For the first time ever, I can take a sleeper train right right from my home town of Brussels! This ÖBB Nightjet is taking me all the way to Austria’s capital Wien, in one easy ride.
I just missed out on being able to book a Deluxe room with en suite, but the toilet at the end of the carriage is clean so far, and after arrival I can go straight to the hotel for my morning shower.
Contrary to the sleeper trains I’ve used so far, the Nightjet is in day mode at departure—so normal seats and a roomy table—and the beds are only made later on. That means I could comfortably have my Too Good To Go dinner first, and a couple of train beers while watching some Netflix. I had to bring my own cooler bag with ice packs though, since fridges aren’t really common on trains in this part of the world…
It’s about time to turn in, if I want to get up early enough for breakfast, of which I will add the photos to this blog post once I have them.
After a shorter hiatus than last time, I find myself once again on my way to Scotland. The main destination is FyneFest this time, but I’ll be spending a couple of days in Glasgow—obviously—and Edinburgh as well.
Lessons learned after last time, I only spent a couple of hours in London in between Eurostar and Caledonian Sleeper, although somehow I still managed to visit two more bars than planned…
I finally made it to the Great Nepalese this time, and the chicken Tikka Bhutuwa with garlic naan didn’t disappoint.
What did disappoint, was the lack of real cutlery and crockery on the Caledonian Sleeper…
After a day of quite heavy drinking in London, and a nightcap on the train, I fell asleep—or did I pass out?—as soon as I put my head down. I even forgot to take out my contact lenses, or set my alarm, so when I eventually woke up, I was already late for breakfast! Luckily not too late, and mere minutes after getting up, I was enjoying a Highland breakfast and tea.
The Caledonian Sleeper arrived ten minutes early in Inverness, leaving me with a little less time than planned… In the rush, I couldn’t find my toiletry bag until the very last minute—it was on my bed under the blanket—leaving me with a rather peculiar hairdo for the rest of the day.
After that, I walked upon the battlefield itself. It was a chilling experience to stand on the exact spot where the MacLarens must have stood in 1746, in line with many other Jacobites, just seconds before advancing to the enemy, and for many of them, towards their death…
At Culloden I also learned that the perfect amount of social distancing is two Scottish broadswords long, or four targes. I think people would keep their distance much better if everyone was actually still wearing broadswords!
Back in Inverness, I had a pizza for lunch at the Black Isle Bar, where they of course also served beer from their brewery on the other side of the firth. Before getting to the train station, I had to little walk through town, and quickly visited Leakey’s Bookshop. After all, since handing over a sixpack of 75cl bottles, and a couple of cans and small bottles in London, I had plenty of room in my bag for books!
After this little excursion, it was time for the first Scottish BrewDog bar of this trip, and my first stamp towards the Flying Scotsman reward: BrewDog Inverurie! I was still a bit rough from the day before, so I just had one beer there, and a whole lot of water. The staff was great though, and the Craig Fisher graffitis were awesome as usual!
My last train of the day brought me to Aberdeen, which would be my home for the next two nights. I checked into Travelodge Aberdeen to get settled, and to check out my obligatory day two Corona test kit. It looks like I’ll get to play doctor on Sunday!
All settled, freshened up, and hair finally combed, I then headed to BrewDog Castlegate for dinner. I didn’t account for the Saturday night crowds, however, and had to wait outside for a bit. Not for long though, and I only just had the first sip from my second beer, when the lovely staff told me they found me a table! It then didn’t take long before I was tucking into a Korean fried chicken burger, this month’s special.
My final stop of the evening was at the OG BrewDog bar, BrewDog Aberdeen. Here BrewDog News Podcast’s Rob left me a bottle of MMXXX I won in a prize draw a couple of months ago. Thanks for that, Rob, and we’ll surely meet in person another time!
Finally, it is happening! I had to postpone this trip three times already, each time amending, or cancelling and rebooking most of the eleven trains and six hotels. This Friday morning however, I was actually back in a Eurostar travelling through the Chunnel to St. Pancras International.
Because I arrived in London earlier than usual, I had decided to use that extra time to make the trek all the way to Ealing, after first dropping off my bag at a Radical Storage point, and a coffee at Origin Coffee in the British Library. In Ealing, one of the newest BrewDog bars had recently opened, not surprisingly called BrewDog Ealing. There I met up with beer friends Jackie and Simon, and BrewDog’s beer trainer Paddy joined us as well. Since it was only noon, and drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea, we had lunch there as well.
After lunch, we made our way back to the centre of London again, making various beery stops along the way: Kill the Cat, where we were joined by fellow EFP Liam, the Mikkeller Bar, the Mikkeller Brewpub, where Emma joined us, and finally, after picking up my bag again, the Euston Tap.
After a last couple of beers, we said our goodbyes, because it was time for me to board the Caledonian Sleeper. I had traveled on it before, but since then, the service has been completely overhauled. Even though it has been plagued with issues since then—especially recently—there was nothing wrong with the train I was booked on for the night: it departed on time, I had warm water in the shower, and the lounge car was open for business!
It’s—finally and hopefully—almost time to take another trip!
The recent reinstatement of the direct sleeper train from Brussels to Wien was too good of an opportunity to pass up, and a very convenient—and safe—way to get to Budapest, the main destination of this trip. Of course I will also spend some time in Wien itself, and I’ll be taking the long route back, spending a two more nights in Berlin, and a couple of hours in Hamburg.
Not surprisingly, this trip I’ll be collecting a couple of new stamps in my BrewDogBeer Visaagain—at BrewDog Budapestand BrewDog St. Pauli—but this time the first stamp in my Mikkeller Passportas well. Of course, wherever I go, I’ll try to visit some local breweries and beer bars, and enjoy the the local specialities as much as I can!
The first day of a trip is always such a busy day, especially if you want to make the most of the stops along the way. It started off quite relaxed though, comfortably waiting for our train in the Thalys Lounge.
Once arrived in Paris, we dropped off our bag at a NannyBag point, and continued to the first BrewDog bar in France: BrewDog Le Marais.
After lunch, we went for coffee at Ob-La-Di, and stocked up on cheese at Fromagerie Jouannault.
Our only real French beer bar of the day was Hoppy Corner, but it didn’t disappoint! A bit less French, but on our list anyway, were BBP – Pigalle and Mikkeller Bar Paris.
In the end, we had to hurry a bit to catch our Thello sleeper train, but we made it!
You might have noticed we don’t really like to fly. For our trips to London, a train has always been the most logical choice: faster and—when booked well in advance—cheaper than flying. For our trip to other destinations in the UK, Berlin, and Prague, the price was still competitive most of the time, but journeys like that take a bit longer already. Our Italy trip in late spring, however, is taking the train craze to the next level.
No fewer than ten different trains will take us to and through Italy! And you can take ‘ten different trains’ almost literally: one Thello sleeper, one Trenitalia Regionale Veloce, one Trenitalia InterCity, one Frecciabianca, one Frecciarossa, one Italo train, one Trenitalia EuroCity, one TGV Lyria, and two Thalyses!
The trick of keeping a trip like this affordable, is booking each of those journeys as soon as they become available, taking advantage of all kinds of Super Economy and Mini fares. Considering the different booking windows the rail operators use, this means it actually took several weeks to get it all sorted!
The only setback was the direct Milan-Paris TGV we planned on booking: it never appeared! We finally found out that specific TGV wouldn’t run this spring due to railroad works, so we’ll be making a little detour over Zürich. Apparently there is a very good beer shop in the station, so we don’t really mind… ?
Our B&Bs are all booked as well, so we’re now all set for our ten day Viaggio in Italia!
A week after our trip to London and Aberdeen, we’re well rested again, and all the photos have been collected from the different cameras. Time to look back on our experiences!
Getting there and back again
It all began with getting there, in our case by train, this time. The leg Brussels-London was pretty straightforward, with the Eurostar. The train was still the old model, but even those have power outlets next to the seats, if you pick the right car. But thanks to The Man in Seat Sixty-One, I knew exactly which seats to book to have power sockets, be near the bar vehicle, and be seated facing the direction of travel.
Departure from Brussels and arrival in London were exactly according to schedule.
A day later we continued our trip to Aberdeen in the Caledonian Sleeper. We checked in quite early, so after quickly dropping our bags in our private cabin, we were sipping a couple of beers in the lounge, even before the train started moving. The beds were quite comfortable, easily the best moving sleeping accommodation I’ve had so far.
To save a couple of pounds, we didn’t book the sleeper berths on our way back, but the ‘sleeper seats’. Worst travel decision in quite a while! Apparently they don’t even dim the lights in the sleeper seat section, the seats don’t recline very far, and there are people getting on and off the train all night… For a lower price, we could have taken a Megabus Gold, which would at least have had real berths, dimmed lights during the trip, and no people getting on and off during the night! Lesson learnt…
It was nice though we were able to buy shower vouchers on the train (£5 each), so we could freshen up in the Virgin First Class lounge at Euston station upon arrival.
After spending another day in London, the last leg of the journey was with the Eurostar again. Same comfortable seats as on the first leg, but with a 50 minute delay, which meant a long wait — we were early as well — in a very full and hot terminal at St Pancras station. We arrived in Brussels before midnight however, and made it home without any further hitches.
Budget permitting, we’ll surely take the Eurostar and Caledonian Sleeper again on our next trip to Scotland! It is quite nice to have the privacy of a sleeper cabin, to be able to change into my kilt just prior to arriving in Scotland, the luxury of a sink with hot running water, and a fresh cuppa served with your wake-up call!
A new year, a new destination, a new mode of transport… All my previous trips to Scotland I used MegaBus to get to my destination, and I’ve always been quite happy with that. But to get as far as Aberdeen, it would become impossible to have a guaranteed connection in London, if I would have wanted to do the whole trip from Brussel to Aberdeen in one go. And as far as the sleeper bus is concerned, compared to trips to Glasgow or Edinburgh, we would have to spend an additional three hours in the rather confined space of our berths. Quite honestly though, I’ve always wanted to try the Eurostar and Caledonian Sleeper. So, even though the extra night we’ll be spending in a hotel in London would have solved at least the connection issues, the train tickets are booked!
Thanks to the site of the The Man in Seat Sixty-One, I was able to book some Eurostar seats facing in the right direction, and even conveniently next to a power socket. I’m hoping we’ll be traveling on one of the refurbished e300’s, but there’s no way to know for sure until the day we travel…
For the journey to Aberdeen on the Caledonian Sleeper, we’ll have a Standard Sleeper Berth compartment to ourselves . If there are some seats available, we’ll probably spend some time in the lounge car as well: apparently they even serve Scottish craft beer there!
On the way back to London, Standard Sleeper Seats will have to suffice. I just hope I won’t regret this money-saving decision too much…
Anyway, not even taking in account the destination, I’m tremendously looking forward to this trip!
Om het reisverslag helemaal of te sluiten, zal ik hier nog even mijn ervaringen delen met Thello, de nachttrein tussen Parijs en Rome.
Een vierpersoonscouchette is in feite een zespersoonscouchette die maar door vier personen gebruikt wordt. Ruim plaats voor iedereen dus, inclusief alle bagage.
Een zespersoonscouchette lijkt me enkel aan te raden als je deze kunt delen met mensen die je al kent. Bij naburige couchettes die door zes personen gebruikt werden, merkte ik op dat een enkelen regelmatig hun toevlucht zochten tot de gang.
In iedere couchette zijn er twee stopcontacten. Goede afspraken maken dus, als iedereen met een opgeladen gsm wil aankomen.
Bij de bedden bovenaan kan het nogal warm worden, en het raampje openen achter het rolgordijn geeft eigenlijk maar weinig verfrissing, nauwelijks opwegend tegen het bijkomende lawaai.
Het voordeel van de bedden bovenaan is dan wel dat je de beschikking hebt over het bagagecompartiment boven de gang als ‘nachtkastje’, en dat je al je bagage binnen handbereik kunt houden.
Er is wel airconditioning, maar echt hard lijkt deze niet te werken. Ik heb er mijn twijfels over of deze in de zomer wel zal volstaan…
De tafeltjes aan het raam zijn al aan de kleine kant voor twee personen, laat staan voor vier of zes.
In zo’n couchette is er natuurlijk weinig privacy, maar als je dat nodig hebt, kun je daarvoor wel terecht in de waskotjes.
Probeer te vermijden dat je voor de aanvang van de terugreis nog zware inspanningen moet doen – zoals de hele dag met een zware tas rondzeulen – zodat je een beetje fris aan de reis kunt beginnen. Na de heenreis is het namelijk goed mogelijk om direct na aankomst in je hotel te douchen, bij de terugreis heb je nog enkele uren in Parijs en een rit op de Thalys voor de boeg!
Tot besluit wil ik zeggen dat ik heel tevreden ben met mijn keuze om de trein te nemen in plaats van het vliegtuig. Als de tijd het toelaat – het kost je immers een halve dag extra bij vertrek en terugkeer – zal ik ook voor mijn volgende Rome-reis voor de trein kiezen!