12.02.2008 - 13.02.2008 -17 °C
We all know Australia is a big country, but it’s also a country furthest from most other countries and anyone flying to Europe will understand that a flight from Melbourne to London can take around 24 hours or more with a stop over somewhere along the way.
So my first day of travel is not about to break this tradition. Around 9 hours before a 2-hour stopover in Hong Kong, back on the plane for another 15 hours before finally landing at London’s Heathrow Airport with only a staggered 4-hour sleep even though the Hong Kong to London leg was half empty and I managed to have the centre five seats to myself.
My plan is, once in London, I’ll get to Harwich International to catch the overnight ferry to the Hook of Holland then train to Amsterdam the following morning.
All sounds reasonable and achievable one would think, but when travelling with a suitcase and backpack with laptop adding to the weight, things can quickly get out of any well-researched plan.
Now keep in mind a 24-hour cramped journey in a flying cigar with only 4 hours napping, the first of my waiting experiences came in getting from Heathrow to London. Opting for the cheaper Heathrow Connect (£6 and 45 minutes) rather than the Express train (£12 and 15 minutes), was acceptable since customs and collecting baggage was extremely fast and as I had a bit of time on my hands until about 7 o’clock to get the train to Harwich International.
Arriving at Piccadilly station, the destination for both airport trains, had me wondering should I stay here before catching the circle line train to Liverpool Station to connect with the Harwich train? The time was now 2.30pm so I decided to hang around Piccadilly station as there’s quite a lot of shops and food outlets here, not that I was hungry after being fed all the way from Melbourne, but it didn’t take long to get sick and tired of dragging around luggage that, even if on wheels, gets heavier the more weary one gets.
But I must admit that I could look at the architecture and detailing of stations of old for many hours as the more you look the more you discover. But after an hour you can only do the circuit of shops and endure the greasy smells of the food stalls for so long. With security as it now is in London, I must be beginning to look rather suspicious so I decided to get to Liverpool Station even if just for a change of scenery.
Now just to add a bit of a warning to those travelling with any sizable luggage of more than a briefcase of backpack, the trains from Heathrow cater to ones needs, but once in London you’re on your own as even a medium size suitcase can get in the way in the normal train system, so be prepared to stand in the doorway and out of everyone’s way who are getting on or off and be ready to move from the left to the right as not every departure is from the same side.
After another train trip of 45 minutes to get to Liverpool Station, I realised Piccadilly wasn’t that bad after all. Now, nothing against the station, it’s just as lovely but less to do while waiting.
And here’s another problem when dragging around luggage, getting to a toilet is not that easy as the one at Liverpool is down steps. Not all things modern are bad, I feel.
After a couple of wandering hours at Liverpool, I thought a beer may pass away a few minutes but here I get another lesson, it is now office closing time and where do a lot of workers go while waiting for their carriage home, you bet, the pub. It was packed and no room for someone with luggage and as I approached I could see in the eyes of all the patrons, there's no space here for me.
An announcement that a train to Harwich was about to leave at 17.05 made me check the timetable to see how often trains go there. As this one was the last direct express for two hours I decided to get on – another error of judgement. The train, of at least 20 carriages, was full so for the first hour I stood with my luggage at the door entrance, again. For a train servicing the International ferries, there was no facility for any luggage and the tight seating layout left little space between seats. After an hour and one of the few stops I finally got a seat for the last 30 minutes until it arrived at Harwich International station.
I was relieved at first that it seemed quite modern with direct undercover entry to the ferry terminal departure lounge. But I realised all my mistakes had come to bite me, all the food stalls, the very few there are, were closed. In fact all seemed to be closed and not a soul around. There was one man at the Stena Line counter so I checked in. He informed me that boarding was not till 9.45pm, another three hours away. This was going to be a long, drawn-out battle just to stay awake.
Next, my pleasure-cruise to Amsterdam…