December 14, 2017

Night Train to Paris

As I prepare for my trip to Europe, I wanted to share this guest post with you.  Jesse Langley will transport you with him as he takes a night train to Paris!

The sun hung hot in the late afternoon sky and my clothing clung to me with varying degrees of dampness. Even my linen pants were moist. I had escaped the cold gray drizzle of Amsterdam the month before. After a detour into Germany to visit some old university buddies for a week I had continued south through France until arriving in Montpellier. Three weeks of studying French had given me a case of verb conjugation confusion and a serious addiction to mussels covered in stinky cheese. Besides, I had played hooky long enough and had some serious academic work cut out for me in Edinburgh. But Edinburgh wasn’t going anywhere any time soon and Paris was sort of on the way. Besides, not stopping in Paris when I was this close would be a crime.

 St-Clément Aqueduct Montpellier France

Montpellier Aqueduct by jparise, on Flickr

As I walked past the old Roman aqueduct under the load of my heavy backpack I stopped long enough to wipe sweat out of my eyes and admire the aqueduct’s engineering. I looked at the sturdy Roman lines and the pristine condition of the aqueduct and briefly wondered why we still have problems building sturdy roads in the states. I limped into the train station determined to never load so much into a backpack. I guess that’ll require a smaller backpack. The gendarmerie was trying to inconspicuously scan for suspicious passengers from the balcony in the train station but the German Shepherds kind of blew their cover. The French police don’t do inconspicuous well, but at least they’re better than the Italians.

I waited for the one o’clock to Paris in the shade of the station. When it pulled in and was ready for boarding I was the first one in. I had learned the hard way on the stretch from Cologne to Montpellier that stragglers with enormous backpacks will always suffer if the luggage rack in the corner of the train car gets full. There is no humanly possible way to stuff seventy-five pounds of pack in an overhead bin. I got my backpack securely stowed, found my seat and plugged in my headphones. As the train left the station Bob Dylan was mumbling his way through Stuck in Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again and Montpellier began to recede into the distance.

Eiffel Tower Paris France at sunrise

Eiffel Tower by Tristan Nitot

I fell asleep and when I woke the sun was hanging just over the mountains to the west painting the peaks in brilliant shades of oranges and pinks. I made my way to the bar car for a drink and sat near the bar sipping a glass of wine and watching the sun through the bar car window as it slowly sank below the mountains until they were silhouettes. I finished my wine and made my way back to my seat. The train car was quiet except for the soft snoring of passengers so I worked for a while with my dissertation on Joyces’s Ulysses until my eyelids got heavy again. I opened my eyes as the train began to slow coming into the Paris Gare du Nord station.

I collected my backpack and hailed a cab. The taxi driver’s English was actually worse than my French, and I was pleased that he understood the hotel directions I gave him on the first try. We chatted as much as my horrible French would allow until we got to the hotel. Upon arrival I paid him an extra four Euros for putting up with my mangled conjugations. The interior of the hotel lobby was high-ceilinged and airy. I waited while the young woman behind the counter checked my name against the reservations before producing a gigantic old fashioned skeleton key. I thanked her and headed for my room. Inside the hotel room large windows were open outwards and a light breeze blew softly and rustled the pulled back linen curtains. Just visible in the distance the Arc de Triomphe glowed against the night sky lit from underneath with spotlights.

Arc Triomphe Paris France at night

Arc Triomphe by Benh LIEU SONG

I took a quick hot shower and wiped the steam off the mirror for a quick shave. I rooted around in the backpack until I found a pair of linen pants with the fewest wrinkles. I put on a clean white oxford and stepped into a pair of bright red espadrilles. After a quick look in the mirror I wiped a wisp of shaving cream off my ear and put the skeleton key in my left pants pocket where I noted with disapproval that it caused the pocket to sag under its weight. I walked out past the check-in counter and noticed that the young woman who had given me my key had a pixie haircut and looked like a young Audrey Hepburn like so many French women do. I had a hankering for a croissant and a good cup of coffee, so I continued out the lobby into the balmy Paris night to look for a late night café and a conversation.

 

Ah Paris, Tell us about a favorite memory you have of Paris!

 

Jesse Langley lives near Chicago. He divides his time among work, writing and family life. He is an advocate for online education and has a keen interest in blogging and social media.

Bridging Europe

When traveling we come across many bridges that are part of the local customs, history and folklore.

Some bridges are very famous or very high

Đurđevića Tara Bridge over the river Tara in Montenegro

Đurđevića Tara Bridge in Montenegro by Cornelius Bechtler

Tower Bridge London England

Tower Bridge London England by Diliff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some are very beautiful and some you couldn’t pay me to cross!

Kapellbrucke Lucerne Switzerland

Kapellbrucke Lucerne Switzerland

Rickety Bridge in Europe

Rickety Bridge Latvia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But they all are works of art, functional and just plain amazing. I’m not an engineer, so it always amazes me how these structures can stretch so far, reach so high and withstand all the abuse they take from vehicles and the elements.

 

I thought it would be fun to look at few bridges Europe has to offer!

Oresund Bridge

Öresund Bridge Sweden Denmark

Öresund Bridge by Hardo, on Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Øresund or Öresund Bridge is one of the more unique bridges I have ever seen. This bridge connects Denmark and Sweden and is both a bridge and tunnel! The bridge portion spans 25,739 feet from Sweden to a manmade island, Peberholm, from here you enter the tunnel to cross under the Drogden strait. The tunnel includes 2 rail tracks and 4 lanes for cars. During construction there were 2 delays one being do to finding 16 unexploded bombs from WWII laying on the seafloor.

Goltzsch Viaduct

Goltzsch Viaduct Saxony Germany

Goltzsch Viaduct Saxony Germany© Chriusha (Хрюша)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goltzsch Viaduct is the largest brick built bridge in the world. This railway bridge was built between 1846 – 1851, spans the Goltzsch valley and connects Bavaria and Saxony in Germany. There are 98 vaults over 4 levels with the top level made up of 29 arches.

Rio-Antirrio Bridge

Rio-Antirrio Bridge Greece

Rio-Antirrio Bridge Greece © Guillaume Piolle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful Rio-Antirrio Bridge is official known as the Charilaos Trikoupis bridge and is the longest multi span cable-stayed bridge in the world. Crossing the Gulf of Corinth and connecting the towns of Rion and Antrion (on the Greek mainland), this 9,449’ long bridge is a feast for the eyes! The bridge has 2 lanes for traffic in each direction and a path for walkers or bikers. An interesting fact is the piers can slide on the gravel to accommodate any tectonic movement.

Bosphorus Bridge

Bosphorus Bridge Istanbul Turkey

Bosphorus Bridge Istanbul Turkey By Kara Sabahat

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bosphorus Bridge is one of the few bridges on this earth that spans 2 continents. This beautiful bridge spans the Borphorus strait connecting Europe and Asia. The suspension bridge has 3 lanes in each direction for cars and when it is fully loaded sags 35” at mid span! There is an annual marathon that includes running over the bridge.

Vasco de Gama Bridge

Vasco de Gama Bridge Lisbon Portugal

Vasco de Gama Bridge Lisbon Portugal by Till Niermann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The longest bridge in Europe is the Vasco de Gama which spans the Tagus river near Lisbon, Portugal. The bridge is almost 11 miles long and was opened in 1998 just in time for Expo 98 which celebrated the 500th anniversary of de Gama’s discovery of the route from Europe to India.

Magdeburg Water Bridge

Madgeburg Water Bridge Germany

Madgeburg Water Bridge Germany by Botaurus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magdeburg Water Bridge caught my eye because it isn’t a bridge made for cars or trains. This bridge is a navigable aqueduct for boats connecting the Elbe-Havel canal to the Mittelandkanal by spanning the Elbe river in Eastern Germany! There is a walkway and bike path along the span including signs telling the history and construction of the bridge.

So there you have it! Some beautiful, unique and interesting bridges you could find while in Europe.


Have you seen any of these? Do you like Bridges?

Musings on European Rail Travel

There are many ways to travel around Europe.  One of my favorites is using the train!  Train travel evokes mythical and magical feelings in me.  Train trips always seem so exciting, serene and romantic but why?

I suppose it has to do with the fact that there isn’t much opportunity to travel by train in California.  Yes I have been on the Amtrak train from Orange County to Los Angeles (yup that was a long trip) but somehow Amtrak just doesn’t seem to compare with trains in Europe.

This infatuation could be due to all the movies and books portraying train travel as adventurous, daring and romantic.  Doesn’t everyone find love on a train?  Spies abound on trains, right?  What about those long lustful goodbyes on the platform?  Or even chasing the train to have one last glimpse. . .

European Rail Travel

by Wootang01, on Flickr

No matter where it comes from, I relish the opportunity to travel by train in Europe!

So I am very excited to be traveling this summer solely by train.  In preparation I have been thinking about past train travel and the tips I have learned along the way.

The first tip is to PACK LIGHT! I learned this lesson the hard way on my first trip to Europe way back in 1981.  For a 3 week solo trip I had one LARGE suitcase, 1 hanging garment bag, 1 overnight case and a large bag/purse plus the bags of souvenirs I collected along the way.  I swear my arms are longer today because of this trip!  The thing I didn’t know about train travel is there are a lot of walking and stairs involved.  Stairs that go down under the track, stairs that go back up to the platform and then more stairs to get on the train.  Ugh, I’m tired just remembering this.  Some of the newer trains are actually at platform level so that makes it a little easier but there is still quite a bit of walking and stairs.  So PACK LIGHT!

The last time I traveled solely by train was in Switzerland and for this trip I had a rail pass.  The pass made it extremely easy because I didn’t have to arrive early to purchase tickets so I just got on what ever train I wanted.    Just as a train ticket, the pass doesn’t guarantee me a seat.  If you want a guaranteed seat, then you need to purchase a reservation.

European Rail Travel

by Hunter-Desportes, on Flickr

The pass I had allowed me first class seats but I could sit in 2nd class if I wanted, however, it doesn’t work the other way around!  Also some trains require seat reservations so make sure to check this if you are traveling with a rail pass.

This summer’s trip is pricing out quite a bit less if I buy point-to-point tickets so that is probably what I am going to do.  The one thing I haven’t decided is if I will purchase some ticket prior to departing the US.  Any suggestions?

There is a price difference between 1st class seats and 2nd class seats and sometimes this difference can be quite a lot.  The differences between the classes are pretty much the same as in airplanes – roomier seats, more comfortable seats etc. It is my experience that if you want to travel with locals then travel in 2nd class.  One note to mention, 2nd class can be very full during rush hours so a seat may not be found.

European Rail Travel

by Hunter-Desportes, on Flickr

My last tip is to arrive early at the station so that you have time to find the platform your train will be departing from.  I hate rushing around at the station at the last minute.

Here are a couple websites I find useful for looking up train schedules and even pricing.

Deutsche Bahn (Germany)

Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB) (Austria)

 

What train experiences have you had?  Any tips you’d like to share?

Fabulous Friday – When flying, do you prefer the window, middle, or aisle seat?

I can distinctly remember my first ever trip on an airplane.  I was 8 years old and we were flying from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City to visit my mom’s family.  Oh boy was I excited!  And dressed up too!  No sloppy jeans for us.  My mom and I were in new dresses and my brother wore a little tie.

Oh how things have changed today!  Everyday you can hear someone complaining about the airlines, the food, TSA or the seats.  Its bad enough the amount they charge for First or Business class seats but now they even charge extra for extra room in coach.

Middle Seat Cartoon

From Paul Fell http://www.executivetravel.com

My co-worker is flying to Hawaii and the other day we got started talking about seat preferences when on an airplane.

She really likes the window seat because she can see what is outside especially as the plane is descending for landing.  But if she is traveling with her husband she usually selects the dreaded center seat so he can have an aisle.

I prefer an aisle seat solely because I get the feeling of having more space since one shoulder is not next to someone or something.  My second choice would be a window.  That said,  I usually select a center seat when traveling with my husband.  That is, of course, until he spilled red wine on me during a flight to New York City.  The aisle across from him will work just fine, thank you!

by Daquella manera, on Flickr

I book corporate travel as part of my “job” and most co-workers prefer aisles but some opt for windows.

No one books that center seat!!

On this Friday and just for Fun I thought I’d ask . . .

 

When flying, do you prefer window, middle or aisle seat?

Does this change if you are traveling with a friend, significant other or spouse?

Photogenic Lucerne Switzerland

Lucerne is one of the most photogenic cities there is in Europe.

View of mountain from Lucerne Switzerland

Mountain view from Lucerne Switzerland

Located in the center of Switzerland, Lucerne offers a sampling of what defines Switzerland – lakes, meandering rivers, mountains, charming bridges, flowers, boats, frescoed buildings and a medieval old town.

Lucerne Switzerland along the River Reuss

Lucerne along the River Reuss

Lucerne is a great city to wander charming cobblestoned streets or stroll along the river promenade stopping at cafes that dot the River Reuss.

The Kapellbrucke is probably the most famous bridge and sight in Lucerne.

Kapellbrucke Lucerne Switzerland

Kapellbrucke Lucerne Switzerland

To enjoy Lake Lucerne, spend time at one of the beaches or enjoy a steamer to marvel at the scenic mountains, stately homes and castles or even enjoy a wholesome breakfast.

Leave some time to enjoy the Swiss Transport Museum.  This museum displays many forms of transportation including train cars, planes, cars and ships.  You can also see the oldest steamboat in Switzerland and there is a model depicting the crossing of the Gotthard Pass.

Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

Mt. Pilatus is one of those Swiss mountains steeped in history and myths that comes with incredible views.  Part of the adventure is the transportation getting you to the summit and returning you to the floor.  To begin your trip, take a steamer to Alpnachstad where you will transfer to the cog railway that will whisk you to the top.  This cog railway is the steepest in the world with a 48% gradient.  Your return can be by a pair of cable cars or via the cog railway.

Clouds below Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

View from Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

At the summit, besides marveling at the panorama unfolding before your eyes there are many hiking paths and restaurants.

The William Tell Express, one of Switzerland’s scenic rail trips, begins in Lucerne.  Board your steamer to Fluelen where you transfer to the scenic train for the remainder of your trip to Locarno.  But this is for another day. . .

 

Have you been to Lucerne?

What is the most photogenic city you have been to?

 

 

 

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Swiss Post Bus – An Adventure to Remember

There are many ways to travel in Europe – boat, train, car – but in Switzerland the PostBus looks to be an exceptional way to see this beautiful country.

I have not yet taken an excursion on the PostBus but this has been something I have wanted to do since the first time I heard that distinctive toot of their horn!  At that moment I was sold.

Swiss PostBus on Susten Pass

PostBus on Susten Pass by Norbert Aepli, Switzerland (noebu)

The Swiss PostBus service began in 1849.  There were no cars just horses at this time.  It wasn’t until 1906 that the horses were replaced by motorized vehicles.

Today the PostBus has 13 tourist routes criss-crossing the country.  These routes venture into each nook and cranny of Switzerland and travel into places trains just cannot go and sometimes on roads that are not much wider than the bus!  This system has more than 2,000 vehicles in service that carry over 118 million passengers each year.

Glaciers along PostBus route Switzerland

Glaciers along PostBus route by ActiveSteve, on Flickr

On your journey via PostBus you will wind your way up mountains, through passes and tunnels, the Swiss National Park and many splendid valleys.  You will see medieval villages, UNESCO World Heritage sights, castles, ski resorts, glaciers and glistening lakes.

One of the tourist excursions, the Palm Express, is a trip that has many contrasts.  Beginning in the Engadine and ending in the Ticino canton, this trip will take you from the Alpine region full of glaciers to the region known for its Mediterranean climate complete with balmy weather and palms.

Susten Pass along PostBus route Switzerland

Susten Pass along PostBus route by ActiveSteve, on Flickr

Or if Alpine scenery is your style, enjoy a trip on the Central Alps Passes: Grimsel–Nufenen–Gotthard–Susten Pass Route.  On this journey you will enjoy views of glaciers, deep valleys and quaint villages.  The route travels along Switzerland’s highest road  and traverses 4 mountain passes and crosses the Devil’s Bridge over the Schollenen Gorge.

Devils Bridge Switzerland

Devils Bridge Switzerland by de: Benutzer:Markus Schweiss

Not sold yet?  Watch this video and I think  you will be making your reservations.

 

If you can’t view the video, click here.

 

There are many more routes and ways to access the Swiss Post Bus.

Is this an excursion you would like to enjoy?  Tell me why or why not.

Scenic Trains in Switzerland – – Glacier Express

Switzerland is known for many things including beautiful mountains, meadows teeming with wildflowers, many rivers and lakes, glaciers, chocolate and cheese.  Another that belongs on the list are the Scenic trains.  There are a number of scenic trains that traverse Switzerland from all angles.  One of the most impressive, and well known, is the Glacier Express.  I have a feeling that most everyone has heard about the Glacier Express but if you haven’t been able to enjoy a ride on this train, I can tell you it is as spectacular as everyone says.

Bridge along Glacier Express Switzerland

Bridge along Glacier Express

The Glacier Express first began running in June 1930 and continues running year-round today from St. Moritz to Zermatt (or vice versa).  An option is a seat on the panorama train car which were put into service during 2006. The Glacier Express journey takes about 7 hours and, according to glacierexpress.ch, takes you through “ . . . untouched mountain landscapes, glamorous health resorts, deep gorges, delightful valleys, 91 tunnels and across 291 impressive bridges.”  From your window seat you will be able to see the charm of the Swiss Alps rising high above the quaint villages.

Barn along Glacier Express Switzerland

View from Glacier Express

Scenery along Glacier Express train Switzerland

Scenery along Glacier Express

Glacier Express meadow Switzerland

Meadow from Glacier Express

I had heard that usually this train is pretty full but as we boarded our train in St. Moritz and settled in for our journey I noticed that our train was not very full.  We were very lucky because, on this October day, we almost had the car to ourselves and were able to go side-to-side as the scenery passed by.

Spectacular vista from train window Switzerland

Spectacular views in Switzerland!

Switzerland is a beautiful country and this train trip is an excellent representation of its stunning landscape.  During the trip, the scenery I saw from my window was bewitching!  As we crossed the countryside, I was in awe of the shear beauty of what was passing by my eyes.  The deep chasms running down each hillside where water had run off is awe-inspiring.  The power of water is incredible and you can see it first hand from your train car.  As our train crossed the Swiss heartland I was amazed by this immense and spectacular landscape.  From the lakes and forests to pastures filled with cows and wild flowers, beauty is everywhere. Equally amazing are the glaciers visible as the train makes its way towards its destination.  As we traveled along, I remember thinking “Who turned off the movie?” every time we passed through one of the 91 tunnels – – especially the longer ones.

Glacial river from train in Switzerland

Glacial river flowing beside Glacier Express

The train is 7 hours long and upon our arrival in Zermatt, I can’t say I wasn’t ready to get off but I also did not regret one minute of the trip.  In fact, I can’t wait until I am able to enjoy another of Switzerland’s scenic trains.

Stunning views from Glacier Express Switzerland

Stunning views from Glacier Express

Have you been on the Glacier Express?  I’d love to hear about your experience.  Have you been on any of the other scenic trains?  Which ones did you like best?