A brief spell of rain has resulted in water logging across the city, and off-peak traffic snarls are worse than usual. Two years on, UB or Ulaanbaatar continues to grapple with infrastructural constraints. But a few things have changed, since SK and I were here last. The venerable Chinggis Khaan International is slated to get a swanky new home in a matter of months. The main highway leading out of the city is undergoing extensive repairs, and all along it, modern apartment blocks are rising, looking astonishingly un-Soviet as they do so. The city center now has a bike share – who would’ve thought? And our US-issued mobile devices finally have data coverage in the country. This time around though, we’re headed out. East of the Capital, to be precise, past Nalaïkh – a town who’s name SK and I derive immense pleasure from – into quintessential Mongolian countryside.
Overcast conditions, a cover of threatening clouds, and a thickness in the air that is unmistakably tropical. Stepping out from the climate-controlled interiors of Tocumen International couldn’t be more predictable. Racing along the Pan-American highway some 15-minutes later, from the comforts of my air conditioned Uber, the distant skyline appears almost as dramatic as the sky above it. The highway, at this point, nothing more than a causeway, with low tide conditions to the right, and the vastness of the Pacific to our left. Up ahead, Ciudad de Panamá or Panama City.
An early morning arrival at Santa Apolónia Station – a culmination of three rail journeys that started in London – puts me right in the heart of the Alfama district, the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon. Like every other tourist, I’m probably a nuisance to locals here, as I drag my bag up its steep cobblestone streets, awaking everyone in my path. Truth be told though, this is an excellent bit of acclimatization for me. In a city renowned for near vertical alleys, lofty perches and great vistas, Alfama is quintessentially Lisbon.
Welgelegen is Afrikaans for well-situated. Located in the Oranjezicht neighborhood of Cape Town is a namesake guest house, comprising all of 13 rooms, housed in two late 19th-century Victorian buildings. With Table Mountain visible right behind, it certainly lives up to its name. For me, its the perfect antidote to nearly 17-hours of flying. Continue reading “The lure of the Cape”
In their 29th season, The Simpsons hit up New Orleans, and while there, Homer went on a whistle-stop food tour. Gene’s was one of his stops. Open 24-hours, Gene’s serves a smashingly good Po’boy, as I can finally attest to. Right across from it, the latest extension of the city’s endearing streetcar system, one that I could hardly tire of riding. Both of those cultural icons, only a stone’s throw away from my Airbnb. Its good to be back in the Big Easy… Continue reading “Pullman-style to the Windy City”
The rising sun gradually illuminates Biscayne Bay, the Port of Miami, and eventually, our hotel room. Hushed conversations, and the stirrings of the morning are difficult to ignore, and there’s far too much daylight by now, to continue snoozing through. South Beach lies, but 4-miles away. I coerce myself out of bed, lace up, and head out across the Venetian Causeway…
Continue reading “Silver Star to NYC”
Two knocks on the cabin door and some garbled words spoken by our Provodnitsa are enough to awaken us. Outside, to the backdrop of rolling hills, trucks line a highway that gradually reveals an industrial sprawl. There’s a definite nip in the air and the sun is yet to make an appearance. Moments later, just a few minutes behind our advertised time, we pull in to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia…
We’re already at Ulan-Ude when I awake. It seems we had the time zones all mixed up – Moscow+5 it shall be for the rest of our trip. We had it right 3 years ago though, alighting here at 4 in the morning local time, just to pay our respects to the junction where the Trans Mongolian bifurcates from the Trans Siberian.
Its barely daybreak as we step outside, and the station thermometer displays a chilly 12C or 54F. As the first rays of light peak out from behind, Ulan-Ude is slowly coming to life. We have a 45-minute halt here, where our locomotive is changed – electric giving way to diesel – and more than half of our original train formation is cut off. We will be seven carriages long upon departure, and ours will bring up the rear. Continue reading “Magistrale Diaries: Naushki, and the International Border”
There’s a distinct chill in the morning air as Train 78 races east towards Irkutsk. The terrain is as flat as can be, but given that we’re scheduled to arrive there at the unearthly hour of 06:09, we get to watch a gorgeous sunrise on our way in. Arrival into Irkutsk-Passazhirsky is eventually 3-minutes early, its beautiful station building basking in brilliant morning light.
Sasha and Anya were at it for a while last night – drunk and very much out of control – eventually reined in by the occupants of our neighboring cabin, who asked them to STFU. So despite my best efforts, it wasn’t until 2 am that I finally got some sleep. I awake just as we’re easing out of Vikhorevka, which, like Ust-kut, features a more traditional-style building, and a steam locomotive plinthed on its main platform. Quite unlike the last couple of days, its blue skies and plenty of sunshine, on this, the final morning of our journey on Train 75.