Haydarpasha Train Station, Istanbul

Just a quick first photo now that we're back and I can edit on the big screens at home. This is the Haydarpasha train station on the Asian side of the Bosphorus in Istanbul. Click it to make it bigger. Photomatix, Photoshop, and the texture is a shot taken in Chernobyl, from which lots more is to come.

More in the Turkey and HDR Galleries at EarthPhotos.com.

Corruption in China’s Push for High Speed Rail


There's an article in the New Yorker, also online, that may give you pause when you settle in to that new luxury high-speed train on your next trip to China. The key quote:

“Inside the system today, if you don’t take bribes you have to get out.
There’s no way you can stay. If three of us are in one department, and
you are the only one who doesn’t take a bribe, are the two of us ever
going to feel safe?”

Montreal to Halifax on ViaRail’s The Ocean


The Ocean, service from Montreal to Halifax.


Just about to get started on the train from Montreal to Halifax, six-days-a-week service that will be unceremoniously cut to three at the end of October, a decision by fiat of the dictatorial, supra-parliamentary Stephen Harper conservative government, according to one of our fellow travelers. They’ve branded this service The Ocean, with a logo of a famous lighthouse.

Here in the ViaRail Montreal terminal they're queueing by the down escalator with the Halifax sign. An overweight man in a dirty orange T-shirt drops his Hello Kitty paraphenalia around him and settles in. Very odd. There is a queue of twenty or so, including one nun. We're across the way at a café. Two fat women are enjoying poutine, a dish with French Canadian origins comprising french fries, cheese and gravy.

As poutine has spread across Canada and come into its own, variants have popped up, like Mexican poutine, with jalapenos. These ladies sure were enjoying theirs, and the full-sugar version of Pepsi.

In Halifax there’s a lobster poutine, an egregious use of lobster. For $14, The Hart and Thistle offers Lobster Poutine Nova Scotia: Lobster morsels, cheese curds and lobster bisque topped with bernaise. Over fries.

A couple of days in the capital of Quebec suggest an obesity problem, if not the obesity epidemic in the U.S. Perhaps poutine is related?

By the late date when I set out to reserve a train compartment, the sleepers which included restaurant food were sold out so we've ended up in the most expensive accommodation, a large room with two beds located in the observation car at the back of the train. When I suggested that we'd thrown as much money at ViaRail as we could, the nice lady in the check-in Panorama Lounge (I think anybody who wanted to could use the Panorama Lounge) looked at the ticket and said "Yes you have."

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A High End Hotel. Really Really High: Lhasa Luxury.


Denver may be the mile-high city, but this luxury resort is located 12,000 feet up in the Himalayas, in Lhasa, Tibet.

The St. Regis Lhasa Resort opened this week. Boy, have times changed. Time was, you needed a Tibet Travel Permit (Apparently you still do) and there really wasn't a choice of hotels. 

In 1999 it took us four days to travel overland from Kathmandu to Lhasa. Now it's 47 hours 28 minutes by express train from Beijing. And when you arrive, the St. Regis Lhasa Resort offers you "three diverse restaurants, wine bar, and tea room" and "Iridium, the Spa…." "With awe-inspiring views of the Lhasa, our beautifully adorned 162 guest rooms and villas feature plasma TV, High Speed Internet Access, and spacious marble bathrooms."

Checking a random date next summer, we've found the Shigatse Suite, with Potala Palace View and 24 Hr Butler Service, listed at a mere $944.26 per night (6,267.50 CNY).

Here, on the other hand, is the state of the art at our hotel back in 1999:


Yup. Times have changed.

(Photos from EarthPhotos.com. Top: The Potala Palace, bottom: A less-than-luxury Lhasa hotel. See more photos from Tibet in the China Gallery at EarthPhotos.com. And here's the story of our 1999 drive in from Kathmandu.)