Day-18: Quick decisions - The Hills are Alive (with the sound of wheezing) - CycleBlaze

Day-18: Quick decisions

It looked like I might be off touring sooner than I had imagined. Last night I sketched out an itinerary and some constraints - rather disconcertingly, I found the optimum time to go was quite soon:

  • The aim of the game is to maximise touring time, minimise travelling days and, most important, minimise days off work.
  • Typically I'm a tight-wad, so minimising expense figures highly too. Less important this year, as we've been going nowhere and spending nothing.
  • I wanted to span the UK bank (public) holiday Monday on the 31st August. I had no desire to be in the country (or, heaven forbid, travel) on that date - as that's when all the world and their children head to the beach. But it would give me a "free" extra day - more touring.
  • Obviously, this means I should set off before the weekend, preferably catching the night ferry on the 28th. Maybe even the 27th (Thursday), as both the ferry and trains were less booked then.
  • Bloody hell, that's only three weeks away! 

Not only is this short-notice in terms of preparation, it also means that I needed to move fast to in particular to book train transport through Germany. The cost would certainly go up - indeed, as I looked at the website last night, the outbound journey doubled to over €100 (and then went down again - presumably people cancelled). But much more importantly, I knew the bike spaces, which are very well organised but limited on German express trains, might all be used up.

Unfortunately, it isn't (yet) possible to book international rail journeys with bike reservations online (really a niche edge-case as far as the rail companies are concerned). Fortunately, Deutsche Bahn have a telephone booking service with a UK number - and they are absolutely superb.

So this morning, I woke up early (for me), groggy and sleep deprived after the hottest night of the year, and readied all my plans while cooling off in the courtyard. Bike bookings are always complex - you need to watch out for tight transfers (trying to get a fully-loaded touring bike up and down two escalators between widely-spaced platforms for a 4-minute change is no joke) so it pays to have worked out the options in advance. 

I didn't catch the name of the chap who arranged my tickets - but his affability and diligence beyond any call of duty put me to shame. It was not a trivial booking: it turns out that, understandably, the main express (ICE) from Hanover to Munich had all the bike places booked. For over an hour, he tried everything, really taking responsibility for what is end the end my ridiculous whim - we rearranged the days, splitting tickets, and adjusting the route. In the end, he found me a route that was almost as good, if a few more changes, that avoided the express (via Karlsruhr). He split the tickets on the way back from Vienna - which at least had bike spaces - to save me a few euros and so the tickets would be refundable. He called me back when my phone glitched out and I got disconnected (leading to a howl of remorse from me, as I thought all our good progress had been lost). 

What a guy! The Germans really know how to run a rail system - ours is a bad joke in comparison.

In the end, I had my bookings - the only compromise being that they were for one day earlier. No matter - another day to ride. €170 all in, including the bike and seat reservations, and cancellable tickets that I hadn't originally factored. Very happy with this!

I booked the ferry crossings quick-smart - I would still take the night ferry, but on the Wednesday night now. There was no point rushing back to work right before the weekend, so would sail back (on a day sailing) on the Saturday. I had 14 full days on which I could ride now - a bit more than planned, and easily enough (I hope) to get between Munich and Vienna - one way or another!

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Comment on this entry Comment 2
Mike AylingI have always understood that the Germans are extremely efficient in most things that they do.
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5 months ago
Jon AylingTo Mike AylingThey often are - particularly with anything to do with transport. The Swiss are the same, arguably even more so (I was genuinely amazed when I first went to Switzerland as a kid, and the trains literally left to the second).

A cycle tourist trying to book a similarly complicated journey in the UK - while not speaking the language - would get zero help (and be charged four times as much ... and the train would probably be late). I suppose the only saving grace of the British rail system is that bikes always travel free, and (apart from some commuter services) can generally be put on any train. But it's a total free-for-all (I typically just jam mine in the corridor), and you'd have to have a lot of confidence to do it as an outside.
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5 months ago