would will write if when Women of Letters invite me to pen a note to my favourite form of public transport:
Dear trains of Europe,
Thank you. Merci, Danke, Gracias, Hvala and Grazie. Thank you for being such a lovely way to move around. It is so nice to be here, finally getting to know you, to experience your various chairs and sweeping bends.
Initially, I thought you and I would be instant friends. The whole of Europe fits into Australia after all, and your network is legendary. On our journey over here from Oz, on that OTHER form of transport, I daydreamed about our adventures, the ease and simplicity of jumping into one of your carriages and alighting in another country.
In the end, it’s taken us a little while to get to know each other though, hasn’t it? An 18-hour €350 adventure from Barcelona to Milan is no match for a €30, 2-hour flight (sorry to swear), and so our relationship has been slow to grow. Yes, sure, we had that night in Italy back in April, when we rolled slowly onto a boat to get from Sicily to the main part of the boot. That was a laugh wasn’t it? Even if the boat looked like a setting for a 1970s whaling-themed murder mystery.
But it’s only in these last two months that I really feel we have built something beautiful. You have opened up your world to me, and I am so grateful. The calm movement, the rolling hills, the secret views, the occasional powerpoint or free snack: you have won me over. You let me work, you let me think, you let me relax, you let me breathe, you let me eat a hamburger without feeling so guilty about my already massive carbon footprint, and most importantly, you let me stretch my legs.
Remember when we went from Montenegro to Serbia through those mountains, over all of those high bridges overlooking the rivers below? Only you can take me there. Remember when we saw those flamingos in southern France on our way from Lyon to Barcelona?! And what about all of the solar and wind farms we passed on our trip from Tarragona to Madrid? We’ve seen some things friend, we’ve seen some things.
Today, for example, I watched the Swiss Alps and Lake Geneva turn pink as the sun set on a busy week. Around me now, en route to Lyon, there are people chatting, working, reading and unwinding, with none of that sardines-in-a-can feeling you get on the ALTERNATIVE way of getting from A to B. None of that “catch a bus to the terminal to get a train to get another train to get to the city” rubbish. When we arrive, we will be in the centre of it all.
I know, it hasn’t all been perfect. Remember that time when the train from Versailles to Chartres was really full, and I had to sit opposite the toilet, helping every busting toddler and his granny open the electric door? The very thin electric door? And what about when we went through all those tunnels on the way to Girona, and I thought my ears would burst? Haha, memories.
And yes, it’s true, sometimes you are more expensive than that AIR-BASED option, even if I do book three months in advance and spend four hours researching the best connections. This trip right now is costing about twice as much as a degrading flight.
But it’s worth it to feel like a human, rather than a sheep who has to arrive an hour early, for a two hour wait. It’s worth it to meet new people at a lower altitude. And it’s worth it to remember how big the world really is.
Sincerely yours, or as you say, all aboard,