Cruising with a train

Not the orient express.

We refer, instead to the train service between Tokyo and Hokkaido. It has always been our intent to revisit Hokkaido without flying. The dream was to take a train to Sapporo and pick up the rental and drive all around, especially in summer. Thus we had been doing quite some research into how we will pull this off.

And we picked up news of this luxurious service that will run the length of Tokyo to the northern most island of the Japanese archipelago. Started since 1-May this year, this new sleeper service (read here) is the epitome of luxury ‘cruising’. Like its cousins in the airline industry, the railway folks are also upping their game. From the article, it would appear there is no shortage of folks who would lap it up. Oversubscribed 76 times when balloted for its first ever journey, it has continued to be popular we understand.

However, take a read about the cost of making this journey first before making a decision to book a pair of tickets. At ¥320,000pp a pop for the train ride (twin share), this could be the cost of an entire travel journey for most people. And meals are not included! Oh the experiences that only money seem to buy… Perhaps we can work part-time on the train, or be stowaways? Sounds like a lot of working on the railroad. All the life long day!

How would you like to pass your time away on this train?

Swimming with stingrays

A cruise in the Caribbean cannot be without a short stop at Grand Cayman, the largest of the three islands. Fortunately there are no caimans on the island… heheh. You know what that is right? Anyway, it’s safe so we’ll recommend that you go.

For though the islands are known to be a tax haven full of foreign corporations parking their money there or operating shell holding companies, it isn’t entirely just the playground for the rich and famous… well quite some of it is, but not everything.

We were out on an excursion that we got for free as part of our booking of the Caribbean cruise that brought us here. Not operated by the cruise line meant we had to get ashore on our own and look for the representative of the tour. Let us tell you that we only had 8 hours on the island. And we had the tour at 1030am. Guess what? Because it was so busy, the tenders taking us ashore only cleared the crowds and took us to the island around 11am.

Great stuff.

Now we had to take the next tour at 1230pm and ensure we get back to the harbour before the last tender at 5pm. If it did not make things worse, there were 20 other cruise ships with attendant number of passengers waiting at the tiny harbour.

It was almost running the gauntlet to get back on the boat ship. Did we get back in time? Read all about our adventure here. Wouldn’t you like to swim with stingrays too?

Large Tarmac letters

Have you ever wondered what those large numbers on the airport tarmac is all about? Street signs perhaps? Well, that’s close. Today’s post is a short one. Because we feel you need to click on this link and watch the short youtube video.

It’s a marvel to learn a few things about geography.

So after reading the article you will know what the numbers mean. For those who did not click on the above link (tsk tsk), they are representations of cardinal directions between 0° to 360°. But it is truncated. Thus if an aircraft’s compass is not working, the pilot can still tell in which direction his/her plane is approaching the airport.

Now you see why they paint the numbers so large… the better that they can see you be seen so said the big bad wolf article… And hopefully now it makes sense to you why there are letters on the tarmac.

But we are not only sharing with you what we’ve learned about these markings and numbers. Recall our post on the language of pilots? Flying is still a complex business, and we are not referring to the business of running an airline. The control of a complicated aircraft with millions of moving parts all coordinated by software is the deal we are talking about. You will come to read our take on the advent of pilotless aircraft in a future post.

Think about that for a moment. No pilot. If that happens, will we still need the large letters on the tarmac?

Why me? Tell me…

Yeah you. It’s called murphy’s law, or Mr Murphy. Have you ever wondered why, oh why does things happen to you? No. No we are not ranting about something bad that has occured with us. And no it’s not about the horse either…

Because today’s post first pokes fun at the tribulations one may experience when embarking on a journey. Check out these hilarious comics about the thrills and spills of traveling these days. Does any of the comics relate to your personal experiences? We found the last one to especially apt. Oh why do we have the urge to go to the restroom when the plane’s about to land?

And now we get to the serious stuff. Because it is not only air travel where you can be a little stressed.

Our postulation is this. No amount of planning will prevent or insulate one from mishaps. You might read later in our story on getting back to the cruise ship while in the Grand Caymans after a swim at Stingray city. Why of all days were there like 20 ships anchored there? Don’t they have a schedule to follow? Can you imagine if the traffic snarl would have really caused us to miss the tender back to the ship?

Did you recall this lady trying to swim to hers?

Ok that was a little extreme. If you were in the same situation, what would you do?

A most glorious falls

Yes we know that there are many large and beautiful waterfalls in the world. And it is such a coincidence it is oftentimes the border between nations too. And the Niagara is no different. Like other renown sites such as Victoria falls or Iguazu falls, it sits on a human defined border.

Did you know that approximately 750,000 gallons of water fall over every second here?

We were fortunate to have spent time on both sides of the Falls, the US side first followed by the Canadian side the next day. Because you must. For trying to see it all in a day would only belittle the glorious views. At the time of our visit, it was so easy to walk across rainbow bridge between both sides without customs procedures. Yeah there was a customs officer on the US side but he was there only to ensure the crowd going across to the US side was orderly.

Go over to the Canadian side to observe all of the views. Get up high too and take in the panorama like our feature picture.

There were two beautiful days we ordered and received to enjoy the falls. Come reminisce with us our view of Niagara here. Which side of the falls (country) do you think the views of the falls are more spectacular?

It finally happened!

You might remember that we have written quite a few times about the crowds. Finally it has happened. Barcelona has moved to restrict tourism numbers as the strain on the city finally comes to a breaking point. Though we fail to see how the proposed ban on building new hotels would help. And we doubt that they can effectively check and police the AirBnB rental market with 110 inspectors. And it seems if this article is true, more cities are finally jumping in.

One thing’s for sure, if you want to be one of the 32 million visitors to the city of 1.6 million, you will have to pay a higher surcharge if you only do a day trip. How they levy that we don’t know (someone tell us?) especially if you come on your own. Do they ask you as you get off the train, bus or ship? Ok off the cruise ship for sure.

The most interesting thing though is the tax rate on vacation property. Many years back when we live in Holland, we had quite some Dutch friends who bought apartments in Spain for vacation use or as a second home. How will they be affected? Oh dear. This is the pitfall of investing in real estate in a jurisdiction outside your own country. Never know when the laws change… and btw the barbers realtors will never tell you it’s ever a bad time to speculate invest.

When your city gets visited by the equivalent of 20x the local population, infrastructure will surely begin to creak and moan as we mentioned here. Can you as a local imagine having to crowd with the tourists on the trains, shops etc. It is a fantastic compliment to have many folks from around the world clamour to visit your home city. But it is a whole different proposition to have them clog up your streets! Locals in the city support this move. Businesses object (of course?).

How soon before a BTA (Barcelona travel approval)  or TVA (Trevi visit approval) is required?