Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Travel Plans

 After the activity of 2014 we have not done much travelling this year for various reasons: just a few family outings to London, the summer holiday on the south coast, a couple of trips on ecclesiastical business and a couple of days out for me. No Scotland, no continent this year. BUT THERE ARE PLANS!

Booked for the rest of this year are some of the same, really: more trips to London both for family and church, and an outing to Lincoln for the Christmas Market. This will be the first time we use the through Virgin Trains East Coast train to Lincoln and I've already booked First Class tickets for this.

For 2016 we are looking wider again and have already booked a Great Rail Journeys holiday to the Swiss Alps for the summer: a similar route to the one we took last winter so that we can see it in different conditions, but different enough not to be repeat performance but warmer! We have our last free First Class Virgin Trains East Coast tickets to use, from the withdrawn Rewards scheme, and these have to be used by March. Edinburgh is tempting. We have not visited Edinburgh for about thirty years and have simply changed trains there on our way to the Highlands, so it would be great to see the city again for a couple of days.

We have also promised ourselves a journey to the South of France on Eurostar's through service and will be looking to book that as soon as tickets are released for the dates we can go. This will take us to places we have never seen before and will hopefully make an interesting blog post when we get back. Also in the summer we shall want to visit the south coast of England again. This is almost becoming a tradition now ...

That is "it" for now, although other smaller trips wil be bound to occur as the year progresses, and they will be posted here, of course.

Friday, 9 October 2015

When is a lounge not a lounge?

With two colleagues I needed to travel to the National Exhibition Centre for the Midlands Christian Resources Exhibition so that we could look at some screen and projection equipment and see what else might be useful. We would need to travel peak time so there were no cheap tickets to be had (apart from my Senior Railcard discount - my colleagues are too young) and it would have been cheaper for three of us to drive, but the roadworks where the A14 meets the motorways were a bit off-putting, while the opportunity to talk or do other work on the train was an attractive proposition. So we set off to Birmingham International via Birmingham New Street, taking the 08:05 Cross Country train from Stamford. I had bought the tickets in advance and reserved seats on this train, and on the most likely one coming back. When our train called at Coleshill Parkway it occurred to me that this may have been a better place to get off, and catch a bus to the NEC. I am not yet used to the existence of this station!

We changed at New Street as planned, arriving at platform 12, which still needed some work doing before it would be complete, and reading the screens on the huge new concourse to find out where our connection would be. It did not matter which train we caught to International, but we did have seats reserved on a Virgin Trains departure a few moments after arrival so we made our way to platform 2a which was listed for it.

This was my first experience of New Street station after its rebuilding, and the space was truly amazing. Even though I knew the old station as well as I know my own home I struggled to know where anything was and had to follow signs as if I were in a place I'd never been before. It did feel strange. Getting to platform 2a by following signs to "Yellow Lounge" (or was it "Blue Lounge"? Or was that the one where we arrived?) seemed odd. I've never thought of platforms being in lounges before - although at Paris Gare to Lyons they are in halls - and I did not notice any soft furnishings, but then we did have a train to catch. And there it was, a Pendolino occupying the whole of platform 2 and the standard class seats, ours, were at the other end. Departure time was imminent, so we boarded and walked through, deciding to stop at the on-board shop (what we used to call the buffet) and bought coffee and biscuits, there having been no trolley on our train from Stamford.

I must say that I rather liked the interior of the Pendolino: short on luggage space like all trains designed for Virgin, but a very pleasant ambiance, I thought. I've heard them described as cramped but even on this relatively busy service - it took us a while to find three seats together - it felt OK to me. I'll have to try it properly some time, and in First Class, on a holiday in the north-west. In no time at all we were in Birmingham International and walking into the National Exhibition Centre. This place has grown a lot since my first visit almost forty years ago, just after its opening, and it was a long walk to Hall 10 where our show was being held.

Our time at the exhibition is not really the subject of this blog, but I'll just say that the facilities of the exhibition centre were excellent and the show itself was up to the usual standard for the Christian Resources Exhibition. I'd only ever been to the national one before and this was quite a bit smaller but did have what we'd come for and a lot of other useful stuff as well.  There was a restaurant within the exhibition hall and although the prices were on the high side, as they generally are at these places, the food was good and were were able to meet over lunch, discuss what we'd seen and decide on the afternoon. There was a lecture I wanted to hear but after that we would go home, rather earlier than we had originally thought, so our seats on the homeward train would not be reserved. It did, however, allow me a little while in the city centre to pop into the Ian Allan model shop just off New Street ...

My colleagues joined my on my little expedition and then we walked back to the station along New Street, entering via the ramp to the newly-opened Grand Central shopping centre, a huge improvement on what had been there before, although the Birmingham Shopping Centre as I recall it from the seventies, seemed pretty good at the time, but Birmingham is a more significant shopping destination now and needs this sort of place. There were still, naturally, some units not let but it was already a thriving, busy place. We found the escalators down to the concourse of the station and sought platform 12 for our train home.

This platform does not (yet?) have any seats for waiting for trains so we stood. We had no reservations for this departure and there were several people waiting, and it was only a two-car train (they are often three-car): we boarded through separate doors and scrambled to get a table together - and succeeded! There were plenty of seats but we did want to be together to continue our discussions - all rather unfortunate for the poor lady occupying the fourth seat at the table, even more so as she also got off at the same station as we did and so may cross our paths again!

This time there was a refreshment trolley and we enjoyed glass of wine to cool off and relax after a fairly heavy day of trekking round exhibitors' stands. Passengers came and went: it was peak travel time by the time we reached Leicester but we were home smoothly and easily with big carrier-bags full of brochures, samples and business cards which will keep us busy for some months to come, and over an hour earlier than planned.  For a business trip, altogether a grand day out - and I have some new stuff for my model railway, too!