Friday, November 10, 2017

Train Travel and Travel Journalling

Two Fridays ago, I listed Five Things and then added a sixth when realized I'd forgotten the Train Ticket I'd intended as #1! I said I'd tell you more about it soon, and it seems that this is as soon as it gets.

The train ticket represents part of my travel from Rome back to Paris, after Pater catches his flight home from The Eternal City a few days earlier. It's a questionable itinerary for those of you whose time is tight when travelling, but I've come to love the pace of train travel, and I'm also trying to exercise my solo-traveler muscles in relatively comfortable circumstances.

We'll be flying into Paris, not only because it's one of the few direct, non-stop European flight destinations from Vancouver, but also because managing jet-lag and travel fatigue in a city we know and love is a very good kind of self-care. We only have a day there together before we take the train to Switzerland, and then through the Alps, then from Turin to Rome.

Last year, as we checked out of our Paris hotel, the friendly receptionist offered to call us a car to the  airport. "No, no," we thanked her, "we're taking the train."
"To Venice?" Her eyebrows climbed her forehead. "But how long is that? 12 hours?"

Yes, yes it was. But 12 hours of comfortable seats, wonderful scenery, ample luggage space, and with the added advantage that we could show up at the station only fifteen or twenty minutes before our departure time, rather than the ninety minutes minimum required at an airport. Nor would we have to submit to security screening, with all that means about packing of liquids and so on. 

We didn't bother pointing all this out to the hotel receptionist, who'd flown to Venice just the previous fall for her honeymoon and loved it.  She readily concededed, though, that train travel would allow us to see more of the countryside and that it was probably less stressful. She even agreed that, given how little luggage we had, walking to Gare de Lyon from our hotel in the 6ème wasn't so outlandish, although she definitely would have taken the Métro, if not a cab.

We're staying at that same hotel next month, but they're getting used to our foibles by now. Rather than fly to Rome, as I've mentioned earlier, we'll wend our way by train to Zurich, then ride the Bernina Express through the Swiss Alps to Turin, and thence to Rome. Time to knit a sock, read a book, walk through the carriages for some people-watching, back to our relatively comfortable seats to gaze happily out the windows. . . .

And I write, on the train sometimes, in my travel journal. Even try 30-second sketches of the scenery flashing by, or slightly longer ones if we stop for a minute or two at a station.  Here's my transciption of an entry from this past spring. .



June 1st, 2017, 8:53
And we're on the train speeding from Ljubljana (we left at 8:25 a.m.) for Zagreb. I've been trying to snap train-window photos to capture impressions but maybe I should just try to write them.

So much green -- will it all be dry soon, in this heat? Hilly, even mountainous and occasionally we dive into a tunnel's deep shade. Generally, though, we're moving in a trough and either side of us, houses romp down the flanks with -- always! -- vegetable patches laid out in the best spot, so there's a higgledy-piggledy to the neat order. Sometimes the garden beds are at odd angles to each other, but the rows themselves are even, well-spaced, industriously equipped with supporting poles, sometimes covered with bird-deterring net. Already, the homeowners are out watering and weeding and harvesting lettuces or digging up new potatoes. Reminds me of Portugal where domestic food production was also still a continuation of an age-old, necessary tradition, not an earnestly recovered one taken on as a hobby or ideology.

Crooked -- and skinny! -- telephone poles. Practical, and why not? but they amuse me, so used to our huge, thick, impeccably straight ones.

Also right along the tracks, large plants for mining and quarrying. The last one we passed was right beside a small train station -- at the side of the road, perhaps a hundred, perhaps more, cars parallel parked. Workers' cars, I'd guess, unless there's some kind of park-and-ride commuter train, which I rather doubt.

So many wildflowers -- deep meadows waiting to be moved for hay? Or will they bring cows or sheep to graze?


So there you have part of my argument for train travel, in a post that travels backward to last June and forward to a similar journey next month. Not everyone's notion of how best to spend travel time, and it's not what we would always choose either (we flew from Zagreb back to Paris in June, for example, not willing to take the time required to journey back by train).

What about you? Have you travelled much by train? Would you? Or are you quite jealous of your time when travelling and not willing to spend it sitting still, however much scenery might be whizzing by?

And what have you planned for the weekend? We're hosting a Family Brunch here on Sunday and we have a nearly-Nine coming for a sleepover tomorrow. I've started a knitting project for her, a collaborative approach I hope to tell you more about next week. For now, I'm handing the mic to you -- comments always welcome, below. 

42 comments:

  1. I love train travel and all forms of slow travel, maybe walking most of all. You see differently when you move more slowly through the landscape. Flying has let me see all sorts of places which would be beyond the reach of trains but I always feel rather displaced when flying. Moving more slowly seems to allow me to adjust without noticing anything other than the strangeness and interest of new places. I do like your travel journal. What a great idea!

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    1. I so agree! As you say, flying has extended my reach so that I'm very grateful, but the slower pace makes more sense to my body and allows my mind to adjust as well. I'm really wanting a trip that leaves more room/time for walking from one place to the next. Working on making that happen.

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  2. This sounds good to me & I agree with Elizabeth above , walking is my favourite . I know everyone is short of time & planes whizz you there quickly - if all goes according to plan that is . But if you have the time , then local transport is really traveling . We used to always hire cars for our U.S. holidays & sometimes in Europe too but a local train or bus can be great fun . We've met some lovely locals that way , there was quite a lively party on a Greek train once where the wine flowed , well ... like wine & we became part of it all . Last year my sisters & I took the train south from Prague to a beautiful small Czech town for an overnight stay . It didn't all go according to plan , we were escorted out of first class ( We thought it was rather posh ! ) & the train back was hours late . It didn't matter , everyone waiting had a chat about it - the Chinese people amongst us were especially friendly . No shared language but sign language & lots of smiles usually works . It's a lovely feeling too when you get to your destination & think ' I've done it '
    Looking forward to hearing all about your travels
    Wendy from York

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    1. Ha! I'm imagining that embarrassing downgrade over an innocent error ;-)
      And I do think that train carriages allow much more interaction than the rows of passengers in a plane. That sign language and those smiles, they really do work.
      And that "lovely feeling" of "I've done it" -- yes, it's so true!

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  3. Train travel is my jam. I LOVE the train. That is all.

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  4. And will you have time to go see Murder on the Orient Express this weekend? :0)

    I spent a lot of time travelling between Germany and Scotland in my early to mid-20s, then as soon as I aged out of youth/student ticket prices, I went by air. That was such a relief! I usually journeyed overnight by train, sometimes waiting on train platforms late at night, always on my own - and back then train stations did not look like airport concourses, as many of them do now. However, I can definitely see the appeal of slow travel, especially as a couple.

    This weekend we are going to the Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa (my husband's last in uniform) and meeting friends for lunch afterwards. We are going through a cold snap right now, but the forecast promises sunny skies, so hopefully that's what we'll get. Enjoy your family weekend!

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    1. Thanks for reminding me about possible drama (murder!) on the train ;-)
      I can see why that kind of travel wouldn't have endeared you to trains (I journeyed solo -- but in daytime -- from Middlesborough to Glasgow, then from Glasgow down to London, in '67, only 14 years old. I remember it being very exciting but there was definitely also some anxiety)
      That ceremony in Ottawa is always very moving -- I've only been a few times, but I can picture it clearly. I hope the sunshine materialises. . .

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  5. Oh, what fun to look forward to a long train trip. Just looking out the window makes me happy...a bit hard to do that on the TGV from Paris to SW France at 700 miles an hour or something close!
    Have used Amtrack many times from Boston to NYC, to New Orleans, Washington, DC, Philadelphia and Florida. Then British trains to Devon, Somerset, Cambridgshire...I enjoy almost every minute of it but have learned my lesson on the last Amtrak trip to DC-$28.00 for two *frozen* salads and two beers. Next time? Bring my lunch.
    So pleased for you to have this long bit of travel coming up.
    Hope you are feeling brighter and lighter about things.
    TGIF I say.
    Being treated to dinner at a restaurant with a perfect view of Tower Bridge tomorrow night. So looking forward to it.

    A. in London

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    1. Good reminder -- we do try to pick up a lunch at the station before boarding -- the options in Europe are generally pretty good for a sandwich or salad, and they're fairly affordable.
      That dinner sounds great -- enjoy!

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  6. Absolutely loved the Montreal to Toronto overnight train that left just before midnight! I travelled alone with my toddlers, as P couldn't get free,to visit family many times. The sound of the tracks clacking beneath their beds had babes asleep almost immediately and their room transforming into a seating area next morning seemed magical to them. The transfer post-breakfast to the London train, rushing with stroller and luggage and carrying the youngest was a bit stressful, but worth it! BC (before children) travelled throughout Germany by train and loved it, for the same reason I loved biking through France or walking here. You see so much more and meet people.

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    1. Your three are so close together -- that must have been a bit tricky logistically, but I know that experience really is magical to little ones and they sleep so well. We only had ours on a train once, overnight from Prince Rupert to Edmonton, but that transformer magic, yes!

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  7. I love train travel and hope to go across Canada again sometime by train...I did it when I was about 17 and loved seeing our country. The TGV is much faster and the scenery whizzed by but it was a lovely relaxing way to travel from Paris to the south of France.
    Sounds exciting! you have another trip to look forward to!

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    1. It seems so expensive now, but I suppose we'll all be qualifying for senior's discounts! ;-) I'd love to make the trip, though, spend those three or four days getting a really comprehensive sense of the country's expanse. . .
      That TGV is wonderfully fast -- they've now brought the time from Paris to Bordeaux down to two hours, I think!

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  8. Trains are one of my most favorite ways to move through the world. The next window, always.

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  9. I also love train travel. My first was when I was 17 to Québec for student exchange, back to visit, Vancouver to Prince George a couple of times, Lisbon to Rome, Vancouver to LA, lots of trips in France and London to Aberdeen. It is the best way to see the country. you will certainly enjoy your meander.

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    1. What an adventure that trip to Quebec would have been at 17!

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  10. I agree train travel is the best. Especially longer journeys. We have done several overnighters from Paris to Italy, love that feeling of waking up early and watching the countryside fly by. Love TGV journeys too. The feeling of speed is wonderful. We trained from St Malo via Paris to Cannes one spring. It’s not just watching the countryside but the seasons changing the further south you sink. And of course all that people watching you can do. Enjoy. B x

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    1. I love those overnight trips (although I probably wouldn't relax on one if I were doing it solo) -- we went from Paris to Lisbon that way once, Barcelona another trip.
      Interesting thought on watching the season changing. True. . . .

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  11. How exciting, the thought of train journeys. And especially in another country. I have just been reviewing my past train rides abroad and there are quite a few, it turns out. The perfect excuse to just sit and do very little except watch the world go by. One of my favourites was many years ago, taking the sleeper from Paris to the south of France. Eating my breakfast (rather blearily, I admit) and suddenly having the Riviera appear around the corner was astounding. Likewise waking at dawn to peer out of the window and see the bridge at Avignon go by. Here's to much, much more. I am loosely planning my trip to Samarkand and considering the train as part of it since the flights sound terrible. Perhaps overland to Istanbul and then a plane. All to play for. Enjoy your busy weekend and the chilling weather.

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    1. Oh, just the words, "trip to Samarkand" and "perhaps overland to Istanbul" . . .

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  12. I became hooked on train travel when, as a high school student in the mid-1960's, I first took the Canadian National from Vancouver to Montreal. My lower berth was huge, and its outboard side was one big window. I spent much of each night watching the moonlit countryside rolling past, then feasted on the best oatmeal ever each morning. I liked it so much that I ended up crossing Canada six times on that route over the next 15 year4s, three times each way, each trip on the way to or from Europe. On the last of those trips, I stopped in Alberta for a visit (that turned out to be my last) with my beloved grandparents. Train travel in Europe in the 60's and 70's was also wonderful. The most challenging trip for me was from London to Helsinki, one December. I thought it would be lovely to see all that country under snow (I'd just seen "Dr. Zhivago"), but I saw very little, as the train was encased in ice most of the way. Even though I worked as a Pan American cabin crew member for eight years, and loved it, I have always preferred train travel. That feeling has only intensified now that most airlines (and all U.S. airlines) have retired their 747s...the Queen of the Sky!

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    1. You've done so much wonderful travel -- six times across Canada by rail, that alone is astonishing! and what a brilliant way to begin a trip to Europe.
      And the image of that ice-clad train moving across the nordic landscape. . .

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  13. Even in Los Angeles, short train hops are entertainment for the grandkids. We took a 30-minute train ride from our suburb to the historic downtown Union station. We choose the shortest of walking distances to visit the historic Spanish beginnings of our city. Had a great lunch. And the four kids, six years and under, loved it. They still talk about it...at least the older twins. :)
    Taking another page from your book, errr, blog, I'm taking a garden tour at the historic Huntington Library in San Marino this morning. Doing a solo out-and-about and learning something new. Alas, I will drive to get there. :)
    Charlene H.

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    1. That's a grand way to introduce little ones to the joys of train travel. Sounds as if you planned a perfect day to stretch their horizons without wearing them out.
      I'm envying you that garden tour -- worth the drive to see and learn about such a great site. Enjoy!

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  14. I've loved to travel by train when I was younger-trains were much better (here!) and it is such a great journey if the train was good ( like "Orient express"-but without a murder :-). Do you know that one of the stops was in Zagreb? Imagine that!)
    I might once take the train to Vienna -my friends say that it is nice-no checking the luggage,no waiting.....although longer than with car or the bus (but more elegant!)
    Have a lovely weekend!
    Mine is without the "spica") coffee,but with two theatre plays instead (yesterday and tomorrow- both comedies)
    Dottoressa

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    1. Zagreb was a stop on the Orient Express? Wonderful opportunity for you -- did you ever take that journey?
      I've looked at the map and that seems a pleasant train journey, Zagreb to Vienna -- much more elegant than the bus, I agree. . .
      No spica? But two plays -- comedies! -- is more than compensation.

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  15. I love travelling by train. Mainly because one is not in a cramped seat and can move about. When I travelled from Toronto to Vancouver - I could still feel the movement of the train beneath my feet when I got home. On that trip we got behind due to a rain derailment in front of us then a fire in the baggage car. Often take the train back from Seattle - the route along the water is so pretty. Still remember taking the train as a child with my dad to Edmonton - what a sight in Winter going thru Yoho National Park. The train system in England is fantastic - if you miss one there is another one. Never did trains in Europe - I was young and we were hitchhiking in those days.

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    1. I agree -- the ability to get up and move around is a huge benefit, and I too enjoy feeling the movement even after the trip is over, as with boat travel.
      Some drama there with a derailment and a fire -- were you worried?

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  16. Another train lover here: across Canada; across the U.S.; along the west coast of U.S. and Canada; along the NE coast of the U.S.; a weekend jaunt from Paris. The scenery always wins out over the book or journal or project. I think the train is great for introverts (not sure about the TGV though!) since it gives us time to adjust from one place to another without being overly shocked by the sudden change. I also love knowing where i am on the face of the earth--something very literally grounding. Do you know The Man in Seat 61 website? A great spot for dreaming. Have a lovely time!

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    1. You've really covered the tracks, internationally. So much more train travel I could do closer to home, in N. Am. although not nearly as conveniently as in Europe. Still. . .
      I do know The Man in Seat 61! What a treasure trove -- that's where I got the idea to take the Bernina Express. . .

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  17. Oh yes, trains! When I was a student, my then sweetheart was working in the north of Italy. Every eight weeks or so I would board a train and visit him. The train used to leave my little university town at 7pm, and the following morning at 9am it would pull into Milano Centrale. Unforgettable.
    Later came the times of filling tiny shabby cars (VW beetle, Renault 4, Citroen 2CV) with people and stuff and just go south as far as the car and our money would take us…
    But when I spent a lot of time in the Americas, there were great train journeys again. From Lake Titicaca to Cuzco, from Baltimore to New Orleans or – the best of all – from La Paz to Buenos Aires. Three days and nights, from the icy high plains (those flamingoes!) through the Pampa to the rich and green fruit and vegetable gardens between Rosario and Buenos Aires. As before, all these journeys were taken solo, and I loved it!
    When my son was very small, we went to the south of Italy (twice) and to Barcelona by train. I have always hated flying (although often enough I there was no alternative.)
    At the moment I am planning a trip to Puglia again, with a stopover in Switzerland. By train, of couse.

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    1. Eleonore, you have such a wealth of travel stories to tell. Wonderful! The trip to Buenos Aires must have been astonishing. I'm sure there must have been some dramatic routes (I'm thinking heights and curves and nearby drops -- all my fears would have been triggered, but then the views you describe as compensation!
      I would love to visit Puglia again and to approach it by train, stopping in Switzerland on the way would be perfect -- you're already getting the rhythm of this retirement! ;-)

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  18. I love train travel, too, and some trips are so magnificent that it is the travel--for example by train from Madrid to Bilbao. the castles of Spain give way to the most glorious, greenest mountains. Meeting Chinese on trains all over China with beautiful changes of scenery as you go away from the coasts. The sight of Venice "rising up out of the sea". the routes through Switzerland are beautiful--you should really enjoy that section of your trip.

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    1. Approaching Venice by train was as magical as you say, and I'm really looking forward to wending our way through the Swiss Alps. But now you've got me thinking about the train from Madrid to Bilbao, since we've not yet made it to either city (we got as close to Bilbao as San Sebastian once, but didn't have enough time to make it worth the extra miles -- I really want to see that museum. And trains through China. I really have such an interesting group of readers gathered here, sharing experiences!

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  19. Hi Frances, I think I've mentioned before that my first long train journey alone,was the same as yours.. I was a similar age to you... do you remember changing at Darlington and Edinburgh? I simply love train journeys ...once I'm on the train! Not so keen on delays etc or standing most of the journey due to overcrowding! Having said that I still find travelling by train so exciting ...feeling those "bubbles" of anticipation and excitement. So many here have taken some amazing journeys, lovely to read the comments. As Wendy mentioned we tend to travel mainly by car when we travel, except in Switzerland where we park the car and travel by train! Your journey to Italy sounds as though it'll be wonderful ...amazing scenery and hopefully lots of snow covered villages, fields and mountains! I'm hoping in the future we'll get to explore more of Switzerland purely by train ... I can't wait! For now I continue to enjoy the little cog railways that travel up and down the mountains in the Bernese Oberland, where we stay for a week or two most Winters. I feel blessed to go there so regularly as it really is my "happy place"
    I find your keenness to push beyond your comfort zone and travel alone so encouraging. Something I'm considering, although at the moment the opportunity doesn't really arise ...apart from the train to London ...infrequently! Hardly an adventure! Although I do still enjoy it! I'm really looking forward to reading about your travels and Christmas in Italy.
    Rosie

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    1. I don't remember that at all, Rosie. Isn't that funny? I think my memory got stuck in its focus on arriving in London to find no one there waiting for me. I realized later that I'd send the Arrival information to the wrong address and my poor aunt and uncle were trying to guess the station and arrival time. . .
      I'm really keen to travel through the Swiss Alps, our first (very brief, admittedly) foray into the country.
      I don't find it especially easy to be brave as a solo traveller, but this trip is a good way to stretch myself, as so much will be somewhat familiar. Still, after I'd booked, I woke up in the night wondering "Why?! Why?!" (There's actually a very good reason, in that my husband has to be back home for meetings before my daughter gets back home from her course and I really want a couple of days with her. . . But still!)

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  20. ps ...I realise that, like you, I probably need to make an opportunity to do some independent travel ...as it's unlikely just to arise without planning!! :)
    Rosie

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    1. this is true. And sometimes I need to give myself a big shove! or have a big sweet carrot at the other end of the plane ride ;-)

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  21. I loved the excerpt from your travel journal. I write, but I am sporadic about journaling when traveling. I love looking back at the entries that I have made, though, and your post makes me vow to do more in the future. I loved the sketches, too. I think of myself as more of a "word person" and shy away from drawing, but why? I now ask and will give sketching a try, too. I really like traveling by train, and look forward to having the time next year (when my husband will join me in retiring from full time work) to do more of it. Thanks for your wonderful blog; it's one of a few that I follow with great pleasure.

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    1. Thanks RK. I've been the same way with words vs. sketching (I've written here before about my conviction that I wasn't "artistic"). I highly recommend an Illustrated Journal class if you can find one, or just looking at travel journals in bookstores or libraries. I found it very freeing to think of the drawings as being "for my eyes only" at first, just another way to experience and record a travel moment, and the kind of looking we do to draw is wonderfully attentive and draws in all the senses in surprising ways.
      Thank you so much for your kind words about the blog!

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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