Completed Report from our NGG travelers across Netherlands, Germany and United Kingdom, including pass through Belgium.
After all of us working through the disappointment of Rinke having to withdraw through personal and work reasons, the modules were completed on time, boxed up carefully and securely. They were then dispatched to the care of the friendly airfreight folks at U-Bag, who shrink-wrapped them and sent them on their way to Stuttgart.
Day -1 – Wednesday - 9 November 2011 – day of departure:
As we were all ready to start making our way to the airport, I received a call from KLM telling me the departure time was delayed by some 4 hours, but in fairness to the people dropping us off, we all met at the airport just before midnight. Having checked in online, it was just a luggage drop off and then receive the complimentary voucher for access to the business class lounge as a token of apology for the delay. The expected cold weather was a topic of discussions as we were going from 30 C to below 15 C overnight and forecasts were for a further drop down to single digits……. Just as well we had nice warm thickly padded jackets, specially decorated with logos etc, for that purpose.
Day 1 – Thursday – 10 November 2011 – rescheduled day of departure as well as day of arrival:
Not long after going through security and immigration,we were sitting feet up in comfort in the lounge…. There was an open bar and plenty of choice snacks for us to enjoy.
We made it clear to our first time international flyers that this was not the norm and not too get too used to it,,,,LOL
After, what must be the slowest 3 ½ hours I have ever experienced, we boarded at 03h40 as they said we would and settled into the comfort economy seats we treated ourselves too……
A smooth take off found us in the air and on our way and about to settle down to try and get some sleep, only to find us being offered breakfast at just before 05h00….. these Dutchies at KLM are not well, I think……. LOL
We managed to snooze and catnap a little, but by 08h30 we were all awake and wondering what to do….. listen to music, watch a movie or read……..
Some re-arrangements of the finer details of the itinerary were done to allow for the later that expected arrival, which ate too far into our first afternoon in Holland to be able do what was planned….. all agreed on changes, so now we just needed to arrive……..
Day 1 – Thursday – 10 November 2011 – Schiphol airport, Rotterdam & The Hague
We arrived at 13h45 local time (1 hr earlier than in SA)
Clive got questioned at immigration (must be the long hair)
But Morne sailed through…… rene and myself, of course, went straight through the EU section, where there was no queue….
Then it was off to find a cellphone shop to buy local simcards…. Blackberry was easy, but iPhones needed smaller cards, so off to find a shop for those
All sorted and then bought tickets for Fyra high speed train to Rotterdam
Not long to wait and then we were seated comfortably on our way to Rotterdam Central Station….
30 minutes we were at Centraal Station Rotterdam, where Rene called his brother to collect us.
4 plus luggage squeezed into a Toyota Prius…… on our way (in heavy traffic) to ss”Rotterdam” the cruise ship berthed permanently in Rotterdam harbor as a conference centre and hotel
Checked in and settled in cabins before going off (with Rene’s brother in the car) off to The Hague to go and view the permanent N-Gauge layout of Lahntalbahn situated in a shopping centre in The Hague.
Very impressive and superb scenery and workmanship
They have the luxury of a giant space behind the layout area to work and build further sections/modules.
Then a short (3 minutes) train trip to the central station in The Hague to catch the long distance tram back to Rotterdam central station, from where we took the Metro to near the ss “Rotterdam” followed by a brisk walk in the chilly cold air to the cruise hotel
A few beers in the bar got us ready for bed after what must have been the longest day of travel in a long time for us all.
Day 2 – Friday – 11 November 2011 – Rotterdam & Utrecht:
Relaxed breakfast after a little bit of a lie-in, and some foto exchanges/saving….
After breakfast we paid a visit to the souvenir shop, where some nice souvenirs of the cruise hotel were obtained.
I resisted the temptation to buy a 1:250 scale kit of the ship…lasercut and paper, but the size of it and the lack of time needed to eventually build it, made up my mind to rather not go down that route….
Some Delft Blue stuff was bought by all
Was chilly on deck (to take loads of pictures ( archive and info for a harbor scene later)) but nice and warm inside, where we had traditional apple tart and cream, with a cup of coffee, for lunch….
After return to the solid land, we took a tram to Rotterdam Central Station to walk down the road for 500 metres to go and visit Railz……. It is Holland’s largest permanent indoor layout (HO scale). Full of superb scenery (especially for HO Scale) and all based on actual Dutch sceneries/buildings and by us all, loads of pictures were taken and lots of ideas. Numerous trains running in layout, all computer controlled…. All the trains disappear into tunnels all over and re-appearing at the other end to run the route again, but without being obvious that they are running in a permanent loop.
We spent a fun filled and intensely interesting 2 hours there before heading back to the station to head off to Utrecht.
Junk food at the station for supper…….. and then a bus off to the Houseboat where we will be based till Sunday morning. There is a whole row of houseboats (most with people living in them) in the water next to the little road, opposite rows of apartments.
We were welcomed into the houseboat by the owner (that resides on the next houseboat) who had set the central heating nice and warm, so definitely a comfy space to reside in, compared to the chill outside.
After settling on who took which room (and here I pulled seniority and claimed the biggest bed, leaving the other three to share a large room together), we strolled down the road to go and enjoy a few pilsjes (local for glasses of beer) sitting outside (in the chill) under the canopy next to the outdoor heaters (just like in the JHB winters.
Day 3 – Saturday – 12 November 2011 – Utrecht:
The claims of “You snore”….”I don’t snore” etc etc were settled when Morne produced a recording of Rene’s snoring, but then Clive turned the verdict around by confirming they both did some heave log sawing throughout the night.
Rene exhibited his wannabe “Master Chef” talents, by producing a breakfast fit for starts from the makings that are provided as part of the price for the houseboat…….
Duly ‘fed and watered’ we wandered to the busstop to head to the station again to head off to Houten Modelspoor Beurs……… a first for both Clive and Morne. A short train ride and a shuttle trip down winding lanes between rows of houses, we arrived at the swap meets of all swap meets in Europe………. We discovered that exceeding maximum allowed loads per minibus is not unique to South Africa when we were instructed to sit on the floor in the aisle in the Mercedes Sprinter shuttle bus…Max seating = 9… Max allowed passengers = 9… people that trip = 12……..
Needless to say, eyes were huge when seeing the rows and rows of stalls that met us as we entered…….. and that was just the first hall………
We soon parted ways to wander along the rows and rows of sellers from all over Europe and were all mumbling….”No..No…. I don’t need that…….”
Rene was on a “poppie” (little N-Gauge people) buying mission and Morne was exploring the Z-Gauge stuff on offer.
I met up with a mutual friend of myself and my namesake and took delivery (very proudly I add) of my two unique limited run diesel locos in local livery.
A single wander along all the tables (and skipping past the larger scales to use time more productively) through all three halls took a mere 2 ½ hours. A snack for replenishment of energy and then off to re-visit some of the more interesting stands saw the time march on to 14h30 and a realization that we were still to go visit more places that day.
So….. with bags and packets in hand, it was back on the shuttle bus…..onto the train back to Utrecht Centraal, and off to the National Spoorweg Museum at Maliebaan Station, which houses the museum. The Sprinter, a suburban train of 4 carriages, runs purely between the Centraal Station at Utrecht and the Spoorweg Museum not too far away….. the train goes down one line……, stops in the middle of nowhere……, the driver then strolls down the inside of the train……. and then the train heads off down the other line in the other direction…. To the museum’s own station. Something not usually expected in amongst a busy rail system.
One is met by numerous wagons and locos of several vintages as you exit onto the platform, parked on various lines outside the original, beautifully restored station building. Rooms are restored to their former glory, depicting the days gone by of rail travel and goods transport
Several interactive exhibits are present to enlighten the children (and older visitors too) of the way the rail transport originated (on the Graham Farish island, we are told) in coal mines by the discoveries of some dude named Stephenson……..
Regretfully the excess time used at Houten caught up with us, and before long the last train back to Utrecht central was announced and we headed out into the rapidly fading light (despite it only being just after 17h00) to board the train.
Before long we were back at Utrecht Station, which is joined to a shopping centre, so off to the local supermarket (Albert Heyn) we went to procure some vittles for the evening……..
Boarding what we thought was the bus back to where we boarded one that morning, we were treated to a tour of some other suburb, where there seemed to be more foreigners than traditional Dutchies…… The busdriver then announced the end of the line and admitted niot hearing where we wanted to go, when buying our tickets, so treated us to a return to the station for free and advice as to what bus we should board………
The right bus got us home, albeit a little late, to the houseboat, where we partook in some delicious snacks and eats that Rene and Morne warmed up during generous sips of beer and much laughter.
A nice cup of coffee rounded off the meal and tired legs and bodies were soon resting, knowing an early wake up awaited us the next morning…….
Day 4 – Sunday – 13 November 2011 – Utrecht & Hamburg via Koln:
After some chasing of certain people that still had to pack their cases at the last minute, we were off down the little road to the busstop in time for the first bus….. however, after a few minutes at the busstop, Clive spotted that on Sundays the busses only started to run at 08h30 and not 06h30 as we expected/thought…….
Off down the road we headed…. Cases in tow on their rapidly spinning wheels…… with Clive and I ahead to go sort out validation of Railpasses etc, and rene keeping Morne on the move in the rear.
About a kilometer later, we were at the station, suitably exercised and heart rates boosted. The international travel window showed “open at 08h00”….. Oh dear…. But our train is at 07h40…… local assistance of the kind station staff found the guy due to man the window we needed and he kindly did the necessary stamping and verification of passes etc etc, and off to platform 15 we headed to wait for the first train of this leg…. From Utrecht to Koln… on an ICE, where we were due to relax in the luxury of first class train travel.
The train was late, but hey….., were on time ourselves, so we waited patiently in the area noted to be in line with the coach we were to be seated in. It was a NS trainset run by DB staff….. a strange sensation…….
The train arrived, we boarded and after lifting the heavy cases onto the racks above us, we settled in for a smooth journey, along tracks not commonly travelled by the ICE, due to engineering works on the customary line….. This meant max speed 105 kmph….. what a disappointment that was………… and to add to that, it was foggy outside, so not much to see either……. We even saw frost alongside the track…at around 12h00 near the border between Holland and Germany, so to say it was cold outside was an understatement…..
The trip was comfy (after all it was First Class…LOL) and despite a few moments of worry about being late for our connections we arrived at Koln station safely and on time.
Loss of internet connectivity by us all, despite three different service providers, meant no uploading of pics or reports were possible during this time of travel and idle feet
Down the lift, along the hall and up the lift again to the next platform, where we boarded a Inter City of DB and settled into the assigned compartment (again in First Class) for the next stage of the trip. The fog/mist had lifted and the sun was out, so more to see.
This train did just over 200 kmph most of the way and was, in fact, a smoother ride than the ICE…..
Loss of internet connectivity by us all, since departing Holland, despite three different service providers, meant no uploading of pics or reports were possible during this time of travel and idle feet….
So, catnaps, all round, were the order of the day, as finally our missed sleep on the first night of travel seemed to catch us all as the smooth and gentle rocking of the train worked its magic on us.
Before we realized it, Hamburg station was announced and we disembarked onto the platform. A little orientation by myself as previous visitor got the right direction to the ‘Pension-am-Rathous’ and off down the street we headed, suitcases in tow.
A rather long and steep staircase greeted us as we opened the door, but monkey like actions got us and our cases to the top into comfy, albeit simple rooms, with central heating on and providing some warmth from the cold we had just come in from.
After settling in, we headed off for a stroll round the old centre of Hamburg, which is where we were situated.
With the light rapidly fading (despite it being early) the temperatures dropped too.
Off to pizza Hut for supper and then past the Christmas market, being set up outside the ‘Rathaus’, to a stall we spotted earlier where Gluwein was sold……….
Morne’s face upon taking his first sip was classical, but unfortunately escaped a picture…..
We were treated to a story of the reasons and magnitude of the Christmas Market at the Hamburg Rathaus by a local that worked for the company setting it all up. Some interesting facts (sounded like proud ‘claims to fame’ to me) about Hamburg were volunteered to us as well.
Tummies warmed and blood flowing from the Gluwein, we headed back to the pension and were soon tucked in and asleep……
Day 5 – Monday – 14 November 2011 – Hamburg:
Not too early to get up today… shops only open at 10h00 (needed to sort Internet connectivity and local simcards) and the main purpose of being here….Miniatur Wunderland also only opened at 10h00….
Simcards obtained after some searching, so now off to Miniatur Wunderland
No queue, so direct to the trains for us….. direct into the new Switzerland……. Awesome is all that can describe it……. Or Wunderbahr……… to quote the locals…. Huge mountains all around you, with tunnels and bridges aplenty all around as the lines climb between the one floor (where Switzerland starts and you enter) to the next floor up (where Switzerland stops and the airport scene starts)
The photos will reveal all to those that have not yet been here and it is sure to be high on the ‘to do’ list for most. It is beyond question that anyone travelling to Germany (or even to Europe in general) should try to divert through Hamburg and make time (need a day at least) to visit Miniatur Wunderland…..
The next question that arises in our minds, is……. Where in South Africa can we do this sort of thing….????
After walking through Switzerland, climbing up a floor with the trains going up along various helixes and gradients to also come out at the next floor to run along the newly finished airport.
Quite a wait to get to the front to view the various sections of the airport…. Whether it be planes that taxi, or those that head to the runway, rev engines and set off along the runway and take off
Oh Yes!!!! There comes a plane to land as well……..
This is beyond description………. The magnitude of it all…… estimated between 120 & 150 square meters in all…….. with lorries and cars and carts moving all over the place – just like the real thing
Planes taxi-ing to and from the runway and to and from the hangars
And then of course the highlight………planes taking off and landing……….
The terminal buildings all have viewpoint windows along the front of the layout…. To show the luggage system, the underground railway station etc etc
We were lucky to see a mishap ……. A Lufthansa plane (ironically just landed from Johannesburg) veered off it’s ‘digital’ path and ran over luggage carts and a car, but we understand no-one was hurt and the ‘big hand from the sky’ soon put it back on it’s correct path.
Once one tears oneself away from the magnificence of the airport, one walks into Austria……. Also full of glorious mountains and with a cogwheel train and cableways etc but also a lake at the bottom of the mountain scene.
Via a huge helix (visible through a glass side) the trains climb up to cross above your head as you walk down the walkway, over a huge bridge, to the imaginary town of Knuffingen, where their own designed car system runs all round the town, with cars stopping, turning and starting all over the place as robots and stop signs allow……. With brake lights and turn signals all working. A fire station responds to emergency calls with fire engines and ambulances… all with sirens and flashing lights.
Whilst strolling along the viewing barriers along all the sides of the layout, little buttons allow one to activate various mini scenes within the larger scene as well as view the many little fun things incorporated within the overall sceneries…..
Once again…the only way to describe this layout is….awesome
Passing through Harz, one arrives at Hamburg, recognizing several landmarks that we saw for real outside……..
Passing along USA on the other side, we slowly made our way past a piece of Germany that looked a lot like Holland and then came round the corner to see Scandanavia, with it’s real water and moving ships, guided by a Doppler system the guys that built this designed themselves.
Thousands of pictures later we managed to extract all 4 the travelers for a last beer before heading off back to the hotel as the doors closed behind us.
A stroll down to the museum ships was aborted due to the fog and bitter cold
A glass of gluwein to fight the cold and we were set for bed again.
Day 6 – Tuesday – 15 November 2011 – Hamburg to Stuttgart:
Our day started at leisure with a stroll up to the main station in the cold and fog.
Breakfast at McDonalds……… the cheapest and names that make sense………..
The writer, your yardmaster, decided to pop out to the electronics supermarket just down the road, for some advice/assistance with his email settings, thinking he had nearly an hour
When at the till, he glanced at his watch, And realized there was only 5 minutes to get back to the station. A sprint along the underpass got him to the stairs down to the platform as the train pulled out.
The other three had just made it, dragging my luggage along, thinking I was rushing onto the train at the other end.
A call between the two parties revealed that the yardmaster did not make it……
Off to the information to explain the situation
‘Not a problem’… I was told… you take the next one….1 hour later…. Direct…arrives only 30 minutes later……….
‘But the other only have photocopies of the tickets’ I explained……..’not a problem…….. we will pass a message to the conductor on the train’…….
Modern technology leaves one awestruck……..
After a quiet trip, all alone, with only his cellphone, the yardmaster rejoined the other three travelers and they set off on foot, to the Youth Herberg…….. just 15 minutes walk up the ‘steirs’. It was suspected this was a spelling error as result of direct translation, with our minds still set on the flat landscape of days past in Holland and Northern Germany……… only to find they have hills (very steep ones too) here… and ‘steirs’ are actually loads and loads of stairs…… too many too count………
Needless to say, the climb took a considerable time with many rest stops…….
The average age in the ‘youth hostel’ increased by a considerable percentage when we checked in.
After checking into our typical dorm room, we set off to the Bistro for some good Stuttgart draughts and an update of pictures taken and events experienced.
Contact was established with our hosts, and the good news was received that the modules had been collected already, with nothing to pay, and that they had already opened them (too curious for their own good, I say) and only the shack satellite dish was loose, and a truck was half loose. Everyone was suitably impressed we were told
This sure was good news, since that meant no trip to the airfreight section to collect them was required………..
Day 7 – Wednesday – 16 November 2011 – Stuttgart:
After a leisurely breakfast, we went down the hill with the U-Bahn to the station
There we took the S-Bahn to the trade centre near the airport.
About 40 minutes later we arrived and strolled along following the signs marked ‘Messe’.
Before long we discovered the size of the complex….some 8 halls in total……….. each one about 3 times the size of The Dome……
Seeing how little space this immense layout takes up out of the overall hall space brings that home…after all, some 493 modules in total. And that is only one hall out of 8………..
4 shows taking place in the entire complex at the same time
It sure will be interesting to see how the public masses move around tomorrow, the first public day.
Walking into the hall, we were met by stall after stall being set up…. First the cars and radio controlled trucks etc etc….. then aeroplanes too…. In all formats…. Several Scale-Electrix tracks with huge banked curves
Then we see the train area….. Fleischmann, and all the others have representative display stands…………
Several German shops were setting up shops as well….
And then, the layout area appeared………….immense…huge….. very very large, are just a few of the descriptions that spring to mind…in fact, the most suited description is unfit to be printed here………. All over the area modules were being connected to others…….. and then the sections were connected, making a huge layout in the end.
While we waited to be fitted into the layout proper, the minor repairs were effected and the ‘missing’ giraffes (none available at the time of the building of the module) weathered and glued down in a suitable spot by the waterholes, river bed.
The Belgians were late, making the connection of our two modules into the layout a later event than expected. The time spent waiting was spent walking around looking at the stalls being set up and the items for sale. Rene and Morne were soon off shopping…… Rene for all sorts, and Morne seemed to have gone to other extremes…. From the monstrosity, in N-Gauge, to a tiny table top Z-Scale train……....
Eventually the Belgians arrived, and before long our modules were being guided into place by the Germans, with us supervising closely.
Heights were adjusted and the track line-up commenced……. We appeared to be less than 1 mm out on each end when compared to the English on one end and the German/Swiss on the other end.
Some hot water to loosen the glue, a few strategically place track pins (nice Peco ones) and we were lined up 100 percent………
The only hiccup was that the wiring the Germans added to the drop wires we fitted ended up being wrong and had to be redone to allow the test loco to run along our modules….. a German one of course……… looked a little strange, but sort of expected, seeing we were in Germany…….
Our very own banner was received (of which pictures will be posted, of course) and we were soon heading back to the station to catch the S-Bahn back to the main station
Dinner at Burger King (good healthy nourishement) and then off back to the Hostel…… but with the U-Bahn this time, to avoid the stairs of course……..
We then sat near the Bistro to catch up on pictures and the daily travel reports, and were soon joined by several other travelling N-Scalers of various nationalities, and as the beers being consumed increased in number, the volumes round the table did too, and before long it was close to midnight and the travelers headed off to bed, with tomorrow being a busy and exciting day for us…….
Day 8 – Thursday – 17 November 2011 – Stuttgart:
We arrived at the show grounds at about a quarter to ten, only to have a request for me to go to the info desk.
Upon arrival there, all the representatives from each club were there and an official welcoming of the NGG to the show, was formally announced and we were given a hearty welcome with suitable applause.
The public streamed in and before long we had several people coming to study our two modules. Several other club members had heard about us by now and came to admire the artwork.
Another call for me to proceed to the info centre was heard, and there was an official introduction (over the PA system) to the manager of the entire show ground complex.
With two of us attending the modules, the other two were left to do some shopping and admiring of all the other stands and modules at the show. Many manufacturers are represented here and have their past, current and new releases on show for us to drool over……..
Then there was a call on the PA for us to proceed to the Italian layout as guests for lunch of some traditional Italian fare……. With some good Italian wine (in plastic coffee cups)…….
After lunch the amount of public feet seemed to reduce a little, so I ventured out with the camera to snap shots of all the modules present at this layout. I only got halfway by the time my feet started burning, so it was off back to the modules for a while.
Suddenly, I sensed we were being spoken about and found Peter, the president of NCI standing at the modules with a mike in his hand and in German describing the modules and explaining to the other modellers and the public that they were specially built for the show and airfreighted across, which received some ahhh;s and oohhh’s. an impromptu interview ensued and the build up of the modules was described in brief and then some highlights of the scenery were discussed and how they were created.
After the night before’s festivities and the amount of yellow beverages consumed, the eyelids were getting heavy and red Bulls appeared all around the layout to sustain the low levels of energy all round.
After the days public were ‘evicted’ from the hall, the various clubs went into action to put out their country’s traditional food and drinks (from which we were exempted due to our travel itinerary making transportation of food difficult) for the traditional first night’s activities and merry eating and drinking of each other’s food and drinks.
Before long many merry songs in many different languages from all over (and some very strange new ones too) were ringing out along the line of desks upon which the food and drink was placed.
Many strong and biting spirits were consumed by all and various foods eaten with many new friends being made.
Somewhere around 22h00 the first clubs were starting to disappear and your hard working/playing travelers were off to the station to head back to the hostel to turn in and get some hard needed sleep in readiness for some serious browsing and possibly buying on day 2 of the show……….
Day 9 – Friday - 18 November 2011 – Stuttgart:
After the daily morning routine of ablutions, breakfast we were off down the road to the U-bahn stop to head to the Hauptbahnhof to change to the S-Bahn to the airport/trade expo station.
Once there a brisk walk got us to our modules. First order for the wandering members (those not at the modules) was to visit the Fleischmann and Minitrix stands and obtain the catalogues…….. and we were treated to a handful of stickers as well.
Several other stands of companies being represented had pamphlets, which we will bring back for easy reference.
Then we were passing the N-Club International desk, where Peter, the president called us, to show us the local newspaper article where our modules were mentioned and a picture of the modules as well as a close up of the elephants was featured (scanned copy to follow).
A handfull of badges and other goodies to cart back to SA were also stuffed into our hands……..
The Canadian T/N-track guy we met also wanted to visit the Marklin (yes you read correct, the Marklin Museum in Goppingen, so we set off at lunchtime to commute back to town and then on to Goppingen.
The German DB system is wonderful (and has English translations) and we easily procured the right tickets etc to get there.
The museum seems to comprise more of a large shop with a few layouts and several showcases along the walls, rather than what we have come to expect of a anuseum traditionally………..but it was still worth it for us all as we seemed able to procure items no shops seem to stock, even here in Germany.
Bags in hand we worked our way back to the expo, where we arrived just before the close, but there was an arrangement to join the German N-Track club (GermaNTrack) members at a favourite and popular restaurant near the expo venue.
Into the cars we piled and before long we arrived and a large beer was placed before us and the system was explained…… the Schnitzel menu allowed for ‘as much as you can eat’ fior the same price……….
But,….. the portions that arrived were nearly double the size one would get in JHB………
And yet several of their members ate a second (albeit smaller) helping (as did our own Morne & Rene, but some even ventured into a third and one was even talking of a fourth, but his size gave that away before he ordered helping number 3……
After a few more beers, we were on our way back to the hostel for coffee and then off to bed after a long and well travelled day…..
Day 10 – Saturday - 19 November 2011 – Stuttgart:
Today was the first day that the entire expo complex was open….. on a scale we cannot comprehend……… all for the one entrance fee…. About R 150 all in……
1 hall just model trains and radio controlled cars and helicopters……
1 hall with eloctronis and music
1 hall food stuff and accessories
1 hall board games, arts and crafts
1 hall baby stuff
3 halls home accessories
8 halls in all
The mind boggles when trying to comprehend the scale of all this, but then you are returned to reality when you walk around the halls…. Apart from the unique and particular stores to the area/home style or club involved, one has the usual…….:
Demo stands selling hugely over priced foodmixers
Demo stands selling multi functional cutters, special polishes, clean you glasses better here, etc etc
And…not to forget the massage people, who seem to be here in their multitude too.
Those ‘special’ pots and pans seem to be international too
And, of course, the food concessions stands ready to over charge for a simple hotdog or hamburger……..
With people in their hundreds streaming past the layout, there were many ‘oooohs and ahhhhhhs’ when they saw our modules as well as the customary….”Mama, kyken zie da…eine olifanten……” or something like that…….. far less people tend to stop and talk, but various family members of the many exhibitors were all sent to come and see the nice modules that came here all the way from Sud-Afrika.
And then, Morne and Rene were bantering with each other in Afrikaans, and there suddenly were comments from the public, also in Afrikaans….. a young couple here for work at Mercedes…….
It seems we may have a deserter on our hands, since the creator of the ‘monstrosity’ in N gauge is now deadset on creating something similar in Z-Gauge too…….. about 3 x 1 mtr in total…….. based on a layout he saw here at the Fleischmann stand. But, the track plan keeps changing and after several exchanges of items already purchased at the biggest Z-Gauge stockst here, he still has changes in mind and cannot seem to make final decisions/purchases of the items required……… so every now and then he is of to look at the layout he is using as a base for his design and then off to see if he can acquire the additional pieces……. We are sure he must have shares in the shop by now………..
Today lunch was set up at the Italian and Spanish layout and the various salamis and other coldmeats and cheeses were enjoyed with a few cold beers or glasses of red wine to wash them down with. The hospitality amongst the various clubs is tremendous…. Makes on feel as if one is part of a huge family…. Which is what I-N-G-A-Net is all about, after all…….
After the close of the show for the day, we were all shepparded down to the pub/bistro dow the road, near the airport for the I-N-G-A-Net annual dinner.
Tables and benches aplenty, but with the huge numbers it was a tight squeeze and service was stretched, so several people were delegated to go and fetch the beers at the bar, instead of waiting.
Once everyone was settled, several traditional cheers to the members, sponsors, traders, and then the Belgians, as first time local visitors and of course us, as first time overseas visitors were welcomed.
There had been a judging of modules by a panel of judges, comprising Mr Lemke, Kato, the managers of Maerklin, Fleischmann and Trix, and they had selected their best 10 modules.
These modules were displayed on the overhead display for the members to vote for the best 3 on a ballot form. Not totally unexpected, we were in the list of the 10 finalists as selected by the judges…….. The description of our module during the announcement of each nominee in turn, was extremely complimentary…….. “unique, unusual and spectacular were the words use……
Also in the top 10 was another first time attendee.. a club from Belgium, and also for a simple yet extremely effective module of a typical Belgian countryside.
After some more traditional cheers and salutes, the votes were counted and the announcement of the winners was due…. Since all four of us were in agreement as to the top three modules in our view, we were surprised that out third place was the overall opinion…. It was a Finnish country scene with a narrow gauge branch on it.
Second place was also in line with our voting…… an Italian club with a huge stone viaduct on a corner module.
For us four it became a tense moment as we had voted ourselves in the top three, but of course we were not aware what the others had voted, although we did spot Mr Kato and his sidekick marking our module on their ballot sheet………
The announcement started with the English version first, a good sign……. Then the words “simplicity itself, yet huge detail” were spoken and our hopes rose even higher………
Our gutfeel was confirmed when I was asked to come ,up to collect the first prize on behalf of the N-Gauge Guild of SA for the best module of the show and was told that it was especially good to be first on a first attendance to the show too…….
It was a great honour to go up there and collect the ‘Euromed’ donated by Kato, as the first prize. I thanked them for the invite and the opportunity to attend and to be made so welcome by them all, but mostly the honor of being selected for the first prize.
Whilst up there with Peter (the I-N-G-A-Net and NCI president and the other dignitaries, I presented Peter with the honorary membership to NGG, as well as the two committee members of NCI ( Christian and Stephan) for their assistance regarding the modules and accommodation etc etc. They were extremely proud of this honor and could not thank us enough times.
I later presented Mr Kato with the fourth honorary membership badge we had taken with. He was lost for words and hastily put the badge on and insisted in a picture top be taken with all 4 of us there and then
Day 11 – Sunday – 20 November 2011 – Stuttgart:
The crowds streamed in yet again this day, with all 8 halls still doing exhibitions.
On passing the Kato stand, I took the opportunity to ask Mr Kato to sign the box of the ‘Euromed’ which he gladly did. He again requested a picture of us at the module, which was duly arranged
A chequered flag was commandeered from a car display and before long a stream of members from the various clubs that had not yet been past our modules appeared, as well as several second or third time visitors from the clubs came past, to congratulate us and to view the modules again. Several photo ops were given proudly by us behind the modules.
Mr Kato made a point of coming past our module to say goodbye as he was leaving early to the airport to return to Japan.
We collected the club identity for the rear end of the train and asked our English neighbours if they would oblige with a line on their fiddleyard to start the victory lap of the NGG Euromed round the entire layout.
A quick stop at the cattle loading stage for a photo opportunity was arranged with the authorities controlling the sector adjoining us….. and the it was off into the huge maze of the layout, turning into each section for as victory ride along every module possible.
Along the German countryside, into Belgium and through the Ruhr gebied to Norway and some more Germany……. Followed by some French vineyards
Before long we were heading round and round the huge helix at the entrance, our way to the top of the tower to cross the bridge (elevation 3.00 metres = about 540 metres in real life)
Down the other side we went into several German country side modules and then through Italy and Spain to Denmark and then a huge leap to America (it almost seemed as if the train was used to the three track system (like the NGG uses) as opposed to the 2 track system the NCI uses….) since several rounds were done in the familiar 3 track system on the GermaNtrack modules. Eventually we were heading out of their circuit and off to the Finnish countryside and passing through the huge mountain module and along their very impressive hydro electric dam under construction (and sure to get a first prize once completed)
route took about 90 minutes with several station stops and waiting in yards before a clear signal from the next section was received……
The train then headed back up and down the helixes to head back to the fiddleyard in the English section to be returned to the box.
All the exhibitors were glad the last day had arrived as the days were long and busy for all
The traders reported they had had a good three days thusfar, but by the end of the Sunday they were a little disappointed since it appeared most of the people were there to view the trains and not to buy trains……..
A call for the leader of each club attending was made and Peter, the president of NCI, thanked each and every club for attending and announced the traditional exchange of gifts, but highlighted that this was voluntary and not mandatory as some of the smaller clubs were obviously unable to do this. Several gifts were received and I told the others that our gift was going to have to be the fact that we attended and once again thanked them for their warm welcome into the ‘family’ and the honor they did by selecting our module as the best of the show.
Before too long it was 18h00 and breakdown time had arrived……… and all the clubs got into top gear with packing cases, trailers and vans to stow their gear and get ready to head off back home… some as far as over 1000 kilometers to drive.
The East Surrey club, next to us even went to the extreme to screw back each and every Oxford car they had on their module into their boxes, as they were when new.
We boxed the modules again and handed them over to the NCI officials, requesting their promise to take good care of it and to exhibit it with pride, which they promised and the letter of handover was already in their display cabinet of gifts etc etc…….
After two hours most of the clubs were set for the raad and we did a final round of goodbyes and headed to the S-Bahn for the last trip to the Jeugendherberg for a well earned night’s sleep.
Day 12 – Monday – 21 November 2011 – Stuttgart to Berlin:
The early morning hours saw us doing ablutions and packing up in preparation of our train trip to Berlin. Several boxes were procured in advance the day before to accommodate the various purchases made at the show and before, since suitcase space was at a premium, for us all.
A quick breakfast was taken….. and check out was done, followed by a brisk walk down to the U-Bahn and into the station, saw us on the platform in good time, but then the walk to where our coach would be started and it seemed as if we were walking to Berlin instead of going by train……. But…. At least we would arrive there first we said…... only to discover later that the train does call at several terminal type stations, so the direction was reversed, and we were at the back of the train.
Daily reports were brought up to date as well as the many pictures taken downloaded onto the laptops and memory sticks for safe-keeping
Early afternoon saw us arrive in Berlin and a short walk to the hotel right by the station (not even 50 meters from the station main entrance) saw us settled in.
A wonder around the many shops at the station, exploring the curio shop and obtaining info on various things to see and do ended with dinner at the restaurant at the station (no junk food for a change) and an early night for a change.
Day 13 – Tuesday – 22 November 2011 – Berlin:
We decided to join the Germans in their lifestyle of only really getting going around 1000, so breakfast at 0900 was early enough to get the first hop-on / hop-off bus from just down the road from the hotel to head off round the city’s many sights and interesting places, with the main aim to get off at AlexanderPlatz, where Loxx is situated…….
Berlin sure has an interesting history and many tourist interests to view….one could be busy for days
The bustour gives one a abridged version, yet is filled with detail in commentary on board and the ease of travel between each point of interest in comfort
We were glad the open top bus had a canopy fitted because the temperature was hardly above zero. W sure are glad we purchased our jackets (suitably embroidered to make them special) as they were a nice shield for our bodies from the cold. In fact, at the Convention, we were asked several times to pose with our backs to the camera for a picture of the logo we had embroidered on the back….
The organizers were very impressed and were thinking that it may be something they could do in the future……
After going past several sections of the Berlin Wall that are still standing as monuments to the drastic ways the DDR kept their people contained and separated from the Western World, and transiting between the old East and West Germany a few times on our winding route through the huge city of Berlin, we arrived at the Alexander platz, and in the cold, headed towards the Alexa shopping complex, where Loxx was found on the top floor.
By this time we were feeling, so an early lunch was agreed on and before long we had a large glass of Coke and a huge plate of Wiener Schnitzel and Pomme Frites with mayonnaise in front of us………..
Suitably filled with food, we started the walk around inside the Loxx layout. As opposed to Miniatur Wunderland, this layout is based on capturing a replica of Berlin’s main buildings and stations.
Having been on the bustour earlier, we obviously recognised many of them as we walked around and studied the layout’s many wonderful scenes and took many many pictures.
The majority of the buildings obviously had to be scratch built by the builders of this layout, since they are simply not commercially available. This appeared to be done with coloured cardboard or wood cut on a laser cutter and then assembled. This was evident by the many piles of building panels in a pile at the working/building area we could see, as well as several ‘building in progress’ items standing in the new area……. A guy sitting at a computer within the ‘yet to be built’ Hauptbahnhof area, drawing panels with continuous reference to pictures and a drawing of a building confirmed this.
Their airport was slightly smaller than that at Miniatur Wunderland and had a completely different system to allow the planes to take off and land, as pictures in the gallery will reflect. The take off was realistic, but the landing had the planes at a too obviously incorrect angle (nose down) to the ground.
After procuring an extra suitcase for all the goodies presently in bags and boxes, we continued on the rest of our hop on/hop off bustour, transitting from former East to West Germany once again heading back towards the hotel, where we arrived in darkness….at only 16h45
After gathering the pictures taken thusfar and posting updates using the free wi-fi in the lobby, after an early supper, we were off to bed early to ensure early wake up for the long train journey ahead of us tomorrow.
Day 14 – Wednesday – 23 November 2011 – Berlin to London:
06h20 saw us dragging suitcases along the little road to the station and up to platform 4, where we awaited the ICE to arrive for an 06h50 departure.
We were seated in one of the first coaches, so we had to walk all along the platform to right outside the station, at the end.
Comfortably seated in the train, we settled to watch the landscape rush past as the train sped along at speeds anywhere between 150 to 250 kph, but then the fog obscured the view for a long time, so we were soon all catnapping.
Eventually the fog lifted and we could admire the green countryside once again. The journey of 4h30 minutes came to an end sooner than expected and we pulled into Koln Deutz/Messe station.
Up a level to the platform where the track runs at 90 degrees to that we came into the station on, we took the 3 minute train ride over the bridge over the Rhine to the Koln Hauftbahnhof, which we could clearly see from the station we were at.
While we rode across the bridge we saw that it could have been possible to walk across the bridge, but that would have meant a lot more stairs (there was a clear lack of lifts at this station it seemed) and we decided that the luggage we had, precluded that option, so into the train we went.
The Rhine was not as busy as we expected it to be, but at least there were a few riverboats travelling under the bridge as we crossed it.
At Hauftbahnhof we once again had to walk all the way to the end of the platform where we were able to take some great [pictures of various types of trains while we waited for the Thalys to arrive.
Before long we were seated in the Thalys and we sped off in the direction of Brussels.
As different as the Thalys is to the ICE, the ride was similar in all aspects….speed, comfort etc etc
The track was exclusively for the Thalys, so very few other trains were seen and the few stations we passed, was on the through line, at a great speed.
Very few stops were made and before long we were in the outskirts of Brussels, slowing down to cross various other tracks, before pulling into the underground platforms of Brussels-Midi station
The Thalys parks on the platforms alongside the platforms the Eurostar parks at, so we had to just exit the Thalys centre and enter the Eurostar centre to go through passport control and security. Like boarding a plane, we thought…… laptops out of bags, belts off and all money etc into the tray before going through a metal detector
All bags are x-rayed as well……. One can imagine the risk of someone blowing up the tunnel must be very high on the not wanted list.
Into a departure lounge we went, again just like at an airport and after a short wait we proceeded to the platform… all that was missing was the boarding gate and the boarding card check one has at an airport………
The ride in this train was definitely smoother than the ICE or Thalys, but the comfort is slightly less…….., however it was a smooth ride through the Belgian and then French countryside and before we knew it, we were into the Channel Tunnel, only to emerge a mere 20 minutes later on the UK side. Unfortunately it gets dark early here in the UK (16h30) so we could see very little of the countryside, or the parts of London we travelled through on the way to St.Pancreas station.
The recent renovations have made it a modern station on the inside, with an old historic shell on the outside.
Just down the road was our hotel….. a classic converted Victorian residence converted into a small hotel, just like several others along the road, with a long steep staircase up to the rooms.
We drank, what must be the most expensive beer ever, at the station… Some R90-100 each…….. but they did go down well…….
After a walk around the King’s Cross area, we ended the day with some updates online.
Day 15 – Thursday – 24 November 2011 – London:
A nice English breakfast made a welcome change to the Continental breakfasts we were getting used to throughout Europe.
A Tube to Paddington Station confirmed that they are the most luggage unfriendly mode of transport that exists.
Our large suitcases were scanned into the luggage lockup facilities, so that we could go and take a open top bus tour of London. This way we got to see most of the sights of London, all in 3h30, with commentary through free earphones that you get as you board the bus.
Since Rene was flying earlier than the rest of us, to return to Holland for a long weekend, he had to get off near to the London Light rail to get to City airport and we continued enjoying the sights and info about London for the rest of the trip…… it definitely is a unique way of learning about a city and seeing all the main sights in a few hours.
Lunch at Paddington Station was in the form of doughnuts and coffee and after collecting our bags, we were on board the Heathrow Express on our way to the airport. This mode of transport might be a little more expensive than the Tube or a taxi, but is by far the easiest as there is space for luggage and you can sit… the Tube is not luggage friendly, so you end up standing all the way with the throngs of people all around you in and out at each station… and taxis tend to be frightened away by passengers who have a large suitcase with them…even more so if there are three passengers with 4 suitcases…..LOL.
A quick transfer at the airport saw us arrive at terminal 4, where we were to board a plane to Paris……… we were nice and early, so check in was not a hassle, even with the extra bag, for which we had to pay, as expected.
We were too early for the baggage drop, so we sat and enjoyed a nice cappuccino in the meantime.
After dropping off the baggage, we were off to security and passport control
The earlier was no problem for two of us, despite the shoes and belts off, change and cellphones in tray and laptop out too………… but, one of us had stuffed his backpack with various points crossovers and track in a certain smaller scale than ours. The security guys were alarmed at all this metal and insisted on rescanning it again and then placed it in the queue of items to be investigated further….. So that person had to patiently wait his turn and then unpack the entire bag for them to check what this was all about. In the end it was all OK, but we are sure the owners of that stuff had some tense moments………. The other two were meanwhile off doing some duty free shopping……
Off to Paris we were….on time and sad to be at the end of our trip, but at the same time glad to be heading home to loved ones…….
On arrival at Paris, we were faced with yet another security check point, and expecting hassles with the infamous small scale trackwork, we waited patiently to see if there would be hassles…….. again they rescanned the bag…. Then wanted it unpacked, but it only took one or two items for the officer to recognize modeltrain stuff (albeit the tiny variety…LOL) and the owner of the bag was allowed to proceed.
Off to the gate we went, only to be told the plane’s (Airbus A380) aircon was not working and there would be a delay
We parked on the floor (in the queue) and waited patiently.
Over an hour late, we boarded and took off heading home to Johannesburg.
Day 16 – Friday – 25 November 2011 – London to Paris to Johannesburg:
After a smooth flight we arrived in Johannesburg just around noon, and with no other international planes landed, we were through immigration fairly quickly and waiting at the carousal for our luggage.
This collected (and all bags arrived) we headed towards Customs….. in my mind there we thoughts of…. What if they stop us with all this modeltrain stuff……… what would we say????
But, we went through the “Nothing to declare – Green Route” and no-one even cast a glance in our direction and we were out, through the doors, met by our loved ones, glad to be home after what definitely has been, “A trip of a lifetime” for us
Closing remarks by writer:
I hope to have been able to share some of our experiences and events with you by way of this daily log and created enough envy for you, the reader, to consider, not whether, but rather when, you are going to embark on a similar journey.
This report of the travelers daily escapades was typed during their travels and may contain grammar and spelling errors due to varying levels of blood in their alcohol streams………
This is the final report and is supported (where possible) by photographic evidence in the gallery, which you can access here……..