I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Thalys, what's the matter?

Ssssh. People are trying to sleep. Day one just finished and I'm the only one awake - I think. The snoring in the couchette implies I'm right, but I did see Paul the teetotal photographer out in the corridor not too long ago.

That there is a teetotaller amongst us is one of the biggest surprises of the day. But let me start at the start.

I went to bed about 1am. A little later and drunker than planned, but not incorrigibly so. I set an alarm, something I hate doing and consider a sign of weakness (in myself; no objections to others using them). So it was with a genuine smile I awoke 10 minutes before it was to go off, at 0450. Up, showered, and packed, I felt somewhat less sanguine than I had on Friday but overwhelmed by, meh, nowt I can do to change shit now...

3 bags? Really? Come on Darren, it's only 18 days fer chrissakes. Yeah, no laundry opportunities, but still, 3 bags? That was the conversation I had with myself, while diligently packing all 3 bags when 2 would have sufficed. I just couldn't back out of the decision I'd made. Fail.

Hang on. Jesus. It's hard to type, even from notes, when EVERYONE is snoring like a bastard.

So. Train zero. The 0557 from Surbiton to Vauxhall. Surprisingly crowded for a pre-0600 service on a weekend. Vauxhall seemed mainly populated by young girls recovering from a fierce night out, while the Victoria line had a large amount of well to do women acting in a way rather more befitting of 2pm on a weekday. Why the smart work clothes, well groomed state, lack of hangover, etc? Curious.

Shopping in Berlin. Shopping in Berlin. Shopping in Berlin. That's my mantra atm. I had a panic. Did I have too few clothes, too many clothes, too little footwear? (one pair of sandals, nothing else) IT DOESN'T MATTER. I CAN FIX IT ALL BY GOING SHOPPING IN BERLIN.


On train zero I practiced a card trick I thought I'd learnt from a book. I failed at it. Boo :-(

I was the fourth member of our squadron to arrive at the Betjeman Arms. This is a pub overlooking the Eurostar platforms at St Pancras, surrounded by gorgeous architecture and art. My hat received a compliment. We waited for everyone to turn up, including the staff. I changed into my new event shirt, the first of many times my anti-svelte figure will reveal itself in the forthcoming days. 10 full English breakfasts arrived, along with sundry teas, bloody marys, and Guinness. Hell yeah. It was 0725.

Train 1! Eurostar was a curious journey. To be expected, as the group is comprised of people who have known one another for wildly different lengths of time. For example, I've known the leader, Mark, since 1999; some have known him since childhood, and Steve had never met before. Ditto Paul. So as all good English folk do, we stuck to safe topics of conversation which mean nothing but reveal character and personality. Also circumspection, lists, and trivia. So, come on, YOU name some famous Belgians that aren't TinTin or Eddy Mercx and oh my god how the fuck did I not mentin Jean-Claude van Damme at the time? Bollocks.

We drank grappa. 50% grappa. Oh, but that was good stuff. It came out after our first border crossing: hello, France. Also we proved the the future is awesome, by allowing 5 people at once to tether on my unlimited data in the EU for £5/day. Mad. And so useful.

An altogether too regimented plan for shopping was attempted and aborted. We arrived in Brussels on time and a brief note was posted to Facebook. Delightfully, the specialist rail travel agent we used for our tickets hit 'like'. Following our progress, and on a Saturday? Take a bow, Ffestiniog Travel.

Train to Bruxelles Centraal. Bit of a walk. Moules et frites, avec biere. Ace. The ten of us sat outside Leon, the original mussels and chips venue. Sated, we wandered to Grand Place for some bona fide tourism, the highlight of which was the gallons of "enjoy the novelty, you'll hate each other by Christmas" scorn poured upon the newlyweds making a racket on the big fancy building (town hall?) balcony. Meh.

[Everyone has stopped snoring. I hope they aren't, like, dead or something]

Tourism done, we needed supplies for the next 20 hours or so. The timetable said a 2 hour trip to Amsterdam with just a 45 minute change for our 15hr sleeper to Kobenhavn. So we needed cheese. And meat. And chocolate. And alcohol. And bread.

Kilos of cheese, meat, chocolate, alcohol and bread later... we trammed back to midi and waited for our Thalys train. It came in a bit late, and boarding was chaos. The service was rammed and our reservations were a godsend, especially given we had to kick a cheeky couple out of Steve and Stoy's seats.

On this train we all fell asleep. Dave has evidence.

We also got through a full bottle of Belgian jenever. Mmm.

The Netherlands looked very Dutch. Flat, canals, windmills, you know the drill.

Go Froome!

The weather in Amsterdam was great. Warm, sunny, just lovely. We had all of 5 minutes to enjoy it. On the platform we met our contact, a man no-one really knew. He turned up with shitloads of beer, jenever, chocolates, fish, and cheese. A true gentleman. We drank beer on the platform while chatting to him, then experienced hugely chaotic boarding as we hunted our couchettes. Mostly we just dumped our luggage near the right place, and drank. Oh, we drank. For the next 5 hours we spilled 9 of us around a 6 seater compartment, shooting considerable breeze and toasting small matters such as Stoy's birthday and the crossing of borders. Just inside Germany, prior to Emmerich, we were threatened with EXCLUSION FROM TRAVEL by a staggeringly stereotypical German train manager, after a 10 year old member of staff had ratted on our leader for smoking. He smokes e-cigs. Later a new, larger member of staff spelt the ban out again, this time explicitly mentioning that fake fags are definitely prohibited. What?

I drank wine. Red wine at that. It was rank.

All day people had asked about our shirts and plans, and we had been honest. Yes, we're visiting 23 countries in 18 days. We struck up converations all over, my favourite being me and this Australian guy...

"We can take you on at drinking. We Australians consider binge drinking a sport"

"Yeah, but, Australia isn't very good at sport, is it? Did you see the Lions score?"

He buggered off after that.

As the night grew longer and louder, I finally sat down, having spent the first couple of hours in the corridor. By so doing I found myself in the middle of arguments about wartime casualty figures, British cycling, and whether it's ever OK to have a shower and the put the same clothes on as you were wearing beforehand. But, slowly, the arguments died out and the party dissipated. Before midnight only 4 of us remained. Then 3. Late enough that I had now definitely secured a bottom bunk, we had nightcaps. That was an hour ago. Maybe I should have a kip.

All night I have been receiving texts from Mike - who joins us tomorrow - about how drunk he is. Heh.

Today was awesome fun. We hit 5 countries and are en route to a 6th, 'cos in a few hours we arrive in Copenhagen, and by the end of Sunday we'll be on our way north from Oslo to Trondheim (and might - i.e., won't - have a British Wimbledon champion).

[Everyone's snoring again. Seems they aren't dead. Probably for the best.]

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