Hail the Rail
Modern beasts made from steel that hurl their futuristic shape from city to city at great speed, or rather rundown carriers of nostalgia that crisscross the countryside at a snail’s pace: trains. Manmade machines on tracks. I love them all.
I’ve always had a great fondness for this quintessential way of getting from A to B that allows for a heightened sense of place and people. Easing into the next destination as you watch the world transition outside your window is one of the prime joys of travelling around Europe (with a piece of cheese or glass of wine in hand, if you’re so inclined).
Call me biased, as a child of Eastern Germany, I grew up riding trains. My family didn’t own a car until well after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, so this is how we got around. Simple, yet profound. It could well be the sentimental reason why I gravitate towards this mode of transportation wherever possible. Quite apart from any questions of sustainability.
I’ll admit, often rail travel requires a level of patience and adaptability. Things do go wrong occasionally. Connections get missed, schedules change on a dime. It can be painfully frustrating and awfully entertaining in equal parts, an experience often magnified by a lack of public announcements. Like you’re part of a social experiment of sorts.
Certain journeys bring back memories and instill a sense of Heimat as soon as I take my seat, connecting familiar places that have been part of my life since childhood, like Dresden and Berlin or Prague. Others provide an element of exciting discovery, like Norway’s dreamy Rauma railway, passing by Sicily’s ash-spewing Mt Etna, or the train I caught on a recent research trip: overnight from Stockholm to Swedish Lapland.
A sleeper cabin on Tag94 was my home for the night as I covered the 900 kms from the Swedish capital to Lulea, just beneath the Arctic Circle. Not a luxurious experience by any stretch, but comfortable enough for the 12 hours on board. With a friendly reminder coming from the train’s PA system “just remember that we don’t wake you up” I slipped into the dark, hunting for Northern Lights from my 75 cm perch. (Unsuccessfully I might add.) Another journey for the memory bank.
Next up: I’m eyeing the Belgrade to Bar run connecting Serbia’s capital with the Montenegrin coast. It’s supposed to be a real stunner.