Around the World in 80 Steps
September 30 - October 15, 2004
Eighty Steps? Well, maybe! When I left home last Thursday morning, I had no intention of returning for a full two weeks, having spent the intervening period traveling round the World. My plans involved cars, planes, boats, and quite a few trains. I intended to post a report of my train travels, but having now put the target of 80 trips into the tag line, I hope you will forgive me as I will at least have to refer to non-rail sectors in order to keep count. I will make the rules up as I go along, but short journeys by taxi/shuttle bus will not generally be counted. So, on with the tale.
Webmaster's note: All times are written using the 24-hour clock, e.g., 6:00 p.m. is 1800 while 6:00 a.m. is 0600.
Day 1 - Thursday 30th September
I left home pretty much as I do most working days, driving to Herne Bay station with my 'kiss and ride' wife. I purchased a ticket to Reading, a trip which should involve three different train operating companies - a fact which would be missed by many of my fellow passengers due to the through ticketing facilities on Britain's railways - and made my way to the platform to await my train to London's Cannon Street. The train comprised eight cars (two units) of Electrostar Class 375 third rail electric multiple units, and the eighty minute journey was pretty uneventful - but then I've been doing it for over thirty years which probably affects my judgement somewhat!
On arrival in The City it had started to rain, and since I was carrying significant luggage I decided to forego the dubious delights of the London Underground for what should have been the next phase of my journey, and grab a cab straight to my office.
The working day finished a little early, at which point another one of London's famous black cabs took me to Paddington Station for Step 2, involving a HST diesel powered High Speed Train, on which I traveled only as far as the first stop, Reading - a trip of little over twenty minutes. This service was the 1800 main line service to Swansea, operated by First Great Western. The HSTs - which are nearly thirty years old - are still providing pretty good service, and reached cruising speed of 125 mph pretty quickly, and maintained it for the bulk of the journey. Our train was full, with all seats taken, and several standees - although I noticed that many of these detrained with me at Reading, so seats probably were available after that stop.
A cab took me to my hotel, the Hilton at Bracknell, and the remainder of the evening was spent with my son - who works for Microsoft in Reading, and is to marry in early November - and a bunch of his friends and colleagues celebrating the first night of his Stag Weekend.
Day 2 - Friday 1st October
Having got to bed around 0200, my pre-booked wake up call came through at 0700 and by 0730 I was checking out, along with Garry, my daughter's fiance, who was to take me to Gatwick. This journey was going to take around an hour, so I feel we should count it as Step 3. There is however nothing special about a car ride though, even one involving 30 miles of London's orbital motorway - the infamous M25 - during the morning rush hour, so that is the last you will hear of it!
Check in at London's Gatwick airport was pretty efficient, and I was warned of the latest US Immigration procedures which were coming into force that day. I boarded my flight on schedule and settled down in my seat on the Airbus A330 of US Airways which was to take me to Charlotte NC for my transatlantic flight. Around four and a half hours later we took off! Immigration at Charlotte was very efficient, and somewhere in the US a computer now has the fingerprints of both my index fingers, and a close up photo of my eye. I hope someone finds this data useful! As a result of the delay, US had re-booked my on a later flight for my connection to Manchester NH (using an Airbus A319), and that flight ran to schedule. A hotel courtesy bus got me to my hotel (Homewood Suites at Manchester Airport) around 2330, and I was in bed by midnight (0500 UK time) 22 hours after my wake up call that morning.
Day 3 - Saturday 2nd October
A taxi took me to the Car Rental location, where I found my primary transportation for the weekend awaiting my collection. A one hour drive north took me to Meredith, home of the Winnipesaukee tourist railroad. I had visited this line, and its sister the Hobo Railroad based in Lincoln NH, in August last year. These two operate regular service on two short sections of the Lincoln to Concord line, and once or twice a year put on a special service linking both operations.
Today is one of the days this service will operate.
The "Autumn Leaf Special" excursion from Meredith to Lincoln and back (a 32 mile ride each way) left promptly at 1100 and stopped at the Common Man Inn at Plymouth for lunch on the northbound journey. A half hour was spent at Lincoln, the northern terminus, before we set off on the return trip (which I am counting as a separate 'Step' in my adventure). The scenery was good throughout, although the weather was less than ideal.
We were hauled by loco 1008, and the train comprised Leo’s Caboose; 6195 ‘Winona; 6921 ‘Winnisquam’; privately owned Pullman car ‘Cold Harbor’; and another privately owned caboose in the colours of the B&M. I was fortunate to be selected to travel in the ‘Cold Harbour’ where our coach host was the car's owner.
I understand that 1008 is an Alco S-1 manufactured in 1949. It is owned by the State of New Hampshire and leased to the Railroad. I know nothing of its history prior to arriving on the railroad, but maybe someone on this list can enlighten me.
Leo's Caboose is ex CN, and is owned by Leo Boisoneault - who served as the conductor for our trip. It is available for charter on all the Winnipesaukee trains, and has been used for family parties including weddings since it was introduced into service.
6105 and 6021 are former Budd RDC's which I was told were built in the 1950s for Boston & Main RR. Their traction motors have since been removed.
'Cold Harbor' was apparently built in 1950 as part of an order from C&O, but was actually delivered to New York Central, who subsequently leased it the B&O. It then served with Amtrak for a period of time, and then the Bangor & Aroostock. It is a delightful car and although it is a 'work in progress' (aren't all restoration projects?) a lot of good work has gone into getting the car into a fine condition.
(Former Amtrak Hilevel cars 39906 and 39907 were parked out of service at the Hobo RR yard in Lincoln, as were a number of Budd RDCs)
On arrival back in Meridith (where it had started to rain) I climbed back into my rental car, drove back to my hotel, and had an early night - awaking at 0400 local time, when I set about writing this message.
Day 4 - Sunday 3rd October
My plans for Sunday had always been a little flexible. I had a reservation on the 1300 round trip on the Wilton Scenic Railway, but had left the rest of the day open.
I woke to find a clear cloudless sky, and decided that this was a day which could not be wasted! I checked a few timetables and made an earlier than planned departure for the drive to Wilton, where I transferred my reservation to the 1000 service.
The line was constructed by predecessors of the Boston & Maine Railroad, and the current owner of the infrastructure is the State of New Hampshire. Wilton Scenic Railroad – which belongs to Wilton businessman Stuart Draper – leases the track bed from Wilton to Bennington (a distance of around 20 miles), and opened for limited service out of Wilton in April 2003.
I first visited the railroad on Saturday 9th August 2003, when we took a round trip from Wilton to the end of the line – about 5 miles each way by my estimation. (The end of the line was marked by a work gang clearing foliage which had grown across the track bed.) Yesterday I again took a round trip, although now the line has more than doubled in length and has extended into Greenfield State Park, where a small platform has been constructed – a total ride now of 12 miles each way.
The journey starts with a climb through dense woodlands, with few ‘views’ in the first ten minutes - although the train does pass an industrial site or two, including a gravel/track ballast quarry and yard, and a small dam on the left hand side. Continuing the journey, the route passes some nice residences, and crosses a few minor roads, and the South Lyndeboro trestle which spans a wooded valley (where the train pauses for a few moments); then some waterside running along the shore of Zephyr Lake; good views of Mount Monadock (sp?) ‘The Mountain that stands alone'; before arriving at Greenfield. Overall a pretty ride, with a good friendly on-board crew.
The train comprises ex-BCR Budd Railcars BC-30 and BC-15, built in 1956/7. On both trips primary seating was provided in BC-15 (the same car I travelled from Vancouver to Prince George in August 2002!), which incorporates a snack bar. BC-30 contains a gift shop, and passengers freely move around the train.
We returned to Wilton around 1215, and I got back into my car and drove north, arriving in Bretton Woods NH around 1430, in good time to make it down the 6 mile approach road to the Mount Washington Cog Railway base station; park my car; buy a ticket; and climb aboard the 1500 train to the summit.
Our train was pushed by steam locomotive no. 3 'Agiocochook', and I was riding car 2. This was my third visit to this railroad, but the first time I had done the trip in perfect weather. We had 20 minutes at the summit (quite a bit colder than the base station - as always - but still not a cloud in sight) before descending in the same train. A drive though the northern New Hampshire forests in the hour leading to sunset provided some spectacular views of 'fall foliage', although the last hour or so of the ride home were in the dark.
A great day!
Day 5 - Monday 4th October
Monday started for me at 0344 local time in Manchester NH, when my mobile phone rang! I was a call from my office in London advising me of an additional meeting they had arranged for me in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia later in the week.
[Not a great time for a call, but I'm not paying for much of this trip out of my own pocket, and whoever pays the piper calls the tune!]
I would have preferred a later start to the day - for reasons which will become clear - but I had managed 5 hours sleep, as I had deliberately set myself a bed-early rise-early strategy for my brief visit to the States, so I got up and set about preparing for the day ahead.
At 0620 I climbed on the hotel courtesy van for the brief ride to the airport, where I boarded my plane (an Airbus A319 of US Airways - actually the same aircraft I had arrived in on Friday - in good time for our scheduled 0740 departure to Philadelphia, where arrival was timetabled for 0907. The aircraft doors closed, and the usual safety announcements were made. [Why do they always tell you where the life vests are on an aeroplane, but rarely give you this information when you board a boat?!] The we sat, and sat, and sat. After some minutes the Captain announced that we were being held at the gate because of poor visibility, later we were told it was now clear enough for us to take off, but Philadelphia were holding us back while they sorted out some earlier problems of their own. Eventually we pushed back at 0845; took off at 0903; touched down at 1001, and received our bags at 1029.
My original plan for the day had me then riding SEPTA and PATCO to Camden in order to catch a NJT River Line train to Trenton, but I had lost too much time to do this without compromising my plans for the rest of the day, and I have ridden the whole of the SEPTA system, and the full length of PATCO in the past, so I took a cab directly to Camden instead. Not only did I recover all my lost time, but I was able to catch the train before the one I had originally intended. I took a couple of photos at Camden, and another, better one, at Trenton. (I had no permit, but I made sure I was on public highways in the hope that that would help if I was challenged - which fortunately I wasn't.) The ride to Trenton was interesting, but not special. I was glad to have ridden the line, but doubt that I will return for another visit.
At Trenton I purchased an Amtrak ticket to Newark, and then proceeded to the platform to sit and watch trains go by. Although you might have doubted this from the story so far, this is primarily a business trip, and I had a number of email's to deal with. So much nicer to do this in the open air, watching the world go by, than stuck in an office! I saw a variety of Amtrak equipment - including three Acela units which did not stop, plus NJT and SEPTA trains, before my Keystone service arrived. Much as I would have liked to, I resisted the temptation to get my camera out! As we pulled out of Trenton I made brief calls to two friends--Gary and Dan whom I knew through the All_Aboard Yahoo! Group--to work out details of where we were to meet later.
Gary was waiting for me on the platform at Newark, and we proceeded directly to the baggage room to deposit my two large bags. We then made our way to the NJ Transit administration building to check on the status of the photo permit he had requested (which has again been already reported here by both Gary and Dan, so no more from me on that subject) and then headed up to the PATH train which was to convey us on the next stage of our journey to Hoboken. We travelled right at the front of the train, which gave me an opportunity to see where we were going - at least as far as Journal Square - where we were in any case going to change trains before the underground section of the line. Scheduled departure time of the train came and went, and we were joined by the conductor - who had come looking for the engineer. A long blast on the train horn brought him out of the room in which he had become engrossed in a book, and we were quickly on our way! It took two changes of train to get us to Hoboken - which gave Gary the opportunity to draw my attention to items of railway architectural interest as we waited.
As Dan reported our permit was still not ready, so the local lads took me for a walk down the street in Hoboken where common sense would have suggested the northbound light rail should have been routed, and eventually the word came through that the permit had arrived. We then all travelled to the current northern terminus of the line and back to Hoboken - where Daniel had to leave us. Gary and I then grabbed a meal, and then caught a southbound train to ride the new extension to 22nd Street in Bayonne. I got off at Exchange Place on the way back, and left Gary on the train to make his way to Hoboken and home.
At this point I would just like to record my appreciation to Gary and Dan for taking the time to join me on this little excursion.
From Exchange Place I rode PATH back to Newark, where I collected my bags, and boarded an NJT electric multiple unit for the short run to the airport, than the monorail to my terminal.
At 2245 I boarded the Singapore Airlines Airbus 340-500 which was to take me on the next, and longest, leg of my trip.
Day 5 - Monday 4th October (continued) - and days 6 and 7
When I left you at the end of my last message I was boarding my Singapore Airlines Airbus A340-500 at Newark Airport.
This remarkable aircraft has by far the greatest range of any airliner, and is able to fly non-stop on routes where this has never before been possible. Newark to Singapore is the longest currently operated, with a scheduled time of 18 hours 35 minutes.
This trip literally travels half way round the world, since the end points are almost exactly 180 degrees of longitude apart. This provides the added versatility of allowing the captain to choose which way to go! My flight took off at 2326, and headed back across the Atlantic - retracing the route I had travelled on Friday. I immediately wondered if this might somehow invalidate the Round-The-World ticket on which I was travelling, but I am assured that this is not the case, since the various places where I am touching down are pretty much all west of the previous one. I will however end up having flown 'around the world' without crossing the American Continent, nor the Pacific Ocean!
Dinner was served shortly after takeoff - something I had completely forgotten when Gary and I had sat down to eat only two or three hours earlier! Singapore Airline's service is however the best I have ever experienced in the air, so despite my 0344 'wake up' call that morning I did take the offered food.
While I was preparing for this we reached our initial cruising height, and I noticed that we had a following wind of over 150 kph - which explained why the captain had chosen this route option!
We flew up the US/Canadian east coast, over southern Greenland, Iceland, Oslo, and Moscow, before heading south to get to India before the Himalayas, then over Bombay (Mumbai), Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. The seats are state-of-the-art, and even with my large frame I was able to get an adequate amount of sleep. During the times I was awake, I was able to chose from the 60 films, 80 TV shows; and 120 music CD's which are available on demand at every seat on the plane. Helps the time go by!
During the time we were in the air, Tuesday came and went. We landed in Singapore at 0519 local time on Wednesday morning - and got to the gate at 5.30, five minutes ahead of schedule.
Having dealt with immigration and custom formalities - which are thorough but quick and friendly (immigration officers have a bowl of boiled sweets available on their counter for visitors!) - I proceeded to check in, for my next flight!
I went to the lounge for a 's**t shower and shave', changed my clothes, and ate breakfast, before boarding a Singapore Airlines Boeing B777 for the short flight to Kuala Lumpur. (Another breakfast was hurriedly prepared and consumed during the 35 minute flight, but when you've just travelled halfway round the world it could just as easily be supper!)
My original plan had been to catch the 'Airport Ekspres' train into central KL, have a meeting, and if time permitted take a short ride on a commuter train to Sentul and back before returning to the airport. My 0344 call on Monday morning had however been to tell me that the location of the meeting had changed, and it would now take place at the DeliFrance cafe at the airport. By the time the meeting concluded there was no time for a train ride, so I went directly to the airline lounge to await my flight back to Singapore.
On arrival in Singapore a cab took me to my hotel, the ShangriLa in Singapore City - one of my top five hotels in the world - where I just had time to change, and get another cab to the building in which my company has an office, for a cocktail party hosted by Bermuda based insurer ACE.
The building is a magnificent structure, built recently, but in an extravagant art deco style. The Atrium if five stories high, and is used as a wine bar. The wine is stored in a bank of cool cabinets going all the way up to the ceiling. Once the waitress takes your order she proceeds to the bar, straps on angel wings, and hooks herself to an industrial hoist, and then 'flies' up to the cabinet in which your selection is stored, and brings back you bottle. A truly spectacular sight, but all done, of course, in the best possible taste!
Several bottles of red wine later, and a couple of jolly gin and tonics if I recall correctly!, I returned to my hotel a little after midnight, and climbed into my fist bed since Monday morning in New Hampshire.
Day 8 - Thursday 7th October
At 1045 my pre-booked wake up call aroused me from my sleep, and I immediately got out of bed and prepared to check out of the hotel. At 1130 I climbed into the limo which I had booked for the airport run, and made my way to the airport. This visit to one of my favourite places had been oh too brief, but I have already set the date for my next visit in March 2005, which will be a much more leisurely affair.
I then caught the 1339 Singapore Airlines flight to Hong Kong - travelling up in the bubble of a Boeing B747-400, and then made my way by taxi to the Island Shangri La Hotel, which is to be my home for the next 6 nights.
All sorts of train, tram, MRT, and light rail excursions planned during that time - but plans don't always work out the way expected, so keep reading if you want to know what happens next!
Day 9 - Friday 8th October
I allowed myself a bit of a lay-in this morning and did not wake up until my alarm went off at 1100, My first meeting of the day was at Causeway Bay, which is richly served by public transport, but on this occasion I chose to take a taxi, Lunch followed at a delightful French restaurant (!) - all this way and I go to a FRENCH restaurant?! Not my choice - it was where my client wanted to go, and since he lives here it made a pleasant change for him. Anyway the food, wine, and service, were all top quality and I will have plenty of chances to sample authentic local cuisine before I leave. After lunch I had some spare time to kill, so I climbed aboard one of Hong Kong's famous trams for a ride to Shek Tong Tsui.
Hongkong Tramways Limited has been operating tram service in Hong Kong since 1904, which of course makes this year its centenary. The company currently owns and operates a fleet of 163 tramcars which includes 2 antique vehicles, making this the world's largest fleet of double-deck tramcars still in operation, carrying an average of 240,000 passengers every day over its 30km) system. More information is available at Hong Kong Tramway's web site for those who want it.
Shek Tong Tsui, on the 'red' route, was particularly selected since it was the only part of the public system which I had not previously travelled. (In fact the only track outstanding was the small loop at Shek Tong Tsui itself which marks the end of the route and where the tram turns itself ready for the journey back.) I rode tram number 99 to the end of the line, and stayed on board until Central on the way back.
At Central I disembarked, and descended to the MTR Station, where I was to take a couple of rides to outposts of the system which again had not received a prior visit from me.
The Mass Transit Rail opened in 1979, and the current system comprises five lines - the Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan, Island, Tung Chung and Tseung Kwan O Lines, running over 80.4 km through 49 stations, together with the airport express. Today it keeps over 2.3 million people on the move every weekday, making it one of the most heavily utilized mass transit systems in the world. Further information on this system is available here.
On this visit I started with a Red Line train to Tsuen Wan in the New Territories; travelled back to Lai King to connect to the Yellow Line, and then headed to Tung Chung on Lantau Island. On arrival there I had completed my coverage of the entire current system, so returned 'home' on a combination of Yellow and Red Line trains, changing on this occasion at Central.
I then went back to my hotel for a few hours R&R while I awaited the arrival of some friends/business associates from London, who had been on business to Taipei. At 2130 the call came through - they had made it to the hotel, and were ready for a drink! The remainder of the evening's transportation needs were met by the very efficient and inexpensive taxis of Hong Kong, and included visits to the Bitpoint bar at Lang Kwai Fong, and various bars in the Wan Chai area - finishing up in the aptly named 'Dusk Till Dawn', from which we eventually headed home to bed at 0400.
Day 10 - Saturday 9th October
My only experience of Saturday morning had ended when I went to bed. I set no alarm, and only woke up after noon, when one of my friends called to arrange a time for our afternoon swim! Early evening we went to visit the street market at Time Square, and took the opportunity of another tram ride to get back to the hotel. Later we walked to Wanchai, for dinner - followed by more drinks until the not-so-small hours of Sunday morning, again featuring a variety of Expat/Tourist bars, starting at Carnegies and ending - again - in Dusk Till Dawn. Just the one tram ride today then, but at least I am now reasonably well rested, and my body and mind are approximately in the same time zone!
Sunday will be another slow day, but maybe a few more rides on public transport, before another late night with some 'Gwailo' expatriate friends.
Day 11 - Sunday 10th October
Another quiet day, with most of the afternoon spent around the pool! By 1600, however, the sun was beginning to drop over Victoria Peak - which rises majestically up behind Central Hong Kong. This was significant, since the Lookout restaurant up there was exactly where we wanted to be having dinner when the sun finally sank beneath the sea.
We returned to our rooms, changed, and made our way the station, to board our transport for the evening, The Peak Tram.
Hong Kong's famous funicular railway began operation in May 1888 and in 1989 the present tramcars commenced service carrying 120 passengers over 90 times per day from 0700 to midnight. The Peak Tram carries over 3.5 million people each year, an average of over 9,500 per day. Further details, and pictures, are available here.
A delightful dinner (curry) was followed by a descent on the Tram; a stroll though Hong Kong Park; and yet another (fairly) late night drinking with some expatriate 'Gwailo' friends. We eventually returned to the hotel a little after midnight - conscious that Monday, and work - was looming.
Day 12 - Monday 11th October
My first appointment was in a building adjacent to the western terminus of one of the tram routes. A great temptation, but I did take the cab!
Once the meeting was (successfully) over however, time was less of an issue and I did use the tram for the journey back. [Getting on at a terminus does have a significant advantage - the front seat on the upper deck is available, as are the photographic opportunities attached to that position!] The 15 minute journey back to the hotel was a delight! I managed 20 minutes in the room before Lunch called. Another couple of Expatriate 'Gwailo' friends, given their choice of venue, had chosen European cuisine! We were to eat in the (Italian) GRAPPA restaurant in Pacific Place.
Nice food, good company, but I did feel a small touch of 'why have I flown all this way to eat this?'. Lunch over, my next meeting was in Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon Side). I could have ridden the MTR under the harbour, but time was on my side so I took a stroll down to the waterside, and caught a Star Ferry (in this case 'Twinkling Star') across. Meeting over, I returned (this time in 'Night Star') to Central, and walked back to my hotel. By the time I had dealt with my email's; typed up my notes of the earlier meetings; and made a few mandatory calls home, it was just after 1600. My next appointment was 2000. Time for a small adventure!
I caught the MTR to Kowloon Tong (3 or 5 stations each on the red and green lines) and bought a ticket to Lo Wu - the northern extremity of the KCR (Kowloon Canton Railway) in Hong Kong - (or at least I thought it was in Hong Kong!). Upon detraining I was confronted by the unexpected requirement to join the appropriate queue for immigration! The exit barrier from Lo Wu marks the frontier with mainland China, and Passports - plus an appropriate Visa (which I didn't have!) were required. Fortunately, there is a way to get back onto the southbound train without leaving the station. Not an easy way, but I found it!
I travelled back the full current length of the KCR, to Hung Hom. (The extension to Tsim Sha Tsui East had been officially opened on 30th September, but the line would not be available to the public for a few more weeks - memories of Acela; Eurostar; etc; etc - still it gives me something to come back for!)
A walk down to the waterfront, and I soon reached the terminal for the Discovery Bay Transportation Company's fast ferry service back to Central. Upon arrival I took a stroll - for reasons which will become clear on Day 13 - then caught two trams back to my hotel. I completed the (electronic) paperwork for my day's business activities, and before long got the call that my dinner partner was ready. The remainder of the evening involved no public transport - other than a cab, which I have decided doesn't count - and I was back in my room in good time to type this portion of the report before retiring to bed, at the unfashionably early - at least for this trip - hour of 0230.
Big Day tomorrow though.
Day 13 - Tuesday 12th October
I mentioned that I had taken a stroll along the harbour front on Monday. You will now learn the purpose of that information-gathering exercise.
Tuesday had been pencilled in my diary as provisionally set aside for a trip to Macau, the former Portuguese Colony, now - like Hong Kong - a Special Administrative Region of the Peoples Republic of China.
Everything was working generally to plan, so I worked on email's and other matters in my room until 11.00, then using the information I had picked up the previous day I took a cab to the terminal and bought a ticket for the 1130 helicopter. We took off a couple of minutes late on Heli Hong Kong's flight HK 212 - operated by Sikorsky S-72 B-HJR. It was a sunny day, but with quite a bit of haze at ground level. Not enough to spoil the view of the activity on the water below us, but it did eliminate the possibility of getting any good photos from the flight. The less than 20 min scheduled flight stretched to just over 30 when we had to hold for a while due to Air Traffic Control requirements on arrival, but before long I was through immigration and had set foot in another new territory.
The purpose of the visit was exploratory. I wanted to get the lay of the land and find out whether the place was worthy of a longer visit - perhaps with my wife if I can bring her with me on a future trip to the region. (I need to be very careful here - a three hour trip to Tangiers in Morocco last year led her to state emphatically that she never wanted to set foot on the Continent of Africa again!)
Macau has no railway service - but that doesn't make it all bad! I took a stroll, and before long found myself at the entrance to The Sands Casino. Half an hour later I emerged - a little better off following a run of good fortune. (Not enough to pay the cost of getting there, but sufficient to mean that I left Macau with more cash than I had brought with me. It paid for lunch!) I continued my walk along the Waterfront and back through the town. As I headed back to the ferry terminal I decided that my reaction to the place was positive. I do intend to return. (Probably as a day trip rather than an overnight stay - but a full one next time.)
At the terminal I checked the possibilities, and selected a fast catamaran service to Tsin Sha Tsui (Kowloon side) in Hong Kong, operated by New World First Ferry Service(Macau) - part of the First Group, a British company who operate all sorts of public transportation all over the world. Their vessel 'New Ferry LXXXII' got me to the China Terminal in Kowloon in about an hour, and I took the opportunity for a trip across the harbour to Wan Chai and back on Star Ferries before boarding another of their vessels on their main service back to Central.
Star Ferries are a major Hong Kong institution, and their vessels provide an excellent view of the bustling harbour during the crossings - which take around ten minutes, and cost on these short routes HK$ 2.20 (around 25 cents US) for upper deck (First Class)! An excellent value service to meet local public transportation needs, whilst giving a great sightseeing opportunity for tourists. Back to my hotel, by tram, and a bit more work, then I decided to return to the Star Ferry before it got dark for a longer ride - to Hong Hum and back. This route travels along the harbour for 15/20 minutes each way and gives great views of the skylines of both Central and Kowloon, especially as the sun is setting. I went back to the hotel (2 more tram rides) and worked in my room until, at 2230, I received the call I had been waiting for, from a friend from London also in town on business, and we were off to Wanchai yet again - ending up in Dusk Till Dawn once more! I gave up at the relatively early hour of 1230, since I had a few phone calls to UK/Europe I still had to make, and I wanted as much sleep as possible ahead of another long flight the next day. I had packed quite a bit into the day though, so I was quite pleased with myself by the time I did get to bed.
Anyone wanting more information regarding Star Ferries can find it here.
Day 14 - Wednesday 13th October
I had hoped to visit Kowloon Canton Railway's new West Line this morning, and to take a look at their Light Rail service in the New Territories, but the demands of work [yes I do actually do some!] prevented it. Something to come back for though - which on balance is no bad thing!
For those who are following the links I am providing, the KCR has a web site.
I spent the entire morning in my room, leaving at 1230 to go down to the lobby to greet the client who was to be my guest for lunch.
At 1500 I checked out of the hotel, and headed to the airport. I checked in for my Thai Airlines flight to Bangkok (an Airbus A300-600) and made my way to the lounge for a few more phone calls and email's.
The flight was on time, and the service was excellent. I am not staying in Thailand, but merely connecting to SAS's 0020 flight to Copenhagen, Denmark. Wednesday therefore ends for me in Asia, where I typed this segment in the Royal Orchid Lounge
Day 15 - Thursday 14th October
My overnight flight (Scandinavian Airways Airbus A340 OY-KBM) arrived at Copenhagen pretty much on time, and we docked at the Gate at around 0640. Within half an hour I had collected my bags, cleared immigration and customs, checked into my hotel, and was taking a shower to freshen up for the day ahead!
I am staying in another of my all time favourite hotels - the Hilton at Copenhagen Airport. The hotel itself is not especially outstanding - it is a fairly standard if a little above average European Hilton. The Location however is perfection! Emerging from Customs into the Arrival Hall at Copenhagen, the entrance to the railway station - which offers frequent service to Copenhagen centre, (with connections to all points in Denmark and daily service to Germany and points south), and Malmo in Sweden (connections to points north) plus regular direct services to Oslo, Norway and Stockholm/Gothenburg in Sweden - is no more than 75 yards ahead. Just past the station entrance is a lift going up to a footbridge leading directly to the Hotel. Less than 200 yards from customs hall to reception!
As soon as I was cleaned up and changed, I went back to the station to purchase my ticket to my first appointment, in Odense on the island of Funen (or Fyn as they spell it locally). No direct service, but at least three one-change options per hour. I caught the 0817 Regional train towards Roskilde which was hauled by an Electric Loco, detraining at Hoje Taastrup. Three minutes there and the connecting InterCity service arrived. This was an IC3 type electric multiple unit. (Some of you may have seen the diesel powered variant of this type, which visited the US a few years back) These units, in diesel and electric form, are the mainstay of Inter City service in Denmark. Simplicity of coupling/un-coupling is a strong feature, as is the ability to run electric and diesel variants in the same consist, so services split or join during the journey. (They can even do this safely on the move, though I've never seen them do it in regular service!)
Odense is the location of the Danish National Railway Museum, but even knowing this I was somewhat surprised to see a steam hauled rake of vintage passenger coaches enter the station as I arrived. I was there on business however so I was able to spend no more than ten minutes admiring and photographing the sight before I had to go to my meeting. When I returned to the station later, the locomotive was still in steam, but by now it was safely within the yard of the museum, with the passenger cars parked a few hundred of yards up the siding. I never did find out what they had been doing!
Before heading back to Copenhagen, I took a round trip on the line to Svendborg and back. This rural branch line, the only part of the national network on the island of Funen which I had not travelled, has two trains an hour over its full length, with extras interspersed between them as far as Ringe, the approximate mid point. When I was ready to go, the next service was to Ringe, and so I boarded and travelled all the way there. The following through train had obviously skipped a few stations, since it was only two or three minutes behind. The line is mainly single tracked, with passing loops at many of the stations, and a bay platform at Ringe. We waited for a train going the other way, so at one point all three platforms were occupied! The service is provided by modern articulated DMUs, of a type I have seen before, but can't remember what they are called!
I spent half an hour exploring Svendborg, a delightful little harbour town - before returning on the next train.
At Odense I boarded a InterCity Lyn (Express) train to Copenhagen Central Station, where I connected within five minutes to my train back to the airport. Both services were operated by IC3s. For the first sector (operated by DSB) I rode a diesel version - with an electric one attached immediately in front of us. The second service, operated by Oresundstog, comprised 2 three car emus. DSB is the state railway company, and Oresundtog is a joint venture between DSB and SJ (its Swedish equivalent) which specialises in the international local trains which cross the Oresund (the stretch of water which separates the two countries) at regular intervals.
I returned to my room and managed an hour or so of sleep, before my phone rang. My friend/client - who I was to meet for dinner - was calling from Stockholm Airport, to advised that he was checked in for his flight, and was due to land at 1815. I typed up these notes, changed, and went across to meet him off the plane. The rest of the evening was spent eating and drinking. We started in The Shamrock (Irish) Bar for a pint or two, then on to the Baron and Baroness for dinner, followed by night-caps in Kviids Vinstue and finally the Kongen Bar. Home around midnight for my last night in an hotel room for this trip.
Danish State Railways and click the link to English version
Day 16 - Friday 15th October
The final day of the trip started for me at 0730 local time, when my phone rang. Another early morning business call! At the end of the call, it was time to get up anyway, as I had a 0910 flight to catch.
This was again on SAS, and would take me to Frankfurt, Germany, in Airbus A321 OY-KBF.
Frankfurt was a late addition to my programme. I had originally intended a direct flight from Copenhagen to London's Heathrow Airport, but this would still leave me a long way from home with a fair load of baggage to haul. I therefore decided to head instead for London City - a small 'downtown' airport which is very convenient for short haul flights around Europe for those who like me work within 15 minutes by taxi, or those who again like me live less than an hour's drive away.
I have been a fan of London City since it opened in the late 1980s, and was a passenger on its first jet service in March 1992 - which followed a lengthening of the runway.
Star Alliance - issuers of my 'round-the-world' ticket - do not have a direct service from Copenhagen to London City, so I had to find a way their by connecting somewhere. Frankfurt appeared an suitable candidate, and there was a scheduled flight from there due to land at 1830 - an ideal time for my wife to get there after work to meet me. I could have spent the day in Copenhagen, but I was still looking to use my time to advantage, so I had selected the earlier flight out, giving me several hours in Frankfurt between flights - without baggage since I had checked that through to final destination.
I had changed planes at Frankfurt before, but had never visited the city. On arrival therefore I headed straight out of the place (no immigration formalities, Denmark and Germany are both part of the 'Schengen' group of European Countries which have abandoned border formalities) and proceeded directly to the Railway Station, which once again - as so often in Europe - is an integral part of the airport terminal complex.
I had done a little research, but had made no detailed plans. I purchased a day ticket, and headed down to the platform to see what was available. The first train to arrive heading towards the city was an S-Bahn suburban class 420 DMU operated by DB (the German state railway company) with a final destination of Hanau, a small town a few miles east of Frankfurt. I boarded the train and consulted my map. Hanau seemed a fair enough place to visit, so I stayed on for the whole journey. At Hanau I discovered that an ICE high speed express train was due shortly, with first stop Frankfurt Sud. This would be a very short ride, but I had never travelled on one of these trains before, and Frankfurt Sud seemed a good place to change trains, so off we went. The ICE class 403 emu arrived a few minutes late, but made good time for my 12 minute sector, and all too soon I was again standing on another platform wondering where to go next. I decided to follow the signs to the U-Bahn (underground) line, where I boarded a 2 car articulated light rail unit on which I travelled to the current end of the U3 route at Oberursel, Lahnstrasse, and back as far as Weisser Stein. I then caught a similar train on route U1 on which I rode to the outer extremity of that line at Ginnheim. I then immediately transferred to a tram on route 16, which I rode to Frankfurt Sud, returning to the platform I had left not that long ago, and - barely four minutes later - boarded the last train of the day (and of the entire trip), another ICE class 403 emu, which took me back to the airport.
Seven rides on rail vehicles of widely varying types, with no wait of more than 5 minutes between any of them. An interesting introduction to Frankfurt, and enough for me to resolve that I shall return!
I have a wait of more than two hours in the Lufthansa lounge, but had plenty of things to do! Several phone calls later, and a fair bit of typing, the announcement came through that my flight was ready for boarding, so off to Gate 55 I went. The plane (an AVRO ARJ85 - a type we have nicknamed 'hang-gliders' - of Lufthansa Cityline, D-AVRJ) was packed at a remote stand, and a bus ride was needed to reach it. We duly landed at London City (in pouring rain - the first of my trip - 'welcome back to London'!!!) a few minutes late, by which time my total for the trip stood at 79 steps (52 trains/trams; 12 planes/helicopter ; 6 cars; 9 boats). A car ride straight home and my predicted total of 80 would, amazingly, prove to be accurate. There are greater things in life however than success in trivial challenges, and my adventure was not yet over! I drove out of the airport, and immediately turned left. About a mile later I took a right turn and proceeded into the approach road for the Woolwich Ferry. A ferry ride across the river pushed my total over the 80, but I was not disheartened. My mission had in any case become a 'failure' ten days earlier when the captain of my flight out of Newark had decided to turn right rather than left on take-off, and therefore destroyed the 'round-the-world' nature of the trip.
All in all I had had a great time. I had even done more than enough business to pay for it!
Postscript and Pictures
For those interested in seeing a selection of photographs taken during my trip, please visit: R-A-I-L.com or Roundstone Associates - Rail. Both links should get you to the same place, so if one doesn't work - try the other. This includes photos of all aspects of the trip, not just trains.