You will be happy to know that there is still a place in this world where conductors bellow “all aboard” before blowing their whistle, where loved ones can say goodbye without yellow lines or security lines that resemble the DMZ. This place is France (and most of Europe, really).
The travel writer Paul Theroux writes that “a train isn’t a vehicle, a train is part of the country, it’s a place.” France has a well organized network of railways that connect each and every postcard perfect provincial town. Trains glide through the farmlands of Brittany, the daily lands of Normandy and the vineyards of Provence, through small towns whose villagers watch enviously as the train clanks by.
The window of a plane yields blinding light and a blanket of clouds. Cars provide wonderful views of cement and other exasperated drivers.
A train journey is real travel– not transport. The trip is just as important as the destination and the smooth ride, quiet cars and plenty of leg room allow for full enjoyment of the ride.
After frustrating lines, lost luggage and inhumane pat downs, the frequent flyer upon finding his seat puts on his headphones and grudgingly waits. The train traveler is much happier and chatty and have proven quite curious what an American student is doing on a French train.
So far I’ve met a surgeon traveling across country to perform a knee procedure, two folks just starting retirement, and a nun who had either taken a vow of silence or didn’t understand French.
What ever happened to train in the U.S? The great locomotive that conquered the West has been relegated to infrequent and expensive trips at odd hours. As a result, we’ve become disconnected from our countryside and the people that live ere,preferring instead to leapfrog place to place.
After my Tour de France of a spring break that featured over 12 train rides,I have to say, the U.S is bringing up the caboose of travel.
(Eric Werner / firstname.lastname@example.org)