Note: I almost changed the title of this post to “Isn’t it ironic?”, as after I finished writing it the delays started stacking up against us. Stolen cables, a broken down TGV in front AND behind ours; we ended up arriving in Besancon a full three hours after we expected to (and nearly 15 hours after I left the house). The staff on all legs of the journey were nothing but helpful though, and even bumped us up to first class to try and compensate for the inconvenience!This is an extreme situation, even by my unlucky standards, and I stand by my defense of the clickety-clack overground rail journey!
There’s something quite serene about travelling by train. By this I, of course, am not referring to the British rail network- which so often runs woefully behind schedule, overcrowded with passengers who have to stand for hours despite paying eye watering fares for the privilege. No, of course, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about what happens when you hop across the channel, to continental Europe, where trains do as they are supposed to do- run efficiently, appropriately priced, and encourage the masses to choose an overall more sustainable form of transport.
I once took the train from Mostar, in Bosnia Herzegovina, to Sarajevo. It’s a well-known route for backpackers- as I was at the time- famed for its stunning views as you wind through the lush green mountains sloping down to crystal clear lakes. We left at 7am and saw the sun rise over the peaks as we clattered through on old track- a remnant of ex-Yugoslavia, one of the few sections remaining after the war. The windows were muddy enough to prevent us taking any good pictures, unfortunately, but the memory remains in vivid technicolour in my mind. I was already quite taken with Bosnia Herzegovinia, and the Balkan states in general, but travelling through the heart of it in the small carriage, locals and tourists together, cemented the connection to the country much more than if we had just flown above it and peered down through the clouds (though, I’m not suggesting for one second that the view from above the clouds is any less spectacular!).
That same year- the year I lived in Italy and experienced the bulk of my adventures so far- I took a night train to Vienna, from Trieste. It was a different beast altogether- larger, more refined, infinitely more comfortable! My friend and I were welcomed onto the train and shown to our cabin, which we would be sharing with two other women that night. The attendant asked us what time we would be disembarking, and told us that our breakfast would be served 30 minutes prior to that, and asked for our preference of hot drink. BREAKFAST?! INCLUDED?! BROUGHT TO ME IN BED?!!! What kind of magical train had we stumbled upon? AND WE HAD LITTLE FLEECY BLANKETS AND A PILLOW TOO!
I was very easily impressed back then. I was a student, after all 😉
It’s fair to say that I spend most of my time travelling with budget airlines these days- when you are travelling to a conference in Central Eastern Europe that is only three days long it’s hard to justify doubling the length of the trip to your boss in order to travel overland, even if it does reduce your carbon footprint. Time is money, and idling through remote countryside to the rhythmic sound of the wheels on the track without a wifi connection to plug you into the “real world” isn’t exactly practical. France is just about the one destination where it makes more sense to take the train than to fly, and I love it.
I’m typing this whilst sitting on the Eurostar, trundling its way through the French countryside towards Paris, where I’ll change to a TGV (train de grand vitesse: literally translated- very fast train) to carry on to Besancon. There is a buffet car a few carriages down where I’ll likely amble to meet a colleague for lunch in half an hour or so. Unlike with budget airlines, I’ve been aboard for nearly an hour now and nobody has tried to sell me duty free items or charity scratch cards.
I’d choose the Eurostar over flying to accessible destinations in Europe any day (last winter Mr LW and I booked a Christmas getaway to Brussels- direct from London!). I’m particularly impressed since reading about their “Tread Lightly” corporate responsibility program.
So I’m sitting here dividing my time between gazing out of the window and feeling satisfied that I’m travelling with the least environmental impact possible, and typing furiously on my laptop because the luxury of space and calm on the journey enables me to think clearly and creatively and get a good few blog posts drafted before I’m back on wifi again!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on travelling a bit more consciously! Should we all be looking to tread more lightly where possible? It’s the small changes that add up, after all!