Notes on train travel

I am currently travelling on the train from Ottawa to Montreal.

And I feel like writing about trains (no sexual innuendo meant). 

I have often travelled by train, I’ve gone from taking the local train from my village to Newcastle in northern England at 6pm so that we can get nice and pissed enough without driving anywhere, occasionally getting the last 11pm train home but usually missing it and all putting our coins together for a taxi back. Some of those train journeys could be rough, as if you (as a 16 year old with dyed blue hair and wearing only black) made eye contact with the wrong person you could get a death threat – or at least a comment or two on your ‘goth’ ness.

Ahhh youth.

Then, at 18, I would take the train from London and back (about 4 hours) every other weekend when I was a student there. I hated living in London and kept escaping home whenever I could find enough cash. It was always the last train northbound as it was the cheapest. Those weren’t bad, there were the businessmen who commuted eating their M&S wraps (probably gluten free versions now) and the football fans drinking pint after pint of fosters or carling and reading the Sun (everyone knows about the famous page 3 girls). Nice.

My first solo international train ride was from London to Paris on the wonderful Eurostar: 2.15hours of luxury travel. I felt very grown up, yet only 16. I dressed well and planned my reading material very carefully to look as mature as I could, only to find myself with my hands deep into the rubbish bin at the waiting room of the station because I had dropped my bank card in it 15 minutes earlier… smooth.

I remember a train journey from Paris to Munich overnight – but not much happened apart from a lot of reading on my part.

And another from Barcelona to Paris, an odd one I must admit as I felt very alone, in denial of grief, 23, feeling homeless (I was killing time before moving to Spain but still had a month before work started) and I felt I knew/had no one. I was a little bit aimlessly trying to make my time go by faster by taking longer to travel places. I had enough money to buy my train ticket and was just hoping that I knew someone in Paris who could let me stay for a couple of days until I moved on elsewhere. But those moments are the ones that build up your perceived immunity to struggle, to the gifts that life brings you. 

I had a nice conversation with a Spanish girl on that train, we smiled at each other, both in the cafeteria and started chatting about everything and nothing until we were too sleepy to continue. A positive experience came from a cold time in my life – that’s the thing, if you continue on throughout certain struggles or hard times, you’ll have little reminders that things can and will get better. 

Moving to Spain I took the train a few times, beautiful views, and the Spanish scenery changes so often that it’s constant entertainment for the traveller. I’d spend half the time trying to get ‘that perfect shot’ of the sunset over the valley (s). The bus systems in Spain were so nice that I’d most often take those, usually overnight ones that give you free water bottles- ooooh posh. 


I took a train from Ho Chi Minh City over the time of one month all the way to Hanoi, over the mountains into south china and across to Hong Kong. A very long and messy trip that proved exciting and terrifying at the same time. Moments of being starved and going into the ‘cafeteria’ of the train around midnight only to be surrounded by very cheery and drunk Vietnamese train guards who were singing karaoke and eating instant noodles. I tried to be as subtle/wallfly as I could but felt it was time to slink out once my own instant noodles had been finished. I still have my chopsticks from that memory somewhere…

Another moment I specifically remember on the train crossing the Vietnamese/Chinese border – being woken up by very stern looking guards about 3am and told to gather all my belongings and get off the train. Well, I didn’t speak Chinese then so I assume that’s what I was told (that’s what I did anyway )

 *I speak Chinese now so they can “suck it”*

 Anyhow… I got off the train, luckily I was not the only confused passenger and after handing over my passport for 30 minutes was told to get back on the train. Ok?

However, more was yet to come. An hour passes and different, dare I say, even sterner Chinese guards come by again. This time, no belongings were mentioned but my (and NO one else’s) passport was taken away with some Chinese words muttered  before various different guards came in to the room and look at me, shaking their heads at each other) I remained calm (mostly due to confusion and tiredness) until my passport was handed back and they never returned. I think because my passport photo showed my previous goth hair whereas back then I was blonde. Maybe? Anyone? 
I arrived safe and sound in China. With no money and no bank machine withdrawing cash (but that’s another story).


I should write about another memory of being stuck in an immigration office, in a rural Chinese airport surrounded by guards (yet again) because I’d mistakenly travelled to the wrong airport – foreigners off limits. Oops.

In Taiwan, I took several trains. Wonderful trains, so modern and clean and FAST! Friggin’ Taiwan has Eurostar speed and quality standard trains! Who knew? Those are on the west side of the central mountains, if you take the trains on the east side, they are a little different. Still decent and clean, just slower and not as modern. Perhaps a chicken? Can’t remember. Still wonderful though as I never felt uneasy or unsafe in Taiwan. 


I have to add that some trains in Taiwan have seats that completely switch round to take the other direction, I mean all four seats! You know, just incase you felt like a different view. Pfffft, they’ve thought of everything!

I have yet to encounter Japanese trains (a must) and I’d love to travel from Paris to Beijing all by train (trans-Siberian express?) but not quite yet. One day…

So here I am on my first Canadian train – it is nice, clean, decent. Actually, it’s quite similar to Spanish trains. Spacious and quiet (ish). Like the British trains – everyone is busy doing their own things. Actually, the lady next to me is sewing – well, why not?

In fact, that’s amazing. 

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