Skip to main content

Amazing journey

I just had (an hour of) the most amazingly good journey of my life, taking the train from Glasgow to Birmingham. I took notes as I went, and filled them in later. Later edit: ok, only the first 90 minutes were great. The rest was just normal train stuff.

It snowed about 2cm the night before -- not enough to make anything difficult, but enough to make everything look beautiful. It also improved the footing; walking on snow is much, much easier than walking on ice. The snow did cause some transportation problems. Other trains (even on the same route!) were delayed and even cancelled. So when I left home for the 45 minute walk to the station, I didn't know if I'd be going or not.

I didn't care, though, because it was a fantastic walk. The trees looked great with the snow, the riverside walk was quiet and away from traffic, there was fresh snow on the trees, crunching the fresh powder underfoot was fun, and did I mention the pretty snow-covered trees?

The train station was above the ground floor, which surprised me. It was quite open and well-organized, though. Part of me wants to say "Victorian", but only because I associate trains with that era. Definitely picturesque. It also had more coffee shops per capita than downtown Vancouver. There were a few police offers around, but it defintely felt like a transportation place rather than a prison / secrity-place (i.e. an airport).

The train left 11 mintues late; no big deal. My coach (1 of 3 normal coaches; there was a separate first-class coach) was about 30% full? It was way less than I expected, especially given the earlier cancellations. Everybody in my side of the coach had a pair of seats to themselves... there were two seats on either side of the aisle. I couldn't see if it was more packed in the other coaches, but I doubt it.

The train itself was smooth, not significantly noisy, had bigger seats than an airplane, way bigger washrooms, power sockets for all pairs of seats, and OMG why do people put up with planes for travel inside a country? I mean, seriously. You're not treated like a criminal before you get to the vehicle, you can just walk up to it without arriving hours early to wait in a series of lineups... it's a totally different way to travel.

Scenery: omg omg omg. The 2cm of snow was the most significant precipitation we've had in 2 or 3 weeks, but MAO was it well-timed. Snow on trees? Fields of smooth, untouched powder?!?! There's something about untouched powder that makes me go "rowr". Also, small creeks meandering through white fields. Mao, now I want to go skiing.

Hills: looking gorgeous. I want to go hiking. I'm aware of safety, though, so I'm not over-keen to go by myself. Maybe when somebody from Vancouver comes to visit, we could go north for a bit and find some hiking trails?

Trees: the sudden treelines would normally look ridiculous, but in the snowy landscape they somehow work. Maybe because everything looks toylike, so a computer-game-type "block of field, block of trees, block of field" fits with the toy theme?

Pictures: given my experience with previous cell phone pictures, I'm not keen to try more. Also, the windows seem to reflect inside light, so the pictures would probably be even worse than they would otherwise be.

I saw some sheep... I think they were sheep. Various livestock, at least.

We went through a patch of thick fog rising from a snowy field, obscuring distant hills or forest or roads -- I could only see unbroken snow powder merging with fog/cloud/steam a few hundred meters away. Beautiful. Only lasted about 5 minutes, but wow.

After an hour, it wasn't as impressive. Less snow, less hills. Probably in England instead of Scotland. :)
(after a quick check with fellow passengers, we're still in Scotland, although we're getting close to Carlisle, which is the first stop in England. We haven't had any stops so far, BTW.

After an hour and twenty minutes, we arrived in Carlisle and picked up more passengers. Including somebody with the seat next to me, to my annoyance. The scenery wasn't as nice, either -- light industrial areas, warehouses, a few houses, motorways, etc. Flat.

I definitely like Scotland more. (well, to be fair, more than that part of England)

The two hour mark had us in an area with low hills; maybe the lake district?

We had more and more stops in England, picking up more and more passengers until we go to Crewe. This part of the journey wasn't amazing at all; it was almost like a bus ride. We stopped every 15-20 minutes to pick up or drop off passengers. We arrived in Birmingham 30 minutes behind schedule, but everything else was behind schedule as well due to the panic over a centimeter or two of snow. (wusses!)

Brimingham New Street Station was a bit confusing; there were 12 platforms, some of which with an "a" and "b" side. Much worse was that there were no trains going to Worcester! I mean, not just "I missed my train and must wait 2 hours", but there just didn't seem to any such trains!

After wandering around for a bit, I asked a station attendant, who directed me to another attendant, who told me I wanted the train to... Hereford, I think? I honestly can't remember the name, and that was only 15 minutes ago. In any case, it was platform 12b, which had a train leaving in 10 minutes. Either it's a common run, or the earlier train was delayed, or I just totally lucked out.

It would have been nice if my tickets -- or at least iternary -- had specified that I wanted the train going to XYZ, rather than simply telling me the station I wanted to get off at. Grr. Oh well, at least I know for next time.

Overall, I'm inspired to leave my lab routine. Travel by train was easy, not all that expensive if you book a month or two in advance, and there's some spectacular scenery in Scotland.

Getting out and seeing the city? Bleh. Clubs, shopping, "city" things: bleh, not interested. Art museums: sorry, but also bleh. Architecture: ok, not entirely bleh here, but not enough to make me go significantly out of my way. But nature? Not bleh. The hills look good, although of course they're nothing compared to the Rockies (a mountain range in Western canada). I want to go north and see the Highlands.

The above was true of my time in Singapore -- I was never inspired to go downtown, and in the few times that I did, I didn't find anything particularly interesting. But I loved looking at the plants (often the "normal" plants growning at the side of the road -- special plants in a zoo or whatnot are supposed to be special; I liked the exotic plants in "normal" places) and animals.

It took over 2 hours to write this post, because I kept on stopping to stare at the scenery in Scotland.