Japan Rail


After riding the trains in Japan, I really felt they deserved their own post. They are incredible in so many ways, and make me completely envious and upset that we can’t have a system like this in the US. How are they so wonderful? Let me count the ways:

1. The trains, whether old or new are always beautiful and spotless and well maintained. I have no idea how they keep them is such incredible order, but it makes for pleasant journeys everywhere one goes.

2. Everything is crazy punctual. Nothing is ever late or early, but exactly as described in the schedules. This kind of super reliability makes taking the trains a pleasure and removes a lot of stress. I was reading somewhere a statistic that Japan Rail trains are on average no more than 35 seconds late. You read that correctly, across the entire system! And this takes into account suicides and other unforeseen events that could really retard a schedule. Amazing.

3. Stations and platforms are well organized and easy to navigate, even though one does not speak Japanese. You always know where your platform is, where your car is, and where and when to board.

4. Although I have complained about not being able to book tickets online, going to the JR office at any station is very easy and efficient. Getting reservations and tickets is a snap, and again, no Japanese necessary, you can just point at a calendar or pull up a schedule beforehand to show them. (And the Hyperdia app on the iphone, a must if you are visiting Japan, makes all this a total breeze.)

5. The stations, like the trains, are spotless and have many shops and restaurants to purchase items for your trip. My favorite are the bento box lunch stands on every platform, where you can buy a beautiful and tasty lunch that is wrapped like a gorgeous xmas present.

6. Bullet trains are so fast and amazing.

7. And although I have been taking about the national (regional really) system, it bears saying here that the local train systems and subways are likewise amazingly simple to use, from buying tickets to finding your train.

8 From all of the above, you would assume (as I did) that the system must be some incredibly subsidized government bureaucracy, right? But no! Japan Rail is a private and profitable system! And the ticket prices are not that high, we pay much more on Amtrak for much worse service. WTF is up with that??


It is all about the journey. It had better be.


I use that expression all the time, and I believe in it wholeheartedly. The journey though life is the destination, and noticing it and being present is a recipe for greater happiness. That said, Josh has booked us on a doozy of a journey today that will take us on a train from Oslo to Myrdal (which we are on right now and which will last 4 hours, 42 minutes), followed by a trip on the Flam Railway (1:27pm), connecting to a fjord boat trip to Gudvangen (3:10pm), followed by a local bus to Voss (5:45pm), and finally a train again to Bergen (7:20pm, arriving at 8:34pm). For those that are counting, that will make for over 12 hours of traveling, with some supposedly spectacular views, although it is raining and the part we are on right now is not very interesting visually. And some sadist at the booking office put our reserved seats in the “family” car of this train, where we are surrounded by screaming children and diapers. On the bright side, I have headphones and internet.

X 2000 blogging


I thought I should take this opportunity to blog from the comfortable seat of our first class SJ X2000 train as we speed along at 200km/hr on our way to Stockholm. Overall the train is very nice, and I have to admit to being thrilled to have Wi-Fi, as this is the first train I have been on that has it. The entire trip is only about 3 hours (vs the slow train to Oslo which will take us 6 hours alas), and we should be arriving soon.

El Tigre


I’m a lucky bastard. I have the good fortune to meet wonderful people from all over the world. People who invite me to visit, for a meal, to go on outings, or who share their culture with me in a variety of ways. Today I was invited by two such people I met recently, Philippe and Roberto, to come spend the day with them in their little island home away from BA, in a place called El Tigre. El Tigre is the name of the delta region north of Buenos Aires. It is also the name of a small town that is sort of the gateway to the islands of the delta. The delta region is a fascinating and vast place, with a huge number of islands, some simple, some fancy, some wild and some quite developed. The weather was perfect, and we had a lazy day of eating and drinking and walking the island their house is situated on (called Santa Monica), followed by a fantastic boat trip offered by one of their neighbors to tour some of the delta. One could spend many days and not see all of it. In some ways it reminded me of the backwaters of Kerela; in others it reminded me of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. And yet in others it is totally unique. It is also super cheap and easy to get to from Buenos Aires. I just hopped on one of the frequent (every 20 minutes) trains at the beautiful Retiro Train Station, after buying my ticket for (I kid you not) 35 cents (US). Roughly 45 minutes later, I was in El Tigre.

Stunning journey


Juliette and I agree that the rather expensive “Andean Explorer” train from Cusco to Puno was totally worth it. The views were spectacular, the cars beautiful and the food quite good. The only downer is that wine and some drinks cost extra, but we would totally take this train again.

Andean Explorer


This is the rather quaint name given by Perurail to the train we will be taking this morning from Cusco to Puno, leaving at 8am and arriving at 5pm. We are hopeful that the service and comfort will be better than the Perurail train we took the other day back from Machu Picchu, because to be honest, the tickets weren’t cheap.