August 2004


Traveling to Britain

Obviously I am not quite sure when I will be posting this, but consider this to be a “live” as it happens trip report on my travels to Britain.

The good news is that I’m not even to the airport yet, and I feel like I have quite a bit to write about. We’ll see how much it turns into by the time I finish.

First off, I cheated-I posted my business trip notice Tuesday night, my time, and postdated it until Wednesday morning — The blog is set to Chicago time (It would be Indiana, but I don’t think the blog software understands Indiana Time), so if you want to know what time I posted things, just add 8 hours to the listed time.

Anyhow, I had a terrible time falling asleep last night. It was well after midnight by the time I relaxed enough to fall asleep and enjoy some sweet dreams. At about 2:00, I woke up thinking my alarm was about to go off and I was panic stricken. Thankfully a quick look at my watch, and I was out again until my alarm actually went off.

I’m currently using my mobile phone as my alarm clock since I haven’t purchased a clock here yet. I was going to use a fancy radio based clock that I found in my bedroom, except that apparently it doesn’t work, which might explain why it was still in the box. According to the instructions (In German and English), it is a self setting clock, and the antenna for the clock is somewhere off the coast of Britain.

After my alarm went off I grabbed a quick shower and wondered about the rules. According to a note I got from J, I am not allowed to shower after 10pm (although I cheated once and used the shower to wash my feet one night when they were filthy at about 10:30pm). There wasn’t anything in the instructions about how early one could shower, but I figured that this is going to be an infrequent experience for my neighbor downstairs- with the added bonus that I won’t be shuffling around above her head until Sunday night.

After showering I had breakfast while catching up on my email (Sorry Mateo, I didn’t have time to respond to your note, but I will as soon as I get either wired or into a hotspot for more than a few minutes), and reading Jesus’s General.

I finished tossing a few items in my suitcase (it sometimes amazes me how cavalier I have become about packing-I’m not actually sure that I have everything that I need, but my fingers are crossed), put on my socks, headed out the door and put on my shoes. Down the stairs, unlocked the building door, out the door and off to the local train station.

The short train from a block away from the apartment to the Weimar Main Train Station (Hbf), is closed for construction this week. Replacing it was a bus. I’d made a specific point of catching the bus yesterday in order to make sure I knew how to read the schedule and to make sure that it actually went to the Hbf. It did, so I took it this morning. Amazingly the bus was four minutes early-and it didn’t wait. I swear to you, we were at the Hbf at the same time the bus was supposed to be at my local train station. I was suddenly grateful for my constant urge to show up extra early when things are off. Had I been catching an actual train, I would have probably cut it significantly closer.

The bus deposited me at the Hbf with 30 minutes before my ICE train. I grabbed a bottle of water (€1,25; gassed, cause I guessed wrong-I prefer still water, but the Germans do not), wandered the magazine shop (little for me to read), and then went up to the platform where I waited for my rain.

The ICE (Inter City Express) train arrived on time, departed on time, and got me to Leipzig Hbf on time, where I changed platforms and waited for my train to Berlin Schönfeld, the airport that I am flying to Britain from.

This train is different. It is a private train that somehow uses the German rail network to take people from one place to another. (http://www.interconnex.com)

Suddenly I am aware that you have a choice when it comes to train travel in Germany, and I wish I hadn’t made this choice. The state run train system (Die Bahn) is far better than this piece of crap. For one, there are no luggage racks on this train, so the isle is littered with bags, and for two, the seats are not as comfortable. The train just isn’t as clean.

I was surprised at how quickly I came to dislike this train, and I’ve only been on it for 40 minutes. I’ll be at the airport in about an hour, where, due to the peculiarities of the train system, I could either arrive way too far in advance for my plane, or risk easyJet telling me to take a flying leap.

– – –

So, I’ve arrived at the airport and- well.. .surprise, surprise, my flight has been delayed. My flight has been delayed roughly an hour, perhaps an hour and a quarter, I am not really sure. I did manage to chek in and receive boarding pass #13 — a fantastically low number, but it will never compare to my first easyJet flight (LTN-AMS), when I was passenger #1. Of course in those days, the boarding passes were reusable plastic cards, pre 9/11.

The Schönfeld Airport is not the smallest airport I have ever been to, but it feels rather provincial. Amusing considering that by the end of the decade, this will be the Berlin Bradenburg International Airport.

Berlin currently has three airports-Schönfeld was the one for East Berlin, while Tegel was the one for West Berlin. I’m not sure where the third airport fit into the scheme of things, but I haven’t ever found a commercial flight to or from it. Most major airlines fly in and out of Tegel, while Schönfeld has become a low cost airline haven. RyanAir, easyJet, Volare, AirBerlin, Condor, German Wings, jatAirways, to name a few off the departure board. I might note the departure board shows 20 flights between now (11:50) and 20:00. That includes two that have already left the ground 20 minutes ago.

Thankfully the airport is fairly far from the middle of town, otherwise the nearby residents (of which there appear to be none), would probably object to this quaint airport zooming from the 50ish flights a day to whatever it will become.

The only mistake I’ve made so far was asking if there was food beyond the security check point. When the check-in clerk answered in the affirmative, I went right through security. Stupid move on my part. I have a choice of two stores-one the so-called “duty free” filled with crap no sane person would purchase at high-street or duty-free prices. The other appears to just be a general crap store.

Lucky me.

– – –

I have to confess, I am impressed with easyJet. We managed to have a very quick turnaround, and despite a projected departure time of 14:25, we departed at 14:15. The flight was rather nice, onboard a new A319. I snagged an exit row seat and took a nap on the way, but I am still tired.

Upon arrival in Bristol, I got my passport stamped, got my suitcase and managed to get on a bus that left for the train station immediately. I was lucky.

Amusingly, my train connection changed platforms at the Bristol train station four times, from platform 5 to platform 4 to platform 5 to platform 3. Cute.

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