more difficult than I’d expected, because I queued for two hours, until the consulate closed, and didn’t even get into the building. The next day was Russian Independence Day and the consulate was closed. The day after that I went into battle for the third time, arriving at the embassy at 8.15am. At 9am the doors opened and the queue moved forward, but it stopped before I got in the building. Three hours later, the queue hadn’t moved and I was still visa-less. It looked like some serious early starting would be required and so my fourth queue experience began at 6.15am, after [...]
Aug 08, 2002 in Beijing to London 2002
I woke up at 5.30am, and saw a fantastic sunrise over the Gobi Desert. I couldn’t believe that I was really in Mongolia – to me, no country has a name that sounds more remote and forbidding. And the wild expanses were frighteningly empty. Nothing but grass stretched away into the distance as far as I could see. No signs of human habitation interrupted the view. We sped across the country. Occasionally a single tent would appear in the midst of the howling wilderness, signifying that some solitary nomad was working the land. Then, in the early afternoon signs of people became more numerous, and we were approaching Ulaanbaatar. There were no buildings in the outer parts of the city – just tents. I’d never expected the capital to look like a giant campsite, but it seemed that even urban Mongolians did not wish to stray far from their nomadic roots, and were always ready to move on at a moment’s notice. The centre of the city was a different story. Unpaved muddy streets ran between concrete monstrosity buildings, and the whole thing seemed to me to be the ugliest place I’d ever seen. I had been talking to an [...]
Aug 07, 2002 in Beijing to London 2002
My day started brutally early at 4am, and I finished packing with a hint of dawn in the sky. I left my flat for the last time at 5am, walked along the the East Gate and found a taxi. I was worn out by the time I got there, and regretted having bought so much stuff, which I would have to carry eight thousand miles home. I watched the blocks of sky scrapers go by. As we drove along Chang’an, the sun was just peeking over the horizon, and the flag was being raised in Tiananmen Square. I got to the station in plenty of time and found my way to the waiting room. I got on the train at 7am, and found my way to my compartment. It seemed unbelievable to think that it would be my home for the next six days. As we started to pull out of Beijing Station at 7.40am, I was feeling something like butterflies in my stomach with the anticipation of what this journey would be like. I watched as Beijing gradually melted away into the surrounding hills, and after a couple of hours we were in rural northern China. A few scattered [...]
Apr 20, 2002 in Norway 2002
The journey from Myrdal took us back to Oslo across the spectacular icy wasteland of the Hardangervidda plateau. In the night, on the train to Bergen, I’d looked out and seen huge expanses of snow, and the daytime crossing was awesome. Occasionally in the middle of nowhere we’d spot a couple of cross-country skiers. I listened to “The Sun Always Shines On TV” by A-Ha for some good Norwegian accompaniment. One thing I particularly enjoyed about this bit of the journey was that as we sped along 1200m above sea level, we were passing through an area that starred in “The Empire Strikes Back” as the ice planet Hoth. Everyone knows that “The Empire Strikes Back” is the best of the Star Wars trilogy (and let’s not even speak of the ‘second’ trilogy…), so I enjoyed seeing where some of it had been filmed. We got back to Oslo at about 10pm, and made our way to Haraldsheim hostel. We found ourselves sharing a room with an American traveller called Brian, and our arrival woke him up. He’d clearly had a massive Friday night out; he asked us the time, and when we said it was 11, he thought it [...]
Apr 20, 2002 in Norway 2002
The amazing journey continued. We got the train from Flåm to Myrdal, a journey which takes you from sea level up to 860m above sea level in only 12 miles. We climbed through snow-covered scenery, curling around corners so tightly that often it seemed like we were looking right down on earlier sections of the line. About half way up, we stopped at Kjossfoss. In summertime it’s a thundering and spectacular waterfall, apparently, but when we were there it was barely a trickle. We climbed on to Myrdal. Here we realised that we’d made a huge error not buying lunch in Flåm – we’d thought that Myrdal would be bigger, being a stop on the main line from Bergen to Oslo after all. But Myrdal is not a town, it’s just a station, surround by high mountains, with no roads out and serving no purpose except as a place to change trains. We had a two hour wait on Myrdal station before the Oslo train arrived, but we enjoyed the fresh mountain air, blue skies, sunshine and total silence.
Nov 26, 2001 in Australia 2001
I walked to Central Station in a good mood. I was looking forward to a good journey, and it would take 24 hours to cover the thousand-odd miles to Adelaide. As I settled into the blissfully cool air conditioned carriage, I looked at the spare seat next to me and thought it would be great if a cute girl happened to be booked onto that seat. As I thought this, a cute girl appeared at the end of the carriage, walked down and took the seat next to me. As we rumbled out of Central station, we started talking. The train clacked along slowly, the engines struggling to haul the great body of the train up out of Sydney and into the Blue Mountains. After a few hours we’d crossed the Great Dividing Range, and we accelerated down into the endless plains of New South Wales. By nightfall me and the girl were still talking, although we were both English so we hadn’t found out each other’s names yet. When we woke up in the morning we were in the red deserts of New South Wales, not far from Broken Hill. I looked out the window and saw two kangaroos [...]
May 27, 2000 in London to Munich 2000
After a dreadful night’s sleep at the noisy youth hostel, I went back to the station to buy a train ticket back to Paris. Having booked myself onto the overnight train again, I had the whole day to explore Munich again. The day had dawned bright and very warm, and seeing as it had been so pleasant the day before, I went back to the Englischer Garten. Sadly, by the time I’d got out of the U-bahn, there were clouds in the sky, and it was getting cooler. Soon it had started raining. I thought I’d walk on through the park, in the hope that it would soon stop, but in fact just as I got to the point furthest from any shelter, the rain started really lashing down.By the time I got out of the park, I was absolutely sodden, and considerably less cheerful than I had been. However, the rain had stopped, and so I carried on wandering. I wandered back to the Marienplatz, which is where all the tourists seem to congregate. It’s dominated by the wildly overblown gothic monstrosity which is the town hall. Nearby, the Viktualienmarket is a good place to pick up a bratwurst, [...]
May 26, 2000 in London to Munich 2000
I managed to get a reclining chair on the overnight train to Munich, and so slept tolerably badly. When I went to sleep I was the only person in my carriage, but when I woke up I was surrounded by commuters, who looked as if they felt far too respectable to be sharing a carriage with a shabby backpacker. After a 10 hour journey, we rolled up exactly on time München Hauptbahnhof. I had absolutely no idea what Munich was going to be like at all until I walked out of the station. For all I knew, I could have been arriving in a German Birmingham, but thankfully Munich is actually a really nice, clean, pleasant city. I wandered around town until I could check into the youth hostel at 1pm. Once I’d checked in and slept for a couple of hours, I went back into town, via the super-efficient U-bahn. I headed for the Englischer Garten, a huge park stretching along the east side of the city. It proved surprisingly difficult to find, and after some while wandering up and down Leopoldstrasse, I ended up in the Hofgarten instead. There was a sudden heavy rainshower, and I took refuge [...]
May 25, 2000 in London to Munich 2000
My plan had been to go to Budapest after my exams had finished. It started out as nothing more than a nice idea, but gradually I began to think I would really do it, and finally, the night before I left, I packed my bags and told everyone I was going. In the morning, I headed for town. For probably the first time in my life, I arrived there before anything was open. I really wanted to get on the way, and so not letting the lack of either currency or insurance deter me, I headed for Victoria. Here, two major setbacks awaited me. First, Boots had no Sausage, Egg & Bacon sandwiches. Second, the international ticket office had been closed down. Apparently, there are other branches at Euston and King’s Cross, but given that the only place you can go from those stations which can remotely be called ‘abroad’ is Scotland, their use there is limited. So I bought a ticket to Dover instead, ready to make plans from there. I was quite surprised to find a bloke selling ‘Selected European Tickets’ at the station in Dover, but when I asked him if I could get a ticket from [...]
Jul 27, 1998 in Australia 1998
To get from Perth to Adelaide we took the train. Not just any old train, though – this is one of the great train journeys, taking nearly two days to cross the fearsomely empty expanse of the Nullarbor Plain. We rumbled out of East Perth station in the early afternoon, and until nightfall we wound our way through some fairly green countryside. At 11pm we arrived in Kalgoorlie, and in the morning we were deep into the desert. The line was a single track, and so the train would occasionally stop in the middle of nowhere to let something else pass. An announcement was made that getting off the train at any point like this would be a seriously bad idea. “If you get left behind”, said the announcer, “you will die.” It was strange to think that I was able to traverse such lethal terrain in a comfortable train. On the second day we travelled along the longest straight stretch of track in the world, three hundred miles without a single bend. It was monotonous enough for me; I wondered how the drivers did it without going insane. I thought we might be able to get up some serious [...]