All aboard the Choo Choo train

Train travel is so special – sometimes.  I can hear people groaning – the ones who travel the C Train every day downtown.  Well I am not really talking about that kind of train travel. I am talking about this kind of train travel.

The Jacobite  rail-rovos_1384939i

Now that’s what you call a train.

There is something very romantic about the clackety clack of the wheels and the sway of the train while the countryside goes rushing past.  It’s civilised.  Not like flying.  Hurtling through the air in a pressured metal tube squashed up against complete strangers who hog the armrest.  We all know that is not fun – it is a means to an end.

Train travel however is different.  It is mostly about enjoying the journey and seeing the scenery – except if you are on one of those super high speed trains.  I must confess it makes me rather nervous to think about it.  I have done the Eurostar under the English Channel – 300 km per hour!  A lot of this is under the sea of course going through a tunnel.  The countryside does flash by rather quickly but it is still an elegant way to travel.  Takes you from the heart of London to the heart of Paris in 2 hours and 15 minutes.  Plus you get a proper seat and if you upgrade – enjoy a lovely lunch with wine.  Yes – that is the way to travel.

You might think that is fast – but it is not the fastest in the world.  Far from it!  The fastest train in the world is the Shanghai Maglev Train from Shanghai airport to a metro station on the outskirts of the city.  It takes just 7 minutes to do 30 kms and travels at a scary speed of 431 km per hour.

Now most of the train trips I have done in Europe have been fairly short – maybe a couple of hours.  Just enough time to enjoy a glass of wine and a snack.  However I do remember very long train journeys when I was a child in England.  My father was in the Royal Navy and so we had to travel around a lot – often from one end of England to the top of Scotland.  Those were long long journeys and when our train tickets arrived at the house in the envelope marked OHMS (On Her Majesty’s Service) they were not first class.  😦  And so we learned how to take our own lunch on the trains and how to sleep on uncomfortable seats.

However if you do decide to sleep on a train you can do it without breaking the bank.  It’s like being a kid again – you get a bunk bed!

sleeper

Now – imagine – you can have that age old fight.  Which is better – top or bottom?  And why?

But if you are a serious train buff then there are some incredible journeys you can do by train.

Loch Fyne

Beautiful Scotland with some fabulous stops to Oban and Bute … castles and mountains.  This is definitely on my bucket list – beautiful countryside – a mix of ship and coach and then this incredible train

scotrail-west-highland-line-loch-awe-c-mcnab

Or what about this – Switzerland – where the trains always run on time.

jungfrau express

I am not kidding.  I was in Switzerland and had a rather tight connection between two trains – about 7 minutes.  I found the Station Master and asked him what would happen if my train was late.  He looked at me as if I was a blithering idiot.  “Trains are not late in Switzerland” he said sternly.

sorry

And if you want something really different – how about a train journey in India – this is definitely my most favourite and having visited India once by coach tour it is top of my list.

India Palace on Wheels

And no – you won’t have to sit on the roof or hang off the side of the train (although I guess you could if you wanted to). Instead you will ride the rails in the lap of luxury on this beautiful heritage train.

palace on wheels bedroom

Palace on wheels lounge

Wow … I could totally do that.

 

 

 

 

 

Sleeping in airports

Sometimes you have a long connection ….. a really really long connection.  So what are you choices?  You can walk around the airport for hours looking at the different shops and duty free items – all rather overpriced if you ask me.  You could go into one of those lounges where you pay for admission and can only be there for a maximum time of, I believe, four hours.  Really when you are in the lounge you just get a seat to sit in, maybe some comp food and drink – but nothing that amazing.  Sometimes the lounges are so full that it can be hard to find a seat and especially difficult to find something private.  I don’t know about you but I am a bit paranoid about just having a sleep in an airport in a public place.  Also it is pretty hard to grab a quick kip when there are announcements, lights and lots of talking around you.

The best option is a day room.  Used to be quite hard to find a day room.  In the old days many of the hotels would be located outside of the terminals of major airports but in the last few years there are more in terminal airports – still quite hard to find a day room.  You usually have to check directly with the hotel although there are some sites that specialize just in day room bookings.  And then there are hotels and …. hotels.  A friend who just booked a day room at the Miami airport told me that it was pretty mediocre and, well, just felt “grubby”.  Not cheap either.

There are more choices these days and on this trip I had a long layover at Amsterdam airport so decided to try out the Yotel.  Quite a good little operation.  They call the rooms cabins – no windows to the outside world – very small and snug – but private bathroom with a shower and tv, free high speed internet and free coffee and tea available from Mission Control – that’s right – not reception 🙂

So we checked into the Yotel in a premium cabin.  Now it is interesting because my assessment and my husband’s assessment were completely different. I thought it was great.  I loved that everything was modern and clean, crisp sheets on the bed, rain shower in the bathroom.  He found the room a bit too claustrophobic and didn’t like the shower.  I guess he had a good point – there was no distinguishable difference between the floor of the shower and the floor of the bathroom so perhaps a slight lip might have been helpful.

Now the room is designed that the bed actually looks like a sofa and the controls are on the side of the bed to operate a sliding system to open the bed out.  I guess these people didn’t read the instructions – take a look at the video.  It could have been us.

Hi tech bed antics at Yotel

We checked in at 9 am and checked out at 4 pm.  I took my Jammie’s in my carry on so was able to get really comfy and slept for hours.  The room was really quiet and dark.  Worked perfectly for me.  Up at 3 pm for a shower, into fresh clothes and I was ready to go.

UMMMM –  until I got to the gate and saw my flight was THREE HOURS DELAYED ….. aaaargh – but that is another story.  The journey to Morocco continues.

A helping hand for kids in Zimbabwe

Amanda is checking out Botswana and Victoria Falls.  When she returns I would love to have an African evening where we discuss some of the differences between Southern and East Africa as this is one of the most common questions we get asked when people are planning a vacation to Africa.  With our focus being Africa we have ensured that our specialists have personal experience of lodges and hotels in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Tanzania.   Kenya still on the to do list!

I just wanted to share Amanda’s latest post from her blog – this is something to think about for your next trip to Africa.

When planning this trip Jen and I had decided that we wanted to give back to the local community. I asked my colleague Lindsay who was from Zimbabwe for some help with this project. She put me in touch with her sisters friend Sue who is on the board of trustees for the Victoria Falls […]

via A little can go a long way — Amanda’s Travel Addiction

zim falls

Don’t feed the seagulls

There is nothing quite like the squawking of seagulls to get that next-to-the-sea feeling (unless of course you are talking about the area around the Calgary dump).

Sometimes however it would be nice to have seaside without gulls – that’s certainly the view of visitors and locals in Perth, Australia.  The gulls are so bad there that the owner of the restaurant has armed visitors with water pistols to drive away the pesky birds.

Looks quite fun actually – and it certainly doesn’t hurt the seagulls.

The problem is seagulls are actually quite fussy creatures and seem to thrive in more populated up market areas.  I guess the pickings are better than hovering out over the cliffs where you might just pick up the odd fish, rat or bird’s egg.  Hanging around a more prosperous suburban locale the seagulls become stronger, more numerous and actually rather spoilt.

Teagull_F09AFG_3580664b

Having these creatures around rather spoils some of those special moments that we all crave on holiday.  Many people worry about insects and other creepy crawlies when they travel but I suspect that not many people worry about the seagulls.  I can remember sitting on the balcony of my room overlooking Plettenberg Bay.  We had ordered breakfast in the room – on our balcony – BIG MISTAKE!  I didn’t even see him coming.  He swooped in from high up with nary a flap of a wing and before I knew it …. there went my bacon!

This guy knows what it feels like.

gull thief

They don’t seem to have any fear – these gulls.

woman-attacked-by-hungry-seagull

In fact experts say the rise in seagull attacks is because the birds have overcome their natural fear of humans through years of living in close proximity to us.  They also like to hog the limelight and will do anything to ruin a photo op.

titanic

Yep – these seagulls get everywhere and in Britain there are even articles with advice on how to stop seagulls ruining your holiday.  They are regarded as even more annoying than wasps.  But sometimes their greedy nature gets them into trouble – like this one that fell into a vat of curry ….

curry seagull

“I had a pelican curry the other night. Tasted ok but the bill was enormous.”

(Sorry – couldn’t resist that!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a hard case or a duff?

Are you a hard case or a duff?

Bear with me here. With all the travelling I do my suitcases take a battering and now it is coming up to the time when I need to do a replacement. But what do I choose? There are so many options. Do I do hard case? Two wheels or four? Duffel with wheels? Duffel that converts to back pack? Ultra light weight or not so much. Goodness – the choices are endless.

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One thing I have learnt is that smaller is better. Down in my basement I have two monster size suitcases and I cannot for the life of me understand what I was thinking when I bought those. They are too big, too awkward and frankly usually bring home clothes that I never wore. As a woman I pack too much – I know. Always going through the “what if” scenario. What if I wear these pants and then this top is the only one that looks good but what if it is cold and then this top looks ugly with a jacket so I might not use it. What if I don’t pack it and then get to the other side of the world and of course that would be the one item I would “need”…. ladies are you with me?

8E4B7080-6339-4AD4-B405-1D9B70784AA6

So apart from smaller – hard or soft? Hard cases were very popular at one time but I don’t see so many of them these days at airports. They are good for preventing crushing but then don’t have that stretch factor that soft cases have. They also don’t often have the magic zip – you know that one. The zip that gives you two extra centimetres of space so that you can cram in even more stuff that you have bought on your trip. “Stuff” you probably won’t need but sometimes you have to buy – and of course let’s not forget the gifts for family. The anticipation of grandchildren wondering what you have brought home for them makes that zip stretch very important.

Two wheels or four? Well there are wheels and then there are wheels. Sometimes those four wheeled cases are not that easy to move around and if you are getting from one terminal to another quickly two wheels is way better.

To duffel or not to duffel – that is the question. I have seen a lot of these cases around. A duffel bag in soft material that can be carried by the handles or stood up on one end and towed on two wheels. For me the jury is still out on this one. I am not sure how I would pack something like this. I notice that some of them even have straps on the back so you could hoist the whole thing on your back like a proper backpack. That might be handy in places like Venice where it is a real pain to tow a suitcase with wheels over cobbled streets and up and down the steps of the many bridges there. I would have to go and try that out at the shop and see how comfortable it might be.

A common theme of necessity through all the above seems to be the wheels. Anyone who can remember dealing with old suitcases with no wheels will agree with me. You absolutely had to find a luggage cart in a case like that especially if you have short arms.511E3E57-64FF-4E04-BFCD-A1ECBE884B27

I am going to be looking into these options in more detail and trying some out to see which would work best for me …. what’s your recommendation?

 

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Give me back my seat!

Seat selection on a flight is important – no – let me say it is very important.  In fact for some people it might make the difference between getting on the flight and not getting on the flight.  Maybe you are a very tall person with long legs (not that I would know what that feels like! …. ps I am 5 ft) and you just have to have that aisle seat if you can’t afford to fly up front.

tall people flight

Some people have other issues – someone who is afraid of flying might want a particular seat – maybe nowhere near the window.  Or there might be those claustrophobic people who need to be up near the front.   They need to see a way out of this crazy flying tube!  If they don’t have that seat it could be trouble for everyone.

claustrophobic

Can’t breathe – get me outta here

So you can see that seat selection is a very important issue.   Airlines have realised that too.  More and more are charging for seat selection.  And not just the “good” seats – some are charging for the privilege of pre-selecting your seat anywhere in the aircraft.  OK so you could wait until 24 hours prior when you can check in online and then select your seat BUT if you are too late then and are not able to select a seat BEWARE.  You could get bumped.  I know it’s not fair but it’s true.  (In fairness this doesn’t usually apply to charter flights or to Westjet).

So all well and good.  You take the trouble to select your seat, pay the extra money and then there is a schedule change.  You get a schedule change notification – maybe just 10 minutes – no big deal, right?  WRONG.  You could have lost your seats.  Even though you pre-paid for them.  I have seen a number of these instances over the last few weeks.

The website Flyer Talk deals with this issue in an interesting post –

  • We make every effort to ensure you get your chosen seat, but seat assignments are not guaranteed.
  • We reserve the right to change seats for operational, safety or security reasons.
  • You must check in at least 30 minutes before departure and be at the gate 15 minutes before departure or you may lose your seat.

“Seat held, changed or gone at booking: One member theorizes a held seat may be taken by a positive purchase by another passenger. But it could be due to another factor listed below.

Disability designated seat: Some seats are assigned preferentially to people with disabilities, and their companions, under the Air Carrier Access Act. Even some non-disability seats may be required for a person with a disability in some conditions.

American blocks a limited number of seats on each aircraft to accommodate customers who identify themselves as having a qualified disability. Adjacent seats are provided, under certain circumstances, for customers with disabilities who must travel with a companion for assistance.

Equipment change: AA Information Technology’s very inefficient at these. You may have selected a Main Cabin Extra as an elite, yet a change from one aircraft subtype with differently numbered seat rows to another and you may find yourself moved from your carefully selected MCE aisle seat to a middle seat in one of the last rows. Aircraft substitutions from one type to another (77W to 772 or v. v.) or even “downgauging” (767 to 757) may occur – this will generally result in unanticipated seat changes.

Equipment malfunction: A seat may not be available on a specific flight because it was reported as malfunctioning and has not been repaired yet.

Crew rest seat: Some seats are contractually required to be set aside for resting crew, on flights of specific lengths.

Federal Air Marshal (“FAM”): FAMs are generally accommodated in the highest class of service in seats that are often popular with passengers. These accommodations may occur at any time, and by law AA must both comply and not reveal to passengers the reason for their seat loss or change. That’s correct: AA is prohibited by law from telling you your seat was given to a FAM, so you will only hear implausible and made up reasons of how you lost your seat.

Other: AA might be required to seat a passenger with a small child together, displacing another passenger. There may be other reasons as well.

It is suggested you regularly check your itineraries to deal with route and flight changes (often unannounced) and seat changes (always unannounced).”

So if you were neurotic about selecting your seat in advance, you will be even more neurotic after having read this.

The site has numerous comments from travellers with stories of dropped seats –

“I’m flying business class on a KLM-operated NW codeshare, IAD-AMS-NBO and DAR-AMS-IAD on the return. When I first made my reservations, my agent confirmed window seats, and added my DL number. My DL profile notes a window seat preference.

When the tickets were issued, however, my itinerary showed aisle seating. Sure enough, my agent told me that NW “must have dropped your seating assignment” and given me aisles instead. NW claims it did no such thing, and that they have no record of my original seating assignment. No big problem; agent was able to get me window seats back on all legs but one.”

Now there are lots of airline passenger rights advocates out there but I don’t see anyone talking about seat selection.  I am sure that will come …. one day.  In the meantime, let’s just blame it all on the IT department.

it nerd PLAY WITH SEATS

You laugh but it’s true

Now that is such a South African expression and I am sure my South African friends will be chuckling – You Laugh But it’s True is also the name of the film about the life of Trevor Noah.  The sm He has an inspiring story but the message behind this is that however bad things get sometimes you just have to laugh.  And that my friends is so true when you start talking about travel.

We hear so much in the news – the delayed flights, people stuck on the tarmac for hours, angry crowds at airport terminals, people floating around in cruise ships with no engines… goodness me!  I could go on.   So it is refreshing now and then to have a chuckle at the funny things that can happen ….

…. on planes

flight companion

dog on plane

…… at airports

Yoga airport

A different reason below for being stuck at immigration ….  this is what happens when you are not paying attention to your 4 year old!

chinese-passport-doodles-stuck-airport-children-fb

in taxis ….

When you get off the plane, train or ship  –  sooner or later you are going to end up taking a taxi –  here’s a contribution from one blogger ….

One of my all-time favorite countries to travel in is India. If you have ever been you know that this is one of the craziest countries in the world to drive in. The streets are crowded, the cars share the road with cows, camels, horses, dogs, bicycles, huge trailers, tuk-tuks, buses and pretty much everything that moves.

The rules: there are no rules. They use their horn for pretty much everything and if you want to drive past someone you just honk your horn and drive around. When we took taxis in the northern parts of the country I saw my life flash before my eyes every five minutes.

In New Delhi we had an awesome taxi-driver that drove us around the city for a couple of days. In the world’s second most populous city you have to be pretty crazy to become a taxi driver. At least that is what we thought sitting in the backseat of his taxi listening to AR Rahman, the Mozart of Madras blasting threw the broken speakers whilst dodging cars and cows.

I ask him: “so what makes a good taxi driver in Delhi?
He says: “a good taxi driver needs three things; good breaks, good horn and good luck!

Laughing and smiling after he gave us his words of wisdom he continued to drive us safely through the streets of New Delhi.

Samya_Taxi-4

in hotels ….

when your room attendant has a sense of humour –
towel art

and ….. on ships

We had a really funny lecturer on our last cruise on the Silver Muse.  He said he had got quite sick on the cruise (there was a bit of a flu thing going around) so when his voice got really hoarse he decided to go down and see the doctor.  He knocked on the Medical Room door and when the nurse answered he whispered hoarsely “Is the doctor here?” … “No” she said smiling “Come in quick.”