Philip Martin talks international rail travel with the Man in Seat 61.
I got the opportunity to spend a few educational minutes with the rail travel guru Mark Smith, founder of The Man in Seat Sixty-One. He’d been to China to check out the high-speed line they’ve recently opened between Beijing and Shanghai, and I wanted to find out more about the experience.
Of course, Mark always makes the trip a little bit special, and for a bit of contrast he took the overnight sleeper (which uses some of the high speed line) and then came back on the daytime service, using one of the fast G-Trains that now does the run in just 4hrs 48minutes.
Booking rail in China
I was intrigued to find out how the rail booking process worked and asked Mark how this compares to European systems.
“It's always a good opportunity to try out foreign booking systems when you go somewhere, and see how they work, so I checked out a system called China Highlights which links to the Chinese booking system.”
The Chinese booking system provides live updates on fares and availability and they fulfil it behind the scenes with a Chinese railways e-ticket. How did that go?
“It actually worked really well. You could easily select the train you wanted, the class, and things were pretty well explained. Then you either get an e-ticket or you collect the ticket from the station. The proof of the pudding, however, is in the eating. We picked up those tickets no problem at all from the ticket office at Beijing main station”.
What I like about Mark’s rail trips is that he’s always proactive in making the journey happen.
Booking rail in Europe
A bit closer to home, Mark travelled by train from London to the Amadeus Rail Forum in Barcelona. So Mark, would you recommend this trip?
“I certainly would: the direct route can be done in a day. 2hrs 20mins from London to Paris (ideally have lunch between trains at Le Train Bleu restaurant in the Gare De Lyon) then hop on the afternoon TGV from Paris to Barcelona which takes 6hrs and 25mins”.
However Mark actually took a different (and much more scenic) route by travelling down to San Sebastian and spending the afternoon and night there. He was then on the morning train to Barcelona: olé!
Towards a traveller-focused, multi-cultural society
San Sebastien was selected as European Capital of Culture for 2016 (shared with Wrocław, Poland). Its motto 'Waves of people's energy', gives a clear message: people and movements of citizens are the real driving force behind transformations and changes in the world. Worth considering if we want to make changes in the way we travel.
If you're interested in finding out more about traveller trends then check out our free White Paper 'Future Traveller Tribes 2030'