Friday 21 July 2023


The BF has a friend.  I know, I'm as surprised as you.

For years now they've gone on a little mini break in the summer.  Somewhere in Europe for a few days.  Nice little trip away.  I've not partaken, because I think you should sometimes have separate experiences as a couple, and let's be honest sometimes it's nice to have a break.  Instead I've often travelled across the UK for this blog.  Wales perhaps, or the Isle of Wight.  Something like that.

This time, the first trip post-pandemic, they decided to go to Berlin.  And a small thought occurred to me.  I could go somewhere in the UK for my trip.  Or I could go abroad.  Look around another city's railway.  Proper underground stations instead of pootling round the English countryside.  But where?

The Amsterdam Metro.  Thirty six stations on four different lines.  A modern, exciting network that's just across the North Sea in a beautiful and vibrant city.

I worked it out in detail.  Three full days of exploration would enable me to visit every Metro station in true Merseytart style: taking a train, passing through the ticket gates, and walking to the next one along for the next train.  Properly visiting them and getting a feel for the city.  

It was incredibly thrilling to me: a new place to collect and mark off.  A new map to conquer.  

For reasons far too dull to go into here, both the BF and I were taking flights from Luton Airport.  I waved him off on the Friday then waited for my plane to Amsterdam.  (Before you ask, the Eurostar was far more expensive, and the timings were weird).  

The first warning sign was the general lateness of the plane.  It was an hour past schedule when we finally got to the gate.  We passed through the passport check, waited to board, then got a message, shouted at us by the girl on the desk: there was no pilot for our plane, so we were all being "deboarded", a word I have never heard before and I'm pretty sure she'd made up.  We headed back to the gate to wait some more.

An hour later, the phones of everyone in the gate purred and bleeped and sang.  A single message had gone to all of us: We're really sorry that your flight has been cancelled.  To see the options available to you, go to Manage Bookings in the app...

That was it.  No announcements, no nothing.  The staff were nowhere to be seen.  A sense of panic and horror sank into me.  This was what I got for actually looking forward to something.  This was punishment.  I scanned the app for alternative flights from Luton: none until late Sunday night.  I clicked the "refund" button with despondency.  I was ready to write it all off.  Head back to Birkenhead and cry into a pillow.

There was another announcement, asking all of us on the cancelled flight to head to Gate 6 for information.  There, a crowd of harassed and irate passengers surrounded a tiny man who stammered that we would all be getting €250 compensation and a refund on our flight, but could we all kindly leave the airport because we were kind of annoying?  I hammered the apps and found a flight from Gatwick the following night, then a hotel room at a Holiday Inn close to the airport.  The compensation was spent immediately but at least I might be able to get to Amsterdam.  (Before you ask, the Eurostar was entirely sold out all weekend).

The following morning, after a tense sleep in the hotel, I dragged myself to the station.  My flight from Gatwick wasn't until the evening so I had time to kill.  I headed into London.  Maybe I could find some solace in railways?  Of course I could.  The only thing that could cheer me in times of crisis like this was riding the Tube.  More than the Tube; I actually went on the Elizabeth Line for the first time.  Not the circumstances I'd planned, but at least it happened.  I got to go to Woolwich station, which I'd visited when it was nothing more than a hole:

I larked around on the Jubilee; I got the DLR.  I went all over until finally it was time to head for Gatwick.  A train from London Bridge and I was at the airport, but the wrong terminal.  You know what that meant?  The Gatwick people mover that connects the two stations!

It's not a monorail, no matter how much you want to sing the song.  It's an automated train on rubber tyres.  So I got on at South Terminal:

...rode the people mover...

...and got off at North Terminal.

No, this isn't very exciting.  What you have to remember is that as I did all this train riding I was filled with a nihilistic despair and overwhelming pessimism that I was ever going to reach Amsterdam.  It wasn't helped by the fact that once we actually got on board the plane, we did nothing but sit on the tarmac for an hour.  A problem with the baggage, apparently, though they may as well have simply said "we want to drive the man in seat 7C absolutely insane".  You'll notice I've not mentioned the airline involved in all of this; this is because I am a classy individual who doesn't bear a grudge, and I couldn't possibly name them because that would be rude.

At ten o'clock on the Saturday, roughly 28 hours later than I'd planned, I finally reached my hotel.  I collapsed on the bed and tried not to think about that lost day.  I still had all those stations to collect, and I was determined to do it, even if it killed me.

(Spoiler: I did not die).

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