Trains (Mostly) Planes and Automobiles Part 2 45

When I agreed to do the tour of Germany, I stipulated that I would need to break off to honour a speaking commitment in Maribor, Slovenia. This turned into a crazy epic.

The straight line distance from Berlin to Maribor is 425 miles, not very different from London to Inverness. Unfortunately the entire Alps are in the way and Maribor is much better connected to Eastern than Western Europe. The distance by road is given at exactly 600 miles. I can’t find a distance calculated by rail, but I think it is well over 900 miles. (I can’t find a site which gives rail distances except on a crow flies basis).

My route on for 25 November was 06:01 ICE 1001 Berlin to Munich, 10:17 EC 217 Munich to Graz, 16:27 RE 157 Graz to Spielfeld-Strass, 18:04 RE 4443 Spielfeld=Strass to Maribor.

I should arrive at 18:20 to give a speech immediately. My talk with Stella had finished around 22:30 in Berlin and my talk the next day in Maribor began at 19:00. Then the following day it was back over the Alps and across the German plain again to speak at Frankfurt at 18:00. If my many political adversaries ever needed hard evidence I must be quite nuts, I guess this is it.

But I had said I would go to Maribor, so I did.

I had hung around after the talk in Berlin to chat with those attending – this is important both to motivate and to recruit activists. Because I knew I had a very early start, I had chosen the Intercity hotel, right next to the railway station. This was a mistake. It was very expensive (260 euros the night) and dreadful value for money. The mattresses were very thin, I have had thicker handkerchiefs than the towels and heavier towels than the carpet. There was nothing but water to drink in the room.

After checking in, I walked to the railway station so I would know exactly where to drag all that luggage in the early morning. I am not in general a fan of modern architecture but I simply loved Berlin Hauptbahnhof and spent a rapt half hour wandering around inspecting it closely. St Pancras is always called a cathedral to rail, and this is the modern equivalent. It is breathtaking in both scale and ambition and in quality and detail.

It speaks the same architectural language as some of London’s newer projects like the London Bridge Station rebuilding or some of Crossrail, but with much more assurance and verve. In London the great glass lift columns would have been square not round, because it is cheaper. The multiple levels of trains are dizzying and, reflected in acres of glass, sometimes illusory. There is just so much of it, all designed precisely to function but with an exact role in the aesthetic scheme.

Returning to the mundane, I was very hungry, having eaten nothing since breakfast on a wildly difficult and tiring day (and that breakfast had been mostly champagne). I found the last food outlet open and bought their last cheese baguette, which had reached the stage that sweat fell from the cheese and the bits outside the bread were many shades darker.

And so to bed.

5am; up, shower, shave, off to the station. Finding it difficult simply to lift the luggage. It is very cold. Pass a long queue of homeless people outside the door of a soup kitchen. Get to the platform on the station’s lowest level.

There is a deeply held belief in the UK that German trains are very efficient. I held it myself.

The Munich train arrived seven minutes after it should have departed and left 13 minutes late. First class had the old fashioned system of six seats in a closed compartment, two banks of three against the walls facing each other, with a sliding door and a single corridor running down one side of the train. But it was a very new carriage, and the traditional design was rendered in attractive light wood panelling and with curves in the large glass walls.

I was in the end compartment in the carriage. Germany has re-instituted the compulsory wearing of masks on trains, which specifically have to be heavy PP2 masks. In flying (unwillingly) from Cologne to Berlin I had not had to wear a mask. They are compulsory on trains in Germany but not on planes, which makes no sense whatsoever.

Whether for fear of covid or because I look like a crazed axe killer, the lady who was also in the compartment where I had my reservation plainly was not happy with my being there. She scowled as I came in, made a fuss about moving her luggage (which was in no way needed), and finally demanded I show her my ticket and seat reservation. She then looked daggers at me for 15 minutes.

As I was obviously spoiling her day, I got up, smiled and said goodbye, and went and found another seat.

After a while I went up to the restaurant car to see what could be done about breakfast. I am embarrassed not to speak any German, but the lady there spoke English. I asked her what was available for Breakfast. She told me I had to choose from the menu, and passed me one. There were a range of options from the Kaiser breakfast, including ham, eggs and cheese, to the Wien breakfast, just a pastry and a coffee.

I asked for the Kaiser breakfast. She shook her head, took back the menu, and put a big cross in red biro through the Kaiser breakfast. So I chose the next breakfast down, and she did exactly the same thing. We worked our way down to the Wien breakfast, and finally she crossed that one out too.

So having eliminated all the breakfast options I switched to the other side of the menu and ordered a plate of ham and sausage. The lady said I could not have that either as they had no bread.

I gave up and asked for a latte. She said they had no milk. I went back to my seat clutching a black coffee.

I had been through exactly the same situation in Poland immediately post Communism, where restaurants would not tell you what they had and insisted you order from a menu of non-existent choices, until you chanced upon something available, like a game of culinary battleships.

Apart from that, this was a very pleasant train. The station indicators in the corridor also had a speedometer, and most of the time it hummed along at a highly impressive 260 kph (160 mph). It actually caught up on time before it got to Munich, which was fortunate as it was a short connection to Graz. This change involved humping the luggage quite a way, but I made it.

This also was a train organised in compartments, but the carriage was much older. I shared a compartment with a delightful and friendly lady, traveling with her partner, who was going back home to Salzburg for a break. She is a chef and has her own Michelin listed restaurant in Munich, doing Austrian cuisine. The restaurant only has 23 covers and you currently need to reserve three weeks in advance.

She had survived lockdown by starting to do takeaway food, and in fact had achieved a bigger turnover, and profit, on takeaway than the restaurant ever had before. But she was pleased to be back to normal and stop the takeaway, which was all of the drudgery and none of the pleasure of being a chef.

We had a long and friendly chat about families and life. It made the journey go very quickly.

It is surprising how quickly the Alps came into view after leaving Munich, and you hurtle towards them for a very long time without their seeming to become appreciably closer. Once we reached the Austrian border an announcement was made that we could take off our masks, which we all did.

We were travelling in coach 12. The guard informed us that at Salzburg we had to change from coach 12 to coach 10, as one of the outside carriage doors would not open. This was not a problem in Germany, but meant the coach could not be used in Austria.

The two ladies were only going as far as Salzburg, but once there they insisted on carrying my luggage for me – all of it – and installing it and me safely in coach 10. They instructed the young gentleman sitting in the compartment that he was to look after me.

The line from Salzburg to Graz was extremely beautiful. My new young travelling companion worked for the Austrian rail network and he was very proud of it. He pointed out to me all the landmarks on the way, particularly mountains, castles and waterfalls, of which he had an encyclopaedic knowledge.

He kept telling me to take pictures and was most disappointed with my lack of photographic skills – with some justice. I took lots of pictures of myself reflected in windows and a variety of different passing poles and gantries. Here instead is Interrail’s picture advertising the route.

It is at least this pretty the whole way.

Austria and Italy will shortly be opening a massive tunnel under the Brenner Pass, 34 miles long. The Semmering tunnel, 17 miles long, will complete in three years time. There has been an incredible burst of tunnel building through the Alps which is revolutionising connections between central and western Europe with northern Italy and the Adriatic.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel, 35 miles long – which is longer than the Channel Tunnel – was finished in 2016. The Ceneri Base Tunnel, also in Switzerland, opened in 2018. Further West a major new tunnel under the Alps between France and Italy is nearing completion.

The reason for my companion’s journey was that he was working on a route for a new over 30 mile tunnel that will replace the highest area of the Salzburg to Graz line. This is still in development stage, and even that fact he said is “hot news”.

This day’s journey of 260 kph trains and information of a whole complex of gigantic rail projects, stood in the starkest of contrasts to the impoverished and neglected infrastructure of the UK. We cannot construct even a single and short high speed line; the road between London and Edinburgh is still not fully dual carriageway and parts of Scotland still suffer appalling communications deficits.

Arriving at Graz I again had a change of platforms to negotiate with all that luggage. Fortunately Graz has mid-platform lifts down to the interchange level, and I made it to an adequate little local chugger. I really can’t tell you much about this, except that it was dark outside and I fell asleep more or less immediately.

A friendly man woke me with a shake of the shoulder at Spielfeld-Strass, which is basically countryside with a shed in it. Here we had a remarkable change of trains, all the more peculiar for taking place in the dark.

We descended on to a normal platform and then walked over a footbridge, where I struggled mightily. The other side of the footbridge led not on to another plaform, but down on to the tracks. Half the people were hurrying off to a train in front of us and on our left, which was alongside a conventional train platform, and half of the people to a train front right, which involved crossing the lines and climbing up from a low wooden bench.

Everybody was running. I stopped a bearded man amongst what seemed like a party of young people and asked “Maribor?”. He pointed to the train on the right. I picked up my pile of luggage and ran after the disappearing crowd, again with an aerobic burst I simply would not have thought I could produce. I threw the luggage piece by piece up into the carriage and climbed up after it. The doors closed and off we went.

We had of course just scrambled across the Austrian/Slovenian border and changed from an Austrian to a Slovene local train, although it is astonishing that these two EU states have not devised a more elegant way of doing it by now. The Slovene train was clean and new, one of those low slung designs with three internal steps up to a raised level at each carriage end above the bogies.

We made a couple of small stops on the way to Maribor, at stations – one very illuminated new and steel glass shiny, and one an old weedy unlit platform next to a cowshed. They had in common that neither had a sign saying where it was. A single person hopped on in each instance. Then we came into Maribor, the lights of which appeared very extensive.

Emerging on to Maribor station, which seems made of precisely the same concrete, glass and steel components as Austrian stations, I contemplated wearily that the short train had stopped as far from the exit on an extremely long platform as it was possible to stop. As I prepared for one last battle with the bags, I was delighted to see a huge bearded man stride forward to greet me. They had come to pick me up, and the man, who introduced himself as Matic, lifted my large suitcase as though it had no weight at all.

We drove to the self-declared autonomous zone of the Pekarna Centre, which was hosting me. This is an alternative culture commune which occupies an extensive site stretching over several former military buildings. It is very active in painting, film and the plastic arts, and functions as a very vibrant music venue and youth centre. It also holds a variety of events aimed at social consciousness and well-being. I had been invited in the context of an annual political teach-in to explain the Assange case.

The commune has rehabilitated several of the buildings on the derelict army base, and like many such groups has been through a process of varying relationships with the state. Originally declared by its founders to be self-governing and free from state law, gradually state regulation and state funding for aspects of the commune’s work crept in. This includes subsidies from various state creative arts funds, local council funding for the modernisation of one of the buildings, and eventually the insertion of an “official” NGO and local authority control of the hostel accommodation.

This process has led to the inevitable conclusion – the state now intends to close the centre down entirely and take over the land and buildings for other purposes. There have been two formal attempts to do so in the last few years, and both candidates in the current mayoral election are pledged to shut down the centre. The council always propose ostensible public sector schemes of popular appeal as their aim.

The latest wheeze is to use the site for a dental hospital, although the local university hospital which will purportedly own it has no knowledge of the plan and no funding for it. The commune of course believe this is all fake and the aim is profit making private housing.

A luta continua.

I had been asked in advance what I eat, and had replied pretty well anything. I have to confess I meant Chinese, Italian, Indian etc, and had not expected to be presented with a bowl of rice and lentils. I had eaten nothing since the old cheese sandwich at the midnight before, so I ate my way through it with surprising gusto. It was very nicely cooled and spiced and would have been perfectly fine on the side of a few lamb chops. There was very decent Slovenian wine to wash it down.

After dinner I had a very quick tour of the grounds, mostly very dark but stumbling upon large groups of young people in surprising places. We also went in to the second hand bookshop, which they claim to be the largest in Europe. I doubt this, but it is certainly very large, over two open floors. While they have a great deal of shelving, there are also great rotundas of books simply stacked from the floor, spines outward, though taking out a lower one might be like a game of giant Jenga. This certainly allows a much higher book density than if everything was shelved.

I had a very few minutes but enough to realise there was an extremely productive Slovenian language publishing industry even during the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Upstairs included the English language section, most of which was the worst kind of potboiler fiction. Indeed I wondered how on earth these many thousands of light and romantic fiction titles had found their way to Maribor. Sadly I had no time to find out.

I was equally surprised that the upper floor could support what must have been a great many tonnes of books. Passing back downstairs, I could inspect if from below as there was no plaster ceiling and beams and floorboards were exposed. Both were massive – the beams were about 24 inches square.

It was now time for me to give my talk, and we went over to one of the concert halls, which was gratifyingly full. I hope that I will be able to find a video link so you can watch it if you wish. The format was just me speaking for about forty minutes, and then taking questions and inviting discussion. On this tour I am mostly making a short introduction and then taking questions after showing the Ithaka movie. That is very effective, but personally I always prefer giving longer talks where I can expand, explain and explore my views. I felt very at home doing this before the Maribor audience.

You are going to get very bored if I recount to you twenty very similar talks I am giving on this tour. But each has unique aspects, often in response to questions. I recall in Maribor giving the example of the Panama Papers as illustrating what happens when a whistleblower goes the traditional mainstream media route rather than going for full exposure through Wikileaks.

When the papers were leaked of a law firm representing many thousands of people and enterprises hiding their assets in parliament, the western media filtered the information and hid everything connected to prominent western companies and individuals. Instead they deliberately gave the entirely false impression that the bulk of money laundered through Panama is Russian, and made the headlines entirely about Russian and Russian-linked individuals, including a chef with tenuous connections to Putin as an official caterer.

Out of 10 million documents leaked, about 120 were actually made available as documents by the journalists, and about a number 200 had their contents referred to by mainstream media journalists – how fully and how honestly we have no way of knowing.

We live in a world of fake investigative journalism. Access to the Panama Papers was strictly controlled by a Washington-based entity, the “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists”. Their funders include

Ford Foundation
Carnegie Endowment
Rockefeller Family Fund
W K Kellogg Foundation
Open Society Foundation

Is it surprising they hid all the evidence about corporate America in the Panama Papers? The contrast to the Wikileaks model of giving the citizen access to unfiltered source material could not be clearer.

I was very warmly received by the audience in Maribor, and afterwards we had a party. The following is what I picked up from many conversations. There may be other contrary or balancing information. I am just reporting the views of those I met.

Maribor was Slovenia’s major industrial centre and the main textile manufacturer for the whole of Yugoslavia, integrated into other Eastern European markets. It went through rapid deindustrialisation in the 1990s and had never really recovered. There remains high unemployment, though things have improved a little since EU membership as there is greater integration with Graz in Austria – a city which has been through similar problems. Graz currently has a Communist Party local administration.

Maribor feels cut off from Ljubljana. It is only 70 miles away but transport infrastructure needs upgrading. The train takes two hours and twenty minutes and the road is poor. There is a strong feeling that money from the EU and other international bodies never gets further than Ljubljana. The capital is booming and has significant funding for renovation, the arts and tourism. I encountered a lot of resentment towards the council.

I was very flattered to meet a couple who had journeyed from Graz just to hear me speak having read my books, and that two others had come with copies of Murder in Samarkand for me to sign (one in the US edition, Dirty Diplomacy).

I also took the opportunity of being in Slovenia to discuss the route they took to Independence, where I believe there are vital lessons for Scotland. I shall be discussing this in a Zoom talk to Alba International on 4 December, which I hope will be made more widely available afterwards.

I spent the night in the hostel, which is not a phrase you will hear from me very often. The next morning it was off to talk in Frankfurt.

The train schedule was 26 November was very slightly more forgiving. 07:19 INT 311 Maribor to Graz, 08:26 RJ 74 Graz to Wien Meidling, 11:22 ICE 26 Wien Meidling to Frankfurt.

This arrived in Frankfurt at 17:36 for a 18:00 talk, so there was no room for error. The big worry was a 4 minute change in Graz, with all the luggage. If I missed that, there was no way to make the talk in Frankfurt.

Matic arrived in a car to get me to a very cold Maribor station in plenty of time. Unfortunately, the train arrived 13 minutes late. It was a Ljubljana to Budapest direct train, which underlined the fact Maribor is very much in Eastern Europe. It consisted of only three rather tired carriages, of which the back one was first class, in which I was the only passenger.

Fortunately this train went straight through the border at Spielfeld-Strass without our having to change trains, but the train did change from a Slovenian to an Austrian crew, which took 15 minutes.

I have no idea how, but leaving the border 15 minutes late it still arrived in Graz bang on time. The next train was straight across the platform, so I made that four minute change with the luggage, in two swift trips.

I was now on the train from Graz to Prague. The carriage was Austrian Railjet and it was my favourite so far. Spacious and light, with plenty of tables, and a really helpful attendant who served at the table from a good menu of food and drink that actually existed. I had Goulash soup and a bottle of beer.

The train journey from Graz to Vienna was even more spectacularly beautiful than that from Salzburg to Graz. Not as high and the valleys were a little gentler, but the villages, castles and valleys were like an ever unfolding stream of picture postcards.

At Wien Meidling I changed to the train to Frankfurt. Here I was in an open first class carriage, mostly airline seating and quite full. Seats were three across, two one side of the corridor and one the other. I was in a single seat.

I slept for a couple of hours, and then I folded down the airline style table in the back of the seat in front. I was just about able to balance my bulky old 17-inch laptop on it and started to type this article.

It is a lovely old laptop of a very high spec. It had been all round the world with me for seven years. It has Intel i7, 16 GB RAM and 1 TB HDD. But it looks like rubbish. Far thicker than a newer version, it made a very significant contribution to the weight I was carrying, was very dirty indeed and the case is cracked.

The train wifi being pretty useless, I was using my phone as a portable hotspot. I was confused to note that the phone was displaying “two devices connected”. I tapped on this and found that one was the pairing name I had set for my laptop, and one was a succession of numbers and symbols. I had never seen this before.

(UPDATE I thought it went without saying, but the portable hotspot was protected by a password – I had not changed the strong random one generated by the phone. That is why I was surprised).

The carriage was about half full. Everybody seemed normal. There was one young man, athletic looking with neat short hair, who had been already on the train when I boarded. He was working concentratedly on a small laptop on the table in front of him, and he continued to do so without a break for the entire six and a half hours from Vienna Meidling to Frankfurt.

He never looked at me and there was nothing strange about him other than his levels of concentration. But he was the only passenger near me who went the whole distance from Vienna to Frankfurt.

Indeed, rather to my surprise by the time we approached Frankfurt the carriage was very nearly empty, as people got out stop by stop. As Frankfurt is a huge place I expected the opposite.

As we neared Frankfurt, I packed up my laptop, disconnected the charger, and put both in my laptop bag which I left on my seat after putting the table back up. I then went quickly to the toilet (in a wooden cabinet actually inside the carriage) for a pee.

I came back just as we pulled in. There were only four of us getting off this first class carriage at this final stop. I got down with the bags, put the rucksack on my back, balanced the laptop bag on the wheeled suitcase, and set off down the platform.

At some stage another ICE train had joined us and I was sixteen carriages from the end of the platform. I was panicking a bit as my talk started in half an hour, although both hotel and venue were close.

Hurrying, I dropped the laptop bag from the top of the wheeled case. In picking it up I noticed the zip was partly undone. It just crossed my mind as strange, as I knew I had not left it that way. But I did it up and hurried on.

The Metropolitan Hotel is right next to the station. I checked in and hurried up to my room. Something was nagging at me and I opened the laptop bag. The laptop was gone.

I raced back to the station, but the train was as gone as the laptop. I went to the information desk, and they directed me to lost property. I went to the lost property desk, where a man in a red peaked hat was studiously unhelpful, and told me to go online and fill in a form.

Niels was filling in at the talk. I joined him and it was a disastrous attendance – only twelve people. They seemed subdued by the simple fact of being such a small gathering. I could not understand what had gone wrong.

It was good to see Niels. Given that we had been meant to travel together ever since London, and had not even managed to set eyes on each other these first three days, it was a happy reunion and he cheered me up.

But you lose a huge amount of information when you lose a laptop – including a lot of research for my book on George Murray. You then start to get into all the perils of identity theft. There was a huge task ahead, in warning people, in blocking and securing, and then recovering accounts.

Then on top of this, the comparative failure of the Frankfurt event (and I say that with due respect to the dozen great people who did show).

Oh well, I said to Niels. Things can only get better.

I was very wrong.


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45 thoughts on “Trains (Mostly) Planes and Automobiles Part 2

  • Bort

    Matt Taibbi has just exposed collusion between the government and senior Twitter staff to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story:

    He is also promising to reveal more that may be of particular interest to Craig:

    > There is much more to come, including answers to questions about issues like shadow-banning, boosting, follower counts, the fate of various individual accounts, and more. These issues are not limited to the political right.

    • joel

      The story has naturally been suppressed by liberal “Our Values” media and Taibbi is being smeared and trashed by “Our Values” attack dogs. It seems naked subversion of democracy and suppression of the free press does not always contravene “Our Values”. Our betters understand why but do not need to even acknowledge it let alone explain it.

      PS Fun read Craig, although sorry to hear what happened at the end. Dread to think how things got even worse after that.

  • Ian

    Well, for anybody who loves a train journey this is a very rewarding article, replete with detail and very enjoyable to read. Random encounters are surely one of the great pleasures (and pitfalls) of travel. It made me want to take some of those journeys. I do find, as I think you did, the gradual, if at times haphazard, progress of the former East European countries invigorating, particularly the youthful energy you often find in them. A lesson, indeed, to Scotland.

    Very sorry to hear about the theft of the laptop, it does sound like you were trailed. I have no doubt they have an obsessive interest in your contact book and emails, particularly around the Assange campaign. It is a classic surveillance tactic to hoover up all the associated people around a campaign, in order to further intimidate and harass supporters, expose their networks and collect any info about future tactics.

    The only thing that slightly baffles me, Craig, is why you have so much luggage to heave around Europe, but no doubt you have your requirements.

      • Roger

        all that luggage …

        Finding it difficult simply to lift the luggage.

        Replacing a 1-night stay at a good(ish) hotel near the middle of your trip that has express laundry service, by a 2-night stay enabling use of said express laundry, instantly halves the amount of underwear/shirts you need to pack. Worth it IMHO. If you’re really in a hurry, you might need to ask the hotel before your trip when they pick up and deliver express laundry. Many pick up in the morning and deliver the same day, but some deliver the following day.

        Launderettes exist in practically every city, but if you need shirts ironed, you need hotel express laundry.

        The other rule I used to follow was: pack only what you will use, never pack anything you might use, if it can be bought quickly during your trip. (Obviously rain gear is an exception.)

        “Travel light” was the most effective advice I ever received in my entire life.

        • Julian

          I travel internationally as a tourist with a 30 litre day pack that can go as cabin baggage. Two of everything (socks, undies, shirts, trousers): one to have on and one in the pack (okay, maybe a third pair of undies and socks if I’m feeling lazy). Anorak and warm jacket are tied around my waist. Everything is of lightweight technical material that dries in about 5 minutes. A shirt will roll up into a ball the size of your fist. What you wore during the day you wash at the sink in the evening and leave to drip dry overnight.
          It does mean that I look like a slob, but as a tourist I can wear that. I concede that the demands of looking decent at a lectern might be greater.

      • Antiwar7

        Theft from European train stations is endemic, at least since right after WW II, according to my old man. He knew people who would offer to carry one’s luggage onto the train. And then throw the luggage out the other side to their confederate. Or others with large pieces of luggage with false bottoms, which they could put over someone else’s luggage, and then walk away with it. I myself was almost pick-pocketed in a French train station. Welcome to an age-old custom. I’m very sorry you had to pay such a high price to experience that.

  • Graeme Hood

    Not sure why you were told the road from Maribor to Ljubljana is poor – there is a perfectly good motorway between both towns which I have travelled 3 times this year.

    In Ljubljana castle there is a small museum on their independence. Here is a picture I took of a short text on how they dealt with the currency issue which shows how easy it can be done….!AlAo–iARAs8iJBG3HnRvSEmPSOHVg

    • Karl Kling

      There is an excellent motorway network in Slovenia which has been built post-independence. Though my guess is the opinion might come down to the cost of a Vignette to use the motorway network (annual fee of 110€ ), a tolling system for the motorway network which btw is in place in nearly all central European countries except Germany:

      Then add into you need a similar Vignette for Austria (another annual 100€), Hungary (another annual 100€) plus there are separate toll fees at some Alpine road tunnels on top of the Vignette (in Slovenia only at the border crossing to Austria at Karawanks tunnel though). Oh, and then Italy have a separated toll motorway network, which leads some to just travel the older much slower road through towns and villages instead of using the faster and more secure route.

      Fun Slovenian fact: If you take the train to Ljubljana from Maribor, you pass by the Trbovlje Chimney, which is the worlds’ highest factory chimney at 380 meters, built in the 1970’s to let the soot fly above the mountain valley!

  • YesXorNo

    How to Travel with Computing Equipment and Data

    The computing equipment (CE) amounts to the hardware and the operating system. The data is you “home directory” or equivalent. The aim is that loss of hardware is not also a loss of data. Thus one is less worried about identity theft or loss of one’s data and need only be concerned with replacing hardware.

    One must separate the CE from the data. The CE amounts to the laptop and 2 USB sticks which contain an operating system from which one boots. The second is merely a backup of the operating system. The hardware is just hardware. The operating system is a choice, and being required to download it again is avoided by the copy version on the second USB stick.

    The data, your “home directory” goes on another USB stick. Again, you need two, one primary and one for backup. One keeps two little bags. In one bag, one has the “to be used” OS and Data USB sticks, and potentially a cable to connect the mobile phone to the computer as a SECURE hotspot. This is used during the day. Each night, or at some regular interval, one performs a backup of the Data from one USB stick to the other. When traveling the backup OS and backup Data go in their little baggy in your luggage. This solution works well for people working with documents. If you are dealing in high density media like video, go talk to Laura Poitras. What I mean is that USB sticks don’t cut it. You need far higher density storage, which is specialist hardware (solid state disks).

    To add another layer of security, the Data is backed up to a cloud storage service every so often (once a week?). A good example of this storage service is Mega offered by Kim DotCom. There are others. The “advantage” of Mega is that it encrypts/decrypts on the fly. Better is that you do this yourself, only uploading encrypted data. Thus, the storage provider is irrelevant. However, one must then keep three additional records, the public/private keypair (well only the private, then we get technical). Two of these are just a duplicate digital copy (again, USB sticks). The third is a printed copy — non-digital — as a fallback, which should be given to a trusted individual for storage. For without the key you are in just the same position as no-backup and your laptop is stolen. The encrypt locally strategy involves doing just that, encrypting, which requires additional storage and time making the whole process more likely to fail. Thus, the advantage of services like Mega. Choose what will work for you.

    I presume that you are using a GNU/Linux operating system. Linux people tend to be very helpful(*). Find a local user group to obtain assistance.

    The above design will also work with non-GNU/Linux systems, though will be more difficult.

    (*) This advice is an example of the helpfulness of GNU/Linux users.

    PS: I do understand that being given advice to avert a disaster after it has occurred is painful medicine. Sorry about that.

    PPS: I omitted one point, one takes the “active” Data USB stick with one to the bathroom.

    [ Mod: Again, thanks for your helpfulness, YesXorNo. Many other commenters were happy to offer their advice (of varying quality) on the previous thread Electronic Grief. Such suggestions may prove useful for other readers – though some may want to offer contrary opinions on certain technical aspects, and this isn’t the place to discuss those matters. You’re welcome to raise them in the Blog Support Forum; or, if they relate specifically to political topics, in the Discussion Forum.

    Craig is very well connected to Wikileaks and has immediate access to some of the world’s leading experts in data security and surveillance evasion. He also has a tech team well trained in data protection working behind the scenes. Obviously the methods can’t be shared publicly, but you’re welcome to discuss these and other security issues in the forums. ]

    • YesXorNo

      Hi Mod,

      Thank you again for your polite and helpful comment.

      You note below that Craig has access to in-house expertise in data security and that he has failed to avail himself of said expertise. I hope that this recent horrible event will provide him with motivation to do so.

      I recall hearing Jacob Appelbaum’s trouble with international travel wherein he would have his electronic equipment searched. His solution was where I draw my advice from. He would use a network storage platform and travel with only hardware and an operating system and then download the data once he reached his destination. This is over a decade ago. I mention this as it offers a similar story; a person in whom intelligence services had special interest.

      [ Mod: To reiterate the main point – Craig can receive advice directly from his senior associates at Wikileaks (who are renowned experts in data security and the evasion of surveillance), not to mention former NSA and CIA operatives in VIPS such as Bill Binney and Ray McGovern. It’s not obvious why he would need to garner security tips from the blog team, commenters, or anyone else. ]

  • Tom

    No doubt you’ve been told that the solution to all your problems is cloud syncing and encryption built into your hardware. Sorry you didn’t realise earlier.

      • W C Fields

        Another simple solution, if taking such valuables with you to the toilet is too onerous, is to go well before arrival. Quite apart from avoiding finding it’s engaged by someone with piles and missing out on your pee altogether, that way you have time to check you have everything when back at your seat and kick up a fuss if you don’t.

      • Roger

        I think the solution is for people not to steal laptops

        A universe in which nobody stole laptops would also be a universe in which politicians never committed crimes, and in which we therefore would not need whistleblowers.

        • Piotr Berman

          I imagine an even more fantastic universe in which politicians deliver on their promises that matter, even if occasionally.

          • Collie Dog

            The problem is a universe where politicians in the west *do* deliver on promises — promises no one would vote for if properly informed of what they consisted or to whom they had been made — and have been succeeding in doing so at tragically increasing cost to a ‘civilised world’ for forty-plus years. And this often without even technically lying, although the more dysfunctional it becomes, the less easy it is to pull off such a rhetorical trick. And so barefaced lying has now become a thing too, even as good as openly admitted, so disempowered have we become.

      • Steve Peake

        “I think the solution is for people not to steal laptops”.

        Or for the security services not to take an interest in people they see as threats ? Or any other imaginary utopia of zero relevance to the world we actually live and operate in.

        For a man clearly so smart in some ways, I am staggered to read you saying this.

        One question – was your wifi hotspot password protected ? I am going to assume it was, but were you not alarmed that someone else was on it ? That should have rung some very loud alarm bells.

        “Craig is very well connected to Wikileaks and has immediate access to some of the world’s leading experts in data security and surveillance evasion. He also has a tech team well trained in data protection working behind the scenes.”

        I have to confess that if an unauthorised party had access to Craig’s wifi hotspot and Craig had a lot of valuable data on the laptop that he left unattended and effectively allowed to be stolen, then this ‘tech team’ needs to seriously raise its game.

        [ Mod: Granted. But our powers only extend to the blog. The intended point is that were he to ask for help with data security, it would be freely available in-house. The fact he hasn’t done so would suggest either that he has consulted other experts or, as you have inferred, that he was negiligent in failing to take adequate precautions. ]

        • craig Post author

          Yes the wifi hotspot was protected by what appeared to be a very strong password, though it was the one automatically generated by the phone’s random password generator.

          • Steve

            Well, I imagine that IT professionals working for the security services can crack a wifi-hotspot password.

            Craig, I am a huge fan of yours, but I worry you are not as tech-savvy as perhaps you need to be. Please, by whatever means you consider appropriate, get some advice about how to protect yourself. I am sure I am not alone in thinking that you are far too valueable an asset to the ‘movement’ to be as vulnerable to being hacked or having your data stolen in the manner you appear to have been.

            Tech team ! I appreciate your reply to my earlier comment. Please try to be proactive in urging Craig to seek and get the necessary support. The stakes are too high.

  • Piotr Berman

    My websearch:

    It takes an average of 12h 1m to travel from Berlin to Graz Hbf by train, over a distance of around 387 miles (623 km). There are normally 20 trains per day (perhaps you have to go through Vienna, in which case I would use a sleeping bag and a place to lie down, rather than a seat, going overnight)

    It takes an average of 1h 13m to travel from Maribor to Graz Hbf by train, over a distance of around 37 miles (59 km). There are normally 13 trains per day …

    But a bus could perhaps be better from Graz…
    Dec 4
    Departure time: 4:00 am
    Duration: 0:53 hrs
    Arrival time: 4:53 am
    Departure stop: Graz WeblingGraz Webling
    Arrival stop: MariborMaribor



    • craig Post author


      As it says in the article, rail distances given on websites seem always to be as the crow flies, which is not much use. I think it is obvious from the fact it takes 12 hours and the train goes up to 260kph, that it is not 387 miles from Berlin to Graz by rail. It is more like 900 miles. The article does give the actual trains and train times.

      The time by bus from Berlin to Graz you cite is of course one day plus 59 minutes, as in 25 hours. Trains are less polluting than buses per tonne hauled.

      • Coldish

        According to my old copy of Thomas Cook’s European rail timetable, the distance by rail between Berlin and Maribor via Munich and Graz is 1166km, that is 724.5 miles (about the same as from London to Wick in Caithness via Edinburgh).
        The distance you travelled will be slightly different as the new high speed line from Berlin to Munich is via Erfurt rather than Jena.

  • Karl Kling

    Btw I really enjoyed the post and the travel itinerary.
    I’d say the Alpine countries of Austria and Switzerland have the best trains and development these days. Especially if you travel by Interrail there is no need for extra surcharges as with the Latine high-speed rail network in Spain, France and Italy. Deutsche Bahn in Germany, meanwhile, have cut services such as the auto train and night trains. Unfortunately, there has been a trend in the last decades of more nationalistic train schedules (services stop at the nearest border instead of waggons crossing several countries) and a streamlining of operations that makes so much of modern rail travel in western Europe to experiencing nothing more but travel by a glorified commuter train.

    As for direct train connections between Graz and Maribor there used to be one until 2015 I believe – in imperial times it was one of the main railway routes in Austria-Hungary (Südbahn) with trains between the imperial capital in Vienna to Triest at the Adriatic, Triest being the imperial main harbour and naval base.

  • bluedanube

    Whenever I travelled professionally, I took the notebook with me to the lavatory, never ever broke physical contact with it. I avoided having data on it that had nothing to do with the destination of my travel.
    In your case I would have the tech team set up this gadget as a honey pot, that would “phone home” to them where it is and what was done with it, at least until they format the hard drive.

  • Deepgreen

    Fascinating account of your journey and experience. Like you, I love train journeys. for so many reasons. The rhythm and pace just seem more manageable, although admittedly have never been on a high speed train.
    Many congratulations for undertaking the journey on behalf of Julian Assange. It is one of the key issues of the time and I hope you can bring about a raised consciousness and change of heart which will lead to Julian’s release. The events surrounding the judicial processes leading to his detention are an outrage and can’t help feeling despair at the widespread complacency and /or open hostility in relation to Julian’s position. It sticks in the throat that individuals of the ‘calibre’ of Priti Patel and Suella Braverman are in A position of authority in relation to the issue. Is there a single sentient observer who has confidence in the Tory administration and the succession of extreme bigots who have occupied that role. Whether there will be any change If there is a change in government to a Labour administration is very doubtful.
    In relation to your travels, I have been somewhat dissuaded by your experiences from trying some European train travel. My limited experience of the German rail system has been rather mixed – mostly unfavourable. I could never understand the reputation it enjoyed. On the other hand my experience of Netherlands rail has been very favourable.
    One of the first lessons of traveling has been that minimisation of luggage is essential for any lengthy journey. As a seasoned traveller I an amazed that you seem to have ignored that basic rule.
    I also cannot fathom why you took an old bulky, heavy laptop. It is not expensive to buy a lightweight tablet or laptop which would cover your recording needs. A modern phone can do a great deal despite the disadvantages of size that make typing prone to errors/typos. Old fat fingers are not as effective as the slender, rapid target-finding digits of a practiced young person. However a modest tablet device could be carried easily to a toilet or catering car, avoiding the risk of someone stealing the device. Documents generated en route could be emailed to yourself or saved on SD cards which would fit into your wallet/pocket or whatever. I am amazed you have not prepared better for your trip especially as you seem to have access to well informed and resourceful techies like Clark. I’d be surprised if you could not afford a £300 portable device.
    Nevertheless, many good wishes for what remains of your journey.

    • craig Post author

      I need a large screen because my eyesight is very poor. I can’t read a phone more than four inches from my eyes, and on a screen less than 17 inches the large font I need makes the formating hopeless. But it is also true I am personally technophobic. Once I learn to operate anything I am most disinclined to change it, and want everything to work with the least possible number of keystrokes on my part.

      • Goose

        Surely the wider point, is that given what you do you; namely, ‘inquire’ or question official narratives etc, where the MSM sadly don’t, you shouldn’t need to take such ‘paranoid’ personal security precautions. It’s a sad reflection on the state of UK journalism and esp. investigative journalism when you and a few others are seen as mavericks.

        Related: The always wise Lord Jonathan Sumption produced a good critique for the Spectator, of the govt’s ludicrously ill-advised (technologically and politically), unneeded, censorial ‘Online Safety Bill 2022’ . The legislation that seeks to infantilise the UK population by Disneyfying the UK’s and only the UK’s internet. All under the guise of protecting children from harm. His piece finishes with this well observed point:

        ‘We have to accept the implications of human curiosity. Some of what people say will be wrong. Some of it may even be harmful. But we cannot discover truth without accommodating error. It is the price that we pay for allowing knowledge and understanding to develop and human civilisation to progress.’

        Maybe Iran’s hated morality police can find new work opportunities in the UK at unelected qango Ofcom, when this idiocy becomes an Act? The UK seems to like shooting itself in both feet, doesn’t it. What with the unforced error of Brexit and now this unworkable fiasco in the making. It risks making the UK a heavily censored laughing stock with a heavily restricted internet a la China. It’s like we’re in a loop, repeating the 1980s, back then tabloid scare stories about ‘video nasties’ led to draconian bans in a political overreaction. Either that or Tory MPs have got shares in foreign VPN service providers?

        • Goose

          Quick follow up, that may interest many here.

          We already knew that under Starmer, Labour have become reactionary right on social policy, but this illustrates how right-wing they are.

          Found this :

          Got that, Labour wants the govt to consider banning access to consumer VPNs after introducing their, as patronising as it sounds, ‘Online Safety Bill,’ soon to be Act.

          Near impossible technologically mind, as many soho business owners rely on commercial VPNs, and any tech savvy person can easily and cheaply set-up and run a virtual private server in any western country and simply tunnel through that. Indeed that’s how many Chinese get through the increasingly sophisticated Great firewall of China (GFW).

          When UK minsters say they wants the UK to be, quote: “the safest place in the world to go online” what are they really saying? Surely, the safest place in the world to go online is North Korea with its state controlled internet, or China. Are their systems the UK’s ambition? Countries we wish to emulate?

  • niall griffin

    Hi Craig,

    Hope all is well.

    I live in Luxembourg and might have gone to attend the talk in Frankfurt if I had known in advance of it.

    Could you provide a list of where you’ll be speaking on this German trip?

    Nice one cheers,

  • Coldish

    If at the end of your lecture tour you are travelling by train from south Germany to London it’s worth knowing that there are fast direct trains to Paris Est from Stuttgart (4 per day, journey time 3 hours 20 minutes) and from Munich (1 per day, 5 hours 30 minutes). SNCF’s TGV trains are comfortable and reach 320km/hr between Strasbourg and Paris. From Paris Est it is about 12 minutes walk to Paris Nord for Eurostar trains to St Pancras, which run about once per hour and take about 2 hours 20 minutes. There are abundant good value restaurants in that part of Paris.

  • AG

    the architect of the awful Berlin main train station Hbf, Meinhard von Gerkan, died last week.

    He did start out promising building Tegel airport.

    Later on got himself into those lucrative over-seas jobs to build entire cities.

    Especially appalling: He disregarded Chinese architecture in a late interview (“What else can they build except pagodas”) and labour rights (“the good thing, no problem with labour resistance and no trade unions.”)

    So that´s that, and of course no trace of it in his obituaries.
    Since I hate Berlin main train station even more.

  • useless eater

    Thanks Craig, an enjoyable read.. The small details make the article. Your prose is lighter here than when you are discussing politics directly. Much more of your actual personality emerges rather than carapace worn when you are addressing the dread issues of these days we live in. I wonder, can a trained diplomat (whether ex- or not) ever let their guard down to the degree that all the other vocations enjoy daily?
    Particularly impressed by the physical effort you are having to make to get from A to B, a worthy effort I think. Also the point you make about being suprised by your own sucessful (though I’m sure costly, wheeze, wheeze.) physical endeavours is most refreshing. Actual labour appears only rarely in the world ot the written word, so double points for that. The image of you clambering up the side of the train, following your luggage, brought to mind those train-hopping hoboes of the Great Depression. A welcome break from your necessarily doom-laden professional, didactic persona.

  • Robert Dyson

    You are a wonderful story teller as I already knew from reading your books. You have probably had endless advice about computer security but I have to add it too: use data encryption, and a continuous backup service – I use and their servers in the EU, when at home have an external disk to do local backup to.
    What is so cheering is that most people are helpful, that’s what really makes the world work. Of course people in boring jobs let their frustration and resentment find an outlet. German trains were amazing, I am shocked to read what they have sunk too.
    You are the bravest person I have ever come across in recent years. I hope to have the privilege of meeting you some day.

  • Shardlake

    Part of Mr Murray’s trip encompassed an explanation of the Assange case. I see the Guardian newspaper is reporting today that Mrs Sacoolas in the Harry Dunne case has been granted leave not to appear in person for sentencing and there is nothing the judge can do about it. Contrast this with Julian Assange languishing in Belmarsh awaiting extradition to the USA on spurious charges – so much for the special relationship Britain has with the USA and Starmer’s assertion on February 25th, 2020, that the extradition process we have with them is a good one.

    • Stevie Boy

      Yes, it’s obvious to all, but the masses, that USA Law encompasses the globe and anyone deemed to have broken it can and will be extradited either ‘legally’, or illegally by kidnap and rendition. It’s no surprise that Starmer, a self confessed zionist pawn, would support the extradition process because he carries the majority of the blame for Assange’s incarceration and torture within the UK. Sacoolas, as a CIA asset, is one of those tasked with collecting intelligence for the USA and UK, as such, she and all her ilk are untouchable within the west. Thankfully, some countries still know how to deal with foreign spies – but not the UK.

      • Wally Jumblatt

        I thought she was ‘merely’ the wife of a CIA asset and that the Americans decided, as they always do, that the rules don’t apply to them.
        It seems clear to the rest of the world that this kind of behaviour, their continued imperialism over Assange and their Nordstream pipe-bursting exploits (oops, wasn’t that by our brave lads?), shows their empire is in terminal decline. It is simple corruption, an administration rotten at the core.
        Funny how they don’t recognise it.

    • amanfromMars

      Shardlake, Hi,

      There’s quite a bit more to consider with regard to all that you have shared there on December 6, 2022 at 14:14

      The following which is posted elsewhere, is fully deserving of a resting place here too, methinks, for there is a lot thoroughly rotten out there, worthy of an airing, with everything stinking to high heaven.

      Quite why Harry Sussex and Meghan Markle have chosen to go down the Lord Haw Haw/Wallis Simpson route, other than the fact being that he and they might not be very smart, is something to ponder, especially whenever everyone knows that exercise never ever ends well for the travellers. 

      And/Or are we to think and be told that leaking Royal Palace secrets and creating a bit of stir in the UK is something quite different from telling the truth about shenanigans and untimely deaths and Collateral Murder carried out by elements of the USA and for which Julian Assange is confined in Belmarsh prison for, fighting against extradition and imprisonment in the USA?

      Can Harry expect the same treatment? Will the UK Government be obliged to insist that he be returned back to the UK for trial charged with treason/sedition, if secrets are spilled ?

      And if there is to be no agreement for a reciprocal arrangement for such a very similar situation, is Assange’s continued incarceration then to be adjudged manifestly illegal and him a political prisoner, innocent of all trumped up charges, and thus most likely to be freed. [a la Nelson Mandela]

      And we haven’t even started to consider the abortion of a case that the Anne Sacoolas affair has raised and brought into the spotlight and full glare of jurisprudence …….. and how that impacts upon the UK/US Special Relationship …… whatever the heck that is supposed to be. 

  • uwontbegrinningsoon

    It is great to see you getting on with life after the recent setbacks you have had to contend with and continuing with your activism. I do think you make a very positive difference. We need many more like you !!