Ten Years Ago III... What's the best way to Cuba? (50 p.)

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Proud Earthling

As promised: in the year 2003/13 we will start more "nostalgic" series... :)

Before Christmas 2002 me and some relatives I already had visited the US and Canada with in 2001 started planning a new long distance trip.
The destination was found: Cuba!
Next on schedule were travel details and booking of flights, not such an easy task for a group of six: aunt, oncle, girl cousin and her brother, his then girlfriend, now wife - and me. My cousin took over booking, he had the following choices: - a direct flight to Cuba for $360 or: - a very cheap Air France flight from Munich to Miami for $180. The latter was chosen, there only were a few further miles to cover from Miami anyway... ;-)

We start our story along the Southern Railway near Vienna, my long-time home territory - at that time you still could walk outside and immediately spot something interesting!

January 8 2003 was a lovely, sunny powder snow day.

I did not know much about landscape photos yet, railroad photography meant for me: taking a short look at the station. At Gumpoldskirchen halt I captured late-morning InterCity 552 "Stadt Bruck an der Mur" Graz - Vienna consisting of beautiful ÖBB "Transalpin" EMU 4010.028 (class out of service since 2007).

I took a train back to Mödling where I was encountered by speeding IC 537 "WIFI" to Villach hauled by Taurus class locomotives still sporting the old ÖBB logo (these only existed for a few short years until repainted with the new ÖBB word mark).

And lastly for that day: my decade-long home station Atzgersdorf-Mauer, where 1142.566 hauling semifast E ("Eilzug", nowadays this train type is called "Regional Express" - REX) 1635 to Mürzzuschlag passed by.


Next followed original Schnellbahn 4020.083 in old livery (have not seen one of those since 2006).
Changes on Atzgersdorf-Mauer station over the past ten years: first came concrete sleepers, much later a rebuild with new roof to the right (the left one still is the same) and new platforms, then the name was changed to "Vienna Atzgersdorf", next noise barriers were built all around it and finally in August 2012 Südbahn mainline was switched to right-hand traffic...

4010.28 returned as IC 559 to Graz.

We move along the cross city local "Schnellbahn Stammstrecke" line with old-livery 4020.086 at Matzleinsdorfer Platz, to the left you can still see the old freight yard, today it is home of the main depot for new Vienna Main Station.

Wien Nord still was a proper station on January 13 2003, in 2001 I had spotted a class 1046 still in service there, see here: http://www.mstsforum.info/index.php?topic=3097.0 , in 2003 the locos were already stabled in a line, out of service...

Only Milleniumtower on Danube shore reminds us of the new millenium in this scene.

Bay platforms still existed and Northern Railway locals hauled by class 1014 still terminated here.

Now we finally move on, at first northbound.

On February 10 2003 we departed, my glorious stages of this trip were:

- In the evening on foot to Atzgersdorf-Mauer.
- By Schnellbahn to Vienna Meidling.
- Change there and on by Schnellbahn to Korneuburg.
- Change there into the crammed car of my relatives, the car problem was about to haunt us again further along the trip.
- At Linz we visited my uncle's brother who kindly borrowed us a minivan for the rest of the drive to Munich.

Late in the evening we arrived at Munich airport and tried to get comfortable on the benches for a short night after a snack of Bavarian veal sausage and wheat beer, as it would be an early start next morning.

Our Air France 737 took off punctually, above the high fog we could enjoy sunrise with Alpine views.

Back on the ground below the fog cover we had to change planes at Paris CDG, a Concorde still in service could be spotted. We were assigned the backmost rows of a 747-400, at least we had a corner of the plane to ourselves...

The flight took us in a circle up north, probably near Greenland. Subsequently we flew across the snowy fields of Northeast US.

Finally arrived in the warmth of Miami International, it was my first flight from winter into summer - you immediately feel better!
By the way, to the right you can see a Martinair 767, nowadays this airline has seized passenger flights.

During passport control the completely outdated IBM computer system had crashed, my uncle, working for IBM, could not resist a smile. And that in a big international US airport, 1 1/2 years after 9/11...
As you notice by the dates, the Iraq war was already in the air. We just hoped they would wait until we could get back home.
After a short sunbath we got into a taxi - and where was our driver from? Vienna! ;-)
Some queueing during rushhour later we reached our hotel, Radisson (nowadays not anymore) Deauville in Miami Beach (here: http://goo.gl/maps/h8mGT ). Once Frank Sinatra or the Beatles had stayed here, in 2003 it was already past its expiration date. But you could still live nicely here, especially with IBM company discount.

After settling in we took a taxi into the city for a relaxed evening. My cousin, for the first time in the US, made the following comment: he did not think that it actually would be that cliché!

Next morning, February 12 2003, we refreshed ourselves at the pool and beach, then took a rental car and hit the road. Some seemed to have been hit back by the road...

Of course the search for alternative transport to Cuba was hopeless, in the harbour some anglers were posing with their catch, my cousin could not resist either.

So, next stop was a local travel agency booking flights to Havanna. The result: these would cost us an additional $180, so in total exactly the same amount as the direct flights, and we would lose a week on Cuba. However, there are worse regions in the world to spend some waiting time.

In the afternoon the youth went on an excursion to Fort Lauderdale.

Hey, wrong label! ;-)

Sunset above one of many Southern Florida waterways.

We had an interesting conversation with the crew of a larger yacht which is chartered over the year by various people and companies. As the boat is not ocean-going it is transported to the Mediaterranean over summer by loading it into a larger cargo ship.

Next we drove back on a freeway where we could use the HOV lane. The evening was concluded once more with cocktails in the city.

Next day, February 13 2003, was completely at our disposal, so the younger group took another northbound trip. Regarding railroads I hardly spotted anything, once a stabled CSX loco from this freeway, and once the elevated Metromover tracks in downtown Miami, but no train.

No doubt where we were. ;-)

Minimum speeds for roads lined with mansions of the rich and hurricane evacuation routes.

We made it to West Palm Beach where we already came across a memorial for the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, just 13 days after it had occured.

Only in Florida...

Only in Florida! ;-)


Next morning, February 14 2003, I rose early to catch the sun-up at the beach.

View north along Miami Beach.

Then we had to get to the airport, my cousin returned the rental and only arrived at check-in last minute.

Waiting for us was a 737-200 of Bahamasair - of course there were no direct flights to Cuba.

On board the short 150 mile flight Miami - Nassau you could chose your seat like in any commuter transport. Through the dirty glass you can see Miami Beach. Next we traversed Bimini and later some of the 700 islands belonging to the Bahamas. The wonderfully turquoise shallow waters between the archipelagos sometimes stretched as far as the eye could see.

Reception for tourists at Nassau airport was about the friendliest I have ever encountered. Not only did a live band play during passport control, at the baggage claim you could find an open bar serving Bahama Mamas and other cocktails to your heart's content! :)

In front of the airport this DC-3 was used as welcome ad, we took a Japanese built minibus as taxi to town.

Small El Greco Hotel (here: http://goo.gl/maps/dQOBw ) proved to be a lucky find, especially the courtyard was lovely.

Outside things looked differently: Nassau is a single traffic jam. Due to the British heritage people drive on the left, but of course nowadays many cars are imported from neighboring America without changing of driving position. However, you cannot drive far or fast on the island anyway.

In front of our hotel a small public beach mainly used by locals was situated, next to it noble British Colonial Hilton.

Probably about 99% of tourists did not arrive individually like us, but on a cruise - a few of these beasts were moored alongside Prince George Wharf at any time.

In the evening we explored Nassau. The town had lived through a colorful history and provided a couple of colonial buidlings and forts.
More about it can be read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nassau,_Bahamas
We discovered quickly that wealthy Nassau was restricted to the first blocks along the shore, further inland you immediately came across poorer housings of the local population.

The most visited sight is Queen's Staircase.

Slaves were forced to carve these 31 meters tall steps out of the rock with pickaxes in 1793-94.

From Bennet Hill you can oversee the whole town, here Paradise Island with its massive Hotel Atlantis complex - more about it in the next report part.

The choice of restaurants for individual travelers was slim, for the first time this trip we visited "Senor Frog". Next morning, February 15 2003, we had to procure breakfast at a nasty Mc Donald's where a giant queue was already waiting.

Then we set off, first past our mini beach which also was located right next to the cruise ship lane.

In the center we came across the wedding of a more prominent couple, a pastor Henry Higgins (;-)) and Dr. Ann Peterson.

A colorful exhibition of diverse traditions.

A proper Bahama Mama.

Subsequently we caught a ferry to Paradise Island.

A lot of cruise ship activity, to the left in the background you can spot Costa Atlantica of an in the meantime notorious operator...

Our destination: Paradise Beach - as mentioned, not the worst place to wait for a flight! ;-)

During the next travelogue we explore Paradise Island and hopefully reach our destination...

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