The following all sounds a bit dramatic but it was actually quite fun and we made it so no worries eh? :)
Two days ago we made the journey from Ravenna, Italy, to Essen, Germany. A distance of about 870 km. This turned out to be rather exciting...
We had planned it several weeks ago using the Trenitalia and Ryanair (more about them later) websites. We managed to break it down into a train ride to Bologna, then a train to Milano, then a bus to Bergamo airport, then a flight to Weeze near Düsseldorf, then a bus to Essen HBF (rail station) then an underground to Porscheplatz and then a short walk to our hotel. Easy huh?
We rose at 6am and walked to the Ravenna railway station for our 7:49 train. No problems. This train was on time, and got us to Bologna as expected. Unfortunately in Bologna there was utter chaos - one train delayed over 2 hours! Our connecting train (on which we had specific seats booked) was delayed 40 minutes. An earlier one hadn't even left yet. We watched rather nervously as the delay increased over time. We really had to make the bus connection at Milano otherwise we would arrive late at the airport. Anyway I made an executive decision and downgraded our ticket to a slower train that (provided it wasn't also delayed) would actually arrive 10 minutes earlier than our late train, if it didn't get any later.
If you followed that so far, stay with me.
Because we had no seat reserved on this new train, we had to sit in the aisle for a couple of hours. There are little fold-down seats so that wasn't too bad, but we had to get up every minute or two when people wanted to pass on their way to the bathroom. In the end I spent most of the time just standing. But we watched the scenery whizz by and had a good chat with each other.
Our bus from Milano was due to leave at midday. I've never known a train to move so slowly when only 200 metres from the final platform. The time was about 12:03 and when the doors opened we made a sprint for the bus terminal (carrying 20 kilos each, so not all that fast really).
Anyway, we missed the bus.
But we got another one at 12:30. This was scheduled to get us to the airport at 13:30. Ryanair have a notorious policy of closing check-in 40 minutes before departure (14:20, so 13:40 closure), so we figured we had 10 minutes to spare.
We arrived at the airport at 13:25. Yay. We got to check in. P's bag was 1 kg too heavy. Doh! The check-in girl gave me two options - go away and repack, or repack right there. There was a big queue behind us. I asked her when check-in closes. She said 5 minutes... so we repacked right there. Too bad for anyone else behind us I'm afraid but I'm sure they're over it now.
Turns out the plane was delayed by about an hour... this was putting our bus transfer at Weeze in jeopardy. While waiting to board someone leaned against one of the security doors and set off the alarm. Now we were waiting with a deafening siren. It turned off after about 10 minutes but nobody came running... amusing really. Everyone laughed at the poor guy.
Finally, we boarded. This brings me to the worst part of our entire day - the Ryanair "theme music" that they play incessantly as people board the plane. I really can't describe it other than a cross between a repetitive nursery rhyme tune and a polka. They played it over and over and over... arggg....
Then we flew to Weeze, quickly left the terminal (the Schengen Agreement is a wonderful thing - no passport check on arrival), made our bus connection, taken to Essen HBF. Phew.
Now to use the underground to get to our hotel.
The underground station was closed due to construction work! We tried several access areas but all were closed. Eventually we found another entrance though. Now to figure out how the tickets work. Not simple, but we finally got it with some help from a friendly ticket agent.
We made it to our hotel locale, we even found the hotel. But... where the heck was reception?! Not on any of the four floors I climbed twice that's for sure. Turned out we were in the second part of the hotel, Reception was across the street. We were pretty tired by now!
Anyway, checked in, went out for dinner. Everything closed at 8pm so we had Burger King. Drunken Germans on our hotel balcony right outside our window kept me awake until 3am but otherwise the end of a very exciting day :)
You might wonder why we left things so tight. Well, actually they weren't that bad. We had contingencies planned at every point, but what we didn't have were contingencies in case a contingency failed... oh well, that's the fun of traveling!