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Archive for the ‘transport’ Category

Inner harbor

Part of Baltimore’s famous Inner Harbor

We have just returned from a week’s trip to the city of Baltimore, a first for me. We really enjoyed it, in spite of the extreme heat and humidity, and agree that the city deserves its nickname of “Charm City”.

They have done a good job with public transport, which is very important for a city to be moving forward. They have a Light Rail system, many different bus lines (some are free), and a metro.

 

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Our Light Rail ticket to BWI Airport

For example, it’s very easy to get from Baltimore (BWI) airport to downtown. When you’ve collected your baggage walk to Gate 18 in the baggage collection area and buy Light Rail tickets at the machine there. Normal fare is $1.60, but seniors pay only $0.80 (there are some advantages of being a senior!). Then Gate 19 straight ahead leads directly onto the platform. During the day, trains come about every 20-25 minutes and it took us about 40-45 minutes to get to Camden Yards, one of the convenient stops for the Convention Center (the other is the next stop, Convention Center, but that day the train ended at Camden Yards).

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A Purple Line Charm City Circulator bus

Returning to the airport very early in the morning, trains only run every 30 minutes and do not stop at Convention Center, so we caught the train at Camden Yards again. Same price, from the ticket machine.

Another great feature of public transport, for both visitors and locals, are the Charm City Circulator buses. There are four lines that run different routes. Each route has a color—purple, orange, green, and dark blue (called Banner Line). We used them a number of times, as the routes run to most of the main tourist sights. Best of all they are FREE! People hop on and off at will. Pick up a Charm City Circulator bus schedule at the Visitors’ Center on the Inner Harbor.

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Nokcha Service Area

Nokcha Service Area

Dinosaur Service Area

Dinosaur Service Area

Korean flags at Nokcha Service Area

Korean flags at Nokcha Service Area

Korea’s Highway Service Areas

We were recently in South Korea for a conference and were very fortunate afterwards to go on a wonderful road trip with a Korean colleague, Chang Hyun Kim. He went to an amazing amount of trouble to drive us around and show us as much of the SW part of the country as possible, as well as making sure that we tried lots of the delicious Korean food and learned about the history and culture. More on the trip will be coming soon.

We were very impressed with Korea’s extensive highway system. Many interconnecting highways and freeways must be a Civil Engineer’s dream, with so many long tunnels (it’s an extremely hilly country), long bridges over deep valleys, and causeways to the many small islands in the south.

A notable feature of highway driving is the regularly-spaced Service Areas—with gas stations, large toilet facilities, bus parking, many restaurants and coffee shops, other small shops (for clothes, holiday necessities, tools, food, fruits) and sometimes even a small grocery store. Usually there’s also a special closed-in smoking area, something we were interested to see, as Korea tries to cut down on the number of smokers. We were there in the summer, so the areas were always really busy and crowded—a veritable hive of activity. It was fun to stop for coffee and/or a light lunch, for us usually noodles, and watch the people and the hustle-bustle.

Can't miss what this service area is!!

Can’t miss what this service area is!!

Green is the theme

Green is the theme

Another sign at the Dinosaur Service Area

Another sign at the Dinosaur Service Area

Most of the service areas have a special name and theme, usually linked to where they are. So, for example, we stopped at the Nokcha Service Area/Boseong Nokcha (nokcha means green tea), close to the part of the country where green tea is grown. Another day, driving back from Geoje Island, we stopped at the Dinosaur Service Area. In this part of the country, many dinosaur fossils and footprints have been found.

What a neat idea.

A smoking area---very clearly marked

A smoking area—very clearly marked

Wish we'd seen some dinosaur footprints

Wish we’d seen some dinosaur footprints

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All over the islands, everything is written in English and Gaelic

Waiting in line to drive onto the ferry on the Isle of Mull

Waiting in line to drive onto the ferry on the Isle of Mull

Caledonian MacBrayne, Hebridean and Clyde Ferries

The Calmac ferry system connects Scotland’s western isles to each other and to the mainland. It’s a vast network that has been perfected over the years and we were very impressed.

In most of Scotland you are never far from water—be it the sea, a strait, a loch, a firth—and that’s especially true around the western isles and west coast, where it’s often difficult to know what’s island, what’s peninsula, what’s mainland.

As a result, over the centuries the Scots became very adept at living with the waters, and at using them as means of communication rather than as obstacles and barriers and until fairly recently many places could only be reached by water.

Our ferry arrives and a string of vehicles drive off

Our ferry arrives and a string of vehicles drive off

The Calmac company owns and operates ferry boats of all shapes and sizes to suit all the different needs and routes. The company was founded in 1851 as David Hutcheson & Co, and was renamed David MacBrayne in 1879 when David MacBrayne (a partner and nephew) gained full ownership. It stayed in the hands of the MacBrayne family until 1928. Then MacBrayne and the Caledonian Steam Packet Co were jointly involved and in 1973 the name changed to Caledonian MacBrayne.

Traveling on a ferry is almost inevitable if you visit this part of Scotland, whether as a foot passenger or a car driver. We did both, and it’s a fun way to observe this part of Scottish life. We drove a car onto the ferry from Oban on the mainland to Craignure on the Isle of Mull, and we were foot passengers on the smaller ferry that goes from Fionnphort on Mull to the sacred Isle of Iona.

A fuel tanker drives on not far from our car

A fuel tanker drives on not far from our car

It’s fun to watch how the ferry workers direct all the vehicles on and off and often seem to manage to squeeze something else on (the whole process reminded us of the ferries in Greece). We were amazed at all the types of vehicles that get on and off the big ferries, but it’s totally logical as this is the only way to get certain things onto the islands. We saw many camper vans, the British Royal Mail vans, huge tourist buses, delivery trucks, fire engines, and fuel tankers for example.

If you are driving a car in the summer (high) season, it’s probably best to try and make a ferry reservation if you can, as if you just rock up you might not get on.

The bigger ferries have a lounge and cafes.

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As we walk up to the lounges and decks, another tanker drives in

www.calmac.co.uk

Going back to Fionnphort from Iona, the ferry has the mail van and another small van. Note Rod by the railings

Going back to Fionnphort from Iona, the ferry has the mail van and another small van. Note Rod by the railings

Walking off the smaller ferry to Iona. Visitors cannot take their cars to the island---just commercial vehicles or residents

Walking off the smaller ferry to Iona. Visitors cannot take their cars to the island—just commercial vehicles or residents’ cars

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First view of Cutty Sark

First view of Cutty Sark

So impressive, regardless of the gloomy skies

So impressive, regardless of the gloomy skies

London, England: Whether you arrive in Greenwich by train or by boat on the River Thames, what immediately catches your eye is the Cutty Sark. Her graceful rigging and masts dominate the skyline on this section of the river and draw us closer. We are intrigued and even folks like me—who know very little about boats, sailing and the sea—want to find out more about this amazing tea clipper and her history. On the boat are many information boards, displays, video clips etc. that give a pretty good idea of this, so here is a brief summary.

Cutty Sark is a British clipper ship built in late 1869, constructed specifically for the tea

Diagram showing how tea chests were loaded into the hold

Diagram showing how tea chests were loaded into the hold

trade with China. The owner was John (Jock) Willis who was very interested in speed for the really competitive tea trade, as there would be a large bonus for the first to arrive with the new consignment of tea. She was one of the last tea clippers to be built and one of the fastest. Her era was just before sailing ships gave way to steam ships.

She spent only a few years in the tea trade (1870-1877), and spent some years tramping for cargoes, before turning to the wool trade in Australia (1883-1895). She had a varied history, as she was sold to a Portuguese company in 1895 and renamed Ferreira. Retired sea captain Wilfred Dowman purchased her in 1922, when she became a training ship. In the course of her working life, she visited every major port in the world. In 1954 Cutty Sark was transferred to permanent dry dock on the River Thames at Greenwich.

We learn a lot about tea from the ship's displays

We learn a lot about tea from the ship’s displays

After extensive restorations, she was opened to the public by HRH the Queen on June 25, 1957. Between 1957 and 2003 more than 13 million visitors walked her decks, making her one of London’s most successful tourist attractions. But, the ship’s condition was deteriorating badly and she needed major conservation if she was to survive. The aim was to conserve and stabilize as much of the ship’s fabric from her working life (1869-1922) as possible. In November 2006, the ship closed to the public and work began. However, a major fire broke out on May 21st 2007, which delayed the work considerably.

One of the main elements of the conservation project was to relieve the keel of the

After the latest restoration we can view the Cutty Sark from all angles

After the latest restoration we can view the Cutty Sark from all angles

weight of the ship, to preserve her unique shape, and to allow visitors to see her beautiful form properly, so she was raised over three meters into the air above her dry dock. She was officially re-opened on 25th April, 2012 by HRM Queen Elizabeth as a museum ship, and as a tribute to all the clipper ships and all the seamen of those times.

Everything below the main deck is now under a glass-roofed visitors’ center, so visitors can go aboard and beneath one of the world’s most famous ships.  Walk along the decks in the footsteps of the merchant seamen who sailed her more than a century ago and learn about the seaman’s life. Explore the hold where precious cargo was stored on those epic speedy voyages, and learn more from the different collections and displays—facts and figures about Cutty Sark, the ship’s timeline, the different cargoes, especially tea and wool.

upperdeckPlan to spend at least a couple of hours wandering the decks, marveling at all the masts and rigging. It’s a beautiful, elegant, lean vessel that was fast and very specialized. Using (replicas of) old tea chests as part of the flooring now is a nice touch. It’s easy to visit and fun for adults and kids as there are a number of interactive features to help reconstruct that era and imagine life on a boat like this. It’s a life long gone and very unlikely to re-appear, a time of romance and mystery in a way: the romance of the high seas, of bringing a new exotic commodity (tea) to the British market. But, there’s always a dark side to romance too: competition and trying to be the fastest in bringing the tea to Europe; the opium trade in China, for example.

Why is the clipper called Cutty Sark?

Nannie is Cutty Sark's figurehead, brandishing the horse's tail

Nannie is Cutty Sark’s figurehead, brandishing the horse’s tail

The ship’s figurehead is Nannie, a beautiful witch in a “cutty sark” or short under-dress, who features in Robert Burns’ poem Tam O’Shanter. Nannie chases Tam one night as he leaves a pub. After a wild ride, he escapes but she pulls out his horse’s tail. No-one is quite sure why the owner, John Willis, chose this name or figurehead. Some think for patriotic reasons as he was also Scots, as was Burns. But, whatever the reason, it is certainly striking!

A gorgeous collection of colorful ship figureheads

A gorgeous collection of colorful ship figureheads

As you wander under the hull of this vessel you’ll notice a collection of ship figureheads at the prow end, including the Cutty Sark figurehead (a replica is on the ship). This Long John Silver collection is the biggest collection of figureheads in the world and it’s interesting to see the different shapes, sizes and colors— human figures, but we see one golden eagle. (**See next blog post)

Lots more information on the official website: http://www.rmg.co.uk/cuttysark/

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Waiting on the CAT platform at Wein-Mitte station

Waiting on the CAT platform at Wein-Mitte station

The train arrives

The train arrives

This CAT just “purrs” along

Vienna’s CAT (City Airport Train) is an amazing service and the best city-airport link we’ve ever experienced in all our travels.

This is a train dedicated just to moving people between Vienna’s International Airport and the city center. In only 16 minutes the non-stop train whisks you from the airport to the Wein-Mitte station, or vice versa.

The system makes it really easy for people to use. When you are collecting baggage at the airport, look for the CAT ticket machines in the baggage claim area, where you can buy your ticket. The machines take credit cards or cash (euros). If you miss that opportunity, don’t worry as there are more ticket machines on the platform. As you exit into the Arrivals Hall, turn right and follow the signs down the ramp to the CAT station: the distinctive CAT letters and logo of white plane on a green background are easy to see and follow.

Trains leave the airport twice an hour at :06 and :36, from 6:06 to 23:36. They also leave from Wein-Mitte every 30 minutes at :06 and :36 (from 5:36 to 23:06)—times that are easy to remember. The train is speedy, quiet, air-conditioned, with proper luggage racks and seating downstairs and upstairs.

You must have a ticket, as a ticket collector comes by on every train.

One of the big adds for CAT

One of the big adds for CAT

Getting into the city this way is great, as at Wein-Mitte you can connect to the excellent U-Bahn (underground) system that also links to the buses and trams, all of which can get you to almost anywhere in the city.

But, what is even more useful is the service offered when returning to the airport. At Wein-Mitte CAT station, you can check into your flight: they tag your checked luggage and get it to the relevant airline and you don’t see it again until your final destination, plus you get your boarding passes. So, it’s much easier than at the airport. How cool is that?!

We used this twice on our last trip: once from Vienna to Slovakia; and once to London via Dusseldorf (me) and to Shanghai via Frankfurt (Rod) and it worked perfectly—luggage in London and Shanghai.

A single ticket per person is 12 euros and a return is 19 euros (children under 15 are free). This is a great price when compared to a taxi one-way, which can cost up to 50 euros depending on traffic.

Definitely recommended.

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First encounter with Velib, Paris, July 2007

First encounter with Velib, Paris, July 2007

A Velib sign---how to sign up with your transport card

A Velib sign—how to sign up with your transport card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first real encounter with a bike share program was in Paris in 2007 at the start of the Velib’ Program there. We lived in Paris until early 2008 and were really interested to be “on the ground” as it were and see the program take off. We’ve followed its ups and downs with interest. Each year we return I am happy to see it still so active and well-used—it’s been has been hugely successful in terms of rider usage, even though a large percentage of the bikes were stolen, destroyed or taken to other countries. The city considered scrapping the program but did not, and its success continues.

Before Paris Velib’, many cities tried with varying success to implement a bike-sharing program and it’s believed that the current resurgence of this concept is due to the launch of the Velib program in Paris in 2007.

The colorful Velib logo (for Velo libre)

The colorful Velib logo
(for Velo libre)

New Chicago bike-share stand, with famous Trump Tower as background

New Chicago bike-share stand, with famous Trump Tower as background

How to work the Divvy bikes in Chicago----only $7 for a 24-hour period

How to work the Divvy bikes in Chicago—-only $7 for a 24-hour period

The Divvy truck shows its logo as 'Divide and share'

The Divvy truck shows its logo as ‘Divide and share’

Now, when we travel I always try to take note of a city’s bike share scheme—I didn’t always take photos, but intend to make an album now. But, here are a few pictures of  bikes in some places.  Amazingly, this year in June, Chicago also started a program, called Divvy, and in early September we saw quite a few of the bikes (painted with blue) in action. If people can ride in the Paris traffic, then I reckon they can ride anywhere!

Chicago Divvy bikes

Chicago Divvy bikes

Bit of Background and History

Bike sharing systems or schemes make bicycles available for share use to individuals for short-term use. Such schemes or programs are not new, but seem to be proliferating all over the world these days. Perhaps as people become more aware of pollution, of saving energy etc. According to Wikipedia, in May 2011 there were around 375 programs, with a total of 236,000 bikes. By April 2013, there were around 535 programs, with an estimated 517,000 bikes.

Wuhan (90,000 bikes) and Hangzhou (60,000 bikes, and 2,400 bike stations) Public Bicycle programs in China are the biggest in the world. The Velib’ in Paris, France  (20,000 bikes and 1,450 stations) is the largest bike sharing system outside of China.

Dijon's bike share program is called Velodi, with a cute mascot of the famous Dijon owl

Dijon’s bike share program is called Velodi, with a cute mascot of the famous Dijon owl

One type of program is a Community Bike program, probably organized by a local community group or non-profit organization, which lends bikes for free. The other, more common, type of program, is a “Smart Bike Program” organized by governmental agencies, sometimes in a public-private partnership, in which people pay for the use of the bikes.

There have been many problems with these systems: bikes get stolen, vandalized, abandoned, for example, so there are various ways to try and get round these problems, like having to insert a credit card as a guarantee or security deposit.

It seems that the first program was in Europe in Amsterdam, with the White (free) Bike Scheme in 1965, but this didn’t last more than a few months.

Then came La Rochelle in France with their Yellow Bike Scheme (free) and the free Green Bike Program in Cambridge UK in 1993. But so many of these bikes were stolen or abandoned, that authorities began to use a “smart technology’ (for a fee, with some tracing of the renter).

Nowadays, many cities in all the inhabited continents have some kind of bike sharing scheme or program. If you are curious, for a list go to Wikipedia here

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_sharing_system

A rack of bikes in Dijon, France

A rack of bikes in Dijon, France

Bikes in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Bikes in Ljubljana, Slovenia

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Our canal boat

Our canal boat

Rod in the glass-roofed boat

Rod in the glass-roofed boat

View of a canal from one fo the roughly 1500 bridges in the city

View of a canal from one of the roughly 1500 bridges in the city

 

 

A Canal Tour in Amsterdam

This year, 2013, is the 400th anniversary of Amsterdam’s canals so it seemed very fitting to go on a canal boat trip (along with around three million others each year!). Amsterdam was built basically on a swamp, so the citizens have always learned to live with water everywhere. The history of the Netherlands is closely tied to the sea, water, and trade, and a canal trip begins to give one an idea of this.

There are many different companies offering canal tours. We chose Rederij P. Kooij (Rokin t/o 125) as we were in the Rokin area that day (Rokin is a busy street). Cruises leave from the dock by the statue of Queen Wilhelmina and cost €10 per person. They last about an hour and they all offer about the same type of canal coverage and commentary.

A bridge and side canal we see from our boat

A bridge and side canal we see from our boat

One hour is only enough time for a taster, but you definitely get more information than you could just by walking for an hour. It was fun to weave up and down various canals, getting lovely views of other side canals, and then into the harbor behind the Central Station (built on a man-made island). We also saw many of the thousands of houseboats, some of which (near the harbor) are built on concrete bases and have water and sewage outlets. There’s a recorded narration of some of the landmarks, famous sights, bits of history etc., in Dutch, German, and English, but our captain added a few tidbits of his own too.

One of Amsterdam's famous bridges

One of Amsterdam’s famous bridges

This is a great way to get a different view of the city and to see the canals, and the buildings lining them, from another perspective and angle. You also get to see way more that you could on foot—unless you had weeks and weeks of time to walk it all. It’s a leisurely way of looking up. By doing this—going on the water—you get a much better feel for just how much water there is in this city, and how the whole city revolves around water. How the citizens have to watch the water levels and check the pilings on which every building sits, because the first layer of mud, not real soil, is not stable enough for buildings. It gives you an added appreciation for just how good the Dutch are with living with water, and building in spite of it.

In this special year for the canals of Amsterdam, we can see (exactly) why they are amazing and deserve celebrating.

To see more information about Amsterdam’s Canals, read my longer article here:

http://www.justsaygo.com/travel-stories/amsterdams-canals-turn-400

A few of the lovely old buildings with their distinctive gables

A few of the lovely old buildings with their distinctive gables

Many people also get around by water taxi

Many people also get around by water taxi

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