Travel - Going back to the Motherland

For some time now I have wanted to write a different style of blog. A travel guide, sort of thing... 

Something that draws upon my firsthand experiences, of a trip or visit and something that is hopefully informative and interesting for you, the reader.

So here goes...

It seems a little bit strange to write about an Englishman going home (for a holiday) especially when I'm from England and I'm going back to England for my holiday.

Well... in this particular blog post I hope to share my views and experiences on travelling back to the motherland, from my current home in the Netherlands and within these particular musings, I will hopefully draw upon my experiences and then share them with you. 

In other posts, I have previously explained that I'm an Englishman who now resides in the Netherlands and even though I'm happy with where I now live, I'm still extremely proud to be British and of course proud of my homeland and what has been good to me for so many years.

With that in mind, circumstances change and life tends to deal us many unique twists and turns. Within my life, so far, I feel I have been very lucky and have enjoyed experiencing many a joyous occasion. I've experienced many an adventure and never turned down any opportunity to make changes. It is fair to suggest that changes have to happen, sometimes they happen just naturally and sometimes as a result of you orchestrating the change. Either way, change can often be for the better and the outcome a positive one for the person in question .

I'm happy in the Netherlands, it's a country with pleasant surroundings and home to decent people, but England will always be my home and it is hard to convince me otherwise. I'm proud to be British and all that it stands for and although I'm very happy to adapt and to also try to fit into new cultures, I very much love my country of birth and all that it stands for... even if it did recently decide to break away from Europe.

Anyway, putting politics aside. I visit Britain fairly often and I try to go back to the UK around 2 or 3 times a year. Usually, I go back with the family, sometimes just me on my own. It's all good and a trip I obviously look forward too, for all manner of reasons. The journey to the UK is relatively straightforward, with a variety of options to choose from. The distance is not far at all, so I always tend to feel that I have the best of both worlds.

The Journey

Most of the time the easiest solution is to travel by plane, either from my local airport of Rotterdam, 10 minutes by bike or travel 20 minutes up the road (by train) to Schipol, where there are many more flight options to choose from. Either way,  it is a good journey to travel and very straightforward. Alternatively and a little bit more expensive, is the option of travelling to the UK by train. Although, it seems to be a longer journey on paper, it actually works out to be roughly around the same time span, as taking the plane. Especially when you calculate the journey time from door to door.

As I have now completed the journey several times already, I feel that I'm slowly becoming a regular commuter and as a result... for this blog, I will attempt to give a comprehensive run down of how I complete the journey, by train and everything else that follows along with it.

I hope that my insight then perhaps inspires you to make this journey, part of it or a different one altogether.  

Anyway...

Purchasing the ticket...

...is a fairly important part of the whole journey. Without it... you probably won't be going anywhere fast. There are options for the journey, but like most things, I have my favourites. Either way, it is good to know what those options are, as with most things in life, the prices can differ and as a result, affect your final decision.

When purchasing such things, I tend to use the same options as everyone else, either on the internet buying through Rail Europe or visiting the local train station, in my case Rotterdam Centraal. The station is just down the road and very convenient for my travels, so if I have any queries or questions I tend to just pop down there and ask. The NS staff are of course always pleasant and really helpful and they will always endevour to cater for your personal requirements, finding suitable connections for trains and appropriate journey times, always without a great deal of hassle or complication.

The Journey...

A map of the journey from Amsterdam to London and stopping points. I just have to hope it stops at Rotterdam...

The options by train from Rotterdam are as follows...

You can either take the high speed Thalys train from Amsterdam to Brussels, then onward, using the Eurostar from Brussels to London. The second option is a little slower, comprising of the Intercity from Rotterdam to Brussels and again onward from Brussels to London, using the Eurostar.

I hope that the above is not too confusing. It is actually all very simple. Just get on, get off and along the journey, sit and enjoy the plentiful picturesque views.

Thayls

The Thayls is a high speed train link between Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. It is comfy, fast and reliable. Each time I use this train I find it efficient and really easy to use. Generally, it is on time and good value for money. For my particular journey, the time from Rotterdam to Brussels is just around 1 hour, so it is really the fastest option. The regular Intercity train is slightly slower, with stopping points in between. Therefore, it probably goes without saying that it makes more sense to take Thalys option, as opposed to wait for the alternative.

The only real downside is that the Thayls is generally more expensive and due to seat reservations, you will need to book in advance. With that said I have been on the service several times where they seemed to have doubled booked seats and as you can imagine, at busy times, that can be quite annoying.

Eurostar

From Brussels, London is just a short hop of around 2 hours 30 minutes. Eurostar run the service that starts at Brussels Midi terminal and travels via Lille in France, through the Channel Tunnel and onward to London St Pancras. It is a well-established connection that is fast and efficient.

The service has been running for a long time and generally it is all fine, although in recent visits I have felt that the trains have become rather dated, cramped and not necessarily value for money. Thankfully, my prayers have been answered as in recent months a whole revamp of the Eurostar rolling stock has been evident, with older trains now being replaced. This is a great sign of intent and real plus point on an already good service. You can read more about the new fleet here.

or a video...

The Eurostar journey is fast and there certainly isn't a better way to sit back and see the splendid French countryside. I really like this mode of transport as it allows you to just sleep / relax or if you're feeling energised, just play music or mess around on the iPad or laptop. 

At the moment the Eurostar stops at both Brussels and Lille. At Brussels it terminates, so you need to find a connecting train, they are working at running the whole route straight through from London to Amsterdam, which dramatically speed up travel time and there is no need to transfer at Brussels Midi Station.

St Pancras

Once through the Channel Tunnel, you are on the home straight and not far from London. Just outside London, some trains stop at Ebbsfleet. I have never been to Ebbsfleet and I don't plan on it in the future, but I'm sure it is very nice.

London St Pancras is a huge station and there is a huge amount going on there, with trains not only traveling to other areas of the UK, but also internationally. It is a brilliant station in its design and also its purpose. It is certainly worth a visit every now and then, even if you are not on your travels.

Once in London, I always feel at home. Not a lot changes, it’s always its busy self, but it always holds significant interest to me as I lived there previously for 6 years. I loved my time in London and during that time I got to know the area really well.

The station is in close proximity to Central London and all the attractions  and the other transport hubs Euston and Kings Cross Stations. Over the years this whole area has received a huge amount of regeneration.

To cater for the large volume of visitors to London or simply for people just passing through from one location to the next, St Pancras has a huge range of eateries and shops. I personally love drinking coffee and also eating Sushi, so when I'm here, I always opt to visit Wasbi, which is located in St Pancras Square or grab a good coffee, in the many different cafes dotted around.

Wasbi is a great place for sushi, with a wide range of fresh items and also St Pancras Square is a really welcoming place to just sit and gather your thoughts. Here, you'll find something is always going on and the buildings that surround are architecturally, pretty and appealing on the eye.

I also think it is a peaceful place, in the heart of a busy city, so close to the centre and major transport hubs. It also shows how modern urban regeneration can transform an area into a real success.

After spending time here and stocking up on several essential items or drink a coffee or three. I tend to slowly venture up the road towards Euston Station. On route to the station you pass another gem. That gem being the British Library.

The British Library is again a favourite place of mine and a place that so often gets overlooked, by visitors. It's one of those places that you know where it is, but you simply just don't spend any time there. This is a shame really, as it is really a fantastic place. It prides itself on being a building of knowledge and this is very true. Not only does it have a huge range of books, but it is also a peaceful place where you can choose to simply come here, sit and I guess just to get away from it all. I like that option, as like most folks I love the peace and quiet and from time to time like nothing better than being in my own company and my own thoughts.

Euston

Once in London I change trains and head north from Euston to the 'People’s Republic of Stoke on Trent'. Euston, again is a large station and it serves as a main station for people who are making the journey north to the Midlands, the North West and to Scotland.

From the outside it doesn't look very imposing, but inside it opens out into quite an impressive public space. As a kid I always remember coming into Euston on visits to and from London. I always remembered it being a bit of a dump and a big battle ground for football hooligans, on a Saturday afternoon. Since then, times have changed and it is a bit more appealing, with plans afoot to change it into the main hub that serves the new high-speed line HS2. Which will probably be finished when I'm long in my grave.

Anyway, here you'll find plenty to eateries and places to again just watch the day go by, while you wait for the train to arrive. Just before your train is prepared and notified, 'ready to board' people gather in front of the huge timetable screen.

When you stand back it looks a very peculiar thing to do, but I guess it is all part of travelling by train and the waiting process. After a while of waiting, the board changes and people react. Funny to see how people react, with everyone focusing on rushing to the train. With that you pick up your bags and follow the crowds, flying across the concourse and down the ramp that leads to the train.

Waiting is the Virgin train, which funnily enough, is operated by Virgin trains... How funny is that. Joking aside it is a good service and in my opinion, for what it is worth, there is always enough carriages to allow you to sit in your own seat and not have to sit on someone’s knee.

My final journey means that I have to travel from London towards Manchester, up through the middle of the country travelling North. As mentioned, probably a thousand times, I do love my country and all that it stands for and perhaps quite controversially, I do prefer the north than the south. For me It's all about the people, the countryside and I guess their overall attitude towards life in general. The north feels more like home and overall, more inviting. It might seem like a generalisation, but that simply is the way it feels.

Eventually, as long as the train is running on time, I make it to the People’s Republic of Stoke - on -Trent and then onwards to the beautiful Peak District, where I will spend the majority of my time. Often referred to in the negative sense, Stoke on Trent gets a bad press, but I love my home city and the people that live there. We call the people, the 'salt of the earth', as you always know where you stand with their strong opinions and sense of pride for their city. I'm glad of who I am and I'm glad that I'm from such a great place.

It might not be glamorous, but it has a great football team and is part of the 'Çreative County', that being Staffordshire. From here you can not only explore the city and revel in its history, you can also travel in all directions and within 15 minutes be in some of the finest countryside the UK has on offer. Therefore, I feel regardless of what people might say, it is a fantastic area to stay in and then explore.


Thank you for reading this particular blog and others, that I've written. I really appreciate your support and of course I will endevour to contribute further content in the future.

Enjoy your travels!

Gareth


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