In September 2018 the collaboration that I am part of, the European Twisted Mass Collaboration, short ETMC, had one of their bi-annual meetings in Poznań, Poland. This time I got to attend the meeting as well.
As usual I have researched train connections first. At the time of booking there were only connections with around 5 transfers and a bus connection over the border. Trips would have taken around 12 hours from Bonn to Poznań. However at the time of writing this article there seemed to be a somewhat sensible connection taking about 8 hours:
- Bonn to Köln with IC
- Köln to Berlin with ICE
- Berlin to Poznań with EC
This would have meant arriving one day earlier and departing one day later. However the price with around 120 EUR per trip (plus two extra nights) would have been on par with the flight.
At the time I discarded the 12 hour option and looked for flights. The cheapest connections from Köln-Bonn airport have a stop in either München, Zürich or Wien. If you take a look at the map you see that this is a rather large detour. One option was to take the ICE from Köln via Siegburg to Frankfurt and then a single plain to Poznań. This way I still would have the emissions of a flight, but at least just one of them.
Having paid 42 EUR per night in a hostel in Amsterdam I was somewhat surprised that I could get a single hotel room for just 25 EUR per night.
For some reason the bus at 05:56 was a bit early and therefore I missed it. This was not a problem as I had just enough time to take the next one. The app of the local transport agency started a delay of a couple minutes. As the bus line 608 goes to the main station only and not the closer Colmantstraße, I ended up running to the tram station. There I was greeted by me colleagues who were a bit bewildered that I ran down the stairs. After a brief wait we took the tram to Siegburg.
Even before we got there the screens on the tram informed us that the elevator to platform six was broken. On the ICE platform it stated that the cars off the train were in reverse order. So far nothing out of the ordinary. My colleagues who have booked their train and flight a few weeks after me got higher class tickets than I got as economy was booked rather heavily. Curiously it was cheaper for them to book business class instead of economy. We guess that their booking site had a contingency of cheaper business class tickets that did not sell off as fast as economy.
In the train there was the usual madness with seat reservations. In principle it does not matter where you sit as long as you have a seat. But often people sit down in reserved seats while people with reservations sit somewhere else. For several minutes there was a shuffling of people with their hardcase suitcases. Once I got to my seat I could see the current speed on the screen. This time the fastest that I saw was around 270 km/h, I had 301 km/h on some other trip. Curiously there was no water in the bathroom. Luckily they at least had hand sanitizer there. As much as I prefer the train as a means of transportation, the reliability is not as good as I would like it to be.
We had 71 minutes from arrival of the train at Frankfurt Airport and departure of the train; that was 41 minutes before boarding began. As I only had an economy ticket I got stuck in the long lane in front of the security check. This was to be expected in Frankfurt. At 5 minutes before boarding I started to ask people in the queue to be let through. I gained like ten spots this way and as the whole thing moved at an agonizingly slow pace this was a very good decision. While waiting I asked my colleague to buy a bottle of water for me as they had already passed security before I even entered it. It is amazing that bottled water costs 375 EUR per cubic meter and at home I pay less than 2 EUR for it.
When I arrived at the gate A60, which of course is on the far end of the
concourse, they just happily waited for me and it was the second time on that
day that I needed to run. Arriving a couple minutes after boarding began had
the advantage that there was no line to wait in. We then spend over ten minutes
waiting in the bus. "Hurry up and wait" seems to apply to personal life as
well. I wonder if this is the same feeling that threads have when you call
join() on them.
Taking off in the small Bombardier plane was rather wild, there was a lot of acceleration and it felt closer to a rollercoaster than most plane trips. I guess that comes with small planes.
The stewardess served me a chocolate chip cookie and a napkin. My colleagues in business class not only had more legroom but they also got a nice looking breakfast on a tray. They offered me to take an empty seat next to them but I eventually sat at an emergency exit as the person next to my window seat had fallen asleep. So in the end I might have gotten even more legroom. On a 75 minute flight it does not really matter anyway, though.
At the airport we quickly figured out which bus to take thanks to Google Maps. There are digital ticket machines at every tram stop where you can buy tickets and pay with NFC enabled credit cards. The trams themselves are rather old fashioned. They have really narrow trams which stairs that are likely rather old. On some parts of the track one could hear a horrible screeching noise. It was so loud that one could not sensibly have a conversation any more. And whenever another tram passed us the noise would just become more intense.
The university campus had a really deserted feel to it, we did not see other students there. It was Monday at noon, and in Bonn there are usually many students around the university at that time. We spend the day in a conference room and talked about physics, this is not interesting travel-wise.
After the meeting one colleague and I checked into our hotel. On the online booking portal they state that they speak English, but they had one person doing the translation for us. This went sufficiently smooth until the point where we had to pay cash in PLN currency. So him and I went to the ATM and got some PLN cash. The machine asked whether we wanted to pay in PLN or EUR and naturally I pressed EUR. Then I got a rather bad conversion rate only to later learn that you should always choose the local currency and let the bank to the conversion for you. I'll know that for next time then, and you do not make the same mistake I did. After we got the cash we walked another fifteen minutes back to the hotel to pay.
At the evening we had dinner in a downtown restaurant. There were few vegetarian options on the menu. Also the waiters brought two of our orders to the wrong table, where they were gladly taken and our hungry colleagues had to wait even longer for their meal. At the end we could not all pay with credit card. For some reason they could only do one credit card transaction per bill, and we could not get a bill per person. So now most paid with cash and a colleague put me on his card. This meant just more hassle resolving this later on with all the PLN to EUR conversions in mind.
The second day we did our presentation on the current state of our work and spend a lot of the time in the discussion afterwards. We had some more talks, conference calls and more discussions until we went for lunch in the chemistry cafeteria. Our host told us that the physics building is the oldest one and has only a very basic cafeteria where they can only heat up food that is cooked somewhere else and delivered. Then with each new building they had improved the cafeteria in that building and now the chemistry department has the best one.
The afternoon was spend with more discussions and we went to an italian restaurant in for dinner. The food was good, however the evening took a sharp turn when the waitress tripped and spilled a 300 ml beer right over a colleague. She was very sorry but there was nothing she could do after the fact. When we later paid she did not want to take any money from him. He asked whether she or the restaurant would have to pay for it. And since she had to pay for it then, he was adamant that he would still pay for his dinner. Especially since the around 25 PLN likely hurt her more than the 6 EUR it is converted. She in turn was adamant of not accepting the money. So the money was just left as an extra tip on the table.
Going back to the hotel proved more difficult than expected because there was no digital ticket machine. I had bought a second ticket before dinner, but my colleague did not. So when the tram arrived we spotted a ticket machine inside and boarded the train. He had gotten some PLN change in the course of the trip and managed to pay for the ticket exactly. Besides the cash for the hotel I managed to do this trip without having to deal with foreign currency.
For the trip back we had a bus ride which was slightly longer than 40 minutes. There are tickets for 10 and 40 minutes. The latter is good for longer if you stay in the same bus or tram. We had a transfer 11 minutes into the trip, so we needed to get one of each kind. The ticket machines do not do transactions of this kind, so I had to pay with my credit card twice. My colleage insisted on paying with his remaining cash, but the machine did not accept all of his coins. We then had to take the next train as buying all the tickets proved rather lengthy.
At the rather small airport there was a long queue in front of security, we only had 15 minutes to boarding when we passed security. At least the airport had just a dozen gates in a single terminal, so we did not have to walk far. A delay of ten minutes was announced for our flight, but that just grew to even longer before we actually boarded the plane. Once everyone was seated we had to wait for some cargo manifest that supposedly got "stuck in the world wide web" as the captain put it. Some ten minutes later we finally got pushed away from the gate. At the runway we had to wait another five minutes before takeoff. As four hours of waiting for the ICE train was expected, this did not really change anything.
While waiting I had loaded the new data into our analysis program to find that now everything breaks down. Debugging code on a small screen crammed into an economy airplane seat with a neighbor insisting to use the middle armrest is not so much fun.
We arrived about an hour later than scheduled at Frankfurt am Main Airport. While booking I managed to book a very late ICE train, my colleagues booked an earlier one. At the Lufthansa booths I asked whether I could take an earlier ICE train as well. It turns out that this is at the discretion of the conductor and that I should just ask.
At the platform we had to wait for around half an hour. Eventually the train was announced and we learned that the train car for the second class Lufthansa was closed and locked. Therefore passengers were asked to board the first class Lufthansa car at the far end of the train. I feared that this would diminish my chances to board this earlier train, but it turned out to be just fine. We boarded the train somewhere in the middle and then moved towards the end eventually.
The first class Lufthansa car was pretty full, we decided that I should sit such that I can further work with the laptop. The first class seats are very nice and they even have a socket to charge the laptop. This was dearly needed as running the analysis draws around 42 W and the 63 Wh battery then only lasts for 1.5 hours. There is debugging with around 10 W of power consumption in between, but I had been working on it for hours at the time.
As the train departed from Frankfurt am Main Airport the conductors started to go through the car and ask people with Deutsche Bahn tickets to move to other parts of the train such that the people with Lufthansa tickets could get a seat. Virtually all people complied and most people got to sit. There was one guy who stood out earlier when the conductors took order for food. He asked to have a "nice hot" Currywurst (curried sausage). He made the impression that the Deutsche Bahn stuff was incapable of delivering hot food. When the conductress asked him to vacate the seat as it was reserved for Lufthansa passengers, he declined. He stated that it did not say "reserved for Lufthansa" on the seat. On the little display it clearly said that it was reserved up until Köln, though not by whom. He then tried to argue that as the seat was not taken he had assumed that the person with the reservation did not show up and therefore he could sit there. The person with the reservation stood in the little hallway between the cars at that point, but he was there first‽ Eventually he realized that he sat there wrongfully and lashed out to the conductress that he will first drink out his coffee and then move. Once he was done with the coffee he got served his Currywurst and even after that he just remained seated.
When I got my ticket checked, I told her that this ticket was for a later train but one of her colleagues said that I could take this train as well. It is amazing how friendly the conductors are when you friendly ask without entitlement. In the unlikely case that you get denied you can still play the "but it is my right"-card. Also not projecting the unreliability of Deutsche Bahn onto the very employees that have to deal with a broken train as well goes a long way.
In Siegburg we transferred into the U66 and I took a bus home from the main station. With a tram going from Siegburg to Bonn every 10 minutes from the same platform one really does not have to look up the schedule. Just the contrast in comfort between the ICE and the tram is extreme.