September the 13th – London St Pancras to Brussels Midi
Getting the newbike from the youth hostel to the St Pancras is not nice, even though it’s so close and I have put my heaviest things (locks and netbook) in my rucksack and as I’m shuffling along with it I vow to unfold it whenever possible. I do at Brussels and it takes six minutes and then I am free for an hour to ride around. Cars go across pedestrian crossings even when the green walking man is showing which confuses me (until I remember the they’re allowed to run you over on a right turn rule – it’s a continental thing) but the cycle lanes are nice and wide and the potholes few. The area is more down at heel than Brussels North and features a great many wholesale fashion shops. I take some photos and then make my way to platform 5 and wrestle newbike back into its bag.
Brussels to Koln
I’m in first class for the next leg because I booked it so far in advance that it was still really cheap. This means I have lots of space but have to put up with some obnoxious git on the table next to me loudly telling the guy next to me that he lives in Toronto AND Tel Aviv AND Nanjing AND Dusseldorf and a list of other places which just proves he lives nowhere and likes to show off. He is rude to the train staff (except for the young pretty woman whom he flirts with shamelessly). He orders a massive meal with wine although it is hardly lunchtime yet and snorts and clears his throat noisily whilst he eats it, pausing to talk loudly on his phone between bites. I bet he leaves half of it and he does – probably because the guy beside me is willing to listen to him self-aggrandise. He buys and sells ‘things for the military’, finds his sons argue with him all the time (I don’t blame them), dislikes daughters but unfortunately has one (poor woman), loves money above everything, doesn’t see why he should pay tax and most distressing of all classifies himself as an engineer. I don’t see that he can be as he is clearly more of a problem than a solution.
I am gladly distracted from him by the sight of Liege station – the most beautiful modern station I’ve seen – and a justified use of glass - huge arching white curves far overhead, glazed in between with something that looks like reactalite lenses. The lady opposite me who has been rolling her eyes at the man as well is equally impressed and so I meet the wonderful Margot Macartney from Tucson, Arizona who completely redeems the journey for me. We talk about cycling and trains and marvel at the little gardens we see from the train. They are called ‘Shraeder – Gardens’ apparently – I was enchanted by them in Augsberg last year. Sort of like allotments but not – they have high hedges and lawns and little chalets – people own them or rent them and stay at them for weekends. Margot is an ex-laywer, a writer, campaigns her local representative to get the government to invest in energy infrastructure (Belgium apparently did this first – something to ask about when I get there) and has plans to engage with the owner of her local copper mines to get bicycle lanes built across the city.
Koln to Hannover
The morning I left the housemate checked ‘The Book of Wisdomosity’ (which lives in the bathroom) for me and it advised ‘Don’t eat anything larger than your own head’. I have fond memories of finding a load of shops at Koln train station last year which sold cakes as big as my head and I worry that this could count. As it turns out I only have five minutes to make my connection at Koln and have to hurry (as much as is possible with the newbikebag) past the bigheadcake sellers to make my train, cakeless. Not only is the objectionable man on the next train too – he has even taken my seat. I look around but then he checks the reservation and moves. I go to sit down and he tells me it’s reserved. ‘I know,’ I say, ‘It’s mine’. Thankfully he gets off at the next stop after clearing his throat loudly all the way – I hope it’s something serious.
Before Hannover we get given some complimentary peanuts. Mine tell me my hair is nice.
Check out www.callabike.de www.bahnundbike.com
Hannover to Hamburg
At Hannover I have even less time to make the connection and someone has taken my seat, again, although in an empty carriage it’s the only one with a reservation.
As we roll towards Hamburg the landscape gets flatter and my single speed legs breathe a sign of relief. Wind turbines start to appear – in ones and twos and occasional farms.
I eat the peanuts and some squashed Chorley cakes – I don’t want to waste my appetite on train food. It’s nicer than it’s UK counterpart but not by much and it’s just as overpriced.
Once again I didn’t quite get round to organizing accommodation in Hamburg – I’d sent a few couchsurf requests but none have come back to me and I figured I’d get here early enough to easily find the youth hostel. I spend a while wheeling my bike around the streets near the station looking for a café with WiFi but it seems that there are only sex shops and adult cinemas. ‘The Oasis’ - a grungy looking hotel has rooms for 49 euros but the owner is happy to give me directions to the youth hostel so I tell him that if it’s full I’ll come back there. It turns out to be the ‘Youth Hotel’ a swanky affair with rooms at 150 euros. I figure if I’m going to stay in a sleazy dive I can find one closer to the hotel, after all it’s only for a night. I’m right. To explain how awful it is here’s a few details
– there is an ashtray and a shadeless lamp on the bedside table
– there are football stickers on the back of the door
– the plug socket comes off the wall in my hand
But it’s only for a night and from tomorrow I’m booked into Flensburg Youth Hostel for three days.