Category Archives: Travel by Rail

All Aboard the Chunnel!

photo credit Mike Knell, creative commons

photo credit Mike Knell, creative commons

On May 6, 1994, Eurostar’s channel tunnel, or “Chunnel” as it is colloquially known, officially opened from England to France. It is a modern marvel of engineering—it took eleven drilling machines and 13,000 people six years and 4.65 GBP billion to install it. At 31.34 miles long, it is the second longest undersea tunnel in the world. Its lowest depth is 250 feet underwater!

Since it’s opening in 1994, millions of people have enjoyed the convenience and comfort of this fast zip from London to Paris. If it’s not on your travel bucket list, it should be!

Tickets for the Chunnel are released about 6 months prior to travel date, and it can start as low as $65 if you grab yours early! They also have senior fares available. A regular one-way ticket may cost around $120-180. There are 3 classes on board: standard, comfort and business. Standard class is family-friendly, with access to a buffet car with snacks. Or if you’re traveling in comfort class, your journey will include a light snack and first class seats. Want to travel in style? Business class comes with a 3-course meal and your choice of fine spirit on board, plus access to the exclusive Eurostar lounges at St. Pancras or Gare du Nord stations.

Did You Know?

–         A contest was held to determine where to place the Chunnel.

–         Both the British and French started digging from each side at the same time, but they didn’t quite meet in the middle—the English side tunneled the greater distance.

–         French engineer Albert Mathieu was the first engineer to propose the tunnel in the 19th century, and his plans included an artificial island half-way across for changing horses.

–         Much of the chalk marl bored on the English side was deposited at Lower Shakespeare Cliff in Kent, now home to the Samphire Hoe Country Park.

–         One of the eleven boring machines remains buried under the Channel. Another was sold on eBay for £39,999 in 2004.

–         Up to 400 trains pass through the tunnel each day, carrying an average of 50,000 passengers, 6,000 cars, 180 coaches and 54,000 tonnes of freight.

–         The lining of the tunnel is designed to last for 120 years.

–         Shuttle trains are 775 metres long – the same as eight football pitches.

–         The Queen and President Mitterrand were the honored guests on the inaugural ride. The royal party travelled from Waterloo to Calais at a sedate 80mph. The presidential party sped to the coast from Paris at 186mph.

 

Willamette Intl Travel designs and books train itineraries all over the world. Our rail expects can explain the nuances of train travel and book Eurail tickets, rail passes and city passes. In a hurry? We can issue your tickets in-house with just a day’s notice! Make an appointment today, call 503-224-0180.

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Filed under England, Europe, France, Travel by Rail, Where in the World is the WIT Client?

All Aboard to Europe with Avanti Destinations!

On the lookout for a quick getaway to Europe this year? Our friends over at Avanti Destinations, a Portland-based travel operator, offer several rail packages to choose from! Here are some sample itineraries to inspire! Call Willamette Intl Travel for more options, general questions, or to book one of these fabulous European escapes. 

Norway in a Nutshell—Explore Oslo, Flåm and Bergen by Rail & Ferry (3 nights)rail3

During this 3-night excursion, take the scenic rail journey from Oslo to the mountain station of Myrdal, and transfer to the Bergen Railway for a stunning natural experience. This train moves slowly so you can take in the spectacular scenery of Norwegian waterfalls, mountains and fjords.

Read more!

 

Culture and Tradition—Madrid, Cordoba, Seville and Granada (8 nights)

Spin away for a week to the land of flamenco dance and tapas. Rail is the best way to explore Andalucia, and the major cities: the grand capital Madrid, architecturally exquisite Cordoba, artistic Seville, and the Moorish Granada.

Read more!

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Majestic Mountain Experiences—Tops of Switzerland (4 nights)

The Tops of Switzerland rail and hotel package includes 5-days of camera-ready rail travel through the lofty splendor of Switzerland, including excursions to two renowned mountaintops. You’ll visit the unforgettable alpine wonderland, Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest-altitude railway station with a 100% guarantee of ice and snow and heart-thumping, panoramic views as far as the Vosges Mountains in France to the Black Forest in Germany. Then it’s on to Lucerne and a unique rail trip up Mount Pilatus – via the world’s steepest cogwheel railway

Read more!

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Cosmopolitan Adventure—London and Paris (6 nights)

Steeped in tradition and history, these world-class cosmopolitan cities are easily accessible by high-speed rail. Experience trendy London’s cosmopolitan energy and three delicious nights in Paris, the City of Lights.

Read more!

 

rail2Prefer a Roadtrip? Try Avanti’s jaunt through Three Romantic Roads in Germany.

Who is Avanti Destinations? They offer fully customizable tours in a range of destinations in Europe and Latin America. Read more about them in our previous blog post.

 

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Filed under Avanti, Europe, Travel by Rail, Vendors, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?

All Aboard!

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Photo Credit @ our friends at Raileurope!

Train Travel is more popular than ever!

At the tail end of 2013, France began operating its high-speed TGV from Paris to Barcelona and the new NTV Italo trains owned by Ferrari tripled its passengers from the year before. The world’s first Starbucks on rails opened for business on Swiss SBB rail. On the other side of the globe, Japan unveiled its latest innovation: the 300 MPH train that floats via magnetic levitation (“maglev”), a speedier sister to the maglev that currently runs from Shanghai airport into downtown.

Every year Willamette Intl Travel books hundreds of trains for our clients in Europe, Asia, Australia/New Zealand and North America. More than just a convenient way to get from point A to point B, train travel is a terrific way to see the countryside in luxury and leisure. There’s less hassle, less waiting, and less security checkpoints than air travel.

And there’s just something nostalgic about trains—uniformed conductors, full-service dining cars, and spacious and comfortable seats are all infused with old-fashioned charm. Plus trains often drop you off right you where you want to be: smack dab in the city center!

Over the next month, we’re going to be looking at various destinations where train travel is a major draw. Do you have a destination you’d like to know more about? Tell us in the comments!

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Filed under Asia, Europe, Travel by Rail

May in Montreal

Montreal 123

May may be past, but our memories of it aren’t!

Last week WIT Agent Wailana took a trip to Montreal — she did her sleuthing and checked out the gorgeous parks, funky neighborhoods, and unique cuisine of this laid-back and loveable city. Long dubbed the “Europe of North America,” Montreal has a plethora of foods, sights and activities fit for every type of tourist. Whether you are traveling to Quebec or adding the city to a cruise or rail itinerary, Montreal is a perfect multiday stop of culture and excitement!

Check out her photos in the Gallery.

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Top Montreal Activities Wailana recommends:

– checking out the gorgeous Parc Mont Royal and enjoying the Tam Tam drums on Sundays

– window shopping around the picturesque boutiques in Vieux-Montreal

– catching dinner at O’Noir, where the waiters are blind and you are served a “mystery menu” in pitch darkness

– taking part in one of Montreal’s incredible summer festivals, especially the world-famous Jazz Festival

– taking a walking or biking tour, a terrific introduction into the daily life and hidden gems of the city

– vintage clothes shopping on the Plateau

drinking sangria and munching on crepes

– enjoying the Botanical Gardens on a lazy Saturday

– taking a snack-tour on Saint Laurent and sampling Hungarian sausage, smoked meat sandwiches, and poutine

– gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian? Montreal is a pioneer in innovative food menus, available in their many alternative groceries and eco-friendly restaurants

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While there, Wailana had an opportunity to check out firsthand Fitz & Follwell, an incredible tour operator based in a bike shop just off of Saint Urbain on the Plateau. Since it’s establishment four years ago by bike enthusiast Shea Mayer, F&F has grown rapidly and sets itself above the norm in tour quality and passion. They have a range of affordable tours, from family-friendly bike tours around the highlights of the city, to walking tours that explore Montreal’s history through food. Their tour guides are highly skilled and attentive, and you’ll be in safe hands cruising through the streets with a local historian or professional food blogger. Winter tours are also available. Call Wailana at Wittravel to find more info on this terrific company and to discover which tours are available during your stay in Montreal!

bike tour in Parc Mont Royal

For more about Montreal or traveling to Canada, call us at 800.821.0401 or email info@wittravel.com. Seeking a long trip on the amazing Via Rail? We’ve booked several of our clients on trips from Vancouver to Nova Scotia. As a certified expert on Canadian rail, Wailana can answer all your questions and book a fantastic rail getaway for you and yours!

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Filed under Canada, City Guides, North America, Our Travel Agents, Top Experiences In..., Travel by Rail, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?

Rail Europe Updates for 2013

SNCF Withdraws from Eurail Select Pass Program

Beginning January 1, 2013, the French national railway Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français (SNCF) will withdraw its participation in the Eurail Select Pass. Select Passes purchased before Dec 31, 2012 will still be valid if redeemed within six months of purchase. Eurail Global Passes and Eurail Regional Passes will still be valid in France. TIP: In Portland, Oregon? Buy your rail pass from us before Friday 28 December and pay the 2012 price!

Train Chartering, Creative Commons

Turkey Accepts Eurail Passes

In January Turkey will start accepting Eurail Global and Select Passes on Turkish State Railways. Travelers should be aware of construction work on some Turkish routes until Fall 2013.

Eurostar to Launch New Service to France

Eurostar, which connects London and mainland Europe via the Chunnel, is launching a new direct service from London to Lyon, Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence. The service will be offered for a trial period from May 4 to June 29, 2013 and tickets are already on sale. This route runs from London St. Pancras International or Ashford International nonstop to Provence. On the return, disembarkation is required in Lille Europe to complete security and passport checks necessary for Chunnel travel before re-boarding to the UK.

photo by Alain Gavillet, Creative Commons

Italian NTV Trains

This year Italo fast trains, run by the private operate Nuovo Transporto Viaggiatori (NTV) became available to book through Rail Europe. However, rail passes are still not accepted on these trains, so passholders are advised to opt for the Eurostar Italia or Le Frecce services. Italo trains typically run at 300 km/hour. They offer three different classes of service: “Club,” “Prima,” and “Smart” with varying degrees of comfort. Stations served are still limited: Venice, Torino, Milan, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Naples and Salerno. Torino Porta Susa and Milano Porta Garibaldi are connection stations for the TGV to Paris.

photo by Luca Volpi, Creative Commons

We issue rail tickets and passes for domestic, European and other international travel in-house. Come into the office and you’ll have your ticket in 15 minutes! Call us at 503.224.0180 or email wailanak@wittravel.com for more information.

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Filed under Europe, News, Travel by Rail

Peru Feature: Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is a pre-Columbian Incan archaeological site located in the Cusco Region of Peru. It perches about 7970 feet above sea level, towering over the Urubamba Valley. Though the purpose of the site is still disputed, many archaeologists believe that it was an imperial estate, and may even have been a royals’ resort. It was abandoned around the time of the Spanish Conquest, but has in the last century enjoyed popularity as a tourist attraction, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It has an undying appeal to tourists and locals alike—built in elegant Inca style, with polished stone walls. Several distinguished buildings are found on the grounds—including the Temple of the sun and the Room of the Three Windows.

Visitors typically visit the ruins with a tour guide on a day trip or longer hike. Overnighting in the small touristy town Aguas Calientes is recommended. Months to visit are March to November, after the wet season. Don’t miss riding the Vistadome train, a recently renovated transport with panoramic windows, tasty refreshments and spectacular views.

There are a variety of tours for every taste and type of traveler. Several of our vendors offer excursions, and typically include lunch, entrance fees, train and bus tickets, and accommodation. Book a day trip or a 2-day private tours wander and let yourself discover the wonders of an ancient empire. Expert guides will keep you informed of the history and culture. Afterwards, enjoy a respite at the Sanctuary Lodge, the only restaurant on the peak.

There are even chances to combine Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley with Quito and the Galapagos islands in one itinerary!

photo by audrey_sel

Ask your Willamette Intl Travel about arranging tours to Machu Picchu. We can arrange private, group, half day, and multiday adventures as part of a whole itinerary or an enhancement to your Latin American adventure. Call us at 503.224.0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

 

 

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Filed under Peru, South America, Travel by Rail

Vendor of the Month: MIR Trains

The MIR Corporation hosts private train travel throughout Eastern Europe, Central Asia and China. These customizable journeys are scheduled by Seattle-based experts who work closely the Trans-Siberian Express Co. National Geographic Adventure has rated MIR twice as one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth,” and we’re inclined to agree.

Since the fall of the Soviets, this entire region has been opening up, revealing vast histories and complexities. Train is an ideal way to travel through these lands, as many roads and infrastructure have yet to be improved. The train network has existed in this area since the Russians first set down rails in the late 19th century as part of the Great Game political struggle with Britain over India.

The tours will take you on paths as diverse as the Caucasus, Balkans, Silk Route, and the Trans-Siberian Railway. Ride on one of their packaged tours or build one of your own. Their customizable nature allows them to tackle any challenge; within memory they have coordinated with overland 4X4 trips, RTW travelers, and those hoping to catch the solar eclipse in Siberia.

MIR CorporationWhile onboard, you’ll sleep in well-equipped cars, all-inclusive drinks and meals. Stops will be to major highlights on the route, terrific events like the Mongolian horse races or historic monuments like the Kremlin. Wander the Ring of Fire on the wild Kamchatka Peninsula or relish in the rich Mediterranean-like cuisine and wine of Tbilisi.

Your hosts will be English speaking guides who serve as cultural ambassadors. WIT and Mir will also coordinate if you would like to spend extra days before, between, or after you travel. Willamette will also assist you in preparing for all your visas, flight routes, and border requirements before your trip—in order to make sure your trip is enjoyable, authentic and stress-free.

MIR Corporation

For a terrific firsthand report on one client’s tour to on the Trans-Siberian express, check out the link: WIT Client Chet Benson’s train trip from Mongolia to Moscow. He compares Siberia’s green and lush landscape to Oregon: it was “like traveling through an endless series of Willamette Valleys.”

NEW 2012 Space Program: In their recent May 2012 issue, National Geographic Traveler selected Mir’s “Inside the Russian Space Program” tour as a 2012 Tour of a Lifetime. The tour, only available in September, permits guests to witness the manned launch of the Soyuz spacecraft on its way to relieve the crew of the International Space Station. Led by Dr. Steven Lee of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, it will provide exclusive access and insight into Russia’s Space Program. For a fee, you can even attend actual cosmonaut training, ride the world’s largest centrifuge, fly in zero gravity, or climb into a Russian Orlan space suit.

Willamette International Travel is proud work with Mir! Call us for info or to book a tour, at 503.224.0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

Photos courtesy of the MIR Corp

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Filed under Asia, Travel by Rail, Vendors, VOTM