I almost feel sorry for all the harsh words I’ve written about both Deutsche Bahn and Virgin Trains in the past – almost, but not quite. They managed on this occasion to contribute to a more or less trouble-free journey from Edinburgh to Berlin and back via Aachen and Cologne. That doesn’t really eradicate all their past mistakes from my memory, and I will always have a contingency plan in the back of my mind in case things go horribly wrong in future. Of course in some ways the success of travel plans depends on luck in any case. We were lucky on this occasion that we didn’t plan on travelling a few days later than we did, when Eurostar travel was seriously disrupted by strikes.
I’ve lost count of the different forms of transport we used during this latest trip. Trains, of course. The U-bahn and S-bahn in Berlin – is it just me, or is the S-bahn spookily like the El in Chicago? And in fact, isn’t Berlin quite a bit like Chicago in some ways? Trams. Taxis. But the weirdest one of all was probably the Schoko-Express, or Bimmelbahn, in Cologne.
We took this little train – that looks so innocent and friendly, and is actually as scary as some of the fairground rides I’ve been on, because it runs along ordinary streets, in the middle of the Cologne traffic, and on occasion has to get out of the way rather too quickly when four fire-engines come up behind it, as happened when we were on our way back from the Chocolate Museum. Once we had done that, the idea of travelling back from London to Edinburgh with Virgin Trains definitely lost some of its capacity to scare us.
The title of this post is possibly a little unfair. After all, they did get us from Aachen to Berlin and back to Cologne safely, without the train breaking down or arriving without the requisite number of coaches. The train back to Cologne today was half an hour late, but what’s half an hour between friends? (No need to answer that)
I do have a few annoying little odds and ends to report. Although the 1st class seats on the ICE trains between Cologne and Berlin appear quite luxurious and are of a good size, something isn’t right about the footrest positioning – this seems to be designed for people with unusually long legs, and when I’ve tried to use one of the footrests I end up with muscle strain. Also, it can be hard to attract the attention of the staff who serve on board refreshments, and even when you do they have to memorize what you want and fetch it from the bistro coach instead of bringing a selection on a trolley as they do in the UK.
Still these are definitely minor details compared to the total fiasco that I experienced about this time last year. So it’s a B+ from me, and try and re-design the footrests for next time.
There may be a little more about transport around Berlin later.
I won’t say this is the final chance for DB as we have to travel back to Cologne with them in a few day’s time, but we’re getting close.
At the moment, as I write this on board what is admittedly a very smart and comfortable ICE train from Cologne to Berlin, I have to say it was on time leaving, the coach we were booked on is in fact part of the train, and the only small annoyance as we boarded was that 2 trains arrived at the same platform at the same time and we had to rush up the platform to find our coach while answering frantic queries in two languages from people looking for the train to the airport and/or Dusseldorf.
The first part of our journey, after Virgin’s attempt to spook us at Waverley, went very much according to plan Our Eurostar got to Brussels on time and we found the not-all-that-secret connections exit which got us to our Thalys train to Aachen in time. If only we hadn’t worn ourselves out walking from the station to our hotel (must have been more than 0.3 of a mile), we would have been fine!
Things to do in Aachen: my favourite things here are the Carolus Thermen (swimming pool with lovely warm water, grottos, indoor and outdoor pools, waterfalls, rapids etc, and the Centre Charlemagne, a very informative museum of the history of Aachen. Of course it’s also good to go into the cathedral but personally I learned more from the museum.
Aachen is supposed to be the city of Charlemagne and horses, but we never did work out the horses part of that.
We were waiting for the train this morning on platform 2 at Waverley Station and about five minutes after I had cast scorn on my companion’s predictions of a last-minute platform change, and about ten minutes before departure time, the loudspeaker sprang into action for an announcement that our train would depart from platform 8 – at the other side of the station, up an escalator and down some steps. As we boarded the train at last, the announcer informed us that there were no seat reservations in place – coincidentally another of the pessimistic predictions I had cast scorn on earlier.
Oh well, at least there was a train. As our previous experiences show, you can’t always rely on that with VT.
Meanwhile I’ve been collecting more food every time the trolley comes along.