Archives For August 2013

Night train to Bucharest

August 31, 2013 — 1 Comment

From The Man in Seat 61. . .How to travel by train from London to Sofia and Bulgaria

Day 2, travel from Munich to Budapest by air-conditioned Austrian RailJet train, leaving Munich at 09:27 and arriving in Budapest Keleti at 16:49. A bar-bistro car is available, so treat yourself to lunch!

Travel from Budapest to Bucharest overnight on the EuroNight sleeper train Ister, leaving Budapest Keleti at 19:10 and arriving in Bucharest Nord at 12:10 next morning (day 3). The Ister has a modern air-conditioned sleeping car (1, 2 or 3-bed standard sleepers with washbasin, 1, 2 or 3 bed deluxe sleepers with toilet & shower) and 4 & 6-berth couchettes. A bed in the sleeper is the recommended option, see the photos below. The Ister should have a restaurant car for dinner & breakfast (euros, lei & forints accepted), but the restaurant isn’t always attached, so take some provisions yourself. Enjoy the descent through the wonderful Alpine scenery of the Carpathian mountains between Brasov and Bucharest. Ister is the ancient name for the River Danube.

We arrive on time in Budapest, have a quick dinner, and head for our next train at 6:30 PM. I misread the departure board and we walk to Track 9. An immaculate overnight train is on that track. It is pristine and even has a full dining car, complete with table linens. We look for our carriage number but never find it because this train is heading to Zurich, not Bucharest.

We find the right track and come upon a train made up of mismatched and heavily worn rail cars.There is no dining car and some of the carriages even lack air conditioning. Abby and I are given separate cabins and many of the lights and handles and drains don't work. The night is cool so I leave my window open. It is peaceful and quiet and I don't care one bit that I'm not on the train to Zurich.

 

Joey, Saldick and Ryan

After finishing my last blog post, I returned to the cafe car to grab another Beck’s. I made it back to our compartment three hours and four friends later.

The WiFi signal was strong so I stayed in the cafe awhile catching up on emails. A short time later I met Ryan and Joey, childhood friends from Springfield, Mass. who were spending two weeks traveling from Barcelona to Paris and Munich. They are big soccer fans and were trying to get the score of the match between Chelsea and Bayern Munich. We followed the game on my iPad, which Chelsea lost on a penalty kick shootout.

Joey has spent his trip through Europe asking people he meets to pose for pictures holding a sign congratulating his sister on her recent engagement. His plan is to make a large collage to present to her when he returns from this trip.

Like me, Ryan had planned this leg of their journey using Mark Smith’s website. Ryan made a minor mistake in the booking and he and Joey have ended up in one of the six seat compartments of which I wrote yesterday. Their efforts to make a last minute upgrade were not successful which is what has led them to the cafe car.

They told me of meeting the Libyan family staying in the next compartment. The father, Saldick, soon joined us. His best English is limited to three phrases, “Libya Good.” “Obama Good.” “Fucking Shit.” We managed to communicate with gestures and a little help from Google Translate.

Saldick wanted to smoke and put a cigarette to his lips only to realize that he had forgotten his matches, which is how we met Derik.

Derik

Derick is a surfer from Cape Town who captains a 75 foot catamaran charter boat sailing out of Guadalupe. Finished for the season, he is meeting a friend in Hamburg to deliver a boat to the Mediterranean. He offered Saldick his lighter and joined us.

Five guys met in a bar car while stopped at the German border and shared beers and stories until the cafe closed. Life is good. Libya good. Obama good. Fucking shit.

 

From Mark Smith’s The Man in Seat 61. . .How to travel by train from London to Sofia and Bulgaria

Day 1, travel from London to Paris by Eurostar, leaving London St Pancras at 15:31, arriving Paris Gare du Nord at 18:47. On Fridays, there’s also a 16:01 Eurostar arriving 19:17. In Paris, it’s a 10 minute walk from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de l’Est. By all means take an earlier Eurostar if you’d like to spend some time in Paris, or if it has cheaper seats available. Also on Day 1, travel from Paris to Munich overnight by the City Night Line sleeper train Cassiopeia, leaving Paris Gare de l’Est daily at 20:05 (20:25 at weekends) and arriving in Munich at 07:10 next morning. It has sleeping-cars (1, 2 & 3 bed compartments, economy with washbasin or deluxe with shower), 4 & 6-berth couchettes & ordinary seats, see the photos & information below or click for more pictures & information about this City Night Line train. Always check exact times for your date of travel at http://www.bahn.de as they sometimes vary due to work on the line, sometimes with an earlier departure from Paris requiring an earlier Eurostar connection from London.

We followed the suggestion of taking an earlier Eurostar and left from the St. Pancras international rail terminal at 7:01 AM this morning. The Eurostar is everything you wish the Acela could be. The ride is very fast and incredibly smooth, there is little rocking and swaying. The ceilings are high and the racks large enough to actually fit your luggage. Freshly baked pastries are sold from a basket, not unwrapped from celophane and served on cardboard.

The trip starts underground and after ten minutes we burst into the English countryside. Heading south, sunrise shines through the large windows lining the left side of the carraige. Within thirty-five minutes we are travelling under the Channel towards France. The train is surprisingly quiet this morning, full of English tourists heading out early for a long weekend and napping while they have the chance. For me, there’s too much history flying by the train windows to risk closing my eyes for a second. Fortunately, the coffee being served this morning is strong.

The train seems to go even faster when we reach France. Just as I catch a glimpse of the ruins of a Chateau, they are gone. As we near Paris, we pass a windmill farm that frames the background of the stone church steeple in the nearby village.

Our first stop in Paris is Gare de L’Est, the station we will depart from later this evening. We store our luggage in a locker and take the 4 Metro to the Left Bank. Paris Metro cars are modern, with large glass walls rising from knee level to the ceiling. They are very bright, illuminated by white lighted subway maps along the edge of the ceilings. The tunnel walls are covered with graffiti that is spotlighted as the well-lit glass covered subway cars pass by.

During our short stay in Paris we visit the Mussee d’Orsay and then cross the Seine and walk through the Tuileries Garden and to the Louvre before catching the 7 Metro back to the train station.

From Paris we head to Munich on the City Night Line 40451, which has turned out to be the most unique part of our trip so far. We start the journey with two trains joined together. At 3:00 AM, we will split with half heading to Berlin and the rest of us heading to Munich. Within each section there are four types of cars. First is a car full of compartments with three seats facing three and a large bike storage area. There are jump seats in the aisle so people can sit outside and read without disturbing their compartment mates. This carriage is filled with the very young trying to get across Europe by, no doubt, spending as little as possible. The next level up is the Couchette, the only difference being that instead of three seats facing each other, there are two rows of triple bunk beds lined up across the small aisle. The window curtains are down so many passengers in these cars also congregate in the narrow hallway, but they stand because there are no jump seats. Next is a economy sleeper cabin, each with its own sink and two to three bunk beds depending on the size of the traveling party. Finally, there is the “deluxe” sleeper, each with a shower and toilet in a separate room across from the bunk beds.

We start our ride with the shade open and watch the countryside coast past our feet. The upper bunk is not quite long enough, but the ladder railing does a nice job holding my beer. It will get a lot of use tonight. . .

London night music

August 29, 2013 — Leave a comment
We arrived in London right on schedule this morning. We visited the British Museum and then headed south to the Thames. We left at dusk and walked north towards Charing Cross Station. As we turned the corner to Trafalgar Square three street performers began playing Aerosmith’s Walk This Way, a fitting soundtrack as scores of people waited at numerous intersections to cross the streets that circle Nelson’s Column.

On our way underground to the Northern Line platform we walked down two long hallways. In the first we came upon a violinist playing an Irish Slip Jig. In the next a man with an acoustic guitar played early Beatles songs.

It was the perfect ending to a perfect day in London.

And we’re off

August 27, 2013 — 1 Comment

From The Start of the Journey:

So why this blog? I guess it all starts with the fact that my daughter, a classics major at the University of Chicago, decided to travel to the coast of the Black Sea this summer to excavate and decipher pottery from Ancient Greece. This rather straight-forward study abroad opportunity led to an invitation to join her on a train trip across Europe on her way to the archeological site.

A close friend recently asked what I planned to do during the long train rides. Would I bring lots of books to read? Take time to visit the cities along the way? Well, writing this blog is what I have decided to do.

At the outset, I must recognize, thank and give credit to Mark Smith from the U.K., better known as The Man in Seat 61. . . for his wonderfully insightful and helpful blog post on How to Travel from London to Sofia and Bulgaria. He has literally shown me the way, step by step.

The above is from my first blog post, published on July 8th. Since then I have been slowly piecing together our trip from Baltimore to London by air; from London to Sophia, Bulgaria by train; from Sophia to Burgas on the Black Sea coast by plane; and finally from Burgas to Obzur by bus, where I will leave Abby as she starts a two week program with the Balkan Heritage Field School.

The program she is attending is a workshop for conservation, restoration and documentation of Ancient Greek potterty and is hosted by the Field School and Apollonia Pontica Excavation Team. During the workshop she will work with authentic Ancient Greek shards and visit the ancient coastal towns of Nesebar (an UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Archaeological Museum in Sozopol.

At this point I have followed Mark Smith’s suggestions and everything is in place, except for one pair of train tickets from Bucharest, Romania to Sophia, but my understanding is that obtaining tickets at the station will not be a problem. The schedule for the buses along the Black Sea coast is also a little confusing. Other than these minor concerns, everything has come together nicely.

We leave shortly on British Airways flight 216 from Dulles to London Heathrow. We are expected to arrive at 6:40 a.m. local and will spend the day sightseeing in London. Dulles is surprisingly quiet this evening and not very crowded; a far cry from my typical airline experience at the Southwest terminal at BWI.

Abby is sitting next to me reading Sea Change, by S. M. Wheeler, a new novel that I supsect she will finish it before the week is over. This is how many of my adventures start with Abby.

 

Tim (“T-Dog”) Methric

Tim Methric is the nicest swimmer you will ever meet. He is the founder and inspirational leader of the informal “Charm City Masters” swim team of which I am a proud member. If all goes as planned, next weekend he will move from Canton to Ellicott City.

Tim was born on April 1st in the bathroom of the house where his parents still live. That one sentence explains a lot about Tim. He is the type of guy who can’t wait to get started, whether on the deck before a routine practice or on the shore at the start of a long open water swim. “Let’s do this,” he’ll proclaim and then we are off and swimming. Tim out in front and the rest of us trailing behind. At the end of the swim, his is the first face you will see, smiling and offering encouragement as the rest of us finish.

Tim moved to Canton four years ago to accept a temporary teaching position at Towson University. He liked Baltimore so much he decided to stay after he finished at Towson. A life-long swimmer, he quickly joined a Masters swim team. He started with the team a year before me, at a time when it had different coaches. That team was vibrant, full of strong swimmers and tri-athletes who welcomed Tim to his new home. He met his best friend on that team and in several weeks will marry her.

Unfortunately, the team fell apart shortly after I joined, when new coaches were hired and new rules were imposed by the owner of the pool. Tim stayed on after almost everyone else left and over the last three years has been instrumental in our team’s rebirth.

Tim trains with passion and the example he sets has inspired me to work hard and follow him, first up the Hudson River and then on a seven and one-half mile swim across the Potomac. I have written about how Bruce and Abby taught me the joy of swimming. Tim taught me to believe in myself as a swimmer, and that confidence has made all the difference.

And for this I offer my thanks to Tim and my best wishes to Tim and Kathleen as they begin their next adventure, together.

Abigail, a father’s joy

August 22, 2013 — 6 Comments

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This morning in Baltimore was beautiful, much like it was twenty years ago when our daughter Abigail was born.

I slept well the night before, not realizing that Kathy had been up for hours in early labor. She woke me with the suggestion that perhaps we should think about driving to the hospital. A minute later her water broke.

My first job was to pack some clothes for the baby. I picked out six “onesies,” clueless that the stay at the hospital would be measured in hours, not days. This was the beginning of a slow learning process for me. After we brought Abby home, my next job was to buy diapers. I went to the nearby Giant, walked down the aisle where the baby products are sold and picked out four packages of diapers. One for each age grouping from “1 to 3 months” to “9 to 12 months.” At the checkout stand the cashier looked at my purchases and asked how many children I had. “Just one,” was the answer. She gave me a knowing smile and said, “Don’t worry Dad, children don’t grow up that fast.”

No. It turns out they grow up much faster.

Happy 20th Birthday Abby.

Love,

Dad

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I went for a jog in New York City this morning. I started at 44th Street, turned right at Fifth Avenue and headed north towards Central Park.

I crossed in front of the Plaza Hotel and entered the Park. There were hundreds of joggers and bicyclists. The air was clear and cool. Some joggers even wore sweatshirts.

As I ran easily up East Drive, I remembered back to the first time I visited Manhattan. It was the summer after my first year in law school and I took the Greyhound from Binghampton to visit Jim, a friend from college, and Glenn and Jon, my closest friends from law school. We met at the Port Authority bus terminal. Glenn’s dad ran a vending company and lent Glenn his delivery van for the day. We drove downtown and parked just off Wall Street.

Jon started our tour from the observation deck on the south World Trade Center tower. He pointed out all of the neighborhoods in southern Manhattan and from there we walked through each one. We headed north to Chelsea, spent a little time in Greenwich Village and SoHo, then had lunch in Little Italy before passing through Chinatown on our way to Battery Park. We stopped to look at the Statute of Liberty and started walking back to where we had left the van.

Turning onto Pearl Street we stumbled upon The Killarney Rose, a quaint Irish pub. We sat on bar stools and drank pint-sized drafts that cost 50 cents. We talked about nothing of consequence that day and stayed to watch Caveat win the Belmont Stakes an hour or so later.

 

I’ve had many beers in other establishments since then, but have no memory fonder than of the time I shared beers with Jim, Glenn and Jon while sitting at that bar.

Reaching the top of a climb, I turned left to the Reservoir and then headed south. I zigzagged my way down Madison and Park, crossing streets back and forth as the traffic signals dictated and finished my morning jog in just over an hour.

It was the second best time I’ve had while visiting New York.

The trip

August 6, 2013 — Leave a comment

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On August 28, 2013, Abby and I depart for London for our train trip to the Black Sea. You can follow our travels on the above map. Our rough itinerary is listed in Upcoming Events, to the left. We depart from London and will change trains in Paris, Munich, Budapest, Bucharest and Sofia.

We welcome any suggestions of things to see and do in Bucharest, Sofia and Bourgas, where we have scheduled stop-overs.

Finish.

August 4, 2013 — 1 Comment

Earlier today I finished the 3 mile Purple Swim to support pancreatic cancer research. There was a one mile swim followed by a two mile swim with the option to swim both, which is what my friends and I chose to do this morning.

The day was beautiful and the conditions were perfect. The humidity was low, with a water temperature in the high 70s. The water surface was basically flat. It was like swimming in a pool without having to do any flip turns.

At the end of each swim, I walked ashore and under the purple banner pictured above and remembered all the times my father encouraged me to finish what I started. My father never rushed into these matters. He waited, let things simmer a bit, and then said just the right thing to convince me to keep going.

I now realize that by encouraging me in this way, my father taught me a more valuable lesson. And that lesson was that once you know you can finish whatever you start, you will never be afraid to push your limits and strive for higher goals.

I just signed up for the “Half Full” triathlon scheduled for October 6th in Ellicott City. Until this morning, my plan had been to swim, bike and run for a total of 40 miles. Inspired by the memory of my father's lessons, I instead signed up for the 70 mile course.

I don't know how I'll do on October 6th, but I will finish.