RSS Feed
  1. Bob Dylan weekend in South of France

    July 16, 2014 by Jools

    A Weekend Music Break near Tarbes: Go by Train!


    Grays Garden for Dylan weekend

    Today we bring you news of a rather unique travel experience, the chance to travel by train to the South of France for a weekend of music and chat about Bob Dylan, with a man thoroughly immersed in the subject.

    Our writer friend Michael Gray shares two of our own passions: train travel and  a wide range of rootsy American music. Two things which we’re sure you’ll agree complement each other rather nicely. If you’re a serious Dylan aficionado then you may be tempted to join him. His extensive knowledge of the subject and personal music collection ensures you’ll be in good hands. Here’s what Michael himself has to say about it.

    It’s pretty rare for a writer to invite his readers into his home. But the British author Michael Gray is doing just that in September and October this year.

    His book Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan pioneered the recognition of Bob Dylan as an important and serious cultural figure over 40 years ago, and he’s been described as Dylan’s most assiduous critic. Many books later he lives in France now, 45 miles from the Spanish border and in sight of the Pyrenees, with cookery writer Sarah Beattie. And just once or twice a year they open their home to guests for these unique events – Bob Dylan Discussion Weekends.

    Pool at Tarbes house

    The maximum number of guests each time is six. This year’s dates are Friday to Sunday September 12-14 and October 3-5. Previous guests have come from Australia, Canada, the USA, Germany, Switzerland, France, the UK etc.

    The 19th Century house lies on the edge of a small village in deep and beautiful countryside, and guests enjoy en-suite rooms, exceptional food, good local wines and evenings of great music and talk.

    And you can take the train to this unique weekend break. Take the TGV from Paris to Toulouse, and on by a good local train service to Auch, just 30 minutes from the house.

    Train to Tarbes France

    (There’s also a route to Tarbes, 30km from the house: one couple left York by train at 8.30am and, via King’s Cross-St.Pancras, the Eurostar to Paris and the fast train from there, arrived at Tarbes at 8.32pm – and on time too!)

    Train Route Toulouse to Auch

    Feedback from previous participants has been brilliant:

    “I couldn’t really think of anything to improve the weekend. The food was divine and it was great to be able to indulge our Bob Dylan interest (I’m avoiding using the word obsession!) in an unfettered way!” Ian.

    “A special thank you for a gem of a weekend. Wonderful food, warm hospitality and an amazing giving of knowledge.” Jill and Louise

    For full details, prices and bookings, see this page on Michael Gray’s website

  2. Overland from London to Sydney by train

    April 6, 2014 by Jools

    Travel writer Peter Lynch shares some highlights from his epic round the world rail trip, from London to Sydney.

    Australia's Indian-Pacific train

    Overland from London to Sydney: travelling around the world by train

    Around 640,000 people travelled to Australia from the UK last year. I was possibly the only one that went by train.

     The world’s ‘biggest train journey’?

    According to legendary travel writer Eric Newby “the Trans-Siberian is THE big one [train ride] and all the rest are peanuts.” Maybe it’s the biggest single train journey but it was only a fraction of my trip.

     Visas and Customs

    London to Sydney by train may sound far-fetched but that was my plan and it turned out to be a surprisingly easy 20,000-mile trip. Organising all the visas was probably the greatest hassle although crossing umpteen borders was a breeze. In fact, on the entire journey, no customs official ever bothered to look in my bag.

     The best route?

    My route was chosen to be bandit and terrorist free and with the least number of breaks in rail connections – France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. Taking the route through Lithuania skipped the additional visa hassle and the cost of crossing Belarus and meant I didn’t need to get my passport out until I crossed the Russian border.

    How long is a piece of string?

    The trip could probably be done in three weeks at a rush but that would be hard graft and pointless as the idea of an overland trip is to see and explore countries on the way. So I spent three months stopping off wherever and whenever I felt like it.

    Lake Baikal transsiberian

     Crossing Europe

    Brussels and Cologne were good stop-off cities, sadly the timetable didn’t allow a Warsaw stopover but Bialystok in Poland was interesting but Vilnius in Lithuania was fabulous. The overnight train to St Petersburg was smart and comfortable and all the border and customs procedures were carried out without having to leave my cabin.

     The Trans-Siberian

    The trans-Siberian is not a train but a route, actually several routes that cross Siberia to different destinations. There are a number of ways to travel – cattle class, 4 berth or 2 berth cabins and if you want to make stop-offs you need to buy separate tickets for each leg. That’s why most travellers opt for organised trips with companies like the Russia Experience; I on the other hand opted for some luxury on this leg of the trip.

     The Tsar’s Gold is not just a luxurious Trans-Siberian option, it’s home for 16 days. Unlike the usual scheduled trains, where you have to pack up and cart your luggage off at every stop; because it’s a private train it waits for you at every stop-off. It also runs its own schedule so eats up long distances while you sleep so minimising the dull stages and maximising time spent on excursions. Mongolia was the country that I really wish I could have spent more time in.

    Great Wall of China

     Crossing China

    Passports are needed to buy onward international rail tickets and I found it easier to go to a ticket agent rather than the station. As the only European on the train to Vietnam I attracted many sideways glances but had a four-berth soft sleeper cabin to myself.

    The twice weekly Beijing to Hanoi train served excellent food in the café-style restaurant car and most stations had kiosks selling food. The heat became more oppressive and the landscape more tropical the further south we went.

    Arriving at Hue Station

    The Reunification Express

    The Reunification Express runs the length of Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Min City (Saigon). The carriages are mostly battered Chinese cast-offs, with squat toilets and no air-conditioning. The ‘hard sleeper’ carriages have wooden benches, but ‘soft sleeper’ carriages come with four bunk beds, and are well worth the few extra pounds.

    It’s cheap and basic but good fun and an excellent way to meet local people. I stopped off at the ancient Royal capital of Hue and the beautiful World Heritage town of Hoi An before ending in Saigon. 

    Siem Reap Floods

     Crossing Cambodia

    With no railway lines through Cambodia I was forced to take a dirt-cheap bus to Phnom Penh, and later another to Siam Reap and finally a bus across the border into Thailand and Bangkok. Two weeks was nowhere near enough in Cambodia and I definitely have to return.

    Eastern Oriental Express Cabin

     The Eastern & Oriental Express

    It was a month since my last bit of luxury travelling so I was looking forward to the Eastern and Oriental Express, from Bangkok to Singapore. Sunan, my personal steward, has learnt my name before I stepped into my cabin and was more butler than train official, insisting I ring the bedside bell if I needed anything.

    Everything had a sumptuous hotel-feel, even the smallest cabins: elm and cherry wood marquetry, thick carpets, hand-embroidered curtains, brass lamps and cosy but practical en-suites.

    Breakfast and afternoon tea were served in my cabin and Sunan kept me updated on daily activities, dealt with border formalities and reconfigured my compartment for day and night use.

    Passengers dressed elegantly for dinner, and tables were laid for fine dining. Gourmet meals appeared from the small kitchen where the French chef designed menus for a broad range of tastes, subtly blending European styles with Asian spices).

    The Ghan train Carriage

     The Ghan train

    Named after the Afghan cameleers who built the rail line into Australia’s bleak red centre from Adelaide to Alice Springs. It now runs all the way to the tropical northern city of Darwin and I rode south from Darwin to Adelaide in a comfortable, air-conditioned, en-suite cabin. Gold class (or Platinum if you can afford it) is the way to travel.

    The Indian-Pacific

    The Indian-Pacific runs from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and is another of Australia’s great rail journeys – Perth – Adelaide – Sydney.

    This time I travelled in the cheaper Red Class, where you have to make do with a reclining seat and tucker from Matilda’s Café, except they had run out of all food by the time I turned up.

    I decided to stop-off for a few days in the outback town of Broken Hill because if you haven’t spent some time in the outback you haven’t really seen Australia. After an uncomfortable night in my recliner chair I woke up to the beauty the Blue Mountains on the final leg into Sydney.

    This formally ended my journey but after a week I couldn’t resist making the full 2,500-mile trip on the Indian-Pacific to Perth, but this time I thought I’d earned a trip in comfortable Gold Class.

    Cost of the Trip?

    Peter was sponsored for sections of the trip, but estimates that it could be done from around £3,000.

    Raffles Hotel Singapore

    Peter Lynch’s new ebook Overland from London to Sydney: travelling around the world by train is now available from Amazon for £3.09.

    Support this site and buy it now from our amazon railway stays book store


    About the Author

    Peter has been a professional travel writer for 12 years, writing for American & Australian newspapers, UK magazines, plus a number of websites. Peter reviews hotel and is the author of books on his main travel passions: wildlife conservation, volunteering & rail travel.

    Eastern Orient Express Side of Train

  3. The Ghan train turns ten

    February 13, 2014 by Jools

    This year, Australia’s legendary long distance trainThe Ghan celebrates 10 years since its inaugural transcontinental journey across Australia.the ghan train australia
    On 1 February 2004, The Ghan train departed the South Australian city of Adelaide for the very first time on its 2,979km crossing through the heart of the country to the Top End. Two days later, the train arrived at the Northern Territory capital of Darwin. To mark the milestone, The Ghan gives us 10 reasons to explore Australia by rail this year:

    1. Size matters 

    When it takes three days, two nights and a staggering 2,797km to complete a rail journey, you know you’re in for an adventure of sizeable proportions

    2. Train your palate

    More than 1.3 million restaurant-quality dishes are served aboard The Ghan every year. Whether you’re up for grilled saltwater barramundi, pasture-fed pork cutlet with macadamia and sage, Coorong Angus beef medallion or wild lime and coconut tart, it’s on the menu.

    ghan train food

    3. Half a million tracks made
    More than half a million travellers have experienced the Ghan since its journey was extended from Alice Springs to Darwin ten years ago.

    4. All-inclusive, all year round

    Platinum and Gold Service guests on board the Ghan can now enjoy fully regionally-based dining, on-board beverages and fascinating Off Train Excursions at key stops, as standard extras.

    5. Prestigious history

    While the Ghan has traversed Australia for the past decade, the train itself actually dates back to 1929 when it used to travel between Adelaide and Alice Springs.

    ghan train longview

    6. 40,000 years of history in a day

    More than 35,000 guests last year enjoyed the ancient wonders of Katherine Gorge. Marvel at the sheer sandstone cliffs, Aboriginal rock art and cruise the tropical waters where you might even spot a croc!

    7. Meet new mates

    The on-board Outback Explorer Lounge is open round the clock, where you can enjoy a complimentary beverage or two and meet some new travel companions.

    8. Visit a town called Alice

    There’s nothing malicious about the quintessential Outback town of Alice Springs, which you can explore with your choice of complimentary Off Train Excursions.

    9. Go your own way

    Whether you’re up for a backpacking adventure in Red Service, travelling in comfort by yourself or with a partner in Gold Service or immersing yourself in luxury in Platinum Service, there’s on-board accommodation to suit all needs and budget.

    10. Early bird specials

    Book your Ghan adventure by 30 April 2014 for travel from 1 November 2014 onwards to save 25% off your journey. Prices start from £964 per person for Gold Twin Service with dining, beverages and Off Train Excursions included.

    Book your Ghan Adventure now!

    Alternatively, take a look at Great Rail Journey’s epic 22 day tour of Australia, which as well as the Ghan journey itself also takes in The Great Barrier Reef, dinner under the stars by Uluru, Sydney and the Blue Mountains, a Barossa Valley wine tour and 4 other scenic railways, including the majestic Kurunda Railway, with return flights from London Heathrow, from £6,075 per person.

    outback explorer train car

    10 Ghan facts to go’han about

    1. The name and symbol of the Ghan was inspired by the pioneering cameleers (many of them Afghans or as they were widely known, ‘Ghans), who more than 150 years ago first established a permanent trail to the Red Centre.

    2. In World War II, the Ghan played a vital role in transporting troops. Each year, The Ghan pays tribute to veterans with its special Anzac Tribute journey between Adelaide to Darwin.

    3. From Adelaide to Alice Springs, the Ghan track originally consisted of wooden sleepers. The desert termites dined on the sleepers as quickly as they were laid. Flash flooding also frequently washed the track away so in 1980, the old rail track was abandoned in favour of a new standard gauge line built with concrete sleepers.

    4. When the Ghan departed Adelaide for its inaugural journey to Darwin, it was the longest passenger train in Australian history, stretching more than 1km with two locomotives and 43 carriages.

    5. The 43 carriages on the first journey to Darwin included four ‘Special Carriages’ – the Chairman’s, Sir Hans Heysen, Sir John Forrest and Prince of Wales carriages.

    6. The average weight of The Ghan is 847 tonnes (single – 16 carriages) and 1,344 tonnes (double – 26 carriages), excluding the locomotive. For the inaugural journey to Darwin, the total weight exceeded 2,000 tonnes.

    7. Work on the 1,420km line commenced in April 2001 with the eventual cost reaching AU$1.34 billion – AU$741 million from private enterprise and AU$559 million from the government. It remains one of Australia’s largest ever infrastructure projects.

    8. When construction was finally completed in January 2004, workers had used 15 million cubic metres of earthworks, 146,000 tonnes of metal rail, 2 million concrete sleepers, 3,500 tonnes of structural steel, 2.8 million tonnes of ballast and built 93 bridges.

    9. The average speed of the train is 85km/hour with a maximum speed of 115km/hour.

    10. The total length of the journey is 2,979km, which takes 54 hours to complete.

    Ever taken a trip on the Ghan train? Tell us how you found it!

    Check out our growing selection of luxury train journeys across the globe.

  4. ærø: Denmark’s Fairytale Island by land & sea

    January 15, 2014 by Jools

    Aero view Villa Blomberg

    Depending on who you believe, the remote Danish picture book island of ærø can either be pronounced as it sounds – as in aerodynamic – or if you’re a stickler for the Danish language, it can sound a bit like a particularly violent sneeze.

    But there’s nothing remotely violent about the island itself – whose main claims to fame are being home to the world’s largest solar power plant and seeming to be plucked from the pages of a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. All woozily angled bungalows and eye-catching doors, brightly painted in pastel shades and wearing the year of their build with pride in iron horseshoes.

    Aero building from 1783

    We were there for a friend’s wedding and it certainly lends itself well for that purpose. The happy couple had an intimate affair in the end, the distance and expense caused  a fair few invitees to drop off – but really getting there is not so hard, if you don’t mind taking a few trains and ferries. :)


    Copenhagen Museum

    We stopped off first via an overnight stay in Copenhagen, a very calm, pleasant – and surprisingly quiet – capital city, staying at the Hotel Absalon, an unpretentious modern railway hotel just a few minutes walk from the Central Station. Copenhagen wasn’t quite as expensive as we were led to believe either, with a really tasty and ample Smorebord platter for 2 in one of the main squares coming in at just shy of 25 Euros.

    Smorebrod in the square

    Smorebrod in the square

    We particularly enjoyed strolling around the orderly landscaped gardens of Kongen’s Have, past the scout hut-like cottage buildings and side streets around Nyhaven and taking in the fine esplanade walk past the grand Gefion fountain, the National Gallery and gawping in awe at the people dangling from the ridiculously high rides in Tivoli Gardens.

    Copenhagen Roundtower

    It’s a city that often makes you crane your neck to the heavens, we didn’t go in, but the Roundtower looked interesting for those with more time. The main thing that struck us about the city was just how quiet and orderly it was. Even during the midweek rush hour, it seldom had the bustle you’d come to expect from a capital city.

    Train to Svendborg

    Svendborg train station

    Then we trotted off to the station for a 2 train journey to the ferry port of Svendborg. The station, done out in that dense dark brown brickwork beloved of the Danes, is a perfectly pleasant place to dwell, having retained its wooden struts and typical railway architecture.

    The Danish trains we rode on were certainly busy (reservations were definitely necessary), but very comfortable, with wide seats and enough luggage space. We didn’t notice a buffet service or car on this short journey. It’s worth noting too that this journey goes via Copenhagen Airport, whose station is handily directly located in the terminal building.

    Copenhagen Odense train

    Booking Tickets

    The booking process using the Danish national operator DSB was noticeably smooth and easy – they even allow you to amend your booking up to a day before you travel at no extra charge. You can print your tickets at home, just remember to have your credit or debit card handy to show the inspector. The return 2 hour journey cost around £80 per person, including reservations.

    Some 75 minutes later, having past a few water-based windfarms, farmland and the music festival town of Roskilde, we got into Odense. A tight connection there meant there was no time to explore the town, but if the view from the station platform of grim modern architecture is anything to go by we probably didn’t miss too much.

    Odense to Svendborg

    Our second journey was shorter and on a smaller train where seats were at a premium. Soon enough though we reached Svendborg, which looked quite charming, if  a little sleepy. We struggled to find a cafe that was open on a Sunday afternoon, eventually settling for a table in the quirky, piggy bank festooned pub just around the corner from the station. A real local’s place reeking of rich pipe tobacco.

     ærø Ferry

    Aero ferry at Svendborg

    A few minutes walk from the station is the ærø ferry terminal. The crossing takes 75 minutes and a return ticket will set you back around 200 Krone, or £25. You can buy your ticket on board. The jollily painted ferry is a fair size, with plenty of seats on the two lower decks, picnic style benches on the top deck and a basic cafeteria on board. You’ll pass many small islets, populated mainly by seabirds.


    Typical Aero cottage

    The ferry docks at Aeroskobing, one of the island’s three ‘towns’ and the closet it has to a centre. A few minutes walk from the port you’ll find the main street, mostly impossibly pretty houses, a few gift shops, restaurants and ice cream parlours.

    There’s a Tourist Info Office, just by the port, plus a cafe (both were shut when we arrived after 5pm) and there’s a Netto supermarket just around the corner for all your essential supplies. The area’s a bit of a building site currently, as a multi-purpose arts centre is being built, but don’t let that put you off, there’s still plenty of natural and architectural eye-candy to feast upon.

    Villa Bloomberg

    Villa Bloomberg Aero hostel

    We stayed at Villa Bloomberg,  up a quiet country lane (also home to the solar plant) a 15-20 minute walk from the port. This former boarding school building was converted into a hostel earlier in the year. It’s wonderfully set with views of the water, windmills and gently rolling fields.

    Bloomberg garden view

    Being a hostel, the accommodation is fairly spartan, but cosy enough with many double rooms and plenty of shared bathrooms with powerful showers. Excellently run by good humoured retired chef Keld, with a little help from his two sisters, you can expect a very friendly, easygoing welcome here and truly superb traditional Danish food served at generous breakfast and dinner sittings.

    Around ærø

    Aero Pension

    Our brief stay on the island didn’t allow for too much exploration, but we would recommend dropping into the Pension Vestergade, for afternoon tea. The pension is a gorgeous 18th century cottage built by a wealthy sea captain at a time when the island was effectively independent and allowed tax-free living – and run today by delightful English emigree teacher Susanna.

    Her house, with its beautifully rambling wooded garden, is packed from floor to ceiling with books, stuffed animals, object d’arts and curios in every nook and cranny. It really feels more like staying with your eccentric Danish auntie than at the average BnB.

    Aero museum chair

    The town museum, which doubled as the registry office for the wedding ceremony, looked like it would be an intriguing spot to while away an hour or so, but mostly the appeal of ærø lies squarely in going for quiet rambles along the calm coast and farmlands.

    Gangster Paradise Aero

    Our Danish is not so hot, but we think this could mean ‘Gangster’s Paradise’

    There is something ever so slightly eerie about ærø , such is its charming remove from ‘civilisation.’ As tourists dragging our cases from the port on arrival we felt more than a little bit conspicuous. I half expected to be chased by one of those giant bubbles that emerged from the sea in the Prisoner. That said, everyone we met was unfailing friendly and welcoming.

    Aero houseboat

    Know before you Go

    Depending on your time of arrival, it may be worth arranging your transport from the ferry in advance. There is a (free!) bus service on the island but departure times are sporadic and you will probably struggle to find a taxi. Our helpful hosts offered to collect us by car.

    More to see around ærø

    Aero boating disaster

    We loved the mini boats in the pond – complete with a capsized vessel!

    Aero survival camp

    Aero fantasy world door

    Eerie streets of Aero


  5. Dinner with Raymond Blanc on the Orient Express

    September 24, 2013 by Kirsty Knaggs


    Here at Railway Stays we have a fierce aversion to the horribly hipster fad for ‘pop-up’ everything, and tend to turn our noses up at anything that refers to itself that way. However, we could (quite easily) be persuaded to put such petty peeves aside for the chance to enjoy dinner with Raymond Blanc on board the Northern Belle.

    The imaginatively named ‘The Dinner Hosted by Raymond Blanc’ is part of the Orient Express’ new series of pop-up (cough!) dinners, which will see the UK’s most celebrated chefs host evenings on board the Northern Belle and the British Pullman.

    Northern Belle dining

    The 100 lucky passengers who manage to bag a ticket to the first of these exclusive fine-dining events in November will be treated to champagne and canapés on the platform of Manchester Victoria station before boarding the Northern Belle. This stunning Art Deco luxury train is beautifully furnished, and each carriage is individually styled with ornate marquetry on the walls and mosaics on the floors.

    Northern Belle

    As the journey begins, so will the dining – passengers will be served a seven-course meal created by Raymond Blanc himself, accompanied by champagne and fine wines. When he’s not busy in the kitchen he’ll be passing through the train to chat to his guests, talking about his love of food and sharing the story behind the evening’s menu. And as if that wasn’t enough, there’ll also be onboard entertainment with a musician and magician visiting each table, and a fireworks display part-way through the journey.

    musicians on board the Northern Belle

    If you’re thinking that this would be the perfect evening for a big romantic gesture, you’re going to love this next bit: the Northern Belle will make a stop at Carnforth Station, the filming location for iconic British railway romance Brief Encounter, before heading back to Manchester.

    British Pullman

    Raymond Blanc is also hosting another dinner later in the month on the British Pullman, this time leaving from London, but at the time of posting there was no further information about the rest of the series or the celebrity chefs involved. Don’t worry though – we’ll keep you posted!

    A Dinner Hosted by Raymond Blanc: 2 November, Manchester, from £335pp; 16 November, London, from £495pp.



  6. Luxury Train news – Private Train to Iran, RTW Rail Tour & Cally Sleeper Re-duxe

    September 5, 2013 by Jools

    Private train Iran

    Here’s the first in our occasional series of posts, bringing you some lovely luxury train news, you lucky people you.

    Behind the Iran Curtain

    Gotta spare 15k burning a hole in your pocket? Yep, me too. Great, why not book yourself onto the first ever private train to be allowed into Iran from Europe?

    A company called MIR Corporation is behind this private train tour, which departs from Budapest for Tehran this October. The 15-day ‘Jewels of Persia’ tour passes through Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, drinking in several UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Bulgaria’s ancient city of Veliko Tarnovo, the Fairy Chimneys and cave houses of Turkey’s Göreme Valley and the ruins of Persepolis in Iran. Intrepid travellers on these inaugural trips are promised ‘a truly unique route you won’t see on any standard itinerary.’

    Can’t say F-f-f–f-Fairer than that


    Tsars Gold Train

    Round the World Train Trip

    Still got that urge to splurge? No problemo, quash it with this even more epic Round The World train trip, courtesy of possibly the world’s least stutterer-friendly travel agent Ffestiniog Travel. FT, as you may prefer to call them, are hitting the big 4-0 next year (hey, me too, can I crash the party?) and to celebrate they’re really  pushing the boat out, or rather they’re pushing the luxury train out, with their epic 40-day Rail Holidays of the World trip.

    For a mere £19,965 of your earth pounds they’ll whizz you across the globe, kicking off with a welcome dinner at the truly excellent Kings Cross St Pancras Renaissance hotel.

    This world-whooping journey across the Northern Hemisphere begins in Europe, taking in city visits to Brussels, Frankfurt, Vienna, Budapest and Moscow, followed by 11 days on the privately-owned Tsar’s Gold Luxury train, with lunch in a typical nomadic herdsmen’s settlement, a Mongolian horseback riding show and even a stop in the Gobi Desert.

    In China you’ll get escorted tours of the Great Wall of China, Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Terracotta Warriors (in Xi’an) and a full day exploring Shanghai. Then they cheat a bit and stick you on a flight to Vancouver, where you’ll get some time to explore this fine, cultural melting pot of a city, before boarding the Rocky Mountaineer for a Gold Leaf service journey to Kamloops.
    Rocky Mountaineer

    You’ll get to explore two of Canada’s greatest national parks, Banff and Jasper, before hopping on to Via Rail’s Canadian train, through the famously wide open Prairies, via Saskatoon (which rhymes with balloon) and Winnipeg (which rhymes with boiled egg) to Toronto (which rhymes with pronto or orthodonto.)

    Then it’s a case of ‘another day, another train operator’, as you board Amtrak’s Maple Leaf service to New York. The grand rail tour to end all grand rail tours finally reaches its apotheosis with a 3 night stay in the ‘Big Apple, where you’ll get more sightseeing and a lavish Farewell Dinner, just to cushion the blow of your re-entry to the real world, back on Blighty.

    Want to book this journey with Ffestiniog Travel? Make sure you quote this reference when you do:  Ref: JS1

    The humble Cally Sleeper to get the Orient Express treatment?


    Mere hours after we published our guide to Scotland’s Caledonian Sleeper train we learned of news to give the night train service a bit of a blingy redux, when it gets put out for tender in 2015.Transport Scotland, who will award the 15 year contract, hope that the service will become ‘as iconic as the Orient Express‘, which certainly sounds rather ambitious given its present pedestrian state under the tenure of First Scotrail, but who knows?Could it even come to rival the OE’s Royal Scotsman one fine day? We’ll see. Stranger things have happened at sea and on the rails I suppose.’
    Will it be mushrooms? Fried onion rings? We’ll have to wait and see.’*
    *And if you get the above obscure ‘cultural reference’ and leave a comment below correctly identifying it, you can win a bumper prize of travel on all of the aforementioned epic train rides!
    Only joking…


  7. Vintage-Style Railway Posters Celebrate Centenary of Bradshaw’s Railway Guide

    August 29, 2013 by Jools

    Canada vintage train poster

    Few things evoke the golden era of rail travel better than vintage rail posters. If you find yourself hankering after the charming retro artwork of days gone-by, then you’ll probably enjoy these new versions, courtesy of hotel site HRS.

    100 years ago George Bradshaw published the world’s first guide to rail travel, Bradshaw’s Continental Railway Guide, now celebrated by Michael Portillo’s popular BBC TV series Great Railway Journeys, while 50 years before that saw the opening of the London Underground.

    In celebration, HRS has commissioned this series of vintage-style railway posters. Depicting some of the world’s greatest trains from the age of steam onwards, these posters pay homage to the original advertisements used to attract rail travellers in the first part of the 20th century. 

    Flying Scotsman poster

    The boom of our railways sparked major change in Britain, stoking the fires of the industrial revolution and opening up leisure travel to the masses. It wasn’t long before steam locomotion crossed the English Channel and rail services began to spread across Europe.

    George Bradshaw first produced his Continental Railway Guide in 1847, publishing Europe’s new railway timetables, but it was the 1913 edition of his guide – an 1100 page tome – which really opened up the continent to British tourists. 

    As well as timetables, Bradshaw’s guide carried overviews of towns and cities, recommended ‘watering holes’, tips on places to go and to avoid, ticket prices and anything else the intrepid train traveller of the time might need. The guide was updated monthly, from 1847 right up to 1939, when World War II broke out.

    Vintage tube poster

    The London Underground opened in 1863 with its Paddington to Farringdon line. Whatever your views on the Tube today, there’s no denying that London would be a different city without its subterranean transport network, which aided the city’s expansion over the decades. 

    Mallard train poster

    A third milestone this year might be the 75th anniversary of the Mallard breaking the world speed steam record, a record which remains unbeaten today.

    Sadly the posters are not available for sale just yet, but you can see hundreds like them in the archives (and online) of the National Railway Museum in York.


    As a rather sad footnote, earlier this month we learned of the demise of Thomas Cook Publishing, the people behind what is perhaps Bradshaw’s modern-day equivalent – the excellent guide book Europe by Rail and the printed European Rail Timetable, which was until very recently updated monthly.

    Like Bradshaw’s, TCP’s rail guides date back to the 19th century, so this really feels like an end of an era for rail information publishing.

    Hidden Europe magazine provides a fitting eulogy to the firm in one of their recent Letters from Europe articles.

    Siberian express poster

  8. Romance on the Rails

    August 22, 2013 by Kirsty Knaggs

    Here at Railway Stays we’re suckers for a romantic rail tale. Here’s a round-up of a few of those that have caught our eye lately.

    Tokyo’s marriage carriage


    Train romance, Japan, railway wedding, train wedding

    One of Tokyo’s busiest trains will be transformed into a unique wedding venue for one day only. East Japan Railway is offering one lucky couple the chance to get married on board the circular Yamanote Line as it makes its way around the city.

    The 11-car train, which is normally packed with around 1,000 commuters, will carry only the bride and groom and up to 120 guests on the big day.

    Tokyo's Yamanote Line train, where one lucky couple will get married in October

     It will stop at all 29 stations during the hour-long journey to give spectators on the platform the chance to enjoy the sight of the quirky wedding, but the doors will stay firmly closed. The ceremony will be held on 14 October 2013, the 141st anniversary of the launch of Japan’s railways.

    Prague’s love train


    Railway dating, Prague speed dating on Metro

    Speed dating has taken on a whole new meaning in Prague. Ropid, the city’s public transport authority, is introducing special ‘singles only’ carriages on its three underground lines. The carriages, which will be sponsored by dating agencies, are part of a campaign to encourage people to ditch their cars and take the train.

    Railway dating, Prague speed dating on Metro

    But potential partners will have to be quick – the average journey on the underground is just five minutes, which barely leaves time for a lingering eye-meet let alone a full-on flirt. Still, while travelling on the ‘love train’ may not lead to lasting relationships for Prague’s singles, it will at least brighten up their daily commute.

    British railway romances


    Brief Encounter, railway romance

    If Brief Encounter is your idea of a perfect love story, get yourself to the National Railway Museum in York. Station Stories is a new permanent exhibition that aims to show how railways have shaped the lives of the Great British public and, unsurprisingly, many of the memories submitted have love at their heart.

    Tales of on-board romances sit side-by-side with stories of station rendezvous, and all paint a wonderfully warm picture of old-fashioned courtship and long-lasting love. Take a hanky!

    Fancy doing your own railway wedding? We’ve a few ideas for that too.

    Follow my blog with Bloglovin

  9. Free Travel on Alaska Railroad for Nonagenerians!

    July 19, 2013 by Jools

    Alaska Railroad, then and now. 1923 - 2013

    Alaska Railroad, then and now. 1923 – 2013

    Yup, you read that right. It’s those golden words – free rail travel! Always music to our ears that.

    The Alaska Railroad is celebrating its 90th birthday  in style – by offering entirely free train travel to all other 90 year olds this year!

    It certainly  looks like a fine old railroad too, taking in glaciers, national parks and maybe even the odd grizzly sighting, if you’re really lucky.

    Kudos then to the Alaska Railroad for rewarding seniority like this – it’s just a bummer we’re a good half century too young to take advantage of it ourselves!

    Great Birthday Treat for Senior Railfans

    So go on folks, why not ‘treat’ your railfan gramps to a birthday ride he won’t forget for a while? After all, he probably doesn’t really ‘get’ the interwebs and so doesn’t need to know it was a freebie does he?

    This way you look pretty darn generous, save some cash and he’s happy as Larry with his special birthday surprise – win win! :)

    Call them to get the Free Ride

    Quoting their facebook page, the Alaska Railroad says:

    ‘To celebrate the Alaska Railroad’s 90th anniversary in 2013, we’re giving free rail travel to passengers born during 1923. Book your rail trip now by calling 1-800-544-0552. This offer will be valid for rail travel any time through the end of 2013.’

    What about the rest of us?

    Well us whippersnappers can come along for the ride too of course, but we have to stump up some cold, hard cash for it. That said, it can still be pretty good value. You could go from around $589 for a 2 day in Adventure Class for their 2 day Real Alaska Tour package. See their site to check out the full range of their rail vacation packages.

    Deluxe Alsakan Adventure

    Alaska Railroad view

    For the full deluxe option, you could really push the boat out and plump for their Deluxe Alaskan Sampler. Over 7 days from May 31 – September 5, you can stay in good quality hotels, get behind the wheel of a 4×4, go rafting, dog sledding, take a wildlife tour and enjoy some great train rides to Seward, Girdwood, Anchorage, Fairbanks and Denali. Adventure Class starts at $2,349 per person, double occupancy.

    So what are you waiting for, he won’t stick around forever will he? Jump on this one while you can!

    And what about your gran, might she want to come too? ‘I dunno, but I’ll ask ‘er’ (sorry!)

    Ever taken a trip on the Alsaka Railroad? Tell us how it was by leaving a comment below.


  10. Win InterRail Passes & free Accommodation with Wimdu!

    July 6, 2013 by Jools

    Interrail essentials

    Entries for this competition has now closed, sorry!

    Wimdu offers great value rental accommodation year-round though, so do check out the deals in the widget below.

    The good folks over at InterRail have teamed up with the equally spiffing chaps at Wimdu to offer one great train travel competition this summer.

    You could win a a pair of Global InterRail passes plus a 1000 euro voucher to spend on rental accommodation with Wimdu! Wimdu offer great quality rental properties in many major cities across Europe.

    Having worked with both companies before we’re happy to vouch for their excellence. Last year we stayed on a houseboat in North Amsterdam, courtesy of Wimdu and would heartily recommend that experience.

    On the very same trip we traversed a good chunk of central and western Europe using a First Class Global InterRail pass and can recommend that too, especially if you’re not so young as you once were, as indeed we are not. Going first class with InterRail means you get access to better quality, less crowded cars, plus the occasional free snack or newspaper on certain routes too.

    We’ve entered the contest ourselves of course, so if you like the sound of our entry please feel free to give us a vote while you’re at it, but be quick about it as voting closes on 18 July.

    Our entry is based on this post I wrote last summer – Around the InterRail Map in 40 tracks.  A fun – if hectic – way to dot around the wondrous European InterRail map for a song.

    You can enter the InterRail and Wimdu competition here on facebook.

    And here’s our entry too.  (Look for Jools Stone if in doubt.)

    We don’t normally go in for these social media voting contests these days but this one just looks too good to pass up.

    Thanks and good luck with your entries!

    Did you find this post useful? Please show your appreciation by giving it a share! :)