Friday, 6 April 2012

Eindhoven - The Journey Back

It's been frickin ages since I last made a post on here, and as a result I've sort of put extra effort into this one. Like, it has drawings and everything.

Last weekend I was visiting Muf in Eindhoven. Vincent (aka Amnesia) was there because he had some trance festival evening or some shit, and he suggested that while he's spending the weekend there maybe I should too. And because EasyJet flights from Stansted to Amsterdam Schiphol are pretty cheap and easy, I figured that I would.

On the whole the weekend was pretty fun. Tetris and StarCraft were played, Stefan (aka Steadshot) was also there, Tim showed up for a couple of evenings, and as weekends away go it turned out to be pretty chilled and relatively inexpensive. Coming back, on the other hand, was not so fun. And hence shall become the subject matter for this post.

The first joy was getting a train from Eindhoven to Schiphol. Things were nearly a little bit tight getting to the station because I ended up going with Vincent and he was all laid back and French about getting there on time (so laid back that the only reason he was going with me was because he'd missed the bus he was originally going to get), whilst I was a little more stressed because I had a flight to catch and I specifically remember the last time I tried to get a train to Schiphol I'd gotten horribly fucked over after missing my original train.

What was brilliant is that whilst I had vivid memories of a pretty painful train journey from the last time I visited, I'd apparently completely forgotten what was responsible for me missing my train, because I had the exact same fucking problem the second time.

I arrived at the station about six or seven minutes before the train was due to leave, figuring that I should have easily enough time to buy a ticket. At Eindhoven station there are about six ticket machines. Some of them are card only, whilst others accept cards and cash. That didn't really matter to me, given that the ticket is €18 and I didn't have that much on me in cash anyway. The two cash and card ones had queues, and the four card-only ones didn't. However, the four card-only ones do have a tiny little sticker on the front that shows that whilst they accept Maestro cards, but not Visa or Mastercard. Which is useless for me, because of the two cards I have, one is Mastercard and the other is Visa Debit.

The identical ticket machines in Schipol have no issue with my Mastercard credit card, but apparently in Eindhoven they do, and I can't use it. So in a somewhat retarded move I queued for one of the other two machines, figuring that maybe the ones that would take cash instead would also somehow accept my credit card. The woman in front of me finally finished paying for her €11 ticket in 10 and 20 cent coins, and then I got to the front to discover the same tiny sticker at the bottom of the screen telling me I couldn't use either of my cards. Fuck.

No problem. I'll just go to the ticket office and buy one there. So I do, and I queue for what seems like forever behind some guy trying to buy a ticket to Switzerland or some dumb shit without knowing where he's actually precisely going and with the lady behind the desk being equally useless. After a lot of frantic watch-checking I finally get to the desk.

I was pissed off for two reasons. Firstly that it's fucking stupid that you can't actually buy tickets directly with a credit card at the train station in Eindhoven, and secondly because I suddenly remember that I'd had the exact same problem last time and it was why I missed my train then as well. Once bitten, twice shy my arse. I definitely feel that instead of tiny signs that are only visible at the front of the queue, the people running the station should make things a little more clear:

So I frantically dashed to find a cash machine (thankfully there are two inside the station), drew some cash out, queued again at the ticket office, missed my train, but did at least end up with tickets. This time, at least, the only difference was that I'd get to Schiphol 15 minutes later and I'd have to change trains halfway through rather than a direct one. Though the changeover was also a bit of a bitch because the platform I needed in Utrecht was only accessible from the overhead corridors, and not the underground ones because the stairway is closed for construction stuff. I think this was actually fairly well signed in Dutch but I'm not particularly fluent and I was in a hurry. Some girl made the exact same mistake and we ended up frantically trying to find an alternative route to the platform and barely made it on the connecting train.

As it happened the whole panic over trains was totally irrelevant, because I arrived at Schiphol to find that my flight had actually been delayed by two and a half hours. Fantastic.

The delay itself wasn't actually what bothered me. I mean, it wasn't ideal, but the departure lounges have plenty of seating and, somewhat more crucially, an abundant supply of power sockets, meaning that I could kill time fairly easily watching stuff on my laptop. What actually bothered me was the fact that the last train from Stansted to Cambridge was around 23:00, and my flight leaving at 21:45 CEST meant, by my estimates, that I would land around 21:45 BST. Which would give me plenty of time, but that was on the assumption that I was right about how long the flight would take, and that it wasn't going to be delayed any further. I had little confidence in either. Whatever the scenario was, I was particularly not keen to miss the last train home.

One minor bitch I did have from the airport was that I had exactly €6.50 on me, which I'd previously figured would be about enough for at least some sort of meal at the airport. I was wrong, and apparently almost everything is €7 or more, which was a bit annoying. A Big Mac Extra Value Meal in particular was like €6.85 or something excruciatingly just over what I actually had, so I ended up having to pay by credit card instead of my remaining cash.

I got bored of watching stuff on my laptop and went for a wander to kill time. The departure area in Amsterdam is absolutely bloody massive, and it actually took a solid 40 minutes or so of walking to meander my way to the other side, and to then amble back. As I got back to the seating area, I could just about make something out on the departure board that temporarily caused me to shit myself.

My flight being delayed was fine. My flight being cancelled certainly fucking wasn't. Thankfully things got better when I was close enough to actually read the board properly.

Though only better in a milder way. The flight being delayed another 1h15 meant that I was going to be landing approximately the same time that my train to Cambridge left, and I wasn't particularly confident on getting off the plane and through passport control in approximately zero minutes.

This put me in a pretty shitty mood until around half an hour later, when my flight was upgraded to being "Delayed: 22:40". Still not great, but it at least gave me a fighting chance of getting the last train home.

As it actually happened, my estimates on how long the flight took were slightly too big, and I landed in Stansted with around 35 minutes to get through passport control and to the station and all that jazz. I felt confident. Then I just missed one of the train thingies they have to get you around Stansted, and felt less confident. Then passport control took absolutely fucking ages and suddenly I had around ten minutes to get to the station and onto my train. Stansted is by no means a small airport, and I had very little clue which direction the station was, or how far away it would be. Time to FUCKING RUN.

This is when I encounter the my suitcase being an absolute fucking pain in the ass. Now, I quite like this suitcase, because it's just about big enough to fit my laptop in comfortably, whilst being just about small enough to be under the EasyJet restrictions for hand-baggage size (it's pretty tight though - I hate when they ask me to put it in the basket to prove it, because getting it out again is a bitch). As a major downside though, it does have a ridiculous tendency to flip onto its side at any opportunity.

After about five or six attempts to negotiate any sort of corner or break in the ground without this thing flipping over, and failing every time, I said fuck it to the bag and picked it up and ran. Turns out that not only is my laptop and the rest of my crap extremely heavy, but I'm also fucking horrendously unfit when it comes to dashing for trains. Despite this, I somehow managed to make it, and actually had a solid three or four minutes to spare. And turns out that night buses run, which I didn't know about, so I would have been fine anyway and there wasn't quite so much need to make a tit out of myself. But still, I made the last train, and despite the fact that I was going to get home about three hours later than I'd planned, that at least felt like something of a victory.

In an entirely separate firstworldproblems incident, I tweeted that I thought it was stupid that at the Cambridge station the trains to Stansted run from the platform which is furthest from the entrance and requires the most stairs to get to. This wasn't so much a personal bitch, because I was actually travelling pretty light. More an observation that it's a bit dumb to force the passengers who are likely to be carrying the most crap to have the most awkward journey to get to their trains.

What I wasn't expecting was my tweet would be picked up and replied to by the Stansted Express twitter account. It feels really weird for what seemed a fairly private tweet to be picked up like that. Definitely a bit odd, but also sort of cool that they apparently employ a person to do that sort of thing.