Planes, Trains and Automobiles and More (Part 2): I AM CALGARY’S Summer of 2019
You know it’s time for a vacation when you start looking like the person on your driver’s license…Unknown
In Part 1 of this blog series, reviewing our Summer 2019 European escapades, we covered the more familiar and common forms of transport: Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Here, in Part 2, we review some of the less common and, in some instances, unconventional means of transport.
Before I launch into that, I’ve had some questions that I’d like to answer about the navigation tools we used during out travels.
🗺 NAVIGATION TOOLS
Just prior to catching our flight from Calgary to London, Christa had the brain wave to bring a spare mobile phone with us. It turned out to be one of the handiest tools we packed into our minimalistic luggage. While we used our day-to-day phones for photos, we were able to download navigation software onto the spare phone. This proved to be so convenient. It also helped save us precious battery life on our primary devices to capture all our photos.
✏️ Note: remember to bring additional charging cords, adaptors, car chargers and / or battery recharge packs so you can recharge your devices on-the-go.
🗺 Google Maps:
For driving and route navigation (city-to-city) we relied on Google Maps.
✏️ Note: While online, download the maps of the regions that your planned route might take you along. Make these maps available to yourself off-line so you can navigate by GPS only. No data is required when using downloaded maps offline. Follow the sequence of screenshot steps below as a quick self-help guide of how you can do this on your mobile device. You will need to be online to carry out the 9 steps below.
🗺 Maps.me App:
For navigation on foot, e.g. walking tours and sightseeing within a specific town or city, we relied on the Maps.me App. This App seems to be used extensively by travellers in Europe, but seems somewhat less supported in North America. Once you become familiar with it, the App is very handy and accurate. Here, too, you should download the maps of the area where you anticipate visiting ahead of time while you’re online. This will make the maps – with full navigating and information functionality for your selected area – available to you offline when you’re searching and exploring. It was helpful to even find things like public toilets!
✏️ Note: I’m pretty good with directions. Yet, for me, the tricky part was figuring out which direction to head at the start of your navigation route. Be aware that you need to be moving for the App / GPS to register which direction you’re heading in and how best to route you. Nine times out of ten I’d choose the wrong direction. It doesn’t matter. Choose a direction; start walking; then learn to trust that where the technology is telling you to go is where you should go!
Now, let’s continue with our review of modes of transport.
🚌 The Original Tour (London):
We’ve had some very positive experiences with hop-on hop-off city bus tours in recent years, most notably Cape Town and San Francisco. So, it seemed to be a good use of our time and money to do the same in London. Once we settled on The Original Tour as our service provider – London has a few of these hop-on hop-off tour services – we decided a 48-hour pass would enable us to maximize the multiple routes they had on offer. This would give us good exposure to the lay of the land. It would also enable us to rest our walk-weary feet when we needed a break from pounding the pavement.
In hindsight the 48-hour pass was a regrettable decision. Day one of using our pass served us reasonably well. However, when it came to using it on day two, we discovered that the buses for the less popular routes were jam packed with other summer tourists, coupled with a very unreliable schedule. As an example, we attempted to catch one bus to Regent’s Park from Marble Arch. After being caught in grid-locked traffic and only moving 3 blocks in 45 minutes we requested that the bus driver let us off the bus at an unscheduled stop so we could find an alternate means of transport.
✏️ Note: While traffic issues were beyond the service providers’ control, it was still a waste of time and money to have bought the extended pass. Bus stops and pick-up points were also tricky to locate. On a separate note, the buses offering live audio tours were far more engaging and interesting than those offering pre-recorded information.
🚌 Paris Transit Bus:
Our post-midnight city transit bus ride in Paris was quite unplanned, and perhaps forgettable. The trip came about as a result of an impromptu visit we made to the Eiffel Tower one evening that saw us climbing the tower at sunset, soaking up the views and atmosphere of the City of Lights, and losing track of time until it was too late to catch regular transit back to our hotel. By the time we’d descended the tower it was after 11pm.
As luck would have it, the nearby Metro station and the entire line was shot down for maintenance for the season. Resorting to our trusty off-line Map App we attempted to find alternate transit options. By now we’d walked a few kilometres away from the tourist hubs. We finally located a bus stop with a growing crowd of similarly stranded foreign people. After enduring what felt like a further interminable wait, we – along with a myriad of other commuters – boarded a very full night bus that slowly snaked through the back streets to a terminus where we could locate a Metro line that would take us back to our hotel. Being packed into that bus like a midnight sardine run en route to an unfamiliar destination at that late and weary hour was moderately celebratory, if not, relieving.
✏️ Note: Our bussing experience was hardly holistic or thorough enough to comment too insightfully on the Paris bus transit system. Suffice to say, though, that you may need to balance your sightseeing spontaneity and the time of day with the availability of public transit. Were we ever grateful to eventually see that late-night city bus arrive!
⛴ Thames River City Cruise:
When purchasing a hop-on hop-off bus ticket through “The Original Tour” (see above), visitors are eligible for a Thames River cruise. Boats depart on a regular basis, ferrying passengers between Embankment (Westminster Pier 1) and the Tower of London (Tower Pier 2). The 20-minute trip (45 minutes when you take line ups and wait times into account) was full of fun facts and quips, with great views of some of the city’s architectural iconic landmarks.
You can enjoy the Thames cruise as many times as you wish during the validity period of your bus tour pass. Ample roof top or enclosed seating is available.
⛴ Herm Ferry:
The island of Guernsey has no shortage of attractions to visit and places to see. However, when you’re on any island and you can see land off-shore in the distance, there is always an intrigue to want to discover what’s there that you might be missing out on. Together with the nearby islands of Herm, Jethou, Lihou, Sark and Alderney – all visible from the Guernsey coastline and all forming part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey – it is appropriate that boat cruises are available to these islands.
We seized the opportunity to visit nearby Herm for an afternoon. The Travel Trident ferry, departing at regular scheduled times from St Peter Port harbour, treks tourists to the Island three miles away for a small return fee.
We were fortunate enough to sail on a perfect weather day in calm seas. Regrettably, we left only enough time to get to the Island, walk around it, and enjoy a brief dip in the chilly ocean, before hastily returning to the dock to catch the final 5.30pm ferry back to Guernsey.
A shoreline cliff walk, with a trail head starting near the ferry dock, offers stunning views of the coast and nearby island of Sark and distant Jersey. A walk around the island can be easily completed in 45 minutes, if you keep a steady pace. For us it was more like 90 minutes when we factored in the mandatory and breathtaking photographic opportunities!
Be sure to bask in the beauty of the sheltered treasure of Belvoir Bay. Explore and discover the rich shell deposits at aptly-named Shell Beach. Both locations offer great swimming, if you care to venture into the chilly waters of the Channel. Small cafes and rental of water equipment is available at both beaches.
✏️ Note: Be sure to keep track of time because you don’t want to be stuck here overnight with nowhere to stay. The Island is home to The White House Hotel, some holiday cottages and log cabins, and hill-top camping. A gift shop and small chapel wrap up the formal structures located there. During the peak summer months all accommodation is fully booked, so finding lodging at short notice if you miss your ferry is highly unlikely.
⛴ Condor Ferry:
Condor Ferries offer paid passenger walk-on and drive-on services between mainland England, Jersey, Guernsey and St Malo (France). With daily sailings – and, in some instances, multiple sailings per day between some of the ports – your options for accessing the two main Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey are plentiful.
We used this non-stop ferry service between St Peter Port, Guernsey and St Malo, France. Perfect weather made for a smooth crossing in a little more than two hours. We enjoyed reserved pre-booked airline-type seats on the upper deck. Options of booking seats at tables or family seating were also available online. Cafeteria on the various decks sold hot and cold beverages as well as basic foods and snacks. It was enjoyable to be able to move about the interior of the ferry or step out onto the rooftop deck to soak up some sea breeze (and spray) during the crossing.
✏️ Note: Be aware that volatile weather conditions in the English Channel affected day-to-day or even hour-to-hour scheduled ferry sailing times. Check online regularly for updates or changes to the scheduled sailing times.
⛴ Paris Seine River Cruise:
What better way to see the sights, enjoy the sounds and soak up the romance of historic Paris than from the deck of a boat, cruising up the Seine as the City of Love begins to illuminate her night lights. We decided to do this on a bit of a whim, so were surprised to find tickets available online for a sunset cruise departing within the hour at only $10 per person.
Our one-hour bilingual guided tour with Vedettes du Pont Neuf departed from beneath the iconic Pont Neuf. The cruise took us upstream to our turnaround point at the Eiffel Tower, then back downstream to our turnaround point at Ile Saint-Louis.
✏️ Note: As with so many boat cruises, the live audio quality was not always great, although the content shared by the local French guide was very interesting (when we understood what she was saying). We also snuck our own snacks and beverages onto the boat, so enjoyed these as we cruised the Seine. It’s worth noting that a cool breeze seems to funnel down along the course of river. Be prepared to sit downstairs where you’re protected from the elements, or come with suitable attire to enjoy the cruise from the abundant open rooftop seating.
⛴ Rhine River Ferry:
The Rhine River ferry crossing, located near the foot of the Basel Minster (Basler Münster), was a unique 10-minute commuting experience. One of several such ferry services, the Münster Fähre “Leu” transports commuters from one river bank to the other.
Equipped with only a towing cable at the bow and a rudder at the stern, the vessel is pulled across the width of the river by adjusting the angle of the rudder against the swift flowing current. The bow cable is looped around a further cable that spans the width of the river. This keeps the boat from being washed downstream. Using this rather antiquated but effective system, up to 10 passengers are quietly – in keeping with many public Swiss activities – and inexpensively transported across the fast-flowing Rhine River.
Here is where I use traveler’s interpretive license to define what is a mode of transport. Humour me. And then take the time to tell me, in the comments section below, what some of your unconventional modes of vacation transport have been.
🎡 The Coca-Cola London Eye:
It might be argued that a mode of transport should take you from point A to point B. I’d beg to differ, and consequently have included the iconic London Eye as a memorable mode of transport. The 135m high structure takes passengers on a 30-minute birds eye flight over the Thames River where you can view some of London’s most familiar landmarks. Sadly, the downloadable App that helps you identify some of these landmarks while hovering up in the sky was not overly reliable so we shut that down and just enjoyed the effortless ride and memorable views.
Actually, this event wasn’t as effortless an experience as one would think. Here, as with numerous other London attractions, the lineups were insane.
Fortunately, having pre-purchased our tickets on-line where we had the presence of mind to pay a small premium, we managed to skip the lineups which was a significant bonus. It freed up time for us to explore the area before joining the queues in time for our scheduled loading time. So, if you’re planning on visiting this – or any other attraction – during peak periods, you should seriously consider paying the extra to be able to skip the lineups, minimize your frustration and maximize your enjoyment.
✏️ Note: As an added bonus, since we had caught a train into the city from outside of London on that day, we were able to capitalize on the benefit of the London Days Out Guide buy-one-get-one-free deal. So, we paid half price for our London Eye experience and got to enjoy the 4-D cinema experience included in our package.
Paris has some of the most and longest travelators (moving walkways) I’ve seen around the world. For some reason these always stand out to me when I’ve visited here. Since they convey passengers quite substantial distances (particularly when you’re in a rush in an airport or beyond weary with your luggage in an underground station concourse), I had to include them in my collection of modes of transport.
Since moving walkways made it to my list of modes of transport, how could I neglect those ever-helpful escalators that convey weary pedestrians multiple floors at malls, stations and airports. Here, too, I’ve seen some of the longest escalators in both London and Paris. So, I had no qualms about recording these as a significant mode of transport during our travels. I wonder if using them was recorded by our Apple devices and reported in our daily stats of flight of stairs covered?
Walking is often an integral part to any memorable holiday. Apart from giving us some good exercise, it also forces us to slow down and appreciate the finer detail of what’s around us.
There are too many stories to recount and too many amazing photos to share around this topic to include here. So I’ve published a separate blog article about key highlights we enjoyed exploring during our 460km walking experiences. You won’t want to miss out on reading about and seeing these!
A summer holiday without a swim just doesn’t sound like a summer holiday, right?
We endeavoured to maximize our summer by swimming whenever possible. This was a particularly varied, unique, and often invigorating mode of transport that we enjoyed during our vacation. Here, too, we’ve elected to publish our fun – and sometimes very unique – experiences and destinations in a separate blog. Be sure to read about our ocean swim in Devon, our Island swims in the English Channel and our Friday night revelling in the Rhine River.