Travel writer, Charlie Dakin, gives a rare account of the unique opportunity of visiting North KoreaWritten by Redbrick on 21st February 2017
[Blog] To the Weihnachtsmarkt!
My journey preparations started off excellently, thanks to the generous luggage allowance of National Express, two pieces of luggage plus an additional piece of soft hand luggage,...
My journey preparations started off excellently, thanks to the generous luggage allowance of National Express, two pieces of luggage plus an additional piece of soft hand luggage, the whole stress of packing was lifted from my shoulders. The weight limit is also better, a maximum of 30kg, there are no 100ml liquid restrictions, and no one will try to snatch away the tweezers you forgot to take out of your toiletry bag. Of course, you still can´t get away with taking any weapons, but overall the luggage policy was relaxed. This meant that I had no packing stress until about three hours before I left, although forgetting my phone and consequently almost missing the bus, made sure that I didn't quite get away stress-free.
Our journey also got off to a good foot. When my accompanying friend and I had our own little pauses in conversation, we were entertained by the Jamaican behind us, who had made friends with the man behind him, lecturing his new companion on the ways of a Rastafarian lifestyle ranging from child-raising techniques and the best use of herbs and plants to music as a way of life. Needless to say, I think the entire back of the bus learnt a great deal in those two hours! The bus itself was very pleasant, good leg room and even plug sockets per two seats, a handy feature for all those with smart phones. There was a delay of one due to traffic, but fortunately we had a planned two- hour stop in London before our continental connection.
In comparison to the beautiful, brand new Digbeth coach station, London Victoria was a tad depressing. Many people were stranded there after missing connections, and what seemed like a few homeless people making use of the inside warmth. We were a little disappointed when we got on our coach to Frankfurt, because in comparison to the comfort of the National Express coach, the Eurolines vehicle seemed a bit grubbier and lacked plug sockets. This probably wasn't helped by the amount of people crammed onto the coach; there was only one free seat on route to Belgium. Both of us were shocked to see how many people were travelling overseas on such a late-night connection, babies and children included. Our fellow travellers came from all walks of life, from French goths and Caribbean Rastafarians all the way to the middle-Eastern couple in front of us, who were eating an interesting mixture of samosas and ham sandwiches for tea.
Despite the unfavourable conditions, once a screaming baby was finally lulled to sleep, the journey really started to improve. However, due to almost gale-force winds, I can't say the ferry ride was one of the best I've experienced. They had to close the shop due to the rocking of the ferry and at one point we heard crockery smashing in the food court. In a way though, we were happy, as we had found a nice corner to lie down in and the delay caused by the weather meant we got a good few hours sleep!
The coach quickly emptied after our first stop in Gent, Belgium, and we were able to stretch out and get some naps in here and there. We were stopped somewhere near Köln and made to pull off the motorway for passport checks, which was a bit disorientating, but other than that our post-ferry journey was mainly uneventful.
Just an hour late, we arrived in Frankfurt, and we literally jumped off the coach. Our cramped legs and numb derrieres welcomed the movement with open arms, and it felt amazing to finally out of the coach.
Overall, despite the handful of setbacks we had, we laughed a lot throughout the journey; when overhearing conversations, or almost falling over walking around the ferry. It definitely helped travelling with someone. I would recommend it, but only if it is the cheapest option and if you are able to stay in the destination for a while. For those of you who are planning on moving to Europe, I would definitely recommend it, purely for the luggage allowances. I think the main downside was simply the duration of the journey, 19 hours in total, in comparison to the 1 hour it takes to fly the same distance.
However, now I am here (and once I catch up on sleep!) I'm very excited to get to the Christmas Markets tomorrow, and I'm sure by the time I write the next blog I'll be convincing you that it is completely worth the journey.
Get there with National Express; Birmingham Coach Station to Frankfurt from 56.50 each way (Prices correct 14/12/2011)