Unexpected hitches

So, it was time to go south again. I boarded the usual 12:20 X2000 from Stockholm towards Malmö and sat down with a stack of papers to read while up to three unhappy babies protested having to travel. I was distracted, not by annoyance, but by the fatherly reflex to rush up and comfort the crying children, but their parents already did their best.

I nabbed Ud & Se on the train to Copenhagen and started on the Danish crossword puzzle, somewhat trickier this time.

The usual boring stopover in Copenhagen, where it seemed some people were recording a music video in the main hall, singing harmonies somewhat out of key, I wonder if they will use studio recordings for the music.

Very heterogeneous rolling stock; some parts will stop in Dortmund, others continue to Munich and others further to Basel.
The night train arrived, I had a berth in the usual double-decker sleeper car. Very satisfied with myself I solved the word puzzle in mobil, the DB onboard magazine. Eventually I prepared the bed, as it seemed that I had the compartment to myself. Not quite though, by midnight a young gentleman got on in Neumünster and needed the top bunk, but I could live with that.

Change to the Thalys in Cologne early the next morning. Now I was less happy as I had to share the car with a German school class going to France for exchange studies. Their conversation tended to be loud and consist to a large part of „Arschloch!”… Well, we got to Brussels without me having actually killed any of the noisy youngsters.

I can't begin to imagine what that object with the lamps is for.
Brussels on the other hand seemed to suffer from some kind of traffic problem, the Thalys had to wait for a while before we could enter Bruxelles Midi and then there was considerable confusion about which platform the TGV to Nice would arrive at. Someone who apparently did not appreciate this was a fellow looking very annoyed in a black dress composed almost entirely of pockets. I first took him to be a security guard but he didn't seem to have the other associated paraphernalia and when he started retrieving lots of weird luggage from somewhere, said luggage including a racing bicycle with live cyclist, I began to suspect he was rather a street artist of some kind. Then he started hauling his luggage onboard the train. This caused an argument with the conductor, the contents of which I couldn't catch from where I was sitting, but it was clearly very heated and attracted more railway staff. When two burly guards arrived and started unloading his luggage for him, the man in black had to give up and content himself with angrily kicking his bags as the train left without him.

This TGV is not a double-decker, on the other hand it seems to be double-long. The journey from Brussels to Antibes is slightly over five hours, half of that time is spent on the distance from Marseilles–no specially prepared straight tracks here, so the TGV has to move at milk train speeds.

The usual lack of taxis at the train station in Antibes, but I finally get one up to Hotel Le Relais. Everything is much the same as when I was there in January, the next morning the breakfast lady recognises me even though I have a different hair colour than last time. I walk up the hill to ETSI and the seminar I came for. Three very intense days follow, covering the operations and organisation of ETSI and 3GPP in careful detail. The complex weighted voting process and its application in different situations is a surprise. The general rule is to avoid voting situations as much as possible. I note with some glee that even the moderator, who presumably uses it every day, has difficulty getting around the amazingly non-user-centred-designed ETSI portal.

Fort Carré d'Antibes
The days are not particularly warm and the nights seem to be rainy, so even though I had planned for it, I don't feel like using the hotel pool. Then of course on the Friday, when I'm leaving, the full Mediterranean blast furnace turns on. I enjoy myself by riding the bus down into town. I fail to find luggage boxes at the train station, so I'm forced to drag my cabin bag with me around town. Unaware of the totally unsuited terrain I even drag the bag out to Fort Carré. Stupid, it's not exactly paved streets there. I leave and get back into the city centre, thinking that maybe I can sit in a park and read. Unfortunately I can't find a park, so I go and sit in the railway station instead. A young man there apparently thinks he is performing a public service by blasting out French rap music from his mobile. I'm quite impressed by the performance of the phone, in spite of its diminutive size it manages to be clearly audible in the entire station.

I am rescued by the TGV taking me away. This one is a double-decker and I get to ride on top. It really does make a difference to the view to get up that little extra bit. At Gare de Lyon the ticket machines in the Métro are on the blink, so there are long queues by the two that still work. I get my ticket in time to hop on the RER to Gare du Nord.

I get a snack, not at the slow-service sandwich place where the scammers prowl, and then try to find my train to Hamburg. It's a very long train, taking up the entire platform length and my car is the one furthest away. It's not a double-decker sleeper and after a while I decide I actually like this model better, as it is slightly roomier and I do get the compartment to myself this time. I awake very early in the morning and on the way to the bathroom run into the car attendant who advises me to go back to sleep, we are several hours late due to a fatal accident (not involving our train). OK, so my connection to Copenhagen is shot, but I'll just catch a later train then, I think. The conductor is kind enough to continuously give us information in several languages–he even attempts passable Scandinavian, though breaks down and continues in English for the more complicated bits.

However, when we finally arrive in Hamburg, two and a half hours late, and I make my way to the information desk (called „Service Point” in German, as the conductor points out) it turns out that I will not be able to reach Stockholm at all that day, but will have to stay the night in Hamburg and then take the early morning train to Copenhagen–on Deutsche Bahn's bill, to be sure. The service staff do sort tickets and reservations out in the end, but while they have pre-prepared forms at hand, they work as if they had just seen the forms for the first time, somewhat surprising to me, since, as I've claimed before, DB trains do tend to run late (and this certainly didn't improve the statistics), so the staff should be used to handling delay consequences.

A fellow traveller, who not only will be late to Stockholm but miss the ferry to Helsinki, is quite upset, but I can allow myself to be more sanguine. I check in at Europäischer Hof, which is just outside the railway station. It is a four-star hotel, but I get a very little room. This has happened to me before, that very fancy hotels also have some really small and relatively cheap single rooms. Well, I don't need much space; of more concern is that the room doesn't have air-conditioning and by now the outside temperature is quite high.

Now, what can one do on a Saturday in Hamburg? A little bell jingles in the back of my mind and I call my friend Harald: Isn't there a giant model railroad somewhere about here? Sure there is and I get instructions on how to get there. Cool, my hotel check-in ticket is also a public transport pass! However, finding the correct U-bahn entry turns out to be non-trivial, it seems every line has its own entrance and even though they all pass by the Hauptbahnhof, they are not connected to each other. I end up circling the entire station area before I find the right entrance. As it turns out, I only have to go two stops and I probably could have walked to my destination in the time it took me to find the U-bahn.

If people are queueing a long time, why not sell food to them in the meantime?
Miniatur Wunderland! This is a huge H0 scale model railroad landscape, initiated by two brothers who have decided to live out their childhood dream to the fullest and clearly they see their visitors as sharing that dream. Visitors are enjoined to register for the Wunderland newsletter and are invited on special back-stage tours. Wunderland constantly update expected queueing times both at the entrance and their web site, so that visitors can plan their most suitable arrival time. The staff do the IKEA trick and hand out ice cream to the children and soda to their parents–twice I have my back turned when the drinks tray passes, so I don't get anything.

Typical nice touch: rechargers for every conceivable type of mobile phone, digital camera and camcorder, so that visitors will not be kept from photographing just because their batteries run flat.
Finally I get in and the experience is overwhelming: The actual railroads all but disappear in the huge landscape which is covered in houses, forests, mountains and people, details and gimmicks everywhere: seven dwarfs walking through the mountains, a Bigfoot in the forest, a monk…eh, blessing? a naked woman and literally thousands of such little things. I find I can't really take in the entire scene as I keep looking for and at all the little details. Many of them can't even be properly seen by the visitors as the scenes are so wide–one would actually need opera glasses or something. I understand that one will have to return, over and over again, to fully appreciate the exhibition. I stagger out three hours later, my brain all full.

This is not the entire model railroad, this is one corner of one of four rooms…

I walk back to the hotel and as it still is hot, I locate the hotel spa and paddle around in the pool a while. Suitably refreshed I go out and buy some underwear and a shirt in a very non-masculine shade of powder blue. Dinner at Ristorante Massimo and they can consider themselves to be ON NOTICE: Having paid, I politely ask for a receipt. The waiter breezily replies: “I lost it.” but digs in his shirt pocket and digs out a random receipt: “Here, you can have this!” Stunned, I accept it, but you have now been warned. (And yes, the receipt was for a lower amount than I had paid…)

It is warm all night, so I sleep very fitfully and am rather groggy when I get up the next morning, gather up my belongings and make for departure. At the breakfast table I find the guy from the day before, who clearly has not gotten to Helsinki yet. The breakfast buffet is excellent and the cooks beam back at my happy smile. Unfortunately I don't have the opportunity to eat as much as I'd like, as we soon have to leave for the train. My travelling companion and I turn out to have many common interests and we have an animated discussion while gliding through Schleswig-Holstein. We get the ferry tour from Puttgarden to Rødby, which is nice, if a bit early-morning chilly. Copenhagen is warmer, but the X2000 soon arrives. DB has upgraded us to 1st Class, managing to apologise for doing so on account of 2nd Class being full. We don't mind the upgrade a bit. Now this train too manages to get delayed, but not more than twenty minutes or so and I am soon home again.


Martin said...

Lovely travelogue! I spent two weeks on a language course in Juan-les-Pins and Antibes back in '88.

When you said "Saturday in Hamburg" I immediately thought "that's when you catch a very early Beatles gig".

kai said...

With my luck I probably would have ended up at a Rutles gig :-)