Posts from the ‘Road Warrior’ category

Surviving the latest Deutsche Bahn strike

In Germany, I am neither first-time visitor nor a permanent resident.

In this interesting middle-ground, having traveled in and around the country every year since 2001 means gaining knowledge and some handle of the language, whether it’s reading the signage or speaking to people to get some help.

As of writing (20 May 2015), the GDL locomotive drivers’ union have struck for the 9th time in the last 11 months. The present strike does not yet have an announced stop date (which is new), but will likely match or exceed the recent 5-day stoppage in early May, which at that time was the longest in Deutsche Bahn’s 21 year history. A significant fraction of the full passenger- and freight-capacity has been affected. In the German capital city of Berlin, regional trains and S-Bahn trains are affected (reduced), whereas the city’s bus, tram, and U-Bahn networks remain in full operation.

Bahn strike, Bahnstreik, Cancelled trains, Dresden Hauptbahnhof, Germany, fotoeins.com

Signage indicating cancelled train service between Dresden Hbf and Frankfurt Airport, 22 April 2015

Online updates (in German) of Deutsche Bahn’s train service:

•   FAQ on ARD Tagesschau
•   @DB_Info: Deutsche Bahn information on Twitter
•   bahn.de
•   bahn.de/aktuell
•   bahn.de/p/view/home/info/streik_gdl_150519.shtml

From the latter link, there are two “buttons” to note:

Live-Auskunft (“live information”) : a dynamic link providing an overview of trains traveling along your specified route; cancelled trains are not shown.

Reiseauskunft (“trip information”) : a dynamic link providing a schedule of trains traveling along your specified route, which will show cancelled trains (red ‘x’) and possible alternatives.

From a day-to-day standpoint, I have used both links to check what was and was not available for my desired route, providing valuable information for advance planning.

Additional words to recognize are:

•   Ersatzfahrplan: makeshift operating schedule
•   fällt heute aus: cancelled today
•   Fernverkehr, Nahverkehr: long-distance transport, regional transport
•   Halt entfällt: stop cancelled
•   Verspätung: delay

During the 5-day long strike (5 to 10 May) and despite a significant fraction of train routes cancelled, I was fortunate I needed only to travel from Berlin to the cities of Bielefeld and Frankfurt am Main. The following graphic shows what routes remained in operation and to what frequencies (if any) these routes ran.

DBahn strike 2015May

Operating & affected long-distance trains: Deutsche Bahn drivers’ strike, Apr/May 2015. Click here for full PDF.

Regular hourly trains (thickest solid colour line) ran between Berlin and Düsseldorf and between Berlin to Köln. Other trains ran every two hours (thin solid colour line), every four hours (long-dashed colour line), or only one train the entire day (dotted colour line). It meant for some “interesting” change-of-trains, service delays, and for others, a very long day on the train. During this last strike some minimum level service was maintained with a train “approximately” every two hours among the country’s five largest cities: Frankfurt, Köln, München, Hamburg, and Berlin.

But that was then, and this is now.

The graphic above shows the makeshift operating model over the last couple of strikes in late-April and early-May. There’s no guarantee these routes and services (or frequencies) will be maintained in the present strike, which means keeping abreast of service updates (re. Live-Auskunft, Reiseauskunft).

Mandatory requirements or my wishful requests, whichever you prefer:

•   patience and understanding for your fellow travelers,
•   sense of adventure and a very good sense of humour.

But these are characteristics we all think we should have and practice, OR?

I had advantage of having a general familiarity with the country, and being able to read and speak some German. I took the strike in stride, and I didn’t panic into buying a ticket on a long-distance bus service, although for a few moments I admit sweating out a few of the details along the way. During the early-May strike, I traveled from Berlin to Bielefeld just fine, but Berlin to Frankfurt was a bit of an adventure on a fully packed train.

Good luck!


Update: 0130h CEST, 22 May

The rail strike ends 21 May with Deutsche Bahn and the GDL union going into arbitration and a period to continue mediated negotiations. Regional service should be back to nominal operation by 22 May, and long-distance service to nominal operation by this (Pentecost holiday) weekend 23/24 May. Full S-Bahn service in Berlin is scheduled for 22 May.

•   Tagesschau article, in German







Berlin Hauptbahnhof

Berlin Hauptbahnhof, 2 May 2015

No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions Disclosure: No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions. I am not affiliated with and have no material connections with Deutsche Bahn (cmp.ly/0). This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-6Mn.

How to read signage at German rail stations

You’re excited – you’ve finally arrived in Germany.

You’ve decided to travel the country by train, but you’re not familiar with the German language, and you may find the signs puzzling and difficult to read.

The following is a short visual descriptive guide to signage at German rail stations to help get you on your way. Examples below are taken from Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof (central or main train station). The general descriptions should apply everywhere throughout the country.


Where’s my train? The departures board (Abfahrtstafel)

Abfahrtstafel, departures board, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

In most medium- to large-sized German cities, every Hauptbahnhof (Hbf) or central train station will have a large departures board in the central hall and/or over the information booth. The photo above shows the departures board in the middle of Frankfurt’s station with the message:

“Herzlich Willkommen in Frankfurt am Main Hbf – Welcome to Frankfurt am Main Central Station”.

Information on the departures board appears as white block lettering on a dark blue background. From left to right in the photo below, there are six primary columns of information:

  1. Departure time (Zeit)
  2. Train number
  3. Intermediate stops (Über)
  4. Final destination for train (Ziel)
  5. Platform number (Gleis)
  6. Additional information

Abfahrtstafel, departures board, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

The departures board above shows Regional Bahn train RB 15231 leaving at 830pm (2030h) for Aschaffenburg from platform 12, with stops at F-Ost (Frankfurt Ost) and Maintal Ost. There’s no additional information which means the train is scheduled to depart on time.

Abfahrtstafel, departures board, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

The other departures board shows InterCity Express ICE 773 leaving for Stuttgart from platform 6 at 905pm (2105h), with stops at Frankfurt Airport (Flughafen) and the city of Mannheim. There’s an additional note that the train is about 15 minutes late, putting the departure time to about 920pm.


What’s my train? Train destination signage (Zugzielanzeiger), by day

Above every platform are overhead digital signs to confirm what travelers might see on the central board. The signs also appear as white lettering on a blue background. Occasionally, two trains will share the same platform which the signage will also reflect. Highlighted sections will correspond to the appropriate train; take note that you board the correct train.

The following are examples of daytime departures from platforms 8 and 9.

Zugzielanzeiger, Train destination signage, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

Zugzielanzeiger, Train destination signage, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

From platform 8, InterCity Express train ICE 76 leaves at 1158am for Kiel Hauptbahnhof (Hbf), with stops in Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe, Göttingen, Hannover, and Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. There’s a five-minute delay, pushing the departure time to about 1203pm.

Every platform is “divided” into sections, which are also labeled with overhead signage (A, B, C, etc.) indicating where you are along the platform. The electronic sign also shows how the train itself is divided. 1st-class cars are in section A, the dining car is in section B, and the rest of the train consists of 2nd-class cars from sections C through E.

Zugzielanzeiger, Train destination signage, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

From platform 9, InterCity Express train ICE 595 leaves at 1150am for München (Munich) Hauptbahnhof, with stops in Mannheim, Stuttgart, Ulm, and Augsburg. The sign above shows that first-class cars are along section A, the dining car along section B, and the rest of the train consists of second-class cars from sections C through E.


What’s my train? Train destination signage (Zugzielanzeiger), at night

The following is an example of a nighttime departure from platform 8.

Zugzielanzeiger (Train destination signage), Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof, fotoeins.com

It’s 917pm, but the 910pm train from platform 8 hasn’t departed. I’ve labeled the train ICE 526, overhead signage indicating platform sections ‘A’ and ‘B’, as well as the familiar red and blue Deutsche Bahn ticket machines. It’s preferable (and often cheaper) to purchase a ticket before boarding the train; the ticket machines have multilingual options and sell tickets for regional and long-distance trains.

Zugzielanzeiger (Train destination signage), Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof, fotoeins.com

In fact, ICE 526 heading to Dortmund Hauptbahnhof is approximately 5 minutes late, which means this train is about to leave at any moment. The train makes stops at Flughafen Frankfurt am Main Airport and in Köln (Cologne) at Messe/Deutz station. Note that 2nd-class cars are located along sections A and D, dining cars at sections B and E, and 1st-class cars at sections C and F


Where’s my coach? Coach sequence signage (Wagenreihungsplan)

If you’ve purchased a ticket with assigned seating in a specific coach or car, you have to locate the correct coach for the train. Every station platform has a large sign “Wagenreihungsplan” or “Wagenstandsanzeiger”, describing how coaches are sequenced for each train leaving from that platform.

The labeled columns shown left to right in the photo below are for trains leaving from platform 12:

  1. Departure time (Zeit)
  2. Train (Zug)
  3. Information, notes (Hinweis)
  4. Direction, destination (Richtung, Ziel)
  5. Coach sequence (Wagenreihung)
  6. Signage location, “where am I?” (Standort)

Wagenreihungsplan, Gl. 12, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, fotoeins.com

Coaches in green are 2nd-class cars, coaches in yellow are 1st-class cars, and coaches in red are dining cars. Every coach is labeled by a number. The short black arrow next to the train engine indicates the direction leaving the station. In other words, coaches next to platform sections C, D, E are at the “front” of the departing train at Frankfurt station.

Where is this “Wagenreihungsplan” signage located? (“Where am I?”) The red dot and red vertical line indicate the sign’s location between platform sections B and C.

For example, train IC2297 leaves platform 12 at 820pm (2020h) for Stuttgart. However, there are three rows for the same train number, indicating different coach sequences for different days of the week. The train indicated by the white asterisk or star is assigned for departures Monday to Wednesday (Montag bis Mittwoch) inclusive. Where the red vertical line intersects this row shows that the “Wagenreihungsplan” signage shown here would be located opposite 2nd-class coach number 6.

At times, you may hear a public announcement and/or see a notice on the overhead track signage about changes to the coach sequence: namely,

•   “umgekehrte Wagenreihung”: coach sequence is completely reversed.
•   “abweichende Wagenreihung”: coach sequence is different than scheduled.


Schedules for departures & arrivals

You’ll also see printed-paper displays for arrivals and departures. Arrivals are always displayed as black text on a light grey background, and departures are always displayed as black text on a yellow background. The lists of arriving and departing trains are ordered by the time of day.

Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof, fotoeins.com

The Deutsche Bahn website also provides an updated to-the-minute online version of an arrivals and departures board here in German or here in English. Up-to-date information is given two hours in advance from your present time, including information about the assigned platform for arriving/departing trains and whether trains are early or late. Just like the printed-paper displays, arrivals and departures are shown on light grey and yellow backgrounds, respectively.


Questions or comments about trains in Germany? Please leave them below!

I made the photos above at Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof on 10 October 2009 and 20 November 2014. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-6k7.

Saving money with German Rail Pass, Nov-Dec 2014

It’s full on fall, and it’s time I’m in Germany once again.

To continue my streak of visiting the country every year, I’m “home” for the 13th consecutive year with the following itinerary over three weeks in November and December (2014):

  • Frankfurt am Main Airport to Köln (Cologne)
  • Köln to Heidelberg
  • Heidelberg to München (Munich)
  • München to Bielefeld
  • Bielefeld to Berlin
  • Berlin to Leipzig
  • Berlin to Frankfurt am Main

I’m very enthusiastic about the train, and my attachment to Deutsche Bahn’s cross-country trains remains. I’ve purchased a 2nd-class rail pass for ten days (within a one month interval) for USD $345, which includes a promotional 25% discount for this year’s 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall.

Bahnhofshalle Fernbahnhof, Flughafen Frankfurt : by Martinroell (Wikipedia)

Long-distance train station, Frankfurt Airport : photo by Martinroell (Wikipedia)

Wartehalle Fernbahnhof, Flughafen Frankfurt am Main : by Heidas (Wikipedia)

Departures hall, long-distance train station, Flughafen Frankfurt am Main Airport : photo by Heidas (Wikipedia)

Am I saving money?

It’s a question everyone asks, and the following comparison will show that the answer is yes.

In the following table, I’ve listed point-to-point fares. I checked fares for the individual “legs” for specific dates on the Deutsche Bahn website, taking note of the lowest and highest 2nd-class fares in both “Sparangebote” (save offers) and “Normalpreis” (normal price) categories. The last farecheck occurred on 23 October (2014). I estimated distances using “Route” (road distances) values returned by the Luftlinie distance calculator (in German). “Hbf” is the abbreviation for “Hauptbahnhof” or “main train station”.

Route, Nov-Dec 2014 Distance Sparangebote Normalpreis
1. Frankfurt(M) Flughafen – Köln Hbf 180 km € 19—45 € 46—67
2. Köln Hbf – Heidelberg Hbf 250 km € 29—55 € 54—82
3. Heidelberg Hbf – München Hbf 340 km € 29—65 € 73—86
4. München Hbf – Bielefeld Hbf
(via Hannover)
740 km € 81—111 € 142
5. Bielefeld Hbf – Berlin Hbf 390 km € 29—49 € 73—84
6. Berlin Hbf – Leipzig Hbf 180 km
€ 19—39
€ 40-47
7. Leipzig Hbf – Berlin Hbf 180 km
€ 19—29
€ 34-47
8. Berlin Hbf – Frankfurt(M) Hbf 540 km € 29—79 € 110—123
9. Frankfurt (M), Hbf – Flughafen 10 km € 4.35 € 4.35
TOTALS
(€1 = USD $1.3)
2810 km
€ 258—476
USD $335—619
€ 576—682
USD $749—887
10-day German Rail Pass
(25% off promotion included)
USD $345 USD $345
Money saved < USD $274 USD $404—542

The Rail Pass does not restrict the passholder to a specific train on a given date and time. To save the most money, purchasing individual Sparpreis fares ahead of time would be the way to go. I could save money by purchasing individual “Sparangebote” fares well in advance. Otherwise, there are generally available “Normalpreis” fares, which are less restrictive but more expensive. The price difference between Sparangebote and Normalpreis fares is much larger with long-distance rail journeys over 250 km; that’s always been the case whenever I’ve visited Germany and I’ve had to cross the country by train.

I want the schedule flexibility, and that’s why I purchase a Rail Pass in advance. If I decide to stay longer or leave early, I can’t change a “fixed” ticket without incurring extra fees. My 10-day Rail Pass allows me the freedom to take a train on any day at any time (up to the maximum of 10 days. My desire for this versatility will save me at least USD $350.

Deutsche Bahn lists the following conditions for their two categories.

Sparangebote: Preis für alle Reisenden. Bei Aktionsangeboten und regionalen Angeboten gelten besondere Konditionen. Zugbindung, d.h. Ihre Fahrkarte ist nur in den auf Ihrer Fahrkarte aufgedruckten Zügen gültig. Umtausch und Erstattung 15 EUR; ab 1. Geltungstag ausgeschlossen.

Normalpreis: Preis für alle Reisenden. Volle Flexibilität (keine Zugbindung/unabhängig von der angegebenen Verbindung auf der gewählten Strecke). Umtausch und Erstattung kostenlos, ab dem 1. Geltungstag 15 EUR.

My rough-and-ready translation is:

Savings offers: price for all travelers. Conditions apply to special and regional offers. Your ticket is valid only as printed for the specified train. 15 EUR charge for exchange or refund before the first valid day; no exchange or refund afterwards.

Normal price: price for all travelers. Full flexibility (no specific train / regardless of specific connection on the chosen route). No charge for exchange and refund before the first valid day; 15 EUR charge afterwards.

Koeln Hauptbahnhof, by Remon Rijper

Photo by Remon Rijper on Flickr

Berlin Hauptbahnhof #XII, Alexander Rentsch

Photo by Alexander Rentsch on Flickr

Previously, on German rail and rail passes

•   German Rail Pass, July-August 2013
•   German Rail Pass, late-2012 RTW
•   Yet another trip with German Rail (2011)
•   Across the country with German Rail
•   Saving money with a German Rail Pass
•   Flexibility with a German Rail Pass

The first two photos are from Wikipedia, and the last two are from Flickr. All photos are used with the generosity of the Creative Commons license. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com, and is part of the Sunday Traveler series.

No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions Disclosure: No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions. I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein (cmp.ly/0).

The 75000 most important clicks with my camera

The setup

For the seventh time, I’ve “flipped” or “rolled over” the four-digit image-counter on my camera. I’ve made over 70-thousand exposures, which is a great accomplishment for both camera and me. Unfortunately, exposure number 75000 will prove to be a bad omen.

I own a Canon EOS450D (Rebel XSi), an entry-level digital crop-sensor camera which was introduced to the consumer market in the first-quarter of 2008.

The camera has no weather-proofing, poor to average low-light capability, and a small burst-rate, but the camera is affordable, portable, and easy to use. The kit-lens doesn’t have great build-quality, but the lens is lightweight with a decent range in focal lengths for my kind of photography.

The camera is dead! Long live the camera!

It’s early August 2013, and I’m in the Czech capital city of Prague. I’m standing in front of the Television Tower in the Zizkov neighbourhood.

I’m wearing a confused frown, because the photos are coming out vignetted. I realize quickly the metal leaves which make up the shutter have gone loose, and aren’t opening and closing properly: something like this.

The dreaded error message “Err 99″ pops up on the camera display. I turn the power off and on, and press the shutter button. “Err 99″ persists, and there’s a new grinding “whirring” noise inside the camera.

Just a couple of days ago, I’ve reached the milestone of exposure number 75000. But apparently, I’ve now reached the end: after 5 years and 2 months, my camera has stopped working.

Why so many clicks? What’s the point?

Some have asked: “Why did you take so many exposures? If you took fewer photos, your camera could’ve lasted longer!”

These questions miss the point of owning a camera.

Making so many exposures is how I got used to the camera. I wouldn’t have to think about what to do, or to figure out what button was where. After frequent use and learning the “manual” functions of my camera, shooting became almost “automatic.” When the moment came, it took a few quick movements to fiddle with the camera settings with “finger-memory” to make the shot.

How does one become good with their camera?

Go out and make lots of photos. Learn, use, and memorize the camera functions. Work on small projects to photograph to get better: explore, screw up and fail spectacularly. Learn, improve, repeat.

Shoot, shoot, and shoot some more, so that getting the shot is first nature, and making the shot is second nature.

That’s also what David duChemin describes in “Towards Mastery. Again”, about becoming proficient with your own camera gear, whatever gear you might have.

Exit stage right …

The broken shutter assembly needs replacing, and judging by what I’ve read online, the cost of parts and labour is equivalent to a significant fraction of the price for a new camera or a new piece of glass. The shutter isn’t worth replacing.

So, what’s next? I have no intention on going back to a crop-sensor, so future conversations will involve the phrases “full-frame” and “better low-light performance.”

Goodbye, 450D: you’ve been a trusty servant and guide on my photographic journey.

To celebrate and mourn its passing, here are the first and last photos I made with the 450D.

Waikoloa Beach, Big Island, Hawaii

One of the first photos: Waikoloa Beach, Big Island – Hawaii, 19 May 2008.

Zizkov TV Tower, Prague, Czech Republic

One of the last: Žižkov TV Tower with “Miminka” (“Babies”, by David Černý) – Prague, 4 Aug 2013.
What are some experiences with your camera? What did you do when your camera broke? Please leave your impressions and (sob-) stories below!

PostScript: The autofocus ring on the “original” EF-S 18-55mm IS kit-lens failed while I was about to visit New Zealand’s Milford Sound. I purchased a replacement EF-S 18-55mm IS II lens weeks later in Sydney, Australia. This type of lens cannot be used on a full-frame camera. Fortunately, that latter lens now has a warm and loving home with fellow Canadian and traveler Kate Clarke.

This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

A friendly smile works wonders

“Welcome back to the United States, Mister Lee.”

These are some of the best eight words to hear first thing in the morning.

When I lived in Chile, I made the Chile-U.S. trip with some regularity. In this example, I’m entering the United States after flying in from Santiago de Chile. Through passport control, and baggage claim and transfer, I’m off onto the next stage of my travel.

The folks at U.S. Customs and Border Protection are doing their jobs the best they can. I know most officers aren’t (deliberately) grumpy; in the same way, most travelers aren’t seeking trouble.

Instead of the ill-tempered tactic which is sure to fire off a crappy start to everyone’s day, I’ve often gone with another approach.

By 京市 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Frequent travel between Chile and the United States for me meant boarding an American Airlines Boeing-767 plane in Santiago, Chile. Ten hours later, the plane lands at either Miami or Dallas Fort-Worth (DFW). I always have ongoing flights, and both availability and transfer-times are much better for me at DFW. Traveling frequently in and out of DFW, my colleagues at Gemini Observatory could tell you where in the airport the best places are to shop, nap, eat, and have beer.

Passport? Check.

Customs form filled out? Front and back? Check.

Appearance? Not quite business-savvy, but not quite rolled out of a turnip truck, either.

Breath? Where’d I put my minty-fresh gum? That Freshmaker © would come in real handy right here …

As one of the first international flights to arrive at DFW, the queue at passport control isn’t long.

Two lines or queues are present: one for holders of American passports, and one line for everyone else. But I’ll sneak in sometimes into the line for American passport-holders.

So, I’m in line with other people clutching to their dark-blue passports.

By clappstar on Flickr

After some minutes of staring into the imaginary aether and shuffling deeper into the check-in coil, it’s my turn.

I approach the counter, and the first thing I do is smile, hand over my passport and completed customs-form, and say “good morning.”

More often than not, the officer will reply similarly in kind.

The officer asks simple direct questions.

I offer equally simple and direct answers, despite my fuzzy half-awake state.

The officer flips through my passport and sees a lot of US-entry stamps. They find an empty spot on a page, and presses a new entry-stamp into my Canadian passport.

“Welcome back to the United States, Mister Lee … and have a good time here in the U.S.”

I don’t ask for much, but that’s a good way to start the day.

By Michael J Chealion, on Flickr

Thanks to a conversation with LM which found its way onto digital life, this post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

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