Schiphol Travel Blog› entry 8 of 8 › view all entries
February 4th, 2010 – by: Biedjee
So one day, while sitting in said comfy chair, I started looking at train options to the intended starting point of my journey: Kiev. And lo and behold, it is possible to travel from my hometown Hilversum, to Kiev, almost directly. There's a direct train from Hilversum to Berlin, from where I could then take the over-nighter to Kiev. Worlds getting smaller indeed!
However, not small enough! As it turned out it was not possible to book this ticket online. Despite the Ukraine knocking on the doors of the EU for an admission, their train system is still governed in old Soviet fashion and can only be booked from abroad by state-run agencies.
The Dutch railway system may have been privatised, but they still maintain a monopoly in The Netherlands and are regulated by the Dutch government. Thus the only place to buy these tickets is at one of their International Ticket offices. Of which there are only six left in the country, because after all, these days you can buy everything on the Interweb from the comfort of your living room chair.
Fortunately I had a customer appointment at Schiphol airport, where one of their last physical offices remains, so I figured that if I took the train to work today, not only would I beat the traffic jams, I'd also be able to nab myself some train tickets.
And so I did. I went up to the ticket window, and asked for a "single from Hilversum to Kiev, leaving the 6th of April at 9:20".
The guy at the counter looked it up in his computer and came back saying he could not find that schedule in his computer.
He went on to check again, explaining that his computer system was actually German. Not exactly sure what that meant, but it took him several minutes to figure out what was wrong.
"oh, I see, there are maintenance works between Deventer and Oldenzaal planned for that date, so the train doesn't run on that day"
Unbelievable! You couldn't make up this stuff if you wanted to! I picked the date of April 6 as a departure date fairly randomly. Just after Easter, giving me a week in Ukraine before the boat leaves to Istanbul. The 9:20 "slow" train gave me the best connection, as opposed to the high speed variety which would give me two 5-hour stop-overs in Cologne and Hanover. So of all trains in the world, they had to cancel mine.
And the alternatives at hand to be able to make my connection in Berlin weren't overly appealing either.
He did find me a good alternative though. Instead of changing trains in Berlin, how about taking a direct train to Warsaw? Turns out there is a daily direct overnight train from Amsterdam to Moscow, and I could get off in Warsaw to connect with an overnight train to Kiev. It does mean I'll have to spend two nights on the train, but on the other hand it'll give me an extra half day at home and I'll save a night in a hotel.
So I booked it. That means I really am going now. All visas have been applied for, the train has been booked, the route has been sketched out and the job has been quit. This really is it, I guess!
Later that day I received an e-mail from the ferry company in Ukraine. I had sent them a question about the ferry from Odessa to Istanbul I had been trying to book online, but kept getting messages in Ukrainian which I couldn't read. So I received their reply:
Dear Mr. Bart,
Please be informed booking system doesn't process any booking requests at
this moment because schedule and prices for the period are not confirmed.
The vessel is out of service till March 15 (22) and prices and schedule are
expected to become available by the end of February
When they become available these will be posted on-line within 1-2 days of
Oh dear, if all this is an omen for what lies ahead, then my journey certainly promises to become really, erm, interesting...
Now, let's see if there are any buses running to Istanbul instead...
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