For Euan and I much of the last couple of days have been spent sitting in a railway station with a ticket for our destination.
It started in Bonn on Wednesday morning where the train we were booked on was cancelled due to construction work and the next service was running some 30mins late and not going as far as Koblenz where we were supposed to change.
No problem, there was another connecting train and we’d still get the onward link to Saarlouis. These are all local Deutsch Bann services which carry bikes without booking. They were a bit tight on space but we got on without problems (and without the enormous lift up required on Belgian trains).
The original plan had been to get German trains to the Saar valley close to the border and then to cycle about 55km to Metz in France, overnight there and get a train to Paris, then London and thence home. However the weather has turned and the legs are tired and the profile to Metz looks much together than it did 2 months ago when the tickets were booked. In the middle of the night inspiration had struck and careful study of the map and the railway timetables revealed that although during daytime at present the service from Forbach to Metz is buses (French engineering works) with no cycle carriage they are now showing a train running at 16:33 direct to Metz.
Saarlouis to Forbach is a mere 25km and with plenty of time it was a pleasant ride, despite the spotty rain as we got off the train. Getting dark by the time we got there though thanks to the overcast and damp, dank day.
Saarlouis (and the whole Saar valley) has much heavy industry and the air tasted of it when we got off the train. Fortunately there was a cycle path along the river because the roads were pretty fast and busy. Leaving the river Saar we crossed into the next valley and up it to the almost invisible French border. A tatty sign on a dog-fouled patch of grass by a bridge over a stream marked the spot and we paused for the obligatory photo.
Forbach seemed like a nothing special border town; we kicked out heels until train time in the station cafe with very expensive coffee since it was already pretty dark
The train to Metz was a modern french TER service with some of the best most efficient cycle accommodation I have seen – space for 6 bikes to hang easily and get in and out. Held from rocking by grooves between the flip-up seats where on other trains you would only get 2 bikes in. By the time we got to Metz all 6 spaces were full, plus 2 more overflow in the doorway space without causing an obstruction.
There were three of us this morning, only two this evening, as Ewan had gone a different route having managed to discover how to get bikes across the border into Belgium on a train (you can’t book it online, you have to phone up) and thus a Eurostar from Brussels to get home a day before us. But he is going back to Bonn at the weekend for the second week.
Thursday morning I awoke to a text from SNCF to say that our train would be different TGV rollingstock to that advertised and seat reservations might be messed up. When it eventually turned up 30 mins late it turned out to be the sort of TGV with no bike spaces. A guard kindly turfed two first class passengers out of their single seats to fit my bike into the first class compartment and allowed me to sit in there, so I watched the french countryside flash past at 200mph (319km/hr was top speed) in extra comfort. Euan was at the other end of the train with his bike wedged across a doorway until a ticket inspector came and helped him lift it up to the upper deck.
In Paris we arrived at Gare D’Est and Eurostar goes from Gare du Nord so we had over 3 hours to travel 500m between stations. Cafe was drunk. A living green wall was admired. A hospital garden was enjoyed. Baguettes were purchased. Beer was consumed. The donkeys were entrusted to the tender care of EuroDespatch somewhat earlier than necessary and eventually we found ourselves on the Eurostar and heading north.
At St.Pancras the bikes arrived at the collection point about 10 minutes after us, and in good time to do battle with the traffic along the Euston Road to Paddington for our final trains of the day. FGW now have reservation tickets on the bike spaces on their main trains and a guard there to ensure you have a reservation and put your bike in the correct spaces. Those without reservations are made to wait to see if anyone doesn’t turn up. No more first come first served.
And so safely back over the Tamar. Seven trains and 25.5km of bike spread over 37 hours. Still you can sit and read a book on the train which is not so easy when riding.
I will try and post more links to stuff we picked up in Bonn over the next couple of days. Aside from that my main cycle blog is at http://cycle.rogerco.uk although I have no more long trips planned this year.
I occasionally get around to writing something on www.greentalk.org.uk and it might be that some of my reflections on Bonn will appear there.
I expect to be putting in some time over the coming months to the Green-History project with David Taylor; do take a look and if you are old enough to have been involved at all in eco-activism between 1972 and 1989 we would love to hear from you.
I have been on Facebook again during the trip to Bonn, but will be scaling that back to near zero again – don’t message me there, email me at one of my many email addresses or write me a letter or postcard.
As and when we arrange report-back sessions on Bonn they will be listed here and also on the On2Bonn Facebook page.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for contributing on crowdfunder if you did, very much appreciated – if you missed it but would like to help us with the costs (none of us could really afford to go, but we went anyway because we thought it was important) then you can still contribute by coming to a report-back session and dropping something in the tip-jar, or by post (cash or cheque made out to one of us) to On2Bonn, 4 Winsor Cottages, Newport, Launceston, Cornwall, PL15 8DL (that’s my home address in case you were wondering).