A slow train south from Madrid to the Andalucian city of Granada was the first leg of the first holiday my now wife and I took, just weeks after we first met.
The air-conditioned carriage trundled for hours across the baked earth of Castile as we ate tinned olives and shared icy bottles of Heineken.
Spain stretched out before us with the occasional puff of cloud emerging over the horizon. On arrival in the evening, the southern heat was still overwhelming. Our supper was a large plate of sliced tomatoes, garlic and olive oil with a chunk of crusty white bread. Sleepy after the journey, we held hands as we walked through jasmine scented streets in the dark.
With Ryanair setting up a new base in Kaunas, this is very much the cheapest way of getting to Vilnius.
Vilnius is only 1.5 - 2 hours away from Kaunas by train and costs about £4 each way.
Having said that Kaunas is worth a visit itself for it's old town and Nazi era 9th Fort concentration camp.
English language website for train times can be found at www.litrail.lt though they do tend to change train times frequently.
Built in 1450's by the Rathore prince Rao Jodha, this spectacular fortress is the epitome of Rajputana grandeur and royalty of the days of yore. One can get a panoramic view of the 'blue city' Jodhpur from the top of the fortress.
Mehrangarh houses several palaces, monuments, temples, palanquins and lush gardens. There is a museum too which showcase the artifacts and souvenirs, reflecting myriad colors of Rajasthan and Rajputana.
It is one of the destination of the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels, a luxury train in India, one of the most luxurious mode of traveling across the choicest destinations in Rajasthan.
Who says that a beach needs to be by the sea? The beaches on the mystical Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal provided me with some of the most beautiful views and enjoyable moments of any backpacking trips I have taken.
Staying at Nikita's Homestead I met many other backpackers railing their way across Russia, as well as groups of schoolchildren on their summer vacations; ate large quantities of Baikal's native fish 'omul' and spent many hours on the beaches attempting to brave the lake's freezing waters or watching the sunset with a few beers. As a result of the hectic journey every traveller must endure to reach the island, six hours from the nearest train station, an oasis of relaxation and calm is created.
The owners are incredibly welcoming and have almost single-handedly created the tourist industry on the island. To any backpacker travelling across Russia I thoroughly recommend a visit to the island.
Nikita's Homestead www.olkhon.info/en/
Nearest rail station is Irkutsk (80 hours from Moscow) and from there take a six-hour marshrutka taxi and a ferry from Khuzir to reach the island (almost inaccessible during months when the ice is melting or forming).
Google map: tinyurl.com/348wldl
The website for this delightful site does not do it justice! It lies just outside Tunbridge Wells on the Kent/Sussex border on the Eridge Park Estate. We travelled to Eridge by train and walked for 25 mins or so to the site – all very doable if you pack carefully! The campsite is run by a lovely couple and you have a choice of a pitch in one of two sunny fields or right in the woods. At this time of year the bluebells are spectacular and you feel very close to nature!
I adored the simplicity of the site which does not go in for structured activities and such like. You book in, rock up and pitch up pretty much where you like and just enjoy the surrounds. If you are lazy, you can stroll across to the café which has a well stocked bar and does home made cakes, cream teas and hot meals which change daily. We were lucky enough to see deer roaming on the estate and lots of bunnies enjoying the sun! I went back to work on Monday morning feeling completely rejuvenated in Kent – and it was only a hour from London by train. Bliss!
A relatively short journey that hugs the coastline but offers gorgeous views of the mountains and over the bay, and costs just a few rand. I only took the journey this far (the train terminates at Simon's Town), but I imagine the journey leading up to Kalk's Bay is equally stunning.
If travelling alone make sure to board a coach with other people already on it, and avoid taking the train when it is dark in the evening.
Google map: tinyurl.com/y8opowa
Highlanders! If, like me, you hate travelling, wasting a precious day of what remains of your life and arriving sweaty, dishevelled and exhausted in central London, forget the plane.
The Caledonian Sleeper leaves Inverness every evening. Standard Class passengers travel in a spotless, comfortable berth with bunk beds, a sink, towels, soap, hangers and bottles of Scottish spring water. There's a lounge car on the train which serves food and drinks.
It is a lovely feeling to be lulled to sleep by the movement of the train. You're woken by a member of staff who brings you tea or coffee and a biscuit and get into Euston just before eight o'clock feeling wonderfully rested and ready for a day of metropolitan business or pleasure.
There are a number of "Bargain Berths" each month.I booked online. My ticket cost £39, but some are even cheaper. Lone travellers may be required to share with someone of the same sex. I travelled mid-week and had the berth to myself.
I'll never fly to London again.
in person - principal staffed stations
Scotrail Telesales - 08457 550033
Atmospheric setting for a great scene from Billy Liar and nearby highly enjoyable setting for The Railway Children, Yanks and Pink Floyd's Another Brick In The Wall, with regular steam trains to the picturesque village of Haworth, home of the Bronte sisters and Wuthering Heights.
Also Bradford is home of the National Film and Photographic Museum.
Bradford is on the M62 and has two train stations connecting to Leeds and the very scenic Settle-Carlisle line.
A magical railway line through the Worth Valley and Bronte County. Follow the line on an all-day rover, dropping off at any one of the six stations.
Try the restored 1905 "Railway Childen" station, see where the 1970 film was made. You'll remember it all, from the level crossing to Perks house, to the spot where Jenny Agutter ran to her daddy.
Take this trip back in time and i promise an unforgetable day. It has so much to offer. You can even go off to other RC Locations. A must for any railway or film buff, or just for the child in you.
Keighley and Worth Railway
Sit on the left hand side for beautiful views of the river and boats. Look out for oyster catchers, curlews, little egrets and lots of other birds. It takes 10 minutes but you could turn it into a day trip by walking back!
Starcross Station by the river Exe near Exeter, Devon
You can check the Russian rail timetables and book tickets online now. Nice to see some progress - getting tickets used to be a nightmare!
I used this site for my Trans Siberian tickets. You can book any tickets for travel inside Russia or to neighbouring countries.
"Bellini", the night train from Rome (Termini) to Siracusa, leaves around 9pm, and is loaded onto the ferry across the Straits of Messina very early the next morning (6-ish). You just lie in bed while it's loading, and can then go up and have a coffee on deck and watch the light over the coast of Sicily, although you could just stay in bed and wait for the attendant to bring you the cappuccino or espresso you ordered the night before (at the carriage door, when you get on).
There are four-person couchettes, but there's something really romantic about proper sleepers, and a two person compartment (single bunks with proper sheets, plus complementary toiletries, mineral water, coffee...) - costs just €75 pp. If you want something more luxurious you can have a double bed compartment with ensuite shower etc for €140 pp.
The air conditioned train then follows the coast, through Taormina, and arrives in Siracusa at about 10 am. We love going to bed and waking up 500 miles away, right where we want to be - it's a great way to unwind at the start of a holiday.
Italian night trains are all good value, but the crossing - and the destination - makes this one the best.
There are quicker and more comfortable ways to Sicily than spending the whole day on the train from Rome on Italy's hot and often late trains but this is Europe's last ferry where the train goes too. That's right, they actually put the train, carriage by carriage and with you still on it, on the ferry. You can then head up to the outside deck to watch the sun set over the Straits of Messina before heading back to your carriage to rejoin the train tracks in Sicily and head on to Palermo, Taormina, Catania or Syracuse. This is far and away the best ferry ride I've done and the kids (and adults) were transfixed by the dismantling and reassembling of the train.
It's still an old-fashioned and very cheap train ride along the north of the Peloponnese - much more interesting than any coach equivalent.The engines are brightly painted, too.
The Patras station is right by the quayside. The Corinth end is right next to the modern line that runs to Athens.
Buy a Muni 1 ($11), 3 ($18) or 7-day ($24) visitor passport for unlimited rides on cable cars, streetcars (trams), trolleybuses and diesel buses, but not BART. Regular fare is $2 (Cable Car is $5).
If you're 65 or older, show your driver's license, ID or passport as proof of age and buy a Muni monthly Senior Pass ($15).
Muni's visitor passport and Senior Pass can be purchased at their kiosk (looks like a cable car) at the Powell-Market cable car turntable. You can also buy a Muni 2-for-1 street and transit map for $3 there.
Muni is the nickname of the San Francisco Municipal Railway, America's oldest public-owned large city public transit system (1912) and probably the last to call itself a railway.
Muni (San Francisco Municipal Railway)
Phone: 311 (within San Francisco)
1 (415) 701-2323 (outside San Francisco)
For anyone on a budget, taking the train across America is ideal. We paid about £650 from NYC to LA, via Toronto, Chicago, Seattle and SF, and you can stop off for as long as you like in your chosen stops!
Because it's America, the space you get on the trains is immense compared to the UK and on certain legs of the journey you get your own cabin with panoramic windows to watch the world go by (and a free little bottle of bubbly upon arrival!)
The longest leg of our journey was approx. two days through the beautiful flat plains of the Midwest with the occassional ranch and small town thrown in for good measure, followed by the beautiful Rockies, where we even saw a few wild animals!
All your food is included in the price of your fare - staff come knocking on your cabin door to take reservations and at your alloted time you make your way to the dining carriage. If you're travelling alone or in a couple you'll share a table with other passengers.... although we're a bit British sometimes and don't like awkward small-talk, this actually was a lot of fun! One night we shared a table with a sweet Midwest school teacher (v. talkative) and a toothless trucker (not so talkative!) Priceless!
The train journey from Tangier to Marrakech is one of the best I've been on. You can't purchase tickets outside Morocco, but we had no problem buying them on the day. The trains are comfortable and spacious and very cheap (the 10 hour trip cost about £20, imagine that in the UK!?)
We met some interesting characters on the train, who were eager to talk to us and help us when it came to switching trains. Perhaps the best thing though is that you get to see the countryside and small towns along the way that you would normally be flying over! Well worth the slight more effort involved!
For a day-excursion out of Nice, take the train up in to the mountains. The train is tiny and runs on a single track from central Nice to Digne. We actually jumped off half-way in Entrevaux, about one hour from Nice. This is a walled medieval town with a fort that you can walk up to (entry fee €3) – it's a bit of a climb, but the view is well worth it. The town and the fort were deserted when we went in March – but probably gets busy in summer. If you go out of season, I recommend to bring a picnic as there might not be any cafes open.
If you don't mind travelling a bit further, Digne, which is ment to be beautiful, is three hours from Nice. Just make sure you check the time table – the trains only run about six times per day.
It sounds like a romantic way to cross the vast open spaces of Russia, leaving Moscow one evening and awaking to the Romanov's splendid Baroque capital. However the beds are cramped and uncomfortable, the train rattles far too much to get much sleep, and the toilets are disgusting. There was a certain charm to watching snow-covered fields and forests pass by in the half-light, but I suspect the view (particularly of a vast lake at one point) would have been all the more stunning during the day, and I wouldn't have felt like a zombie the day after.
Leningradsky Station, Moscow
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