Tag Archives: night train

Being an idiot in Denmark (which, after all, is just another small European country to be an idiot in)

Cycling around few more blocks on the Aarhus free city bike. Having another go at the buffet in the Vietnamese restaurant. Coming back to pick up the bag I forgot at the said restaurant. Deciding at the last minute to buy a newspaper for the road. Trying to pay for the newspaper while in line behind a very drunk Danish lady who had no clue what she was doing in the store anyway. There were many factors that contributed to me missing the train to Kolding, where I was supposed to board my CityNightLine back to Holland. But they all boiled down to one simple fact – I was an idiot. I had some 5 hours in which I could have taken 5 trains to Kolding to kill some time there before nicely and easily boarding the night train home. There I was – staring at the back lights of the last of these trains as it left the Aarhus central station.

The view from my hotel window in Aarhus - through the window I could climb to the roof, if I wanted to!

The view from my hotel window in Aarhus – through the window I could climb to the roof, if I wanted to!

This was not the first time I was an idiot, nor was Denmark the first small European country I was being an idiot in (my followers might recall the story about the wrong airport in Belgium). However familiar the situation felt, I still had to try and resolve it. I bravely boarded the first train in the general direction of Kolding. The poor conductor and his poor English buckled and grumbled under the barrage of my questions. His general attitude was, and I can’t blame him for it, “you’re the idiot – you work it out”. I, however was relentless. The guy was my only lifeline and I wasn’t about to let go.

dsb

Danish rail – this is what I was up against

The train I was in was heading to Kopenhagen, not even passing Kolding. I could catch a connecting train, which would bring me there exactly 5 minutes after the CNL would leave, which was quite useless. Sure, even if I’d miss the train I would get home eventually, but it would cost me both time and money and I’d be damned if I wouldn’t try my best to salvage what’s left. Just as I was about to grow desperate I spotted an opportunity – I could try and catch the CNL by taking a taxi from Fredericia. Finally, I had hope. The Danish conductor was not that encouraging. With infinite easy and brevity, he smashed my joy upon the discovery of this opportunity by a dry “too far”. He was a man of few words, but the ones he used made direct hits. His colleague, apparently more sympathetic to my despair, suggested I could try from Vejle – it was closer and I’d have a better chance. However slim, the odds were better than zero.

As the train pulled into Vejle, I jumped off and hit the ground running. “To Kolding!” I called, plunging into the waiting taxi. A slight Sherlock Holmes-ish feeling got hold of me. I felt as if I was pursuing Professor Moriarty making his escape to France, chasing him to the ferry in Dover. The taxi driver was absolutely not playing the role of Dr. Watson though. Contradictory to the hell-raising Belgian from that other time I was an idiot, this one seemed to be giving a driving lesson. He followed all the signs and drove at the EXACT speed limit. It would be a close call – we had 20 minutes to cover the 25 kilometres, mostly through towns and villages.

Fortunately, I had a back-up plan – if I’d miss the CNL in Kolding, we would drive on to Padborg, where I’d surely catch up with it. Unfortunately, I was scared to even think how much that taxi ride would cost. As I shared my plan with the driver, I suddenly thought that perhaps it wasn’t such a great idea – what if he’d let his foot off the gas just that little bit so that I’d miss the CNL in Kolding and he will get a big ride to Padborg? But he just kept driving, sticking to the cursed speed limit, not making any cunning plans but just transferring me from A to B.

As we drove up to Kolding train station, I swiped the card in the pay machine in the taxi, swiped it again, cursed, swiped it in the right direction, frantically punched in the pin-code, rushed out of the taxi, hit the ground running again, ran into the station, onto the platform and jumped into the train barely seconds before the doors slammed shut behind me. The whole ordeal cost me 70 Euro and a nerve-wrecking hour. Denmark turned out a cheap country to be an idiot in.

Blessed be the night train - if you can catch it, that is

Blessed be the night train – if you can catch it, that is

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Filed under Europe, Just another small European country

If I did it – how would I plan my Eurotrip

Europe is a tough continent to travel. Especially visitors from overseas are often surprised and sometimes overwhelmed by Europe’s diversity in cultures and climates and the distances in Europe are only relatively small. Expecting a compact, more or less uniform continent, they find themselves stressed on time and confused by the little differences that can make life on the road difficult when hopping across borders. Europe can be tough on budgets, too, but I already devoted a few posts to this topic – see here.

So what makes Europe such an attractive continent to travel in? First of all, of course, the history and culture. Europe’s museums, galleries and historical cities are like nothing else in the world. It is also a relatively easy and safe place to travel, with police in almost all countries being a reliable, friendly force and excellent public transport throughout most of the continent. Also, the geographic location of Europe and the quality of indoor attractions make Europe attractive in every season.

My Eurotrip is taking me over 10 years already. After I moved to Europe, I’ve travelled quite extensively around Europe. Not that I need to leave the Netherlands for great travelling, as these pictures clearly show:

My most recent travel - Het Loo Palace in Apeldoorn, residence of the Dutch Royals for 3 centuries.

My most recent travel – Het Loo Palace in Apeldoorn, residence of the Dutch Royals for 3 centuries.

Autumn in Europe has its charm for sure - this is the Bergse Bos, near Rotterdam.

Autumn in Europe has its charm for sure – this is the Bergse Bos, near Rotterdam.

Castle? No, a student dorm in Delft.

Castle? No, a student dorm in Delft.

This is why I'd go to Europe in May

This is why I’d go to Europe in May.

Ever heard of Zutphen? Neither did I.

Ever heard of Zutphen? Neither have I, until recently.

Basilica of Our Lady, Maastricht - a magnificent Romanesque church.

Basilica of Our Lady, Maastricht – a magnificent Romanesque church.

Het Vrijthof - another great site in Maastricht ;-)

Het Vrijthof – another magnificent site in Maastricht 😉

Of course, living in the Netherlands, with excellent connections to pretty much everywhere, makes it quite easy to travel. But I still haven’t visited even half of Europe’s countries! Not that it is my goal, but I still was surprised when I did the counting. Nevertheless, I consider myself quite a seasoned traveller. Having written about splitting Europe into bite-sized travel regions, I found myself thinking – how would I plan my Eurotrip if I went now, with all the knowledge I gained over the years?

Based on years of experience, I would firstly say that while Europe has a lot to offer in the winter, I’d definitely go in the summer, as May to September have the best weather and travel is just so much more fun when the sun is out. Personally, I’d go in May and June – July and August are rather sweaty and many places can and will get crowded. The water in the seas and lakes is much warmer later in the summer, so if you’re a swimming fan, take it into consideration. September may easily be the best month to travel in Europe, but autumn might take an early turn to the worse – the odds are just so much better in May-June. Also, for a full Eurotrip I’d take at least two full months to explore Europe’s best. To me it makes no sense going all the way from Asia or America for just two or three weeks of quick, unsatisfying dashes across borders and between cities.

So where would I go? If I would be coming from North America, I would surely make a stopover in Iceland first – or, if I plan to be leaving Europe to North America after my Eurotrip, I’d reserve a few days for this beautiful island at the end. Then I’d go to London. The British Empire where the sun never used to set is long gone but its spirit is alive and well in the greatest Imperial Capital in the world. From London its a smooth ride on the Eurostar train to the continent, where I’d take the connecting train from Brussels to Maastricht, to spend some time in the rolling hills of Limburg. If I had the time and money for an extra week, I’d spend it all in Amsterdam (yes, a whole week and its not too long by any standard). Within 2 hours ride from Maastricht are about a dozen airports – one of them will surely have a cheap flight to Barcelona, for a week of R&R in the sun (probably much needed after 3 weeks in North-Western Europe in May). From here, I’d fly out to Switzerland (or, if budget is limited, to Italy or Austria), spend a week in the mountain valley of my choice, and take a train across the Alps to Vienna, from where I’d wind down the Donau, city-hopping the Central European capitals sitting on this great river. I’d end up in Belgrade, and take the spectacular train ride to the coast of Montenegro, to celebrate the summer with the crowds. If I could find a good connection, I would fly out to Georgia and eat my way through the Caucasus, or go back to Belgrade and take the long train journey to Kiev. Of course, if I’d be in Georgia, I’d take the opportunity to board the ferry to Odessa (its only 60 hours). Yes, Ukraine is in an unrest, but hell – this is where European history is being made as you sit on your behind reading this! Finally, tired as I would be from all this travelling, I’d settle in a small Baltic country for a week, allow myself to catch some breath and sort out the amazing pictures I would surely have gathered in these weeks.

The best part is – I have already done most of these things. And so can you. Perhaps not in one summer, but then again why rush? I feel very privileged to have been able to travel that much, and have absolutely no intention to stop. Hope my suggestions can inspire you as well.

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Filed under Europe, Europe by region, Tips and tricks, Travel

The Russian Empire – a bite of Evil?

In the Western public opinion, Russia is mostly associated with the Soviet threat, Tzar extravaganza, crazy Russians, vodka, ballet and dancing bears. The core of the former Russian (and later, Soviet) Empire is comprised of Russia itself, along with Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. Covering roughly half of Europe, these countries are separated by many issues but are unified by centuries of common history, Eastern Orthodoxy and the use of Cyrillic script.

  • Why go there?
    Westerners tend to approach these parts with caution. Mr. Putin’s escapades only heighten the tension – at times, re-creating the myth of the Crazy Russians seems to be his life’s quest. But at the same time, the myths fuel the interest for the shattered Evil Empire. Just think of actually visiting the missile base that was set to blast away your hometown just 25 years ago!
  • What’s it best for?
    To be dwarfed. By churches, subway stations, Soviet monuments and art, and just about everything else you see. If you like it big – this is the place for you.
  • When is the best time to go?
    Its a land of extremes – the summers are Hot and the winters are Cold. September’s Indian Summer, known locally as Babye Leto (Old Ladies’ Summer), often offers pleasant weather and fewer crowds.
  • How to get around?
    All the major cities are well connected by night trains, which offer the traveller plenty of opportunity to rub shoulders (quite literally) with the locals. Try to book in advance, especially in the summer months.
  • Why is it best to avoid?
    Language barrier. All signs are in Cyrillic script and hardly anyone speaks English. Find a local to guide you, learn basic Russian and be prepared to use a lot of mimics and gestures.
  • Where to go if you just have one week?
    Go to Kiev. It’s called the Mother of Russian Cities for a good reason. Kiev offers all Moscow or St. Petersburg have to offer at a much lower price tag. Plus its conveniently located, being only one train night away from the other capitals – Moscow, Minsk and Kishinev, as well as the Black Sea.

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Filed under Europe, Europe by region, Travel