The origins of this trip lie 10 or more years ago on the Indian Railfans forum, IRFCA. I suggested an epic railathon around India. Back to back travel around the furthest extremes of the network in two weeks flat. The result ?, I was all but drowned in a freezing cold tsunami of patronising derision. I was told that you can’t do something as ambitious as my plan, and if I were to try it I would regret it.
So I determined to pull the India expedition off. And off it was pulled. India’s trains are, and I have statistics to prove it, incredibly accurate, all things considered. They are also a lot more comfortable than most of us realise, as long as you book way in advance. Flushed with the success of the India trip, and at a loose end, I quickly ended up with a European version. The key difference in strategy with the India project is that I believe I can tighten the connections right down. We’ll be getting, for the most part, rides on Europe’s premium trains. If India can deliver every train right on the money, surely Europe can.
I awake, as I will almost every day for the entire trip, round about 5am. We are in Hamburg. We aren’t supposed to be in Hamburg. We are supposed to be approaching the Keil canal, round about 200 rail miles north of here. I approach the substantial replacement to last night’s tyrant of a conductor. “Train OK ?” I grin unconvincingly, with my thumb hopefully raised. A frown is the reply. “Two hours”. two hours is bad, we lose Copenhagen as an activity. We aren’t going to be doing any of Oslo or Stockholm. Losing Copenhagen means we wont actually be leaving the station anywhere in Scandinavia apart from at Narvik.
But it’s worse than that.
Unknown to me until now, this train is scheduled to arrive an hour late today. It turns out this happens quite a lot in Europe. Sleeper services are devilishly complex affairs, comprised of multiple adjoining services on departure, and a whole different set of carriages on arrival. If any of the participating services are due to be delayed due to a scheduled diversion or such like, then the whole system gets stalled. Stir in unexpected delays and you’ve got a very wide probability curve.
We are now due in THREE hours late. Our transfer time at Copenhagen is 3 hours 15 minutes. Originally that would have been enough time to blink at Nyhaven and then hit the trendy new touristy food market at Norreport to fully stock up the pantry. We are now faced with missing the connection to Gothenburg. This will be fatal as we then wont get to Oslo for nightfall and the sleeper to Trondheim. We face losing the whole of the Arctic Circle section. Two years of planning are on a knife edge and we aren’t even 24 hours into the trip. Furthermore, we have two guys waiting in Oslo to join us just for this section. Their tickets are in my bum bag.
There has been flooding in Denmark and we have been re-routed, along what is largely a single track line, up the east coast of the Danish peninsula. I spend the whole morning asking for minute by minute updates from the guy I will value as much as anyone during the trip, my Chief Navigations Officer. I am sick with worry. Most of the others have at least the comfort of either thinking there is a way out (there isn’t), or not really understanding where we are supposed to be going anyway.
At section after section we wait for an on coming service to clear before we can proceed down the only track. Every second spent parked in the Danish sunshine is agony. I all but collapse into tears of joy every time the breaks release and we start to roll again. We cross the Storebæltsforbindelsen, one of the most gobsmacking pieces of civil engineering on the trip. It’s awesome, the weather is fantastic, but one more missed slot between here and the capital and we’re in tatters. Even on the approaches to , parked awaiting the final signal into the station, but with just 15 minutes left in our pocket, I am nailed to Darren’s mapping app. We make it. Not for the last time on the trip, we have had a mischievous but ultimately benevolent railway God on our side.
I give a cheeky but thankful grin to our train manager. He knows I’ve been puffing away all morning on my e-fag trying to remain sane. The train to isn’t reserved. It’s a Sunday, a local pop festival and cheap weekend travel for the natives results in a packed train. We have made camp in what is supposedly the quiet carriage. My relief at making this train is palpable. Chocolates all round for anyone in our half of the carriage. Some nutter chastises me for daring to speak in a supposedly quiet carriage on a thoroughly packed train. The change at Gothenburg for Oslo is short, just enough time to admire how posh this part of the world is.
At Oslo we are united with Mike and Albert, performing their Scandinavian section cameo roles. More supplies are appended to the pantry, and we board what will be the nicest sleeper of the whole trip. Two person cabins with the softest duvets and cleanest carriages in all Europe. I enjoy some of the atrociously expensive Norwegian beers Mike has brought. I have been up since 5 AM and spent most of that time quite seriously on the edge of a complete nervous breakdown. It takes me an instant to fall asleep.
We should be fine now, shouldn’t we ?.
Start : Somewhere in North-Central Germany
Train 3 – continued from Amsterdam to Copenhagen
Train 4 13:32 – Copenhagen to Gothenburg
Train 5 17:47 – Gothenburg to Oslo
Train 6 23:05 – Nordland Sleeper – Oslo to Trondheim
Finish: Somewhere in the suburbs of Oslo waiting for the track to be fixed….
Also on this day
Paul’s Photos http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157634544436314/
LLoyd’s Blog What’s the opposite of Von Ryan’s Express http://www.lloydshepherd.com/2013/07/07/day-two-whats-the-opposite-of-von-ryans-express/
Darren’s Blog How do I love Three, let me count the ways http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/how-do-i-love-three-let-me-count-ways.html
Dave’s Blog For you Tommy the smoking is over http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/for-you-tommy-smoking-is-over.html