The line from Shrewsbury to Cardiff is one of the great joys of the British railway network. As the train pulls away from a fine Victorian station, you bid farewell to Shrewsbury Abbey, then thread poetically through the Borders. The crowded uplands of "Little Switzerland" come and go on the right; forgotten, roofless agricultural relics lying abandoned in empty fields; and the Long Mynd Hotel celebrates 19th-century exuberance. The station names - Church Stretton and Craven Arms, Ledbury and Leominster - speak of a land bathed in tranquillity. But don't try the journey this morning.
Events can seriously distort the business of travel. The 11.23am from Shrewsbury will be packed by the time it leaves the Shropshire town. Besides the usual shoppers and families on days out, it will be full of Manchester United supporters keen to dodge the traffic converging on Cardiff for this afternoon's FA Cup final.
Conditions on board will steadily deteriorate as the little diesel multiple unit meanders south through Hereford and Abergavenny. Arsenal supporters with access to a road map and a rail timetable have clocked the fact that the train should, in theory, offer easy access to the Millennium Stadium in the Welsh capital. An early morning start from North London should land them at one of the sleepy rural stations of Herefordshire in time to find some free parking in the quiet country lanes. So by the time the train reaches Pontypool, expect your feet to stick to the floor courtesy of the freely flowing export-strength lager.
CONSIDER KIEV instead. Seats are still available on this morning's British Airways flight from Gatwick to the temporary capital of Eurovision and permanent capital of Ukraine. If you insist on joining the musicians and media folk on the plane home from the Euro-jolly tomorrow, the round trip will costs £861; but sit it out in Kiev and return on Tuesday and the fare shrinks to a reasonable £332 - and no need to pay £40 for a Ukrainian visa, since the tangled red tape (which previously involved taking postal orders to Ukraine's mission in London) has been scrapped for the Eurovision event, and the rest of the summer
KIEV IS probably on the radar for Liverpool supporters desperate to reach Istanbul for Wednesday's Champions' League final against AC Milan. Travel agents in North-west England are coming up with some inventive solutions to the dearth of seats between the UK and Turkey's largest city before and after the big match.
Some canny supporters have booked cheap package holidays to the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, whence Istanbul is a few hours' drive away. At least one Liverpool fan seems to have found a holiday to Syria, and aims to make his way along the road from Damascus.
Those who left it too late are resorting to more convoluted itineraries. Some are heading for Germany to pick up one of the many "Gastarbeiter" flights between the Federal Republic and Turkey. One particularly tortuous itinerary involves flying from Munich to the Turkish capital, Ankara, and boarding a bus for the seven-hour highway jostle back to Istanbul. A few misguided supporters, perhaps one page short of a European atlas, have opted to fly to Tirana. From the Albanian capital they face a long and difficult journey through Greece or Macedonia and Bulgaria.
A less arduous solution is to take tomorrow's BA flight from Gatwick to Thessalonika, returning a week later- still available at the time of going to press for £241. From Greece's second city you can take a slow train or a series of fast buses east. Towards the border with Turkey the traffic dwindles, but when I made the trip plenty of truck drivers seemed willing to pick up hitch-hikers.
The other challenge is to find a bed in Istanbul, but my usual pied-à-terre - the Ali Baba - still has double rooms available for the only mildly inflated rate of €75 (£53). You should not, however, place too much store in the hotel's promise that "one cannot imagine a more gorges [sic] location on earth".Reuse content