Well I arrived safely eventually, but with a clear view that despite seeming like a more relaxed way to travel, and do a bit of work while doing it, travelling on very busy high speed trains choc full of mostly Belgians heading to the south for their holidays is not a fun way to travel.
I had bought a mega suitcase the other day to carry all my crap, I figured its easier to pull 1 big case than 1 large case and a couple of bags...So I went shopping and brought back a large but cheap mega case, which is easily big enough to hold a small atomic dirty bomb, or several illegal immigrants.
Everything fitted in just fine, amp, pedals, stands, some clothes... all good.
Of course the day started badly before I even got out the front door, with one part of my mega suitcase pull handle coming away...undeterred I pulled on the still attached side and chuntered down the road for the half mile or so walk to the station. Big case behind, laptop bag in hand and Libby in a softcase with a few extras on my back...we're off.
The wheels were ok, though bits of plastic and metal feel off every couple of hundred years and then the remaining handle contact cracked and decided to stay on just at a strange angle, making it no longer a viable way to pull..so then pulled on the top handle of the case...leverage being reduced the weight of the dirty bomb started to really tell on my arm and shoulder.
A few more hundred yards and a few more bits dropped off...then the handle started to give way..Commited now beyond the point of no return, I tackled the stairs at the station.....I failed..needed a passing gent to help me up, at which case the side handle I was hauling it up with started to give away...
Eventually at the top of the stairs.......I realised the horror of what was next...I now had to go down a set of steps.... to get to the tunnel to lead to my platform.. I pulled on the case....and heard the horrible telltale scraping noise the indicated the wheels had come off....sure enough, the handle breaks and metal and plastic discarded on the way were the support system for the wheels which were now off their mounts...
I did manage to push them back on, and taking care to keep pressure at the right angle to ensure the wheels were forced into their mounts I pulled and got movement.
oh it gets worse!
I managed 1 bag at a time to get the assorted dead weights down the stairs...I just knew at this point that the escalator to platform 4 was going to be down.....it wasn't..yeahhhh.
And onto the platform to note on the display my train was 20+ mins delayed...since I only had 15min window to get on my researved seat this was kinda problematic.
Lucky for me the 20+ reduced to 10+ then 5+ but it still meant a bit of a rush at Rotterdam, a station thats been undergoing major rework for the whole 4 years I've been here..
Again someone helped me get the bag on the train, more ripping noises as the handles increased their commitment to seperation but not quite yet.
Rotterdam...ok, well it wasn't to bad there were elevators, though my wheels kept popping off I did manage to get to the platform and on the train...though storing the luggage was another matter, I leaned it (its stabalising stand being one of the bits of plastic/metal that had fallen away) up against the luggage and sat down, sweat dripping off my brow.
I may be off the diet this week but I sure as hell did some exercise.
Paris Nord is massive.. but I had 90odd mins to get to Montparnasse so there was no need for me to rush through, and fortunatly the site of a huffing puffing fat bloke hauling a large possible dirty bomb though Paris's biggest station did not attract the police random stop and search at the end of the platform..they seemed more interested in people with arab scarfs or black skin who were running (to catch a train I assume)...bit odd I thought, my slow progress allowed me to see them do this 4 or 5 times and it was kind obvious who they were stopping.
And now the metro...an underground system to rival London's any day..its big, its fast, its effective, it has no elevators!!!
Nope not one, at least that I and several other weary travellers from Netherlands and Belgium could see...people were crying I mean literally cying at the top of massive stairs with their pull bags half the size of mine.
I manned up...heaved on the dirty bomb and got down 1 flight of steps...considered crying..but manned up again and got down the 2nd....to the gates.
The very, narrow gates
the very narrow gates that had normal people sized people walking through
I had a dirtybomb sized suitcase. It was wider than me.
Fortunatly there was a wide gate, but no one manning it, so I scanned around for anyone in a peaked cap.....nope.
Eventually someone spotted me and a lady in sort of uniform ushered me though...and there was more stairs.....
oh god! Manning up...and semi walking falling down the stairs past more crying nederlanders.
I got to the bottom and put it on its wheels which came off again...arrghh
but then I saw it...a mirage in a sea of despair.
Until now I've never understood why there are so many small luggage shops in airports and railway stations....now I do, they are there to offer hope and comfort and expensive luggage to those in desperate need.
99 euros later I have a more solid and secure but slightly smaller red abs case and leave the now totally destroyed dirty bomb case with the seller...who will probably patch it up and sell it on to some other mug
I had to take my pedal bag out and my stands since they were too big but the amp, clothes and assorted cables went in ok, I was mobile again.
Wheels..on the bottom as well as the edge of a heavy case are amazing I only had to push this bad boy around to get to the next ...set of stairs..up this time.
Basically that was the metro for me, very very crowded trains, and lots of stairs and the maddest station at Montparnasse I have ever seen with exits at right angles to entrances and the flows of human traffic mostly tear stained and pushing cases trying to negotiate a path through...madness.
But finally onto the train to La Rochelle stopping at Niorts.
Crowded...hell yeah but again sweat dripping of me I was gratefull for my reserved seat and tried to recover from the metro gym workout.
Half way into the trip, I went to the loo and forgot where I was sitting, and panicked the I could not locate my ticket when challenged by 2 attractve but angry French ladies, worse I couold not see my laptop bag above me in the seat I found myself in...oops. It was 2 seats back...Profuse apologies didn't get me their numbers though...I suspect they were lesbians, or I was too old and sweaty...probably lesbians.
An announcment a little way into the travel, in French which I just understood said they were running 15 mins late...since I had 7 minutes window for my train that was going to be a big problem..but I can get the next one. I'm in no rush I have to wait an hour at the final destination for my lift.
I get there,and sure enough the train had gone, but no worries I already resolved to get the next one, as I go to buy the ticket only to be told their computers were down and they could not sell me one, but I could get on one on the train.
Splendid, a break in the evening sunshine as I wait for the next train was just about perfect....I asked the station guard in my best french when is the next train...he had no clue what I said, so I resorted to Franglish,
"le Train, pour Saintes...when??"
I wasn't quite prepared for the Gallic shrug that followed with the stereotypical nasal grunt and
"Qui, je compries, ...When...next..one"
Now its been a while since I did French but I realised that Demain didn't mee, soon, or now, or anything resembling a time....then it hit me...tomorrow??
"Oui" (pronounced wheeeh)
(I'm better at French than I thought.)
But now rather pissed off I point out in angry english that I need to get to Saintes and its not my bloody fault they can't get their trains to run on time....
At which point the cashier with no computer but some english ability pipes up, having now realised that I wanted to get to Saintes today with my masses of luggage....
"Eeet has already gone seeer, eet waited 5 minootes for zee express"
Not much good when it was 15 minutes late...but having got tired of the guards gallic shrugs I went to appeal to the clearly much more helpful cashier...
Eventually using good old paper timetables she worked out I could get a train to Saintes from La Rochelle (remember I got off the express to La Rochelle)
I sent texts to Chris my host at creativevacance.com but no replies, I tried calling but got a french answerphone...odd since Chris is english and probably speaks very good French but with an accent...anyway...no response so I had to take the advice of the cashier.
Cutting a very long story and a long blog post short I finally got on a train, the guard making sure I got on the right train to get me of his station...and got to La Rochelle....no elevators again....down 1 flight of stairs to change platform, up another....more workout.
Text to Chris letting him know I was still going to be in Saintes around the correct time, give or take a few mins...and head off
But I got on the train..I arrived..
I waited outside for a bit expecting Chris to drive up, only to see him walk over from the other side of the street...asking why I was late...I texted....this number.....oohh no my number is.... a pair of digits were transposed.
arrghhhhh...apologies to the french bloke getting daft texts for desperate english speaking dutch/scotsman..
I put my stuff in the van, got in, and Chris brought me to La Morau.
I ate, drank and collapsed into bed.
This morning, after the day long workout I can barely move without pain....and I forgot to pack shampoo and toothpaste...
It can only get better.