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10Jun/180

China, 2018 – Shanghai and Guangzhou

China Southern had a great deal on return flights to Amsterdam, but the return leg included an inconveniently-timed 10-hour stopover in Guangzhou. Instead of this, I re-routed via Shanghai and decided that an overnight bullet train trip was in order. It's really the only thing that China has done over Japan, the building of high-speed beds! Well.. I lie. I wrote that last sentence prior to going and now that I'm back I'm seriously impressed with the culture, technology and overall livability of China. It was very different to when I was there 15 years ago!

Getting a Tourist Visa

So, Australia ain't on the cool-list. As an Australian, you'll have to fill out the application form and either post it to the consulate or deliver it in person to the application center. I chose the latter and, expecting that I had all the correct information, rocked up without an appointment on a Thursday lunch-time. After a 2.5hr wait, I was told that I needed print-outs of my hotel reservations. I'd totally neglected to read the requirements.

I returned to work and decided to choose some hotels later that night. Once done, I made the smart move and actually booked an appointment. DO THIS! DO NOT VISIT THE CENTER WITHOUT AN APPOINTMENT! With everything on me, I rocked up the following Monday and still had to wait for around 40 minutes. Once called up, all information was accepted and I was handed a receipt with an expected completion date. This was the following Thursday and, upon arrival, I waited in line to receive my passport with its pretty new Visa installed. AUD$109.95 later and I was set!

So, the basic idea is: Book EVERYTHING before you go and apply for a Chinese Visa. The form actually requires you to record where you are each night of your trip, so make sure you have the appropriate evidence per day.

Shanghai

This city is crazy... I stayed right in town at the Raddisson 'Tru Blu' and enjoyed it. The location was great for walking Nanjing Road to the Bund and also for getting a train to the computer area. Unfortunately the markets were really only full of new stuff. The area was pretty cool though with the overhead metro lines and grotty markets/streets. Check this link at Wikia for more information.

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I had a friend help me work out cool places to check out trains. We were advised that the station platform at Lianhua Road Station on Subway Line 1.

The line parallels the actual main railway and there are two flat concrete platforms out from the station roof that you can use as viewpoints. Either gives a clear view in one direction and not the other. I was really happy though, there was a good mix of loco-hauled and high-speed trains through in the 30 minutes we hung around.

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After this is was shopping, shopping and more shopping. Oh, and eating! Go to Da Dong for the most amazing Peking Duck.

The Overnight Bullet Train

After travelling on the Twilight Express, Kitaguni and Hokutosei... even the XPT in Australia and the Bangkok - Chiangmai Sleeper Train, it was time to ride the 'Deluxe Sleeper' from Shanghai to Guangzhou. This was going to be a 1400km coastal trip (not unlike the Twilight Express) with very convenient departure and arrival times.

This service only runs on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, so make sure to plan your trip around the timetable. It seems that there's no demand mid-week and therefore does not run. Here's a recent Friday timetable.

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The trains and stations were enormous and astonishing (that first photo above is from the mezzanine in the waiting area of Shanghai Hongqiao.) Just the sheer scale made them impressive. I must admit that the passengers were also very well behaved, when compared with normal public interactions. Everything felt a lot more like an airport than a train station. Most stations also had 16-or-more platforms with trains heading in numerous directions. Unfortunately, the waiting area was above the platforms and you only got to see the trains when you were called to board.

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The consists were clean and tidy. It was funny looking at each of the models and thinking like I'd seen them before. Some were kawasaki-styled, others siemens-styled. Either way they all (well, except the very latest with its red livery) had the same white/black/blue colour schemes. Train after train departed and arrived at Shanghai and it was amazing to watch.

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The cabins themselves were very similar to those of both Thailand and Japan. Everything was very shiny and new, but the tech wasn't overly 'premium'. The beds were already down and made, although it was already 2030.

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Each bed had a TV, reading light, control panel and ample bedding. It was all looking very comfortable, except for the couch, which was a little hard and facing backwards... but that was luck of the draw as even-numbered cabins would've had the couch facing the other way. Anyway, it was dinner time...

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The buffet car was next door and felt comfortable enough. It actually reminded me of my KTMB trip from Butterworth to KL. Nice and clean, boxes of stock piled high, very spartan outfit but functional and a simple menu. All items were 'bento' style and re-heated in the industrial-strength microwave. I chose the fish and suffered through a lot of tiny bones; still delicious!

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Back to the cabin via the cute decor... there's a temperature control next to the door to make sure you have a comfortable sleep... although the upper berth may receive the majority of the aircon. Note that cabin number one (and the other end, I think 10? or 12?) are right next to the toilet. They're airplane toilets as well... so thanks to thin walls you can feel when people flush next to you.

The trip was fantastically timed and really easy. There was only one really major fault that I believe I may still be suffering from. The pressurisation of the carriages wasn't working. You could tell as soon as we were entering a tunnel as your ears would start to pop. And I don't mean just once... I mean about 5 times on entry and twice on exit of each tunnel. Worse when there was an opposing train! Even when lying down and sleeping I was awoken to aching eardrums once or twice.

Guangzhou

We arrived into Guangzhou at 7am on a Tuesday and dumped my bags at the hotel. I ended up staying at the Royal Mediterranean Hotel in the Gang Ding area of Guangzhou... nice and close to all of the IT markets! It was too early to go shopping, so we ventured for the Canton Tower. This had an awesome observatory with a freakin' ferris wheel on the top!

Anyway... the days were mainly spent scouring through IT markets... but, of course, the effort was put in to ask the community where a good photography point would be. Turns out this one was a bit dicey. My friend was a local and declared that we could enter the area... but I was a little wary. We ended up taking Didi (Chinese Uber) and then riding the rental bikes to a rural area.

This area was known as the Xinshi Residential Area, or so I think? The maps are a little hard to work out. Either way, it was a side-road to a depot for track machines.

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So.. yeah... after checking out the wagons, we *ahem* 'navigated' a fence and were presented with a fantastic line-side opportunity. Here's the northern view...

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And then the southern view...

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From here it was train-after-train-after-train. Seeing the signals helped a lot too. And this time there was freight! No high-speed though.

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Lots of passenger consists... going to (or coming from) some very far reaching places!

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Ahhhh... diesel freight... nothing better...

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The passenger consists were actually seriously long. Turns out there was a bit of congestion too.

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And then a final freight...

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And finally... a puppy in a box...

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...he wasn't a happy camper.

China Southern

One final note.. China Southern is a fantastic airline. Three of the four legs of the trip to Amsterdam were on seemingly-brand-new Airbus A330s and the staff and food were fantastic. The leg from Amsterdam to Shanghai was actually operated by KLM, so that was also a nice surprise.

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The final surprise was having the pilot draw a ring around the word 'Guangzhou' on the map as we departed for Melbourne. Things were amiss when we started heading west... I nearly thought I was in for another European holiday. We then veered south and I assumed we were to loop back and land in Guangzhou. But then as we swung around, out to the east was the most amazing storm-cell, smashing lighting in every direction. Fortunately this was well away from us and was exactly what the pilot was trying to avoid!

1Jun/180

Germany, 2018 – Kassel and Leer

Thanks to hiring a car and touring Germany, I was able to visit some cool places like Miniatur Wunderland! Smashing the rental Jaguar XF on the autobahn was also fun... I was actually a little disappointed that the diesel didn't want to push much faster than 220km/h. The tour also took us on some back-roads as there were bridgeworks east of Bochum.

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I can't even tell you where the above photo was taken as I was too busy negotiating bumper-to-bumper traffic on tiny country roads... but a freight passed a few seconds before and I was hoping to catch another.

Kassel

The first night of the roadtrip was spent in Kassel. We hadn't booked in advance, so I chose the hotel closest to the station. This turned out to be a Best Western housed in a beautifully historical building. I assume it was actually once just the Hotel Kurfurst Wilhelm I?

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It didn't have a railway view, but the station was right next door. We also didn't get much sunlight, but I managed to snap a military train the night we arrived!?

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The next morning saw one freighter.. I got up and had breakfast as early as I could to then spend time down on the platform. The station is huge and has a tram interchange in the forecourt. The trams also take you right down into town. For some reason I didn't even take a photo of them!?

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Leer

This was a very happy and random fluke. Turns out Leer (Ostfriesl) is on the mainline between a car plant and Emden Port and so there is a constant stream of traffic. Once again, we stayed in the hotel right next to the station, known as Hotel Frisia, which seemed to be very popular with the military.

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The station itself probably has a lot of stories to tell. One of them might be that it's sick of looking at that weird yellow rocket on the round-a-bout out front.

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So, where was I? Oh yes... the trains. As mentioned, there's a lot of freight traffic involving the transportation of new automobiles to the port in Emden. This comes from both directions, with the northbound trains turning on a siding just north of the station. You also get a lot of passenger trains. There's the Westfalen Bahn and the standard Deutsche Bahn. The former runs off to regional areas and the main company runs everything from long expresses to a Norddeich Mole which actually uses Leer as a turn-around station.

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The Westfalen Bahn runs very regularly with 3-car EMUs. They're quite recent and in great condition. The colour scheme is also a nice change from the standard red of DB.

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The Norddeich Mole runs from Norddeich via Emden through Leer to Hanover. It usually pulls into the third platform to keep the mainline free for all the other ICEs and freighters.

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But then, sometimes another passenger train is on three and the Norddeich was on 2. Slightly confusing, but nobody seemed to miss their trains.

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There's also an hourly ICE through to Stuttgart. But enough with the people carriers...

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Turns out DB has their own Doctor Yellow and it, at this point in time, was diesel-powered and went for an excursion. It had actually been stored in a siding just north-west of the platforms.

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From here, we'll talk freight. There were a lot of light engine moves and the drivers were in no mood to hang around. The engines happily went track-speed when they could. There were also a few loco shuffles.

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Yeah... I know... you can hardly see there are two locos... you'll just have to trust me. Anyway, back to the actual freighters... from Platform one, if you look left (north), you'll see a branch that heads off right (east). the line heads off to Oldenburg and a lot of freight use Leer to get onto it.

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For example, the above tanker consist had to snake its way across to the southbound rails, but proceeded south. The next snake didn't.

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This train made it south of the station and into the yard. It then ran around and crossed back onto the northern line before continuing.

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Finally, the fun part: the auto-carriers...

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Both Volkswagen and Audi passed through the station... I still haven't quite worked out where their factories are. Numerous cargo companies were used to pull the services.

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Meanwhile, the station has an amazing restaurant/cafe in it. Great pastries and breads... and coffee!

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And here's a video of the view whilst I was sipping coffee.

And here's another freighter.

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Oh! And a little diesel came through with parts of a wind turbine?

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Finally... don't forget your snacks...

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It's amazing seeing this much action in one place.

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25May/180

Germany, 2018 – Miniatur Wunderland

Miniatur Wunderland is nothing short of crazy. Two levels of HO scale model railroading at its finest. It's been around for over 10 years and has nearly seen the population of Australia in visitors! We were on a road-trip in a beautiful XF Jaguar (man, the Autobahns are fun) and I made sure we detoured via this monument.

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Miniatur Wunderland is located in Hamburg in a converted warehouse. Actually, they were still converting the warehouse (or the lower levels) when we were trying to enter and had to walk around a team angle-grinding the staircase... Regardless, we made it inside and even beat the queues. As we were leaving it turns out there was a wait to get inside!

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The place is split up geographically, but all layouts are completely connected. It then turns where's-wally style with all sorts of trinkets to find. You also then get pushbuttons on the railings to activate random animations on the layout. In the last shot above, the conservatorium, which is a scale model of the actual building in Hamburg, splits open and the orchestra plays. It's pretty damn amazing!

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Day and Night are modelled... snow as well! As you traverse the layout you end up going through America and all of the Europes... The model then gets two-level and you get a chance to watch trains tackle some serious terrain.

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There's even a train elevator working automatically behind the scenes!

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Of course, a lot of people come for the airport. The planes even take off and land! Also, keep your eyes open for whacky vehicles... which also take off and land... and even play appropriate theme songs when doing so!

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The control room is also crazy. There were at least 5 full-time staff watching cameras and reports. Some were even sending rescue locos in to bump trains.

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And finally... don't forget to shop and eat.

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The cafe at the end is modelled as per the internals of a buffet carriage. All train nerds should visit this place!

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24May/180

Amsterdam, 2018 – Northern Metro Extension

With my brother living on the northern side of the Ij River, I was happy to see (via google maps) that there was a newly built station just near his house! Turns out that it's opening soon... and isn't actually ready for passengers. Regardless, they had constant EMUs in test, up and down the line seemingly running to the timetable.

This line will really help my family! I'm looking forward to riding it next time I'm in town... will also really help getting to the thrift stores in the south!

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23May/180

Amsterdam, 2018 – Amsterdam Centraal

This station looks nicer every time I visit it. Having my brother's bike available meant that I could go for leisurely cycles at-will, and most of those involved crossing the IJ on the free ferry and then hanging around Centraal watching traffic. One afternoon, towards the end of the trip, saw an hour spent on the platforms watching the comings and goings.

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I'm still a total fan of the Koplopers and was happy to see them still in service. It's been 7 years since I rode one and I've also passed on the HO Lima Model that I previously owned.

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...That's enough photos... enjoy.

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22May/180

Amsterdam, 2018 – Thrift Shopping

Although the trip resembled a Chevy Chase movie, I still had Steven-time to jump on a bicycle and browse the used stores of Amsterdam. Timing for this trip was pretty good; Not only did I have "Europe's biggest flea market" on the weekend I landed, the weather was fantastic and the trip ended with King's Day.

IJ Hallen Market

Known as Europe's largest flea market, this event is held on the northern edge of the Ij River, just north of Amsterdam Centraal. A quick ferry will get you from the station to the market, but I rode there as my brother lives on the northern side of the river. This market was huuuuuuge and there was lots to be found. I must admit that there were very little electronics; but there were enough trains and vintage electronics to keep me entertained.

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Note that there're two trams and other random vehicles on site. There's also an airbnb in a crane, if you feel like staying really close. Actually, I think you can also stay in the trams!

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Van Dijk and Ko

On the way back from the market above, I stumbled across Van Dijk and Ko. It's an old warehouse full of trinkets! Aaaaand there's a cafe to have beer and bitterballen when (or before) you've done your shopping.

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Some pretty random electronics around! If I lived in Amsterdam then I'd be in these places way too often... the limitations of my suitcase really did prevent a lot of splurging!

The Second-Hand Shop Bicycle Tour

The thrift shopping was always going to be a priority in Amsterdam. It officially started in Buikslotermeerplein, a day before the trip below, as this was close to my accommodation. Point A on the map is north of Centraal and contains a store from the appropriately-named chain known as Used Products. They're pretty much the Cash Converters of Amsterdam; same products, same customers, same fights.

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The op-shop is called Kringloopbedrijf De Lokatie. I have no idea what this means? But it was very op-shop-esque with little IT. Lots of books and clothes. Still fun to look through.

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The next day, it was time to jump on the bicycle and target the city. This started with a ferry ride across the IJ, arriving under the bus interchange of Amsterdam Centraal Station. From there, it was a clockwise tour of the outer canal cycling from store to store.

Points B and C on the map were both Used Products stores. Both had interesting electronics and retro games, but nothing that really caught my eye.

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I even ended up riding a fair way past the zoo and checked out a neat railway bridge in the process.

Waterlooplein Markets (Point D) (Note that it's Waterloo Plane, not Water-Loop-Line) is a daily flea market in the middle of town. I'd been numerous time before and didn't end up there on this trip. For those interested, it's an open market with lots of souvenirs. Also good if you need a phone charger or a bicycle repair!

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Mevius (Point E) (that link is a little weird, might be the parent company) was the next stop. It's a huge shed right next to the old Tram Museum (which wasn't operational!) and is full of all sorts of stuff. I nearly picked up a Gravis Gamepad and ATI AGP Card... but for some reason chose not too. Maybe they were just too grotty.

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I then ended up at HobbyLand (Point F). I'd actually picked up an old Marklin steamer at the IJ Hallen markets and needed traction tyres. The sellers didn't speak English and asked if I knew Deutsch. Either way I managed to fake my way to describing a rubber tyre and purchased a size that worked!

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Just around the corner was Ari at Point G. And, it's nuts! You only need to read the articles here and here. This place is a thin corridor of a house with crap packed up all walls and ... well ... wherever else it will fit.

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Point H was another Used Products store.

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One must not forget a healthy lunch...

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Point I was also another Used Products store.

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Rataplan is at point J on the map and seemed to be a large op-shop style store. It allowed people to drop stuff off as well. There weren't many electronics and mainly just dealt with homewares and old clothes.

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Across the road was Antiekbeurs "Amsterdam 700". This is denoted by K on the map, which is partially covered by I. This was a cool place dealing mainly with furniture; no electronics but still very cool to look through.

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After being slightly disappointed by the first Rataplan, I wasn't expecting this second one at point L. It's freakin' huge and full of cool stuff! Lots of IT actually... interesting LCDs and other bits, but nothing that would fit in my suitcase!

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How cute is that colour-coordination!?

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They even have an alterations service! Meanwhile... it's just huge... but I think I mentioned that already.

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Next up was an afternoon in Amsterdam Centraal watching Koplopers. My favourite way to spend an hour.

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28Nov/170

Thailand – November 2017

Such a crazy country. I always love visiting this place, having a few more items on the todo list this time around. Most of those were railway-related, but there was also a craving to find vintage computers, where possible. I really did take tooooo maaaannyyyyy photooooosss.....

Maha Chai Railway

The Maha Chai (or Maeklong) Railway runs south-west from the center of Bangkok to its name-sake, a fishing village and seafood market. A second part of the line then continues (after a ferry ride) through to Samut Songkhram. At the end of the first segment, the seafood market actually takes over the railway line when there are no trains. You'll find the timetable here for the line and I do have to admit that, for a single-car DMU on rotten tracks, it's actually quite convenient! ... just not high-speed :)

This was the first target on the first morning in Thailand. Due to a very early arrival from Australia, check-in was impossible and so coffee was skulled prior to public transport navigation. I'd originally attempted to get a taxi to take us to the eastern-most terminus, but they all suggested we take the BTS/MRT. Supposedly it'd be quicker. From the hotel opposite Hua Lamphong, the MRT was taken to Si Lom where a transfer was made to the BTS. We then traversed all the way to Talat Phlu (BTS) before walking north to Talat Phlu on the actual Maha Chai Railway.

The goal was to just check out the area and the local markets. Of course, it was way too early for those also, but fortunately the train was running! There's two level crossings to the west of the station and both are manually activated when a train approaches.

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The DMUs are quite stunning. Built of an assortment of carriages, they trundle along some a precarious-looking railway.

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We then wandered back to WangWian Chai BTS station... stumbling across a very mean looking local! (I'm guessing he was around the 2-metre mark.)

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He was happily lazing around in a canal... probably cleaning up all the vermin that also try to go for a swim.

Hua Lamphong Station

Thanks to Bangkok Center Hotel being across the way, it was easy to visit this grand establishment and check out the scene. There's constant rail traffic in and out of the station and also a serious amount of shunting in the yard to the north as they build the daily/nightly consists.

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And so on that note, before we go inside... I loitered and did a full lap, twice, of the area. Best sides are east and north. There's a nice road bridge at the very north to watch the entire yard.

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There was hardly a minute of silence from this spot. I tried both AM and PM and always saw something being built up, arrive or depart.

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You can also look over the other side of the bridge... if you can sneak between the traffic! It's always fun to watch how people happily inhabit the lines when there's no trains.

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When doing a lap of the station... you can see a lot of the staged consists from the eastern side.

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Above is the SRT Prestige... but it seems to have been stored in the station platform for a while... I wonder if it was for the King?

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A BKK-bound train then rolled in and I was successfully bombed by a passenger! This is only a small section of the photos taken; there's a crapload more photos in the album.

Overnight to Chiang Mai

Why waste time going to airports (especially in Thailand traffic!) when you can sleep on the train? Well.. that was the plan... the air-con northbound service was really quiet, neat and tidy... but then southbound not-so-smooth. The tracks really didn't help!

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The polished stainless steel carriages were built in 2016 by China for Thailand. They really are quite modern and are still very clean on the inside!

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There's the usual amount of space to (nearly) stretch out. Unfortunately, they left the lights on ALL night? There didn't seem to be a 'dim' setting and the curtains didn't block much light at all.

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The return service was a little more 'Thai'. A much older consist, but still very clean for its age.

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Both trips were very enjoyable. No trolley-dollies... but there was always a restaurant car within reach.

Chiang Mai

It was nice to finally see the country-side. I'd done Krabi and Surat-Thani in past years, but so far had only seen Bangkok on this trip and was ready for some peace and quiet. Of course, Chiang Mai is hardly that... it's been slightly taken over by tourists and all the baggage that follows from that. Yet again, thanks to the overnight train, we arrived way too early and stashed luggage at the hotel. From there it was off exploring the town. Muay Thai fights, markets, shops... all very cool to see. Not much in the way of vintage components though. Although, Pantip plaza did have a 3dfx Voodoo 2 ... of which I had to fight for as the seller didn't expect it to work. It did.

Anyway, on the last day, before the train back to Bangkok, I walked a lap of the station area. Fortunately a passenger train was being built!

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We crossed the crossing and then did a lap of the yard. On the eastern side there is a siding for fuel tanks and a depot. You can then continue round and view the loco sheds. It's a really easy walk, despite the humidity. Actually, on that note, Chiang Mai was much more mild than Bangkok!

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The station itself has a small bit of infrastructure and some scary-looking hotels.

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There's even a cute little S-Scale diorama in the foyer!

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BTS/MRT/SRTET and other newer transport modes

Trying to get around town via road is frustrating. The best method is to pillion on the back of a motorbike 'taxi' which will weave you through traffic. Next best is a tuk-tuk, but these (as much as they try to dodge and weave) will still get jammed. Taxis are another option, but they cause most of the traffic jams. Somehow the buses still manage to get through the jams, but in peak out (which is 90% of the day) it's impossible to cross town quickly.

Due to all this, both above and below-ground railways have been built. The BTS lets you float above the traffic jams in air-conditioned comfort and the MRT allows you to sneak around sub-terraneously. Both are great... until you have a suitcase and it's peak-hour. Then you're in just as much of a jam... this time with human traffic!

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The BTS pretty much does a lap of the main BKK city area and will get you from mall to mall very easily.

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The MRT will then get you further north to, say, Chatuchak Market. Just be prepared to battle the busy periods! We arrived at 0530 on a Friday morning, jumped straight on the SRTET Airport Railway Link and tried to transfer at Makkasan to the Petchaburi MRT station to get to our hotel opposite Hua Lamphong. First attempt (it's an easy transfer) saw us held back from each approaching MRT consist as they were all jam-packed. This was at 7am, so everyone was heading in to town to work. A brief light-bulb moment turned bad when we tried to get a taxi above-ground... they all just told us to go back down and take the train; traffic into the city center would be worse.

Anyway, pushing and shoving ensued and we made it to the hotel.

Makkasan Mercure Hotel

A bit out of the city, but still close to transport. This is a great hotel with a great pool and a really nice view! Good prices also. It's just south-west of the Makkasan station of the Airport Rail Link. It's also just south-west of Asok Station on the main southbound line from Bangkok of the SRT. Therefore you get to see all types of trains.. including freight!

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From the pool deck, the view is also good!

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Makkasan Area

There's connections here for the SRT, MRT and SRTET. You'll find trains coming through on the SRT quite often... and if you're staying in the hotel above, then you'll probably be able to see them from the comfort of your own room! Either way, if you're downstairs on-foot, then there's always something to see.

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DMUs were interspersed with loco-hauled passenger and freight. Lighting wasn't always the best, but there were no restrictions on where you could take a photo from. Within reason, of course... don't go getting too close.

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The crossing up near the stations was fun to watch. People hardly cared when a train was there and the poor traffic cop really didn't have much of a chance of stopping those willing to take a risk.

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And again.. the view of traffic from down the road when a train was trying to cross...

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And freight... the best part...

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Chinatown Markets

In search of vintage/junk goods, one recommendation was Klung Thom Center in Chinatown. This building turned out to be a let-down, mainly consisting of phone covers and protectors. Around the area were shops dedicated to all sorts of power tools, fasteners, hinges, car audio, car suspension, etc... but nothing really computer and nothing old. It wasn't until we stumbled into two seemingly random street markets that we started finding the more interesting wares.

This u-shaped road, which was actually the entrance/exit of the carpark that it wrapped around, turned into a flea market in the early afternoon. People spread out their wares on tarpaulins and it was really easy to get a good deal. I found quite a few random ISA cards and 30-pin SIMMs. All in varying states of decay!

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The next area was grottier. Nested in a chinatown block, each alley was hardly wide enough to walk down, let along spacious enough to spread out your mats and splay your bits and pieces. Regardless, there were all sorts of home appliances, projectors, jukeboxes, phones, ipads, tablets... but not so many computer-related items. It was still amazing to browse through it all.

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And then, of course... don't forget to ask before taking photos of store-fronts!

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28Jul/160

GAME OVER? Amsterdam – Retro Games Store

GAME OVER? has existed for over 14 years, tucked away in a side-street in central Amsterdam. I was very happy to hear this when asking the owner about the history of the shop.

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game-over-map

This shop is bursting at the seams! Wall to wall of amazing retro goodness. You'll find everything here from VIC20/C64/Atari through to XBOX/Gameboy/PlayStation. The window is full of relics and will get anyone interested inside. Don't be fooled into thinking that what's on display is all there is to offer... If you know what you're after, then ask away and have the owner dig bits and pieces out for you.

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I happened to want one of the controllers in the window; turns out they're all damaged and just for display. I was then lead to a draw, on the left as you walk in, and a motherload of C64/Atari items was presented. Pretty ... much ... heaven. The owners are really friendly and let me take pictures inside the store... so do chat with them; their wealth of knowledge was very helpful!

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As you can see from above, I picked up two Atari controllers and my first ever C64 cartridge: Rat Radar Race. Am still to test it, but have been told it is in working order. I couldn't trek half-way across the globe and not purchase a few goodies when they were there in front of me. I actually tried a few of the 'markets' around Amsterdam but found zero retro gaming items.

Check this shop out if you're ever in Amsterdam!

25Jul/160

Spain, Majorca – Port De Sóller, July 2016

I've recently been in Amsterdam for my Brother's wedding. Whilst over there, the plan was also to celebrate the buck's party in Barcelona. Although a beautiful city, I've previously checked out the freight and wanted to go somewhere different. After a little searching, I came across the island of Majorca and saw it had quite a few railway lines. One of them specifically caught my interest: there was a heritage train from Palma to Port De Soller and I was determined to check it out.

Getting to Palma

Palma has its own international airport. It actually feels a little like Las Vegas when you arrive. The airport is new, and quite large. Out the front you'll find 20-odd coaches ready to take tour groups to their resorts.

You get the feeling pretty quickly that the island is used as a dirty weekend away. There were around 25 drunk (they started on the beer at Schiphol Airport) dutch students on my plane as we left at 6am. I didn't bother to see where they went after we disembarked.

You'll find flights from all major european airports direct to Palma. It took 2.5 hours to get there from Amsterdam.

From the airport, take Bus Number 1. This will drop you off straight out the front of the Estació Intermodal which happens to be across the road from the Estació Tren de Sóller.

Palma - Estació tren de Sóller

The Tren de Sóller runs from Palma through to Port de Soller. The Palma station is located just next to the main station in the center of Palma city.

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This station is at the end of the Palma yard and has multiple platforms. There is a main single platform from the station building, but this is only for arrivals. Every train I saw leave departed from the loop platform. This involves walking into the yard, across the first track. It seems that the staff are more than happy for you to wander around and take photos.

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Here you get to meet the train. It's a single electric locomotive hauling a fleet of around 5 carriages. All wooden construction is seriously endearing. The interior is simple and all windows can be opened. It seems that the Swiss helped build or electrify the railway. Don't expect air-conditioning either; it was 10am and the temperature was already over 30 degrees, so make sure you dress lightly!

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Expect to see some shunting in the yard too, and listen to the guards... chances are they're telling you politely to get out of the way. This is a heavily-utilised tourist train; so expect the odd foamer as well.

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The first service of the day from Port de Sóller arrived as we were about to leave.

Palma to San Sardina

This first leg of the trip starts with a run down a street in north-east Palma. Traffic is held at certain points and lights are coordinated. The train doesn't muck around either, full speed being met whenever possible through the city.

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10 minutes later the city fades away and you're in the country-side. There's a horse racing stadium on the north side, just after the city and some interesting stables. After this it's farmland and orchards.

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The first stop is then San Sardina. A lovely sandstone building that connects the Ferrocarril de Port de Sóller to the main metro train network. After this stop, the countryside really starts to get impressive.

San Sardina to Bunyola

There are other stops in-between; but the train hardly stops at them. Most people are destined to the very end station, so the intermediates aren't overly populated. Either way, the countryside doesn't disappoint. The backdrop is the mountain range that separates the plains from the ocean. On the other side is Port de Sóller.

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About 10 minutes before Bunyola you'll pass the maintenance yard. There's a rusting old hi-rail, that seems to have been made out of an old flatbed truck. There's also a triangle for turning vehicles... I don't know if it's still in use.

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From there, it's more olive groves. You'll then start entering a valley just before Bunyola Station. At the station keep an eye out for an older-style hi-rail and other construction vehicles.

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Bunyola to Sóller

The track now dives through quite a few tunnels before breaching the other side of the mountain range. Once on the other side, a large horse-shoe curve is navigated which provides a fantastic view of the town of Sóller. Note that we are still inland; the Port is still a distance away and alternative transport is provided!

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There's quite a few loops along the way. Expect to stop and wait for passes; unless the opposing services is already waiting for you.

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Before you know it, the train has navigated the descent and has arrived at Sóller Station.

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The town of Sóller

Above the ocean, surrounded in a valley, Sóller is the junction between the tram and the train. Spend some time here and check out the architecture and tapas menus!

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If you happen to wander behind the station, you'll find a few level crossings for the railway... many of which provide great vantage points. First you'll be able to see the rear of the station yard and then, following the track, all sorts of architecture that has been built to fit the railway in. One house actually consists of two plots, either side of the line, and has a private overpass!

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I got to one crossing late afternoon. You'll have to guess when the train comes through, but you can do that pretty easily with the timetable here.

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At one point, I walked down from Soller to the Port. This took a lot longer than I expected; but was totally worth it.

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Taking the Tram from Sóller to Port de Sóller

If you bought the combined ticket, then jump on the tram here. It's a long way to walk to the port! Unlike Melbourne, the trams from the city to the port consisted of multiple vehicles. The route is primarily single-track and there are loops at most stations. The consists are usually one driving car with two trailers, but the odd service has a driving car at both ends. Where required, the conductors will switch the driving car to the other end of the consist at the end of the line.

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The tram digs through suburbia and then descends, parallel to the highway, down to the port. At the bottom of the decent, you arrive through the mountain range into the port. At the bottom it's beach and marina; very different to everything you've just travelled through to get there.

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The tram makes its way along the shoreline. There's 2 stops before the end station which has a loop to swap the motor car around when needed. The trams then tirelessly work their way back up to Soller.

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Every so often there'll be consists trailing each other, especially after the train has arrived. There's a lot of juggling in the sidings all the way along the tracks!

Exploring the rest of Palma

After you've spent enough time at the beach, you'll find the tram/train service convenient enough to get you either back to your hotel (I stayed in Port de Soller overnight, totally worth it!) or all the way back to Palma. I ventured onto the Metro in Palma the next day to check out the area. There's a nice outlet mall called Festival Park accessible from Es Caullis Station.

On the way you'll pass Marraxti and, if you're looking out the north side of the train, you'll spot a miniature railway just before a highway overpass. Here's a map of the area. I didn't have time to check it out... but it looked to be in operating condition.

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The metro itself has a good mix of new and old stock and can take you all the way out to Inca and further. You can get to San Sardina and see the Sóller train pass. Otherwise, I had an early evening flight and heavy bags, so didn't venture far.

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Take note of the information signs on the network. They're very good at time estimation, to the point where they tell you if the service has left the start-point or not. Very handy!

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And that was that. Amazing island. Highly recommended. Spend a few days out at the remote areas and enjoy the transport in between.

17Mar/150

Paris, January 2015

So, the goal was to see the TGV La Poste. I'd also been warned.. it'd be dark. Well, it was. Pitch-black. I got to Maisons Alfort-Alfortville early on two mornings and saw the TGV La Poste (two, on one morning) pass. It was too dark to get a shot with the equipment I had. Another morning, I hung around the east end of the Gare De Lyon yards. The result is as follows.

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That, my friends, is the TGV La Poste. I then proceeded to scale the yard on foot, trying to find where the train stopped. It was nowhere to be seen... I have no idea what shed it rolled in to, but it is not visible from any bridge, road or platform.

The land of the TGV

I had seriously underestimated the sheer quantity of TGV rollingstock in France. The variety, too, was much grander than I had expected. My first model train was a Lima HO TGV in orange and grey and it was good to see that this model was still running... although somewhat refurbished.

Anyway, whilst scaling the yards for the yellow one... I took photos to make sure that my entire trip wasn't going to end in a puddle of tears.

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..next time it'll be summer... it'll be southern France... it'll be at the beach ... and the TGV La Poste will have been discontinued and chopped up.