Europe: De-Railed

I could talk about the economic crisis but… today, I’m going to tell the story of a trip that never happened 🙂

When I was a kid, my family hadn’t bought a car yet, and we would take the train twice a year to visit the extended family for Christmas and Easter. This is how trains and train stations came to feel like home to me, with their particular rhythm, noise and smell. Recently, in contrast, my experience with flying has been dreadful. So I searched for trains that would allow me to live anywhere in Europe (and visit my family often) without taking any flight.

After a few research and booking ventures, I found that traveling efficiently across three or more European countries is almost impossible. Here is what I found…


International train webpages have annoying redirections:

  • For the Lisbon-Madrid night train, redirects to
  • For the Madrid-Paris night train (called Elipsos), redirects to;
  • then redirects to for the very same train!

International train bookings have annoying discrepancies:

  • says the return trip between Madrid and Paris would be 122 euros; yet (to which I am doubly redirected) provides the same trip for 150 euro!
  • books the same trip but provides no choice of upper/lower berth (bed) nor a window/aisle option.
  • provides these options but they don’t actually work…

What happens when I try to book a Paris-Madrid train online?

I select dates, times and seat preferences…then an error message tells me to select a berth preference, though I already chose one. The online booking form is crooked… A website with hundreds of euros per transaction has a critical buying block! As online marketers and business owners would say, has a fatal conversion mistake.

I wrote a quick line through their contact form…


…and I got this reply:


Now doesn’t that make me a happy client? 🙂

Many travelers nowadays are unhappy with air travel, but they don’t really have a choice. Even Deutsche Bahn, while providing a decent booking system, is making international train rides impossible with their price discrimination — charging ridiculously high prices unless you have a contract for their discount cards.

It’s a classic example of going safe instead of going big: railways could snatch long-distance travelers but they choose to target reliable but cheap local customers. It gets worse if you’re an adult. In that case, chances are that travel is important to you: many times you travel because you really have to. Say, because your clients or family need you. Sorry mate but you will have to stick to the flyin’ sausages.

The Majestic Taipei 101 Tower

The Taipei 101 tower in downtown Taipei city was the world’s tallest inhabited building at the time it opened in 2004. I had the chance to visit the area a few times, first to walk about, then for the Xmas experience, and finally to check out the heights and sights up there from the 73rd floor, where the Google office is located.

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There is a huge, luxury shopping mall inside the tower and many lifts that feel like smooth, silent airplanes going up. It’s quite a thrill, nicely crowning the already exciting walk around Xinyi’s modern neighborhood. Absolutely the number 1 urban experience in Taipei!

Xmas & New Year 2012/13

The winter’s cold temperature settled in, yet still in double digits. Certain areas of Danshuei and Xinyi were decorated for Christmas (even though it isn’t a local tradition nor a holiday), making it fun to revisit the Taipei 101 area.

Christmas Day itself turned out to be both delicious and sunny, while new year’s eve offered great fireworks right outside our door in Danshuei! We even lit up a couple of sky lanterns, which flew into the dark night sky, propelled by fire. Reportedly, 800.000 people gathered around the Tower 101 on this night — some of which wearing diapers to deal with the difficulty of leaving the area and finding WCs!

Gentle Fall

The fall of 2012 was gentle in Taipei, keeping warm temperatures until November, when the rain started pouring almost incessantly. Before that, we got to explore Danshuei to the fullest and drove south to Wulai, historically an aboriginal village with hot water springs.

Classic Airplanes at the Taipei Aviation Museum

Right at Taipei Taoyuan airport — the airport near Taipei City where most international airlines fly to — there is an interesting collection of old planes from Taiwan. Despite being a fan of race cars more than airplanes, I couldn’t miss the opportunity for a good photo shoot… I was fortunate enough with the sunny weather and charismatic sky, so it turned out great! Check it out:

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If you’re a plane buff, click here for the full photo album of the Aviation Museum at Taipei Tayouan Airport!