It’s inevitable, I suppose, that when you put ten English guys onto a train through Germany, their thoughts will turn to war movies. We can’t seem to help it, though sometimes I (and I’m sure the Germans) wish we could. I did it myself, yesterday, going ‘ooh, Arnhem’ as we went through the location for Operation Market Garden.
But the film that’s garnered the most references so far, without doubt, is Von Ryan’s Express, for the very obvious reason that it’s about trains and the war.
Trouble was last night we were on a German sleeper train that somewhere between Copenhagen and Hamburg turned into the antithesis of Von Ryan’s Express. A few of us woke pretty early to discover that we’d lost two hours from a schedule that only allowed us a changeover in Copenhagen of three hours.
And it got slowly, steadily worse as we inched northwards towards the Danish border (see, I’m so culturally conditioned that even the phrase ‘inched towards the Danish border’ sounds like a line from a war movie). The train got slower and slower, until it came down to this: we would get into Copenhagen at 13.15. Our train from Copenhagen to Gothenburg was timetabled for 13.30. If we missed that train then the whole leg north to Narvik would collapse.
It’s fair to say things became a little tense at this point.
There are of course few things in life more frustrating than an inexplicably-stopped train. Mark, our group leader, had put two years work into planning this trip and was looking straight down the barrel of imminent trip meltdown. Every increase in speed was cheered; every braking was accompanied by deep gloom and the smell of smoke from somewhere in the huge engine.
We made it. Of course we made it. I’m writing this on the train from Gothenburg to Oslo; in Oslo, we’ll get on our second sleeper, north towards Narvik. I woke up this morning in Hamburg; I’ll go to sleep somewhere north of Oslo.
In amongst the stressful moments we’ve seen some splendid things: bridges over the sea that are turned into tunnels; the strangely familiar Saxon landscapes of Denmark; a duck farm (I’d never seen a duck farm before); oddly literate and tidy graffiti on dozens of buildings, looking like it had been set for a school assignment; the Rhine in Cologne; the canals of Hamburg; hares running in fields away from the train and in the distance, I swear, a group of bison. And running up the lower jaw of Sweden, as we’re still doing, the pale blue glassy stillness of the Baltic.
Time for a glass of wine. Until tomorrow.
(PS: If you want to see some amazing photos of the places we’ve been, check out Paul Clark’s Flickr stream.