05 September 2018

Travel by Train - Venice Mail Cars to Russian Night Trains




The train was Italian.

We were 4 backpackers.
About 17 years old.

Heading to Venice from Lugano, Switzerland.

It was the early '70's.


(It wasn't this train. The TEE was way too fancy for us. But similar.)

Every seat on the train was taken. 
The aisles were packed. 
It was hot. 

We pushed through the train cars with our backpacks.

We came upon the MAIL CAR. 
Bingo! No one there. 

Were we allowed to be there? 
Probably not.

We closed the door and made ourselves comfortable on the huge sacks of mail.
Windows wide open. Sprawled.  Heaven.

Backpacks tossed on the floor of the train.
The entire car to ourselves. 

The BEST seats on the train.

And so we traveled. 
In complete unofficial luxury. 

To Venice. 
For the first time.  

Magic.


Ah, Venezia! Che bella! -Maybe not the pigeons.

That was my first real train trip. 

17 years old. I was hooked.


The alternative was hitchhiking.  I was 17 here, and freezing. Home was a tent.

I still book trains whenever I can. 

This summer, I found a sleeper train from Paris to Berlin.
A Russian train. In Paris. Going to Berlin!

We had 2 friendly Russian conductors.
Just for our sleeping car.

No English.
No French.

-They spoke a little German.
Brought us tea in fancy mugs.


Our Russian train conductor. 




In Berlin, it's asparagus season - and family time!




Then - by train on to Prague.




I'd last been in Prague in 1984.
Still behind the "Iron Curtain".

At that time, it was echo-y and empty.
Foggy and a bit medieval - melancholy.

Totally mysterious. Mildly intimidating.


Prague. Now a popular destination. Everyone on cellphones and using English. 

That was 1984. Prague has changed - dramatically.

Other memorable train trips?
Sleeper trains in India. 
Weirdly, one of the best experiences.


Sleeper trains in India. In the evening, they make up your bed with fresh sheets and pillows.



The Nilgiri Hills. In southern India.


Heading north on a train through Malaysia with friends met in Singapore. 

Night trains in China - with signs telling us to "take care for our treasures".



The Glacier Express in Switzerland.
From St. Moritz to Zermatt, across the Alps.


And: the most bizarre of all - 
The "Bamboo Train" in Cambodia.

Whatever we were expecting, it wasn't this:

How the Bamboo Train works- and a Myanmar train that BOUNCES in Shan State  - here.


Unexpected neighbors on a train. 




Even in the USA. The Southwest Chief, from Albuquerque. 


There's just something infinitely cool about train travel.
I still love it.

The pleasure of being able to just watch the scenery go by.
Reading on a train.
Being able to talk to other passengers a bit.
Walking around a bit. Sleeping.

Then, not having to park or wait for a jetway to appear.
Just - grabbing your bag and - stepping off at a station.

Waving good-bye.

On to the next adventure.

Just - grab your backpack and - GO. On adventure!


And yes, we DID eventually make it back to Béziers. 
In spite of train strikes. 

By train.

Béziers train station - on a non-strike day.

Nice to be "home", too.






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