Welcome to another instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot. You join me in Austin, Texas, at the start of a week-long train trip across America (although the last leg is by coach) that will see me reach Portland, Maine, just in time for Thanksgiving. My journey is spread over four days, going via New Orleans (where I’m spending the weekend) and Washington DC (where I’ll spend a day).
This Travel Spot covers the first leg of the journey, travelling on Amtrak Train No. 21, Texas Eagle, which runs daily between Chicago and San Antonio. However, I was only onboard from the second to last stop, Austin, my coach class ticket (booked six weeks in advance) costing me the princely sum of $6.
I’d been in Austin for the previous six days, having flown out from London for work. As soon as my meeting ended on Thursday afternoon, I headed to the station, stopping only for a pour-over at Merit Coffee on W 3rd Street, a convenient 10-minute stroll from the station (or so I thought). Then I carried on to the station, arriving in plenty of time for my 18:30 departure. Except, as you will see, my train was somewhat late.
After two years with no face-to-face meetings for work, things have suddenly taken off. Following my trip to Berlin at the start of May, I was off again in July, this time to the Bay Area, where I had a week-long meeting, followed by a week of exploring. I then flew to Atlanta to spend a couple of weeks with Amanda, before flying home exactly a month after I left.
Flying into the Bay Area presents a range of options, with San Francisco and San Jose being the most convenient. I did a similar trip in January 2020, and, just as I did then, I decided to fly to San Jose with British Airways. Although San Francisco is slightly more convenient, with several flights a day, on both occasions it was considerably more expensive. This made San Jose, with its one flight a day, the logical choice and, just as I did in 2020, I decided to fly in World Traveller Plus (premium economy to you and me).
Although I’ve just returned from that trip, it’s only now that I’ve had the time to start writing up the Travel Spots, starting with this one about my flight to San Jose.
Welcome to the third and final instalment of my latest Travel Spot series, all about my return home by train from Berlin. The first part covered my journey from Berlin to Köln, where I spent a few days exploring the local coffee scene, as well as taking a day-trip by train along the Rhine to Mainz. The last stage of my journey was my return to the UK, which involved retracing my steps from the journey out as far as London St Pancras. However, while I’d set off from Guildford, I was returning to North Wales and Flint station, which was part of the reason I’d broken my return journey in Köln.
I’d done Guildford to Berlin in a day and while I could, in theory, have done Berlin to Flint in a day, it would have required a very early start and any missed connections would have probably been disastrous. In contrast, by travelling from Köln, I could have a relatively relaxed start, catching the 09:42 to Brussels, where I’d have an hour and 20 minutes before my Eurostar to London, arriving at 14:00, rounding things off with the 16:10 Avanti West Coast service from London Euston, direct to Flint.
If you’ve been following my recent Travel Spot posts, you’ll know that on my way back to the UK from Berlin, I broke my journey at Köln, where I spent three days before continuing to Brussels and London St Pancras. I was travelling on a Eurail pass, one which allow me unlimited travel on four separate days. I’d used one to go from Guildford to Berlin, another to travel from Berlin to Köln, while my return to the UK would use the third, leaving me a day spare. Of course, I didn’t have to use it, but it seemed a shame to waste it, so I hit on a plan.
The first time I came to Köln was over 30 years ago, also travelling on a Eurail pass (back then known as an Interrail pass). I was on my way to Friedrichshafen, on the shore of the Bodensee, and I caught a train from Köln to Stuttgart, the line following the Rhine for the first part of the journey. The views captivated me, and I always hoped to return. Now, I had my chance, deciding to spend the spare day of my pass travelling from Köln to Mainz and back.
Welcome to the first instalment of my new Travel Spot series, covering my return by train from Berlin to the UK. While this saw me retrace my steps from the journey out (as far as London St Pancras), rather than doing everything in one day, I broke my journey at Köln, where I spent a few days before carrying on to the UK.
On my way out, because I needed to get all the way to Berlin in a single day, everything was very tightly planned, with reservations on all the various legs of the journey (Eurostar from St Pancras to Brussels, ICE 3 from Brussels to Köln and ICE 1 from Köln to Berlin). On the way back, I could afford to be more flexible, particularly as the journey from Berlin to Köln is just over four hours, with hourly departures from Berlin.
In theory I could have done this by buying individual tickets for each leg, but since I was travelling on a Eurail pass, I could use any ICE train. This meant I was able to leave my decision as to which train to catch right up until the last minute, which is exactly what I did.
Welcome to the fourth and final instalment of my Travel Spot series, covering the train journey I made at the start of May, going from Guildford to Berlin in a day. Part I of the series covered planning the trip, while Part II was all about the first leg of the journey, which saw me arrive in Brussels Midi onboard the Eurostar. I then changed to the German high-speed ICE (Inter City Express), taking an ICE 3 to Köln, which I covered in Part III. The final leg of the journey, from Köln to Berlin, was also by ICE and is the subject of today’s instalment.
My experience on the ICE 3 to Köln was everything I’d hoped it would be: a fast, efficient journey on a modern, comfortable train, with the at-seat dining an added bonus, reinforcing my already favourable impression of German railways. Up until that point, everything had gone like clockwork, with all my trains on time and all my connections made. Sadly, that was the high-point of my experiences with the German rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, as everything pretty much went downhill from there, starting with my journey from Köln to Berlin.
Welcome to the third instalment of my Travel Spot series about travelling from the UK to Berlin by train. Part I covered planning the trip, which was far more complicated than I’d hoped. I discovered that the cheapest/most convenient option was to buy a Eurail pass, which covered my whole trip, with a bonus day trip thrown in for good measure.
I made the journey at the start of May, my itinerary taking me from Guildford to Berlin in a day, travelling via Brussels and Köln. I wrote about the first leg of the journey, which saw me arrive in Brussels Midi onboard the Eurostar, in Part II of the series. From there, I had two more trains left, both German high-speed ICE services. This first, from Brussels to Köln, is the subject of today’s instalment (Part III), while the second, from Köln to Berlin, is covered in Part IV.
At the start of May, I travelled to Berlin for my first face-to-face work meeting in over two years. I’d already decided that, when travelling in Europe, I would go by train rather than fly wherever possible, so I set about planning my trip. This turned out to be far more complicated than I’d hoped and a lot less straightforward than flying, even though I was only dealing with two train companies. Rather than booking the trains direct, I discovered that it was cheaper (and far more convenient) to buy a Eurail pass, which would cover my whole trip, with a bonus day trip thrown in for good measure, which I wrote about in the first instalment of this Travel Spot series.
My itinerary took me from Guildford to Berlin in a day, travelling via Brussels and Köln. This journey is the subject of the next three instalments in the series, starting with the Eurostar from St Pancras to Brussels Midi. From there, I took an ICE to Köln, where I changed for another ICE to Berlin. First, however, I had to get to St Pancras, which meant setting off from Guildford Station on the 06:33 train to London.
In the years running up to the COVID-19 pandemic, I travelled an awful lot for work, which mostly meant flying to various locations around the world, including trips to Rome and Prague. In 2020, I made a conscious decision to travel to European destinations by train wherever possible. I even had a trip to Stockholm lined up, with all the tickets booked, for April 2020. And then COVID-19 happened.
When work announced that face-to-face meetings would resume in May 2022 after a gap of more than two years, the first meeting was in Berlin. True to my word, I decided to travel by train, even though flying would have been much more straightforward, quicker and, arguably, cheaper. The resulting trip involved eight trains spread over three days (with a bonus day out by train thrown in for good measure).
While the individual train journeys will be covered by in future instalments of this Travel Spot series, I wanted to start with a post about planning the trip. While I’m a great fan of train travel, preferring it over flying whenever possible, this trip was neither straightforward to plan or book, something which needs to change if we’re to encourage more train travel.
Welcome to the second and final Travel Spot covering this year’s second trip to Portland (Maine). I flew from London Heathrow to Boston at the start of April (the subject of the previous instalment of this Travel Spot), while this post covers my return to London at the start of May. Both flights were with British Airways and, as I’ve done the last two times I’ve returned from Boston, I took an overnight flight in World Traveller Plus (aka premium economy), leaving Boston in the late evening.
Since I returned from Iceland in July 2021, the rules have been different each time I’ve flown back to the UK, although in this case, the rules were non-existent. After my last flight to the UK in mid-February, the UK Government removed all requirements for testing and withdrew the passenger locator form, so there was nothing to do ahead of the flight. It was very similar to flying in the pre-pandemic era (other than the high prevalence of a highly contagious and potentially fatal airborne virus that is). Naturally, except when I was eating, I wore a mask the entire time I was on public transport, in the airport and on the plane.