Wednesday, 7 August 2013

"Single to Beijing, please" (1)

At the time it seemed like a good idea to book the taxi for half past five in the morning. On reflection, I might have been better to book it for twenty minutes later and enjoy the extra time asleep in bed, rather than spend it mingling with that rather odd breed of commuter who congregate daily on Platform 2 of Peterborough Railway Station, before the hour of six o'clock. I use the word 'mingle' rather liberally as I would have struggled to look more out of place with my rucksack and smaller back-pack loaded with all I had remembered to pack the night before. If that had not persuaded the casual observer that this was not something I did on a regular basis, then my capturing a photographic image of the 06.10 train for King's Cross would certainly have done the trick.

The 06.10 from Peterborough to King's Cross
And no, I have not become a late-blooming, sad and confused, middle-aged train-spotter (I'm far too young for that sort of thing) - I had simply decided to capture a picture of every train upon which I travel on this epic journey. Far from spending the remainder of this day in some stuffy London office, pushing pens and mice across polished desks, I was destined for grander things. I was about to embark on what is the longest rail route in the world - the Trans-Siberian Railway - and what better way to get to its starting point than by locomotive power?
The journey to London was pretty much as most previous journeys I have made on this route. Just north of this point is where, a little over 75 years ago, the Mallard broke the world steam speed record - a record it has held ever since - but nothing of that nature was on the cards for today. Despite the absence of such potential excitement, I do confess it was somewhat difficult not to feel at least a little smug knowing that the next few weeks were to bring more joys than my fellow passengers had likely ever imagined. And as I saw the sun rise above the eastern horizon, I thought to myself, that's just where I'm heading. To the east!
The ICE train to Cologne
The Eurostar was most straight-forward, though one never really gets the feeling of crossing the English Channel to foreign shores when passing beneath it. Meeting up with Shanae in Brussels as planned, I found some lunch and we waited for the ICE train to Cologne.
The railway station in Cologne is immediately beside the cathedral which is generally worth a visit. Apart from it being a rather dark and drab building - it could really do with a decent clean - it is of fairly spectacular design and was remarkably preserved during the Second World War when all surrounding buildings and bridges seem to have been flattened.
Though having visited before, I had not previously known of the relics once housed within this edifice. Apparently, in centuries past, the bones of the three magi were once buried within the cathedral - and here we were now heading to the east from whence they came. OK, I realise that few subscribe to the idea of these chaps coming from China (or of these bones having any connection with those who came) but it was in that general direction. And if anyone is interested in relics of this nature, I have the skull of the lost sheep at home, not to mention a crumb from one of the loaves left from the feeding of the four thousand, etc.
Having found free Wi-fi in Cologne, our five hour wait for the Copenhagen train didn't seem quite so long. One cathedral visit, a half chicken and chips and several e-mails later, we attempted to board the overnight DSB sleeper to Denmark and settle down for the night. This was trickier than anticipated. Firstly, the doors of our carriage wouldn't open, so after entering via the adjacent car we discovered that there was also neither electricity nor lavatorial conveniences available. The latter were available in carriages either side, but without electricity we were to have neither lighting nor air conditioning - a bit of an inconvenience on a rather hot and humid summer night. But we had a bunk each, in a compartment we shared with four others, and the train did do the essential job of carting us from A to B.
Early Wednesday morning on the DSB sleeper in Denmark
I was fortunate to have the middle bunk whilst Shanae, who had the one at the top, found the lack of air conditioning to be rather oppressive. An open window provided a reasonable supply of airflow as long as the train was moving, but once the rather pernickety Dane on the lower bunk decided it should be closed we all began to fry in conditions more suited to their streaky bacon.
At some point in the night the train changed direction. A couple of the passengers disembarked, including the rather large German chap whose size appeared to defy the load capacity of the opposite bunk on which he had been perched, and finally we were woken to a glorious sunny morning. The Dane, who actually turned out to be a Swede, kindly offered me some of his delightfully organic crisp bread which would have been more palatable with a decent cup of tea - actually any cup of tea would have sufficed at that point.
Arriving in Copenhagen more than an hour late, apparently due to recent, inclement meteorological conditions in northern Germany, we had just enough time to step out of the station and pay an exorbitant amount for a sandwich before hopping onto our next train - this one an 'SJ' train, bound for Stockholm.
At first all seemed to be going rather smoothly. We both had window seats and were to have plenty of scenery along the five hour journey to the Swedish capital. We passed through and over the ├śresund (or Sound) Tunnel and Bridge to Malmo, but then things began to go wrong and ceased running smoothly. Actually they ceased running at all and the reason given for all the hassle lay at Hassleholm, as one might have expected, where there was apparently a signal failure. Our five hour journey ended up taking nine hours, but the beautiful Swedish scenery more than made up for it.
Our hostel in Stockholm
By the time we arrived in Stockholm and found our hostel it was nearly ten o'clock, so a rather late snack was in order before heading back to our two-bunk room - separated from the eighteen bunk room by a wall that didn't quite reach all the way to the ceiling. But, for Stockholm, it was a good deal and there was a kettle in the kitchen. Time for a cuppa before retiring.


  1. Have a great trip. Hope the rest goes better. Barbara Galloway. You might want to check out my blog as you have time.