Train travel is one of my favorite modes of transportation at home and abroad. I love to hear the chug, chug, chug of the wheels on the track and the occasional whistle blow which reminds me of the old western movies (I bet the recollection just brought a smile to your face too 😊). I especially love to travel by train from country to country or from one end of a country to its furthest end. It is the opportunity to see the countryside, landscape and natural beauty. It is also time to rest and recover from an exhaustive vacation, cover a great distance over land, and eliminate a hotel expense especially if traveling overnight. A resource I have found particularly useful, informative and nearly always accurate is “Seat61.com.” What started out as a hobby for Mark Smith, the man in seat 61, has turned out to be a helpful tool for all those who visit his website. He writes about train travel around the world. His information which includes maps, links, etc., of the destinations, train stations, connections, schedules, ticket fees and services are spot on. I was able to use his recommendations many times over. Here are my train travels in South Africa, Italy and Japan respectively.
I traveled from Johannesburg to Cape Town using the overnight sleeper train, a journey that took more than 12 hours. I rode economy class which turned out to be a mad scramble of pushing and shoving just to board the train. Once I secured my seat next to a window and settled down for the long ride, looking around I realized I was the only foreigner in that car. The chatter was loud, at times there was singing, kids playing, and vendors moving up and down the aisle selling their goods from depot to depot. Food was another activity that brought the passengers together. Groups or family members (I presume) were sharing and passing food around the car. It was nothing like the train rides I am accustomed to in the USA, but I was loving the experience. As night came, activities became quieter as everyone settled down and prepared to sleep as best they could in the straight back seats. Folks spread blankets and pillows along the aisle and in between seats, wherever they could make themselves comfortable for the night. I simply stretched my legs out on another vacant seat while propping up trying to remain vigilant of self and property. Once a male vendor knocked my protruding feet off the seat while passing down the aisle saying something in his native tongue (at first, I thought it was accidental) until a couple women across the aisle gave him a scolding. Then I realized they were coming to my defense. Before this incident happened, I had become familiar to them by my frequent smiles and friendly gestures to the children. I had even bought and shared a meal with the South African sitting next to me. It was an unforgettable experience and I would do it again.
The next ride was from Durban to Jo’burg. I reserved a single cabin in the sleeper car, and was given a clean sheet, pillow and blanket. This trip was overnight and lasted more than 12 hours too. The ride from Durban was different. This time I enjoyed peace and quiet as we rode along occasionally stopping at scheduled stations to pick up and drop off passengers. I decided to try out the meal car. The food was adequate and satisfying. Nothing spectacular happened to me on this ride though, worth mentioning, other than at one of the stops I looked out the car window and saw little boys on a wall panhandling. When I didn’t throw money to them, they decided to moon me (pulled down their pants to show me they derrières). All I could do was laugh, but wished I’d had a few coins to throw their way.
Another train journey I recall was from Venice to Rome. That ride was comfortable, arriving just before midnight. That meant many hours before our scheduled check-in to the hotel. The option to stay at the train station for the few hours was upended when the cleaning crew came to do their job. All persons were unceremoniously ushered from the waiting areas and doors closed until reopening times at first light in the morning. With more than five hours to spare my niece and I wandered the streets, stopped in a café or two until they closed, listened to the vibes belting out from a local disco and finally sitting down on the steps of a hostel where the young people were constantly coming and going. Poor planning was at fault for our having to wait out the time on the streets in the dark hours after midnight until check-in.
Still another journey by train was on the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. No one takes the bullet train to sightsee or to oohh and ahhh about the landscape. For me, it was all about the experience and traveling on a train that goes up to speeds of 200 mph. Before the cat could lick his ear, it seemed like we had gotten to our destination even though this was a two-hour journey. Time flies when you’re having fun. My Japanese host smiled knowingly at my disappointment. Just when I felt like riding a bit further, I was getting off. The train was comfortable, neat and clean. Passengers were quiet and formal. Everything was orderly.
There have been other places I have taken the trains with interesting stories to tell such as Argentina, Chile, Kuala Lumpur, Spain, United Kingdom, Venezuela and many more. It is a fascinating and comfortable form of transport, and safe too.
Community Peeps recounting these memories of my train tripping days are always a treat. I may not get the chance to revisit some of these places or do some of the same things again, but I do have the best recollections of them. What about you? Any train stories you would like to share with me? I’d be glad to hear of it. Please share in the comment box below.
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