Trains (Mostly), Planes and Automobiles 67

When asked to do a three week speaking tour of Germany in conjunction with the Ithaka movie, I was delighted to finally get an Interrail pass after 50 years of unrequited longing. Hoary old followers of this blog will recall I love trains and used to write about them from time to time.

So it was my intention to do a bit of old fashioned, internet diary blogging to recount the virtues of the Interrail card and how much better European railways are than British. The best laid plans of mice and men oft gang agley.

Let me say now, if you find travel blogs and trains boring this will annoy you in parts. You are not obliged to read further. I warn you that I get very annoyed by people telling me what in their view I ought to be blogging about and not blogging about. Start your own blog and choose your own content.

Having bought my senior Interrail card – the 15 days over two months Global Pass – I was astonished at the value. 591 Euros, first class, and including the trip down and back to London from Edinburgh and the Eurostar. With unlimited travel around Europe on 15 days in the middle.

So I used my first journey on 22 November from Edinburgh to London. The conductor scanned my pass ticket on my phone, and made no comment at all, leaving me comfortably ensconced in first class and eating food from the ever worsening LNER menu (although the wine was good).

The system for using an intermittent days pass like this one is different from using a continuous days pass. There you have just one ticket to show. With the intermittent days pass I had to download against the specific journey and activate on the day I used them 15 effectively separate tickets.

I just had time to check in to my hotel and dash to Stefania Maurizi’s talk at SOAS for her steamroller of a book on the Assange case, called Secret Power.

There was a sparkling panel, including Ewen MacAskill, John McDonnell and Estelle Dehon, so I was rather flattered to be asked to speak too and take questions. The speakers rightly highlighted Stefania’s dogged pursuit of Freedom of Information Act requests as a useful journalistic tool.

Two particular threads are worth serious consideration. The first is that it was Stefania who discovered that the Crown Prosecution Service had been insisting to the Swedish prosecution service that the allegations against Julian must be continued, when the Swedes had wished to drop them for lack of evidence.

She also found that the Crown Prosecution Service had deleted almost all the relevant emails – allegedly because the staff member working on the case had retired.

The CPS had claimed that when anyone retired their records were deleted, even on continuing cases. That is utterly false – government archives are not personal to the individual and case files do not belong to one person.

As a lie it is particularly desperate. It is of course the case that once Julian was actually in custody, the Swedish allegations, which never had any real foundation, simply disappeared.

Three things are being hidden – how far the CPS knew the Swedish allegations were dead meat; how far there was discussion with the Swedes on coordination with the United States over the planned extradition to the USA for which the Swedish fake extradition was a placeholder; and the involvement of the Head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Keir Starmer.

There is no doubt at all that Starmer would have been involved in decision making on his Department’s highest profile case. All the records of emails and critically of internal meetings have been conveniently deleted.

This deletion has happened while Starmer has been an ostensibly an “opposition” MP, embarked on his career of being promoted as the Establishment’s safe “alternative” neoliberal to the Tories.  The deletion of these records to protect an “opposition” leader tells you an enormous amount about how the British state really functions.

Watching John McDonnell try to skate round the question of Keir Starmer’s involvement was quite amusing, but in general John spoke well. As did Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian. He credited Stefania with freely sharing with other journalists the results of her research, which had resulted in two excellent Guardian articles. Ewen ran into some audience reaction when he denied the Guardian had become too close to the security services and claimed Luke Harding as a personal friend.

The second strand of information requests that Stefania had pursued were for the records the Metropolitan Police held on Wikileaks journalists including Kristinn Hrafnsonn and Joseph Farrell. She never obtained any documents, but the key point is that initially the reason the Metropolitan Police gave for not producing the documents was the FOIA exemption for “terrorism”.

Which tells you a lot about how the state views real independent journalism.

The next morning I was up at the Supreme Court for the judgment on the Scottish Independence referendum, on which I blogged immediately. I promised you a more detailed critique, which will follow when I get the chance. I spent the evening going through a lot of personal admin. I was then ready to launch on my European adventure – and the problems began.

To be fair, they began three days earlier when I tried to book the Eurostar.

I discovered that Eurostar only allow a limited number of passes to Interrail ticket holders on each train – and there were no places available at all on the 24 November. I needed to get on the 08:16 to be able to get to Berlin in time for my talk, but not only was this impossible to book on Eurostar, no train on 24 November was possible. Nor was there any availability on 23 November straight after the Supreme Court judgment.

So you need to book more than four days ahead, even at this lowest of low seasons. If you do get the Eurostar pass, there is a 45 euro surcharge on top of your Interrail pass (each way). You can get an actual Eurostar ticket for almost the same price if you book well ahead.

The ever excellent Your Man in Seat 61 blog explains here how the system works. Interrail passes count as in the third pricing “Bucket” for ticket availability, with prices going up as each “bucket” sells out. I can only say that the higher priced “buckets” must be enormous, because there were vast swathes of empty seats, but no Interrail passes for sale.

At this stage I also discovered that I could not have used my Interrail pass anyway, even if there had been places available and I paid the supplement.

The Interrail card allows you one journey domestically to your port of exit from your home country and then from the UK on the Eurostar (and same on return). So I can travel from Edinburgh to London and then by Eurostar from London (if available). But it turns out this all has to be on the same day. You cannot overnight in London and then use the Eurostar.

The one journey to port of exit is explained in the Interrail blurb, but I had not seen the regulation that this has to be the same day you leave the country. Perhaps it is supposed to be obvious, but I only learnt it from Eurostar after I had booked the first Interrail ticket from Edinburgh.

So I had to buy a whole Eurostar ticket. My itinerary for 24 November was Eurostar from St Pancras 08:16, Thalys 9423 from Bruxelles Midi to Cologne 11:25, and ICE 951 from Köln to Berlin 13:42, arriving Berlin 18:10. My friend Graham told me that this would not be possible unless I went Business Premiere on Eurostar. I could not quite understand why, but complied, at a cost of £280.

The next morning I was at St Pancras in good time to check in, but had not allowed for one Brexit “benefit” – enhanced passport checks and passport stamping. Most passengers were being waved away from the electronic gates to join a long snaking queue in front of a very unfriendly French passport officer, who was either working with the world’s slowest loading computer, or pretending to.

Security checks had been a breeze, with Eurostar not enforcing any stupid security theatre over laptops being in bags or your toothpaste in a ziploc. I am delighted to say that the government is proposing finally to end the War on Toothpaste nonsense at airports in a year or two.

I recall that I once got over-enthusiastic with pouring whisky over our Christmas pudding to light it, after several glasses too many of Chateauneuf du Pape with my turkey. The drenched pudding sat there on its elegant Minton plate in a veritable puddle of spirit, and it fired with enthusiastic blue flames. In fact it was so enthusiastic I lost some eyebrow, and it was a rather hurried procession to the dining room.

Once put down, the children cheered. A few seconds later the place mat underneath it started to singe, and then that beautiful and expensive Minton plate cracked rather explosively.

Now after they have checked your toothpaste and taken away your water at airport security, you can waltz into duty free and buy several such bottles of spirits. Soak the airplane seat and carpet and set light, you will pretty quickly bring the plane down.

But at least your toothpaste was in a separate plastic bag.

By the time I finally got through passport control, they had been flashing last call for the 08:16 for a long time. I should explain I can hardly carry my luggage. The three week itinerary of constant traveling has no obvious opportunities for laundry, so I am traveling with 20 shirts, 20 pairs of underpants and 20 socks, as well as jumpers, trousers etc and a lot of books. I had a rucksack on my back, a heavy suitcase and a bulging laptop bag.
I had to make a lung searing run to get on the train before the doors closed. I was genuinely amazed I could still do that.

Niels Ladefoged is traveling and speaking with me. Niels was the brilliant cinematographer on Ithaka and had me wired up for sound literally for hundreds of hours during the shooting of that film. He shot huge amounts of footage of me, including in my home, none at all of which was used.

Niels is still permanently filming everybody in Wikileaks as they go about their business and campaigning; I have no doubt he will be filming me as we travel round Europe. I have no idea why. I don’t like to ask him in case there isn’t actually a reason, and he is just living life under the comforting delusion he is shooting another film.

Niels had booked Standard Premier class on Eurostar, unable to believe I was so extravagant as to book Business Premiere. This meant he was in coach 1 and I was in coach 16. We both made efforts during the journey to walk the 15 coaches inbetween, but both gave up fairly easily.

I got the world’s tiniest cooked breakfast. It was squeezed into a little plate the size of the average mobile phone. All the normal things were there – sausage, bacon, omelette, mushroom etc; only in bonzai. It was very pleasant. Six of them would have been breakfast. Still worse, it was served with mango and banana juice. Bloody middle classes. Suddenly the charm of traveling was diminished.

So I wandered into the kitchen and asked if they were not serving champagne at breakfast. They looked at me as though I had just asked for crack cocaine, as opposed to something which was literally on the menu. But they directed me back to my seat and, two minutes later, a very substantial glass of champagne arrived.

The attendant said that as they had needed to open a bottle, I had better drink all of it. I certainly did my very best. I sent photos of each glass down to Niels. It’s my way of sharing.

That may be why I did not really notice we were running a few minutes late – and with a short connection in Brussels which we had to make to be in Berlin on time. When the Eurostar empties, a huge scrum develops around the single escalator and two lifts at the exit. It takes quite some time to funnel through.

I was again back in that gut busting run with the rucksack, laptop bag and suitcase, down to the below ground level interchange, charging along to platform 8 and rushing up the ramp to the Cologne train. I just made it literally as the door was closing, and threw myself onto the first carriage I came to, ignoring the protests of the chap checking tickets.

Unfortunately Niels did not make it. Being in coach 16 I had arrived right at the exit gate and got out before the crowd developed. Having to walk 13 carriages further, Niels got stuck behind the impenetrable crowd.

So I was now on a Thalys train. This had been my next disappointment with Interrail. Thalys trains also require you to buy a supplementary pass, which had cost 27 euros, which I suspect is not too different from a Brussels to Cologne fare anyway. Certainly the guard only wanted to see my Thalys pass and did not care about the interrail ticket.

What is more annoying is that Thalys trains will only allow you to buy a second class supplementary pass, even if you have a first class Interrail pass. So I was trying to squeeze my mass of luggage into a totally stowed out carriage.

I remember first being on a Thalys train decades ago and thinking it the epitome of French travel chic, with Virgin Atlantic evoked in the high broad backed velvet seating and red lights. It has not aged well. All that red velveteen seems very tawdry, like something taken out of a Turkish brothel – Bransonesque, in fact. The airline style seating is too closely jammed, the broad seat backs block the light. A peculiar air of Stygian damp pervades the train.

Fortunately this did not last too long. Getting down at Cologne – and by now I was struggling just to lift the suitcase – I was delighted to see that the Berlin train ICE 951 would arrive the other side of the same platform, in 25 minutes. Not having the strength to move the luggage further, I decided to stay there and wait. An elderly French couple who I had noticed since St Pancras were also waiting on the same platform.

Hundreds of people had got off the train from Brussels and I had felt surprise not more of them were going on to Berlin. With about three minutes to go, it was plain something was wrong. There were only about 6 people waiting for the express to Berlin. But it was plainly advertised both on the main board and platform board.

Then, with two minutes to go, an announcement came in German and English saying the train was cancelled due to a line closure. Neither the departures board nor the platform board showed it cancelled; they never did, the entry just disappearing after departure time in the normal way.

Niels was still stuck in Brussels. The next train to Cologne from Brussels had also been cancelled because the toilets had failed. So he was in Brussels, I was in Cologne, but had no means of getting to Berlin to give my talk. I phoned Adrian at our Cyberterrorism HQ. He found a flight from Cologne Bonn airport to Berlin that would get me there on time.

I raced to the taxi rank, running with my back bowed horizontally under the luggage. An inexplicable 60 Euro taxi fare (it didn’t seem far) and I was at the German Wings counter being ripped off an amazing 470 euros for a one hour budget flight. That mountain of bags was largely to blame again. So half way through day 1 I was already 530 Euros over budget.

I was still fuming on the plane, made worse by being charged 5.70 euros for a cola after paying so much for the ticket. The seat was a strip of curved plastic with a thin bit of nylon rug glued on top. It was uncomfortable enough to keep me awake to hear the captain announce “Berlin airport has been closed. We could circle here but we shall instead land at Dresden due to our fuel situation”.

“Due to our fuel situation” are not words you ever want to hear from the captain of your plane. But we made it to Dresden, where we sat on the tarmac. The day had taken on an entirely nightmarish quality. It seemed astonishing that the Berlin rail line had been closed and then, after a hectic dash to the airport, the plane had been diverted in mid-air. In a lifetime of flying I had never been on a diverted plane before.

After an hour on that uncomfortable seat waiting on the tarmac at Dresden, I finally managed to doze off a bit. I was awakened by the captain saying that Berlin Airport was closed by an invasion of climate activists. I was a little cheered by this, but the layers of irony were extraordinary. I was doing the whole trip by rail in order to keep down the carbon footprint of this Assange campaigning. The trains had then failed me and I was forced to take to the air anyway. Only to be thwarted by climate activists.

Musing ruefully on the unfairness of life, I managed to doze off again. I must have been exhausted because I was next awakened by our touching down at Berlin Airport some hours later.

Berlin is a large airport and we seemed to be at the furthest possible gate. The dream-like quality of what had become a surreal day was enhanced by the night-time lighting of what was an eerily empty airport – I assume we were the first plane in on re-opening. Long moving walkways stretched out into the distance towards blocks of electronic glass doors across the corridor, which were vividly lit with what seemed to be square shafts of a glaring white light, while all else was pretty dark.

You walked through those doors which snapped open before you with a surprising speed and force, and immediately mounted onto another identical moving walkway that stretched out towards another set of light portals in the distance. Then you went through the same experience again, and again. The whole thing had taken on this dreamlike quality in which my mind had disengaged from the strange world it was being carried through. I was in a trance-like state I find very difficult to explain.

It ended after eight walkways and sets of bright doors, then there was a long actual walk until the luggage carousel. The disruption had of course thrown the airport’s baggage system completely, so there was now another long wait amidst a lot of angst and shouting. Finally I was in to a taxi – also 60 Euros despite seeming about three times as far as the Cologne drive – and straight to the venue for my first talk.

I arrived at the venue and through to the back of the stage area at precisely the second Stella walked on to the stage. I could join her in the walk literally without breaking stride. That seamless quality added to the feeling that somehow this was all not really happening.

Stella spoke brilliantly, outlining Julian’s achievement in making real source material available to citizens so they could make up their own mind, rather than receiving only that information filtered by corporate and state media organisations that pointed you in the direction they wished. Wikileaks was therefore an alternative model to corporate media that threatened their power. Wikileaks gave you the material to form your ideas, it did not tell you how to think. This explained the sometime reluctance of the corporate media fully to engage in defending Julian, despite the fact that the use of the Espionage Act against a journalist and publisher was plainly also a threat to the mainstream.

I did not speak well. Partly for obvious reasons, and partly because the very good moderator unexpectedly (to me) asked me questions about my own whistleblowing rather than about Julian. I explained my history of exposing torture and extraordinary rendition, and was enthusiastically applauded, but it wasn’t really why I was there.

I did make the point that in any other case, the fact that the state requesting extradition had spied on the legal meetings of Julian and his counsel, and had stolen his legal papers after he was removed from the Embassy, would in itself be sufficient to have the case dismissed, even without my recounting the dozens of other glaring legal inconsistencies in the extradition hearings.

Stella said it had become plain there was no genuine legal process here. This was a political process not a legal one, and the answer was political, including by popular action.

There was an excellent audience, mostly very committed people. I had a quick – and excellent – beer with several of them afterwards.

I learnt one fascinating thing from a trade union activist. The Cologne to Berlin line had been closed for a couple of weeks after a major incident. That is why there were almost no people waiting for the train. The extraordinary thing was the trains were still showing on all the departure boards and I had been able to make a seat reservation the day before travelling. The route had never been a possibility.

This had been supposed to be an easy day of travel – my itinerary was about to get much more complicated. I had also intended to blog this as a same day diary, and here we are five days late. I hope to catch up over the next couple of days, when the reason why the delay (for which I apologise) will become clear.


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67 thoughts on “Trains (Mostly), Planes and Automobiles

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  • Greg Park

    “There is no doubt at all that Starmer would have been involved in decision making on his Department’s highest profile case. All the records of emails and critically of internal meetings have been conveniently deleted”

    It’s apparently the greatest slur in all political history to suggest Sir Keir would have been involved in decision making on *any* of his Department’s highest profile cases.

    Look forward to the next instalment. I love reading of your escapades, enhanced by the knowledge your recounting them annoys certain types!

  • Mist001

    I live in Marseille and often travel back to Edinburgh. I fly with Ryanair who fly directly from here to Edinburgh on a weekly basis. Since I sometimes only have to be in Edinburgh for two or three days at a time, this means that I have to fly out with Ryanair and spend a week in Edinburgh before I can return.

    With this in mind, I was considering taking the train next time. Marseille > Paris, then the Eurostar > St Pancras > Kings Cross > Edinburgh. Granted, it would be more expensive than the plane but I could do the journey in a day.

    So when I looked at your blog today, I thought ‘Great!! I’ll get some travel tips and some idea of what’s involved.’

    Unfortunately as I read further and further, the attraction of taking the train became less and less! It seems like it could turn out the be even more expensive than I expect, plus there seems to be a great deal of hassle which I simply wouldn’t have the patience to tolerate!

    For now, I’m thinking I’ll just continue with Ryanair who will get me from here to Edinburgh in about 4 hours with no hassle in between, unless someone happens to pour some whisky onto the carpet!

    • yesindyref2

      Can’t you overlap a pair of return tickets? That’s what I did effectively when going every week to Amsterdam, Stuttgart or wherever. They called it in those days IT – Inclusive travel where it was a weekend you had to spend in the middle. The good old days of BCAL, Glasgow – Newcastle – Amsterdam!

      Read the travel bits, skipped over the rest 🙂

  • Wally Jumblatt

    They’re going to try and ban us all from travelling one day soon anyway I’m sure, but while we can still do it, there is much to enjoy.
    The rule I learned early was, once it starts going wrong, it stays wrong all trip and just you have to just go with the flow.
    Amazingly how entirely un-connected events can conspire to thwart your progress.
    I was just going to look into such a fabulous ticket when I started reading too ………….

    Well done for doing these talks.

    “after several glasses too many of Chateauneuf du Pape with my turkey”
    Me and my turkey will think of you this Christmas when we share a bottle.

  • Vivian O’Blivion

    A thoroughly entertaining read. One petite quibble. “ … as well as jumpers, …”. You own more than one jumper? All photographic evidence suggests otherwise.

  • SameGreatApe

    The linked article about Swedish prosecutors doesn’t seem to say they wanted to drop it due to lack of evidence but “The time passing, the costs and how severe the crime is”.

    One of the women was on Twitter wasn’t she saying it did happen to her and she isn’t linked to whatever organisation she’s accused of being. I see she’s still there.

    • craig Post author

      By how severe the crime is, you mean they wanted to drop it because it was disproportionate to the lack of severity of the crime. It has in fact been dropped completely once the false allegation had done its job of stopping Assange pending the US espionage charges.
      As we always said it would be.

  • Ingwe

    Mr Murray, I can only admire your tenacity in persisting in making the trip to Berlin when most would have surrendered at the first obstacle! I know I don’t have your dedication. I am ceaselessly awed by you, Stella, Mr Assange’s father and his supporters who make huge efforts, not only to get Mr Assange released from his shameful imprisonment, but also to keep his name ‘up there’ to the benefit of all of us.

  • Ebenezer Scroggie

    “All that red velveteen seems very tawdry, like something taken out of a Turkish brothel – Bransonesque, in fact.”

    You bastard, you. You owe me a new keyboard which you caused to be ruined by a double-nostril stream of Macallan.

  • YesXorNo


    Thank you for your travel diary. I am also a lover of trains and am sad to read of the extended travails through which you had to pass. Your note of irony was exquisite. Your description of the lights and traveling walkways reminded me of airports in the wee hours of a morning.

    I look forward to the next installment and am armed with plenty of patience.

  • Ebenezer Scroggie

    I have such fond memories of the original Interrail ticket.

    Fifty years ago it was some kind of celebration of an anniversary of a trans-European railway system agreement which covered the whole of non-Soviet Europe and the wee bolt-on of Morocco.

    The deal was that you had to be under twenty-something (22?) to buy it. The ticket, which was a wee cardboard booklet, about the width of a modern passport and about two-thirds the height, in which the stapled blank double pages, of which there were a couple of dozen, had about a half a dozen pre-ruled lines between which you wrote the departure and arrival stations of your next trip. That was your clippable train ticket for each journey.

    It cost about the equivalent of £30 in whichever country you bought it and it was valid for 30 days from the date of purchase. You had to pay 50% of the price of the standard fare within the country of purchase, but was free everywhere else within the Interrail domain. All ferries between or within those countries gave a 50% discount.

    There was some kind of deal whereby you could get a 10% rebate if you surrendered your ticket/logbook at the end, but I doubt whether anyone bothered to claim those three quid. The booklet became a treasured memento for most of us, I would think. I guess ‘they’ wanted to know the traffic stats in the days before ubiquitous surveillance.

    I bought mine in Eastern Norway and travelled through Scandinavia to the Channel and went home to Scotland to exchange dirty laundry for summer gear; and then went South and East to Athens. Always timed my journeys so that I was awake in interesting places such as Paris and Vienna and Zurich. Slept on the roof of the Athens Youth Hostel for a Drachma a night and then on the beach bay opposite the then airport for nought.

    Got horribly sunburnt. I’m a Scotsman. Our skin is naturally blue. We become white men through a painful process undergoing through being raw lobsterlike blue; to becoming pink, in a two stage cooking process which is strangely enjoyable; until the outcome of being red as all Hell.

    Then went anti-clockwise around the Med, always sleeping on the train, even if it meant nodding off atop my rucksack at the end of the carriage beside the bog door.

    In Morocco I went on the train from Tangier to Marrakesh. I’d always loved Crosby Stills Nash and Young, so when a Canadian couple insisted on playing ‘Marrakesh Express’ on one of those wee cassette players with the six piano key-like controls, repeatedly for an hour or two, I didn’t mind.

    Happy daze!

  • James Galt

    That the Germans with their extensive network can’t reorganise rail services between such major centres as Koeln and Berlin for two weeks shows they have caught the British railway disease of just giving up at the first opportunity, Europe (including the UK) is falling apart.

    • Ebenezer Scroggie

      If the fucking Germans can’t run a railway, then what the fucking hell are the SNumPties going to do with the wreckage that is left of ScotRail in their charge?

    • Phil Espin

      During 2018-2019 I used to fly to Hamburg regularly and travel by train north to Husum. I was rapidly disabused that the German railways were any better than British. If anything worse. But a great country to work in, people and food were a real eye opener.

  • Tom Kane

    I have enjoyed, learned and grown over the years reading your writing, and I think this little gem is my favourite paragraph ever

    “After an hour on that uncomfortable seat waiting on the tarmac at Dresden, I finally managed to doze off a bit. I was awakened by the captain saying that Berlin Airport was closed by an invasion of climate activists. I was a little cheered by this, but the layers of irony were extraordinary. I was doing the whole trip by rail in order to keep down the carbon footprint of this Assange campaigning. The trains had then failed me and I was forced to take to the air anyway. Only to be thwarted by climate activists”

    Indomitable, perceptive, good natured, persevering. Very Craig Murray.

  • Roger

    German trains are surprisingly bad. Maybe they’re losing their once-outstanding reputation for engineering.
    French trains are pretty good, and the TGV was reliable when I used to use it.
    The best train system in Europe is the Swiss one. You can get to practically any (I don’t know of exceptions) Swiss village by a combination of rail and bus. Trains are frequent, well-maintained, punctual, and surprisingly cheap. Their main drawback is that they are rather slow.

    The best high-speed trains in the world are in China: 300km/h when I was there several years ago, I hear they are even faster now, and according to Wikipedia, China’s total high-speed rail network is longer than all the other high-speed rail networks in the world combined.

    • Walt

      Increasingly they are 350 kph. They start on time, they arrive on time, even after vast distances. For all but the longest distances (though overnight is of course an option) they are infinitely to be preferred over internal flights and don’t necessarily take much more time. Where airports tend to be well outside the cities – Zhengzhou for example is over an hour from the centre by taxi – the stations tend to be nearer central. Then there is the advance time you have to be at the airport, the inevitable delays on take off and landing, the latter owing to overcrowding and the fact that the military own much of the airspace, and of course the trains are a damn sight more comfortable and the views sometimes spectacular. Though having said that, the best train journeys I ever took were slow: Shenzhen to Sichuan – such scenery! – 32 hours, and Moscow to Beijing, a six day party, highly recommended. High speed travel across the BRI will kill that soon I suppose.
      In Shenzhen this week two new metro lines opened with driverless trains.

      • Roger

        Moscow to Beijing, a six day party, highly recommended.

        I’d love to do that but I think I’m too old. I envy you a bit! I wish I’d done it years ago when I did my main travelling in China.
        OTOH, I was there when China was changing with incredible speed. The China I saw in 1983/1984 no longer exists; nearly all the traffic in central Beijing was bicycles, plus buses and a very few taxis.

        • Walt

          I envy you having seen China in the 1980s. I had a Chinese professor at university in London but never dreamed I would wind up there. My first sight was 2007 and it has changed incredibly since then.

          I was 72 when I did the Trans-Siberian. If you are in good health it shouldn’t be a problem, the carriages are very comfortable and well heated with solid fuel. Here is “Siberia through my window”, a record of the journey, 25 minutes, music by Russian A Capella trio Doros.

          • Roger

            The video is wonderful, the music appropriate!

            Unfortunately I’m a bit older than that. We made our choices, we did what we did …

  • S

    Although I think the security theatre is ridiculous, my understanding is that you couldn’t bring down a plane with a few bottles of whisky. You could cause serious trouble in the cabin, nasty injuries etc., but I think the worry is more about explosions that could bring down the plane.

    My favourite story is where I accidentally left an old 500ml bottle in my bag through the scanner. It was flagged up, and I was asked about it. I said “oh I’m so sorry, but actually it is empty”. The security guard just said “ah right, if you’re saying it’s empty that’s ok” and let me through without checking my bag. He trusted me, I guess. But then why not trust me if it was full, if I said it was full of water?

    Anyway, thanks for the enjoyable if painful story.

    • craig Post author

      One of my guilty secret pleasures is watching Air Crash Investigation. The extremely fast spread of fire on planes (they boast of their very rapid internal airflow in the covid context) and its ability to bring planes down is well established.

      • S

        Oh thank you, then I take it back, especially with Ebenezer’s subsequent elaboration.
        Incidentally Schiphol already allow you to bring bottles of water etc through security.

        • Ebenezer Scroggie

          I’m endlessly astonished that ICAO still permits duty free spirits to be sold before and during flights. It’s such an obvious fire hazard and it costs millions of tonnes of fuel per decade worldwide to carry the weight. It would be so much better for duty free stuff to be collected at the arrival end.

          Then there’s the security aspect.

          I attended a Security lecture some years ago, given by an army guy who had been ordered to test the security arrangements at British airports. In his lecture he assembled an entirely viable IED which he constructed solely from items which he had bought from Heathrow’s duty free shops. The principal accelerant was 40% alcohol gin. Of course I won’t say what the other components were, but I will say that the demo of his device he gave in the carpark after the lecture was profoundly impressive. It quite literally singed eyebrows and it broke several windows.

          One of the components is now obsolete and two others have been made to disappear from duty free shops, but all three are easily replaced by alternatives which are still available on the “air side” of any major airport’s security system.

          It seems to me that that the “security” procedures at airports are merely intended to reassure the travelling public that the nanny State is looking after the proles.

          The only security warning to the travelling public which is relevant to this thread is: do not leave your valuables unattended. If that means taking your laptop and your cash stash with you when you go for a piss, then so be it. Let the thieving bastards pinch your bag of dirty laundry instead.

          • Bayard

            “It seems to me that that the “security” procedures at airports are merely intended to reassure the travelling public that the nanny State is looking after the proles.”

            They have an added function in that first class passengers can be rewarded by not having to endure them.

  • Republicofscotland

    An enjoyable read Craig, maybe you should take up writing short stories.

    Meanwhile on Assange, this is encouraging.

    “Major news outlets, led by The New York Times, have called on the Biden administration to drop charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

    Assange, who is an Australian national imprisoned inside a British jail, is awaiting extradition to the US where he faces charges of espionage under a law designed to prosecute first world war spies.

    The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El Pais joined forces with the NYT to oppose the charges against Assange, insisting that publishing the material WikiLeaks has released is not a crime. Obtaining and publishing sensitive information is a core part of the daily work of journalists, the outlets wrote on Monday.”

    • Roger

      The NYT, which used to be a very good newspaper, is more or less the in-house newsletter of the Democrat party nowadays; so this is probably intended to prepare the US public for Biden’s dropping of the whole case.

      Of course it’s good news if it really means the Biden administration is dropping the case. They pursued it long enough, I suspect, to ruin Julian Assange’s physical and mental health. He is a hero, but a hero who will be remembered for what he has done, not looked to for what he can do. Someone else will have to take up the baton.

  • Geoffrey

    Great blog, I also enjoy the Trains and The “your man on seat 61” is a great help. I have caught the Eurostar to Brussels, then to Cologne always just making the connection several times. 5 years or so ago you could get an overnight train from Cologne to Warsaw but the last few times you now have to go to Berlin stay overnight and then on to Warsaw. Last time I went on to Lviv from Warsaw overnight, there is about a 4 hour stop at the border where they change the wheels as the gauge is different in Ukraine. I have also been on the overnight train from Warsaw on to Minsk and on into Russia several times. The Russian trains are very good for travelling as you can sleep overnight at very reasonable prices. Unfortunately, it looks like it will be a long time before I can go again.

    • Jimmeh

      > where they change the wheels as the gauge is different in Ukraine
      I’m not surprised that changing all the wheels on a train takes four hours. I *am* surprised they don’t just move all the passengers onto a different train; that would only take a few minutes.

      • Ebenezer Scroggie

        I remember the old days when the Spanish rail system under Franco had a different gauge from the rest of Europe.

        At the Irun/Hendaye frontier they lifted the entire carriage off its bogeys and slid the appropriate bogeys underneath. The whole procedure, for maybe a couple of dozen carriages, took less than an hour.

        • Bayard

          “I remember the old days when the Spanish rail system under Franco had a different gauge from the rest of Europe.”

          It still does.

          • Pears Morgaine

            The high speed lines are standard gauge so they can operate across the border into France. Plans were mooted a couple of years ago to convert the rest of the network to standard gauge but currently trains that operate on both can change gauge automatically thanks to some clever engineering.

      • Stephan U from Munich

        Dear Craig, thank you for sharing your experience. I enjoyed reading it a lot.
        I live in Munich and I like train travel and try and choose trains whenever I can. Recently dor example I did Munich-Barcelona-San Sebastian-Paris-Munich. But whenever I use DB (German Rail), it‘s a disaster. I now actually use SNCF (French Rail) whenever I can. The TGV serves Munich-Stuttgart-Strasbourg-Paris for example. On time in Stuttgart. The German ICE might go or not go, but will certainly not be on time.
        But as you correctly point out: the biggest problem of DB is their awfull communication (or lack of it). Cancelled trains show up also on the DB app. Delays are often not shown on the app. etc. etc. etc.

  • RogerDodger

    What an epic. So much for the romance of travel!

    Good to see that the spirit of bureaucracy is well and alive in the private sector..

  • Jimmeh

    > the ever worsening LNER menu

    Ugh. I just looked it up. That’s First Class? Looks like it’s basically sausage rolls. You could do better on the sandwich aisle at Tesco.

    Back in the day, I’d book a second-class ticket, and then jump in the dining car and order breakfast. Bottomless cup of coffee, full English breakfast grill, and lots of leg and elbow room, because the dining car was in effect First Class. You can’t do that these days!

    > I was in a trance-like state I find very difficult to explain.

    That always happens to me when I travel. As a consequence, I mostly stay at home. But you’re a seasoned traveller, Craig; I’m surprised that you’re susceptible to Travel Trance.

  • El Dee

    Having spent many years travelling long distances on trains (UK only) I can only imagine you must have a true love of trains and everything about them to wish to CHOOSE this as a mode of transport. When I was using them regularly it wasn’t by choice and as soon as I could I chose other means of transport. But then I haven’t been exposed to travelling on European public transport..

  • bj

    You walked through those doors which snapped open before you with a surprising speed and force, and immediately mounted onto another identical moving walkway that stretched out towards another set of light portals in the distance. Then you went through the same experience again, and again. The whole thing had taken on this dreamlike quality in which my mind had disengaged from the strange world it was being carried through. I was in a trance-like state I find very difficult to explain.

    Get yourself a copy of the book ‘De kellner en de levenden‘ by Simon Vestdijk, learn Dutch to read it, and you’ll discover what that was all about.

  • AG

    re: train accidents – if I remember correctly, French TGV is better fit for the worst case scenario than German ICE with the French carriages getting locked into each other creating a single one piece of a train that would eventually simply fall off the tracks as one, whereas ICEs crash against each other each carriage being blown off the tracks individually creating a mess of intertwined loosely connected cars. I don´t know if this has been corrected with the very latest ICE models. For this safety feature and their smaller and more compact size (which, yes, makes TGV´s inside work like that of a passenger plane) TGV beat out ICE in several deals with China and other customers.

    As for British Rail – is it still as bad as pictured in “The Navigators” by Ken Loach back in 2001?

    p.s. re: stolen laptop, really hope you had a copy of your HD at home, nasty nasty experience

    • Pears Morgaine

      I hadn’t come across that film before but having worked on the railways it’s quite an accurate depiction of how things were under Railtrack. If you remember the people in charge thought they could just look after the money and outsource the core business; engineering. People died. More recently Network Rail have taken maintenance back ‘in house’ (more complicated than you might think) and things have improved immeasurably.

      • AG

        so some progress nonetheless? Good to hear.

        In Germany after all “Deutsche Bahn AG” is only in part private, the state being a major stock-holder.
        In fact Britain was very often treated as prime example for why privatization is nonesense.

        May be some sort of late vengeance by old style German leftists against New Labour´s success in the elections paving the way for Gerhard Schröder´s “new” Social Democrats in the sense: “Look across the Channel to see how it will end.”

        Well, all the warnings didn´t help, German Labour has vanished the trains have not.
        But that´s another topic.

        I remember a visit to Edinburgh 20 years ago: Competing bus companies on the same route with different & incompatible ticketing systems? That was too much for me.

        Like Mrs. Thatcher would have said: “There is no such thing as public transport system. There are only busses and trains and cabs.”

      • Alex

        Great tale of trying to interact with the miserable Western European rail system.

        I stayed in France for a month testing out whether or not I would want to live there and the fairly definitive answer was no.

        I went back to the former Soviet Union and I’ll probably end up living either in the paternal lands of ex-BSSR with winters in Thailand or I might just chance it back to the Turtle Auschwitz of freedom to tell all of the miserable liberals and their criminal friends to go f*** themselves and shoot my revolvers on the back 40.

        When I was traveling from Lille to Dijon I had three inches of paperwork detailing my cancer operation heart defect etc but apparently French rail had hired a Jewish Auschwitz guard who told me that I had to have a veteran’s card or a French national ID to claim disability.
        Such is not the case in the former Soviet Union. I pointed out that French national rail was perfectly fine deporting our people to Auschwitz and I really appreciated the scum of the West sending the Nazis east to murder all of my people in the BSSR. However suddenly 3 inches of medical paperwork was not good enough for them. The ticket seller behind her bulletproof glass in Reims also told me that the war and the genocides was long ago and didn’t matter.

        At that point I messaged my cousin in Moscow in the government that yeah you better cut off the food and heat of these freaks they’ve learned everything and nothing.

        I will say that the liberal freaks in Russia did jack up the price of a rail ticket from Moscow to Leningrad during the high tourist season so I do have to eat my words a bit because initially I thought that the ticket prices were much much lower but I was fooled by the low season traveling 2 years ago during the autumn.

        However in Serbia of all places I was shocked that you can travel from Belgrade to Novi Sad on the 60 MPH train make it in 1 hour and only pay something like $2 if I recall correctly.

        However the liberals of the world are freaks they are hated and at least in the East they are kept in line by the threat of being strung up unlike the West.

  • AG

    re: Assange – 2 years ago FREITAG publisher Augstein spoke in front of the London court on behalf of Assange regarding David Leigh and the alleged disclosure of that ominous Wikileaks password. What has come out of this? Do the German journalists and Leigh bear any responsibility which Assange had to pay for?

  • Brian Keane

    I was Thinking First of Julian… And Craig’s Laptop…

    Farewell Old Laptop
    my far Travlled Companion
    I Shall Miss Our Chats…..

    And On another Note… –

    There’s a world of Utter Contrasts
    out there that few people have seen

    Black and White
    Devastation and Joy
    Starvation and Gluttony
    Evil and Good

    I’ve Seen it all

    I’ve stood before Horrors
    Struggling to contain Rage and tears

    And Very real Fears For a People Oppressed

    I am the Voice of the Oppressed

    I am the Voice of the Supressed
    Though I am one man
    I Toil and Fight
    to help expose the Plight

    of souls Hidden and Crushed By a callous Empire
    Machine THAT Grinds and Churns to Keep it’s Crimes Hushed

    Good People are Caught in a Media Lens
    Of Slimy things that Crawl from their Dens

    to masquerade and Hypnotise…..
    Lies are Truth
    The Earth Itself

  • Andrew Carter

    I too am currently enjoying the mind-altering “House of Mirrors” experience of an over-60’s 15-days-in-2-months Interrail pass, and if it offers any consolation, please rest assured that the standard of service provided by our French cousins comfortably underperforms that of their Belgian and German counterparts. There is of course a very good reason why the word “bureaucracy” is of French derivation.

    Your laptop was targeted, wasn’t it. Your legal cases have been derailed, suborned and perverted. Julian Assange has been subject to political persecution on a par with the worst and most hypocritical excesses of the Spanish Inquisition. But, surely, the most remarkable thing is that any of us are even slightly surprised by this.

    We live in an Alice in Wonderland world of post-Truth venality, and surely Goethe’s edict has never been more true: “there are none so enslaved as those who falsely believe themselves to be free”. Who are any of us kidding- this is feudalism in a kilt, and we might as well get used to it, Interrail or not. At least under previous extreme right wing management the trains ran on time

  • Andrew Carter

    I have just checked the SNCF app, and a first class single on the TGV9561 from Paris to Mannheim at 0720 tomorrow, 2nd December followed by the ICE 690 from Mannheim to Berlin would cost me €507* without the benefit of my magic Interrail card (which I unfortunately cannot use, as although Tickets are available on this – but no other – service, no “Reservations” are available for Interrail passengers.

    See the scam yet?

    * use the website, and the price is €503, because France, and as I mentioned in my previous post, the French are not done with you yet – there is a Rail Conductors strike from tomorrow until Monday, so all services are subject to disruption before you even start

    Now, a propos your egregious carbon emissions, the SNCF website tells you that every one of these 1,141 unnecessary kilometres away from your Lord & Master’s Manor will cost the planet 11.8g of the dread CO2, amounting to a whopping 13.8kg (equivalent to 1176 gigaGretas).

    CO2 has a density of 1.87 kg/m3, so your inconsiderate destruction of the planet will release 7.4 cubic metres of the stuff over the course of the 8 and half hours you are needlessly enduring the Hobbesian squalor of European rail travel, so you and all of the other 299-or-so runaway serfs will in effect be blowing out 0.925 cubic metres of the stuff an hour. An adult human exhales on average 6 litres of air a minute, so 360 L an hour, and thetefore even ignoring the fact that CO2 comprises only 0.04% of the atmosphere, you’d all have to puffing and panting like a very puffy panty thing to keep that rate up.

    Either SNCF needs to move away from Casey Jones “Cannonball Express” steam engines, or you are a very, very naughty little serf indeed, and should hang your head in shame. (In the alternative, just pay the new London-wide ULEZ tax and we’ll call it quits)

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