Railway Stays http://www.railwaystays.com Train Journeys & Railway Hotels Sun, 28 May 2017 11:05:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 54840052 The Campaign to Save Galway’s Ballyglunin Train Station http://www.railwaystays.com/2017/05/27/campaign-save-galways-ballyglunin-train-station/ http://www.railwaystays.com/2017/05/27/campaign-save-galways-ballyglunin-train-station/#comments Sat, 27 May 2017 13:19:01 +0000 http://www.railwaystays.com/?p=8848 Today we bring you a guest post from Paschal Cassidy about the campaign to save a historic railway station in Ireland. In his own words Paschal tells us why this important piece of railway heritage needs to be safeguarded. It’s especially wonderful to learn that this campaign took root in a real railway wedding. Over […]

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Today we bring you a guest post from Paschal Cassidy about the campaign to save a historic railway station in Ireland.

In his own words Paschal tells us why this important piece of railway heritage needs to be safeguarded. It’s especially wonderful to learn that this campaign took root in a real railway wedding. Over to Paschal with the story..

Galway railway wedding

I fell in love with Ballyglunin Station a few years ago after I first visited the place with my then fiancé Grace.  In fact we both loved it so much that we got special permission to get married there last September.   It was the first wedding ever in the station and hopefully not the last.

It was a very special day for many reasons but the location did add a huge sense of nostalgia and magic to the event.  The station was made famous for its appearance in the 1952 Hollywood classic ‘The Quiet Man’ starring John Wayne and Maureen O Hara.

Ballyglunin Railway Wedding

Fast forward to 2017 and this iconic station in Ireland’s County Galway hosts hundreds of visitors from home and abroad each year to breath in a piece of Irish movie history. They may not be able to do this for much longer if the roof on the station house isn’t dealt with IMMEDIATELY and this is where we need the help of the public.

Save Ballyglunin Station

The station roof has been in a bad state of disrepair for some time but now the local community who have worked tirelessly for years to keep this piece of Irish culture alive are facing the prospect of it collapsing.

Raising funds for a project like this is no easy task and over the years many improvements have been made by committed volunteers to keep the station standing, so we owe it to these people and all Quiet Man fans to keep the legacy alive.

We’re trying to raise €30,000 by the end of June 2017 in a fundit campaign called “save the quiet man train station” so hopefully people will row in behind us and get it over the line.

The Quiet Man Railway Station

Remember that if they don’t manage to hit their fundraising target they get nothing. Donations start from 5 euro and up, with a range of special thank you rewards for sponsors, including mugs, calendars and archive prints. You can even support the campaign by holding your own railway wedding there.

Balyglunin Station was a stop on the Limerick to Claremorris Line which originally opened in 1860 as part of the Waterford, Limerick and Western Railway. The line was closed to passenger services in 1976. There have been commercial proposals to re-open services as a stop on the new Western Railway Corridor, but these remain in abeyance until sufficient funding can be found.

Ballyglunin Station Roof

About the Charity Project

The Ballyglunin Railway Restoration Project is a registered charity based in Galway, Ireland (CHY20265). Their objective is to restore the Ballyglunin Railway Station back to its original splendour and develop the station as a heritage and arts centre. The project has been very successful so far in restoring the signal cabin and the storehouse.

You can find out more about the station and the campaign at: http://ballyglunin.com/

Or just go directly to their fundit page to make your pledge: https://fundit.ie/project/save-the-quiet-man-train-station

You can also follow the campaign’s progress on their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BallygluninRailway

Please consider supporting it, thank you!

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Get Ready for Train Sim World: CSX Heavy Haul http://www.railwaystays.com/2017/03/15/get-ready-train-sim-world-csx-heavy-haul/ http://www.railwaystays.com/2017/03/15/get-ready-train-sim-world-csx-heavy-haul/#comments Wed, 15 Mar 2017 16:09:10 +0000 http://www.railwaystays.com/?p=8807 Now usually on Railway Stays we cover real world train travel as you know, but this week we bring you something a little different, as we celebrate the launch of an exciting, immersive new train simulator game called Train Sim World: CSX Heavy Haul. Created by Dovetail Games, the leading developers behind popular simulator games […]

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Now usually on Railway Stays we cover real world train travel as you know, but this week we bring you something a little different, as we celebrate the launch of an exciting, immersive new train simulator game called Train Sim World: CSX Heavy Haul.

Created by Dovetail Games, the leading developers behind popular simulator games such as Train Simulator 2017, Flight School and Euro Fishing (yep, a lake fishing simulator game!) Train Sim World: CSX Heavy Haul promises to be ‘the most technologically advanced first person train simulation experience on the market.’ The game came out for Windows PC on Thursday March 16.

Here’s the trailer:

Train Sim World pitches players in the stunningly scenic Sand Patch Grade route, stretching 60 miles across the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania and Maryland in the USA.

Featuring fully customisable weather systems, and built using real-world data to accurately replicate the performance, sounds and feel of real trains, Train Sim World promises to offer more immersion and authenticity than has ever been seen before in a train simulation.  Players will truly feel the detail as they walk around exploring the world and interacting with the trains in first person mode.

Six Train Sim Games in One

With six challenging scenarios, players will be able to take part in operations from the real world such as coal loading, switching, refuelling and turning locos on a turntable.  There will also be the introduction of a brand new ‘service mode’, which features the recreation of an entire 24-hour timetable, and allows players to take control of any one of the trains in this timetable – manifest, local and short hop freight services – and activities include giving them the opportunity to experience a day in the life of a real engineer.

Getting Started with Train Sims

Newcomers are gently introduced to the experience through seven guided tutorials, which cover everything from getting started with the software to operating the locomotives.  An accessible user interface will display prompts and highlight key controls such as power, reverser, automatic brakes and horn to get players up and running quickly and easily.

More advanced users will have the choice of using fully functioning in-cab controls without prompts, UI or highlights fort added authenticity.  These include digital displays, all braking systems and slow speed controls for coal loading.

train sim controls

Choose your Loco

Featuring three distinct types of locomotive, Train Sim World: CSX Heavy Haul allows complete interactivity in the cab, so you can gain a thorough understanding of how the train works and how it feels to be sitting in the driver’s seat with the controls in your hands, bringing some of the world’s biggest and most powerful locos roaring to life.

Train Sim World Screen7

If you’ve ever fancied trying your hand at controlling a mighty loco in realistic conditions, then this is the game for you. I’m something of a lapsed console gamer myself, but confess I’ve never played a train simulator game. It will be interesting to see how I get on. I look forward to putting it through its paces soon!

Speaking about the imminent launch of Train Sim World, Rob O’Farrell, SVP Development at Dovetail Games said:

“We have ten years of experience and expertise in building and growing living, breathing train simulations. Our aim in the development of Train Sim World is to build on this great foundation and take Train Simulator to the next level. Starting with CSX Heavy Haul, Train Sim World will deliver an unprecedented level of quality and realism in every aspect of the game.  We will also continue to develop and grow this experience over time, adding new features and content that enables us to go on this incredible journey together with our community.”

Train Sim World: CSX Heavy Haul is available to buy on Steam now at a price of £24.99.

*Excluding DLC and standalone products.

For further info, please check out the website for Train Sim World.

You can also follow the hashtag #feelthedetail on twitter to see the buzz the game is generating around its launch.

Train Sim World Heavy Haul detail

About Dovetail Games

Dovetail Games was launched in 2013. Previously trading as RailSimulator.com Ltd, the business launched in 2009 initially producing and marketing PC game Train Simulator. Today Dovetail Games is responsible for train, flight and fishing simulation games and is developing for PC and leading consoles. http://www.dovetailgames.com.

About SimuGraph

Developed by Dovetail Games, SimuGraph Vehicle Dynamics Engine is a powerful visual modeling and simulation framework for the construction and real-time simulation of electrical, mechanical and hydraulic systems in the context of vehicle dynamics.

About Unreal Engine

Developed by Epic Games, the award-winning Unreal Engine is known for world-class graphics, tools and scalability across PC, console and mobile platforms. Unreal Engine technology is designed to accelerate developers’ productivity for creating high quality games, applications, training simulations, visualizations, digital films and animated entertainment. To access UE4, visit www.unrealengine.com and follow @UnrealEngine.

Disclosure

This post was kindly sponsored by Dovetail Games. Look out for further posts about the game and its key updates here and on my other train website, Trains on the Brain.

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Expedia launches new rail travel service http://www.railwaystays.com/2016/11/28/expedia-launches-new-rail-travel-service/ http://www.railwaystays.com/2016/11/28/expedia-launches-new-rail-travel-service/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 16:55:50 +0000 http://www.railwaystays.com/?p=8765 Expedia launches new rail travel service British travellers can now book train tickets across any UK rail operator without paying a booking fee, all on one website – as leading online travel agent Expedia edges into rail. Expedia Trains launches at a time when new research shows an expected spike in UK leisure rail travelers […]

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Expedia launches new rail travel service

British travellers can now book train tickets across any UK rail operator without paying a booking fee, all on one website – as leading online travel agent Expedia edges into rail.

Expedia Trains launches at a time when new research shows an expected spike in UK leisure rail travelers in 2017, helped by the growing popularity of the staycation.

The findings from Expedia reveal the rail network can expect to see over 2.5 million more Brits planning to take the train as part of their staycation compared to this year [1].

This trend is partly driven by the rise in people planning staycations next year (possibly one impact driven by uncertainty over Brexit), but the research also lists factors such as ‘less stress’ and ‘enjoying the scenery’ as among the top reasons to use train services for getaways over flying.

train tracks

Key Benefits

One-stop shop:  Expedia’s new rail booking service – the first from an online travel agency– complements an already broad offering which includes flights, hotels, car hire and activities available through the website or app, making it a one-stop-shop for travellers.

Ease of use: Expedia is applying its 20 years of expertise in making travel search simple to rail. Expedia is bringing together all the UK rail operators in one site and next year rail bookings will be rolled out internationally.

This will mean that customers will be able to use the familiar Expedia.co.uk search functionality to book rail travel in other countries with confidence.

Savings: There is no booking fee and customers are eligible for discounted offers on hotels when they book rail travel on Expedia.co.uk.

Newcastle Train Station

With the launch of Expedia Trains, both holidaymakers and those visiting friends and family stand to save even more by benefiting from discounted hotel rates when they have booked their train travel through Expedia.

For example, booking two return tickets from London to Manchester along with a double room at the Townhouse Hotel Manchester (4 star) generates a saving of £58 per couple[2], which allows guests to stretch their holiday budget to include a spa treatment, golf lesson or dinner.

And with UK holidaymakers expected to spend significantly more on UK trips next year (£335 per person per trip on average compared to £205 this year) – the savings are set to be greater.[3]

When questioned, more than a third of holidaymakers (36%) revealed the reason they have chosen a staycation over travelling abroad is because the UK has so much to offer[4].

lady waiting for a train

Speaking about the launch, Greg Schulze, Senior Vice President, Commercial Strategy and Services at the Expedia Group said: “Our vision at Expedia is to be able to provide whatever combination of travel and hotel that consumers want and we’ve moved one step closer with the introduction of rail.”

The UK also offers a vast array of amazing locations and routes that perfectly suit rail travel, and with staycations predicted to boom next year [5], Expedia Trains will provide the perfect opportunity for Brits to explore their own country.”

Scotrail train to North Berwick
Mrs Jools auditions to become a Scotrail train steward

About Expedia

 Expedia.co.uk is owned and operated by the Expedia Group, the world’s largest full service travel agency, helping millions of travellers every month to easily plan and book travel. Expedia aims to provide the latest technology and the widest selection of top holiday destinations, cheap tickets, hotel deals, car rentals and in-destination activities, attractions, services and travel apps.

The group delivers consumers value in leisure and business travel, drives incremental demand and direct bookings to travel suppliers, and provides advertisers the opportunity to reach a highly valuable audience of in-market travel consumers through Expedia Media Solutions.

Expedia also powers bookings for some of the world’s leading airlines and hotels, top consumer brands, high traffic websites, and thousands of active affiliates through Expedia(r) Affiliate Network.  (NASDAQ: EXPE)

For corporate and industry news and views, visit Expedia at www.expediainc.com or follow them on Twitter @expediainc.

kings-cross-station

[1] Survey of 2,000 respondents [OnePoll 4 Nov-7 Nov 2016] of which 39% of ‘staycation’ holidaymakers said they had used rail travel in the last 12 months, compared to 44% of those who have booked or are planning to book at UK holiday in the coming 12 months and would consider using rail travel. Calculated against UK adult population – 51,339,161 as per recent June 2016 ONS figures

[2] Savings calculated on Expedia.co.uk on 9 November 2016, travel dates 7-9 December, based on two adults sharing, return rail travel from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly

[3] Mean amount in £ given by respondents who had taken a ‘staycation’ in the last 12 months compared to those planning or have already booked a ‘staycation’ for the coming 12 months

[4] Responses when asked ‘Why are you planning on/would you consider taking a UK break in 2017 over an international break?’

[5] Research released by the Tourism Alliance, August 2016

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Train Travel on Java, Indonesia http://www.railwaystays.com/2016/09/03/train-travel-java-indonesia/ Sat, 03 Sep 2016 19:06:49 +0000 http://www.railwaystays.com/?p=8633 Indonesia’s train network is admittedly rather sparse and many travellers may not always consider the train as being the first mode of transport to use, with ferries being a popular long distance option, while minivans known as angkots and motorbike taxis (called ojeks) can also be a fun way to get around in the cities. […]

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Indonesia’s train network is admittedly rather sparse and many travellers may not always consider the train as being the first mode of transport to use, with ferries being a popular long distance option, while minivans known as angkots and motorbike taxis (called ojeks) can also be a fun way to get around in the cities. The country is also served by a multitude of local airlines of course, but these have a fairly patchy safety record.

The fact is however that there are a handful of train journeys well worth trying on your next trip to Indonesia. Only two of the country’s islands, Java and Sumatra, have any sort of rail service worth speaking of. Of these it’s generally agreed that Java is the better option for first time visitors.

Rail Routes on Java

Using national rail operator PT Kerata’s generally reliable service you can travel from the capital Jakarta on two main route loops, either to Semarang and Surabaya and then on to Gillmanuk, where you can then transfer to a ferry which will take you to the ever-popular island of Bali.

Alternatively, the other loop dips inland, connecting you with Bandung and Yogyakarta, before re-joining the main line to Surabaya.

About the Jakarta to Yogyakarta Train Journey

Yogya Train

The 790 mile trip from Jakarta’s main Gambir station to Yogyakarta takes around eight hours and is notably scenic. You can expect to glide past rice paddies, mountains and volcanoes through a largely rural setting where you’ll often encounter cows, sheep and waterfowl grazing near the tracks.

On the Train

Cangkuang Lake Java

Indonesian trains are comfortable with carriages offering three classes: Executive, Business and economy. Executive class offers such luxuries as pillows, reclining seats and footrests, while Economy cars are usually very crowded and noisy, but filled with ordinary local commuters and hawkers proffering their wares (selling everything from food, toys and drinks to books and services including massages, charging your mobile phone and even perfume sprays) and so arguably provides a more authentic travel experience if that’s what you crave.

The ‘Bisnis’ class makes for a good compromise, offering innovative ‘loveseat’ configurations and only marginally less comfortable seating than the more costly Executive Class.

This train has a pleasant dining car serving tasty (non-Vegetarian) local dishes, but do bear in mind that the toilet facilities on board may not be quite up to the standard you may be used to in the west.

A trip like this, taking in several stops en-route if you prefer to break the journey up, can cost as little as $100, so if you’re spending some time on Java and you want to see a fair chunk of the island, why not give it a go? It’s sure to be a memorable travel experience.

Exploring Yogyakarta

Borobudur
The ancient site of Borobudur in Yogyakarta

So why head to Yogyakarta in the first place, you may be wondering? Well Yogyakarta (or ‘Yogya’ for short, as it’s commonly known) is well regarded as Java’s prime artistic and cultural centre, as well as being the island’s proud bastion of the Javanese language.

This sprawling city of over 3.3 million people is generally more laid back than the more businessy Jakarta, and when you arrive you might want to explore the archaeological sites of Borobudur and Prambanan, check out some of the many excellent museums in the city, discover the vast palace of Kraton, or (depending on your views on such things) you could also pay a visit to the Pasar Pasty, the city’s huge bird market where you can expect to find songbirds, owls, raptors, and many other species of birds for sale.

Getting Tickets

Rail company Kerata does offer online booking these days, but since most of the site is in Indonesian and with only Indonesian credit cards accepted, you may find it easier to buy tickets at the stations or through a reputable travel agent.

You can also get tickets over the counter in any Indomaret supermarket, a popular chain with many outlets in most towns and cities.

If you’re searching for a hotel on Java you might find it useful to browse the selection from Traveloka, who kindly supported this post.

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Dusseldorf 2016: Open Source Festival where Art & Music Collide http://www.railwaystays.com/2016/08/30/dusseldorf-2016-open-source-festival/ http://www.railwaystays.com/2016/08/30/dusseldorf-2016-open-source-festival/#comments Tue, 30 Aug 2016 10:11:43 +0000 http://www.railwaystays.com/?p=8608 Almost a year after I first travelled to Dusseldorf on my Kraftwerk-inspired Trans-Europe Express rail tour, I returned to the city at the height of summer and found it alive with interesting contemporary art, music, creative people and striking architecture. Open Source Festival The main purpose of the visit was to check out the Open […]

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Almost a year after I first travelled to Dusseldorf on my Kraftwerk-inspired Trans-Europe Express rail tour, I returned to the city at the height of summer and found it alive with interesting contemporary art, music, creative people and striking architecture.

Open Source Festival

The main purpose of the visit was to check out the Open Source Music Festival, a relaxed, one day affair held in the Galopprennbahn Race Grounds a few miles outside the city. The compact venue worked really well, making it easy to flit from stage to stage or just chill out with an Aperol Spritz or Fritzcola in one of the bar areas.

About Open Source

Open Source fans

Open Source is now in its 11th year and showcases emerging indie, hip hop and electronica acts, (mostly German, but a few American / international acts were also on the bill) across 3 stages, the main stage, the Young Talent Stage and the Carhartt Work in Progress Stage.

Festival Director Philip Maiburg told us that, unlike most German music festivals, Open Source was a deliberately uncommercial venture, more concerned with highlighting up and coming acts, along with some local contemporary art, in a family-friendly environment, than making money. Bearing this out was the fact that the only particularly well-known act on the bill were headliners Hot Chip.

I didn’t get to see everything, but here are a few highlights.

One of the joys of festivals is that they expose you to new acts you would probably not normally discover on your own. That was certainly the case with Balkoniengang, an ebullient local hip hop crew of skinny, tattooed white boys. They came at us with tonnes of energy and really whipped up the small mid afternoon crowd on the tiny Young Talent Stage, where punters were enjoying batting about the inflatable beachballs in time to the lo-fi, headnodding metronomic beats.

dris Ackamoor and Pyramids

In a similar category for me were seasoned American Afro-Jazz outfit Idris Ackamor and the Pyramids, whose snazzy gold costumes and breezy reggae vibes brightened up the mid afternoon slot on the Main Stage.

Apart from Hot Chip, Get Well Soon were the only other artist I had any previous awareness of. They had a track on one of the (much missed) Word Magazine’s CDs way back in 2008. Since then their style has evolved a little. Frontman Konstantin Gropper has a rich, deep, velvety croon of a voice overlaid on an impressive, fairly anthemic Arcade Fire-ish wall of sound.

There was a fair bit of buzz surrounding suave, homegrown art rockers Stabil Elite. I only caught the tail-end of their set, including a intriguingly moody number about a night train which naturally caught my attention, but what I heard sounded fairly promising and recalled the likes of Roxy Music and 80s bands sharing a similar smoky, gloomy aesthetic, such as It’s Immaterial, Furniture and Swansway.

While their headlining set was fairly short, Hot Chip certainly did not mess about, dispensing few pleasantries and with Alexis Taylor taking to the stage in what looked like an unholy hybrid of an outsized beekeeper’s hat and a sombrero, the band blasted their way through a crowd-pleasing, hit-laden set-list with plenty of vim and vigour. Over and Over, Ready for the Floor, One Life Stand, all came one after another in quick succession.

Apart from the unexpected joy of hearing the And I Was a Boy from School (from second album and in my view their best work, the Warning) the highlight was undoubtedly their poignant cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark, which they closed their set with and which prompted a cluster of fans to spontaneously light their sparklers.

Food & Drink

There were a number of good quality gourmet food trucks at Open Source, catering for meatlovers and veggies alike. I can vouch for the Philly Cheese Steak and the delicious frozen yoghurt served with fresh fruit and nuts, and yes there were a few traditional bratwurst stands too, which meant I could scoff a punnet of hot chips while watching said band.

The sponsor Fritz Cola’s stands were very much in evidence, with fridges well stocked with their new botanical ice tea brews. Being a non beer drinker, I appreciated the abundance of alcoholic alternatives, including prosecco, wine, aperol spritz and most mainstream spirits.

Art at Open Source

Open Source contemporary art

One of the interesting features of Open Source is that it showcases contemporary art, mostly by students at the Dusseldorf Academy who apply for a set number of slots. The artists use the venue’s native spaces for unique works, such as one who applied Instagram filters to the windows of the race ground’s ticket booths and another who used the venue’s small broadcasting kiosk for an audio installation of hypnosis recordings.

I have to be honest here and say that I was not especially convinced by all of the art I sampled, which was rather ‘hit and miss’, but of course such things are deeply subjective and I had to admit that a concerted effort had been made to showcase work that was experimental and conceptual.

The Salon des Amateurs

The Salon is actually the cafe attached to the Kunsthalle Art Gallery, once again cementing the seemingly symbiotic relationship between Dusseldorf’s art and music scenes. It’s also been a key venue for the city’s electronica music scene hosting regular club nights, overseen by Detlef Weinrich, AKA as Tolouse Low Trax. I’m not much of a clubber these days, but I was quite happy hanging out here long into the wee small hours for one of the festival’s more low-key after parties.

It felt like a place where the local head-nodding music cognoscenti hang out, without being too knowingly hip for the likes of me. It had a cool, loungey vibe, wasn’t too packed, had an excellent, remarkably clean sound system and a very pleasant terrace.

If you’re interested to learn more about the club and its history, read this article, which dubs it as ‘the post Kraut hacienda.’

The piece explains how the club was originally set up in 2004 by a coterie of former Kunstakademie alumnus as an art scene hangout, inspired partly by legendary Düsseldorf venues from previous decades, such as the Creamcheese and Ratinger Hof, which the likes of Kraftwerk, Neu!, La Dusseldorf and other key players would all regularly frequent.

From the terrace you can also watch the huge band of young revellers who seem to gather outside the K20 Gallery just across the street, and from the side you can also see down into Heinrich Heine Alle in the Aldstadt (or ‘old town’), which is often referred to as ‘the longest bar in the world’ due to the sheer density of its watering holes. (One of the DJs at the Salon remarked about the Aldstadt ‘Ah that’s the real Germany down there. You might see some fights later.’ We didn’t.)

Aldstadt

Kraftwerk’s Kling Klang Studios

Kling Klang Studio Dusseldorf

Another major highlight of this trip was the chance to return to Kraftwerk’s original recording studio Kling Klang, where the band ‘worked’ until around 2009. All of their classic albums were recorded here, from 1972’s Autobahn through to 1986’s Electric Cafe, so this is hallowed turf indeed for vintage electropop anoraks.

Last time we came here we just hung about outside and just took lots of pictures, but this time we actually got to venture inside. The studio on the ground floor has been used by Philip and his cohorts for a series of art happenings, gigs, recordings, photoshoots and other creative presentations all of which are being collated into some form of forthcoming release. More news on that when we get it.

Participating musicians came from the Rheinland area (Stefan Schneider, Kreidler, Wolf Müller, The 23s, Stabil Elit) joined by international artists (ESB aka Yann Tiersen / Carl Stone / Henry W) fine artists (Tim Berresheim, Mischa Kubal) and Arts Academy students (Harkeerat Mangat, Weisser Westen, Kayla Guthrie. You can see more info on this project (in German) on this page.

Inside Kling Klang

Kling Klang phone

The studio has been emptied of any recording equipment but there were still a few signs of its former life dotted about, including the insulated walls, the studio’s master controls, the telephone used in promotional photography for the Electric Cafe album and the gorgeous, giant musical note which is thought to have been made by none other than the band’s percussionist and all round ‘handyman’ Wolfgang Flur.

Kling Klang quaver

Flur is famous not only for his ribald, controversial confessional memoir about his time in Kraftwerk, but also for constructing a futuristic, cage-like electronic drumkit which was played with sensors. He’s still performing and recording new material.

You can see why the band liked the low key location of the space, which is set on the rather unprepossessing street Mintropstrasse in Dusseldorf’s red light district, complete with a grubby island bizarrely heralded with a cluster of tatty tires and palm tress.

Philip told us that the street has always been one of the most rundown areas of an otherwise prosperous city, popular with junkies and dealers, so presumably this gave the band a veneer of anonymity (and maybe also some edgy, urban cool back before subsequent generations of technoheads outside of Germany anointed them as cultural demigods?) before the arrival of the internet meant that their hordes of fans could easily locate the place and make their pilgrimage.

Kling KLnag studio sign Elektro Muller
Note the strategically placed traffic cone

And that iconic Elektro Muller sign above the door? Apparently it belonged to the previous owner, a humble electronics business of the same name. The band decided to keep it to protect their anonymity, plus I suspect they rather enjoyed the irony too.

These days the building is used by a variety of creative businesses, ad agencies, film companies and one or two music studios.

Dusseldorf HBF

‘From station to station, back to Dusseldorf City…’

And just a few minutes walk around the corner of course is Dusseldorf Hauptbahnhof, the city’s main railway terminus, so the band could almost certainly hear the trains pulling in and screeching off in a cacophony of ‘metal on metal’ while they were busy recording Trans Europe Express and other classics of that golden era.

Inside Kling Klang we were greeted by a gathering of local musicians, most of whom had been involved in the previous summer’s Open Source Residencies, including Philip and Angela of avant- garde performance art electronica duo Weisser Westen who kindly gave us some of their beautifully rendered vinyl works.

Düsseldorf Art City

K21 gallery Dusseldorf

To fully appreciate Dusseldorf’s music scene you have to also be exposed to its contemporary art. Most musicians are also visual artists and vice versa, and many are fuelled by the city’s legendary Kunstakademie, where the likes of Fluxus artists Joseph Bueys and Gerhard Richter studied or taught, followed by the likes of photographer Andreas Gursky, who produced the most expensive photo artwork ever sold.

The Academy was also where Kraftwerk’s two lynch-pins, sole surviving member Ralf Hutter and co-founder Florian Schneider, first met Emil Schult who was a driving force behind the band’s iconic record covers and visual ideas in general.

Even putting to one side the seismic impact of their groundbreaking electronic music, Kraftwerk’s early performances were more akin to art happenings than straight forward rock gigs, adding a multitude of media into the mix.

Architecture

Frank Gehry building Dusseldorf

Dusseldorf is a very modern city which was heavily bombed in WW2, and consequently most of the city’s architecture is stridently post-war, so the abundance of contemporary art that permeates the city’s streets is a welcome tonic.

Art frieze

That said, fans of modern architecture will certainly want to go for a stroll around the Medienhafen area (or ‘media harbour’) where many of the city’s creative businesses now reside in a stretch of former wasteland to take in Frank Gehry’s buildings, the TV Tower (there’s a nice bar at the top and the light installation on the outside of the Rheinturm by Horst Baumann is the world’s biggest digital clock)  and perhaps stopping to enjoy a sundowner while enjoying the river view from the swish Bean-like Pebble Lounge.

Dusseldorf's TV Tower the Rhineturm

Public Art

Photo Statue

There’s Sarah Morris’ striking, multi-coloured ‘Hornet’ mosaic, Joseph Bueys’ stovepipe peeping out surreally from the wall of the Kuntshalle.

Joseph Beuys Pipe work

Then there are six realistic statues placed on podiums called ‘the stylites’ – one of a photographer greets you immediately outside the front entrance of the Hauptbahnhof – dotted about the city. These are the work of artist Christoph Poggeler.

Hell, even the city centre’s main park, the Hofgarten, has benches illuminated with strip lighting, probably installed to provide nocturnal safety and deter vagrants from using them as beds, but they still lend the park an art installation vibe somehow.

Dusseldorf Cultural Walking Tours

If you’d like to learn more about the city’s art, Dusseldorf Tourism has put together this handy walking tour of the city’s key cultural sights.

Their music tour, We Love Music, launched originally to celebrate the city hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in 2011, is also well worth the time and covers all the bases you’d expect, plus a few more, such as the city’s links with ‘schlager’, a type of cheesy easy listening favoured by post-war Germans before Kraftwerk and co reset the city’s cultural clock.

The NRW Forum

Olaf Buerens

So it was only fitting that we were taken to several of the city’s leading art institutions. One of the more experimental we were shown around, even by Dusseldorf’s standards, was the NRW Forum. Some of the highlights here included a retrospective of Swiss artist Olaf Breuning, whose irreverent work makes sly nods to the likes of Picasso, Edvard Munch and whose lurid, large-scale photographic pieces also recall the kitschy humour of Jeff Koons at times.

Also on display at NRW was the ‘Planet B: 100 Ideas for a New World’ exhibition, which takes inspiration from Thomas More’s 500-year old work ‘Utopia’ with over 20 artists working together to respond to the work’s themes in a very modern context, taking in areas such as food hacking, the smart city and alternative economies. Some of the most interesting ideas I saw were the camp police uniforms re-imagined to make them seem more approachable and an electric car powered by the conversation of its passengers.

The absolute standout though was the utterly bewitching Uuutopia installation. Here in one corner of the gallery the Ben J Riepe company choreographed a troupe of dancers enclosed in a strange, golden tin foil coated landscape, which was constantly shifting and being adapted, sparsely decorated with models of deer and rabbits, in a semi-improvised performance of extraordinary choral Corsican singing.

The result was like staggering across some long lost tribe in the wilderness. It was utterly spellbinding and made me wonder if the local electronica artists might collaborate with the group on a recording.

A similar installation in Planet B featured a makeshift rocketship, where a team of resident artists all lived, slept, ate and worked around the clock for weeks on end.

Tunnel Vision

Art in a Tunnel Dusseldorf

Kunst im Tunnel or ‘Art in a tunnel’ is exactly that, a small gallery that makes use of a tunnel below the Rhine Promenade. When I visited it was free and the exhibition was about an volcanic eruption on Indonesia in the 1816, which apparently was part of the inspiration behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. No, me neither!

For those of you who (like me) appreciate modern art in smaller doses, it’s an ideal space to explore. The English-speaking guides are friendly and knowledgeable and help interpret the works in a non intrusive way.

The cafe outside is  also a perfectly pleasant spot to watch the Rhine go by.

K20

The K20, and its companion the K21, are more conventional gallery spaces housing special exhibitions alongside major permanent collections of modern art over several floors, including works by the likes of Rene Magritte, Jean Miro and Max Ernst, to name just a handful.

As in many big galleries, the staff here can be a little stuffy. I was told off for standing to close to one painting, which was safely behind a rope anyway. There is some great stuff to discover here but you probably need a few hours to do it justice.

Getting to Dusseldorf

It perhaps goes without saying that Dusseldorf is easily and enjoyably reached (how else?) by train. You can get there with a direct service from Amsterdam which takes around 2 hours. As you might expect, German trains (including their high speed service the ICE, easily one of Europe’s best) are reliable, affordable, comfortable and excellent.

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Utrecht

From here you can also easily reach Amsterdam’s little brother, the smaller city of Utrecht (where Karftwerk played at the opening stage of 2015’s Tour de France). Attractions here include the Miffy Museum (Miffy’s creator Dick Bruna hails from the city) the futuristic Tivoli music venue and this giant tea cup, which I have never been able to learn anything about.

Utrecht tea cup art

To reach Amsterdam, simply get a Eurostar service to Brussels Midi. Bear in mind that Eurostar is now more affordable than it’s ever been. If you can be flexible about exact train times Eurostar now offer special £25 one way tickets.

The way it works is that you just select your rough time of departure – morning, afternoon or evening – and they will allocate your ticket to a specific service. From Brussels, you can transfer to a fast speed Thalys train, which takes a mere 100 minutes to reach Amsterdam Centraal.

We sampled Thalys’ Premier Class on last summer’s trip and found the food and service on board to be of a very high standard indeed, though of course you may be perfectly happy with standard class on such a short journey.

Cologne

Cologne old town

The city of Cologne makes for an easier day trip, being just 30 minutes away by train. The rivalry between the two cities is legendary (and we did spy some hipster walking the streets sporting a ‘Fuck Koln’ t-shirt) but as all the musicians told us, actually these days there is a lot of collaboration and cross fertilisation between both cities’ music and art scenes.

Handily, the Cathedral is right outside the main station, it’s on the banks of the river and the city’s pleasant old town is nearby too.

Between my two trips, I took so many pictures of Dusseldorf that it seems a shame not to use more of them, so I’ve compiled this simple gallery to showcase just a small handful of them. Enjoy!

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Great American Railroad Journeys http://www.railwaystays.com/2016/02/02/great-american-railroad-journeys/ http://www.railwaystays.com/2016/02/02/great-american-railroad-journeys/#comments Tue, 02 Feb 2016 09:53:17 +0000 http://www.railwaystays.com/?p=8217 Portillo Rides the Rail(roads) Again Good news for fans of rail travel, intelligent televised travel porn and the irrepressible Michael Portillo’s ever expanding wardrobe of pastel-coloured blazers! The man himself is back on our screens. Having thoroughly exhausted Europe and Britain with his Great Railway Journeys series, he’s now set his sights further afield with […]

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Portillo Rides the Rail(roads) Again

Good news for fans of rail travel, intelligent televised travel porn and the irrepressible Michael Portillo’s ever expanding wardrobe of pastel-coloured blazers! The man himself is back on our screens.

Having thoroughly exhausted Europe and Britain with his Great Railway Journeys series, he’s now set his sights further afield with his new 15 part series on BBC2: Great American Railroad Journeys, armed this time with a trusty copy of an Appleton Guide, the original guidebooks published for US railroad travellers back in the 1870s.

New York skysrcaper

This gives us the perfect excuse of course to get all dewy eyed about our own 2013 Amtrak trip across America. You can read our posts about the various journeys including the Crescent Train and the Coast Starlight on these very pages, and if you’re hoping to follow in Mr Portillo’s tracks then you might also want to gen up on our tips to save money and plan for your big Amtrak adventure.

Oh Say Can You See…

Tonight he started his journey in New York City, and although, as the bald-eagle-eyed Mrs Jools pointed out, he failed to board an actual Amtrak train in the entire first 30 minute episode, he took in a fair smattering of sights, including the Flat Iron Building, Broadway, the Met – and of course the spectacularly eye-popping piece of architectural theatrics that is Grand Central Station. (Sadly both our NYC journeys departed from the somewhat less salubrious Penn Station, so we lived vicariously through his exploits tonight!)

Staten Island Ferry Station train
It’s SIR Train to you, sonny boy!

As usual there was a judicious sprinkling of history (on New York’s ‘glided age’ and on the powerful railroad tycoons and ‘robber barons’ who built the railroad, uniting a country and economy in the years after the US Civil War) blended in with visits to a number of bona-fide institutions, including the snazzy Delmonico’s Restaurant in the Financial District.

And of course there was the now obligatory cringe-worthy set piece, such as his being serenaded with a version of the Chattanooga Choo Choo by a troupe of 1940s -garbed showgirls in a New York diner.

Thanks to Simon Varwell for pointing me to this collection of bare cheeked, ruddy-faced pun slinging.

Portillo tends to divide opinion and his presenting style is admittedly not for everyone, but as this piece trenchantly observes in describing him as ‘like a weaponised embarrassing dad’ there is something eminently watchable and endearingly enthusiastic about his schtick and basic, brazen chutzpah.

This is a word he uses himself to describe the American drive to build their railroads and great cities –  and it strikes me that he would probably get a better reception in the land of the free than on home turf  somehow.

The Sunset Ltd Rises Again

Sunset Limited poster

This follows hot on the heels of heartening news that Amtrak will finally be testing the section of track damaged by Hurricane Katrina later this month. If all goes well this could mean the restoration of the marvelous Sunset Ltd train after an 11 year hiatus. At present the journey starts in New Orleans and ends in LA, but prior to Katrina it stretched all the way to Jacksonville Florida.

The Sunset is America’s oldest rail service still in operation, and if / when it’s fully restored (when, please let it be when!) it will once again allow passengers to do a complete round trip around the coastal circumference of the USA. Now wouldn’t that be something folks?

Finally you might also care to read my frankly ludicrously curtailed whistlestop feature about our 3 week Amtrak published in TNT Magazine last month, which aims to give Amtrak newbies a sense of the experience.

The next show of Great American Railroad Journeys (on BBC2 tonight, Tuesday February 2), stays in the Big Apple, with a look at Ellis Island and the Freedom Tower.

In fact the show is on all week on consecutive nights, so why not stick a feather in your cap and gorge yourselves on this yankee doodle dandy telly extravaganza? I know we sure will!

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Kraftwerk Rail Odyssey: From Tour de France to Trans Europe Express http://www.railwaystays.com/2015/07/02/kraftwerk-rail-odyssey-from-tour-de-france-to-trans-europe-express/ http://www.railwaystays.com/2015/07/02/kraftwerk-rail-odyssey-from-tour-de-france-to-trans-europe-express/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 22:39:41 +0000 http://www.railwaystays.com/?p=7561 ‘Travel Yourself Interesting’ goes the tagline of a certain major Online Travel Agent and while I’m not hugely convinced that travel will necessarily make you a more interesting person, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t aim to make your own trips more interesting. I’ve always been a big fan of a themed trip with a […]

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Tour de France Kraftwerk live

‘Travel Yourself Interesting’ goes the tagline of a certain major Online Travel Agent and while I’m not hugely convinced that travel will necessarily make you a more interesting person, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t aim to make your own trips more interesting. I’ve always been a big fan of a themed trip with a bit of a quest element.

Earlier this year Robert Reid wrote about the value of travelling like a travel writer. He didn’t mean simply travelling for free – or getting paid to travel, not that there’s anything inherently wrong with either – but rather he was talking about planning your trips around a passion project or specific interest that speaks to you.

Many years ago I went to Granada, Andalucia, after discovering the poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. We went on the Lorca trail, checking out the Lorca Musuem and associated places of interest. Now Granada’s a fabulous city any old time of course, but this purposeful element definitely enriched the experience.

And this month I’m off on a similarly-themed trip. My first proper gig, (leaving aside a Christian rock band containing the brother of a schoolfriend, yes let’s leave that aside definitely) way back in 1990 was Kraftwerk at the Brixton Academy. Annoyingly, my friend was late, making us miss the start of the gig. Gut wrenchingly, we walked in midway through Tour de France.

But still the experience is fairly well etched onto my personal memory stick: the robots slowly surfacing behind the stage, the backdrop projections of vintage footage of autobahns, cycle races and wireframe visualisations, the unmitigated thrill of hearing these electronic boing boom tschaks with such astounding clarity and the band playing Pocket Calculator for an encore…on little handheld consoles no less, which back then when mobile phones were still reserved for lawyers and city types in sports cars, seemed like some impossibly futuristic brand of on-stage wizardry.

So when my train blogger friend Chris and I were mulling over a summer Euro rail trip and happened across Kraftwerk’s European tour schedule a little radioactive lightbulb suddenly pinged on.

Kraftwerk, Manchester International Festival 2009

Chris spotted that the band were playing the opening stage of the Tour de France (this year in Utrecht of all places). Ralf Hutter, the founder and only remaining member from the original line-up, is a serious cycling obsessive of course. Such is his obsession that at its height in the late 80s it ground their music production to a halt and virtually split the band up.

The band’s ever-patient fans had to wait over a quarter of a century for them to follow up 1986’s Electric Cafe with their next album, fittingly titled Tour de France Soundtracks. Half of the tracks were subtle re-toolings and extensions of the 1983 single of the same name, a track written for the event’s 100th anniversary… and eventually delivered a month late.

The Tour de France gig is therefore the final realisation of a long held dream, and it seems hard to believe that this will be the first time the band have played the tour. They’ve probably been far too busy pumping up their tires and buffing their saddles to get around to it.

Naturally we’re going to the gig, but why stop there? From Utrecht it’s a short train journey to Dusseldorf, the band’s home city. Here we have the honour of meeting Wolfgang Flur, the band’s long serving percussionist and author of the controversial and highly entertaining memoir I Was a Robot, a no holds-barred account of his time with the band. Wolfgang still lives in the city and will hopefully show us round some of his old Kraftwerk haunts. We may even get to drop in to the infamously anonymous Kling Klang Studio.

Trans Europe Express Journey

Trans Europe Express poster

After checking out their manor, we’re embarking on a bit of a Trans Europe Express odyssey. We’ll be following the journey charted in the song of the album of the same name, recorded some 40 years ago. Our journey will take us from Dusseldorf to Vienna (via Munich) and on to Paris, before nipping home on the Eurostar. Along the way we’ll aim to swing by a few choice Kraftwerk landmarks. We might not ‘meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie’, but no doubt we’ll sit ‘in Vienna in a late night cafe’ and maybe even manage a rendezvous on the Champs D’Elysee.

The Trans Europe Express album, which is one magnificent paean to the joys of European train, travel was made in 1976 and released the following year. It manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic at the same time. The band hit upon the idea while dining in Paris’ legendary Train Bleu restaurant in Gare de Lyon.

Thematically, TEE very much follows their 70s trajectory of celebrating marvels of manmade modernity, whether that’s nuclear power (1975’s Radio-Activity album), the freedom of the autobahn (1974’s Autobahn) the joys of nascent home computing, computer dating and pocket calculating (1981’s Computer World) or umm… cyber cafes (1986’s Electric Cafe).

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Interestingly, they were concerned about their image (and attendant associations with German fascism, especially in the British music press who were happy to blithely lump them into the faintly xenophobic ‘krautrock’ genre, along with a host of other bands like Can, Neu and Tangerine Dream, bands with whom they had little in common musically) and were seeking to appear more European than German. Around the time the album was made Kraftwerk took to hanging out with the likes of David Bowie and Iggy pop in Paris nightclubs, and this era also saw them singing in French for the first time.

The Trans Europe Express was not an actual train journey, but rather a rail network. The TEE network which stretched across most of western Europe and was really flourishing in the mid 70s, some years before there was a high speed TGV train or an organisation like Rail Europe (or Voyages SNCF as they’re now known.) It effectively wound up in the early 80s, when Germany’s higher speed ICE trains began in earnest.

So TEE the album effectively crystallises Europe at a certain moment of time, a time of optimism, of new horizons and freshly forged connections, and in a spirit of discovery which should appeal to any budding InterRailer today, despite the vast changes the continent has witnessed since.

I’ll be reviewing the Utrecht gig in depth for Electronic Sound magazine, a fine online organ, which proudly champions all manner of things that go bleep in the night, affording them the same reverence as Uncut and Mojo do to the classic rock canon, and quite right too.

Follow our journey on twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #TourdeKraft.

As the irresistibly bobbing opener has it, ‘parks, hotels and palaces, Europe endless…’

Images: Takahiro Kyono Andy Miah Peter Zimmerman

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California Gleaming: Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train http://www.railwaystays.com/2015/04/01/amtraks-coast-starlight-train/ http://www.railwaystays.com/2015/04/01/amtraks-coast-starlight-train/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 17:05:15 +0000 http://www.railwaystays.com/?p=6101 We’d barely had 24 hours in LA before we were ready it to bid it farewell. Such is the reality of whistlestop train tours. It’s an ineffably strange way to travel, alternating between zipping around a vast city in a single day to spending whole days and nights in the moving limbo that is the […]

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Coast Starlight train Pacific Ocean view

We’d barely had 24 hours in LA before we were ready it to bid it farewell. Such is the reality of whistlestop train tours. It’s an ineffably strange way to travel, alternating between zipping around a vast city in a single day to spending whole days and nights in the moving limbo that is the twilight world of the Amtrak sleeper.

While we enjoyed LA more than we thought we would, its role on this trip was always that of a stopover. But no matter, as the relatively short  journey on board the Coast Starlight to San Francisco was easily one of the highlights of our voyage.

LA's Union Station

Union Station itself is such a triumph it’s almost a shame to leave. Built in 1936, a melange of Mission and Art Deco styles,  Union Station is feted as the last of the great US stations. Everything from the ceiling tiles to light fittings has a burnished grandeur about it. Even the leather public seating seem impossibly luxurious. It’s starred in a multitude of films, from Bladerunner to Chinatown, and you can take behind the scenes tours of the building.

Union Station ceiling

LA Union Station seating

(Being Sleeper Car passengers, we had access to the fairly new Metro Lounge, which served its purpose pleasantly enough for the WiFi and free drinks, if you can block out the TVs blaring loud infomercials, but doesn’t quite match the public section of the station for decor or atmosphere.)

Coast Starlight double decker train

Leaving LaLa Land behind, the tinge of unreality stayed with us a while. First there were neat rows of tall pines perched on hilltops that looked more like filmsets than actual filmsets, then we pass a wrecker’s yard where mannequin limbs clawed their way from the usual car part carnage. We pass a handsome early 20th century bridge daubed with the cryptic graffiti ‘There is no City’. In less than thirty minutes we’re rolling through Simi Valley, a craggy patch of desert landscape and tunnels that’s stood in for the Wild West on countless celluloid outings.

Hollywood Rocks

This being our third Amtrak journey, we’d grown accustomed to socialising at mealtimes, but on this leg the fraternising starts ahead of schedule, when the middle aged couple occupying the adjacent carriage duly inveigle themselves on us.

The wife seems sweet, if  a little dopey, but her husband is the irritating, crass, overbearing type who uses your name too much. For some reason he reminds me of Bulldog from Frasier, only not as funny. He cracks some lame jokes about us being ‘good buddies with the Beatles’ and we shun the view, feigning sleepiness to take refuge from his already tiresome banter.

Starlight attendant

Soon after we meet our our attendant. Hector is a kindly, if taciturn, elderly Latino man who walks with a stoop and make his way through the car distributing oranges and apples. He looks way too old and weary to be working this long haul overnight route.

The dusty terrain soon gives way to the vineyards of Oxnan and as if in response we’re greeted with an announcement from Flavio ‘everybody’s favourite parlour car steward’, even if he does say so himself, entreating us to stroll down to the car to sample a bloody mary, ‘or how about a little mimosa to get the day started right?’ Being suggestible types, naturally we oblige.

Coast Starlight Parlour Car

The Parlour Car is certainly one of  the Starlight’s particular highlights and unique to this route. It’s a pleasant and sociable car, divided into three areas, a handful of dining tables, a couple of chaise lounges facing each other with little cocktail tables and plush armchairs that swivel round so that you can admire 360 degree views. (Access to it is restricted to sleeper car passengers, so even if you’re not overnighting on the train, it’s well worth the modest upgrade fee.)

View from the Parlour Car

We get chatting to a couple, all glammed up on their way to see Jimmy Buffet live in San Luis Obispo who assure us that we’ll get our first glimpse of the Pacific soon and sure enough it appears with suitable majesty, all sparkly and topaz. The beaches and bays are remarkably unspoiled, just the occasional gaggle of surfers and lines of immaculate cream RVs (no obvious signs of meth production were evident), flocks of muddy brown spoonbills and some cormorants sunning themselves on the rocks in the centre of pools.

The procession of tiny coves that spools past makes you want to reach for the emergency stop chord or at least wistful for some sort of slow motion replay. The seascape is punctuated by countless oil rigs, which surprised us, before we get into serious swimming pool territory in the suburbs of San Jose.

California coastline from the Starlight

A soundtrack of good times sixties tunes plays in the Parlour Car. No Ventura Highway as we’re passing Ventura or Hotel California (and alas our old buddies the Beatles are conspicuous by their absence), but Do You Know the Way to San Jose and the Beach Boys soon sidle up on their surfboards.

Santa Barbara station
Santa Barbara station

I step off the train at San Luis Obispo and enjoy the irony of having a good puff of my e-cig on the platform of the first town to ban smoking in public places. ‘They don’t even let you do that on the train huh?’ shouts a lady from across the platform.

The terrain gets wilder past Santa Barbara as moors of cranberry and orange gorse and sandbanks drive a wedge between us and the ocean and ramshackle farms crop up with tractor playgrounds, bear-shaped scarecrows and pens of horses peck at the dry soil optimistically. We learn that this has been one of the driest years in aeons for California, which has long grown accustomed to aridity. Gullies and dried river beds enlivened by the odd cypress tree and startled deer.

California Dreaming on the Starlight

The train begins to climb into the San Margherita mountains, where the sun battles to flicker its way through the hills flanking us. Here there are Alpine log cabins and Union Pacific Cabooses, seemingly a world away from the classic California coast we’ve just enjoyed.  This is the mission route, El Camino Real, where 21 missions were built in the 17th – 19th centuries as waystations to accommodate horseback travellers.

Coast Starlight scenery

We take a raincheck on the tempting-sounding local wine tasting in the Parlour Car, our bellies still sated by perhaps the best Amtrak meal of our entire trip, a delicious turkey panini on cranberry bread.

Parlour Car lunch on Coast Starlight

Back in the Parlour Car, in the fading afternoon sun the taupey hills collect shadows and begin to resemble the wrinkled backs of lazy beasts that have long dozed off in the baking sun. We watch the oil derricks hypnotically nodding the earth, lulling us into our own sleepy state.

Such peace is relatively short lived though, as Bulldog accosts us again with a volley of overly familiar questions. Learning that I write for a living he asks if he is likely to feature in my story. ‘What, I met this annoying, nosey guy who wouldn’t quit asking me questions?’ his wife pipes up, hitting the nail square on the head. Until now she has been quietly working on her quilt and we silently wonder if this hobby has developed as her own personal marital coping mechanism.

Caifornia Desert from the Starlight train

Eventually we’re back into farmland, amid neat rows of Salinas’ surreally bright green crops that leap out at us after so many hours of near desert and which have surely been under constant irrigation.

We pass the cow town of King City, with the signs for Roy’s Garage and Queen’s Motel hinting at the characters from some chapter of a forgotten John Steinback novel. Even from the confines of carefully controlled train car, we can smell the pungency of a garlic farm several minutes before we spy the sign.

Salinas Sunset

Having seen the Pacific, as evening comes we decide it’s time to sample the Starlight, so we turn out the lights in our cabin near Olny. It proves a little elusive but still it’s nice to ride at street level again, as we had done for longer stretches on the Crescent train, past railroad crossings and neon-lit diners and motels.

Come nightfall you get a chance to sample one of the Starlight’s other curios, it’s dedicated cinema coach. The car comprises a 50 inch flatscreen TV and several rows of flip-up cinema seats. When I checked it out I virtually had it to myself, possibly because it was showing the terrible new Captain America film, but still watching a movie on a moving train is something to experience, mainly just so that you can say that you have. 🙂

Parlour Car by night

Before we knew it we rolled into Oakland’s Jack London Station and were finally reunited with our luggage, after a tense few minutes when we watch everyone else’s being decanted on the platform and board the coach to transfer us to downtown San Francisco.

Need to Know

The journey from LA to San Francisco took 12 hours, leaving just after 10am. You can get a coach seat from around $65, but we recommend upgrading to a sleeper car to access the Parlour and Cinema Cars. Ours cost $126 for the pair of us and includes lunch with a non-alcoholic drink.

There is a free courtesy bus from Oakland station which takes 30 minutes and drops you off at the SF Ferry Terminal or the Financial District. The Coast Starlight goes on to Portland and Seattle. The full journey takes around 35 hours.

See this post for more on the general Amtrak Sleeper train experience and also this one for how to get the best deals on Amtrak fares.

 

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To Sapa and Back on the Fanxipan Express http://www.railwaystays.com/2015/02/22/sapa-back-fanxipan-express/ Sun, 22 Feb 2015 16:22:07 +0000 http://www.railwaystays.com/?p=6097 Justin Schmid shares his experience of taking a sleeper train in Vietnam. To Sapa and Back on the Fanxipan Express Vietnam taught me one important lesson: For every blazing-fast maglev train or smooth-riding KTX or futuristic Japanese bullet train, there’s a Fanxipan Express. I experienced an overnight trip from Hanoi to Lao Cai and back […]

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Fanixpan Express
Pic by calflier001 on Flickr

Justin Schmid shares his experience of taking a sleeper train in Vietnam.

To Sapa and Back on the Fanxipan Express

Vietnam taught me one important lesson: For every blazing-fast maglev train or smooth-riding KTX or futuristic Japanese bullet train, there’s a Fanxipan Express.

I experienced an overnight trip from Hanoi to Lao Cai and back during my two-week stay in Vietnam. The bottom line – the Fanxipan Express sways its way along the tracks, creaking and lurching … but there’s arguably no better way to get to Lao Cai and then onto the popular mountain destination of Sapa.

Some part of me really enjoyed the novelty of the rickety Fanxipan Express, if only to feel a little better about my own country’s Amtrak; enjoying rail travel in South Korea or Finland can give an American a serious train inferiority complex.

Let’s take a look at my time on the Fanxipan Express.

Booking the Fanixpan Express

Night train Lao Cai train Station
By David McKelvey

It’s entirely possible to book online far ahead of time. My wife and I left some room in our schedules, though, so we could evaluate our side-trip options in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. While staying at the Rendezvous Hotel in Hanoi, some references to homestay hiking trips around Sapa – near the Chinese border – caught our eye. We booked through the hotel, with a price that included train travel. The Fanxipan Express website lists a round trip in four-berth “Superior Cabin” as $45 US person, one way. So call it $90 for a round trip per person.

The Rendezvous website lists our trek as $185 per person including fare for the train … but I recall us paying less than that. Nearly every price in Vietnam is negotiable, and you’re more likely to swing a deal in-person.

The Rendezvous staff dropped us off about 90 minutes before our train’s departure time – plenty of time to get acquainted with the train station situation, and overcome any language barrier problems.

Aboard the Fanxipan Express

Fanixpan Express sleeper cabins
Sleeper Train from Lao Cai to Hanoi by Kirk Siang, on Flickr

Soon, we were aboard the Fanxipan Express. The strains of a super-schmaltzy ballad echoed throughout the cars (maudlin sounds of this magnitude transcend languages) as we found our room, a wood-paneled, four-bunk affair we’d share with two strangers.

Well, we lucked out. We enjoyed the company of a teacher and an engineer who spoke excellent English. The four of us chatted a good bit before hitting the lights in an attempt to search for sleep.

I did manage to fall asleep, but the swaying and creaking jolted me awake more than a few times. I spent a lot of time in that gray area just short of full sleep. I’d call it a combination of the train’s swaying and being a 6’2, 200-pound person jammed diagonally into a bunk not really intended for my frame. I was relatively clear-headed when we arrived in Lao Cai, and I handled the next three days of hiking just fine … so I guess I got enough rest.

Conductors checked our tickets, and an attendant with a snack cart rolled by a few times. To be honest, I had little interest in snacks or drinks. I just wanted to get to Lao Cai, so I didn’t indulge.

Don’t Miss This Tip

Now, I need to tell you something absolutely vital about the Fanxipan Express – it’s time to talk toilets. Western-style toilets are getting more common in Vietnam, but you’ll definitely find more squat toilets. The Fanxipan Express has both types, which my wife didn’t realize. She found the squat toilet first, and assumed all the train’s toilets were the same.

So, if you don’t favor a physical task that’s like playing billiards on a roller coaster, keep walking until you find the Western-style toilet on the Fanxipan Express.

Wrapping up 16 Hours on the Fanxipan Express

We returned to Lao Cai on a chilly evening a few days later. There are plenty of cafes nearby where you can enjoy a cafe sua da (the delicious iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk that’s so popular here) before boarding the train. We spent some time strolling about Lao Cai, but didn’t wander too far because … well, we’d just hiked for three days and were feeling the weight of our packs. That, and the clock was ticking.

Our return trip was much the same as the outbound leg. This time, three other passengers jammed into the four-bunk cabin. My Vietnamese-language skills allowed me to offer some greetings, but that’s it. No cross-culture connection this time.

The Fanxipan Express creaked, we tried to sleep … and we arrived back in Hanoi. We said tam biet to our bunkmates and headed off to our last few days in Vietnam.

About the Author

Justin Schmid works as a creative professional for a nonprofit organization to support his travel habit. He tries to make the most out of every two-week trip abroad. You can learn more about his travels at his WanderingJustin.com blog. You can find him on Twitter as @wandering_j.

‘ Hi Impact Radius’

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London to Iran by Private or Public Train http://www.railwaystays.com/2014/10/31/london-iran-byprivate-public-train/ http://www.railwaystays.com/2014/10/31/london-iran-byprivate-public-train/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 12:26:53 +0000 http://www.railwaystays.com/?p=5526 This month UK-based rail operator Golden Eagle Trains will set off with the first private train into Iran. Tickets for this epic luxury rail journey apparently sold out very quickly, despite the minimum price tag of nearly £9000 and they’re already booking up for 2015. Of course it’s quite possible to arrange your own train […]

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London to Iran by train

This month UK-based rail operator Golden Eagle Trains will set off with the first private train into Iran. Tickets for this epic luxury rail journey apparently sold out very quickly, despite the minimum price tag of nearly £9000 and they’re already booking up for 2015.

Of course it’s quite possible to arrange your own train journey to the region for a fraction of that cost, as Tom Stapleton, of travel start-up Travel Local, shows with this latest guest post on his own rail trip to Tehran back in 2008. Here’s his account of the journey.

I’d been intrigued by Iran for a while before coming across the London to Tehran pages on seat61.com, describing an epic sounding rail adventure taking in Cologne, Vienna, Belgrade and Istanbul. That persuaded me to take the plunge, and after many evenings figuring out how to buy the tickets, my brother and I embarked on the first leg of our journey from St Pancras.

Trans Asia Express train sign

There was just enough time in Cologne to climb the spire of the city’s Gothic masterpiece of a Cathedral. In Vienna timings only allowed for a coffee in the station before we continued to Belgrade – a youthful city with friendly, international locals where we spent a couple of nights. A sleeper train later and we were in Istanbul, exploring the many layers of history, trying to like Raki and enjoying the colour of one of the world’s most convivial cities.

The final three day leg of the journey – the Istanbul to Tehran ‘Trans Asia’ Express – started with a ferry ride across the Bosphorous to Haydarpasa railway station. Located on the Asian side of Istanbul, the station is a grand, classical building, and one of the busiest in Asia (or was – it’s currently closed for a major refurbishment).

Train party Turkey

On board, we met our fellow passengers. There were a handful of other travellers, but the majority were Iranians returning home from holidays or work in Turkey. Shortly after departing, an Iranian gentleman from our neighbouring compartment invited us in, and with a conspiratorial grin invited us to join him and his wife for some sweet red wine, along with pistachios and other snacks. We had no language in common, but whiled away a pleasant hour or so learning a few words of Persian. Heading to the buffet car, the party atmosphere continued, with much singing and a little dancing. As the train hurtled eastwards, women took their last opportunity to be without the Hijab, and men had a few last sips of beer, wine or whisky – all forbidden in Iran.

Turkish train

Waking the following morning, we felt a long way from St Pancras. Dry, gently undulating scenery, small villages and towns with donkey carts waiting at the level crossings, and the preponderance of minarets rather than church spires: all told us that this was not Europe. The further east we got, the more the train slowed as the condition of the track became more and more rickety. As we approached the eastern most Kurdish provinces, soldiers got on board, supposedly to protect us from Kurdish separatists. They stayed with us all the way to Tatvan, on the shores of Lake Van.

Seventy four miles across, the lake is more of a sea and marks the end of the railway. Our luggage was loaded into a luggage car, and we boarded a ferry to take us across to Van on the other side – a five hour journey that is reportedly very scenic. Unfortunately the train was five hours behind schedule, so we were unable to verify this…

Waiting for us the other side was an Iranian train to complete our journey to Tehran. A little shabbier than the Turkish train, the party atmosphere evaporated as we crossed the border and the hijabs came on. After a few hours sleep, we arrived at the first major city, Tabriz. A prolonged stop of an hour or so presented the opportunity to change some money. I handed across a couple of crisp fifty dollar bills and received back 2.7 million Iranian rials – a carrier bag full of banknotes that made us feel rich beyond our wildest dreams until we came to actually buy things.

Iranian Rials

We’d departed Istanbul bang on time, but the further east we got, the more time we seemed to lose. We finally limped into Tehran a mere 12 hours late – but what’s 12 hours when you’re practically crossing a continent?

At the time I was glad to be getting off the train, but looking back, this is a journey I remember with great fondness – with the world getting ever smaller, it truly felt like an adventure.

London to Iran by train journey cost

Tom took the journey in 2008, but the following are current costs, as of October 2014.

From around £150 London to Belgrade in a 2 berth sleeper, saver single ticket (via Brussels, Cologne, Vienna).
The overnight Belgrade to Istanbul train has been suspended, so now needs to be done in two sections – Belgrade to Sofia overnight and then Sofia to Istanbul overnight. Around £80 for both legs.
Istanbul to Tehran is around £50.
Overall we spent around £1800pp on getting to Iran by train, having a 10 day private tour (with a car and driver, staying in budget hotels) and then a flight back.
What were the sleeper cabins like?
All pretty decent – Belgrade to Istanbul was a bit shabby, with 6 berth compartments. Istanbul across Turkey was in a modern 4 berth compartment. From the border across to Tehran, the 4 berth carriages weren’t so modern but still in good enough condition.
In general, what was the food like on the journey?
Food on board from Istanbul to Tehran was not bad at all, mostly classic Turkish dishes. In Iran, the food is pretty tasty, though slightly repetitive – expect lots of chicken kebabs!
Anything about booking the journey that would be useful for our readers to know?
It is a faff, but most of it can be done in advance from the UK. Deutsche Bahn should be able to get you as far as Sofia. Use a specialist rail booking agency for the Istanbul to Tehran leg.
My company, TravelLocal, can help with travel arrangements within Iran. Drop us a line and keep an eye on our website in future for more info on that.
The Foreign Office currently advises against ‘all but essential travel to Iran’, though I would imagine this will change within the near future.

About the Author

Tom on Tehran train

A life long train lover, Tom is the co-founder of start-up TravelLocal.com. TravelLocal connects travellers to locally owned travel companies in your destination who specialise in providing private, bespoke trips. For instance, if you’re travelling to India, TravelLocal makes it safe and easy to book with an Indian travel company, saving you money and getting you a better, more authentic trip. Call 01865 242 709 or email team@travellocal.com to find out more or to start planning a trip.

Iran night train

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