Brian’s Travel Spot: Huế to Hanoi

The things you find in Hue... A giant statue of a cockerel on the banks of the Perfume River.Welcome to the fourth instalment of my Vietnamese Travel Spot, covering my trip to Vietnam from exactly three years ago. I wrote some of it up at the time, but never completed the posts about my train journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, a 36-hour epic which I did in three stages.

The first stage, Ho Chi Minh City to Danang, was 18½ hour overnight journey on a no-frills sleeper leaving Ho Chi Minh City in mid-afternoon and arriving in Danang the following morning. The second stage saw me spend a couple of days in Hội An before travelling by train from Danang to Huế, the most scenic part of the route.

This, the final stage, covers my time in Huế, plus the last leg of my journey, from Huế to Hanoi. This involved another sleeper, which left Huế late in the evening and arrived in Hanoi just before midday the following morning. I then had three days to explore the Vietnamese capital before flying back late on the evening of the third day, first to Ho Chi Minh City, then back to Heathrow and home. This, incidentally, was the first time that I flew in business class!

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Danang, Hội An and Huế

Multi-coloured lanterns hanging in a street in the Old Town in Hoi An and lit up at night.Welcome to the third instalment of my Vietnamese Travel Spot, which covers the trip I made to Vietnam exactly three years ago. I wrote some of it up at the time, but never completed writing about my train journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, a 36-hour epic which I did in three stages, Ho Chi Minh City to Danang, Danang to Huế and Huế to Hanoi.

I’ve already written about the first stage, Ho Chi Minh City to Danang, 18½ hours on a no-frills sleeper which left Ho Chi Minh City in mid-afternoon and arrived in Danang the following morning. Meanwhile, the final leg, from Huế to Hanoi, involved another sleeper, and is covered in the final instalment of this series, just leaving with middle section, which is the subject of this post.

I broke my journey like this so that I could visit two contrasting cities, Hội An and Huế. I began with Hội An, a short way south of Danang (and which is bypassed by the train), then took the train from Danang to Huế, without a doubt the most scenic stretch of the whole route, before carrying on to Hanoi after a day in Huế.

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Full Dining Service

The black bean and corn veggie burger, from Amtrak's lunch menu, served on the California Zephyr, April 2019, en-route to Chicago.Two months ago, Amanda and I caught Amtrak’s Crescent service from New York to Atlanta. As fans of Amtrak’s dining cars, we were keen to see what the new “upgraded” dining service was like. Suffice to say we were disappointed, prompting me to write about the demise of Amtrak’s full dining service.

The good news is that this only applies to services east of the Mississippi, including the City of New Orleans, which runs between Chicago and New Orleans. Further west, Amtrak still offers its full dining service, a major plus when travelling by train. Having recently written about my journey last year from Los Angeles to San Jose on the Coast Starlight, and the trip Amanda and I took on the California Zephyr from Emeryville to Chicago a few weeks later, I’ve been inspired to write this as a counterpoint to the demise of Amtrak’s Full Dining Service.

For now, at least, the dining car, with its full dining service, is alive and well west of the Mississippi. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed us all of the joys of communal dining for now, I look forward to when I’ll be eating in the Superliner dining car again.

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 3

Amtrak Locomotive No. 161 at the head of the California Zephyr, eastbound for Chicago, standing at the platform at Grand Junction, Colorado, with Locomotive No. 19 behind it.Welcome to the third and final part of my bonus Travel Spot, telling the story of the journey that Amanda and I took from California to Chicago this time last year. We travelled on the California Zephyr, a daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, with a scheduled journey-time of 51½ hours. Along the way, it crosses roughly two-thirds of North America, over two mountain ranges and through an array of amazing, contrasting landscapes.

Our first day on the train was covered in Part 1 of this Travel Spot, when we travelled across California’s Central Valley, over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via the Donner Pass and down into and across Nevada following the Truckee and Humboldt Rivers. The following day, covered in Part 2, saw us going to bed in Nevada and waking up almost all the way across Utah. We then followed the Colorado River through Ruby Canyon before climbing into the heart of the Rockies, through the Moffat Tunnel and down to the other side to Denver.

In this final instalment, you can follow our progress through Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, crossing the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers on our way to Chicago.

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 2

Amtrak Locomotive No. 161 at the head of the California Zephyr, eastbound for Chicago, standing at the platform at Grand Junction, Colorado, with Locomotive No. 19 behind it.Welcome to the second instalment of my bonus Travel Spot. Just over a year ago, Amanda and I left Emeryville Station onboard Amtrak Train No. 6, the California Zephyr. A daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, the California Zephyr has a scheduled journey-time of 51½ hours as it makes its way west-to-east across roughly two-thirds of North America. The first part of this Travel Spot covered our first day on the train, travelling across California’s Central Valley, over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via the Donner Pass and down into and across Nevada following the Truckee and Humboldt Rivers.

In this instalment, we pick up our journey with our first of two nights on the train, which saw us going to bed in Nevada and waking up almost all the way across Utah. We followed the Colorado River for most of the day, crossing into Colorado along to 40 km long Ruby Canyon before climbing up through the Rockies, descending again into Denver as night fell. You can read about the third day of our journey, from Denver to Chicago, in the third and final instalment of this Travel Spot.

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 1

Amtrak Locomotive No. 161 at the head of the California Zephyr, eastbound for Chicago, standing at the platform at Grand Junction, Colorado, with Locomotive No. 19 behind it.Welcome to today’s bonus Travel Spot. Exactly a year ago today, Amanda and I left Sunnyvale in the Bay Area, California, to catch Amtrak Train No. 6, the California Zephyr, at Emeryville Station. Roughly 60 hours and 4,000 km later, we reached our destination, Buffalo Grove, in the Chicago suburbs. This was part of a much larger, five-week trip that began in New Orleans, then saw me fly to Los Angeles so that I could take the Coast Starlight along the Pacific Coast to San Jose. From Chicago, I (eventually) flew home. One day I hope to write up the entire trip, but for now, I hope you enjoy the train ride!

The California Zephyr is a daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, a scheduled journey of 51½ hours that crosses the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains as well as both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers as it makes its way west-to-east across roughly two-thirds of North America. It’s the longest I’ve been on a train, beating the 47 hours I spent on the Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland (Oregon) in 2015.

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Heading Home – Boston to London

My British Airways Boeing 777, waiting on the stand at Terminal 5 in Boston, ready to take me back to London. I wonder when I'll fly again?Welcome to the fifth and final instalment of this, the second (and possibly last) Travel Spot of 2020. It covers my recent trip to America, which began when I flew to Boston at the end of February. At that point I’d expected to spend five weeks in the US, culminating with two weeks in Chicago for work. However, as I explained in the previous instalment, the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic saw me abruptly cut short my trip the day after I arrived in Chicago, when I decided to head home.

I flew from Chicago to Boston on Monday, 16th March, staying overnight in an airport hotel so that I could catch my hastily rearranged flight back to the UK the following morning. It was a surreal experience, arriving at a near-deserted Chicago O’Hare airport on what should have been a busy Monday morning. However, that was nothing compared to my flight back to the UK, which is the subject of today’s Travel Spot.

It was as if someone had thrown a switch, changing the world almost overnight. When I’d flown to Chicago from Atlanta just three days before, the world had seemed pretty normal. Now it was anything but…

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Coast Starlight, Los Angeles to San Jose

The glorious, vaulted ceilings of one of the old waiting rooms at Los Angeles' Union Station.Welcome to this, today’s bonus Travel Spot, covering a journey I took exactly a year and one day ago, when I boarded Amtrak Train No. 14, the Coast Starlight, at Los Angeles’ Union Station. This was part of a much larger, five-week trip that began in New Orleans, then saw me travel to Los Angeles, San Jose/the Bay Area and Chicago (on the California Zephyr), from where I (eventually) returned home. One day I hope to write up the entire trip, but for now, I hope you enjoy the train ride!

The Coast Starlight is a daily service between Los Angeles and Seattle, although I was only going as far as San Jose, an all-day journey that departed Los Angeles at 10:10 and arrived in San Jose at 20:11, ten hours and one minute later! It was also very cheap, a one-way advance fare in coach class costing just $60, although since I was going to be on the train for 10 hours, I’d decided to spend the extra $30 for a seat in business class. Along the way, I saw a lot of the Pacific Coast as well as some awesome mountain scenery, plus I had two excellent meals in the dining car!

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Heading Home – Chicago to Boston

My Global WAKEcup, full of coffee I'd just made in the lounge and brought on the plane with me before my flight from Chicago to Boston.Welcome to the fourth instalment of this, the second (and possibly last) Travel Spot of 2020. It covers my recent trip to America, which began when I flew to Boston at the end of February. It’s been shaped throughout by the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, no more so than at the end of the trip. I’d originally planned to return at the end of March, but, as you’ll see, that’s not quite what happened.

I’d arrived in Chicago on Saturday, 14th March, having flown in from Atlanta. Everything felt fairly normal as I settled into my usual hotel right on the corner of the Chicago River, although the hotel itself felt rather quiet. The following day was gorgeous, with clear, blue skies, the temperature hovering a few degrees above freezing.

While people were taking precautions COVID-19, the city felt pretty normal. However, by the end of the day, the Governor of Illinois had announced the closure of all bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes except for takeaway customers and I decided that it was time to head home. I rearranged my flights that evening and, the following morning, I left for the airport. When, I wonder, will I be able to return?

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying from Atlanta to Chicago

Making my own coffee in the Admirals Club at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport. On display are my Travel Press and Aergrind, with beans from Tandem Coffee Roasters and hot water from the lounge's coffee machine.Welcome to the third instalment of this, the second (and possibly last, the way things are going) Travel Spot of 2020, all about my trip to America just before the COVID-19 crisis. Part 1 covered my flight to Boston with British Airways to spend a couple of weeks with Amanda in Portland. In Part 2, Amanda and I travelled from Portland to Atlanta by a combination of car and train to visit her mother. Then, after a week in the Atlanta suburbs, we parted company and I flew to Chicago, which is the subject of today’s Travel Spot. I was supposed to be there for two weeks, although subsequent events radically altered that plan!

It’s now exactly three weeks since I made that flight and, sitting here, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels very surreal to be writing about taking an internal flight in the US when so much has changed since then. However, at the time I flew, although people were starting to take precautions against catching COVID-19, everything seemed pretty normal. Little did I know at the time that this would be the last “normal” flight I’m likely to take for who knows how long!

Continue reading