As a Cumbrian lass, born and bred, there’s nothing quite like returning home.
Not only do I get the benefits of a nostalgic home cooked-meal, I also get to enjoy one of the most scenic rail journeys in the UK.
I was brought up in Carlisle by my Grandparents who, bless them, are still going strong up North. When I eventually moved away from Carlisle and out of my childhood home, they both made me promise that I would come back and visit at least 4 times a year (not including Christmas which, apparently, goes without saying). I still remember that first train ride ‘down South’ to my new home in Leeds as if it were yesterday. I’d been taken out on the Yorkshire Dales before on school trip and weekend hikes, but never before had I seen them from this perspective.
The rail line that runs south, specifically from Carlisle to Settle (a small town on the edge of the Dales), is so well-loved that it is supported by two separate charitable organisations, in addition to the continual servicing it receives from it’s Northern Rail operators. The Friends of the Settle – Carlisle are a group of volunteers who dedicate their time to raising money to support the constant work that is needed to beautify the stations and properties associated with the line, this includes the station buildings themselves, as well as adjacent gardens and houses.
So why all this fuss over such a short piece of track?
Put simply – there are no other stretches of railway track in the UK that can compete in terms of natural beauty.
Construction for the line began all the way back in 1869, as a result of competing rail companies, Midland Railway and London & North Western, vying for market dominance. The line was engineered to carefully trace the natural curves of the Pennines, in order to maximise speed and efficiency – unfortunately, this efficiency came at a cost for some local people, who found that their town’s station could be as far as 4 miles away. After 7 years of construction, involving the work of 6,000 men – the last hand-constructed rail line was completed in 1876.
Many men died throughout the years that it took construct this route, either as a result of small pox or work-related accidents – this is no wonder, especially when you consider the gargantuan effort it would have taken to lay a track that covers 72 miles, running through 14 tunnels and over 20 viaducts. These diversions, combined with the stunning scenery, makes for a dramatic journey, however you’ve got to feel sorry for whoever has the unfortunate job of railway track monitoring such a complicated route!
Tickets for my journey from Leeds to Carlisle can come as cheap as £20, if you book the right train ahead of schedule; an off-peak return is also reasonable at around £36. If you’re only interested in the historic Settle-Carlisle route, then tickets will be even cheaper as the round trip will take you less than four hours. The only downside to catching a ride on this stunning route is the average diesel Sprinters that you travel in, courtesy of Northern rail.
Still, when a home-made roast dinner is waiting for you at journey’s end, it’s a difficult ride to beat.…
Holidays in the South of France have changed a lot since my youth.
Cut that – the South of France has changed a lot since my youth.
The first time I made my way through the coastal towns of Southern France, I was a teenage upstart, fresh out of school and keen to soak in as much foreign culture as possible. France will always hold a special place in my heart as being the first foreign land that I ever visited. As a young lad, wide-eyed and open to influence, I remember my first rail journey through this land I’d heard so much of as a rite of passage. This was the litmus test of my future successes as a traveller, the actions that I would take and the people that I would meet would determine the future path that I would take for the rest of my life – or so I thought at the time.
1970s France was a strange, mysterious place. Scars still remained from the Second World War and where those scars weren’t visible, cubist concrete buildings were creeping up into the sky to remain an eyesore for the next forty years or so. The rail systems were in a state of flux at that time, with one stuck in the past and another hand feebly groping into the future. The trains that I caught back then were frequently late, leaving me sat for hours at a time slowly chewing on day-old baguettes – when they arrived, I was always a little nervous stepping aboard as the carriages often skittered between states of disrepair and total dilapidation.
As I said, things have changed a little since then. The modernised rail system that now winds its way along the coast, past part-time models with their miniature dogs and hotshot directors alike, makes for a smooth, enjoyable ride that exemplifies the very best of the region’s beatific pleasures.
A window seat on the left hand side of the well maintained SNCF trains down to Cannes offers the eager traveller a chance to truly appreciate the spectacular views that coastal France has to offer. Aside from the landscape there’s also heaps of people watching for the uninitiated. If anything, this is one aspect of train travel in France that hasn’t changed for decades. French people remain utterly fascinating to observe from a distance; whether it’s holidaymakers enjoying their private villas in Provence or animated elderly women conversing on park benches, this train travels at just the right speed to catch a glimpse of all of them.
This hour-long train journey might only cover a fraction of France’s elegant Cote D’ Azur (of which the entire length is worthy of travelling through) but at just €15 for an all-day pass it’s difficult to not argue with the value on offer.
Train etiquette in this country is uniformly excellent, services on board are above the standard of most short-haul flights and you’ll always have room to stretch out your legs.…
There’s, arguably, never been a better time to travel to China.
Despite fraught political tensions between Western powers and the communist government in the East, now is a great time to escape to China and discover a society that feels truly alien.
Out of all the rapidly developing countries in the world, China is one that demands to be visited as soon as you possibly can. Unlike the rapidly Westernised climes of India or the ram-packed mega-cities of South America, China has kept it’s cultural identity intact, through a mixture of social media censoring (sites like Facebook are blocked through the country’s ISPs) and government propaganda. Despite the country’s controlling obsession over it’s people, this is a great place to visit, as long as you have the time.
Although China might well have held onto it’s unique personality for this long it’s worth visiting soon, because this might change irrevocably within a matter of years, thanks in part to the 14,000 miles of high-speed rail links that have been installed throughout the country.
Whilst the UK endlessly talks in circles when it comes to just a few hundred miles of high-speed rail tracks; for better or worse, China has forged ahead blasting across miles of countryside and through mountains where necessary.
The result of this incredible engineering achievement?
You can now travel from the far East of Shanghai to Western Kunming in just 12 hours – a distance that has taken over three times as long on traditional train routes. A flight might still only take 4 hours, but the views that you’re treated to on the train are well worth the time.
Travelling at speeds of up to 220 mph, the High-Speed rail experience in China is one of class and comfort. A second class ticket affords you a comfortable seat with plenty of legroom. The experience is similar to a business-class flight and offers a unique way to experience the country. Your travel companions for East to West journey are unlikely to be working people. For a Western traveller, the price of 870 yuan (around £100) is very reasonable, but for many workers in China, this will simply be out of the question.
Although it’s tempting to ride the entire length of this colossal railway, from East to West, to do so would mean missing out on some of the true hidden gems that rural China has to offer. Whilst many locals might not have the money to ride on the High Speed trains, that didn’t stop developers from building stations right outside some of the most obscure villages in the country. Many of these remote communities have had little or no contact with the rest of China, let alone the world, so the arrival of High Speed rail means that a new chapter has opened for these previously sheltered people.
If you have 10-days or longer to explore China, then it’s worth considering booking a series of trips on this wonderfully scenic, comfortable railway.
Leave it too long and the country might well change beyond recognition.…
Here in the UK we usually associate steam engines with children’s television characters and miniature model railways.
It can be easy to forget that the use of steam-powered tank engines is not as outdated as we think.
Although the romantic age of the steam engine might well be a relic of the past in the UK, in Germany, thanks to it’s complicated and fascinating political history, there still remains a fully functioning steam-powered railway system that has been running unperturbed (save the minor intrusions of World War I and II) since 1886. For steam train fanatics, such as myself, the Harzequerbahn, Selketalbahn and Bockenbahn (collectively known as HSB) offers a unique opportunity to take a step back in time and experience a steam engine experience like none other on the planet.
So the big question is: Why?
Why does Germany, a technologically advanced major world power, still insist on utilising this massively outdated system? The answer lies in the dark recesses of it’s complicated post-war history and thankfully allows us to take a seat in a deliriously romantic train ride through some jaw dropping scenery.
The HSB was initially built to transport the workers and resources involved in the heavy coal mining that took place in the area during Germany’s industrial revolution – during this prosperous period of time the railways were used for everything from tourism to agriculture. It wasn’t until the outbreak and aftermath of World War II that significant changes came to the HSB. The compartmentalising of Germany, in the wake of World War II, led to the three line railway system being taken over by new Russian overlords.
It’s thanks in large part to the commandeering of the HSB by the Russians that the railway has maintained it’s distinctive vintage appearance and functionality, something that attracts thousands of rail-fanatics and fans of the period from all over the world. Despite the obvious attraction the HSB holds in terms of tourism, it still remains a functional railway that serves the various communities of Germans throughout the region. School children, commuters and elderly people from the numerous towns and villages all step on board at Quedlinburg, a mountain town renowned for it’s picture perfect appearance.
The steam engines used on the HSB still carry with them the austere grandeur of their Russian roots. Many of the locomotives used on the HSB have been faithfully protected, treated and looked after, to ensure that they continue to shine as if it were their first day in service. Despite the odd relationship the locals workers for the HSB have with their former Soviet forbears it has not hindered their evident affection for these machines; their enthusiasm for their work on this historic railway almost shines as much as the brass and steel of the locomotives themselves.
The journey, a smooth ride up through some incredibly crisp mountain terrain, is as smooth and efficient as you’d expect from a German rail service. My fellow travellers on this 0842 service are made up of a handful of tourists, a couple of neat businessmen and half a dozen school children.
All aboard seemed content to simply watch the scenery move by – and when it’s this good, it’s hard not to see why.…
See the cities of Italy in a day – for less than £50
I’ve been making lengthy trips out to the continent from my home of Liverpool for the past 10 years or so.
The rent here is cheap, as are most of the amenities. It’s rather paradoxical, then, that I’ve somehow grown more money conscious over the years.
I’ve learnt a few money-saving tips over the years, in order to make my frequent trips to Europe a little more affordable. They range from the classic: book flights around two months in advance and never fly on a Friday or in the afternoon; to the more obscure: I find cheap parking at Liverpool Airport two weeks before I fly, for extra piece of mind whilst I’m away. Beyond these little rituals, I’ve learnt a few exceptions to the rules, when it comes to travelling by rail on the continent.
Many experienced Inter-Railers will swear by the pass that they use to save money on long-distance European rail trips, but you shouldn’t listen to them when looking to see Italy by rail. This is a country whose rail system has improved immeasurably over the years but whose Government have stubbornly refused to raise the prices, to the benefit of both travellers and natives alike. As such, travelling through this vaguely mystifying country by rail is fantastic value for money (especially in comparison to our extortionate ticket prices here in the UK).
Flights to Milan, booked well in advance, can be as cheap as £45. A slow train from Italy’s fashion conscious Financial capital, to rough’n’ready Naples, sets you back around the same price. Taking you on a lazily scenic tour of Italy’s tourist cities, across around 800km in a cool 4 hrs and a half, this trip allows you to truly appreciate the North-South divide that the country exhibits so effusively.
You start the journey by drifting out of Milan. Winding through fields; passing small towns and villages at a sedate pace (if you choose to take the cheaper slow train), the landscape could not be described as dramatic. This offers a fine opportunity to get lost in a short book, or perhaps a collection of stories from a legendary travel writer. Henry James’ collection of essays, Italian Hours, can fill your mind with a vision of a very different Italy, from over a century ago.
By the time you’ve reached Bologna, you have the option of jumping out and grabbing a quick lunch. Pasta in this region is particularly good, however if you were wise and packed a robust lunch with you, feel free to carry on your journey through to Florence.
Put the book down for this portion of the journey and switch to some Classical music, or even opera. It might sound like a cliché, but a selection of Pavarotti’s finest performances perfectly fit the scenic route through the forest laden landscapes and vistas. Whilst you cross bridges and edge through hills, take the opportunity to enjoy the peace and serenity before you arrive at one of Italy’s busiest tourist destinations.
If you’ve not visited Florence before, then you should really hop out and take a walk around this bustling town, noted for being one of the most beautiful in the whole of Italy. Although the wealth of art galleries and cultural sights demand a longer visit, unless you stay in a decent hotel (which could set you back a rather serious amount of money) you’ll be forced into one of the many costly and rowdy hostels. If this is the case, you’ll be looking forward to a night of heavy drinking, loud dormmates and endless ‘where are you from’ conversations.
Otherwise, set off from the city in the early evening and wind your way down to Naples. This is a pleasant journey that will take you around 1 hour and 20 minutes, sitting on the left hand side of the train to get the best view of the surrounding countryside. You’ll pass through no fewer than three separate areas of outstanding beauty; National Reserves, Parks and Lakes will all be laid out in front of you on a clear day – the perfect time to sit back and let your mind wander.
Rome is a city that demands to be visited at least once in your life – however you would be forgiven if you gave it a miss on this whistle-stop tour. Accommodation is almost always overpriced and during peak season it can be a nightmare making it through the crammed streets and piazza. Skip the Colosseum for now and stay on the train to benefit from the cheap thrills lying in wait in Naples.
The last leg of your Italian train-tour will fly by, quite literally. High-speed rail links have been invested in across the country; make up some time by catching one of these and travelling the 200-plus km trip in just over an hour. The plains and hills might be whizzing by too quickly to truly appreciate, but you may as well take this time to enjoy the super-clean environs of the train you’re on – things are about to get messy.
Alighting in Naples you’ll notice that the town exists in a state of disrepair. The concentration of organised crime – in the form of extortion and corruption – is known to be of a much higher concentration in the southern regions of Italy; resulting in, rather stereotypically, a constant backlog in waste disposal. Unemployment is high here and some citizens exhibit a flagrant disregard for their own heritage: even the statues in the centre of plazas are not safe from graffiti artists.
Despite all this, you’ll be relieved to hear that the chances of travellers being affected by street crime is relatively low. It does pay to be cautious of pickpockets and bag snatchers, but the same could be said for any part of Italy. For the most part, Naples’ citizens are friendly and helpful, even if they struggle with the English language even more that the rest of the country. Thankfully, the excellent range of hostels employ fluent English speakers who are more than happy to help you out. Prices for beds are as cheap as they get and you’ll find the best pizza in Italy in the city that popularised the stuff.
Before you fly back home, you should find time for one last train journey.
The 40 minute trip will take you South, past Mount Vesuvius, and drop you right outside Pompeii. You’re given a decent amount of freedom to explore this town, so you can spend the waning hours of the evening wandering the deserted alleys of a forgotten town, before heading back to the streets of Naples for a well deserved beer in one of the many relaxed bars.
Take the right route and you’ll find a trip through Italy could cost you far less than you think……
A truly scenic rail ride that belongs to the realms of fiction…
There are certain experiences whose reputations precede them.
They are seen as Holy Grail moments: featured moments of the sizzle reel of your life. Regardless of how many times you might see them photographed, their unique beauty does not fade. The thousands of selfies that litter social media do nothing to diminish the awe that they instil when they are witnessed first hand. Think Machu Pichu, the Great Pyramids, the Grand Canyon – these locations may be tourist hot spots, swarmed by hordes of camera wielding travellers, but the impression they leave on the mind is undeniably powerful.
You’ll find an altogether different kind of tourist on the 7-hour scenic train ride from Oslo to Bergen. Less rowdy Gap Year students and more elderly hikers.
In all respects the Bergen Railway belongs to the realms of fiction. Around half and hour into the journey, you’ll leave the bright fascias of Norwegian suburbia behind you and start ascending into the mountains. As the altitude makes itself felt in your ears; scenic Norway will show its true colours. Arrive in the Spring and lush green fields, filled with golden wheat and lily covered waters, will greet you around the first bend.
Don’t get too used to these rolling green fields though. Photographers will be flocking to the wide, clear windows that run the length of the handsome trains at certain points during the trip. However, you’ll notice that the serious photographers might hold themselves back until the famous fjords show themselves.
In the mean time, you can take a break from gawping through the window and saunter along the length of the train to find the dining carriage. Depending on the time of day, you could indulge in a beer with an open topped sandwich (smørbrød – in the local tongue). To avoid raising eyebrows, its best to order coffee in the morning, with a selection of the excellent sweet pastries that are always their best on the continent.
Make sure to slowly sip your beverages; as the dining cars usually have larger windows, you’ll be in a perfect position to witness the majesty of the fjords as they pass by. Make way for other patient diners and find another seat, in time to see one of the highlights of the journey.
The Hardangerjøkulen glacier will create a momentary hush in the carriage you’re travelling in. It had a similar effect on tragic hero Captain Robert Scott, who trained on the glacier before heading out on his doomed expedition of the Antartic and it’s scale is of such a magnitude that George Lucas, in 1979, chose it as the location to shoot scenes for the epic battle of Hoth in his follow-up to Star Wars.
The non-stop train from Bergen to Oslo can cost as little as £22, when booked in advance. It’s a truly authentic Norwegian experience, a breathtaking journey that was built out of necessity (you’ll see lucky locals snooze past the vistas, after a long day of work) and has, naturally, become a compulsory experience when visiting the area.
Often described in superlatives, this is a quintessential European train journey, that has to be seen to be believed.…
Living as a Spaniard in England can often be a challenge.
Although I speak more English than the the entirety of my (quite large) family, put together, I’m often not understood by the natives here in Newcastle.
The weather is a constant blight on my spirits. Grim winds and spitting rain are often the order of the day, regardless of the season – dismal compared to my home city of Barcelona. Finally, although there is a vibrant rail buff community here in England, the trains themselves are rather disappointing to ride. Slow, bumbling and often late, I don’t share the same love of the British Railway system as my fellow writers here on RTSC.
The hardest thing about being a Spaniard in England is the distance I have to live from my aforementioned family. Moving from Spain to England was a challenging experience and one that made me truly appreciate every single one of them. They’re a rascally bunch of miscreants, but they also make for the best of company. Brothers, sisters, cousins and parents – they are all growing a little older and wiser every day whilst I’m away from them. I miss them all dearly whilst I’m here and always look forward to my annual visit back to Spain.
In order to make my journey a little cheaper (and more enjoyable) I employ a few clever tricks that I’ve picked up over the years.
Firstly, travelling home during the major holiday seasons is strictly off limit for someone on my budget. I usually look to book my trip back home to Barca in February, when flights are at their cheapest. Flying directly into Barcelona is usually far more expensive than the other major cities in my home country, so I fly into Madrid to save a hundred or so pounds. With the money I save from the cheaper flight, I book a high-speed train from Madrid back to my beloved Barcelona.
The Renfe operated service, from the gorgeous Madrid Puerta de Atocha, has been in operation since 2008. My Father (a huge rail buff and Renfe employer of over thirty years) was over joyed when we first rode this line nearly 10 years ago. Up until that point, it took either 6 hours to drive or an excruciating 12 hour train journey, making frequent stops, to cover the 630 km.
Today, the AVE Class 103s travel at speeds of up to 186 mph, making the travel time from Madrid to Barcelona a lightning-fast 2 hours and 30 minutes.
These trains still feel as modern and elegant as they did when they were first introduced. It’s an experience that blends the sleek style of airline travel with the comfort and space of the old days of First Class trains. The seats are tall, wide and deep, offering plenty of legroom for even the tallest of travellers. There’s even the option to watch a movie, with complimentary headphones given out. However, with the views of rural Spain that you are afforded as soon as you leave urban Madrid, you’re unlikely to pay much attention to it.
Riding on this smooth, almost noiseless, non-stop express is an absolute joy that I wholeheartedly recommend to any traveller, regardless of their love for trains.…
There are few railway systems in the world that can rival India for sheer character and scale.
Next to our own, India has one of the oldest railway systems in the world.
The British colonists’ first line was laid from Bombay (now called Mumbai) to Thane, a mere trifling 22 km. The line proved to be a great success and soon tracks were being built throughout the length and breadth of the country. Today, India has the fourth longest railway system in the world. It’s a system that is much in demand, with over 8 billion passengers being carried within a year, that’s a staggering 22 million people a day – for a little perspective, around 1.7 billion passengers use our own system each year.
Although the Indian Railway system began as a colonial institution, over the decades since India’s independence from Britain, it has refined and developed it’s own unique culture. Trains are given their own names, separate to the route that they are travelling: Island Express and Himalayan Queen are just some of them, suggesting a golden era of luxury and convenience. Indeed, some of the overnight options offer more comfort and service than you would ever expect on a British Railway system. Trains such as the Golden Chariot, take wealthy travellers from Karnataka to Goa, offering hotel standard rooms complete with colonial style observation carriages and a silver service dining experience.
Of course, this kind of luxury doesn’t come cheap. A trip on the Golden Chariot will set you back around £4,400 (you can knock it down to around £2,800, if you’re willing to share a room with two friends), no small price to pay. These trains are, arguably, a sanitised version of Indian train travel: what they gain in comfort and space, they lose in charm and authenticity.
The Mandovi Express, one of the few modern railways in the Indian Railway system, offers an admittedly daunting 12 hour-plus journey, for a price as low as £15.50. You might have to share sleeping quarters with up to 30 people, but you definitely won’t be going hungry. Unlike British trains, Indian rail services pride themselves on the food they serve their customers. No lacklustre sandwiches here, the Mandovi Express serves up some of the best food that you’re ever likely to enjoy whilst in transit. The pantry car is dedicated to the cooking and serving of countless dishes that bring together the best meals that the local regions have to offer.
Whilst you enjoy your food, it’s worth taking into consideration the sheer scale of this route and the mammoth effort it took to construct it. There’s a reason why this particular track wasn’t built in 1998. The British balked at the notion of forging a way through the 756 km of valleys and gorges. So it was up to the Indians to build a route that winds its way across hundreds of rivers, going through 92 tunnels and over 2,000 bridges – one of which, the Panvalnadi bridge, is one of the highest viaducts in India.
Like the majority of Indian trains, there are a variety of travel options to choose from. The Sleeper class is the cheapest at around £5 for a one-way trip. There’s no air-conditioning but there are electric fans and open windows keep the air moving. Things can get cosy on busy services, so if you’re looking for a bit more space then its wise to fork out a little more. AC3 through to AC1 are carriages with air-conditioning and one-person cots. Just be warned, sometimes the AC can be a little strong and you might find yourself a little chilly!
If you’re worried about feeling a little trapped aboard, you can put those fears to rest. The sliding train doors are mostly left open, allowing a welcome breeze to flow through the train and giving travellers ample chance to gaze in wonder at the stunning vistas the outlying land has to offer. Travelling by train in India is an experience that can vary greatly, depending on the route you take and the class that you travel in.
Either way, you’re bound to be treated to a truly Indian experience, bringing you closer than ever to the wonderful people of this country. …
When you start approaching my age, your holiday plans become a little less adventurous.
As a younger man, I would think nothing of taking a week’s holiday off and improvising my way around continental Europe.
It might have been a little trickier to navigate your way around the continent at that point; back in the 80s less Europeans spoke English and there was no mobile telecommunications, but that was part of the thrill of travelling. I’ve talked to my grandchildren about this and they were, quite frankly, shocked. Then again, it takes little to shock young people from this day and age.
They were worried when I told them that I’d be taking the train down to Long Preston, from my home in Edinburgh, to meet them at Bowland Fell Park for a long weekend. They really had no need to be.
I sold my car, a lovely little MG Roadster, a couple of years back. I adored that car, but it was always more of a hobby than anything else. I loved tinkering with it in the garage and meddling with the engine more than actually driving it. Although my aforementioned children and grandchildren saw this as my final retreat into old age (and senility), it was more akin to the beginning of a renewed phase of travelling throughout Britain.
Our train system gets a great deal of criticism.
OK – it’s expensive, often runs off schedule and the staff vary greatly in their helpfulness. But, those focussing on these negatives are missing out on what makes train travel so enjoyable in our country. Our railway system allows us to travel in relative comfort to over 2,500 different locations throughout the country.
For old folks like me (anyone over the age of 60), we can use a Senior Citizen Railcard to get a 1/3 off any of our train tickets, hugely reducing the overall cost of any journey. If you’re aged between 18-24 then you can get a similar discount. This means that a great swathe of young and old people can make their way safely around the country, at little expense to themselves.
By searching online (yes, us old folks know how to do that too!) I found tickets that cost me around £60, a steal considering the distance. All that was left for me to do was pack my bags, get to the station on time and watch the world go by.
Many of my train journeys have begun at Edinburgh Waverley Station. Its a station with half-buried in the past, almost as old as our railway station, with parts of the grand building date back to 1847. Having lived in Edinburgh for the past 30 years, each time I embark or arrive here my mind drifts back to one of those times. If nostalgia is my greatest weakness as an old man, then train journeys are the catalyst for those moments.
Although I fall asleep as soon as the train leaves the station (a napping addiction is perhaps by second greatest weakness), when I wake up, the train is lazily drifting down the Eastern Coast of the UK and I’m treated to a view of England’s stunning coast line. By the time I arrive at Long Preston, my family are waiting to pick me up.
They ask me if I’m OK, I wipe the mist from my eyes and tell them I’ve never been better.…
A cold misty morning ride turns into a blue-sky stunner of a journey.
There’s a crowd of slightly confused looking tourists collecting at Boston Back Bay Station…
It’s an odd sort of place, a mixture of brutal concrete architecture and cheery fast food outlets. Less than cheery, are the ticket sellers of the regional train lines who are clearly a little fed up of being asked about Amtrak’s National Service on a daily basis. When I enquire about platform details, I am quickly rebuffed with short thrift. It’s the first less than satisfactory encounter I’ve had with a Bostonian and I try not to hold it against him. Its 7:14 am and I feel like he’s probably been here all night.
Details of each National Amtrak departure is drip fed on to the tiny split-flap display. Each departure announcement leads to an excitable group of tourists collecting their bags, children and older folks (in that order) and hurriedly running down the escalators to the awaiting trains. The largest group remains for the train terminating at New York’s Penn Station, including myself and a travelling companion, attempting to stuff as many cigarettes into his mouth before our train departs.
After a few brief moments of confusion, we get to grips with where and when we should go. With some time to kill, we hit up a Dunkin’ Donuts. Its the only food outlet on this side of the station and is getting inundated with orders from hungry travellers. However, the workers all have grins on their face as their supervisor calls out orders and wishes people a good day. The Ham & Cheese Croissant is greasy and surprisingly chewy, the glazed doughnut is much better.
When our train number is finally called, we hurry down to the platform, along with about 40 other people. The Amtrak P42DC seems out of place sitting next to the grimy platform edge. 12 carriages long, its a shining silver behemoth, with smart horizontal ribs reminding of a tin of Baked Beans with its wrapping torn off. It occurs to my travelling partner and I that we have no seat reservations – in fact no one does.
We’re fortunate enough to get on the train ahead of the masses, with their sizeable carry-on cases and large groups. We sneak our way into a couple of seats in the centre of the carriage and settle in for a journey that should take us just over 3 hours.
Its fortunate that we’ve packed some food with us, because the options in the dining cart are pricey. As we crack open huge packets of crisps and admire massive apples (do they sell normal sized food in America?!) Boston is quickly whizzing away from us. Looking out our window to the South we watch the suburbs disappear, giving way to rural Massachusetts and then Providence. Soon we’ve joined the coast and the North Atlantic is breaking against the grey-green shoreline of of New London, New Haven, Stamford. Its not long until the towering structures of Manhattan present themselves to us.
An all too brief journey is over in a flash, stepping onto the platform of Penn Station, we’re suddenly struck by the sheer volume of noise and people.
We’re not in Boston any more.…