It starts with a gentle nudge. The people standing on the platform begin to slowly slide backwards across your window. The rhythmic bumps quicken and the graffiti blossoms on the walls in the outskirts of the station. The tracks converge. The train bends around a sweeping right corner and moves past the the edge of the village. You sink deeply into your over-sized seat as the train smoothly accelerates across open countryside.
Soon the soft hiss of the track and the flashing power poles hypnotize you. You are flying toward a distant horizon and unknown adventures. You have time to talk, to read, to dream-maybe a little wine and some music. The long track defines your movement but not your thoughts. They certainly don’t have to be linear.
Of course you left on time. You have learned that you better be on the train on time. No particular fanfare. It just leaves. And you have double-checked the destination. At times you still wonder if you are on the right train…. In Morocco the station announcements are in Arabic and French. They are not always loud enough or clear enough over the speakers. You crane to see the first sign in each station and then check your map.
Long distance train travel is a singularly interesting experience. It is not comfortable nor punctual everywhere. Even a single trip can vary in punctuality as you pass from one country to another. But in some places it is both very comfortable and very punctual. Certainly, at its best, it is like clockwork.
Speaking of Switzerland, one of my favorite routes is from Geneva to Lausanne along the north shore of Lake Geneva. Below the train, vineyards and beautiful homes descend to the lake shore. In the distance the snowy Alps form the horizon.
The long ride from Geneva to Budapest traverses many kinds of terrain. The towering Austrian peaks give way to the flat Carpathian Basin. The signs, the stations, the towns, the people change as your progress. They keep moving.
Your world is inside the train. It is your reference. The rest of the world is on the move.
Sometimes you have an entire train car to yourself. Other times people are standing in the hall and luggage is in a teetering stack above you.
You get to see the in-between places. You also see the rough parts of towns. And lots of graffiti. You are passing along an industrial transportation route. It is not always pretty.
Then another world bursts past your window. The pressure and sound hit you like a shock wave. Faces blur through your view. Another train passes in the other direction and just as abruptly disappears.
Train travel can be savored. Well, I savor all travel, but…. You spend a few moments in distant villages and roll through interesting towns. You see the station sign and have a few glimpses down the streets. Then you are in-between again. Moving on.
I enjoy almost everything about train travel. The stations, despite their minor dangers, present a mixture of people that you may not have time to see anywhere else.
For a travel photographer trains give a tremendous introduction to new countries. If you travel light, it is easy to carry everything that you need on trains. There is usually more room for luggage than on a plane.
You keep moving, rumbling toward your goals. Trains provide a rich setting for anticipation and imagination. Long rides may eventually get a little tiring, but the further you go the more memories you carry. You are more a part of the countryside you are moving through than when you look down from 35,000 feet.
Here comes the train. Find your seat. Store your luggage. Sit back, put up your feet, and savor. Adventure awaits!