The instructions on my dinner tonight from Marks and Spencer are in English, French and surprisingly Dutch.
Does that mean their food shops are going to The Netherlands and/or Belgium?
This old news item in the Independent confirms that they are looking in The Hague and Rotterdam.
But then the CEO of Marks and Spencer is Dutch! Is that a form of nepotism to open in your own country?
In The Hague on Tuesday night, we went out to dinner to a restaurant called Sapori d’Italia in the Javastraat. It’s the second time, I’ve eaten in that road and although both weren’t cheap they were excellent and knew their gluten-free.
We had a lot of real Italian antipasti of which the most unusual was a very garlicky crostini on gluten-free bread. It was obviously, easy to make and surprisingly gluten-free toast makes a good crostini.
We also went for lunch on Wednesday to an Italian style cafe, where gluten-free was again no problem.
The Netherlands may have very quirky train ticketing, but their cooking for coeliacs is pretty good.
I think it is true to say, that Dutch train tickets and how you purchase them will be rather strange to many British travellers.
The use of credit cards is actively discouraged and for example, you’ll pay a surcharge if you can find a machine that accepts cash or credit cards.
No machine seems to accept notes.
At least at a few stations, like Den Haag Central and Schipol, there will be a ticket office, but I never found it at Den Haag HS.
I don’t know what you do there, if you haven’t got a debit card!
I did buy a ticket at Den Haag Central ticket office, but I was in a queue for twenty minutes. Just imagine, the flak a UK train company would get if you had to wait that length of time for a ticket. And we’re supposed to like queues!
I’ve used machines extensively in Italy and the Dutch system is certainly inferior. It’s also very foreigner friendly with several languages being shown. The Dutch use just two; Dutch and English.
On my way out at Schipol, I met a student from Delft University, who was researching the ticketing on Dutch trains. He was effectively being a ticketing advisor to all of the foreigners coming into the airport and wanting to take a train from the airport. When I last came into Gatwick, there were three Transport for London employees to make sure travellers got the right ticket advice.
Is it rather arrogant to expect visitors to your country to immediately know how buy tickets in a language they’ve never seen before, from a strange machine, which won’t accept cash or credit cards? A New Yorker wouldn’t be able to pop back to get his debit card!
This afternoon I was in Walthamstow Central station and gave the ticket machine a good once-over. The first thing you notice is that the UK machine, as are the Italian ones I remember, is very much bigger than the equivalent Dutch machine. but then it accepts coins and notes, as well as most credit and debit cards. It also deals with a lot more operations, like collecting tickets bought on-line.
The Dutch machine is a lot simpler and has much less glitz, so I suspect it was designed down to a price and as it looks cheap and nasty on the outside, I suspect the inside isn’t very bright.
After all it does the same thing as the British machine does and just issues you with a small piece of card.
The on-line tickets are all print yourself jobs on a sheet of A4 paper. In theory print at home tickets are one of those ideas that looks good on paper, but in practice could be a serious nuisance and especially at times, when it matters. Printers do run out of paper and ink and just suppose you book a ticket in a hotel room on your laptop.
When I bought the ticket for Brussels to Den Haag, I got one ticket for each leg of the journey. I didn’t have a problem, but the layout of the information like carriage and seat number is not good and I had to get someone to tell me the latter, as I got it wrong and was going to the wrong seat.
On the high speed train, you need a reservation and walk-up tickets seem very discouraged. Not having tried it, I wouldn’t know and if anybody has, I’d like to know.
But Dutch train ticketing seems to be a system designed to be cheap to run and easier for the company, than the customers. The very fact that two months ago, one ticket got me from London to The Hague and this week it was three tickets is surely a retrograde step.
They may be very last century, but I’m beginning to like the simple card tickets designed by British Rail more and more.
The Dutch and the Belgians have given the new high speed train linking Brussels and Amsterdam the name Fyra. Here’e what Wikipedia says about the origin of the name.
The name Fyra represents pride, and is derived from the Dutch and French words fier/fière, both meaning proud.
Pride or proud is not a name that would be high on an Englishman’s choice, as pride comes before a fall. I think it’s from the bible!
Saying that various ferries across the Channel have been named Pride of Dover, Calais etc.
I do suppose the Dutch and the Belgians had a problem here, with their various languages. But then in the UK, some of our fastest trains; Class 390 Pendolinos, keep their Italian names.
Someone has just told me that the Dutch have another name for the train. This is the first paragraph from the story.
The Fyra is actually a high speed of Aldi. If you have a cheapest possible train orders, you get those too.
I wonder what Aldi thought of the free publicity.
The last time, I went to The Hague, I just went to the Eurostar site and booked one ticket to Any Dutch Station.
But now, this simple system has been discontinued at the behest of the Dutch government. For what reason, I will not speculate although, I have had various opinions given to me by my Dutch friends. I’ll give my view after I return from The Netherlands.
So this time, I’ve booked a single ticket to Brussels on Eurostar.
The train I shall be riding on Tuesday, will get me to Brussels just after mid-day. I shall be trying to buy a ticket to The Hague on the convenient 13:18 departure between the two capitals, when I arrive in Brussels.
It’s a real downgrade from the previous service, in that I shall have to change trains at Rotterdam as well. The direct train has been discontinued. I’ve taken that train several times and the standard is similar to what I you get on the fast London to Ipswich and Norwich trains.
So I’ll be getting a quicker high-speed train, but I’d prefer a direct train. In the UK, when I go say from London to Liverpool, I always book direct trains for convenience. I also don’t want to have to wait on a cold platform for a train to arrive. The connection in Rotterdam might be easy, but I’ve only been to the station there, some years ago and can’t remember it.
I thought for safety, I would book a later train in case, I couldn’t fathom out how to buy the ticket in Brussels.
So I went to the SNCB web site to book one. Incidentally, Eurostar allows you to enter Rotterdam into their site, but doesn’t allow you to book tickets, just telling you that there are no tickets available. To find where to book, I looked up how on Seat 61, which gave me the address of the SNCB web site to book the ticket from Brussels to The Hague.
Just imagine someone having to book a ticket urgently, for either business or family reasons and wanting to get to say Utrecht. They would give up or just book to Brussels knowing or even just thinking that they could get a train from there.
So I looked up the SNCB web site and found these trains from Brussels to Den Haag.
13:18 – Dutch high speed train – 15:02 – £21.42
13:52 – Thalys – 15:26 – £38.47
13:56 – Local Train – 2 changes – 16:41 – £24.35
15:18 – Dutch high speed train – 17:02 – £21.42
So by travelling on the slow Dutch train, you have two changes and pay more.
In the end I bought a ticket on the 13:56.
But I had to pay an extra booking fee, just like you don’t do on any British train booked on the train company’s web site. Although I had to pay a similar amount on Eurostar.
The ticket is two sheets of A4 paper, one for each leg of the journey. We may go on about the old British Rail-era orange tickets, but they fit nicely in a wallet.
What do you do incidentally, if you’re booking these tickets on a laptop on a train coming to London to get the Eurostar? Or you’re doing it late at night, and the printer runs out of paper?
I don’t think the SNCB web site gave you an alternative.
As an experiment, I just wanted to see if I could book direct to Rotterdam on the Eurostar web site.
You can’t, but you can book direct to several Swiss cities in one go on the Eurostar web site.
I was also able to get a ticket to Brussels for just £38 on the day I wanted. To get to Rotterdam using another site, adds another £21. But I want to go to The Hague. That cost £76 or twice the London-Brussels fare.
I suspect tourists, who after spending a few days in London, who perhaps wanted to see Europe by rail, wouldn’t start by going to The Netherlands. But they might go and look at the pleasures of Switzerland.
The fuss about getting to The Netherlands by train seems to be escalating. I’ve had an e-mail which is very critical of the withdrawal of the local service from The Netherlands.
Although I had some unofficial feedback from a Eurostar employee, I thought it would be an idea to get the corporate view. So I sent this e-mail to the company.
I have bought a ticket to Any Dutch Station a couple of times, and find it is the easiest way to get to see my friend in The Hague.
I now see that this ticket has been discontinued and that there is no direct link to The Hague from Brussels.
I went in to your ticket office in St. Pancras last week and talked to one of your excellent sales staff. She felt that this is not best for Eurostar, as she told me, that she used to sell quite a few of these tickets.
I shall probably fly to Schipol in future, as it is the easiest way to get to anywhere other than Rotterdam or Amsterdam in The Netherlands.
I write for various publications and shall be writing a hard hitting article about this fiasco, which is obviously not of Eurostar’s doing.
I shall be going to The Netherlands via Brussels some time next week to see how the Dutch deal with a stroppy tourist, who wants to get a direct train from Brussels to The Hague.
The other great thing about the Any Dutch Station ticket was that you booked it in one, from your excellent web site.
I’ll post their reply when I get it.