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Bernina Express-Amsterdam-London: A Nuts and Bolts Report

Bernina Express-Amsterdam-London: A Nuts and Bolts Report

Apr 22nd, 2009, 10:01 AM
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Posts: 17,549
Bernina Express-Amsterdam-London: A Nuts and Bolts Report

I am posting this strictly in case it MIGHT help some others with decisions or planning.
There are NO accounts of sculpted "yummy foods," or necessarily "hip-chic" hotels, and the shopping was mainly for souvenirs. No stand-up comedy reporting this time around I'm afraid..just some peculiar particulars.

The plan was for one week, mainly to do some railroading and the Bernina Express ride and some museum hopping in Amsterdam as well as possibly see a show in London.

Planning began at least six months in advance with the call to USAirways in an attempt to get a Star Alliance partner seat for a R/T from Dulles to Heathrow. No problem getting First Class on United both ways.

I watched the United website for some time to see how full my two flights would end up being. i was the ONLY seat booked in First Class on both flights until two days before departure when somebody else booked into First along with me for the Heathrow-Dulles return.

The United First International Lounge at Dulles: to hear some of these "road warriors" over on FlyerTalk this place might as well be some sort of shack about to be condemned. Complaints about the food; complaints about the decor; complaints about the seating, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Personally, I found it to be almost deserted on a Tuesday afternoon. Plenty of liquor available and the usual soft drink and coffee selection; some munchies and other snacks. Seating and the room were in good repair IMO and yes, I have been in "worse" airline lounges so let's DO be thankful they even HAVE a lounge at all these days!

The flight over: It left ON TIME and arrived early. The newest United flat beds on this 767 aircraft and I was the only person in First so either nobody wanted to spring for an upgrade or who knows? I'm 6'2" tall and weigh 230# and was able to stretch full length without problems. I did NOT think the seat was "too hard" and also liked the larger video screen and the fairly decent movie selection. Thought the food was OK, too...I suspect it was better than what they got right behind me so again, no complaints. Staff was friendly and helpful. No bizarre flight attendants and no bizarre passengers with their multitude of airline problems, either.

Arrival at a basically deserted Terminal 1 at Heathrow a bit beofre 6:00 AM on a Wednesday. Very fast passage through Immigration and luggage was on the carousel circling.

Yes, I DID check one 56-pound bag (don't ask what was in it because it's none of your business) and also had a bulging backpack...the former an Eagle Creek lightweight that rolls like a breeze.

First problem: the lift up to the Star Alliance "arrivals lounge" is inoperable. A friendly janitor directed me toward an otherwise undetectable fire escape stairway. Lounge personnel very apologetic and saying the lift problem has been reported. i am the ONLY person in the place.

Shower cubicle had everything and was big enough to change clothes, etc..marble throughout pretty much...good water pressure and nobody hassling you to hurry up.

An hour after entering I was ready to go...I skipped the food offering in the lounge itself so cannot comment on how good or bad...lots more people have shown up so I assume the lift problem had been fixed.

Took the Heathrow Express into Paddington; had bought the tickets on-line in advance. the usual 15-20 minute or whatever it is trip..no suprises. And a shorter-than-expected wait for a taxi over to St. Pancras. I had debated taking the Tube given the possibility of traffic problems and since my own experience has been that the BUSSES that some people here rave about are just as slow as the cars in those traffic jams, well....

St. Pancras has been "renovated" or "improved" or "restored" or whatever now that the Eurostar services leave from there. Lots of people and lots of places to buy COFFEE.
i found the signage to be good and easy to follow.

A word about the DRESS CODE...as has been the case for some years now...THERE ISN'T ANY just in case anyone has been on Jupiter for a while. YES you can wear denim; yes you can wear "athletic" shoes and yes in some cases they are white and please, don't tell me those dudes with the "funny accents" at the Costa Coffee place with their white shoes were from the US...

A few people had on neck scarves all tied in that apparently REQUIRED London way..of course it was about 65 degrees out and somebody really needs to do something about the eyeglasses some of these unfortunate people have been persuaded :"look wonderful"....

More later....
Dukey is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2009, 10:20 AM
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Weekender is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2009, 10:50 AM
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I will be eagerly awaiting for your rail-nut views of the Bernina Express and other stuff - good start - signage problem in St Pancras was for the Capital First Trains and probably yes better now than the crude paper taped on wall handwritten signs of a year ago.

Palenque is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2009, 06:03 AM
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I was impressed overall with the St. Pancras situation and actually found a place to sit for a while and enjoy a coffee and use my smaller sized "travel" laptop. The station has free WiFi and I was on the web in a few seconds, answering e-mail, etc.

I had used BETS for this trip and had Byron arrange all the rail details, etc. Usually I do it myself on-line but it just wasn't feasible this time around. I received excellent service and may very well use them again.

Since I was traveling on a rail pass and had paper Eurostar tickets I was told that I would need to have the pass validated first, in London, but this turned out not to be the case. I simply checked in at one of the manned kiosks for Eurostar rather than trying to put the ticket through the automated turnstile. the train which left at 12:30 or so opened for check in at 11:00 and check in, going through security, etc., were pretty simple.

The regular waiting area seemed comfortable enough and there was a place to get something to eat, a newstand, etc.

The ride through the tunnel itself was the usual smooth affair. I had a solo window seat in First (or Leisure something) which included a decent airline-style meal served at the seat. Ride was quiet, carriage had plenty of luggage storage space at the end for my 56-pounder, and I preferred being in this situation as opposed to the more confined "second class" (no offense) carriages with their larger number of seats.

Arrived at Paris-Nord less than three hours later and on time.

I had to make my way to the Gare de L'Est which geographically is practically next door. I had found out the "no stairs" route on this site and I used it to roll from one station to the other without difficulty.

The weather in Paris was wonderful...must have been close to 70 degrees..people in shirt sleeves; some younger traveling folks in shorts and 3/4 trousers.

Validated my rail pass at the ticket office with no trouble by a worker who cheerfully spoke perfect English..I wish my corresponding French were nearly as good.

Smokers confining themselves to the outside of the terminal (who said these smoking bans don't work?)

I was trying to find one of those "departures" posters so I could figure out in advance from which platform the TGV to Zurich was leaving from but to no avail..I am wondering if they have been removed..I didn't see any on the platform itself, either...perhaps I didn't look hard enough.

This station certainly has a "history." There are several plaques commemorating the deportation of the Jews during WWII...to think their feet probably walked on the very same pavement and flooring..on the same platforms...it is sobering.

The place was busy with many travelers; there are lots of food opportunities..just kinda nice to be there and leaving on a journey.

TGV-Lyria to Zurich. I was told there is an opportunity to get a meal served at your seat on this train..apparently not since nobody else in my carriage was eating one!!! Perhaps we were all too "cheap."

Again a solo window seat..nice. Scenery in Alsace especially impressive; usual smooth ride and five-minute advertised late arrival in Zurich due to engineering work in Switzerland.

The front of the rail station in Zurich is being worked on..scaffolding in place..easy walk up the street to the Marriott (less than 10 minutes) which turned out to be about the same cost as the closer-to-the-station Schweitzerhof and offered more...mainly the executive loung with the various food offerings including breakfast the next morning.

I'm all for atmosphere and Zurich has to be one of the more expensive hotel cities in Europe but the Marriott offered convenience, a decent-sized room, and a great bathroom...reviewed already by me on TripAdvisor.

Good night's sleep; great breakfast the next morning with more good weather in the offing and the trip to Chur and the Bernina Express gets under way!
Dukey is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2009, 08:46 AM
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I was trying to find one of those "departures" posters so I could figure out in advance from which platform the TGV to Zurich was leaving from but to no avail..I am wondering if they have been removed..I didn't see any on the platform itself, either...perhaps I didn't look hard enough.>

Yeh Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est are like London stations - tracks not noted until sometimes shortly before the train - guess they have too much capacity to be sure of static platforms always for the same train - thus no yellow departures posters with track numbers on them - you need to wait until your train is posted on the huge overhead digital signboard in the concourse - i too like to see in advance what platform my train will be arriving on and to see the Composition des Trains board to see where my coach will stop - but not in these two stations like in most European stations.

Dukey - thanks for the info on the Holocaust era memorial plaques at Est - perhaps they are new with the complete renovation of the station or i have missed them before - i'll look for them next time.

Palenque is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2009, 08:49 AM
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There are several plaques...all together..they are located in the main departure area...at the head of the platforms....around track 8 or so...several commemorate the forced migration of Jews; one I think is a general WW II memorial. I've seen these memorials in other stations..usually commemorating SNCF workers who died in the war.
Dukey is offline  
Apr 24th, 2009, 06:24 AM
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Hi Dukey! Welcome back. I just found your trip report. Looking forward to more!
kleeblatt is offline  
Apr 24th, 2009, 07:56 AM
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Dukey, enjoy reading your trip report and anxiously waiting for the Bernina Express part. But why is this thread not tagged 'Switzerland'. Urgh. Almost didn't find it.
Ingo is online now  
Apr 27th, 2009, 01:28 PM
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Dukey... ich warte ungeduldig
kleeblatt is offline  
May 7th, 2009, 09:45 PM
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Enjoying this. Hoping you plan to post more.
CAPH52 is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 05:07 PM
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Hi Dukey, I noticed you are very participant around here. Hope you can help me with some information about Koln. I read you went there many times and I'm thinking about moving there. Is there anything you advertise me about koln? I started a forum about this. If possible, please help me. Thanks, Cristina
Cristina_Brasil is offline  
Jun 15th, 2009, 10:00 AM
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I spend several days in Cologne for a decade and know the city fairly well - what do you want to know about?

I would only move to Koln if i had to - a very pleasant large city - don't get me wrong - but due to bombings in war one with very little old-world romance. The riverfront is swell and the pedestrian shopping zone an exemplar of these pleasant areas in every German town.

If i had to pick a location in Germany to re-locate to Koln would be far down my list - but i'm looking at it from a tourist point of view.
Palenque is offline  
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