We test Turkey's new high-speed rail service and check upon the Shangri-La hotel in Tokyo. Plus there's our Chicago address book
Colourful names such as yildirim (lightning bolt) and turkuaz (turquoise) were suggested for Turkey’s new Yüksek Hizli Tren (high-speed train) which on 13 March began service from the capital, Ankara, to Eskisehir, a city 250km to the west filled with students and riverside cafés.
The train is scheduled to run eight times daily between the two cities, and will reduce the travel time from four hours to one hour 20 minutes. With its completion, this route marks the first phase of a grander, 533km project that, by 2010, will connect the political and administrative centre in Anatolia to the country’s European cultural and commercial centre, Istanbul. With the aim of cutting the overall travel time between the two metropolises in half (down from six to seven hours to just over three), Turkish State Railways (TCDD) has been working in collaboration with French Alcatel for its communication and signalling system and the Spanish train manufacturer CAF. The TCDD is well on track to laying down a rail network that delivers a quick and reliable service in a quiet and comfortable atmosphere.
And this is just the beginning. Over the next 10 years, the Ministry of Transportation plans to create a high-speed network that covers the entire country. This means that journeys to the popular summer getaways along the Aegean (Bodrum and Marmaris) and Mediterranean coasts (Antalya and Alanya) will become accessible by rail. It will also allay the ever-present problems of traffic congestion and the resulting pollution.
Writer James Halliday took the new Ankara to Eskisehir train for Monocle. With a 419-person capacity (including 354 first-class seats), spread out over six cars, this train offers the first European express service in Turkey.
There are seasoned commuters who remove their coats and start work on their laptops, and then there are the day-trippers, whosegiddiness keeps them suspended in a space somewhere between settled in for the ride and eager to reach their destination. For those who take the Ankara-Eskisehir route frequently, the switch to a faster train (on its own set of rails) means a new experience – one, it seems, that will take some getting used to. The difference between the usual four hours and the new express time translates into fewer hands of cards, or even not finishing the day’s newspaper. On the other hand, I did meet a father and son from Malatya visiting relations in Ankara, who were planning to tour Eskisehir and be back in time for dinner.
Onboard there was cause for excitement. Spirits rose each time the train accelerated, with all eyes glued to the stylish flat-screen monitors as the speedometer ticked past 250km/h. And as I strolled through the six wagons, couples were taking arm-length snaps with their mobiles and families posed together to mark what was, decidedly, a big event.
Comfort: Climate-controlled cabins, plush seats, and extended leg room.
Business facilities: Sorry, no wi-fi, but there are plugs for your laptop next to each of the 35 business class seats as well as LCD screens on the backs of seats.
Staff: Sporting tailored white suits with silver trim, staff serve a nice range of snacks and drinks, and even flash a smile.
Catering: The dining car menu offers Turkish soups and salads, toasted sandwiches, and grilled meats. To drink, there are fruit juices, beer, wine, or raki.
We can recommend the cold cucumber soup, stuffed vine leaves, and köfte (meatballs).
01 The James – A downtown design-conscious hotel with penthouse suites.
55 E. Ontario, + 1 312 337 1000, jameshotels.com
02 Blackbird – Inventive and well-presented dining. 619 W Randolph Street + 1 312 715 0708, blackbirdrestaurant.com
03 Milk & Honey Café – One of the best breakfast stops in town. 1920 W Division St + 1 773 395 9434 milkandhoneycafe.com
04 Sarah’s Pastries & Candies – Beautifully wrapped handmade sweets. 70 E. Oak Street + 1 312 664 6223, sarahscandies.com
05 Architectural boat tour along Chicago River –
Visit monocle.com for our updated 25/25 travel guides
A decade ago, Japan’s home-grown five-star hotels had Tokyo largely to themselves but the big brands are moving in. Hong-Kong based Shangri-La has just opened its first hotel in Japan on the top 11 floors of a new skyscraper. There are 202 rooms, with views over Tokyo Bay on one side and the Imperial Palace on the other. Trainspotters will love the bird’s-eye view of bullet trains at Tokyo Station below.
Forget the two-hour drive from Tokyo’s Narita airport to the city centre. A new helicopter service from Mori Building City Air Services now whisks travellers into town in 20 minutes, costing ¥500,000 (€3,778).