Part of Austria may be the main subject of this piece, but there was some travel in Germany on this extended weekend visit at the end of May 2016. The reason for that German incursion was my deciding to fly to Munich for a rail transfer to Innsbruck where I based myself. While the latter does have an airport, there appeared to be more flights there from the U.K. during the skiing season when I went about checking.
It still appears that there are several flights a day operating between Manchester and Munich. With the upheavals of the pandemic, you never can be sure about these things, so I did a quick check on Skyscanner
while writing these words. Both Lufthansa and easyJet fly the route now as they did back then, when my outbound flight was with the former and the latter conveyed me back again. Both did what was needed, and I was able to find my way around Munich airport easily enough.
Though Munich hosts a major air travel hub, the first stretch of my rail journey to Innsbruck was on the Munich S-Bahn network
. This is a local service, so there was little accommodation for luggage, and the train was busy too. While I was tempted by the prospect of a brief visit to Munich, that never happened, and I instead changed train at the city’s Ostbahnhof for a EuroCity
That was operated by Austria’s ÖBB and was destined for Venice if I recall correctly; it could have been Verona as well. This was an electric locomotive-hauled affair that was well patronised. Even so, I found a comfortable space easily and with somewhere to store my luggage as well. The route by which the train entered Austria shadowed the River Inn for much of the way. Because of the Schengen area, there were no passport formalities though police were seen onboard at times.
Stops at Kufstein, Wörgl and Jenbach punctuated the final approaches to Innsbruck on the Austrian side of the border. The German routing largely avoided the mountains, so the real alpine views were in Austria itself. On disembarking from the train, the oppressive sultry air in Innsbruck for it was very thundery; thunder was sounding in the mountains later that day. Then, there was a walk ahead of me to the hotel.
The way that I went from Munich was direct and without any change of train. It is possible to go via Garmisch-Partenkirchen with a change there for a more scenic approach, but this seemed to take longer, and I did not have that much patience. If I was staying longer, then it might have been an option. It so happened that I did play with ideas of going to Garmisch-Partenkirchen for a day trip only for there to be too many ways of occupying my time in the end. Another idea was to go south to Bolzano, but that sundered for the same reasons.
First, I needed to explore Innsbruck and then the Nordkette
lured me up onto them. The first part of the way made use of the funicular railway to get from Innsbruck to Hungerburg. After that, it was use of one cable car to get me to Seegrube and another to get me to Bergstation near Hafelcarspitze. To be honest, the cable cars spooked me enough to encourage me to walk down to Hungerburg with a food stop at Seegrube. Then, I realised why fight scenes were staged in them during action films for sake of added drama. All worked efficiently otherwise, and I used the funicular railway to return to Innsbruck from Hungerburg.
The next day was Sunday, and I was surprised how few places were open away from the shops in Innsbruck train station. Though the forecast was not that enticing, I was fixed on going to Zillertal after some deliberations. Frequent Railjet services to Vienna or Salzburg were tempting, but I was there for mountain scenery, so I took my chances.
Only part of my journey was with ÖBB since I needed to change to the Zillertalbahn
at Jenbach. Once there, I tried buying a return ticket at the ticket office only for my card to give trouble. In the end, it needed to be swiped and a signature to be made for the transaction to proceed. My limited German and lack of understanding coupled with a lack of English on the other side, produced an instance of curt communication using hand signs before all was sorted. Travel on narrow gauge diesel trains where they tell you which side to leave the train (a good practice that needs to be learned from German-speaking countries) was a much gentler experience.
[Mayrhofen]https://www.mayrhofen.at/en/ had an out of season feel while I was there, and the air was damp too. The Ahornbahn cable car that I had hoped to used was not in operation, and that perhaps was just as well given the gradient it ascends and descends. In its place, I opted for the Penkenbahn instead and braced myself for the ascent. That worked well, and any recollection of trepidation has faded with time. What remains is sauntering in damp conditions before I embarked on the return journey. There was a moment when things speeded up before stopping suddenly. In those short moments stopped in mid-air, thoughts of an unwanted overnight stay materialised before everything started going again. The journey back to Jenbach offered plenty of time for nerves to recover, as did the train from there to Innsbruck.
Reverse the outbound train journey returned me to Munich Airport again. The brevity of my time in Tyrol
was impressed on me as I departed since there are many reasons to return. A longer stay might see use of buses as well as more of the local rail network. There is much more to see, as long as I can manage any nervousness about cable cars. Otherwise, having more time allows one to be more courageous in exploring.
Continuing to share experiences of public transportation in other countries within the last decade, I now turn to two trips that I made to Norway during a time of tumult in my life. This is when I discovered that palliative care of an unappetising work situation using overseas did not solve anything. The real resolution was to involve a career break but that lay in future at the time these excursions were undertaken.
An August Escape
The first was an extended weekend visit undertaken around the time of the English Summer Bank Holiday at the end of August 2016. Ongoing business in Ireland intruded at one point, but this otherwise was a case of spending a little time around Oslo and Bergen. Rail and air travel were the mainstays of my travelling though there was one airport bus transfer by bus.
airport express train service was used to get from Oslo Gardermoen airport (there are a few of them) to Oslo city centre. After settling into my hotel, I was lured out about the city on foot on by the appearance of warm sunshine that persisted for the rest of the day. Next morning, I wondered at myself leaving the sunny weather for Bergen with a rainy forecast promised for there.
This was brought about by a bit of pre-planning. The lynchpin of the weekend was travelling along the Bergensbanen
by train, often included in lists of the world’s scenic railways. The line is electrified all the way, so the train was hauled by an electric locomotive. Even with this being near the end of the high season, it was busy too and the seat reservation that I made was more than necessary.
What I had in mind was a quiet trip of reading and window-gazing. A family next to me had kids who could not be kept busy doing such things and, next to me, I had someone watching a film on an iPad without headphones. That was enough to send me to the café bar for some nourishment and added peace. While nursing a coffee, I savoured the scenery that lay outside while the sun shone. By the time that I returned, silence had been restored and torpor was becoming evident.
The journey length generally is a long one at around seven hours in duration, and this one was stretched even further by delay. Engineering works had meant a diversion and then a long delay at Hønefoss while passengers from rail replacement coaches were awaited. A further delay resulted from a problem with the locomotive in the most mountainous and highest point of the journey. Thankfully, we got going again but those wanting to make a connection to Flåm had to do so in inclement greyness and with a significant delay.
Eventually, we entered cloud after we continued west from Geilo. That and the snow shelters through which we passed restricted the hoped for mountain views. When we descended to the fjords near Voss, the views were more expansive. These were not the blue sky vistas for which Norway is renowned though, due to lack of good fortune with the weather.
Bergen is infamous for being susceptible to rain, so it was in typical conditions that I arrived there. The station buildings were clad in scaffolding and left luggage facilities were unavailable. Given the late afternoon arrival time, these were not needed since I could check in at my hotel once I found it after taking a more circuitous route than was necessary.
On my traipsing, I made use of the Fløibanen
funicular railway to reach the top of Fløyen
. The first was on my evening of arrival when the rain stopped, while the second was when I made a descent after spending a day trotting around Bergen’s local hills. In both cases, it did what was needed; there was confusion over where I had placed my wallet, but that was something that I sorted myself.
In hindsight, my last day in Bergen could have been stretched by using a direct flight from there to Manchester. Knowing about the availability of left luggage facilities or being able to store my luggage at the hotel would have allowed that. There might have been a fjord tour if I really was brave.
However, I played it safe and tried out the Norwegian internal air system because it offers short shuttle flights around the country. The Bergen to Oslo frequency was half-hourly using the services of Norwegian, which was just as well when we had to decamp from aircraft to another because of an issue with the plane. That did nothing to make me miss my return flight from Oslo to Manchester with the same operator. A coach service from Flybussen conveyed me to Bergen airport and was the only road transport service used on this visit to Norway.
A June Retreat
An extended weekend does little justice to anywhere, so I made a return to Norway for a longer stay. That also gained me more observations of its public transport system as I spent some time around Oslo and Stavanger. There was one similarity shared with the previous trip: the former enjoyed sun while the latter offered rain. In some ways, that may be an overstatement, but it still largely sums the weather that I found, and I found many differences though.
A different hotel was involved, but my journey there was like the last time. In retrospect, getting off at Oslo Sentralstasjon (Oslo S or Oslo Central) was a mistake because it left me with a long walk. The Nationaltheatret (National Theatre) stop would have been better for me, and I was to use that later. Before that, I walked here and there around Oslo except for a cruise around Oslofjord.
After a two night stay, I went to the Nationaltheatret station to catch a Flytoget service to Oslo Gardermoen airport. What I can recall now is how slow elevators were and how I ended up missing a train because of that. If timing is crucial, it is better to allow more time to reach the platform from street level.
Like Bergen, Stavanger also is connected to Oslo by frequent flights operated by Norwegian. Getting there by train would be a day-long affair unless I were to travel overnight, so I stuck with flying for the sake of convenience. Check-in was very much a self-service affair, and this was the first time that I encountered something so streamlined. The same model has appeared elsewhere with other operators, so it seems to be a coming trend.
On reaching Stavanger, it was the turn of Flybussen to get me to the city centre. Since I was too early to book into the hotel, I left most of my luggage in the available luggage lockers. That left me free to chance my luck with getting on a fjord cruise. Prospects were not looking great after talking to someone in the operator’s shop. Nevertheless, I decided to try again when the boat docked to see if there were cancellations. Others did likewise, and I think that they got all of us onboard. That was just as well since wet weather was forecasted for the following days.
The rain arrived the next afternoon, so I stuck with exploring the city’s lakes on foot. Even though things did not look much better, I went to Tau on the local ferry, and caught a bus to Vatne. That allowed me a chance for two hikes: one to Preikestolen and another around Revsvatnet. Reversing the bus and ferry combination returned me to Stavanger after catching some sun in the evening time.
The way back to the UK involved no direct flight from there to Manchester. Flybussen returned me to Stavanger airport on a day of rain, from where a shuttle flight got me to Oslo in time for a flight to Manchester. Everything ran to time on this trip, except for myself at times.
It has been a while since I was in Norway and I fancy a return for there is plenty of attractive scenery to be savoured. That also means that there have been some changes since then.
For one thing, the ferry service between Stavanger and Tau has been supplemented or replaced by the Ryfylke tunnel. From the Kolumbus
website though, it appears that there still are ferry sailings available. Nevertheless, there are direct buses and coaches to Vatne now, where the aforementioned hikes begin; Boreal
is one such operator.
While in Stavanger, I toyed with an out and back coach excursion to Bergen using NOR-WAY Bussekspress
service. In the end, the length of the journey put me off. There currently are two ferry crossings needed, but there is a major tunnelling project to improve road connections from Stavanger all the way to Trondheim. There may be a time when no ferries are needed for bus travel, and the Ryfylke tunnel is part of this effort. The rest of it is expected to be complete by 2033, so this is a long term effort.
What also has changed is the Norwegian rail network. When I was in Norway, NSB operated everything apart from Flytoget, and even that started as one of its subsidiaries. That has changed dramatically with NSB rebranding as Vy
and only keeping part of what it used to operate. They still sell tickets for the whole network, though, as do Entur
who do more than this.
Go-Ahead Nordic operates the Sørtoget, Jærbanen and Arendalsbanen routes in the south, especially on the way to and around Stavanger, while SJ NORD operates trains going north out of Oslo to places like Trondheim and much more besides on the Dovrebanen, Raumabanen, Trønderbanen, Rørosbanen, Meråkerbanen, Nordlandsbanen and Saltenpendelen. The latter sells its own tickets until 2023-03-01 while the former directs you to other outlets. SJ is Sweden’s national rail operator and operates services between there and places like Oslo, Trondheim and Narvik in Norway.
SJ always operated into Norway from Sweden, but the internal concessions are much newer. They marked a big change in Norway’s rail network structure. It is not all about train livery changes either, since it appears that new trains have been acquired too. If I get back to Norway, there will be numerous changes to negotiate and more to learn.
Aside from delays on the Bergensbanen and a delayed flight at Bergen airport, all worked without fault on my two outings to Norway. Flights clearly needed advance booking as well as the Bergensbanen, it was a case of turning up and going. What I cannot now recall is how I paid. For one thing, I did have some cash with me, yet I cannot exclude the possibility of paying by card as well. Pre-paid travel cards may be available, but I have not used any of these.
This is one long narrow country with plenty of mountains and fjords, so there is ever reason to return. Catching the weather can be a challenge though, especially when you need to plan things in advance. Even so, the potential rewards make it plausible that I might try again.
There have been a few trips to Sweden in my life. The first was a business trip to Lund in February 2006 where no public transport got used. That is of no interest here, but there was another to Södertälje that did better. The reason is that a borrowed Access card allowed a return trip to Stockholm of a sunny evening. The train journeys in and out of Sweden’s capital city were efficient and uncrowded. This was my first time using public transport away from Ireland, Britain and the Isle of Man, and attracted no adverse comment at all. Even without advance planning, I found my way around on foot easily enough, so I made no use of the buses that I saw plying the streets. Trains were watched are they went their way and I noted the overnight service to Oslo that was awaiting departure as I made for the return train to my base for the trip.
At the start of what became a lengthy career break, I returned to Stockholm for around a week for more leisurely purposes. The news of the trip to others was a way of keeping my time of recovery and reassessment known only to those who needed to know about it. This was in August 2017, and I based myself in a hotel away from the city centre. At the airport, I acquired my own Access card loaded with a seven-day pass. This allowed me the liberty to travel whenever and wherever I wanted on Stockholm’s transport system, SL
My base was on Lidingö, so I was away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. That came in useful for Sunday morning strolling, but it meant that I was in for a long walk if I was travel on foot. Getting there from Stockholm’s Arlanda airport involved using an Arlanda Express
train service, followed by travel on a local train. My initial recollection of this journey was that I then caught a tram for the rest of the way. On second thoughts, I now think that I walked from Ropsten train terminus to the hotel. Tram travel came later; this was to be multi-modal trip.
The strange thing about Ropsten’s train station was that it was built high up in the air as if there was to be a bridge connection to Lidingö only for the money to run out. This peculiar sight was to become familiar to me as I went to and fro. There was a bus terminus too but lack of confidence in a language that I do not use every day was to limit was travels using that mode of transport. Train travel was just as handy.
After an abortive city centre shopping trip caused by late arrival because I resorted to walking, the next day was spent around the city centre with a foray to Drottningholm Palace on a tourist boat. That did not accept my Access card, so it will not cover everything. Thoughts of returning by bus were abandoned for a return sailing that I feared I would not make.
Next morning saw me walk across Lidingö using the Lidingöloppet after a short tram ride. Eventually, I would find my way its terminus at Gåshaga Brygga. More multi-modal travel followed that as I criss-crossed Stockholm in bright sunshine. The day after that would say the same approach would get me to Tyresta National Park with some wandering along the Sörmlandsleden, and with some bus travel too.
A longer trip to Gothenburg followed using high speed travel train travel. While I travelled with the national operator SJ
, it is also possible to do this using MTR’s MTRX
as well. The trip was a relaxing one, though a later start reduced the time that I had in Gothenburg. Naturally, my Access card did not cover this either but the ticket machines were simple enough to use anyway.
On the last day of the stay in Sweden, I toyed with the idea of using a normal train service to get to the airport, but timings were such that I stuck with the Arlanda Express in the end. Allowing more time might have avoided this, but I wanted to see a little more of Stockholm before I left.
In marked contrast to public transport in Britain at the moment, I only ever found its Swedish counterpart to be efficient, pleasant and dependable. Admittedly, these were different times, but my trips to Ireland showed that the current British malaise does not extend everywhere. When everything just works, there is a lot for which we need to be grateful.
This is another in a series of posts where I cast my mind back to better times. This time, it is a winter sunshine trip to Tenerife at the end of 2018 with a return in early 2019. Aside from using a shuttle service booked through easyJet to get from the airport to my hotel in Santa Cruz, I travelled everywhere else using the island’s bus network, operated by Titsa
, if I could not do so on foot. There is a tram system around Santa Cruz, but everywhere I needed to go was walkable, so it was not something that I needed to use.
Most stay in the southwest of the island for easy access to beaches, but I was after hillwalking. The result was that I stayed in the island’s administrative centre, a long way from the main airport in the south. Once there, it proved to be a useful location for any nearby hills and for getting further afield as well.
My first trip out from my chosen base was born of necessity, and I was bound for Puerto de la Cruz on my first whole day of the trip, the last Sunday of 2018. The morning was sunny, but the sky clouded over by the afternoon. My destination for the day is another of the holiday bases on the island and offered chances for reaching the higher parts of the island.
They would prove useful later, but my journey that day was an out and back affair with no change of vehicle. What I can remember now is the early start that I made, partly because reaching the main bus interchange (the Intercambiador) involved a significant walk, one that I had not made before. The way there was not unpleasant, and I would get to know its landmarks over coming days.
Once there, I seem to remember picking a high perch in the bus, possibly near the back of the vehicle. That guaranteed better views away from the built-up areas and beyond the island’s northern airport, a regional affair that I did not use. What I cannot recall is any sense of overcrowding and the efficiency of the experience. That impression was set to pervade the rest of the trip.
The next day was New Year’s Eve, but I did no travelling by bus for reasons now unknown to me. A day walking through local hills more than sufficed, and I was about to learn how determinedly the locals celebrate the arrival of a new year. On New Year’s Day, the bus service was vastly better than what you would have in many parts of England. In fact, it felt close to full service.
On my way to the Intercambiador, I passed many who were walking home from New Year celebrations. Formal attire seemed to be the way to do things from the way in which most were dressed. Being in walking attire, I must have looked different. The bus service to Igueste de San Andrés was less frequent than others, but it got me to what became the base for the most adventurous hike of my trip; passing along a steep slope on a narrow path above seawater also does that for me. For my return, I had quite a wait because of the two-hourly frequency and my tardiness. Though I was wondering in the dark with the place being quiet, the bus did turn up as expected, so there was no need to have thought of trying to ask someone for a drive.
After the largely enjoyable travails of the day before and the anticipated altitude, I was constraining my ambitions for a day trip to the island’s lofty centre. That needed a change of bus at Puerto de la Cruz, and the connection from there was more of a tourist service. The first bus filled up easily, and I saw mountain bikes being loaded into its side lockers too. Usefully, there was second one as well, so I got onto that one. The altitude gain was brought home to me by the oozing of a bottle of sunscreen when I opened it rather than the steepness of the climb being make effortless by the bus.
It was just as well that our course was a zigzag one until the first stop where some disembarked. There was call to El Teide too, which was where most got off the bus. They surely were bound for the cable car as were all the others who had gone there by car, making the bus driver’s job more challenging. It was for the Hotel Parador stop that I was bound. That was the terminus where buses were parked awaiting their return journeys. In the meantime, I pottered about Rocques de Garcia while keeping my eye on the time as much as on the views, since I did not want to get stranded with my flight back to the U.K. scheduled for the following day.
In the end, there was no need to fear in this barren desert-like landscape. Getting there had meant that I could not use the travel card that I had picked up in Santa Cruz; on the day payment was needed instead. That was a pre-paid affair, and got me around much of the island once I had acquired. The next day, it would get me to the airport too.
Information for bus services to and from the airport struck me as being strange, though everything else on the Titsa website was as informative as it needed to be (there also is a version in English). They even suggested that there is no direct service from Santa Cruz there at all, but I got all the way without the change for which I might have been prepared. My arrival had been by night, so I took no chances and stuck with the shuttle bus that I already mentioned. In contrast, my departure was in daylight, so I could be more adventurous.
Overall, my impression of the Tenerife bus network was that it worked far better than some places where I have been. Services were extensive with plenty of room onboard. Only the Parque Nacional del Teide services were very full, so one need not fret at being left behind. Timekeeping was very good too. All in all, it felt like how a bus system should be operated.
In the interests of sharing something more positive in this more downbeat time, I am recalling experiences of public transportation during an eight-day trip to Vancouver in British Columbia during July 2019. In truth, the time that I spent in that part of Canada limited me to the aforementioned city and its surroundings. The furthest that I got to go was Victoria on Vancouver Island while Squamish was reached on the last full day of the trip.
Most of the time was spent around Vancouver itself. In the interests of keeping costs down, I based myself in a hotel away from the city centre. That meant that I had plenty of chances to sample its public transport network. This took time to get to know, but the use of a pre-paid card made things handy, and there was a flat fare for travel within a set period of time, regardless of the number of changes required. Still, I had to load the card using cash since the recharging machines did not work well with the cards that I had with me.
system worked well and got me between the airport of my hotel, even if there was a noticeable walk between the latter and its nearest station. Otherwise, the regularity of the service meant that the system conveyed me on numerous journeys as I found my feet on the shores of an ocean that I had not seen before. The Canada Line was my mainstay, with only occasional use made of the Millennium Line; journeys to and from the Waterfront station were more useful to me than those made on the way towards the airport.
Otherwise, I made plenty of use of the bus system and got to know some of the routes well during my stay. All were single deckers and some were busy, but everyone fitted on the ones that I used. Vancouver is full of parks, and some are large, so there was plenty to visit along with landmarks around False Creek and along the Burrard inlet. Stanley Park was among the former while I even got to Pacific Regional Park near the University of British Columbia; the park around Trout Lake became another haunt of mine near my hotel.
buses also had their uses for getting to and from the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen for my day trip to Vancouver Island; there were a number of changes, but it all worked. The ferry sailing was pleasant too and the shuttle bus service to Victoria work well, though I was left wondering if I would miss the return ferry sailing on the way back. That was because I may have cut connection times too fine; in the end, we are in good time anyway. The driver even mentioned getting the authorities to give the drivers more time, so passengers were less anxious, and he even managed the rather clichéed joke about leaning forward to make the double-decker bus go uphill faster. In the end, nothing did anything to take away from a pleasant day away from the metropolis.
North Vancouver also featured on my rambles. An evening ferry crossing introduced me to that side of the Burrard Inlet. Later, I was to cross it by bus for day spent hiking among the slopes of the coastal mountains that black bears are known to frequent. None were encountered on my day outing, and I was not saddened by that; it was the heat that was more of a concern with remaining well hydrated being a must. More explorations remain a possibility, and Vancouver’s bus system would help with reaching those as well.
However, Canada is the world’s second-largest country with many sparsely populated spots. Thus, public transportation really does fade when you go away from the cities. To get to Squamish, I booked a return trip with a shuttle bus operator. It worked well, and the small size of the bus possibly reflected the fact that many would have driven there themselves. Whistler would have been another option, but time was too short for that. The time around Squamish was a good introduction anyway.
All in all, the public transport system was good enough to keep me from needing taxis. There were hireable bikes, too, that prompted thoughts of cycling on a different continent. In the end, enough confidence could not be summoned to fulfil the idea. Also, I am not convinced that they would have fitted on the racks on the fronts of buses. Even if I could be sure of a good fit, thoughts of loading a bike on those racks were not encouraging. Instructions from a driver would have been from the vehicle’s cab and I would not have wanted to cause delay through any ineptitude. All of this meant that walking was my method of human-powered exploration and filling any gaps that there might have been. That is often the only way to really explore a city, so I was more than happy to stroll about the place.
What I have not mentioned in all of this is air travel, for I made use of direct flights between Manchester and Vancouver. These were long at around nine hours, so I hoped to shorten them by reading or sleeping. That did not happen for various reasons, and I ended up catching sight of what others were watching on their in-flight entertainment screens part of the time. Maybe there was added nervousness at going so far away and so far outside my European comfort zone. Now that I have done the Canadian trip, it needs further adjustment to the post-pandemic world to calm other causes of qualm-mongering. July 2020 might have seen me head to Colorado, so that remains a possibility as does California. If those escapades ever came to pass, I might be tempted to upgrade the class of travel for greater space and comfort.
For those wanting to get to Canadian Provincial and National Parks without using a car, Parkbus
offers some useful travel options from Toronto and Vancouver. These do vary by season, but the destinations include Golden Ears, Garibaldi Provincial Park and Joffre Lakes Provincial Park in British Columbia while those in Ontario include Algonquin Provincial Park, Bruce Peninsula National Park, Georgian Bay Islands National Park, Elora Gorge, Rockwood Conservation Area, Rattlesnake Point and Crawford Lake.
20:04, January 22, 2023
Moraine Lake and Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada have been suffering under their popularity. Now, Parks Canada has banned the use of private vehicles on the approach to Moraine Lake
year round. That may sound heavy, but oversubscribed car parks meant that the excursion was not such a viable one
anyway. It means that human-powered travel as well as usage of shuttle, chartered or scheduled
bus services are favoured. The move has attracted criticism, so we will need to see if that brings change.