Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Europeans...

Although the UK likes to pretend that Europe is a place far, far away, it is still - geographically speaking - European. Thus, here are some European public-transport seat covers.

Regional train between Erkelenz and Aachen. First class.

Those NZ public-transport seat covers in full

Well, maybe not in full, but I have some new pictures with which to wow you all. Remember, this from the town that gave us the beautiful green fern cover that I posted before.

Number 1:

The Final Chapter - return to Germany Friday, 15th October 2010

All good things come to an end. Apparently.

We went through the usual morning routine - packed the last few things in our bags and checked out of the Youth Hostel.

Our payment still hadn't been confirmed by the head office, but luckily the chappie on the desk was a good guy and said it was no problem as they had all our details and had seen the transfer confirmation. Padhraig. Or something he is called - good guy anyway.

Having seen the Tube at rush hour, and having two big bags, we decided to bite the bullet and get a cab. Expensive but stress free for us - not so the cab driver who was roundly abused going around a bus by a black cab driver. Par for the course for him, I reckon.

We quickly dumped our bags at the extortionately priced left luggage and went in search of breakfast. After a fruitless search outside the station we found one of the coffee bars and had coffee and sandwiches.

Our original plan had been to go out for a troll around the area and one last look at London but in the end the shops there were enough. Chocolate had to be bought to take back, and #2 wanted to get some lovely earmuffs in Monsoon. After that we looked around at the huge variety of sandwiches on offer so that we could take something to eat on the train - the Gruesomes weren't keen on Eurostar food and it would be 9pm before we got home, too late to eat.

I also had time for a quick trip to the St Pancras branch of Foyles. Just for a look around. And of course that meant I left with 3 books (Scoop by Evelyn Waugh, The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown - for Chef - and Springtime for Germany - or how I learned to love lederhosen - by Ben Donald)

The check-in process at St Pancras is much more efficient than at Brussels-Midi and we were soon in the "departure" lounge waiting for our train to be ready. Soon enough we were sitting in our lovely, comfy seats, reading our books or listening to music, and a rainy Kent countryside was rolling by. Again we entered the blackness of the tunnel without any fanfare and before we knew it Brussels-Midi station was upon us.

This time we had to run the length of the station to use the smelly facilities again, but at least it meant that there was hardly any waiting time before we could get on the ICE to Aachen. The train was packed and there was a lot of "I think you'll find this is my seat" going on - I'm always glad when I have a reservation under those circumstances.

Aachen station was cold and rainy so we waited in the entrance hall instead of up on the draughty platform. This train was nearly empty so we spread ourselves around the tiny first-class compartment and before we knew it we were at Erkelenz station and getting into a taxi.

There was a momentary stab of panic when we thought we didn't have any Euros, but luckily I'd stashed enough for the cab fare in my purse.

And that was that. We were home at last after our London adventure. And, as is usual: it was as though we'd never been away.

Last day of the London Jollies - Thursday, 14th October 2010

Shower still cold upstairs, so give it up for the hot downstairs showers. Yaayyy.

We decided to do a McBreakfast today, but on the way we found that the Courtfield pub offered Ye Olde Fulle Englishe Breykfast (Stop that, Ed.) for a fiver. So we thought we'd give it a go. It was great, except that the coffee wasn't up to much. Chef had the full English with black pudding, #1 had a BLT with egg, #2 had the vegetarian full English (and pronounced the sausages to be the Very Best Vegetarian Sausages ever). I had been tempted by Eggs Florentine yesterday, but get a bit iffy with poached eggs done the "proper" way. But again I was tempted, and this time I gave in. And they were so yummy - the hollandaise sauce was either a very very good bought one, or they had made it themselves. Highly recommended.

Today's programme was to have been Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery followed by a zip over to Selfridges to see Michael McIntyre sign his book, then something else. As it happened, by the time we had waddled our way over to Trafalgar Square, and stopped to buy chocolate, it was really too late to do the National Gallery. I think the Gruesomes were probably relieved at that.

We took a few photos, had a look in a few touristy shops and then headed over to the Eye again (they had some t-shirts that I liked - I was after a black or grey one with a sparkly Union Jack...) It wasn't to be. So we took the tube to Oxford Circus and marvelled at the sheer number of shops and shoppers on Oxford street. We got to Selfridges at around 12:30, picked up a copy of the Michael McIntyre book, got a wristband (so we could have the book signed) and joined the queue. However, they were enforcing a strictly one book/one person policy so #1 had the wristband (just by chance) and I stayed with her while she waited. It took ages but eventually we got to the front of the queue, got our signature and had a bit of a banter with the man. He seems like a very jolly chap.

Then we caught up with Chef and #2 and wandered up Oxford street some more but it was getting cold and late and we wanted to give the 2nd hand book store by the Gloucester Road - I had my eye on one of the Penguin mugs featuring classic books.

But before that we made a quick detour to The Tower of London. Quote of the day:

Gruesome #1: That's a tower? That's not a tower!

There was also a quick stroll over the Tower Bridge and the plan had been to go along the river, over the Millenium bridge, a very quick look at (the outside of) St Pauls, then back on the tube. As it was we took a wrong turn and were half way to Wapping before we realised. So the footbridge and the cathedral were out - which didn't upset anyone as we definitely ad sore feet by then.

The bookshop beckoned and we made it there by about 6:30 - the tubes were all incredibly full and it was difficult to get on. The shop was great and we picked up a few good ones (Ian Rankin, JRR Tolkien and a mug featuring Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh). After that it was time for some food and we thought we'd try the pub again from this morning as their evening menu looked interesting. Our feet were sore and we were tired and in posession of a travelcard each so we took the tube. But wow, were they full now! We actually let one or two go before we got on one as they looked fuller than anything I had even seen in Seoul at rush hour.

Finally we got to Earls Court but the pub doesn't serve children after 7pm so we decided to go to McDonalds. The place - as was much of London for most of the week - was packed with Germans, so we frightened a few by speaking to them in their own language. I hope they have now gone back home and told everyone that the myth of the monoglot Brits isn't true!

When we got back we packed our bags ready to leave in the morning and went to sleep for the last time in our bunk-beds.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Middle Day in London - Wednesday, 13th October 2010

Since we decided to go to London I've been looking forward to this day. It's the Big One for me. The Science Museum.

But first there was the Cold Shower Question to be answered. Chef was first up and braved the shower on our floor - but it was cold. He went to the ones downstairs and, wonder of wonders, they were working, unoccupied and hot. After he'd used the shower, the Gruesomes braved them followed by yours truly.

This time we had decided to try for a full English. Chef had asked the Hostel staff and we'd been given directions. We duly arrived at the place, which was a posh-looking restaurant/café advertising the Full english for NINE POUNDS! Still, we thought, we're on our jollies. In we went, and ordered. Full English for him. Full English for Gruesome #1, Scrambled eggs on toast for #2 and Porridge for me (it was sunny but chilly).

Chef was a little depressed due to England having drawn nil-nil with Montenegro the evening before, so we weren't talking much about sport. Luckily the TV in the bar was tuned to BBC news which had wall-to-wall coverage of the rescue of the Chilean miners. Yaayyy.

The breakfast was very good, if a tad on the expensive side once coffee and juice had been factored in - but at least we probably wouldn't need lunch...

And off we trotted to the Science Museum. This time we walked down Earls Court Road, then along Cromwell road until we reached the museum. Unlike the previous day, the crowd was relatively small - but ten minutes after opening time we were all still there, shuffling our feet and tapping our watches. Finally a museum employee came up behind us and said that we'd have to go in through the out door - causing Chef much hilarity and the Gruesomes much eye rolling "do you know as song about everything?")

Our tactic was to go to the top - well, the third floor, and work our way down. The Launchpad is a hands on introduction to science - physics mostly, and was a huge hit but not only with the GGruesomes. The staff are great and we stayed there for well over an hour. Highlight for the Gruesomes appeared to be when we were all in front of the thermal imaging camera and my nose was noticeably freezing cold. Next to that part, though, was a collection of scientific instruments made for and owned by George III. Of particular interest to me were some pieces of Herschel's telescope (eyepieces) as I've just read a really good book about the Age of Wonder and the beginnings of the Royal Society.

Before we left that floor we allowed ourselves to be mugged... sorry, stopped for a coffee and millionaire's shortbread...

It really is my favourite museum in the whole world, hands down better than anything else (although Magna in Rotherham and Techniquest in Cardiff both come quite close for being very interesting and making Science Interesting to Chidlren)

After that we headed over to the London Eye - we had bought (slightly) cheaper tickets from the Hostel and so I waved the three of them off and headed along the river to the 2nd hand bookstall. I also wanted to check out the menu at Wagamama in the hope of finding something we would all like. A vain hope as it turned out. I was more successful with books, though, and picked up a Terry Pratchett, Jamaica Inn and Whisky Galore.

After the Eye we had to have a look at the Houses of Parliament and then Westminster Abbey. That is mostly due to the Gruesomes' obsession with Friends and the fact that they simply had to say "hands down the best Abbey I've ever seen". Whatever.

Then it was time to make #2's day - a trip to Hamleys. I thought they would be a bit big for that shop, but the three of us had a great time looking at everything while Chef sat in the café and read his book. We tried fantastic pens, nail varnish kits, sticker sets and lots of other things. But the highlights were the guys selling the remote controlled helicopters and the chap - who we watched twice - demonstrating the magic kits. Luckily sanity prevailed and we didn't actually part with any readies.

Since we were in the area we had a quick zot down to Picadilly Circus and then back underground and back to Earls Court where we went to the Blackbird pub for dinner largely on account of their claim to make the best pies in Earls Court. Chef pronounced his pie very tasty, my veggie bangers and mash were ok, #1 munched her way through a huge pile of nachos with guacamole and #2 prounounced herself with baked camembert with cranberry sauce and a side order of chips. We also tried a pint of London Pride (adults only) which went down very well.

Once again, even though it was fairly early, we went back to the hostel and had an early night.

First full day in London - Tuesday, 12th October 2010

So here it comes in excruciating detail.

You have been warned.

After a terrible night (me - the others all slept like logs) because it was too hot, too loud and it was a strange bed, it was time to hit the streets runnning. The shower was cold which certainly woke us up, but we soon warmed up with the YHA continental breakfast (juice, yoghurt, pain au chocolat, piece of fruit and coffee or tea for two of your English quids and 95 of those pesky pence).

I'd been texting with my friend L during the morning and as she was going to bring along her five-year-old D, we decided to meet at the Natural History Museum, which is within walking distance of our hostel. The streets between Earls Court and Kensington are quiet and leafy the houses beautiful. At that time of day the "ooh"-ing and "aahhh"-ing from the Gruesomes was at maximum due to all the children on their way to school. We passed an interesting looking bookshop (new and second hand) and as we were early sat for a while at a Paul pattisserie for coffee (ouch! It was too soon after breakfast for a pastry, thank goodness, or we'd have blown our food budget for the week!)

We arrived at the museum just before opening time and joined the queue. L and D would be there about 10:30 so we decided to meet up inside. The queue moves slowly because everyone has to have their bag checked due to the heightened terror alert. #2 was getting a bit worried as sharp objects are banned and I always have a (very tiny) Swiss Army knife on me. However that isn't usually an issue and before long we'd met up with our friend and were heading off to look at dinosaurs.

Quote of the day.

Chef: So, D, how come you know so much about dinosaurs?
D: I'm five.


After that we looked at the Blue Whale which really is impressive in itself, let alone for demonstrating just how big those beasts are. Then we had a quick sandwich in the overpriced café (sitting near Chi Chi the panda who I remember seeing when she lived at Regent's Park Zoo) and went over the road to the Victoria & Albert museum to look at the small clothing exhibit. One thing stood out: a pearl encrusted outfit which was made for Diana, Princess of Wales. She was really very very slim, something I really hadn't appreciated from the photos I've seen of her.

Looking at clothes isn't really very exciting for a 5 year old of either gender, so we left the museum and walked to Kensington Gardens and had a nice long play in the Diana Memorial Playground. Actually, the grown-ups just yakked their heads off while the Gruesomes entertained D all afternoon. It started to get cold - I haven't mentioned that on Monday and Tuesday the weather was cold but sunny with beautiful blue skies.

It was time to forage for food which isn't as easy as it sounds. Poor D had a sore leg and was tired, and limping, so we went to the nearest tube station and searched around in the location of the London Eye for something to eat. It had to suit a five-year-old, a 12-year-old vegetarian and a small budget. No chance by the eye, so we went over the river again and found an Italian restaurant that looked a lot better than it was.

After that it was time to leave. D fell asleep on the table and it was difficult to wake him so Chef carried him until it was time for L to take him home at Victoria. We toodled on back to Earls Court in the hope of a better night's sleep (for me) and hot water in the shower (all of us).

The London Trip - first afternoon/evening (Monday, 11th October 2010)

So, we dumped our bags, and having consulted a guide to London* kindly lent to me by a workmate, we hotfooted it to the Earl's Court Tube station where our first surprise met us.

I'd seen photos but totally forgotten - there is a Tardis outside the tube station. It brought us all up in our tracks (for some reason I thought it was in Leicester Square). The weird thing (to us) was that people just walk past it as though it's not there. We, however, turned into total fangurls and squeed and squawked at it.

The kindly gent at the ticket booth informed us that a travelcard was our best bet, as we could just hop on and off tubes for the rest of the day to our hearts' content. But we wanted to walk. And so we looked at the tube map, looked at the book, calculated and jumped on a Picadilly line tube to Green Park.

Where I promptly upset the teenaged daughters by taking my first picture of a tube-seat-covering**. Oh the shame!

From Green Park we followed the instructions in the book and walked to Berkley Square passing Devonshire house and Clive of India's house. The nightingales weren't singing and so we moved on rather swiftly in the direction of Mayfair. Now I'm not overly familiar with London despite one of my parents actually being a Londoner, but even I know that Mayfair means money. We wandered, open mouthed around places like Charles Street and wondered what all the armed police were doing outside one rather imposing building, but toodled along without really stopping to admire the buildings because we really wanted to get to Hyde Park to enjoy the last of the sunshine.

After passing the Red Lion Yard - fairly disappointing since only the facade of he pub remains - we did, in fact, stop for a while in the Mount Street Gardens to sit on a bench and watch the schoolchildren having a good run around. The Gruesomes exclaimed "ahh, how cute" just about every time we saw a schoolchild in uniform - especially the little boys in their shorts, blazers and school caps. But they still don't want to have to wear one. Shame. The gardens have lots of garden benches, with plaques to the memory people who have enjoyed their peace over the years. Very Notting Hill (the film) and we sat on one dedicated to a Philidelphia lady who had come over and fallen in love with the place.

But soon it was time to move on and we passed several very expensive designer boutiques - which Gruesome #2 especially loved as she wants to be a designer. We stared for a while at the Laboutin shoes and wondered if it really is humanly possible to do anything but stagger around on those monster heels.

Finally we got to Park Lane - cue several hilarious jokes about not standing still because we couldn't afford Park Lane with a hotel on it. There is a memorial to animals who have died in war over the years which is rather touching - something I'd not seen before, so we took a fair few photos of that. Then it was on to Marble Arch where wonder of wonders we managed to get photos without anyone standing or walking in front of it! There is also a new (to me) sculpture of a horse's head (Horse Drinking) which was a rather marvellous piece.

From there we walked through Hyde Park, down to the boathouse at the Serpentine, then abandoned the Dorling Kindersley walk through Belgravia in favour of going accross to the Albert Hall and Albert Memoria. Blimey - that is one Bling Bling monument - I really didn't remember it being that golden! There were a lot of coaches outsiide the Albert Hall disgorging countless numbers of Women of a Certain Age (older than me). It turned out that Cliff Richard was appearing there all week as part of his 70th birthday celebration. #2 asked a tout how much tickets were, and it seemed they were going for their face value of 70 of your English quids.

By then we were getting tired and hungry and looking for a tube station. But luck would have it, before we found it (Kensington High Street) we stumbled on one of the Giraffe chain of restaurants, slogan: Love, Eat, Live. It's sometimes difficult to find something we all like, and #2 is vegetarian, but in England it seems a lot easier.

Anyway, I had a spiced vegetable risotto (yum), Chef had baramundi with some kind of tomato salsa (yum), #1 had an oriental noodle salad (yum) and #2 had a vegetable burrito (yum - she ate it all, and it was massive). Coffee afterwards for me and they had ice-cream or cake. After that it was a short walk to the tube at Kensington High Street and back to the Youth Hostel for a good nights sleep before our first full day in London.

*London - Dorling Kindersley Vis-à-Vis series (in German... we saw several other people clutching this book on our travels, in various different languages.)

**I've decided to make one monster blog-post later with all the seat covers... just to build up the suspense you understand!

Monday, 11th October - the trip to London. Part the first.

We didn't have a summer holiday, as such, this year due to lack of funds. However an unexpected windfall arrived in time for us to book a short stay in London during the first week of the Gruesomes' Autumn holidays.

We elected to go by Eurostar, partly becuase I love trains but also because from where we live to any airport, and then from any destination airport into London and all the waiting around involved with air travel it's just as quick to go on the hot and sexy eurostar.

Our original plan was to go for three nights (our budget) and stay at the Premier Inn, but some friends suggested we try the Youth Hostel Association which meant that our budget could stretch to four nights. There were no vacancies at the Kings Cross one, but Earls Court Youth Hostel had a family room which we promptly booked. Unfortunately there were no 2nd class tickets available for the Eurostar and for about 2 minutes it looked as though the trip might be off. But then... Chef and I both said "stuff it, let's go in styleeee" and we booked first class.

Horribly expensive but lovely.

We also took the precaution of booking seats for the parts of the journey not on the Eurostar which paid off on the way home on Friday (15th October)

So, 11th October dawned bright, cold and sunny. At 07:30 our taxi arrived and ten minutes later, horribly early for the 8:02 train, we arrived at the station. Chef and Gruesome #2 were promptly despatched for coffee while #1 and I piled our bags artfully and started to take photos.

The first train took us to Aachen where we had a cold 40 minute wait for the ICE to Brussels. The coffee and the cold had worked on us, so the 3 girls in our party set off to look for the loo. Unfortunately we found it - bleuch, but needs must. The time passed quickly but we had time to check the timetable for the Thalys to Paris while we waited - that will be our next Capital City Destination.

The ICE is a beautiful train, I've always loved them. The shape is just fantastic, and in the first class the seats are wide and comfortable. We had a set of fourr seats with a table, which was lovely, and there is a waiter service to bring coffee and snacks. We stuck to coffee.

Unfortunately I didn't manage to take a photo of Liège station when we stopped there, but it's totally beautiful. Very modern and clean looking - a real change from my local station and the horrrible thing they have at Aachen.

We rolled into Brussels perfectly on time and decided to use the Brussels-Midi station facilities before finding the Eurostar check in. These were slightly better than those on offer at Aachen but it did provoke me to wonder why when you have paid a fortune for tickets (first or any other class) you still have to put up with horribly stinky, cramped and sometimes downright disgusting toilets?

What struck me during the journey to and from London is that stations can be incredibly efficient, sometimes beautiful places. But the toilets are all disgusting. Why, for example, do they persist in the horrible stainless steel fittings and grey non-slip floors. This combo just always always looks disgusting and dirty no matter how recently it's been cleaned. Even in St Pancras which is my new very favourite station and v v fabby and marvy has the most horrible facilities. Added to which, if you're travelling alone with anything other than a small rucksack or bag, there is nowhere to put them while you pee. An oversight which I'd like to see addressed.

Anyway. Where was I?

We checked in for the Eurostar. To get to the UK from mainland Europe you have to show your passport. There were several school parties, and it seemd that each one had one member who had either forgotten their passport, didn't have one, or just couldn't find it. Total nightmare for the teachers I'd imagine.

The train itself is beautiful. Sleek and smooth, like the ICE with lovely comfortable seats. Again we had a 4 group with a table and settled down with our various books, mp3 players and what-have-you.

Soon after we started an airline-stylee meal was served which consisted of prawns in some kind of dressing, sheep's cheese with some kind of dressing and something else with a bit of fig. There was a small bottle of water for each person, and we could have wine or a soft drink too. After that there was coffee or tea. Not too bad and, a with flying, soon after the dishes were cleared away we arrived in London.

One thing: we whizzed into the tunnel without any announcement which I thought was a bit odd. One minute we were zooming through the countryside, the next there was total blackness outside which seemed to last for ages but was about 20 minutes in reality.

St Pancras, a place I'd last seen during my time travelling between Bristol and Germany as a schoolgirl, has changed beyond all recognition. For starters it's St Pancras International. But it has been modernised, the trains are all upstairs, and there are wonderfully shiny new restaurants, cafés and shops in the main concourse. The nice thing is that they have preserved the basic structure of the station, which is a beautiful Victorian edifice, within the small glass-fronted shops. More about St Pancras later though.

For now we decided that rather than annoy the lunchtime tube travellers we'd take a cab to the Youth Hostel at Earl's court. We passed through Hyde Park on the way, and it was such a beautiful, sunny, autumn day we decided that we'd check in, dump our bags and go for a walk.

The taxi driver didn't know the Youth Hostel in Earl'sC ourt but thanks to the fact that I'd noted down their directions from their website, we found 38 Bolton Gardens with no problems. As we don't use a credit card, we'd booked and paid for the room in advance - making the bank transfer at the end of September. But it still hadn't been registered by the YHA - apparently they receive payments at the head office and they inform the place you've booked when the payment is received. They had received my email with the payment details though so there wasn't much to worry about.

Having checked in, paid the non-YHA members fee, we went up to our room. It was at the back of the hostel and was the very basic room I was expecting with two bunk-beds and 4 lockers for our things. There was a loo and a shower close by which was good.

We dumped our bags, re-arranged our rucksacks and consulted a London Guidebook for a walk. Originally we'd planned a route through Notting Hill, but having seen how gorgeous Hyde Park was looking we changed our plans and jumped on the tube.

Hello? Hello? Is anyone out there?

Due to having a shiny new car to match my shiny new bike, this blog has been largely silent.

But I've just returned from a trip to London where Public Transport featured very heavily on the agenda.

And so the next few posts will be a bit of a trip diary. And there will be photos of seat coverings!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The blog goes international!

Thanks to Rory over at the Wellington Boots blog, I am now able to share with you the wonder that is a New Zealand bus seat-cover!

This one is lovely, far superior to anything I've seen over here, and I have to admit to not a little jealousy. Note the lovely shading and use of colour (not least because Green is My Favourite Colour and The Best Colour In The World Bar NONE)

It also displays a rather lovely touch of pride in the fern which is something most of us will recognise in the Silver version as worn by New Zealand sports teams and most of their army units.

Now go back and compare that with some of the designs on German busses. How much more relaxing to sit among the cool, green ferns than surrounded by what can only be described as the result of a deranged mind (thinking specifically of the kindergarten-stylee scribbles featuring parachutes).

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Yes. There really is no general speed limit on the autobahn.

With my super duper 1.9litre engine it is very easy to suddenly find myself zooming along the Autobahn at around 170 kilometres per hour. Which isn't too bad as long it's on the stretch close to where I live which isn't encumbered with anything as crass as a speed limit. It's also a nice stretch with a smooth surface and no bends.

Of course, it only has two lanes which means I have to be sure to be in the outside lane so that I don't have to slalom between the Puntos and the lorries.

A couple of kilometres along the A46 I have to change over to the A61 and that has a 120kph speed limit on it, so I do have to slow down and pay attention. It's prtty much the same until I get to work, but since that's where the traffic starts to build up. Actually I'm lucky if I get as fast as 100kph for the rest of the journey.

So much for my route to work. Now let me take you back nearly forty years. Imagine the scene: it's the small housing estate in Windsor which joined on to the Army camp where my father worked. It was late summer and I was eight or nine. (See: nearly forty years...) There we all were, my friends and I, playing outside skating up and down the (hardly used) road on our roller skates.

It had been a good summer - for insects. Specifically Crane Flies. Back then I had long hair, and since I was already home from school my bunches were a thing of the past. Anyone ahead of me here? So there we were, skating up and down, hair flying around in the middle of Crane Fly season.

Crane Flies are harmless. They don't bite. They don't sting. They just sit on walls or clamber in a most ungainly manner in the long grass. Or they fly around and get caught in your hair and dangle their long legs in your face.

Remember. Nearly forty years ago. But even writing this, nearly forty years later, the hair on th eback of my neck is standing up and I have goosebumps on my arms. In fact, the hair all over my head is standing up and I'm typing more slowly than usual since I am constantly checking the room for long legged beasties. It's the season for them and it's been a hot, then wet, summer. Perfect for the horrible creatures.


So why am I relating this now? You might well ask. In fact, I'm so caught up in my memories that I have nearly forgotten. Nearly, but not quite.

Now I've rejoined the car-owning classes I'm back to doing the family grocery shopping during my lunch-breaks. On Wednesday I'd been shopping, and when I got home my Chef helped me get the boxes out of the boot. I noticed something fly into the boot, don't forget it's an estate (station wagon, combi) so it's a big, open interior. I looked around but didn't see anything. Not to worry, I thought, I'll make sure to drive with the windows open. I don't want bluebottles in my new car.

On Thursdays the gym near my office opens at 7am. That means that if I don't have to put the Gruesome Twosome on the school bus at 7:30, I can leave early, get to the gym at opening time and get a bit of exercise before work. That leaves my lunchtime free for reading and coffee. So, raring to go and wondering if I was up to a jog or just the cross-trainer, I hit the autobahn and put my foot down. There wasn't much traffic and I was just thinking that I might as well enjoy it while I can - school starts again next week and the autobahn will fill up again.

And what flew into my face? Oh yes. My old friend a Crane Fly. Now, most people who know me can tell you that I'm not actually a very girly girl. Apparently I drive like a man, I used to be in the army and for fun I like to mess around with power tools.

The only thing that stopped me screaming was the fear that the Big Beast would go into my mouth. But there I was, whizzing along the autobahn at 6:45am trying to fend off my Nemesis. I managed to get the window wound down (giving silent, closed mouth, thanks to whoever invented electric windows) in the vague hope that I could use my hand to flap it out. The stupid thing didn't comply with my wishes and thus met it's untimely end squished to jelly by my own fair hand against the driver's door.

But it was a very shakey Sheona who pulled into the car park, took four attempts to park the jalopy and staggered into the gym to use the cross-trainer. It's amazing, given that I was driving quite fast at the time, that I didn't end up wrapped around the central reservation.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Four wheels on my wagon...

The second day of commuting by car has come and gone and I have to say - much as I love and adore my Shiny New Bike - this really is the way to get to work.

In the past I've taken the B-roads to Mönchengladbach where I've joined the Autobahn (the A61, then the A52 then the A44) to Willich. It takes around 45 minutes - but this has stretched to more than 2 hours on one or two occasions. Most notably when it has snowed and I was young and keen (I won't be doing that again) and when the Autobahn exchange was being improved (improved no end but what a pain in the neck while it was being built).

But now I have a car that has a better engine and runs on diesel, I've decided to join the autobahn which runs close to my village, and cut my journey time. And what a cut! It took 30 minutes yesterday and today, although I expect that to increase next week when the school holidays finish.

Car-driver's laziness set in on the first day, sadly. The plan was to get up at 6am and get to Willich as early as possible because there were some jackets on offer in Aldi (not very nice, as it turned out so I didn't get one). But I watched the clock click round to 06:45 before I actually managed to schlepp my sorry bones out of bed. Since I got some shopping done before work, lunchtime was coffee and my book.


The drive home was also around 30 minutes but that could have been because I didn't leave work until 19:30 - although today I left at 17:30 and despite a bit of traffic early on, I still managed the journey in 35 minutes.

None of that 2-and-a-half-hour journey with missed buses!


Although - I do feel vaguely guilty about my carbon footprint.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Panic over: the radio is tuned!

So now I have a car it's easy to fall into the trap of: but I don't like the seat covers/radio/colour...

Actually, I'm still in love with the shiny "new" Octavia but was worried because it has a free-range radio that has no instruction book and doesn't actually do anything except spew white-noise, sometimes at full volume. The radio doesn't appear to have an off switch.

But today I was in a "multi" story car park. (what passes for multi-story in these parts: it has 2 levels) Suddenly we realised that there was some kind of display on the radio that works, and that we could see which wavelength we were trying to tune. Easy peasy.

And on the offchance that saving the stations is pretty much the same on all of these types of thing I started tuning and pressing like a mad tuning and pressing thing.


We now have the ability to select, at the press of a(n unlabelled) button: BFBS2 and WDR2. They don't set the radio universe alight but they do have:

a) the Radio4 Today programme
2) the actual traffic news
iii) local news.


Wednesday, 18 August 2010

333,333 reasons that the Punto is prefixed with "Super"

Here it is. Evidence, if you will, that I need:

a) to get out more
b) to photograph all my sets of wheels if I'm going to blog about them in future.

As I don't have any photos of SuperPunto, here's one I took earlier. It is the milometer and it speaks for itself. Indeed, explains the whole "super" part of the SuperPunto epithet.

Technical details: I could see, of course, that this was coming up, and did hugely complicated feats of maths (yes, I didn't do well in my maths A-level, alebit back when they were difficult) to make sure that I wouldn't be on the Autobhan with no chance of stopping when it came round.

The day dawned. I arrived at the car park at work with around 20kms to go. At lunchtime I drove to the rather fabby and marvy (and, indeed, spiffy) RealFuturestore - The Best Supermarket In The Whole Of Germany. Close, but no cigar.

That meant, slow driving around the less populated areas of the car park still didn't get the result I wanted. A trip down the small road to Aldi was necessary. I got very very close, so I drove around a small sliproad a few times.

By now I was absolutely sure that anyone around (and there were quite a few) would be calling the police by now. And then, LO! and BEHOLD! I saw the numbers turning, pulled sharply into one of those parking spaces that you get at the sides of some roads and this photograph is the result.

Make sure you are sitting down for this...

So, do you think I should have tried to sell this to the FIAT museum rather than send the car to the crusher?

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Car. It's here.

I just thought I'd mention that now I've got a car there definitely won't be any more blogging about my woeful experiences on German Public Transport.

However, since I've enjoyed the blogging exponentially more than I enjoyed the travelling (except for the fact that it offered a fantastic opportunity to Read More Books) I've decided to carry on.

But first, let's have a respectful silence for SuperPunto.

*the brass band plays Abide With Me in the background*

ALAS AND ALACK! (ha, there they are again!)

I don't have one single photo of the Super Punto. Not one.
Really, it is true: you don't always know what you've got 'till it's gone. There is a photo of the speeedo/milometer when it did 333,333kms and maybe one day I'll find that and post it.

But anyway.

That is the past.

We will move into the future. But before we do that, here's my favourite bike. Yes, indeed. Finally, here it is.

The Shiny New Bike

And now, the moment we've all been waiting for. Some of us more anxiously than others...

The Skoda Octavia Combi/Estate/Station Wagon

I don't know any details apart from the fact that it has a massive boot. Four doors. It runs on Diesel. And I'll be checking the oil a lot more often than I have in the past.


Tempting fate - tempting, isn't it?

A car in the offing

So, this is probably tempting fate, but we're so far along the process I really don't see what harm it could do.

We live in a village, and if there is one thing village people (note lack of capitalisation there - we are not that 70s singing group) are good at it's networking. Obviously being newbies to the village (having only just embarked on our second decade here) we don't actually get spoken to by anyone, or indeed referred to as anything apart from 'The English Family'. But we do use the local car repair guy who has built up a very good business over the last ten years or so.

It started as a kind of small workshop, and he sometimes sold the odd second hand car or two. Now it's a pretty much fully-fledged business taking on things like windscreen repairs and a breakdown service. Anyway, to cut the long, boring story short, he has a car for us and, because he's really working at his business, will register it for me.

In the meantime he has loaned me a cute little Citroen thing - it's tiny but it works, which is more than I can say for the late, lamented Super Punto. This has meant that I haven't been cycling much (it's horribly rainy at the moment) and since my chef is back at work this week we haven't used the trains much either.

So - hopefully, the car will be registered this week which means the blog will be (with any luck) redundant from next week when I go back to work.

Before I hang up my Commuter Blog Hat forever, though, I'll try to post a picture of Super Punto, the tiny Citroen, the new car and - of course - the star of the blog: my Shiny New Bike.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Day 24 - Friday, 6th August 2010

We're all going on a summer holday...

Well, I don't know about you, but this was my last day at work for two whole weeks. During which it was hoped that we'd be able to get a car, which would have made this my last day of commuting by public transport.

Alas and alack, it's not to be as the chap who is selling us the car is away on his hols. Oh well, I can manage a week or two more on the train/bus combo as long as I have an end in sight.

As Friday dawned bright and clear, I decided not to be fooled by appearances and zipped on my fleece before leaving the house. I also abandoned the idea of the early train and went for the usual one at 07:18. And again, yaay, it didn't let me down and everything went swimmingly.

This afternoon I abandoned the idea of the bus and took the offered lift from my colleague who dropped me at Mönchengladbach station and I got the train home from there. It was bright sunshine and very warm, which meant the fleece went into the basket and I cycled home in the lovely weather.

Ready for two weeks jollies.

Now, we'll be using public transport during this time so I may come back and leave a blog entry or two detailing delays and groovy seat covers along the way.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Day 23 - Thusday, 5th August 2010

Train whistle blowing...

Well. Blog-wise today wasn't much cop at all. Sorry about that. I went for the early train (06:18 this morning) because I'm a bit soft in the head. But I also had a workshop this morning starting at 08:30 which meant that leaving at my normal time would have left me huffing and puffing to get there on time.

One thing I haven't mention is that the driver of the 87B which stops leaves Anrath station at 06:55 is very good looking indeedy.

Ohhh, errr!

This afternoon I went for the 16:17, which turned up two minutes late then went like the clappers to make up for it. I swear we took a left hand turn, at a traffic lights, at 70kmh on two wheels! So I used my new tactic of getting off at the earlier stop and then walking, not so briskly today for some reson, to the next stop. That bus, the 87B, was on time and i got the train to Mönchengladbach with no problems.

When I got to my bike I realised that I'd not chained it up this morning. By some miracle it was still there, as was my bicycle lock which was just sitting in the basket. That was a lucky escape.

I even got home without getting wet or anything.

Tomorrow is my last day at work before my annual summer holiday. I'll report periodically on how we get on without a car.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Day 22 - Wednesday, 4th August 2010

Bus heaven

Yawn. Morning - everything like clockwork. I took the 07:18 train today as I knew I'd be a bit later in the office, but I think - all in all - I prefer the earlier train.

It was quite chilly this morning and I was glad of my cardigan.

This afternoon I took the regular bus at 17:17 - it was very nearly on time. Instead of fainting and having to wait another 30 minutes for the next bus, I got on and perched on the edge of my seat, ready to jump off - one stop early - and power-walk to the next stop.

Which I duly did. It was a bit of a strain really, I've been reading a Dick Francis (Even Money - the latest paperback from him and Felix and I was itching to get back to it but I was worried I'd miss my stop). The next bus was on time. This was all getting to be a bit much for me and I again perched on my seat ready to jump off and sprint for the train.

In the event there was no need - but there wasn't long to wait before the train arrived - 2 minutes early. This was looking promising. At Mönchengladbach I fairly flew off the train, down the stairs, along the passage, up the stairs and my feet barely touched the platform as I hurtled towards the train. But, alas, I was within feet of my goal when it pulled off and started its merry journey to Aachen.


It wasn't all bad though - now I had ten minutes reading time and got through a particularly exciting bit of my book while I waited for the next train. It was drizzling as I cycled home but I didn't care, it was warm, my book was safely packaged up in a plastic bag and for once all my connections had worked (taking the 17:59 from Mönchengladbach doesn't feature in the planning on the Deutsche Bahn's website - so in theory I was actually 12 minutes ahead of schedule! I'm beginning to wonder, in fact, if the 17:59 is a ghost train.)

Having anticipated another boring blogging day, I decided this morning to take the precaution of photographing buses and trains.

So, make a cup of tea while I get my anorak on, and then come back and gaze, lovingly, at Germany's finest!

Departure point - Erkelenz station

My train! (when I say 'my' what I mean is - I have to share it with a lot of other people, but it's my train)

Endstation - Willich-Anrath Really, it's what a one-horse-town would look like, if it actually had a horse.

And the first bus... The notoriously late number 71

The notoriously "disappearing from view" number 87

Actually, I lied. I don't have an anorak. But I think, judging by those photos that I need to get one pronto. Preferably with a drawstring around the hood. Oh and while I'm at it, I'll get a Thermos flask for my tea.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Day 21 - Tuesday, 3rd August 2010


I made it out of the office on time and the 16:17 bus was nearly on time. This time I was fired up and ready to go so when I got to the stop before the one I usually got off, I jumped off the bus in a sprightly manner and walked very briskly to the next stop.

There was another woman walking briskly, but not as briskly as me so I got to the next stop first. When we got there I asked her if she usually went for the 87 from the 71 and she told me that one of the bus drivers had suggested it.

So all was going swimmingly but the 87 was a little late. So that left me on the platform at Anrath at 16:45 with the 16:38 train apparently gone. The next one due that I could take would be at 17:08, which is the one I'd get if I'd missed my bus and had to wait for the next.


When, suddenly, a train appeared. Yaayy, the 16:38 was late. But then, that meant I'd miss the 16:49 from Mönchengladbach.* Luckily at that time of day there is a train approximately every 10 minutes - so I caught the 17:11 from Mönchengladbach, got into Erkelenz just after 17:30 and was home before 18:00.


It's probably surplus to requirements to mention that my early train catching deal worked out very well again this morning. And there was a large coffee on the way to the station.

*having consulted the interweb this evening I discover that the 16:38 gets to Mönchengladbach at 16:50 and the train I caught was the one I was supposed to catch anyway.

Monday, 2 August 2010

The woman on the Willich omnibus

I want to be a bus seat cover designer. Really. When you see these you will wonder what the qualification for that particular job is. I can only assume that, actually, the designers of bus seat covers are really employed by the automobile industry in a bid to drive people off public-transport and into car-ownership. (see what I did there?)

I'll ease you in gently with something pretty calm. The front is slightly jazzy, and the back is plain grey. They are made of a different fabric than the train-seat covers, very coarse and itchy. This was the 87B from Anrath station to Anrath church one morning.

The next one defies description, but I'll give it a go. The theme is transport, possibly holidays since, although it looks like something from the fevered imagination of a Jackson Pollock admirer, it is possible to discern an aeroplane and something that could possibly be a beach-ball. Actually, even the bastard lovechild of Stephen Fry and Clive James could not do this seat-cover justice. Prepare to be astounded - and my apologies, probably the general awfulness of this seatcover put me off a little and it's slightly out of focus.

This one could possibly have been inspired by Picasso. Or maybe not.

The next one has too much blue. And possibly too much red. Definitely the overall effect is too much. And didn't really help my bad temper - this bus was ten minutes late and the seat covers contributed to the light raising of my blood pressure. If you look very carefully at the bottom left of the picture you can see a little lad's bike. He was so funny talking to his mum about how he was going to ride round the park that evening that even I managed to have my mind taken off the sheer awfulness of those horrible seat covers.

For the next one all I can say is this: someone got PAID to make this? Really, there is a reason that the bus company name is shown in this design - in mirror image but who on Earth could possibly imagine what it is?

And finally. My favourites. Not only does this mad bus have seats in the front half that can accommodate one person and one extra buttock (because, obviously, there are a lot of people here with three-buttocked bottoms) but the seat cover design is like little planets. Or Smarties. Or M&Ms. Or maybe it's just a load of balls.

(That's quite enough seat covers, now. - Ed.)

Those train seat covers in full!

So, here they are then. Those seat covers you've all been waiting for! And if you look carefully you'll see that the only one I've described in detail is described totally badly and incorrectly.

Let's look at that one then, and get it over with. It's a jazzy, modern design which seems to be on the newer trains. Usually I see them on the Aachen-Duisburg train in the morning.

The next one is one of the older versions, green is a much more relaxing colour to look at, and the headrest parts are a faux-leather (or horrible plastic) kind of thing.

Finally the seat covers on the spiffy double-decker trains are a relaxing but horribly bland and boring grey/green affair.

I suppose I should be glad that there are a) seats and that b) they are not all slashed up.

The bus seat covers are way more jazzy and therefore get their own blog post.

Day 20 - Monday, 2nd August 2010

I woke up this morning... got out of bed...

This week the Gruesome Twosome are at home with their dad who has a week off, so I decided to take advantage of our new hours at work (7am~4pm) in the hope of getting home an hour earlier.

Which meant that 05:00 ("what does the '0' stand for?" - yep "Oh my god it's early!") saw me falling out of bed and into the shower in the vain hope of waking myself up enough to cycle to the station. Actually, it wasn't as hard as I'd anticipated and at 05:45 I was on the Shiny New Bike, with my Shiny New Lights working away, zipped into my fleece and pedalling away.

The first thing that struck me is that it was very very quiet, but that as I cycled down the endless road to the next village I was overtaken by six cars - usually when I go an hour later it's a maximum of two. The next thing I noticed was that there were an awful lot of crows around, but almost no other birds. I think the herons have gone since I haven't seen them for a while, but there was a huge buzzard in that field today so that might have something to do with their absence.

The other thing I noticed, sitting on the steps to the door of the flat behind the Greek restaurant in town, was what looked like the owner, rather the worse for wear. He waved as I cycled past and I couldn't help but wonder how long he'd been there.

I had time to stop for a coffee from a kiosk opposite the station, and the rest of the journey went like clockwork. Just the same as every day but with fewer people - presumably because it was so early. The journey home, typically, was messed up by the 71 bus being very late, too late for me to even think about walking to the next stop in the hope of catching the 87. So I waited at the stop for the 38 and read a goodly chunk of my Jeeves and Wooster book.

And now to the exciting part of the blog.

I've been assiduously photographing the seat covers on bus and train, usually to the bemusement of my fellow passengers. If I can work out how to upload them, they will be in a blog post all of their own especially for the poster to my previous blog entry who called me an anorak. Indeed.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Day 19 - Friday, 30th July 2010

Friday on my mind

Today could have been a challenge but in the even it went very smoothly. In the mornings I've been getting on the train at the back so there isn't so far to walk when I get to Anrath. Lazy, I know. It was chilly this morning which meant that I got my fleece out for the first time since winter.

I also, for the first time since I started cycling, I called in at the bakery for a coffee on my way to the station. Feeling like a real commuter, well a commuter from film or TV, I sipped at the coffee and waited for the train. Which was punctual. In the name of research I started photographing the seat covers today - which seemed to amuse my fellow travellers.

They were, in fact, an amusing bunch today. One chappie was trying to engage people in conversation and offering them winegums. Typically, everyone refused and tried not to meet his eye.

Coming home arranged to get a lift with my colleague again as it was month-end and I wasn't sure what time I'd get out of the office. As it happened we got out of the office early. 'Early' for month-end, that is. For a Friday, gone 6pm is pretty yukky.

For the record I also photographed the bus seat-covers and during next week there will be enlightenment.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Day 18 - Thursday, 29th July 2010

The Wheels On The Bus Go Round and Round...

Chilly this morning which necessitated the wearing of a cardigan, old lady stylee, on the bike on the way to the station. The air was damp and it was very slightly misty which gave the fields an ethereal look. The sun was trying to break through the clouds but only very half heartedly and by the time I got to the station it seemed to have given it up as a bad job and gone elsewhere.

The hysterical girl-with-phone didn't show up today, which is the first time I haven't seen her in the morning since I began using the train. I vaguely wondered what had happened with her while I wrestled with two Mancunian Physics Professors and one Herr Einstein. Apparently they showed that it's obvious that E=mc² but I had to read one page three times before I got even half way to believing them.

I scoped out my fall-back plan for the bus and decided that it's a maximum 5 minute walk. Definitely this evening I was going to give it a go and, hopefully, get home before 7pm.

Excitement on the second bus - it was one of those with the crazy one-and-a-half seats and I sat on one. Yes, that's what passes for excitement in my life.

As I was leaving the office today I was intercepted by the colleague who lives in Mönchengladbach who remonstrated with me for not checking with her more often when I leave. Chastened I happily accepted the offer of a lift with her, more-so because I had a shopping bag full of limes (for my daughter's Birthday Key Lime Pie) and cheddar cheese (only available in the supermarket near-ish to my office, I can't get there without a car so I take my chances when I can get them). As I got out of their car the heavens opened but luckily I was swiftly in the station - it was 17:55 so I assumed I'd have about 20 minutes to wait for a train, having missed the 17:49.

But - yaay - there was another train due to depart at 17:59. I hotfooted it up the stairs and, indeed, there was an ancient example of the Deutsche Bundesbahn's finest. Even more exciting: different seat covers. This time they were sort of olivey green with a wide centre panel consisting of the same green background with diagonal stripes of varying horrible colours of blue. I took a photo, and have photos of some of the others. Any readers should start hoping for either a car for me or something exciting to happen soon or I'm going to have to resort to posting pictures of train and bus seat coverings.

The rain pounded against the windows and the sky grew ever darker. By the time we got to Rheydt it was like a monsoon. I scanned the sky, hoping to spot a patch of blue sky and was rewarded just before we got to Erkelenz. Not only a patch of blue sky - but a whole sky full of blue and blazing sunshine. Stopping only to ask myself why I hadn't got my sunglasses with me I mounted my Shiny New Bike and peddaled furiously in a homeward direction.

And arrived at 18:45. Which was nice.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Day 17 - Wednesday, 28th July 2010

Speak up, love, there are a few people in the first carriage who can't quite hear you...

It's still warm enough to cycle without a cardigan, but I took one as a precaution - along with my not-rainproof jacket due to the forecast of heavy rain. It was a pleasant journey and I caught myself saying good morning to three of the four herons that hang out in our village. The Big Brown Slugs are out in force causing me to swerve around them all because I really don't want mashed slug on my Shiny New Bike.

As I rode over the bridge into town a baby rabbit tried to race me - no hope mister rabbit, I've got 21 gears... zooommmm!

We stood around on the platform waiting for the train doing that morning commuter thing of not looking directly at anyone, twenty people looking in twenty different directions. Suddenly everyone was directing their weary morning gaze at a young woman who was dashing to the platform shouting nearly hysterically into her phone. The person on the end of the line was her mother it seemed, the girls's life apparently falling apart she got louder and louder and more hysterical. But she was rushing around so much, up and down the stairs, into and out of the tunnel until the train came and she abruptly shut off her phone.

It was better than EastEnders! But nobody knows how it panned out. I hope she's okay, I really hate to see anyone cry like that.

The rest of the journey, of course went like clockwork. As I sat on the first bus I took note of the location and name of all the stops. My plan was that on the return trip I'd get off the number 71 bus opposite the ARAL petrol station and walk, briskly, to the next stop along - where I could hopefully catch my next bus instead of seeing it retreating into the distance. And if I missed it, well, I'd be no worse off than if I'd missed it at the other stop, since the 38 also stops there.

Of course, on the return journey I totally forgot about that plan and yet again found myself staring at the retreating back end of the 87B bus. Drat again.

Still, it didn't rain (until much later when I was nearly home, and even then it wasn't much - so yah boo sucks to that) so I scrambled more of my brain trying to understand even a bit of my book. When this is finished I've promised myself some Jeeves and Wooster as a reward.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Day 16 - Tuesday, 27th July 2010

Train whistle blowing...

This morning was lovely, a little bit chilly - enough that I put my cardigan on to cycle to the station. And the rest of the journey was textbook timing on the part of the trains and buses.

The trip back. Well, I've realised that I've generally said that the return journey works. But actually, it doesn't work as it should: not the way the timetable says it should. The first bus, the 71, is invariably 5 minutes late. Which means that I watch my next bus, the 87B, whizzing past us as we pull in to the bus stop. Tonight I was cruelly close to catching the 87B - I was about 20 metres behind it when it pulled away from the stop.


Luckily the next one comes 10 minutes later, but the 20 minute wait at the station really bugs me. We have a lot to do this week in the evenings and getting home at just gone seven (I have to be in bed by 10pm or I'd never get up) isn't helping much. Still I'm getting a lot of reading done - even if this week's book is such a brain scrambler I have to read every page twice and stop and stare out of the window every few minutes to try to understand what it is I'm reading. [E=mc² (and why should we care?) by Prof Brian Cox and Prof Jeff Forshaw]

Monday, 26 July 2010

Day 15 - Monday, 26th July 2010

Water water all around

The forecast was for rain this morning, rain this lunchtime and rain this afternoon and evening. I didn't get a good night's sleep partly due to an extended Sunday afternoon nap, and partly due to worrying about cycling to the station in the rain.

My thinking is: cycling home in the rain isn't too bad because after twenty or so minutes it's over, you're home and warm and can get dry and have a nice cup of tea. Cycling to the station in the rain, sitting dripping in a train and two buses: not my idea of fun.

In the event this morning was cool and clouded over, but not cold. Indeed I left my cardigan behind as a last minute thing because I didn't want to arrive at the station all hot and sweaty. Yes, I'm fussy about how I arrive at the station.

It was a nice cycle ride, actually, until I got to the fields which have until so recently been full of the juciest reddest strawberries it's possible to imagine. It was lovely cycling past them with the smell of strawberries in the air, knowing that we usually had a big basket of them at home.

But, alas. Strawberry season ended a few weeks ago and the fields have been ploughed up. And, in order that we get a similar crop of jucy red strawberries next year, the fields have also been covered in poo. Or, if it's not poo, it is something that smelly terribly like poo. I have two children. I know what poo smells like.


Really, you don't need that first thing in the morning so there's only one thing for it, mad peddaling and trying to breathe through your mouth. With all the insect-eating danger that entails. That's the part about living in the country that people don't tell you about. I think most townies are reconciled to the fact that here in the countryside it's noisy. Blimey it's noisy. What with the dogs, the cows, the tractors and the milk trucks. Not to mention the flipping rooster. But the big secret - not so secret now I've spilled the beans - is that the countryside stinks to high heaven for a lot of the year.

The train/bus/bus combo went well this morning. It went well this afternoon too, but the promised rain decided to show up and promptly made up for not having ruined my morning by coming down in buckets.

Not a good time to find out your waterproof jacket isn't as waterproof as you thought.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Day 14 - Friday, 23rd July 2010

Thank goodness - it's the end of the week already

Morning journey: fine. Evening Journey: left the office late, but worked like clockwork. Result.

This morning there were a couple of people conducting some kind of passenger survey which consisted of about 5 nearly useless questions (where did you get on, where will you get off, what's your final destination, how did you get to the station, how will you get from your end station to your final destination).

Unfortunately, despite wonderful travel connections today, the actual day (work) was really scabby, and my after work training didn't go well. Which just goes to show.

Something or other!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Day 13 - Thursday, 22nd July 2010

I never could get the hang of Thursdays

Another day when everything went swimmingly and there is nothing of interest to report. Which is good but boring.

Again my colleague and her husband dropped me at Mönchengladbach station so I managed to get the 17:49 train to Erkelenz, which meant I got home just before 18:30. Which was good because Chef arrived just as I was opening the door.

As I was pedalling home I pondered what to write in the blog. Something about the places I visit, whizz through, pedal past and otherwise visit on my journey. But that's for another day. Because something on the train today reminded me of a fabulous train journey I once had.

The train pulled in to the station at Mönchengladbach there were 4 teenagers in the cab with the driver. They got out at Erkelenz but I didn't get a chance to ask what they'd been up to, but it certainly reminded me of the time I went to Hamburg on the, now sadly defunct, Metropolitan train.

Back when I first started working at LG Display (or LG.Philips as it was then) I used to take care of booking all the business travel for the office. One day the travel agency called me and asked if I wanted to go to Hamburg for a bit of a jolly, test the train and try out a refurbished hotel. All on them. What's not to like about an offer like that?

Having arranged boring stuff like childminders and a Friday off work, I duly arrived at Düsseldorf station to board our train to Hamburg - my favourite city in the whole of Germany, if not the world. But not just any old train, oh no. This was the Metropolitan Train.

It was a luxurious thing and designed to compete with the internal flights operated between Cologne/Düsseldorf and Hamburg. It was fast, it was beautiful and it was free. The tickets were sold on the same basis as plane tickets: if you had a ticket you had a seat. And what a seat! Whereas a normal train has 4 people sitting accross the width of the carriage with an aisle between them - this train only had 2 seats side by side. Beautiful, deep, wide seats in serious leather. They were arranged in groups of 4 around a table and in what was then a revolutionary development, you were able to use your mobile phones without any problems. There were power outlets so that you could plug in your computers (I took a laptop with me to try that out - great fun). There were also portable DVD players and films available (with headphones) if you so desired.

In addition there was a small bar type buffet car and it was such a smooth ride you could walk around quite freely if you - unbelieveably - got tired of sitting in your luxurious serious leather seat.

About an hour into the journey we were served a nice meal - none of your airline stylee pap this, it was very fresh and tasty. There was also unlimited coffee and cold drinks, but that could have been part of our special package. When we got to the only stretch of track that the train could go full pelt there came a short announcement and off we went. Fast, quiet and smooth. Bliss.

I do regret not taking any photos inside the train now, though because it seems almost impossible to find any on the internet or elsewhere. The trip to Hamburg was quite fab, but the trip back was even better.

The group was a lot more noisy on the way back - we'd had 24 hours to get to know each other and several of us had bonded over cocktails on the top floor of the Sheraton hotel with a great view of Hamburg by night. But there was better to come.

Those of us who wanted were allowed, in groups of three, to sit in the cab with the driver. And I was lucky enough to be in the co-driver's seat at the time we went faster than I've ever travelled on land before.

Most certainly that's the best train journey I've ever had. But the most exciing was the one that went from Dover to Leningrad - as it was called back then. But for that, dear reader, you'll have to wait for another boring day travel wise.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Day 12 - Wednesday, 21st July 2010


That's German for we have reached the summit (of the week) and it's all downhill from here.

This morning - no issues with transport. This evening - no issues with transport. A bit of light drizzle on my way back, but I had a waterproof jacket, although, to be honest, I didn't really need it.

So today I thought I'd do a little bit of pondering the designs of the seat covers on public transport. I sure do know how to have a good time!

On my morning train, which is vaguely modern, the seats are covered with a royal blue plush affair. But not just royal blue. There are navy blue squares - about 1.5cm square, all over the royal blue about 1cm apart. Now, I'm not a fan of blue. In fact, out of all the colours it's probably my least favourite. Mostly because when I wear it my green eyes look blue.

But it's not an offensive design, although the scratchy plush material does get very warm on hot days. The bus companies, however, really go to town on their scratchy plush material. The first one this morning had a grey background, graphite sort of colour, with splashes and squiggly lines in red, green, blue (dratted royal blue again) and yellow. Jackson Pollock, though, it ain't. It is just the sort of horrible design that looks like someone was trying to reference Pollock, and then failed spectacularly. At least I'm only on that one for 5 minutes.

The second bus, though, if possible was worse. The same scratchy plush material. The same basic grey background. But, for some reason, the name of the bus company was the design - and it is MöBus. Like that. Written Vertically on the seats. Just say no, folks!

The return buses were similar to the not-quite-Jackson-Pollock design, but muted colours instead which made it less offensive. and the train home was one of the spiffy double deckers with a very pale grey-green sort of design. And it wasn't quite as scratchy. Which is good because I fell asleep and it was digging into my cheek the whole way home.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Day 11 - Tuesday, 20th July 2010

Woke up this morning...

... and yet again couldn't move my sorry backside out of bed quick enough to go for the earlier train. But anyway, the journey to work went, again, sadly for blog readers boringly smoothly. And the homeward journey was even better because one of the ladies at work, who lives not far from Mönchengladbach station, gave me a lift there after work.

Rather serendiptiously I arrived on the platform at the same time as my homeward bound train and I arrived in Erkelenz a mere 40 minutes after I left work.

That leaves today's blog rather scarce today so I thought I'd give a quick mention to a fellow passenger from yesterday. A fine young man of about 22 or 23 (I'd guess) who was sitting down near where I was standing. Our eyes met, and he smiled. "Oh," I thought "I'm old but I still have it."

Then came the pinprick that burst the bubble: "would you like my seat?"

Monday, 19 July 2010

Day 10 - Monday, 19th July 2010

I thought it was too good to last...

This morning I had planned to go on the train earlier than my usual one, but Monday mornings are never (in my experience) a good day to try anything new.

Pity, though, because today would have been a good day to start. It all began so well, sunny, not too warm, left the house on time - and even remembered to put the bin out.

As I approached the station the 07:09 pulled out on its merry way to Düsseldorf. at 07:17 there came a crackly announcement. The 07:18 to Duisburg wouldn't be coming due to some kind of (unexplained) technical failure. Hrumph. Oh well, I could take the 07:33 to Düsseldorf, change at Neuss and head off to Osterath, from whence I could take the number 71 bus to my office.

Yippee, a new combination I haven't tried before. Only - after the drenching I and my baggage had on Friday I'd left my printed timetable at home to dry out. Curses! Not knowing what the margin of error is for that particular combination I decided to chance it and get off at Mönchengladbach and go via Neersen Schloß on the 36 and the 56.

That was a mistake. I managed to get a bus reasonably well (08:08 right outside the train station) but after that it was a bit of a disaster. When I go to Schloß Neersen I realised that my next bus would leave in half an hour. Well, it was a nice day, and there was a bakery nearby so I got a coffee and read some more of my book.

Not much though because very soon after I settled down four rather fat ducks waddled up and started tapping the glass of the bus shelter. An old fellow sitting by me said that they would do that for a while then wander off to the bakery where they would quack for a while until someone came out and gave them some crumbs.

But finally my bus arrived and I got to work at 09:15. Not a jourey I care to repeat.

Going home the 71 was late (that seems to be usual) so I missed the 87 and therefore my first train. But I got the 18:08 from Anrath directly to Erkelenz and managed to get a bit of food shopping done on the way home.

Despite the missing train, not a bad day, travel-wise.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Day 9 - Friday, 16th July 2010

Absolutely nothing of note to report timetable wise for either journey.


However, the bus I caught (the SB87) to Anrath Kirche, which is the first bus after my train on the way to work, was very strange. It had a very wide aisle.

Which would be okay, for things like Pushchairs and Wheelchairs. But the reason it was wide was that the seats were only big enough for 1.5 people. That is: one person could sit next to the window, and then the next person could perch on the remainder of the seat with one buttock.

So, were they designed for very slim people (or children) or quite wide people. After all, some of the people I see on the buses would fit one of these seats very well.

It's a mystery.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Day 8 - Thursday, 15th July 2010

Nothing to see here, move along please

Despite the storms yesterday which have rendered several hundred kilometers of track useless, my train was just about on time today. I knew that because I looked at the Deutsche Bahn website and, because I absolutely don't trust it, I persisted with the hotline until I managed to speak to a nice young man about my train. Indeed, he reassured me, it's running a couple of minutes late, but it will make that up by the time you get to your stop.

In the event when we got to Viersen, which is the stop before mine, I lost my nerve and got off there. It meant I got to work about 25 minutes later than planned, but if I'd gone for my double-bus combo and missed it I would have been waiting at least an hour.

Coming home my journey was only made later by someone wanting me to do some work, how cheeky, so instead of doing my morning journey in reverse, I did the one where i have to wait 20 minutes at a middle bus stop. I had a little snigger as we passed Donk - as usual - then spent a nice 20 minutes sitting in a cool, shady bus stop reading my book.

How boring!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Day 7 - Wednesday, 14th July 2010

The unthinkable happens

There were very few people waiting on the platform and so I had hopes that the trains were running pretty much as normal. But the first thing I heard was the announcement that the 07:09 and the 07:33 trains to Düsseldorf were cancelled. My train, the trusty 07:18 to Duisburg seemed to be on schedule. And indeed it said on the front it was really going all the way to Duisburg - yippee.

It was quite full and I was one of the last on so I had to stand, not a great hardship. But then there was a small commotion at the place where the Non-Body sits. A dapper gentleman in a suit, carrying a briefcase reached accross and shook the Non-Body's legs. At first there was no response and it seemed as though all the passengers were holding their breath. But the man didn't give up. This time he said, very loudly: please move your legs I want to sit there. There was spluttering and muttering but eventually the feet were withdrawn from the seat and the dapper gentleman sat down.

I have now become a nodding-acquaintance with a fellow passenger - one of the women from last evening - who gets on my bus. And that after only a week of commuting! The rest of the journey was totally uneventful exceptt that all the schoolchildren were very jolly and chattery because it was the last day of term today.

The journey home started well. On the radio they announced that all trains were running although there would be delays because some of the tracks had been reduced to single track.

1st bus: Just about on time
2nd bus: Caught it!
1st train: Caught it
2nd train: Caught it but it only made it as far as just past the second stop when the heavens opened and our second almighty storm of the week wreaked havoc on the trains. We lost electricity between us and Erkelenz, but further along from Erkelenz a tree took down some overhead lines then lay, inconveniently accross the tracks. Our train had to limp back to the previous stop.

Actually, it was going to push on to Aachen the final destination, but via Köln and it would take 2 hours (opposed to the half hour it should normally take). The rest of us, however, got off and ran through torrential rain to the front of the station.

While I was on the train I got a call from Chef who told me that it was extremely windy in Erkelenz and that he and the Gruesome Twosome had been cycling home from town when the bad weather struck. Indeed Gruesome #2 had been blown off her bike.

Predictably there were no Deutsche Bahn staff available to point us in the direction of buses. Actually, there were no buses scheduled or otherwise. Knowing how these situations pan out, I shouted above the noise of the rain that I was taking a taxi to Erkelenz and did anyone want to come. Blank looks. So I jumped in a taxi and 20 minutes later he let me out in slightly less than torrential rain where my bike is parked.

As the sky wasn't as black as it had been I decided to cycle home. Luckily the wind had died down and the rain started to slacken off. But I was still absolutely wringing wet when I got home. But at least it was a whole hour earlier than yesterday!

No idea how either of us will get to work tomorrow though. What an exciting life we lead!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Day 6 - Tuesday, 13th July 2010

Has it been a whole week already?

All things considered my first week as a public-transport commuter have not gone too badly. And then the storm happened and everything was up in the air.

Having checked the Deutsche Bahn website it appeared that although many trains have been cancelled, mine would leave on time. Yaayy. Accordingly I abandoned plans to take a bus to Mönchengladbach and then another 2 to Willich in favour of letting the train take the strain. As soon as I saw the hordes of people standing on the platform I nearly changed my mind, but there was then the miracle of an announcement that the Düsseldorf train would arrive any moment. It was a double-decker jobbie and the hordes of waiting passengers, some of whom i summised had been there for a long time from their grumbled commens as they shuffled past me, squashed themselves on the train. It pulled out, slowly and I was left, alone to ponder my possible foolhardiness as I watched the bus pull out too.

But then - oh wonder - my train arrived. Unfortunately in place of the usual destination of "Duisburg" it bore the legend Mönchengladbach. 2 stations before mine. Hmmm. Well, I know that a bus goes from Mönchengladbach so I hopped on, took up a seat and opened my book. Just before Mönchengladbach the automated announcement caused consternation when it announced that our next stop would be Aachen - which is about 40kms in the opposite direction.

Finally we were on the way again and as a bonus the train would now stop one stop further at Viersen. Where I knew - because the guy from work that i met on the bus yesterday morning had told me - that I could get a bus to my office. The train stopped and everyone piled off to catch the buses that have been laid on to take them to the parts that the trains can't currently reach. And promptly all congregated in the doorway so that nobody could move. That didn't exactly set me up for the rest of my journey, but with some pushing and shoving and then running around asking people about bus stops I finally discovered that I could take a bus to the bus station and from there to my office stop. As an aside: does absolutely EVERYONE listen to music while they travel? I don't think I saw anyone who wasn't wearing earphones of some description.

And that was that, or so I thought. Wisely I periodically checked the Deutsche Bahn website and finally established that I could go to my usual stop of Anrath and get the train at 18:08 which was annotated as being "pünktlich" - on time.

There's a lesson here, boys and girls. Don't trust anything you read on the internet. I took a bus. Then I took another bus. And arrived at a nearly deserted station, when the doubts began to set in. A couple of other people arrived, including a woman who had caught the same train/bus combo as me this morning. She had also checked the website. The doubts receded. They receded even more when a few other website checkers arrived.

"No trains today," called a cheerful bus driver.

"oh yes," we chorused. "It said so on the website."

"No trains today," called a passing car driver.

"Hmmm..." we said. It's an unmanned station, but there is an info thing so we pressed the button and eventually a disembodied voice asked us how he could help us. To cut the boringly long story short. There were no trains that day from Anrath. How could we have thought such a thing... Several of us called the Deutsche Bahn info number and received various different answers. There were definitely no trains. There would be a train. There were buses organised to take the place of the trains. There were no buses. We would have to take taxis. We coudn't take taxis because there were buses which we should wait for. Which weren't coming.

Meanwhile the cheerful bus driver announced he was driving to Schloß Neersen and anyone who wanted should get on. Which we did as there was nowhere to sit and no shade at the station. When we got to Schloß Neersen there were 3 of us waiting for the next bus - which was due in 45 minutes. I could have wept - this was my alternative route and if I'd stuck to my guns and gone for that I'd have been home by then.

Still, it was a bit of an adventure, and I had my book and (important for me: I wasn't in imminent danger of needing the loo). The two ladies waiting with me proved to be chatty. We talked of this and that and at one point one of them mentioned her daughter who "is a lot older than you". Hmm, I thought. "How old is she?" There is a sort of freedom in asking perfect strangers such personal questions.

"oh, she's 46" came the reply. At which I smiled quietly to myself. YES! (I'll enlighten you: I'm 46 and-a-half)

Finally, after a long wait and a lot of conversation about Train Journeys That Went Bad, the bus turned up and after a short while deposited us uneventfully in front of Mönchengladbach station.

The was obliging enough to arrive on time and I duly disembarked and switched to my bike shortly after 8pm.

Tomorrow I'm either going to ignore the DB website or I'm going to call them every half an hour to check their data.

One thing is for sure: the Deutsche Bahn were correct when they told me that they can't plan for a one-off event like the storm. I agree and accept that in such an instance my journey is going to be long and silly. But they really have to work on their provision of information to their passengers. Especially on their unmanned stations.

It really can't be that difficult to send someone around with a car and some blank posters with at least an info line number to call.


Communing with nature and the Great Lipgloss Dilemma

Living in the country, as I do, there is some opportunity to observe wildlife. It is very flat around here with not much tree cover or even scrubland or bushes. Which means that generally what we get are hares, rabbits and various species of birds of prey. Buzzards are common but I never fail to catch my breath when I see one. They are beautiful.

Early on in the year there are also plenty of lapwings, or peewits. I love the way they flap around when someone comes close to their nest and try to distract potential predators.

Anyway, this morning I was pleased to see a huge hare sitting in a field. As I got closer I realised that he was staring down a heron who was standing perfectly still giving the hare his best beady eyed look. I turned my attention back to the road just in time to nearly run over a stoat. We've nearly bumped into deer in the past as we've been cycling around, and just as I come into town I often see a red squirrel bounding along the road.

Ain't nature great.

Oh yes. The Great Lipgloss Dilemmma. Yesterday I mentioned that the lipgloss I use was acting rather like fly-paper on all the little bugs that fly around in the mornings.

This evening as I was cycling back my lipgloss was long gone (I'm really not girly enough to re-apply it during the day) and there was nothing to stop the flies getting in my mouth. So now I can't decide which is worse: Flies on my lips or flies on my tongue.


Monday, 12 July 2010

Day 5 - Monday, 12th July 2010

The Body isn't a Body

It was very warm all weekend and the heat didn't dissapate at all over Sunday night. This morning dawned bright and sunny and very warm at 05:30 already. This time I thought I'd try something New and Revolutionary. Instead of pulling on my jeans and stuffing my skirt into my basket - I thought I'd give Cycling Wearing a Skirt a go. It went quite well so I think I'll ditch taking a skirt to work and just wear the skirt from the start. Next: cycling in high-heeled sandles.

My train departs Erkelenz at 07:18 terminating at Duisburg, the one before it goes at 07:09 heading to Düsseldorf. But for some reason this morning it seems that the 07:09 train hadn't turned up because there were twice as many people getting on my train as usual. This offered exciting opportunities for checking The Body out. And indeed, it was there, but in deference to the hot weather this time it sported a short sleeved shirt and sleeveless jacket, but the headband was firmly in place over it's eyes. The change of clothes suggested that either someone at the train company takes care of the body and puts it in seasonal clothes - perhaps that person was on holiday last week and unable to carry out their Body Clothes Changing duties.

But what happened? We pulled out of Mönchengladbach as usual, and thankfully most people had got off there and I managed to get a seat affording me a great view of The Body. I rummaged around in my bag for my book (Molesworth, this week) and when I looked up again: the body was taking off the headband. He examined it carefully before folding it and putting it in an inner pocket. Then he took out some reading glasses, removed his feet from the opposite seat, took a newspaper out of an inner pocket and began to read as though nothing was more normal.

So on the one hand - I'm glad that I haven't been sharing a carriage with a body. On the other, it's vaguely disappointing... After that highlight the rest of the journey was uneventful apart from the fact that I met one of the guys from work (who lives in Mönchengladbach) when we both got of the bus. He imparted a little nugget of knowledge that could cut the number of my morning buses in half. If I get off one stop earlier (Viesen) I can get the 71 bus from there (instead of faffing about changing at the church bus stop) directly to our office. I may try it one day when I'm feeling brave about finding the bus stop.

At lunchtime the sky went an ominous shade of Extremely Dark Grey and the trees outside the office started swaying alarmingly. Suddenly it started to rain, and I had the misfortune to be outside at the time (having borrowed a car so I could have a lunchtime session at the gym). I walked about 50 metres and by the time I got to the car I looked as though someone had chucked two buckets of water over me.

Apparently in other parts of the state there were huge storms and winds (there was some talk on the radio of a tornado) but it wasn’t until Chef called me from Düsseldorf station to say that no trains were running that I realised just how bad the storm had been. Erkelenz, it seemed, had been right in the middle of it all. Luckily for me I have a colleague who lives not far from me who kindly dropped me off at Erkelenz station to recover my bike.

Chef wasn’t so lucky. There was a distinct lack of information at Düsseldorf station, and he had settled down for a long wait. After a few hours of this he recognised a couple of other people from his train and they clubbed together for a taxi. EUR 20 down the drain but as far as we know everyone is still sitting at the station waiting to leave...

For tomorrow morning, who knows what will happen. However I’ve scoped out a bus from Erkelenz to Mönchengladbach station and there’s a bus from there to quite close to my office. It’s very exciting!

The Perils of Lipgloss

There was another learning process this morning. As I've already explained I wear sunglasses while cycling, to keep the flies, pollen and whatever else is flying around out of my eyes. It works quite well - I have my normal glasses for if the sun goes away again.

But I'm also in the habit of applying lipstick before I leave the house. And since I'm a modern type of gal, I have been using the very shiny, very sticky lipgloss that is so fashionable right now. (Oh yes - the 80s are back with a vengeance)

And it is absolutely perfect for trapping little flies, ladybirds and whatever else is flying around. Yum.