Happy New Year and Avoiding the Train Fares Hike

Three being the magic number makes 3rd January the perfect day to wish everyone a Happy New Year. Happy New Year Everyone! The year began with an announcement that rail prices are going to rise (no surprises there then). It’s a little unfair that price hikes get reported in the same breath as bad weather causing signal failures – as that’s pretty irrelevant. Bad weather can also cause cars to crash, planes to stay grounded and me to stay indoors, but it has little to do with fares in the short term. An average 6% rise in commuter fares was reported by the Press Association as well as more than a 5% rise in fares for the London Underground and London buses. As ever, people commuting into London will be the most affected.

But alas, the deed is done. Aside from protesting about it, it might be wise to have a go at saving money on regular train journeys. One of the ways of doing this is to buy two tickets for one journey. So if the journey begins during rush hour (peak), you purchase a ticket to get you as far as the stop you’ll be at when the fare switches to off-peak, and a second ticket to cover you from that stop to your final destination. Technically you’re supposed to get off the train and on to another so you are not ‘cheating’ by staying on the same train, but I’m not the train police.

Another recent revelation I had was that you can get an open return to Bristol from London and break a journey at Salisbury at no extra cost. This was brilliant, because I wanted to visit a friend’s new baby and her in Salisbury then see other friends in Bristol, before returning the next day.

It’s really worth having a look at places that are on the same route as the final destination you want to get to – if you’re doing a round trip – so you don’t end up with multiple tickets you don’t need.

‘And what did the new baby receive as a gift?!’ I hear you cry.





The Train-loving Drag Queen

Now, I could talk about last week’s eye-opening World Travel Market, or the fabulous Fortean Times UnConvention. But I thought It’d be more fun to write about someone I met at a pub by King’s Cross at the post-convention quiz. Because he loves trains.

‘What’s your name?’ I ask.

‘Dan, but let me write my stage name down for you.’ He is dressed in a white sequin-studded lycra dress with a big-hair white wig and has a noticeable stutter.

‘It’s Tia-Anna-Soreass-wrecked – a pun on the dinosaur,’ he says in a flat tone that belies the humour.

‘And why do you like trains so much?’ I ask.

‘I’ve always liked trains, especially the electric ones, not so much the steam, although I think steam is great. They’re a safe and reliable way to travel. I like the electric trains because they’re so modern. I used to live in Sidcup near Dartford and most of the trains were ordinary, but occasionally we got unusual ones – mainline ones that were diverted. When they brought in these new ones they were called the networkers, 456s and better than the old crappy ones – they were tequila slammers on wheels,’ he smiles. ‘One day I’d like to go to Ireland and travel on their trains…’

‘I’d better go and get ready for my act.’ after adjusting his blonde barnet he disappears behind the stage.



The Silk Road Ch@llenge Made Me Eat Horsemeat

Walking across the vast expanse of the exhibition hall at World Travel Market 2011, four of the five Silk Road (or ‘silky road’ as some of them called it) countries on my list had a tourist board rep who would be back in 10-30 minutes. This was not true of Kazakhstan, ‘the land of wonders.’ Kazakhstan’s rep Syzdykova Dinara began by directing me to a seat and pouring some tea. I asked what the foods on the table were. ‘These apples are Kazakhstan apples, they come from Kazakhstan and were written about by a British scientist,’ I was informed. Seeing that I wanted to make a film about the food on the table, Syzdykova asked one of her team to explain what different foods were as she translated. The team member disappeared to a cupboard to get something. I was intrigued. Then came a plate of meat and an explanation.

The explanation was translated to, ‘horsemeat.’ I looked at it. I knew I was going to have to eat it. Steve Keenan, editor of Sunday Times Travel online and organiser of this Silk Road Ch@llenge, was indirectly making me eat horsemeat. It was actually alright, like any cured meat, but felt ethically heavy in my stomach. Happily a crowd had amassed by the end and I did get a photo with two buff guys in Kazakhstan dress and a handmade wool flower broach, and a whole box of chocolates, and one of the apples the British scientist had been so interested in.

Buff guys from Kazakhstan



And So Begins Another World Travel Market

Sunday 6th November 2011 and a lot of bloggers are in (excitingly) the Guoman hotel attached to Charing Cross station. I love a good railway hotel so this was right up my line… the new Mashable of travel travelllll.com had organised a travel-themed quiz to mark the beginning of World Travel Market – the largest annual travel expo. I thought it’d be fun to shoot a wee film asking who some of the bloggers were and what they hoped to get out of #WTM this year. You’ll catch my face at the end just to finish (and promote this blog a little).

Thanks to Isabelle Kenis @Isabellestravel, Kash Bhattacharya @BudgetTraveller, Kirsten Alana @kirstenalana, Keith Jenkins @velvetescape, Janice Waugh @solotraveler, Melvin Traveldudes @traveldudes, Jayne Gorman @jayneytravels, Dylan Lowe @TravelingEditor, Ayngelina Brogan @Ayngelina, Paul Dowster @TravMonkey, Cailin O’Neil @CailinONeil, Andy Jarosz @501places. I’m @sophontrack

But More Importantly, Philip Hammond Forgot About Women…

This morning on the tube I read the headline on a Metro someone was reading. It was about how expensive train travel is, again. But that wasn’t what really annoyed me. What annoyed me was the quote ‘Trains are a rich man’s toy,’ which had come out of Transport Secretary Philip Hammond’s mouth.

Photo: Kate Arkless Gray

It probably isn’t that surprising that as a blogger who blogs about trains and is also female, it grated. And obviously, I’m not happy about fares being high, or Boris Johnson asking me to pay more for a trip on the tube soon, to cover costs of upgrading London’s Underground network.

But rather than pointing out that fares are expensive, it would be good if Hammond could bring them down and champion the fact that we have the cheapest advanced fares in Europe, upgrades to first class on weekends cost £15 and travelling by train is convenient, comfortable and enjoyable. Perhaps he could come up with a fund for disadvantaged people to get reduced fares. And acknowledge that many women travel by train every day. Literally thousands of us.

What’s in a Name?

As some of you will know by now (particularly London-based bloggers) I am setting up a new blog. For me. With the help of @theaussienomad. He’s been in Spain for… a really long time, but now he’s back and we’re going to set the thing up this weekend. Trouble is, in all that time I’ve not come up with a new name.

On Sunday I went to tea with @BestLovedHotels, @HotelPRGuy and @AboutLondon. @BestLovedHotels thought I should reclaim my name from another life, SoMiraculous… there was discussion. People weren’t overwhelmed by the brilliance of this suggestion.

Last night @candacerardon suggested Sophie on Track. Some said that would be too long (@sophieontrack) but I’m not sure it is. I said I could shorten it to So on Track. But @501places pointed out that I’d become ‘soon track’ (@soontrack). I want the name to be my own, separate from a company, but retaining the fact my niche is train travel (mostly). And adaptable for the name of my blog and my Twitter name.

I’m morphing this weekend. So what do you think?

Over and Under | More 1800s rail satire

Some of you might have noticed the frequency of posts on this blog has dropped dramatically. Do not fear, there is a new, independent blog under development where content from here as well as new content will skip over to. I hope to have the new blog up and running by the end of this month.

In the meantime @hurrymurray, when talking about High Speed 2 going under peoples homes, reminded me of this clipping from my 1800s edition of Punch.