Monday, November 02, 2009

What a day!

In principle, the idea was simple! Take a train to the airport, board a flight to Frankfurt, take another train to Heidelberg and check in with a friend, who was kind enough to be the host for a few nights.

Well, what can I say? It turned out to be not simple at all but rather to be quite a nightmare.
All went well before I left home. I got up, had breakfast (yes, surprisingly I do have that sometimes), checked emails, prepared a few things for my stay 'at home' and set off to the train station. It had even stopped raining, so at that point, I was quite pleased with myself when I walked there, it's just a short (~10 minute) walk. I got a ticket (only two counters open, but that part worked well) and approached the platform. There were already around 150-200 people waiting for the train. And then it all started to go horribly wrong. The train DID turn up, but it was tiny, not nearly enough space for all of us. We all managed to cramp in, but I wouldn't call it comfortable, especially with the perspective of having to stand at the entrance for another hour and a bit. Ok, I'm young (?), I'm fit (???), so ok. Everything was normal (train stopped at every small station) down to Derby, made his usual 20 minute stop there and set off again.

Well, no, it didn't.

After some time they apoligized for the de;ay, due to a staff problem at Derby. Apparently the driver had decided he had worked enough and had set off, without his replacement driver being there. So after another 10 minutes of waiting and no information what was happening, they were searching for the train driver "John Holmes" (or whatever) to report to Platform 6a, he might be needed there. He indeed would have been. Only, ..., he never came. So after another 15-20 minutes, they gave up and simply canceled (!) the train. Amazing, never had that before. A train canceled, which had made it for 20-30 kilometers and was packed with people already. Great. The best thing was that they didn't even announce it for a while, only the electronic signs on the platform said so, it took them another 5 minutes or so to do it by speaker, by which time of course everybody knew and had left already.

Don't worry, it got worse!

Already very annoyed, because I was already 30 minutes late by then to what I had planned (Being german, I had, luckily, planned to be at the airport 2 hours before my flight), everybody moved to platform 1 where the next train was scheduled for Birmingham New Street, where I had to change train to get to the airport. A train turned up in time. Early actually, but then it stood there, everybody was piling up, waiting for the doors to open,.... and then, after 8 minutes or so, it left again, now running a few minutes late, NOT having opened the door, so the people who wanted to go IN were still OUTside, the people that wanted to get OUT (Yes, there were people inside!) were still INside. Amazing. Two weird novelties on one day!

And it got worse!

They then announced another train to Birmingham just 4 minutes later (so by now 1 minute to change platform). So everyone sprinted to the stairs, over the bridge, to the train, cramped in (by now loads of people who wanted to take a train had arrived at the station),... but then had to wait for another 10 minutes for the train to leave. 10 minutes in which nothing happened. No fast trains went by that we had to wait for, no driver, amazingly, was missing. Nossing, nada, Rien, Nüx.
Eventually, the train set off (I was now 1 hour late, so only one hour for check-in and security, so started to get nervous) and I arrived at Birmingham.

And there it got worse.

As usual, the train didn't just go to the train station. No, no, english trains don't do that. It stopped 200 meters before for no apparent reason (no fast trains were going by, I think the driver should have been in still) and just stod there for 5 minutes. So at the time we were arriving, we were 10 minutes late again, but I made it to the platform for my connecting train in time (I had 2 minutes). Only, that train had left early!!! So I asked for the next train. Platform 1a, ok. Ran over, train was scheduled for 14:37 (my flight was 15:50, so by now I was running short of time!).

Aaaand,... it got worse!!

14:37: no train.
14:42: the signs changed to "delayed, expected 14:41
14:46: the signs changed to "delayed, expected 14:44
Funny, that, if only I wasn't in such a hurry.
14:48: the signs changed to "delayed, expected 14:47
I finally found some guy from the train company (cross country to name it!!) and asked him whether the train will eventually arrive, because I was already late by a lot and had to catch a flight. His answer (seriously!): "I have no idea!" !!!! What kind of an information politics is that? "But there is a train on platform 2 in 2 minutes that goes there as well (nobody said that on the loudspeakers), it's a delayed (of course) train for London Euston, originally scheduled for 14:10, now expected at 14:50". So some people (me amongst them) went over, the platform was packed with other people, apparently there hadn't been ANY train to the airport for about an hour, the train arrived, everybody (well ,nearly, not enough space for everybody) got in. And then the announcement (!): "The 14:50 train to London Euston has been cancelled!!!". Aaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!
After some confusion and some very angry people leaving the train (I wonder what upset them) it turned out that the train scheduled for 14:50 was canceled. But this one was scheduled for 14:10, so it wasn't it! Again, what kind of an information policy is that? Amazingly, another 10 minutes later, the train did set off and I did get to the airport.

Believe it or not, it did get worse!

35 minutes (!) for check-in and security. I managed to check in my luggage, which at least assured me that they will not fly without me and went through security (amazingly, that was smooth). I saw "Gate opens in 5 minutes", so it was slightly later then I thought (by that time it was 15:35, so check-in should have started really), so got some sandwich and drinks. Amazingly, it turned out, it was more like 20 minutes until they called us to the gate. When we got there, the people there were confused and did know nothing, no plane is outside, so what should they check in?? Everybody went back for another 20 minutes and then they called us to the same gate again. The plane had arrived and was ready for boarding. We boarded. After all that had happened that day already, I was picturing myself going to tomorrow meeting either in the same clothes that I was wearing now because they had lost my luggage, or injured because the plane had crashed. I expected anything then.

And then, no kidding, it did get even worse.

The engines started, we didn't move. We didn't move for 10 minutes, the plane was around 35-40 minutes late already (not sure, I had to switch off my mobile, aka my watch). Then the engines stopped and some technicians came in and it looked a bit worrying. After some further delay, the problems seemed solved and we set off to the runway, accelerated and were on our way to Frankfurt. I thought it was finally over. And then: "Dear ladies and gentlemen, we are currently over London, but due to some technical problem we have to turn around and go back to Birmingham". NOOOOOO!!!! I have an important meeting! I need to go to Frankfurt!

Back at Birmingham, they had us wait for a taxi to the terminal for 10 minutes, then another 15 minutes until the bus arrived to pick us up and amazingly, they didn't open the door for another 10 minutes or so. It was then 7 o'clock, in principle I had assumed to be in Frankfurt by that time after a relaxing day. But no, I was still in Birmingham after around 8 hours of traveling and nowhere near where I wanted to be. Their plan was apparently to organize another plane (the one we've been in had to stay on the ground!) and take off at 8pm or so, so I might get to Frankfurt, at least, today. I called my sister who lives there to check whether she'd be there in case I would not get a connection train to Heidelberg where Eva also promised she would still open the door if I came late. I met a few other germans that were on the same plane and have had similar problems already. One guy will take the same plane back next week as I do, so I'll meet him again then for another (hopefully, a smoother) journey. One girl wanted to fly the day before from London, was driven there by friends (from Wales), and was then sent to the wrong gate (nice!), so went back to Wales and being driven to Birmingham today. Her parents are waiting at the airport since 6 o'clock. That is 6 hours in the end! Only parents would to that!

Serious question:
Are all transport connected companies rubbish in UK? I really cannot believe this. It would be so funny if you read something like this on the web. Experiencing this myself, I can tell you, it's not nearly as much fun as it sounds!

It turned out, they did find another plane somewhere, flew it over and we started boarding again at 8:20. That should make it around 11 in Frankfurt, rather than 19:50 as we expected initially, what felt like (nightmarish) years ago. I am currently writing (not posting, no WLan up here) this on the plane, and have been here for a while now, so I'd guess, we might eventually make it to Frankfurt. It's quite a shaky flight, but in case it doesn't crash (which would fit the day, but would be rather unpleasant and you would likely not be reading these lines), I would at least be there.

Let's just wait what other surprises the german train system and the tram system in Heidelberg still hold for me.

Sorry, whoever is reading this (if anybody is reading this), for the lengthly post. I just needed to say this to get some steam out. I really hope all the bad things happened today and tomorrow will go better. Good in fact. I hope the continuing bad luck will stop eventually. Keep your fingers crossed, please!

Of course it did not go smoothly. We finally landed at 23:48, which is 2 minutes (!) short of the 5 hours delay which would give us a full refund! At least when they count touch-down. If they count being at the gate, we should be able to get it.
We arrived at Terminal 2 in Frankfurt and I said goodbye to my newly found friends. Terminal 2 turned out to be bad, because, once I made my way to the shuttle bus and the train station at the airport, I had missed the last "good" train (0:28) to Heidelberg by 2 minutes (being back in germany, that train was in time of course! And the one at 0:39 that I was counting on only goes on sunday. And because it was after 12 am THIS counted as monday!). Seriously, if I ever read a book with this story, I would think it would be exaggerated and unrealistic.
There is another train to Mannheim at 1:27, arriving there at 2:00. I have decided to take this and then take a taxi or whatever from Mannheim to Heidelberg. Maybe I should walk. Seems to be the most reliable after all. I think I should then be at Evas place at 2:30 or so. Apologies for waking you up that late, Eva. :*

I could have stayed with my sister in Frankfurt, but I really prefer to be in Heidelberg in the morning that tomorrow at least has a chance of going as planned. I really hope, it does. Another day like this and I am not sure what's going to happen! I will have a few individual days off this week and I feel, I deserved them!

Terrified of what's coming next!

And what did we learn today?
Never take english trains!
Never fly with Flybe, it's worth spending 20 pounds more for Lufthansa. Unfortunately, I have just booked my christmas flights with Flybe 2 days ago.
Ironically, there is a train connection with the Euro-Star that brings me to Heidelberg in 11:20 hours! Maybe I should take that next time!

The whole thing reminded me a lot about Bodo Wartkes "Reisetagebuch" which I had posted before. Here it is (it's in german).

Update again:
I did make it at around 2:30, after 14 hours of traveling. The train connection is3 hours faster!


  1. Jaja, das glaubt dir eh keiner!

  2. Janine: Wieso bist du nach 2 Jahren England eigentlich immer noch ueberrascht, wenn nix funktioniert wie's sollte?!? Erinnerst du dich noch an meinen tollen Rueckflug von Newcastle um 11 Uhr morgens der mich dann um 2 Uhr nachts zu dir nach Nottingham gebracht hat? Da haette dir schon alles klar sein sollen... :P

    Gut, dass du trotzdem angekommen bist! :)

    PS: keine Ahnung wie man hier gescheit seinen Namen reinkriegt...

  3. An DEN Flug hab ich lustigerweise den ganzen Tag gedacht Janine, ja. Hab immer gehofft, daß ich noch her komm und nicht bei irgend nem komischen Freund übernachten muß.