Monthly Archives: December 2017

Via Rail’s The Canadian Train Journey, Canada – Part One.

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All aboard! Two very happy young blokes from Switzerland embarking early and looking excited as we’re all about to board for a memorable rail journey.

Staff checking passes for the correct carriage and our imminent departure of four nights and three days had been bookmarked for months in advance, and now it’s a reality. Doesn’t matter where you’ve travelled from in the world this is a train trip, which for me, is a case of serendipity. A photographer’s dream – traversing Canada travelling east from Toronto to Vancouver this time around in mid November.


Cabin for two set up for the daytime. It’s comfortable and private with armchairs plus a large window for maximum views of the upcoming stunning scenery.


Cabin for two night time; retractable stacked upper and lower single beds with a vanity and an ensuite toilet. The old adage of ‘unpack once’ rings true here on the train as well.


On our way trundling off with snow covered tracks – it’s a sign of what’s ahead. More snow. And if like me, you’re from a country such as Australia (which is mostly desert), you’ll love this aspect as it’s not often I experience a blanket of pure white snowflakes sprinkled and sifted over this picturesque terrain.


Lakes and ponds are just starting to ice over. With the ever-changing moving postcards flashing before your eyes (not unlike this photo), you won’t want to take your eyes from the window.


Canada’s winter wonderland is in the making undoubtedly as the carriages rock and roll along to the beat of a train on a mission. 2017 marks a significant moment in the History of Canada as 150 years ago, Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – united to create the Canadian Confederation.


The Dining car is very much the centre piece for qualifying guests to mingle and make new friends and acquaintances over a three-course luncheon and dinner settings.

Breakfast is served early with two settings on this occasion and for late risers it’s a treat not to have to rush.


Spectacular views all along the way. Take off those blinkers in the morning and check the outlook for the day? Yep more snow …


A frozen waterfall of ice. Brrr glad I’m in bed looking at this.


Homes along the way look cosy enough, but not sure about clearing off icy cars to head off to work for the day … However, that’s the day-to-day life of a Canadian during winter.


View from one of the dome cars on The Canadian. Seating here is on a first-come basis and my advice is go early as it’s one of the most sought after areas on the train.


A stop allows passengers to hop off and stretch their legs. Although at night, it’s still a way of admiring our train taking a breather and readying itself for the half-way point of Winnipeg which is not too far away now.


Sioux Lookout is our stop before reaching Winnipeg whereby, there’s a number of fishing camps in the area that allow access to an extensive lake system fed by the English River.


Here at Sioux Lookout, we’re able to walk around and a heavily laden snowy landscape is revealed. Crunching below your feet you can feel the depth of the fall from the overnight trip and very happy to say my cabin was nice and snug by comparison!


Upon closer inspection of Via Rail’s The Canadian, it shows a mighty and powerful work horse blowing off some steam before taking us to our next stop along this magnificent rail journey of 4,466 kilometres (in total).


Icy fields show off Manitoba which is bordered by the provinces of Ontario to the east and Saskatchewan to the west. Its landscape of lakes and rivers, mountains, forests and prairies stretches from northern Arctic tundra to the Hudson Bay. We’re crossing through the southern farmlands now on our approach to the capital city of Winnipeg.


The lakes and waterways are now freezing over and temperatures will continue to drop as winter truly sets in before the month of December. As opposed to some coastal areas, it’s much colder here inland with farm animals being housed and fed, while the wildlife is retreating for hibernation.


Would love to drop by, but maybe some other time for a cuppa! Just a little busy being cosy and warm on board with a coffee and cake thanks.


VIA operates intercity, regional and transcontinental trains linking 450 communities across its 12,500-kilometre network. Their mandate is to provide safe, efficient and reliable passenger transportation, with service in the country’s two official languages.

For further booking and information check the website http://www.viarail.ca

Next blog post we continue onto Vancouver from Winnipeg as Part Two.

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Sydney to Toronto via New York City.

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From Sydney to New York flying with Qantas Airways takes you via Los Angeles with a quick transit of about two hours there. Clearing immigration at L.A. (as it’s the first point of entry into the country) is mandatory – which means collecting your luggage and rechecking it at a dedicated area before heading onto your final domestic destination within the United States. As with all fares and airlines ex Australia, two pieces of baggage to North and South America is permitted, and if all travel is ticketed as a through fare, then the luggage will go as well as part of the international ticket’s allowance. The piece system has very much the same rules as a round-the-world-airfare and with Qantas being part of the Oneworld Alliance and along with its affiliates, you can check the website for more information about sizes, weight and other services.

Flying time to Los Angeles from Sydney approximately thirteen hours and then another four hours to New York City with QF.

https://www.oneworld.com/member-airlines/overview

  • When separate tickets are issued on other airlines these will not be included on the international long-haul fare and you may be asked to pay for the luggage upon check in. Contact the relevant airline before purchasing if unsure.

For all other carriers, check with the carrier for their own stipulations in regards to checked luggage and carry on allowances.

Australians are required to have their ESTA application filled out online and paid for before departure and it’s valid for two years. https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/


Upon arrival in New York City, JFK Airport offers passengers ground transport options which include services by rail to the NYC Transit Subway system and Long Island Rail; as well as buses and taxis with dedicated desks just before exiting the airport.

If taking a train, it will mean hopping off the free Air Train at Federal Circle then continue onto Jamaica Station (separate ticket US$5.00) which gives you the ability to catch another train onto Manhattan’s main Penn Station for further connections by train or bus.


If continuing onto another domestic flight and other destinations, the free driverless air train will whisk you across for all other terminal departures. Participating airlines are listed onboard for their respective terminals and should be printed on your electronic ticket.

Terminal 8 if connecting to American Airlines and it’s the last stop on the loop.


American Airlines provides passengers a more streamlined service with online baggage which is through checked if issued on the same international long-haul ticket – regardless if on a codeshare flight with Qantas Airways.


If travelling across to Newark Liberty International Airport for other flights, you can take a bus as there are a number private companies which operate between the three airports of JFK, Newark (EWR)  and La Guardia (LGA). However, if you’re savvy enough, a train may be the faster, better option if connections are tight. Traffic at times can be congested and somewhat stressful if going by bus, taxi or hire car.

http://www.panynj.gov/airports/ewr-airtrain.html


Additionally, you can continue to travel with NJ Transit which will bring you directly from Manhattan’s Penn Station with its dedicated platforms for the train to the Newark Airport stop in New Jersey.

Shown here, it’s where the Rail Link station joins and allows passengers to alight for another free air train to all other terminals within Newark Airport (EWR).

Amtrak trains stop at Newark Airport as well and again, just walk across to/from the free air train for your onward journey. The NJ Transit system not surprisingly, can actually be much quicker than taking a cab or bus and much more affordable.

Pictured here at Newark’s P4 stop it’s also where all the major hotels’ shuttle services may offer a complimentary transfer. Check with your hotel to see if they participate, otherwise taxis are generally available. A hire car company is located within P4 too at the ground level.


Over 30 million passengers pass through Newark Airport annually and is the major hub for United Airlines making it one of the busiest in the States. Its makeover has been a huge success and long overdue.


Located in New Jersey, Newark Airport is 16 miles from midtown Manhattan shown here in the distance. Thankfully this train service has alleviated some of the congestion heading into the Big Apple and has been operational now for a few years. The NJ Transit cost is USD $13.00 one way per adult and takes about 40 minutes either way and can be much quicker while being far more affordable.


And sometimes you can be lucky while in the Subway to have the opportunity and watch a fantastic busker such as Lorenzo Laroc playing Led Zepplin’s Kashmir on an electric violin.


And not to mention of course, having a quick shop around with stores all lit up for the upcoming Christmas break and Happy Holidays. A real treat as they open late with eateries all around to choose from.


So long New York as I’m on my way to Toronto for another fabulous rail journey with Via Rail traversing Canada. Might be a bit cool but I’m expecting to see some snow this time!


The UP Express from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to Union Downtown Station is quick and efficient and a one-way ticket is about CAD $12.00 per adult. It’s fast, reliable and the trip only takes 25 minutes, with trains leaving every 15 minutes.


Great to see the CN Tower again displaying its colours and showing off as usual in Toronto as the major centrepiece within the city.


A stay at the Fairmont Royal York is the favoured hotel as it’s straight across the road from Union Station which makes it easier, especially if an early departure has been booked.


Anticipating the countdown for my departure on Via Rail’s The Canadian train crossing over the countryside for the next four days. Feeling very excited to be going from east to west this time and undoubtedly will expose a different aspect. What I may have missed out on a previous trip, I’ll most likely see now on a different schedule.

Stay tuned for my next blog – heading from Toronto onwards to Vancouver with The Canadian which is one of the most prized rail journeys in the world.

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Busan – South Korea

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Busan pronounced Pusan has fast become one of my favourite Asian cities with its outgoing personality, flourishing in style and diversity. It’s the second largest in Korea with countless festivals, attractions and beaches to be enjoyed here.


Busan’s harbour view and being a port city, there’s a multitude of cruise companies which allow passengers the opportunity to step onshore and rid themselves of any shoppers’ anxieties from being on board too long.


Beach areas are plentiful for those wanting a more relaxed time before hitting the major shopping centres and markets which close late at night.


The Korea National Maritime Museum exhibits more than 12,000 maritime relics, including the Joseon Missional Ship which is the largest replica in South Korea – half the size of the actual ship! A UN Memorial Cemetery can be found along the bayside as well.


The coastline stretching from the Maritime Museum is just one of the many explorations which can be made by foot. It allows visitors to seek out the region’s attractions at their own pace. There are a total of nine walking trails which can take from five to nine hours each in duration.


Resting up a little before a big day out with a number of interesting sights to see. Make sure you wear comfy shoes and cover up a little as the sun is quite fierce here as well!


And, if you’re short on time, take the Hop On, Hop Off Bus for the day as you can eye off quite a sizeable part of the city this way. Make sure your camera is in ‘ever ready’ mode!


Busan harbour bridge-8 and just nearby on the other side is a mecca for shoppers and those who love spicy food. A plethora of restaurants, coffee shops and eateries will keep you fuelled up throughout the day.


Jagalchi Fish Market is Korea’s biggest seafood market and a must see when visiting the local area. Alight Nampo Station Line 1 (Exit 1) on the subway system.


Numerous smaller fish mongers here also offer cheaper prices to ensure all stock is bargained off by end of the day. Doors open at the crack of dawn with some amazing varieties caught from the South Sea; you’d need quite some time in Busan to try all delicacies if you love seafood.


Additionally, vegetables and fruit at any stall in the city appears to be of a very high quality. What did I particularly like about Korea’s market places? They were fresh with products seemingly tastier and a brighter colour to what’s available at home. You were able to have a hassle-free, ‘just looking’ experience without being cornered by the stall holder into buying. A big tick from me.


Is browsing within your sights? When you see this sign you’ll know you’re in the heart of one of the finest commercial strips, not just Korea but within Asia. No difficulties with hawkers here bothering you with all kinds of gigs to try and force you in through their doors. Seomyeon undoubtedly is one of the busiest and best places if you’re after anything specific. Hassle free and you can breathe easy while opening up those purse strings.


Women Only carriages operate between 7:00 to 9:00 am and 18:00 to 20:00 pm at night. A great way for ladies to feel a little safer during peak hours. A standard one-way subway fare is approximately 1,400 won per adult (A$1.70 on today’s exchange rate with AUD). Longer distances cost a little more.


 Busan Train Station is at the southern terminus of the Gyeongbu Line; being the most important railway line in the country, it links Busan with Seoul in just under three hours.


However, a First Class one-way ticket on the KTX Express Train will cost about A$121.00 dollars directly to Incheon Airport with about five stops in between (including Seoul). Considering my luggage wasn’t checked for weight, I walked straight onto the train with my seat reservation (included in the price) and I stepped off at Incheon Airport – then meandered up the escalators to the departures and check in area. Too easy!


Speeding past plenty of market gardens along the way to Incheon whereby farming in Korea is concentrated around the flatlands. Being on level land with an adequate rainfall and a decent irrigated soil, it permits the most intensive cultivation of seasonal crops.


Incheon Airport with the national carrier Korean Airlines whereby they fly directly to/from Sydney and it’s approximately an eleven-hour flight. If you’re seeking a carrier which is reliable, has spacious leg room in economy, and lo and behold, Korean children who are well behaved – this is definitely the airline for you.

Don’t forget too, if you’re a Skypass Member and have 4,000 points available in kitty, this will allow you entry into the Korean Airlines Lounge when holding a confirmed KE ticket from Seoul. Luggage allowance is 23 kilos (50 lb) in economy, Prestige Class 2 x 32 kilos and First Class a generous 3 x 32 Kilos.


Do I love Bibimbap? Undoubtedly, I will miss the spicy dishes and traditional cuisine of South Korea, but mostly it would have to be the very friendly people who had helped me throughout my journey – even when English wasn’t spoken. The younger generation are on the right track in terms of being resourceful, well-mannered and decisive which gave me the opportunity to meet some incredible people along the way.

A memorable trip South Korea – I’ll be back for sure!

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