• Bob Taylor

Musings - Day 01

Day 1 – 27th December 2019

It is hard to know where to start a journal after so many months of planning this trip. Dealing with copious administration; time consuming applications; research and preparation etc., that has eventually brought me to this point. All of which collectively, are as interesting as a flatulent horse. So rather than dwell on any of the boring phaff, I shut the front door and get into my sons car. Greg and Sarah came forward with this lift to Digbeth, which was kindly offered to me on hearing of the decimated railway timetable over the Christmas period.

It is 01:10am, cold, wet and has no feel of the Christmas just past, but my multiple layers of clothing keep me warmly cosseted against the elements. Dressed like the fabled Nanook of the North about to tackle an Arctic blizzard, I step inside the bus station, to see other night travellers in jeans and tee shirts.

The journey really has started now that I have boarded the 3am bus to London’s Victoria Station. I’ve chosen a seat opposite a huge pair of black headphones, attached to what my late father would have called a beatnik. I am bewildered by the size of those enormous cans, wondering whether they were designed for the ears to have the freedom of movement inside. (A momentary distraction as I pictured dancing ears!) The face parked underneath said headphones, harboured the intensity of someone guiding a spacecraft back to earth. However, he / they were harmless enough and no sound whatsoever came from the equipment, affording me a couple of hours catch up sleep on the bus. At Victoria, I was to face my first trauma of the day. The bear was not happy! He is attached to my backpack and I was forced to put it in the hold. I told the bear he only had a third class ticket, which didn't entitle him to a window seat. I think I got away with it. The morning was still dark above the neon. This unexpectedly helped to direct my backpack laden amble towards the nearest London Underground station. The early tube trains rattled me through to St. Pancreas International, where I was to board the Eurostar train to Brussels. The Friday morning hubbub in the station, gave order to the thousands of purposeful hominids milling underneath its mighty glass concourse. Depleted commuter numbers, due to the Christmas holidays, were processing their surroundings, to arrive at a point of the least possible communication with each other.

This was to be the first time that I had interacted with another of the species since I left Digbeth earlier. I approached with necessary caution a very angry, didn’t want to be working, female security baggage inspector. Whom, I suspected had breakfasted on raw garlic or had the kind of halitosis that even a mother would reject. Bearing a face like a confused pug, which didn’t much support her corner, she growled her instructions for the X-ray trays. Surely she could have presented a better countenance on behalf of the railway company? Having dual jobs to possibly suit her dual personality was in the grand scheme of things, not the customers fault. She snarled at the effort of opening the flap of the inter-rail pass, reading my ticket and credentials, before placing her illegible scrawl on the corner of the item. I can assure you, dear reader, that I was tempted to ask her if she remembered becoming less photogenic, or was it a gradual progression to stone? That aside everything else about the simplicity and efficiency of Eurostar was impressive. I did, however, have to sit opposite a very long man (from hip to knee) which meant that I was a little short of legroom. Even so my journey through the daylight riddled Kent countryside went without further incident in a very comfortable seat. This was my first time on this train although I had taken a car through the Eurotunnel many times before. I overheard a child’s disappointment at not seeing any fish in the undersea section, it reminded me of the tales I used to tell the kids when they were young. I was pleasantly surprised by the speed of the negotiated track during our ascent into northern France.

Absorbing the daylight of the cloudy interior morning, I witnessed the French featureless turn into the Belgian flatness. Passing through a station near Lille I noticed an elegant lady with a small poodle being carried wrapped inside her coat. The dog quite content to observe the world from this lofty position with just its head poking out. I mused: Do domesticated pets have regional accents? Would a French Poodle yap an Inspector Clouseau type “Werf,” or maybe a German Shepherd deliver a precise “Barkt?” Moving on, coincidentally just like the train, we approached its Belgian destination of Brussels Zuid. This station miraculously changed into Brussels Midi after only a few steps.

Knowing that I had to make a connection, giving me free travel, via my rail pass, on the German De Bahn train, I hopped on a connecting three minute train through the city to Brussels Nord. Actually, when say hopped, it implies that I was either carrying an injury or impersonating a rabbit. Not so, in fact with a certain fleetness of foot that only an overweight pensioner carrying a thirteen kilo backpack can muster, I made my next conveyance to Hannover via Koln or Cologne as we Brits call it. Having previously studied the complexities of the De Bahn rail timetable, I knew that I would have to kill some time in Germany. This was because tomorrows trip through Poland could not be started until 05:43am, so I took an alternate train that transported me to Berlin, via the UNESCO world heritage site of Hildesheim. However, before I describe the beauty of the next German town, please let me impart further bad news for the bear. I have broken my selfie stick - he loves photos. Sadly Ernie the Journey has lost his little backpack and stick. Between us we are stick-less. Nichkta Stickta! Of course he is blaming me for the loss, and I have had to promise to get him a new one on our travels. The pack contained his sandwiches, which may compromise my £0.21p per mile target, but I won’t let him go hungry. As if a suspicious bear isn’t enough to contend with, behind me I had a squealing toddler who made a continuous noise like a trapped rat. Hopefully I will put this segment of the journey, into the never to be opened cupboard in my mind.

Hildesheim is a beautifully preserved medieval town that still had its Christmas markets on the streets of the old square. Littered with stalls selling wooden trinkets, wax candles, and crock stein mugs adorned with hinterland scenes, I wandered casually through the marketplace, taking in the ambience of the event. The log fires in barrels, the smell of roasted chestnuts, accompanied by the heady smell of hot Gluwein. It was here that I sampled a German sausage. Please, dear reader, try not to fall into the trap of thinking this was a smutty euphemism, it actually was my first food of the day. It was cold but not frosty, with the artificial snow on the cabin rooves of the stalls making the entire market square seem like a scene from a Dickensian Christmas card. This was a really marvellous place that made for a great stopover for a few hours, before boarding another train into north eastern Germany. The lady who served me the Bratwurst, called me as I went to walk away from the table where I had just eaten. Her name was Karina and she asked me in her best English, what the journey for Ernie on my coat was? I replied and told her briefly the story. She saddened, went to the cash till and gave me the money back for the sausage. I got introduced to her mother who on hearing the story in German from her daughter, thrust a Gluwein in my hand, and wouldn't allow any offer of payment. So kind! I later wished that I had remembered to take a photo of them or at least got them to sign my travel banner. People, the world over in the main are so kindhearted.

Neatly settling in for the two and a half hour evening trip to Berlin, I had placed my back pack in the overhead tray. The train was reasonably full. Not wanting to take up more room than was necessary, armed with just my Kindle and phone, I nestled into my unreserved seat. Oblivious to my fellow passengers, I was subconsciously made aware of the most alarming feature straddled across the gentleman’s face sitting opposite. He supported the most prolific monobrow that I had ever seen. We didn’t speak, and I tried very hard to hide my obvious curiosity, by gawping at the reflection through the train window, but I was fascinated by this most wondrous of structures. It, bizarrely, resembled a caravan of woolly caterpillars marching over his face. It was so big that if he’d trimmed it, there would have been enough hair to make a coat for an orphan. As I searched my translator app for the German word for wonder brow, (and we all know there simply must be one!) the man alighted, leaving the carriage for home, presumably. I mused aimlessly staring out into the blackness of the German night, that he may of lived in a small town in northern Saxony called ‘Humungusbrauenstein.’ Perhaps it may well have been a local characteristic of the town. Even worse his children may have supported the same extraordinary feature! Travelling continuously through the sparsely illuminated towns and villages, I arrived feeling tired, into the German capital precisely as scheduled at 00:39 – now what to do until 05:43 while waiting for my connection on platform fifteen, to Warsaw, Poland?

Position: 52°5238 N - 13°3667 W – Miles completed: 00826 Location: Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Germany 00:00 - 28th December 2019 - Journey 0 days 23 hours


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