In the spring of 2009 I went to Mongolia heading West. In the process, I crossed the US on Amtrak trains; I crossed the Pacific on a freighter vessel; and I crossed a big chunk of China on sleeper trains. After a bit over a week in the land of Ghengis, I left ... still heading West! I crossed nearly all of Siberia and a big part of Northern Europe on more trains. All in all, it was nearly 2 months on the road. Quite an experience! The reports you will see in here are the ones originally posted from the road during the trip. And a note also about the pictures: not wanting to worry about cameras & lenses, I traveled only with a Point & Shoot. I hope you enjoy the story (which, btw, flows from the bottom up!!!)
To the living memory of Lucky Dube (1964-2007)
On the night of October 17, 2007, Lucky Dube was killed in front of his son during an attempted carjacking. The killing of any one innocent human being is deplorable under any circunstances, period! But this one is especially so: Dube, who did not drink, smoke, or take drugs, devoted most of his life to singing about love, peace, respect, social justice, education, family responsibility, and good moral values in general. To me, the cold-blooded killing of Dube means one thing above and beyond all else: that his message is not as widely spread as it should be. Pls let this bit here be my extremely modest contribution to fight that.
One world, one people, one love.
Peace, Perfect Peace
We cry for peace, perfect peace Lord we cry for love in this neighborhood I tell you no water can put this fire Only the lord can save us We cry for peace in South Africa Let me tell you, we cry for peace in South Africa
Viana do Alentejo (Portugal), Jun 5, 2009Back at the starting point, nearly 2 months & 1 week later!!!
Now that it is all said and done, I would like to take this last opportunity to thank yet again everyone who, in one way or another, helped me out on this endeavor. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for making this long journey possible and more enjoyable! A few people went way above and beyond the call of duty, and those I would like to list individually, so here we go: A very special thank you to Rita and Eduardo in Viana do Alentejo; the McSweegans and the Quinns in Crofton; Eduardo in Boston; Tommy & Marie in NYC; Polly, Susan and Flo in Washington; the Carlsons in Beijing; the Koretkes in Ulaanbaatar; Scott in Moscow; and my sister Joao in Cascais.
At the institutional level, a very special thank you to Joycene at Freighter World; Arden at White Nights; Patricia at Carlson Wagonlit; the whole crew of m/v Hanjin Philadelphia; the staff at Tsolmon Travel in Ulaanbaatar; the staff at the Baikal Complex in Irkutsk; and the staff at the Hotel Lambeau in Brussels.
Last but not least, a big thank you to Lucy, Ben and Filipa! Until my next one!
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Brussels (Belgium), Jun 3, 2009It felt great to be back in Moscow! It was an opportunity for me to redeem myself from my previous (and only) visit there, when, due to a crazy schedule, I didn’t have a chance to see much of the city. This time, things it worked out much better. On Friday, I walked around the lively Old Arbat Street, with its cafes and street artists, and then onwards to Red Square, right next to the Kremlin. The views around here, with the colorful onion-shaped domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral in the middle of it all, were really impressive. On the minus side, I got to the tomb of Lenin and it was closed! I guess this great journey of mine was not meant to be the one to see embalmed corpuses of dead communist leaders! Maybe next time!
Done with the center of town, I walked back to my hotel, a good 1 hour schlep along some nice avenues. On the following day I had a chance to see the “new” Moscow in its best! My hotel was next to the hippodrome, and Saturday, May 30, was Grand Prix day! What an incredible show: the luxury cars, the powerful men and their body guards, the ladies dressed to the tilt (hats included!), everything! I am sure that Lenin wouldn’t have bothered with revolutions, had he known that this sort of things was in the cards for today’s Russia!
I left Moscow to St. Petersburg on May 30 just before midnight on train no. 4, the Ekspress. This train proved to be quite luxurious: super nice compartments, great service, everything comme il faux! At 8:00 AM of the following day I was in St. Petersburg after a nice and restful ride.
In St. Petersburg, I just walked around thru the beautiful historic center neighborhood. I just can not tell you enough how much I like that place!
From then onwards, it was pretty much running all the way up to here. I left St. Pete Jun 1 on the morning train, and by 12:35 PM of that same day I was in Helsinki. A few hours later I was on the ferry to Stockholm. We arrived there at 9:30 AM of the following day and 3 hours later I was on the train to Brussels via Copenhagen and Cologne. Just 2 comments about this long stretch of my journey: Leaving the harbor of Helsinki from the Silja ferry terminal is something absolutely out worldly (the other terminals are off to the side of the city center and their way out misses the most beautiful part of the channel); and the European high speed trains are on a class of their own!
I arrived to Brussels today at 11:00 AM. And tomorrow I will be home! I will post one more report on this trip from there.
Red Square, Moscow
St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square, Moscow
View of Moscow from the Bega Hotel
Grand Prix day at the Moscow's hippodrome
Bankovsky Bridge, St. Petersburg
The Hermitage on a sunny Sunday afternoon, St. Petersburg
Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg
Leaving from Helsinki
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Moscow (Russia), May 28, 2009Left UB to Irkutsk on May 22 at 1:50 PM. The train was the worst one so far on this trip but, to compensate, the scenery and the “entertainment” were some of the best!
On the scenery, in northern Mongolia we crossed vast expanses of grassy fields punctuated here and there by occasional gers or big herds. We then entered the SelengaRiver valley which we followed to the border and well after that. Later, we did nearly 200 km alongside the southern shore of LakeBaikal. On some parts of this section we had mountains, some still with snowy tops, on one side, and the lake on the other. Absolutely beautiful!
On the entertainment front, I’m referring to the smugglers cum traders that use this line for their livelihood! Before the border, you see them going frenetically around the train hiding their stuff. Boxes of it! No strategy is overlooked. Even I ended up with a pair of sandals next to my bunk pretending that they were mine. … Put there by the conductor! Yes, everybody has a part to play on this game! We got to the Mongolian side of the border at 10:10 PM, we left the Russian side by 3:15 AM. In between, we were inspected and re-inspected; some stuff was found, other was not; stuff was taken of the train, stuff was put back into the train; discussions (perhaps negotiations) were had all over; finally we left! Soon after we did so, the hidden stuff was brought out and … the train became a market on wheels! Jeans, jackets, shirts, shoes, purses, blankets, sausages, you name it, all for sale! Some of the selling was done right on the train, other wasn’t: On stations with longer stops, people would get off to sell their stuff on the platform; on stations with shorter stops, the selling was done right thru the windows of the train. Absolutely incredible!
We arrived to Irkutsk at 3:30 PM of the following day and soon thereafter I was on the travel agency’s mini-bus heading to Listvjanka (on the shores of LakeBaikal.) I spent 2 days there on a homestay. The place was more like a small inn rather than what I imagined a homestay to be, but quite nice just the same: a typical wooden cottage, not more than 5 min walking from the lakeside, with decent rooms, and decent breakfasts. On Listvjanka proper, what a nice place! The village is made up of a main road alongside the lake and 3 perpendiculars to it, going up thru unconnected valleys, packed with small wooden cottages. The views towards the lake, with its deep blue water and its frame of snow covered mountains, were absolutely beautiful. The summer season hadn’t started yet, so the whole place was mostly calm and quiet. On Sunday, things livened up a bit, but just enough! I spent most of my time in town walking around the lake, taking in the views, or socializing with fellow trans-sibs, some of whom I had come across before (one of them, a Swiss guy, I hadn’t seen since one of the ger camp in Mongolia!) Overall, what an enjoyable stop-over! I ended up feeling rather bad that I couldn’t stay longer to visit the OlkhonIsland further north. Next time!
I left Listvjanka back to Irkutsk on May 25 at 10:00 AM. I had a few hours to kill before my train, so I walked a bit around town, had lunch, and by mid afternoon I was back at the train station. Not much else to say about Irkutsk!
From Irkutsk to Moscow I was on train no. 001, the Rossiya, the flagship of the Trans-Siberia rail service (and more than just metaphorically: the train itself is painted in the colors of the Russian flag!) We pulled out of Irkutsk at 5:50 PM, right on schedule. The train itself was top notch: my carriage was brand new, with modern compartments (flat screen TVs, a/c, heating, and all!), and the best bathrooms I’ve seen on trains on this side of the world! (Not all the carriages were like mine: the one just in front was, the one behind, was not. Curiously enough, this older carriage was a lot more charming, if perhaps not as comfortable, as the newer ones.) The ride was a long one (4 days and 3 nights!!!) but I don’t have very much to say about it: on the scenery, it was not disappointing (as a matter, in some places like around Perm, alongside some rivers, it was quite beautiful) but by this time, one starts developing the sense of having seen it all before; on the ambiance inside the train, it was pretty sterile (I guess that the most interesting crowd takes the cheaper trains; on this one there were a lot of closed compartment doors and the restaurant scene was pretty dead.)
We arrived to Moscow today (Thu, May 28) at around 6:00 PM, again, right on schedule. … And here I am again, at Hotel Bega, exactly the same place where I stayed on my road trip from Lisbon to Moscow this past fall!
More on Moscow on my next report!
My compartment from UB to Irkutsk
On the Selenga River valley, in Mongolia
New shoes (& they weren't from Santa!)
Long shot from the mountains around Lake Baikal
Sunse on Lake Baikal
Train 001, the Rossiya, somewhere along the way
From the train, just before Vladimir
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Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia), May 21, 2009Overall, I stayed 8 days in Mongolia: 2 in UB right after my arrival from Beijing, 4 traveling around the country, plus 2 more back in UB at the end.
On UB, architecturally there isn't very much to say! The town is pretty much a long and narrow urban glob of low rise concrete blocks á là Soviet style from back then. On the other side of the train tracks there are a few new developments, but even here the scene is only marginally better. The center of the city is the Sukhbaatar Square, a kind of a mini-version of Tiananmen Square (which really doesn’t quite work as well as the original one in Beijing!) … But I liked this place! UB is a town with a good feeling to it, with lots of young people and a few nice places to go to. The center of the social buzz, from what I could tell, is the Grand Khan Irish Pub. You can never go wrong in a place with a good Irish bar/restaurant!
As for lodging, my plans for UB were to stay at a guest house, but I wasn't too pleased with it so I ended up at the Tuushin Hotel instead. The Lonely Planet website has this to say about the rooms: “The aqua-green leather couches, cheap carpeting and purple trim along the walls seem to come from the Barney the Dinosaur school of interior design.” I guess they haven’t changed a thing since then! But overall, I found the place to be generally OK, well located (1/2 a block away from the main square), and quite a good value for your money.
But the highlight of my stay in Mongolia was the 4 day mini trip to the countryside on a 4WD. I visited the area of Kharkhorin (near ancient Karakorum, Genghis Khan’s old capital) and Khogno Khan Uul. I can’t go into too much detail about the trip (or else I will stay here until tomorrow!) so let me just say this: The drive thru the wide open countryside, the visit to the Buddhist monastery complex of Erdene Zuu, the views around the Orkhon river valley and the Khogno Khan Uul Nature Reserve, and the experience of sleeping on a ger in the middle of nowhere are well worth the trip; on Karakorum, there isn't much left of it, so you get a better sense of what the city looked like in Genghis Khan’s days by seeing the excellent diorama of it on the 3rd floor of the National Museum of Mongolian History in UB;having to see the killing of a sheep as they do it here is not an easy thing to do (but I was told by my guide that I really didn’t have a choice, given that the sacrifice was being done partly in my honor!); and, last but not least, on the meaning of “4WD” in Mongolia, be prepared, because it may not be what you think it is! (No Land Cruisers or the like, but rather a Russian made, milk-distribution type van of the 60’s or 70’s!!!)
I will leave UB tomorrow to the LakeBaikal area in Russia, thus starting my way back home! Yes, you can say that Mongolia was kind of my destination. My dream to come here (which I've had for sometime now) was pretty much in the genesis of this whole trip. My original idea was to make the journey on my car. Eventually that evolved into making it on my motorcycle. I finally got here the long way around, mostly by boat and trains (and as a part of a round the world trip.) A bit different from what I had originally in mind, I say, but quite as satisfying as well. As for my future plans involving Mongolia, let’s see how things evolve!
The Grand Khan Irish Pub in UB
Snow in mid May!
Driver and guide/interpreter by the milk van!
Lunch break while on the road
My "room" at the ger camp by Kharkhorin
Sunset at the ger camp by Kharkhorin
One of the temples at the Erdene Zuu monastery complex
View from top of Erdene Zuu complex & the Karakorum site
Though going for the milk delivery guys near Khogno Khan Uul
So this is what a mother yak looks like...!
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Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia), May 15, 2009After Shanghai, Beijing was quite a positive surprise: one can not help but notice a lot more care with the past; the city is more airy, with wide avenues and lots of beautiful gardens; the place is still quite crowded but the feeling on the streets is less oppressive, with a lot less peddling going on; and the traffic is a bit more civilized. All in all, I really enjoyed Beijing! A bit more expensive than Shanghai, perhaps a bit less impressive as far as modern architecture, but a lot more to my liking!
While in Beijing I visited the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall; I also took a nice walk thru RitanPark and the Jianguomenwai Embassy area; and last but not least, I had a chance to spend a whole morning at the Panjiayuan flea market. All of these sites, especially the Wall, were incredibly nice. My only disappointment was not having been able to visit Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum. I tried three times, on the first one it was closed, and on the other two the lines were incredibly super long! (Quite obviously, the Chairman, dead and all, is still the object of a lot of idolatry! Even on today’s China! A bit of a contradiction indeed.)
I left Beijing to Ulaanbaatar on May 13 at 7:45 AM. The train was a bit older than the one I took from Shanghai, but a lot classier: two place compartments with a little lavatory and a shower; big on a woody feeling (all plastic, I think, but it looked really nice!); and better food service (notice, better!) The scenery throughout the ride was generally pleasant as well: mountains at the beginning; worked fields and pastures towards the middle, and steppe towards the end. Not too far after we left Beijing I had a last peak at the Great Wall, still as impressive as before! On the negative side, once in a while we would pass by one of those ugly industrial complexes, but it would quickly disappear from the window!
The train arrived to Erlian, the border town on the Chinese side, at 8:55 PM, and here I had a chance to see something that fascinated me: the change of the wheel bogies on a whole train composition. The rail gauge (distance between rails) is slightly wider in Mongolia and Russia than in China, making this change necessary. The whole train went into a shed where the cars were separated from one another. Each car was then lifted up with 4 huge jacks and the bogies were changed. The cars were then lowered and re-coupled together. The whole process took about 2 and 1/2 hours. Done with this process, we returned to the station to complete the border formalities. (The station, btw, has two sets of rails, and therefore can accommodate trains with either gauge.) All the border formalities were then repeated a few miles ahead in Zamyn-Uud, already in Mongolia. Finally, by 1:40 AM of the following day, we were moving freely once again.
On the Mongolian side, we rode first thru the Gobi desert, something that took the rest of the night and most of the morning. Eventually the flat and arid scenery of the desert was replaced by steppe and rolling hills, with an occasional ger here and there.
We pulled into Ulaanbaatar at 1:15 PM of yesterday, a few minutes ahead of schedule. My plan for UB was to stay at a homestay, but the place was not really up to par, so I checked in at a hotel in the center of town. The plan for the rest of my stay in Mongolia is to get out of the city and see a bit of the countryside. One of the places that I really want to see is the ruins of Genghis Khan’s capital city. Let’s see how things go. More later!
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Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia), May 14, 2009The text on Beijing and the train ride from there to here is coming. Meanwhile, here are the photos. Hope you enjoy them.
Beijing train station, early in the morning
Panjiayuan flea market
The Great Wall at Mutianyu
Crowded Forbidden City
Detail of a roof, Forbidden City
I also think that it deserved the 5th one
Detail of the compartment, Beijing - UB
The wall from the train
1 of the jacks to lift the rain cars
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Beijing (China), May 9, 2009Time to sum up my 2 days in Shanghai and my ride on a sleeper train from there to here.
On Shanghai, the score is quite mixed! Walking around the Bund, the iconic center of the city back in the days of the concessions, was a tie. Most of the old merchant houses from those days have resisted up to today, which is nice (and, to me, quite remarkable!) But the area is too crowded, and it was all torn up with temporary construction work (some infrastructure work in preparation for the Expo of 2010.)
I really liked the architecture of some of the new buildings in Pudong, the iconic center of the new Shanghai. (The best place to admire it is from the riverside esplanade along the Bund. The view is not affected by the current construction, just the access to it.)
Walking on East Nanjing Road was a pain! Nanjing Road is Shanghai’s version of High Street, with flag stores of all the big-name brands that you would expect to see there. But the place is packed with people peddling everything from watches and shoes to sex. Once it gets to RenminPark it improves a bit, but not much!
Otherwise, and more of a general nature, the crowds on the sidewalks are just too overwhelming. The traffic in the city is something a bit chaotic, to say the least, and incredibly noisy! (A true Shanghaier does not go more than 5 or 10 meters without beeping the horn. My room was on a 12th floor, and even there, the traffic noise was incredibly high.) And it is not only the noise pollution which is a problem, but the air pollution is also quite high (as you would expect in a city of this size.)
In conclusion, and as I said above, a mixed scored.
I left Shanghai to Beijing yesterday (May 9) at 7:43 PM by sleeper train. On this train ride, my 1st one in China, given all that I had heard before this trip, I have to say that I was a bit positively surprised: The equipment was pretty new; the bedding was nice and clean; the train ran on time; people on the 1st class compartments were generally nice; summing it up, not that bad at all!
We pulled in into Beijing at 7:30 AM today, and by 8:20 I was in my hotel!
The East China Hotel in Shanghai: the lobby ...
And the outside
New buildings in the Pudong
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Beijing (China), May 9, 2009Because some people have asked me: the company I worked with to book the passage on the freighter was Freighter World Cruises, Inc. (http://www.freighterworld.com/)
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Shanghai (China), May 7, 2009On the other side of the Pacific, after a great crossing on the m/v Hanjin Philadelphia! Yet another experience for my long term memory banks!
I boarded the ship in Oakland on Apr 20, around 11:00 AM, per plans. Soon thereafter I was having lunch; then it was the safety briefing with the 3rd Officer; by 5:30 PM I was back in the Officers’ Mess for dinner. When on my own, I kept busy making myself comfortable in my cabin, learning my way around the ship, or on the Observation Deck, above the Bridge, watching with fascination the movement of containers in and out of the ship! We finally cast off by 7:00 PM. Leaving the bay as the sun was setting, with S. Francisco, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge as part of the scenery, was just beautiful!!
At sea, life soon became routine-ish: Meals (7:30 AM, 12:00 Noon, and 5:30 PM) were with the Captain and the Chief Engineer (frequently we would stay at the table past the end of our meals in animated conversation); early in the mornings and after my meals I would go to the Bridge to check the scene and hang out with the watch officers (I did go to the Engine Room once with the C/Eng, but not my call!); occasionally I would stroll to the bow or the stern; otherwise, I would be in my cabin, either reading, listening to music, or taking a nap; at night, after my post-dinner visit to the Bridge, I would go to the Officers’ Rec Room and join the crowd there, watching for a while whatever film they were watching (nothing that ever compelled me to stay to the end!); By nine-ish, I would be in bed. The simple life!
From Oakland to Tokyo we sailed on a Grand Circle route slightly tweaked to account for prevailing weather patterns in the area during this time of the year. We crossed the Aleutian Islands into the Bering Sea thru the UnimakPass late in the afternoon of Apr 24 (unfortunately the fog was thick so we didn’t see a thing!) On the following day, Apr 26 (yes, no Apr 25 for me this year!) we reached the northern most point of the trip, 54° 40’ N & 172° 00’ W. We left the Bering Sea between the Near Islands (US) and Komandorskiye Ostrova (Russian) by mid afternoon of Apr 27.We then sailed SW along the Kuril Islands.
Weather-wise, we crossed paths with 2 low pressure systems (979 mB the 1st, and 986 mB the 2nd.) The first one gave us winds of up to force 8, not a problem for a ship this size! Other than that, it was mostly flat, always cold, and occasionally foggy.
Two more curiosities about this leg: we set the clocks back by 1 hour on 8 of 10 days! It was 1 week with 25 hour days. And since the changes were done late at night, it meant 1 extra hour of sleep on a daily basis! Just what the doctor ordered! And, as a result of crossing the Int’l Date Line from W to E, we got to skip a whole calendar day: at midnight of Friday, Apr 24, we moved right on to Sunday, Apr 26. Faith determined that this year, I wouldn’t have a “25 de Abril” (a day of some relevance in modern Portuguese history.)
We arrived at the TokyoBay pilot station on May 1 at 8:30 AM. By 11:30 we were alongside at the port. And we cast off at 4:00 PM! The next day it was the same thing but now in Osaka: at the pilot station by 10:00 AM; alongside by 12:15 PM; and on the road again by 4:00 PM. I didn’t go ashore either in Tokyo nor in Osaka: per immigration rules, I wasn’t allowed! But then again, nobody else aboard did as there wasn’t really enough time.
From Osaka to Pusan, we sailed by the southern tip of Kyushu, the southern-most big island of Japan, and then NW across the Korea Strait. By this time we were ahead of schedule, so we spent a lot of time going dead slow. To compensate, the weather was nice and balmy, so I sneaked a couple of beers to the Observation Deck and that’s where I sat for a while, leaning against the magnetic compass, watching the traffic go by. The highlight of this leg was passing between the volcanoes Kamon Take and Io Take, the latter one known to sailors as the “Stromboli of the Pacific” (and smoking as usually.)
We arrived at Pusan on May 4 at 12:35 PM. Soon thereafter the health authorities came aboard and checked all of us for symptoms of Swine Flu. By the time we were all cleared it was already close to 3:00 PM. We were due to leave by 7:00 PM, so I ended up not leaving the ship as I had originally planned!
We ended up leaving Pusan by 9:00 PM. The ride to Shanghai (across the mouth of the Yellow Sea) was short in distance but long in time: due to scheduling constraints, this leg was done at dead slow! Yes, it was the slow boat to China! But the weather was perfect, which gave me a chance to finish the case of beer that I had purchased from the ship’s commissary soon after leaving from Oakland.
We arrived at the Shanghai pilot station on May 6 at 5:00 PM. Going up-river was a long-haul but nothing spectacular. By 9:00 PM we were alongside and, immediately, the dance with the authorities started: First it was the health guys checking us all out for flu symptoms; then the immigration guys decided that they had to see us in person. I finally got my passport back duly stamped and ready to go by 12:00 midnight!
I left the ship on the following day (today) at 7:30 AM. So thus you have it: 6,208.8 rhumb-line miles (5,988.4 ocean miles + 220.4 “port” miles), 5 ports of call in 4 countries, across 9 time zones and the Int’l Date Line, all in 15 days and 11 hours at sea, plus 1 night in Shanghai (and 1 day that we skipped!) What a great experience!
On the m/v Hanjin Philadelphia herself, she is a 282 m / 926’ long Panamax container vessel, with a deadweight tonnage of 58,800 MT and a container carrying capacity of 4,389 TEU (20’ equivalent units.) Her normal service speed is 24.3 knots. She has a crew complement of 21 people, the Captain and the C/Eng from Germany and all others of “international” origin. (On my trip, most officers were from the Philippines, the exception being the 1st Asst/Eng who was from Russia, and all the A/B and seamen were from the KiribatiIslands.) The ship is owned by the “shareholders”, operated by Reederei F. Laeisz from Germany, and under long term charter to Hanjin Shipping from Korea. (One thing I found out on this trip is that Laeisz project finances their vessels. Thus, each vessel is owned by an SPC which is jointly-owned by the company itself, investment funds, and individual private investors.)
I finish with a few words of appreciation: From the moment I stepped aboard, everyone on the crew did absolutely all they could to pamper me and to assure that my time on the ship was memorable. And by golly, they succeeded! To Capt Heilmann, C/Eng Reinhardt, and all of their crew, a most sincere and heart felt thank you for everything you did! I left the ship feeling most lucky for having had you all as companions on this part of my big trip.
My cabin (I had been warned before hand about the view!)
S. Francisco, across the bay from Oakland
S. Francisco & Alcatraz as we sailed by
The last bit of land out of S. Francisco Bay
The weather chart somewhere along the way
But it was mostly flat, ...
Occasionally foggy, ...
& always cold! (leftover snow on top of the "boxes")
Only once or twice did it get a bit more rolly
Da beast (viewed from the front mast)
Smoky Io Take in southern Japan, the Stromboli of the Pacific
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Alameda (US), April 19, 2009(Posted in Shanghai on May 7, 2009) Left Chicago to Denver early in the afternoon of Apr 15. Most of the ride was thru what could be called the typical Midwest scenery (the bread basket of the US indeed; and they ain’t lying either when they say it’s flat!) We crossed the mighty Mississippi near Burlington, Iowa, but the highlight of this leg was late in the evening, when a young guy pulled a fiddle out of his bag and proceeded to turn the lounge car into a mini concert hall! (It was the 2nd time this sort of thing happened. From Washington to Chicago we had aboard a Native American gentleman who, apparently, doesn’t travel without his vast collection of self-made flutes! At the insistence of a few fellow passengers, he agreed to play around with a few of them. The gentleman, I was to find out later, was Keith Bear, a recording artist of Native American music apparently quite well known by connoisseurs of the style.)
The train pulled into Denver early in the morning of the following day. The weather was lousy (cold & rain) and I knew the city from a previous trip, so I decided to take it slow: I went to my hotel and took a break! Later on, I visited the US Mint and I strolled around on the 16th Street Mall. I had a late lunch / early dinner at the Denver Chop House & Brewery, one of the places where, many years ago, we celebrated the closing of my very 1st deal as lead developer. It was as good now as it was back then! By middle of the afternoon I was back at my hotel.
I left Denver to Emeryville (the Amtrak station that serves Oakland & S. Francisco) early in the morning of Apr 17. This leg would prove to be something absolutely fantastic! Going thru the Rockies and the canyons of the upper Colorado River in the midst of a heavy snow storm is something that will stay in my memory for quite some time! And then, on the following day, we crossed the Sierra Nevada with a perfectly blue sky. Both passes were spectacular!
We pulled into Emeryville by mid afternoon of the following day (yesterday.) This is my 1st time in this part of the world, but I wasn’t in a big hurry to do anything in particular, so I went to my hotel (in Alameda, near the port of Oakland) and took a little break. Early in the evening I went to the Jack London Square, the noble waterfront part of Oakland, where I had a couple of beers and listened to a bit of live music. Soon I was back at my hotel.
Earlier today I took the bus to S. Francisco. I spent most of my day there, walking around, absorbing the scene and taking pictures (i.e., being a tourist!) in the neighborhoods of the Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Warf. What a beautiful town this is! I had a late lunch at the Fishermen’s Grotto by the Warf (& what a great lunch it was!), and then I started slowly on my way back to the bus terminal. By late afternoon I was back in Alameda.
Kind of summing up these last 5 days since I first entered a train on the other side of the US, let me just say that it has been an extremely satisfying experience!
Tomorrow by 11:00 AM I should be aboard m/v Hanjin Philadelphia. … And soon after, we should be on our way to Shanghai!
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Alameda (US), April 19, 2009The text will come later. Enjoy the photos for now!
Denver's Chop House & Brewery
Denver by night from the window of my room at Hotel VQ
Passing thru the Rockies during a snow storm...
... And thru the Siera Nevada under a beautiful blue sky!
Fishing harbor scene, SF
Food for the soul, SF style!
Inside one of the iconic tramways in SF
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Chicago (US), April 14, 2009In Chicago, after my very 1st train ride on this trip. But let’s go back and connect-the-dots since my last entry. I flew into Washington, DC on Apr 2, as planned. I was then supposed to spend 10 days in DC, the idea being to give me a chance to deal with visas, tickets, and any other last minute issue that may have surfaced in the mean time. Nothing did, so very soon I found myself with very little to do. I decided to rent a car and go for a drive, visiting friends and family along my way. I got as far north as Bennington and Boston, returning to DC (via NY) just in time for the Easter weekend. Yesterday this whole trip started for real when I finally boarded Amtrak’s Capitol Express to Chicago. The ride was absolutely fantastic. Amtrak long-distance trains have these sightseeing/lounge cars, with nice chairs facing wrap-around windows (all the way from the top to nearly the floor), a little cafeteria / bar down on the lower level, so you know where I spent most of my time up to being called for dinner! After dinner (and one last night cap), I went to my chair and slept as comfortably as one can on those things! (For this leg I wasn’t able to get a room, so I slept on my chair. Luckily the train wasn’t full, so it wasn’t really that bad!!) We pulled into Chicago this morning at around 8:30.
The stay here in Chicago has been quite pleasant as well. I had a bit of bad luck with the weather – freezing cold, wind, and rain – but other than that, so far so good! The town is a bit like NY, but a bit more airy and with no Duane Read pharmacies! The downtown area (the only one that I had a chance to see) is rich in interesting architecture, in beautiful, well kept gardens, and in nice pubs!! Which reminds me that it’s time to leave the computer!
This is what it looks like!
US Congress from Union Station
Washington's beautiful Union Station: the outside ...
... And the inside
The lounge car
Chicago's downtown on a rainy day
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Viana do Alentejo (Portugal), April 1, 2009In a few hours I will leave from my beautiful Viana do Alentejo, thus starting yet one more of my adventures! This one will take me from Portugal to the US, across the Pacific, thru China, Mongolia, and Russia, and then back to Portugal. The means of transport are almost as exotic as the itinerary itself. They include Amtrak trains across America, a container vessel for the Pacific crossing, sleeper trains thru China and Mongolia, and then, last but not least, the grand Trans-Siberian train across most of Russia. All in all, it will be nearly two and half months on the road!
I will try to post some text and some photos from this trip in here, but you may have to be a bit patient: I will not always be within reach of the internet, and I will be traveling with a Point & Shoot! Let's see how things turn out!
I will see some of you during this trip. Looking very much forward to it! To the others, I will see after my return!
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