I’m going to take a few posts to try and describe the Disorient Express route, as much to myself as to anybody who might be listening. My main source, as always, is Mark’s amazing Great Circular European Railway Challenge site, which if you want the real detail on this trip I recommend you visit.
First off, here (roughly) is the?entire route?in one picture:
London (City 1)
We start, pretty obviously, at?London St Pancras International on?July 6th. The train gets us into Brussels in two-and-a-half hours, and Brussels is where we have the first of many, many Tourisme Grande Vitesse stops.
Brussels (City 2)
Tourisme Grande Vitesse was the name we came up with for the insanely short amount of time we have to see most places we stop in – anything from an hour to a day. In this time, we’ve got to do these things (in descending order of importance):
- stock up on food
- get a drink of one stimulating form or another
- see something amazing
In fact, we’re trying to do the one thing, in each category, that we’d most like to do in each place.
In Brussels, we’ve really only got time for?two?of these things. That means food shopping around the Grand Place, and a swift visit to?A La B?casse for a cold glass of what Belgium does best (after fries).
Then it’s back to the station, for the train to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam (City 3)
It’s just under two hours by train to Amsterdam from Brussels. And then we’ve only got one hour to grab a bit more food, maybe some Dutch Gin and, who knows, a loosener or two of a more herbal kind.
Then we’re back on the train. The first of what I shall affectionately name the Euro Monsters.
If I tell you this train is called The Borealis, it should give you a clue to how far it goes. If I tell you that this is our first sleeper, it should give you another. It takes – wait for it -?fifteen hours. It travels 1,333 kilometres. And it gets us all the way to Copenhagen, on the morning of?Sunday, July 7th.
Copenhagen (City 4) – Sunday, July 7th
After what will have been comfortably my longest-ever train journey, how will I be feeling? How much will I have drunk or eaten over the night before? Will I be in any state at all to enjoy the city of Hans Christian Andersen?
We’ve got three hours. Time for some more food shopping, a drink or two, and maybe a boat in the harbour. Maybe.
(I should add at this point that if anyone out there has a recommendation for something to do in any?of these places, I’d be hugely grateful if you could add them to the comments on here).
So, we’ll get to see some of Copenhagen. Tourisme Grande Vitesse. By this time, we’ve done three significant forms of European rail travel: the engineering wonder of the Tunnel, the organised ordinariness of the Benelux interstate routes, and a get-out-of-here sleeper giant.
But now we’re about to do a fourth. But first we’ve got to get to…
Oslo (City 5)
Norway. My first brand new, never-before-visited country. We don’t get to do much in the capital city, as we’re only there for an hour and a half or so. But then:
We get on the Troll train.
Eight hours, from Oslo. Due north. Here’s a video that rather speaks for itself:
Trondheim (City 6) – Monday, July 8th
We get into Trondheim at 7am. But we’re so far north now, and we’ve been on trains for such a long time, that I imagine day-night distinctions will have started not to matter too much. We’re deep in the north. But not as deep as we’re going to be. We’ve got one more northward train to catch, and it’s going to take us into the Arctic Circle.
Bloody hell.?The Arctic Circle.
Fauske (City 7)
I’m looking at Google Maps, right now. I’m looking at Fauske. It’s so far north it’s almost impossible to imagine. It’s on a bloody great fjord. I could show you a picture, but the ones I’ve just found on image search are uninspiring. They certainly can’t go anywhere near describing how far away from South London this place is.
And the thing is: we’re going further.
We need to get to Narvik to get the train south via Sweden to Stockholm. But there’s a gap in the network here on the rim of the Arctic. We’re going to need to get a bus.
Our bus to Narvik leaves 13 minutes after our train arrives in Fauske. Here’s praying to Nordic efficiency.
Narvik (City 8)
So now we’ve reached the northernmost point of our circuit. We’re 140 miles inside the Arctic Circle. We’re as close as makes little difference to the Summer Solstice. We might even see the Northern Lights.
This, my friends, is one of the reasons I’m doing this.
We’re off the rail network for a night, in a hostel. In a non-moving bed, with hot-and-cold running water, sleeping under the magnetic disturbance of the Borealis, with only the sound of trolls, Vikings and clich?s to keep us awake.
I’ll leave us there for now. More tomorrow, when it’s Due South.