Olympics Party 2012

Let’s have an Olympics Party 2012.

On my way to Paris recently, I spotted these guys. It’s always fun to travel with exciting people (on my way to Rio in 2006 I flew with the cast of Dhoom 2) but I did wonder why they were heading away from London.

After going to Sicily by train and spending two weeks away, I expected to return to scenes of chaos, and perhaps even violence, with people passing out in crushes all over the place.

The reality was a barely populated Gatwick and an almost empty train to Blackfriars.

Blackfriars itself was empty. The one interesting thing to note about the above picture is that it’s taken from the only place you can see the platform number – right at the end of the platform – which means Network Rail need to add another sign.

That’s the point of interest at a train station during the Olympics? Platform signage?


Was London really so over-paranoid everyone’s hiding under their duvets at home? Forgive me, but I was actually kind of hoping to get a little involved. Our pitch video suggested we wanted to go out and have fun with the Olympics. Do let me know if I’m missing a trick. And if I’m not, can we make a party? Can Tripbod help?

I’m going to give this one a hashtag too – #olympicsparty. Get involved!

Virgin Trains ran the East Coast Mainline for a decade. Then suddenly FirstGroup won a bid at great expense to take over from Virgin. It made absolutely no business sense. This lead me to speculate that it was all a big conspiracy lead by the Department for Transport.

French Booking Agents Capitainetrain.com Beat the English Train Sites

We live in a World where we don’t need to learn a language to get what we want from a foreign service. We live in a world with Google translate. Worth it for French booking agents in this case. Aside from the hilarious possibilities this affords during sporting events such as #Euro2012 (see @kathviner‘s tweets in Swedish ), we can now translate pages of booking websites. This means that if France has a fab new site called capitainetrain.com I can see it in all it’s glory in English (I did German at school).

It’s still in Beta, so you have to be invited, but once you’re in it’s wonderful. You can even use it to book the Eurostar from London to Paris. And the site can hold the fare for you! (See my post about holding fares). No English site that I have found can do that. The only way to hold fares is to book via a travel agent such as International Rail.

Capitainetrain is beautifully simple. It also notes your age when you log in, so you don’t even need to select a youth fare if you are a youth.

Going to have fun with this one.

Sophie Collard on Google+

TFL London Talk About the London 2012 Olympics

Last week, David McNeill, the Director of Public Affairs and Stakeholder Engagement at TFL, gave an immensely amusing TFL London Talk about travelling around London during the Olympics. He was so funny I thought he should switch career and do comedy instead. Although, ‘I work for TFL and can promise everything is going to be fine,’ is probably a one off joke.

(Thanks Sue, for taking his picture)

As many of you know by now, there is a fantastic site called get ahead of the games, that, alongside some freaky illustrations, details everything you want to know about travelling around during the Olympics. The trouble is it can be a bit like having a menu that’s too extensive at a restaurant. So here are some important points to take away with you:

1. don’t drive through London during the Olympics. Pretty obvious perhaps, but the only people who will be getting anywhere quickly will be athletes, athlete’s families, authorised big-shots, and media types using special lanes on the ORN, or Olympic Route Network.

2. use the train to get to London and indeed other cities hosting events if you aren’t there already. Additional services will be running to places 2-3 hours outside London. Some will run until 1/1.30am. and if you haven’t booked tickets yet, do – because advanced fares are far cheaper than fares on the day. Incidentally if in or heading to London;

3. …get your Oyster card sorted and topped up now, to avoid silly queues at machines during the weeks of (fun) madness. The Oyster can be used on buses, the Underground, the Overground (far more spacious, cheaper and recommended tube alternative) and the DLR. If you have a Railcard you can add it to your Oyster card and shrink the fares alarmingly. Don’t tell anyone I told you, it seems to be a big TFL secret and I’m really enjoying my reduced rate.

4. avoid the Central Line like the plague. I do this on a day-to-day basis anyway because I enjoy what I have left of my sanity. Avoid Bond Street. Avoid London Bridge. If you can, avoid using the tube as much as possible. Check the hotspots. David says, ‘instead of waiting an extra half an hour on the platform, go down the pub for a beer. We have also negotiated cinema and restaurant deals for people who are working in London so that they can avoid the crush… it’s a better idea than it sounds. And don’t go on the central line.’

5. there are a couple of events that will be free. However, don’t go and see the Marathon unless you are mad. The Marathon doesn’t take the normal London Marathon route. David says, ‘ever seen one of those  Hollywood movies set in London with a big car chase that seems to take in every famous landmark from Buckingham Palace to Big Ben to the Tower of London in two minutes flat? Well the Marathon route is a bit like that. It runs five times round central London. We’ve worked out that there’s space for around 150,000 spectators. We are expecting over a million. So that could be quite a difficult one. If you want to go, don’t expect to be able to use the toilet, don’t take the children, and take lots of water. Because basically otherwise you’ll dehydrate and your children will die.’

And then David finishes his TFL London Talk with, ‘anyway in summary it really will be okay – the public transport system is going to hold up, it will be alright, and soon we’ll be joyfully celebrating the 150th year of the Tube.’

Sophie Collard on Google+

How to Keep Cheap Eurostar Tickets

I’m in the middle of booking a holiday to Sicily at the moment. Naturally I want to get cheap Eurostar tickets for the first bit of the journey. The journey will go from London to Paris then Paris to Milan, Milan to Naples and Naples to Palermo – as discovered initially with the help of Loco2’s excellent Engine Room, where the team will answer questions about train journeys all over the place, with a wealth of knowledge and information.

I’ve got an InterRail pass, courtesy of Rail Europe which will cover many of the local trains in France and Italy – but for the high speed trains and overnight trains, bookings will have to be made at a reduced pass holder rate. This is fine by me, as it’s still pretty cheap this way – the most expensive train will be the sleeper from Naples to Palermo and that’s only £29 with a youth global pass.

Frustration only entered the booking process when – as I was trying to work out which trains needed to be reserved in Europe – the Eurostar fare from London to Paris went up in front of my eyes, from £38 to £56. This was a blow because the price of the train fare was edging closer to the price of the EasyJet flight from London to Palermo. And I didn’t want that. I wanted trains to win.

On looking up the price of the flight I was happy to discover that even with the increase in the Eurostar fare, it would still be about £80 more expensive to fly. But I was still distressed by the fare increase. So I tweeted about it.

At that point my lovely friends at International Rail, asked if I’d like them to search the fares and reservations I’d need, as well as finding the best available Eurostar fare. I was filled with feelings of warmth towards them, and said yes.

Not only did they find all the trains I’d need to book in Europe, BUT told me they could hold the Eurostar fare at £53. And they could hold it for a week. So even if the fares went up mine would not.

While I’d always advocate booking as far in advance as possible (see my post on the Caledonian Sleeper) this is a great option when you need a few hours, or days, to sort out other bookings.

And so, in the future – when I see a great Eurostar fare I’m not quite ready to book – I’ll be straight on Skype to International Rail asking them to hold the cheap fare for me. And then I will win. And you can win too.

Sophie Collard on Google+

A Suitcase That is a Backpack

Recently I agreed to review a suitcase that is a backpack because I thought it would be pretty cool to have a suitcase that is a backpack. All I would have to do was blog about the suitcase that is a backpack and it would be mine. Magic. At first I was enamoured with my suitcase that is a backpack…

See that gaze? That is what I look like when I’m in love.

But soon I found because the straps were flappy, one was catching under the right wheel. There was a near straptastrophe. I was devastated. I wheeled my suitcase that is a backpack to the top of stairs and had to carry it like my regular suitcase, which I am also enamoured with – but because it makes me look important, and I am very important, not because of its utility.

It is true I could have put the straps in their strap pocket whenever I wanted to wheel the thing – but this would defeat the point of the slick ground-to-back-in-seconds joy that having a suitcase that is a backpack is supposed to give.

I still pine for a suitcase that is a backpack which seamlessly incorporates straps that don’t catch under wheels. It would be great for all my train journeys. But I’m not that bothered.

 This post is quite blatantly sponsored, in this case by Sports Direct.

Sophie Collard on Google+

Ghost Hunting Underneath Bristol Temple Meads

On a weekend in May, Dusk Till Dawn Events organised a ghost walk. The walk explored the vaults underneath Bristol Temple Meads, which I’d wanted to see for some time. Prospective ghost hunters were greeted by Sue, her husband Mike and the rest of the Dusk Till Dawn team.
‘So I hear a medium is coming along tonight,’ I said.
‘Yes, that’s me. Mike and I are mediums.’ Sue replied.
The assembled ghost geeks – plus a blonde pink-jumper wearing ex-Big Brother winner – went into Exeter House, a building in front of the station…

Sue gave everyone an introduction before we left for the tunnels (that isn’t a ghost behind her).


The entrance to the tunnels could be seen below the entrance to Temple Meads, which looked more foreboding than usual.

The mediums said they saw a few ghosts while we were down there – a drunk who had ‘choked on his own vomit,’ a little boy with a flat cap who had died a horrible death with his family…

We found a creepy ladder

And after a break there was a chance to use some ghost catching equipment

Most of the walk was conducted in the pitch black. The tunnels were musty. There were empty crates that used to hold wine that had been there since the 50s.

There was some ‘table-tipping’ at the end which saw everyone place their fingers on a table top, and the table move ‘of its own accord.’ A chair broke at the same time the table fell over and the lady sitting on it said, ‘either I’m a fat cow or it was the ghosts!’
It was a long night from 9.30pm – 3am but I think it would make for a good exclusive birthday party – that way you’d be with your friends, rather than strangers who so desperately wanted to see ghosts they kept shouting at them.

The access the team get to some of the places in Britain that would normally be closed to the public is impressive. The opportunity to explore the vaults underneath Temple Meads is very rare.

The team do, however, explore many interesting old buildings at night and any one of these experiences is worth a go have a look at their website to see what’s on next.

The trip was made possible by Nora at Visit England, Dusk Till Dawn Events, First Great Western (who were exceedingly helpful) and my mother, who allowed me to stay in her house for free.

Epidemic the Old Vic Tunnels

This week I’ve visited the tunnels beneath Bristol Temple Meads (which you will hear about soon) for a ghost tour, and those beneath Waterloo station to watch a play called Epidemic. Epidemic the Old Vic Tunnels is playing all of this week, which is Mental Health Awareness week. If you arrive at 6pm you can get hold of returns and the show is FREE. Epidemic brings together members of the community as well as actors. It follows a boy who has stopped taking his medication making a break for it, taking with him an elderly woman and an overweight man who have decided to go with him.

A close up of the lead actor in Epidemic at the Old Vic Tunnels

Copyright of Guilherme Zühlke O’Connor

The entrance is within the Graffiti Tunnel…

Graffiti Tunnel outside Epidemic at the Old Vic Tunnels

The Graffiti Tunnel is a dedicated space in London where people are allowed to graffiti. Some of it’s rubbish, some is good. It’s all relative though I guess.

Epidemic the Old Vic Tunnels

I like those blurred lines… right by the Epidemic poster

Inside Epidemic at the Old Vic Tunnels

The Old Vic Tunnels are so atmospheric. You could get married in them if the air less musty.

The musical is both uplifting and inspiring.

Copyright of Guilherme Zühlke O’Connor

One of the fantastic things about having people who are part of the community in it, is that they are genuinely excited to be there. The overweight man is really fantastic. It’s funny – the parody of busy Londoners and of Twitter users is wonderful. It uses some lovely visual effects, particularly in the beach scene. The idea of the hero being somebody with mental ill health is empowering – something those of us who watched Homeland may have felt. I’d like to see the play tour the UK – but am aware there would need to be a lot of funding put into taking the project to that scale. Here’s hoping.

Here’s one of the Mental Health Awareness week posters…


Sophie Collard on Google+

Behind the Scenes at Blackfriars

All in orange at Blackfriars

This is what I’d look like if I was part of the team constructing the new Blackfriars station, which was opening 19th May 2013. I’d like to thank Network Rail and First Capital Connect for allowing me the chance to do this. (And to Ham for taking the picture).

The new station has taken three and a half years to complete. The bridge has been made wider, and there are four platforms. There will be new carriages 50% longer than their predecessors. And there will be more services that are more direct.

Barges were used to transport 14,000 tonnes of materials during the build, saving 2000 lorry journeys.

The views from the station are spectacular with the Shard and Tate from one point and St. Paul’s the other…

(the weather can’t be helped).

The interior is light and airy, and there are solar panels covering the roof…