The lovely and talented CNHeidelberg remarked this week that WEBMU 2011 is fast approaching, like a locomotive, chugging along down the track, which we are powerless to impede.
Speaking of which, you can buy train travel to there from anywhere and back, now that we’re less than 90 days out. It officially gets rolling on Saturday, October 22. If you’re an English-language blogger, living in Germany, come on out and put some faces and voices to those fonts and images you’ve been reading.
For our tranpsortation, we personally were leaning toward flying, thinking that would be cheaper in terms of outright cost or at least time spent traveling, but this turned out not to be the case for us. We’ll be spending perhaps an hour more in transit each way in total, but saving more than 50% off the travel costs associated with air travel for us.
We’ll be training it out Thursday afternoon to Cologne, in plenty of time for the Friday pre-event — whatever that ends up being (a visit to some palaces in Brühl, the Aachener Altstadt, or perhaps some swanky shopping, all hostedbylocalresidents).
Details are on the bulletin board at www.expatbloggersingermany.com/meetup. Register there, if you haven’t already, get access to all the accommodation recommendations and forthcoming agenda. Don’t forget to mention your location in Germany (roughly, at least) and your blog’s URL, so that I can approve your membership.
Or: Spain, Spring 2011, Day 3, Part 1: train travel
Following some advice from our extremely helpful and friendly hotel staff, we opted to do our third day on this trip outside of Sevilla in Córdoba, instead of Granada like we’d originally planned. We got a very pleasant taste of the Spanish train system and had plenty of good luck with the weather and the old walled city in Córdoba.
First challenge: picking a train station from which depart Seville. The rail network connecting Seville to other cities offers plenty of frequent options in all directions and classes of ticket, so we weren’t too worried about just showing up and picking a train based on whatever looked convenient at the time of our arrival. Our concierge recommended taking a taxi to the Santa Justa train station and departing from there. At first, we thought that was a little weird, like
Why isn’t there there a Hauptbahnhof?, and
Would all the bus and tram lines in the city naturally lead to said missing Hauptbahnhof?
Then we remembered, this is Spain, and not Germany.
We paid about 10 or 12€ for the taxi ride from the Casco Antiguo to Estación Santa Justa and put our Deutsche Bahn skills to work. At first glance, the layout of the train station seemed pretty much like many others we’d seen in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, etc.: a shopping area, ticket service counters, snack bars. We tried to use the ticket automats to seek out a hin-und-zurück connection to Córdoba, but gave up quickly owing to vocabulary deficiencies (indeed, I often struggle with these in English, too). So we headed off the ticket counter and were shocked and amazed to find not just one massive line, but in fact five or six different ones, organized by urgency of service need. If you need help with an immediate departure, there’s a line for that. If you need help with a departure sometime today, there’s a line for that. If you need help with a departure on another day…there’s a line for that — and it all worked (both in Seville and Córdoba). And guess what: while waiting in line — anywhere in Spain, actually — we never felt the need to define and defend our personal space. It’s not like Spain is (that much) bigger or more densely populated than Germany; it’s just that they’re not seeking every opportunity to gain 4mm on their closest competitor in the race
to the ticket counter
onto the bus
into the museum
I have never seen the DB ticket counters organized in such a way, and for how often their long-distance trains are delayed and passengers must be re-routed, you’d think they’d implement a system like that. But OK, this wasn’t the last instance in which RENFE impressed us with its professionalism and organization.
We headed towards the platforms much earlier than we thought necessary. As we approached the long escalator leading down to the tracks, a woman asked us show her our tickets. She checked them, and allowed us to pass onto the escalator. At the bottom of the escalator, our bags (just backpacks full of camera stuff and bottled water and guide books and other typical tourist stuff) went through an x-ray machine. At that point, we remembered what might justify the extra security “just” at the train station. Post-baggage-screening, a guy in another smaller ticket window checked our tickets yet again and pointed us to toward the train car containing our reserved seats. A smiling Zugbegleiterin greeted us there and welcomed us on board into the spacious, roomy, clean, and pleasant-smelling train car. We were travelling in tourist-class seats on a high-speed line (think ICE equivalent). Nice!
Here are some final bits of knowledge gleaned from the experience:
Even if you buy a one-way ticket originally (perhaps, because like us, you were travelling on a loose schedule at best), hang onto it. You might be able to show that one-way initial ticket at the ticket counter for a price reduction on the way back. It’s probably still cheaper to book a there-and-back ticket at the outset, if you can, but RENFE has some sympathy for the spontaneous traveler, expressed in the form of a discounted one-way ticket back.
These are the classes of trains we saw while thinking about getting from Seville to Cadiz or Granada or Córdoba:
Top-level. Most similar to the ICE-level trains in Germany. But the tourist class tickets for the AVE felt like ICE first-class tickets. Seems more expensive than 2nd class ICE travel for the approximately the same distance (say, from Regensburg to Nürnberg), but it was definitely a step up in terms of customer service and personal comfort. They even handed out free headphones to watch the video playing on the ceiling-mounted monitors.
Somewhere in the mid-range of the pricing, and almost as fast as the AVE (at least for the Sevilla-Córdoba route). From the outside, these trains looked a lot like AVEs.
Much cheaper and slower than the other two. The ones we saw in the train stations looked like DB RE/RB equivalents.
Most importantly: it’s not Germany. You can’t expect to walk up the platform one minute to departure, board and seek out your seat while the train rolls out of the station; the extra security measures require more time. Expect to be on the platform at least 15 minutes prior to scheduled departure, and that ought to work out nicely.
We were scheduled to leave Regensburg on EuroNight 420 at 00:14. We actually left 40 minutes later than scheduled. Still arrived at Frankfurt/Main Hbf 35 minutes early. This was our first experience with EuroNight. We had Sitzwagen tickets — nice and cheap, but rather cramped in our compartment with 3 other travelers and all their stuff. Would it be possible to buy a few seats per person in order to stretch out? We saw other compartments with some passengers all sprawled out by themselves or sharing a 6er compartment. How’d they manage that? Maybe just lucky that all their fellow compartment passengers got off the train early? And if they wanted to lay down, why not buy Liegewagen tickets? I think we’ll do that next time.
The post-Fruit-of-the-Boom-era extra security screening at the ticket counter upon checking in was the same old questions, just no longer phrased as yes/no questions, with a few new questions, like “how long have you owned that piece of luggage you’re checking?” But they made us split up for separate questioning even though we told them we’re married because we didn’t share a last name (or presumably part of one, like in a hyphenation situation) and didn’t have our marriage certificate on us (should we schlep a copy of that with us everywhere we go again? We used to have to do that in the early phase of our move here for bureaucratic purposes), even though our one piece of baggage to be checked had both our names and common address on it.
For the FRA to DFW flight, we were sitting in a row marked “DC ELECTRONIC POWER OUTLET AVAILABLE UNDER SEAT.” Never used one of those before. Is there some kind of adapter I can buy to plug in my laptop? I didn’t get a close look at the receptable, but it looks like it would accept a round plug. What voltage is it?
Time to get on our flight to PVR pretty soon. Greetings from DFW (nice airport, Texans!).
I know how much it chafes when DB leaves you in the lurch, but this weekend, they met our expectations easily.
I was just singing the DB praises yesterday, and now look what happened.
It’s 19:30 and I’m stuck in Nürnberg Hbf OTW home from my meeting with my boss. My train was supposed to depart at 18:31. It got to the station 30 minutes late and won’t depart for who knows how long while they make room for us on a detour route around the tracks connecting Nürnberg and Regensburg directly because they dug up a (presumably old) bomb at a construction site near the tracks somewhere between here and Neumarkt. They’re re-routing us via Ingolstadt, but that’s taking forever.. I’m not taking any calls on my cell phone so my beautiful American English won’t give me away, in case it’s one of ours. I don’t think even a Canadian or British accent would help me out here much. Maybe Irish though. They were neutral in WW2, right?
We took an early, early train to Munich: 7:30 a.m. departure from Munich to Bozen, arrival in Bozen four hours later. At least we had an easy walk to Hotel Feichter, featuring
nice, friendly, helpful staff
clean, pleasant, comfortable rooms, if a bit cramped
good location just through a passage from Waltherplatz
Then we took the Rittner Seilbahn up to Oberbozen (Soprabolzano) to check out the Hoodoos (Erdpyramide) after a 20-30 minute hike on marked trails from the top of the gondola route. The weather was kind of eerie, just barely avoiding the rain.
We came back down and ate at the Speckstube for an early dinner and it seemed like they were unprepared. It took FOREVER for the food to arrive. When it did finally arrive, it was just OK. NOT worth the wait.
Day Two — Bozen to Bologna
We checked out of the hotel after breafasting there and left our bags in the luggage room at Hotel Feichter. We walked outside of town into the vineyards along a pedestrian path up to Castel di Roncolo (Schloß Runkelstein) – known as “the illustrated castle” for its many secular frescoes. As a bonus there was an exhibit devoted to Tiroler Tracht (traditional clothing from the region). We walked back down into town and got lunch at Hopfen & Co. – very nice dunkles to be had there. Marched over to the train station right on time onto to find our train had been cancelled due to an Italian train workers’ strike. So we played Rummikub for a few hours outside the train station on the steps of a government building near some flatulent homeless/drunk guy. We took another train four hours later instead, but that, with delays along the way, put us into Bologna Centrale after 01:00 the next day. We got reservations for that rebooked ticket, but they weren’t valid until Verona and there was some stress about the seats we’d chosen for the meantime. It was CROWDED, probably everyone else who’d wanted the 16:31 to Bologna Centrale also chose to take the late one, rather than wait until the next day. Fortunately, our hotel had 24-hour reception and dragging our luggage through the streets of downtown Bologna at a wee hour was not a problem. Our hand-held GPS didn’t steer us wrong and the airconditioned (and beatifully decorated) hotel room was a very welcome change of scenery.
Slideshow from Bozen:
Day Three (“My Bologna has a first name, it’s ‘M-O-R-T-A'”)
[c76phickr id=3725302295 float=right] We got moving a little slower than originally planned (not really a surprise, given our arrival time) and had a leisurely breakfast. We decided to take a hop-on hop-off bus tour of the city with audio guide. But the sound quality was lacking and we didn’t feel much like moving under our own power yet, so we stayed on the bus for a whole circuit to gather inspiration. There was a lot to be gathered. We wandered down the Strada Maggiore and back.
Dinner at that little place we stumbled upon that couldn’t give me the primo piatto from the daily specials menu, so instead I had homemade pasta with porcini and truffle oil. YUM. The waiter was friendly and forgiving of our lousy Italian. Figured out about the “coperto” charge of 2€ a head if you don’t order antipasti, primi, and secondi. Hmph. Didn’t like that too much, even though everything else was good.
Dessert was gelato on the Piazza Nettuno in front of a screen commemorating 100 years of Bolognese soccer.
Day Four (“My Bologna has a second name, it’s ‘D-E-L-L-A'”)
Got up later than planned…again. Wandered down the Via Santo Stefano toward a park at Southern edge of the city and decided to come back and get lunch, keeping an eye on where the grocery and wine stores were to prepare for the following day’s train journey home to Regensburg. Lunch happened at nearly the same spot as yesterday, somewhere outside near the Piazza Maggiore. It wasn’t as good as the first place and definitely more expensive. But the bologna sandwich I had (Mortadella) was pretty good. I can see why that became so widespread.
Dinner was at a place called Ristorante Nicola’s Pizzeria and we arrived just in time to snap up one of the few remaining tables for four. Just after we got there, it was mobbed with pizza-eaters. Unfortunately, we didn’t see all the pizza traffic coming out of the kitchen before we ordered. But still, it was a nice meal, and not as expensive as I’d feared, either. We apparently finally managed to break out of the touristy restaurant area — seemed like all the rest of the patrons were locals (or at least Italians).
Day Five (“Ciao, Bella!”)
Woke up on time, checked out of our hotel, and hit the neighborhood grocery stores for some supplies for the train trip back (about 9 hours, all told, from 11:17 departure in Bologna until we got back to Regensburg) and some wines we knew we’d miss at home.
We got to the train station right on time, but our train didn’t. It was delayed 15 minutes. This was not critical, since we had no Umstiege planned between Bologna Centrale and Munich, and reservations for the whole trip. But when we got on the proper car after the train finally arrived, chaos ensued as the passengers all separately discovered that the car contained no numbered seats. Or rather, apparently two compartments in the middle of the car with seats in the 80s and 70s. Surprisingly, only one old lady grumped at us about her reservation (for some seats in the 50s) but couldn’t prove we were in the wrong spot. So we just resolved, together with our cabin mates, to stay put and enjoyed the scenery.
We’ve been back in Regensburg for two days now, recovering from the long travel day and gearing up for a week in Provence. Stay tuned!
The Deutsche Bahn website is not the easiest to navigate, in my opinion, but recently they’ve made efforts to increase its user-friendliness.
Though it still chafes that you can buy tickets via your mobile phone (for verification by the conductor on-screen) or computer (print your own paper ticket) up to 10 minutes prior to departure, unless you want to buy a BayernTicket online. You have to do that three days in advance or suck it up and wait in line at the station at the ticket counter or use a ticket automat.
I’m spending the next two days in Frankfurt (am Main, natürlich, and more precisely Rödelheim and Eschborn) on a business trip, getting there sometime this evening via a carpool from Regensburg with a big long layover at a workshop in Pommersfelden.
Anyone wanting to meet up, show/tell me where to eat, etc. please comment here with your email address and hopefully Sarah won’t mind relaying your info to me via my mobile phone (not sure what my connectivity to email — work or otherwise — is going to be). I’ve been there more than a few times before, but never overnight, which has always meant a big long day with early morning train travel, too much coffee to get me through the middle, and a drowsy, throbbing return trip the same evening.
I don’t expect anything particularly exciting about Rödelheim or Eschborn, but I would appreciate some general tips about the Frankfurt downtown area. I figure I ought to be able to S-Bahn it into the city and explore, if only those in the know could tell me which lines and stations to use.
It might be worth it to spring for the extra bucks and longer train trip to ride (for longer) in style next time on a higher class of train. The trains themselves were pretty modern, but there were only two cars per train and the engine was diesel. And they were crowded! If you spring for the better class of train (IC or EC, as opposed to RB/RE/IRE), you can reserve your seats. That would have been helpful today. We got stuck standing for a good portion of the trip packed into the flop-down seating area with families with stroller kids and toddlers and a smelly (but cute) German shepherd…and Germany’s smelliest train passenger (to date) — the The Human Ashtray (or so we called her). Between her and the standing-room-only and the terrain of the Erzgebirge, we got a little motion sick (and I strongly suspect we weren’t the only ones — everyone looked progressively greener until Zwickau). Fortunately, no one lost their lunch and we managed to snag proper seats for the duration of the trip starting at Zwickau.
I took some pictures this morning outside the Regensburg Hbf and on the train to Hof (where we changed trains and headed to Dresden):
Regensburg stuff, including wildlife confused by the weather:
Annoyed cat on the train:
After a quick freshening up (we just had to try out the AirPool and the beautiful shower), we’re off to explore Dresden and get something to eat while scoping out our breakfast options (not included at our hotel) and planning tomorrow’s activities.