22 hours, 222 francs

8. Juli 2012 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

On this trip, which I have baptised the Celtic Arc, I intend to cycle from the north of Scotland through Ireland, Wales, Brittany and back through the vast continent of France. All of this with a few provisos: weather permitting, no mishaps occurring, energy sources lasting. And the usual rules apply, silly, self-imposed and ecologically sound: I won’t use a plane to get to my starting point, no buses, no trains or other vehicles allowed to shorten legs or avoid rain. It all sounds a wee bit protestant, but it’s in good fun, like a game that comes with rules and suffers attempts at cheating.
The first story to tell is that of my journey by public transport to Thurso, north of Inverness and much else. I was going to call it epic, but it compared unfavourably on that count with last year’s long way home from Dubrovnik, which took me a good 48 hours. This journey out lasted only 22 hours, and cost me about 222 Swiss francs, which I don’t consider to be a lot, but then again there are flights to the UK and back for less.
So on 4th July I rolled my bike onto the platform in Zurich main station, dismantled the pedals, the front wheel and the saddle, turned the handlebars by 90 degrees so the All Black would fit into my travel bag. No one objected to my occupying an entire luggage rack for the bike, and I could just prevent a large Indian family in Basel from piling their heavy, torn, bulging suitcases on top of my sensitive friend. Two American ladies thankfully guarded the bike from further hassle, as I was sitting a distance away from the rack.
In the Gare de Lyon I reassembled everything, put my panniers and rucksack on and navigated the hot and dusty streets of Paris to the Gare du Nord. I was so distracted by the jaunty and intensely urban atmosphere that I took a few wrong turns and nearly lost track of time. I had had an hour and a half for the transfer, and suddenly there was only 40 minutes left, barely enough for the check-in and boarding procedures for the Eurostar. Automatic ticket control, bike into bag again, long queues at customs, a sweaty run down a gangway – all very much like a hectic airport. Except for the comely French train manager who advised me in a thick accent to store the bike in the lounge car. „At my own risk?“ I asked, worried because the bar was 5 cars away from mine. „Well, we only stop at St. Pancras.“ Nobody could get away with my treasure, and who would want to?
From St. Pancras to Euston it’s a 10-minute walk only, but I didn’t want to carry the 12kg rig in the bag, so I set it up again, bar the pedals, and pushed it along, drawing some suprised looks by office workers buzzing by on their foldable Bromptons. I locked the bike in a rack and had a quarter chicken at Nando’s opposite the station. Another hectic urban experience, which made me long for some Highlands solitude.
Thanks to the friendly conductors of the Caledonian Sleeper train, I could hang my bike on a hook in the guard’s compartment at the end of the train even if I didn’t have the compulsory reservation. I slept well in a narrow cabin which I shared with a Geordie who was going to help a friend conquer the last remaining Munros („mountains“ in Scotland rising to 3000 feet or more). In the morning he complained about a loud macho party going about their nightly business. I missed most of that thanks to my earplugs.
Inverness wasn’t the end of the trip, though, after 22 hours. And then the obstacle was again my bike. I should have made a reservation for the two-car trainlet to Thurso. The assembled train and station staff (there were about 9 of them feigning to work) made me wait for an hour before the verdict was out: very exceptionally I could put on the bike – for free. The only fee I’d had to pay for my two-wheeler had been from Urdorf to Zurich.
Thurso was the end of the line. And if I manage to reach home under my own steam, I won’t even have use for the big black bike bag. I’ll lug it home anyway, it’s done me good services.

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