Archive for the ‘Terminals’ Category

Travelling during a pandemic

Hopefully most readers are not travelling at the moment. Staying put is safer and, frankly, much less stressful. I am a frequent traveller to Europe for family reasons and have experienced most things – delayed trains and planes due to failed infrastructure, sick or unregistered passengers and luggage, unruly passengers, theft of my possessions, dodgy hotels, the lot. And then there is Brexit – my passport no longer seems to get me through eGates in Germany (we’ll see if that is a one-off or permanent) and, of course, as a non-EU citizen, I can only be a country for 90 days in every 180 and am barred from working.

Now before I get ripped to shreds on my hypocrisy flying as I do but also constantly banging on about climate change, let me state the following. Travelling is for family reasons, and whilst 15 years’ ago when I first established family connections in Germany, my ignorance – despite friends warning me about my carbon footprint – meant that flying was a viable option. Clearly things have changed, but my family has not. I need to travel to be with them. During the pandemic, I have been travelling less for three reasons. First, it is quite difficult; second, it is dangerous and inappropriate (lockdowns are lockdowns after all); third, I have the privileged of being able to work from home. With regard to flying, I am an advocate of a frequent-flier levy – the more one flies, the more you pay. And exponentially. That would hit me hard financially, and rightly so. I am also hopeful now of structural changes that will enable me to travel more often – or always – by train. The pandemic has demonstrated that we can work remotely. I am healthier and less stressed because of it. We will see how committed employers are to the permanent change in the future. I am hopeful, but not convinced. There is also talk of a new Trans-Europe Express to help people to move across Europe without planes.

What follows is an account of my experience to help others. Having travelled for many years, there are many like me who have family on the continent.

View from Hilton hotel, Hatton CrossI passed through Heathrow airport on Sunday evening (14 February). I travelled with British Airways – currently offering 2 flights per week Munich – London. Originally I was scheduled to come back the previous day with easyJet, but that plane was cancelled, with the next scheduled option being sometime in March. On 18 January, the British Government imposed a requirement of a negative Covid test on all arrivals. That was fine, but an extra task to fulfil prior to travelling. Travelling on a Sunday meant that I took the test on the previous Thursday giving enough time for the result to be notified assuming that weekend lab work is not likely. Sunday was, hence, the last day of validity for the test. If the plane did not go on Sunday, I’d have to take another test (€130). 

The plane arrived at its stand an hour before departure. The plane was fully boarded (busy but not full) at the scheduled departure time, 1745. But we were 45 minutes late pushing back from the stand due to an administrative error at the gate. Munich Airport would not allow the plane to go until everything was in order. Fair enough, I suppose. After being pushed back we waited motionless for about 10 minutes before the pilot announced that the plane had been damaged in the pushback. Engineers were called. 2 hours later, authorisation was given to fly.

I do not live anywhere near Heathrow Airport, and it being Sunday, the UK railway network enjoyed its usual scattering of engineering works, including on my routes home. If I was able to catch the last train/bus home, I expected to be back about 0300 – not a great prospect. But UK borders are never straightforward, and particularly with the need to demonstrate a negative Covid test and a valid passenger locator form (which includes payment of £210 for two Variant tests to be delivered to one’s home 2 and 5 days after arrival). Even though the arrivals are few, the border area was full and a long queue that snaked its way back and forth was created. Familiar image. Mingle, mingle, mingle.

The eGates were open as additional security staff were checking the documentation. My passport was rejected by the eGates and IHotel breakfast had to stand in another queue to be approved by a border official – there was only one on duty. In total, I was about 1 hour getting across the border. I decided to take a hotel rather than attempt the journey home. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel at Hatton Cross (close to the Tube Station). Hotel prices are half of what one would normally pay, so that was not too onerous, though still a cost. The view (above left) was a shade dystopian, however. But I recommend the hotel if readers are ever in the same position. I bought breakfast – one retrieves it from the kitchen and consume it in one’s room. It was fine (right).

On Monday (15 February 2021) I was able to travel to the South Coast of England. The Tube and overland trains were largely quiet. I am now observing an obligatory 10 days’ quarantine. I stocked up on non-perishables before I departed, so I have most of what I need for the duration. Safe travels.

Travel advice – missed connections on Deutsche Bahn

We all miss connections on trains and have to work out how to manage the journey. Natives know roughly how to negotiate their own railway system – I think I am reasonably good with the UK system, though by no means all-knowledgeable – but when we travel beyond our borders, it can be a bit daunting when things go wrong, especially at the end of the day when there are no more trains going to one’s planned final destination.

So, on 27 July 2019 I was heading to Munich from Hastings in the UK. That involved four different train operators: SouthEastern Trains, UK; Eurostar; Thalys; Deutsche Bahn (DB). The bookings had to be made through each individual train operator. Using ticketing agents makes it more expensive. They do not optimise on price. When booking one has to ensure changing time between trains and some delay wiggle room. For example, the Eurostar was 25 minutes delayed leaving London and accumulated further delays en-route; for example, waiting to enter the Channel Tunnel. I’d allowed myself 75 minutes changing time at Brussels Midi (left). About right for the middle of summer when it is really busy.

The train was making good progress towards Köln where I was going to change again at 1955 on to the ICE to Munich.  Changing time was 45 minutes. Owing to a power failure at Aachen, we were delayed by 150 minutes. That was my connection lost. So, what’s to do? The Thalys train manager was at the end of her tether. It has been a tough week with record-breaking temperatures and any number of delays as the infrastructure struggled to cope. I felt for her.

Here’s my advice, get a “Bescheinigung” (right) from DB. At Köln, there was an information “Schalter” on the platform (Gleis 4) where it could be issued. Essentially, this confirms that the connecting train was late (although it was a non-DB train that was late, it was late because of a DB infrastructure failure) and that it is possible to travel on a non-booked train at no extra cost. DB conductors are quite strict with tickets, so take the argument away from them, especially when our language skills are not the best. I eventually travelled on the 2230 Köln-München train. Arrival München Hbf 0602. Not the most comfortable experience as it is not a sleeper service, but it got me to my destination.

Happy rail travelling.

Tandem Tour 2018 – Munich to Vienna – Part 1, Mühldorf to Marktl

Hunderwasser’s power station, Vienna

Regular readers will know that Vienna is one of my favourite cities in Europe. It is home to some great art, architecture and cafes (never underestimate the importance of the cafes). We have been twice so far this year, so the decision to cycle from Munich to Vienna for our summer tour this year was easy. There is that famous river, the Danube, to follow using largely dedicated cycle tracks. There’s sufficient – conveniently-located – campsites.

We’ve been off the tandem for a couple of years arising from various self-inflicted injuries on increasingly ageing bodies. Last year my back protested – though we salvaged the summer with a bit of trekking (not the most obvious response to a back injury, I know). The previous year we did our Tilman Riemenschneider odyssey.

So, having avoided injury, we checked our gear. I decided to upgrade my sleeping bag in line with my partner’s. I now have a Mountain Equipment Helium 250 – suitable for summer use. It is very light (254g) and packs very small. We also replaced our Salomon Goretex shoes – we were expecting some rain and wet feet are always unwelcome. I went for another pair of Salomon X-Ultra, whilst my partner tried a CMP trail shoe.  Other than that, all seemed in order.

We took the train from Munich to Mühldorf which is approximately 100km from Passau on the river Inn. That would give us a total ride distance of about 450km (for a couple unsure about fitness and stamina this year, that seemed far enough). The train on this route has space for a tandem, and travelling off-peak in the middle of the week, we managed to have the cycle carriage largely to ourselves. There are suitably-sized elevators at Mühldorf to get from the platform to the main street without unloading the tandem. So, in the first day arriving late afternoon, we made it to a working-farm campsite close to Marktl, the birthplace of former Pope, Josef Ratzinger. There is a museum in his “Geburtshaus”. Perhaps more importantly, there is one restaurant in the town, an Italian. The baked vegetables were interesting. We managed breakfast at the cafe in the marketplace, where the nearby pharmacy bears a mural eulogising back-breaking work in the fields (left).

The annual tour serves a number of purposes. It tests – and develops – our fitness. As people who work in a sedentary environment, keeping fit is not so easy. Being away from that environment with a machine that only works if one puts energy into to it, reminds us of our limitations – or our capabilities. It also helps to think about resources more generally. When I first started cycle touring back in the 1980s, there were no electronic gadgets that needed charging. I had a manual “mileometer” and a (camping gaz) cooking stove. This year I took my mobile phone, but did not turn it on (not least to avoid emails and other social media for 10 days).

Cycling along the River Inn – tracks are often rough but usable

We focused on keeping the Garmin Edge 800 navi charged using a now-ageing “Power Monkey” (charged where possible using sunshine, and if not a power socket at a campsite). Any spare charge went into my partner’s mobile which we used to find a posting box for our postcards, public toilets and to navigate to Vienna’s main station, Hauptbahnhof. We fuelled ourselves with a good breakfast (from local Bäckereien or Konditoreien); Apfelstrudel and some bizarre but good offerings from Gasthäusern or Restaurants. All vegetarian food seems to be open to interpretation.

 

What to do with an old tram shed in Berlin

The new academic year starts in a few days’ time. The time immediately before is conference season for us journeyman academics. I’ve been to two.

DSCF0775One way of judging (or being judged, if one is an organiser) is the mid-conference dinner. Last week, at a conference in London, this was held on a cruiser on the Thames. It cost extra. A nice spectacle, particularly those unfamiliar to London. A great opportunity for photographs (left), especially in balmy weather.

The food was a bit…

I’m now in Berlin, one of my favourite European cities. This is an academic corporate-sponsored conference. The venue forDSCF0788 the dinner was inspired. The entrance to the Classic Remise on Wiebestrasse in the North West of the city is modest. Once inside, it seems like a museum, but in actual fact it is one huge second-hand car sales showroom. Everything is for sale, at a price. The VW camper (right) is so valuable, that one has to request the price. It has been beautifully restored.

Clearly, these being vintage cars, supply is limited. But it does seem that, within reason, one could buy – and presumably sell – anything here. Tucked away on a platform, I saw a Ford Capri MkI. Naturally, there are many BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes of various vintages. But American cars also feature. There were three Ford Mustangs as well as a lumping 1930s Lincoln. Magnificent and obscene in equal measure. The resource that went into building it, to meet with GM’s ‘cars as disposable fashion accessories’ industrial design and business approach, must have been huge.

DSCF0792Now I am a white van man (there were a few vintage Citroen vans in various stages of refurbishment), hence prioritising an image of a VW camper over a Porsche. More interesting, however, was the building. I would not have guessed its origin without a trip to the toilet. And, there, on the wall, were some pictures of the very same building with trams peeking out like horses in a stable (left). When first built in 1901, it was Europe’s largest tram shed ‘Wiebehallen’. It is the work of the Berlin architect, Joseph Fischer Dick, who seemingly specialised in these structures. The current owners have been faithfulDSCF0785 to the building. Whilst the tracks are no longer there, the entrance arches are all numbered. The roof glass and steel frame remain. As do the authentic lights (albeit with modern bulbs).

The food was also good.

Left luggage facilities – Rotterdam Centraal

20130815_191946Rotterdam Centraal Station is huge and new. It was very much a building site when we arrived (15 August 2013). The left luggage lockers (left) are located near to platform 17, come in two sizes (5-8 Euros for 24 hours) and require a credit or debit card – no cash. The key is a flimsy card a shade bigger than a credit card. The lockers open when it is inserted. Once open it cannot be relocked without payment.

Charging gadgets at Brussels Midi

Brussels_MidiYou know the scenario, battery low and nowhere to recharge. The three people pictured left are charging phones and laptops with their own kinetic energy at the Thalys terminal at Brussels Midi station. Essentially, pedal and you generate electricity that can be transferred to your device. Neat?

One wonders. First, this is discriminatory. I was surrounded by a lot of elderly people who, to be fair, would struggle to get on this contraption, let alone pedal. Likewise if one is in a wheelchair.

Second, how much energy went into making it relative to what it generates? I cannot help but think that it really would not cost that much to put in a bank of sockets that are attached to solar panels located on the roof for travellers who pay enough to ride the trains.

Gare du Nord, Paris

The Eurostar terminal in Gare du Nord does not befit the train service provided. Once one gets through the security and immigration (French and British), the cramped space undermines the simplicity of train travel vis-a-vis air travel. Too many shops, not enough tranquil space to sit and wait. And if the service is disrupted, as it was last weekend, the crampness really begins to generate disquiet. The terminal in London is dreamlike by comparison. Nicely designed, comfortable and easy to negotiate.