Friday 19 June 2015

Air miles?

For my 100th post on this blog, I'll come clean about my carbon footprint.

So far, my posts spread over 24 countries across two continents.  (Make it 31 countries if you count principalities, dependent territories and constituent nations of the UK separately).

I've posted about places from Tromsø in arctic Norway in the north, as far south as Gran Canaria, to the Canadian city of Victoria in the west and, to the east, St. Petersburg in Russia.

Even though I've still covered only a relatively small area of the planet, just how many air miles am I accumulating?

Not that many.

Yes, I will travel by air when it is the only realistic means of making the trip (or doing it in the time available to me).  However, the development of high speed rail is bringing more and more European destinations within reach without flying.

Lucky for me, I live in London.  Using Eurostar, I can be in the centre of Paris or Brussels within 4 hours of leaving home in Peckham.  Some of that time will be the journey to St Pancras International and the check-in.  On departure from St Pancras, Brussels is about 2 hours away, Paris around 2h20, city centre to city centre.

Although most Eurostar services go only as far as Paris or Brussels, the journey doesn't have to end there.

As well as being the terminus for Eurostar services, Brussels Midi station is a hub for long-distance trains serving the Belgian capital.  It has frequent connections across Belgium and to LuxembourgThere are also regular trains to Rotterdam, Den Haag (The Hague) and Amsterdam.

Rotterdam and Amsterdam can also be reached using the Thalys high-speed service.  Using Thalys, Amsterdam is under 2 hours from Brussels while the journey to Rotterdam takes little over an hour.

Eurostar are expected to start running direct services from London to Amsterdam in 2016.

High-speed trains also leave from Brussels Midi into Germany.  Thalys and DeutscheBahn ICE trains both operate to Aachen and Köln (Cologne).  The journey from Brussels to Aachen takes little over an hour while Köln is less than 2 hours from Brussels.

The DeutscheBahn ICEs continue to Frankfurt; some of the Thalys trains run to Düsseldorf and Essen.

This image was taken in Frankfurt, the journey to/from Brussels taking around 3 hours.  I was back home in London by late evening.

There are plenty of onward connections to other parts of Germany (and beyond) from Köln and Frankfurt.

Thalys trains into The Netherlands and Germany start from Paris.  As well as linking Paris with Amsterdam and Köln, Thalys providing the main link between the French and Belgian capitals. 

This image was taken the Gare du Nord terminus in Paris.

French high-speed trains (TGVs) also operate into Brussels, providing links from Belgium to a number of other cities in France.

But if you're using Eurostar to head towards France, you're unlikely to need to go via Brussels.

Unlike in Brussels, long-distance trains from Paris leave from a number of different terminal stations.

Paris Est is a short walk from the Gare du Nord.  French TGV trains leave for Strasbourg and several other destinations in eastern France.  There are also trains to Luxembourg, and into Germany linking Paris with Stuttgart and Munich.

DeutscheBahn ICE trains also run into Paris from Frankfurt.

The high speed line between Paris and Strasbourg is one of the fastest in Europe, with trains reaching a top speed 320 km/h.

This snapshot shows the information screen on board a TGV running from Paris to Munich.

The display scrolls through the list of intermediate destinations.

The end-to-end journey from Paris to Munich takes a little over 6 hours.  I had left London mid-morning that day, had a leisurely connection in Paris and would be in Munich by late evening.

Trains to destinations in the west and south of France leave from Montparnesse, Austerlitz and Gare de Lyon stations.  These are across the city centre from the Gare du Nord, but can be reached using the Métro or a suburban RER train.

TGVs from Gare de Lyon also operate to cities in Switzerland and Italy as well as to to BarcelonaDouble-deck TGVs operate on a number of routes.

As an alternative to crossing Paris, connections to a number of French cities can be made with a simple change of trains at Lille Europe, or there is also now a direct Eurostar service from London to Lyon, Avignon and Marseille.

The map below shows some of the places which I have travelled to, or returned home from, by train within a day (or, in many cases, less than a day):

The travelling doesn't end there.  I might stop overnight or longer, then take another train to an destination further.

From Munich, for example, Austrian "Railjet" trains provide a regular link to Salzburg, Vienna and on into Hungary.

The Railjet ends its journey in Budapest, pictured here.


This image was taken on board the Railjet as it approached Vienna's new central station, on its way from Munich to Budapest.


If foreign languages aren't your thing, English is becoming more widely used on long-distance and international trains.

The display on the Railjet is also shown in English.

Meanwhile, from France the direct Paris to Barcelona trains enable connections to Madrid as well as other destinations across Spain.  As well as the direct trains, connections into Spain can also be made at Montpellier.  For destinations in Spain's Basque region, connections can be made at Hendaye or Irún. 

Spain has developed a number of high speed lines of its own.  These radiate out from Madrid.  This image was taken at Alacant (Alicante).

Below is a view from the train, on the way from Madrid.

I don't confine my travels just to high-speed routes.  Slower secondary routes provide connections to places away from the high-speed network.

This image was taken at Ostseebad Binz, on the German island of Rügen, which is relatively inaccessible by air.

Sometimes, the slower routes can be very scenic. 

This image was taken at Latour de Carol, high in the Pyrenees on the French-Spanish border,  Here, around 1,200 metres above sea level, the local Spanish trains heading north from Barcelona meet the French local trains coming south from Toulouse.

A journey from Barcelona to Toulouse using this route will take at least 6½ hours.  It isn't fast, but it is very scenic.

There is also a French narrow gauge line which arrives in Latour de Carol from the east.

This image is of the Flåmsbana, in Norway.  The line climbs more than 800 metres from a fjord to a remote junction, where it conencts with the main line linking Oslo with Bergen.

I will admit, on this trip I had arrived in Oslo by air before travelling onwards by train and ship.

One of the furthest points I have reached without using air is Split, on the coast of Croatia.

I had arrived in Spilt by ferry from Italy, having got from London to the Italian coast by train.

My homeward journey was entirely by train, stopping off in Zagreb, Ljubljana and Munich on my way back to London.

The European Rail Timetable is an invaluable reference book, while the DeutscheBahn website's journey planner seems to include train services throughout Europe (not just those into or within Germany).  The Man in Seat 61 gives a wealth of useful information about how to buy tickets (including how to find the cheapest fares) and travel from the UK, without flying, to destinations across Europe and beyond.

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