A Japanese Adventure

 

Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani,Yamanouchi, Nagano warming up in thermal spring water.

Snow Monkeys of Japan

Unusual picture of a train I hear you say. This is one of the places I want to visit and if you every watch National Geographic you will have seen the story of these interesting monkeys. I saw a program about them several years ago and have always wanted to visit. I am not positive but it might be happening sooner than later – I will keep you posted. The train part is how I get there. After flying into Tokyo, I plan to take the JR Shinkansen to Nagano from Tokyo Station.

Trains are a great way to see Japan. They are fast, some of them very very fast, economical with travel passes and cover almost all of Japan. About 70% of the railways are owned by the Japanese Government (JR). 30% are owned by private companies especially in and around the cities and urban areas. The JR Group  consist of six passenger trains and freight railway covering all of Japan. Travelling on one of the ‘bullet trains’ called Shinkansen is another on my bucket list. So I could cover two in one!  Plus I really fancy a trip on the new bullet train that was introduced in March 2015, Hokuriku Shinkansen Line. In a test run with passengers it got up to speeds of 260kph!!! Fantastic.

New Bullet train being operated in Japan from March 2015.

Hokuriku Shinkansen line known locally as JR East

Great looking train isn’t it, modern smooth, reminds a bit of a snake.  The company operates a number of trains one of which includes the granclass -JR East first class. It is imperative that seats are reserved in advance, they book up very quickly.

First class seating on the JR East route, known as granclass

Granclass seating

 

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Indian Rail Travel- What to be aware of

India has one of the most extensive railway systems in the entire world. Of course, any railway system that services over a billion people would have to be extensive, otherwise it would fail. Indian railways have an interesting and varied history, which means that there are a number of routes and trains that you could take that are historically significant and would certainly improve your trip.

India has rail journeys that go through a number of scenic routes.There are a number of trains that provide people with a 5-star luxury experience as well. These are exclusive experiences you will not find elsewhere in the world, so you should look into this aspect before you plan your travel.

Indian railway

Moreover, you have to keep in mind that railways in India operate in a different format. You might have to book your tickets, and reserve seats for yourself at least a few weeks in advance. This can be done online, or through the assistance of a travel agent. It will not be comfortable (if at all possible) for you to travel on Indian railways without prior reservation, so it is highly suggested that you plan all of these ahead and make sure that you stick to these plans. Only then can you have a wonderful travel experience, one that is not marred by cancelled journeys!

Rocky Mountaineer Ride

Rocky Mountaineer Train

Rocky Mountaineer Train

 

I know it may seem clichéd (especially since here in New Zealand we have our own great train journeys) but, for me the Rocky Mountains is still one of the greatest trips in the world, one I have been lucky enough to do twice, and a natural starting point for this blog.

In 1990 the Canadian national railway sold off one of its most iconic train routes through the Rocky Mountains to a company called Rocky Mountaineer Vacations, and one of the best train journeys got better! While most people see this trip advertised as part of a package, it is just as easy to book a one way trip independently giving you great flexibility to go and explore these amazing mountains. My last trip in 2013 was on the First Passage to the West route from Vancouver to Calgary, and I have to say this trip just keeps getting better. Sure, it cost a bit, but they make it worth every (Canadian) cent… seeing as you’re already forking out a bit for this trip, I would make it truly worthwhile, and book the Gold Leaf service. This is the one you see in all the pictures, and what you dream about when you think epic train trips – sure, the scenery is the same, but sitting in the glass dome compartments the view is unlike any other train. Included in the trip was an overnight stop in Kamloops (nothing to write home about), but the next day as we headed across the Mountains on a beautiful sunny day, the sense of awe among us was amazing – here. you travel the original route carved out by hand by those pioneers over 100 years ago – you get to see the Rockies away from the crowds and roads, the pristine views. The service and attention to detail on this trip was great, the food fantastic and plentiful, all there was to do was admire the scenery.

If I only got to do one more great train trip, I would choose this again.

possibly the best views in the world

 

Experience Harry Potter Magic with this Awesome Train Journey

My love of trains and thrilling train journeys wouldn’t be complete without a steam train trip. The Jacobite operates over part of the West Highland Railway line in Scotland. If you’re looking for the most scenic landscape, this is it. The stream train journey is 41 miles between Fort William and Mallaig and you simply sit back and take in the splendid scenery.

train journey

What is interesting about the Jacobite Steam Train which is run by West Coast Railways, is that it has become particularly popular because of the Harry Potter Films.. The trip includes the Glenfinnan viaduct which was used for the setting as the Hogwarts Express which carried Harry Potter off to school. The train goes along the shores of Loch Eil. What is nice is that it stops for about half an hour at Glenfinnan and continues to Mallaig. In Mallaig there is a ferry service to the Isle of Skye. There are great eating places in Mallaig and a chance to explore a bit. Don’t miss seeing eight foot tall fisherman statue at the end of the harbour wall.

Of course this trip was just a foretaste of other Jacobite trips and I’m now just waiting for the chance to experience a trip where you get to spend a night by the banks of mysterious Loch Ness and also spend time in Glen Coe. Departing from Edinburgh the trip promises valleys, glens and rivers…just can’t wait to save up enough to do this spectacular trip.

The Train Trolley of My Youth

trolley car

When I was a kid, there used to be an old lot beside the Chamber of Commerce, a place where they attempted to build a park at the end of an old rail station, which went out of commission in the early 1900s. The centerpiece for this short-lived park: A very old, 1850s trolley car. This particular trolley wasn’t like the 1900s motorized trolleys that went through cities, either on a cable system or via gasoline. This was an old-school train trolley, and we used to sneak into it as kids.

Through a broken window above the door, we would reach in, turn the lever, and pretend to be passengers fighting off Jesse James and his band of outlaws, protecting our make-believe women and gold. The trolly had an old wooden stove, stainless steel rails, plush leather seats (that were actually still in good condition), and even an upper deck level with seating and large windows.

While this was just one train car that used to be part of an entire express line, you could see and feel the craftsmanship that went into it. You can just imagine how the dozen or so passengers in this car truly enjoyed this luxury ride nearly two centuries ago. The old fashioned trolley has since disappeared from the land, but the memories will remain with me always.

Train travel through Transylvania

I’m currently taking a stroll down memory lane as my niece is planning a trip to Europe next year and she asked me about my train experiences there. I must say some of my best memories are of a trip to Eastern Europe a few years ago, and travelling ‘trans-Transylvania’ was the highlight. We started off in Bucharest at the old-fashioned and imposing Gara de Nord station which is a major hub for travel in both Romania and Europe. The station has 14 tracks and serves about 200 trains, but the one we were taking on that beautiful autumn day was the one to Brasov, gateway to Dracula country, nestled in the heart of the Southern Carpathian Mountains. It was a beautiful journey north, taking about three hours and we had our own comfortable compartment with views to rival those here in New Zealand. Brasov itself was a lovely Saxon town with a beautiful square and old imposing church that was charred ‘black’ because of a fire in the seventeenth century.

Train travel through Transylvania

After a couple of days in Brasov, having successfully avoided any vampire-related incidents, we continued north to a charming citidel called Sighisoara, birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a the real life man the fictional character Dracula was based on. I remember seeing the Gothic spires in the distance as the train pulled into the station at sundown and new we were in for a treat. We travelled onwards to other destinations such as Cluj and returned to Bucharest via Sibiu in Transylvania and were mesmerised by the stunning mountains, farms, medieval towns and local villages we passed by. It was like going back in time and the rich autumnal colours added to the depth of the panorama before us. It seemed a world away from drab, grey Bucharest and I would recommend people to leave any negative preconceptions they have about Romania behind and give it a try. I was thinking how great it would be to travel the whole way from London to Transylvania like Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker’s Dracula – let me know if you’ve tried it!

The Trans-Siberian Railway

At the top of my train journey bucket list is the mighty Trans-Siberian Railway. It was built to connect Moscow with Vladivostok, Russia’s most important Pacific Ocean port, and with a length of 9,289 km, it is the world’s longest railway line. It spans an impressive seven time zones and if you were to do the whole journey without stops, you would be on the train for eight days straight! The scenery covers everything from the Mongolian steppe to the snow-capped Ural Mountains as you get to discover remote cultures and the diverse architecture of two continents.

The Trans-Siberian is is the longest railway line in the world

I’m hoping to finally take this epic journey within the next year. Time and finances permitting, I’d like to do the whole journey, but even the Moscow-Beijing stretch would be great. Making your dreams a reality isn’t always cheap so I might get a loan, a friend told me this is good from justcash here in NZ. I’m researching which route to take: the Trans Mongolian, which runs between Moscow and Beijing via Mongolia, and the Trans Manchurian, also running between Moscow and Beijing, but bypassing Mongolia. I’d certainly like to stop in China to see the Great Wall. It sounds like there are some interesting stops to break up the journey, such as Yekaterinburg where the last tsar of Russia and his family were sent to exile and murdered in 1918 and Irkutsk, famous for having the deepest lake in the world. I can’t wait to try this legendary train journey!