Trains and Bridges

Sooner or later, you will get it wrong.  That is a given and not something to be ashamed of.  We did too.  In fact, we made our first mistake on day one of our first ever backpacking trip.  We had planned it all so carefully.  We would start in Denmark, then travel to Sweden, Finland, across the Arctic to Norway, back into Sweden, back into Norway and finally back to Denmark again.  I know, it’s a zig-zag, but it was a perfect plan – and it was.  Almost.

Starting out in Copenhagen just to take a train to Stockholm doesn’t seem all that sensible on paper.  But there was one major attraction: the Øresund Bridge, which connects Copenhagen to Malmø in Sweden.  At just under 7,800 metres it is the longest road/rail bridge in Europe and for Tim it was a must-see.  And so the starting point of the trip became Copenhagen.   We did very well as we landed.  Public transport was a piece of cake, as you might expect in Denmark, and no sooner had we collected our backpacks or we found ourselves in the train station boarding the train for Stockholm.  And that’s when we realised our mistake.  Yes, we did cross the bridge in no time at all, but of course we saw nothing of it.

Lesson number one: if you are desperate to see a bridge or a viaduct, then don’t go over it!  See it from a distance instead. :-)

GlacierExpress.JPGNow you might think that we had learned our lesson from all this.  But no – that would be too simple!   Towards the end of our most recent backpacking holiday we found ourselves in Switzerland, where we boarded the Glacier Express to take us all the way to Zermatt.  This journey is rightfully hailed as one of Europe’s most beautiful train journeys, and holiday brochures show fabulous photos of the bright red train climbing mountain tracks, darting down to valleys, and chugging across the most beautiful bridges and viaducts. Stunning photo opportunities.  Still, as breathtaking as the journey is, being on the train you never quite get to take that prized photograph, nor the opportunity to see the train itself as it puffs its way around the Swiss mountains.

Lesson number one not quite learned yet. :-)

Poland (647).jpgFor all that though, you simply can’t beat travelling by train.  Not only is it better for the environment (definitely) and cheaper (usually), but more importantly, it means you don’t have to concentrate on driving, checking maps and motorway exits.  Instead, you have time to really enjoy the scenery, relax and have fun with the kids, play endless card games or listen to your iPod – even if you sometimes don’t manage to get an actual seat…

Travelling by train is also a great opportunity to spend time with local people . My favourites journeys have been on slow-coach trains that stop in the middle of nowhere, allowing little old ladies with shopping bags to get off the train, leaving you to wonder where on earth they are going. We met one such lady on a train in northern Hungary and had a wonderful conversation involving hands, feet, the occasional word and a lot of laughs.  She got off the train near the Slovakian border, heavily laden with bags but not so badly that she couldn’t turn around three times to wave us goodbye.

Budapest (17).JPG

Which brings me back to the beginning.  Sometimes you get will get it wrong.  But you know what?  That’s OK.  Leaving Budapest’s beautiful train station, we thought we could buy our tickets to Slovakia once we got to Eger, a small town in the north-east of Hungary.  And normally you can of course, just not at the weekend…  Long discussions took place at the train station in Eger, again not involving much English.  The end result was a change of plan and a detour involving a stop-over near the Slovakian border.  But had it not been for that mistake, we would never have met our lovely old lady and received our three waves of goodbye.

Mistakes or perfection? I know what I would choose.  But either way, travelling by train always beats any other form of transport.  The train just turns any trip into an incredible adventure, every time!

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