In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
China tests high-speed snow train
A high-speed railway that can run at nearly 220mph in temperatures of -40C has begun a trial operation in China, ahead of a launch at the end of the year.
Believed to be the only train in the world capable of such speeds in frozen conditions, it will run on a new line that links Dalian, a port city on China’s North East coast, to Harbin, which is blanketed by snow for much of the winter.
The new trains will cut the journey time on the 570-mile line from nine hours to just three-and-a-half.
The Chinese authorities said it was particularly challenging to construct a line that would operate not only at -40C in winter, but at temperatures of up to 40C in the summer.
“We researched high-speed railway line construction in relatively cold areas of Germany and Japan and learned from water and electricity supply projects in frigid areas,” said Zhang Xize, the chief engineer of the railway, to the China Daily.
He said the ice could disrupt the train’s power supply and signals system, but vowed that every possible safety measure had been taken.
In July 2011, two high-speed trains crashed outside of Wenzhou after the first train lost power, killing at least 40 people and injuring nearly 200.
Since the crash, China has scaled back its high-speed rail project. But the need to boost the Chinese economy has seen the number of approved high-speed rail projects rise again in the second half of this year.
Mystery shrouds Lost Dutchman mine
As we rode the trail up the side of First Water Canyon, in the Superstition Mountains of central Arizona, we never lost sight of a huge vertical rock they call Weaver’s Needle.
It’s the most conspicuous landmark in the mountains and it comes up again and again in stories of the Lost Dutchman mine and the treasure of the thunder gods. I wondered idly if the “Old Dutchman” himself — actually a German prospector named Jacob Waltz — had maybe used this very trail on his way back from the mine, his pack mule’s saddlebags full of gold.
Waltz supposedly said on his deathbed that his mine — which he never led anyone to — was worth at least $100 million, and that was in 1891 dollars. No wonder thousands of hopefuls have scoured the mountains in the years since, all wanting a share of the wealth reportedly hidden in the place the Native Americans call Thunder Gods Mountain.
Some have spent their lives searching. Many have given up in frustration. Dozens have disappeared in these forbidding canyons. And not a few have been murdered, slain, some think, because someone has indeed found the gold and will kill anyone else who gets too close to it.
My guide on my one-day treasure hunt — in truth a jaunt to research the legend and to get the feel of the area — was Ron Feldman, who makes a living escorting tourists and gold-seekers on one-, two- or three-day pack trips into the Superstition Mountains from his OK Corral Stables in Apache Junction.
Feldman won’t say if he believes there’s a lost mine here, but he has more experience than most in treasure hunting. He has already discovered one lost mine, the Adams Diggings, the most notorious in Arizona after the Lost Dutchman. Feldman found it in 1989, but “it was played out,” he says.
Before dying, the Old Dutchman is supposed to have given directions to his mine, and various interpretations of these have come down through the years. Many revolve around Weaver’s Needle and there we were, around noon, literally in its shadow.
So I asked Feldman about one of Waltz’s alleged directions: That the gold lies “where the shadow of the tip of the needle falls at 4 in the afternoon.”
Nonsense, he said. For one thing the shadow falls in a different place every day.
What do flight attendants think of you?
I’ve been flying a lot lately, and since I’m an inquisitive sort, I’ve been chatting with flight attendants. Here are excerpts from their candid responses about doing the job in these trying times for the airline industry.
Question: What annoys you most about your job?
Answer: When passengers don’t pay attention to us during the safety demo, it’s both annoying and insulting. We know people fly a lot, but planes vary. When you have a newspaper in front of your face, it signals that you do not think this is important. Also, when passengers wear headphones while we’re asking you what you want to drink and we have to repeat the question. Plus, if you keep them on, you end up screaming at us without realizing it. And you’d be shocked at how many people barely even look at me when I’m serving them. Did their parents not teach them to say please and thank you? And it never ceases to amaze me the number of passengers that prop their feet up on the bulkhead as if it were their ottoman at home. Your scuffed shoe marks and dirt from your shoes remain after you deplane. Oh, and why would people ever think it’s OK to cut their fingernails or toenails on board an airplane?
Q: What can passengers do to make the boarding process faster?
A: One of the biggest irritations for us is watching people reorganize their bag when they get to their row. We’re constantly reminding people to step into the row so that other people can board but it falls on deaf ears. Then there are the people that place their small backpack or jacket in the overhead bin, taking up valuable space. People rarely think about their fellow passengers, which often results in gate-checked bags. And please place your wheeled carryon bag with the handle first, not sideways.
Ultimate guide to eating your way around the world, by Lonely Planet
From strange dishes such as tonics that include the sex organs of animals, to what hand to eat with in India, it’s easy for travellers to get caught by surprise as they test out dishes from different cultures.
But never fear, Lonely Planet has revealed how to eat your way around the world with confidence in the new book Food Lover’s Guide to the World.
China: Eating for health
According to Chinese tradition, all foods have a medicinal effect. When you are feeling unwell, your body is out of balance. Finding the food with the right elements can help remedy and re-balance the body. This practice is known as shiliao. Cooling foods such as bitter melon can nix a sore throat, a symptom of an overheated body. A medicinal meal, yaoshan, is a combination of nutritious foods and therapeutic herbs, such as ginseng or cordyceps, that Chinese believe prevents or heals illnesses and promotes longevity. The most typical are tonics boiled for hours, rich stews with a chicken base or the sex organs of animals.
The Caribbean: Conch
A staple in every Bahamian home, restaurant and roadside stall, conch (pronounced “conk”) is the de facto national dish of the Bahamas. A type of sea snail with a large cone-shaped shell, it’s fished from the shallows then brought live to market. Its tough flesh is comparable to calamari, and takes a good dash of TLC to tenderise – the mark of a top Bahamian cook is the tenderness of their conch. Rustic, sandy-floored conch stands are the best places to sample this tasty mollusc – just belly up to the counter, order a cold Kalik beer and prepare to sample some genuine island flavour.
One food-related institution that is alive and well in most Russian towns is the local produce market – or rinok. These are often impressive, cavernous halls built for the purpose, and populated with hundreds of vendors selling everything from fruit and vegetables to honey, cheese, caviar or slabs of meat. A market is also the best bet to buy the delicacy salo – smoked pig fat that melts wonderfully in the mouth. Wherever you are in Russia, a visit to the local rinok provides an insight into the country’s food culture. Take along bags and small change – you can haggle if your Russian is up to it.