Tag Archives: overland

Stage Ten – Taiwan – sea to ship to sea – overland UK 2 NZ

encouraging train at Kaohsiung metro station
Get on the encouraging train at a Kaohsiung metro station

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here’s a menu to help you find your way: http://www.ourrelationshipwithnature.com/overview-overland-uk-2-nz-without-flying-eleven-stages-in-fifty-days/

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

FERRY TO TAIPEI

I had no idea how long I clung to my potentially slidy bench in the CSF ferry to Taiwan. Given my overheated and nauseous position, clinging like a limpet, I was going nowhere. Flat hands, straight arms, I was stuck with all my spidey force to that window seat. I stared down at the heaving sea. The horizon, and watching the rising spray as the prow smashed through the waves, kept me anchored against the giddy sickness that threatened to swamp me.

The horizon behind us, because we were moving into darkness and stronger forces, was tinged with light beams over the surface far away as the cloud cleared. I kept hoping it would light up ahead but there it was only getting darker. The past horizon was a line of misty magic with constantly moving gleaming, as though a spotlight played upon a shining stage. It was disconcerting when that steady thing to pin hopes upon, that faint, distant horizontal line, kept shifting and then, horrifyingly, disappeared entirely into the dark.

Soon enough lights of habitation appeared on the coast. My arms began to ache with their suction work upon the bench surface. I leaned on the cool glass. Presumably, as we neared the coast, the swell worsened for there were some hefty bangs and heaves that reminded the ship was man-made and would not last for ever.

As soon as the vessel entered Taipei Harbour the heaving stopped. All was calm. The Dangerous Waters had been crossed. Straight away Taiwan seemed safe and friendly. We lined up to exit the ship and were guided down through the cargo hold. Not sure why the ferry didn’t take cars – it could have. A few mini-containers and some other minor cargo were off-loaded as quickly as us humans. We were counted off in groups of bus size. Being the last group we had longest to stand out in the drizzle. Some people got cross and remonstrated with the staff, who sympathised because they too had to stand out in the dark and damp. I merely pulled my Danish rain-poncho from the back of my pack and stayed Scandi calm and dry.

We were crammed onto the final bus ferrying us to the security, customs and immigration building. I was the only ‘foreigner’. Inside the building all the staff wore masks. There was a good chance of Pingtan germs, I suppose. I held out my New Zealand passport with poise and dignity, having only been a little bit sea-sick. The senior official did not blink an eye as he took the pretty black document embossed with the silver fern and looked at me, looked down at the passport, yup that was me, and began to flick through. He was looking for the Chinese visa, wasn’t he? Yes, he was. So I handed him my UK passport with a sophisticated veneer covering my raw nerves. Then, remembering I had to have a way out, I volunteered my shipping ticket. I can’t remember if he asked for it or not but he certainly gave it full attention. He tapped the picture of the cargo ship. ‘You are crew?’

‘I hope not!’ Given the fare I’d paid I certainly didn’t expect to be swabbing the deck. ‘Passenger.’

‘Okay, fine.’ He gave me back all my documents and waved me on. I almost cavorted out of the room! I had entered Taiwan on my NZ passport and the rest of my travels would now be simple. (Er … )

Luckily, I still had some sense of propriety for the next office was a money changer and I was able to change my few Chinese yuan into thousands of NT dollars. I was rich! Enough, at least, to pay for a taxi into the city. I was prepared to do taxi, ferry and MRT to the station but I was tired and shaky so when the large uniformed cheery man on point duty for the taxis asked if I wanted a taxi, I said, ‘Yes, to the train station, please’. He said $800 and I said yes. Then the taxi driver asked for $700 so things were on the improve quickly here in Taiwan. I was so tired when I got to the station I started walking into the police station and the taxi driver shouted at me as if I was about to get arrested! It was one of many entrances into Taipei Railway Station and I’m sure I would have merely been waved on but being shouted at is a stirring thing and woke me up.

As usual with me, it was all about onward travel, and I wanted to be in the city of Tainan the next day, half-way down the island, to return to my original plans. Amazingly, most of the people I encountered in the station had some English! But, it was not a well-sign-posted station. Two ticket sellers said, no, go to the next place. Round and down to the high-speed train. I booked one and a half hours to Tainan at 11:11 the next morning. Seemed like a good magic number. And the considerate attendant gave me directions to the exit nearest to my hotel. People were very kind.

With my back to the train station, Taipei looks thriving
With my back to the train station, walking towards hostelry, Taipei looked thriving

TAIPEI AND BEYOND …

I found Roaders Hotel. It appeared to be a crazy youth hostel in the foyer; lots of couches, conversation spots and Halloween decorations. Food and drink on offer included VEGAN INSTANT NOODLES! The young staff were friendly, obliging and super-keen to show off their living room. The rather more sophisticated hotel room was clean, modern and quiet. I was incredibly grateful to be able to shower, soak up those noodles and watch an American reality show about fashion catwalks. In English. Brain turned to idle. Sent a message to Sue Jollow to say I was there and apologised for such short notice. I did it! I was a Kiwi in Taiwan!

Tao 26 said, ‘Gravity is the root of lightness’ which I suppose most comedians know.

I saw a man capering as I walked from the station to the hotel. He began frolicking as he ran, presumably, towards the person he was meeting. I thought, he’s not doing that fun dance for himself so I followed with interest (because that was where I was going) and watched him greet a tiny tot with his mum. The little lad had, I assumed, been at day care and the two parents were on full alert, shepherding him along the streets of inner-city Taipei like a flock of goats. Or a drunk. Not sure who first described small children as drunks but certainly the kids I’d seen recently, in trains in China, normally extremely well-attended by family members, were exactly as unpredictably devoted and irascible, crazy and funny as any drunk. This babe tottered along, nappy bulging, keen to get about his biz with the parents hovering to protect him from the road and wanting to protect themselves from having to mop up after a full-blown tantrum which was likely given the hour. So they kept up the cheery chat and corralled him in a manner I remembered well from my own childrearing days. The man was aware I was walking behind them as I’d had to wait as they dilly-dallied along and we’d shared a brief glance in which he acknowledged I was in no hurry and all was well.

We crossed a couple of streets and then there was a little turn and a moment where the little fellow could have bustled out into traffic. Dad, quick on his feet as usual, scampered out to protect the lamb, and in doing so, directed the child straight into the next shop. A games parlour. This brightly lit, colourful arena was complete with toys to be won, flashing lights and super, dingley-dell, cute music. Ah, said little one, and lurched toward the fun. Dad caught my eye and we enjoyed a hearty laugh. Out of the traffic frying pan into the commercial fire. Very heartening. I loved those interactions. Language free and utterly human.

Taipei Fast Train Station - stand up straight!
Taipei Fast Train Station

In the morning, Taipei resident, Sue Jollow, wonderful fellow mother, came at a moment’s notice, bearing gifts of organic apples and vegan chocolate! It was so nice to see her, particularly because she had been part of the tricky planning exercise to exchange passports between China and Taiwan.

Sue Jollow and I celebrate being in the right place at the right time - Taipei Fast Train!
Sue Jollow and I celebrate being in the right place at the right time – Taipei Fast Train!

Sue worked as a legal translator, in constant demand for her meticulous work. She had been living in Taiwan for the last ten years, her son grown, graduated and about to start work for Google, and her husband an esteemed Chinese scholar at the University. She loved Taiwan and it was not hard to see why. Everything required for comfortable living was available. She visited farmers’ markets to keep her supplied with organic food and she felt a well-established part of the local community.

Leaving Taipei on the fast train
Leaving Taipei on the fast train, giving a vague idea of the size and spread of the city

As you will know, dear reader, ongoing travel is always at the back of my mind. I had not planned on visiting Taipei, as I would be straying from my course south. My only reason for being there was the poor weather and my only reason for staying was to visit with Sue Jollow. As we caught up with our family’s activities, she walked with me to the station, bought me a delicious vegan bagel at Starbucks and helped me find the correct platform for my train. She was right, of course. There was much to see in Taipei and Taiwan was a beautiful island – next time! Xiexie, Sue!

Taiwanese train ad: Kangaroo travellers giving us Aussies a bad rep!
Whaaaa … ? Giving us Aussies a bad rep!

TAINAN

The fast train took no time at all to get to Tainan but, as I clambered around the gardens and the motorbike parking around the Fast Train Station not in the city, I realised I was now in tropical lands. It was hot. I was sweaty. I could not work out how to get to the city centre. Turned out it was miles away. It would have been better to take the slower train direct to town to save an hour of bus travel. However, as it was, I was rescued by a sophisticated young lady. Her English impeccable, she told me she and her mother were catching the transit bus into town and I should disembark at the same stop as them. Turned out she was a businesswoman from NY, specialising in marketing for start-ups. She had come to visit her mum at the same time as checking up on her shipping contacts in Taiwan and China. Wanting Yu was Taiwanese and had gone to NY initially to study fashion. Now she was tracking new products, working with shipping and transport. Apparently sustainability was THE buzzword in NY. Everyone was speaking about eco this and green that. We hoped it would not be greenwash but actual change.

Tainan footpath showing different levels of each shopfront
Tainan footpath showing different levels of each shopfront

I did get off the bus with Yu and her mum, and it was possibly not in the right part of town for me. I did not enjoy the long, hot, sweaty walk to my accommodation. However, I received a lovely cool welcome from King when I finally arrived at the OC Hostel and found myself in a peaceful, clean, quiet environment. I really needed a place to unpack and calm down. Up on the fourth floor, I had a bright white space to myself; an ensuite with shower, a desk for work and another for eating breakfast, a lovely big bed and a washing machine. I was able to clean and sort and in the near vicinity found fruit markets aplenty to buy crisp red apples and funny mottled blobby looking mandarins. Together with Happy Cow I found a comfy little café, the Harbour Fantasy, offering vegan Green Thai Curry that was actually a nice mushroom stew next to a grand temple where I could go upstairs and see the length of the antique street in its entirety.

OC Hostel, Tainan, a clean and friendly welcoming from King and Kiki
OC Hostel, Tainan, a clean and friendly welcoming from King and Kiki

The next day bright and early saw me off to the real Tainan Railway Station to buy my ongoing ticket to Kaohsiung in three-days’ time. I was getting closer to that big ocean-going moment, boarding CC Coral, and two weeks at sea. This voyage was the first thing I had booked many months before. The planning seemed so surreal that I could hardly believe it was coming true.

Even the Tainan petrol pumps are friendly!
Even the Tainan petrol pumps are friendly!

But I had another mystery to solve more immediately, of the whereabouts of the train station. Maps.me told me I was there, this was the place, but I couldn’t see the entrance or ticket office anywhere. I popped into one of the ubiquitous 7/11s to ask directions and Dad immediately took over, calling son from the back room to organise my ticket from a machine in the shop. Took careful time and lots of it but I emerged with a ticket to Kaohsiung too early in the morning but it was the only one not booked out. Another very kind family to help me on my way.

On my return to the hostel, King then directed me to bus 77 to go to Anping District for the walking tour of the first old town. One bus was either too early or a no-show but the next one eventually came along. Arrived at the old fort meeting place with plenty of time to seek lunch.

Gǔ Mì Shū Shí - relaxing shady cafe by Tainan waterfront
Gǔ Mì Shū Shí – relaxing shady cafe by Tainan waterfront

After scooting around the wrong way and asking for directions thrice, I came to a street stall with a radiant woman who had been vegan for twenty-five years. She was an aficionado of the Supreme Master and the bowl of noodle soup was clean and refreshing for a mere $50 Taiwan. The day before at Harvest Fantasy I had been charged $400 for a bowl of mushroom curry, admittedly with delicious blue rice, coloured with special blue flowers they grew themselves, and a special cup of chamomile tea they’d also grown themselves. I could not complain. I was happy in both places. I should have given radiant woman more cash but life was hot and sweaty and my brain did not function until ten minutes after the event.

Beautiful trees in the grounds of Fort Zeelandia
Beautiful trees in the grounds of Fort Zeelandia

The walking tour was a no-show, so I wandered around the old fort Zeelandia together with a disparate group of scattered polyglot tourists.

Tainan early 17th century showing strategic Dutch fortifications
Tainan early 17th century showing strategic Dutch fortifications – or trading posts?

The building was entirely reconfigured by the Japanese and probably altered for tourist interest later so nothing was left to see of the trading post established by the Dutch bar the strategic position at the mouth of the harbour.

Tower at Fort Zeelandia, Tainan, Taiwan
Tower at Fort Zeelandia, Tainan, Taiwan
Looking towards OC Hostel from Fort Zeelandia, Tainan
Looking towards OC Hostel from Fort Zeelandia, Tainan

Back at bus stop 77 the bus drove past me, not taking customers, and then twenty minutes later, the next one drove past again because I didn’t see him coming and wasn’t standing in the middle of the road waving my arms off.

Tainan Harbour near bus stop
Tainan Harbour near bus stop

So I remembered we’d passed a Carrefour supermarket, checked on maps.me and found it an easy walk of about 2.5km. I wandered happily around the aisles, finding some familiar things but still not reading the ingredients without assistance. Picked up survival rations just in-case; peanut butter, crackers, fruit and nuts, oat biscuits …

Tainan City Hall
Tainan City Hall

After finding the ongoing bus-stop and seeing I had 15 mins to wait I went downstairs to the thing area (as opposed to the food area) and found new pens. Located a triple pack that would do the job, rushed to the pay station, was waved upstairs, no pay there, no over there, long queues, self-service mystery, assistant sorry, not functioning, rising blood pressure, annoyed, gave assistant the dratted pens, explaining, like the White Rabbit, ‘no time!’ and rushed out to bus-stop. To wait.

Long wait. Hang on, there went the 77 once more, but in the far lane indicating no interest in passengers and, what the heck? Got frustrated and sad. Next bus in 25 minutes. Dark. Tired. Very sweaty. Annoyed. A taxi pulled up right in front of me. An invitation? It disgorged four young men with those half-litre plastic cups of cool drinks shrink wrap covered in plastic, carried in plastic bags. I began to suspect the notices on the bus stop might say something like ’77 bus not running today’. I hesitated, having just spent almost $2,000 (!! I mean, thousands!!) on potentially extraneous nibbles. If the next bus didn’t show … It didn’t.

A few minutes later, deeply relieved, I climbed into a taxi and I showed him Chihkan Tower on maps.me, the driver understood easily where I wanted to go, and the trip only cost $100. On the way back to the hostel I found a sushi place with a vegan option.

My next day in Tainan saw me trying to keep up the blog and then seeking sustenance. Kiki, co-manager of OC Hostel with King, had to draw me a map, having managed to confuse myself horribly as I went around the block a few times trying to seek out a posh vegetarian restaurant (in the end not very impressive food) a mere hop and a skip away.

Turtle Gate at vegan restaurant, Tainan
Turtle Gate at vegan restaurant, Tainan

On the way I managed to make an appointment with a lovely barber who reluctantly agreed to trim my undercut. Yes, I understood it was just for men but I would not stay for long, a mere buzz around the neck, $150 fine. I understood customers didn’t like their male space invaded by females but I didn’t trust female hairdressers with clippers. Sorry, men, your last bastion, the barber, is not inviolable.

Mission accomplished, back of head cool, my next adventure was the Post Office. At first I went into the wrong building and a lovely lady in a high viz jacket redirected me and then rushed to offer me a pen when she saw I needed to address my cards. Such thoughtfulness offered with such big smiles. Off you go, across the road, post them there.

Delightful Tainan citizen helps post my cards
Delightful Tainan citizen helps post my cards

I must have looked more lost than I felt because I was soon intersected by a smiley lady who said, in excellent English, ‘Where are you going?’ and I told her, showing my cards as an example. She took them and admired her home country. She was an expert in Tainan and explained I had visited the bank and was now headed, correctly, to the post office and she would accompany me. She took me inside, pressed the number machine and waited with me, handed over the cards and negotiated with the man behind the desk. He got out his little glue stick and pressed down each stamp carefully. I paid. He gave my cards back to my smiling friend and off we went to post them. She had nothing to do with the PO other than being an innocent passer-by. This was a sunny day. We parted good friends.

I proceeded back to a supermarket where I’d seen assorted goods and thought I might find pen and paper there. Nup. But the attendant pointed down the street, where I was headed anyway, so off I trotted once more. I asked (I mean, smile/dance/mime and Google Translated!) at a little hole in the wall photocopying place but they had nothing suitable. Where would they suggest I look next? There was scratching of heads and a meeting evolved with another lady who was visiting. Oh, the best place was very far. There was really nothing near. Far too far to walk. Impossible.

Suddenly, a lot of discussion, a decision made and everyone beamed at me. The man made the international sign of motorbike revving with his hands held out in front of him, nodding and smiling. Everyone waved at me. Go with her. She’s going to take you on her bike. Brrrrrm brrrrm went the couple in the shop, accelerating joyfully with their hands. Gulp. I could count on two fingers all the motorbikes I’ve ever been on in my entire life. But there was no debate with these three enthusiasts. So cheery and encouraging, they were going to help me no matter what. I obeyed without further ado. My helmet tightly fastened under my chin, I swung my leg over the little bike and off we went, into the wide river flow of Tainan scooter traffic. I was scared of squeezing my driver to death, especially as it was so hot. It was 30 degrees (in winter) already that day. At each set of lights I set her free to breathe. We broke no speed limit and all the other bikies around us carried on as though I wasn’t pretending this was the most usual and normal thing I did every day. I tried hard not to imagine the worst, tried hard not to think at all WE MUST BE NEARLY THERE SOON SURELY HOW FAR IS SHE TAKING ME HOW WILL I GET BACK and slowly I found I was grinning from ear to ear and the wind was in my face and I was moving along the roads effortlessly and she was so kind! She swung into a parking spot and indicated, on no account would she leave me alone, she would come with me and negotiate with the staff.

Badass Tainan Bikie survives mortal midsection squeezing
Badass Tainan Bikie survives mortal midsection squeezing

It was indeed a magnificent stationery shop and offered many options in both pen and notebook. I handed over my examples. I’m not a fan of ball-point pens, they are not as fast as a felt tip. With the assistant’s serious attention, we found suitable replacements, both my friend and I trying them on scribble pads. We turned our attention to seek out a notebook and again were successful. When I asked the assistant what the Chinese characters on the cover said she mimed exuberance and joy! Perfect. (King told me later they read ‘Inspiration for the mind.’)

Inspiring notebook from Tainan
Inspiring notebook from Tainan

My friend insisted on driving me back to where she’d found me. I said, ‘Xiexie,’ as much as I could and felt so honoured by her efforts. I had the notion of pre-paying for her next job at the little photocopying shop as a pay-it-forward idea but the owners disabused me of that scheme. No way. Just be grateful. So I was. All was well.

I’d been spirited away to a place where I could get all my requirements. Tainan’s citizens and their friendship more than made up for the sins and omissions of the day before.

Special Taiwanese tea and malt bun at vegan bakery, Tainan
Special Taiwanese tea and malt bun at Han Ji Pang, vegan bakery, Tainan

I went to Han Ji Pang, a beautiful little vegan bakery nearby, and enjoyed a malt bun with a fresh cup of Taiwan tea.

vegan bakery Tainan
vegan bakery Tainan

Tao 29 said, the world is a spiritual vessel and can’t be controlled. I had been witness to such generosity of spirit that day I could no longer control the amount of my gratitude!

The next morning began with generous amounts of fireworks scaring away evil spirits. While I contemplated catching the tail of rail history through Russia and Mongolia, sporadic explosions outside the windows helped me visualise coal and fire.

I joined the Inner-city Free Walking Tour promptly. I trailed around after two earnest Taiwanese young men, Tom and Michael, keen to explain the many temples of Tainan.

The God in the foreground has the power of long sight, ready to protect Queen Masu in her goldern security
The God in the foreground has the power of long sight, ready to protect Grand Matsu Temple dedicated to Queen Masu

The sculptures of dragons on the roofs of temples represented good luck and more importantly, water. As temples were built of wood and contained burners they clearly needed protection from fire.

Dragons on the roof protecting the temple
Intricate carvings atop the temple keep in line

Many temples were allotted one or more of the nine sons of the dragon. Each of these characters are distinctly half dragon and half another creature, like fish, tiger or turtle.

Chikhan Tower is the other strategic Dutch placement, also reconfigured in turn by Ming, Qing and Japanese regimes
Chikhan Tower was another strategic Dutch placement, reconfigured in turn by Ming, Qing and Japanese regimes

We started just around the corner from OC Hostel at Chihkan Tower, originally 17th century Dutch, rebuilt by Ming dynasty, then Japanese, then ROC, the current rulers. Taiwan was regarded highly because of its strategic position between China and Japan. Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch had all influenced Taiwan since the 1900s, Europeans naming the island Formosa, the beautiful. Ming and Qing had their time of invasion and rule. It was only after the civil war that ROC (Republic of China) retreated to Taiwan and took up power. I heard ROC airforce roar through the air daily showing their military might in case modern China (PRC = People’s Republic of China) get any ideas. As this site puts it, they are two separate states with a common history. Well, if they’re considering building a bridge from Pingtan to Taichung the air-force might be roaming the wrong space?

Idyllic courtyard at Grand Matsu Temple
Temple courtyard, Tainan

According to my walking tour with Tom and Michael, children of any remaining aboriginal tribes have intermarried with Han people and mainly live on the east of the island. The West is open for business, from Taipei to Taichung, Tainan and down to the major harbour city, Kaohsiung. We passed many signs in little green circles showing the international information ‘i’ as Tainan wanted to be seen as friendly to English speakers. The city really didn’t need to try hard as you already know. The people I met were incredibly friendly and generous. In contrast with many of the people I’d encountered in China who were exasperated or helpless in the face of my Western ignorance. Not quite, ‘Go back to where you came from,’ but more, ‘I can’t be bothered with trying to communicate with you, life’s hard enough already!’

Tainan tour guides Michael and Tom with Hayashi Department Store backdrop
Tainan tour guides Michael and Tom with Hayashi Department Store backdrop

We visited Hayashi Department Store, a beautiful art deco building in the centre of Tainan. It was the second to open in Taiwan because the Taipei sister store decided to sneak their moment of glory a day earlier to steal thunder. We skipped past the Tainan Art Museum and spent a little time in the garden of the seventeenth century Tainan Confucian Temple.

Sculpture of Confucius across from Temple
Sculpture of Confucius across from Temple

Here you begin with a class to learn how to be polite. Once you are good enough you may enter the main temple. That is decorated with the afore mentioned owls plus messenger tubes bringing dispatches directly from the Gods. We learned correct temple etiquette. Always enter the right-hand door, the Dragon door, to bring in good luck. Do not step on the threshold be it stone or wood, always step over. Women lead with the right foot. Exit the left-hand door, the Tiger door, to drop bad luck behind you. It was said there were five hundred gods in the temple as everything was a God.

Tao 27 said ‘Good travellers leave no tracks.’ Of course. I think that’s the best plan. Perhaps selfies are good for something after all. Tao also spoke about teaching. Good people teach bad people or in another take, bad people are the good person’s resource.

On the roof of the main Tainan Confucian Temple, which we missed seeing because it closed at 5pm, were sculptures of owls. Contrary to Western Culture, owls were not revered in Chinese thinking, actually they were very bad indeed. They ate their parents as soon as they could. Confucius was very serious about filial duty. Chinese children were bound to care for their parents above all else. (Of course, parents had to look after their children but the flip side was equally important.) So, the owls were there because they were the worst possible students for a teacher to have to work with. If you could get an owl to look after their parents, and not eat them, this would be a big success for a teacher. So bad people are the good teacher’s resource.

Japanese government road directly infront of Confucian Temple
Japanese government road directly in front of Confucian Temple

When visiting Matsu’s Temple, you could avail yourself of advice by way of two small wooden blocks in the shape of crescent moons known as Moon Blocks.  You would ask your question and provide identification; name, address, age, work and everything to let your chosen God know who you were. Then you asked the yes/no question. I could hear blocks clunking on the floor all around the temple. If the two flat sides face down the answer is definitely no. Stop asking. If the two curved sides are down it’s a no but you could consider rephrasing the question or reconsider your options. If one down, one up, it’s a yes.

Burner at Chi-Ming-Tang temple at Lotus Ponds
Burner at Chi-Ming-Tang temple at Lotus Ponds

Also at the temple we saw the ovens where worshippers burn golden money for the gods and silver money for their ancestors to be able to afford all their favourite things in the afterlife. That’s a lot of burning when you consider the amount of joss sticks also alight. I wondered if those ovens ever cooled down.

Students pink slips asking for Gods assistance to pass exams - subject, time and place
Students’ pink slips asking for assistance to pass exams – subject, time and place all detailed to help the Gods pinpoint exact student.

By the oven of the Temple to the God of Literature we saw a notice board filled with little pink slips. These were filled in by students needing extra support for their exams. You stated your name, address, DOB and all the subjects you were sitting. The Gods couldn’t be expected to tell everyone apart without the requisite paperwork. I supposed these would be burned with the tons of money once the exams were over. How long has this burning tradition been going on? Would worshippers consider composting instead?

Tainan burners - outdoor heating in the tropics?
Tainan burners – outdoor heating in the tropics?

And now for some art.

Hand-painted film posters
Hand-painted film posters at Chuan Mei theatre, Tainan

Wonderful painterly posters attract audiences to Chuan Mei cinema. Director Ang Lee frequented this cinema as he grew up. This is probably one of the last places to see these hand-painted posters although the Master, Yan Jhen-Fa, who works en plein aire across the road, has many acolytes who may continue the tradition.

Tainan Master Film Poster Painter photo outside his office
Tainan Master Film Poster Painter, Yan Jhen-Fa a photo of a photo outside his office across the road from the cinema

We were then encouraged to try Tainans’ most famous drink from a stall over one hundred years old. Bitter melon.

One of the cutest bitter lemons you've ever seen is an ingredient in a popular Tainan drink.
One of the cutest bitter lemons you’ve ever seen is an ingredient in a popular Tainan drink.

It’s boiled for over twenty-four hours until syrup and then made into a variety of cool beverages. Eschewing the old ways, the third generation of stall-holders had brought the bitter melon drink into the tech age. You entered your order into a machine on the wall (taking advice I ordered lemon flavour), took a number and waited for your drink to be ready. It was amazingly sweet and I didn’t manage half. But it was refreshing and gave me strength to carry on as we finished the tour at the National Museum of Taiwan Literature, a grand building built in 1916 for the Japanese government of the day.

National Museum of Taiwan Literature built 1916
National Museum of Taiwan Literature built 1916

LEAVING TAINAN ON THE TRAIN TO KAOHSIUNG

Tainan Train Station with Kaohsiung train approaching
Tainan Train Station with Kaohsiung train approaching

CIJIN ISLAND

Slowly got myself ready for the big march (1.5km – not really!) to the station in the cool of morning. Even though I worried I’d overslept I managed to get myself there in plenty of time. No great security queues there, I found myself in the lift with the rubbish man who checked my ticket and escorted me to the exact spot where my carriage would stop on the platform. The train was on time, I got in line and a smart young man in a suit waved at me. I thought it unnecessarily polite but it turned out to be Tom, one of my young guides from the day before! He was attending a psychology conference to deliver his graduate paper. He was also, unlike his fellow grads, making an effort to hang out and network with his professors, making sure he saw the main keynote early in the day and generally being all-round, excellent student. I sat next to Benedict from Hamburg while Tom leaned in the aisle, not having purchased a seat. The three of us chatted about travel and exchanged our Instagram addresses. Luckily Tom was able to assist Benedict who, it turned out, was on the wrong train entirely!

Kaohsiung safety first sign
Kaohsiung safety sign

After a short, sunny, hot walk, I joined the line of chattering tourists catching the ferry to Cijin island for an outing – a snip at five minutes across the water – a fascinating introduction to the harbour where I’d be joining my container ship in a few days.

Looking towards Cijin from Kaohsiung Ferry wharf
Looking towards Cijin from Kaohsiung Ferry wharf
Kaohsiung Harbour from ferry
Kaohsiung Harbour from ferry
From Cijin looking towards hills of Kaohsiung
From Cijin Island looking back towards hills of Kaohsiung

Lots of little motorbikes and scooters piled onboard so plenty of fumes as we all exited the ferry and proceeded down the road of food-stalls and beachy tourist trinkets.

View from Tidal Guesthouse, Cijin Island
View from Tidal Guesthouse, Cijin Island

Found the hostel, very smart and recently refurbished, in fine position opposite the beach from where I could see ships queueing off-shore. Could my ship be there? (No.) I went into the cool foyer space, a lovely kitchen/bar area. I didn’t fancy dragging my packs around any further.

Happy Cow showed me a pleasant-sounding vegan café just back over the water so, once I had made contact with my hostelry, I had a plan for my next meal.

front door of Muye-Mottainai vegan restaurant
Front door of Muye-Mottainai vegan restaurant

As there was still no sign of action in the modern foyer I got out my homework and resumed typing up blog notes. As it turned out this was good because my room had no desk or table to put things down nor even a hook to hang anything. Teddy, the owner/manager of the Tidal Guesthouse, told me he thought I was a monk with high ideals because of my overland/sea travel and because I did not wish to eat animals. I didn’t mind being a monk.

Cijin Fort at tip of Cijin Island
Many tourists visit Cihou Fort at tip of Cijin Island

I wandered up to the eighteenth century Qing fort at the tip of the island to see the sunset.

Cihou Fort attracts many sunset photographers
Cihou Fort attracts many sunset photographers

Due to the lie of the clouds the colours did not survive but the fort, presumably rebuilt by Japanese, was a landmark with the remains of gun placements and a strategic view-point around more than 250 degrees of sea. Walked past all the trimmings of beach life, surfies (not sure where they go surfing) and a glamorous sundowner beach bar.

Looking back down Cijin Island from fort
Looking back down Cijin Island from fort.

The next morning my guts were tender. I had sailed too close to dangerous waters somewhere. I had been diligent about boiling, peeling and washing in filtered water – up to these last couple of days when I had eaten salad at the vegan cafe and lettuce in the sushi.

With a sense of foreboding I watched Teddy unpack a pile of breakfast such as I had never seen; a big plastic sealed cup of soy-milk to go with steamed mushroom rice and veg (I had half for brekkie and half for dinner!) and a neatly trimmed white-bread club sandwich featuring layers of mango, kiwi and tomato on each separate slice. It looked very pretty. But I did not know my guts were only just beginning the fight then.

Teddy encouraged me to make the foyer my own and I did, as it was the only suitable desk, and I began to lose strength for tourist work. I spent the day typing, unable to venture far from the bathroom. I was surprised and grateful Teddy had taken the time to examine my author’s FB page.

I sent the required email to all of the CMA CGM agents declaring my position and heard back the ship would be a bit later than expected. I would need a couple more nights. Teddy was not able to help so I started searching for a hotel that looked economical and close to the port. The whole city is close to the port. Kaohsiung is the port and one of the longest in the world, Hamburg is a similar shape due to the rivers’ confluence. Cijin island acted as a great lid on the coastline, giving the harbour well over a hundred container berths. It really would not matter where I stayed in Kaohsiung. I went for economy and metro station.

Tao Day 32 toyed with me; ‘Tao endures without a name like valley streams flowing into rivers and seas.’ I KID YOU NOT! Tao! What are you doing to me, in my watery, weakened state of health? Here I was at the Tidal Guesthouse being as tidal as any river going into the sea. Next day saw me nibble at a banana and some (washed in filtered water) grapes. Later, needing to rebuild strength, I wandered up to the shops to find apples. Slept a good deal. Teddy was super keen to bring dumplings for breakfast but I gently suggested plain white rice would be perfect. Yes, that would suffice. Just rice. And a banana. I was recovering. Luckily, I had plenty of probiotics and vitamins to hand.

Tao Day 33 said, Forging ahead shows inner resolve. Thank you, Teddy and good luck with the guesthouse!

INNER CITY KAOHSIUNG

Went from guesthouse to ferry to taxi rank in a matter of moments. That’s when the real negotiations began. The driver could not understand the English of maps.me, nor the form of Booking.com. Another driver ambled up to help with his spoken word app. He spoke into his phone and then showed me the result: ‘Negotiation.’ I smiled and nodded. Thanks, for that, buddy! Took me a while but I realised I could just call the hotel and get reception to explain to the driver. If reception understood English! Not straightforward but we got there in the end. Aaaaah, said the driver. Hotel ^&*(%£! That may well be, my good man. Let us vamoose! He drove straight along the maps.me route and I paid according to the fare calculator. Easy, so long as you were not in a rush.

The hotel was called R8 Eco. It was another of these hotels, like the Roaders in Taipei, that takes up one or two floors in an office or domestic building. This one was very close to the Sanduo Shopping District MRT and the big department store, Sogo.

Entance to the night market Kaohsiung
Entance to the night market Kaohsiung

When I arrived, walking through the sizzling, smoking, steaming stalls of the night market warming up, I entered a grim foyer where a man and his visitor slumped behind a desk watching a tv and various bits of building and furniture lounged against the walls. I said, ‘Hotel?’ The man and his visitor both pointed to heaven and the lift and then said presumably some numbers, holding up fingers, 1, 2 and 3. But all at different times. I reflected back, I, 2 and 3, holding up fingers I thought suitable. No, no, no, no, it was 1, 2 and 3! As I was obviously too daft to understand, the visitor moved into action and pushed number 12 on the lift. Huh? How do you get 12 out of … ?!? Oh, well.

Up in the hotel proper, the reception lady was very sweet and we both utilised phones to translate. I didn’t really care so long as I had somewhere quiet to be. It had a desk. I was safe. It took me hours to do my washing and work out where to hang it. I ate a peeled apple. Later, a banana. And then, feeling super brave, some of the oats out of my muesli which I soaked with boiling water. I thought it a good sign I was feeling hungry.

On day 34, the Tao was still laughing at me with; The Great Tao overflows! However, I was proud of my relaxed convalescent return to tourism the next day. I was able to organise a 48-hour transit card – I had a choice between a perky orange-pink skinny lady and a fat green man – I chose the cheerful green man – and trooped off to see the Dome of Light, at Formosa Boulevard station, Kaohsiung’s answer to Moscow’s subway stations of beauty.

The Dome of Light at Formosa MRT stop
The Dome of Light at Formosa MRT stop

I presume they do a light-up swirl around on the hour, like Melbourne’s cockatoo clock in the Central shopping centre and I just caught the end of that. Then they light up the dome and you can explore the beautiful glass mural that arches overhead like the leaves on a drooping tree. It goes from blue sea images to red fire and evokes gods and travel and energy.

Central Park, Kaohsiung
Central Park, Kaohsiung

Back on to the MRT I got off the subway to visit Central Park, a small park with a little lake full of sculptures surrounded by very orderly trees, where many folk practiced their fitness regimes while some laid back to listen to their radios. About half the populace wore face masks. In the station I’d seen a cool ad on the video screen where a gang of groovy models pranced around an urban landscape wearing smooth outfits, outlandish makeup and different coloured face masks to match. That’d be a nice pressie for my son!

I found another big supermarket where I wandered to find more vegan snacks for my trip – still worried I’d not be able to negotiate food. I got more and more frustrated until I remembered Google Translate had a camera! I had a SIM! For the first time that magic system actually proved useful. Coming in and out of focus, I could read the ingredients as they shifted from Chinese characters to the Latin alphabet! Still frustrating as everything contained milk. Even with an entire aisle of crackers, I was left with the choice of milk or palm oil. I took a deep breath and went with the oil. That was what first world survival choices looked like.

I wandered into Forester, a café I’d found on Happy Cow, and did some more telephone negotiation. (Here’s another traveller writing about the cafe and all the other things I missed seeing in Kaohsiung) She was such a nice lady and eventually brought me a huge helping of rice and steamed mixed vegetables. I ate about half and really enjoyed it. She’d also brought me a cup of green tea. It was white and fluffy. She assured me it didn’t contain milk but it was unlike any green tea I’d ever seen. How was it fluffy? My tiny exploratory sip also revealed super sweetness. Yeah. Nah.

I know travellers are supposed to explore local traditional food, and I was in the heart of night-market-foodie-heaven but my principles, my high ideals as Teddy described them, held me aside from most people’s customs. Unless I happened upon a thoughtful, compassionate vegan village in which case I’d try anything once! I did try to find a new thing each day, no matter how small. Not necessarily to eat, perhaps something to see or do.

A consequence of being a solo-traveller meant I didn’t have to argue with someone of a different travel philosophy. But the other frame was that I was not in Taiwan primarily to learn about local culture. I was there to catch a ship. Messages from the CMA CGM agent were terse, repetitive and never answered my questions. So I just followed instructions.

I was so grateful to my body and its defence systems. Although I was still in recovery mode I ate well and felt alert. I was able to keep going with my work. I did suffer a great disappointment with some fruit and nuts I’d bought from the BIO section of the big supermarket. The photo looked lovely on the outside of the packet. But nowhere did they say they’d been soaked in SOY SAUCE. After I washed them in boiling water, rinsed them in cold filtered water they were relatively plain again but still not my cup of soy.

Mr Wang, shipping agent, would pick me up from my hotel around midnight the following night. I would have to book another night at the hotel. I would have to shift rooms. My plan was to arise at 6:30 am, breakfast, publish my Out of China post, pack everything ready to store luggage preparatory to changing rooms and get out and about to go on a walking tour. I had been laid low for three days. I had a duty to see Lotus Pond. I started to fill in the online booking form for the Free Walking Tour but balked when I had to input my Visa card deets. Why did they need to know those numbers when I’d be paying by tip? I would take my chances. Either Cindy would be at Exit One of the station or she would not. Isn’t it funny how you don’t know how sick you’ve been until you recover? Had to keep sitting down to get my breathing straight.

Tao 35 said, Hold the great elephant and the world moves.

Detail from inside dragon tunnel, Lotus Pond
Detail from inside dragon tunnel, Lotus Pond
The bridge to this temple is guarded by a pantheon of Gods riding different animals
The bridge to this temple is guarded by a pantheon of Gods riding different animals
Lotus at Lotus Pond
Lotus at Lotus Pond

At Lotus Pond there were sculptures of great elephants, tigers, dragons, gods, pantheons of gods wielding all the weapons, men punishing weaker men, more glory, more gold, more sculpture and such wonders …

Tiger and Dragon towers at Lotus Pond
Tiger and Dragon towers at Lotus Pond
Kaohsiung city from Dragon Tower looking towards my hotel
Kaohsiung city from Dragon Tower looking towards my hotel
Detail from inside the dragon tunnel, Kaohsiung
Gruesome detail from inside the dragon tunnel, Kaohsiung
The back of the dragon at the towers, Lotus Pond, Kaohsiung
The temple visible over the back of the dragon at the towers, Lotus Pond, Kaohsiung

The main features of this lake were the temples with attendant sculptures which not only bordered the lake but also were built out into the water. These had zig zag paths guiding you out to a serene watery view. The first temples I encountered were twins, featuring a dragon tunnel and a tiger tunnel. Inside the tunnels were fantastic ceramic sculptures of gods, animals and humans in big trouble.

Dragon guarding temple, Lotus Pond
Dragon guarding temple, Lotus Pond

Another tower further down the lake was guarded by an enormous dragon surrounded by a family of gods.

From Chi-Ming Tang Temple over the lake towards Kaohsiung
From Chi-Ming Tang Temple over the lake towards Kaohsiung

That sculpture also featured a pool of turtles which clustered hopelessly near a couple of inept sunshades and baked in the full sun. (This was still winter.)

Decorations within the Chi-MIng-Tang Temple, Lotus Pond
A tiny fraction of the elaborate decorations within the Chi-MIng-Tang Temple, Lotus Pond

I went to look at another temple featuring a pool chock full of enormous koi and a senior man silently guarding little children’s rides in the shape of some of the demi-gods. I decided to call it a day.

Money to burn - gold for the Gods and silver for your ancestors
Money to burn – gold for the Gods and silver for your ancestors

I was feeling tired. Tired physically, and now, mentally. I was tired of being a foreigner. Tired of not knowing where I was. Tired of constant calculations as to what to do next, what to see next and how to find what to eat next.

More money to burn at Chi-Ming-Tang Temple
More money to burn at Chi-Ming-Tang Temple

I could hear dragon boats on the other side of the lake as I walked back to where I’d started and caught a taxi back to the station. The fast train station offered food options and I caught some non-lettuce, tofu wrapped sushi to bring back to the hotel. I also peeled a cool, deep-red, dragon fruit. Then went to bed.

Entance to the night market Kaohsiung
Entance to the night market Kaohsiung

I lounged, pottered around on FB and then my son RANG ME! We chatted happily and caught up with all the news. I rested some more and the hotel rang me a couple of times to tell me Mr Wang had changed his times but finally, it was the big moment. I got up, showered, had another breakfast and then packed, went downstairs to the lugubrious entry hall and played Bejewelled Blitz on my phone until he arrived. He laughed as he thought of Westerners wanting to stay in this hotel, surrounded by the night market. Did I eat from the stalls?

Day inner city Kaohsiung from balcony of R8Hotel
Day inner city Kaohsiung from balcony of R8Hotel

I explained I never went out at night (being a monk) and he laughed some more. He didn’t think so. I found it for myself on the internet? Of course. He just laughed when I explained I wanted somewhere near the port. We weren’t anywhere near to where we needed to be! I scampered along behind him as he marched along, slightly annoyed he’d had to go so far to find a car park. But I was going to a ship. And that ship would take me first to Brisbane and secondly to Auckland.

Night inner city Kaohsiung from balcony of R8Hotel
Night inner city Kaohsiung from balcony of R8Hotel

I had travelled by giant ferry, trains and bus to small ferry and fast trains and now, a commercial container ship! Nearly two weeks at sea lay ahead.

a message for me at a Kaohsiung metro station
a message for me at a Kaohsiung metro station

I dearly hoped I’d left the angry weather gods behind in the Taiwan Strait!

Stage Eleven, all at sea, coming soon, I promise.

Stage Seven – Trans Siberian/Mongolian – overland UK 2 NZ

How do you catch the train across Russia, Mongolia and China? You just get on the TransSiberian and/or TransMongolian Railway. (Start from Moscow/Mockba or Beijing/Pekin and head to the other one.)

Victoria outside Chinese carriage on the TransSiberian/transMongolian Railway
Outside Chinese carriage on the TransSiberian/TransMongolian Railway

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here’s a menu to help you find your way: http://www.ourrelationshipwithnature.com/overview-overland-uk-2-nz-without-flying-eleven-stages-in-fifty-days/

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

Please note this is a multi-page post. Although my trip took 6 days, one hour and four minutes to complete, it won’t take you that long to read! That said, you might need a cup of tea and a little snack to take with you.

Hope this account inspires you to explore the world by train, too!

Tuesday 15th October 2019 – NIGHT ONE – TransSiberian/Mongolian – boarding the train at Yaroslavsky Train Station, Moscow – 23:55

Moscow to Beijing ticket
Moscow to Beijing ticket with a Golden Seal

Two middle-aged men in uniform greeted me at carriage five with some bemusement. They frowned and flapped my ticket. ‘But, do not fold it,’ I cried out mentally, thinking Lena from Real Russia would be shocked to see their carelessness. They gave the precious paper back to me and one fellow ambled inside. Without anything else to do I followed him and he pointed at my compartment and my lower berth number 9.

I said, ‘Xiexie,’ (‘Thank you’ being the limits of my Chinese so far) and he blinked at me before he left. This was not the same train as my previous shiny new Russian train. This was an antique Chinese train. It felt a bit rickety and there was no fancy screen showing time and temperature on the wall. Could it have been a steam train? I could definitely smell coal. Everything smelt of coal in the carriage.

Obeying train-life rules I quickly jumped into comfy nightwear and then serious man gave me a couple of sheets and a pillowcase. I said, ‘Xiexie,’ some more. I got my sleeping bag out as a base layer against the cold and I had brought a pillowcase of my own. I found the pillow on the top bunk but didn’t like to investigate further.

Between the bunks compartment 5
Fleur-de-Lys between the bunks of compartment 5.
No room for push ups here. (Ref: Compartment 6)

The full moon out the window. It was a wonderful feeling as the tow kicked in and the carriage began to move, pulled in the wake of the engine. We were off. We chuntered and chattered and clunkered on and on. We were going to Beijing. From Russia to China through Belarus and Mongolia. I was in for the trip of my life. At least, it would be the longest train journey of my life! Six days, one hour and four minutes.

The air got in and, boy, was I woken by some extreme industrial pongs in the middle of the night! Petrol, gas, plastics; all sorts of foul stenches came up from the walls. I got really cold too. (Mainly because I was too dumb to work out where the blankets were.)

First look at the dunny at night
First look at the dunny at night

The toilet was European-sit-down, metal and grim. I couldn’t work out how to flush it. I kicked a green lever and opened a tap all over my foot. I kicked it off and then noticed the other foot pedal. Actually, I considered the foot-lever thing a good plan considering Goddess Hygienia. Out in the corridor I could see the antique water boiler at the other end of the carriage. I couldn’t see anywhere else to get water.

Our water boiler; the coal fire behind it
Our water boiler; the coal fire behind it

The coffee from Avocado Cafe kept me alive, alive, oh, so I stared out the window at the big shadows and lights of the station and thought I was lucky. I was safe and well. The door locked with a big chunky metal handle.

During the night we stopped for long periods at a couple of stations where, through a tinny loudspeaker, a kind of clarion trumpet call heralded a woman’s shouting instructions. Still no-one else got in my carriage. I began to hope I might have the place to myself.

I got out my test sachet of arnica and dripped the oil over the clean sheet. Not so clean really and definitely made my mark in the pattern of old stains! (My Fisiocream from Spain had finished and, given this interesting twitch in my arms from constantly altering photos somehow uploading upside-down, I needed a new muscle cream. Back in Moscow I’d gone shopping. The cosmetic lady waved me through to the chemist who pondered the ingredients and bought me a couple of options. One had recognisable calendula flowers on the front, and mint, so we were a quarter of the way to the recipe. I pointed to the hypericum on the ingredient list, thinking perhaps pharmacy training might extend to Latin – the old St John’s wort – but with smiles and extensive, ‘Spasibo,’ in action, in the end, made do with her offering. Smelt like toothpaste. On the way out, cosmetic lady pulled me over into a corner. She pointed at the Weleda range. There was arnica. She gave me three sachets – if only she’d gone there first! That’s the stuff I spilled over the sheet. Smelt nice anyway.)

Awoke very cold. Went for a wee and on my return prodded around above me. Piled on the upper bunk I found a long thin blanket to cover the base of the bed and another, wider, to cover me. I was so glad to have these. Not sure who else was in the carriage. All the doors were shut but it felt quiet, empty and cold. Apart from the constant train movement and groan and hum-bumbles of the engine.

Under my bunk in compartment 5
Under my bunk in compartment 5 – the sturdy metal container to the left.

There was, what I took to be, a sizeable air gap over the door. I wasn’t sure who had the key to the door. BUT STOP! I couldn’t be there for almost a week and worry the whole time. I had to give myself over to the power of the moon and my beautiful empty compartment for the foreseeable future. All would be well. My hip sockets existed, firmly pressed against the bunk. Slept, rocked by the irrepressible train.

Stage Three – Berlin – on the way overland and sea UK to NZ

Memorials – how to remember? Or how not to forget? Writing this blog? To remember?

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here’s a menu to help you find your way: http://www.ourrelationshipwithnature.com/overview-overland-uk-2-nz-without-flying-eleven-stages-in-fifty-days/

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

It was 10:30 am on the train from Hamburg to Berlin when a young chirpy woman’s voice presumably welcomes us to our journey in German, before adding, clearly, ‘Good afternoon’. A loud laugh from the man near me gave notice there were not too many English speakers on the train. She said no more.

There was no ticket inspecting, as compared to Spain, where any intercity train journey is accompanied by a security check and close analysis of tickets at every opportunity. No-one ever checked tix in Hamburg. Does anyone even buy tickets apart from tourists?

As for my carefully reserved seat, there weren’t even any numbers on the walls or the chairs. The man, so kind and genuine, selling me the tic in his comfortable uniform and urging me to make that extra payment of four euros fifty to reserve a seat, said, ‘Hamburg to Berlin is our busiest route. It’s normally full. But, you must wake up in time. If you miss it you must pay again.’ All so jovial and such a big, fat lie!

I didn’t miss the train. Walking to the train station was a joy. It was a beautiful sunny morning in my leafy suburb and the fallen leaves, crisp and crunchy the day before, had already turned to sludge in the soft rain. The glowing autumn colours shone through. Those old trees spoke eloquently of change and time passing. The grey mist enhanced the mystery.

On the train I found my Jess-made sewing kit and fixed my pockets and zips, particularly the wallet pocket zip. Definitely a case of a stitch in time. Could not afford a uniform malfunction in the wallet area.

The renowned Trabant outside hostel
The renowned Trabant outside hostel

Arrived safely in my cheerful Happy Bed Hostel in Berlin and thought to seek delicious German fare.

Main dining room Unami
Main dining room Umami, Kreuzberg

All the world’s cusines are in Berlin!

Buddha Rolls and Rose Tea @ Unami, Kreutzberg
When in Berlin try the Buddha Rolls and Rose Tea @ Umami, Kreuzberg

Wednesday began in Kreuzberg, with the simple idea of getting my ticket printed and doing a tour of Berlin, taking in the Spree Gallery in the afternoon. I figured the ticket might take half an hour. I began at the U station, Hallesches Tor, near my efficient hostel.

I bought a daily ticket which no-one asked to see, ever. I put it in the machine to get it stamped. Who buys tickets in Germany?

From there I caught the train to Warschauer Strasse station. Then I had to change to the S-train. I asked the only staff member I could find who was hiding in a booth and didn’t want to come out. He didn’t speak any English and the jutting of his whiskery chin made it plain he didn’t like the idea of English. After I indicated my desired destination by jabbing at my map, he pointed to the exit. I came out of the U and looked around the streets for the S. Where was S? I started to feel I was in an ep of Sesame Street. There was considerable building, scaffolding and blocked pathways around me. I was about to cross the street to find a café with a human who might know something when I looked up. A sign!

Where is the S? Or the U? The answers reign on high
The answers reign on high

When I got to the S I could not find a train that went to my station. It only went to Nölderplatz. You might think this is petty but when you are trying to organise ongoing travel arrangements these things can get stressful. If I had made this trip the next day when I wanted to catch the train to Warsaw, I would have missed it. So the dry run was turning into a sweaty run. But I took deep breaths. Planning ahead is good.

Back in the corridors of train world, I asked a couple of men in orange high viz and they shrugged. I figured it was better to get close to where I wanted to be and caught the train to Nölderplatz. There seemed to be no ongoing to Lichtenberg. I asked a couple of charming smiling women in high viz orange and they pointed across the suburb and waved and danced the information that I could catch a bus two streets over. Schliststrasse? Schillerstrass? So I wandered out of the station, into a nice park, saw a bus stop that did not list Lichtenberg and wandered two more streets, past a skateboard park with no graffiti and a man in his fifties practicing his skate moves in his dark blue raincoat. The yellow leaves made sharp contrast with the grey concrete curves.

I saw a promising orange bus. It did not list my name so I went to the other side, just missing another. Then I returned to ask a oncoming driver of the first side. He pointed at the other side. Why did I cross the road? To make sure I was facing the right direction. Finally a bus arrived. I asked for my station. He shook his head, staring ahead. Oh, dear. But then, in the nick of time, he remembered! Yes! Get on, get on, so I did.

The couple in front of me looked worried and turned back to examine me. Lichtenberg, they muttered to each other and shook their heads. I had no-where else to be but time was ticking on. I would get somewhere. I looked out of the window at the grey day. The blocks of flats were either grey or cream or off-white or taupe or beige and the paint was flaking but the parks were always present with their glowing gold and orange tints growing bolder through the greenery. People in the streets wore olive green, brown, black and navy coats.

We arrived at a large carpark with a small bike-stand array (why are there so many cars in Berlin?) and there was Lichtenberg station.

My ticket out of there
My ticket out of there

It was quiet. Shops were shut. Informative signs in German guarded the stairwell. I found my ticket machine, chose the Union Jack and looked for a pre-paid ticket option. I patted and tapped all around the choices open to me. I couldn’t find it. Luckily, I was standing right next to the information desk. I went to stand in the queue stretching out into the hallway. There seemed to be an invisible forcefield around the workers’ counter. Only one person could fit into the shop in this queue. At least two metres separated our first contender from the desk. Purposeful German chatter filled the air as the two assistants organised tickets and directed people. I took deep breaths.

I got the old guy with a white beard. I apologised for speaking only English and he stood up, as if to go, and on second thoughts towered over the printed information I offered him. English? What is English? Reluctantly, quickly, he read my journey details and told me to go to platform 16. I indicated no, not now, tomorrow. And tried to explain I needed to print the ticket. He shouted, ‘Machine! Machine!’ and pointed with vigour at the place from whence I’d come. I said, ‘But I can’t … ‘ He said, ‘Machine!’ and turned to go.

He swung back to look at the next person in the queue. You can bet I was saying Bitte and Danke all I could but, really, this guy was working in the information desk? In Berlin? In an international station? Are all their patrons German? I went to look at platform 16. At least there were no barriers across it. I took deep breaths and headed to the WC for extra calming. A little queue in front of the shut doors looked worried and held money and one guy at the front had even managed to print a ticket. But it was closed. A large woman wearing a floral scarf around her neck and a taupe jacket stretched across her front marched to the machine and talked to the young man commandingly. Perhaps he had broken it? No? That was that. She had enough and left. The WC, the entire station, was not functional today.

Considering my options I thought the best thing to do was return to a place where I had once found kindness so I returned to the air and went to find U. Finally, worked out how to get to Alexanderplatz on my path to return to Berlin Hbf (of which I had fond memories). Alexanderplatz is where that big tall landmark tower is.

On my way to find the S I saw an information booth and stood in a queue there. After a while the lovely smiling woman showed me a photo-card of the correct options in the machine. You have to choose ‘All Offers’ and ‘Bahnof tickets’ and then you are given a choice to put in your number or voucher. Job done. It had taken me nearly two and a half hours to print my ticket.

There were a lot of people sleeping rough, especially around the train stations.

I won’t go into the struggle to find a café, although there was one, my decision to head towards the Brandenburg Gate to take a tour regardless of lagging vim and joyfully, on the way, by chance, finding a brand new café called ‘Beets and Roots’ where they really do treat you like a rock star (my name was Bradley Cooper) and the food is delicious. I sat outside in the silvery sun and had an ongoing discussion with three kamikaze wasps. I believe all three survived in the end. Greedy things.

Beets&Roots on the way to the Brandenburg Gate fresh tasty fare beside a park
Beets&Roots on the way to the Brandenburg Gate fresh tasty fare beside a park

How much of Berlin’s landmarks were blasted by allied bombs? 80% of the city.

First glimpse of Brandenburg Gate
First glimpse of Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate was familiar from much film and tv. The lady with the chariot and prancing steeds was apparently once called ‘Peace’ but after Napoleon stole her away to the Louvre and the Prussian return, she is now known as ‘Victory’ and carries the German Eagle to show her people fresh resolve. (How did Napoleon and indeed, the Prussian victors, get her on and off the gate? Were there cranes?) It memorialises war, victory and ownership.

My guide was called Susan Grouchy. She had a masters in archaeology and had returned to uni to study memorials. Berlin is the obvious place for such an endeavour. She was not originally from Berlin but urged us to find not only physical memorials but people who lived here. They would be sure to have some interesting stories. What do they remember?

The Mourners @ Brandenburg Gate
The Mourners @ Brandenburg Gate

As well as the roads steeped in history, from 1250 onwards, there was a group of vibrant red Extinction Rebellion protestors gathering, silently swaying, palms skywards, flags fluttering, white faces grim, making a bold statement against the grey imposing structures around them.

XR info point Brandenburg - good flag
XR info point Brandenburg – good flag

Can such a people-based movement rise up once more in this city of peaceful protest? When the Berlin Wall came down thirty years before hundreds of thousands of suppressed people took to the streets to come and see for themselves if the travel restrictions had been lifted? And the guards did not open fire. There were not enough bullets to shoot everyone and the time had come for the German people to come together again. The walls came down.

The climate crisis is here
The climate crisis is here

Now the fight is not so tangible. You cannot see climate change. You cannot smash it or break rocks from it. You cannot paint it with colourful visual poetry. Is the time right for people to see a change in how corporations use fossil fuels? Can we shoot the typhoon headed for Japan?

Directly under the Brandenburg Gate
Directly under the Brandenburg Gate

In this German, Berlin, backdrop, the Rebellion took on a resonance that it had not had in Brighton. I did not see cheery dance classes or breast-feeding women blocking streets here.

Memorial to Jewish victims of Nazis
Memorial to Jewish victims of Nazis

Susan took us to the great and sombre grey block Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. There are other memorials to different minority groups singled out for extinction elsewhere but this Jewish memorial is imposing, belittling, awe-inspiring. I can see how politicians might feel when they take a break from the nearby Reichstag, with its glass dome to symbolise transparency, and visit this neighbour. You must interact with it. You must consider the shapes and individuals and be overwhelmed by the height of it. Lost cities. Lost dreams.

Who was just there?
Who was just there?

Our guide, as student of memorials, encouraged us to consider these effects. She explained what the artist Peter Eisenman stated; that it was designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and not stated; that any numbers or shapes were symbolic in any way, in his presentation to the city.

Ghost City
Ghost City

In the end each individual’s response is personal and how I wish everyone in the world in power had to come to this place to consider their responsibilities. People making, negotiating and dealing in missiles, arms of any kind and tanks with a view to harm and destruction should come to this place. The humans on the UN Security Council, they should come here.

The Berlin wall seems so flimsy now
The Berlin wall seems so flimsy now

Marching along the remains of the wall, so weak and thin, she told us of Amplemann and obeying the pedestrian signs, or else.

Berlin green person - the Amplemann
Berlin green person – the Amplemann
Red Amplelmann - no doubt this is a stop sign
Red Amplelmann – no doubt this is a stop sign

She took us to the car park over the bunker where Hitler ended his life. She showed us the work-places of Goebbels and Himmler. The great grey sideways skyscraper where the Lufftwaffe was based, now the taxation office. She took us to the cheery tourist ridden Checkpoint Charlie, overlooked by KFC and Macdonalds and other brazen honeypots. She showed us the cobbled reminder of the wall but she did not point out the small brass squares, brightly (recently) polished that we walked past.

KFC and Macdonalds Checkpoint
KFC and Macdonalds Checkpoint

The German and French Cathedrals (copies rebuilt by the East Germans to show what Berlin used to look like) stand on opposite sides of the Konzerthaus. Nice they are brought together by music.

Koncerthaus red carpet
Koncerthaus red carpet

And the Konzerthaus had a red carpet pleated up the tall stairs to the grand entry. Exciting events during the 30th anniversary of the Wall coming down.

Luther looking at Berlin pointy things
Luther looking at Berlin pointy things

All is building, barriers, perhaps in preparation for a thirty-years party – or the Festival of Lights – but many buildings under construction or renovation and of course, the S-train is to be improved. About time. There is surely room to improve the signage! Many police officers and cars in evidence – if it was for the Extinction Rebellion they were over-prepared. The people had not come to the streets in any great number. Why not?

Berlin pointy things, traffic and barriers
Berlin pointy things, traffic and barriers

We ended up in the Bebelplatz facing the Humbolt University Law Faculty which used to be the library. This is where an angry mob burnt 20,000 books. Books written by Jews, homosexuals, non-Aryan … The memorial was a deep bunker of empty white bookshelves in the middle of the plaza. Then Susan led us to a corner to sit and told us the story of how the wall came down. She managed it with aplomb and shivers went through my spine as she described those Berliners watching Gunter on tv turning to each other in disbelief. What did he say? And the walls came down.

Berlin wall remains art gallery
Berlin wall remains art gallery
A sense of the death strip between the walls
A sense of the death strip between the walls – and some of the ongoing building projects in the background

She told us the quote, ‘History may not repeat, but sometimes it rhymes.’ Could be Mark Twain.

Dancing to freedom painting on the wall
Dancing to freedom painting on the wall

Never made it to Spree but my taxi driver in the morning was a Berliner. He spoke English extremely well, having grown up in the West. He’d visited Australia when he was a kid. He said he feared he was a rare oddity in this international city. I assured him there were plenty of old white German men who did not wish to be part of the tourist flood, most of them working for train stations.

He remembered when the wall came down. He was twenty and ready to party. He hated David Hasselhof for stealing the moment. He thought Paul Weller should have come. He was still waiting for Paul Weller.

Walls come tumbling down

You don’t have to take this crap
You don’t have to sit back and relax
You can actually try changing it
I know we’ve always been taught to rely

Upon those in authority
But you never know until you try
How things just might be
If we came together so strongly

Are you gonna try to make this work
Or spend your days down in the dirt
You see things can change
Yes, an’ walls can come tumbling down

Governments crack and systems fall
‘Cause unity is powerful
Lights go out walls come tumbling down

The competition is a color TV
We’re on still pause with the video machine
That keep you slave to the H.P.

Until the unity is threatened by
Those who have and who have not
Those who are with and those who are without
And dangle jobs like a donkey’s carrot
Until you don’t know where you are

Are you gonna realize
The class war’s real and not mythologized
And like Jericho you see walls can come tumbling down

Are you gonna be threatened by
The public enemies number ten
Those who play the power game
They take the profits you take the blame
When they tell you there’s no rise in pay

Are you gonna try an’ make this work
Or spend your days down in the dirt
You see things can change
Yes, an’ walls can come tumbling down

Paul Weller

Speaking to another young Berliner, she said, ‘It is a city to make memories in.’

Another of the questions Susan asked us to consider was, ‘Why are so many Berliners DJs?’

I was sitting next to a young fellow on the train on my way to Warsaw. He was editing some music on his computer – listening intently to his headphones. Maybe I’ll ask him.

I’m heading to Poland!

I’ll read this on the way.

Then try Stage Four – Warsaw!