A day which, upon reflection, was as perfect an ‘Odyssey’ day as I can imagine. I arrived in Brussels in the wee small hours, just in time to catch the first train to Luxembourg. Do you want me to tell you something interesting about Brussels? Well bah! I’m not going to, I can’t, there isn’t anything. But my inter-rail pass kicked into gear and I plan to spend what it cost in the first 48 hours.
As the greatest man ever once said, Time Is Relative, that is, time runs at different speeds for different people (usually depending on the force of gravity, but bear with me). Time for me has now slowed down to a crawl. Getting just a few hours of sleep a day will do that to you. The days seem endless and night is just an obstacle to be overcome, there are miles to be had, miles to be done, miles before home. And Europe runs like clockwork.
I arrived in Luxembourg before I usually get out of bed and with nowt else to do but hop on the next available train to Hamburg, that’s what I did. Luxembourg I’m sure is lovely, but a this point, it’s not even a pit-stop. This is what I always envisaged the Odyssey to be, a non-stop race around the world. The Caribbean threw a spanner the size of Gibraltar in those works, but seriously, if I don’t visit Europe (and three African countries) in under three weeks, I’ll eat my hat.
So the sky was blue and the train was fast and before I knew it, I was stuffing my face with a hamburger in Hamburg. But that was not the end of today’s adventure, I had barely wiped the grease from my face before I was on a train heading for Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. England, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark – all in less than 24 hours. That’s what the Odyssey is all about.
The driver of the Danish train let me go in his cab and watch the sun set as we crossed the bridge from the island of Lolland to the island of Zealand (as in ‘New’). I never wanted to be a train driver (I want to be an astronaut!), but there is something marvellously appealing about pushing a lever and the train taking itself wherever the tracks dictate. It’s easy, comforting, the tracks don’t lie – they don’t swerve in front of you, they don’t pull out without looking, they don’t sit behind you and flash their lights because 90mph is just too slow, they just take you where you need to be.
But it’s not playing life on the hardest difficulty setting. I’d rather have a rocket booster attached to my back and be blown into the wild starry night on a wing and a prayer. Or at least some complicated mathematical equations. But that’s just me. Fortune favours the brave.
I split the train in Copenhagen central. There I met Christian, my Danish cousin – the bloke responsible for getting my ass across the Atlantic this month. He treated me to a beer (I should really have treated him, but he was quite insistent!) before we headed over to my Auntie and Uncle’s house to watch the end(s) of Meet Joe Black and to check out the times for tomorrow’s trains. I didn’t get to bed until after 2am, but I’m beginning to believe that sleep is just an illusion and real men don’t eat quiche. All right?
It would NEVER happen in the UK. Let’s face it, it would never happen in the US either, but I have my faith in Sweden. If anyone can do it, Sweden can. What on Earth am I on about? Allow me to digress…
Up and at ‘em! At 7am I was just about knocking the sleep out of my eyes and before you could say ‘cripes’! Jens was running me into town to catch the 08:23 to Oslo, via Gothenburg in Sweden. Now like I say, it would never happen in the UK… I wouldn’t be going all the way to Oslo, lest not forget that I only need to step foot in each country, not go and give its most famous monument a dirty great kiss. So my plan was to get off the train in a place called Halden, just over the Norwegian border, and then hop on the next train back to Gothenburg.
Easy! The only problem was this; my train was due in at 12:48. The train back to Gothenburg left at 1250. A connection time of two minutes. And check out that start time – this was a four-hour journey. Two minutes is nothing…
But I was travelling through clean, efficient Sweden and I had faith. And my faith was duly rewarded. I ran to the connecting platform (over the tracks!) but I needn’t have bothered. I could have sauntered. I could have bought a coffee and a Danish. I could have recited the Winter of Discontent speech from Richard III. There’s a lot you can do in two minutes.
Then again, how difficult can it be to get the trains to run on time? It’s not like they’ve got to deal with traffic jams. Oh, I don’t know (?!), ask the British train operators…
So I did my little victory dance in the good land of Norway before zooming back to Gothenburg. I had a couple of hours before my connection to the capital, Stockholm, so I checked out the vibrant old town – would it be full of Goths hanging out the back of C&A pretending to be vampires? Luckily not – but what was even more lucky was that I found a pub that had a free buffet for the overworked workers chilling out on a Friday night.
Well, if you can’t beat them…
So with my face thoroughly stuffed full of BBQ chicken, I hopped on the iron horse over to Stockholm. Upon arrival in this Swedish metropolis, I walked to the nearest hostel and checked in for the night, sharing a dorm with a ton of ridiculously attractive French girls (okay, one was Polish, but lets not split hairs here) who were getting dolled up for a night on the razz. Their male chaperons, Anton, Guillem and Toby explained that it was one of the girls’ – Simone’s – birthday and that they were going somewhere posh to get leathered.
Not being very posh, I was surprised and delighted when they invited me along.
So off I trotted in my battered Vans, but the club they wanted to get into was guest list only. So then, after a magnificent (and totally unplanned) tour of the city, we ended up in one of those swanky (place your emphasis wherever it pleases you most on that particular word) night clubs that cost a day’s wage to get into before they request the Holy Grail, King Tut’s death mask and the arms of Venus De Milo in exchange for a generic 47p-a-pint lager. It was one of those places. Oh yeah, and the DJ was playing the stuff they play to nobody in the ‘Rat and Parrot’.
I hate DJs. I really can’t stand them. They get paid more than an entire unsigned band, and for what? To play somebody else’s records. A glorified i-pod shuffle. Well whoop-de-do.
No, I’m not! You’re a charlatan, a hack, a snake-oil salesmen – somebody leeching off the talent of others – you know, the silly sods who pour their heart and soul into making the music that we love. I’m not so young that I remember the 80s when DJs were somebody’s weird uncle, a creepy middle-aged man in a chunky jumper standing in the corner playing Kadgagoogoo. God knows where this ‘superstar’ DJ nonsense (the chap from The Housemartins indeed!) started, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it was amongst the oh-so-easily-entertained masses of some sink estate in Croydon. YES I KNOW THAT SOUNDS ELITIST BUT I DON’T CARE – they’d go watch a public execution if we still had them.
Staggered back to the youth hostel at about 4am… oh bugger – the ferry to Finland leaves in three hours…