Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Train Travel

Yesterday, while video Skyping with my daughter and family, my almost four year old granddaughter announced, with great excitement, "Nana, I went on the train."

What an adventure, her first train ride! My daughter took her, just for the experience, for half a dozen station stops and the return journey, on the line which leads into Grand Central Station, NY.

It got me thinking about my experiences with train travel.

Until I left Australia, at 24 years of age, I lived in a suburb of Sydney, a half-hour train ride from downtown. Even 70 years ago, Sydney had a very extensive electric-powered suburban railway system. We had no car, so always took the train. From the time I was twelve I travelled to high school on the train for twenty minutes each way and later a half hour's travel took me to Sydney University. Then going to work and wherever I went socially I travelled by train.

During the two years I spent in London I also travelled everywhere by train. The underground train service in London functions very well, even though the infrastructure is old. I still have a map of the London Underground which I look at nostalgically sometimes.

From my working base in London, I made longer train journeys to Scotland, around England, to Sweden, down to Germany. That's how one travels in Europe, by train.

Then I moved to Canada in 1961 and trains disappeared from my life. Suburban trains were not part of the Vancouver scene until the late eighties. Of course, trains did travel across the country.

In fact, in 1967, my husband and I, with a 4 year old and a 6 month old baby in tow, took the train from Vancouver to Ottawa, a four day journey. We had a sleeper compartment with two bunks which transformed into a tiny day salon, with it's own washroom, a basin and toilet only. We ate all our meals in the dining car, where the four year old decorated the windows with buttery fingers. Despite the practical difficulties of confined spaces with two little ones, I loved that train journey.

The route crosses the Canadian Rocky Mountains, through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, then across the prairies and into the lake country of Ontario. We did not return by train but drove back across the country from Ottawa to Vancouver, in a new car we had purchased in the East. But I always meant to do that train journey again, all the way to the Maritimes. It never happened, of course, and now to travel across the country by passenger train is a luxury and done only by tourists.

I still love trains. I travel by train often when I'm in Italy. I love going to the station, watching all the people hurrying back and forth, looking for the right platform, buying tickets, making reservations, bustling along pulling their suitcases behind them. Such an air of excitement, such anticipation. Newspaper kiosks, food concessions, all types of different services abound at the station. In the middle of all this are the platforms with the trains, up close.

Somehow, for me, the airport is a much more sterile place. There's not the sense of urgency and excitement that exists in the train station. Arrivals are in one place, departures in another. People straggle off planes, exhausted, jet lagged, anxious to be finished with their journey. People sit in the departure lounge, exhausted after arriving hours earlier to run the security gauntlet, anxious to be finally on their way.

But the train station! I just love them. I think it must be time to go back to Europe and do some train travelling.


Heather in Beautiful BC said...

Nice to see the Rockies by train, I'm sure - especially with your own compartment.

The only time I traveled by train was in England in a clackety, clackety uncomfortable train with hard bench seats - with not much to see except the backs of brick houses and factories. It was very uncomfortable and I felt nauseous the entire time :( Not a good experience!

Too bad about the cruise - I'm afraid I didn't check the taxes - but if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!

jmb said...

Hi Heather,
My most recent train experiences have been in Italy in 2002. Wonder if I'm romaticizing the rest?
Crossing Canada by train was great.
I dashed straight off to check Jubilee and found the bad news. Mind you I was on a New England cruise and someone did have an outside cabin at $499 US pp for 10 days. Booked a week before.

Vijay said...

If you visit one busy railway station in India, I can guarantee that you will lose your love of all things related to trains. The crowds, the dirt & dust, the smell are all overpowering.

jmb said...

Hi Vijay,
I'm sure that's very true. Is there a better choice in India? I guess the huge population makes any form or transportation uncomfortable.

Cathy said...

I also love trains..But, it has been many years since I have rode on one. I grew up riding trains. My dad was an enginner for for the RR, almost 40 years following WWII. We took alot of train trips. Even as an adult I loved taking the train, from where I live in Ohio, to Chicago.

We use to do it often. You have reminded me that my grand daughter, who is now 9 years old, has never been on a train. They no longer run from here. It would be a trip just to get to where we could take one. I need to make sure she gets a train ride..:)

jmb said...

Hi Cathy,
Maybe a 9 year old would not think it so much fun, but I would hope so.
My granddaughter went with her mother to pick up a friend from the station and she wanted to go on the train. So my daughter took her a few days later.

mhr said...

I remember watching a documentary series on French TV, Histoire des Trains (directed by Daniel Costelle) a few years ago (I don't have a TV any more).
They showed famous trains all over the world. The viewer was embarked on a human adventure on each of them, as it showed the people on the train, as well as landscapes.
Trains are linked to adventure in my mind :)

jmb said...

Hi mhr,
That's the way I too feel about trains. The incredible sense of adventure. But I must say Vijay's comment about trains in India sobered me up somewhat.