Tip: cheap bus tickets (UK)

I just booked a ticket through National Express and spotted a way to get cheaper tickets (half price or less) depending on where you’re going. They currently offer what they call “funfare” prices on certain routes. The one I looked at was Cambridge to London. However, it’s quicker to get a bus to Stratford (halfway roughly) then then catch a tube the rest of the way.

However, Cambridge to London qualifies for a funfare ticket from £4 to £6 (normally £10 upwards). Cambridge to Stratford is £10.30 with no cheap options. What’s important, though, is that you can purchase the longer distance ticket – for less money – and hop off the bus early. This is allowed by the terms and conditions as long as you tell the driver when boarding to ensure your luggage is stowed conveniently.

So when booking a National Express ticket, if you’re planning to disembark partway along a major route then you should check the price for the full route and see if it’s cheaper than the segment you’re doing.

This correct at time of writing. I’m sure their offers change all the time.

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Not the best of weather

I managed to repack my bags and get everything safe and secure. On the Monday morning, Mike shook my hand goodbye as he had to get somewhere with internet to do some work and left me to sort my stuff out and freshen up for the journey to Tampere Airport and on to Frankfurt.

I’d been told by several people that hitching in Finland and the other Nordic countries is pretty painless and quick.

They were wrong. Certainly on this occasion.

Part of my problem was a dicky stomach, probably from enjoying myself too much over the previous few days without enough food or rest. Then the weather turned for the worst. Not just a little drizzle, but heavy downpours, scheduled for just when I was preparing to stick my thumb out.

After an hour, I threw my hitching notebook in a bin as it was soaked through. The next number 10 tram took me to the central railway station and I asked about public transport to the airport. Tourist Information told me I would have to get a bus or train to Tampere, and then another bus out to the airport. Tight for time, but just posible with some luck. Thing is, I was sure there was a direct bus from Helsinki so I asked again at the train ticket window.

The incredibly helpful woman there informed me that, yes, there was such a bus and it ran two times a day to fit in with the flight schedule. The one at 17:15 would get me to the airport just as check-in opened for the Frankfurt flight. It’s 2 1/2 hours and €25, but dry and comfy and sure to mean that I wouldn’t miss the flight. She also printed me out a full timetable, details of how to read it, and a map of where the bus picked up from.

While I was outside looking for the actual stop I spotted the 615 to Helsinki airport that I coudn’t find the other day. There are two bus parks at Helsinki railway on opposite sides of the building! After 10 minutes I still couldn’t find the stop for the service I was after and decided to get indoors and out of the rain until closer to departure time.

This I did and used the time to send off the usual postcards. At 17:00 I went back outside and looked again. This time I saw the right bus coming into view. It slowed down and pulled up at the other side of the square, away from the other buses. Had I not seen the bus itself I’d never have found the stop. The driver was fine and didn’t ask for any cash so that was even better.

I settled in, watched some Dead Zone on my PSP, listened to music, read and dozed on the trip up to Tampere.

When the coach arrived, a young woman jumped on board and yelled “somethingfinnishIdidn’tunderstandtickets25Euro!”

Ah, she wanted money. Thankfully I’d withdrawn cash as she wasn’t taking Visa. So I didn’t get the ride for free. Well, this is RyanAir after all.

RyanAir fly from terminal 2 up at Tampere Airport and… well. It’s the worst airport I have ever seen. It looks like a handful of pre-fabricated shells bolted together. Electric cabling is “tidied” out of the way with cheap guttering, paint is flaky, advertising posters are nailed directly to the walls, there’s nowhere near enough room for the crowds queueing, security takes an age, there’s no space at the departure gate… It’s horrible. I mean, I’ve been to some ugly, cramped, crappy airports, but Tampere really takes the biscuit.

Thankfully, due to the awful queues, by the time I got to the departure gate I only have 10 minutes to wait until boarding. I would like to point out that the staff themselves were exemplary from the check-in people to the security officers. It’s just the airport that sucks.

The flight itself was uneventful apart from some “mild” turbulence that felt like being shoved through a tumble dryer that was taking its own trip along a roller-coaster. The sunset as we headed south was magnificent – a burning, fiery red. And sadly on the other side of the plane so I couldn’t get a picture.

Frankfurt-Hahn was a different kettle of fish. Clean, bright, spacious, efficient, wonderful. Within 20 minutes (I think – my watch stopped working just before the plane took off) I was reunited with my rucksack and on the €12 coach to Frankfurt proper.

I knew which hostel to head for as I’ve been here before and checked myself in. A quick internet check and then bed to get up early and catch Hans arriving!

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Trying to leave

[this and the previous post kind of overlap timewise a bit – I was tapping this all up from memory!]

I now needed to figure out a way of getting west. I’d looked at the ferry, but that got me into Rostock at 10pm after a 25-hour journey. Not much use as I don’t know anyone in Rostock and didn’t have time to arrange anything. The price wasn’t too bad, though I’d have needed to load up on food for the long journey. Meal prices on board weren’t cheap.

So that left flying and having to resort to the loathed RyanAir. Who, I discovered, would not let me book a ticket for same-day travel unless I rang them direct (at a cost of €silly per minute). Especially annoying as the flight I was looking at didn’t take off until almost midnight so it was almost the next day anyway.

End result was that I had to book a flight on the Monday night instead of the Sunday. And from an airport 2 hours away. And into Frankfurt-Hahn, which itself is 2 hours’ from Frankfurt. Fortunately I already know of a good hostel there. And I’d be arriving around the same time as Hans would be coming in from Darfur, which would be a bonus – and a surprise for him!

Of course, this meant an extra night in Helsinki. After some discussion and checking of maps, it was decided that heading to Mike’s again would make more sense. He lives just off the main road that turns into the highway to Rovaniemi. A short tram ride a few stops north would be an ideal place to hitch, so Mike invited me over and I said my goodbye’s to Tiina.

That evening, Mike and I struggled to find anywhere open where we could watch Italy v Spain, but eventually located Bar 99 down the road from his. When we ordered our beer, Mike asked if they could turn up the volume a little on the TV, but the reply was negative. “Sorry, we have music on so I can’t really. It is all finished anyway.”

We looked confused. Kickoff had been 10 minutes earlier. “Finished?”

“Yes, finished. All the commentary is in finished.”


With quarter of an hour or so of the game gone, we nabbed a couple of comfy seats and settled back. In fairness, the music wasn’t bad. You can tell Finland has a much better musical culture than the UK when even a regular bar has AC/DC and Iron Maiden on the music loop.

Partway through the second half, a rather drunk guy asked if he could use one of the other spare seats as he was waiting for his friend. We politely said yes, and the guy spent about 10 minutes staring at Mike. Rather unnerving.

Eventually his friend appeared who was even more drunk and kept falling asleep in his seat, in between trying to make conversation in very drunken English. I had to act as translator as Mike’s New York-ian ear couldn’t quite get the gist of drunken Finglish. All very strange.

Our new friends left one by one just as the bat was calling last orders. Unfortunately the game had gone into extra time and we were kicked out (very politely, by the nice lady who was in charge) at midnight with the second half of extra time to go.

No worries, Mike has a Slingshot box in the US which forwards TV down his internet connection.

Only the wireless signal he uses in the apartment was FUBAR, so we couldn’t get online. And the neighbour who’s connection he uses (with permission) wouldn’t be up at midnight so we couldn’t get the router rebooted.

Eventually, we picked up another signal for long enough to watch Italy get hoofed out on penalties. Shortly after, that signal vanished as well. We resorted to that old method of communication – talking. Mike had managed to Skype his sister before the connection was dropped. A good thing as she’s just given him his first “blood” nephew (his others are from step-siblings), and Mike’s over the moon about it!

So with plans in place for the next day, I zipped myself into my sleeping bag and pondered about how I was going to swap all my luggage around to fit in with the blooming 15kg weight limit…

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