It's 29th July 2015, a very nice and warm day. Today I become an envoy for the EuropeBus.co.uk This time I decided to travel by the most famous among Poles living in the UK coach operator to their homeland - Sindbad.
I will be travelling from Northampton (East Midlands) to Pila (Wielkopolskie). My job is to check and experience the service that Sindbad provides.
It’s about twenty after noon. Until the arrival of my coach I have about twenty minutes. The stop in Northampton is a special bus bay meant for National Express coaches and other long-distance and tour operators. National Express and other coach services depart from Victoria Street which is located directly beside Upper Mounts car park.
The coach which I am waiting for does not begin its route from Northampton, its journey has already begun much earlier in one of the larger cities in the north of England or Scotland. Northampton is one of the final stops for this connection in the UK. The coach arrives on time, which is 12:40. With me to the coach step in a family of 4 and 2 couples. At the entrance a stewardess welcomes us, as well as two drivers who will deal with our luggages. The stewardess inspects all tickets and travel documents as well as indicates seats. After entering the vehicle I’m finding out that the coach will have a complete set passengers, so there won’t be an extra empty seat for me :( The stewardess is letting us know that the next and final stop for this coach will be in Luton, where the rest of the passengers will join us.
When travelling from the UK to Poland passengers must be prepared for interchanges, only a few will travel without changing vehicles. For interchanges there is no rule, because it depends on the streams of passengers on a given day. The coach which I am travelling with is from the UK to Elblag via Koszalin, Slupsk, Tri-City, so right from the start I know I would have to change vehicles along the way. However the actual interchange is not so terrible experience, but more on that in a moment…
My first change is taking place in Hythe by the M20 motorway. The coach does not have a scheduled stop at Hythe, but by the M20 service. The service has established separate bays for coaches. Here regular stops have various Eurolines links. The service’s building reminds quite a sizable modern station, of course free toilet, several bars, mini shops or bureau de change are at my disposal.
The coach I’m travelling with arrives as the fourth, we expect two more Sindbad’s coches to join us at Hythe for the intrchange. About changes all passengers will be notified when travelling by a stewardess who gives numbers of coaches passengers must change into. This is a short number not a registration plate :) but still you’ll get it on a slip. In Hythe the number of passengers travelling with Sindbad amazed me, about 200 people waiting for their coaches.
How the interchange in Hythe looks like?
For me as a passenger it's quite a simple task that I must do. I have to change from a coach A to a coach B. That's it. When travelling with Sindbad I do not have to worry about baggage carried in the hold. The crew will take care of it. Passengers have to move only hand luggages.
For the crew the interchange is not such a simple task. Heavy suitcases, backpacks and other luggage reload in Hythe drivers. Before the start of the journey drivers indicate luggages with the passenger’s name and surname, the route number and are color-coded. If while the interchange one of these elements does not match with the onboard report, the crew immediately responds and clarifies doubts. All these safeguards are intended to minimize the risk of loss of luggage, confusion or transfer it to the wrong vehicle.
Upon arrival of my “second” coach to Hythe I have to check in again with a stewardess, she re-assign me a new seat. This section of the journey will be more amazing for me, because my next coach is a double-decker Setra. I have always wanted travelling by the vehicle. You can say that my dream has come true. Okay I have to get back to the facts.
My personal data is re-checked and after boarding the stewardess again recalculates the passengers. If only one of the people who started the journey that day was not present on board, none of the coaches in Hythe will leave. All this to make the journey least stressful for passengers. As I wrote earlier; it is hard to go wrong or get lost during transfer operations. With the given information from the crew we all know when and to what bus should change.
The interchange took us 45 minutes. The Sindbads’ coaches are timed. Logistically this is a very complicated process, because the crew must also decide on changes to routes in special situations where, for example the route is extended due to longer passport control, traffic jams, if there has been failure of a coach or another coach is deleyed and probably other situations.
So for me this interchange is nothing extraordinary, something that I can call more opportunity to stretch my legs, some attraction during the long journey. However for the operator it is a major logistical undertaking, requiring the coordination of many coaches and all crew members at once.
What is the interchange in Świecko like?
The second interchange is taking place in Świecko near the border with Germany. This place is called Port Świecko. In this place Sindbad has its permanent transfer point (a mini-station) and this where is the largest accumulation of Sindbads’ coaches from various directions in Europe. Can be noticed coaches arriving from Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The stewardess is telling me that due to the increased tourist traffic I’ll have to change to another coach. I have to say goodbye to the beloved double-decker Setra. I have to admit that the trip was very enjoyable. This time my coach is the latest acquisition of Sindbad, a brand new Setra, which arrived from Paris today on the way to Suwalki via Gorzow, Pila, Bydgoszcz, Olsztyn.
The change is similar in nature to that of Hythe, while luggage here is not dealt by drivers but by Sindbads’ porters. Around me there are about 30 various coaches so it is logistically very big undertaking. Transfer takes about 60 minutes. The coach I will be travelling with is full to the maximum. At Port Swiecko each route of Sinbad’s has assigned a fixed place of stopping, so coaches to Belgium always will depart from stops ABC to England DEF, GHI Italy and so on.
Port Świecko offers a lot of facilities for passengers Sinbad: restaurants, exchange offices, toilets (paid) and shops like Carrefure.
Only Sindbad has an onboard crew!
I am delighted that Sindbad offers connections with the onboard crew. Only a small number of coach operators in Europe offer such a privilege to passengers. But whot the crew does?
The steward or stewardess “pilot or pilotka” in Polish is rather a journey manager and range of their responsibilities is enormous:
The main duty is to ensure the safety of passengers, ensuring that the journey is the least onerous. Greeting passengers, checking tickets and documents required for crossing borders, assigning seats.
During journeys they filling out documentation and writing travel reports, coordinating the route, communicating with crews of other coaches; participating in the organization of transfers. They also checking if the driver loses concentration and if drivers not exceed the permitted working hours or going the right way. They also announce the upcoming stops, answers questions from passengers, offer cold and hot drinks.
Travel and coaches
The coaches were comfy with a toilet and AC, a bit busier than I expected almost every seat was full with a range of different people that can be expected on a public coach service.
We left on time, having just one stop in Luton before entering the Hythe service. After about an hour driving we arrived at Folkestone where we were required to jump off the coach into a building for a passport check from the British and French police. After everyone was back on the coach it was a short 5 minute drive over onto the Eurotunnel’s train, while waiting to get on the train there was around 10 mins for smokers to get off and have a quick ciggy or others just to stretch their legs.
Then on to the train where you can get off the coach, but there are no shops or bars, only toilets are available.
The crossing took around 40 mins and we arrived in Calais at around 21:50 (CET +1) then it was back down on to the coach for the onward journey non stop for about 10 and 1/2 hours when we arrived in the Port Swiecko service station in Poland just behind the border to Germany, we had about 60 minutes to break with transfer. The coach service I took wasn’t stopping along the way, we just had 10 mins brakes every 4 hours.
We were due to arrive into Pila at 13:30 we arrived at 12:45. After getting your luggage from the hold your free to go.
Overall I'd recommend the service, but if you are a light sleeper you'll probably find out won't sleep very well.
If you have any questions which I haven't mentioned about please feel free to post and I'll respond ASAP.
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