“I knew who I was this morning, but I have changed a few times since then.”
Alice in wonderland!
The question posed for WPC this week is, what would I rather be doing today?
Well, the weather here has turned very chilly again with a covering of yet more snow in my garden. So, without a doubt I’d rather be on a well heated train travelling to an exciting destination through beautiful scenery on a great rail journey.
When I was a child in the late 1940s, our main way of getting about was by steam train from the old Felling station. Like most working-class people in those days we didn’t have a car. My dad would cycle to work and we walked to school or the local shops. Visiting grandparents entailed a ride on the big yellow tram, but for a special shopping trip to the city of Newcastle we first had to catch the train. And, in good weather we would go for a day trip to the golden sands of South Shields, again by train. That is how my great love for trains started.
I’m sure the city commuters who pay extortionate prices for their daily rail journey to work would have a different view to me. But all of my train journeys, with the exception of one best forgotten, have been great fun-filled experiences.
As an adult I have travelled on many spectacular railways to some far-flung places and I still find them truly exciting.
Many years ago, I flew to Zurich in Switzerland en-route to the Bodensee in Germany and was delighted to find that I could buy a train ticket at airport arrivals then go down several levels by escalator and arrive at the railway station platforms without even leaving the airport. All through the beautiful countryside I felt like a character from my favourite childhood storybook, Heidi.
In Poland, I was amazed to see my first double decker train when I spent a wonderful study tour travelling from Torunn to Gniezno, Malbork and Gdansk.
And just last year I had my first experience of the luxurious Renfe avehigh speed trains as I travelled at about 200 mph between Barcelona and Madrid to visit my scattered children.
I find with long train journeys that you get a much more realistic view of, not only the scenery, but the local way of life and culture. So, it was fascinating to travel on a sleeper train across Russia in the early 1990’s, a time of massive political change, observing the difference between the magnificence in the centre of Moscow and the dilapidation of the countryside. I was constantly amazed to see beautifully decorated ancient churches alongside bleak housing, decaying factories, and neglected farmland. Inside the train was a surreal experience as each carriage had a hostess who kept a samovar boiling all day so that travellers could have a cup of tea. Throughout the 36-hour journey our hostess stayed in her nightie and dressing gown with her rollers firmly fixed in her hair.
Later in the 1990’s I travelled across Kenya from Nairobi to the end of the line at Kisumu. This was a totally different experience as the train passed by the slums of Kibera. I found the level of poverty there deeply distressing yet after a short time the natural world replaced the horror with exquisite scenery.
Arguably one of the best holidays I have ever taken was a Great Rail Tour through the Fjords across the roof of Norway. This holiday took in some great cities such as Oslo and Bergen, but the highlight was a trip on what is reputed to be the most beautiful train journey in the world, Flamsbana. Flam is a small picturesque village in southwest Norway, situated in the deepest fjord in the world. Along the route there are majestic cascading waterfalls that take your breath away with their beauty.
Locally we have a heritage steam railway run by enthusiasts at Toddington. They have just extended the line to Broadway so this makes a lovely day out.
Although I don’t get much opportunity to travel far these days I can still indulge my passion for railway journeys by watching them on TV.
Recently there have been eight series of “Great British Railway Journeys” and five series of European “Continental Rail Journeys”, all presented by Michael Portillo following Bradshaws 1913 edition of the Continental Railway Guide. He has also made two series in the United States for BBC2, as well as one in India. I have put a link to one of the programmes here but I’m not sure if it will work.
Michael Portillo (pictured below) used to be a politician but now I think he has the best job in the world. He travels the world by train meeting interesting people, seeing amazing sights, and he gets paid for it!
So, on reflection, I’d rather be Michael Portillo.