July 12, 2010

Rail Road Ramblings


I meant to post this yesterday as soon as I got in after lunch. But I came home to a house with no internet.


So today (since nothing works in Italy on Sundays) I finally called the tech-help people and the woman fixed my problem in no time! Which was a first!

So here's my post. A day and a half late.


It seems like the only thing I can think about when I'm traveling is how annoying it is not to have wireless internet.

It's not so much that I expect there to be wireless internet everywhere, I just wonder why, when it's so easy for them to have it for free it on a fifteen dollar bus from Boston to NYC, it's so difficult to have it in places like airports, train stations, or even trains themselves.

Not that I should really expect it on this train – it just barely has soap and toilet paper in the bathroom. But I, for one, would be more than thrilled to pay an extra ten euro to have wireless access on the train, especially on a seven-hour ride from the French border to Rome.

But I don't want this to be a post bitching about how there's no wireless internet anywhere. I have enough of those. And to be honest, I think it's good for us to unplug ourselves a bit from time to time. Especially on such a scenic and historical mode of transportation as the train.

So instead I'll talk about trains.

I've spent a lot of time on them recently. I'm on one at the moment, as a matter of fact.

By the time I reach Civitavecchia at lunch time, I'll have spent a combined total of over twenty hours on trains in the last week, covering a distance from Madrid to Rome. Well, I crossed the south of France mainly by car, but trains were the long, though surprisingly comfortable parentheses bracketing my trans-European trip.

Traveling by train used to be a classy affair, with luxury cabins, porters for the bags, and sophisticated dining cars that served Manhattans in real glasses.

Today you're lucky if the snack cart serves lukewarm espresso in paper cups. And forget about having a uniformed helper for the luggage, you will most likely be hauling your bags yourself (although I have found that a young woman traveling alone with a lot of luggage does bring out the chivalry in most men).

But it's still a relatively fast, cheap, and quite visually stunning way to get around, especially in a region like Europe, which is crisscrossed by an intricate web of railroads, connecting even the smallest mountain towns to the big city.

And, unlike airplanes and boats, traveling by train is relatively phobia-free: no self-propelled metal tube hurling itself through a void, no seemingly endless shark-infested waters surrounding a flimsy floating contraption at the mercy of the weather; just a stable vehicle making frequent stops moving at a reasonable speed on terra ferma.

Not that I have travel-phobias. I'm a firm believer in statistics stating that you have a higher chance of dying crossing the street than in an airplane. But maybe it's a good incentive for people who are afraid of flying.

Plus it's convenient. You can get up, walk around, have access to your luggage. And it's pretty. It's like taking a road trip without having to pay attention to the road: you get to see all the beautiful things around you.

I just saw the sun rise over the Mediterranean, lighting up the sea like a pool of glittering diamonds. 

 (sorry about the spots, the train windows were in desperate need of a wash!)

And I think I spotted a few chateaus in the hills behind San Remo. Not to mention the yachts idling in the waters in front of Monaco. Not too shabby.

It seems like the most I ever get to see from the plane is the wing, since somehow, against all odds, that's always where my seat is. I've taken to just requesting aisle seats so at least I don't have to crawl over anyone to get to the toilets.

Traveling by train lets me pretend that I'm in a Hitchcock film, winding around the coast of Monaco, on my way from Cannes, waiting for the waiter from the dining cart to hurry over with our complimentary flutes of first-class Champagne.

The spectacular view is almost tricking me into believing that I'll be sipping on bubbly in a few minutes.

In reality, it's hardly as glamorous. But in five hours the train will drop me off, along with my two suitcases and four bags, at a station barely seven kilometers from my beach house, saving me the hour drive from the airport and the fifty-plus euro the airline would have charged in extra luggage fees.

Not too shabby.


i-zilla said...

I've always wanted to take a day trip or weekend trip by train. It's always more relaxing when you're not the one driving!

Keenie Beanie said...

Ah - it sounds so romantic and refined. At least that's how I imagine it, and the photos are really lovely.