Total distance travelled:
39,893 km / 24,788 mi
Total distance travelled on land:
14,117 km / 8,772 mi
Total distance travelled by air:
25,776 km / 16,016 mi
Longest train ride by distance:
Yekaterinburg to Krasnoyarsk – 2287 km / 1,421 mi
Longest train ride by time:
Yekaterinburg to Krasnoyarsk – 32:23 for 2287 km
Slowest train ride:
Ulan Ude to Ulan Baatar, 28:25 for 657 km – 23.12 km/hr / 14.37 mi/hr
Maglev from Shanghai to airport – 431 km/hr / 268 mi/hr
Fastest long-distance train:
Tokyo to Osaka, 2:30 for 556km – 222.56 km/hr / 138.29 mi/hr
Osaka to San Francisco – 8673 km / 5,389 mi
Ah, being a traveler in my old neck of the woods. I am in San Jose for work, which is the best possible way to spend a week back in the “real world”. I am writing this on the breezy patio at Gordon Biersch in San Jose, enjoying a czech-style pilsner.
Is it wrong that the artfully crumbling brick buildings remind me of that courtyard in Kazan? These are gentrified, with miniature lights and flower pots on the windowsills, with brick and tile neatly laid beneath iron patio chairs. In Kazan, the windows were shattered, the courtyard laid only with dust and dirt, and the chairs a sunburnt plastic.
Still, if I am able to hold no other memory dear, it will be that one; walking hesitantly through the dark alley only to emerge into a crumbling concrete eden; dun-drenched, idyllic, unforgettable.
I spend so much time lately pondering what it means to travel. But more than just the act of emotionally and physically experience the world, there’s the other deeper and darker act of dedicating your body and soul, emotionally and physically, to the road.
From Kazan to Kyoto to Krasnoyarsk to Kansas, it’s all intoxicating, it all makes my heart quicken, my breath catch, my blood pulse. Even the lowlights are experiences to savour, as cheesy as that sounds. I don’t for a moment regret spending those few boring hours in Krasnoyarsk, because it gave me that intense thrill of finally escaping for a better destination.
I get it now. I can’t live without this any more than I can give up air.
I may never own a million dollar house on the Elbow river. I may never drive a BMW, even a 3-series. But whatever else life has to teach me, I know I will always hunger for that terrifying and thrilling moment of stepping out the door of the train, the bus, the plane, and into someplace new, someplace unexplored.
As we’ve moved along over this journey, I’ve taken pictures of things for posting to the blog. Some of them didn’t make it, for one reason or another. But hating to waste good pictures, I thought I’d throw them into a blog posting for all to experience.
The engine of my plane as I fly down to San Francisco:
Our British Airways 747 to London:
The women who decided to talk us up at the hotel in London (mother and daughter, quite friendly):
Amy and Nick (and me, but I took the picture) sit in a sushi restaurant in St. Petersburg. Russia has surprisingly good sushi for a country that seems to have very few Japanese:
Siberia doesn’t have a lot of features. It generally looks like either of the following two pictures. Usually more the former than the latter:
And periodically, you do see other trains:
The forests often get thicker, too:
Another shot of the Museum of Wooden Buildings. Didn’t post this as I took too many pictures there (was unsure of lighting, etc.):
This is a far, far better shot of the Mongolian Embassy in Ulan Ude, Russia. I think I chose the other one because it did look better … at least at the time:
Me at the lake in Mongolia. Wouldn’t want to go swimming in that, though. Probably not the “cleanest” of places, with all the waterfowl and horses:
Amy catches up on journal- and postcard-writing:
We caught a sunset at Hustai National Park. This was before I nearly froze to death:
A line of rail car bogies sit to one side in the bogie-changing shed in Erlian, China:
Most of you are probably wondering what the toilets in the trains looked like. Here’s an example of the “western” toilets. Never did take one of the squat ones, sadly…
On the road, especially for this length of time, you periodically have to do laundry. Normally, not an issue. But this is what it looks like after washing out all the sand from Mongolia:
We hit a great little restaurant in Beijing for lunch one day, and were served a pot of tea. Make with chrysanthemums. Not exactly normal, but quite tasty:
Don’t ask me what kind of store this is. With a name like that, who really cares, anyway?
This is the view from our hotel in Shanghai. As you can see, it was quite hazy there. The humidity was murder:
It rained a lot in Xian on our first day there. Nice, but wet:
Who doesn’t want to go to a Yummy Restaurant?
We walked around part of Xian’s walls one night. They looked pretty nice:
Our last meal in Xian was at a strange hotpot restaurant, where we had to get someone to translate the freaking menu for us because we couldn’t read it at all. It was pretty tasty, though:
We made a mistake of going to the “Entertainers”, a trio who perform in the lounge of the same name at the Hyatt in Xian. They forever butchered many of my favourite songs…
I meant to post about this. I mean, really, who names their water: “WAHAHA?”
At least you can’t miss the sign to get you to Kowloon (Hong Kong):
Chinglish isn’t escapable, even at the Chinese/Hong Kong SAR border crossing:
One of these is the actual border between China and Hong Kong SAR. I have no idea where the heck it is, as it’s no longer marked:
Rogue vendors are so bad in some areas that private property owners try to keep them out with signs like these:
Our hotel in Kowloon was next to the Avenue of Stars, sort of like the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I found a few names I know:
Jackie Chan apparently heavily sponsors California Fitness. He’s probably an owner.
Inside our favourite dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong:
We had this at a sushi restaurant in Chiba. We thought it was some weird pickled eel. It was eggplant:
Check this out, we’ve hit five of the top ten World’s Costliest Cities (from CNN.com). And four of the five are at the very top.
We got to Osaka around noon and found the hotel after taking several hops on public transportation. The Hyatt Regency Osaka is out in a less-than-exciting part of town with mostly wharves and docks (what’s the difference?) surrounding the hotel and World Trade Centre.
So naturally, for dinner, we headed out to Dontonbori where we’d hoped to find incredible Osaka-style sushi.
We failed on the Osaka-style sushi. We found some but it was decidedly less than incredible. Less than thrilled, we did the photo thing.
(Please pardon my cruddy scanner, these are actually prints from the first roll of photos I had developed today.)
And I couldn’t resist a shot of this cafe’s window display. Loads and loads of plastic replicas to show off the restaurant’s specialities. You see this in Japan everywhere, just not typically so photogenically lit.
Eventually, we did find some really incredible sushi. I think I would rate it the top sushi, or at least a tie for first, in my life. Fresher than fresh, with atmosphere to boot. And, not terribly expensive. All good things. You know a good restaurant when you have to wait in line outside to squeeze into a tiny tiny space at the sushi bar.
It’s 4:00am and I’m awake. Since 12:35. I was afraid of this.
It’s getting light in the east, and birds are chirping away. I just chatted on the phone with my dear friend Mandy who typically is awake until 6:30 or so every night, which is 7:30 my time. Handy! And nice and distracting. There’s not much else to do at 4:00am. I’ve already written, already caught up with some work stuff. My eyes hurt too much to read for any length of time. I could start editing the video… oh wait, that’s a brilliant idea!
But maybe I’ll save it for the next night. If this is anything like my trip to Thailand… it might take me awhile to readjust.
Um… someone stop the world, please? I wanna get off.
The world is a lot bigger than one would expect. Sure, Disney says it’s a “Small, Small World”, but trying going around it sometime. And I don’t mean by plane — go around it by surface. It takes a lot longer, and you’ll see a lot more.
Biggest surprise in the whole trip? Reverse culture shock. Didn’t see that coming, I tell ya. After seven weeks of blocking out all other languages to concentrate on the rare blips of English (signage and speech), arriving in San Francisco about overloaded me. Ouch.
The Bow River is flooding. The main highway was renamed. And those are the only two things we knew about on the road. Adjusting back is going to take some time…
Looking out your office window and seeing this.
Weird. Perfect kelly-green lawns, near-identical houses, SUVs.
Had some of this feeling in San Francisco yesterday. So much English everywhere it sort of made my head hurt, being able to understand every single conversation going on around me.
Yesterday was a day of lasts.
The last train (finally, even if it was just an airport tram; I was thwarted from taking the airport express train by a completely bulletproof argument put forth by Amy that the bus was faster).
The last flight.
The last airport.
The last country.
We left through Kansai Airport (the sinking island — I wonder if it still is sinking?), not nearly as impressive as I’d hoped it would be. Chek Lap Kok is much nicer, I think. Amy flew in Business, with me back in Galley Slave. The food was horrific on a level I can’t even begin to describe.
San Francisco was a rush of English. Ouch. But nothing was more painful than trying to get through United States Immigration.
We’ve been to a number of countries, now. Why is it that, even with countries that need a visa to enter, getting in and out is generally trivial? Amy’s got an American passport, I’ve got a Canadian one. Not a single issue. Ever.
Except in the United States. Amy gets to go through the Resident line. Quick, effective. Me? “Visitor”. Never mind the fact that Canadians are effectively treated like Americans, especially when in transit through the United States to home, and especially when not there on business. I was one of only two Canucks in the line of about 300. The rest were mostly Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino, with a couple of Aussies thrown in for good measure. Time for me to get through? An hour.
Really, does the United States need to be this paranoid? Fair enough, there’s been a terrorist attack. Do you really think that anyone determined enough is going to let you inspect them at the border? Scans of index fingers and digital photographs probably aren’t going to do anything useful, except make people wonder why they’re being treated like criminals. As a Canadian, I’ve been lucky to avoid that crap, but I’m waiting for the day we have to do that, too. Grr.
The delays meant no early flight home. So we spent a few hours wandering around San Francisco. Probably the smartest thing to do, since we needed the time to realize that yes, Toto, we are back in Kansas. It’s weird having to relearn to listen and read a language you’ve known your entire life.
and just like that,
we are home.
more to come. much more.
the right words for me are bitter and sweet.