Posts from the ‘Road Warrior’ category

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.

Airside at Australia airports (domestic flights)

At Australian airports, passengers on domestic flights are allowed to pass through security from “landside” to “airside” without a boarding pass in hand. Having become accustomed to travel in North American and European airports, Australia’s policy is both refreshing and startling.

And it saved my butt.

It’s 31 August 2012, and I check out at 10am from my apartment in Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD). With my Qantas flight to Sydney at 9pm, I’m looking forward to getting some work done in the airline’s lounge at the airport. I’ve maintained Platinum status with American Airlines, which is equivalent to Sapphire on oneworld. My present frequent-flyer status qualifies me to use their Qantas Club lounge in the domestic terminal.

I’m not in any rush, and I arrive just after 11am at Melbourne airport’s Terminal 1, thanks to Skybus‘ shuttle pickup from the CBD to Southern Cross train-station and their coach service from the train-station to the airport.

I’m unable to check-in to my flight at one of the many computerized check-in booths. A couple of customer service agents provide some help, and they tell me that my flight (scheduled to leave in 10 hours time) is not yet open to check my luggage. I’m not really surprised by this.

I want to use the lounge which can only be accessed airside (post-security), and I can’t walk on through airside, because I’ve a number of items which must go into checked luggage. Am I going to lug around my 20-kg (44-lb) piece of luggage for the next 10 hours? That would be a big fat NO.

So now I have two issues:

  1. Where can I store my luggage if I’m going airside to access the Qantas lounge?
  2. Will I be able to go through security without a boarding pass?

I ask around about storage, and I walk over to the arrivals level of the international terminal (T2) next door, where my luggage is put away into storage for up to 8 hours at a cost of $12 AUD. I can live with that.

I return to the T1 domestic terminal, and head on up to the security-screening area on the departures level. Within minutes, I’m airside. It’s important to note here that I still have NOT checked into my flight, and I don’t have a boarding pass, but I’m sitting in the Qantas Club lounge, where I start typing up this present article.

430pm rolls around, and I reverse the process.

I step back out landside (pre-security), fetch my luggage from storage, check-in successfully for my 9pm flight, retrieve my boarding pass, and my luggage is off on its merry way to the plane. I go back through airside, and return to the Qantas Club lounge.

My bag was stored from about 1130am to 430pm, which put the storage “rate” at $12 AUD by 5 hours, or $2.40 AUD/hour.

Sweet. As.

The seat in the Qantas Club lounge I vacated about an hour ago (to check-in to my flight) remains empty, as if it’s “waiting” for me. But this time, I’m going to have ham, cheese, salad, and soup for a light dinner, courtesy of the lounge.

Time comes around to board, it’s a short walk to the gate, and it’s an easy 1-hour-25-minute flight to Sydney, where CityRail awaits for the return trip to the place where I’m staying.

Qantas Club Lounge, Melbourne Airport

This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

In-town flight check-in at MTR Hong Kong

MTR Airport Express

MTR Airport Express line, in dark green. Excerpt from Flickr, Joanna Cheng

Chep Lap Kok airport, otherwise known as Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), opened for service in 1998, replacing the smaller Kai Tak Airport in Kowloon. HKIA operates 24-hours, and is one of the busiest airports in the world by passenger numbers, aircraft movements, and cargo traffic.

As the airport is located over 30 kilometres (over 20 miles) from Hong Kong’s “Central” business district and city centre, transport options include taxis, buses, coaches for major hotels, or the MTR.

The MTR (Mass Transit Railway) Airport Express route is a reasonably quick and inexpensive choice with trains running every 10-12 minutes between the city of Hong Kong and the airport in a one-way trip lasting under 30 minutes. As of posting, the cost for one adult is HKD$100 (less than USD$13) for a single journey, same day return ticket, or with an Octopus card; additional information about fare-, ticket-, and travel-options with the MTR Airport Express can be accessed here.

Upon landing in Hong Kong, one of the first things I’d highly recommend is purchasing an Octopus card with which many retail transactions can occur, including fast food, cafés, shopping, and local public transport. The card can be recharged at one of many 7-Eleven or Circle-K convenience stores in Hong Kong or with an automated machine at any one of the MTR stations throughout the region.

Check-in the City, Before Boarding

But now you’re leaving and flying out from Hong Kong airport, and you’ve got luggage to check for your flight. Is there any way you can check in before arriving at the airport?

The answer is “yes”!

Depending on the airline, there is In-Town Check-In service at the airline counters on the ground floor of MTR Hong Kong station. Check-in for flights can occur from 90-minutes to one full day before the scheduled flight.

For example, I flew Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), and I checked into my flight at MTR Hong Kong station well before the scheduled departure time. I received my boarding pass; my luggage was checked, tagged, and on its way to the airport. It felt a little unusual not having my luggage with me on the train, and at the airport, I had to remind myself that not only did I have my boarding pass, but that my luggage was also on its way to the plane’s cargo hold and onwards to Saigon airport.

MTR stations: “Hong Kong”, “Central”

MTR Hong Kong station is located below the IFC Mall linking to 1IFC and 2IFC buildings. There are two MTR stations in the same vicinity: “Hong Kong” and “Central” which may be confusing to visitors.

MTR Central is a station on the Island train-line and the southern terminus station for the Tsuen Wan train-line. MTR Hong Kong station is the eastern terminus station for the Tung Chung and Airport Express train-lines; to avoid confusion, these two lines are accessed on two different floors in the station. An underground passageway links “Central” and “Hong Kong” stations, and the walk between stations is less than ten minutes. Location maps and physical layouts for each station are located here. The area also includes Exchange Square or Hong Kong Station Public Transport Interchange, providing connections to local and regional bus services; and Central Ferry Piers at the harbourfront, providing ferries to Kowloon and the outer islands in Hong Kong.

Even with a myriad of transport options, leaving Hong Kong for the airport doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult.

As the Airport Express line makes one of two intermediary stops at “Kowloon” station, the same check-in policy also applies at Kowloon station if you’re staying on the north or mainland side of Hong Kong harbour.

MTR Hong Kong station

MTR Hong Kong station

MTR Hong Kong station

MTR Hong Kong station

MTR Hong Kong station

MTR Hong Kong station

MTR Hong Kong station

I made the photos above on 18 June 2012. Acknowledgements go to Amos Struck who recommended I write this post which naturally appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

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