Robert Hampton

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28th March 2014

Let the train take away the strain
Posted by at 11.35pm | Out and About, Trains | 4 responses

Robert and EurostarWhen I first announced to people that I was going to Amsterdam by train, I described it as “the hard way”.

Don’t get me wrong – the possibility of a train journey spanning four countries and two time zones filled me with gleeful anticipation – but I was expecting a certain amount of tribulation and, yes, faff. For you see, while Britain’s railway network is comforting and familiar to me, Europe’s was, by and large, an unknown quantity to me. Years of experience has allowed me to navigate Britain’s privatised railway with ease, but on the continent there is a whole new maze of terminology to get to grips with: there’s Thalys and TGV and ICE, all with slightly differing rules and regulations. It’s all a bit complicated, even with experts like The Man In Seat 61 on hand to offer advice.

I like the idea of international travel by train – there’s no need to decant liquids into a tiny plastic bag, no seat belts to fasten, and you can keep your phone turned on. Until this week, however, my exposure to European railways has been limited to a few trips on Berlin’s S-Bahn network. Determined to change that, I started cooking up plans last year to make some international rail journeys, and quickly zeroed in on Amsterdam as a destination. My original plan involved taking a ride on the DutchFlyer rail and sail service. However, a glance at Eurostar’s web site revealed that tickets from London to Amsterdam were available on selected trains for just £49.50 one-way. This was only a few pounds more expensive than the DutchFlyer fare, and offered a much faster journey.

So, at just after 8am on Tuesday morning, I was at London St Pancras station, ready to catch the Eurostar to Brussels. As I emerged into the bustling terminus, I felt a tinge of anxiety. As usual, my mind was calculating everything that could go wrong – a fire in the Channel Tunnel, some errant weather, a wildcat French strike.

I was thrilled, therefore, to have the company of Ian Jones, who joined me last year on my thrilling Caledonian Sleeper adventure. On that trip, Ian spent a total of five days with me, which is more than most people can tolerate. It was nice to have someone to share the experience, and if the worst happened, I’d have to someone to talk to while we waited for rescue.

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26th March 2013

Capital Letters
Posted by at 11.48pm | Out and About, Trains | No responses

Giant London Underground roundelSo, London then.

I was there over the weekend of 16-18 March at the invitation of likeable Finchley-dweller Ian Jones, who zeroed in on an idle Tweet of mine like a ninja. On the first day of my week off work, I found myself on a Virgin train down to the Smoke.

Disaster struck early in the trip, as the Northern Line through Finchley was closed for engineering works. So, to actually get to Ian’s home, I faced the prospect of a rail replacement bus from Golders Green. First problem was actually finding where the bus stopped – Golders Green station has a row of bus stops right outside the station entrance, but of course the Tube replacement service didn’t stop there. No, you had to turn right out of the station, walk along a footpath, cross a road and board the bus at a temporary stop underneath a railway bridge. MAKES SENSE.

The line was, in fact, closed so London Underground could test the new Northern Line signalling system. Excitingly, for much of the weekend we could see a constant procession of test trains from Ian’s kitchen (which looks out onto the railway line). Less exciting was the fact that they went at about 5 mph and kept stopping and starting. Clearly all is not well with the new computers yet.

Undeterred by the lack of trains, we set out to explore some of the capital’s transport delights. Ian, in case you didn’t know, is the author of the excellent 150 great things about the Underground blog, and was keen to show me some of his favourite places. I will freely admit that a good proportion of the weekend was spent wallowing in our mutual transport geekiness.

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