I don’t want to belabor the zombie joke thing but this is just too appropriate. What does the zombie round-the-world-traveller say? The trains and trains.
Trains are our particular favourite form of transport which is good as we’re spending the entire day on them making our way from Krakow to Prague. The distance as the crow flies is not that far but it’s one of those routes that doesn’t have a high-speed connection. So we’re on trains from 9:20am to 5:40pm with a 40 minute break in somewhere obscure to change from one train to another.
Trains in Europe almost always have their main station in the heart of town so getting there doesn’t involve a big trip or an early start. We had a 15 minute walk from our apartment to the train station this morning, which left us plenty of time to buy some Polish pretzels for our morning tea. Increasingly, in what I assume is an effort to capitalise on the land they own, railways are upgrading their stations into modern shopping malls. Krakow is no exception, so there are plenty of opportunities to find food, drink and anything else you might want.
Seats are comfortable, although there’s a great deal of variety from country to country. Poland has the old style of compartments with six seats facing each other. That’s particularly pleasant when there’s only us. The boys can make a bit more noise and our bags feel a bit more secure. The airplane style of seat is becoming more common and I have no complaints about that, particularly when you can get four seats around a table. Some German trains we’ve been on even have lounge-style seating around circular tables.
The ability to go for a walk and stretch your legs is much appreciated. And I’ve yet to have even the slightest hint of travel-sickness on a train – unlike every other conveyance known to humankind.
For me the best things about train travel is looking out the window. Even if you’re primarily just getting from one place to another you get a view of the country you’re passing through. It’s not always the most picturesque view but it’s generally interesting and it’s always close-up. As I write this, we’re passing through a thick forest of beech trees, there’s snow on the ground and the creeks are icy. Five minutes earlier we were looking at the back-end of a power station and wondering at the piles of coal awaiting burning.
There are some downsides I have to admit. Waiting for your train in sub-zero temperatures on an exposed platform is less than thrilling. We just spent half-an-hour ‘freezing our pants off’ as Callum put it while waiting for our connecting train. The wait was relieved somewhat by the two lovely ladies who came up and chatted. Amusingly they turned out to have an ulterior motive which became apparent when they gave us a copy of Watchtower to read on the train.
Toilets aren’t a great experience on most trains. Poland is at the lower end of the experience scale but not so bad you’d really worry unduly about it. Crowding is another issue. We’ve had a couple of trips where a seat’s been impossible to find and we’re assuming we’ll hit more of those as we move out of the Winter low-season.
But the inconveniences are minor. There’s still something completely, well, civilised about whizzing through the countryside in your bubble of comfort, sipping a coffee and watching the snow-covered fields outside. Second-class on a Polish train is no Orient Express, dress-for cocktails before diner experience. But it still has a great deal of charm to recommend it.