Crossing the Channel. Another travel dream come true!

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I am not too much into travel buckets – my one and truly only such list has one big objective written down with several colours: See the World! – but crossing the Channel Tunnel – if possible to Pas-de-Calais – was always a secret dream of mine. Thus, when I decided to come back from London by car, I knew that this will finally happen. We left London in the afternoon spending a lot of time on the crowded streets. After around one hour and a half of safe driving, we spotted the first signs announcing the proximity with the channel.DSC09358

My dear France was only 35 minutes away from me and went very excited about the coming experience. But first, we went through the passport checking on both sides, that went very fast and without any bureaucratic problems.DSC09363In-between controls, a little stop at the shopping area, a clean area offering a lot of small souvenires shops and some basic fast food courts. DSC09366

Once the legal procedure finished, we were ready to go. I was very curious about the channel but even now, a couple of weeks after went through the experience, cannot explain clearly why. The most important fascination has to do probably with the fact that it is the largest undersea tunnel in the world, with around 38 km. long going under the sea. DSC09368The first plans for such a project were discussed as far as 1802, following the designs of the mining French engineer Albert Matthew Faner. At the time, it was aimed to serve the transportation with carriage, but till 1830, the idea of the construction of rail networks was already in sight. In 1867, on the occassion of the Exposition Universelle de Paris, Queen Victoria and Napoleon III agreed over the necessity of the channel, but the dream come true only at the end of 1990. DSC09371

Most delays were due to various financial problems and some political misunderstandings too. As for now, the channel traversation is part of the daily routine and can be done by train and car in just 30 minutes. DSC09372The process of crossing as such does not justify at all my enthusiasm and curiosity. It may be another example of attraction – my personal one – for scientific achievements that I don’t necessarily understand in their technical details and that fascinates me especially for their inhuman perfection.DSC09375The cars are entering the train platform, some of them with colourful wagons that contrast with the dirty look from inside. There are special schedules for the trains, but we were lucky to be in time and there were some space left for us. The interior is in fact a big parking place and it reminded me of the recent water crossing to Konstanz, the last summer. Except that you don’t see anything. Indoors, everything is that quiet that you might think that you actually are not moving at all. The speed is probably so high that you end up by not feeling it at all.DSC09376

After a while, the waiting is getting bored, but you are allowed to go out of your car and go on the other side of the silver doors and visit the restaurant or the restrooms. Of course I wanted to do it too – mostly disappointed that nothing special is happening during the much awaited travel experience – but after a couple of minutes I was still passing by another cars and decided that I better give up and come back to my car.DSC09378

It was an inspired choice as the traversation was done fast, in around 30 minutes. The pleasant view of Pas-de-Calais and its vineyard hills were welcoming us and I forgot all the disappointments. The worse part was to come: my decision to go back to Berlin from London by car, only because of the Channel, was worth 25 hours of driving across Europe, mostly during the night. But following the motto: Better now than ever, it was just another travel experience that you should go through it if you are really interested about what is done and going on in this world we are living.

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A summer without airplanes

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With only a couple of weeks – hope months – before the winter, the memories of the busy travel summer are still around. For over a month, I did an intensive country hopping, that lead me from the South of Germany to Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Hungary, Romania and Republic of Moldova. Usually, I’m the kind of traveler that can’t wait to arrive at the destination and thus, the airplane is always the choice no. 1. This time, I wanted to challenge myself with more slow travel and thus, alternated between (many) regional trains, buses and even mini-buses. From Konstanz, for instance, I used a regional Swiss connection, booked only 2 days advance from the train station in Konstanz. Surprisingly – and given the usual high prices I’m usually treated by the Deutsche Bahn – I got a very good price. The trains look good, with friendly personnel that helped me politely to get in time the shortest connections for the next destination.

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From the Eastern side of Switzerland to Liechtenstein, there are short-term buses, comfy, with a bit of air condition that goes in the middle of a beautiful scenery surrounded by spectacular mountains and quiet small houses. With the help of the Adventure Pass kindly offered by Liechtenstein Tourism Office I was able to explore extensively Vaduz, but also to use the public network for free for commuting in different parts of the city.

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On the way back to Konstanz, I tried something slightly different regional transportation, using some colourful little trains. When you switch so often countries, expect to significantly improve your linguistic proficiency. During my travels, I did my best – and sometimes succeeded – to leave the English for emergency situations, while using as often as possible the local languages of the country I was visiting. Don’t ask how your brains could feel after changing from German, then to French, then to Hungarian and then to Romanian.

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Due to the close neighbourhood, and the varied professional opportunities, it’s pretty easy to commute from a country to another in Europe: for instance living and shopping for food in Germany, working in Liechtenstein and eventually spending some summers in Switzerland. The trains around 15 o’clock and later are always busy with commuters, many of them ready to use the travel time to solve some important issues using the wifi opportunities on the board.

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Meanwhile, the little colourful trains ready to go in the scenic Switzerland destinations are calling to relaxing and enjoying the summer days, when possible. During the summer vacations, there is possible to take various rides in different popular locations, with windowless trains allowing real life landscape experience without leaving your cabin.

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Compared to the glamorous West, the Eastern part of Europe might be a bit shocking at the first sight. Many train stations look like there were never enough funds in the last decade to invest in the rebuilding, and some people hanging up around can be a bit intrusive. In Timisoara, for instance, I was surprised by the kind help of the lady from the ticket counter who helped me to find a simple and cheap connection to Brasov.

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I haven’t travel by train in Romania for more than 10 years, maybe, but was a bit surprised to discover that not too much changed, in terms of high-class comfort and facilities.

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Even the landscape stayed the same, with lots of weeds around the train lines, and tired personnel, not always able to help you too much. What I sometimes appreciate in the Eastern European part of the world, is the intensive dialogue and life sharing that can be done with full passion for one or two or more hours of travel between perfect strangers ready to share all the details of their life, although did not care about the name of the depositary of their secrets.

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The main reason I wanted to travel extensively slow, was for checking more carefully the reality on the ground, with a diverse overview over the landscape and even more human interactions. History is always present, but you need to be ready to catch it. In Arad train station, I spotted an old tent-roof stone building, hidden on the back of the train lines, most probably some kind of bunker left from the Cold War time.

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For the rest of the trip, I used intensively and on my own risk the local minibuses not only from a part to another of Romania, but also going as far away as Kishinev. The advantages are the very cheap prices and the availability round the day, with regular connections ready to go almost every hour. On the other hand, forget about safety belts, comfort or even cleanliness.

Now, that other travel adventures are calling my name, I’m glad that I made it through the summer and was lucky enough to be back home safe and healthy. A bit of slow travel once in a while can be a very rich experience, strongly recommended.