Taking to the tracks, is such a joy. I know that we are Flying Fluskeys, and flying also makes me a happy girl, but there is something special about a train journey. (I don’t mean my morning commute). People say romantic, honestly I’m not sure I could call it that, but it is kinda special. Here are some of my absolute favourite train journeys.
Why I Loved Trains Then
My parents have never had a car and so we got the train from Brighton to London and around Sussex on a semi regular basis. Back in the day, they still had slam door trains with compartments. We took up a whole one, shut the door to the rest of the train and broke out one of my Mum’s infamous train picnics.
I also caught the train to my Dad’s house by myself when I got a bit older (10/11) which was pretty thrilling. A few years on and I commuted to college between Brighton and Lewes by train five days a week. It was quite liberating. I never had to rely on the parents for a lift and it gave me a real sense of independence.
Why I Love Trains Now
If we compare taking the train to flying, there is no liquid restriction, you can have your seat back reclined, and tray table down the entire time and you don’t get DVT. Plus, you don’t have to check in three hours before you leave. All plus points in my book.
Compared with driving? Well for one, my visual impairment means I can’t drive so not killing myself is a big plus, but let’s pretend I could. On a train you can go to the toilet whenever you need to (admittedly, not always if you’re in a station). You can watch a video, do work or sleep, all of which are pretty inadvisable if you’re driving. You can also really enjoy the view without having to stay alert for potential hazards. Sit back and watch the world roll by. Rolling hills or rolling waves all from your rolling stock. Finally, being among humanity is one of the real joys of travel. Sitting in a car, you are shut off from the wider world, not sharing the experience with anyone. Even if you are travelling alone on a train, there’s still a train full of people with you.
The Best Trains I’ve Taken Around the World
Eurostar, London to Europe.
I have just written a big post about our recent Eurostar trip (you can read it here). I’ve taken it a few times and I think it is by far the best option for those travelling from the UK to nearby Western European destinations. It is fast, comfortable and takes you from city centre to city centre. When travelling from London to Paris, compared to flying, you can save a surprising amount of time.
Reunification Express, Vietnam
This train route runs the length of Vietnam, from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. It was built by the French in the 1930 but was sliced in two when civil war broke out. When the country came back together, it was reopened, hence the name. It will take you 35 hours or so to cover the whole distance. We only caught it from Hanoi to Hue, one night of merrily bumpy sleep. Jungle slips past the window as you wind your way South and we were lucky enough to have the compartment to ourselves for most of the journey.
Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand
This night train is full to bursting with excitable backpackers. It was the social aspect of this journey that I enjoyed so much, in contrast to the trip above. It was a very humbling moment when I looked around, at people from nine different countries, who were all conversing in English. It truly is the language of tourism! A tip, if you are going to take this train, the air conditioning is pretty fierce and feels colder on the top bunk. You will pay more for the lower bunks because they are at least a third bigger than those above them.
Many Trains, India
India has, undoubtedly, one of the most exciting rail networks in the world. It connects almost the entire country, no mean feat. India is quite a lot bigger than you think! We have been on at least ten different train journeys around the sub-continent. In fact, there is too much to say about Indian trains. I think I’ll have to write a whole article about it….something to look forward to!
Nuwara Eliya to Ella, Sri Lanka
Another British built railway system, the trains in Sri Lanka are slow but exceedingly pleasant. One of the finest stretches weaves its way through spectacular hills and valleys en route to Ella from Colombo. The trains are not the height of comfort, but that isn’t why you take it. Stock up on snacks ahead of time because there is no buffet car or hawkers. There is a bathroom, which is lucky, as our train was running two hours late. At Ella, the train stopped in the middle of the tracks and we all had to clamber down in the dark. Not such a problem for us, but tricky for the older generation behind us.
There are a few different classes of service, including observation cars with huge windows that gaze back along the tracks. These only cost an extra few pounds, with none of our journeys costing more than £10, bargain!
New York to Niagara, USA
I took this train in autumn and as the industrial town of Buffalo came and went, it made me realise just what a glorious route it was on the rest of the route. The fall foliage was truly beautiful and it makes this journey one to stay awake for. It is a whole day of travel but the train is very comfortable and you don’t have to worry about paying the luggage fees that are often added onto the cost of your plane ticket in the USA. The line actually goes all the way into Canada so you can travel all the way up in comfort.
Travelling at a staggering 186mph between Kyoto and Tokyo on the Nozomi was pretty exhilarating. It was slightly too hard on the eyes to try and look at anything out of the window that was close and so we just sat back and enjoyed the ride. The trains were super clean and unlike anything we had been on before. It almost felt like being on a plane, no danger of turbulence though!
Maglev Train, China
Between Shanghai airport and the city, you can experience 8 minutes of magnetic levitation. We jumped aboard before catching our flight home. Karl had been singing the praises of maglev technology for years and so he was buzzing. I’ll be honest, watching the numbers top 268mph was cool, but it was surprisingly bumpy around corners. I would be a little cautious about going for a wee on one (luckily, it takes less than 8 minutes to reach the airport).
Lviv to Odessa, Ukraine
These Russian built trains are warm and charmingly old fashioned. Each carriage of the older trains we took had compartments with four berths and a samovar at the end (a hot water dispenser). The tiny table had a sweet little tablecloth, just like your Babushka’s front room. We took these three times in Ukraine and had no problems at all. We really enjoyed the vintage feel of it all…budget charm.
Trains I Still Want to Take
Bar to Belgrade, Montenegro to Serbia
Happily, we are going on this beautiful train ride in June. Well, I think we are. It is impossible to book these tickets ahead of time and so we will have to book our tickets when we arrive in Montenegro. It is supposed to have some wonderful mountain views as it travels from the Balkan coast, to the heart of Serbia.
The Trans-Siberian, China to Russia
Probably the most famous train ride in the world. Taking this epic journey, over 6,000 miles, surely has to be on every traveller’s bucket list. Whether it’s camping in a yurt in Mongolia, visiting gulags in the heart of Siberia or watching the snowy vista slip past, there are amazing experiences to be taken all along the way. Even just staying on the train you will have an ever-changing cast of interesting other people sharing your cabin.
My brother may be taking this later this year and I am so incredibly jealous. How to get a month unpaid from work…?
Coast Starlight, West USA
I can’t drive and so road-tripping the States becomes a little tricky. The train ride from Seattle to Los Angeles passes from mountains, down to the coast where it hugs the ocean. It can take 35 hours non-stop and so I would probably hop off in Portland, to enjoy some hipster coffee (if I hadn’t drunk my fill of Seattle’s most famous export).
The Devil’s Nose, Ecuador
This train ride is quite short, just two hours, but very exciting. It descends 500 metres in 12 km with a series of sharp switchbacks. It passes through cloud forest and so there’s fabulous flora and fauna passing just by your window the whole way down.
The Blue Train, South Africa
There aren’t many places that I would splash out on a real luxury train, but South Africa is one that tickles my fancy. It has suites with comfy sofas, en-suite bathrooms and even a writing desk. It drips with the glamour of a bygone era. There are two lounges and the website even specifies that;
“The Club lounge has a more masculine ambience and is expected to find favour with those seeking a peaceful place for after-dinner cognacs, coffees or cigars.”
It’s basically a thirties colonial club on wheels. One for the retirement maybe?
Indian Pacific, Australia
How do you get from Sydney to Perth if you have four days to spare? You take the Indian Pacific! The pleasure of this train is all in riding the rails. For hours at a time, you may not see anyone, or anything out in the expanse stretching to the horizon. This is another journey that costs a pretty penny, If you are in the two higher class of cabin, you are required to dress in smart casual attire and bear in mind that despite the large luggage allowance, you can only have hand luggage when you’re actually on the train (the rest is stored elsewhere on the train).
Riviera Sleeper, UK
I am making plans to take this train later this summer. It goes from Paddington Station, West London, to Cornwall in the South-West of England. Taking a train to do a long walk that ends at a Rick Stein fish restaurant…yes please! Plus, you can use your railcard so it shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.
What has been your favourite rail journey? Do you have a dream of taking any around the world? Let me know in the comments section.