01 May 2019

West Hampstead connections (for Luton Airport)

I recently decided that an alternative route to Luton Airport Parkway station - instead of my usual tube journey to St Pancras station - was to take the London Overground to West Hampstead, and then a Thameslink train to LAP.

If you use the standard journey planning websites or applications - they won't give you connections which assume normal walking pace between the West Hampstead Overgound and Thameslink stations!  The sites/apps don't make it clear how long they estimate it will take you to walk the 200m - but whatever the number, it's way too long !

I timed the journey from the doors opening at the Overground station (I was at the front of the train - so I had to walk back down the platform a couple of carriage lengths to the exit) ... up the stairs ... exit through the ticket barrier ... turn left ... across a side road (I did get lucky with the traffic - although it's not a big junction, so it should never be too bad) ... across the mainline rails (which gives you a nice view of the Thameslink station below street level) ... left at the Mainline sign ... left through the ticket barriers ... across one platform ... and down the stairs to the platform I wanted.

Admittedly I had looked at the map beforehand, so I knew the route ... but the walk from the Overground platform to the Thameslink platform took me all of THREE minutes, and I was carrying a medium sized backpack.  I reckon the travel planning sites/apps are using a minimum connection time of something like 15 minutes - even if you're unlucky with the traffic, you really don't need that long !

Update: I travelled the route again recently, this time during rush hour, and despite being slowed down by the volume of people, it still only took 3 minutes 10 seconds!  This was helped by the extra exit that's open during peak hours at West Hampstead Overground station.  My transfer would have been even faster if I had been at the optimum door on the Overground train - which I reckon is the rear door on the fourth carriage if you're travelling eastbound.



The upshot of this is that to plan your journey, you really need to first figure out which train you want to get from West Hampstead Thameslink - and then work back to decide which Overground train is best for you.  In my example the Overground train I took wasn't even showing as a connecting option !

I suspect the same issue arises if you are connecting from the West Hampstead underground station - which is about a further minute away from the Thameslink station.

The reason why I chose this alternative routing was because I realised that with the 13 gbp minimum fare on weekday train tickets using Network Railcard discount (a full one third discount only applies to higher priced tickets) - it cost the same price to travel from my nearest London Overground station as it did from St Pancras.  That meant I saved the tube fare from home to St Pancras.  Obviously not a massive saving - but better in my pocket than TfL's !


Update: Arriving at Luton Airport Parkway from London, the optimum exit for the stairs (as opposed to the life) if you're on a 12 car train is the back of carriage 10.  Not all Thameslink trains are 12 car trains - ymmv!

30 April 2019

Updated: Countries and Cities to visit ...

Africa
Cape Verde islands - stay a bit longer this time
Botswana
Ethiopia - including the mountains
Libya - Roman ruins, and desert
Madagascar - lemurs permitting
Namibia - including Okavango Delta
Zimbabwe - including Victoria Falls


Americas
Brazil - Rio including Fasano hotel infinity pool, Niteroi art gallery, grilled steak at Rubaiyat restaurant; Amazon
Canada - including polar bears
Colombia
Costa Rica - done!
Cuba - including Havana and Vinales - done!
Equador - Galapagos
Mexico - Mayan stuff around Cancun
Panama - including canal
Peru - Inca Trail / Machu Pichu
USA - including Washington DC (done!), Grand Canyon (done!), Boston - including Opera House, Chicago - including Frank Lloyd Wright buildings (such as Fallingwater), Denali NP, Total Solar Eclipse Aug-17
Venezuela - maybe a tepui


Antarctica
The Peninsula - done!
South Georgia - done!


Asia
Armenia
Bhutan
Georgia - including the soviet architecture in Tbilisi
Indonesia - including Borneo
Iran - including Isfahan and Persepolis, Tehran - including Contemporary Art Gallery
Japan - done!
Laos
Lebanon - including skiing
Malaysia
Philippines
Kuwait - to fill in the gaps
South Korea
Sri Lanka - including blue whales
Syria - if there's anything left
Thailand
Turkey - Istanbul
Vietnam


Australasia
Australia - Tasmania, Western, Central and Northern, GBR
New Zealand - all


Europe
Aland Islands - done !
Austria - Vienna - including Opera
BelgiumAntwerp - including 5 Continents house
Croatia - including Zagreb
Cyprus - including border area and countryside
Denmark - Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen
Finland - the lakes, the north
France - Corsica; the bridge in the sky; Matisse chapel at Vence; LilleChateau de Chambord - for the double helix staircase; Versailles - including the Royal Opera (done!); Nice - including Opera; Paris - L'Acajou restaurant, Jazz Club; Roubaix - including La Piscine museum; Ronchamp - Le Corbusier's chapel of Notre Dame du Haut; Chamonix - nice looking hotel; Noirmoutier including Plages des Dames - and nearby islands
GermanyProra and Dessau, Dresden (including the Royal Castle), and Hamburg (for the funny tunnel, and miniature airport)
Gibraltar - airport and back walk up rock (done!)
Greece - Athens, Mount Athos, island hopping
Ireland - Cork - including butter museum, harbour tour, Titanic Experience, Crawford gallery, Hook Head lighthouse
Italy - Sicilian volcanos, Sardinia, Tuscany including Montepulciano, Naples, Verona, La Scala in Milano, Como - La baia di Moltrasio bar and restaurant (try fish with Riso in Cagnone) - terrace in summer, Florence - Vasari Corridor will soon be open, Room of Paradise at the recently reopened Museo dell'Opera del Duomo; Calcata town; Castel Gandolfo (train from within Vatican) - must be booked in advance; French Church in Rome; Palio di Siena 
Netherlands - Amsterdam Modern Art Gallery and other galleries, a concert at Concertgebouw, Panorama Mesdag in The Hague, Delft, Leiden, Het Loo palace
Poland - medieval cities (Krakow done!)
Portugal - including Oporto
Romania - rural parts (sort of done). Crazy road.
Serbia - Belgrade
Spain - including the Moorish bits, Grand Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona
Slovenia - try skiing
Svalbarddone!
Sweden - Stockholm always worth another visit
Ukraine - Kiev
UK - Falkirk Wheel, Cramond island, Ironbridge, Ludlow in Shropshire, Norwich for Europe's largest medieval street plan, Chatsworth House ...


14 April 2019

Liverpool airport by train and bus

Ryanair has a base at Liverpool airport, and the fares are often significantly cheaper than from London or other southeast airports - the saving can sometimes be in the hundreds of pounds for peak flights !

Getting to LPL is a lot easier than it used to be with the Airport Parkway station a few miles from the airport having a good range of rail connections.  Gone are the days when you had to get a taxi to Runcorn station !

The best fares to Liverpool South Parkway from London are using London Northwestern Railway (the renamed London Midland franchise) - I regularly get 15 gbp tickets, which admitted involve a train change / wait at Stafford station (which has a handy Tesco Extra nearby).  The easiest way to get these fares is to use LNWR's own website, and to tick the "show our trains only" box in the Advanced Search screen.  The LNWR website isn't very user friendly - but it's worth it for those 15 tickets.

To get those really cheap tickets, you need to buy them just to the Parkway station - and then buy a ticket at the station for the bus to the airport.  You can buy combined train and bus tickets to the airport - but they won't show up with the "show our trains only" box ticked.

Travelling towards Liverpool in a four carriage train, the platform stairs are at the back of the second carriage - if you're in a rush.

The station is new, spacious and well designed for train and bus connections.  There is a Costa cafe, a separate coffee vending machine, and a information desk which also sells chocolate, soft drinks and sandwiches!  There used to be a separate shop, but it was never busy (when I was there) and closed down a while ago.

The bus to the airport currently costs 2 gbp - you can pay cash to the driver, but if you want to use a credit card just go to the information desk, and the staff will take payment and issue you a ticket.  The ticket machines at the station just sell rail tickets, so don't waste your time trying to buy a bus ticket from them.

There are a few different bus routes to the airport - they all take roughly the same amount of time (around 10 minutes), so unless you are really tight for time, you can just take whichever is the first bus to arrive.  The door at the bus bay doesn't open until the bus has stopped - so don't be alarmed if it takes a while to open !

Another option is to walk from the Parkway station to the airport.  Google maps reckons that it takes about 55 minutes - but I did it (carrying a small rucksack) in about 45 minutes, including a stop to buy coffee.  Whilst the route may look like it's beside a nasty dual carriageway - there's actually a big gap between the wide footpath and the road, so when I did the walk the exhaust fumes weren't bad.  You can even route via the "Estuary Commerce Park" and their pleasant ponds (not shown below as Google won't let me embed a map with "restricted roads") !


Just before you turn into the Estuary complex, you walk past New Mersey Shopping Park - which includes a Marks and Spencer Foodhall.  Since I had plenty of time, and it's right beside the road, I had a quick look around - and grabbed a coffee for 1 gbp (from a machine).  A rather large saving on the price you pay at the airport - and a reasonable coffee for a machine.


Whilst it's always better to have a rail station inside the airport - the easy connection at Liverpool South Parkway station, as well as the incredibly good value train fares (the standard fare from London to Luton Airport is 17.40 gbp) means that I'm happy to make the trip from London - if the price is right and I have the time.

11 March 2019

Ryanair Boeing 737 Max seatmap

With the addition of the B737 Max aircraft to the Ryanair timetable, using a dummy booking we can seat what the layout will be for the latest additions to their fleet.

Ryanair had previously announced that the planes would have 197 seats - 8 more than their current B737-800 fleet, but hadn't said what the layout would be.

At the front of the plane, seat 1A has been removed - which I'm guessing is due to the curvature of the plane.  Since the seating will start further forward than on the current aircraft, there presumably isn't room for a full three seats.


In the centre of the aircraft the layout is a straightforward two rows of overwing exit seats.



The back of the plane is where things get really interesting - we already knew that an additional exit had to be installed to meet safety requirements.  Seat 27F has been removed - presumably because a cabin crew member will sit there in a backward facing seat.  This means that seats 27D and 27E become the most desirable on the aeroplane, since you will only have a neighbour for take off and landing - and Ryanair aren't (currently) charging a premium for this pair of seats.



The plane comprises 34 rows in total (no row 13) - one row of 2 seats, one row of 5 seats, one row of 4 seats and 31 rows of 6 seats.

As these 197 seat aircraft come into service, it will be interesting to see what happens when there is a problem and the replacement aircraft is one of the older 189 seat B737s. I'm guessing Ryanair will be hoping that if the original flight is full, eight passengers will choose not to fly ... or they will just offload them, and maybe send them by bus instead !

08 January 2019

Updated: Gatwick Airport to London using contactless

8/1/19 - updated with 2019 prices

15/5/18 - updated to include split ticket pricing at East Croydon - thanks to Gerry's comment on DiamondGeezer.blogspot.com for the reminder.  Although not sure I personally would bother - even though the savings are actually more than the Zone1/Zone2 hack!


Before contactless payment was extended to Gatwick, it was a battle to find the cheapest fare using the Southern website or Trainline or even occasionally Gatwick Express !

Contactless makes life a bit easier - as the Contactless off peak fare is usually the best you can get.

The added benefit is that there is no evening peak when travelling from Gatwick Airport into London ... at least that's what I thought ... until I started looking at fares to West Brompton ... where it turns that that evening peak does apply.

So here's how the pricing officially works for LGW - West Brompton (although we know that you get a couple of minutes leeway before peak fares kick in):

00:00 - 06:29    £8.50
06:30 - 09:29  £12.30
09:30 - 15:59    £8.50
16:00 - 18:59  £12.30
19:00 - 23:59    £8.50

The thing is that Earls Court doesn't have an evening peak - so at West Brompton, if you swap onto the District Line and go a single stop to Earls Court you can reduce the price from £12.30 down to £10.90

In fact if you could travel to any Zone 1 tube station, the evening peak magically disappears ... but travel to any other London station (that I tested using TfL's single fare finder website) and the evening peak does exist.

So the moral of the story is that if you're on the border of Zone 1 and Zone 2 and travelling from Gatwick (Monday to Friday) - you should travel from the following:

00:00 - 06:29    £8.50  from Zone 2
06:30 - 09:29  £12.30  from Zone 2
09:30 - 15:59    £8.50  from Zone 2
16:00 - 18:59  £10.90  from Zone 1
19:00 - 23:59    £8.50  from Zone 2


But if you have the time to touch out and back in again at East Croydon station (for a split ticket saving) - whilst the evening peak does apply from Gatwick to East Croydon (£5.30 vs £3.20), it does not apply from East Croydon to Zone 1 (morning peak £7.00 vs £5.00).
This used to mean that it was cheaper to travel to Zone 1 in the evening peak - however it appears that the pricing has changed in order to make Zone 2 cheaper - which also reduces the benefit of splitting your journey at East Croydon.

00:00 - 06:29    £6.00  from Zone 2
06:30 - 09:29    £9.10  from Zone 2
09:30 - 15:59    £6.00  from Zone 2
16:00 - 18:59    £9.10  from Zone 2
19:00 - 23:59    £6.00  from Zone 2

Zone 1
off peak  £3.20 + £5.00 = £8.20
morning peak £5.30 + £7.00 = £12.30
evening peak £5.30 + £5.00 = £10.30

Zone 2
off peak £3.20 + £2.80 = £6.00
morning and evening peak £5.30 + £3.80 = £9.10


Travelling from London to Gatwick the evening peak does apply regardless where you start - so it's £3.20 cheaper to start from Zone 2 if you get into the station between 16:00 and 18:59 (or £2.20 cheaper from Zone 2 if you can get into the station during off peak hours).

04 November 2018

EMA to London

East Midlands Airport sometimes has some excellent fares - but it's not always the easiest to get to ...

There used to be a regular shuttle bus to the "East Midlands Parkway" station - but it is now just an hourly service run by Elite Cars - departing the station on the hour, and departing the airport at 20 mins past the hour (operating between 9am and 5pm) for the 10 minute journey, costing 6 gbp

If you miss the hourly Raillink, Uber estimate a fee of 10-13 gbp for the trip
Elite Cars (who operate the Raillink) charge 12 gbp for a taxi journey

Using Monday 12th November to look for a sample fare - from East Midlands Parkway station there are departures at 14:56 and 15:56 (taking about 1.5 hours stopping just twice on the way) which cost 26 gbp

Total cost either 32 gbp using Raillink or 38 using a taxi


Another option is using is to use Nottingham station - which has a half hourly service (formerly known as Skylink Express) called the Clifton Skylink which takes just over half an hour which costs 6.50 gbp.  There's also the Nottingham Skylink that departs every 20 minutes, but which takes almost an hour and costs 5.20 gbp

Again using Monday 12th November to look for a sample fare - from Nottingham station there are departures at 15:45 and 16:45 (taking 1:39 and 1:55 respectively) which cost 26 gbp

Total cost (using the faster bus) would be 32.50 - but the journey might take considerably longer than via the Parkway station


To get to Derby station there are three buses an hour on the Derby Skylink service which take about 40 minutes and cost 4.70 gbp

On Monday 12th November the fare from Derby station to London is 49 gbp for any of the afternoon half hourly services which take about 1:40 to complete the journey


The final option is to use Long Eaton station via the Nottingham Skylink with the three services an hour and a journey time of just 23 minutes, costing 3.30 gbp

Long Eaton has just one direct train an hour to London (e.g. 15:40 and 16:40) which takes just over 1.5 hours and prices for 12th November are 49 gbp.  Using a ticket splitting website you can get the price down to 24.50 gbp with an increased journey time of 2.5 hours

The total cost would be 27.80 using the slower train


Since East Midlands trains and Megabus have the same owners - it may well be possible to get cheaper train tickets using the Megabus website


For me the quicker journey time from East Midlands Parkway appears to be worth the slightly higher price than the Long Eaton option.

03 November 2018

Grand Canyon - rim to rim trek

Looking to do the Rim to Rim trek in the Grand Canyon - aiming for mid October, when it's not too hot.

First company we tried was Wild Land Trekking - their trips look great, but unfortunately they don't have any space on their Rim to Rim trip, and just a single space on their 7 day Kanab Creek Adventure had just a single space

www.wildlandtrekking.com


Discovery Treks only have single spaces left

www.discoverytreks.com


Pygmy Guides - have chased as they didn't answer initial query.  They replied to say that permits for Rim to Rim are sold out.

www.pygmyguides.com/grand-canyon-overnight-backpacks/


Four Seasons Guides - have chased as they didn't answer initial query.  The replied to say that their only October Rim to Rim trip with availability is at the very start of the month.

fsguides.com/rim-to-rim/


All Star Grand Canyon Tours - unfortunately don't have any availability on their Rim to Rim hikes in 2018

www.allstargrandcanyontours.com/grand-canyon-group-backpacking-trips.shtml


Grand Canyon Field Institute
 - unclear from their website if they do Rim to Rim trips.  They replied to my email saying that their last Rim to Rim trip is at the start of October.

www.grandcanyon.org/classes-tours/contact-the-field-institute/


Rubicon Outdoors - unfortunately don't have Rim to Rim hikes

rubiconoutdoors.com/destinations/


Backroads - unfortunately don't have Rim to Rim hikes

www.backroads.com


Just Rough In It - they will rent equipment for self guided trips (they have had their Grand Canyon NP commercial license suspended for three years, so won't be able to run trips for some time).

www.justroughinit.com



Postscript:

We ended up doing a "Packraft Rim to Rim" - where you can a little inflatable with you down from the North Rim (together with a lifejacket and paddles) ... blow it up at the bottom, and paddle across.  Then deflate it and hike out to the South Rim.

It was an amazing trip - and for a National Park that gets around six million visitors a year, it allowed us to hike in a remote location, where we only actually bumped into one person in the whole five days of hiking.

The packraft was very small (and a bit flimsy), and having to dig a hole each morning in which to defecate, wouldn't be to everybody's tastes - but this trip really does give you so much more solitude than any of the "corridor" trips that most people do.

29 September 2018

Hill walks near London

I'm looking for some hills near London to use for some hiking training ...

I had thought about a trip to Bournemouth to take in Beachy Head and a bit of the South Downs - but then discovered that the cheapest day return fare is 30 quid - so should probably make a full day out of it, rather than just go there, walk, and return !

googling for hiking near london brought up some interesting looking options ...


the view from Leith Hill looks good
https://www.iffleyroad.com/blogs/journal/5-great-trail-runs-near-london


Box Hill is best known as a cycling hill ... but walking is also possible !
Lots of different routes / distances are possible
https://www.mapmyrun.com/gb/dorking-eng/


London Hiker has an interesting looking list - focusing on heights
http://londonhiker.com/walking-trip-ideas/biggest-hill


The ones that get mentioned everywhere are Greenwich Park, Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill and Richmond Park




25 September 2018

Imber cycle

Imber was a village in the Salisbury plain that was evacuated during World War II so that the surrounding area could be used for military training, without having to worry about the presence of civilians.

It opens up a few times each year - Christmas, Easter and 10 days in August.

In August a dedicated group take a load of London buses down for the day, so you can travel around without expending too much effort !

Another option is to get a train to Warminster - which appears to be the only convenient station - and then cycle around the area.

Going on a Sunday would be a good idea, as the church should be open
http://www.imberchurch.org.uk/

Looking at the map on the end of the Defence Estate brochure - I reckon the following route would be a good way of exploring the whole are in an afternoon (using google maps to estimate cycling times)

Warminster - Gore Cross                           55 mins

Gore Cross - Point I                                   36 mins

Point I - Imber - Knock Castle - Point E     57 mins

Chilterne - Tilshead - Gore Cross               34 mins
or via "German village"                               49 mins

Gore Cross - Warminster                            53 mins

Total - about 250mins - so just over 4 hours of cycling


Train tickets from London to Warminster are quite expensive (and there isn't much saving to be had from ticket splitting) - so just need to book early once the advance tickets become available.

09 August 2018

Sending luggage separately

It's not a common request amongst people I know, but I'm told it's widely used in Japan (and not just by their older citizens) ... if you want to travel without luggage there are a few options ...

One company ic called SendMyBag.com and will transport a compact 20kg bag from Ireland to the UK (and vice versa) for 25 gbp, or 29 eur if you want to pay a bit extra for the pleasure of using their irish website

The online reviews of SendMyBag are excellent.
The same can't be said for some of its competitors.

FirstLuggage.com is another company, and charge an eye watering 101 gbp to transport a 20kg bag from Ireland to the UK or an equally painful 95 gbp from UK to Ireland

Extra-baggage.com is another company that is has been mentioned - but their website appears to be down at the moment