Monday, July 31, 2017

Overnight Trains in Europe: Or how we spent 48 hours of very hard travel.

OUR LONDON TRIP

This post is part of the travelogue of our London Trip 2017.
If you'd like to read the posts in chronological order they are below.

Part 1:Travelogue London: Arrival
Part 2: Travelogue London: The Tower of London/Golden Hind/Play That Goes Wrong
Part 3: Travelogue London: Hampton Court Palace
Part 4: Travelogue London:  Buckingham, Hamley's, Posh Tea, and an Old Enemy
Part 5: Travelogue London: The Making of Harry Potter (coming soon)
Part 6: Travelogue London: 48 hours of very hard travel by train.


When we were planning our trip to Europe, my wife had heard that France is phasing out the Overnight trains, as more and more people fly.  So she thought it would be great if when traveling from London to Barcelona, that we take advantage of this fact and do the overnight train from London to Barcelona.

Our plan was great


Saturday 7:30 am:  Take tube to Victoria Coach station with all of our stuff.
Saturday 8 am: Lock stuff in left luggage.
Saturday 8:15 am:  Take bus to Harry Potter Studio Attraction
Saturday 1:15 pm Take bus back to Victoria Coach station
Saturday 2:30 pm Take stuff out of left luggage
Saturday 4:30 pm Take train from London/St. Pancras to Paris
Saturday 10:30 pm Take sleeper train from Paris to Toulouse
Sunday 8:30 am take High speed train from Toulouse to Barcelona.
Arrive in Barcelona around 1 pm.


THE BEST LAID PLANS FALL APART.


Our bags
However, we were informed by the Harry Potter tour company that Ride London was this weekend, and due to road closures etc. we would have a hard time getting around and they were going to drop us off at Baker Station instead.

So we decided to add a step:
Friday 7:30 pm Take taxi to St. Pancras and leave most of our luggage there.

Because luggage is  12.50 £ per item, and left luggage at the Harry Potter attraction was free, we decided to leave our biggest luggage only at St. Pancras.  We did that, and it wasn't terrible, and we ended up taking the bus back from St. Pancras around 10 pm.

IT SEEMED LIKE IT COULD WORK

Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour
Next morning, we wake up bright and early and manage to take a cab over to Victoria Coach station.  There were some roads closed, but we managed to make it work.  The station was INCREDIBLY crowded, not just with our tour but with tours to Stonehenge. We did manage to make it to Harry Potter on time, and back on time.   We were loaded down with our 2 carry on suitcases which were loaded up and very heavy, and each of us had two backpacks (AA had his backpack and a little carry on to hold his wand)

The only snag was that in one of those packs was my pocket knife, which had to be checked separately.  They were very nice about it.  NOTE TO SELF:  Wands are okay at Harry Potter, knives are right out)  The tour was great, by the way, and I'll feature it in another post.

St. Pancras station
We got back to St. Pancras without any real incident, although we were already loaded down.  Then we got our three big suitcases.  So now, I've got two big suitcases, two backpacks, Stephanie is wheeling two small suitcases and two backpacks, and AA is wheeling one large suitcase and his backpack and his Chewbacca body bag.  We are loaded up!   We go through customs swimmingly, they offer a nice cart which we take, although it doesn't fit all our bags, so I'm still wheeling two big suitcases through the line.

We wheel our way onto the train when it becomes clear that I have to carry all the suitcases up the train steps, as they are four little tiny steps and no one else can do it.  Okay.  We can make it work. )  So we are on the train for four hours,  then I have to load them out in Paris.  Down the steps again.

The sleeper car
We take a taxi across the streets of Paris and find the train station.  We haven't eaten anything yet.  We have about an hour.  The conductor comes up to the cafe where we are waiting for service and says "Night train, now boarding."

So we rush over to the boarding area, abandoning our meal plans, but nothing goes on.  We buy some sandwiches, but AA wants Chicken Nuggets (he saw a McDonald's sign.)  I walk around the station looking for the place, feel like a real American shlub asking people in Paris where McDonalds is in my terrible French, and finally find it.  I grab his Happy Meal and come back, where they are hustling us on to the train just in time.  I go through, and we find our train with the sleep car and it all looks good.

Our sleeper car says Rodez, but I assume Rodez is after Toulouse.



BOY DID WE ASSUME WRONG.



There's a french speaking guy who is going to Rodez who ends up sharing our car with us (we think it's weird, but we didn't buy the last couchette and we knew it might happen.  )

We all go to sleep, and around 5:30 am, we realize that there were two sleeper car areas and at 4 in the morning,  the train split up, and we were on the wrong side of the car!  We were supposed to be on the Toulouse side, but no conductor ever came to take our ticket or let us know.

WE woke up in Rodez, NOT TOULOUSE!

This screwed up all of our plans.

  We end up wheeling our stuff into the empty Rodez train station and discover that the next train to Toulouse is in two hours, and we'll miss our high-speed connection.  Not only that, the ticket place doesn't open until 10 am on a Sunday, and we have to leave at 8:35.  (and it's 6:35!)

We wait in Rodez two hours.  My wife maps out an alternate plan-- get to Toulouse, find the train to Narbonne, where we can take a train to Barcelona, and arrive around 4 pm.  Okay less than ideal, but doable.

We take the train to Toulouse, (lugging all the luggage up the train again) where the conductor says Okay, you can travel on your old ticket here, and talk to the station manager when you get there.  The train to Toulouse ends up getting in about 25 minutes late, which leaves us almost no time to make our connection.  We hustle up and find the train to Narbonne.  This involves lugging all the luggage down about 50 steps, and then up about 50 steps, which means I am super tired at the end of it.  We get on the train to Narborne just in time, and we just get on board, even though we have no seats.


IT GETS WORSE


 There's a huge crowd, there's a madhouse, and we just make it on board.  That's when I realize I am missing my wallet.

Now whether it was lifted from my pants in the mad crowd, dropped out of my pants in all of the lifting, or if I just left it on my seat on the way to Toulouse, it doesn't really matter.  It's gone.  Not getting it back.  (I just checked with French rail website, which says that in order to claim something missing, you have to go back to the station if they have a lost and found, show an id, and pay a fine.  Considering that I'd have to travel seven to ten hours to do so, and who knows if it's even there, it seems unlikely.

I feel like a dolt.  It had 3 credit cards, my driver's license, my Global Entry Card, about $150 in cash in various denominations. (dollars, pounds, Euros) and some other stuff as well.  I've canceled my cards and will have to get replacements for the license and global entry.

BY THE WAY:  In the very unlikely chance that a French citizen found my wallet, looked my name up on the internet and reads this blogpost, please send back my cards.  My address is on my license, and take whatever you think is the right amount of reward from the wallet!


DE LA MANIÈRE: Dans la chance très improbable qu'un citoyen français ait trouvé mon porte-monnaie, j'ai regardé mon nom sur Internet et lit ce blogpost, envoyez-moi mes cartes. Mon adresse est sur ma licence et prenez tout ce que vous pensez être la bonne récompense du portefeuille!



We ended up having to pay for the trip from Toulouse to Narbonne, a ridiculous amount of money ($150 Euros)  Ridiculous considering it cost as much as the trip from Paris to Barcelona, on a slower train!  and then we are still not guaranteed a seat on this train, or the Barcelona train.

We get to Narbonne, and we have a two hour layover.  Another 85 steps (up and down and up) on the train track.  Each time I do this I am sweating bullets.  We ask the conductor if we can get on the next train with our ticket and he says "We have to talk to the Spanish conductor if he will allow it."  The next train with seats is at 7 pm (gets in at 11 pm)

STILL WORSE

Fortunately, the Spanish conductor does allow us on, but standing room only.  And not only do I have to lug the suitcases up the steps.  I have to lug them up to the second floor.  and on the way up, Stephanie's brand new Samsonite splits open and her stuff goes everywhere!

This is not a picture of our broken suitcase,
but it looked something like this (but the suitcase is
a different color, and had different stuff coming
out of it.)  Other than that, it's similar.
We manage to rezip it for the nonce, put our stuff in the middle of the aisle, where it is incredibly hot, and stand for the 2.5 hours it gets to Barcelona (towards the end we found some seating in the dining car and near the luggage racks).  We then unload one last time, and end up in Barcelona at around 5 pm, 25 hours after we got on the train from London.

Considering that all this happened, Aaron did remarkably well.  He was a real trouper!
 No major complaining, read his Ipad and his kindle, sang songs.  We are going to keep that kid!

Next time, I'm flying! 

 At least I won't have to lug and relug and lug and relug the fershlugginer suitcases!


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