Category Archives: Travel

Chris Grayling, on cyclists

Chris Grayling was appointed Secretary of State for Transport on 14th July 2016, replacing Patrick McLoughlin, who had held that post since September 2012.

In early December, Chris Grayling was interviewed by the Political Editor of the London Evening Standard, Joe Murphy, on various aspects of his new job.

Joe Murphy noted

“Mr Grayling has not cycled since he was at the University of Cambridge, where he read history before joining the BBC as a trainee journalist, and grimaces at the idea of venturing out on a Boris bike.”

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Filed under Bicycling, Healthcare, Politics, Public Transport

Borders Railway

Borders Railway UnwrappedYesterday, on Saturday 5th September, I took a train from Waverley to Tweedbank: today you can too, for £11.20: the whole trip from the centre of Edinburgh to Tweedbank in the Borders will take you 57 minutes.

A few months ago I was sitting on a bus and an advert popped up on my tablet: 35 Golden Ticket winners and their guests could win a Golden Ticket and be the first passengers to travel from Edinburgh to the Borders by the new Scottish Borders railway: just say why you want to go, in 50 words or less.

For about five years – I think from when I was about six to sometime before my 12th birthday – my parents rented a cottage in the Borders from the Buccleuch Estates. The rent was £5 a year, and the cottage had running water (which had to be turned off in the autumn, before the first frost led to burst pipes) but the only means of heating the water was to have a fire in the hearth in the living-room.
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Filed under Childhood, Trains, Travel

HS2: New starts

Once upon a time, before the railways were privatised, if offered a job interview in London I could ask for the interview to take place at 2pm, catch the 7am train from Edinburgh Waverley, be certain that I would reach London King’s Cross before noon, and – with a pause only to make sure I had English banknotes in my wallet – get to the job interview usually with an hour to spare. I’d allow the full afternoon for the interview and catch an evening train home. It may seem strange to youngsters these days, but I could count absolutely on getting there on time with no delays at either end: and the train fare – even at short notice – didn’t require me to remortgage my house.

Those days are gone. Nowadays we pay high fares for bad service. The majority of us want the rail services renationalised, but instead, like a shiny toy to make us happy, Labour and Conservative governments have been dangling HS2 in front of us so that we can bat at that with our paws.

On Wednesday 20th May, Angus Robertson distributed jobs among the new SNP MPs. Drew Hendry became the SNP’s Transport spokesperson, and a few days later the Independent on Sunday contacted him to tell him there’d be no high-speed rail link between London and Edinburgh.

This is not news.
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US Customs: smashed lamp

Statue of LibertyIn 2004, the last time I entered the US (between February 1995 and March 2004, I visited the US more often than I have any other country) I was halted for a baggage check.

I had brought my laptop with me. It was removed from my luggage and taken away. When I got it back, it had evidently been booted up and kept running for a while on its battery while they looked through the files I had saved on it to find out if I was a terrorist. Actually, they probably checked to confirm none of it was encrypted and then downloaded a complete copy for them to study at their leisure. Warrantless searches are legal at US border crossings for any reason or none.

This did not bother me at the time because I didn’t realise they intended to copy my hard drive.

What did bother me was that the customs agent assigned to search my luggage picked up items from it – I had come to visit the Grand Canyon, and had brought some British hiking supplies on the basis that I wasn’t sure what would be easy to buy in the South Rim village – and wanted to know, rudely and unpleasantly, “Why did you bring this?”

I was told later that US customs employees are encouraged to be as rude to incoming tourists as possible, in order to see if they can provoke some kind of suspicious response.
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Filed under Racism, Travel

Monday of destruction

I am a fan of disaster movies. There’s nothing I like better than huge, improbable explosions, and roads crumpling up behind a moving car, giant waves pictured rolling in through canyons of steel, giant alien spaceships – or the sun – burning up cities – in fact all the best in CGI’d total destruction.

Obviously, this is for the movies. Real life is usually not nearly as dramatic as CGI. (Though I could watch this video created of the explosive breach of Condit Dam forever.)
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Filed under Feng Shui Kitten Fixes Stuff, Other stuff on the Internet I like, Travel

George Osborne, chancellor of the dodge

Today, George Osborne got into a first-class carriage in a train to Euston, with a standard-class ticket.

Everybody knows what’s happened to the trains since they were licensed to private companies: impenetrable rules, incomprehensible fares, crazy fees if you have to make a short-notice decision. It has nothing to do with any “true price” for the journey, only the vast amounts they can get away with if you have no choice. Let’s be honest, it’s extortion. A medieval landlord could name his own tithes if people had nowhere else to go and East Midlands Trains is clearly inspired by those happy days.Victoria Coren

Osborne, if you want First Class services, you've got to PAY for them!Unfortunately for him, Rachel Townsend, Granada Reports Correspondent, was on the train with an iPhone and not afraid to use it:

Very interesting train journey to Euston Chancellor George Osborne just got on at Wilmslow with a STANDARD ticket and he has sat in FIRST CLASS. His aide tells ticket collector he cannot possibly move and sit with the likes of us in standard class and requests he is allowed to remain in First Class. Ticket collector refuses #standoff – Digital Spy

George Osborne earns £134,565 a year as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
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Using TripAdvisor: Uig

Breakfast and dinner was far above average – salmon with the best hollandaise sauce I’ve ever tasted and beautiful, fresh, local vegetables. However, at $65Cdn, not worth it. We thought, at least, the dinner price might include a glass of wine; especially when we entered the dining room and saw quite a selection. We were quickly told the price of the bottles and that we were welcome to them, if only we added the price to our bill. The dining room decor was distateful to us – filled with war memorabilia. As far as dining, if you stay here, you are pretty restricted to eating here, as it is very isolated: thus, the exorbidant price.

TripAdvisor, if you’ve not found it already, is a handy reviews website for checking out hotels, guest houses – and restaurants – before you book, based on the actual experience of previous guests.

When I was visiting Perth earlier in the year with a friend, wanting to find somewhere for lunch, I cross-referenced the international guide to vegan/vegetarian eating, The Happy Cow, with restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor, and we had a fantastic lunch in Tabla. When I was writing about the Maldives I found I could track the changes in tourist experience from genuine TripAdvisor reviews (and also, realised that there was an increasing number of reviewers who’d left just one review and who had uniformly reported that everything was excellent: the fake reviews problem exists on TripAdvisor as elsewhere).

Like most people, I check out the Terrible reviews first. It’s a good sign when they occur years apart and when the hotel manager has responded to identifiable problems in the review. (“I’m really sorry there were aliens under the bed. We have exterminated them all and guarantee the problem will not recur.”)
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