Monday, February 12, 2007

The Romance of Rail Travel

The romance of rail travel never fades. Childhood memories of waking aboard a sleeper from Scotland and looking out at misty sidings in the depths of English countryside, hugging knees with barely containable excitement of what more was to come. An early morning train as a student, rattling through the summer sun-kissed fields en route from Vienna to Rome. A confused conversation in Basque with an old lady carrying a mesh crate full of noisy chickens, in readiness for the market at San Sebastian. A sophisticated late night dinner on a train to Berlin, with linen napkins, silver crockery and the promise of a romantic long weekend with my companion. A life-changing declaration of love in the waiting room at Abergavenny.

Most recently, the early train to Aigle from Paris via Lausanne; the rising dawn slowly revealing frost and snow capped mountains - and the promise of more snow at our destination, Whitepod.

Travelling by rail is part of the adventure - it starts the very moment you step into the station. Watching who comes, who goes, what they carry, what they say, how they move. Conversations are in other languages. Are they regulars or are they interlopers? What is their adventure? Do they understand the romance of travel by train too?

Think of films with memorable train and train station scenes; Cary Grant’s passionate encounter with Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard’s temptation in A Brief Encounter, Bobbie running to her father in The Railway Children, Platform 9 1/2 at Kings Cross Station.

And what of the very architecture of a station? Of course, the lure of grandeur appeals greatly – the majesty of the Belle Epoque interior of Le Train Bleu restaurant in Gare de Lyon, with it’s frescoes illustrating the cities that travellers passed through when travelling south to Lyon and the Mediterranean. In the UK we have Paddington station built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1854, with it’s magnificent wrought arches supporting a glazed roof over the main train shed stretching almost 700 feet long. I eagerly await the arrival of Eurostar at the foot of the gloriously eclectic St Pancras Chambers. Oysters and champagne above the concourse and journey times of just over two hours to Paris are promised before the end of this year.

So check the station clock, grab your bags, find your platform, take your seat, settle in and as your train leaves the bustle of the city behind, allow your eye to stretch further and your thoughts to slow down. Look out over fields with houses dotted in the distance and sheep grazing in meadows. Dip into a book, snuggle up, watch a DVD, chat, snooze, dream, enjoy. Let it be a lifelong affair, each trip an opportunity to renew the romance and savour the experience.

The era of the train has returned.

~ Rediscover the wonder of travelling by train: The Man at Seat 61
~ The Lazy Environmentalist Blog from Whitepod.
~ carbon footprint of a return train journey from London to Paris per person: 41 kg (0.041tonnes) (See My Carbon Footprint for travel carbon calculations)
[photo credit of trains in snow:
Fevrier 2003]


Jonathan Ward said...


I couldn't agree more about the merits of train travel, even after years of british railway travelling (which gets more stick than it deserves). I travelled to norway via rail to newcastle and ship from there, and it was a wonderful journey. the journey is then no longer just a means of getting somewhere, it's something to be enjoyed too. I took photos on the ship, I wrote and read on the train, debated much of life with random passengers on both and felt so relaxed.

Here's a link little thing i wrote on the train up on that journey -

If anything longer train journeys (apart from couchettes and sleepers in europe if you are over 6 feet!) are much more enjoyable. an adventure in themselves. I went to a festival hungary last year with friends using the train, it was a fantastic time, and you really feel you are part of a contient and actually going somewhere. It had been years since i inter-railed, but the fun and excitement was the same.

lets hope more people can be persuaded!

Gareth Kane said...

I'm a big train fan too - I've written up trips on the Trans Siberian, on & along the Settle Carlisle and a little bit on East Africa on my travel website.