A greener way? Our Head of Programme, Malin Bergström, shares her overland journey from Brussels to Oslo to attend the Spring Days of the Finnish Cultural and Academic Institutes.
As Head of Programme at the Institute I have taken on various types of journeys both physically from cities to cities and countries to countries, and mentally from the seeds of project planning to the fruits of realised projects. These days the focus on green thinking and sustainable travel options have become part of many institution strategies, and online groups holler about how easy it is to get away from the endless security check queues at the airports, and onto a seat by the window, watching an endless landscape floating by. Travel by land from Finland to Brussels is a route many of our participating artists and collaborators prefer and promote, and as the Finnish Institute network’s annual spring days were coming up in Oslo – I too decided to undertake a journey by land to Norway, to try and see if the train tracks indeed trump the flight path.
Brussels to Oslo marks a significant journey by land, one that for well sustained travellers may seem easy, but for a cultural worker whose goal is merely to get to a slightly longer meeting, perhaps somewhat bonkers. After some research, two days of travel seemed the most realistic option, with a schedule consisting of the following route:
Train from Brussels Midi station to Cologne in Germany: travel time approx 2 hours with a layover of approx 1 hour; before getting on a train from Cologne to Hamburg: travel time approx 4,5 hours with a layover approx 1 hour 15 minutes; and finally onto a train that took me from Hamburg to Copenhagen in Denmark: travel time approx 5 hours, and a lovely sleep at a Copenhagen hotel before embarking on the second day of travel. Time spent onboard: 11,5 hours.
Train from Copenhagen to Malmö in Sweden, approx 40 mins, with a layover of about 30 mins; train from Malmö to Gothenburg, approx 2,5 hours, with a layover of 30 mins; before finally a bus from Malmö to Oslo, Norway, lasting about 3,5 hours. Time spent onboard: 6,5 hours.
This route would mean a start at 7 am from my flat in Brussels, arriving at 10 pm on the first day in Copenhagen, and a start at 11 am the following day before arriving in Oslo at 6.30 pm. That is a lot. Other things I was fretting about included not making my connections, having to run with luggage, not finding the right platform, not having time to eat, no or disgusting toilets on the trains, not finding my hotel and getting murdered on the brutal streets of Copenhagen in the dead of night. The usual scenarios going through a neurotic control freak’s mind.
In the end, I prepared for all scenarios (well, not so much the murder part, because who has the time?) by booking trains with long-but-not-too-long layovers, wearing comfortable clothes and shoes I can run in, and pack light (well, what would be considered for me light) in a bag that I can run with, prepared work that I was able to do on the journey (these too were easy and simple tasks – including project planning and to-do list making), packed a light lunch with snacks (nuts and seeds are your best friends), downloaded some easy watching on my Netflix app, and went in knowing that at any point the connection chain might break due to a hiccup on the road and telling myself that it would be okay. There are always solutions, even if they have to be planned on the fly.
And what happened? Well, it went rather smoothly. Some of my trains were a little delayed, but only by minutes here and there, which did not affect the travel chain as a whole. I had a moment of panic when I could not find my platform in Cologne, but one sometimes has to put away one’s social anxiety and simply ask for help. I had another mini panic on the train to Hamburg, as it moved slowly and my Maps app gave me a fright that we were severely delayed – until I noticed that the app only gave me the information concerning regional trains and not the super train I was currently sitting in. Even had time for a hamburger in Hamburg. The final stint on the train to Copenhagen got me a little restless, but in the end – also quite manageable.
The following day was shorter and was smooth running from beginning to end. The bus in Gothenburg was a little late, but nothing too bad. It was annoyingly cramped though, but knowing that I’d soon reach my destination, I could power through with the help of my Spotify list, humming away and staring at the changing landscape from my window seat, until we got to Oslo.
So, was it worth it? Worth it is perhaps a bit of a rich expression to use here, but certainly doable. The costs ended up cheaper than expected, except for the hotel in Copenhagen, which was bordering on ridiculous in my opinion – but when you arrive after such a long journey, you don’t want to be bargain hunting over comfort and location (or get murdered by those murderous Danes). I don’t think I would have it in me to do the return journey the same way, but hey, who knows? I was sceptical of this journey, and that turned out okay. And nothing really beats the ever changing landscapes flowing by hypnotically in the window.
Interesting to note: barely any ticket checks, but two passport controls (to Denmark and Norway). From an old traveller in Central Europe, where you hop on and hop off international trains like local trams, this was almost an exotic event back to olden non-EU times.
Important to note: my comments about being murdered by those murderous Danes are, of course, sarcastic. I felt very safe during my stay in Copenhagen. I’m pretty sure they are not very murderous.
Tips for travel by land for work:
- Don’t do too schedule too many connections per day, but try and do longer journeys with an overnight stay (and keep that at a comfortable distance from the next journey point)
- Book connections with a reasonable layover time
- Get some basic insurance in case of cancellations – I found that these were not too expensive and usually were offered as an addition to the ticket
- Keep your tickets printed and in order (I even numbered mine according to usage), collect them in a folder so they are easy to access
- Book a seat on every train! Some trains were full and you do not want to be standing for three hours on a 10 hour journey
- Charge all your devices prior to the trip and everywhere you can while travelling. Get a powerbank and keep it charged
- Prepare stuff to do on the train – easy and light tasks that don’t necessarily require internet (as the connection will be patchy at times).
- I recommend light laptops and similar – you don’t want to be lugging a brick of a computer around
- If the journey is long, wear comfortable clothes. I wore essentially pyjamas the whole journey, foregoing my beloved eye make-up to minimise irritation from dry air and early mornings
- Good shoes, in case you do have to run to your connection
- Good travel bag/back-pack, in case you do have to run to your connection
- Prepare a light lunch that is easy to carry. Nuts and seeds are good to snack on. Make sure to have water with you.
- Prepare for entertainment – series you can watch, books and journals you can read or peruse, music you can listen to. None of us are machines and there is no use in exhausting yourself, if you can also just sit back and relax
- Go in with a sense of adventure – think opportunity rather than challenge. Let the train tracks lead you to where you need to be.