Notes on seeing Europe from a train

On the train destined for Stockholm, Sweden
On the train destined for Stockholm, Sweden on Nov. 1, 2008.

By Christopher Wink | Oct 23, 2008 | WeDontSpeaktheLanguage.com

You take trains from big cities to other big cities. Lands, untold by tour books and unseen by sloppy tourists like yourself, unfold beneath your high carriage of jet setting: two months, 10 cities 3,000 miles wide and two or three days deep.

You are riding great dividers of place and time, laughing at great empires of history. Slicing corridors of culture. Other trains pass with silent screams at 70 miles per hour. You mull issues of personal importance and navigate narrow bathrooms.

There’s the old story of the boy who took a train and came back a man. No great story of accomplishment or adventure, but stalking late-night cars and toeing empty rail yards. Sleeping with a bag in his lap until he wanted someone to know him again. Until he learned who is chasing whom.

Trains are so limited – controlled by tracks and conductors. What independence they afford is the anonymity of it. No messages from your pilot; no gas station fill-ups from the nice man from Bangladesh. Just hopping on and delusions of an old-timey innocence that never was.

Your neck bends awkwardly in acute comfort.

Someone laid by hand these tracks, rail by cross by switch plate.

Trains are places for great storytellers and children, where dreams grease big windows through sleeping foreheads. But the station is racing towards the train and plans are knocking. No room for anything pensive. Grab your bag, stare at ugly sprawl, Wipe the grease from the window.

Arrive.

Find another city, learn it an inch deep, mark it with a smiling pose in front of some cathedral, or temple or building or monument toward which your tour book and other cameras direct you.

But these are the days of uplift, of memories recorded for syndication. Playing Tuesdays at 7:30 P.M. in your mind’s eye for the rest of your life. When the boy becomes a man. When stealing a little something from a place is what is good and right and the train is your getaway.

Originally written for the travel blog WeDontSpeaktheLanguage.com.