10th & 11th May 2016 - A Desperate Leap
Tuesday 10th May 2016
We could easily have spent another day in the Leipzig / Dresden area but it was time to move on as we needed to be in the Netherlands for a flight from Schiphol to Belfast. Why? Being gluttons for punishment, we wanted to do the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland's (RPSI) annual "International Railtour" which started in Northern Ireland and Schiphol was just about the only place you could fly direct to Belfast from in Europe
Our original intention was to catch the 9:39 IC which would be a class 146/5 and double deck stock but it would mean a 20 minute connection at Hannover, not a good idea with the way that German Railways perform these days so an alternative was sought. This was an 8:15 ICE service to Berlin and we noticed that it was formed of one of the 14 coach ICE1 sets so there should be no problems getting a seat, a theory which proved correct. Berlin Hbf was reached on time and we attempted to make our way to the Stadtbahn platforms to catch a train to the Ostbahnhof, failing miserably and managing to end up on the S Bahn platforms instead. At least they went there as well even if the S Bahn took a little longer.
We had hoped that the train would be in the platform at least five minutes before departure time giving plenty of time to choose a suitable seat for the journey to Amsterdam but it pulled up in the platform about two minutes before departure time so it was a question of diving on through the nearest door. We found an unreserved compartment in the buffet car but the air conditioning did not appear to be working and when the situation hadn't improved by the time we left Spandau in West Berlin we went for a wander and found another free compartment in the front coach, where the aircon was working and managed to keep it to ourselves for the entire journey apart from one man who joined us between Wolfsburg and Hannover.
Berlin to Amsterdam takes just over 6 ½ hours with the chance for a leg-stretch at Bad Bentheim where NS 1753 took over from the DB’s 101 027. A further country was represented here in the shape of SBB (Switzerland) 421.386 which was stabled in the sidings having caught fire here a couple of weeks previously. There was no apparent sign of damage and we guessed that it was waiting for a tow back home for repairs.
The train arrived at Amsterdam a couple of minutes late so we had to rush to get our planned connection but that too, was a few minutes late. It was quite busy as we expected though 1st class was not so bad; just as well bearing in mind it was a double deck set with no luggage space, not even a luggage rack for small bags, so we had to hog a whole bay of four surrounded by our luggage.
Leiden, where we were staying in the Ibis Hotel opposite the station, was busy and bustling with people on bikes whizzing around all over the place, not a helmet to be seen and some bikes didn't appear to be fitted with brakes either. We managed to cross the road without getting mown down and went to our room, complete with view of a windmill, to freshen up before dinner. "Oudt Leyden" sounded good with the pancakes being recommended but we hadn't realised that the whole menu consisted of pancakes. Never mind, we had a savoury one each and shared a sweet one and very good they were too.
Wednesday 11th May 2017
Straight to the airport this morning using, an NS FIP ticket to get us there; the plane pushed off about 20 minutes late and the wheels stopped turning at Belfast International around 10 minutes late. This is one of two Belfast Airports and was previously an RAF base some distance away from the city, requiring a bus journey to get there. This was painless enough and we bought return tickets for £10.50 each, valid for a month and a saving over buying single tickets at £7 a go. The bus took 45 minutes and went to the Europa Bus station at the rear of the Europa Hotel where we were staying which was rather more expensive than the sort of hotels that we normally use but we won't bore you with the numerous reasons as to why we stayed here.
Northern Ireland had completely changed since our last visit here twelve years ago with all the older class 80 and 450 DMUs having been replaced by new modern units and the only loco-hauled services being the approximately two hourly Dublin / Belfast "Enterprise" service. There wasn't enough time to go too far so we decided on a trip to Larne Harbour with a stop-off at Whitehead to remind ourselves of how to get to the RPSI station, pretty obvious in fact. We had a quick look through the gate whilst there, the coaches for tomorrow were in the platform with diesel B142 visible behind and smoke rising from tomorrow's motive power 4-4-0 no. 85 "Merlin" further back.
Returning to the NIR station, a couple of photos were taken of the impressive station building and disused signal box before completing our journey to Larne Harbour and returning to Belfast for dinner.
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