Category Archives: Transit
After a long journey, I made it last night to Kuala Lumpur Just wanted to check in with a quick update – after a day to adjust and make preparations, I have a very busy schedule of meetings for the rest of the week!
We’ve got a great location right at KL Stesen Sentral (Central Station), which despite its name is not very central in the city (although it is the rail hub and reportedly the largest railway station in Southeast Asia).
Now to bed as it is late and I have an early start with 7 hours of jetlag to battle in the wrong direction!
One of the most distinguishing features of Valparaiso, Chile are the ascensores that scale the city’s many hills. Although ascensores translates literally as elevators or lifts, these are really funicular railways, where each track has one car, and they move equally and oppositely to counterbalance each other.
There are many different numbers in circulation, but it is clear that approximately 25-30 ascensores once operated in Valparaiso, almost all built during the city’s heydays between about 1880 and the pivotal 1914 when the Panama Canal opened and sealed Valpo’s fate – see Wikipedia’s list. Most of the ascensores link the city centre on the bustling flats next to the port with the more residential areas in the first tier of hills – see the map at this local website (in Spanish).
Even though Valparaiso seems like a clear cousin of San Francisco, if you put the Pacific aside for a moment, the funiculars and the hills and accompanying ravines in between actually reminded me quite a lot of Pittsburgh. In Wikipedia’s list of funicular railways in the world, Pittsburgh looks to be the city with the second-most (17) after Valpo. While much poorer than Pittsburgh, Valpo shared a sort of run-down quality to some of the hills of Pittsburgh, a quality which is lacking in San Francisco!
Equally hard to discern is the number actually operating now, reportedly somewhere between four and eight. We actually rode on three and saw at least one other one that appeared to be working, as well as one that had only stopped a couple of weeks prior due to a mechanical failure.
Although they are a much-loved icon, they are old and in need of investment in a very, very poor city – and I can imagine that parts and skills to repair them may be hard to come by. Still, it seems like the government has plans to fix them up – see this BBC Mundo piece from 2012. I would certainly think it would be worthwhile to restore them, not only for tourism but also for locals, as driving up the steep and rough roads is not for the faint of heart (just ask Astrid!).
We took Ascensor Artilleria a couple of times, so I’ll give you a little more of a tour of that one. They do look quite nice lit up at night, although we didn’t get any pictures of that I’m afraid. The prices range from 100-300 pesos ($0.20-$0.60) per ride.
Seeing and riding these definitely was a highlight of Valparaiso, and they add a lot to the fabric of the city. I hope they can find the money to restore more of these soon!
As I made my way through the airport in Hong Kong on the way home a week ago, it all felt a bit familiar. Then I added things up – in less than 3 months, I had landed at HKG five times and was about to take off for the fifth time. I think at this point I may have spent more total time in Hong Kong International Airport than I actually have in the city of Hong Kong! So, my upcoming year-end travel tally should be interesting.
This trip was primarily to Guangzhou, China, which is about 75 miles northwest of Hong Kong. Some of you might know Guangzhou by its former/western name of Canton, and you might know that from studying European history back in high school. You see, Canton was the center of the Opium Wars fought between the British and the Chinese in the mid-19th century, which punctuated the opening of China to western trade and effectively marked the beginning of modern Chinese history. One of the results of the first war was the granting of Hong Kong Island to the British, which as we know was “rectified” in 1997.
Anyway, I assure you that that is ancient history! Guangzhou today is an economic powerhouse, generally regarded as the third city of China (after Shanghai and Beijing, or should I say Beijing and Shanghai?), and the center of the massive Pearl River Delta region, which is becoming one massive megacity. The area includes other massive cities like Shenzhen, Dongguan, Foshan, and potentially (depending on how you want to count) even Hong Kong, with a total of 40-50 million people and exploding.
For most of the week, I have to report that I mostly saw the inside of the Sheraton. The only notable exception was a group evening outing to the Canton Tower. Now, you know that I like tall buildings and towers, so I was glad that they chose this. The tower took over from the CN Tower in Toronto as the tallest tower in the world when it opened in 2010, but has actually since been eclipsed by the new Tokyo Skytree that was still under construction when we were in Tokyo this time last year. (As, well, myself, it is important to note that both of these are not as tall as the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and the recently opened Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel in Mecca is just 3 feet taller than the Canton Tower as well!).
The structure is quite cool – a “hyperboloid” structure with a twisting structure of ellipses, which leads to a tightening of the structure about halfway up (that is essentially the waist of the tower). The outer structure has 7,000 LEDs that give it a very nice glow at night, with changing colors.
Of course, as always almost all of the time was devoted to work – and I literally didn’t step outside of the hotel at all from Wednesday evening through Friday evening. The meeting was generally very successful, with managers (including some head honchos!) from all over the world.
I can’t say much of my usual spiel about impressions of Guangzhou, because I didn’t see hardly any of it, apart from some of the metro! Like many of its Asian peers, the metro is a bit of a marvel in that it has appeared out of virtually nowhere. It didn’t exist before 1997, and almost all of what is there now was built in the lead-up to the November 2010 Asian Games that were hosted in Guangzhou. Today, the metro in Guangzhou is the 10th largest in the world (depending on how you count), with a network the same size as Paris and has several more lines under construction.
After the meeting, I spent the weekend in Shenzhen and Hong Kong before starting the journey home – I hope to post a few thoughts and pictures from those places separately. On Sunday night I made the now-quite-familiar trip on the Airport Express Line to Hong Kong International Airport, after having checked my suitcase at the spectacular “in-town” check-in facility in the city center earlier in the day.
Since I first visited Hong Kong under two years ago they have increased the frequency from every 12 minutes to every 10 minutes, and airport station is without a doubt the best airport-rail interface design I’ve ever seen.
I breezed through security and passport control and then boarded my Qatar Airways A330-200 for Doha. I like having two flights – one to be awake on and one to try and sleep on! In Doha, I had some breakfast at the premium terminal and called Astrid, who was waiting to depart LAX (at that point, I think, 11 hours behind me). Qatar is great; recently selected as the World’s Best Airline, and a massively growing operation connecting all corners of the world via Doha. It is the smaller cousin of Emirates, the huge Dubai-based carrier, but seemingly a bit better (although I haven’t flown Emirates).
Well, I’m now off to Heathrow to start the last business trip of the year, to Sao Paulo. I’m flying the longer, but hopefully more comfortable, way around via Toronto on Air Canada. So, they will tell me a-boat how long the flight time is after I board, eh, but that’s fine by me. I’ve actually never been to the Toronto airport or flown AC, so this will be something new. Happy December!