treasures of train travel

Travel by train is one of those things you don’t experience as often when returning home from living in Europe. At least for a family of four in Northern California, it seems much easier to get in the car to go places, with our large freeways, ample parking garages,and (usually) good driving weather. While our town boasts a busy train station (which coincidentally reminds me of a station I’ve been to in France ) transporting students and professionals to and from the Bay Area and Sacramento, it hasn’t been the most cost-effective or convenient way for this family to get around.

But when I go to the station to pick up a visiting friend or family member, I get a visceral reaction of equal parts gut-wrenching nostalgia and pure excitement as the arrival of a train is announced, and I hear the sound of wheels rolling in. It brings back all the memories of train trips taken and the education it required of me – from staying on your toes so you don’t miss a stop, to remembering to punch your ticket before boarding.  (or not being snarky to a conductor who can fine you for using pencil on your europass instead of pen).

Milano Centrale, giant with its dome-like curved, arched ceiling and  its echoes and hustle and bustle.

The regional trains around Lago D’ Iseo that stopped – in the middle of nowhere –  so  I could  literally jump out and locate a road to a company where I was to report and provide english lessons. 

The unforgettable Madrid-Gijon train that twisted and turned up green mountains to the edge of earth. Looking out our rain-splattered windows, we teetered on the edge of another world, in misty fog. Arrival in beautiful Gijon (below) in the Asturias region of Northern Spain was well worth it.

Looking out train windows at Italian Riviera coastline and picture-perfect Swiss green mountains and lakes. The Bologna – Munich  overnight, where, in the pitch black darkness of night, I went up into the mountains  – stuffed in the last available seat, consumed by the white cigarette smoke in our compartment, trying to sleep sitting up while balancing my newly purchased ceramics.  (At the border, the conductors switch and sweeping police-like ticket checks in the dead of night bring on faraway, disturbing thoughts of who else took these same tracks)

All treasures. The language, accents and personalities of the conductors that change abruptly at the border. The slamming of the car doors. Running into a French train station  – beating the clock just in time for a snack of baguette with butter – during a stop on the way to Geneva. The creaking as the train gathers speed. A pesto recipe offered by an Italian woman sitting across from me that I still use. The back car with the HIT cookies (that I have found stateside)and other snacks. Fast trains to Paris, slow trains to Naples.  Journal scribbling. Overheard conversations and new acquaintances.  The speed at which you can discover new places.


4 responses to “treasures of train travel

  1. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the public transportation available here in Europe. I’ve found such joy in being able to walk places, or simply hoping on a bus or train while only having to pay what I consider to be a decent travel fare. I think Northern California has much better transportation than Southern California. There’s the Bart in San Francisco (though it doesn’t take you everywhere you might need to go), the city itself is walkable, and I had no idea about the train station you just mentioned! But I learned something new today. 😉

  2. Oops! I meant *hopping*

  3. hi michelle, yes, I agree! when I lived in SF I used tons of public transportation. and walked everywhere (but then again that was without little munchkins to drag around). I would love a faster train for longer journeys in california. maybe someday they will put in a fast train to the coast or LA or san diego (which has been talked about)!

    • I hope they do! I’ve taken the Greyhound from Santa Barbara to San Francisco and back, but it can be somewhat tasking and a bit of a long journey (and I don’t think I would do it with my kids). A train would be fantastic. There’s a train station in Santa Barbara (where I lived for 5 years) and I’ve taken that train down to the San Fernando Valley, but it’s much too slow and pricey as well (it’s more economic to just drive). I think that if public transportation improved, many people would use it and the state of California would benefit greatly from it, environmentally and economically.

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