Sunday, August 07, 2011

Variations in Travel

Just back from a short week in Munich.

We flew easyJet from Stansted. I'm not personally a fan of budget airlines, because they go to a great deal of trouble to give pretty shoddy service. (I can't believe that not having assigned seating makes any difference at all to their costs, and would make loading the plain much easier and quicker - not to mention being able to track which passengers are on board - I remember on one flight waiting for almost an hour on the tarmac because the number of passengers on the plane didn't match the number who had checked in.)

Why Munich? It was a short trip, so we wanted to fly from Stansted to make it easier. And just looked down the list of destinations. Munich is a fantastic place anyway, and has the advantage that you actually fly there (and not to some random tertiary airport miles away from it).

We've tried a number of different ways to get to the airport. In this particular case, we chose Stansted because it's pretty close to Cambridge. If we get an early flight out of Gatwick then we normally go down the night before and stay locally: then the hotel look after the car and offer a shuttle to and from the terminal, which works out pretty well. (And avoids the not insignificant risk of missing your flight due to being stuck on the M25 for half a day.) But for Stansted we have tried an airport Limo, which works quite well, and in this case just booked a taxi from Panther which is a similar price and just as good.

Going by coach or train would be a reasonable option, but for one thing - actually getting from our house to the bus or train station is a significant issue. It's not particularly cheap and, while it's close it can actually take quite a while. We're on the right side of Cambridge that we can just head straight for Stansted without having to fight into or through Cambridge itself.

Using the total shambles of a bus service to get to the railway station isn't really an option. You're often needing to travel early or late when the bus service doesn't operate, and even when it's supposed to be operating it's a total lottery as to when it might turn up - for our local service that's supposed to run every 10 minutes that mean allowing an extra 45 minutes to be sure you get their on time.

I hate parking at airports. If I drive down myself then I'll normally use valet parking. This isn't really any more expensive and is so much more convenient. It saves typically an hour and is much less hassle.

Having got to Munich we entered a different world. One of fast, cheap, reliable public transport. Well, almost (I'll come to that bit later).

The best way from the airport into Munich is the S-Bahn. And they have this "partner" ticket that allows up to 5 people to travel on the one ticket. From the airport which is a fair way out, that's under 20 euros for unlimited travel around Munich for the whole day. (Just within the centre itself the ticket is about half that price.)

Within Munich there's the S-Bahn itself, which spreads out to a number of suburbs, the underground, trams, and busses. This time we stayed near the main railway station, so just had to choose the right service depending on our destination.

We fell foul of a couple of failures of german efficiency on this trip. The first was that one of the tram lines (the 19) has a huge chunk taken out of the middle of it, while they do maintenance. This doesn't actually cause much of a problem once you've worked it out, but it wasn't obvious - the notice plastered on the stop was in german, and the announcements on the trams were also in german, so we spent a couple of minutes scratching our heads working out what it all meant. And then got back on the tram we had just jumped off which went a slightly longer way round.

The second problem was on one of our day trips. We went out to Herrenchiemsee, which should have involved a simple train ride. Again, more maintenance work, so a simple train ride turned into one train which departed half an hour later than normal, then an unmarked bus through the countryside, then another train (just the random next train, not an actual connection to the bus). We then had a little tourist train at the end, and 3 boat rides to get round the islands. Fortunately the return trip was direct, but I'm not sure we would have liked to have tried the trip out without a tour guide.

Some bus drivers are the same everywhere. We had one occasion when we were waiting at a stop, the bus drove past ignoring us, then decided to stop 20 yards down the road. We run after it, just get to it and he pulls off again.

The flight back was delayed a little, but waiting was a right pain. Some pillock decided to start queueing about 45 minutes before boarding, and of course everyone else then has to queue - because if you don't then you won't get a decent seat or be able to sit together. So you end up standing in a queue that snakes all across the departure lounge, cutting it in two, and blocking access to the shops, for an hour before anybody shows up. (Even worse, the people who started the queue all had speedy boarding and therefore didn't need to queue at all.)