28 November 2014

2014 EUROPE by Rail 19 - On to Berlin

The iPhone alarm went off at 06:00 for another challenging travel day. Today we did not have to change between train stations, but we did have two connection points. Here was our schedule:

     Brugge depart at 08:01
     Bruxelles (or Brussels) Midi arrive at 08:55

     Bruxelles Midi depart at 09:28
     Köeln (or Cologne), Germany arrive at 11:15

     Köeln depart at 11:48
     Berlin arrive at 16:12

As breakfast was not served until 07:00 and our taxi was picking us up at 07:00, we would miss the fresh croissants. We could smell them baking in the kitchen. Dang timetable! We were able to grab a cafe-au-lait-to-go though from the fancy silver coffee machine.


The cab was right on time. We said thanks and good-bye to our hosts and their budgies in their lobby cage. At the station, we easily found our track platform.

Our train was on time. We had no specific seat assignment on this InterCity segment, so it was a polite free-for-all. Unlike the mob scene on the Nice to Monaco train, everyone here got a seat.

We were excited to be on our way to Berlin. En route we saw some neat things -- a beautiful sunrise, several teams of big brown Belgian working horses, and some traditional wood windmills. We passed through a few more modern but still beautiful train stations, especially Liège-Guillemins, Belgium. 
A short time before we arrived into Brussels we discovered from another passenger that there are three city stations there. I started to panic as to which one we were making our first train connection. Just before our designated station of Brussels-Midi, we noticed "Midi" on our ticket and got off safely at the right station for connecting to Köeln. Phew!

In Brussels we had upgraded seating from general to second class. There were assigned seat numbers and it was slightly more comfortable. On this segment (even though it was a bit early in the day) Mike ordered a Stella Artois pilsner. This is a Belgium beer and one of his favorites. A last adios to Belgium.

We continued to enjoy the Belgium and German countryside. We laughed when we passed The Fetish Store near city center Köeln. That's getting right to the point for your clientele.

On the other hand, Köeln was another beautiful glass-topped station. Through the glass we could see two church steeples. The more pointy one was the famous and impressive Cologne Cathedral and, I think, the light brown and green one was St. Maria Ascension. 


Midi station appeared older, but this is its third incarnation -- 1859, 1894, 1953. Now it is being updated and modernized again with additional platforms and features. Getting to our connecting track we took a very steep uphill moving "sidewalk." The stairs they replaced must have been tough climbing, especially with the luggage we had. This station is an important local, national and European hub. On an average day 280,000 travelers frequent the station.  

We were now on ICE (German InterCity Express). Our third and last segment today would take about 4.5 hours. We upgraded again to first class and it was the most awesome we'd been on so far. The car was spotless and the ride was smooooooooth. All personnel had snazzy uniforms with caps. Our ticket taker was pleasant and a Glone Brunner look-alike (DTW NWA people will remember her!)

No streaks on the windows, so great for taking photos if the train wasn't going so fast. The most leg and "butt" room so far. Train doors between cars were quiet and opened automatically, instead of us trying to figure out the trick for each type of door. They offered a free local newspaper (in German) to each passenger. 
The signs above had excellent travel information. It was written in German, but we could figure it out for the most part. It showed minutes to the next station, what the next couple of stations were, and which side of the train to exit.

In addition, announcements were made in several languages, including English. Just before we got to the Hamm station, there was an announcement to have your umbrella ready! It also displayed in real time how fast we were traveling -- as fast as 250 km/h (or 155 mph). Zowie!
Menus were placed in each seat pocket, so lots of time to look over the wide variety of food fare. The conductor took orders at your seat and food was delivered there. We ordered sandwiches and beer and wine. It tasted better than we'd had so far. A little more stuffing and not so much bread. We were served complimentary mints several times throughout the ride. 

Along the way we saw pumpkin patches (reminded us of Half Moon Bay), a nuke plant, a mix of architecture from old and quaint to ultra modern, and lots of little  family farms with pigs, goats, ducks, etc. Wolfsburg was near a river with many canal barges. As we got deeper into Germany, there was less, but more artistic graffiti.

We saw old lattice-work windmills; modern wind turbines with blades painted in orange and white strips (maybe to warn the birds); and, just before Spandau, a huge turbine farm stretching for miles and miles.

We were still looking for color on the trees, like back home. Many trees have lost leaves altogether, but little color to be seen. We did see one huge oil storage tank covered with bright red ivy. Nice camo, but that was about it.

Mike mentioned that when he was stationed in Germany in the Army in the 60s, he never rode the train. Cab fare was split between a couple of guys and so cheap, no need to take the train. But we really enjoyed our trip today.

We arrived into Berlin right time at 16:12.

An aside:
Back home, I looked up information about the Cologne Cathedral. It is impressive and I'm sorry that we did not have time to visit. The foundation stone was laid in 1248, so a real historic treasure.

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