Hello from Darjeeling!

  We’ve had plenty of travel, excellent food and tea, but wifi- not so much. We have been traveling in night busses, one shared taxi, and a wonderful 7-hour daytime train ride on the India Railway. Internet connections have been dicey in Myanmar and northeast India, so I have started but not finished several posts. Photos are almost impossible to load on the blog. So for now, here’s where we have been since Yangon:

Mandalay, Myanmar – 4 days

Monywa, Myanmar-3 days

Crossed border into India and went on to Imphal (Manipur state) India and stayed there 2 days

Shillong (Meghalaya state) India – 4 days

Overnighted in Gawahati (Assam state) India, then took train to (West Bengal) Siliguri, one night there then 3 hr uphill shared jeep taxi to Darjeeling where we arrived yesterday and plan to spend 4-5 days. It is beautiful and cold in the misty mountains here!

Update: we spent about a week in Darjeeling, then 1 night in Kurseong on the way down the mountains, took a 30-hr train from New Jalpaiguri to Dehli. Planning a week in northern India with friends who fly out next week, still trouble uploading pics, bye for now!

Update 7 March: we are spending a week with friends- Dehli, Agra, Jaipur. Still can’t get photos to upload!

Sleeper train from Shanghai to Kunming, China, October 2015


We took a 40-hour train ride on a K train in China! The train system is categorized by letters and K is an older, slower class but popular and affordable. If you want to learn more, seat61.com could tell you all about it but I’m here to say it worked well for us.  It felt to us like a Hogwart’s train and just as adventurous.

 Truly making friends on the train. Notice the baby’s split pants for potty training. This little guy has a diaper on, but far more frequently we saw bare bottoms for ease of toileting.

We paid about $400 for the six of us, which included two nights accommodation, such as it was.  We left from the Shanghai train station,though not the one we went to at first. There are four train stations in Shanghai, and we left from the South Shanghai Train Station. Luckily, we had given ourselves plenty of time. So though we were bummed to schlep our gear back 12 stops on the subway in the direction we had just come from, at least we wouldn’t miss the train. Here is the station:

 We went halfway across China in an 18-car train full of people- families, kids, single people. They were all traveling for the holiday. We didn’t see any other foreigners. Here are Really and Cleverly on top bunks:


 View from the ladder to my top bunk. You can see luggage storage to the top left and fold-out seats with table to lower left:

 Each passenger car had 66 bunks, eleven sections with 2 triple bunks each.  Somehow we managed to get all middle and top bunks for the six of us- not one of the desireable bottom bunks! The bottom bunks cost more and sell out first, we later learned. It was fine, we just reclined or sat at one of the fold-out window seats, of which there were two per section. I slept on a top bunk. They were narrow but comfortable enough; the kids loved it of course! This is Fiercely’s comic “bedtime” showing the twins on their bunk bed jungle gym as they annoy other passengers!

 We brought food (peanuts, apples, vacuum packed tofu)with us and bought some from sellers at stops on the way- lots of noodle bowls made with boiling water available from spigots at every car. We listened to music and what sounded like bedtime stories at night, broadcast over he train intercom, all in Chinese of course. There was the odd American song- “you are my sunshine” and something from a Disney movie- in English. The train trundled westward, stopping occasionally and shaking disturbingly at times. We amused ourselves with books, a DVD until the computer battery ran out, and looking out the window. 

  A view out the window.

The bathrooms were amusing; they emptied directly onto the tracks! Yes, they stank. Also, there was a lot of cigarette smoking, and the smoke was unavoidable due to the close quarters. But we made it to Kunming. Next post on Kunming, China!

Short update 10/3/2015

We made it through our first week post-cruise! Wifi is sketchy so uploading pics is slow, no posts ready at the moment. Also, it is true that Facebook, Twitter, and Google are blocked here so I can’t access my gmail.  

We spent 4 nights in Suzhou, then 2 nights in Shanghai. In a few hours, we get on a 40-hr (!!)train ride from Shanghai to Kunming in south central China. From there, we will get ready to go to Laos and hopefully we will have better wifi. 

Burning Chicken X, August 2015

The egg came first this time! We built a chicken inside of an egg for our annual camping party

   
 The tenth anniversary was bittersweet, filled with stellar people, transcendent moments, and reluctant goodbyes. We don’t know when Burning Chicken XI will be. We had a great time camping and building a giant creature in the meantime, though!!

Mr. Fantastic made a maze in the tall grass, as he usually does, but this year he also cut some grass for an archery range. Then there were clay pigeon shooting, swimming at the pond, fire juggling, a harpist playing, and general merriment.

   
    
   
Here’s the flaming fowl and a beautiful evening sky:

   
 

That’s all for now. We are working on getting transportation to Vancouver since our car is dead. I’m working a few more days in the meantime and I’ll post more details as they emerge!

Limbo, August 2015

We haven’t left yet, as my co-workers keep reminding me. Our house was rented out the beginning of the month  so we are staying elsewhere. We were at Pennsic for a week, then six days at a friend’s house who was away, now the kids + Mr. Fantastic are trying to get to the cabin (more on that later) and I’m alone for six days house-sitting in south philly. 

I’m pretty sure I just confused those older Chinese-looking ladies in the park with my attempts at mandarin. I’m trying to learn a little mandarin and do some travel planning before I work my final two days at my job and go to the cabin for Burning Chicken 10, which is also like our going-away party. Except we can’t leave from there because we have some loan paperwork that needs to be done first. Also, there is the matter of the car.

We have always faced the fact that our overworked Dodge Caravan may not be up for the cross-country trip. We have backup plans of renting a car, taking the bus or train, even buying a car and reselling it on the west coast somewhere. And it appears we may have to enact those plans sooner than we had hoped; the car has broken down. 

It happened yesterday while the Fantastics, minus yours truly of course, we’re heading north to the cabin. Mr. Fantastic texted the grim matter to me and stayed in a hotel with the kids, who probably loved it. So now I find myself comparing various ways across this vast country for the six of us. What will we do? Stay tuned!

Some notes from frantic research:

Rental car to Ohio, bus to Chicago, train to San Francisco, rental car to Seattle, bus to Vancouver:

$400 for a two-day rental car to my parents’ place, then Megabus from Cleveland to Chicago (6.5 hrs) is $32ppx6=$192. Then there is the Zephyr train to San Francisco (50 hrs) for $164-$321pp, probably at the higher end since it is tourist season, but also discount for kids, so $984-$1284 total. And no driving! Then car rental again to get us to Vancouver. A week for a one-way minivan from San Fran to Vancouver is difficult; looks like you go to Seattle then take a bus. A week of car rental one way from San Francisco to Seattle looks to be $1000. Bus is about $20 for the 4-hour ride, train is $45, also 4 hours. What is the grand total for transport? About $3100, not including gas and food and lodging. We were hoping for about $1000 less than that including gas, room, and board in our car, as I had calculated in a previous post. Bummer. But I do get kind of psyched about the big train ride!

Skipping San Francisco may make things easier:

I don’t really want to, but maybe we should. Same trip to Chicago and then Amtrak to Vancouver. The train is $985-$1400. Depends on which train, transfers etc. but not bad. It’s only 50 hours, so that means more lodging costs and no camping gear. 

Train to San Fran then fly to Vancouver?

San Francisco to Vancouver flight looks like $150. So $600, not bad compared to car but I really want to see a friend in Portland. Drive San Fran to Portland w/ 2 day car rental =$400. Just a 10-hr drive so maybe 1 day car rental=$200. Why is it $200/day for a car?!? Drop fees, which seem standard for one way rentals, are killing me!

11 days one way car rental from philly to Seattle is $1800. That may be the way to go. I guess renting longer is less per day, only 1 drop fee. Also, we can take all the luggage we can fit and we can camp along the way. 

Flights

Cleveland to San Francisco for us $1400 per cheapo air

Chicago to San Francisco for us $768
No idea how this will turn out, but we have a lot of options!