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Monday, September 26, 2005

Say Neau to Cologne: Train to Hamburg

I have an uninterrupted sleep - well, almost. Around quarter past 6 rumblings downstairs awaken me along with a baritone voice that seems to amplify as it travels through the walls and floors. I use the two oversized pillows as ear muffs to deaden the noise and I do manage to drift off for a little while longer.

Downstairs to breakfast at 8 - I find another couple staying here and from the 'morgens' I know they aren't australian. Breakfast is more of the same but still no eggs!

When the time comes to pay the hotel bill, Hans (the clerk) would prefer cash - which I can give him. However he doesn't have any change so it would have to be the exact amount. After much scrounging around I come up with €273, five short of the total. "Okay" he says "I'll take the credit card."

We chat a little before I depart - he wondered why my bags were so heavy for a 4 day stay - I explain the real length of my trip. "Oh" he says "I thought you were only visiting Cologne." I tell him I'm also going to Hamburg and Berlin and Munich. "Oh" he says "so you're only visiting germany." I explain that I'm travelling all around but I fear I'm in a losing battle. He's a bit wary of Berlin and says it's dangerous, plus he wouldn't know what to do there. After this Cologne experience, bring on Berlin.

Having already decided against incurring the ire of another taxi driver, I drag the bags to the station. The cobblestones make it hard work in sections and it does take a lot longer than I had planned, but being such an early bird, I do arrive with plenty of time to spare.

It get to the station from the Dom plaza I have to take an elevator down. The smell of urine there makes my eyes water as I wait for the lift. My final whiff of the true eau de cologne.

I grab a couple of bottles of water from the vending machines - only in Cologne are vending machines the cheapest place to buy drinks. I also decide on a pretzel to munch on since I don't get into Hamburg until 2.11 (there's that german precision timing for you)

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Waiting on the platform I get my last view of the Dom

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For reference, not all trains in Germany are (n)ICE
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The sign on the platform informs you of the location of the carriages - 1st class is at sections D and E. I dutifully wait at D - alas the driver doesn't comply with the information and pulls up short. So far, I've yet to be positioned correctly in any of these trains trips. Now, I'm sure you're saying, stupid, why didn't you wait at E. Well, that carriage has a smoking section and from experience of being in that carriage, I didn't want to put up with 4 hours of smoke.

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This ICE train is a totally different design - I would say it's an older train as there's no electronic seat signs. What does that mean? The information tells you whether or not someone has reserved that seat, so if you're someone like me, who has a pass but no reservation, we know where to sit and not get anyone's nose out of joint. On this train, they have paper tabs, the accuracy of which is questionable.

I plant myself at the back, as usual, where there's room to put my bag behind the seat and keep an eye on it.

These seats don't have removable armrests or pull down tray tables - there's a screen in the back of the seat in front, but if it's reclined, the tv is virtually unwatchable.

The conductor comes around and checks on the tickets as we pull out of Cologne - good bye and good riddance. Yes, you have a big church - but stuff all of anything else.

The train unexpectedly comes to a halt 20 minutes into the trip - the conductor comes over the pa to explain the situation - unfortunately he only gives his message in german. Since he didn't use the worlds schnitzel, bitte or danke - i have no idea what he said. Whatever the problem was, 5 minutes later we're off again.

The country side is quite nice in places - old stone bridges - rivers, valleys, lovely little towns clinging to mountainsides - all very picturesque, all very photogenic. If only there wasn't that reflection problem.

At Dortmund, quite a few people get on the train and the conductor shocks me by finally repeating a message in english! I feel the love now.

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Dr Who boards at Dortmund and settles in the seat in front of me. But it seems that its the asshole Dr Who when he pulls up the window blind. It was only down about 1/4 of the way to stop the direct rays - there's still plenty of light coming in. Now, you're probably saying that I'm being a bit harsh, I'd agree, if not for the two quartz halogen lights that are located above his head that he doesn't turn on.
A couple of minutes later I start pulling the blind down again. Just try me Dr Who - I am so not in the mood.

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This pretzel didn't make me thirsty

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Around Bremen, it gets noticeably darker, the storm clouds are gathering and we head into a rain storm. I dont know if its because of the shape of the train or the speed its going, but the rain travels sideways along the windows. It's weird watching it as it rips across the carriage, almost giving the appearance of cracking glass.

There are windmills dotted all over the place, but unusually, in smallish clumps - each have this flashing light on the top of each pole - all i can say is, thats a bid of overkill, a whole windmill to power some dinky little light.

The train finally pulls in at Hamburg 6 minutes late! The uncertainty of their election result really must be effecting them.

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