At the request- or rather the prompting of an adorable friend- I am writing a travel post. My dear friend (BLANK) who was staying with me, is leaving today, and was complaining about the fact that despite an hour and a half flight, it take pretty much the whole day to do. And if you take the train you can add an extra 7 hours to that. Having grown up in a household that got relocated for my Pop’s job, we bounced around a little. Not like some of my middle-school friends who moved every year or 18 months, but enough to be a little different. If that lifestyle instilled anything in me, it was that journey’s are ALWAYS longer than you think they are.
Point in fact, going home to visit my folks at Christmas. It takes 2hrs and 30ish minutes to get from my city to the next major city, from there I catch a train to my parents city, which is about another 3hrs. So let’s say 6hrs. WRONG. I first have 30 minutes by subway from my house to the station (longer if it’s rush hour) then the train ride so we’re already at 3 hrs. The city I go to has a bajillion and 5 train stations, and the station I arrive in is not the one that has service to where my parents live, so that’s another 40 minutes of subway travel. Then 3hrs of train stuff. Then I get out of the train, and my Pop drives the 40 minutes home from the station. For those of you not keeping score, that is:
2hrs & 30m
TOTAL: 7hrs 20m
With luggage, and usually sleep deprivation. Here’s the kicker though, the tickets home usually cost me around a month’s rent. That’s right I’m paying a month’s rent to go home and see my folks. Then people have the nerve to bitch about people using their cars too much. Seriously, if the government wants people to use public transport, make it affordable, because the gas for the car ride is nowhere near that price.
Now from the complaints about going home I’m now going to tell you a story about what I expect from trains in my own country, by using an example that I expect, and only experienced once, in a foreign country.
The country I am speaking of is Russia. That’s right, in Soviet Russia public transport affordable!
I visited a couple of friends in Russia a year ago. My friend in St Petersburg wanted to show me his home town which was a short trip away… that is short for Russia. Which means impossibly long for everyone else. We got our tickets around 2 days before we went, and it was pretty cheap, the cost of a big meal in a middle range restaurant. We got there, and we had berths to sleep in (12hr journey, you get a bed, which makes perfect sense). We got snacks, there was a bar on board which charged regular prices, not hugely inflated ones like they do normally. We had a really cool time. We chatted, slept, all the usual stuff, in fact I probably made the train ride a little less enjoyable for my friend. I don’t speak Russian, except to say things like “I do not speak Russian, please don’t shoot” and ” your mother is a hairy, no-chinned, ice queen”. My friend told me that he usually sparks up conversations with the fellow passengers, and that he’s met quite a few interesting people this way. Now obviously as he was speaking English to me he didn’t open up the conversation to anyone else.
What impressed me was the fact that this train was cheap, clean, well-kept, and ancient. This thing had probably seen the darkest days of the cold war, if not the 2nd World War, and it was spotless, and obviously fully functioning. Trains at home stink of hobo, break down if they get rained on, and generally are over priced pieces of garbage. Why then are the Russians so on the ball here?
That’s right, I’m jealous of the Russians. I guess I could have used my experience of Japanese public transport too, but everyone always expects them to be good, with the Russians, it’s just weird.
I don’t wish to misrepresent myself. I love traveling by train, the steady rhythm of the rails, the gentle rocking back and forth. The time taken in which I can gather my thoughts, gaze out of the window at the rolling country gliding past the window. But why, oh why, have we upped the price and downed the luxury? I don’t feel I should be paying the same price for my air-fare home as I do my train fare.
I grew up watching films like Murder on the Orient Express, and the Lady Vanishes, in which travel by train is glamorous, and sumptuous, and other words that end in -ous. That poetic train snaking through the mountains which they showed in Casino Royale, the chink of crystal glasses in the dining car, the billowing steam in the station from Casablanca, I WANT THAT WHEN I TRAVEL! The sad truth is, trains are nothing like that anymore, I’m paying the price for luxury, and getting a moving sh*tshow.
Got any comments about transport that irks you? tell me about your problems with planes, trains and automobiles in the comments (all insults to Steve Martin and John Candy will be immediately approved of)