Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday 30 September - Didcot and Reading

I took a fast train to Didcot this morning.  There was a scheduled 10 minute wait at Reading so we were on time at Didcot.  Nothing much was happening at the Didcot Railway Centre.  Nothing was in steam and there were few visitors around.  Perhaps the most interesting exhibit was the newly constructed steam rail motor car.  People were not overly friendly.
A feature of the cafe in the railway centre was the Heavy Freight ale with the proceeds going to the restoration of heavy 2-8-0 tank engine 7202.
Broad and Standard gauge trackwork

The cab of a Hall - I remember it well.
The view insode the coal dock was very interesting and illustrated the lengths to which the GWR had to go to ensure the coal was not broken up.
I took a slow train back to Reading to enjoy the views over the Thames.

Reading is in the middle of a massive rebuilding.  Not before time.

Click here to see all pictures taken at Didcot GWRS.

Saturday 29 September - Orpington and Trams

Not wanting to face the hassles of the Hammersmith and City line we decided to take the 205 bus to St. Pancras.  The area in front of Kings Cross was filthy with discarded beer cans and fast food wrappers.
I was reminded of Monty Python "There's a nice bit o' shit daan 'ere."
St. Pancras was clean and tidy

Javelin train at Ashford
 We took the High Speed Javelin train to Ashford.  The conductor was very friendly and helpful.  The train we had intended to take to Tonbridge for Orpington had to be diverted through Maidstone East because of a fatality on the line between Ashford and Tonbridge.  This took us through wonderful country including Eynsford, Shoreham, Swanley and St. Mary Cray with a special stop at Chistlehurst.  Again the conductor was very friendly and helpful.   We were the only ones who got off at Chistlehurst and took the next train to Orpington.  The upshot was that we were only a couple of minutes later than if we had come as planned via Tonbridge.

If anything Orpington has improved.  There are a large number of coffee/wine bars along the High Street although three of the pubs have closed leaving only the White Hart and another fairly new one.
There has been a man with a barrow selling fruit by the Post Office for as long as I can remember.  He has now acquired the use of a small shop but he still puts out his wares on the pavement.  Doesn't need the barrow any more,
Last pub standing - The White Hart
Priory Gardens

All Saints
All Saints
Priory Gardens were beautiful and the peace of the All Saints churchyard was broken only by the quarreling of the magpies.  Grandma and Granddad's grave is in the same condition, at least the tilt has not become worse.  We walked past the Canadian cemetary and down the path to Court Road.  This has become so overgrown that it is pretty much a tunnel.  The nasty concrete wall has been replaced by iron railings.  They were doing some work at 11A Court Road - a skip was in the front.

We walked past Grandma's old house on Elmcroft Road to the Cricketers.  We walked in to an empty bar.  There was a scabrous woman carrying a baby, searching for something on the floor and shouting to somebody out back.  After a minute or so of being ignored I coughed politely to which she shouted "Yer, wocher want".  I inquired about the beer on draft and was informed loudly they only had one.  We left.

The White Hart was completely different.  The man and woman behind the bar made us very welcome, quickly poured beers and took our meal orders.  There was a rush of men just after we arrived who came in to watch the game between Arsenal and Chelsea.  It was pretty lively.  A great roar went up when Chelsea scored and another when Arsenal equalized.
Watching the game at the White Hart
The Steak and Ale pie was very good but a little too much.
A quick train ride to Beckenham Junction and we found the Croydon Tramlink.  We were both surprised to see all the trams have been repainted from red to blue, green and white.  We changed at Sandilands for New Addington then went right through from there to Wimbledon.  The speeds reached on some sections were pretty high, 80 kmph on the speedometer, and the service provided is frequent and fast.  Being Saturday afternoon there were huge crowds in the pedestrian areas of Croydon.
Croydon tram at Beckenham Junction
One of the new Croydon trams at Sandilands.
At Wimbledon we found a train to Waterloo and took the Bakerloo line to Paddington.  Our Oyster cards had been working overtime from Orpington and we reached the daily maximum so any additional trips were free.  We took advantage of this to go to Stratford and see the Docklands Light Railway right through to Lewisham.  The Central line was very crowded and the noise levels from the train were unacceptably high.  The DLR was quiet, comfortable and impressive, bearing in mind that the system is computer controlled and the trains are driverless.  There were some good views over the Thames at Canary Wharf and we came back to Paddington on a very very noisy Jubilee line.
The Thames

The very impressive DLR station at Canary Wharf

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday 28 September - Travel Paris to London

We were up and away in plenty of time to catch the Metro, line 2 to La Chapelle.  The trains were running at 2-3 minute intervals and we had seats.  At La Chapelle we walked into Gare du Nord where we had an easy check in and boarded the 0913 in plenty of time.  The train left promptly and was non-stop to Ebbsfleet with arrival at St. Pancras right on time.

Passing through Kent, I saw a couple of oast houses and a chalk ridge upon which sheep were grazing.  Then we crossed the Medway River and I was in Kentish Men country - the part east of the Medway is inhabited by Men of Kent.

The Circle Line to Paddington was terrible.  Trains were running at 7 minute headways, the cars were very crowded, trains were noisy and bounced around.  We were held for 5 minutes at Edgware Road waiting for a path across to the Hammersmith Line.  They have changed the passenger exit at Paddington but it is still extremely crowded.

We left our bags at the hotel and went to the RAF museum near Hendon.  Again the Circle line was very slow - trains were running at around 8 minute intervals while the Northern line to Colindale was very, very noisy indeed.  Very unpleasant.

The museum was interesting.  The many exhibits were well restored and laid out in a logical manner.  It is not easy to display a large aircraft.  I liked the several Spitfires they had and also the Gloucester Meteors, both of which I remember from the time just after the end of the war.
Gloucester Meteor
Supermarine Spitfire
Again, the train intervals on the tube were very long.  Three small kids were sitting opposite us.  The mother broke open a bag of hot cross buns and gave one each to the kids.  I didn't now you could get hot cross buns at this time of the year.  The smell of bun and nutmeg permeated the car.   I was amused each time Customer Service would come on the loudspeaker and proclaim that they were operating a "Good Service"  - all the while we were waiting 7 minutes at Kings Cross and the platform was filling up fast.  Maybe the RATP should operate the Tube.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thursday 27 September - Paris, Buttes Chaumont

We did several things around Paris today.  First stop was a coffee and a croissant.
The SNCF maintenance yards at Ville St. Georges was next.  On the way we saw a couple of trams testing the new tram line that will be opening towards the end of the year.
A postal TGV was being put in the shop for maintenance.
Next was a visit to the model shop near Quai de la Gare followed by Buttes Chaumont park.  This was pretty quiet but the fall colours were beginning to show.

Bastille and Place des Vosges were next followed by the Hotel de Ville - impossible to photograph because of the left overs from a rock concert or show.  A quick look at the tourist infested Notre Dame and we returned to the apartment and went out again to have a last look at Monceau.
Place des Vosges
 Dinner this evening was at Le Pet't Canon, as good as ever with the personable waitress.  The duck was excellent.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wednesday 26 September - Magnificent Orleans

Last day of our Eurail pass today.  We took a train from Austerlitz direct to Les Aubrais and bought day passes on the Orleans public transit.
Ancient locomotives can still be seen at Austerlitz.
The first trip was on the A tram to the end of the line at Jules Verne then straight back into ton.  We had intended to go to the point where the two lines cross (De Gaule) but we were turned out at the Gare D'Orleans because of an incident on the line.  We walked to De Gaule down a very pleasant street with buildings with very interesting details.  Luckily the B line was working.  This is the new line with wireless operation through the centre - it was closed down for most of yesterday when a rodent bit through some cables.  Line B is a great extremely well done and adds a great deal to the historic section past the cathedral.  It is not intrusive and the colors of the trams fit in well with the colors of the stonework.  Great attention has been given to ensure that the trams blend in with the historic nature of the area.  Stone paving has been used extensively and this will last a long time.
The trams blend in very well with the architecture of the historic area.

This is a tram stop close to the cathedral.  The ticket machine has been hidden round the corner and the pavement designed to blend in with the historic nature of the area.
 The Ancien Hotel de Ville with its sumptuous decoration was well worth a visit.

We went out to the end of the B line at Clos du Hameau, watching the manual changeover from ground to catenary.  All the way out the right of way has been finished with stone or grass, in some places the grass has been replaced with a form of ground cover (similar to Paris).  There are a lot of tree plantings.
This was Fish and Chips Maison - the fishing bobber was there for decoration

We came back into town for lunch then walked along the Loire to the bridge and took the A tram to the end of the line at Hopital de la Source.  The line assumes more the character of an interurban with long, high speed runs between well spaced stops.

We went right through to Les Aubrais and caught the first train back to Austerlitz.
We were brought back to Paris by this electric loco with no markings - known as Ghost Livery.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuesday 25 September - Reims

We had reservations on the TGV leaving at 0859 for Reims (not 0900 - SNCF doesn't want to help the customers)  There was great confusion at Gare de L'Est and several of the earlier trains were delayed.  Of course SNCF leaves it to the last minute to tell passengers which platform the train leaves from so we had a mad dash right over to the other side of the concourse to platform 27 (crossing many streams of commuters trying to get into the metro).  We found our seats and at 0859 a voice announced that there would be a delay because they didn't have a train crew.  The railway must have known before this but they are so arrogant that they don't bother to inform their paying passengers.  We finally left almost 15 minutes late and didn't make up any time to Reims (downtown).
We watched the Paris to Moscow train depart.  It was all Russian Railway coaches with a Polish restaurant car.  I can't think why anyone would want to take such a long ride with that sour-faced Russian train crew.
We found the tram stop at Reims Gare and caught the first gaily painted tram out.  The ticket machine was easy to use and we made good use of a 24 hour ticket.  We went to Comedie where the system changes from the underground to overhead wires.  The lady tram driver stopped at the car barns where a man was waiting to take over.  As she came out of the cab there was a short delay while the two kissed.  It was then on to the end of the line at Gare Champagne TGV. This is built in an open space with just the TGV station and a hotel.  The last kilometre or so of the tramway is single track but the roadbed is in for a double track and locations for two stations have been set aside.  What a novel idea to put a tramway in green fields so the area can develop around public transport.

Speaking to the tram driver, I found out that the changeover between pantograph and ground supply has to be done manually.  However, all he has to do is to is to make sure the tram is stopped then push one button.  He really liked the different colours of the trams and the front shaped like a champagne flute is very distinctive.
On the way back into town we could admire the long stretches of grass between the tracks and enjoy how smooth it was.  The rails are continuous streetcar type rails, even in the grass sections.
A green wall added to the interest of the street scene - note the wireless tracks.
At Opera we walked to the cathedral.  It is in bad shape outside and the interior was dark and dingy.  Not a pleasant place to linger.
The cathedral is greatly in need of restoration.  What has been done is good but too much remains.
We found a restaurant which had a three course meal for 13.90 euros.  It was well frequented by locals which is always a good sign.

There was time to see the rest of the tram route before the champagne house opened and we went all the way to Neufchatel.  This is very much out in the sticks and we caught the same tram back into town.

The visit to Mumm's Champagne House was interesting,  The cellars are impressive for their sheer size.  One corridor in the chalk was over 300 metres long.

There then followed the obligatory tasting and a walk back to the tram to go the one stop to the station.  The TGV ride back to Paris was uneventful.
Click here to see all pictures taken at Reims
Click here to see all pictures taken of the Reims trams

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday 24 September - Bayeux and Caen - Its a bus:its a tram:its a trolleybus - none of the above

We went down to Saint Lazare this morning to catch the train to Caen and Bayeux.  It had rained heavily in the night but was just cloudy and windy.  Walking down rue de Rome I noticed a new store among the violin and other musical instrument repair shops - a scooter shop.  Sure enough there is a shop devoted entirely to foot scooters and accessories.  I was staggered to see that most started around 380 euros and up from there.

The train to Caen was pretty well on time, old Corail stock which went like the wind and rode quite well.  At Caen there was mass confusion particularly among the North American tourists each with enormous cases.  The train to Bayeux was ten minutes late but even so some people missed it because they couldn't figure things out.  It was raining at Caen but the clouds had lifted by Bayeux and we had a little sun along with very high winds.

Knowing the way, we were soon at the tapestry location.  There was a large crowd ahead of us but they all dutifully followed the audio guide so we were able to see the details of the tapestry and follow the jokes.  The audio guide is one of the best I have come across.

We went along to our favorite restaurant but a dozen or so people were just filing in so we decided to look for somewhere else.  We found a three course meal for 14.50 euros which was quite reasonable. The cathedral was sterile but the rest of the town was quite interesting.  Although it was practically destroyed during the Normandy landings it has been sympathetically restored and has a pleasant feel.

The return train to Caen was also ten minutes late. At Caen we investigated the strange "tramway" they have installed.  It is rubber tired and runs on a special road surface.  There is a rail in the center which conducts the power which is picked up from a pantograph.  The driver has to steer it round curves but it seems to go by itself on the straight.  It was extremely rough riding and there isn't too much room inside because of the space taken up by the wheels.  It seems to have all the disadvantages of bus and tram and the only advantage would appear to be that it will go up steep grades well.  Caen was also heavily damaged during the war but it is a sterile place and we didn't feel the need to linger.

We had to carefully choose our seats on the way back to Paris as most of the first class was reserved.  We were stabbed severely at Mantes la Jolie but the engineer certainly booted it afterwards so that we were only about a minute late.
Click here to see all pictures taken at Bayeux
Click here to see all pictures taken of Caen trams

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday 23 September - Paris Trams and Parks

I decided to change my shirt today.  The buff one which I have worn since leaving Ottawa was replaced with a red one.  I washed it each night and will now probably alternate the two.  I also had on a clean pair of pants and washed the old pair.

We first went to the Gare Saint Lazaire and admired the beautiful restoration that has been completed.  Even the girl in the SNCF ticket office where I made the reservations for the trip to Reims on Tuesday thought it was the best in Paris.  It seems there is a preserved women's prison in the basement.
The restored concourse at Saint Lazare is magnificent.
There are still some old locomotives to be seen at Saint Lazare.
This section of the station was not being used to allow engineering work.  This gave a clear view of the train shed which is not normally available.
The trip to La Defence was quite quick but we were unable to make it to the outside as they close several of the exits on weekends.  The tram to Porte de Versailles was very pleasant, one feature I noticed was the use of a form of ground cover rather than grass in between the rails.  It could well be cost effective as, being low growing, it does not need to be mowed.  While waiting for the T4 tram I helped a Mexican couple and their daughter - they were at the Porte de Versailles and were looking for the Chateau.  I had to explain that this wasn't the right place and then showed them how to get to the Chateau.

From the end of the T4 we took the metro to the Gare de Lyon for a sandwich break and a quick look around.  Of course it was almost exclusively TGVs.
This is the cat from the Train Bleu restaurant which seems to have been able to get through the revolving doors.
It was owned by one of the chefs but when the chef left the cat decided to stay.
The RER took us to Saint Denis and tram T1.  This was quite an experience.  These trams are not very large and it was completely full.  At one point people were left behind because they simply couldn't get in.  There were a number of Sunday street markets and these would have been part of the draw.  The trams were running at five minute intervals and still had trouble.  Several people were munching roasted corn cobs, a very popular street food this time of year.  The smell of roasted corn permeated the tram.
At Noisy le Sec.  They couldn't get the trams away fast enough.
A lot of people got off the RER and ran across the tracks to get on the tram at left.  The driver then announced that he was having a problem and everyone would have to go on to the one on right.  There was a great movement accompanied by cries "Tu blagues" and everybody rushed across the tracks, including several stout ladies who had to use the rails as a step. Shades of the Jacques Tati movie "Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot".
A short trip on the RER took us to Bondy and the T3 tram train to Aulnay sous Bois.  This has a train feel to it, the cars are different and, being SNCF, a different fare structure applied.

RER back to Gare du Nord.  I was disappointed to find that the small bar area at the entrance to the customs area for Eurostar has been taken over by Eurostar so it is not possible to sit down and have a view over the concourse.

Metro back to Levis and after a short break it was out again to see Monceau and Square des Batignoles Parks.  Both were very full.  Monceau was full of groups playing games, kids on scooters etc.  There was a long line up for the donkey rides.  The entrance to Batignoles was filled with a flea market which drew the crowds and was doing a good business.  In the park itself, the old ladies were sunning themselves on the benches in one area while the young family groups were closer to the lake.  A warden was keeping people off the grass in some prohibited areas with a loud blast of his whistle.  The men were playing petanque at the other end.  Different strokes for different socio economic groups.
Even a couple of women were playing petanque.
Dinner at D-1 was excellent.  It is very much a local bar with men coming in for a Ricard shaking hands, singing along to the music etc.  Great fun.

Click here to see all pictures taken of Paris trams