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Travel Tales Episode 8: A day trip to Amsterdam AND Bruxelles part 1
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Episode 8: A day trip to Amsterdam AND Bruxelles part 1

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I won’t mention the name of the establishment where I resided in Koln, it may have been transformed for the better since I stayed there.
First impressions count for a lot in a hotel and on entering my chosen establishment, two young women were smoking in the street outside, but I didn’t pay them any attention and joined a fairly lengthy queue at Reception.
A few minutes later these same two women took their place behind the desk, they’d evidently decided that having a ciggie break was further up the priority list than looking after their guests!

But the hotel did have one big plus, it was located right by a station used by a frequent service of S-Bahn local trains to and from Koln Hbf station; and Eurail and InterRail passes can be used on these trains.

I was back at Koln Hbf the city’s main station, the clue is in the name, by 08:00 because today I was going to push my InterRail pass to its limits and my day trip included both Amsterdam and Bruxelles.
Admittedly my day’s quest would be regarded by many as somewhat eccentric behaviour, but my exploits were proving that rail passes can enable you to travel further in a single day than most would suppose.
If time is limited, particularly on a once in a lifetime Eurail adventure, it’s feasible to travel from Koln to Amsterdam to see a museum or two, before going on to Brussels to have some beers on the Grand Place and then be back in Koln long before midnight.

Pretending to be a train driver...

As on 99.9% of the routes taken by ICE trains I didn’t need to reserve a seat and I’d assumed, correctly this time around, that this second train of a Sunday morning to Amsterdam wouldn’t be particularly busy.
I found a seat at the end of the train located behind the driver in one of the slightly odd ‘lounges’ that can be found at either end of an ICE 3 train; one for 1st class passengers and one for 2nd class.
The seating areas in these lounges can feel a tad more cramped than the standard seating saloons, but they have one feature, which can lure a transport admirer like me towards them like a moth to a flame , namely the opportunity to have a thrilling driver’s eye view of the route ahead!

The lounges found at both ends of the ICE 3 (403 and 406) trains

If the prospect of pretending you’re a train driver doesn’t wow you then ignore these lounges, you’ll have a more comfortable journey if you sit elsewhere.
But if it does, take a seat and hope that the driver doesn’t want to get on with their job without being gawped at by a train travel fan.
These lounges have a bullet-proof wall of glass, which separates the driving cabin from the passenger seating area, but if a driver doesn’t want to be seen going about their business, they can opt to mist this glass.
More often than not, they choose to do so, but this time I was in luck.

The train journey between Koln and Amsterdam is largely devoid of scenic highlights, a rolling landscape being hard to come by in The Netherlands, so I figured the driver’s eye view would at least provide something interesting to see for the next 2hrs and 45 mins.

...but not at high speed:

Soon after departure a person wearing a DB uniform entered so I attempted to show them my rail pass when actually what they wanted to know was whether I wanted breakfast.

A benefit of travelling 1st class on ICE trains is this at seat service, you can request virtually any item available in the bar car to be brought to you by the catering attendant.
Though travellers from the UK in particular should be aware that none of the items you ask for are complimentary; in Britain the food and drink available in 1st class on most long distance trains is included in the ticket price.

I was on a high speed train, but I wasn’t travelling at high speed, the ICE had travelled on Germany’s fastest high speed railway (HSR) from Frankfurt to Koln, but as is the case on many routes taken by ICE trains, it was spending a large chunk of its journey on conventional tracks.
A key factor in the selection of the location of Germany’s HSRs was to provide straight line alternatives to routes which curved around hills, to then give a double benefit to journey times of faster trains and less distance to be travelled.
There are no hills between Koln and the Dutch border, instead there are a string of large towns which would have driven the costs of construction of a HSR to unjustifiable levels.

It also takes less than three hours to travel from Koln to Amsterdam, reducing a longer journey time to around 3hr 30mins has proved to be a tipping point from air to rail, so that justification also doesn’t apply to this particular route.

What DB has also no doubt realised, is that on this route it is the opportunity to travel anywhere on a train as fabulous as the ICE 3, which provides an incentive to make a train journey.
From Duisburg I was sharing the front of train lounge with a family making a day-trip to Amsterdam, and discovered that a key factor in their choosing train over car for their excursion, was the opportunity to travel on an ICE 3.

A class 1. seating lounge on the 407 variant  of an ICE 3 train

Personal preferences and one’s erm dimensions are obviously factors regarding how comfortable a train is or isn’t, but I think I’m on safe ground in declaring that ICE 3 trains have a rare quality of having a wow factor both externally and internally.
Something that can be appreciated at no extra charge by Eurail and InterRail pass users; as long as they can find a seat.

Author

Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.

ShowMeTheJourney

This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.