The Epic Railway Journey

England to Sweden by Train

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Day 2 - Brussels to Hamburg

Fire in Brussels 30 July 2001

Early in the morning there is some excitement - a fire in a nearby street! Several fire appliances, a couple of ambulances, and what appears to be just about every police car in Brussels turn up. Things are brought quickly under control, and do not interfere with our enjoying an excellent breakfast (a feature common to all the hotels we stayed in!) and setting out on the Metro back to the South station for the next leg of our journey.

30th July: 0828 Bruxelles Midi / Brussel Zuid to Amsterdam Centraal: 232km

Belgian flag Dutch flag
Thalys - interior Thalys at Amsterdam

We chose the Thalys service for this leg of the journey. Thalys is a consortium of French, Belgian, Dutch and German railways and operates high speed international services between those countries. It is no accident that the trains resemble the French TGV (High Speed Trains) and, indeed, the Eurostar, because they were all built by the same manufacturer, Alstom. The stylish maroon and silver Thalys livery gives a superb impression as the train draws in from Paris on its way forward to Amsterdam.

Unlike Eurostar, the train is in pristine condition. The catering is a bit of a let down - free drinks and food are promised but when the trolley comes round you are offered just one drink and a very small sandwich. Worse, the trolley appears just once - immediately after leaving Brussels - and not again throughout the whole journey. There is a buffet car from which you can get extra drinks and food - but of course you have to pay!

The line from Brussels to Antwerp is quite modern, but not a dedicated high speed line, so speed on this section is moderate. North of here and into the Netherlands, things get even worse, with many tortuous routes in and around major cities. As in England, a new high speed line is in the process of being built to improve matters; in the meantime we must just enjoy the journey. One of the nice features of the present line is that it passes right next to the old windmill at Delft, the subject of so many pictures on the famous Dutch ceramic ware. After a brief stop at Schiphol airport (which must be extremely convenient for many long distance travellers), we reach Amsterdam.

Our schedule allows for a couple of hours in Amsterdam, but we are not able to do very much because it is impossible to leave our luggage! All the lockers are full, and there is an enormous queue for the attended cloakroom. Never mind, we shall be returning here in a little over a week. We hang around, buy a sandwich and a drink to pass the time.

1305 Amsterdam to Düsseldorf (?): 242km

Dutch flag German flag
ICE approaching Amsterdam ICE - interior

The reason for the question mark will be apparent shortly. Although this was a Dutch train, it was the same German designed and manufactured ICE3 train that is now widely used in Germany. Definitely the most stylish train of all our journeys, the sleek, streamlined beauty purrs into the station to await our departure. Once aboard, the overwhelming impression is of space: acres of elbow room, leg room and just plain moving about room. At the end of the rear carriage you get a panoramic view of the track behind. Presumably from the front, you can look over the driver's shoulder.

First class travel on the Dutch and German Intercity trains we used does not confer any special privileges in terms of free refreshments. As against that, they do not command special fares, either: just a fairly modest supplement over and above the normal train fare for the journey. A buffet car service is available if required.

Progress through the Netherlands is leisurely, then slow, then stopped. We have been caught up behind another train that is experiencing some difficulties. Eventually on our way again, but twenty minutes or more late - our connection at Düsseldorf is at risk. A word with the train manager - she will telephone control and advise us... suddenly, just as we are approaching Duisburg, she appears again. Get off here, she says urgently, catch the local service from platform 12, and go to Essen. There you can catch the same train you were planning to catch from Düsseldorf.

Duisburg to Essen: 19km

We hasten to comply, the pretty young train manager gamefully assisting us with our fairly heavy cases. An Interregional train turns up almost straight away - itself running late. We hurriedly get in just anywhere - a second class compartment, as it happens - we set off and, soon afterwards, reach Essen with time to spare and an easy cross-platform connection for our next stage.

1605 Essen to Hamburg: 359km

Metropolitan - interior Metropolitan at Hamburg

The Metropolitan is the prestige business train of Germany, running between Köln and Hamburg with just two intermediate stops. We really did not want to miss this unique train, and indeed it is quite a treat. The coaches are of an older type, but recently refurbished to a very high standard: lots of wood veneer in evidence, comfortable seats and all mod cons such as power points for plugging in your laptop (This is a business train, remember!). Although the train is busy, it is remarkably quiet; just a gentle buzz of conversation, and the staff moving quietly around. Even the occasional ringing of a mobile phone does not seem greatly to disturb the hushed ambience.

Essen being the last pickup point, we are very soon served with our snack (included in the price of the Metropolitan supplement). Yes, it is described as a snack but, while not so substantial as the meal on Eurostar, it would put many airline meals to shame. Drinks are free and plentiful: no Champagne on this occasion but, after all, the Germans do make some pretty decent wines - and beers for that matter - of their own! A very enjoyable trip north to the city of Hamburg, where we spend our second night.

Our hotel in Hamburg is within walking distance of the station, although it takes a little finding initially. It is pleasant enough and, since we do not feel strongly inclined to explore the city, we eat in the hotel restaurant.

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