Brian’s Travel Spot: Shanghai to Beijing by Train

My train, a brand new CR400, waiting to take me from Shanghai to Beijing on the world's second-fastest passenger service in December 2017 (and the world's fastest intercity passenger service).Welcome to another Brian’s Travel Spot. In case you’ve not been paying attention, I’m in Shanghai, having flown out two weeks ago for a week of work, followed by a week of sightseeing and Coffee Spotting. Having visited Shanghai last year, I was keen to explore a little bit more of China and, buoyed by travels by train in both Japan and Vietnam earlier this year, I contemplated taking the train to Beijing.

A little bit of research on the ever-useful The Man in Seat 61 showed that the train was considerably cheaper than flying and a lot more convenient. Not only that, as long as I caught the right train, I would be travelling on the world’s second-fastest passenger rail service, which appealed to the geek in me, especially since I’d already travelled on the world’s fastest passenger rail service when I caught the Maglev train serving Shanghai Pudong airport.

After further research, I decided to catch a regular high-speed service from Shanghai to Beijing on Saturday, the day after my meeting ended, returning four days later by sleeper, leaving Beijing on Wednesday night, arriving in Shanghai on Thursday morning, giving me three days to explore before flying home.

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying Business Class to Shanghai

Celebrating a successful flight in business class with China Eastern to Shanghai with some coffee made in my Travel Press and served in my Therma Cup.Welcome to a Brian’s Travel Spot, the occasional series documenting my increasing travel experiences. This year it’s gone from principally recording the trips themselves (its original purpose), to discussing the various flights I’ve been taking, starting with a pair of flights out to Phoenix and culminating in three trips from Manchester to Chicago, each one flying a different route with a different airline, United, British Airways and American Airlines. In between, when returning from Vietnam, I flew long-haul flight in business class for the first time.

This, my final trip of the year, sees me heading back to Shanghai for work. It also involves flying both legs in business class for the first time. This is largely down to self-preservation: due to prior commitments, I was busy the preceding weekend, so I had to forgo my normal practice of flying out midweek the week before my meeting and giving myself three or four days to get over the jetlag. Instead I flew out on Sunday night, arrived on Monday afternoon and went into a four day meeting starting at nine o’clock on Tuesday morning. Therefore, sleeping on the flight became a necessity, which meant flying business class…

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Chicago, Part III

My American Airlines Boeing 757 at the gate at Manchester Airport, having safely returned me from Chicago O'Hare.Welcome to the third and final part of this instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, which chronicles my various flights to/from Chicago this year. 2017 has seen me flying over all the world, including three trips to Chicago in relatively quick succession. While all three flights to Chicago have started at Manchester, I’ve flown a different route each time and flown with different airlines. This Travel Spot is my attempt to compare and contrast my experiences.

My first trip was at the end of June, when I flew with United from Manchester to Chicago via Newark, returning direct to London. My second trip, in September, took me from Manchester to London with British Airways and then on to Chicago with American Airlines. Once again, I returned on a direct flight, this time flying to London in business class with British Airways, just the second time I’ve flown long-haul in business, having done it earlier this year when returning from Vietnam.

My final flight, at the end of October, was my most straight-forward, flying direct from Manchester to Chicago with American Airlines and returning overnight by the same route, arriving on Friday morning, just in time for the Manchester Coffee Festival.

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Chicago, Part II

A British Airways Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet on the stand at Chicago's O'Hare airport, waiting to take me back to the UK. I always forget how big they are until I get up close to them.Welcome to the second part of this instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, which chronicles my various flights to/from Chicago this year. My crazy travel schedule, which has seen me flying over all the world in 2017, has also resulted in my taking three trips to Chicago. The first was at the end of June, the second (September), I’ve just returned from, while the third one is at the end of October. Since I’m flying with a different airline each time and, despite always starting out at Manchester, I’m also flying three different routes, I thought that it would be interesting to compare and contrast my experiences.

June saw me fly with United from Manchester to Chicago (via Newark), returning direct to London. Meanwhile, in October I’ll be flying direct to and Manchester with American Airlines. Today, however, is all about my recent trip in September, when I flew from Manchester to London with British Airways, then on to Chicago with American Airlines, before returning on a direct flight, this time with British Airways, to London. Even better, I flew back business class, just the second time I’ve flown long-haul in business, having done it earlier this year when returning from Vietnam.

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Chicago, Part I

A United Boeing 757 at the stand at Manchester Airport, waiting to fly me to Newark.My schedule’s seen me flying to Chicago three times this year: at the end of June, the start of September and, for the final time, at the end of October. Due to various circumstances, I’ve flown a different airline each time and, although I’ve always started out at Manchester, I’ve also flown three different routes. I thought that it would be interesting to compare and contrast each of the three sets of flights over a series of three Travel Spots, if for no other reason than my own decision-making purposes: I’ll be flying this route a fair few times in 2018 as well.

June saw me flying with United out of Manchester far too early in the morning, changing planes at Newark, and arriving late afternoon in Chicago. In contrast, in September, I flew from Manchester to London with British Airways, and on to Chicago with American Airlines, catching the last flight of the day. Finally, in October, I’ll be flying direct from Manchester to Chicago with American Airlines on the only direct flight of the day. Fortunately, all three return flights were direct: back to Heathrow in July (with United) and September (with British Airways), while in November I’m heading back to Manchester on American Airlines.

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying Business Class with Vietnam Airlines

My Vietnamese Airlines Boeing 787-9 waiting at the gate at Heathrow's Terminal 4 to take me to Ho Chi Minh City.Welcome to another instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot. This is part of my series on Vietnam, which started with my flight over, and which, logically enough, would conclude with this, my flight back However, I’ve long since given up on assuming that there will be any logic to the order of these posts, so while you still await my thoughts on Vietnam itself, the final instalment of my three-part series on Vietnamese Coffee and the culmination of my trip up the coast by train, here’s a piece on my flight back from Vietnam, which marked, in another first for me and the Coffee Spot, a long-haul flight in business class.

I should point out that I do have this dream that at some point in the (hopefully not too distant) future, loads of free time will magically appear, allowing me to go back and complete the outstanding Travel Spots. These will then form a coherent narrative, full of useful information for the fellow traveller. Of course, knowing how these things go, it’ll take me ages, by which time they’ll be hopelessly out of date. Plus, of course, I’ll have to completely re-write this introduction.

I’ve clearly not thought this through…

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Vietnam By Train

My sleeper compartment on the TN2 train from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi.Welcome to the second instalment of the latest Brian’s Travel Spot, the occasional series in which I attempt to catalogue my travels by means other than the coffee shops I visit. This trip began just over a week ago, when I flew out to Vietnam, a new destination for both me and the Coffee Spot. Since then I’ve been in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon as was), first exploring the city (through the lens of its speciality coffee shops), then attending a week-long meeting for my day job.

In an ideal world, I’d be writing things up as I go, letting you know what I made of the city, with regular updates documenting my various adventures and experiences. However, if the last year has taught me anything, it’s that trying to combine travelling, working, keeping the Coffee Spot regularly updated and writing Travel Spots in real time just doesn’t work. Something has to give and, sadly, it’s the Travel Spot.

Instead, let’s skip over Ho Chi Minh City to the second part of my trip, which began yesterday. It’s an epic 36-hour train journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, stopping along the way at Hoi An and Hué.

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Vietnam

My Vietnamese Airlines Boeing 787-9 waiting at the gate at Heathrow's Terminal 4 to take me to Ho Chi Minh City.Welcome to another instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, featuring Vietnam, a new destination for the Coffee Spot and for me personally. Having previously hardly set foot outside Western Europe and North America, the last 12 months have seen me visit China, Japan and now Vietnam for the first time. As it was with the two previous trips, this is for work, with time for some Coffee Spot duties tacked on at the start/end.

In another first for me, I flew out (and will be returning) on Vietnam Airlines. Again, this last year has seen me flying on a variety of airlines, having previously tried to travel only on British Airways or Virgin for long-haul flights. Other than the annoyance at having my airmiles spread around all over the place, my (long haul) experience has been very positive. Hopefully Vietnam Airlines will continue the trend.

The trip itself will take in a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, followed by a week there for business, then a week-long trip all the way up the coast by train to Hanoi, with stops at Hoi An and Hué along the way. I then fly back from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh and, from there, home.

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Tokyo

A quiet, narrow Tokyo street 10 minutes' walk from the madness of Shibuya but feeling a million miles away.It’s almost been two weeks since I set off from Heathrow to fly, for first the time, to Japan. You can read about my (lack of) preparation for the trip and my thoughts about it in the previous Travel Spot. Rather than give a blow-by-blow account of my trip, including where I went and what I did, I’m taking a different approach with this Travel Spot, concentrating on my general impressions of Tokyo and, in another post, Japan (at least, those bits that I visited).

My trip’s been split into three parts. Part I involved three nights in Tokyo where I was pretty much getting over my jet-lag and gentling exploring random parts of the city. Part II was work, a Monday to Friday meeting that was ostensibly the purpose of the trip and involved moving to a swanky hotel in Shibuya (think Piccadilly Circus/Oxford Street or Times Square). Part III, the bit I’m on now, sees me exploring Japan by train for a week and will be covered in another Travel Spot.

Back to this Travel Spot, where I will kick off with some general observations about Tokyo, before moving on to talk about coffee shops and other matters.

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Japan

This is a slight departure from my normal Travel Spot series, less recording what I’ve done, more advanced warning of what’s coming. Whether I expand it to recap my travels remains to be seen, but for now it can stand as a reminder of an increasingly busy year!

You see, I’m off to Japan. I’ve known about it for a while now. I booked the flights in early February, but only really started planning the trip at the weekend. For reference, today’s Wednesday and I’m leaving for the airport at noon!

This is very unlike me. Normally I’m a thorough planner and preparer, even if I then use my plans as a basis for improvisation rather than rigorously follow them. I suspect that I’m a bit of nightmare to travel with, so it’s just as well that I travel alone most of the time.

I’m back with British Airways after dabbling with various airlines over the last year. It’s the one part of the trip I have planned: my exit-row aisle seats are booked and I’m looking forward (honestly, I am) to 12 hours on a 787. It might give me a chance to do some preparation for this trip!

Continue reading