I thought this would be a complicated part of the journey home from Nordkapp, and so it is proving to be. It is only 11am but I am already on Danish train number 3… This is how it has so far panned out:
- Arrived in Hirtshal on the ferry after a night of ‘rest’ rather than ‘sleep’.
- Cycled to the nearby train station (that should really be renamed ‘train platform’ as the rest of what used to comprise Hirtshal station is in the process of being converted to new uses), bought a ticket – one for me and one for the bike (you see here in Denmark they treat bikes like people!) and after a few minutes boarded the train to nearby Hjoerring.
- Purchase two tickets (see above) for travel to Aalborg but after further consultation realise that the train to Aalborg is also the train to Fredericia, my third destination of the day. So I purchase two more tickets to travel from Aalbord to Fredericia. All the ticket purchases up to this point have been bought from machines on the platform as Danish railways appear to have sacked everyone apart from the train drivers (and they are probably working on getting rid of them too).
- Attempt to board the train to Aalborg / Fredericia only to be told by the guard – at last! someone with a uniform who is employed by the railway company! – that I must have a bicycle reservation. “Is that the same as a ticket?” I enquire. “No. You must buy the reservation from the 7-11 shop in the station building.” Of course! Obvious really… At this point I lower my head and bang it gently on Reggie’s saddle. The guard looks a bit perplexed and is starting to glance in the direction of the nearby defibrillator.
- I rise from my position to force a smile and notice that four other cyclists are bording the next carriage. “Do they have reservations?” I ask boldly. “Follow me…” comes the reply. It turns out they do – they are Danish and know the system – but I play the stupid foreigner and tell her that I have a wedding to get to. No, I’m just joking; that’s a lie. I tell her it’s a funeral. Seeing my anguish the guard relents and tells me to get on the train, get off at Aalborg, cross the platform, wait 20 minutes and catch the next train to Fredericia.
- During the journey to Aalbord I examine my options online. The best solution would be to travel from Fredericia to Padborg on the border with Germany and a stone’s throw from Flensburg (remember that?). Alas there is an issue in the form of a rail replacement bus which will not carry bicycles – it’s gratifying to know that places like Denmark also have rail replacement buses – but there is an alternative; a train from Fredericia to Bramming followed by a train to Tonder, also near the border with Germany. I’ll come back to that in a second.
- Upon arrival in Aalborg I get off train 2 and wait for train 3. I glance up at the display about the platform to find out some good news; train 3 actually continues all the way to Bramming! But I need a ticket… I don’t fancy hauling the bike down the stairs and through the underpass to the ticket machines (or 7-11) but the guard from train 2 suggests I use the app. Conveniently I downloaded the app a few days ago and proceed to buy a ticket for me to travel from Fredericia to Tonder. The procedure involves being texted an access code but I take deep breaths and keep going… (Are you still following this?) But crucially, not for the bike. There’s no option to do so on the app. Mmm… Shall I risk it and go for a double on the stupid foreigner banging his head on a bike saddle thing again? Then I notice a ticket machine on the platform. Reggie’s ticket is also purchased. I have now used my debit card five times in under an hour…
- Why I don’t need a reservation for train 3 is a question the answer to which is known only to a select few, not including me. I board train 3 and shortly afterwards the guard arrives to check tickets. “It’s complicated” I explain but proceed to talk her through the various bits of paper and one online ticket. She smiles; I have everything I need! Phew…
- So, that’s got me to where I am now, heading south to Bramming through the picturesque countryside of Jutland. I change in Bramming to catch train 4 for Tonder and I should arrive near the border with Germany at 15.31. At this point the fun starts as I need to do the following:
- Cycle 19 km to Klanxbüll in Germany
- Buy a ticket (or two?) to travel to Hamburg
- Catch train 6 at 16.45.
- Arrive Hamburg hbf at 19.41
- Meet friend Dominic (yes, the friend I stayed with back in June when heading north)
- Drink a large German beer…
Just to add further complexity to the journey, due to a technical issue with train 3, we have all been told to change trains! So train 3 above has become train 4 etc… Perhaps I should have flown afterall but hey! Where’s the fun in that?
Things actually got a little simpler… Everything went to plan but when I arrived on the platform at Bramming my next train was actually going as far as a place called Niebüll in Germany. This would have been the first stop of the train from Klanxbüll so it made sense to stay on train, err… 4(?) as it trundled over the border (albeit without a ticket). The timing was tight so I bought a ticket for the train to Hamburg via the Deutsch Bahn app and here I am, admiring the countryside of Schleswig-Holstein from the comfort of a German regional train… I’m promised cheese and wine when I get to my friends’ place in Hamburg (they’ve just been on holiday in France) after a beer in HH. Could life get any better?