Monday, 29 July 2013

Back Home

Today (Monday 29th July) I find myself restored to normality with a bit of time to think.I now realise that I failed to post in the blog that we completed the mission successfully and arrived back at St Pancras on schedule. Thanks go to Mark for the planning, Paul for the photos and all of the guys for their excellent company as we travelled the length and breadth of Europe. Special mention to Darren and his data connection which allowed blogging when there was no wifi option.

My delay in concluding things has been due to an exceptional few days after getting back to London. The highlights included the Ian Dury exhibition at the RCA, Sir John Soane's Museum on Lincoln's Inn Fields (a sort of Burrell Collection squeezed into a town house), a ride on the cable car from Royal Victoria to North Greenwich - a brilliant way to see the East End, the Docklands Light Railway (not the Bernina but it does wind its way through the skyscrapers in a rather spectacular fashion), a convivial lunch in Greenwich Market, a train ride from London to Edinburgh in a First Class coach with no air-con - even sweatier than the Trenhotels, a flood in our garage and a Sunday lunchtime blues concert at a Highland village hall featuring a band called Harmonica Lewinsky with a real ale bar thrown in for good measure. Sis in law June arranged this last event. Excellent choice.


What have I discovered?  That whatever the Scottish Tourist Board tell me there is scenery elsewhere (apart from Sweden). That grappa deserves its current place in the hierarchy of spirits drinking. That municipal bathing facilities are something worth preserving. That it is possible to watch Ashes cricket in Bucharest. That smorgastarta is enjoyable in moderation. That roast goose leg is a wonderful dish. That FYR Macedonia probably has the cheapest beer in Europe. That a decent cup of tea is a great treat. That my towel needs to be bigger. That sardines are smaller in Venice. That I snore but it is curable. I have also seen some fascinating parts of Eastern Europe which would probably justify a more sedate visit.


Der Fuhrer is now working up the next epic.  Six weeks plus crossing Europe, then Asia and finally exploring Japan by train. If the pong from my rucsack is anything to go by a compulsory laundry stop every 2 weeks should be a must.

Six weeks of cheese and cured meats. Who could possibly turn that down?

Further reading :
http://gcerc.wordpress.com/ 
http://blog.darrenf.org/2013_07_01_archive.html
 http://www.lloydshepherd.com/2013/07/26/travel-detox/



Tuesday, 23 July 2013

They think it's all over!

The Lisbon-Hendaye sleeper was particularly sweatyand notable mainly for the intense level of political debate in the bar car. Don't try to defend electoral apathy when Lloyd is around. We mainly slept like the dead and there was a distict whiff of decomposition around our end of the train by morning.  Most of us tried the luxury of a restaurant car breakfast where the A/c was fuctioning. The weather has changed to overcast and cloudy but it is still humid.

At Hendaye we switch to our penultimate train, a French TGV, which awaits us. There is time go out for coffees,  sandwiches and a beer, although there are not many takers for the latter. Under way we start dissecting our trip. Did or did we not cross the Rubicon? Assuming the plan through Paris back to St Pancras works we will have scored 47 real trains including 12 sleepers, 10 trams, 30 metro rides, 5 funiculars,  5 buses, 1 lift, 1 water taxi and 1 train ferry. Nobody counted the beers. Or the kebabs.

This train seems to be pedestrian in comparison with our Lyon - Paris TGV experience and we are 10 late when we leave Bordeaux. The connection is tight in Paris so we cannot afford a serious delay. Eventually we pass Tours and hit speeds up to 290 kph. The tension subsides and  we watch the countryside flash by.

When we get to Paris it turns out to be a route march to the Metro line to Gare du Nord., followed by a 14 stop ride. The Eurostar signage is the least helpful we have seen anywhere in Europe.  It may as well have been in Cyrillic s. We make check in with little time to spare and are soon in our seats on the 20.13 for St Pancras. Mark produces a bottle of very nice Cognac and we toast the success of GCERC.

Would we do it again? Probably not but I would certainly revisit some of the highlights and there were enough of those to keep the trips coming for a year or two yet.

PS The problem with my las post is now fixed.  http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/the-23rd-capital.html

The 23rd Capital

Madrid do not do their championship chances much good by closing the key central section of the underground line from Atocha to Chamartin. We have to do a circuitous route involving two changes. Outside Chamartin we find a restaurant where they take one look/sniff and shunt us off to an annexe. We plunder their electricity and order a few kebabs until the raciones (tapas) become available. There is a short but impressive thunderstorm which stops just in time for us to cross over to the station without getting soaked.  For once we are in the first coach and do not have trek the length of the platform.

This Trenhotel compartment is slightly different with the berths set at an angle in a bid to create some extra space. For those who have not been paying attention we are on our way to Lisbon. Four of us squeeze ourselves and our kit into the cabin, confirm that there are no showers on this train and head for the bar. The hour's time change helps us as regards sleep but we all feel pretty grubby. Consideration is given to booking hotel rooms for the day but in the end we opt for the local swimming baths where, after a bit of negotiating we are able to buy showers. Bliss. This is then followed by a swift beer in the Piscina bar just to stop us becoming too self righteous.

We arm ourselves with 6 euro day passes and take a couple of short metro rides to the 28 tram stop where we pile aboard for the ride around the old town. We are slightly short changed here as the tram takes the shorter circuit normally used by the 12. We got off in Estrella for a beer and pasty then head back towards town to try out one of the funiculars. The Bica line is run using a pair of tiny cars and runs down a street steep enough to need steps on the pavement and just wide enough for the two cars to pass at the halfway point. This gives the team a taste for funiculars and we go for the Gloria next. This is a larger car and both DD and John take advantage of the opportunity to ring the floor bell. What fun!
We break for lunch in the Barro Alto -kebabs, salt cod, red wine, almond tart - that sort of stuff. By one of those freaky coincidences we realise that we are eating at a restaurant with the street number 23 in our 23rd capital city. I think that you had to be there to get it. We walked down the hill to check out the Santa Justa Elevador. It was working but must be one of the world's least efficient mass transport methods as a huge lift has a capacity limit of 15 persons. Inevitably 2 of the group do not make the cut and we have to wait an age for the next descent. Some of us head out to Belem while others opt for the beer museum. For fun we get a train back to the city and then a tram to the beer museum to discover that the other guys have not made it past the bar. This is air conditioned and a welcome refuge from the sun and over the course of  a couple of pints all of the stragglers home in on this point.

We decide on a curry for our last supper together and Daren pins down a Goan place with excellent reviews. We walk up to discover that it is closed but a place describing itself as a Pakistani restaurant is open for business and it does beers. We are in!  The samosas and onion bhajis were excellent although the main courses were not spicy enough for some tastes.  This may be a blessing in disguise as we are on yet another Trenhotel tonight, woth cramped cabins and no opening windows.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Scorchio

7Previously unmentioned in this blog is Jason's predicament. As part of a housekeeping exercise in Zurich he threw the business end of his Interrail pass into the bin in the belief that it was a metro ticket from somewhere or other. The conductor on the Swiss double decker started to make an issue of this but never followed up on it. We then managed to travel from Geneva to Paris without any ticket check. Will his luck hold?

A quick peek at the very splendid Train Bleu restaurant then it is time for a short route march over the Seine to Gare d'Austerlitz where we find a cafe and get stuck into a croque and a beer.  Paris was scorching and we were all pretty tired so nobody felt like exploring anywhere and a bit of light blogging was about as energetic as it got. At around 10 p.m. we crossed the street to board out Trenhotel fo Barcelona. Jason lives to fight another day as only the reservation is required.

The first impression that we get is that the coaches and cabins are a bit cramped and morale takes a further hit when it transpires that the rumoured showers are merely a rumour. At least we are in 4s rather than 6s and we are all around the same state of smelliness. On the plus side this train has the best party coach that we have encountered since Romania and John is soon amusing us with wine juggling tricks. Two Australian couples join in the fun and we are soon trading cricket insults, before one of Sheilas goes on to give us a detailed breakdown of the rules of Australian football. At about 1 a.m. they start packing the bar up so we head for bed.

By the time we wake up we are in Spain and running on broad gauge (5' 6") track. The change over was achieved with a remarkable lack of fuss and are we are underway again. The buffet car is back in business doing breakfast which is pretty good. Barcelona Estacio de Franca is reached ahead of time. John has started a rumour that it will be 37C in Barcelona today. It's probably a few degrees short of that but we are all feeling the heat. Apparently we could have stayed at home for the heatwave gig.

We split into a couple of groups once we have transported our luggage across the city and a few of us go to visit Sagrida Familial, the huge cathedral that has been under construction for about a century. In comparison with ground level the metro is quite cool so we take a ride across the city to try out the funicular up to Muntjuic. This is a bit disappointing as it runs mainly through a tunnel and there are no views at all. We find a shady bench and have a seat for a while before deciding to go for lunch.

A couple of people opt for paella which looks good. A couple of beers go down well and we have some female company for a change. A fomer workmate of Mark and Lloyd turns up to wish us well and she is polite enough not to wrinkle her nose at our rather grubby condition. The test match news is almost too good to belive. Auzsralia chasing nearly 600 are 36 for 3.

It is soon time for us to catch a train,  the Spanish high speed AVE, to Madrid.  There is an airline style check in with X ray machines and yet again Jason makes it on board. Next time we won't bother with tickets.
The AVE is comfortable with good AC but no power or WiFi.  It also shifts a bit, getting over 300 kph at times according to the information display in the coach. This also tells us that the outside temperature has got up to 36C. On board we are watching Salmon Fishing in the Yemen with Spanish subtitles when it dawns on us that a rucsac full of cheese and Swiss chocolate has been left behind somewhere.  On the bright side Australia are now 136  for six.

About an hour out from Madrid the sky turns black and we drive into a heavy rainstorm. In a few minutes the outside temperature drops from 36C to 14C and then slowly starts to climb again. The reading is 31C as we pull into Atocha Station.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Transport of Delight

6.30 reveille and a quick escape from the Oflag. Mick and I have a pleasant breakfast in a cafe in the station basement - a bargain at about £13 each. We meet the rest of the guys who are updating an Aussie tourist on the progress of the test. He has already had his luggage mislaid by Swiss Air so we really make his day. The first train today is a Swiss double decker which is no more spacious or comfortable than those in India.

The journey from German speaking Zurich to French speaking Geneva manages to avoid any spectacular scenery apart from the run along Lake Geneva which has a thin but solid layer of cloud hanging over it. For the last few miles we are joined by a former colleague of some of the guys who has brought a healthy picnic of cheese, salami,  chocolate and wine. 
At Geneva we have to leave the station and walk round the side to go through French customs. We get comfortable on the French Regional train and crack open the feast. At the first syop the train fills with schoolchildren. They help us out with the picnic.

In Lyon we have a couple hours to kill so we find a bar where we have a late lunch and watch the Tour de France. Looks like a result for Froome. Our data meister also keeps tabs on the cricket where the Aussies are having their noses rubbed in it big time. Back at the station there is a real throng on the platform but we have reservations and a feelgood factor. The train turns out to be a double decker but roomier than the Swiss one. Darren's gizmo tracks our position as we head for Paris en route to Barcelona. This geograhically inept piece of route planning has been caused by the cancellation of the Geneva - Barcelona sleeper.

Most of the guys crash as Darren and I watch the countryside flash by and clock 303 kph admist the snores. Absolutely amazing. In no time we are in Paris where we change stations so we can head south again. Is this why it is called the DisOrient Express?

The Promised Land

U  City Notte trains have 4 berth cabins but no frills . Out like a light almost as soon as we get under way until brutally roused by our leader at about 6 a.m. Today has always been planned as an essential part of the circuit and all is looking good. Italian Railways have found form at the perfect moment in this tournament and delivered us into Milano Porta Garibaldi about 20 minutes early.  The metro ride to Centrale goes without a hitch and without too much waiting we are installed in a comfy second open on the 8.20 for Tirano.

As regards scenery and passing points of interest this train is no slouch, taking us out via Monza towards the Alps and then threading its way through the mountains to run alongside Lake Como for a good half hour. When we leave the lake we turn east up a broad, gently climbing valley with terraced vineyards, which takes us to the border town of Tirano. There is a separate station on the Swiss metre gauge electrified  Rhaetian Railway system right beside the Italian terminus and this is where we will start our quest for the Holy Grail of train trips.

Ingredient one is an open truck with reversible wooden seats which gets attached to the rear of the regular train. It is soon shunted into the platform and we get to climb on board. The train proper then arrives, shunts and couples up to the open truck. Then with a minimum of fuss we are on our way. To start with we run like a tram up the middle of the street but soon move onto a separate formation. The twists and turns, the gradients and undulations would put some roller coasters to shame.

A couple of kilometres out we cross the border into Switzerland with no fuss or bother at all. As far as Schengen goes the UK now lines up with FYR Macedonia and Serbia. Doesn't sound like a winning combination. Very quickly we get to the circular viaduct which goes through 360 degrees to gsin height. And then we just keep climbing, using horseshoe curves, 180 degree curves all in tunnels and unbelievably steep gradients for a non rack railway. Fairly regularly we stop to cross southbound trains. There is a good servive but not all carry open trucks.

For a rail fan this trip really is it - only steam is missing but that can be forgiven. It just couldn't cope with these gradients. The non rail fans are also suiably impressed.  This trip has to be added to the list of things that everybody should do before they die.
Der Fuhrer has indeed delivered us to the promised land. In return Switzerland delivers. Mountain peaks with snow, chocolate box houses and cows with bells. The trains really do depart exactly on time.

We have five more Swiss trains before we get to Zurich including the crossing of the Oberalp pass by rack railway. This is amost as good as the Bernina but relies on climbing and descending incedibly steep gradients rather than loops or spirals.This train delivers us to Andermatt from where we take  another rack line down a precipitous gorge to the junction with the main line. The standard gauge express to Zurich is staffed by a conductor who is a WW1 history nut. He has great admiration for Highland regiments.

We arrive in Zurich on time of course. A veil will be drawn over the Zurich City backpackers hostel and the £8 beers.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Picnic in the park

The Rome planning had to be adjusted fairly late in the day when we discovered that our sleeper to Milan would be leaving from Tiburtina, a station on the outskirts of the city rather than from the main station in the centre. Our train from Venice stopped at both so we decided to detrain at Tiburtina, dump the bags and take the metro into the city. Wrong move. The left luggage facility at Tiburtina closed for good on April 30th. It was baking hot and we now had to take the metro into town with all of our bags. At the main station we had a seemingly endless walk to the left luggage.

The time consumed meant that we had to miss out on a visit to the Vatican,  not a disaster as it did not involve any proper trains although Darren was disappointed. He had put on his clean trousers in order to make the right impression with the Pope.

The next activity was to go to collect our specially ordered picnic from Volpetti's,  a very smart gourmet delicatessen.  This proved to be somewhat bigger than anticipated so another plan revision was hastliy devised. We would eat some now in the park up the hill and transfer the remainder by taxi direct to Tiburtina. The starter pack contained olives, artichoke hearts, wonderful bread, prosciutto and cheeses and salami so good that even our jaded palates could appreciate them. Tye wine was sublime. Perhaps they don't let the good stuff out of the country. We ate all of this in a public park looking over the city towards St Peter's. If the rest is as good as this the hundred euros each will be a snip.

By now we were a bit footsore and weary. For me sandals were not a good choice. The main party limped down the opposite side of our hill while Lloyd and Steve went back to pick up the remaining 6 boxes of food and drink. We took in the view of the Circus Maximus and then took the metro to the Coliseum. We pitched camp in a nearby bar and were served German beer in litre steins and complimentary snacks which were not in the same league as what we had just eaten.

We saw the sun and beers go down until it was time to go and recover our luggage.  It was a bit cooler and knowing that we were on the last leg for today helped ease the pain. At Tiburtina we found Lloyd and Steve witth the provisions mountain. In our relief at completing today's Hors Categorie stage we cracked open a couple more bottles on the platform. Most welcome. Tonight's City Notte sleeper to Milan is one of our leader's recurring nightmares as we have a change of stations in Milan and only about an hour to make the connection. The train arrives 6 minutes early from Naples. Is this a good omen?

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Lagoon City

Inevitably the Italians salvage a result and creep through into the next round. We are just about to order a further round of drinks when Darren spots that our train is now only 40 minutes late and therefore due to arrive in about five. We scramble over to the correct platform and are soon heading for Venice.

The train is Italian and not to busy so we get the end of a coach prety much to ourselves. We pick up a few more minutes and arrive in Venice as the sun is starting to set. As we cross the bridge from Mestre the smell is reminiscent of Vienna. Paul rushes off to make the most of the light while we find and check in to the Domus Civica where our accommodation is booked. In term time this is a girls' hall of residence but is now good value accommodation.  I am delighted when I am allocated the single room although I am told that it is purely on the grounds that I am the most toxic snorer.

A quick shower and change and we head out to eat. Steve has contacts here so we travel by water taxi to the oldest pizzeria in the city. Max is an excellent host and we enjoy his recommendations including the two metre pizza which is actually several pizzas served balanced on a plank. The time passes all too quickly and we have to race back to our digs in order to beat the curfew. Not easy when we are unsure of the route but we made it.

Wake up on Thursday morning well rested and with time for a morning shower. Of  late this has become an unimaginable luxury and will become so once again so I make the most of it. A stroll round as the city wakes is achieved without getting lost and I join Mick for breakfast at a pavement cafe opposite the hostel. We take a stroll as the city starts to get busier, finding ourselves at waterside dead ends a few times. Check out time loomed so we headed back to pack our bags. Steve had organised a chef led tour of the fish and fruit markets.  Fascinating stuff. Ever seen fresh borlotti beans? This was followed by a guided tour of a fabulous £1000 per night hotel with 17th century frescoes.

A route march back to the hostel in the blazing sun makes a couple of refreshments essential, one of which is a drink called a spritz made with a red syrup, white wine and sparkling water and served with ice and a slice of orange. Then it is time to go and catch our Frecciargento train for Roma.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Croatia 5 Slovenia 4 Italy 0

Keep up with the photos on pcpho.to/gcerc

When our train pulls into Split station it is immediately obvious that the sleeping car is a modern piece of stock. On board we have been allocated three very comfortable 3 berth cabins, each with a washbasin. The beds have been made up ready for us - what luxury!  The rumour machine even suggests that there is a disco car attched to this train at weekends. We settle for a couple of nightcaps in the corridor and an early night.

Woken at six on another flawless sunny morning we discover that our train is on time. Massive points to Croatian Railways. We have an hour in Zagreb between trains but as the next one is in the station already we pile on board,  then send out a foraging party to find breakfast. Our new train is Austrian as it runs through to Vienna although we are only going a ninety minute hop to the first significant place in Slovenia,  called Sevnica.

The scouts return with an excellent breakfast of sandwiches,  croissants and coffee - just the job. By now we have got very comfortable and are helping ourselves to the abunfant power sockets. We leave on time and soon cross the border into Slovenia where passports are checked and the loco changed. Croatia has made a pretty good impression despite the bus ride.

Sevnica has been described by our leader as the Slovenian Crewe. I don't know what he was on that day but it must induce tall tales. Luckily the place was just about big enough to have a buffet with clean bogs and WiFi.  The mutiny was averted and we supped coffees and grapefruit beers until our train to Ljubljana arrived. This is a modern Slovenian railways electric multiple unit. Some accommodation has been arrived at with the local graffiti artists who spray paint the trains but leave the stock numbers and depot details visible. Slovenia is much like the rest of ex Yugoslavia comprising mainly of mountains,  gorges and trees but there is a , more Alpine aspect to the architecture here. One noticeable feature is the number of churches perched on hilltops.

Ljubljana is our 17th capital city (if you don't count London). A glass of beer seems appropriate before we continue our in depth testing of the Slovenian rail system. Another EMU takes us north towards the massive mountains that separate Slovenia from Austria. This is train number 25 so we are now past the halfway point by any possible measure. Some of us are in the first coach where the driver has left the cab door open giving us a view along the track towards the aforementioned mountains. Jesenice is the last major town before the border and this is where we change tack and start heading towards Italy.

This leg is on a less modern diesel multiple which fills up with teenage metal music fans on their way to some festival. They get off after a couple of stops so we can spread out and enjoy the view as we traverse the Julian Alps on our way out of the Danube basin. When we are not going through tunnels this view is spectacular even if it is yet more mountains, gorges and endless trees. But these trees are deciduous rather than conifers. At Nova Gorica we arrive on time and walk out of the the station and almost straightaway we cross the border into Italy. A 5km bus ride takes us to the Italian railway station where we have time for a beer. By the end of the beer we have tie for more as our train is isted as 90 minutes late. Italy have a poor start to the tournament yet again.

VERY SAD FOOTNOTE.  The hat was left behind on the Split -Zagreb sleeper.  RIP.

Croatia 5 Slovenia 4 Italy 0

Keep up with the photos on pcpho.to/gcerc

When our train pulls into Split station it is immediately obvious that the sleeping car is a modern piece of stock. On board we have been allocated three very comfortable 3 berth cabins, each with a washbasin. The beds have been made up ready for us - what luxury!  The rumour machine even suggests that there is a disco car attched to this train at weekends. We settle for a couple of nightcaps in the corridor and an early night.

Woken at six on another flawless sunny morning we discover that our train is on time. Massive points to Croatian Railways. We have an hour in Zagreb between trains but as the next one is in the station already we pile on board,  then send out a foraging party to find breakfast. Our new train is Austrian as it runs through to Vienna although we are only going a ninety minute hop to the first significant place in Slovenia,  called Sevnica.

The scouts return with an excellent breakfast of sandwiches,  croissants and coffee - just the job. By now we have got very comfortable and are helping ourselves to the abunfant power sockets. We leave on time and soon cross the border into Slovenia where passports are checked and the loco changed. Croatia has made a pretty good impression despite the bus ride.

Sevnica has been described by our leader as the Slovenian Crewe. I don't know what he was on that day but it must induce tall tales. Luckily the place was just about big enough to have a buffet with clean bogs and WiFi.  The mutiny was averted and we supped coffees and grapefruit beers until our train to Ljubljana arrived. This is a modern Slovenian railways electric multiple unit. Some accommodation has been arrived at with the local graffiti artists who spray paint the trains but leave the stock numbers and depot details visible. Slovenia is much like the rest of ex Yugoslavia comprising mainly of mountains,  gorges and trees but there is a , more Alpine aspect to the architecture here. One noticeable feature is the number of churches perched on hilltops.

Ljubljana is our 17th capital city (if you don't count London). A glass of beer seems appropriate before we continue our in depth testing of the Slovenian rail system. Another EMU takes us north towards the massive mountains that separate Slovenia from Austria. This is train number 25 so we are now past the halfway point by any possible measure. Some of us are in the first coach where the driver has left the cab door open giving us a view along the track towards the aforementioned mountains. Jesenice is the last major town before the border and this is where we change tack and start heading towards Italy.

This leg is on a less modern diesel multiple which fills up with teenage metal music fans on their way to some festival. They get off after a couple of stops so we can spread out and enjoy the view as we traverse the Julian Alps on our way out of the Danube basin. When we are not going through tunnels this view is spectacular even if it is yet more mountains, gorges and endless trees. But these trees are deciduous rather than conifers. At Nova Gorica we arrive on time and walk out of the the station and almost straightaway we cross the border into Italy. A 5km bus ride takes us to the Italian railway station where we have time for a beer. By the end of the beer we have tie for more as our train is isted as 90 minutes late. Italy have a poor start to the tournament yet again.

VERY SAD FOOTNOTE.  The hat was left behind on the Split -Zagreb sleeper.  RIP.

Dalmatian Coast

The train ride from Sarajevo through the mountains to Ploce on the Adriatic is full of unexpected treats. The series of horseshoe curves and stacked viaducts is quite something.  Even the coach in which ee travel is unexpected. It carries a plaque to denote that it was a gift from the Swedish rail network to thst of Bosnia. Ot is spacious and comfortable if somewhat ramshackle. The , an with the tray of Turkish coffees was another bonus, as was the cance to watch the engine change at the border. Croatia runs the isolated 20 km or so closest to the coast and do it their way. This stretch is not linked to the rest of their system.

At Ploce we have time for a quick beer and then squeeze onto the next bus to Split. This takes a scenic route along the coast but the cramped bus and sweltering heat make this amongst the worst three hours that we have endured since leaving London. The level of affluence in Croatia  is in marked contrast to the other components of former Yugoslavia. The hordes of tourists from further north in Europe and also from the US are very noticeable.

When the coach finally gets to Split we dump our bags and head for the beach area where we are made welcome in a friendly bar. We are so thirsty that we actually start on soft drinks. The food is adequate rather than inspiring but they are happy to let us use the loo for changing into our swimmers for a reviving dip in the Adriatic.

A half hour swim and float, followed by a seat in the sun as the bar tab slowly mounts proves to be the ideal prescription. Revived, we take an early evening tour of the Old Town with its Roman remains before heading back to the railway station for our overnight train to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Sarajevo

I don't think that any of us new what to expect here. The old part of the city is in a flat valley bottom and the town has expanded up the adjacent hillsides. It is pretty much surroundedby towering mountains which allowed the Serb beseigers to dominate the town with artillery fire. The most obvious sign of the war are the Muslim cemeteries with simple column gravestones that seem to take up part of every hillside.

It now looks to be quite a thriving city where people lead normal lives. The Old City Hostel occupies the first floor of side street tenement.  We are in an airy twelve bed dorm with clean showers and loos and a pleasant social area at the end of the corridor. Best of all there are plenty of electrical sockets. The only slight blemish is the dodgy WiFi connection which will only stay connected for a couple of minutes. We get scrubbed up and give the shot glasses an airing to sample some raki.

We head out for someting to eat and find a n open air place where they can fit us in at a couple of pavement tables. The beer is OK, the wine is good and the food even better. We have a Lebanese mezze followed by a huge platter of mixed kebabs with Bulgar wheat. The kebabs are much better than the Skopje ones but about 3 times the price. As we walk back to the hostel the bars and cafes are absolutely buzzing for a Monday night.

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Latest Balkan Conflict.

Our train is particularly slow,  bumpy and clanking but amazingly is still the same 3 coaches that set off from Skopje. On arrival in Belgrade our first requirement is basic facilities such as coffee, power sockets, internet and plumbing. The cafe on the platform provides these in spades thanks to the lovely septagenarian, German speaking waitress. We feel as if we have rejoined the world for two hours.

The next train is bound for Bar on the Montenegro coast. It gives us ninety minutes on Belgrade station. The guys who looked outside were unimpressed. The Bar train arrives and it is immediately obvious that it is full and we have no reservations. Der Fuhrer slips the konductor 10 euros and we are on, albeit standing on the corridor connection plates between coaches. No problem - it's only 4 hours.

DD almost suffers premature evacuation when the train makes an unscheduled stop at a suburban station. Luckily a passing railway worker points this out and I am able to scramble back on board. Five minutes later we arrive at Uzice where we are due to detrain and pick up our prebooked road transport. Three taxis were waiting and soon we are hurtling out of the city towards the Sargan8 preserved 76 cm narrow gauge line which winds through spectacular limestone ridges.

We get to the start point and are immediately embroiled in foreign exchange issues. We can buy beer but not train tickets with our puny euros. Persistance pays off as our leader discovers that the konductor is concerned that we are trying to pay too much. We pile onboard,  most of us choosing to stand on the connecting plates between two coaches.

The train is very busy with tourists enjoying a family day out. At each stop everybody gets of the train to look at the views down into the valleys below. The line spends a lot of time in tunnels and traces a figure eight to allow height to be gained/lost. We are descending so the small Rumanian diesel loco does not have too much work to do.

When we arrive at the lower terminus one of the taxis is there and also two other blokes who claim that they have been sent by the hostel in Sarajevo. Both sides seem to be very keen on the 300 euros that we believe is the fare for the trip. Voices are raised and there is some angry gesticulation. The other taxis arrive and the volume level rises, as bags are unloaded then reloaded.

Eventually a compromise is hammered out where the taxis are paid off and we proceed in the Sarajevo minibuses. Very soon we are at the Serbian/Bosnian border where we collect another entry stamp. Once we get going again the pace and style of driving is no less exhilarating as the road winds along rocky gorges between towering limestone cliffs.

In Sarajevo our drivers head off up a hill away from the city centre provoking outrage ftom our leader who is adamant that we have places booked in a centrally located hostel. There are more raised voices until we are delivered to a place in the centre of the old town. War is averted.

Cyrillic Zone

Our train into Sofia Central was ninety minutes late so no surprise there. The station is a disintegrating concrete dump in total contrast to the shiny new metro system. All of the notices and advertisements ate in Cyrillic script evoking memories of 3rd  form Russian lessons.  A short metro trip took us across town to the Hostel Canape Connection,  where we were booked in for showers and breakfast. The shower and the coffee were most welcome but the burek was not so popular. Crumbled feta cheese in rolled flaky pastry pancakes, served cold and greasy. Stoytcho leaves us here for a few days so we are now down to nine.

Our next stage is by minibus westwards into FYR Macedonia. We get a quick tour of the highlights of Sofia (mainly Orthodox churches), a refuellingstopnat a supermarket and then we hit the highway. To start with the road is a decent dual carriageway but itbsoon deteriorates to match the standard of driving. A couple of hours out we reach the border with its four separate barriers - Bulgarian customs, Bulgarian passports, FYRM passports,  FYRM customs. All a bit Le Carre.

Ninety minutes takes us into Skopje, the FYRM capital.  Only the old lags, me and Mick remember the earthquake that destroyed the city a few decades ago. It has been rebuilt but does not look too prosperous.  The driver takes us to the old quarter of the city, quaint but almost deserted,  where we get a few snaps before retiring to a hostelry for beer and greasy kebabs. The meal costs 4 euros each including beer. This is the place to come for a cheap holiday.

Skopje station is reasonably intact but still pretty gloomy and it has beggars and taxi touts on an Indian scale. Our train to Belgrade is Macedonian, only three coaches and on time. We have two six berth couchettes between the nine of us and a lot of mosquitoes.  An hour out of Skopje we have the border ritual as we leave FYRM.  Twenty minutes later we do it all again for entering Serbia. This time we get a passport stamp. After a short and bloody war with the mossies we turn in. Early start due tomorrow.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Bucharest and on.

Turns out that Bucharest isn't too bad at all which is lucky as this is one of our longer stops. We check in our bags and take a metro ride to the restored old quarter of the city. In the midde distance we spot Caecescu's palace, apparently the second largest single building in the world after the Pentagon. We cut through a dingy passageway into a square and up a cobbled street to a bar with WiFi and, even better, the Test match cricket on telly.

Recce parties are sent out to identify a suitable dining venue. This is as far to the east as we will get so we need something Balkan to eat. The place we choose, Caru' cu Bere has alfresco tables, a non-veg menu and most importantly is busy. Darren and I share a sausage feast with sauerkraut amd cheesy chips while some of the guys tackle mixed grills. It's good food with good beer and the scenery is also Premier League. The meal is rounded off with apple strudel and coffee.

A gew of us take an evening stroll to work off a few calories and get a closer view of the palace. What a monstrosity it is. All too soon our visit is over and we need to take the metro back to Gara du Nord for  our next train. This is listed as running from Moscow to Sofia in Bulgaria and the screen shows it to be currently 30 minutes late. Luckily we have some currency left and, having recovered our bags, we retire to the bar for a well earned refreshment.

We are all slightly wary of this train as information is hard to come by and the berth numbers that we have been allocated don't seem to git any pattern. It turns out to be a Ukrainian coach that is doing the Kiev to Sofa run. We have two four berth cabins and two berths in a third one. The accommodation is almost an exact copy of Indian 1AC and the washroom has a close resemblance as well.As soon as we are under way bedding is issued and we settle down for the night.

Wake on Sunday morning in time to catch the climb up into the Balkan mountains.  The train now has two electric locos at the front and they seem to be working very hard as we wind our way between limestone knife-edges and heavily eroded sandstone buttresses. There is not a cloud in the sky and by 10 a.m. it is aready very warm. The AC is not Indian standard and there is a shortage of opening windows.

We are heading for Sofia,  capital of Bulgaria and the highest capital city in Europe. Stay tuned to this channel.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Slow train to ?

Budapest Keleti station was quite reminiscent of an Indian terminus with crowds of people and trains to all sorts of weird and wonderful destinations including Moscow. Here we said goodbye to Mike who had to fly home leaving us as ten. There was a delay in announcing our Train and we left about half an hour late. We had one and a bit compartments in a Romanian sleeper coach, quite  new and by no means the worst that we have had. The next coach even has a functioning shower.

We enjoy a snack of bread and Hungarian fire sausage before adjourning to the buffet car where a party breaks out. Even the train staff join in. At some point we stop and make an unscheduled change of direction due to overhead cable problems. The staff tell us that we will be late without committing to a time frame. Someone produces a mandolin and we  have a sing song for a while. Tomorrow can take care of itself.

When tomorrow arrives it is bright and sunny but we have no idea where we are. Eventually we work out that we are at least two hours late. The train is dawdling along at about twenty mph with occasional sprints where it might get to fifty. We conclude that the state  of the track must be the problrem. Our plan is reviewed and we decide to skip Brasov and just stay on this train right through to Bucharest.

The bit of Romania that we are seeing is  very rural and quite picturesque.  There are a few horse drawn carts but plenty of tractors as well. Every village has an ornate church and some houses have storks' nests on the chimney stack. When we get to Brasov the speed picks up and we have to negotiate a gap in the Carpathian mountains. The last stretch of this trip is across the plain into Bucharest where it is overcast and a bit sweaty. We convene a council of war on the platform.  Bucharest is supposed to be Injun territory.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Mittel Europa

Prague is a wonderful city with many delights to offer.  As a break from trains we took the metro, a tram and the funicular up to the park followed by a stroll to Mrs DD's favourite pub, the Black Ox. A couple of convivial pints later we took the tram back down the hill to the Charles IV bridge amd found an alfresco restaurant for a real sit down meal. What luxury.

All too soon it was time for train 14. A Hungarian 6 berth couchette to take us to Prague. Very cozy. The steward ran his coach absolutely to the book and held our tickets hostage to ensure good behaviour. The night passed without incident although we discovered in the morning that the bag of shot glasses has gone missing somewhere.

Vienna's Metro system is very efficient and took us rapidly into the city centre for a quick look at Stephanplatz and its impressive church. Vienna smelled of ordure amd it wasn't just us. We rapidly moved on to the new (unfinished) Hauptbahnhof where our shuttle to Bratislava in Slovakia awaited. This was  a short and painless ride  back into the mid 20th century.  It is difficult to give a clear assessment of Bratislava.  The station was OK and there are trolleybuses. Our next train was the Prague - Belgrade Eurocity express for a two and half hour hop to Budapest. This has old fashioned 6 seat compartments and we quickly settle into the two that are allocated to us.

The journey is uneventful but there was a bit of scenery along the Danube. The rail route into Budapest is a bit grim and the station has seen better days.  In the spirit of the Grand Tour of Europe we headed for the Spa which was wonderful - swimming, saunas, plunge baths and an ice rub down. It's great to feel clean again. Even better we went by vintage metro. Back to the central market for roast goose leg, cabbage and potatoes with an excellent glass of beer. Budapest seems like a place to come back to.

Hopefully Paul will have some more photos on line at pcpho.to/gcerc

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Back on Track

Hamburg provides us with a very passable bratwurst before a very comfortable last train to Berlin. Most of us are just ready to flake out after we reach our rather nice hostel in a suburb in the old Eastern zone of the  city. This must have somehow survived the war  and has been tastefully restored.

A long lie and a good shower followed by a breakfast that is neither out of a tube nor 40% proof  is most welcome. Today's start is quite relaxed and we decide to use some time to explore Berlin's Hauptbahnhof station. This is really a shopping mall sandwiched between two perpendicular railway stations.  Really a sight to see and quite close to normal tourist attractions like the Reichstag. Berlin definitely looks like it is worth a revisit.

Train 13 Berlin to Prague is a Czech train which arrives promptly but  with the coaches in the wrong place. There is a real stramash as we fight our way along the corridor to get to our reserved compartments but once we get settled in it is comfortable enough. Darren keeps us updated on the cricket which starts sensationally well but then the Aussies  put in a serious fightback. Gloom descends.

Morale is restored by a stately amble along the Elbe valley above Dresden.  The concencous view is that even the girls might enjoy this bit. We follow up with a visit to the restaurant car which is excellent. By the time we get to Prague we are in good form

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Next we take Berlin (but a bit late)

We get a decent night's sleep in the Liggvagn and manage to disembark without problems at Stockholm central where we have the luxury of nearly two hours ashore. There is work to be done. Two enormous Smogastartas have to be collected, Darren's mate is delivering some beer and the first  reliable WiFi for 24 hours takes a caning. Smorgastarta is a very fancy savoury gateau garnished with prawns in one case and smoked salmon in the other. It is not fishcake.

We are told that Stockholm had been enjoying wonderful sunshine prior to our arrival. We brought some extremely threatening looking clouds with us and by the time we leave it is raining. The train to Copenhagen (number 10 on the official list) is one of the very smart X2000 types, as good as any we have been on but very busy.

The scenery is of the trees,  trees and yet more trees variety,  coupled wa pouring rain. No wonder Swedish novels are so bleak. We eat the first Smorgastarta - very filling. It's Jason' s birthday and he wants to know why there are no candles. Tension mounts as we head south. A twenty minute connection in Copenhagen is starting to look dodgy.

By the time we get to Copenhagen we have missed it so there is then a frantic, but fruitless chase round reservation offices to sort out seats for the next train to Hamburg and the onward connection to Berlin. We are on our own for this bit.We make sure that we are in pole position when the Hamburg train pulls in and we bag the bar. Internet resources are a bit thin but we follow England's batting collapse and keep up with the Tour.

This train is one of the GCERC highlights. A smart German ICE train drives onto a boat for a 50 minute crossing of yhe Baltic Sea - amazing. We are evicted from the coaches and head up to the top deck for fresh air and the second Smorgastarta. It was better than the first one. To a man the boys are totally wowed by this bit. Everybody should do a trip on a train ferry before they die..

Mostly Sweden

Our pro photographer's shots can be seen at pcpho.to/gcerc

A good night's sleep is followed by a civilised breakfast. We strolled down to the station in light drizzle.  The only reason for there being a railway in Narvik is that the Swedes have huge quantities of iron ore that they ship out via the nearest all weather port. It features huge ore trains pulled by 2 in 1 articulated electric locos .

Today we take a seven hour train to Boden where we have about twenty minutes before our 14 hour train to Stockholm. A  bit like flying to Australia with a change in Dubai. There is Wifi in the station. We will be taking Swedish trains for both trips and our first one leaves on time. The line climbs dramatically up alongside a fjord with spectaclar scenery yet again. Every now and then we pass throgh avalanche shelters , built to protect the railway from falling rocks and snow. Photo Paul is in his element. The climb is steep and we are soon at the cloudbase which also happens to be the border where we cross back into Sweden. The Interim Committee deem this to be too early for a toast.

Der Fuhrer puts in a long stint at the front of the peleton and makes some excellent sarnies for lunc. Nordic cheeses taste better than they sound. Lunch is followed by a vodka toast on the grounds that we won't be getting much closer to Russia. There scenery in this bit of Sweden is pretty dull, especially  in comparison with Norway. We discover that there is an empty section of our coach so we decamp there in order to toast the southbound AC crossing and listen to Albert's special railway playlist.  This section is right at the back of the train and has a view back along the track through the end door.

At Boden we only have to cross the platform to our connecting sleeper train. The compartments are 6 berth but roomier than the Amsterdam - Copenhagen train had. Jason is duty chef tonight and does a great job of catering for the various bizarre tastes exhibited. Mike wins a prize for his request for bacon pate, prawn cocktail and jalapeno cheese spread on the same piece of bread. This train has a buffet car so a couple of outrageously expensive beers get drunk before we call time and make an early night of it.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Our King of the Mountains.

Our train arrived promptly in Fauske where we transferred to a quite luxurious bus. We had been worried about getting space on this coach but it turns out there are only 4 other people on it. Departure is prompt as the bus has to make a connection with a ferry about halfway through the five hour trip.
The scenery is stunning if rather stark in places, with forests, waterfalls, and the weird and wonderful rock faces left by the glaciers. A couple of hours into the trip we stop at a supermarket which allows us to stock up on food. The prices are eyewatering.
We soon arrive at the ferry which gives us chance to take in some fresh and rather cool air before the final 2 hours into Narvik. It looks like Rosyth with mountains. Great place for our first shore leave. Mark plays a blinder and talks the bus driver into taking us to Narvik Camping, saving us a two mile uphill walk with kit. Tonight that driver is wearing the polka dot jersey.
Our accommodation is basic but adequate 4 bed bunkhouses with showers (first since Saturday morning) and some basic catering facilities. We scrub up then crack open the calvados and picnic till midnight. The clouds mean that there is no Midnight Sun to see but it is definitely daylight. Then time for bed..

Monday, 8 July 2013

Rudolph for breakfast

We are awoken by an announcement that our train is running over an hour late. The good news is that our connecting train will be held for us. It is distinctly cooler today with significant cloud cover. When we get into Trondheim all we have to do is cross the platform which is lucky the thing gets under way as we are evicting some idle young persons from our reserved seats. Time is quickly recovered as we head north. The train passes through a village called Hell.
Mike has slipped very easily into the role of catering manager. Watching him carve bread with a penknife  was real treat and the soft cheese,  baron and reindeer salami sandwiches are magnificent.
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We are pretty chipper this morning as we reflect on Jock Loser 3 Jock Ovitch 0 and the rather splendid outcomes of the two weekend stages on the TdF.    There are no frontiers to toast today so opt for vno with our lunch of salt cod, salami, tomatos and cucumber. The £7 beers in the Buffet Car only find a couple of takers but it is soon time to toast the Arctic Circle , marked by a line of cairns. Grappa seemed approprate.

Think about this. We still have 7 hours more travel until we get to Narvik.

Scandinavia for beginners

Stand easy. We made the connection and piled on board a Danish train for Gothenburg.  We had about 13 minutes in Copenhagen.  Somehow we managed to occupy the quiet section and made ourselves pretty unpopular by opening the cheese and salami.
Fairly soon after leaving Copenhagen we negotiate the  Oresund Crossing, a bridge/tunnel combo which takes us across the Baltic into Sweden. We are given a firm lecture about having fun in the quiet zone by a man who is merely passing through. Less amusing is the fact that some of the seats that we have occupied are reserved. Slowly we get dispersed throughout the train.
This bit of Sweden is remarkably flat, more like Holland really, and as a team we are all a bit flat. There are a couple of comedy station names to cheer us up but otherwise this is easily the dullest train that we have done so far. Gothenburg might be nice, but all that I saw was a 7-11 type of place. The train on to Oslo is a Norwegian one, quite ritzy and with free wifi so it was a chance to catch up on things.

The relentless diet of cheese and chocolate is interrupted by an issue of apples, rated by some as the highlight of the trip so far. We arrive on time  in  Trondheim at platform 18 where we are met by reinforcements in the shape of Mike G and Albert who have stepped into the provisioning breach. They have even brought cold beers which are very welcome by the time we have trekked over to Plaform 1 and checked into our small but perfectly formed twin birthed cabins. They are so small that we are onliged to have our party in the corridor..

Sunday, 7 July 2013

For you Tommy the smoking is over.

We get to Amsterdam on time and after a bit of messing about find my pal Mach who has been shopping for us and brings us cheeses, jars of rollmop herrings and some rather special beer. We don't have very long in the Dutch capital and we soon need to squeeze into our couchette cabin on the Borealis heading for Copenhagen.  Confusingly the station destination screen says Warsaw. A party breaks out along with a picnic. Der Fuhrers e cigarette causes a bit of a stushie and we are threatened with'Travel Cancellation' by the train manager.

On a lighter note Paul commenced a series of masterclasses for the photographically challenged.

We have an early call booked as we plan to stick our heads out of the window as we travel round the spiral that allows the train to climb the height of a battleship above the Keil Canal but the Germans have diverted the train in order to thwart us. It is also running a couple of hours late. Then it starts getting later which is quite scary. Our stroll round the Tivoli Gardens is at risk and even worse the provisioning arrangements are down the swanny.

It begins to look as if the 2 guys meeting us in Oslo will have 6 beds each on the Oslo - Trondheim sleeper.

Photos to follow when bandwidth permits.

We are not a Stag Party.

Up bright and early on a sunny morning for the ten minute stroll to St Pancras where the teamare already starting the t-shirt ritual. Our Full English is accompanied by a couple of drinks. The food reminds us why we are embarking on a railborne gourmet tour of Europe.
Check in is more Easyjet than Orient Express but we don't have long to wait until we are boarding our first train. It  is only fitting that our leader has been allocated Seat 61.
The not very spectacular countryside flashes past as we christen the shot glasses. Two stops in France then we hit Brussels. We had a lively debate about what needed to be on the shopping list which resulted in a decision to have a Moules Frites lunch. A short hop on a local train takes us from Midi into the heart of Brussels where we get bread, cheese, wine and other essentials. The moules at Chez Leon are spot on, especially with a couple of beers.

The shopping isn't too tedious and the only downside is the groups in matching Stag Party t-shirts. Not like us. The bright red shiny Thalys is running a little late but makes up time despite being diverted. We don't want to be late in Amsterdam as we have a date.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Our Man in Seat 61

So here it is at last. DD's tribute to GCERC's very own Evil Genius. The man whose warped and troubled mind has dreamed up this extraordinary event and whose threats and cajoling have persuaded citizens from over two dozen countries to sacrifice themselves for the cause. 

His telephone voice is now feared from Ffestiniog to the FYR Macedonia while an insane obsession with the perfect Smörgåstårta has forced several highly respected caterers in Stockholm to close down for the summer. Croatia has even joined the EU in order to avoid his wrath. He has shrugged off threats from the Hungarian sausage mafia, survived a sabotage attack by a man with a dodgy timetable app and coped heroically with having the Geneva-Barcelona train snatched away from him. 

DD is delighted, nay honoured, to have the opportunity to talk to Der Führer as he holds court from seat 61 on the 8.57 Eurostar from St Pancras to Brussels.


 DD - Mark, I can't tell you how glad we are that you found time to talk to us. On a scale of 1-10 how did you rate breakfast at the Betjeman? 



Why did you sell your train set?

I didn't, I gave to a good cause. My kids weren't interested in it and so there was no fun in denying them use of it. It's in much better hands now.

Extreme train travel is an unusual hobby for a Professor of Solar-Terrestrial Physics. When did you ditch the beard?

I divide my spare time between contemplating the magnetosphere and donating my bodily fluids to the insane. My motto is “in this life one thing counts, in the sperm bank large amounts”

Is Albert a real person?
A.L.B.E.R.T , the  Amorphic Linear Bidirectional Extended Railway Timetable, is a research project

 
Now that GCERC is in the bag what is the next great rail adventure?

Don't count your class 373's until the fat controller stands up back at St Panc.

What was the worst moment during the planning phase?
Opening the bag of tickets containing about 300 pieces of paper and weighting 1.3kgs

 
Who would you say is GCERC's 13th man?
Ole Gunnar Solskjær will be joining us in Oslo. 
 
 


 Tell us about fiming Night Hair Child with Britt Ekland?
 Most children involved in 1970s entertainment industry are understandably traumatized. I on the other hand have spent the last 40 years trying to donate sperm to that woman


         

          Deltic or A4? 
 One that works. So that's a no contest really isn’t it. Snorts two plumes of diesel exhaust .




Is there any room in your life for punctuation or capital letters?
dontyoujustfckinghatetheinternetspellingpolice
 

Will you be taking a copy of this book with you?
It's my Bible, Koran, Bhagavad Gita and flat pack bog roll.
 


If you could bring anybody from any point in history along on this trip who would it  be?John Churchill 

Hungarian 'ringstinger' or burek?
Are these United's summer signings?
 
Which bit of GCERC are you most looking forward to and why?

I am most looking forward to cevapcici, I'll be trying one in each of Brasov, Buchurest, Sofia, Skopje, Belgrade,Sarajevo and Split. The bookies favourite is Sarajevo but it's funny old game. 
 
 


What is your favourite film featuring trains?
Has to be Albert Finney's Poirot, but Oliver Postgate runs him a very close second. I do like the train sequence in from Russia With Love. They make it from Istanbul to Ljubjana in about 12 hours!, we could do the whole trip in a long weekend at that speed.

Your turn to contribute to K-Tel's GCERC Greatest Hits. 3 tracks please

.Cracking Up - Nick Lowe
Bat Out Of Hell - Meatloaf 
I Drove All Night - Cindy Lauper

Well Mark we wish you and the team a wonderful trip around Europe and may the Cevapcicis be good to you.




Day Zero Part 2

The plan worked! Trains 1 and 2 were both on time and even had working WiFi so I could keep abreast of the luggage abuse on our Facebook thread. There was just enough time in Edinburgh to grab an iconic Capital city photo between trains.
On my second train, wallowing in first class luxury and complimentary wine I sat opposite a man from Munich who was doing the UK on a two week rail pass. He was most concerned that he might not be able to visit York Minster because of some kind of Synod event and seemed a bit surprised that i was not aware of this event.
The Swinton Hotel is not the smartest place I have ever stayed at but it sufficed for a night and is very handy for Kings Cross and St Pancras.  Mick arrived promptly and we had a couple of beers before our curry. On the way back to base we checked out the Betjeman.