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

Box Hill is best known as a cycling hill ... but walking is also possible !
Lots of different routes / distances are possible

London Hiker has an interesting looking list - focusing on heights

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

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.

01 September 2018

Updated: Countries and Cities to visit ...

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

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

The Peninsula - done!
South Georgia - done!

Georgia - including the soviet architecture in Tbilisi
Indonesia - including Borneo
Iran - including Isfahan and Persepolis, Tehran - including Contemporary Art Gallery
Lebanon - including skiing
Kuwait - to fill in the gaps
South Korea
Sri Lanka - including blue whales
Syria - if there's anything left
Turkey - Istanbul

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

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; 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 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
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
Svalbard - although a recent report suggested it was dull
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 ...

08 August 2018

Sligo to Fishguard

The ferry departs Rosslare at 08:00 and 18:10

The 18:10 departure works well for a same day journey

Depart Sligo 09:00 arriving Dublin Connolly 12:01 - time for a leisurely lunch and
Depart Dublin Connolly 13:36 arriving Rosslare Europort 16:28 - the station appears to be right at the ferry terminal.

Minimum checkin time is 30 minutes - so even if the train was late, should have plenty of time

The ferry is due into Fishguard at 21:25

On the way back the ferry departs Fishguard at 13:10 and 23:45

The 13:10 departure arrives into Rosslare at 16:25

There is a train departing at 17:40 or 17:50 on Sundays which arrives into Dublin Connolly at 20:51
Every other day it departs at 18:00 arriving into Dublin Connolly at 21:00

The last train to Sligo departs at 19:05 - so an overnight stay in Dublin would be required

The other option would be to stay overnight in Rosslare, and get the train the next morning - which would take about six and half to seven hours to Sligo.

If you wanted to travel without luggage (as I've heard is common in Japan) - there is a company called SendMyBag.com which 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.

It's worth searching the web for Stena discount codes - at the time of writing there's a 25% discount available - MELTING25
Stena also have their own "day out" fare from UK to Ireland which makes it cheaper to book a day return from the UK to Ireland for the inbound leg

29 July 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


Discovery Treks only have single spaces left


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


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.


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


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.


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


Backroads - unfortunately don't have Rim to Rim hikes


Just Rough In It - they will rent equipment for self guided trips


03 June 2018

Apsley to Gunnersbury

Apsley is just outside the Oyster card area - which starts at Watford Junction.

A normal through ticket from Apsley to Gunnersbury costs:
£13.60 peak
£11.50 off peak (after 9.30am)

If you were to buy a ticket from Apsley for the two stops to Watford Junction, alight at Watford and tap in using Oyster / contactless - it would save £4.20 for a peak journey and £5.00 for an off peak journey:

Apsley to Watford Junction
£5.30 peak
£4.70 off peak (after 9.30am)

Watford Junction to Gunnersbury
£4.10 peak
£1.80 off peak

Many of the routings require a change at Harrow & Wealdstone - so splitting the ticket there would be a bit easier - and would also save £3.50 for a peak journey and £2.30 for an off peak journey compared with a through ticket:

Apsley to Harrow & Wealdstone
£7.70 peak or off peak

Harrow & Wealdstone to Gunnersbury
£2.40 peak
£1.50 off peak

Another option is to buy a ticket from Apsley to Willesden Junction (where you'd have to change anyway), and then use Oyster / contactless from Willesden (where you would have to change anyway) - but the savings are just a few pence:

Apsley to Willesden Junction
£11.80 peak
£9.60  off peak

Willesden Junction to Gunnersbury
£1.70 peak
£1.50 off peak

What about the maths when buying travelcards.  A standard travelcard from Apsley to Gunnersbury costs:

7 days - £83.60 - or £8.36 per journey for a standard 10 journey week
1 month - £321.10 - or £7.65 per journey assuming a 42 journey month

A travelcard from Apsley to Harrow & Wealdstone

7 days - £57.40 - or £5.70 per journey
1 month - £220.50 - or £5.25 per journey

A travelcard from Harrow & Wealdstone (zone 5) to Gunnersbury (zone 3) doesn't exist - so you'd be using the standard Oyster fares

£2.40 peak
£1.50 off peak

A travelcard from Apsley to Watford Junction

7 days - £32.80 - or £3.28 per journey
1 month - £126.00 - or £3.00 per journey

A travelcard from Watford Junction to Gunnersbury (which needlessly includes Zone 2)

7 days - £60.10 - or £6.01 per journey
1 month - £230.80 - or £5.50 per journey

If you put Apsley to Willesden Junction into the National Rail season ticket calculator - it also offers Apsley to Willesden Junction plus London Travelcard zones 3-6, which would cover the journey from Willesden Junction to Gunnersbury (and give unlimited bus travel in London)

7 days - £88.30 - or £8.83 per journey
1 month - £339.10 - or £8.07 per journey

So whilst this is £4.70 a week more expensive than the basic travelcard - if you were to do more than three bus journeys in a week, it would work out cheaper.

If you put Apsley to Willesden Junction into the National Rail season ticket calculator - it also offers Apsley to Willesden Junction plus London Travelcard zones 2-6, which would cover the journey from Willesden Junction to Gunnersbury (and give both unlimited bus travel in London, and also trips as far as Earls Court, Shepherds Bush or Paddington)

7 days - £92.50 - or £9.25 per journey
1 month - £355.20 - or £8.46 per journey

So whilst this is £8.90 a week more expensive than the basic travelcard - if you knew you were likely to have some Zone 2 underground travel, it could be useful.

The Apsley to Willesden Junction plus London Travelcard zones 1-6 costs £111.80 per week.

15 May 2018

Gatwick Airport to London using contactless

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    £8.30
06:30 - 09:29  £12.00
09:30 - 15:59    £8.30
16:00 - 18:59  £12.00
19:00 - 23:59    £8.30

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 £12.00 down to £10.60

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    £8.30  from Zone 2
06:30 - 09:29  £12.00  from Zone 2
09:30 - 15:59    £8.30  from Zone 2
16:00 - 18:59  £10.60  from Zone 1
19:00 - 23:59    £8.30  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, it does not apply from East Croydon to Zone 1.  The saving is one of your sterling pounds.

00:00 - 06:29    £5.80  from Zone 2
06:30 - 09:29    £9.00  from Zone 2
09:30 - 15:59    £5.80  from Zone 2
16:00 - 18:59    £8.00  from Zone 1
19:00 - 23:59    £5.80  from Zone 2

Zone 1
off peak  £3.10 + £4.90 = £8.00
morning peak £5.30 + £6.90 = £12.20

Zone 2
off peak £3.10 + £2.70 = £5.80
morning and evening peak £5.30 + £3.70 = £9.00

Travelling from London to Gatwick the evening peak does apply regardless where you start - so it's £5.00 cheaper to start from Zone 2 if you get into the station between 16:00 and 18:59 (or £2.30 cheaper from Zone 2 if you can get into the station during off peak hours).

23 April 2018

Mount Kōya / Koyasan - getting there

The guidebooks tell you that for travellers with a Japan Rail Pass to get to Koyasan you should take a long winded route to Hashimoto (Wakayama) which takes about 2 hours from Osaka station

Everybody then has to pay 850 yen to take the Nankai line train to Koyasan - since the line isn't owned by JR.

However, if you use your Japan Rail pass to get to Shinimamiya (about 17 mins from Osaka station) and then take the Nankai line from there - it costs 1260 - just 410 yen more than you would be paying anyway from Hashimoto.  And from Shinimamiya it takes about 46 minutes to Hashimoto - so about 70 mins from Osaka station (with a reasonable connection time).

So for the extra 410 yen, you save about 50 mins.  And since there is a gap of a couple of hours in the service to Koyasan around lunchtime - that 50 mins may make an ever bigger difference !

Be aware that on the Nankai line - the 1260 fare doesn't allow you to use the "limited express" trains to Hashimoto - which require an additional 780 yen fee ("express" trains are marginally slower and don't require a supplement).  The extra fee may not save you any time - it just may mean you don't need to change trains at Hashimoto.  But it's a small station, so changing trains isn't a problem.

22 April 2018

Japan Rail Pass - calculation

I booked a trip to Japan with just a couple of days notice - so I asked FB for advice ... and one of my friends texted me straight away to tell me to go get a Japan Rail pass before I left for Japan.

Having already looked at train travel, I'd realised that it would be expensive, so had assumed I would end up getting internal flights, as they are reasonably priced, and if you redeem points the taxes/fees are tiny.

But the Japan Rail Pass meant that I was able to cancel my internal flight, and spend a week travelling around by train.  The 7 day pass cost me 29,110 yen (188 gbp) - also available in 14 day, 21 day, child and first class variations - and for this I did the following travel (priced as individual journeys):

Tokyo - Kyoto via Nagano
9830 plus 8230 for seat reservation

Kyoto - Nara

Nara - Osaka

Osaka - Shinimamiya 

Osaka - Tokyo
8750 plus 5390 for seat reservation

Tokyo - Kagoshima Chuo
16410 plus 13450 for seat reservation

Tokyo - Yamanote Line loop
200 x 4

I had also planned to take a daytrip to Kawaguchiko (private line from Otsuki, so that part not covered by the JR pass) - but after a late night out in Tokyo, I decided against !

Tokyo - Otsuki (return)
1320 plus 1700 for seat reservation

If I had taken the trip to Otsuki, I would have achieved a total value of 68,890 yen from my 29,110 yen Rail Pass.

If I hadn't bothered with any seat reservations (the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano was only reserved seating, but I might have been able to take another train with unreserved carriages) I would still have gained 40,120 yen worth of value.

As it was (without the Otsuki daytrip) I achieved 64,500 yen worth of value from my 29,110 Rail Pass - so I'm quite happy with that !

As I was booking the Rail Pass at such short notice, I needed a company where I could go in and pick up the voucher (which you exchange for an actual pass in Japan) on the same day - but many of the companies want at least a day's notice.

I ended up using Japan Experience - as long as you make the payment online by 4pm, you can go into their London office and pick it up before the office closes at 6pm (Monday to Saturday).  I gave them a quick call before making the payment, just to double check that they were open, and that I would be able to pick up my Rail Pass voucher.  It was ready and waiting for me when I arrived at their office an hour later.

The Rail Pass is also available for purchase in Japan (on a trial basis, which may continue to be extended) - but for the higher price of 33,000 yen for 7 days.  Still decent value if you are making a few trips.

16 March 2018

London to St Anton - Easter 2018

flights to Munich have gone up a bit over the last week that i've been looking - unsurprisingly :(

on Friday 30th March the cheapest is 180 gbp - that would allow a train connection
on Thursday 29th March the cheapest is 178 gbp - they had previously been 100 gbp
on Wednesday 28th March - the 100 gbp flight is still available

dep LHR 08:00
arr MUC 14:25 (via DUS)

another option would be to fly to Nuremberg on 29th March for 106 gbp - and get the train to Munich for 20 eur

dep LHR 12:10
arr NUE 17:15 (via DUS)

flights to Austria on any of these dates aren't great.

flights to Zurich on any of these dates aren't great either - the best on Friday 30th would be 155 gbp

the best value flight seems to be to Basel on Thursday 29th - there are Easjet and Ryanair flights for 77 gbp and 83 gbp

the train journey from Basel to St Anton would cost approx 62 gbp

there's a couple of Easyjet flights that are reasonable

dep MUC  21:40
arr LTN  22:45
102 gbp - excluding baggage

dep MUC  21:55
arr LGW  22:55
121 gbp - excluding baggage

or if you wanted to spend the night in Munich - flights the next day cost 54 gbp to Luton and 70 gbp to Gatwick

the cheapest late flight out of Zurich would be 194 gbp for a 21:30 departure to Gatwick.

the same flight the next evening costs 81 gbp

if staying longer - Ryanair have 10 gbp flights out of Nuremberg airport - and incredibly, train tickets are available for 30 euro on Wednesday 4th April.  journey time is just under 5 hours.

there is a flight from Salzburg to Luton on Wed 4th April for 40 gbp (dep 20:30 arr 21:35) - and the train from St Anton to Salzburg main station is available from 20 euro (some departures are more expensive)

there is a flight from Innsbruck to Gatwick in the afternoon of Wed 4th April for 62 gbp - and the train from St Anton to Innsbruck main station is available from 17 euro

there is a flight from Munich to Gatwick in the evening of Wed 4th April for 50 gbp - and the train from St Anton to Munich airport is available from 19 euro (some departures are more expensive)