diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 13, 2015

Departing Berlin: London Spezial
We flew to Berlin, but got the train back. The difference in actual journey time was great, about an hour and a quarter in the air but ten hours (with changes) making tracks home. Add in the faff of getting to, through and from the airports and the train ride probably only takes twice as long, and it's not too expensive either if you get the right ticket. The right ticket is a London Spezial, a Deutsche Bahn offer available for as little as €59 if booked far enough in advance. For that you can travel from any station in Germany to Köln, and thence onto Brussels for a Eurostar home. Up to two stopovers of up to 48 hours are allowed if you really want to make a trip of it, or you can rattle through like we did, departing Berlin Hauptbahnhof at 1047 and arriving into St Pancras at 1957. I took The Man In Seat 61's advice and booked back in March for the best deal, using website loco2.com to complete the purchase. I also decided that, what the hell, a first class upgrade might be fun, and the whole trip came in at under £100 each. Plus the experience, of course.

Berlin → Köln: (4h 20m) Germany's ICE trains are sleek white racers, with leather seats and power points in 1st class, and admittedly intermittent wi-fi. Top grade tickets don't get you many perks other than free newspapers and space, but when you get peckish the attendant will fetch you food and drink from the buffet (and that's not unreasonably priced either). Our 225kph sprint to Hannover soon settled into a groove, the landscape of the European Plain being relentlessly flat, indeed it was over two hours before we saw the first humps in any way resembling hills. A heck of a lot of fields and trees and modern windmills passed by, then in the second half of the journey more towns and industrial chimneys.
Köln: (35m) The changeover station is on the banks of the Rhine, immediately alongside the massive cathedral, should you want to nip out for a look.
Köln → Brussels: (2h) This international service serves two Schengen nations so slips into Belgium unfettered, no passport required. because that's how modern Europe works. The landscape changes perceptibly after the border, being more undulating and a little less formal, but don't board the London Spezial thinking that the view will sustain you.
Brussels: (1h 20m) This was my second visit to Brussels in less than three months, though this time only briefly, and a not insignificant portion of the time was spent getting through passport control and Eurostar security. Security was miserably organised, in our experience.
Brussels → St Pancras: (2h) Our third and final train was where going 1st class finally paid off. Eurostar passenger numbers on a Monday evening were light so we got to sit wherever we liked, and then a full two-course meal was served with a small bottle of wine, and go on Sir would you like another small bottle of wine too? The food was spot on, very welcome after all that tiring sitting down, and speeding through Kent took relatively little time compared to the overall trek from Berlin. It helps to be a resilient soul to make it all the way through without fading, but this trans-Europe express is perfectly doable.

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