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.
The SkyTrain 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.
TransLink 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.
During the year, I managed to go to Ireland several times. The first was in March when I made a day trip to Dublin. This was my first trip to Ireland following the onset of the pandemic and there was some apprehension involved. However, I needed to get over there to sort out a matter as well as making another step on a return to some sort of normality.
Face mask wearing was starting to slip but still was enforced on aircraft while being mandated at airports. Airports were quiet too though a delay at security clearance in Manchester made for the only run to the gate that I ever needed to do there. Dublin Express connect me with the city centre on busy vehicles, the cause being a reduced service. Aside from that, all worked well and the airport delays of the summer lay ahead of us.
After the confidence-building day trip to Dublin, a longer trip beckoned. That was about tending to more business, completing what lay unfinished from the day trip and other things that needed doing or starting. Flights took me to Shannon and from Cork where things still felt very quiet, and mask wearing was mandated, if only enforced on board aircraft.
The majority of bus and train passengers had dispensed with mask wearing as much as in the England. Remaining more cautious, I persisted and still do so. Aside from any delays, everything was returning to a normal level of service and I got everywhere that I wanted to go. Aside from local services, cashless payments were not only accepted but often were the only way to pay. The exceptions were Local Link services and local services operated by Bus Éireann where the TFI Go app does contactless ticketing, although some bus drivers can be a bit odd about this as I discovered.
The app discovery happened on a journey up to Killaloe, and came in useful for the way back to Limerick from nearby Ballina. Aside from these, Newport, Killarney, Adare and Newcastlewest all featured on my comings and goings. One lesson that I had to learn is that extra time is needed for the connection with the Local Link service to Charleville from Newcastlewest. The express coach service may be late and the Local Link one may not wait for you. Since it was a rainy day, it was just as well that I was able to meet up with my brother because my plans were otherwise disrupted, unless I managed to get a taxi. Getting a soaking while residing somewhere that you had not planned on being, was no help either.
After things working well on my April trip, I embarked on another at the end of May that extended into June. No trains that I used had onboard catering, but rail travel often feels civilised for longer journeys, so long as trains do not fill up with sports supporters. While there was trouble with outbound journeys from Dublin airport due to lack of security staff, my inbound journey was not affected by this. Connection times for my planned train to Tralee were tight because it needs a city crossing. By then though, Dublin Express had increased their service level so that vehicles did not feel as full as on my March day trip.
Otherwise, my experiences were not dissimilar from my April trip, aside from the added reduction of the mask mandate. On flights, that felt a little uncomfortable, but there were no health consequences. My base in Tralee made journeys to Killarney and around the Dingle peninsula more than feasible. If the weather had played ball more than it did, it would have been a distracting time of business and leisure activities like my trip to Limerick was.
August saw me enjoy a holiday in Ireland with bases in Killarney and Cork. The same solidity of the service offering allowed me to make the most of the opportunity. There were timetable restrictions that contained my hiking trips, yet it is possible to work around these. Vehicle tracking could make a fool of one while awaiting an older vehicle so patient is needed if one is not to get stranded. Otherwise, Kenmare, Bantry, Clogheen, Kinsale and Cobh featured as I went here and there using the same knowledge that I had gained on preceding trips. This was a memorable time for all the right reasons and the weather was cooperative, if really starting to heat up near the end.
The last trip of the year encountered mixed weather and shorter hours of daylight, but transportation worked to the same level of success as before. This was in marked contrast to the strikes bedevilling its British counterpart. That make the business trip as much an escape from pessimism as anything else. It also introduced me to Farranfore airport, a quiet place where not much was open when I first arrived. That changed as the time to check in approached. Flying from Kerry to Manchester left me with an impression that this an alternative worth keeping in mind, even if the schedule is limited to certain days of the week and transport connections are more restricted.
In summary, 2022 became a year when I was freer to explore my own country and public transport did not let me down. There was business to do as well and that remains ongoing. More trips should happen in 2023, and I may start to contemplate other shores as well.
Since the summer, our lives have been beset by various ongoing industrial actions possibly caused by pay constraints and the rise in the cost of living. There is one at Royal Mail that seems set to affect the Christmas posting period. Arriva has been affected by numerous strikes that were all-out stoppages with little or no service being provided in some places. The one in the northwest of England thankfully got sorted, but there have been others since then.
The railways have been particularly affected with the RMT actions set to continue into 2023. The strike action at Network Rail has been very disruptive with many travel days lost and next to whole weeks blotted out in December and January. That is not all but train crew have been striking as well, so the dependability of rail travel has gone for now. We just have to sit and wait until things get back to some sort of normality, again. There were tastes of this around the royal funeral and during a respite during which unsuccessful talks took place.
It is not as if there are no other underlying problems, either. One example is the ever-present shortage of bus drivers that curtails the frequency of timetabled services. Another is the travails of Avanti and Transpennine Express. Both have not been operating their full timetables for a while. Admittedly, the dependence on goodwill working on rest days for overtime pay has not helped, and neither has delays in train driver recruitment and training caused by the pandemic.
The picture is not a positive one, and there are public spending cuts and tax rises to come. It just feels as if the U.K. has become somewhere where nothing works well. During the year, I got to Ireland a few times and encountered a marked contrast. Apart from the absence of catering on trains or delays to journeys, nearly everything seems to run well over there. Certainly, my only fear of getting stranded was as a result of my own ineptitude.
That was unlike my getaways over the August bank holiday weekend when creative thinking was needed when heading to Stirling. A stopover in Carlisle not only got around lack of service availability, but also offered the chance of a sunny day out around Helvellyn. After that, getting to Scotland was a possibility. Things went better around the royal funeral when I snagged a return to Scotland in a strike-free period when train companies had to do better if people were to pay their respects.
Air travel had its problems with staffing this year as well, but thoughts of an overseas trip brighten what otherwise looks a dark period for British public transport. Trouble is, I am feeling too weary right now because of work and ongoing business in Ireland. Maybe a few weeks rest around Christmas will help address that, and that might help others to get things back on track for everyone else as well.
Recently, I had a journey with EMR go wrong because of a train breakdown. Only shortly beyond Sheffield station, we had to turn back, and the journey was delayed by around an hour. When I came to claim compensation for the delay, the process was straightforward thanks to having PDF copies of the tickets. It also was very prompt with the money going back into my PayPal account. Though the journey had not been the best, the customer service afterwards cannot be faulted.
20:33, December 4, 2023
The RMT dispute with the English train operators has ended while other negotiations continue. The legislation for minimum service levels is coming into effect too. However, the ongoing ASLEF actions continue and more could follow. How things will look around Christmas and New Year remains to be seen. There is more hope than this time year, though.