Magistrale Diaries: The warmth of Komsomolsk

The clock advances to 06:27 and on cue, train 667 comes to a halt. On the wide main platform outside, dozens of people are waiting for family and friends to alight – its quite the reception party. Past the station building, passengers make their way through a sprawling plaza towards the parking area, to city buses and rickety old trams. We are the first arrival for the day, and Komsomolsk-na-Amure is slowly coming to life.P1010511 Continue reading “Magistrale Diaries: The warmth of Komsomolsk”

Magistrale Diaries: Khabarovsk, we meet again!

The last time we passed through this way was over 3 years ago. The Rossiya was running 90-minutes behind, and our brief stop in the city was chilly and all too foggy. It’s a much clearer day today; temperatures are hovering around the 30C (85F) mark, and this time around we find ourselves on the business end of Khabarovsk station…
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Unmistakably Utah

I still recall my first visit to LA, when, as a student, the cheapest ticket I could find was via Salt Lake City. My transit through there wasn’t particularly long, but a single glance outside was enough to make me want to return to Utah.

Return I did, several years later, to the southeastern corner of the state, only to realize that Utah was much too large and far too beautiful. Three years have passed since, and I’m in a different part of the state now, but its that very feeling creeping up on me yet again…P1000791

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The Crescent to the City of New Orleans

Any hopes of eating southern-style barbecue are quickly dashed at JFK itself. Presidential activity, the pilot informs us, as we finally join the endless queue for takeoff. I arrive at ATL so late that even the airport’s own restaurants have called it a night. Save for a lone Diner, downtown Atlanta doesn’t fare too much better, and to make matters worse, its several degrees cooler than NYC…

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Le Canadien

How long are you in Toronto for? Just a few hours, I reply. I’m actually headed to Vancouver. How long are you spending there? Not a lot, I’m literally taking the train west and flying back home from there. Perplexed for a moment, the immigration officer at Pearson International hands me back my passport. Hope you’re carrying a good camera, he says, as he ushers me through.

By the time I’m done wandering around downtown Tee Dot – a city that looks and certainly feels very different in the winter – I saunter in to Union Station, with only a half hour or so to spare before departure. Blissfully unaware, all the while, that there is a special lounge for sleeper class passengers within.

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Patagonia, the last hurrah

Patagonia, that humongous swath of land, which makes up the southern half of Argentina, is also its least populated region. Only a handful of towns exist within, most of them established in the late 19th or early 20th-centuries. San Carlos de Bariloche, in the Patagonian province of Rio Negro, is one of its better known ones.

A favored winter sports destination by Argentines, Chileans and Brazilians alike, it is equally popular in the summer months, attracting hikers and mountaineers from across the continent. Not one to betray its European roots, Bariloche is also known for its alpine-style architecture, specialty chocolate shops, and an ever-expanding roster of microbreweries.

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Uco, the Valley of Goodness

Malbec is probably the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Mendoza. Possibly Mt. Aconcagua, for those more daring. Other than being a gateway to wine country, the city of Mendoza itself rarely finds mention. There are no riveting edifices; no monuments or museums of note, not even an imposing Iglesia. Taking cue from that, the city administration took it upon themselves to make the town as inviting as possible, no matter how long you choose to spend in it.

The result: Mendoza today is a perfectly pleasant city to amble around in, dotted with beautifully kept plazas, and plenty of exciting dining destinations. Boasting wide tree-lined streets, it’s also incredibly green. Surprising, when you consider it’s essentially located in a desert. Back in the day though, town planners were smart enough to channel the runoff from the precordillera (Andean foothills), through a network of irrigation channels, and the results are there for all to see…

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One Marathon Weekend

I was back in Rio a little over a month after my first visit, ostensibly to take due advantage of my Brazilian visa – one that required four trips to their consulate in BA to obtain. And although that was a strong enough reason to return, in reality, I was there to experience first hand that once-in-every-four-years spectacle, the Summer Olympics.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve cracked open a can of beer that early in the morning, but after having waited in a long line for over an hour, it was the best feeling in the world. And nothing more uplifting than to do so at the morning track and field session at Rio’s Olympic Stadium…

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Diário do Rio

We’ve been in bumper-to-bumper traffic for the last mile or so, but the slow progress doesn’t bother me much. Cosme Velho is an attractive neighborhood; tree-lined streets, the occasional old mansion, and a vibrant street life. The slower speed also means I can pay close attention to the signs. A year plus of Spanish has definitely helped, and I can understand, with some degree of ease, a lot of the words I see. Speaking them out aloud though, is another matter altogether. My first stumbling block – asking my cab driver for change!

Friday 3:15 PM, The Summit.

Most first-time visitors to Rio will end up going to Cosme Velho, if nothing else, than to get up to the storied Corcovado Mountain, home to the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer.

It’s a short wait for me at the lower terminus of Trem do Corcovado, a rack railway that climbs to a height of 2329-feet or 710-meters. All of 25-minutes long, it’s a spectacular ride to the summit. But nothing, absolutely nothing – no amount of high-definition photos or 360° videos – can prepare you for the incredibly exhilarating views at Corcovado. Get past the hordes of selfie-seekers, claim your share of digital memories, and when that’s all done, pat yourself on the back for having made one of the best decisions of your life – visiting Rio.

Olá Rio! #cristoredentor #corcovado #riodejaneiro #brazil

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The overnight to Córdoba

The demise of long-distance train travel in Argentina followed closely on the heels of the United States. Vastly improved highways, comfortable overnight buses, competitive fares; you get the picture. By the 60s, passenger trains were but a shadow of themselves. So if you were to ask any sane individual today, how they’d get across the length and breadth of this vast country, you’ll probably get “by bus or plane” as their reply.

But there has been a bit of a resurgence in the past few years – new long-distance trains, a revised schedule; and you’d never have expected it, online bookings too! So with an e-ticket in hand, I find myself on Platform 8 of Estacíon Retiro one Friday evening, waiting to board the 20:38 departure of train 269, Buenos Aires to Córdoba.

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