Brian’s Travel Spot: Amsterdam to London by Thalys/Eurostar

The front power car, No 4538, of a Thalys TGV-R waiting at Amsterdam Centraal before the start of its journey to Lille-Europe in June 2018. Last week I wrote about my first (and, so far, only) trip to Amsterdam by Eurostar, which I took in June 2018 to attend that year’s World of Coffee event. Sadly, it was only a short trip, with just enough time for a day at World of Coffee, two days exploring Amsterdam’s speciality coffee scene and the annual off-season gathering of the Surrey Scorchers’ TV Commentators’ club. Then, the following Tuesday afternoon, having spent the morning visiting more coffee shops, I was back at Amsterdam Centraal Station to catch my train home.

At the time of writing, Eurostar runs two direct services a day (afternoon and evening) from Amsterdam to St Pancras International, but three years ago, with the service only having just started, you had to take a Thalys high-speed train from Amsterdam to Brussels-Midi, where you changed onto a London-bound Eurostar service. This is because on Eurostar, you clear passport control and customs for both countries when you board the train. At the time, Amsterdam Centraal didn’t have the necessary facilities, so Eurostar allowed you to book a through ticket, combining the Thalys and Eurostar services, an option which is (slightly disappointingly) no longer available.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: London to Amsterdam by Eurostar

Eurostar e320 No. 4025 sitting at the sunny end of the platform of St Pancras International in June 2018, waiting to take me to Amsterdam.Today’s Travel Spot takes us back three years to the summer of 2018, when I caught the Eurostar to Amsterdam to attend the World of Coffee. In all, I spent four days in Amsterdam, mostly exploring its speciality coffee scene, before catching the Thalys/ Eurostar back to the UK. This Travel Spot covers my journey there, when I took advantage of the (then) newly introduced direct London to Amsterdam service (which started running in April that year), although my journey had actually started that morning in Newcastle, with the leg of the journey to Amsterdam only an hour longer than it took me to get down from Newcastle.

Although my journey out was direct, my return was a two-stage affair, taking the Thalys service from Amsterdam to Brussels-Midi before transferring to the Eurostar back to London St Pancras. The good news is that as of this time last year, Eurostar runs direct services from Amsterdam as well. At the time of writing, Eurostar is offering two direct outbound services a day, with another two services involving a change of trains at Brussels-Midi, while there are just two direct return services (afternoon and evening), with no indirect services, which is slightly disappointing.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying from Iceland

My British Airways A320 on the stand at Heathrow T5 having brought me back from Iceland.Welcome to the second instalment of this Travel Spot covering my trip to Iceland in July 2021, my first outside the UK since March 2020. I’d flown to Iceland with British Airways on Thursday, July 22nd, arriving early in the morning and returned on the corresponding flight on Saturday morning, nine days later. This Travel Spot is all about that return flight, along with all the added complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For more details about what Amanda and I got up to in Iceland, and the Coffee Spots we visited, check out the dedicated Travel Spot page for the trip (which will be along in due course!).

Flying to/from Iceland takes just under three hours, one of British Airways’ longer short haul flights. Being short haul, the plane flies out from Heathrow, lands, restocks, then turns around for the flight back to Heathrow. When I flew out, I arrived in Iceland at 09:45, the corresponding flight leaving an hour later at 10:45. Sadly, the Saturday flight is 40 minutes earlier, the outbound flight landing at 09:10, with the return flight leaving at 10:10, which meant an even earlier start! However, before I could even get to the airport, I had various pre-flight activities to complete.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Iceland

My British Airways Airbus A321neo on the stand at Reykjavik's Keflavik airport on a grey, rainy day in July.Welcome to the first Travel Spot since March 2020 where I’m writing about a trip I’ve just taken rather than something from my (extensive) backlog. I’m currently in Reykjavik in Iceland, having flown from Heathrow with British Airways. If you’re wondering why Iceland, the explanation is fairly simple: Amanda lives in America, while I live in the UK. With the odd exception, Americans can’t come to the UK and British people can’t fly to America. However, we can both go to Iceland, and, having not seen each other since I left Atlanta during that March 2020 trip, it was too good of an opportunity to miss! Plus, we have both always wanted to visit Iceland, which really made it a no-brainer.

Although I flew in Euro Traveller (economy to you and me), I am aware that I am in a very privileged position when it comes to flying. I still have all my status with British Airways, carefully built up over the three years preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, when I flew around the world for work. In my case, this means that I have access to the First Class lounge at Heathrow, which makes the whole airport experience immeasurably better.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Apache Trail & Apache Lake

The Apache Trail in Arizona, crossing Fish Creek at the bottom of Fish Creek Canyon.In 2018 and 2019 I made three visits to Arizona’s Apache Trail, an amazing road through the Superstition Mountains to the east of Phoenix, built in 1904 to provide access to the Theodore Roosevelt Dam, which was at that point under construction on the Salt River. The first two visits were during the same trip in January/February 2018, an initial taster drive to Canyon Lake and back, followed by driving the full length of the Apache Trail later on that week.

However, my love affair with the Apache Trail wasn’t over. On the second drive, I’d been over-ambitious, underestimating how long it would take to drive from end-to-end, which meant that I did the last part, from Apache Lake to the dam, in the dark. That left me with a sense of unfinished business, so on my return to Arizona in January the following year, I made driving the Apache Trail in daylight a priority.

As I had the previous year, I first spent a week in Phoenix for work, then hit the open road, this time on a week-long excursion through southern Arizona and New Mexico, starting with my drive along the Apache Trail.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Apache Trail & The Big Loop

My Travel Press taking in the views on the Apache Trail, looking along the length of Canyon Lake from its eastern end.My second visit to Arizona’s Apache Trail came towards the end of the same trip in late January/early February 2018. My first visit had been a taster, a short drive to Canyon Lake and back on Monday evening. I’d just flown into Phoenix from Miami and, after two weeks in Florida, was desperate to see the mountains.

I spent the rest of the week in a work meeting, finally escaping on Friday evening. I’d planned to spend the following week in northern Arizona, basing myself in Flagstaff. As on my first visit to Phoenix in October 2016, I could have set off after work on Friday to drive straight up I-17. However, my appetite for the Apache Trail had been whetted, so I decided to stay overnight in Phoenix, giving myself Saturday for a leisurely drive to Flagstaff.

Since I wanted to drive the length of the Apache Trail, the logical route would have been to follow the Apache Trail to Theodore Roosevelt Lake, then take SR 188 and SR 87 north before either following the backroads to Flagstaff or cutting across to I-17 at Camp Verde. Instead, I came up with an ambitious route that I called the Big Loop.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Apache Trail, Canyon Lake

The moon, rising above the side of a valley along the Apache Trail in Arizona, is momentarily suspended above a cactus.I’m not sure how much it comes across in my Travel Spots, but I’m not a great fan of driving. I drive when I must, but see it as a method of getting from A to B. Even on my big road trips, like 2017’s Grand Adventure, my week-long drive from Phoenix to San Francisco via Joshua Tree National Park, Los Angeles and the Californian coast, although I thoroughly enjoyed the drive, I can’t say I enjoyed the driving.

With that in mind, it says something when I actually recommend a drive. One such recommendation is Arizona’s Apache Trail, a steep, twisting road that follows an old stagecoach route through the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, a tortuous drive full of breathtakingly views. Sadly, in the summer of 2019, a massive wildfire, followed that September by floods, caused severe damage to the Apache Trail, forcing the closure of large sections of the road. When it will reopen is not clear.

I’ve driven some/all of the Apache Trail three times, twice on the same trip in January/February 2018 and again when I returned to Arizona the following January. Today’s Travel Spot is all about my first visit to the Apache Trail.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Goodbye to the Grand Canyon

My coffee, in the shape of my Travel Press and Therma Cup, takes in the views from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon near the start of the Trail of Time.Welcome to the final instalment of the latest Travel Spot, looking back to October 2016 and my first visit to the Grand Canyon. I’d started exactly a week before, arriving in Phoenix for the first time for work. Then, at the weekend I drove up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, acclimatising myself with a half-day hike along the Rim Trail to Hermits Rest before spending Sunday on a day-long down-and-back hike into the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail.

On Monday morning, it was time to end my all-too-brief visit to the Grand Canyon. After breakfast at the South Rim, I took an hour and a half’s stroll along the Rim Trail, this time heading east to Yavapai Point, following the Trail of Time. Then it was back to my car for the return drive to Phoenix. Rather than retrace my route, I drove east out of the National Park along Desert View Drive, stopping on multiple occasions to admire the view. From there, I carried on east to Cameron, picking up Route 89 for long drive south to the airport, where I caught my flight back to the UK that evening.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Bright Angel Trail

Descending in the Grand Canyon from the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse along the Bright Angel Trail.Welcome to the third instalment of the latest Travel Spot, which takes us back to October 2016 and my first visit to the Grand Canyon, part of a wider trip which took me to Phoenix for the first time for work. With a spare weekend at the end, and knowing nothing about Phoenix (a city I’ve since come to know very well), I decided to visit to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. This post covers my day-long hike down into the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail, before I retraced my steps back to the rim.

I was staying in Tusayan, a small town just outside the southern edge the Grand Canyon National Park, having driven there from Williams on Saturday morning. That afternoon, I drove into the National Park for my first look at the Grand Canyon. To help get my bearings, and to acclimatise for my main hike on the following day, I took a leisurely 4½ hour, 13 km hike along the Rim Trail to Hermits Rest. Then, on Sunday morning, I drove back to the Grand Canyon to tackle the Bright Angel Trail.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Canyon

Rain over the Grand Canyon, seen looking north from Mohave Point on the Rim Trail, with the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon.Welcome to the second instalment of the latest Travel Spot, which takes us back to 2016 and my first trip to Phoenix. It’s somewhere I’ve since come to know very well but back then, knowing nothing about the city and being short on time, I gave it a miss. Instead, I used my spare weekend for another first: a visit to the Grand Canyon. Or, to be more precise, a visit to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, which is easily accessible from Phoenix. The North Rim, in contrast, is another three hours’ drive, since you have to get around and over the canyon! Alternatively, you can hike between the two, given a couple of days!

The first instalment of this Travel Spot covered my flight out, my first impressions of Phoenix and the drive to the Grand Canyon, where I arrived on Saturday morning, having split my journey overnight at the town of Williams. The Grand Canyon is somewhere I’d always wanted to visit and, as you will see, even though I only had 48 hours there, I was not disappointed, either with the canyon itself or with the two hikes I managed to get in.

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