Link to photos (London to Lucerne), copy and paste:
With our tickets booked for home this is the final countdown of our amazing journey.
Sunday 16th Sep
Best of Europe Tour – Day 1 London-Amsterdam
We are up just before 6am, having had less than five hours sleep… tired already and we haven’t even started. A quick breakfast, finish packing and head to the bus, we are cutting it fine, but time it nicely, the bus arrives just as we do. It is a quick trip at this hour, just over twenty minutes to get from Hackney to Kings Cross.
There is a bit of a mission to find the EuroDispatch centre. “Clearly marked at the main entrance” my foot! We finally find it and are waiting for ages to be served. Someone is just sitting on his fat arse yawning, and won’t come over to talk to us. We are waiting with two Aussies from Brisbane, Steve and Liam, but there is no sign of any others from our tour. Two tour directors are running about fuming, complaining about the lack of staff. We had to have our bags checked by 7.45am, and we have been waiting over twenty minutes already, we hope we can still get them on as it is now past the cut off time. Cynthea spots that one of the tour directors is from Cosmos, we are supposed to be with her. We get our bags included with the rest of the tour, eventually. We go to departures with rest of the group, they had been waiting out in a coach at the drop off point. We do wonder if that is the last we will see of our bags for a while, the staff at EuroDispatch do not seem that efficient or motivated!
We head off to the departure lounge, and Tony is given the receipt for the groups’ luggage – all thirty bags. Departures is crowded, but there is plenty of room, and we only have about thirty minutes wait before boarding. The group is not all together on the train, there are four of us in car four, everyone else in car one. It is a huge train, eighteen cars long, and it is near full. We leave on time, and have a brief stop at Ebbsfleet before charging on down the track. It is a much more comfortable trip than the last time we were on this train, some sixteen years ago. Back then we were stuck in an awful smoking carriage and had to spend the entire trip in the bar (where they weren’t smoking).
It takes about thirtyfive minutes to reach the Chunnel, but we are sitting travelling backwards so do not notice we are entering it until it goes dark. The tunnel is about 50km long, and it takes us around twenty minutes to pass through it. There are actually three tunnels, one in each direction, and a service tunnel. Nothing to indicate what speed we are doing, it should take two hours to reach Brussels, and we will lose an hour with the time change. We stop in Lille (France) for a few minutes, and then we continue to Brussels (Belgium). We will cover four countries today – UK, France, Belgium and The Netherlands.
We arrive in Brussels just after noon, and meet Mariella, our Italian tour director, who takes us to our coach. Our driver is also Italian, Ciro is from Naples, he has limited English, and much of his Italian cannot be directly translated – especially when he is discussing the lack of driving skills of other road users.
Cynthea has a bit of reaction to a perfume on the bus, we are not sure if it is from toilet disinfectant, air freshener or something that someone is wearing. There is a tiny T-shirt hanging above the driver, Tony suggests that we bin it just in case that is the offending item (nothing at all to do with the fact it has an Aussie flag on it!). He has a couple of cracks at the Aussies, and is told to lay off until at least the third day, haha.
We are surprised that there is very little traffic, and are told that cars are not allowed in the city on a Sunday, just public transport. Out on the motorway there is a bit of traffic, but not too busy. We see a lot of caravans though. The trip through to Amsterdam is roughly 220km.
We stop for lunch around 2pm, still in Belgium. We have to pay EUR50c to pee, but get given a ticket that gives 50c discount instore. Except if you buy coffee, you pay for that separately at a machine. Tony tries to use the coffee machine, puts in EUR1.50 and that amount comes up on screen, but nothing happens. Well something does, but he cannot understand the language. There is no English anywhere instore, which we find unusual. Cynthea goes and gets someone to help, and Tony is told to put 30c more in (it is now reading 1.20), and the coffee is delivered. The guy goes to the next machine and Cynthea gets a free coffee too. Tony bumps the return mechanism on the machine beside him, and a EUR2 coin pops out. Food is quite pricey, but we bought sandwiches back in the UK before leaving. We spend our toilet tickets on a chocolate bar.
We leave the blue sky and sunshine behind when we arrive in The Netherlands, just after 5pm, Amsterdam is cooler and overcast, it has been a long day. We are in Zaandam, staying at the Hotel Inntel, the place looks like a whole lot of houses stacked on top of each other. Being Sunday a lot of shops are now closed, but we head out for a wander anyway to see what is about in the way of cafes. The tour company is offering an optional tour, the first of many, to Amsterdam by night for EUR22 each, but we decide that we need to be careful how many of these optional trips we take, there are rather a lot of them. We can go into the centre of town on the tram, it takes just fifteen minutes) (EUR5 each way), but we will be going there tomorrow so decide not to bother.
We head to a supermarket and have fun trying to read the labels as again very little is in English. We decide to get just pate, cheese and breads for tea, enough for tomorrows lunch too, and some fruit. We didn’t bring a shopping bag, so that was another 25c, EUR22 all up. A bit on the pricey side, and they didn’t seem to be much into discounting perishables like they do in the UK. With fifteen minutes to go before closing a lot of breads and other perishables that had reached their sell by were still at full price. We tried to pay with our Visa travel card, but they don’t accept Visa, just a local debit card. Luckily we had cash with us. We headed back to the room and had our meal, then tried booking the trip from Manchester to Toronto, via Iceland, but the website would not accept our debit card, even though it accepted Visa. In the end Tony had to admit defeat and crash for the night, it is an early start in the morning.