How can waving your handbag over a sensor gain you entry to the underground railway network? They must have an Octopus card in there somewhere. A must-buy as soon as you arrive in HK. The best thing to use when paying for public transport (except taxis). You simply pay a HK$50 deposit (which is refunded on its return, or you can keep as a souvenir) and add as much value as you think you need. We charged ours up with HK$100 which lasted us comfortably for 3 days travel. Simply wave your card over the reader to gain entry to the MTR and then wave it again to exit. Your fare is calculated and deducted. Dead easy to use. Not only that but the MTR is the most efficient way to get around Hong Kong. My wife summed it up best when she mused that the MTR is the best underground railway she had even been on. When asked why she simply replied "it's so clean and I feel tall".
Valid though these reasons may be, what impressed me was the speed and the efficiency of the service which moves 2.4 million people every weekday through its 51 stations over 83.7km. Simple touches like a map showing you where on the line your train is and lights showing which side of the train the door will open on made the journeys more enjoyable.
Unlike older underground networks, like London, you can also get a mobile phone signal on the MTR, making sure you don't miss that vital call. It is also cheap with the maximum fare around HK$13 for a single journey (unless you venture out to Chung Tung which will set you back HK$20 – around £1.20). Of course there is the inconvenience of packed carriages at times and the confusion about which exit to take in the larger stations but the attractions are all well signposted. But we agreed that safe is the keyword for the MTR. We always felt safe, unlike in London, Rome, Paris and Barcelona, which is possibly due to the clean, modern look of the stations and the trains.
The only problem is that it is largely underground! Whilst the MTR is the way to get around Hong Kong, the Star Ferry is the only way to get from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon (or vice-versa). By taking the ferry you can get a view of the Hong Kong skyline like no other. And how much do you pay for this view? Something in the region of £1 - £2 for the 10 minute crossing, and photo opportunities aplenty. You can also use the Octopus card to make purchases from 7-Eleven stores (where you can also charge them up, as well as at MTR stations), McDonalds, KFC etc.
There are plenty of taxis outside the airports and, for those who were brought up watching 'To The Manor Born', you can book a limo to whisk you to your 5-star hotel suite in comfort (as in most US cities, Carey are the best provider). But public transport is probably your best ticket. Chicago is in fact, very unusually for the US, thoroughly served by public networks of buses and trains. The El Al, a rather spiffing elevated train, is the quickest and cheapest mode of transportation between O’Hare, Midway and The Loop.
This has to be the best and cheapest way to travel around Japan, providing you go everywhere. It has to be purchased outside of Japan and then the invoice is exchanged for a pass at one of the stations (maybe the airport I can't quite remember). You cannot buy it within Japan as it is only for tourists.
The pass works on all national and local trains using the JR lines.
Don't forget to flash the pass as you walk pass the station guards.
I recommend you download the timetables too.
With over 35 churches to choose from, Sao Joao del Rei is a great place to view impressive baroque churches. The town also offers a train ride to Tiradentes that takes you on a lovely journey through the different landscapes aboard an authentic 19th century steam locomotive.
Chamonix train station is the chocolate-box image of a country village station with flower boxes, a clock and wooden pavillons. Built in the eighteenth century, it's one of the finest stations in France and easily beats the modern ugly train stations in the beauty stakes.
It's cheap and covers some amazing scenery in a comfy environment, even the Amtrak food and drink is cheap. I accidentally booked a hotel in Canada, forgetting when I set it up to check which side of the falls I was on. Check it out at: writeronthestorm.wordpress.com
from Penn station to Niagara Falls
Just a tip about buying a ticket and recognising the train. This site is ace for planning times reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/e.
Worth writing down the journey details and the Romanian for 'first-class ticket' and handing it over - no English spoken at the train station when I was there. But the Lonely Planet guide came to the rescue.
Once you have found the platform watch out. The noticeboard flagged two separate trains - one to Targa Mures and one to Bucharest. The Bucharest train stops at Sighisoara.
But the trains appear to arrive joined as one - late. So it can be confusing.
What seems to happen is that the first-class carriage is always carriage three.
If you are on the same train as me be prepared for 50 year-old rolling stock in first class.
The scenery is fantastic. Ranging from the awesome pollution of Copsa Mica to shepherds and their flocks.
Str. Garii 1-3
Coming from Prague, the fastest way to get to Liberec is by bus from Cerny Most (at the end of the yellow underground line).
Leave the station by the exit at the front of the train, go down the steps immediately to the right, and the Liberec buses leave from stand 6. The journey takes just over an hour; the bus station is a five minute walk from the town centre.
Stay almost anywhere in Cornwall, buy a group saver ticket to St Ives. Park and ride to St Ives, changing at St Erth, where you will be treated to spectacular views of Carbis bay and have a wonderful day out at one of Cornwall's prettiest resorts. It's green, cheap and if the shuttle is delayed you can enjoy a cup of coffee at St Erth station buffet.
Any manned railway station on the Plymouth to Penzance line
Budget airlines fly into Pisa - don't bother with the bus, the road is usually very busy into Florence. Get the train, there's a station at Pisa airport with regular trains to Florence; or go to Pisa Central where there are even more trains to Florence and it's cheaper.
The toy/mountain train from Siliguri to Darjeeling is surely one of the great railway journeys of the world. But, unless you're a real rail enthusiast, nine hours on an uncomfortable train, which travels at less than walking pace, is a little bit too long.
We got a jeep up the mountain from Siliguri to Darjeeling, which cost about 300 Rupees (£4) each. The share jeeps are very regular and, although they're pretty crowded, are way more comfortable than the train.
You can then take the highest altitude part of the great rail journey from Darjeeling to Ghoom, to visit the famous Ghoom monastery. It takes about 45 minutes and is probably more romantic and comfortable than doing the hard 9 hour slog from Siliguri.
Just make sure you book the train on your first day of arrival in Darjeeling. You can't book the train from anywhere else and there is a fair wait for tickets (a few days). There is plenty to do in Darjeeling in the meantime, including the Everest museum, one of the better Indian zoos, Glenary's cafe and lots of trail walking and shopping.
Don't even bother with the tourist ride unless you've money to waste, it's a complete rip-off compared to the Ghoom trip - about 10 times the price.
Nathmulls in Darjeeling has to be the best tea shop in the world. Really helpful staff and a great range of teas to test (local of course!). Well worth a visit when you're up in the mountains.
Get to Siliguri train station, then ask a cycle rickshaw to take you to where the jeeps go from. Then just climb in a jeep and wait for it to fill up.
Nathmulls is in Rink Mall, Darjeeling, next to Cafe Coffee Day.
Children love the idea of going in a tunnel under the Mersey and crossing over on a boat. Park at Hamilton Square in Birkenhead, get the ferry to Liverpool (superb, heartbreakingly lovely view) and, after a stroll, picnic and visit to the Albert Dock, get the train back from James Street station. Steep escalators, lifts and friendly station staff. Cheap and good fun.
Hamilton Square is signposted from central Birkenhead and is itself an interesting area. The ferry is a five-minute stroll downhill from the station. Ask if you're not sure.
You'll do wonders for your carbon footprint; experience the vastness of the Russian east and be able to explore the wonders of Mongolia. You'll also see a little of the old China from your cabin as you trundle south to Beijing.
Indian flights are very cheap and it's tempting. But if you have the time and the patience, Indian trains reward like no other journey.
The Indian train is a travelling village in itself. You will be sold to constantly. Some things you will want - chai in the moring, samosa in the evening - and some things you will not.
Despite the bad image of India as a hard-sell place, there's no obligation to buy and the seller will move on if you are not interested. The good bit is, you can do all your shopping in one journey, from bajee to clothing.
The trains are more than a kilometre long (which is truely awesome in itself), and are a lifeline to many Indians. And far more eco-friendly than flying.
People going to Ephesus are often ripped off by an exorbitant taxi or transfer from Izmir airport. You can avoid this by taking the train from Izmir Airport to Selçuk. There aren't many trains; they depart the airport at 8.01, 9.38, 15.32, 18.39, 19.34, 20.12 and 21.33 and take 1 ¼ hours. The alternative (if you don't have much baggage) is to walk to the end of the airport slip road (about 1 mile), cross the main road and pick up a minibus.
The train station is right next to the airport and well signposted. The train fare is 2 Lira (80p), the minibus is 6 Lira (£2.50). If you need to get a taxi, you might be able to haggle the price down to 80 to 100 Lira (£30 to 40).
If you are travelling to Sevilla by train from the Granada direction, do not go all the way to the Santa Justa station at the end of the line. It's a 30 minute walk or a nine Euro taxi to the city centre. Instead get off at the station before Santa Justa, San Bernardo, and it's just a ten-minute walk to all the sights of the city.
For quality at a fairly affordable price in Venice, simply stay outside of Venice itself. The Hotel Bologna has been recently refurbished in a modern and tasteful style. But its real beauty is that it's over the road from Mestre railway station and just 10 minutes from Venice station and the Grand Canal.
It's also just over the road from the bus stop that will take you to (Venice) Treviso airport for your budget flight home.
Via Piave 214, Venezia, I-30171, IT
Phone: 39 041 931000
Literally opposite Venezia Mestre railway station
Check out the new high-speed links from Paris to south-west Germany, TGV Est Européen.
From Paris it's three hours to Mannheim (romantic Heidelberg round the corner) or Karlsruhe (Black Forest nearby). Or 4-ish to Frankurt or 6-ish to Munich.
Changing in Paris couldn't be easier (10 minutes by foot) - from the Eurostar terminal at Gare Du Nord, walk round the corner to the magnificently restored Gare De L'Est and hop on your TGV or ICE (= the German TGV) towards Germany.
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