30th Street Station (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.)

30th Street Station

The 52,000 m² (562,000 ft²) 30th Street Station, the main railroad station in Philadelphia and one of the seven stations in Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority‘s (SEPTA) Center City fare zone, sits across from the former United States Post Office-Main Branch. A major stop on Amtrak‘s (National Railroad Passenger Corporation) Northeast and Keystone Corridors, it is Amtrak’s 3rd-busiest station and the busiest of the 24 stations served in Pennsylvania. On an average day in 2013, about 11,300 people boarded or left trains in Philadelphia, nearly twice as many as in the rest of the Pennsylvania stations combined. This was to be our entry point to Philadelphia (from New York City) and exit point from Philadelphia to Baltimore (Maryland).

The main concourse

Originally known as the Pennsylvania Station–30th Street (in accord with the naming style of other Pennsylvania Stations), the enormous, steel-framed structure was designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White (the successor to D.H. Burnham & Company). Construction began in 1927 and the station opened in 1933, starting with two platform tracks.

The author and son Jandy at the waiting area

From 1988-1991, the building was restored and renovated, at a cost of US$75 million,  by Dan Peter Kopple & Associates, with updated retail amenities added including several shops, a large food court, car rental facilities, Saxby’s CoffeeDunkin’ Donuts, both in the South Arcade and South Concourse, and others.

Dunkin’ Donut outlet

Above the passenger areas, 280,000 sq. ft. of office space was modernized to house approximately 1,100 Amtrak employees.  The former mail handling facility was converted into an underground parking garage. The 30th Street Station is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Train Schedule Display Board

The building’s architecturally interesting exterior, an adaptation and transformation of Neo-Classical elements into a more modern, streamlined Art Deco architectural style, has a pair of soaring, columned porte-cocheres on the west and east façade, its best known features.

Waiting Area

The cavernous, 290 by 135 ft. main passenger concourse, notable for its stylistic and functional elements, has ornate Art Deco décor, with a vast waiting room faced with travertine and a soaring  coffered ceiling, painted gold, red and cream, with beautiful chandeliers.

Ticket offices

Works of art are located throughout the building. Prominently displayed within the waiting area is the Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial, sculpted in 1950 by Walker Hancock. Honoring 1,307 Pennsylvania Railroad employees (listed in alphabetical order on the four sides of the base of that sculpture) killed in World War II (out of the more than 54,000 who served), it consists of a bronze statue of the archangel Michael lifting the body of a dead soldier out of the flames of war.

Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial

The Spirit of Transportation, a bas relief sculpture of Karl Bitter, was executed in 1895 and originally placed in the waiting room of Broad Street Station, Philadelphia. On January, 1955, it was moved to current site in the North Waiting Room. The Spirit of Transportation is represented in triumphal procession of progress. It features a central female figure sitting in a horse-drawn carriage, while children cradle models of a steamship, steam locomotive and dirigible, a prophetic vision of a mode of transportation to come.

Spirit of Transportation bas-relief sculpture

The station was featured in the 1981 film Blow Out, the 1983 film Trading Places, the 1985 film Witness, the 2000 film Unbreakable, the 2010 video game Heavy RainAgents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 Episode 7, and the 2015 film The Visit. It is within walking distance of various attractions in West Philadelphia, notably the University of PennsylvaniaDrexel University, and the University City Science Center, all in University City. 

Kyle, Grace, Cheska and Jandy waiting for our train to Baltimore at the train platform

30th Street Station: 2955 Market Street, PhiladelphiaPennsylvaniaUnited States

Grand Central Terminal (New York City, U.S.A.)

The historic and beautiful Grand Central Terminal, a world-famous landmark in Midtown Manhattan and one of the most majestic buildings of the twentieth century, was designed by the architectural firms of Reed and Stem and Warren and Wetmore and opened to the public on February 2, 1913.  On December 8, 1976, it was declared as a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

Grand Central Terminal

This massive, granite, Beaux-Arts-style  building has both monumental spaces and meticulously crafted detail, especially on its facade. At the top of the building is “The Glory of Commerce,” a cluster of sculptures designed by French sculptor Jules-Felix Coutan, carved by the John Donnelly Company and assembled by William Bradley of Long Island City, Queens.  Depicting  MinervaHercules, and Mercury (representing Wisdom, Speed, and Strength, according to Roman mythology), it was, during its unveiling in 1914, the largest sculpture grouping in the world. The exterior clock, just beneath Mercury, is the largest piece of Tiffany glass in the world, measuring 4 m. (13 ft.) in diameter.  The eagles, perched on the corner of the building, actually adorned the previous Grand Central Station, which opened in 1869.

The cavernous interior

Here are some interesting trivia regarding this terminal:

  • The terminal is one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions, with 21.9 million visitors in 2013.
  • So much granite was used that the building emits relatively high levels of radiation. At an average dose of 525 mrem/year, a level higher than permitted in a nuclear power facility.
  • Grand Central Terminal’s 20 hectare (49-acre) basements are among the largest in New York City.
  • The exact location of M42, a “secret” sub-basement under the terminal that contains the AC to DC convertersused to supply DC traction current to the tracks, is a closely guarded secret and does not appear on maps.
  • It covers 19 hectares (48 acres) and has 44 platforms, more than any other railroad station in the world.
  • The Main Concourse was featured in dozens of films, among them Alfred Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest” to the animated DreamWorks film” Madagascar” as well as scenes from the Avengers, Superman and the X-men.

The cavernous, 84 m. (275 ft.) long, 37 m. (120 ft.) wide and 38 m. (125 ft.) high Main Concourse, the center of Grand Central, is usually filled with bustling crowds and is often used as a meeting place. Since the introduction of ticket vending machines, the ticket booths here now stand unused or have been repurposed.

Bay Balcony

Its interior has 35 restaurants, such as the famous  Oyster Bar & Restaurant (the only business that remained from the very day that Grand Central opened in 1913), Shake Shack and various fast food outlets (Starbucks, etc.) surrounding the Dining Concourse on the level below the Main Concourse, as well as delis, bakeries (Magnolia Bakery, etc.), pharmacy (Rite Aid),  full-service watch repair shop (Central Watch), fourth floor tennis club (Vanderbilt Tennis Club, opened in the 1960s and now owned by onald Trump), newsstands, a gourmet and fresh food market, an annex of the New York Transit Museum, and 65 retail stores (Apple Store, Vineyard VinesM.A.C. Cosmetics, etc.).

Some of the restaurants and retail stores within the terminal

Right outside the Oyster Bar is the Whispering Gallery.  One of the most popular spots in the Terminal, people often crowd this relatively plain-looking space, their faces pressed into the corner as the gallery perfectly transmits sound from corner to corner so much so that you can have a conversation, at the barest whisper, with a friend, hearing each other as though you were standing face to face.  The precise arch of the ceiling and the tiled surface caused this architectural anomaly.

The main information booth, in the center of the concourse, has the Main Concourse Information Booth Clock, a 4-faced brass clock, on top. Perhaps the most recognizable icon of Grand Central, it was designed by Henry Edward Bedford and cast in Waterbury, Connecticut. Each of the four clock faces is made from opalescent glass (now often called opal glass or milk glass), though urban legend has it that the faces are made of opal and that Sotheby’s and Christie’s have estimated their value to be between $10 million and $20 million.

Information board

The original blackboard (with arrival and departure information) by Track 36, dubbed a Solari board (after its Italian manufacturer), was replaced, in the main concourse, by an electromechanical display over the ticket windows that displayed times and track numbers of arriving and departing trains.

This New York institution, an indicator of just how busy Grand Central was, once contained rows of flip panels that displayed train information as its many displays would flap simultaneously to reflect changes in train schedules. Today, high-resolution mosaic LCD modules replaced the flap-board destination sign.

The elaborately decorated astronomical ceiling

The starry, stunning and elaborately decorated astronomical ceiling of  the Main Concourse, depicting the constellations of the Zodiac (astronomically inaccurate in a complicated way as other constellations are reversed left-to-right), was conceived in 1912 by Architect Whitney Warren with his friend, French portrait artist Paul César Helleu, and executed by James Monroe Hewlett and Charles Basing of Hewlett-Basing Studio, with corps of astronomers and painting assistants working on it. In the late 1930s, the original ceiling was replaced to correct falling plaster. A 12-year restoration effort, completed in autumn 1996, removed tar and nicotine from tobacco smoke from the ceiling and restored to its original design.

Next to the Main Concourse sits Vanderbilt Hall, named for the family of Cornelius Vanerbilt that built and owned the station.  Serving as the entrance area from 42nd Street at Pershing Square, it was formerly the main waiting room for the terminal.  Today, it is used for the annual Christmas Market and special exhibitions, and is rented for private events.

Jandy with the Main Concourse Information Booth Clock behind him

Grand Central Terminal: 89 East 42nd St. at Park Ave., New York CityNew York 10017. Open aily, 5:30 AM – 2 AM. Website: www.grandcentralterminal.com. The Grand Central Market is open Mondays – Fridays, 7 AM -9PM; Saturdays, 10AM – 7PM; and Sundays, 11AM – 6PM..

How To Get There: The closest subway station is at the terminal itself (Grand Central Station) and is serviced by 4, 5, 6, and 7 trains as well as the S shuttle train from Times Square –42nd Street.

Train Ride from Salzburg to Vienna (Austria)

OBB Railjet

After a 2 day/3 night stay in Salzburg, it was now time to make our way to Vienna, Austria’s capital, by train.  As our hotel (Hotel Garni Evido Salzburg City Center) was very near the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof (German for Salzburg main station; abbreviated as Salzburg Hbf and occasionally translated as Central Station), we left early in the morning and just walked going there, with luggage in tow.

Salzburg Hauptbannhof (Salzburg Train Station)

At the station, we boarded the 8:51 AM Railjet (RJ), a high-speed train of the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) and Czech Railways (ČD). OBB connects all of Austria with its major cities of neighboring countries (GermanyHungarySwitzerland, the Czech Republic and Italy), at regular intervals, and also takes passengers to Vienna Airport.

Interior of Economy Class coach

We had a choice of comfortable and individually excellent classes of comfort categories – Business Class (includes beverages and a wide choice of snacks, hot towels, a selection of newspapers and magazines, at-seat service and seat reservation), First Class (includes a welcome drink, cold towels and a large selection of newspapers and magazines) and Economy Class (has a railjet trolley service with coffee, cold beverages and snacks). We chose the latter.

The author

Railjet, the premier service of the ÖBB, consists of 7 individual coaches pulled by Taurus high-speed Siemens EuroSprinter electric locomotives and has a seating capacity of 408 persons.  Passengers here have the highest possible levels of comfort – free Wi-Fi, on-board entertainment, an on-board restaurant and children’s cinema.

The author’s grandson Kyle

ÖBB Railjet trains run twice an hour from Salzburg to Vienna, with two stops at St. Pölten (1 hour 41 mins. from Vienna) and Linz (55 mins. from Vienna).  The fast service (travelling at a maximum speed of up to 230 kms./hour or 143 mph), took only 2 hours and 49 minutes of travel.

Rural scenery seen during our journey

During our journey on the ÖBB Railjet, the Passenger Information System kept us up to date, with timetable information displayed on 80 monitors throughout the train and digital maps show you the actual route of our train.

Passenger Information System

The Passenger Information System also has an electronic reservation display so we can easily find our seat.

Wien Hauptbannhof (Vienna Central Train Station)

We arrived at Wien Hauptbanhof (German for Vienna Central Train Station, abbreviated as Wien Hbf) by noontime and were all welcomed by our cousin, Vienna resident Marivic “Vicky” Dionela.

Paris (France) to Stuttgart (Germany) via TGV

The high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) train

The high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) train

At Gare de l’Est  Train Station, Grace, Manny, Jandy, Cheska, Kyle and I boarded the 7:50 AM high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse or “high-speed train) train bound for Stuttgart (Germany). One of the fastest high-speed trains in Europe and the pride of the French rail system (it is operated by SNCF – the French  national rail network), the iconic TGV serves around 150 destinations across France, as well as a number of international destinations.  Our 629.5-km. long journey to Stuttgart was to take about 3 hours and 40 mins., with stopovers  at Strasbourg in France, and Karlsruhe, Ulm and Munich, all in Germany.

The First Class, second level cabin

The First Class, second level cabin

Much of the TGV service, recently redecorated (the interiors were said to have been designed by French fashion designer Christian Lacroix) and rejuvenated to provide comfortable and clean interiors. The service offers a range of train types plus three classes of travel available to passengers – Standard Class, First Class and TGV Pro (Business Class).

Stairs leading to the second level

Stairs leading to the second level

The gangway between carriages

The gangway between carriages

In First Class, passengers can choose to have Solo seats, which are single seats, which each facing the back of the one in front. Duo seats are available to all classes (two seats next to each other, facing the backs of the ones in front). Pairs of seats facing each other across a table are available in all classes, whilst first class also offers single seats facing each other. TGV Pro customers get the extra legroom as well as a welcome service on some services, as well as access to business lounges, dedicated carriages and travel packs.

Electrical socket for portable device charging

Electrical socket for portable device charging

TV monitors indicate time and train speed

TV monitors indicate time and train speed

We all rode First Class on a dual-level, TGX Duplex train, Grace, Cheska and Kyle in one coach (Coach 11) while Manny, Jandy and I stayed at the adjoining Coach 12. The TGX Duplex was first built in 1994 to increase TGV capacity without increasing train length or the number of trains. They weigh 380 ton and are 200 m. (660 ft.) long, 2.9 m. (9.5 ft.) wide and is made up of two power cars and eight carriages. They have a maximum speed of 320 kms./hr. (200 m./hr.).

Jandy

Jandy

The author pensively looking out the window

The author pensively looking out the window

Our carriage had two levels, with access doors at the lower level that took advantage of the low French platforms.  All of us stayed on the upper level where the gangway between carriages is located. A staircase gave us access to the upper level.  We were allowed to bring two bags or suitcases on board (unlimited weight), as well as one piece of hand luggage.  Beat that low cost airlines!

Our meal

Our meal

Our carriage, with 512 seats (it also has a wheelchair accessible compartment), was very spacious and comfortable. We chose pairs of power-assisted seats facing each other across a table, with plenty of legroom, plus drop-down tables and access to electrical sockets for portable device charging. First Class and TGV Pro Class customers may choose to have their meal served at their seats, if travelling between Monday and Friday.

The French countryside

The French countryside

The German countryside

The German countryside

Since we travelled on a Monday, our meals were served at our seat.  Our meal (croissant, omelet, jam, butter, coffee, Tropicana orange juice, yoghurt, etc.), which showcase local cuisine, was tasty and balanced.  Everyone also has access to a buffet car which serves hot and cold food, as well as drinks. There are also vending machines for snack purchases.

Karlruhe Hauptbahnhof (HBF)

Karlruhe Hauptbahnhof (HBF)

Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof

Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof

If there is one word to describe the TGV, it is “Fast!”  The TGV train is a world speed record holder.  It zips from city to city at up to 322 kms./hr. (201 mph), sweeping you from Paris to Saarbrücken in under 2 hours, to Mannheim in 3 hours 15 minutes, and to Frankfurt in under 4 hours.

Kyle, Grace, Cheska and Manny

Kyle, Grace, Cheska and Manny at Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof

This high-speed French  network, with Paris as its hub, offers passengers the chance to travel anywhere within the country in a matter of hours, making it an attractive alternative to the plane. The service was fast, efficient, comfortable, reliable and cheap (Paris to Stuttgart or Munich fares start from €25 single if booked in advance, closer to the day of travel, this rises to more like €80 each way).

Gare de Paris Est Train Station (Paris, France)

Gare de l'Est Train Station

Gare de l’Est Train Station

It was our last day in Paris and, after breakfast at the hotel, we all  walked, with our luggage in tow, to the nearby Gare de Paris Est Train Station, one of six large SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français or “National society of French railways” or “French National Railway Company”) termini in Paris. Here, we were to take  the train to Munich (Germany), the first leg of our trip to Salzburg (Austria).

Gare de l'Est  Train Station (1)

One of the largest and the oldest railway stations in Paris, it is the western terminus of the Paris–Strasbourg railway and the Paris–Mulhouse railway. It provides train transportation to major cities in Central Europe such as Zurich, Switzerland; Munich, Germany and Vienna, Austria.

Hall Alsace which gives access to the yellow train platforms, lanes numbered 2 to 12

Hall Alsace which gives access to the yellow train platforms, lanes numbered 2 to 12

Opened in 1849 by the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer de Paris à Strasbourg (the Paris-Strasbourg Railway Company) under the name “Strasbourg platform” (corresponds today with the hall for main-line trains), it was designed by architect François Duquesnay and was renamed the “Gare de l’Est” in 1854, after the expansion of service to Mulhouse.

Gare de l'Est Train Station (7)

The Paris East Train Station (Gare de Paris-Est) represents the Belle Epoque generation of railway buildings. The west wing is the original building built in 1847 and, in 1854, due to increased rail traffic, the east wing was built.

Gare de l'Est Train Station (1)

Central train platform

In 1885 and 1900, the Gare de l’Est station was renovated and, in 1931 it was doubled in size, with the new part of the station built symmetrically with the old part, thus significantly changing the surrounding neighborhood.

Gare de l'Est Train Station (5)

At the top of the west façade is a statue by the sculptor Philippe Joseph Henri Lemaire, representing the city of Strasbourg, while the east end of the station is crowned by a statue personifying Verdun, by Varenne.  Strasbourg and Verdun are important destinations serviced by Gare de l’Est.

Gare de l'Est Train Station (6)

On October 4, 1883, the Gare de l’Est Station saw the first departure, for Istanbul, of the Orient Express . As a terminus of a strategic railway network extending towards the eastern part of France, the Gare de l’Est saw large mobilizations,  at the beginning of World War I, of French troops, most notably in 1914. In the main-line train hall, a monumental painting by Albert Herter, dating from 1926, illustrates the departure of these soldiers for the Western front.

Gare de l'Est Train Station (4)Paris Est Train Station: Place du 11 Novembre 1918, Rue du 8 Mai 1945, 75010 Paris, France. Open daily, 5:30 AM – 1 AM.