How to get from Utrecht to London and vice versa
by coach over land, on train, through the tunnel and out again
Three days before I would leave London, I booked a last-minute "fun fare" single coach ticket on Eurolines web site for 19 pounds plus 3 pounds booking fee. These fun fares show up every now and then. The minute I booked it, I discovered that the same trip had fallen to 17 pounds on another fun fare ticket. Oh well! Day coach trips have got to be the cheapest way to travel between Holland and England.
There is some sort of correlation between the price of your journey and the amount of pain you have to endure. The cheaper it is, the longer the trip. The longer the trip, the more likely you'll get annoyed by other passengers --- or rather, the smell, sound, sight, and action of other passengers. But even first class plane tickets don't guarantee you'd arrive on time - or that you'd be free of crying babies who travel on the laps of their first class parents.
I decided to try the day trip from Victoria coach station. It would depart at 10 am and arrive in Utrecht around 7 pm via the channel tunnel train. I wouldn't get sea sick, and I'd be able to sight-see along the way.
There was no baggage check or x-ray machine to wave me good-bye. It felt like a scene from a third world country: people falling over each other to find a queue; huge, roped and taped bags squashed together on the ground; baggage owners hawking the area next to the coach. When the driver finally arrived, the passengers closed in on the remaining breathing space. He shooed everyone away.
"Whose bags are these?" he pointed to the huge, roped and taped bags. "You have to move them. I can't even open the luggage door."
I was one of the few who had no luggage to store. Just one backpack hanging in front of me and another on my back, I was an efficient traveler today. And so, I was able to get on the coach well ahead of other beasts of burden to choose a seat. I chose the one next to the toilet to avoid sitting to close to others and in the middle of the coach to minimise chance of motion sickness.
Just as soon as I sat down in my window seat, I detected a faint but familiar body odor. Was it me? No, I sniffed. It was the man sitting directly in front of me ---- coincidentally the same man who stood before me during the check-in queue an hour earlier. I looked around. All the window seats were taken. It was not wise to give up my window seat. My saviour was the fresh sprigs of mint I had pulled out from my front garden. I sank my nose into the mint to drown out his smell.
Two of the last passengers to get on the coach were young Indian chaps. The tall slender one asked to sit next to me while his buddy sat next to the dark man with the body odor.
"Hello, my name is Gurjinder," the young man introduced himself. I couldn't be bothered to elaborate my complicated life story of where I was from, where I was going, and what I was doing at this stage in my life. Instead, I gave him my 209-page thesis on sight-reading. I told him I was studying for my final exam in piano teaching.
Much to my amazement, Gurjinder read my biography which traced my humble music beginnings as a page turner in Okinawa, Japan.
Then I detected a different smell. It was not body odor, but urine. I checked with Gurjinder if he also smelled something. It was the toilet. That explained why the bus driver had asked us to refrain from using it in order to conserve water. Was there any water at all? When was the toilet last cleaned?
At the UK border control, before queuing for the channel tunnel train, the coach stopped for passport checks. Several policemen got on board and asked for a man with an Arabic sounding name. The man with the body odor got up and walked to the front. All eyes followed them out the door. As the coach started and drove off, we stared at the man who was being body searched in the car park. What had he done wrong, we all wondered.
No more body odor.
"Would you like to sit next to your friend?" I asked Gurjinder kindly.
"No, it's not necessary," he replied. We weren't even half-way to Brussels, and this young chap would rather sit next to me than with his friend. Why? Was he being polite or did he find my biography and thesis so interesting that he'd want a conversation?
The smell from the toilet lingered, like a bad curse that got caught indoors with nowhere to dissipate. Sometimes it penetrated my being like a poison. Whenever I stopped talking or stopped reading, I'd notice it. I nearly wished that the man with the bad body odor was back!
At Brussels, Gurjinder and his friend got off. A few days later, I received an e-mail from him. "I googled you and found your web site. I am listening to the sound samples from your CD as I type this. I particularly like Half Moon Song."
1 September 2008