Slow Coach to Poland

With the shenanigans of Christmas out the way, it’s time to head off to foreign climes. And this time it’s Poland.

I like that sentence because it sounds like ‘And this time it’s Personal’.

I’ve decided to take a coach there from the UK, instead of  flying. But can you really get any work done on a coach?

A coach on a train. It makes me wish I had a series of other, smaller vehicles on board, one inside the other, like a mechanical {link url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turducken" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"}turducken{/link}. (photo: {link url="http://www.flickr.com/photos/eluceo/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"}eluceo.de{/link})

A coach on a train, like the mechanical equivalent of a turducken. I rather wish I’d brought a toy boat on board. With a tiny plane inside. Containing a hovercraft. (Photo: eluceo.de)

Off we go

I’ve paid £71 (about US$108) for the ticket on a journey which is due to take around 19 hours. But why take the coach in the first place?

1. I want to have some adventure.

2. I want to do my bit for the environment.

At best, this is completely misguided. The opportunity for adventure on a direct bus along the highways of Europe is always going to be limited. And in years to come when, as a global society, we’ve completed project ‘trash the planet’ I somehow doubt the next generation is going to be all that impressed when I shrug my shoulders and say “I went to Poland on the coach once.”

So, despite the naysayers’ cat calls of “You’re an idiot – why don’t you just fly” and “If you were really serious about saving the planet you’d just stay in the UK”, I bravely set out from Victoria Coach Station in London on the overland (and briefly underland) journey to Poland.

Working or not

The first bit of the journey is quite fiddly in comparison with the rest. We head to the green-tinged chalk faces of the coast before doubling back to the Eurotunnel terminal. The coach enters the drive-on carriage, and then we power on under the channel. It’s a curiously disconnected experience as the height of the coach means you can’t see through the windows. But once the radio fizzes back into life with a French station we now we’re pretty much there.

Soon we’re getting into a long distance rhythm on the the main vein of the French autoroute, at which point I remember the other reason for taking the coach:

3. Get work done.

This is probably just as unlikely as the first two, but I may as well give it a go.

“Will there be wifi?” asked one of my friends before I left, raising my hopes briefly.

“No, there won’t be,” would have been the correct answer. “Nor will there be any power sockets.”

The latter is the main issue, as it means the time I can work is limited. I’d been weighing up buying a spare battery for my ageing netbook, whose life has decreased from its prime of 10 hours to less than half that, but had never quite managed to justify it. Which at least is yet more good news for the planet.

“I could have bought a second battery for my laptop, but I didn’t.”

“You’re my hero, dad.”

I love fictitious children.

Comfort is relative

The guys in front of me have their seats reclined, meaning I have to recline mine, too. With my computer out, this is less than ideal. In order to fit in the whole human-computer conjunction in place (me, with netbook in front and room enough to type) I have to sit at the kind of angle which would give me whiplash if a butterfly so much as brushed the windscreen.

It’s just as well they don’t do workstation ergonomics spot-checks on long distance coaches. And not just because that would be really strange.

But even once I’m set up, I find it hard to focus due to the limited space, the dubbed films constantly showing on the flat-panel TV and the strange tension of wondering when we’re finally going to stop and get some proper food.

I had a massive full English breakfast at Victoria, but all I have by the way of food for the journey is four Mars bars. I just assumed we’d be stopping at service stations, but every rest stop consists of washrooms and nada mas.

Distractions

I’m listening to music to blot out the television, but that just means I can hear both, so I switch to earplugs to deaden the sound. They do nothing – it must be deliberately broadcasting at a special earplug-defeating frequency.

But the biggest distraction is an internal one – the ennui and restlessness that builds up on coaches, making it hard to focus on any one thing for more than five minutes. I find myself switching between laptop, Kindle and window staring, trying to get some quality work done, and just about succeeding. I can generally work pretty well on coaches, so I suspect today’s confectionery-only diet may be partly to blame.

Outside the highway just rolls on and on.If you were taking the coach to see a bit of scenery you’d be disappointed – it’s mostly flat and unremarkable. The only real indication of progress is when the road signs switch from French to Dutch and then again to German.

Night coach through Germany

Road through Duisberg by night (photo: Mazze2511)

The sun sets in an orange fireball as we pass through Duisburg, the traffic slowly becoming a smear of white and red lights in my peripheral vision. I battle on with my laptop, squeezing what work I can out of myself, but eventually the batteries have had enough, and so have I. I switch it all off.

It’s time to treat myself to a film. Getting work done on the coach has been a battle and I feel like I’ve earnt it. I switch to my iPod and treat myself to the film Glengarry Glen Ross on a 3.5 inch screen. This David Lynch clip was made specifically for people like me.

Sleepy head

All around me people are turning in for the evening. In this case ‘turning in’ means adopting a marginally different seating position, and closing your eyes. Or for the lucky ones, lying across two seats in a fetal position with an item of clothing for a pillow. I’m too tall for the latter, so I sit there in jeans and shirt trying to get comfortable by use of the ‘restless writhing’ technique.

Aware of the vulnerability of my tech stuff, I wrap the strap of my back round my leg in such a way that it doesn’t restrict my movement, but that if I have to get off in a hurry I’ll end up flying headlong down the aisle like I’ve been tackled by one of those leg-snare throwing weapons made of rope and weights.

I try to get some sleep but I’m in that constant state of semi-attentiveness – like when you’re expecting an important email – because I don’t want to miss my stop. I’m balancing delicately and frustratingly on the very brink of sleep, but then every time the bus comes to a halt, I’m up like a mierkat. I’ve set an alarm for 15 minutes before, and it would be nice to rely on that, but what if we’re early?

He’s back, and this time it’s Poland

Finally, we arrive in Wroclaw. It’s 4:30am – right on time, then – and a mild (for Poland in winter) -5 degs Celcius. I skid about on the refrozen ice outside the bus station, my backpack giving me a hilariously high centre of gravity, and take a taxi to my accommodation.

Within fifteen minutes of the coach having arrived I’m smothered in billowing cotton, taking deep drags of fabric conditioner in what I’ve just decided is the best bed in the whole damn world.

Have you ever taken a very long coach journey for poorly-considered reasons? Did you remember to bring more than just four Mars bars? What position do you prefer to adopt when kidding yourself that you’re actually going to get some sleep?

8 Comments

  1. Carle

    I take it you are not intending to look for a job writing for the long haul coach companies anytime soon. You have put me off for life, sod the environment after reading your wonderful coach trip I would fly!! And the answer to your questions is no, no and no and DEFINETELY NOT NOW

    • Neil

      Well, it wasn’t the best trip, but I’ve certainly done worse. It’s just a shame there isn’t more incentive to travel overland on these journeys. The train would be my own preference, and the prices are pretty decent as long as you book well in advance.

  2. Donna

    Glad to hear you arrived at your destination safely and on time! It must be really exciting and interesting travelling to the different places and experiencing their culture. I am really jealous. Keep living your dream!

    • Neil

      Thanks Donna, few things make me feel alive more than going to new places and experiencing culture that is alien to me.

  3. Danielle

    I have a friend who lives life travelling on coaches and planes and trains and hitch hiking. He regularly hitch hikes across several American states to see his girlfriend. (I think he could quite easily live life hitch hiking). His stories of meeting strange coach passengers, sleeping on benches, in airports and ship ports are just plain adventurous. I will definitely point him to your direction. (And by that I mean your blog, not Poland)

    Danielle.

    • Neil

      Thanks Danielle, I haven’t tried much hitch-hiking myself, but the people who I know that do it are pretty hooked on it.

  4. Annie S

    I had a rather romantic vision of what it would be like to take an overland European journey instead of flying and can now say that having read your experience I will rule out coach travel. I agree with you in that I would probably prefer a train journey through scenic country (but would that be the reality) at a leisurely and pleasurable pace, at least if you could guarantee not to have to stand for the journey!
    Your articles make good and enjoyable reading.

    • Neil

      Thanks Annie. Yeah, it’s a shame they don’t offer some unique proposition that makes it a choice really worth considering. If they had lots of cats on their coaches, for instance, like in one of those Japanese cafes, I bet they’d get loads more customers.

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