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29Jan/200

Amsterdam + Koplopers – January, 2020

After being delayed on the return trip from Belgium, I'd chosen a hotel in Amsterdam that I'd always wanted to stay out. The Ibis Amsterdam City Centre Hotel is located both adjacent and on-top-of Amsterdam Centraal Station.

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In the shot above you can see the main building to the left and the above-the-rails building to the right. Just like the Wuppertal Schwebebahn, the building is suspended above the platforms by large 45-degree legs. Note that one of the floors in the annex, as the extra building is called, is being refurbished.

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..but don't let that stop you as there was absolutely no noise during the stay. You'll find views from all windows of the building as you transfer between lifts to get to the 'upper' floors in the annex.

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And then the view from the room. Don't forget to ask for a room with a north-facing view!!

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Almere Poort

During the entire trip, we'd gone to meet family in Groningen. The trip consisted of a fast-paced ride through the country-side on a Koploper. As this was my most-favourite NS train, I'd made an effort along the way to determine the easiest station to take a few videos from, where I could capture these trains at full-tilt. I also wanted to make sure it wasn't too far from the city, so I chose Almere Poort as the trains didn't stop when we passed through.

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The weather was miserable, but it was the last day in the country and I was determined to check the place out. The station provided good visibility in both directions, but was a little 'urban' with lots of concrete and glass for framing.

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Multiple services passed through with Sprinters, as above, stopping to pick up the college kids and residents. No one minded that I was there to take photos of trains. Actually... that's a good point: the NS staff even asked how my train photos were when they saw me with a camera. Anyway... here's the resulting video.

We'll declare it as historical, rather than a work of art.

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27Jan/200

Brussels, Belgium – January, 2020

A quick stopover was made in Brussels, Belguim after visiting York, UK. The main goal was to visit breweries, but a few side-attractions were also entertained. We stayed in the ibis Brussels Centre Gare Midi Hotel, right next to the Brussels Midi Station and had a view of the trains and trams!

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The first night was spent with a wander up into town. Dinner was had at KFK Hope where both delicious beer and stoemp were served! I'd nearly demanded McDonald's when I saw the varied menu, but it was then a perfect fluke to find this bar/restaurant with a delicious menu.

The next day involved a lot of walking. Firstly, uphill in search of breakfast. It turns out Belgian's really only drink coffee, so a croissant was purchased from a small convenience-ish store as it looked neat with its layer of icing sugar on top. It happened to be full of apple! So good. Anyway, the goal was to actually wander to a model railway store, but we ended up crossing via two really random tram intersections.

Firstly, up the top of a rise, the intersections of Rue Theodore Verhaegen, Avenue du Parc, Chausee de Waterloo, Rue de l'Hotel des Monnaies, Chaussee d'Alsemberg and Avenue Paul Dejaer create a round-a-bout that includes a tram line! Usually these aren't anything special, as we even have them in Melbourne, but here, the rails will cut straight through the round-a-bout... not also use it as a junction!

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The lighting wasn't the best... actually, the rain wouldn't hold off, but we still managed to watch a few trams run the gauntlet and dodge traffic. Of course, they can't dodge at all and so cars new full-well to give way. Another good point was that all cars were giving way to the right and letting cars in front of them enter the round-a-bout. This was very unexpected as here in Australia we also give way to the right and it therefore lends that these guys should've been giving way to the left? A quick search shows that it's known as priority-to-the-right and Belgium actually wants to get rid of the law!

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After a while, a tram came through and halted in the intersection before the exit points closest to me. It turns out they also have cab-controls fail and have to switch points manually at times.

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From here it was a nice dawdle downhill to find the model railway store. We ended up passing a church that the trams had also been built around.

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Further fluking led us to the Marolles Flea Market. Here I successfully acquired a Philips CDI console with broken controller and game for $5. The rain really didn't help the sellers, but most were convinced to just let the wares deal with the elements.

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From here, a short wander was had to Cantillon Brewery. This is a living museum, still producing beer, whilst allowing tours of the entire factory. Infact, you're allowed to wander around by yourself after a quick introduction and disclaimer. For a nominal fee, you also get a tasting included at the end. The beer was very wine-like... and super delicious. For someone like me who just devours things, actually taking time to appreciate the 'depth' took a lot more effort than I was expecting!

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From there, I finally had my Royal O'Fish at McDonald's, proceeded by an afternoon session at The Belgian Beer Project. This was nice and quiet as we arrived at 2pm as it opened. It quickly changed as a work christmas party arrived. Many tasting trays were created for the 40-odd new guests, but most of them weren't interested... and so we happily received their left-overs.

Finally, the 1757 Amsterdam-bound Thalys was cancelled. There was no mention of it at all on the departure board and I had to line up to find out what was going on. The advice provided was "to take the next train. Choose any free seat after everyone else was seated." We fluked forward-facing seats and got to Amsterdam without much further trouble!

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24Jan/202

York & The Mallard – January, 2020

After getting up-close-and-personal with an EF58 (my favourite Japanese electric locomotive), I realised I needed to tick another box: inappropriately touch 4468 The Mallard. I'd already seen one running, so this task was to be simple enough as the Mallard had been relegated to show-pony duties in the National Railway Museum in York.

The museum is a located to the north-west of York's main railway station. You can easily access it on foot, via the southern entrance of the station. Entry is free, but a donation is highly recommended! You'll find two large halls full of memorabilia, with the main hall being to the right as you enter the museum.

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I happened to head staight-ahead as I entered and viewed the smaller hall first. Straight-up I was confronted with a life-size version of my first HO Scale model train. But then I realised it wasn't. My first loco was a 6201 Princess Elizabeth and this happened to be a LMS Hughes Crab... close, but no cigar.

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Before long, I was in the main hall and staring at a Eurostar. Although a relatively new engine, it's of historical significance, being one of the first consists to cross the channel on rails. I was perfectly surprised to then see a 0-series Shinkansen cab car!

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From there, a quick wander gets you to the back of the Mallard... where the lighting was better than from the front angle. Arghh!

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There was something like an up-close-and-personal going on with the group at the back, but I wasn't interested... I just wanted to see the behemoth in person. It lived up to my expectations!

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And that was that... the rest of the afternoon was spent checking out the town.

York Station

After a night of pub-hopping, it was an early start off to Belgium, via London. To get to the station, I took the extended walking path to the south first, over a railway bridge and back up the western side of the line. Unfortunately, for the entire path there was next-to-zero visibility of the rails. It was also just after 0830 and the sun hadn't even considered shining yet.

After picking up luggage and checking out, I bunkered down with a coffee on a bench at York Station. I was actually very happy to see quite a few cafes located throughout the station! Don't always go for the first Costa Coffee available (although it is located in the old signal box)!

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The layout of the railway around the station seemed to indicate that there was a freight bypass to the south. Hence my earlier walk; I wanted to actually see freight through York prior to my departure. After the disappointing stroll, I'd sat at the station with the intent to just watch an Azuma pass through... but was pleasantly surprised when a coal train crawled past me!

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After that, a myriad of passenger trains passed in every direction...

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Interestingly, that purple metro above had a partner sitting next to it, as you'll see in shots further above. It departed as I was near it and the wheels sounded absolutely terrible! It wasn't quite the sound of flat-spots... or the sound of steel wheels turning a corner... it was a serious grinding sound! A quick look down at the rails showed what the actual cause was...

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They've welded zig-zags on the rail-head! Woah... I assume that a train has come in at some point and slid on the DMU oil and hit the buffers. To prevent this, instead of sand or other cleaning, they've added friction-inducing rough-ness to the rail-head. Well played, but can't be good for passenger comfort or the wheel surfaces?

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My non-Azuma London-bound LNER service arrived and that was it for York.

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23Jan/200

Wuppertal Schwebebahn – January, 2020

After a long overnight trip from Venice, I arrived at Wuppertal mid-afternoon. Before even reaching the town, the Wuppertal Schwebebahn was already visible from the ICE. This had always been in the must-do area of my to-do list and I was happy to finally be here. I wasn't happy about the weather, but beggars can't be choosers... it was winter.

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The first thing to do was find a hotel, but before you even get to town you have to cross under the Schwebebahn.

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The closest and most convenient hotel I could find on maps was the Holiday Inn Express. I rocked up and asked for a room facing the railway and all was provided. Note that I've just googled now and found Gunstige B&B Hotel Wuppertal which seems to have much better views and Schwebebahn artwork in each room!?! Good reason to go back again... but in summer.

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Just standing out front of the hotel provided enough entertainment thanks to ~6 minute service headways on a weekday!

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And then I just wandered back and forth along the railway. You can buy a 4-ride ticket for around ~10 Euro and then just validate it when required. Actually, the validation is a little funny as it's really just a stamp card... but it's a flimsy piece of paper and you need to fit four stamps on it. Fortunately it was never checked, so I don't know if I was doing it correctly. Note that the website says that each ride on the 4-ride ticket can be 'continued' as long as you're going in the same direction... so hop-on-hop-off as much as you like!

Infrastructure

As you can see above, the whole railway is build elevated with over 50% of it above the Wupper River. The railway was built in 1901 and had a perfect safety record until 1999 when a clamp was left on the line after maintenance works. Due to the design of the steel arches, the railway survived both wars. The vehicles have recently been renewed and actually felt very modern!

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The vehicles hang onto the track via multiple overhead supporting arms. Each arm has two wheels attached that run along a rail. The wheels have flanges on both sides, making sure that they straddle the rail at all times.

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Each vehicle has only one control stand, at one end of the consist. This is due to the fact that they can perform hairpin turns at either end of the line.

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At Vohwinkel Station, there's a junction in the track allowing the trains to head into the maintenance shed. Just like monorails, the entire frame has to shift laterally to slot in a new section of track.

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Street running

Towards the western end of the line, the railway runs above a street, between both commercial and residential buildings. This also happens to be the area where a crane managed to tear open the bottom of one vehicle, injuring multiple passengers.

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Random Locations

From here, I'll just throw up batches of locations that I found interesting. With the rain and the cold, I just tried to get to as-picturesque-locations-as-possible. It'll be really nice to come back in Summer!

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Below was all taken around the Bayer plant. It turns out there's a huge manufacturing plant here that spans multiple buildings on both sides of the river.

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Varresbecker Straße Station to DB Zoologischer Garten Station

On the final morning, I wanted to depart Wuppertal west for Dusseldorf. I could've just taken the train from the Hbf, but instead decided to use the rest of my 4-ride ticket and check out the pathway between Varresbecker Straße Station to DB Zoologischer Garten Station. This secure corridor takes you through the middle of the Bayer plant, although you wouldn't really know as it's totally sheltered.

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That e-waste bin above was interesting... I was hoping to find an Amiga inside, but it's bloody secure.

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From here it was off to Dusseldorf on the first westbound DB service.

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21Jan/202

Venice to Germany via the Nightjet – January, 2020

The initial plan had been very different; after two good nights in Barcelona for NYE, there was to be a sleeper train to Paris and a Thalys to Amsterdam. Thanks to SNCF going on strike, the sleeper was cancelled! I'd wanted to take a sleeper whilst on this trip, so I scoured the web for options via thetrainline.com. It seemed that the best path was to find a cheap flight to Venice and then take OBB's (Austrian Railways') Nightjet to Munich.

Venice

Vueling got me there painlessly from Barcelona. Getting into the city was a little more difficult! There are ferries that take you from the airport to the 'island', but make sure you take the right one. You'll find both an orange line and a blue line, with the former getting you to the main train station the quickest. I had no reason to get to the station quickly (2105 departure), and the sun was already setting, so I chose the blue line. This would allow me to arrive at the easternmost point of Venice and wander across to the station. Do your research on this leg early! It's a little confusing when you're there.

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Follow the signs to the water transport... and pay attention to the lack of advertising...

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Once you're down at water level, walk all the way to the far end. You'll find ticket booths and you'll want to buy a ticket to the train station. To the right you'll then find the boats, waiting, hopefully.

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Taking the blue line mean a slight detour. Firstly, the boat has to (absolutely) dawdle through the shipping lane as it departs the airport. You'll find the private speedboats bolting past, leaving your ferry in their wake, throwing you around! Just as you're about to get to Venice itself, the boat performs a huge left turn and takes you to Murano. After this delay, you'll then end up at the first station on Venice: Nove.

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Turns out this was totally advantageous. If you get off at the popular spots, you'll just get sucked into the tourist trap areas and end up eating McDonalds. Going via the backstreets allowed me to really capture the real feeling of Venice.

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Of course, you then have to traverse the market streets to get to the station.

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But once through it all, you'll find yourself at St. Lucia.

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I first went to the departure board to check for my train. There was one for Weins at 2105, but not Munich? For fun, I checked google maps and it still showed that there were two trains, both departing at 2105, for Munich and Vienna.

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I quickly realised that Weins was the Italian/Austrian name for Vienna, but I was a little disconcerted that Munich wasn't showing! I then realised that my phone ticket told me that I needed a paper print-out of my ticket... but I hadn't had one and there was no kiosk/information desk at the station to provide assistance. In fact, there were no OBB representatives at all. I quickly googled and found an internet cafe back on the main street, so I took some cash out and went to the store. The proprietor happily printed out my ticket and asked for 70 Euro Cents. I only had a $50 note, so he yelled "FREE!" and told me to get out. Ooops... I promise I'll be back to make it all worthwhile!

Back to the station... I dawdled around to check out the sights.

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There were some beautiful Italian trains here. But none that I understood... and lots of graffiti also. St. Lucia is a terminus station and so all trains were either coming in and terminating or propelling in empty to then run a fresh service.

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I still had a few hours to burn, so I wandered back through town.

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And then wandered back to the station and had pizza at the restaurant at the eastern end of the platforms. Turns out all of the train staff loved this place too!

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More trains came and went, more software errors on computer displays and even more OBB services... but no changes to the Weins service and no staff to help out. As the departure time was getting closer, a different type of tourist started arriving at the station...

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All was looking good that a nighttrain would arrive, but I was still a little sceptical as to where I'd be waking up in the morning! I didn't bother asking... I just ran with it to see what would arrive.

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Just before the 2105 service was due, a little 5' appeared in the delay column! And then... the whole train arrived.

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The train wasn't going to run around quickly... and the sign then decided to update and get a little more realistic.

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I walked to my carriage, based on the number displayed on my ticket and was pleasantly surprised to see the destination board showing Munich!

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The rooms were very similar to night trains both in Japan and Thailand. I'd opted for a four-person berth, but this was really just a six-person berth with the middle bunks 'booked out'.

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Before long, I'd met my room mates, we'd all then met the conductor, the train had departed, we'd ordered the first round of beers and an introduction to the nights expectations was provided: the train would proceed to Tarvisio Boscoverde, the last stop before the Austrian border, where there'd be a quick police check. We'd then proceed through to Villach where there'd be a 30 minute stop as we split the front half of the train, which then continued to Austria, and coupled to another half which had come from Budapest. Once connected, we'd proceed to Salsburg where we'd be rudely awakened by Austrian police to have an identity check. Thanks to this awakening, breakfast would also be served... as we'd then hardly have an hour before arriving at Munich.

At Udine, we picked up passengers and dumped the rear engine.

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Right before Tarvisio, after a long, flat trip through north-eastern Italy, we proceeded through a tunnel, which allowed me to grab a nice video out the rear of the train.

At Tarvisio, there was enough time to quickly jump out and giggle at the snow.

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Once at Villach, and quite a few beers later... all from my cabin got out and stretched our legs. There was snow on the ground and it was freezing... it was also 1:30am, but whatever... there wasn't much room for sleep on the trip anyway! We were then alerted that the train from Budapest was an hour late... so there was no rush! A freighter passed through, but I was too slow for it.

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After realising how cold it was, I jumped back in bed and passed out. I vaguely remember the coupling of the trains... but that could also be fictitious. What wasn't fictitious was the border patrol and the torch in one's face. I had slept with my passport in my pocket, so I presented it very quickly. Before long, breakfast was served, and well, it was a bread roll and a packet'o'jam.

Munich

This was a very brief stop-over. I'd considered checking out the sights, but it was 0615 and there wouldn't be much happening for a few hours. I was also pretty tired, so I wandered over to the DB booth to get tickets on the next ICE... which was in all-of 10 minutes. The queue was around 20 people long, as our train had arrived 45 minutes late, with everyone trying to re-adjust their connections. I must admit, the service was fantastic and the conductor on the night train kept telling us that if connections were booked on DB trains then they'd be easily transferred to the next service at no cost.

I didn't feel like waiting in the queue, so I jumped on thetrainline.com and booked a forward-facing seat. It came through within a minute and I was set. I did this as I was standing next to the ticket queue, watching that I'd beaten the person at the front of the line. I then wandered and checked out the station.

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There was a weird carriage in a stub road, seemingly doing nothing?

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And then we were off... The on-board bordbistro was delicious... beer and currywurst, what more could you ask for!?

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It was a beautifully quick and seamless trip. A quick transfer at Frankfurt saw me get to Wuppertal in no time!

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What weird contraption is that, built on top of that river, down there? Oh, of course, the Schwebebahn!

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6Jan/201

Miniworld, Rotterdam – December, 2019

Just like Miniature Wonderland in Hamburg, Rotterdam has it's own version tailored to The Netherlands, located just a few hundred metres from the central exit of Rotterdam Station. And speaking of which, the station entrance is an amazing piece of architecture!

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Anyway, back to the wander... head west along the main road from the station entrance and you'll soon find Miniworld!

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Admission was less than 20 euro and totally worth it. The entrance is just after the restaurant and you'll start off at a beachside town that looked similar to Enkhuizen.

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You'll then wander around to a port. Note also that the days cycle through in beautiful colour... you can actually see it in the background of the following shot as the colour change started sweeping across the layout.

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As you're cornering around the you'll notice the control room and model-building area on the left. Check it out... the software is amazing, all digital and alerting when the trains are having issues.

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As you continue around, you'll find yourself in a more modern city, finishing with a landmark that we've already seen in real life.

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Finally, there's a back room with two older, non-functional layouts. They're actually a lovely tribute to a previous member of the organisation who had passed away. These were from the garage in the garden!

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Next, it's time to head downstairs! There's currently another layout under construction in the theme of the UK! There's a few bits and pieces running, but they're expecting it to be complete in another 2 years.

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I loved the sign outside... A whole world is waiting for you!

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