Djangocon by train (plus travel tips)

Tags: djangocon

I’m busy packing my bags right now. One large backpack and my regular laptop backpack. And a small money belt.

  • The laptop bag is what I use daily. Going to a conference practically forces me to empty it out completely. Only time during the year that it happens. So that’s a good thing.

    During the conference, I use it for my laptop, power cable, the programme, a water bottle and my jacket. For conferences, you often walk quite a bit through a city, so a proper backpack is way preferrable.

    During travel, this is what I use for everything I need to have handy, like extra snacks, a book, earphones, the printed-out hotel booking, etc.

  • The large backpack is for my spare clothes, spare book, tooth brush. The regular stuff. I much prefer a big backpack to some trolley on little wheels I have to drag behind me. It might not look so “standard”, but that doesn’t matter much to me. It is simply more practical.

    Though, I must confess, the combination of two backpacks naturally leaves a little bit to be desired :-)

  • The money belt is actually not the belt-around-the-waist type, but a small flat bag that hangs from my belt, on the inside of my trousers.

    This is where I keep my passport. And other valuables I don’t need. And I split everything up. If I leave the Euro zone, all my Euros go into the money belt and out go the Pounds or whatever.

    I normally leave some bigger notes in the money belt so that the wallet isn’t too full. When travelling, I normally exchange a bit more money (beforehand) than I know I’ll need. And I pay a little extra to be allowed to change it all back at no cost afterwards. So I have more paper money on hand than I am used to carry: that’s where the money belt comes in handy.

    To make extra sure, I normally put my credit card in my wallet and the regular bank card in the money belt (or the other way around, depending on the country’s money system).

A very practical tip: have everything in a standard location. When you switch trains, you sometimes fear you’ve forgotten something. You know, that one-second “oh no!” panic.

I always travel with the two abovementioned bags. That takes only half a second to count. Then a quick pat on my left breast pocket: that is where I always have my wallet. And a quick pat to re-assure me the money belt is still in place. Within one second, I know for sure I have everything.

Now to the main subject. Yes, I’m traveling by train. This is the sixth I go to and I’ll have a 100% train score. Some comments:

  • I’m from the Netherlands. Train services are good here, but we sure don’t scrape the surface of the French (TGV) or German (ICE) high speed networks.

  • There’s nothing wrong with the possibilities for air travel from where I live. Within one hour from my door step, I’m at Amsterdam’s “Schiphol” airport. You cannot wish for a much better airport with better connections, basically. That’s not the problem.

  • I like trains. That’s why I look at long-range train travel as a suitable way of transport. The default way is to just take the airplane. Just like it is the default way to have a trolley bag (with small wheels) in tow like all your fellow travellers (and I have a backpack).

  • I often drop a comment in one of my blog posts about the conference that I took the train. Invariably, multiple people ask me about it at the conference. Taking the train is a weird thing. “How long does it take”, “why do you do it”, “is it about the environment”.

    Taking a train from the airport to the location is fine, but travelling all the way by train… that’s apparently weird.

  • No, I don’t do it for the environment. At least, that’s not the main reason. I’ll be honest: the main reason I do it because I like trains. Simple as that.

    Taking the train is something that’s very good for the environment, nonetheless. The non-damage I did to the environment by not taking the plane to the previous five conferences probably paid for any environmental transgression I might commit in the rest of my life.

    Not owning a car and doing everything by public transport and (recumbent) bicycle also helps a lot keeping my ecological footprint down. I’ll grant that I’m lucky to have a bus stop 8 meters from my house with a 15 minute frequency, so I’m positively spoiled. If you live in the middle of nowhere with three busses a day, you don’t have a choice but to own a car.

    Disclosure: I eat meat, so that destroys quite a bit of my environmental friendliness. And I live in the rich rich rich West, so whatever I pull out out of my house’s electricity sockets is probably in excess of many people’s environmental impact…

    I found it very interesting that the current Cardiff conference puts so much stock in social responsibility. See . Wow! Note that one of the things mentioned on that page is about travel. Many of our attendees will be travelling long distances, many of them by air. We encourage travellers to consider some of the alternative means to air travel..

  • How much time does it take? Well, the Amsterdam conference was cheating: it took me half an hour by train :-) I live in the Netherlands, near to the central railway hub of Utrecht.

    Berlin was quite close. 6 hours or so, I’d say. Warsaw took the most time, 12 hours if I remember correctly. The rest was in-between. Zürich was great: I specifically picked a train that took me through the “Loreley” part of the Rhine valley. There aren’t many train trips in the EU that can beat that! (The trip though the Austrian Alps via Innsbruck towards Slovenia towards a non-python conference did beat it, but that’s the only long trip I can think off right now).

    Going to the south of France last year was 10 hours of basking in the glories of French high-speed railway engineering.

    Going to Cardiff takes about 10 hours. Just take the train from the Netherlands to Brussels, then the Eurostar through the channel tunnel towards London and then the direct train to Cardiff. In London you need to walk a bit between two stations (or take the Tube). Apart from that: easy as pie. Going through the 50km channel tunnel gives a special feeling. So long a tunnel is quite special. It is the thirth time I use it (times two, for the return journey, of course). One meeting during my PhD and the 2009 Europython in Birmingham.

  • You get a much better feel for the countries you’re travelling through. Instead of flying over it at 10km elevation, you can watch from the comfort of your train window at ground level. The train runs slower than an airplane flies. But in the end, you’re mostly exchanging “looking at the country side from a comfortable train seat” for “cramped small airplane seat” and “looking at the queue at the unattractive airport”, right?

  • I must admit to having a first class ticket this trip. I’m normally quite content with a regular second class train ticket, but sometimes when the booking system already shows a train as very crowded, I see that as a good reason to ask our secretary for a first class ticket.

    Note that the Eurostar is also a good reason for a first class ticket. The train is often quite full. And the UK has smaller trains due to the UK’s quite limited loading gauge. That wikipedia page I linked says it like this: Great Britain has (in general) the most restrictive loading gauge (relative to gauge) in the world. This is a legacy of the British railway network being the world’s oldest, and it having being built by a plethora of different private companies, each with different standards for the width and height of trains.

    This means that the Eurostar is a little bit less wide than regular EU trains. So seats are less wide, too…

    Luckily, the first class prices on trains are relatively much cheaper than the more expensive airplane tickets are to the standard airplane economy tickets :-) So with a good reason, the extra fee is no problem. Especially as I normally say that the second class ticket is fine.

  • An additional conference-related advantage: you don’t need to run away halfway the last day of the conference or the sprints to catch your airplane. If you travel such distances by train, you have to take a morning train. So you have to stay the whole last day. Less stress that way :-)

Anyway… I’m going to enjoy my train trip tomorrow. Apparently the Belgians aren’t on strike this week (they originally planned to…). And I think the work on the Dutch railway system won’t give me any delays tomorrow.

If you see the conference summaries coming in on monday morning, you’ll know that I survived it all :-) logo

About me

My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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