Showing posts with label train. Show all posts
Showing posts with label train. Show all posts

27 February 2019

Back to Hong Kong

Breakfast with dumplings by Ouyang's wife, he brought them to us yesterday when he visited. Very thin envelope, more like northern China style than the thicker southern Chinese kind.

He is a very traditional Chinese man even though he is only in his forties. He said he got her daughter a job in Chenzhou as a kindergarten teacher but does not want her to go and live far away or have a career. He gives her some extra money each year to compensate for what she's missing. Despite his young age, he has already planned to bequeath some money to his two daughters but all real estate properties to his only son.

Ready to go back to Europe, but first one last espresso in China. My three-year-old niece learned how to operate my Nespresso machine a few days ago and now every time I say out loud I want a cup of coffee she wants to do it!

My niece makes me coffee!

We leave at 7.30 with a Didi car my wife booked night before. It is rush hour so it takes a bit of time to get out of the town. On the way, we meet a funeral procession on the road. Four people are carrying the coffin on shoulders. A long line of mourners follows them and they all wear white cloth on their head. Musicians play trumpets and cymbals. I am curious and interested in the ceremony, though we do not have time to stop and look. Lifang, however, is not amused, she does not like to talk about anything that has to do with death or accidents in the morning, especially early morning, at the start of the day.

On the road to the airport, lots of little street hawkers sell hot dumplings to cars on their way to work in Chenzhou. Maybe commuters or just people going for shopping or business to the big town. Big pots and steam coming out are quite inviting but we just had a substantial breakfast and decide not to stop.

Another fast train to Hong Kong. Lots of people at the station, but fairly disciplined this time, no one is cutting the line, or almost no one.

On the train, I can't help chuckling every time I see, over and over again, this promotional tourist video with a chubby doll in a red dress showing her enthusiasm for the major Chinese tourist sites.

Once in Hong Kong, we have a few hours until our late night flight to London, and decide to make our way to the "Peak". It is not the best day to visit, the visibility leaves a bit to be desired, but still, it's worth the effort. At the top, besides the obvious view, there are lots of restaurants and souvenir shops. Tricky Hong Kong... once you are topside you have to pay another ticket to get to the terrace from which you can enjoy the view, otherwise, you are stuck at the restaurants and the museum!

It is not always easy to get a ticket for the iconic tram at the last minute, but we manage to get a combo pass of some kind that will also allow us entry into a funny wax museum with all kinds of statues of well knows (and some not so well known to us) Hong Kongers from all walks of life.

After which we need to go and pick up our many bags at the hotel we stayed in last time, and traffic is not promising but luckily a trusted Uber driver shows up when we start up our App and we get through the rush hour in no time.

20 February 2019

Train to Chenzhou

Crispy fish skins
Easy morning around Mong Kok. I would like to try a snake soup again but my friends are not so enthusiastic so we opt for a traditional family restaurant of Cantonese cuisine. Fun to walk around this part of town, lots of peculiar shops, selling goldfish, cats, rabbits and all kinds of food, of course. This time I tried noodles, bovine pancreas and fish skins.

In the early afternoon we take a taxi to the sparkling new West Kowloon Terminus, the final stop of the newest fast train coming directly from the mainland. One more step toward the integration of Hong Kong with the motherland.

It is all very new and impressive. For some reason we foreigners are charged 30 Rmb to collect our tickets even though we had already book and prepaid online. Perhaps because we must show our passports to a human teller. (All tickets are nominal.) Chinese can do this at an automatic teller and for free with their electronic ID cards. Anyway, we are lucky to have seats at all. It is still the end of the CNY celebrations, lanterns day festival was yesterday and millions of Chinese are still on holiday.

Second class tickets are the equivalent of about 40 Euro each, fairly reasonable at European prices for 2 and a half hours ride on a superfast train, but quite expensive for the average Chinese. And yet the train was long fully booked. My wife was smart to catch tickets for us and our visiting friends via a special app which somehow manages to snatch tickets as they become available (one month before the trip) or when there is a cancellation.

Pass Hong Kong passport control first and enter a duty-free area, just as if we were leaving the country although Hong Kong is an integral part of China, if with a special autonomous status. I bought some whisky to share with my family in Guiyang.

Then, before we get to the PRC passport control positions, we walked over a thick yellow line on the ground and passed from the "Hong Kong area" to the "Mainland area" on the other side. Landing cards must be filled and we were at the Chinese passport control checkpoint. The officers did not smile much but are polite and very fast to let us all through.

The ride is quite smooth. We arrive in Chenzhou and it's dark and very cold. We have to get off fast as the train stops only for very few minutes before resuming its run to Wuhan.

Taxis are readily available, 100 Rmb to Chenzhou. We tried Didi, the company that bought Uber out in China, but could not get one. We don't trust some illegal taxi drivers who approach us and offer a discount.

Pile up our suitcases in the truck at the back of the taxi but they do not fit, so the driver just leaves the lid open and ties everything together with some strong belt he always carries with him.

22 September 2018

Train from Hangzhou to Chenzhou

Grey sky drizzling. We pack our stuff check out of the hotel and are off to station with an ever reliable didi car.

At the station we are welcomed by a very crowded waiting hall, lots of people going home for the mid-autumn day celebrations.

Lifang goes to get the tickets she has booked online while I wait in line to check-in. I've got all our suitcases and proceed with some difficulty. It's all the more difficult because the wheels of one suitcase are broken, so I have to drag it. But instead of helping me people try to jump the queue and get ahead of me. I manage to keep them behind me and make slow progress.

When she's back we go through to the waiting room a huge hall with thousands of people waiting for their train. From here batches of  travelers are admitted to the platform in the order of departure of their train.

Lifang manages to buy some bananas and processed duck meat for the trip, we've skipped lunch after all. I like the boneless duck bums especially!

The station is quite impressive. Electronic boards show the next 3 or 4 departing trains: red letters and numbers when you need to wait, yellow when you need to get ready and green when the gates (which look like those at the London subway) are open. We slip our tickets through and take the escalator down to the platform.

Then it's time to take position at the color-coded marks on the ground which indicate where each car will stop.

When the train arrives and stops with millimetric precision where it is supposed to stop I'm pleasantly surprised to see departing passengers patiently let arriving travelers off the train first!

We board and struggle to find a place to put our luggage, the aisle is so crowded.

We're off at 300+kmh through Zhejiang province toward Hunan. We barrel through fields of farms, many towns and cities where modern tall and thin residential buildings contrast with old traditional houses.

Too many screaming Chinese children on train, parents could do better to calm them down. Or not. Half the passengers are listening to their favorite TV program or playing a video game online, and not one of them is using earphones. the result is a somewhat less than enjoyable persistent monotonous and loud cacophony.

Once we get to Chenzhou we need a taxi (or Didi) to Guiyang. There is a taxi stand by the station, the fare is 100 Rmb. We try and get something cheaper but end up wasting time with an unofficial taxi before calling a Didi and getting home for dinner! Lesson learned: you may save a few Rmb by using unofficial and/or pooled transportation, but it's probably not worth the hassle!

17 September 2018

Suzhou to Hangzhou by fast train, tea ceremony

Rainy morning in our hotel, we decided to take advantage of the luxurious facilities, we have not used them much these days, always busy visiting. The saunas, steam room, and swimming pool were pristine and inviting. After absorbing some heat in the first two I headed for the pool. There is no one around even though the hotel is rather full.

In fact there is someone around: the lifeguard, who looked kind of bored on top of his high chair until he approached me and said something that I did not understand but then pointed to his head and it was clear he wanted me to wear a swimming cap. Most pools require that in China these days. I tried to explain in my broken Chinese that I am completely bald, and rubbed my clean cupola with both hands to drive the point home. He insisted a couple of times, pointing to a sign on the wall that made it clear it was mandatory, but I insisted even more and in the end he smiled, climbed back up his high chair, and left me alone.

In the afternoon we take a trusted didi cab to the station, but when we reach the modern building I realize I forgot Lifang's necklace in the hotel's safe, even though she had asked me twice to check the safe before check-out. Now, if I had forgotten to check, that would be bad. But I HAD checked, and still forgot the necklace, so that made me feel even worse. Leaving it behind was not an option, this was a special one I had bought her in New York.

But my wife is not someone who gives up easily. She almost got upset, but regained her cool quickly and while calling the hotel, she told me to wait and stay put with both eyes peeled on our bags while she rushed back to the hotel. She made it quite fast and found the necklace, but we now had another problem. We would have missed out train, and we had a dinner appointment with one of her former English students in Hangzhou tonight. It would have been regrettable and impolite to cancel.

No worries: on the taxi back to the station she changed our reservation to a later train, though this one would depart from another station, so we had to rush across town with the local underground, which was slightly stressful but we made it! Just before boarding we even managed to grab a bit of black pepper beef and pork belly with white rice.

The train ride was smooth, the new CHR (China High-speed Rail) trains are quiet and very fast, over 300km/h. The passengers however do not always meet expectations one has on such luxury service. Most people are either on their cell phone, or streaming videos, without earphones, or both at the same time and at high volume. Some passengers even smoke though it is strictly forbidden!

In the end we made it on time to meet our friend, who took us for a tea ceremony in an upscale teahouse by the West Lake. here is a short video. He was a soft-spoken person, a manager in a large automotive company who said little but always made a lot of sense. He quoted Confucius to us: "Is it not a pleasure to have friends visiting from afar?"

In Chinese 有朋自远方来,不亦乐乎? (yǒu péng zì yuǎnfāng lái, bú yì lè hū?)

14 September 2018

Treno per Suzhou

Oggi ce ne andiamo a Suzhou in treno.

Stazione nuova e ben organizzata, tranne che per i controlli di sicurezza, che sono organizzati qui, come in tutte le stazioni ferroviarie cinesi, e persino in molte stazioni della metropolitana delle grandi città, sul modello di quelli degli aeroporti.

Solo che a differenza di quelli degli aeroporti qui a Suzhou le guardie non prestano alcuna attenzione a quello che passa. La suoneria non scatta mai quando un passeggero che attraversa il cancelletto a rilevatore magnetico, nonostante non ci abbiano chiesto di toglierci le cinte o le scarpe, o di levare dalle tasche oggetti metallici. Anche i bagagli vengono infilati in una grande macchina a raggi X e qualcuno butta un occhio stanco sui monitor, ma nessun bagaglio viene controllato. Speriamo bene.

La novità oggi sono i massaggi automatici in sala l'attesa, 20 Rmb per 20 minuti su una comoda poltrona nera dentro alla quale si agitano meccanismi misteriosi che producono colpetti di piacevole pressione, a sorpresa, su varie parti del corpo, soprattutto schiena e gambe.

Ma sono i treni che sono impressionanti. Arrivano puntuali, a pochissimi minuti l'uno dall'altro, e all'avvicinamento di ogni convoglio il relativo numerino sul tabellone diventa prima giallo poi verde e via giù tutti al binario a mettersi in fila ordinata davanti al punto, preciso al centimetro, dove è indicato che ci saranno le porte quando il missile si sarà fermato.

All'arrivo prendiamo le camere nel bell'albergo Pan Pacific costruito nelle mura della città vecchia, fa parte dell'antica muraglia adesso, dormiamo dentro un pezzo di storia.

E poi via nel giardino/museo Pan con la torre di Ruiguang, adiacente, con la carta magnetica della stanza l'ingresso è gratuito. Tipico giardino cinese, rigorosamente dotato degli elementi essenziali che ogni giardino deve avere: uno o più ponti, una pagoda o a volta una struttura architettonica alternativa, una roccia con cascata d'acqua in un lago, (i pesci rossi nel lago sono un optional quasi obbligatorio) e molti fiori, tra i quali non manca mai il loto nel lago.

04 March 2018

Train back to Hong Kong and flights to Europe

Morning at home, final packing and tidying up before leaving Guiyang.As usual we have a couple of suitcases full of goodies, mostly food from family farm in Yanjia.

Brunch with family, bamboo shoots pork, water chestnut soup. And fish: a big black from the pond on our terrace! It is quite common for people to keep gold fish and live fish for eating together, in the same pond!

A neighbor gracefully drives us to Chenzhou station in his brand new Honda, which he points out costs twice as much in China as in Japan. Honda has factory here but it is supposed to be producing for export only, so he is not sure where his car, or parts of it, comes from.

He is a banker and has a good life. Happy with the way things are going in China but he says communism can never work. China is still officially pursuing communism but in practice it is successful because it is capitalist.

Chenzhou station is crowded beyond imagination, never seen it so full of people like an egg. And it must have been worse a couple of weeks ago for Chinese New Year's. They estimated that about 600 million people travel across the country to go home, the largest annual migration in the history of the world. No wonder the transportation system is busy.

Can't move around no chance to buy my favorite duck neck snacks from Shenhua. Bags through x-rays, but they don't check any of them.

people are allowed onto platforms in waves as each trains homes in on the station. There is one train every 8 to 10 minutes going either north toward Wuhan and Beijing or south to Guangzhou.

Fast train (over 300kmh) is slightly delayed but no problem we have a good buffer before our flight from Changsha. Once underway, the delay increases somewhat because one passenger sets off the smoke alarm. The driver slows down and two security guards walk up and down the train to catch the smoker. I am not sure what they will do to him or her but after about 10 minutes we resume our normal speed.

At Changsha station an avalanche of people moves to catch a bus or a taxi, or a maglev shuttle to the airport. We choose the bus as there is less to walk and we have large heavy suitcases full of Hunan food!

Just before boarding bus another x-ray machine for our bags, again no one cares to check .

The bus is an old and cranky machine from the bad old times, and a TV screen blasts off some kind of funny talk show at ear-piercing volume. It must be funny because Lifang laughs all the time.

At the airport we have to wait a while to check in but there is no place to sit down as people take up seats with bags, or lie down across three seats and think it is normal. We do not feel like starting an argument and just relax on our suitcases.

After check in we go through yet another x-ray machine no one pays any attention to and then passport control. Our flight to Hong Kong is in the same terminal area as international flights (and flights to Macau and Taiwan). Hong Kong is still a "special" administrative region, with its own borders, police, currency, laws etc. It is supposed to remain so at least until 2047 according to the treaty signed with the UK when the last remnant of the British empire was returned to its motherland.

After which we have another (you guess?) x-ray machine control! This time the do look very carefully and stop me. A guard asks if I am carrying a knife. I replied of course I was not. He asked me to open my trolley and take pretty much everything out. Of course there was no knife but the spine of a box looked like one on their screen. OK I can go.

The lounge of Changsha airport is nothing spectacular, and in fact they have reduced both its size and its offering since my last visit. Just some snacks and non-alcoholic drinks.

Uneventful flight to Hong Kong, where we spend a pleasant hour or so in the Qantas lounge while waiting to connect to our British Airways flight to Brussels. We walk to the gate quite early to board with the first batch of passengers and enjoy a drink or two before take-off.

Here, again, we run into the less than fully prepared staff of British Airways. We're flying to London and connect directly onward to Brussels. They won't let my Chinese wife board the plane because she does not have a Schengen visa. The rule says that she does not need one, because she is a resident of the UK and is with me, her husband, and an EU citizen. She would need one if she were traveling alone (though they usually let her through) but not in my company. It is a rather complicated rule, but it should not be beyond the grasp of people who check passport for a living.

I love a united Europe but they could really make an effort to simplify the rules back there in Brussels. Or just allow anyone who legally lives in Europe to move anywhere else in Europe, whatever the passport. but you would think the employees of a major international airline which fly planeloads of people from every corner of the world would familiarize themselves with it. No, they did not. For the third time in a little over a year we are held for some 30 minutes while the staff makes phone calls and scrambles to read manuals. I googled the relevant EU rule on the internet in less than 10 seconds and showed it to them, and finally we were allowed on board.

One more trip to Asia is over, though every time it feels less and less like a trip and more of a home coming. A long night on our BA flight and we'll be in Europe. BA is on a downhill slope when it comes to quality. Service on the plane, while friendly, is less meticulous and attentive than it used to be.

22 February 2018

Changsha to Leiyang

Amazing buffet at the Changsha Intercontinental hotel, eastern and western, hot and cold, sweet and savory, chopsticks and forks and knives and spoon, it is a real celebration.

Some of the highlights: I was first attracted by the local cold noodles, roughly grated with a special tool from a big boulder of dough. You then add spices and bits and pieces of veggies and meats. Also interesting the hot soup with veggies, pork, mushrooms, taylor-made for each of us by a dedicated chef.

After breakfast the real challenge of the day awaits us: find tickets to Leiyang for the wedding ceremony of Carrie, one of our best Chinese friends, but no seats were available to purchase online as usual. It is still the Chinese new year rush, with over half a billion people moving around the country to spend the holidays at home. We went to the station and tried our luck at the ticket office, but no way.

We were then approached by some scalpers who wanted 300 Rmb, not for tickets but as a fee to smuggle us on a train then we could then, supposedly, buy standing tickets. However I have never seen anyone standing on the fast train we need, and the slow train would take way too long, maybe up to 4 hours as opposed to 1. The whole thing is fishy, we give up.

We're stuck! My wife then remembers that there is an alternative: get bus tickets instead. We manage to catch the last bus to Chenzhou at 5:30pm, but must pay for the whole ride to Chenzhou even if we plan to get off at Leiyang. Actually at a highway station which is the stopover for Leiyang-bound passengers. But that's the way it is and we're lucky to be able to get (close) to our destination! Carrie's husband and his brother (who owns a car) will come and pick us up. Very kind for someone who's getting married tomorrow!

Meanwhile great buffet (40 Rmb pp) with unlimited food and beer at a restaurant by the gas station. Tons of meat (great), fish (so so) and veggies (again great). Beer is a local brand, kind of light, but tasty. No fresh fruit however. I loved the chicken paws and the pork belly. Also black fungus with quail eggs was juicy and inviting.

Gas station buffet, Hunan

25 February 2013

Alla biglietteria del trenino di Fiumicino aeroporto (seconda puntata)

Biglietteria automatica n. 1

Rieccomi a cercare di fare un biglietto alla stazione del trenino che da Fiumicino mi porterà in città. Ci avevo già provato, senza successo, l'ultima volta che ero venuto a Roma, qualche settimana fa. Stavolta la terribile macchina bigliettatrice automatica mi ha accolto così come si può vedere nella foto qui sopra. Nessuna connessione al sistema. Almeno non mi ha chiesto se volevo comunque pagare il prezzo del biglietto senza riceverlo, come l'altra volta.

Biglietteria automatica n. 2
Indomito, mi sono recato presso un'altra biglietteria automatica poco lontano, ed ecco qui sopra il risultato. La macchina si connette al sistema ma si rifiuta di vendermi un biglietto per i prossimi treni: "non vendibile". Forse è regalabile? Rubabile? Mah!

A quel punto ho notato due biglietterie umane e mi sono avvicinato. Davanti alla prima una lunga fila, mentre nessuno davanti all'altra. Provo a comprare un biglietto dalla bigliettaia senza fila e la gentile signorina mi chiede 16 euro. Sapevo che il biglietto costava 14 euro, e le ho chiesto spiegazioni. Mi ha risposto che quello è il prezzo della biglietteria pubblica, noi siamo privati e lo vendiamo a 16 euro! Per chi fosse interessato a spendere 2 euro in più per il biglietto l'agenzia si chiama "365".

Rassegnato, ho fatto la fila alla biglietteria pubblica, impiegando circa dieci minuti. Infatti il bigliettaio di turno, con il suo stentato inglese, stava cercando di rimorchiare due ragazze russe che gli chiedevano informazioni. Il tutto mi ha fatto perdere il primo treno per Termini, che la lasciato il binario davanti al mio naso. Ho dovuto aspettare ancora mezz'ora, in piedi, nel terminal non riscaldato, prima di salire sull'agognato trenino Leonardo Express.

Per rasserenarci ecco un paio di bei libri sui treni del tempo che fu!

23 January 2013

Alla stazione ferroviaria dell'aeroporto di Fiumicino

Biglietteria automatica
Questo è ciò che la macchina bigliettatrice del treno per l'aeroporto di Fiumicino mi ha chiesto dopo aver letto la mia carta di credito. In altre parole: vuoi pagare il biglietto senza riceverlo? Ho avuto un dubbio amletico sul da farsi.
Tra l'altro la domanda mi è stata posta in italiano nonostante io abbia selezionato l'inglese per effettuare la transazione. Se al posto mio ci fosse stato uno straniero che non parlava italiano magari si sarebbe fatto addebitare il costo del biglietto senza poi poterlo ritirare! 

Per rasserenarci ecco un paio di bei libri sui treni del tempo che fu!

23 April 2012

Stazione ferroviaria di Cittadella (PD)

Arrivo di buon mattino alla stazione di Cittadella, provincia di Padova, per prendere un treno per Treviso. La biglietteria è chiusa, PER SEMPRE, come avvisa perentoriamente il cartello posto sulla vetrata.

Però c'è in bella vista una modernissima macchina automatica per emissione di biglietti. Anzi di "Biglietti regionali veloci". Mi avvicino con mano al portafoglio.

Però anche la macchina automatica per emissione biglietti, che peraltro accetta tutte le principali carte di credito, è fuori uso, ma almeno, forse, non per sempre: il cartello però non si impegna ad una data precisa...

Meno male che c'è il bar! Cappuccino, cornetto, scatola di sigari Toscanelli al caffè, i miei preferiti, e biglietto del treno.

12 September 2011

In treno in giro per l'Italia

La settimana scorsa ho deciso di prendere il treno per andare da alcuni amici a Vicenza. Aperta la pagina delle prenotazioni di Trenitalia ho indicato le stazioni di partenza e di arrivo, Roma e Vicenza, e ho scelto data e ora per il mio viaggio. Per un biglietto Frecciargento di prima il prezzo era di 116 Euro. Non proprio regalato, i prezzi dei treni sembrano ormai paragonabili a quelli degli aerei. A titolo di paragone sono andato a vedere quanto costano biglietti simili in altri paesi, sempre in 1a classe. In Francia Parigi-Bordeaux costa dai 40 ai 75 euro, un affare. Per la verità in Germania sembra il treno costi ancora di più, Francoforte-Monaco si vende a 140 euro. In Inghilterra da Londra a Newcastle costa sui 150 euro. In Spagna da Madrid a Barcellona si pagano dagli 80 ai 210 euro a seconda del servizio. Ma andiamo per ordine e cominciamo dall'inizio: la prenotazione.

13 August 2010

2° g - 13 Ago: Da Delhi a Shimla in treno

Siamo in stazione aspettiamo alcune ore nell'opprimente afa notturna per la partenza del treno. Aria ferma, calda. Il treno parte alle 5 di mattina e non valeva la pena prendere una camera d'albergo per solo 3-4 ore. Chiedo al capostazione che lavora davanti an un enorme pannello illuminato di piccole lampadine che indicano la posizione dei semafori, gli scambi dei binari dei treni che portano qui. Ci vuole un po' per capire che partiremo dal binario n.2. Le sale d'aspetto sono illuminate al neon e grandi ventilatori rimescolano l'aria densa e umidissima. Le panche sono tutte occupate da viaggiatori in attesa, a noi non rimane che sistemarci alla meglio su qualche muretto. Preferiamo star fuori, è più sopportabile. Abbiamo sete ma non si può bere dalle fontanelle e il baretto vicino all'entrata è sempre chiuso.

12 August 2010

1° g - 12 Ago: Partenza per lo Spiti ed il Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh. Arrivo a Nuova Delhi

Torno in India, sarà la settima o ottava volta, mi sento un po' a casa mia. Questo promette di essere un viaggio di grande interesse culturale, incentrato sul Buddhismo lamaista. Soprattutto nello Spiti, ma in misura minore anche in Kinnaur, c'è una forte presenza di questa religione da secoli, rafforzata recentemente dai profughi del Tibet invaso dalla Cina. Per chi è stato in Ladakh e Zanskar qui i monasteri sono forse meno ricchi, o almeno appariscenti. Ma per chi, come me, è stato stimolato dalle visite del Ladakh e dello Zanskar ad approfondire, questo viaggio sarà senz'altro un valido complemento...

28 December 2002

11° g - 28 DIC: Varanasi - treno per Bhopal

Colazione con paratha, uno dei tanti squisiti tipi di pane indiano, omelette e ortaggi vari. Mattinata in giro per la città in ordine sparso, acquisti, altre cremazioni.

Io sono andato a vedere altre cremazioni. Sono circondato da gaglioffi vari che vogliono soldi e da altrettanto fastidiosi acchiappaturisti che lavorano a commissione per i negozi.

Entro in un negozio e vedo una bellissima trapunta copriletto fatta con pezzi vecchi sari, dicono loro, chissà, ma comunque ben fatti. Mi chiedono 450 euro. Gli rispondo che sono matti e mi chiedono di fare un'offerta. Offro 150 euro e accettano subito, segno evidente che sono un pollo e mi sono autospennato! Probabilmente sarebbero bastati 50!

Passeggio nelle viuzze strette e piene di veicoli vari ed animali. Più india di così non si può! Per qualche giorno va bene, ma viverci? Ma poi, si sa, ci si abitua a tutto.

Il venditore mi racconta di Catherine Deneuve, che sembra si sia particolarmente appassionata a Varanasi. In effetti poi leggo sul suo sito web personale che passa molto tempo in questa città che ha scoperto qualche hanno fa e le è rimasta nel cuore.

Vengo investito da un rickshaw, per fortuna solo di striscio ma mi prendo una bella botta al gomito e mi si rompe il paraluce del mio teleobiettivo.

Quindi incontro una processione funeraria di una famiglia che sta portando una nonna ai ghat per la cremazione. Mi avvicino con rispetto, mi vedono e mi invitano ad avvicinarmi. Un signore sulla cinquantina, forse il figlio della defunta, mi invita a guardarla, stesa su una barella di legno e coperta di fiori. Gli faccio le mie condoglianze e rispondo, sinceramente, che in effetti era una bella donna. Chiedo se posso fotografare e mi dice che certamente sì, anzi mi ringrazia di aver portato le mie condoglianze e i miei saluti. I parenti, tutto intorno al feretro, sono sereni, non ci sono segni di disperazione, nessuno piange. Cantano tutti all'unisono una preghiera al dio Rama.

Poi nel primo pomeriggio ritrovo in albergo e rickshaw per la stazione dove alle 4 parte il treno. Abbiamo preso le cuccette di 1a classe “three tier”, cioè a tre file sovrapposte, comode e pulite.

Scorta di banane, acqua ecc alla stazione, in treno servono tè e caffè. Si passa dagli scossoni verticali del bus a quelli laterali del treno, tutto sommato molto meno fastidiosi, e si riesce anche un po’ a dormire.

Alla stazione entriamo in una grande massa di gente in piedi, seduta, sdraiata, ce n'è letteralmente di tutti i colori, ma c'è un ordine, una logica, ed anche un rispetto reciproco, nessuno spinge, nessuno ti passa davanti.

Il treno è ottimo, pulito, economico e, con le relative stazioni, antropologicamente interessante. Consiglio fortemente di farne uso. Ci sono varie classi, noi abbiamo usato la AC-1 2-tier e 3-tier, cioè Aria Condizionata, 1a classe, a 2 o 3 livelli di letti (4 o 6 letti per “scompartimento”, ma in realtà tutto il vagone è comunicante). La sera i sedili diventano comode cuccette.

Per brevi viaggi di giorno si possono eventualmente usare le classi più economiche, e vedere come viaggiano gli indiani poveri, ma non lo consiglio per tratte notturne. Quando si arriva al binario basta guardare sulla porta della carrozza e c'è sempre un foglio di carta bianco formato A4 con i nomi dei passeggeri ed il cognome puntato, ed il numero del sedile. Così io ero Marco C. posto M43.

I treni in India hanno vari nomi, il nostro è il Kamayani Express. Dentro l'aria condizionata è al massimo, fa freddo!

Il sito delle ferrovie indiane consente un’accurata preparazione dell’itinerario, poi State Express pensa, se necessario, ad emettere i biglietti. Noi, prenotando un po' tardi, solamente al primo giorno di viaggio, avevamo alcuni pax in lista di attesa e poi non abbiamo avuto problemi ma siamo stati aiutati dal fatto che c’erano pochissimi turisti.

30 May 1980

Air ticket no, train ticket yes

Back in Warsaw Ann and Cathy want to buy airplane tickets to go to Krakow. Cathy has not been there and Ann wants to show the beautiful city to her. But to buy an airplane ticket in Poland, even a domestic flight ticket, you need a passport. Or at least foreigners need a passport. However we don't have our passports as they are currently with the police to extend, yet one more time, our visas. So no tickets. We drive to the railway station, where they can buy a train ticket to Krakow, for which you don't need a passport. Oh well, they'll enjoy the landscape more.

To celebrate their accomplishment we go all together to the Winiarna, on the Rynek Starego Miasta, the central market square of the capital. The choice of wines is average but prices, for us, are very low even for imported Italian and French wines.

An ice cream at the Victoria hotel concludes the morning. A couple of drunkards are hanging out by the hotel gate and they offer to wash our car while we lick our ice creams, whch we readily accept. Giallina badly needs a good clean after the adventure in Mazuria.

Ice cream leads to tea at Borzena's. Her mother insists that we have lunch there but we don't want to take advantage one more time of their hospitality, which we know costs them very dear. This time, somehow, we are able to extricate ourselves. Back home, easy afternoon of rest.

Dinner with Andrew and Romek at the Baziliszek restaurant. These dinners at expensive (for the locals) restaurants have become so routine that I have almost completely ceased feeling ashamed about it. I felt even a bit guilty in the beginning, but that went away quickly.

01 April 1980

Train tickets and Russian caviar

After class Andrew, Ann and I spend about five hours in various offices trying, unsuccessfully, to buy our train tickets to East Berlin. We even change some money legally, at the official exchange rate (I think it's the first time since we arrived in Poland, and it will probably be the last) but then some ticket issuing authority tells us we have the wrong receipt. They had never mentioned that there is more than one kind of receipt for foreign currency exchange. And they are serious, despite today's date it's no April Fool's joke. Or maybe they are not serious serious, they just want a bribe.

We'll see, but it seems this trip to East Germany is rapidly becoming more trouble than it's ever going to be worth.

At 7:00pm Marta comes to visit in my room. In her unceasing efforts to win my favors she has actually made a huge Polish flag for me. (I collect flags from the countries aI visit and I had mentioned I would have liked a Polish flag to take home.) Then we are joined by Borzena. After a while I leave Marta to her destiny and take Borzena out for dinner to Staropolska. Here I try black caviar for the first time in my life.

Borzena is a fine lady and even though we are just friends, and I have no plans to change that, I decide to invite her to visit me in Italy at the end of our course. She does not believe me. Also, she is not sure how to put this to her parents, so we agree that probably the best way is for her to be invited by Ann. (An invitation is indispensable to get a visa from any Western country and also makes it easier to get a passport in Poland.) Though Ann could invite her to the States while I could invite her to Italy, and the difference is not exactly irrelevant for planning purposes.

Caviar is readily available in Poland - for hard currency, that is. It is smuggled in from the USSR where it is produced by the Caspian sea. Because it is highly sought by Western tourists, diplomats, anyone relly, its exportation to the West is strictly regulated. It can be taken out of Poland only if one can demostrate that it has been bought legally, and no one can. During the course of my stay in Poland I'll have quite a few chances to buy it at various markets. Usually the price is USD 50 for a 2kg can that is worth several thousand dollars inthe West but has been paid peanuts in the USSR, where supply is not regulated by market prices but by access to the producers.