Go out in the mid-day sun or so the song goes but in this case it would be more appropriate in saying Mad dogs and Englishmen make their own travels arrangements for a trip across Europe.
It goes back to earlier this year when talk moved onto the annual trip the Speedway Grand Prix Championship held at the the Cardiff Principality Stadium. We had made the annual trip to Cardiff for the past 5 years for the GP normally staying at a camp site on the out skirts of Cardiff (we did try it as a day trip by car, you only do it once). But this year there were a few differences, first I did not have a camper van to stay in, secondly it was being held later in the year, normal dates was around the end of June but this year due to unavailability of the stadium (due to Rugby World Cup warm matches) the GP was being held in September and while I was working at the time I was on short term contract and with the contract ending in a couple of months I could be out of work with no money come the time of the GP.
So I decided to do what any other sensible Englishman would do, decided to go to the last GP of the season being held in Torun, Poland. But hey, I am not going on one of the many organised trips to the event, oh no, I am going to organise it myself, tickets, travel and accommodation, all on the internet, how difficult could it be?? Well keep reading and you will find out, at the end of the article I will post links just encase anybody feels like doing the same.
This article will be in several parts, not sure how many yet but it will cover from the point we decided to go to the our return and cover most things in between. We are hoping to take a few photographs and maybe a video or two so they will get posted as well.
So on a wet humid Sunday afternoon 9 days before we leave (day after the Cardiff GP which was a boring affair but means the Championship will be decided in Poland with a Polish rider leading the championship) I am knee deep in paperwork as we print out all those bits of paper I have paid for to make this trip possible, but we are jumping the gun as we have to go back to May this year.
Both the wife and I had done a couple of European trips to the old style Speedway World Championship (in those days it was a single event) before we married. And as I surprisingly came to realise as we were organising things it was 30 years since we had been abroad.
If we had more time I would of liked to have gone to the Prague Grand Prix but with just over 3 weeks to book everything including getting passports decide wisely that was just a little ambitious.
Our passports had expired many years ago so the first task was to get new ones. That was fairly simple as it is all done online except for one small items, the question have you had a passport before. The pair of us had had the old black passports and a couple of the 1 year tourists ones but we could not find a definitive answer online so had to call the passport help desk a couple of times to get an answer before we were told that no records exist of the old black passports so we should answer no to the question. So next job was to get photo’s, now this is straight forward……………well it is if you don’t have a eye problem. The way it works is that you go to one of those passport photo-booths, tell it you want passport photos, it tells you how to sit takes a photos and then prints them out with an ID code. The code you submit online with your application, job done. Unfortunately Karen has a eye problem which means it wanders and while your good eye is looking at the lens (which is in affect a mirror with a box and lines that you must line your face and eyes up with) her other eye is admiring the interior of the photo booth and then it will refuse to take the photos as you are not looking at the lens. After several failed attempts it was off to a local photographer who with a little coaxing was able to get an acceptable photos and Karen had her ID code as well.
The online forms were duly filled in, fee paid and then we waited, Karen got confirmation in a couple of days but I heard nothing. After several more calls to the passport office customer service desk it was decided that my application had disappeared into the ether. So I had to repeat the process and by now my passport application was 7 days behind Karen’s and she already had her interview date for an early Saturday morning in Portsmouth (around 60 miles away). At the second attempt my application went through and I phoned up to book my appointment, I asked if I could have it on the same day and same offices as Karen’s (save on travelling etc.), yes we have one slot left on that day, 5:15pm……………….Karen’s interview was 9:45am, a long day in Portsmouth was planned.
On the day of the interview, I sat out side the office while Karen went in (there is no waiting rooms as such) and she asked if there was any chance of moving my time forward? The lady on reception asked where I was and Karen told her I was in the car outside, the lady of reception told Karen to go and get me as I could be seen now. The pair of us were out of the passport office by 10:30 and our passport arrived a few days later.
GP Tickets and accommodation in Torun
While we were getting the passport I thought it would be a good idea to get the tickets for the event we were going to. I found a web site offering the tickets, they were slightly more than I had expected to pay but I just put that down to demand and even though it was still 6 months till the event tickets were in demand. So with ticket purchased the next thing was to sort out the accommodation. Now before I go further I need to pint out a couple of things, it made sense to book everything in reverse, start with where I am intending to end up and then work backwards until I got to a point when I knew I had to leave the UK. Secondly we were not flying we were going to by train, we had checked early on that Torun had a train station and they linked back to Germany so we were confident about being able to plan our travels as we wanted.
We decided that we wanted to arrive in Torun on Friday afternoon, the GP is on the Saturday. We would spend Sunday enjoying Torun and start making our way back home on Monday. So we started looking at www.bookings.com and ended up booking an apartments for 4 days 3 nights about 1 miles from the town centre direct . Now this was one of the easier things to book, got my confirmation now its the travelling bit.
Now I can own up to being a bit of an anorak in my school days being a bit of a train spotter (well what you expect when you school is next the the mainline railway) so it is no wonder that I choose to do this journey by train. Yes flying would be quicker and possibly cheaper but a health issue would probably mean it was a no go anyway. Going by coach was an option but I did not fancy all that time on a coach (if we wanted that we could do an organised trip which we did not want). So train it was, having already worked out that the there was a train route all we needed to do now was work out what trains we needed to catch. Now here my first admission of getting it wrong I was expecting to be able to do the whole train trip in one day (along day yes) with may be changing trains a couple of times. Well it is 926 miles approx from London to Torun and turns out the changing trains bit grew to having to change 5 times over *2 days, Day 1, London to Brussels, Brussels to Koln, Koln to Berlin, day 2, Berlin to Poznan and Poznan to Torun. Now we had a route we now had to find away of joining all the dots
At the planning stage I was not worried about getting to London I had several option of doing so, so all my timing were based on running from and to London starting at what time we arrived at Torun on the Friday. This was where the head ache started, well at least for Karen as this was hers bit of the trip to work out. We found a very useful web site called www.seat61.com (there were other which I will list at the end), this site offers lot of advice about making trains trips across Europe. We even contacted the author of the site who helped us when we got stuck with a couple routes. But as we mentioned earlier the entire trip outwards was going to be done on 5 trains
St Pancras 06:47 to Brussels 10:07
Brussels 12:25 to Koln 14:15
Koln 14:44 to Berlin (Hautpbanhof) 19:05
Berlin (Lichtenberg) 09:55 to Poznan 12:26
Poznan 13:50 to Torun 15:52
This is the final route and timings we planned, we did have one where we would leaving on the first Eurostar out of St Pancras but that left us with a full blown sprint at Brussels to make our connection, we decided that was not a wise course of action.
* not strictly true but more of that later
As I mentioned earlier I was planning this from London as I was not worried about getting to London. Well I was not but then I did start to worry about it, we had worked out that we could catch the early bird coach to London, it left about 02:45 in the morning and got to London around 05:20 but having thought about it this was not ideal for two reasons, 1) we have to book in at St Pancras a minimum of 45 minutes before departure. This was cutting it fine not only would we have to be on time arriving at Victoria coach station but we would have to hope there was no issue travelling the underground early in the morning. 2) Leaving at 02:45 in the morning we would get very little sleep that night. So we added an extra an day to our holiday, well in my case it is half day at the start and a half day at the end. We can now catch a train to London on the Tuesday night, we have booked a room about 400yds from St Pancras which means we get a good night sleep and fall out of bed early Wednesday morning and stagger up the road to St Pancras.
Accommodation Berlin 1 & 2
Having booked the trains we no needed to find somewhere to stay over night Wednesday into Thursday. We found the details of a hotel close to the station in Berlin so we looked them up on the internet and not only booked a room for the Wednesday night we booked a room in the same hotel on the return journey. Being close to the station (well at least one of them) will make life easier
It is now late August, the train planning and booking was almost done I started to have a bad feeling about the GP tickets I had booked. So I contacted the ticket agent and asked them when I would expect to have the tickets, a couple of days before the event sir!!…………um I am leaving 4.5 days before the event so when will they be with me, we will send them to your home address by the Thursday!!………………………what part of I will not be there are you failing to understand??
Now this was going to completely sink the entire trip, no tickets no point in going. So I spoke to the credit card company who said there is nothing they can do unless the tickets fails to turn up or are not what I ordered, they fully understood my anxiety over the tickets but there hands were tied. I decided to have a look around to see if I could find any more tickets, they were scares when we looked back in May I was not holding my breath. This time I went through KS Torun web site (the stadium in Torun where the event was being held), I know when we tried to look at the web site in May we could not access their web site, but this time we could and they had a couple of seats available. So now I had to broach the subject with Karen (it was not my idea of fun). Fortunately she understood the situation and agreed getting another two tickets was the only option. Fortunately purchasing these ticket was a lot easier and once purchased were available to download, so I now have tickets for the event in my possession.
I contacted the ticket agent I told them I did not want the ticket and requested a refund, I was told that a refund was not possible but I could resale them on their web site (I’m beginning to smell something here). So I duly put them up for sale at a price I thought they would sale at (which was less than I paid for them) and within 30 minutes they were sold (knew I should of sold them for a higher price). I have to now wait until after the event before I see any money (the smell is getting stronger).
The way I view it I have lost the money I paid for the tickets (from the ticket agent) but had I not bought a second pair of ticket for the event I stood to loose a lot more money as we would not of wanted to travel and not be able to go to the event, so we would of likely lost a lot more money on the tickets and accommodation we had purchased. If I get any money back it is a bonus.
I have bought a lot of stuff of the internet over the years and this is the first time I have been stung, I have learnt a lesson, it will not happen again.
T – minus 9 days
The last 4 pages has basically covered the last 4 and a bits months planning, we are now at the stage of getting thing ready. As I said earlier I was knees deep in paperwork I had to print off, accommodation details, train tickets (12 of them), event tickets and that lot is not just single sheet of A4, most of them are at least two pages plus.
I think with any thing you ever do for a first time you will find a better easier way of doing it a second of subsequent time. I know what we have planned is untested at this point but it certainly has not put me off the idea of doing it again (subject to how the trip goes).
I now have 9 days to teach myself Polish and German, I am not holding out a lot of hope.
T – minus 5 days
How thing have changed since we last went abroad, I know many of you can remember having to go and order your foreign currency from your bank or currency exchange of choice. Fitting it in during your lunch time or doing it during the Saturday morning shop. We had intended to order ours online but there was an issue regarding the availability of the currencies so a phone was made to the customer service department at 10 o’clock at night. The resulting confusion was cleared up and the currency ordered for collection in 4 days time.
Also received an email from the German train service DB (bahn.com) telling us there had been a timetable change for the train we were booked on. The departure time had changed by 3 minutes!! UK trains are luck if they arrive within three minutes either side of there timetabled time.
T minus 2 and a bit days
While some things have changed in the way we book and order stuff for our trips and holidays something stay the same, trying to decide what cloths to take and pack. Those mental notes you have made for the last few months are now materialising as piles of cloths around the bedroom. Unlike hot beach holidays autumn holidays make it more difficult to decide on what to take, do I take light cloths as it will be warm or warn cloths as it will be cold. It looks like the entire trip will be wet, cool but humid. The ideal combination to pack for …………..NOT.
Part 2 A Rainy night in London