Monday, September 24, 2012

Last Train To Edinburgh

Wendy and I are back in the good, ole US of A after our adventure overseas. It’s good to get away, but you appreciate being home more after a trip that had its share of harrowing moments. Through it all, my wife was only brought to tears once.

For better or worse, Wendy relied on my travel planning. I purchased rail passes, made up the itinerary, booked the excursions, made the hotel reservations, etc. I’ve never claimed to be a travel agent . . . but I try.

So we’re in London, relaxing after the Paris leg of our trip. It was Sunday. I told Wendy she could sleep in. All we had to do today was take the train from London to Edinbugh, Scotland. Our rail passes in hand, it should be a snap.

Checked out of our hotel and walked the next block over to London’s Euston station. There, on a big, overhead elec tronic board that indicated train departures and arrivals, I looked for the train to Edinburgh. But I didn’t see any.

I approached the information desk, asked about the train to Edinburgh and was told that it would depart at 12:30 p.m. That was a couple hours off and later than I’d planned on, but we got coffee and waited.

As more trains departed Euston, the big electronic board updated the departure schedule and I noticed that train departures past 12:30 p.m. were now listed on the board. But still no train to Edinburgh. I made another trip to the information desk and THIS time was told that no trains went from Euston to Edinburgh during the day, only at night.

He said I needed to go down the street to the Kings Cross railway station, about a ten-minute walk away. We did that, dragging our luggage along too. Sure enough, the big, electronic board there said the next train to Edinburgh would depart at 12:45. Good.

We still had about an hour wait, so we sat at a bench outside the train station, noting fashion styles and the nicotine addiction of so many Londoners and visitors who often lit up their cigarettes right under the “no smoking” signs posted about. Their second-hand smoke swirled close to us. Wonderful.

Finally, the boarding call was made for the train to Edinburgh so Wendy and I hustled along with scores of other passengers to find a good seat. But I noticed little cardboard tags saying “reserved” on every seat in the first coach we tried to board. Got off and checked all the other coaches only to find the same. Every seat was reserved.

At the last coach we ran into a couple train officials who confirmed my worst fears. And not only was every seat reserved on this train, but on the trains following to Edinburgh as well. He suggested I board a different train to Newcastle (wherever that was) than take a bus to Edinburgh. What??? A bus?! What about my rail pass? What if I don’t know where the bus station is?

Feeling frustrated, we went back into the station at Kings Cross and got into the ticket queue, thinking that the ticket agent could help. He was about as cold to us as the iceberg was that hit the Titanic. And just as helpful too.

Now Wendy was in tears. She positioned herself among the scores of passengers staring at the big, electronic board, refusing to move. Quite angry and frustrated she was. I went to the information desk and asked for help. The agent there started punching keys on his computer and I began to feel some hope.

He told me to go BACK to the Euston train station we had been at earlier and catch the train to Glasgow, but get off before Glasgow at Carlisle (wherever that was) and a separate train to Edinburgh would be along shortly.

So we dragged suitcases and all back down the street to the Euston station and waited about an hour for the train to Glasgow. And we boarded without a problem. Home free? Nope. Somewhere down the line, at a station in Preston (wherever that was) the train conductor announced:

“I’m afraid I have some very bad news. They are having major problems north of Carlysle. This train is being terminated and is returning immediately to Euston.”

Noooooooooooooooooooooo! We left the train and stood on the platform, confused and stressed, along with scores of other passengers with no clue how to proceed. But Wendy with her sharp ears heard a train official mention “platform 3” to another passenger, so we headed in that direction, weaving through throngs of people not in a big hurry to part and let us by either.

At platform 3 sat a train with “Edinburgh” on its destination window. YES! We quickly boarded—the train was almost already full—and took separate seats, our heaviest bag sitting on my lap as there was no more room for luggage.

There was no assurance that this train would reach Edinburgh either, we were told. We made a few unscheduled stops. During one of these, the conductor announced that the railway was going to bend the rules in a big-time way in order to help passengers through this harrowing ordeal. People were allowed to smoke on the rail station platform, which was normally against the law. Wonderful.

Wendy and I hadn’t eaten since early morning and it was now past six in the evening. But all we could muster up in the snack coach were two bags of peanuts and a diet Coke. They were nearly out of everything. But the train DID eventually make it to Edinburgh, where we spent about another hour dragging heavy luggage through the streets trying to find our hotel.

Moral of the story . . . if I ever plan to ride the rails in Britain again, I’m going to take up smoking first.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Paris Would Be Fine . . . .

When Wendy and I were waiting in our Golden Tours line of tourists in London waiting to take the Eurostar to Paris, I wondered why I was the only one carrying any bags. The answer came when we got to Paris and our guide Michael announced that, "One lucky pair would be spending the evening in Paris."

Just us? Sure enough, at the end of the first day the bus dropped us off a few blocks from our hotel while the rest of the tourists continued on to the Gard Du Nord, the train station where they would board a train back to London.

So we stayed at our hotel that night then the next morning walked the block down to the Metro to begin our adventure, the Metro being the excellent Paris subway system that transports tourists around central Paris.

"En Francais," the clerk demanded when we tried to tell her what we wanted. So I used hand gestures and a few short words to tell her what I wanted. But she wouldn't take cash and claimed our credit card was 'no good.' Believe me, the French are going to hear about her. Rudeness is something they shouldn't tolerate in France.

So we walked some ways to where there was a tourist office on my map. It was right by the Opera house of Phantom of the Opera fame. We circled that opera house and the nearby neighborhoods so many times that the phantom himself would have pitied us.

Ended up walking to central Paris where we enjoyed the Seine, the beautiful weather, the unique French cuisine, and of course all the scenery. Walking back late in the afternoon, thinking we would have to walk all the way to the train station, we ran into that tourism office we had been looking for that morning. The gentleman there was more helpful. He told us to try the Metro office at the opera house we had spent so much time circling earlier.

There, some gentleman, NOT a Metro employee, helped us to get tickets for the Metro which we were finally to ride back to the trainn station to catch the Eurostar.

Paris would be fine if it weren't for the French. The man who helped us, btw, didn't have a French accent.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

One Thing After Another

I'll start my first new blog in a while complaining about those people who leave their discarded refuse behind, like this hat I found hanging on a fence at a local beach at Hubbard Lake up north. But I have to admit, it did look good going up in the big bonfire we enjoyed later in the evening.

Anyhoo, a week from tomorrow and the wife and I will be flying to England on our long-planned trip. For the past couple weeks I've been booking tours, reserving rooms and buying railpasses. It's stressful, as when an operator in London asked how to dial the United States from England. Like I'm supposed to know that.

I guess they just don't have many people calling from Michigan to Great Britain to book an overnight excursion from London to Paris.

And I did break down and download Google Chrome not because I can now post pictures here, though--ok--that was a reason. The main reason is that Google Chrome allowed me to browse the internet much more quickly. I couldn't have Internet Explorer crash or freeze in the middle of our family's fantasy football draft.

Still, my computer is not well. I have been told by my computer multiple times (every time I sign in) that I'm not using a "genuine" copy of Windows. Don't know why that is. I try to fix it and they want me to buy another Windows copy. What happened to the one that came with the computer?

And THEN, last week I got a call from this guy who said he was from Windows. Oh, oh. He said he knew I had been having problem with my computer. Busted, I was thinking to myself. Isn't there ANY privacy on your OWN computer anymore?

He claimed my computer had been running slow because of spyware and viruses. He
didn't claim I had a bad copy of Windows. Wrong problem, sir. My computer actually has been running better on my counterfeit, or whatever, copy of Windows. And I clean my computer frequently of malware, spyware and whatever else could be ailing it.

When he insisted I go in front of my computer and press a button which would allow him remote control access of my laptop, I knew it was a scam and hung up. You just can't be too careful in today's world.

Finally, can't close without posting an updated picture of my grandson. He looks rather pitiful here, not because his favorite team got beaten badly by those thugs from Alabama, but because he does not like walking on sand.