This was to be a good solid track bashing week on my own in Germany, getting round as many of the upcoming closures as possible, with travel out and back via Amsterdam and Brussel respectively to save a bit on the Air Miles.
Another hideously early start (0400) to get to Manchester Airport for an 0545 checkin. The rucksack caused its usual problems and had to be checked in separately. I asked them not to lose it like last time [which was a bit unfair as it was BHX/BA who lost it previously, not MAN/BA] - they said they wouldn't... Departure of BA1624 (B-737 'Wirral Peninsula') was a bit late but arrival at Schiphol more or less on time. Major rebuilding in hand at Schiphol so the plane stops some distance away and it's bus to the terminal plus a Brussel-type very long walk. No sign of the rucksack on conveyor 2 as advertised - on my way past conveyor 1 to complain at the baggage handlers' office, lo and behold there was the rucksack. Eventually reached NS booking office at 1000 to purchase ticket to Emmerich. Discovered to my chagrin that I had totally misread the timetable and might only make Magdeburg rather than Leipzig today and certainly wouldn't get to do Riesa-Nossen tonight. Ah well. [It got worse later on, but I wasn't to know that]. Enquiry at Duisburg elicited that the ICE supplement to Magedeburg was DM6.60 so this was taken on the basis that it more or less guaranteed connection at Magdeburg into the 1803 IR to Leipzig, arriving at 1919 which at least allows time to look for a hotel while it's light. Major planning rethink for tomorrow, however. Note for the future: the snack bar adjacent to the east entrance of Duisburg Hbf sells plain cheese rolls. Hooray!
The ICE made a better impression than on my previous journey from Magdeburg to Berlin in 1993 but still seemed to have a bumpy ride, and the seats have a bump low down on the back. Punctual running almost all the way although the schedule doesn't seem very demanding for a 140 mph set (2 x 8 car). On time arrival at Magdeburg gave plenty of time for a wander outside where there is some serious redevelopment going on. The 1803 IR to Leipzig turned up early and seemingly did make a connection with the IR from Duisburg, but it would have been extremely worrying! 10 minutes or so lost between Köthen and Halle due to looping and single line working past a stretch of the northbound line which is being relaid.
Arrival at Leipzig Hbf was 6 minutes late at 1925. A fruitless search for hotels near the station eventually ended up at the tourist office at 1950 - mercifully it didn't close until 2000! [Be warned - it closes earlier now, 1800 from memory.] They found me an excellent hotel opposite Bayerische Bahnhof, about 25 minutes walk from Hbf. Unfortunately it had no room for the following night and no early breakfast, so substantial replanning required...
Breakfast taken at a relatively civilised hour (0700) after a good night's sleep. Reservation confirmed for Wednesday and Thursday, I hope. Off to Bayer Bahnhof which I feared may have closed, but worth a photograph anyway. [It has now, for construction of the north-south tunnel link]. In fact it's still functioning though very much on its last legs and a brand new double deck push-pull unit was waiting to be the 0810 to Zwickau. I went as far as Markkleeberg to make sure of overlap - a mad dash through the subway got me a zero minute connection and thus back to Leipzig Hbf about 0830. A few minutes were spent photting and investigating trams to Bayerisch Platz, and an interesting price comparison was made at the Aldi in the basement - a litre of mineral water costs 24p. Sainsburys please note. 'Andreas Schubert' turned up about 8 late from Frankfurt and almost empty, and was only 3 late departing at 0927. I unfortunately missed Oschatz (buried in the K-buch again) but noted one of the 2-10-2Ts ready to go at Radebeul Ost with another on the shed plus the green Mallet. [Part of the missing section of my memoirs deals with the successful gricing of Radebeul to Moritzburg by Herself and me on our 25th Anniversary Central Europe tour in 1996!] Arrival at Dresden Neustadt was on time allowing a brief look round before the 1058 IR to Bautzen. Definitely one of DB's grottier large stations thought there is some building work being done. It looks original, amazingly, and used to have a railway museum - some time ago by the look of it.
The IR turned up with 232104 in charge. Grudging admiration hereby admitted. Delayed by engineering before and at Arnsdorf, arrival at Bautzen was at 1146. This presented a formidable challenge to find a hotel before 1222. The goldener Adler was full but the Pension Lausitz near the station obliged with a room, a doorkey and a 0630 breakfast all for DM80. Arriving at the station at 1220 I even had time for a can of pop before the train arrived at 1225. More engineering delays en route to Dresden but no problem as I had a long connection. Dresden Hbf is looking much smarter now that its stone cleaning is finished and there is major work going on outside with the erstwhile public park becoming Wienplatz. After a refuelling stop I caught 1400 RE to Neustadt, where the 202 with 2 ex-DR coaches had to be (and was) the 1426 to Strassgräbchen-Bertsdorf. This treated me to one of the slowest rides I've ever had outside preservation - 1 1/2 hours for 29 km. The line is far from straight although much of the early part is through level country. Freight (scrap metal, timber, coal and something else I missed) is in evidence as far as Königsbruck which is the end of the Dresden S-Bahn area. Between Königsbruck and K-Ost is a large steel trestle viaduct which presumably accounts for the closure (plus there aren't any passengers, but then there weren't many west of Königsbruck either). I seemed to have the train to myself towards the end and The Man very kindly came to tell me when the next station was Strassgräbchen-Bertsdorf (Oberlausitz). Took him several minutes.
Plenty of freight at S-B(O) and a bus station at the end of the drive but very little sign of life and sadly, no pub, since I was stuck for half an hour awaiting 1625 to Hohenbocka. If it looks like getting to Senftenberg any earlier than 1711 I'll stay on it. Watch this space...
It didn't. Sat at Hohenbocka for 20 minutes. Hohenbocka is a remarkably uninteresting station 4 km from its town/village, but does have a reasonable, nay even large amount of rail traffic handled by 232s, 143s, 155s etc. There is a freight branch joining the main line just west of the station from which an unidentified DB Cargo liveried diesel appeared with a mixed freight.
The return from Hohenbocka to S-B(O) was 232550 plus three coaches which took me on to Kamenz where another 232 with a push pull set was waiting. Kamenz appears to be the end of the boondocks coming from the north, and has a small loco depot. A freight branch just north of Kamenz appears to handle considerable tanker traffic. At Arnsdorf chaos currently reigns with the two main lines being relaid and no surface on the (normally) Görlitz bound platform. Note for later - Kamenz trains reverse in a bay. Strictly you should stay aboard until after Arnsdorf.
Enquiry from the conductor of a passing Zittau train established that the lurking Ferkeltaxi was going to Pirna and that the unsurfaced southernmost platform was the place to be. Excellent ride (well, extremely bouncy but very atmospheric) in the Ferkeltaxi via Dürrröhrsdorf to Pirna where the Arnsdorf branch is tucked away to the west of the main station building, easily missed from a main line train (I have, several times). I was the only passenger all the way. Impressive bridge over the River Elbe which is shared by road and cycle/foot path so no problem there, but the track is terrible particularly approaching Pirna-Copitz. Interesting sight at Pirna of a Czech electric with a piggyback lorry train, sadly only about 1/4 full (13 lorries). Back to Dresden on the S-Bahn, a truly revolting (spelt m-a-y-o-n-n-a-i-s-e) burger and then to Bautzen on 2050 IR for a much needed rest.
The hotel was excellent and had a 'penthouse' breakfast room. 0630 breakfast, arrived at early in German style, allowed comfortable catching of 0654 to Wilthen - 4 minutes to spare. Wilthen is another trap for the unwary purist:
Bautzen-Bad Schandau trains use P1, Zittau on P8. Connection on to the Zittau line still needed! The Zittau train was 4 late at Wilthen but has two long intermediate stops so left the second (Ebersbach, where there is a second, seemingly freight only, Czech station) on time. [I'd quite misunderstood this. The Czech station is Jiríkov (with an accent on the 'r') at the end of a passenger branch from Rumburk, of which more anon. There happened to be some wagons there, and no class 810 railcar.]. The German/Czech border is adjacent to the line east of Ebersbach, neatly marked by small white blocks either side of a stream.
The decision to go beyond Oberoderwitz was a wise one as the station is in the 'V' of the Ebersbach and Löbau lines with the junction some way to the east. I dived out at Niederoderwitz however, as by then the train was 2 1/2 minutes late on a 6 minute connection at Mittelherwigsdorf, with no certainty that the layout there would give overlap. Niederoderwitz - Zittau remains to be done, therefore.
Another wise decision it would seem [two in a day is a lot for me!] as the 219 appeared early at Niederoderwitz. The sun was out by now after overnight rain and a very pleasant Sachsen ramble via Herrnhut and Obercunnersdorf ensued. A solitary photter was apparent as two 219s crossed at Niedercunnersdorf. At Löbau there turned out to be an RB which arrived in Dresden a few minutes earlier than the planned IC so I caught that on the basis of getting a Tharandt local round to DD-Plauen to see if any steam locos had arrived at Altstadt in advance of the weekend dampfbash. This went awry as the RB (234 powered) arrived in Dresden Hbf just in time for me to see the 1109 to Tharandt go! The 1139 Freiberg obliged, however, and I was back at DD-Hbf at 1155. There were indeed some steam locos of varying vintage, including an 03 Pacific in light steam. Back at DD-Hbf another 234 was propelling the 1207 Leipzig from platform 2 which is outside the train shed.
The Leipzig train was abandoned at Nossen in favour of 1349 to Riesa formed of a 202 and two ex-DR main line caches, as ever. A very long hot walk up into the town of Nossen revealed a number of shut pubs and on the way back the original objective - the post office. Also shut.
202 617 skulking in platform 1 at Chemnitz Hbf with the single coach of the 1742 to Wechselburg. 29-4-98
A bridge 21.3 km from Riesa with no visible means of support, and several very severe speed restrictions suggest that all is not well with the infrastructure, hence presumably the closure. Plus no passengers again other than some schoolchildren. Just when I thought it was all going well - l-o-n-g signal delay at one of the intermediate stations, then 10 minutes late for the 8 minute connection at Riesa. Did it wait? Did it. An IR at 1509 should have given a 5 minute connection at Chemnitz but arrived 5 late and lost a further 3 in engineering works, with the net result that 1613 ex Chemnitz passed us about 400m from the platform end. This reduced morale to a very low level but it was rectified by the resulting refuelling stop at the Mitropa restaurant at Chemnitz Hbf (schnitzel and Radeberger). The 1742 to Wechselburg consisted of 202617 and one coach, hiding quietly in platform 1.
The first mile or two out of Chemnitz is extremely dreary - run down suburbs, factories etc. There follows an excellent run up the valley of the river Chemnitz with many large bridges and several tunnels. All this, and some manned stations, for one passenger (there were none on the working we crossed half way). The level of engineering is such that you wonder why the line was ever built, and when/if it ever made any money. The lady conductor took the usual great care to make sure that I was on the right train (she was sure I wasn't) and that I knew when we got to Wechselburg. [This happened all the time when I was doing closures in Sachsen and elsewhere, and is a great credit to DB. 4 years later in the former West at Winningen (Mosel) a friend and I were even treated to a special English language announcement on the PA to make sure we knew where we were].The driver got out to photograph the loco on arrival. From Wechselburg the connection was a Glauchau-Grossbothen kart which afforded a good view of the castles at Rochlitz (every home should have a viaduct to its door) and Colditz.
After a temporary lapse at Grossbothen where I got into the train which was waiting and then realised it was the wrong one, I was able to get the 234 propelled 2002 to Leipzig Hbf. Tram 16 obliged with a ride up to Bayerische Platz where my reservation did indeed exist.
Breakfast was struggling into existence at 0558 but just made it. 0618 tram got me to Leipzig Hbf in time to find an open post office (in the book shop) and finally get some stamps before getting the 0644 S-Bahn to Leipzig-Leutzsch. I was quite surprised to pass through some open countryside before Leutzsch which is situated next to a large tram depot (and the end of route 37 it would appear). The 0705 to Merseburg, a 202 with one coach, was waiting in the bay platform 1A. The 0711 Pörsten arrived in the 'down' loop, platform 5, behind 202841 which was very smartly substituted for 202535 on the other end, all in under 3 minutes. The usual 1:1:1 passengers:coaches:conductors ratio was maintained with the lady conductor seemingly anxious to ensure I really wanted Pörsten. Wait till I come back on the same train...
I needn't have worried about punctuality on the return! 202535 ran to time throughout and showed an amazing turn of speed between Leipzig-Plagwitz and Leipzig-Leutzsch. All to no avail as the subsequent S-Bahn train had two long signal stops. Pörsten is a real rural junction with nothing to be seen from the platform but fields. Another 'no physical connection' junction though, unfortunately.
Back at Leipzig the zero minute connection on to the 0928 to Werdau was comprehensively missed but the 1008 was made with ease. This has a 4 minute connection at Werdau... Despite a 50kph speed restriction for the last 11km or so and a crawl into Werdau the RE (219 hauled) was on time and the connection safely made. [This was my first encounter with the dreaded Crimmitschau force field. It's like a 10km long Proof House Junction. It prevailed for literally years and for all I know it still does!]. 219088 took us to Wünschendorf over another very scenic line with severe speed restrictions on the first half although no major engineering. Wünschendorf is another diminished junction with a large yard containing one coal wagon, and a loco depot. A 234 took us to Gera; the incoming train from Gera had a 232 (232487, not that I collect them of course).
I managed not to repeat last year's error of trying to get off at Gera Süd and had about half an hour to wait at Gera Hbf (for yet another 219 with a fairly well filled three ex DR coaches on the 1310 to Leipzig. This undermined my theory that all short, loco hauled ex DR sets are likely to be on interesting and 'likely to close' lines! Perhaps I should restrict it to class 202.
Crossen (formerly Krossen) an der Elster showed very little sign of life and the Eisenberg branch looked a bit rusty but there was one photter present and the arrival and departure sheets showed a train, so I settled down to wait for an hour, pondering the Eisenberg Uncertainty Principle. It wasn't all that uncertain though because the 219 and its two coaches were sitting in a siding just up the line and came in immediately after the 1428 Crossen-Gera had left. A large crowd of normals from the Leipzig train joined the branch train, giving a convincing demonstration of how branch lines work on proper railways. Unfortunately there were also three local photters who insisted on rushing hither and thither at every stop. The staff were, as usual, tolerant.
The branch is yet another fine one, running up a valley (just a small stream in this one) with apple blossom everywhere. Must be the time of year. Evidence of some current and much past industrial activity at Eisenberg with lines or former lines everywhere. Insufficient time unfortunately (12 min) to see if the line went on beyond (it looked very much as if it did). [My 2000 Schweers und Wall shows it as now extending only a very short distance beyond Eisenberg, but originally continuing westwards to meet the Naumburg-Jena line (KBS560) just north of Porstendorf].
Returned to Leipzig Hbf from Crossen with yet another 219, arriving at 1611 'on the nose' despite being 5 late at Crossen. A 39 minute connection gave me time for a refuelling stop at the only McDonalds I've seen with a model railway (LGB loco and three coaches, suspended over the counter and trundling back and forth).
On to Eilenburg on a fairly packed three car double decker (the unrefurbished DR-stye vehicle may well have been less packed!). At Eilenburg I had over an hour so wandered down into the town. It was probably quite a nice old market town once (and may be again when it's had another 40 years to recover). Meanwhile, it's desperately short of open pubs (two in a mile or so and only one in the market square. I chose the one nearest the station because it sold Köstritzer which I hadn't tried. This took five minutes and six glasses to produce a slightly short (of 30cl) measure, cost DM3.90 and was revolting. The things one does in the endless pursuit of knowledge.
Major disappointment ensued as 1827 Eilenburg-Lutherstadt Wittenberg was cancelled. Fortunately I managed to find this out before arrival of the 1854 to Leipzig! Major replanning required yet again (or possibly abandonment of this particular closure). Meanwhile, further gricing abandoned in favour of an early night. [I did do the line eventually, after closure, but that's another story].
Full breakfast provided at 0600 despite the owner/manager's assertion that it was at 0700. Confusion reigned but breakfast was very welcome. 'Bierschinken' proved very palatable.
Off to the Hbf on the 0625 tram (left at 0622 - shock, horror) and thence to Leutsch on the 0644 S-Bahn again. The 0705 to Merseburg was waiting in platform 1A somewhat to my surprise and had two, yes two passengers, one of whom appeared to be a normal. Once again a rural ramble ensued with large quantities of livestock being disturbed including rabbits, hares, pheasants, deer and some kind of 'awk. In the UK the villages along the way would be commuterland and the line would probably have a secure future. At least one station (Zöschen) had coal traffic. Merseburg didn't look the sort of place one would go for one's hols, but an interesting selection of steeples a short distance away suggested this might be an unfair conclusion. [Herself and I have been back since. It wasn't.]
4 minutes after arrival I was away on IR2005, Berlin - Frankfurt am Main. This ran on time almost to the second as far as Erfurt, affording the opportunity to get the 0904 to Döllstädt. Sadly as the Straussfurt line came into view approaching Döllstädt it was obviously very rusty and the dreaded red board was in place near the junction. Just in case I'd mistaken the layout I got out at Döllstädt where The Man told me 'der Bus' was outside, in sufficient time for me to hurl myself back into the train and carry on to the junction with the line from Gotha at Bad Langensalza. The train crew naturally thought I was barking mad.
Two choices at Bad L - straight back, ensuring that I got the 1105 to Schleusingen, or back via Gotha, relying on the punctual running of an eastbound IR. Although Schleusingen is probably a booked connection off the IR, I decided to go straight back for safety's sake. No real percentage in going back via Gotha since I still need the line north of Bad Langensalza. The lady conductor on the BL-Erfurt was greatly amused by the array of grippings on my EuroDomino which seemed an unknown species to her. she added another one, of course (the DB rule is that they are only gripped once per day but very few conductors seem to know this).
Obviously, I saw the IR go from Erfurt before I got on the train to Schleusingen, but that's life. The run to Schleusingen is thoroughly worthwhile. Electrified to Arnstadt where there was a 52 (I think) in steam, and extremely scenic thereafter among hills of 2000ft+. Some fearsome gradients where the 213 was really struggling. At Rennsteig the train reverses and a sign in between the Erfurt and Schleusingen lines announces the Elbe-Weser watershed. Ilmenau is however a major blot on the landscape with huge blocks of flats around it. Goodness knows where the jobs are, or even were, for the inhabitants.
1 1/4 hours in Schleusingen looked like Thuringen's second prize, however a walk up into the town was rewarded with a view of The Tourist Attraction (Schloss Bertholdsburg), a rump steak (of some previously undiscovered species) and a Kapuziner Weissbier which was absolutely excellent. A thunderstorm was orbiting Schleusingen as I walked back to the station but I got back on the train before it spotted me! Another 213 did the business to Themar, which definitely looks like a non-holiday resort. You do get the physical connection east of Themar, though. 232415 of DB Cargo Eisenach arrived with the 1514 thereto, obviously having met the thunderstorm somewhere. It delivered me punctually to Eisenach enabling me to catch the 1648 IC direct to Frankfurt (ex Dresden).
Frankfurt Hbf seems almost the equal of Leipzig in size, if a bit dingy within. The train shed covers 24 platforms; the S-Bahn platforms are beneath, and trams outside.
There are dozens of hotels (probably literally, within three streets) around the station and an hotel was quickly located by walking down the street trying to keep (price x grottiness) to a minimum. Price was OK for a big city at DM85, grottiness was a bit high so perhaps one hotel, or even two, nearer the station would have been better. Still, it had the required facilities though the cabaret provided by a paralytic (from drink) person on the street was not really what was required.
Comparatively leisurely start at 0645 for the 0816 to Worms. Breakfast was better than expected, hopefully tomorrow's schedule will allow it as well. Rain of varying severity seems set in for the day, but time will tell. The 0816 is at the time of writing 10 minutes late so the day's complicated schedule may already have gone pear shaped...
The reason for the late running turned out to be extensive engineering works north of Zeppelinheim including construction of diveunders etc. While stopped in the engineering works I heard what I thought was one of the Russian diesels - after looking all round I finally looked up to see a large aircraft a few hundred feet up on its approach to Frankfurt Airport. [The engineering works were for the direct curve to Frankfurt Flughafen Fernbahnhof and the NBS to Köln but I hadn't got hold of the local geography at that stage]. I hadn't noticed the 7 minute stop at Gersheim which retrieved half of the lateness and so arrival at Worms was in good time for 0948 to Monsheim, which left on time.
At Pfeddersheim a branch curves off very sharply northwards and disappears along a street. Unfortunately it appears unused but it would be, er, extremely interesting to do. Monsheim is unchanged since last year; I returned to Grünstadt to do the Ramsen branch, missed out last time. This is a fairly average branch ending at a single platform perched above the town. The line seems to have continued -Ball shows it only as far as Eisenberg which is not as far as Ramsen, so it may have been reopened. At Eisenberg the EKW factory possesses a narrow gauge industrial system - extent not possible to determine from a passing train.
It was now time to settle Freinsheim once and for all. To recap :
On the previous visit I had arrived from Neustadt at A and continued to Grünstadt from C. The plan was to get a Grünstadt-Neustadt train through to Erpolstein (next station beyond Freinsheim) then go back to Freinsheim and continue on a possibly dodgy 2 minute connection to Frankenthal. In the event I caught a Grünstadt-Frankenthal to Freinsheim, where it stopped at B just short of the crossing, went back from E to Grünstadt, then went through to Erpolstein via E, returning after 15 minutes to E. The connection is booked in fact and left from B, thus finally achieving overlap on both routes.
On from Frankenthal to Ludwigshafen Hbf where the layout is also tricky, being a Y downstairs (platforms north of the junction naturally) with the west-east route over the top. I arrived upstairs from Frankenthal, and departed southwards from the western side of the Y to Wörth and Winden. The timetable in the area has been totally recast since 1997 which made the next bit interesting! A longer than expected connection at Ludwigshafen and a train which was advertised as Wörth not Karlsruhe. Examination of the small print revealed that it reversed at Wörth and went on to Winden and Landau. I decided to stay on as the stretch from Wörth to Karlsruhe is routine S-Bahn stuff.
A very short connection (-1 minute in real life although presumably +2 in the timetable) had me away to Wissembourg at 1510, after arrival at 1509. The turnround at Wissembourg (I was only 90% sure it was in France, but it definitely is) was equally brisk for a 1533 departure. I only had time to dash to the booking hall to find the timetable, take a quck phot and throw myself back into the train. Wissembourg has an SNCF passenger service (loco hauled) and some freight traffic though as far as you could tell from the wagons it's all domestic. The whole area, Wissembourg, Winden and Wörth is fairly bleak and doesn't seem to be a 'tourist Mecca'. I waited 35 minutes at Winden for the connection to Bad Bergzaben, if only so that I'd never have to come back! [I should, as ever, have known better. Steam beckoned, a few years later!].
Bad Bergzaben, 15 minutes or so from Winden, proved rather more interesting, and the bar in the station building seemed to be open. The station is being refurbished, with two new platforms and a reballasted run round loop. Although DMUs work the service at present it looks as if locos are a possibility. Strange given the prevalence of push pull working and the apparent absence of freight. Returning from Bad Bergzaben there was only about 3 minutes wait at Winden for another 2 car DMU to Neustadt, and 20 minutes or so for an RE to Mannheim, via the right hand side of the Y at Ludwigshafen Hbf. The train was 5 minutes or so late at Mannheim leaving a comfortable 14 minutes before the 1854 DMU to biblis which completed the first of the various Mannheim-Frankfurt routes. The final train of the day was the connecting RE from Biblis. Despite being delayed by a late running ICE and a following IC, this got throught the engineering works without incident and was very close to time at Frankfurt, finishing off a very satisfactory day.
Breakfast at 7 again with ample time for the 0802 S-Bahn to Wiesbaden Hbf. This (as with all the S trains) leaves from the Tiefbahnhof [underground station.] Not the most interesting of rides. For the sake of historical note, it went via the airport. An equally tedious SE via the right bank of the Rhein to Koblenz, and another at 1100 via the left bank (long pause at Remagen for two ICs to pass) to Köln. A murkier morning got murkier, to the point of fog, as we progressed. At Köln the 1250 to Aachen arrived from Bielefeld wedged, but emptied out to comfortable levels and arrived at Aachen Hbf on time. To my amazement the 1403 to Oostende arrived at about 1356 but true to form, it waited until 1404 before leaving (the 1403 to Hagen had managed to depart on time from the adjacent platform). It didn't much matter anyway as the goings-on between Aachen and Welkenraedt (see 2.2.98) are still going on [the upgrade to high speed standards as part of the PBKA Thalys network]. It must be pilotman worked as I didn't see anything pass while we stopped (the 1414 ex Aachen Thalys must have passed while I was purchasing a Verviers-Bruxelles single (BEF485) from the very amiable conductor. Very fortunately I had purchased an Aachen-Verviers single (DM11.20) at Frankfurt in case of delays at Aachen. There was in fact a very long queue at the travel centre where I went for a final despairing effort to get a new Kursbuch.
The Welkenraedt-Montzen line is looking somewhat rusty - perhaps ADL patrons won't have to suffer it any longer. Arrival at Verviers was 9 minutes late - well, whatever else would you expect from these congenitally unpunctual trains. Late running ensued all the way to Brussel Noord. As far as Verviers I had a bay of 4 seats to myself with a solitary German in the bay opposite. Narrowly avoiding a group of Scouts with all their camping equipment who got on at Verviers and off at Liège I thought peace might reign all the way, but six young persons with, collectively, twelve trainers, three earrings, two shaved heads, three baseball caps/visors, one headband, etc., etc., just neatly filled the two bays. Harmless and pleasant enough, but the one next to me never, ever, stopped talking, waving his arms, fidgeting, drumming his feet on the floor or singing. My, it's a long way from Liège to Brussel Noord... Good humour restored by a long walk up from Midi to the Grote Markt, which I haven't seen since 1970 (hasn't changed much) and an Affligem Tripel at Theatre Toone, relocated partly from memory and partly from luck. Westmalle Tripel also taken - not poured as I would wish, but no doubt it will do me good. The barman has a highly developed case of surliness but nonetheless does a good job, especially if you choose not to be intimidated! Hard to believe the place - they charge BEF140 for Affligem Tripel and Westmalle Tripel which is bad enough [Westmalle Tripel would be cheaper in Telford], but 120 for Duvel? They're taking the Michel.
Near disaster (at least in terms of a suitable seat in the plane) with a huge queue at the Brussel Centraal booking office, most of which was closed as part of their structured preparations for being closed on Monday. Booking clerk was all prepared for airport stragglers in a hurry though, and I made the 1758 with, well, several seconds at least to spare. It did a strange route to the extreme left of some carriage sidings and adjacent to the curve from Jette before reaching Schaarbeek platform 14 (westernmost but one). [Not so strange, I think. I've recently (2006) been exactly the same way!]After that the long wait, the glass of Hoegaarden, the long walk, and the punctual flight back to Manchester.
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