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

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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

This is the title of my trip to Europe… And well, here’s some aftermath musings about Europe…

Whoever said that life is about journeys as much as destinations much be a very wise man/woman, for certainly, few journeys of mine were without excitement.

Train Journeys
  1. Prague to Vienna: Standing on a platform that writes Vienna as a destination, one would safely assume that the carriage that one was in would be heading towards Vienna. However, as I entered the train, and I noticed a sign on the door saying Praha-Budapest. What happens? The alarm bells in the head start ringing, and of course, this ringing was heeded, when a Thai guy (whose reserved seat I unknowingly occupied) started asking a local where this train was headed towards, only to be told that the train would split at some point. At this point, I joined in a conversation, putting in a request for the nice local to read a footnote, so that I would know which carriages were moving towards Vienna, and of course, I found out in time that I had to move my packs.
  2. Vienna to Klagenfurt: I was caught with an invalid ticket, and was fined by the conductor. 😦 To add to my misery, I was about to step out of the train, when one of the officials told me that the train was totally out of alignment with the platform, and so I had to wait, all these in the rainy (gloomy) Sunday. (more on Germanic Sundays later) However, a bright side was the scenic rail journey, where I actually saw nice little Austrian villages, and a castle perged atop a mountain!
  3. Paris to Frankfurt: Leaving the hotel early, I arrived at Paris Nord approximately an hour earlier than the departure time, out of pure kiasuism, which was to serve me well in the series of events that followed. After staring at the screen the umpteenth time, and walking round the station, I simply couldn’t find the train that left for Frankfurt in Paris Nord. That was when my common sense made me refer to my Eurail Timetables guide once again. There, in a little footnote, it said that of ALL trains, only the particular train that I chose departed, not from Paris Nord, but from Paris Ost. However, with 35 mins to go, and just one metro stop away, of course, that seemed possible, and all haste was made, to ‘chase’ the train, so to speak. Arriving at Paris Ost, all was not well. After being directed to the wrong windows twice, I finally arrived at the right ticket window, only to find a long queue. With just 15 mins left, and a pair of boys between me and the train window, I calmed down a little, only to be thrown back into a panic frenzy, when the two boys allowed a lady to cut the queue. And THIS LADY, after cutting the queue, TOOK HER OWN SWEET TIME. And after this lady was done, another elderly gentleman tried to cut my queue as well. But this time round, I politely, but very firmly informed him that this was not possible, as I was about to miss the train. But thankfully, all procedures were settled minutes before the train left, and I was seated on the train, around 3 minutes before the train pulled away from Paris Ost. Thank God!
  4. Frankfurt to Wurzburg: Arriving at the train station early as usual, and double checking the platform where the train to Wurzburg left, I complacently stepped into the train that was parked at the platform, naturally assuming that that was the designated train that I intended to take- only early. However, at 08 34 (it was supposed to leave at 09 05), the train just pulled away from the station, leaving me stunned, but already on the go! But thankfully, after straining my ears, paying attention to the bullet train speed German of the driver, this train was delivering me to Wurzburg as well. Whew!
  5. Wurzburg to Augsburg: My first encounter with the Inter-City Express, or ICE in short. This is a really posh train, with lots of leg room, designated places for you to hang your cloaks and place your umbrellas, not to mention, chairs that could recline with the least disturbance to the person sitting behind you. A luxury which I was determined to live up, since I already paid the price with my rail pass.
  6. Munich to Fussen: The train timetable seems to indicate that the train from Munich goes to Fussen, though the daily board seemed to contradict this, as there’s no indication that the train leaving Munich (or any train leaving Munich for that matter) was going to Fussen. And of course, this discrepancy was explained, when hoards of people just dropped off at Buchloe, along with my jaws. With my herd instinct, I followed them, and YES, they were all heading towards Fussen! Well, thankfully I found out soon enough that I had to CHANGE TRAINS AT BUCHLOE.
  7. Frankfurt to Brussels: Being poor but yearning for luxury has its price– you get chased away all the time. Not having made reservations on the luxurious ICE, I was threatened once, and chased away a second time from my seat. Threatened first, because the guy who reserved the seat was nice enough to let me continue sitting where I was, simply taking the seat beside me, but chased away the second time, because after the guy left, another bunch of weirdos (yes, they were weird, and I would still say they are weird, even if they didn’t chase me away) boarded the train, and claimed their reservations. Fair enough.
  8. Brussels to Antwerp: The time between leaving the train that brought me to Brussels, and boarding the train that would bring me to Antwerp was very short, and add that to my total ignorance of the platform from which the train heading towards Antwerp was to leave, is a perfect recipe for a mad dash. And of course, it doesn’t help that it took a while to even FIND the board with the train schedules! After all the hussle and bustle, I had approximately 4 minutes to get to a train platform that was about 150 m away, and what could I do but RUN WITH MY 12 KG BACKPACK?!

Air Journey

There’s only one small episode involving my first flight on a budget airline. Near the estimated time of arrival, an announcement from the pilot came over the PA system said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, it seems that the flaps on the wings are not working. However, I do not think this is a serious problem. This flight will just have to take a longer time, as we try another approach to landing. However, the landing will probably be a rough one.” Well, the detour took almost an extra hour, and when I landed, it was then that I noticed it was as “minor” a problem as the pilot made it out to be– all the fire engines were out and waiting. But, ALLELUJIA, AMEN!

Foot Journey

An unfortunate sequel to the previous incident. Arriving in Prague at 9 pm plus, I wasn’t exactly freaked out, as there was still ample ‘day’ light. However, as I finally made my way out of that maze of a train station (with the help of some Chinese backpackers, but not before bumping into quite a number of touts) it was already dark, and hence, I was determined to walk really fast, and hopefully, find my hostel (which described itself as a five minute walk from the train station) soon. However, after some walking, I finally asked two cops whom I saw, only to find out that I was heading in the opposite direction. Well, I turn back, with my 12 kg pack. After another 20 min of walking, I finally stopped once again to ask another group of teenagers for my elusive hostel location, only to find out that I had to trek all the way up the hill, only to go down again. By then, it was 22 30, and I had depleted all my energy, not having eaten a thing since breakfast, and I simply wasn’t ready to trek up a hill with a 12 kg pack, especially in the dark. And hence, I just flagged a cab. If they wanted me to pay a king’s ransom, I would have paid it. I was really quite nastily surprised to find my hostel nestled amongst some rubbish dump area, and on the second floor, but the Bohemia decor persuaded me to stay, instead of abandoning it for some posh hotel that I could have easily paid for, with my card in hand. Wise economic decision.

Coach Journeys

I swear I won’t ever take long distance coaches again, as they are most literally, a pain in the ass, the most painful of which, was the journey from a sleazy (my own opinion) Antwerp, to London. After going through a check-in process in my London-Paris coach journey, with a waiting lounge with the same coach company, I obviously expected some check-in procedures and a proper bus station in Antwerp. Imagine my horror, which I arrived at the office, only to find it closed, since 15 00 (the coach was to leave at the after dark hour of 23 15), with no hopes of it opening anytime soon. Without a choice, I was forced to seek refuge in a nearby pub, where a drunk guy almost had a brawl with the waitress! And, when I ventured to explore the area round the ‘bus station’ (just a concentration of bus stops actually), to see if there are any reception areas or check-in counters, I was stalked! And well, relief was not to be found with the bus as well. When I boarded the bus that finally came, only TWO seats were left, and I was unfortunate enough to sit in front of a family that chattered non-stop, and had a kid who just wouldn’t stop kicking my chair. And of course, my troubles were not to end just here. At the French customs, though I breezed though the customs, the whole bus was held up for almost half an hour, as four guys were subjected to rigorous questioning. This resulted in the bus missing the ferry. And of course, these troubles with customs officials continued on the side of the British customs. Our coach was singled out for baggage checks, and though I breezed though the customs once again, the bus was once again held up, that after what I estimate to be an hour, the bus driver finally announced that the same four guys have been detained. And well, for some poor backpackers, and for the bus driver as well, the transit at Canterbury was missed, and so, the bus driver had to drive all the way to London, before he got his rest.
The Lowdowns of the Trip:
  1. In my absolute boredom and itchy-handedness, I deleted my pictures from London and Prague, on the third day of my trip. It was only out of pure decency of the awareness that it was 0800 in the morning, that I did not let out a blood-curling scream at my own stupidity. GRUMBLE!
  2. The Klagenfurt Incident: Stupid complacency is a killer. Arriving at Klagenfurt (and yes, tell me, who’s heard of that place) without the slightest inkling of how to get around, and without booked accomodation results in apprehension. The awareness that I was the only backpacker (not to mention CHINESE backpacker) around, with the pathetic fallacy of the howling winds, and the relentless drizzle, and you get a very wet, miserable, and frightened me, not to mention numb toes in sandals. Hence, I was most willing to check into the first hotel that came my way, even though it cost a grand, pocket-hole-enlarging EUR 77. And of course, to add my present misery, was my fear. For the first time, I was all alone in a hotel room. Maybe I wouldn’t have experienced this fear, if I were in a very modernly-furnished room. But, it was here that I first had the “out of place, out of time” feeling. This was a room with tapestries of people in elaborate customes; heavy red curtains; carved wooden wardrobe with a key; a full-length mirror that confronts you the moment you wake up; a small mirror set in gilded bronze, with two candles by the sides. Growing up in a young nation, I never lived in an old building like this in my entire life. This was akin to asking me to spend the night alone in Dracula’s castle– I was totally freaked out. But thankfully, nothing happened, and the good bed allowed me to sleep away my body aches.

The Highpoints of the Trip:

It must be the accidental discoveries: 🙂

  1. The ‘Secret Garden’ in Prague: I didn’t consult my map, as I headed in the general direction towards Charles Bridge, so that I could return to the old town of Prague. However, as I was walking along a small footpath, I saw an open door. My curiosity drew me towards that door, and I just stepped in. Lo and behold! I ‘discovered’ a well-landscaped garden, complete with statues, fountains, and a gardener with a strawhat! And further in, there was a wall that resembled the facade of Mordor in “Lord of the Rings”, but beside it, a theatre-like structure with beautiful frescos. Of course, throw in the peacocks that roam these gardens!
  2. Bird’s Eye View: After an exhausting 287 steps on a seemingly never-ending spiral staircase with no handlebars, I was treated to a beautiful view of the whole city of Prague– breath-taking wonder! This feat was not repeated, at the Vatican, which had more than 300 steps though. 😉
  3. Viennese Splendour: After all the previous days of walking, I finally decided to just buy a tagkarte in order to use the local transport system, and after falling asleep in a few trams here and there, I woke up to a beautiful fountain at the Belvedere, seducing me to drop off and take a walk. Not knowing that I actually entered from a side entrance, I was of course, MOST SURPRISED, when a HUGE and SPLENDID landscaped garden just very much ‘unfurled’ before my as I walked through the gates. Nothing can buy discoveries like these, and my great and cheap hostel, which is my favourite hostel in Europe.
  4. Klagenfurt: After recovering from my miserable state, I took a little walk around the hotel area. The rain was lightening up, and when the mists cleared, I suddely saw a huge blue mountain right at the back of the street, amazing, eh? I found out that Klagenfurt is actually famous for a lake, Wothersee (Vo-ter-zee).
  5. Somewhere Over the Rainbow: There’s no rainbow without rain, and just as Elly was complaining about the dreary weather that came with the rain, I looked up, and saw a most beautiful rainbow that was enough to cheer Elly up, and make her brighten into a smile!
  6. The Quirky Shops of Frankfurt: Has anyone heard of a Nutelleria or a Maggi specialty store? Well, believe it or not, they CAN be found in Frankfurt! The strange stores people set up! (yes, head towards the Nutella shrine, all ye faithful out there)
  7. My Dream Bookshop: In Oxford, I found the bookshop, that fit my idealised image of how a bookshop ought to be. Going into the basement of a smallish looking Blackwell, suddenly, shelves upon shelves of books presented themselves to me, laid out in a rectangular pattern, on two tiers. Here, I got what I declare to be the bargain of my lifetime– An “Oxford Companion to Archaeology” edited by Brian Fagan just for GBP 12, a massive reduction from the original price of GBP 50. I simply love this place!
  8. Meeting quirky people like Christine who can tease me about my gluttony after knowing me for only two days! 😉

Klutzy & Funny Business

  1. Vienna: I walked into the Natural History Museum, even though it was the Museum of Fine Arts that I intended to visit. Well, oh well… And of course, ended up eating almond cake, which I mistook for baked ice-cream.
  2. Rome: I got lost twice, travelling in my usual style of ‘general’ directions. But of course, getting lost has its perks, especially when you ‘run into’ a marching military procession, or find a piazza with one of those guys posing as an Eygptian mummy in front of a fountain. I also found out that stupidity has its rewards, as I bought a ticket to the Palatine, only to discover afterwards that this ticket is valid for the Colosseum as well, allowing me to cut the colossal queue of the Colosseum! 😉

Train.jpg