Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Great Central Lament

Yesterday was my 64th birthday, and the Swan Whisperer gave me the present of a Railtour, called the Great Central Lament.  He even splashed out for First Class Dining, and I am very glad he did, as, unlike on the Railtour we went on last November, there weren't any stops where food could be had.

We had to be at Finsbury Park for 7:49 am, so got up at silly o'clock and were away by 7:00.  Finsbury Park is NOT a user-friendly station, nothing but steps, firstly up from the Victoria Line to street level, and then more steps up to the Network Rail platforms.  My poor knees - and I was certainly not the oldest and lamest person on the tour, by a long way.

The train came in on time and we found our seats - an old Pullman carriage (built in 1956, I was told later)  - at a beautifully-laid table.
I was hungry by then, having only a cup of tea inside me, but they took a long time to serve breakfast, which was orange juice, the choice of porridge or fresh fruit with  yoghurt and almond slivers, then a Full English or scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, and tea and coffee, plus various rolls and toast, including a chocolate twist that I accidentally took the last one of.... so I shared it with the Swan Whisperer, and then he got another one so shared it with me.  It was really rather good.  He had the porridge, although I told him he wouldn't like it as it was sweetened and had fruit in it, but he said it was actually quite nice.  I had the fruit.  And we both had the Full English, although I declined the bubble-and-squeak and baked beans that came round later.

We had hoped we had the full four seat bay to ourselves, but were joined at Stevenage by a very nice couple - it was her birthday treat, too - and they were very knowledgeable about railways and so on, which was nice.  The route we went was as follows:
I expect you can read it if you click on the image to enlarge it.  We went up the West Coast Main Line as far as Peterborough, and then all through the wilds of the old Great Central Line, including some Network Rail test track.  We stopped at the closed station of Ollerton to stretch our legs.

When we got back on the train, lunch was ready - a baked potato with coleslaw and cheese, and tea or coffee if you wanted it (which I didn't, at that stage). 

The train rolled on throughout the afternoon, sometimes running late, sometimes making up the time and having to wait for itself.  We knitted (my seatmate and I did; the menfolk didn't!), dozed, and enjoyed watching the beautiful English countryside, truly at its best at this time of year, roll by.  There were some interesting rail depots, too. 

Dinner was served quite early, and was a bit of a marathon.  The first course was a choice of prawn skewers (which the Swan Whisperer chose as he doesn't get prawns at home) or Crème du Barry soup, which is a posh name for cream of cauliflower soup, and very good it was, too.  This was followed by roast pork with all sorts of vegetables and apple sauce.  I know there was cod on offer, too, but I don't know what, if anything, they supplied for vegetarians; it is possible there were none on the tour, but I think you had to say when booking if this was what you wanted.  Anyway, I didn't want, so that was all right.  Then there was a choice of sweet or savoury - we all had the sweet, which was a delicious lemon tart with a fresh berry compote and cream, yummy, and, just as you thought you couldn't eat another mouthful, there was the cheeseboard!  I didn't have much cheese, but a token amount.  And they very kindly found me some lemon to have in my tea - I had had rather a lot of coffee with breakfast and didn't want any more that day - so that was nice, too.  And chocolates, which would have been nicer had they been chilled, but you can't have everything....

Meanwhile the train rolled on; the tables were cleared and people dozed or chatted.  Our new friends got out at Stevenage, so we had the table to ourselves for the last half hour and could get our things together ready to get out when we got back to Finsbury Park.  And down all those stairs, then straight on to a Victoria Line train and so home.

It really was a lovely day.  Quite apart from the pleasure of being on a train - always enjoyable - it was very luxurious, and the views from the train windows of the English countryside (and of Sheffield, if you like views of Sheffield!) were magnificent.  Most people would have liked a second leg-stretch before dinner, though, and were sorry there was no opportunity for one.  But it was a lovely day.  England really is beautiful on a summer's day.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Oberstdorf and Austria, 7 June

So we are home!  We were up betimes this morning and as soon as Carrefour opened I went in to buy a few last-minute things - as always, I thought I only wanted coffee and bread for lunch, but ended up buying other bits that I like (mayonnaise in a tube, French tinned peas, various teas and tisanes and a new pair of flip-flops, mine, which I use as bedroom slippers during the summer, having demised the day before yesterday!). 

After this, we decided to investigate the motorhome dealers in Calais, of which I had heard good reports.  We bought a new bin, and a new set of levelling blocks, one of ours having been accidentally left in Vienna, and then my husband saw one of those containers with pockets in, and said he would buy that, but it would be too big for beside my bed.  Ever since we have had the motor home, I have struggled with the lack of a bedside table - but I have several perfectly good cosmetic bags which unroll, and a couple of hooks.... problem solved!  Just when I can't spend the night in the machine to test it!  Oh well....  I don't quite know why I didn't think of that before - my spectacles, Kindle, overnight medications (mostly peppermint spray for a dry mouth) and little clock can all be much more easily available than when they are under my pillow.  Still won't be able to drink a cup of tea in bed, though - looking forward to that tomorrow morning!

We also tried to get a new lock for the gas cupboard, but to no avail.  Then it was less than 2 hours before our booked crossing, so we went straight to the terminal and were given a crossing an hour earlier than the one we'd booked on.  Stopped at Maidstone services to have lunch, and then home very quickly, and now have unloaded the van and unpacked.

More adventures soon.....

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Oberstdorf and Austria, 6 June

We have been in four different countries today, as every time we crossed a border, Virgin Mobile  texted twice to tell me I could now use my allowances and no longer needed to buy a pass. I knew that!  Plus the fees for out-of-allowance use, which I am unlikely to need to know.

So we started off in Düren, in Germany, and our first stops were in an Edeka to do some take-home shopping (most sausages and bread mix, and Schwäbische Maultäschen!) and at a nearby petrol station for diesel.

Then it was off on the long trek across Holland (the Maestricht peninsula) and Belgium as far as Ghent. For once, all the accidents were on the other side of the motorway, and the jams on our side weren't too bad.  It was the weather that was appalling - heavy rain and very strong winds - and when we parked up in Ghent the thought of getting out of the motor home and finding out way into the city was distinctly unappealing.

The Swan Whisperer did get out and go for a walk, but he said transport links into the city seemed few and far between.  So we decide to drive on as far as Dunkerque, where we stopped for a very good meal.

We half thought of spending the night parked up in front of the rink there, but it is very exposed, so we thought not, and drove the last hour down to Calais and are parked up in the Cité Europe, but, along with all the other motor homes there (it is busy tonight), we are "hove to" with our backs to the wind.  It is very noisy, but because the van isn't badly shaken with every gust, we have known worse!

Oberstdorf and Austria, 5 June

It was supposed to be the day roaming charges ended in Europe, but when I woke up early and grabbed my phone, it was still telling me I had to buy a pass.  I was unimpressed, but decided to give them an hour or so, and to ring them up if it was still saying so at breakfast time.  I went back to sleep, and when I woke an hour later, I had data again.  So that was all right! Was less impressed when I went to have my shower to find we'd forgotten to turn the hot water on and I had to wait 20 minutes, but we were in no rush.

It was a Bank Holiday in Germany, but the local café-cum-bakery was open and doing a roaring trade. I bought rolls for lunch (we had them for supper, too) and a delicious flan with blackcurrants and redcurrants for lunch pudding.
We drove on the motorway in the morning, as with it being a public holiday there were no lorries, but Bank Holiday traffic is the same everywhere, and the Satnav was warning of jams ahead, so we came away and went cross country.

This was only a little better, as we were going past the Nurburgring at the time, where it turned out that the Rock am Ring - Germany's biggest rock festival - had just finished.  What one could see of the place bore eloquent testimony to that - absolutely knee-deep in detritus, with volunteers picking it up and putting it in black sacks. Horrifying - why can't people make sure that they have all their rubbish with them, and that, when they leave the camp site, nobody could tell they'd been there?  Anybody brought up in the country, or who has ever been in the Scouts or similar movements, would know to do that without being told - are we really such a minority?

Anyway, we eventually arrived here at Düren via some hair-raising spaghetti of roads - hairpin bends all over the place, not fun!  The SW went for his usual walk - there is a river here he likes which is why we came here for the night rather than just using the services and then parking up in the station car park, which is cheaper.  I have come awake early as my window was open and I was not quite warm enough, but have remedied that now....

Monday, 5 June 2017

Oberstdorf and Austria, 4 June

The weather broke in the night with thunder and heavy rain, and a gust of wind blew or dustbin out the door and broke it. Oh well...  They are not expensive.

We had 346 kilometres to drive, but German motorways on a Sunday are pretty much lorry-free, and it was far cooler than it has been - almost unpleasantly so, in fact. The first 30km or so was on the B8, and then just before Regensburg we joined the A3 and stayed on it more or less all the way. We are parked up in a car park we have been to before, just outside Hanau; I only vaguely remember it and the SW doesn't remember being under the flight path to Frankfurt airport!
He went out for a long walk last night, including to a confiserie we had passed that was open to buy our Pentecost cheesecake, which we had for supper pudding.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Oberstdorf and Austria, 3 June

So we started the long homeward trek today. The worst thing about the van is it doesn't have air-conditioning, and today was very hot. Fine for me, I could, and did sleep much of the time, but the SW has to drive.

We went out to Schonbrunn before setting off, just to have a quick look at it, and we also did some shopping and got diesel.
  We went on the motorway as far as Passau, stopping a couple of times to stretch and once to eat ice cream, and then drive along the Danube to our parking space in the middle of nowhere!  Very peaceful, except for an elderly German gentleman who insisted on making friends while I was trying to get supper, but he was rather a sweetie!

Oberstdorf and Austria, 2 June

Yesterday was All About Vienna.  We knew we would have to pace ourselves, so didn't set off until about 9:30, giving the rush hour a chance to get over, too.  The camp site is about 800 metres from the U-Bahn (there is a bus, but only every 30 minutes on weekdays and we had just missed it), and it didn't take long to get into the centre of town, where we wandered through the parks and past the Hofbrunn palace complex (I'm sure you used to be able to walk through it, but we must have been in the wrong part to do that).  And so into the old town where we had coffee, and then walked past the Stefansdom (Mass was being said, so we couldn't really visit it).  We caught a bus to the Naschmarkt, more of a tourist trap than ever, where we had lunch.  We could probably have walked, but I had a blister which was getting sorer by the minute.

Then a visit to an apothecary for blister plasters (oh, the relief!), and a bus to where we could change to a tram.  We wanted Line 1 of the U-Bahn, to take us out to Kagran, where we had been some years ago now to watch friends skating.  The ice rink, of course, is closed for the summer, although they were still advertising their hockey team outside.  There is also a large shopping mall, the Donauzentrum, but it seemed tiny compared to Westfield, and even to Cité Europe, and the ice creams we scored there were not very nice.

We had seen there was a bus that would take us down to "our" U-Bahn station, so we took it, and I regret to say waited 25 minutes to go all of one stop on the next one, which dropped us outside the campsite.  And a nap, a cool shower, a light supper, and a very early bed!  I was very, very tired!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Oberstdorf and Austria, 1 June

Today started off in Graz. We found you could buy a day-ticket for public transport for €5, so we went over to the tram stop and hopped on the nearest tram, only to go off again a couple of stops later to go back and lock the side door of the van! Fortunately either nobody had noticed, or the homeless gentleman with whom we had shared our breakfast had kept an eye on it, as all was well.

Then back into town, this time right up into the centre and beyond, to go up the funicular to the Schloßberg, which was full of school children (all of Graz was, it was some kind of children's day).  So we came back down, after admiring the view,
and walked round the Old Town for a bit, but it was mostly rather Euro-high-Street and very much designed for tourists, so we came away and caught a tram to the central station, had coffee, and then caught a bus back to the P&R.

I did some shopping in the local Lidl, and then we set off for Vienna, stopping to have lunch in the first service area and then later when the SW needed a break. The traffic into the city was dreadful, although the SW says he reckons the M4 is worse.  Perhaps he's right.

We got to the campsite in the end, and very nice it is, too, and near the Métro. We have a full day to explore tomorrow, and I expect we'll make the most of it.