Posted by: Ciaran | December 14, 2009

Reasons to love travelling #9 – Transport

Sounds a bit dull, I guess, and maybe not a reason to love travelling; indeed, I’ve moaned in previous posts about the pain which can be occasioned by riding camels and elephants.  But when you’re away transport is interesting; you can compare it to what you’re used to at home, or you  can try something completely different.  Below are just a few examples of different types of transport I’ve taken in some of the places I’ve visited – please use the comment feature to add your own.

Subway/underground trains

I had some fairly lofty ideas of what New York’s Metro system would be like.  For a start, I thought buying a ticket would be simpler than a deadly bunfight for the prize of one small yellow card to be used by three people.  I at least thought the card would work; alas, having swiped my Mum and my sister through the turnstile first, I was stranded on the wrong side of the barriers (which, absurdly, are two-way and thus even more lethal than those on the London Underground) due to insufficient credit.

Not wanting to fight my way back to the front of the queue at a packed Grand Central, I sidled towards the gate for disabled passengers and slipped through when a woman with a pushchair came the other way.  On the platform, I was shocked by how dirty it was.  Grand Central wasn’t too bad, but the stations at Brooklyn and Chinatown were dark, foul-smelling and full of rats.

Lighting in a St. Petersburg subway station

Stations in St. Petersburg, by contrast, are ornately decorated and filled with fake marble.  The ‘tickets’ are small brass tokens which allow you access to the escalators down to the platform.  The trains themselves wouldn’t be out of place in some kind of historical set; they are rickety and wooden, and it is a pleasant surprise that they work quite so well.

They are unbelievably clean, and in this respect they are similar to the underground networks in Berlin and Barcelona.  The stations in Naples are more akin to New York’s down-at-heel vibe, and the level of graffiti on the trains is extraordinary. 


Not your everyday mode of transport, admittedly, but sometimes the only way to experience a certain attraction.  When in Antigua in  the summer of 2006 I flew to Montserrat in a helicopter to go around the top of the Soufrière Hills volcano, which destroyed most of the tiny island in 1997.  The rock falls and ash venting were spectacular, on the journey between the islands I saw enormous turtles swimming in the sea.  You wouldn’t get that in England…


Note the luggage rack on top...

Taking a Nepalese bus is a pretty effective way to substantially decrease your life expectancy.  The drivers wind around narrow Himalayan roads in kamikaze fashion, barely slowing for buses and lorries passing in the opposite direction.  Creature comforts are at a minimum; ‘air-conditioning’ means forcing open a window far enough to gulp in some of the air (or a lungful of pollution if you’re in or around Kathmandu), and a seatbelt is unheard of. 

The tourist buses are in the minority as they are generally the ones without anyone riding on the roof…


A favourite method of transport in India, you can either live it up with an engine-powered auto-rickshaw or let the driver take the strain with an “Indian helicopter” – a cycle rickshaw.  Cheap but often slow, the main advantage of rickshaws is that they can go into places which cars can’t. 

View from a cycle rickshaw at a crossroads in Varanasi, India

One day in Varanasi I told an auto driver I was running late.  He told me not to worry, and pulled in to buy some paan.  I was about to protest, until he got back in and threw the rickshaw onto the pavement and took a shortcut through a maze of back alleys, narrowly avoiding goats, chicken and children as we tore through the footpaths which were wide enough only by a few inches on each side.



  1. AS IF you flew above the Soufrière Hills! The GCSE-Level Geographer in me is ridiculously green with envy!

    I shall have my first chopper experience above the Grand Canyon, hopefully 🙂

    • I most certainly did! It was the best experience in my life until it was surpassed by climbing Mount Vesuvius and then that was subsequently beaten by elephant bathing.

      And as for ‘chopper experience’… The less said the better. I know when my grandparents did the GC they went up in a plane rather than a helicopter, though no idea which is better.

  2. When I have time to research specifics for my travels, I’m sure there’ll be lots of reviews to read about the chopper versus plane debate. I don’t imagine it’ll be cheap, either.

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