It’s my birthday today and, well, I always have trouble with the question, “What do you want?” Obviously I appreciate the thought and I want to be realistic, but if I could be completely unrealistic I’d want to take a train trip from Portugal to Singapore. I realize that’s not completely unrealistic since it is now possible, but I don’t want to wish for the impossible or even nonexistent.
A three-week train trip sounds amazing to me. Maybe parts of it would be tedious or boring but part of the fun of train trips, and, I think, adding to the romance of train travel, is that there’s a constantly shifting landscape out there. Trains also offer a certain amount of freedom within their confines. Unless you’re the conductor you’re not driving so you can wander up and down the cars. There’s usually more space than there is on an airplane, and it’s easier to change seats.
And consider this: if an airplane’s engines stop working that’s it. The pilot or pilots will do the best they can to make a safe landing but it’s still at the mercy of gravity. Even a boat has its downside—specifically if it goes down and you end up hoping there are enough lifeboats to hold everyone. I don’t mean to downplay the severity of train crashes, which can be terrible, but if a train’s engine breaks down or it’s just stopped by leaves on the tracks then you still have a pretty good chance of walking away. Train travel may be slower but keeps you close to the ground.
Thirty years ago I took an overnight train trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg, Russia, specifically—a train trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Florida would have been more than just one night, not to mention a spectacular feat of engineering, but that’s another story. It was an old style train, mostly wood, rickety, and a tall, thin gentleman came by and brought me some tea in a glass cup with a metal holder.
I read some but I also spent a lot of time just watching the snow-covered countryside, dotted with lights of small towns off in the distance, slip by, and I wondered what was going on in those homes that kept their fires burning all night. I slept some, and at one point I went to the end of the car and stood in the cold, wintry air. I could look down and see the tracks and gravel, and how fast the train was moving, but when I looked out at the snow it all seemed impossibly still.
Yeah, I definitely want three weeks of travel like that.