19 August 2010

A European Jaunt - part 1

Warning: this blog entry contains numerous references to Australianisms, befitting the company in which I've been keeping recently. Your patience would be greatly appreciated.

Ripper, mate! The day had finally arrived: a European Jaunt, travelling in a manner befitting the wily old desperadoes that we are when it comes to splashing out a few quid on hotels and such like - the posh man's backpacking holiday, using coach travel from city to city.

A LEYTR associate is the employee of one such purveyor of transport throughout Europe and we enquired with a little insider assistance as to what the score really is. We were both very impressed and chose to take the plunge. We'd be travelling for five days in total, making use of three coach rides and passing through five countries. We'd reside overnight in accommodation recommended by the transport provider and, when this was unavailable due to insufficient rooms, we would stay in nearby establishments of similar standing.


This European transport operator has been around for quite a while now. Owned by Holland-based Atlas Reizen, Busabout's sister operator may be a little more familiar if you've ever travelled abroad: Contiki. Both operate city-to-city coach journeys. Contiki provides all-inclusive holidays, while Busabout refer to their product as being for the 'independent traveller'. They provide the transport and will recommend accommodation, but you can simply use them as a stepping stone for your own planned itinerary. They're two very established models and business appears to be doing well.

Concentrating on Busabout, their website is the place to go to find out more about the company. Their vehicles are based at Atlas Reizen's depot in Stellendam, Holland; their administration centre is in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland and, presumably because their currency is Sterling, their financial address is in Guernsey. They employ mainly British coach drivers, though a splattering of English-speaking Europeans and Australians are also on the books, and each coach has a guide - virtually all of whom are either Australian or from New Zealand.

The Busabout website is very upbeat and well presented, though you do have to do some digging for the nitty gritty

It's no coincidence, then, that Busabout's staple diet is backpackers from Australia and New Zealand. Mainly the former. It's effectively an Australian company in Europe catering mainly for Australians and anyone else what wants to make use of their services. This should in no way put you off. Australians are some of the most easy-going people in the world and very easy to get along with. During our trip, we'd mix with more Aussies than ever before in our lives and everyone - guides and passengers - reaffirmed the very positive stereotype we have of them.

The Coaches

The Busabout fleet consists of ten VDL SB4000/Marcopolo Viaggio C51F coaches, all built and delivered in 2005; this is their sixth season and they are, apparently, to be replaced next year, forming part of a recent order with VDL for some Berkhof Axial-bodied vehicles. Both inside and out, the current fleet is spotless and the driver's cleaning routine is as extensive as any operator's here in the UK. They each have a 715-litre fuel tank, independent front suspension, measure 12 x 3.8 x 2.5m and have engines rated at Euro 3 standard. They are equipped with a crew seat and dashboard fridge as well as two TV monitors and a DVD/audio entertainment system. They have Sutrack Tropical air conditioning and were delivered new with a chemical toilet.

They've been tailored for the work they undertake with a whole host of technical items and cleaning utensils beneath the saloon. They do seem to have poor luggage provision for a rear-engined coach, though. Although a toilet is fitted, this is sealed off and not referred to, as provision for emptying it each night is simply not possible. Regular stops are made at motorway service stations for passengers to use the dunny and have something to eat.

The Diagram

Busabout's network comprises three loops - North, West and South. The drivers undertake a diagram that encompasses all loops, while guides, who are not restricted to the EC Drivers' Hours Regulations, work slightly differently: they generally do a couple of circuits of each loop before going onto another. Below is the 18-day vehicle diagram with estimated mileage (km):

Lauterbrunnen - Munich (445)
Munich - Paris (850)

Paris - Amsterdam (525)

Amsterdam - Berlin (670)

Berlin - Prague (350)

Prague - Vienna (350)

Vienna - Munich (450)

Munich - Venice (550)

Venice - Rome (550)

Rome - Florence (285)

Florence - Nice (425)

Nice - Barcelona (660)

Barcelona - Madrid (620)
Madrid - San Sebastian (485)

San Sebastian - Paris (850)
Paris - Lauterbrunnen (640)

Lauterbrunnen - Nice (550)

Nice - Lauterbrunnen (550)

With the exception of two legs, drivers do the entire journey each day. The Munich-Paris and San Sebastian-Paris legs are both 850km and a driver changeover takes place at Stuttgart and Bordeaux respectively. With rest periods included, it can take at least 24 days for drivers to complete a circuit. I think you'll have to agree, as far as coach diagrams go, few can be more extensive and encompassing! Coaches depart each location on alternate days, requiring a PVR of 9 in total, with the tenth spare.

With such an extensive route and the knowledge required to operate it professionally, a fair level of training is given to new recruits - both drivers and guides. This takes place during March and April and lasts for six weeks. At each place the coach calls on the route and/or point of interest, the guides leave to research the area/place en masse, while the drivers take it in turns navigating their way in and out, before picking the guides up a couple of hours later. It's no mean feat, sounding very much like a genuine busman's holiday - one which many younger coach drivers prefer to bombing up and down the M1.

The final thing to mention at this stage, before our jaunt continues, is that the simplicity with which Busabout operate their services. At the start of the day, all coaches depart the pick-up point at 0800hrs. No exception (save legal ones - if a driver has not yet had his 9 hours daily rest, for example). Busabout benefits from all countries through which they operating being in the same time zone, too.

Flying out

We flew from Stansted Airport to Nice (Côte d'Azur) with easyJet, though beforehand travelled to the airport by train as we'd not be returning here, so did not make use of a car. The weather was cold, grey and dank. We'd been assured by our LEYTR associate that coats and fleeces would not be needed since it was positively tropical along the Mediterranean Coast right now.

We shivered all the way to Stansted Airport, where we arrived a couple of minutes late aboard our CrossCountry Class 170 'Turbostar'. We'd been as punctual as the Japanese Bullet Trains up until the last junction, where we were held for two minutes for a Stansted Express train from London. By now it was raining quite heavily and in our summer wear we ran inside the airport terminal from what was the platform furthest from the station canopy.

We had no luggage to check-in, just very well-packed backpacks, so headed for security and passport control. This all went fine and before we knew it our departure gate had been released.

Second-from-top is our flight, EZY3103 at 1245hrs to Nice, departing from Gate 15

To get to it required us using the free transit service, which was all new to me. The two-car, driver-less electric trains operate every two minutes and connect Gates 1-39 with the terminal building. We alighted at the first stop (Gates 1-19) and the train continued completely empty to the second stop for Gates 20-39.

Getting a clear photo of one of these very dull-looking, driver-less trains is easier said than done. At the terminal stop, I managed this shot of one that was heading in the opposite direction, passing us on a loop. As you can see, rain was still falling.

When I've travelled with easyJet before, after your passport has been checked at the departure gate, you then head down to the tarmac only to be penned into another room and called in a vague order. On this occasion, it was a free-for-all, which ensured passengers were drip-fed onto the tarmac as fast as the dude checking the tickets could muster.

I always enjoy filming take-off; initially I did it to take my mind off all that could go wrong, but now it's kind of a ritual for me. I'm one of these people who'll quite happily travel anywhere at any time and by any mode of transport, but I find air travel the least comfortable of all. Banking at low level is my worst experience on board a plane - landing at Inverness Airport was the worst I've ever experienced; it was if we were going to loop-the-loop.

However, once you're at 37,000 feet (as we soon were), it's all rather boring and you're looking forward to landing to get it all over and done with. Our plane was one of easyJet's Airbus A319s and was fully loaded, seating 156 people.

The Airbus A319

We had two pilots and 4 members of cabin crew. Take-off speed was at 150mph and cruising speed was likely to be 500mph - something that would make even travelling in the cab of a 'Javelin' train seem slow. The plane's range was 3000 miles and the crew had already done an outward and return trip that day so far, with no break. Jetting off to Nice or Cannes is not something families with young children often do - even in August - (and especially not with easyJet) so it was nice not to hear outbursts of screaming and shouting or toddlers crying. There were 26 children on board in total.

By chance I photographed a blob of land that turned out to be the landing strip at Nice Airport. We touched down using the one to the left as the following YouTube clip will show

Landing in Nice was even more surreal than Gibraltar; well, from my side of the plane anyway. At least with Gibraltar you knew you were heading towards land. Sat facing south as we headed in from the west, all I could see was water until the very last minute.

Leaving the plane took ages as we were only permitted to disembark through the front doors into one of those suspended walkway things. As we left the cabin, for the first time in my experience, the First Officer was stood there, next to a member of cabin crew, wishing everyone bon voyage, even outstretching his hand to anyone who wanted to shake it. A very nice touch indeed.

You know when you walk into a shop in the town centre on a cold winter's day and you feel a warm jet of air blowing from above the doorway? Well I felt exactly that, though soon realised it was the 27C air temperature. Yes, fleeces would have been very inappropriate!

Our short-wearing LEYTR associate met us and we made our way to the terminal's bus station, where we'd catch a bus to the centre of town. We were to stay in Hotel Baccarat, virtually opposite Nice Ville station, on Rue D'anglaterre. Despite its name, it was in fact a hostel, something which neither of us had stayed in before. It wasn't a particularly cheap one either, though we expected it to be reasonably pricey since we only booked the jaunt half-a-month beforehand and this is Nice in August afterall. €32 was the price each and we'd be in a dorm with four other people; as it would transpire, all of which would be Australians.

Before all that, we had to sample a local French bus service. Trams and buses share the Ligne d'Azur name, currently operated by Veolia (though without reference). The company is branded as a community transport provider, who offers integrated ticket options and a €1 flat fare for as many trips as you like within a 70-minute window. It's around three miles from the airport to the central station, making out trip incredibly cheap indeed.

The bus we wanted was No. 23 to Bella Vista

The bus appeared to have an air-con pod on the roof but it wasn't turned on. Either the driver preferred to drive in a mobile sauna or the unit had malfunctioned. What made matters worse was the windows being jammed shut, as opening them would "prevent the air conditioning from working properly." It wasn't the best of welcomes, but we didn't grumble much as it was a very cheap journey indeed. We alighted on Boulevard Gambetta and walked along Avenue Thiers to Nice Ville station, checked-in to our hostel and headed into town.

Trams are very frequent in Nice. They have the look of Nottingham's units, though were built to blend in with Nice's archietecture. They were initially operated using third-rail technology, but have since been converted to overhead wire operation

To be continued....


Anonymous said...

Nice's modern trams didn't have third rail (as in Bordeaux), instead they use onboard batteries for the wireless sections across two city squares.

Unknown said...

خدمات النظافة بالدمام لابد ان تقدمها شركة لديها ثقة في اتمام خدمات النظافة المنزلية لان النظافة العاية لا تعطي النتيجة الفعالة التي تتم بواسطة شركة تنظيف بالدمام متخصصة لانها تهتم بكل شئ داخل المباني فلدينا شركة تنظيف فلل بالدمام تكون متخصصة في نظافة الفلل المفروشة والمستعملة واعطائها الرونق الجمالي الخاص بها لدينا شركة تنظيف شقق بالدمام متخصصة في اعمال نظافة الشقق المنزلية وشقق المكاتب والمعارض بواسطة الادوات والمواد اللازمة لعمل ذلك لدينا تخصصتنا في اعمالنا التي ترضي العميل وتخلصة من الحشرات الصغيرة التي تسبب ازعاج كبير للاسرة من خلال شركة مكافحة حشرات بالدمام التي لديها معدتها وموادها لعمل ذلك كما يوجد متخصص ايضا للقضاء علي الحشرات من خلال التواصل مع شركة رش مبيدات بالدمام التي تنتهيك من كل الحشرات المنزلية كما نعمل معا للواصل اليك كل الخدمات المنزلية من خلال خدمة الاثاث بواسطة افضل شركة نقل اثاث بالدمام والتعامل معها سوف يصل الي منزلك الجيد بدون اي تعب
كما يوجد خدمتنا الاخري التي يمكنك البحث عنها م والاستفادة منها
شركة تنظيف بالقطيف
شركة تنظيف بالجبيل
شركة تنظيف بالاحساء