This week the Boot’n’All Indie Travel Challenge is about train travel. I am a total train enthusiast, so this one is right up my alley. Even when I can fly, I will still prefer the train. I have been from one of Europe to the other on trains over the years and yup, there is a romance about it.
The question is why? What is it about train travel that captivates the imagination of travelers? What about it makes the word “romantic” so apt?
Trains represent a journey
Trains mean a journey. They signify one. The train trip itself FEELS like a journey. As much as I would welcome teleportation, I still believe in that world, trains will retain their romantic notions because of that sense of travel. There is a feeling of travel while sitting in a train that is unique.
The scenery flows past in a way that is not present in an airplane. And when you are driving yourself, you have to pay attention, so you can’t gaze whimsically at the landscape. Even as a passenger, it feels different in a car than in a train.
They offer a social atmosphere
Trains are a communal travel experience. This is a group of people all going in the same direction. We are in this journey together for a certain amount of time. You instantly have something in common with a fellow passenger. Are you going all the way to Berlin? No, just to Dresden, then? Did you get on at Freiburg too? Really, from Switzerland?
There is no time pressure, because the train will get there when it gets there.You don’t have anywhere to go. Well you do, but you are in fact going there already, so the urge to go faster sort of dissipates.
The best trains for a social experience are the ones with cabins. A few people in a journey for a few hours in a isolation from the outside world. Conversations start up and change as people come and go. Even in the big open trains with 4 seats around a table, that provides a good way to talk to people. Failing that, the bistro car with a beer is a good place to relax as well. Even if you have to bring your own, you can eat plenty on a journey.
Ok, airplanes are communal too, but not in a good way. You are crammed in and can’t really move. It is a shared torture rather than a communal journey. The seats are tiny and you are encouraged not to move. Even in order to talk to the person next to you you have to turn your head. There is never a conversation with more than 2 due to space and the in-flight entertainment sucks you in. It is really not an atmosphere to relax and socialize in. Especially not for me with the fear.
Cars are not as crammed, but it is often about going faster to get where you are going. No bathroom breaks and the social aspects are drowned out by the stereo.
There is a sense of mystery around them
A black and white movie scene where the heroine is about to leave on the train and sees her lover through the crowds. Several great fight scenes in Indiana Jones are on trains. The Mummy as well. Some of the sense of mystery is centered around the time when trains where in their heyday, but literature and movies help heighten that sense. Travel itself was mysterious. Trains represented this travel and gained a cloak of mystery. You never know who you will meet. What far off places you will find?
Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is one of her best known books and uses the mystery of the train to great effect.
There is an isolation to trains. You are in your bubble of the train watching the landscape go by during the day or sucking down beers at night waiting for the station announced to be yours. And yet you are still engaged with the world. You know the world outside is there and tangible. Trains go through interesting places and are more connected to the landscape than either a car or airplane. Planes show you vistas you can’t experience in real life. Highways nowadays are ribbons of asphalt as isolated and excluded from the landscape as possible with trees and fences. A train stops at stations and reenters reality briefly before plunging out across the fanciful landscape again.
Night trains are my best stories.
- In Florence with friends we ate at a cool little restaurant before I had to head out home. We mis-read the Italian and instead of bruschetta with tomatoes we ended up with liver. We made a big joke out of it. Then I left my friends and got on a train. Happens that in my cabin where a pair of sisters that recognized me from the restaurant because they were sitting next to us.
- I did a 24 hour night train from Paris to Madrid a number of years ago. Met a Russian guy and his American girlfriend. We happened across a Columbian and a guy from Peru. The 5 of us stood in the area between the trains until 3am talking about travel.
- Numerous occasions to have really great conversations with people in the seat across from me. Businessmen, musicians, students and engineers. Each has their stories.
- I rode the train to Croatia and back. On the way there, I met an Australian businessman who was part Croatian. He talked about his vacation there every year and told me about his life. Coming home I met a young couple who had been studying in Germany on my night train.
- The best conversation I can remember came on a train from Munich back to Freiburg years ago as a student. I have no clue how the conversation started, but this phrase came up a couple of times. Airplanes move too fast, the soul can’t travel that fast.
The Soul Can’t Travel That Fast
It was told to me by a German man, who attributed it to native Americans. Although I have heard it several times, it always seems to be a German giving credit to the Native Americans. Maybe this is the great wisdom about trains. They allow the soul to travel along at a speed it is comfortable with, room to breath and time to contemplate the journey.
Maybe jetlag is just the soul trying to catch up.
All of my answers for the challenge can be found under the category Challenges.