Category Archives: public transportation

Hot train ride, dinner at Pall Mall club – cotswolds to London 


Marion and I had a longer and hotter than expected train ride back to London. Our train was cancelled so we waited over an hour for the next one, chatting with some nice women and kids from Stratford as we sat on the platform in surprisingly hot weather that got even hotter in London (87 degrees. Dripping). The train that finally arrived had only three cars and little ventilation. I put my purse on the floor in front of my seat only to discover later that it had landed in a cup of what appeared to be hot chocolate, discarded by a previous passenger. Ick. Our friends tell us this decline in rail service is a result of the Tory government’s austerity measures that are causing the decline of public services.

We met Dirck at Paddington, who came from Heathrow after a flight from Warsaw (that fortunately was not too messed up by our awful president’s quick trip to Poland.  Can’t escape the guy) and had a quick lunch with Marion at a fast food Mexican place overlooking the arrivals at Paddington. No AC. Lukewarm soda. No ice cubes. London just isn’t prepared for increasingly weird hot temps. (but climate change is a hoax, right?)

Tonight we had a very English experience– dinner with Francine and Russ at Russ’s club in Pall Mall. I used to ride by the stately cream colored private clubs on my bike as a 20-something.  We had drinks on the balcony, with great views of the St. James area  (although not views of my favorite park) and delicious English food (asparagus with hollandaise sauce, Dover sole, salmon, gooseberry pie, strawberries and cream) with impeccable service on the terrace and coffee in an elegant high-ceilinged room where many an English club scene has been filled (including for the BBC show “the crown”) and where Dickens’ chair is in a corner (yes he was a member, as was another illustrious Charles…Darwin.)

Mixed feelings about these exclusive clubs but at least this one (the Atheneam) bases admittance on merit and achievement vs money and bloodlines.

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Filed under England, public transportation, train

Lessons learning while buying train tickets for Eastern Europe

Deutsche Bahn AG
Db-schild.svg

Who would have thought it would be easier to buy train tickets online for  Peru than for Germany  and  Eastern Europe? Okay, I’m not willing to say that’s true yet. But buying tickets online for train trips this summer through Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic was harder than expected. I managed to find some of the train schedules on the DB Deutsche Bahn website (a German company http://www.bahn.com) but the site didn’t always list  the fares – or indicate when or if the tickets could be purchased online. (In some cases, it looked like I’d have to buy them by making a phone call to Europe.)

Rail Europe Logo

Meanwhile, on the site that I could buy at least some tickets online – Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com) – I couldn’t always find schedules or fares. I finally had to call Rail Europe and pay a $15 fee for phone assistance – which turned out to be worth it, even if I had to leave my name on an answering machine and wait for  an hour for Rail Europe to call me back (better than lingering on hold I guess.) Here are some things I learned through this process:

– If you can find a train schedule but NOT the price or when/if the tickets can be purchased via DB Bahn, email their help line (Sales@bahn.co.uk) and you will get some if not all the information. (This is helpful especially if you’re trying to see if it costs more to take the train or fly.)

– If you can’t figure out how to buy the tix online via Rail Europe, call and pay the additional fee ($33 all toll when you add the processing fee, which includes the cost of mailing the ticket – which are paper and not available for online printout.)  I was told that it would have been very hard  to do-it-myself online because the three train trips I needed to book are unusually complicated. They’re not the typical Yank tourist routes (Berlin-Gdansk anyone? Not to mention Gdansk-Krakow and Krakow-Prague). And they involve three different countries with varying ways of selling train tickets. (The Poles, for example, won’t let you buy your ticket more than a month in advance but I could buy the tickets involving Berlin and Prague about two months in advance.) I also found help by emailing service@raileurope.com.

– Figuring out the price and booking a sleeper for an overnight train is tricky because the countries we’re visiting – unlike some others, apparently – require that you buy two separate items for each journey (a ticket, which  gets you on the train, and a reservation, which specifies a seat or compartment on the train, – as I understand it.)

– A Eurail  pass, which   we’ve used in the past, didn’t work for this trip because of our particular schedule and because we’re taking two overnight trains. Oh well. I liked the ease of the Eurail pass – but then I was traveling for months, not weeks, when I used one on several occasions.

– Read the fine print – especially to see how many stops the train makes! There’s also various classes/speeds of train. I never really figured this all out.

– The Polish Rail website wasn’t much help.

– Rick Steves’ website also has some good information on train travel http://www.ricksteves.com/rail/

– Trains vs. Planes: Sometimes flying is comparable in price to riding the train (ex: Gdansk-Krakow) but not always (example Krakow-Prague where flying was much more expensive.)  Planes of course are a lot faster – for Gdansk-Krakow flying takes 1.5 to 2.5 hours (direct vs. connecting flight) while the direct overnight train takes  11 hours. But we went with the train 1) because we so seldom get to ride a train, especially an overnight train and still find this romantic (that may change.) 2) the times of the direct planes didn’t work well with our schedule  – one was 6:30 a.m. and the other 5:30 p.m.   3) It’s often a hassle to get to the airport vs. the train station. 4) we  do save money by taking an overnight train and not paying for a hotel that night, for what that’s worth.

– I did opt to fly (EasyJet) from London to Berlin rather than take trains. (way too complicated…)

– Paper tickets. Apparently I can’t print tickets out online. And the paper tickets won’t be mailed out until a few weeks before our departure date (even though I bought them two months in advance) because the Polish ticket can’t be issued until a month before we travel. Grrr… Here’s hoping it all works out.

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Filed under Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, public transportation, train

Portland: skip the car

One thing I did learn from my  quest to find the best price for a room at a certain hotel in Portland: skip the car.

First of all, we don’t need a car in a city that proudly touts its light rail system. We can get from the airport to within two blocks of our hotel by MAX Light Rail – and according to googlemaps it will cost us  $2.30 per person rather than $8.33to drive. (I don’t know how googlemaps calculated the $8.33 but I thought it was interesting that it did.)

We can get around downtown Portland easily by MAX and the Portland Streetcar – which in the downtown zone (near our hotel) is free all day, every day. (Is this heaven?)

We save $25 per night by NOT paying for valet parking at the hotel.

Plus, I found an Enterprise car rental office about two blocks from our hotel where we can rent a car for a week (when we leave Portland to explore southern Oregon and the Coast) for considerably less than renting a car for 10 days (three days of which we don’t really need) at the airport.

I’m also keen to try out Portland Aerial TRAM – not sure where it takes us but the ride alone sounds great.

True, learning the basics of the rail system could take some time – and involve some waiting and possible aggravation. But it seems part of the Portland experience to bother trying it out.

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Filed under oregon, portland, public transportation, Uncategorized