Nom de Plumage

April 18, 2013

The Longest Weekend


When I woke this morning to leave Spain, I was unaware of the trials and tribulations that would accompany me on my journey to the Netherlands.

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I was never under any delusion that the glorious warm weather that I experienced on my ten-day exploration of Spain, was only a temporary winter glitch and that it would end. Well, it did and on my last day. It meant that I had walk ten minutes in a downpour to the bus station and then stand under a small bus shelter, which did little to protect me from the deluge. A short bus trip to the main station in Cordoba and an hour wait for my train to Madrid. A relatively uneventful train journey to Madrid, if not for the couple opposite me who had their lips glued together for the hour. But hey, you get entertainment where you can.

From Atocha station, I needed to catch the metro to the main station. It was an easy and comprehensible navigation to the metro, which is a fantastically reliable system. The journey itself was long and very crowded and by the time I got to Charmartin station, my back and shoulder ached from carrying my heavy backpack. But what a great station it is. Clean, massive, efficient, great security and more like an airport than a train station.  The station is my temporary refuge for five hours as I wait for my overnight train to Paris. God bless Stieg Larsson and his brilliant trilogy because the hours just flew by whilst I am absorbed in his fantastic tale.

The overnight train was the same train that I travelled to Barcelona, but this time I only had one roommate, a young English woman named Eva. She lives in Madrid and was going home for the holiday season and I was very grateful for her company. While the train rattled along, we both sat at the bar for a drink and some gossiping, before we went back to our cabin to try to get some sleep. I say ‘sleep’ with some reluctance because laying down in the dark and with constant rhythmic motion from the old train, motion sickness plagued me. I did not embarrass myself, but I did not feel well and looked even worse when we arrived in snow-covered Paris.

Winter has hit hard, not just in Paris, but throughout Europe. Paris is completely white with snow and it is a sign of the coming memorable events.

Our train arrived half an hour late into Austerlitz station. We are both hungry and go to a café for a very French breakfast of hot coffee and croissant. Delicious! Then, a short metro trip to Gare du Nord where Eva volunteers to help me buy my ticket to the Netherlands (if the teller spoke no English). I am extremely grateful because the queue is quite long and only two counters are working. But, in the end, the woman spoke perfect English and was very friendly. I literally got the last ticket into the Netherlands. Although it meant that I would have to wait five hours before my departure, it mattered not because I had a ticket. Eva and I parted and I put my luggage into storage.

And so it begins…..

As I have mentioned, the snow and cold are incredible. For anyone who knows Gare du Nord station, can relate that there is no warm enclosed waiting area. Heat lamps are set-up, but they are crowded. The cold is exhausting and the crowd becomes thicker and tempers flare when trains get cancelled or delayed by many hours due to the unprecedented weather. I could only walk up and down the station, wary of thieves and trying to find somewhere warm. The time for my ‘supposed’ departure came and went and like everyone else, my eyes are glued to the boards, hoping that I would get a train. Hours pass and my hands and feet are numb. I find some refuge near the heat lamps, but it wasn’t enough. Eight hours later, a miracle; my train gets called.

Of all the trains that I have had to reserve a seat, this is the most expensive at 55 euros. The train is very modern and fast and in the end, it is barely full. No services are provided ( food etc) because of the dramas, so I had to contend myself that at least I am warm and on my way to Den Haag. A journey that should have taken two hours; becomes three. Although it was dark outside, glimpses of the severity of the season presented itself when travelling through major stations. I had to change trains at Rotterdam and although I did not have to wait long, I waited to wait with some very intoxicated Scottish men. They were harmless in the end. Ten minutes later, I catch the train and take the 20 minute journey to Den Haag in relative silence.

I arrive late at 9 pm and had no idea where my hostel is. I walk to a tram station and ask for some help from a young woman. She spoke perfect English and directed me to a tram and away I went – the wrong way. I knew it after a few stops and got off and caught another tram back to where I started from. I get off the terminating tram and try to get my bearings. I reread the hostel’s address and instructions, only to realise, that it is only a five-minute walk from the station. It has been a VERY LONG DAY and I over-looked such a simple thing. Can I be excused, please?

I arrive tired, cold and very late, but I am greeted by very friendly staff and they book my in very quickly. I walk up the two flights of stairs and enter a very modern and clean room. I am not alone and apologise to my sleeping roommate for the disturbance. She accepts and with no other thought it mind, I make my bed,have a long hot shower, change and crash. I sleep like a fiend.

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