Sunday 23 March 2014

My book of the great rail journey from London to Sydney and beyond:

Like millions of other people I’ve flown to Australia, and been bored stiff, but this time I went overland by train.

I was able to connect up with a whole series of trains, which took me all the way from London to Sydney and beyond. It wasn’t a made up TV ‘adventure’ trip with a dozen hidden fixers, nor was it a series of crackpot antics or dangerous pastimes nor was it a way of piggy backing on some fund raising scam.

This was an everyman story that anyone could do and was the most brilliant way to travel around the world. I could potentially have made the journey in 3 weeks but that would have made nonsense of travelling overland - so I spent 3 months stopping off whenever and wherever I felt like it.

Starting from London my route crossed Europe into Russia, east across Siberia, south through Mongolia and into China. From Beijing I trained it to Hanoi and then took the Reunification Express to Saigon, with a few stops on the way. I followed the Mekong north through Cambodia, onwards to Bangkok in Thailand and down the Malay Peninsula to Singapore. My only flight was from Singapore to Darwin and then it was trains all the way to Sydney and Perth.

Buy the book for just £3 - Around the World by Train


Wednesday 8 January 2014

Legendary Ghan Celebrates 10 Years Of Extended Service

February 2014 marks a decade since The Ghan completed its extended route from Adelaide to Darwin. Prior to that, it only ran from Adelaide to Alice Springs in the Red Centre. Today The Ghan offers an iconic cross continental rail service. To celebrate, Great Southern Rail is offering travellers 20% off their most popular packages on bookings made between the 6 January and 28 February 2014. The offer is valid for travel between the 1 May 2014 and the 31 October 2014.

Discounted fares from Darwin to Alice Springs or vice versa start from £525 (AU$952) per person travelling in Gold Class or from £1052 (1,832 AU$) per person travelling from Darwin to Adelaide (and vice versa). The price includes all off train tours, all standard beverages, including soft drinks, beers, standard wines and spirits and meals.

Passengers travelling on the Ghan will have the opportunity to explore some of Australia’s most fascinating towns and landscapes. In three days and two nights, covering 2,979km, travellers can make their way leisurely from the Northern Territory’s capital of Darwin all the way to Adelaide. But who in their right mind would not get off the train for a few days to explore the quintessential Australian landscape around Alice Springs?

On board The Ghan travellers have time to soak up and enjoy the moving landscapes as they change from lush green when leaving Australia’s Top End to dust red as the train makes its way through the heart of the Red Centre and then return to green as it travels through the vineyards surrounding Adelaide.

The name of The Ghan comes from the pioneering cameleers (many of them Afghans or Ghans as they were more commonly known), who were the first to establish a permanent trail to the Red Centre over 150 years ago. When the train departed Adelaide on its inaugural journey to Darwin, it was the longest passenger train in Australia’s history, stretching more than 1km with two locomotives and 43 carriages. For further information on the Ghan visit:

Sunday 11 August 2013

Following Dr Beeching’s Axe

In 1963 the political vandalism of the Beeching Report led to the abandonment of 4,500 miles of Britain’s rail track, the closure of 2,000 local stations and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs. It isolated thousands of communities and leaving them without a rail link to the ‘outside world’ for the first time in a hundred years.

Most of these lost lines disappeared from the landscape, gobbled up as urban & industrial sprawl or sucked up by farming conglomerates – but not all of them vanished. Some have added to our invaluable network of footpaths & bridleways.

Exploring Britain’s lost railways (The Times, October 2013) is a new book by Julian Holland that details some of these abandoned routes. It explores 50 of Britain’s lost rail routes that can now be travelled on foot or by cycle.
The book is illustrated with up-to-date & nostalgic photographs plus Ordinance Survey maps detailing how to find these lost routes.

It’s an enjoyable fireside read but for the more active there are routes to follow from Plymouth to Lossiemouth.

Monday 18 June 2012

The train to Budapest

Its a nice comfortable train that travelled at 100 to 160 kph through a rather uninteresting agricultural landscape. The rail operator is called RailJet, who I've never heard of. There was no discernable border between Austria & Hungary, the only evidence was a second ticket inspector wanting to stamp the ticket again.

About half an hour before Budapest we pass through rocky cliffs, wooded hillsides & we skirt the Danube.

Arriving in a new city in a new country & with no local currency (the forint) taxi's are a bit of a must until you suss out the local transport system. Budapest station taxi drivers are surly rip off merchants - they don't use a meter & charged 15 euro for a frightening 8 minute hurtle through the streets. 

Vienna to Budapest

It cost 10 euro for a taxi from Westbahnhof station to my hotel but going back to the station was free as my 24 hour Vienna card is still valid. The metro was twice as fast as the taxi & very easy to negotiate. If I'd bought a 48 hour metro/tram ticket on arrival I'd be 20 euro in pocket.

With an hour & quarter to wait at the station I really appreciate use of the club lounges which seem to be at all main stations. They come free with the modest extra premium for a first class ticket, unlike the UKs extortonate first class fares. With free WiFi, drinks, snacks & comfy chairs they could cover the extra cost - if you're greedy.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Vienna 4 - Sunday

As a rule I avoid museums - they're dead places full of artifacts ripped from any meaningful context & museum goers are basically train spotters wrapped up in a cultural blanket.

I enjoy art but bridle at the perposterous bogus sanctity of art galleries - but I was intrigued by Vienna's Museum of Art Fakes (Lowengasse 28). Fake art is nothing new, the earliest recorded example is apparently Michelangelo - as a student he was given an old master to practice his technique but he returned his copy instead of the original & no one noticed.

Artists like Tom Keating & Elmyr de Hory became disaffected with the profit driven motive of dealers & investment collectors & the lack of interest in their work so they set out to undermine the shallow, ignorant & phony art world by showing that they can paint just as well as dead painters whose works are valued in millions.

If 'experts' can't tell the difference between a fake & an original without recourse to X-Rays & scientific testing - then what is the difference?

A fascinating museum that is really thought provoking.

Vienna 3 - Sunday

Had a more enjoyable day as I bought a 24 hour Vienna public transport ticket for 6.70 euro  - which is a bargain as each trip costs 2 euro. Took the metro to Praterstern to see the famous ferris wheel depicted in The Third Man - a 1949 Carol Reed film from a Graham Greene short story immortalised by Orson Wells as Harry Lime in post war Vienna.

Its still in an old fashioned fun fair that looks to be dated from the 1940's - drear & awful but rather iconic for all that - & popular with old folks & parents of 5-7 years olds. In fairness they do have a newish ride that is the highest chair-o-plane ride that whirls around 117 metres in the air - why would anyone want to do that?

The Park was created in 1766 & after the ferris wheel was erecte in 1895 it evolved into a classic funfair.

The Danube is a few miles out of the city centre & the metro stops on a long island that is a popular leisure spot for the Vienenese. People were sunbathing, swimming, cruising in rental boats & parts were lined with alfreso riverside bars & restaurants. The river seems very clean (saw a terrpin) but it wasnt any 'bluer' than the Thames - less muddy brown maybe but couldnt see the Blue Danube.

It was a lovely spot with a delicious river breese & it was nice to find where the Viennese go when they abandon the city centre to the tourists.