Saturday, September 1, 2012

Our amazing race


My son once said that he was watching The Amazing Race and had thought of us, but thought our trip would not be as exciting as that. Well, you would be surprised at how many times our travels have been exactly like that, consider our trip out of Europe.

I was sitting on my bed
With 3 days to get out of Europe before the Schengen Convention runs out we started the long trek from the Tuscany region of Italy to the UK. We left the hotel at 9:30 in the morning with a lift from the hotel owner down to the train station. Our first leg was to Milan with several train changes. Once in Milan we had a 4 hour wait until our night train at 11pm. Unlike the night train in Norway, which was a fancy cabin with comfortable beds for two, the Italian version was 4 times the cost for a 4 bed berth and was really seats with the armrests lifted up. Several times during the night I banged my head on the middle table and bin above me. Luckily the young Italian people we shared with were really nice even though I could not understand them.

After a very uncomfortable night we arrived in Paris about 11am the next day. Now it might seem weird but we had no way organised to get to the UK from here. We did try to book the ferry in Italy but the internet was saying it was full, then Elizabeth's friend in the UK had a go but after initially saying that it had seats it suddenly changed to full when she tried to book and when she phoned they also said they were full. The other option was the Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel. The price seemed good as we get a discount using our Eurail passes, 57 euros each to London and then we would need to find a train down to Brighton. This would have been ideal except for the fact that the website said you could not buy it online, only in person. So we thought we could buy it when we got to Paris.

From the Paris de Lyon train station we had to get to the de Nord train station to catch the Eurostar so we found out how to get there and caught the metro. After wandering about and asking several people we eventually arrived at the ticketing counter. The not very friendly lady behind the ticketing counter informed us that you cannot buy a Eurail pass ticket on the day of travel and we would have to pay full price, full price that day was 249 euros, each. I asked for clarification on the logic of Eurostar not letting us buy it on the internet and then not letting us buy it on the day then how were we supposed to buy them? She fully agreed that the logic seemed faulty and was playing the agree with anything we say game until we left. We left.

Our only other option was the ferry that was apparently full but had said on the phone you could turn up and see if any seats were left on the day. So we found out how to get to Dieppe whch was where the ferry leaves from. We found the appropriate train and went on our way. We got into Dieppe at 5pm, the ferry leaves at 6pm so instead of doing the logical thing and taking a taxi we decided to walk to the docks by heading in the general direction of the sea, because, well because that's what we do :-)

Dragging our luggage behind us we asked for directions from a tourist office we passed and picked up a map. It was about 3km from the train station and we got there at 5:35pm. We waited not so patiently behind a guy in front of us and finally asked for tickets and were informed there were none left. We gave our sob story of having nowhere to sleep that night and that we would stand the whole way and we did not take up much space etc and he got on the phone to the captain. The captain said he could squeeze us on but we were the last two. We finally got our tickets and headed to  customs, passport control and the bus to the ferry which were all waiting for us. We survived the dirty looks and arrived at the boat.

Bye Europe
Nice summer gear on
The boat was brilliant, lots of seats, areas where you had couches and big lcd screens, restaurants, bars, kids' play areas etc for only 25 euros each, phenomenal! It even had wifi for a small charge. We needed to find a powerpoint as my phone was flat after 2 days of travel and we needed to inform Elizabeth's friend Nicola how we were arriving. We sat on the floor, plugged in, paid for some internet and passed on the info through facebook. All done, time to kick back and enjoy the ride. At Newhaven in the UK 4 hours later the border control gave us the third degree for the first time in 3 months (Europe is really cool for not needing a passport once inside). Poetically for Elizabeth she was arriving in the same manner and in the same place that she left the UK 22 years ago and being picked up by the same friend that dropped her off. As we exited the ferry terminal Nicola was waiting for us and after hugs, 22 years old in the making, we hopped in the car freezing in our hot European weather gear. The UK was wet and cold. Just like I remembered it 20 years ago.

Does it look cold over there?