Category Archives: Travel

More Top Tips for Travellers

Say you’re at a busy station – King’s Cross, to pluck an example at random from the air – and you are having trouble with your wheely suitcase. All around you, people are trying to catch their trains at the start of the long weekend. It’s a good idea NOT to try and simultaneously sort out your luggage and walk backwards into the flow of traffic. Just one of those little tips you learn in the big city, I suppose.

Of course, if you are walking along a narrow corridor in – say – King’s Cross, and you see someone walking backwards towards you fiddling with his suitcase, then it is also not a great idea to keep walking straight at him in the hope that he will magically disappear. As the other half pointed out, it wasn’t that close to platform 9 3/4. Barging straight into him and making rude comments is no way to get Easter off to a good start.

And neither, frankly, is travelling to Scotland. Since arriving we have had rain, sleet, snow, hail and a flying birdbath going past the kitchen window. Every time I look up – alerted by a banshee howl from the north wind – the weather is worse.

Still, have a happy Easter, everyone. I just hope that yours is somewhere warmer. Like Iceland, maybe, or the North Pole.

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I don’t know…

…how the word ‘queue’ ever got adopted by the English from the French, who clearly don’t even have the concept, rather like those tribes who have no concept of number and allegedly count ‘one, two, many’. This makes getting on the Eurostar particularly painful. When they moved the terminus from Waterloo to St. Pancras they missed a trick and didn’t set up a single queuing system so that passengers attempting to check in have to guess which of the scrums for the ticket gates will have the man having a strop because he can’t check in more than an hour early in it (we guessed wrong). And then when the platform finally opens and all the English people who have been patiently waiting in line to get on the train get overtaken by a tide of cashmere overcoats and dodgy purple backpacks, the effect is more slow moving bread riot than the sophisticated return to international train travel we had all been led to expect by the salivating coverage of the new St. P’s. Frankly, wherever French people and queues are likely to meet, a strict system of first-come-first-served enforcement and clearly marked queue lines should be put in place. It’s the only language they understand*

Still, when you glide up the travelator and look up at the sparkling new roof, which they have managed to light so that the sky appears to be full of stars, much can be forgiven. And Eurostar have set a new standard in train excuse technology – not only blaming our late start on too much passenger luggage (at Christmas! who’da thunk it?) but then blaming our further lateness on the presence of wild boars on the track. You don’t get that at Brentford. And SNCF, obviously alerted to my imminent arrival and hoping to head off all disgruntlement at the pass, declared all local trains round Paris free this weekend. It won’t stop me, but it was a nice try.

*Apart from French, of course.

What Not to See

caution_squirrels

Ah, Scotland, home of the vicious killer red squirrel, if the road signs are anything to go by (sure, they look cute).

It’s been a lovely restful few days in Dumfries and Galloway which is full of spectacular and somewhat cloudy scenery. It’s also full of lovely nature reserves full of signs explaining what all the lovely birds and animals are that you’re currently not seeing. There are rushing woodland burns where you can not see dipper, mature woodlands where you can not see red squirrels, splendid hillsides where, if you’re me, you can just miss seeing a magnificent stag and, on the river Cree, there’s a beautiful calm pool surrounded by reeds where – if you sit very still and quiet for a couple of hours before dusk – you’ve a very good chance of not seeing otter.

But if nature was easy, what would be the fun in that? And we did see some glorious sights (including, in the end, more red squirrel than you could shake a stick at) and sometimes just sitting still and quietly and waiting is an end in itself, and something I don’t get enough of in my life (except when there are signalling problems at Clapham Junction).

And it’s nice to be somewhere where what traffic hazards there are are on four legs instead of four wheels. And even there, one canny farmer may have discovered a solution to the problem of narrow winding roads populated by wandering sheep:

Hi-vis-sheep

He’s painted them bright orange. Now all we need to do is teach them how to cycle…

Ryan Air – the ‘On Time Airline’…

… your luggage’s mileage may vary.

So, I’m back, sort of, although I think my liver may still be awol having had a bit of a workout over the last 6 days. Ryan Air got us home bang on time (complete with little self-congratulatory recorded fanfare and canned cheering – the people actually on the plane being too busy recovering from the pilot’s rather cavalier landing technique to join in) despite being a bit late getting us all on board. I thought their approach to loading the plane was a little bizzare: herding us all into the gate area until every last passenger had arrived, and only then opening the doors out to the plane, all the while cajoling us to be as quick as we could because they had a very tight landing slot to make at Stansted. Fortunately my commuting instincts kicked in and I nabbed myself a good seat by the emergency exit where I could sit and watch the luggage being loaded into the hold.

Inside all was hurry and hustle to get away; outside, a lone man in braces was thoughtfully putting one bag on the conveyor belt at a time, with two full cart-loads of luggage to go. As the stewards mimed their way through the safety demonstration, braces man was still placing each case with due care and deliberation. As the plane was ready to depart he still had a cartload to go, and a higher official intervened. Arm waving ensued. Then braces man shrugged and got into his little tractor and towed the remaining luggage out of sight under the wing. Not long afterwards, we were taxi-ing away. And I was very happy to see my little black suitcase first off the conveyor at the other end. Dirty laundry or no, it was my dirty laundry and I wanted it home. But as for the rest, who knows. Given that Ryan Air charge you 10 quid to check luggage, I hope it all got on the plane, for surely even Ryan Air wouldn’t just leave it behind to make their landing slot. Would they?

Bus Racing

So – Slovakia, land of beer, charming old cities and the aggressively timed bus ticket. Here we are perched high on a hill over Bratislava with a great view of the Danube, but not much in the way of local facilities. Getting into town requires taking a bus or a trolley bus, and when it comes to purchasing a ticket you have a choice: you can spend 14 crowns on a 10 minute ticket, or 18 crowns on a 30 minute ticket. The girls in reception assured us 10 minutes would be all we needed. It is not quite clear what the penalties are for travelling beyond the time validity of the ticket but if the fierceness of the ladies at breakfast were anything to go by when I asked for yoghurt without muesli, I suspect this is not a culture that takes rule-infringement lightly.

Once on the bus you punch your ticket and the clock starts. A helpful digital clock in the aisle counts down the minutes until sudden death, dismemberment or possibly just life imprisonment. Meanwhile the bus behaves as buses do everywhere. It meanders. It stops for passengers, or traffic lights, or just for a rest. The printed timetable proves to have been optimistic in its seven-minute estimate for our journey time. We made it with a minute to spare, this time. Next time I think we’ll spring the extra 4 crowns (about 10p) and get a 30 minute one and be able to relax and enjoy the ride.

Disgruntled Commuter goes Large

I am off on my travels again today for a week in Bratislava. Most of my days will probably be spent in windowless conference rooms, but the evenings should be lively … googling ‘birdwatching in Bratislava’ turned up some interesting links, put it that way. I’m not sure how much internet access I’ll have, so entries might be limited but keep checking in just in case. And I’m flying Ryan Air (anybody else suspect this airline in fact some elaborate plot by climate change campaigners to put people off flying?) so you can be certain there’ll be at least one rant on my return on Saturday.

The very next day I’ll be here, stewarding from Clapham Common (I think, they’re a bit disorganised and haven’t sent me any details yet). Registration is now closed, but if you’ve already signed up I hope you come and look out for me. I’ll be the one on the bike*

*I won’t wear a camouflage hat.