The Grand Tour Ten Years On—Outset

Ten years ago, I began a journey. To be 100 percent precise, I began the journey the day before, with a flight from Dublin to London, but since the purpose of my trip was to keep me sea- and earthbound as much as possible, I counted London as the start of the journey. And specifically, boarding the Eurostar service for a trip through the Channel Tunnel at London’s St. Pancras station.

The entire trip is written up elsewhere on this site, but a decade has passed and I’m not the same person I was ten years ago (thankfully—it turns out growing up is something you can keep doing post your teenage years). So this post is more a quick trip down memory lane, ten years on, to see what might be found there.

The Tardis. For some reason I didn’t try to break in. Can’t remember why.

I stayed the night before with two friends, whom I’ve unfortunately fallen out of contact with since then, then headed for St. Pancras laden down with a large backpack and a substantial folder of printed out tickets and itineraries. These days they’d all be stored on my iPad and iPhone, but I had the sense to have backups in those days, and I’d get plenty of use out of them before I made it home.

Finding the British Library around the corner from St. Pancras provided a nice break and a further travel option sadly not available due to the absence of its operator. (Possibly for the best, that one.) In the end, the Eurostar served as a more-than-appealing substitute, allowing me to cross my first sea in subterranean fashion before whisking me past Liege’s gorgeous station and on to Cologne with its immense cathedral.

Cologne Cathedral. For some reason I didn’t go in. Can’t remember why.

This is where I also had my first taste of travel drama. In the years since, a bit more travel experience and a general maturing of my outlook has allowed me to cultivate something of a stoic approach to misfortune. Not a completely heartless stoicism, just an awareness that shit happens and that while crying about it might be reasonable, it shouldn’t be the only response. I don’t think I cried back then, but I certainly had a yawning hole in the pit of my stomach for a few hours.

Anyhow … I had a few hours to spare in Cologne, so I decided a beer by the Rhine was a reasonable way to celebrate my first time in Germany (for such it was). Beer enjoyed and the light failing, I returned to the Hauptbahnhof to find my connection. Or rather to fail to do so. Because while I thought I’d carefully researched everything in my booking, I’d missed the ultra-efficient German practice of treating trains like Lego, with carriages as the bricks. Thus my sleeper carriage to Copenhagen was attached to the overnight train to Warsaw and left serenely without me.

It wasn’t the beer’s fault. It may have been my fault.

In my defence, I did ask the station porter for help, but their English was no better than my German, and nothing was gained. Cue the dreadful feeling that I’d messed up the trip right at the start and some very much appreciated efforts on the part of a station attendant who did speak English and proceeded to get me onto another train that would get me where I was going, albeit a few hours late and in distinctly less comfort than initially intended.

And I’ll leave this initial bit of reminiscence there. That was only day one of the trip, after all, exactly ten years ago, when a very much younger me set out on his travels and almost crashed and burned at the first hurdle. Would the older me have fared as well? Probably. Would it have been as much of an adventure to him? Maybe not. He would know to get on the right train though.

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