Peru – Machu Picchu, 05 June 2011

Today was the big trip to Machu Picchu, the biggest highlight of our Peru trip (of course, there are other awesome things to see). We took the Vistadome from Poroy (about 40 mins from Machu Picchu by car) to Aguas Calientes, which is about half hour from Machu Picchu. One thing that the train really had? Windows. Lots of them. Apart from the usual windows by the sides to allow you views of the passing scenery, they also had windows to the top. Another thing I didn’t expect – breakfast! It was a fancy-looking breakfast, served in what looked like a bento box. That was a nice surprise. The one-way ticket to Machu Picchu costs about 75 USD.

Despite all the warnings about the long lines, and our craziness to try and prep everything in advance, it was surprisingly not as busy as it was made out to be. So if you are going sometime in June, and doing the train way (I heard the hiking part is still booked up), you might not need to go too crazy with the prep, and just take your chances a little. Btw, all that Lonely Planet talk about checks on bags for water and food – never happened. While you might not want to be packing a picnic, some snacks and a small bottle of water probably would slip through the games undetected.

I’m not sure if expectations is a good or bad thing. If you were just walking around the mountains, you’d never guess there’s a whole city in those mountains amidst the clouds. But I guess since we knew what we were looking for, that takes some of the fun out of that. Anyway, it is pretty hidden. As we were walking, we pretty much never had a clue when the next turn will bring us to Machu Picchu. But when it did appear, well, it looks like the postcard pictures!

I think my main impression of Machu Picchu was how small it was. When we first booked the trains, we were afraid that doing this as a day trip might not be that great an idea, and that we might not have enough time for everything. Turns out the train timings were there for a reason, anyway. It was pretty small, and as long as you are not trying to explore every nook and cranny, a day trip was enough. While Petra was massive, and definitely required multi-day trips, the same can’t be said for Machu Picchu.

I don’t have any real guide to write about the Machu Picchu. It is pretty much a city whereby there are ceremonial quarters, living quarters, which are segregated, and some terraces for planting stuff. It is hard to tell which is which without a guide. But, one thing to do – do climb higher up on the terraces, so you can get a bird’s eye view, and a good shot of the city.

After about 4 hours, we were beat, and we made our way back to Aguas Calientes for lunch. I had a cream trout – apparently, I can’t tell the difference between salmon and trout. It was pretty expensive, at about 16 USD. But we were paying for the view at the restaurant (can’t remember the name).

Despite all the writing about there being nothing in Aguas Calientes, I am not about to jump on the bandwagon. It is what it is – a stop for those on the way to Machu Picchu. While things are overpriced, it’s not a seedy or horrible town, and you could do a lot worse when you are hungry and tired. They have plenty of restaurants and cafes that serve up decent food, and when you are want to send that postcard you just wrote, they have a post office for you, too.

Finally, time for us to go back. Instead of the Vistadome, we took the Expedition, which was slightly cheaper at around ~50 USD. It really wasn’t much of a downgrade, and they served us snacks and a drink. Some pleasant things did happen. In our cabin, the lights apparently shorted, and so, it went out a couple of times. While everyone else was scrambling for light, confused by the sudden darkness upon us, I looked up at those large windows, and enjoyed the stars, which I hardly ever get. It was worth it.

Dinner was a cheap roast chicken place, and we had some delightful roast chicken for about 3 USD.

Vistadome to Machu Picchu

Fancy breakfast on Vistadome

Machu Picchu

Area around Machu Picchu

Our cheap chicken dinner

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Yikes, and a New Trip – Peru! (1-13 June 2011)

So, once again, I have forgotten to update all my older trips, have gone on a few more since then, and am embarking on another adventure. Tsk tsk me!

Anyways, what’s up? Peru!

It is going to involve an Amazon river cruise, an overnight bus ride, domestic airplanes, and two epic rail journeys.

01 June: Getting ourselves to Peru!

02 June: Lima, Peru

03 June: Lima – Cuzco

04 June: Cuzco

05 June: Cuzco – Machu Picchu – Cuzco (scenic train journey)

06 June: Cuzco – Lima (surfing!!!)

07 June: Lima – Iquitos

08 June: Iquitos

09 June: Iquitos – Lima

10 June: Lima – Huancayo (epic rail journey on the second highest railway in the world)

11 June: Huancayo – Lima

12 June: Lime (surfing? paragliding?)

13 June: back to Seattle

Greece – Athens to Kalambaka, 22 June 2009

Throughout our night on the boat from Heraklion to Piraeaus, I actually found myself wishing, hoping, and praying that our boat will be late, so that I can get more shuteye than 6 hours. Yes, I’m really not a fan of waking up early. Well, tough luck. At around 5am, the PA system came on, and we were told to start clearing out of our rooms, and prepare for disembarkation. Boo!

We arrived at the port of Pireaus at around 6 am, and then lugged our tired bodies to the metro, and headed towards the train station for our onward journey to Kalambaka. Tourists visit the town of Kalambaka mostly for the purpose of going to Meteora, which is famous for monasteries and nunneries perched atop a hill. This was supposed to complete our trip, as it would give a variety of sights, from ruins, to beaches, to islands, to religious architecture. Also, I just enjoy taking the rail.

Anyway, I digress. We got to the train station early, stood in line, and purchased our tickets to Kalambaka (~EUR 22, 5 hrs). As we still had some time to spare, and we were hungry, we popped into the cafe that was conveniently situated in the train station, and grabbed some grub while waiting for our train. Frankly, I don’t remember much about our train journey, as I passed out from the lack of sleep from the night before. The cabin was pretty nice, and not ratty at all, if anyone cares!

After arriving in Kalambaka, we set about looking for accommodations. After sorta just walking straight out of the train station and down the street (yes, prepare, we do not), we found Hotel Astoria that was good for us at EUR20 per person (can’t remember the name), and had ensuite bathroom. After dropping our bags, next part of mission – fill the ache in the belly. After a short 10 min walk, we hit town center, and of course, we ended up eating more gyros pita again. I wish I had more to say about Greek food, but unfortunately, my diet was limited to meals of gyros pita. They are excellent, btw, it’s just that I hit overkill. Damn my lousy budget!

As half of our day was gone, our biggest mission for today was to try and find a road up to Meteora, since we didn’t want to take a bus, or do a tour, but wanted to go our own. Well, all I can say is, follow the signs, and you’ll get up there. It took a while.

The town of Kalambaka also has some attractions to offer. In particular, they do have a couple of impressive-looking churches, and I think the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin has some relics.

Church of the Assumption of the Virgin, Kalambaka

Church of the Assumption of the Virgin

Chinese Shop in Kalambaka

Chinese shop in Kalambaka

Hiking up from Kalambaka

Ok, this was the sign we saw going down. So look for a sign like that that says “Meteora”

Kalambaka Town

Town of Kalambaka

China – Xi’an to Nanjing, 05 October 2005

Unfortunately, all good things do have to come to an end, and return to school, we had to. We tried getting sleeper tickets back to Nanjing from Xi’an, but failed, as this was the national holiday week, and pretty much the whole of China travels during this week (and one other week in May). As this was our first trip in China, we did not really explore our options, and decided to suck it up, by getting unreserved tickets on the train, for the 14-hr overnight train journey back to Nanjing. Bad idea.

We ended up standing, packed like sardines, without sleep. Some of the less considerate passengers decided to sprawl on whatever little floor space there was, and every few hours or so, we all had to pack ourselves away from the aisle, as the food cart will come by. Want to go to the toilet? Good luck, because people were already there. When we were nearing Nanjing, we almost fell, but that didn’t happen, because there was nowhere to fall. We vowed never to do this again.

Travel tip for trains in China: For future reference, if you can’t get a reserved seat (or better, first-class seats) on a train, don’t do it. Try getting a bus, where you can get a seat/bed. It’s worth the investment. Do not do coach class if you’re not prepared for it. For coach class, even if you have a reserved seat, they’ll sell an unlimited number of unreserved tickets, so it can get really packed. Traveling any class other than coach class will increase your comfort level immensely, because they do not allow passengers other than those in the cabin into the cabin. This will actually help with your sanity.

Xi'an

 

Xi’an Train Station

China – Nanjing to Xi’an, 02 October 2005

Using our friendly hostel travel planner, we booked 6-berth sleeper train from Nanjing to Xi’an. ZJ sent us to the train station. It is nice to be able to lie down and sleep for the long 14-hr train ride to Xi’an, but it is definitely hard for anyone who’s tall. It was really hard for me to turn or anything once I settled in a position. But then again, I really love train rides, so there’s not much to complain about.

Sleeper train from Nanjing to Xi'an

 

6-berth sleeper train

Thailand – Bangkok, 17 July 2005

After a rather cramped flight from Singapore to Bangkok in the morning, we arrived in Dong Muang International Airport at 12-ish. Deciding that the airport bus was a rip-off at 100 Baht, we decided to head towards Don Muang Railway Station for the fast and cheap (10 Baht) but irregular train service to Bangkok town centre.

When we arrived at the railway station, true to rumours, it was indeed irregular, as the next train was coming only at 14 45, leaving us with two hours of waiting time. Noticing a ticketing office at the train station, I decided to see if we could manage to get train tickets to Chiang Mai at night. Although we originally intended to take non-air-conditioned sleepers, these sleepers were sold out. Consequently, I had to buy us air-con sleepers, an affair which we were later to be very thankful for on our 14 hour long train ride to Chiang Mai.

In addition to purchasing our tickets, at Wanting’s inquiry, the guy at the office also gave us valuable information on how to get to Chatuchak weekend market via their local public transport. With his directions in mind, we boarded their air-conditioned bus service 510 costing a mere 18 Baht, bringing us to Chatuchak in 20 minutes.

Chatuchak is indeed a shopper’s paradise, selling almost everything and anything at cheap prices. Looking for fake Birkenstock sandals at 199 Baht before bargaining? Yup, it’s available in Chatuchak. My main grumble against Chatuchak is the heat and the crowd.

At around 17 00, we decided to head towards Bangkok city with Sharon, in order to meet up with Jasmine for an early dinner before Wanting and I figured out the way to claim our luggage which was left in Don Muang train station. After a dinner of Thai-style Yong Tau Foo, we slowly made our way towards Hualumphong railway station to check out our options.

At Hualumphong, excellent advice from the information counter saw us taking an earlier train towards Don Muang to claim our bags and also to wash up before boarding our sleeper towards Chiang Mai. As a result of this, we ended up in a cheapass 3rd class carrier costing 10 Baht.

The hour long journey was a most fruitful experience, which saw us benefitting from the help of friendly and concerned Thais (we didn’t know where to get off). Also, there were hawkers selling stuff from full meals to snacks along with local beer to wash it down with. Way too cool!

Chatuchak.jpg

Chatuchak Market

Ice Sticks at Chatuchak.jpg

Ice sticks for sale at Chatuchak

Local Delights sold on Train.jpg

 

Local delights on the train