Here commenceth the memoirs of Your Glorious Führer of our revolutionary railway ride. I will publish one of these daily over the next 18 days.
The trip started for several of the guys the day earlier as they pulled the front door shut in Cornwall, Scotland, Bulgaria or elsewhere. For John and I, ignition is achieved at barely 06:15 in Walthamstow. Everyone else is either climbing out of a local hotel bed or is already on the approach from south London and beyond. I have a bum bag stuffed full of train reservations and tickets for 12 people and over 200,000 passenger kilometres of train travel.
We march up to The John Betjeman Arms in St Pancras. We are the first, I’m glad about that. One by one, each of them stroll through the grand arch onto the upper concourse, a battery of Eurostars spread before us under the spectacular canopy. We are all a little nervous. I am secretly terrified.
After our full English and Bloody Marys we make for the check in. I give the bronze of Betjeman a heartfelt hug as we pass. To think how close we came to flattening this most magnificent of railway cathedrals. We negotiate check in and climb aboard. Text messages to loved ones are sent, “We Have Ignition” tweets are made. At last, it has begun.
A mere two hours later and we are in . We hit the famous Galleries Royales shopping arcade. Steve, a man with impeccable Belgian credentials, takes us to the definitive moules et frites outlet at Leon. We then rejoin the arcade and low and behold, Hercule Poirot, aka David Suchet, is holding court being interviewed. Two large boxes of chocolates are acquired. We spend a few minutes walking through the Grand Place.
I now have my first management challenge of the trip. So far we’ve had a fry up at St Panc’, and a table full of chips and mussels in Brussels. No one is particularly hungry. We are about to embark on what amounts to a 48 hour train trip. There will be limited catering on offer for most of that. Even when available, a round at the train bar is likely to bring any of us to tears. I need to motivate the gang to raid the conveniently situated fromargerie, charcuterie, pattiserie and offie with intent. Will any of them step up to the plate and help me drive this ?.
I know everyone on the trip and what to expect apart from two guys. The photographer Paul Clarke, and Steve Dobson from Unusual Hotels Of The World. Paul was actively recruited as I knew this would be worth photographing properly. I hadn’t actively pursued a gastronome with catering expertise. Perhaps I should have. If I had, Steve would have been an ideal choice. Aided and abetted by Lloyd who I was banking on to display management skills, but to the obvious suspicion of the rest of the group, we acquire a shed load of everything including sack fulls of cheese, meats and bread, plus soft drinks, fruit and salad.
Back at the platform at Midi station awaiting train No. 2 to . We already look a motley crew. Plastic bags full of cheese and stuff, and luggage for 10. Amsterdam arrives in no time. We’ve arranged for local supplies to be delivered by a delightful internet acquaintance, which given our schedule was our only option.
Train No.3 is boarded, the City Night Line to Amsterdam. The day trip feel to proceedings is over. Everyone settles down for the longest train of the expedition. Picnics unfold and bottles are opened.
I then have my run in with DB. I am warned by the delightful Dutch ticket inspector lady that I need to keep my e-ciggy out of her view. I promise to ensure she never sees it. Minutes later, the diminutive train manager arrives. “It has come to my attention” etc …, “if I catch you” etc… “we will have to play the Game of Railway Exclusion“. He licks his lips as he delivers this. Several of the group are clearly concerned that their glorious leader could be detained at DB’s pleasure.
That confrontation dealt with, we settle down for our first night on the tracks. It’s all a bit friendly with 6 of us to a couchette cabin, and the horrific truth about which of us snores the loudest, and that actually all of us do snore, a lot, will soon be become painfully apparent.
Start : The John Betjeman Arms, St Pancras Station, London
Train 1 08:40 - Eurostar - London – Brussels
Train 2 08:40 - Thalys - Brussels to Amsterdam
Train 3 19:01 – City night Line Borealis – Amsterdam Copenhagen
Finish: Somewhere north of Cologne travelling north to Hamburg and Copenhagen
Also on this day
Paul’s Photos http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157634544436326/
LLoyd’s Blog Day One: Somewhere in the Low Countries http://www.lloydshepherd.com/2013/07/06/day-one-somewhere-in-the-low-countries/
Darren’s Blog Thalys, what’s the matter?http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/thalys-what-matter.html
Dave’s Blog We are not a Stag Party http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/we-are-not-stag-party.html