RAILROAD, n. The chief of many mechanical devices enabling us to get away from where we are to where we are no better off. For this purpose the railroad is held in highest favor by the optimist, for it permits him to make the transit with great expedition. — Ambrose Bierce
A train to somewhere from Asia to Europe – the yin and yang of travel.
Vietnam – Trains packed tighter than sardines in a can. In first class, windows are open hoping to catch a breeze to lighten the stifling air – cushioned seats are full (wooden benches in 2nd class) – aisles are filled with passengers, perched in a near fetal position on a child’s plastic stool. The 6″ area behind the rear seat shelters a body, curled up on a woven straw mat, toes peeking out.
Boxes are filled with crickets, snakes, roosters and God knows what else. The food car serves up cupfuls of slime, something that would tangle our fishing line in a still warm lake.
India – Smiling, friendly, religious zealots, who kissed our toes and touched our foreheads. Merchants cruised up and down the aisles hawking every item imaginable from sarees to nail clippers – 6 beds to a room with no doors on a full train.
Eastern Europe – Backpackers galore, train cars from 2 person personal sleepers to a 100+ sleeper car with no air and sweltering heat poaching our skin. Generic.
Europe – Cushioned seats are full and that is that – no poachers. The air conditioning hum can hardly be heard it runs so smoothly. Windows closed. No color, sterile… vanilla 😉
The absurdity of the brain – In Vietnam we imagine the cleanliness and civility of European train travel. As we traveled west in Europe we longed for the lively stimulating train travel in Vietnam. Go figure…
L’viv, Ukraine and Krakow, Poland are distant memories and we are currently in Budapest, Hungary. All are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Not sure how L’viv received that nomination but they make use of it to lure people there. Not bad by any means but compared to the whole world?….. It had old buildings and a carless walking street but nothing to write home about. Someone in L’Viv must have greased the palm of a UNESCO official.
Krakow……..awwwww Krakow. So beautiful. The city center is FULL of historic buildings – not a Russian concrete bunker housing complex to be found (of course outside the historic city center they are plentiful). The city lines the River – Jewish WW11 history is ripe and hanging over the city. Churches are everywhere – monasteries that have been running since the 11th century. History oozes from every building and street. I try to honor and recall the tragedies the city and people endured.
We visited Oskar Schindler’s factory (remember the movie Schlinder’s List). It sucked us into the horrors the Jews endured during the war – heart wrenching.
Pope John Paul is from a nearby town and lived in Krakow for many years. He is revered and present in all the churches.
We have traveled by train for 10 days. New aged hobos… Lucky are we to have mostly experienced 2 person couchettes with an occasional overpacked sleeper cattle car and train full of stinky 20 year old backpackers (felt like we were 1,000 years old) thrown in.
Bill figures we have seen parts of a 400 by 300 mile area (120000 sq. Mi.) of primarily sunflowers and corn, with a smattering of alfalfa, wheat, orchards and forests, some white birch forests which were dramatic. Also strange, much of these countries are from 300 – 500 feet above sea level, but seem much higher. They all have mountains and ski areas though.
There is also the ever-present Danube. It starts in Germany and flows east to the Black Sea through a number of country capitals and forms several country boundaries.
There were few churches in Romania and Bulgaria, especially after all the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim spires across Asia . Maybe because of Ceauscu and the Stalinists. But in the Ukraine we began to see people crossing themselves. And then churches and Christian icons re-appeared with a vengeance.
Beer and vodka drinking is ubiquitous in these past few countries, hard to say if for celebration or sorrow – but it starts at breakfast.
We were screwed at a train station in Smedico (sp?) Ukraine about one a.m. We had to make a train change. The language, alphabet and signs were all too foreign to give hints. No one spoke English so we went from lighted office to lighted office (not many at this hour in the 150 year old hollow shell of a station) looking for help. A gruff middle-aged woman who spoke 5 words of English
understood, and led us outside, across numerous tracks just as the train came in, located our car
and told the conductor to take care of us. She refused a tip.
Off to Belgrade, Serbia today. We’ll fill you in on Budapest later.