Europe in a Day

Trip Start May 14, 2010
Trip End Jun 08, 2010

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Where I stayed

Flag of Germany  , Hesse,
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My phone alarm went off at what I thought was 4:20am and I was quickly prepared and making my way down the street to the bus stop to take the 4:45am pre-T-bane hours service to town, with a change at Helsifyr Station. When the bus hadn't shown by 5:00am and there were no taxis about I had to resort to the back-up plan, as offered by Thomas – call to wake him for a lift to the airport. Reluctantly I called and got through to Linda, who informed me that it was actually 4:00am, not 5:00am! Embarrassingly my phone time was 1 hour early so not only had I missed out on valuable sleep time but worse I had also unnecessarily woken my hosts early in the morning! The phone is meant to figure out where it is and set the time accordingly based on the information it gets from the phone cells so I'm not sure what went wrong with this. The next (and first) bus was the 4:15am so I didn't have long to wait, and this arrived on time. Better being early than late anyway.

This first bus of the morning ended up with about 8 passengers by the terminus, where we met 2 other services and pretty much all passengers from these transferred to another service into the centre of Oslo. I like how Ruter (Oslo's public transport agency) treats articulated city buses a bit like trams – if you have a valid ticket you can board at any door. It was another 10 minutes on this second bus to Oslo Sentral (train station), where I was to take Flytoget, the airport train. On the walk from the bus stop to the station I passed the now reworked bus and tram area at the front, which looks like it would work well.

Despite the quiet time of the morning and the service running every 20 minutes at this time, there were a lot of people waiting with me to take the next train to the airport. I took advantage of the cool ticketless system where I swiped my credit card at the reader at Oslo S prior to boarding the train. The journey to the airport was relaxing and it was good to ride Norway's only 200km/h plus line again for the short 19 minute trip. At the airport station I swiped my credit card again to open the exit gates and that was it in regards to ticketing.

Escalators from the platform brought me up into the terminal and it took no time at all to check in at one of the SAS machines and drop my bag without queueing. Although my process was quick the airport was busy with people arriving for the first flights of the day. Thanks to Norwegians not being American security was quick and easy too and I soon had some time to kill before my flight. I explored the airport a bit before sitting in anticipation of boarding. There is no free WiFi at Oslo airport so that was not a way to spend my time.

Oslo Airport is a predominantly silent one so the only announcements made were those paging missing passengers, telling them that their flights were closing. I noticed that my Lufthansa flight was boarding when I saw people walking down the glass airbridge to the A319. Again I had the exit row and as the flight wasn't full the seat between me and the aisle seat was unoccupied. The flight was enjoyable – free food and drinks and this time I was assumed to be German and Norwegian.

Congestion around Frankfurt Airport delayed our landing by almost 20 minutes, putting a dent in my plans for the day. At least my bag was available almost straight away, although this may have been partly due to the fact that it was such a long walk from the gate to the arrivals hall. DB were efficient in always in validating my Eurail Select Pass without any queues at the airport Reisezentrum. It was weird for me to arrive at the other terminal in Frankfurt so the station was just beyond the baggage carousels, instead of a walk/bus ride/people mover ride away.

An ICE heading towards Frankfurt Hbf was running a few minutes late, providing me with a good opportunity to get on a train immediately to get to my hotel, with the possibility of making up some of my lost time. I boarded the nice ICE3 set straight away and enjoyed the 1st class comforts, appreciating my splurging from the youth 2nd class to a full adult 1st class pass. Unfortunately the train was held up several times on the trip into Frankfurt Hbf so what should be a 10 minute journey became 20 minutes. Presumably this was due to the train running late, missing its slots through the busy Frankfurt Hbf lead up yard and platform space issues. As such I arrived at Frankfurt Hbf 5 minutes before my planned connection down to Europa Park, still with bags and inappropriately dressed for a day out in the sun.

I chose to ditch my planned connection and headed into my hotel, just across the road from the South Exit of the station. A room was already available so I had a chance to freshen up and reorganise prior to heading out. I made a stop at one of the wonderful DB ticket machines to plan a new journey. The machines didn't have connecting bus information so I had to make do with the nearest train station to Europa Park, Ringsheim. I also printed out the itinerary for my sleeper train to Poland later on as unfortunately the machine couldn't sell me a sleeper reservation so I would need to see an actual person.

There was a good connection in a few minutes, from Frankfurt Hbf to Offenburg by ICE (around 1 and a half hours) and then the last 20 minutes by RB to Ringsheim. With such convenient timing I was soon relaxing in one of the mainly empty and completely unreserved 1st class cars taking in the DB hospitality. This crew was particularly good - very friendly and expedient in taking and filling my lunch order of Salat Vital with 500ml of Beck's from the tap. All in all it made for a very pleasant and relaxing way to travel, the food was good and it was great to have some fresh vegetables for once.

As the train headed south it passed through some patches of sometimes quite heavy rain, causing me to stop and reconsider my plan to visit the park, especially with my nowhere near rain-proof clothing. However, as the train continued southward the weather cleared into a sunny day with blue sky.

It was with some regret that I disembarked from what seemed like a far too short ICE trip in Offenburg, and made the quick cross-platform connection to the RB. This regional train was composed of older single deck stock with no 1st class section and followed the ICE out of the station.

In no time I was at Ringsheim, realising what I knew would be the case - shuttles to Europa Park had finished for the day. I was aware of regular service buses running from one station back to Rust, the town that Europa Park sits adjacent too, but I didn't want to wait for a train back and then be at the mercy of an unknown bus timetable. Instead I opted to at least investigate walking to the park, as I knew that it was just a bit beyond the motorway to the west of Ringsheim.

The motorway was close and the town maps indicated a small road, which turned out to be a local farm access way, paralleling the proper roads that fed and crossed the motorway. This farm track was marked with cycling signs that indicated Europapark so I followed these and walked for 45 minutes until I reached Rust. This walk was a welcome surprise, past farms and wooded areas, alive with the sounds (birds) and smells (flowers and crops) of spring. When I walked past a local farm stall selling local asparagus and strawberries fresh from the field I thought to myself that this would've been an Oma-approved non-urban German experience. The only vehicles I encountered on my walk were a few bikes, scooters, a tractor and a car.

Rust was a nice little town to walk through. It's quite small and quiet, with quaint streets and buildings with a few cottage businesses, although running pensions and guesthouses to serve tourists visiting Europa Park seems to be the biggest form of commercial activity.

Since I had lost quite a bit of my planned time in the park I reacquainted myself with my mental list of must-see attractions and headed to them strategically to ensure that they were covered. First up was Silver Star, the tallest and fastest coaster in Europe. This was good fun with only lap bar restraints, giving a great sense of freedom which heightened the enjoyment of the falls and air time. However, there were a few trim brakes which detracted from the experience somewhat. Next was EuroMir, a unique controlled spin coaster with a lengthy indoor spiral lift. Weird, fun but not great. Funky techno "space" music and interesting that the last car of each train features cameras so that you can buy a DVD of your ride. Third was Blue Fire, the park's newest coaster and my favourite there. Magnetic launch with good air, smooth rolls, loops and corkscrews through rockwork and a themed Icelandic area all combined to a fun experience. Unfortunately the rest of the guests agreed with me making this queue the longest of the day, at 20-30 minutes.

By contrast, most queues were short, from walk-on to 10 minutes long, which helped me to get through a lot in the time that I had. Part of the entertainment was simply walking through the park, which is divided into different sections representing different European countries and regions, in all their streotypical glory. Europa Park know how to do some good theming work, especially on the newer attractions, with great props architecture etc. but all of their animatronics are awful. It really detracts from things when everything looks great and then there's this thing that looks kind of like a person jerkily moving 1 or 2 limbs in some awkward fashion.

Other rides undertaken included the Poseidon water coaster, which was partly a coaster but with the cars then splashing down into water and floating along for a bit before more coaster action and the boblsled coaster which involved sections where the cars were free to move around the banked track. I also got some more rides on Silver Star and Blue Fire, including in the rain as the weather declined. This meant that they closed some rides, including these two, for a period but some patience with the weather while most of the queue decided to leave proved rewarding and it was fun to ride Silver Star in the rain, although raindrops to the eye can hurt.

When the day was done and the park closed I had ridden everything that I really wanted to with some things with potential left untouched. I'll have to come back someday to try them out. I did manage to take the bus back to Ringsheim Station and from there it was a straightforward trip back to Frankfurt via Offenburg.

Ahead of yet another early start I quickly made my sleeper reservation in person at the Reisezentrum in Frankfurt, grabbed some dinner and returned to my hotel to make use of the free minibar and get some sleep.
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