Tag Archives: trains

A happy return to Kaohsiung.

Written on the 781
Sunday, July 27, 6:13 pm

It is the evening, and we are seeing our first sunset over the mountains. We’re most of the way through our rail journey from Kaohsiung to Taitung, winding a slow counter-clockwise arc around the southern tip of the island and emerging on the eastern side of Taiwan. Many of our evenings in Taichung and Kaohsiung on the west coast have featured splendid sunsets over the water and a city, but in Taitung and Dulan on the east coast, we will be chasing sunrises over the water and sunsets over the mountains.

The hillsides here are fairly rugged, and the train zips long much closer to the water. For some parts of our trip, we were darting through mountain tunnels to emerge on a narrow railway with the water and a precipitous drop on one side and on the other high mountains that we had to lift our faces to greet. The view is definitely worth it. On the right, the sky fades from a pale distant blue to light pink clouds, and then back to the blue-grey of the ocean. On the left, mountains barely a dozen meters from our left will loom close, and then give way suddenly to large expansive green valleys. Deep in the heart of the valley, we can see the lighter and mistier shapes of more distant mountains, and finally beyond that, the clouds themselves, gilded and illuminated with a deeper richer tone by the sunlight that has already sunk beneath the mountains. It is really strikingly lovely. Continue reading A happy return to Kaohsiung.

Animal House.

This is truly an animal house. No frat brothers and no kegs of beer in sight; instead, the denizens are six dogs and two cats, and we are enjoying quiet cups of tea while watching the World Cup. Murray and Julie’s Normandy colombage house is incredibly cozy, and I’m just having a ball sitting here, sipping on some tea and trying to decide which of the dogs to cuddle with or the cats to pet. This is worlds away from where we were this morning, but still every bit as French (kind of) and lovely.

This morning, Steve and I woke up and promptly got about cleaning everything in sight and packing the rest of our things. Yesterday, I had already run errands to replace some of the household goods we had used and to mail off more postcards and a package. We had also done a farewell visit to the park and our favorite boulangerie. Before we knew it, we were on a train speeding out of Lyon. It was really hard to believe as the morning went on, as we carried our things out of the apartment, turned off the gas, and deposited the last of the trash, that we were really leaving. This is the second longest time we’ve spent in any one place, the only one  longer being in Taiwan! It’s been hard to say goodbye to all our favorite corners… Lyon is not a must-visit place in France as far as that goes, but it is a most livable and comfortable and nice corner of the country.  Continue reading Animal House.

Enfin, la France!

Written on the road
Terminal 2, Charles-de-Gaulle Airport
Paris, France

Thursday, May 1, 2014

We have hours and hours to kill on our first day in France. We left Croatia before the dawn had roused anyone into the streets, but still there was an incredibly taxing line at the airport. However, a mere hour and a half later, we landed in Paris at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Terminal 1. Though old, it is very picturesque, a circular concrete structure four stories tall, hollow in its very center and transfixed through by two or three elevators which are encased in large plastic tubes.

CDG TGV station, Terminal 2.

Our train on the TGV to Lyon is at the deplorably late hour of 5:58 pm or 17h58, as I may well get into the habit of thinking. We arrived in Paris at 10:30 am. Even after going through immigration (which took a blessedly brief 15 seconds) and getting our luggage, it was barely 11 am, and we lounged around in comfortable white armchairs for an hour or so before exiting to take a shuttle to Terminal 2, where the TGV station is also located. We also paused to exchange the bulk of the rest of our kuna. The currency exchange was buying our kuna at the soul-crushing price of 8.68 kuna to the euro, which meant that our formidable looking 880 kuna came back to us just short of 100 euro, given the 6.5% commission rate they charged. Rats. Looking at the change in our hand and well aware of how much things were going to start costing us in France, we trudged onward. Continue reading Enfin, la France!

Walking amongst history.

Written on the ICN 522 Split – Zagreb, Croatia
Saturday, April 19, 1:40 – 7:48 pm

Another country, another train.

This afternoon, we said goodbye to Split, Croatia’s second city. From the harbor, we could see Diocletian’s Palace, the Roman ruins that had captivated our attention for three days, as well as the large harbor, which boasted ferries to Brac, Havr, and other numerous islands in the Adriatic. On a clear day, from the Marjan Hill to the west of the city, you can see three or four islands on the horizon to the south, and a hundred miles or so beyond, the eastern shore of Italy.

Split and the Marjan Hill to the west.

Continue reading Walking amongst history.

Southward on the Kerala Express.

Written largely on the Kerala Express (12626)
Departed from New Delhi Railway Station, New Delhi, Rajasthan
Headed to Ernakulum Junction (South), Kochi, Kerala

The Kerala Express at New Delhi Railway Station.

11:30 am, Tuesday, March 11

We are on our way! Our train just pulled out of New Delhi a few minutes ago, and we are picking up speed. My first impressions of the 2-tier AC class so far — it is mostly neat and clean, but not as fancy as Amtrak. The hard sleeper class in China is very similar. Across from us is a nice-seeming but quiet gentleman. He speaks a little English, but either we have trouble with his questions or he has trouble processing our reply. There seem to be no other foreign tourists on our car, but I have glimpsed a few monks in their orange garb. There are a few curious kids also shyly peering at us too.

My lower bunk, where we spent most of our waking hours.

Steve and I are both getting over a bad cold, and he has had some disagreements with Indian food, so he is less enthusiastic about this trip than I am. The conductor just came by to check our IDs, and our neighbor had to peel his sweater vest halfway up his chest and partially unbutton his shirt to extract his wallet which was on a chain. It reminds me of this underwear that my mother once showed me from China, which had a small zip pocket for cash in the front. Basically, all Asians are paranoid about theft and pickpockets, but probably for good reason. Men have come by hawking lunch, but I feel adequately prepared, with two liters of water, two footlong Subway sandwiches (oh the fresh veggies), chips, and two rolls of TP. Let’s hope this is enough.

Continue reading Southward on the Kerala Express.

Anger management in Delhi and other ways to grow up.

New Delhi Railway Station
International Tourist Bureau, 1st Floor
5:15 pm

India is rough. I am trying not to be such a baby about it, but I thought I could handle it, and it is harder than I thought. There’s such a fine line between feeling okay (and possibly even happy or upbeat) and finding yourself extremely angry and ready to pull a punch at the next person who tries to open their mouth in front of you. When you’re trying to find something important, India just tries to make it hard. Finding a restaurant, a train station, making change… it’s like wading through pudding, every moment.

99 times out of 100, when someone tries to address you and offer advice, they are up to no good. Occasionally, they may be telling the truth, but unless someone in uniform or behind an official counter or desk says the same thing, you shouldn’t believe it. And yet, even knowing this and having been told this twenty seven times, it can be easy to be misled and confused by signs and a group of touts all saying the same thing and working together. They will coax and point and argue and corral you like cattle in the direction they want you to move, promising, lying, and separately corroborating each other. “The ticket office is this way, ma’am. This way.” It is enraging and tiring, and I’ve never been on the receiving end of this treatment in such an intense and thorough way. Scams happen in China all the time, but I don’t get explicitly targeted, and I understand the local language. Here, we are foreigners, doubly, clearly so, with my East Asian features and Steve’s pale skin and blue eyes.

Continue reading Anger management in Delhi and other ways to grow up.

Chilly Taipei: unexpected heights, sights, and hikes.

On Tuesday, we boarded the HSR (high-speed rail) outside of Tainan and speeded into Taipei barely an hour and a half later. This is the way to travel! It felt just like the bullet trains we’d taken in Japan, and made for an ultra smooth ride. We trekked our way with heavy bags through the unreasonable cold to Da’an District, where we had reserved five nights in a hostel. That evening, I made Steve stay up with me to debate how to travel about in Thailand and reserved a few hostels and flights before we fell asleep.

Yesterday morning, bright and early, we left our hostel for the Taipei 101 Tower, just a 20-minute walk away. Once you get onto Xinyi Road, which cuts east-west, it is hard to miss the Tower because it looms over everything else for dozens of blocks. For comparison purposes, the Sears (never the Willis) Tower in Chicago is 442 meters tall, and Taipei 101 Tower is significantly taller at 509 meters. (Though both are small potatoes compared to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai at a lofty 828 meters.) We took the fastest elevator in the world (deceptively labeled “a life-changing experience” according to a quote from CNN in the lobby) and emerged onto the 89th floor, a 360 degree viewing observatory. It was a beautiful day to see Taipei — slightly cloudy, but not oppressively so. Taipei lies in a basin on the very northern tip of Taiwan, and we could see mountains in several directions as well as a city (Taoyuan, maybe?) to the southwest on an elevated plateau, surrounding the sprawling metropolitan area.

Continue reading Chilly Taipei: unexpected heights, sights, and hikes.

Moving out, on, and up!

On Tuesday, we sold and donated the last of our belongings (a six-cup coffee maker, a bamboo mattress pad, an IKEA duvtet ) to some grateful expats in Kaohsiung and moved out of our small studio apartment on Lane 123, Linsen First Road. It was beautiful in that place, even if it had no kitchen — the sliding glass doors to the small balcony faced south, and from dawn to dusk, it needed no more illumination than the sun. And in Kaohsiung, it was always sunny! We stayed for two nights in the same hostel we found when we first came here, and said goodbye to the group of friends we had met through Couchsurfing with a few pitchers of San Miguel. And on a bright, sunny afternoon, boarded the train for Tainan.

It was barely a trip — even taking the local train which stopped every 10 minutes at small, out-of-the-way stations, it was only an hour before we arrived in Tainan, the old southern capital of Taiwan. Tainan’s a whole different universe, and sometime soon, when I have all my photos uploaded and categorized on Flickr, I’ll post some here. But it feels a little like Boston and a little like Japan — ungridded, somewhat disorganized, bereft of real sidewalks; large trees abound everywhere, old temples better preserved than any I’ve seen in China, and overall, just a cozier atmosphere than Kaohsiung. After touring several temples, all within easy walking distance of each other, Steve and I had a late lunch at a local place, him enjoying vegetable noodles with soybean paste (炸酱面) and me chicken curry over rice. We sipped tea from next door and watched trains stop the local traffic.

We’re spending a lot of time with Kate, our friend from Chicago. She was born and grew up in Kaohsiung, and her missionary parents currently work at the Tainan Theological College and Seminary, where we are staying. Being able to learn a little about temples and sights from them is really awesome and humbling. They also make their own bread, scorning Taiwanese standards for toast, and that made for a very satisfying breakfast. Kate and Gene, her husband, and Gene’s parents are visiting, which has been nice — it is good to see friendly, familiar faces from Chicago.

Here’s to several more lazy days around this quaint capital of the south before we head north. Between Steve’s admiring comments about the food and the scenery and my own longings for the tea drinks here, I am starting to suspect that we will miss Taiwan very, very much.