If you have read my early blog posts then you know that I love trains. From my earliest memories, trains were a way to travel for the elite, common people, and even hobos. In real life, I watched the trains from my backyard as they passed by on their way to exotic, faraway places. In the cool darkness of the cinema, I watched the elite travel in luxurious style across Europe and America. In books, I shared the life of hobos riding in open box cars. It was well into my adult life before I had the opportunity to actually travel by train.
When I first stepped onto a train in Canada, the days of trains ruling the world had long since pasted. Planes ruled the world and trains were too slow. Still, it was an incredible experience traveling from Toronto to Vancouver by rail. I especially enjoyed traveling over the Rockies. The sun set in the West and the mountains, clouds and sky slowly intermingled until it was impossible to tell where one stopped and another started.
My next trip was on a Hungarian train out of Budapest to a small town near the Czech border. This was more like the trains I had admired in the old British films. We left from the Budapest Keleti Station seated in a compartment fit for Sherlock Holmes. The countryside slowly rolled by as we steadily progressed towards the Czech border each kilometer taking us a step back in time. I never had a chance to give the lecture I had prepared because the school in that small had closed that day for one reason or another. Still it was an incredible trip and far more memorable than any lecture I might have given to a group of teachers and academics.
In recent years I have had the opportunity to travel around Western Europe by rail. In the summer of 2015 we took the train from London to Milan. It was deliciously decadent to have breakfast in London, lunch in Paris and dinner in Milan. It seemed as if we had returned to the days when rails ruled the world. Of course none of those earlier trains could have taken you so smoothly or quickly across Europe.
After these experiences, I fear taking the Amtrak to Washington, DC for Alla’s art conference was a little disappointing. The seats where arranged like a roomy bus. There was a complete absence of romance or history that might suggest an earlier era of train travel. The dining car was more like an upscale 7-11. No one would think we were with Paul Theroux on The Great Railway Bazaar. The only technology was free Wi-Fi and that was very much appreciated. If we had it to do over again then we would still take the train. It was faster than driving, cheaper than flying and it was greener than both.
In fact we will take the train to DC in March. This trip will be devoid of any childhood fantasies of train travel, any cinematic induced notions of luxury or any comparisons to European travel. Still, it will be the train and that is an experience that too few Americans can claim.