Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Worst Journey: Overnight Train

Long journeys can be uncomfortable at the best of times but can you pick your worst? I can. Mine has to be the overnight train in Thailand from Bangkok to Surat Thani. I’m not sure what I was expecting from an overnight train. I knew it wouldn’t be luxury and it wasn’t, but I didn’t get a wink of sleep.

The journey lasted from 8pm until 6am the following day so it was a solid 10 hours travelling. The train never really picked up much speed so the frustration of this got to me more than anything else. I am sure in the UK the same distance could have been covered in half the time.

We started out in pairs with two seats facing each other and then at meal time a table was slotted into the floor and side of the train. Food was optional and I chose the hot option but this was a mistake because it was “red hot” and I couldn’t eat it. Instead, I stuffed a half stale tube of Pringles which unsettled my already fragile stomach. When it came to sleeping, the chairs folded out into bunk beds which I thought was a pretty efficient system. I foolishly took the top bunk and ended up with the only light in the carriage right in my face and the loud fan blowing only on my feet every 20 seconds. The biggest issue however was the humidity. All the trapped heat in the carriage was rising to my level and the face mask I was using was saturated with my own sweat. As we trundled along at close to walking pace the coaches would bump together and jerk you suddenly in your bunk making it impossible for you to drift off to sleep. I found myself lying awake trying to anticipate the next banging together of the carriages. I bathed in my own sweat for the entire 10 hour journey and felt extremely grimy by the time came to disembark at Surat Thani. A grin came across my face when we were directed to the café for a breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast and a cool glass of orange juice.

Experiences like this one do build character and make for interesting talking points when you get home. I would not be in any hurry to choose another overnight train unless absolutely necessary. Leave a comment about your worst journeys.


Monday, 2 February 2009

Snow causing disruptions all over the UK

Last night it began to snow hard. Within 10 minutes we had a couple of centimetres in London and it was only set to get worse overnight and into the next day. Night came and went and upon getting up for work, I was met with close on a foot of snow; the worst it has been for 18 years. Whilst eating my cereal it was announced that my mum’s school was shut, parts of the M25 were closed along with other major roads, the whole of the underground train system was suspended stopped an there was not a single London bus in operation. For me, this was great as it meant a day off from work but it really highlights how things grind to a halt when there is significant snowfall in the UK. Internationally it is also an embarrassment as flights into and out of Gatwick, Heathrow and London City Airport are all disrupted.

If you go to the northern states of America or continental Europe, when snow is predicted there will be a fleet of gritters on the roads preparing the motorways and also snow ploughs clearing the snow as it falls. In the UK, we simply are not prepared for a significant snow event like this. With no transport in London, many businesses and services simply will not run today and possibly tomorrow depending on the snow fall in the next few hours.

Many people coming to London as tourists this week will suffer serious disruptions to their plans, but many Londoners will be enjoying a glimpse of what a real English winter used to be like 20 years ago. Grab your sledge, build a snowman make the most of it while it lasts!!

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