After the trials and tribulations of flying in 2005 we decided to take sleeper trains to and from Jutland. We also decided that it was a bit daft to travel to and from our eco-friendly cycle holiday using air travel. We ended up booking using the Treinreiswinkel based in Leiden. Our train journey consisted of an outward journey from Utrecht to Flensburg with a change at Duisburg, and a return from Kolding to Utrecht with change at Duisburg again. The price turned out to be a reasonable Eur432 and we were able to get departure and arrival times that suited our time frame perfectly. We saved money as well by not having to buy cycle boxes (this cost Eur80 for the Norway 2005 trip) and not having to partially dismantle the bikes. We also experienced no damage to the bikes whilst in transit saving another Eur50. The Eur300 we saved getting to and from Denmark (compared with flights in 2005) were spent on ferries to and from Norway.
There were two main sorts of bike compartments. From Utrecht to Duisburg we had a modern train. The doors to the bike carriage were large and the step up was relatively low. To stow the bike we had to take all the bags off and hang the bike from the front wheel. In the sleeper trains the bikes were stowed standing up with supports on one wall. These were somewhat more difficult to use with very limited access. Again the bags had to come off the bikes to put them in place. One problem with the sleeper train compartments was that a standard rather narrow door was the only access to the carriage and the step up was rather high.
Of course things did not go entirely to plan. On the outward journey two extra cyclists decided they had to put their bikes in our compartment instead of their one at the other end of the train. This resulted in an unnecessarily full compartment and a bigger rush to get six bikes sets of bags and cyclists into the train instead of four. Our sleeper cabin was several carriages down the train and we had to lug all our bags through the narrow corridors. One obvious advantage for bike trailers. The same happened on the return.
We also experienced significant delays, getting into Flensburg an hour late. This was not so bad, but the delay on the return journey meant we missed our one train connection to Utrecht from Duisburg and ended up having to take 4 trains instead. We also had a minor problem in Kolding at the start of the return journey that the platform was not long enough for the train. So our bike compartment ended up overshooting the platform. Thus our bikes had to be hauled up 2m to get them into the train. The conductor was helpful especially considering our annoyed state at that point. We understand from seasoned bike train travellers that these problems are par for the course. So we are thinking up other strategies such as on the return journey, such as allowing a half day play in the schedule to make the change.
Getting to and from Utrecht Centraal presented no problems at all being a trip for us of around fifteen minutes by bike. We are still not sure what the official route into the station is with fully laden touring bikes. Using the tunnel under the station at the time was a no go as it was not possible to get the bikes into the tunnel nor up the steps to the platform without taking all the panniers off both bikes (putting them on, taking them off again going up the steps and putting the bags on again). So we decided to cycle up the ramp to the Taxi rank where it was no problem to get into the main concourse of the station. Getting down to the platform presented no problem either as the lifts take at least one bike, the big ones have room for two.
The lifts in Duisburg were just big enough for ONE bike, and very slow in operation. Flensburg did not have a lift but had tracks down on side of the stairs. So we had to gingerly wheel our bikes down the stairs making sure they did not break loose. The other stations we used in Denmark, Kolding and Randers had slow small but usable lifts.
We had no problem getting on ferries to and from Norway, we did not need to book in advance. We took the ferry from Hirtshals to Bergen and the ferry from Larvik back to Hirtshals. To Bergen is an overnight ferry and we were able to get one of the cheaper inside cabins. Food on that ferry was good, we went for a buffet dinner in one of the restaurants and there was enough choice for vegetarians. The ferry back from Larvik was a couple of hours. We arrived in Larvik, booked tickets, and then had an hour to do some groceries and other shopping before boarding.
The Norwegian train we used from Bergen to Voss was modern, and with a cycle compartment similar to the sleeper trains. We however ended up right at the other end of the train to our bikes (our seats were numbered) which was a minor annoyance. We were able to leave the bikes fully loaded up which was a plus point. The small stations at Upsete, Myrdal and Hallingskeit were very different particularly the last one. We were able to get in and out of the trains albeit with a bit more of a struggle. The conductor on that the train from Myrdal to Hallingskeit was very accommodating and helped us out of a slightly tricky spot. So overall travelling with the NSB has been a positive experience for us.
Page created 11/03/2007
Text and images are copyright © 2007 Stanislav Williams.