Home > Post A Week 2011, Uncategorized > The View From the Cheap Seats (Part Two)

The View From the Cheap Seats (Part Two)

Tickets, please.

A few days after our tedious Chesterfield-to-Edinburgh train experience we stumbled over an article warning would-be travelers of possible pitfalls of booking train travel online. The maze of confusing ticket jargon may leave customers derailed as they might unknowingly purchase more expensive tickets than desired. Blindsided. In our case, we secured a decent fare but sacrificed convenience, comfort and a bit of peace.

“We can just take the train from Chesterfield to Edinburgh. Takes about four hours,” I blithely told Hubby.

It seemed like a good idea until I checked the fares. A bit more than I had anticipated but the discounted fare with stops might be an alternative, since I had by then already had my heart set on spending time with a friend in Chesterfield en route from London to Scotland. I certainly didn’t want to give up the opportunity of visiting Scotland for the first time, even for what would be just an extended weekend.

In its defense, I have found Britain’s transportation system to be easy to use and extensive. Even someone who is directionally challenged as I am can find her way from Heathrow to Leicester Square without difficulty. So, it wasn’t the route; it was the method. Our route had two stops. Freeze right there. There’s a difference between a stop and a change. Changes are what we got with our “cheaper seats”, as the gentleman at the train station ticket counter called them when I enquired about our route.

Lesson One: Stops versus Changes. First mistake. I don’t mind stops. Buses make stops; our bus to Hampton Court Palace seemed to stop every ten feet. Trains make stops; three quick stops took us from Golders Green to Chalk Farm Station to attend church. Stops are for picking up and letting off while the existing passengers remain on board, reading their newspapers or talking to fellow passengers. Changes, for me, create anxiety. Changes require gathering one’s belongings, weaving clumsily through other travelers to disembark before hightailing it to the correct track or platform to catch the next train in a matter of only minutes. All of this can be tricky business if, being unfamiliar with the process, you’re not travelling as lightly as you should. Anything more than a small suitcase and a purse renders the activity a chore.

Lesson Two: Right coach, wrong end. I don’t know how the other passengers seemed to always get it right, but I consistently managed to board at the wrong end of the coach. The seats are numbered, but how is it that, when we needed seats 73 and 74, we boarded at the end starting with seat 1? Or when we needed seats 21 and 22, guess where we boarded? You guessed it—way down near seat 70. I never did figure out the system but rather just got very used to saying “Excuse me. Excuse me, please. Sorry. Excuse me.”

Lesson Three: Travel light (in amount and weight). Despite my efforts to the contrary, my suitcase was surprisingly heavy, and the case became heavier every time I had to hoist it up from the platform to the train. Then my heart sank. All of the storage for suitcases is taken except for overhead area which is, of course, too small. On the first leg of the journey, we had to forego our comfy, reserved seats in favor of standing with our baggage to ensure they stayed out of everyone’s way. Fortunately, that was a short trip. The second change involved an embarrassingly awkward, pride-swallowing slog to our seats where I rode penned into my window seat with our bags piled so high in Hubby’s aisle seat that I couldn’t see over them. Anonymity can be one’s saving grace from life’s most embarrassing moments.

Lesson Four: Reserved seats don’t matter until you show up. Finally, during the third leg, Hubby and I were able to sit together in our seats like normal people, a reward after enlisting the help of a train attendant who managed to rearrange the luggage in the storage so our pieces would stow legitimately. What a relief until we discovered a lady had settled into our reserved seats with her daughter instead of moving on to their own reserved seats. They were busy reading and playing a game, respectively, when we appeared to claim our seats. After a bit of fluster and subsequent snickering from on looking passengers, we dropped—tired—into our now-vacated seats. I stared out the window watching York disappear down the tracks and determined, “I am not doing this again.”

In these days of the two-hour advance arrival at the airport, self check in, baggage fees, security procedures and airline snacks for sale, who would have thought flying might be the easier way to go?

We flew back to London from Scotland, but that’s another story.

  1. August 1, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    Thanks for the advise about the trains! Haven’t hit too many yet on our travels (we’ve been sailing mostly) but I know when we make it out to Europe that will change 🙂

    • August 1, 2011 at 11:41 pm

      Hope I didn’t put you off. This was a case of traveler error!

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