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Europe By Train: Amsterdam

It may be a stoner gag, but at least it's a reasonably smart stoner gag.[ prologue Paris Milan Venice Vienna Hamburg Amsterdam epilogue ]

Well, that whole idea of escaping debauchery by leaving Hamburg certainly died on its arse, didn't it? I mean, just look at our Amsterdam hotel! Even its logo is made out of the letters T, H and C.

Okay, that's slightly unfair. Our sixth and final residence for this trip is called The College Hotel, hence the logo. A lovely old building, sensitively converted but keeping lots of the original features - which means that after fingerprints, a chip card, a magnetic fish, a swipe card and a magnetic luggage tag, this is the first time we get a room whose door is opened using an actual key. In terms of swank it's closer to the understated style of our hotels in Venice and Vienna, rather than the ultra-designer gaffs we used in Paris, Milan and Hamburg where you have to hang a sign outside the door every morning asking the maid to re-imagine your room. It comes warmly recommended by Mr and Mrs Smith (our bible for this sort of thing), but they give a small word of warning, one related to the reason behind the hotel's name. Because the college is a hotel run by (and the last word of this sentence obviously needs to be pronounced with Paul Calf-esque venom)... students.

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Europe By Train: Hamburg

East Hotel's restaurant, daytime. We strolled in around 10.55 that morning convinced that breakfast was being served till 11.30, and got shouted at because the service was due to finish at 11. It's quite possible at this stage that we're suffering hotel lag, and simply don't know which one we're in from one day to the next. That's my excuse, anyway.[ prologue Paris Milan Venice Vienna Hamburg Amsterdam epilogue ]

As far as journeys go, this is the big one: a Deutsche Bahn Inter City Express that leaves Vienna at 10.30 in the morning and arrives in Hamburg at 7.54 that evening. That's about nine and a half hours on a single train. In practice, it turns out to be an absolute breeze of a journey. Some things I learned on that trip which may be of benefit to anyone else doing a similar run in the future:

- DB publish the layout of all major trains on the platform, so you can see at a glance where your carriage is and how far you'll be from the restaurant car.
- There's a power socket hidden just under the middle armrest on pairs of ICE train seats, ideally positioned for your laptop. (I didn't discover it until halfway through the journey, after a couple of hours of scrimping and saving on laptop juice. Once we found out we had mains power, we were watching episodes of 24, Lost and The Wire on it all the way to Hamburg.)
- The restaurant car has several very decent hot meal options, and an English menu if you ask them nicely.
- If you're looking for somewhere safe to put your belongings while you visit the restaurant car, there are left luggage lockers near the bins on every carriage.
- The guy with the refreshment trolley wears a t-shirt with a list on the back of all the things he can sell you.

All small things, all very useful indeed, and it surprises me that Deutsche Bahn don't yell them from the rooftops. Which is why I'm doing it here.

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Europe By Train: Vienna

Favourite Scenes From The Movies Re-enacted, part 2 in a possible series of 2ish. Yes, I know the hat's been drawn on in Microsoft Paint, I couldn't get hold of one in time. Sorry.[ prologue Paris Milan Venice Vienna Hamburg Amsterdam epilogue ]

I last visited Vienna fifteen years ago, when I was over here for a computer industry conference. To be honest, I didn't see much of the place at the time: the conference was a residential affair in a Center Parcs-style resort hotel, some half dozen miles out of the city centre, and we barely got to leave it in the week I was there. The team's one night in central Vienna was a rather boisterous affair, which included eating at a restaurant which served the biggest Wiener Schnitzels in the world (allegedly), spending several hours drinking dubious Eastern European spirits in a private house, and cruising the gay district at an ungodly hour for the benefit of Nigel, who wanted to kill a couple of hours somewhere prior to his 6am flight home. We did all this only knowing one word of German between the six of us: and that word was - I'm attempting the spelling from memory here - zweigangschlagbohrmaschine, which we only knew because Paul spent most of his weekends in B&Q looking at power tools. You never know when the German for 'twin-speed hammer drill' might come in useful, do you? As a chat-up line, if nothing else.

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Europe By Train: Venice

Favourite Scenes From The Movies Re-enacted, part 1 in a possible series of 2ish[ prologue Paris Milan Venice Vienna Hamburg Amsterdam epilogue ]

Quel posto è mio. "That is my seat." There you go, that makes it two phrases of Italian I can use in everyday life, if you include vafanculo. Although when there's a guy on the Milan to Venice train occupying your reserved seat and refusing to budge, either phrase seems to be appropriate. In fact, it turns out that our compartment is packed with interlopers taking up all six reserved seats: but with the help of the jolly Australian party who'd booked the remaining four, we eventually manage to eject them all using a combination of broken Italian and hand signals. The guy who was hogging my seat sits grumpily in the passageway outside the compartment for the whole journey, leaving his luggage in there with us. "Let's see what food he's got in his bag," suggests one of the Aussies.

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Europe By Train: Milan

Outside our shower at Straf, looking in. If I'd taken the photo from inside looking out it would read 'FARTS', which is less appropriate.[ prologue Paris Milan Venice Vienna Hamburg Amsterdam epilogue ]

"You're English, aren't you?" Always a worrying thing for someone to say to you when you haven't even opened your mouth yet. I didn't think we were that conspicuous in the first class carriage of the Paris to Milan train, to be honest. This was easily the best of the rail deals we'd managed to negotiate in our two weeks in Europe: with a super-duper-mega-Apex ticket courtesy of Voyages SNCF, we were able to travel first class for seven hours for a ludicrously cheap fifty Euros each. First class doesn't really give you much more than a slightly bigger seat and at-seat service (it was the attendant who worked out our nationality just by looking at us), but for a small price they'll bring you a perfectly acceptable breakfast and lunch. When you're spending the hours between 8am and 3pm on the same train, that's very welcome.

We take the Metro across to the Duomo, and virtually the moment we reach ground level we're accosted by a hawker. "Hi! You're German, aren't you?" Screw you, pal.

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Europe By Train: Paris

The Ice Kube ice bar, Kube Hotel, Paris. And some dick in a parka.[ prologue Paris Milan Venice Vienna Hamburg Amsterdam epilogue ]

I know I started off this tour by proclaiming the greener-than-thou intentions behind it. I'm also well aware of the hideous number of contradictions involved. So here's a major one for you to start off with: at 11.30pm on Saturday night, we spent half an hour or so in the Ice Kube ice bar. It's perfectly possible that the amount of energy it takes to chill a room to sub-zero temperatures just so that a party of drunks can guzzle unlimited vodka out of glasses made from solid ice completely outweighs the energy we saved by travelling to Paris by train rather than plane. But I'll be honest, I'm not thinking about that too hard because the vodka's rather nice.

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Simian Substitute Site for April 2007: Monkey Fluids

Observe now the eternal struggle between the monkey and its natural enemy: two dogs. The battle will be long and bloody, but only one side will be dining on that delicious baby tonight.With all due respect to my loyal readership, you may have gathered from my previous post that I have better things I could be doing right now rather than writing my usual first-of-the-month article. We're spending April 1st in Paris, and - to my delight - at one point today we walked past a bar and spotted an unsuspecting punter with a 'poisson d'Avril' sign taped to his back. (Unfortunately, he'd spotted it and taken it off by the time I'd got my cameraphone out.)

A full report should follow some time tomorrow. But in the meantime, to keep up with the regular business, here's the usual site recommendation for you. Although, strictly speaking, it's not as usual as usual, if you know what I mean.

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