Train travel. We’ve always loved it – as much for the opportunities it affords us to sit back and simply reflect, as for the chance to people-watch, as well as take in scenery you don’t get to see from the seat of a car, bus or plane. Train travel is our favourite form of travel in Europe.
Train Travel and Taking Time Out for Reflection
We’re trying to travel by train as much as we can, in keeping with the sustainable and slow travel themes of Grantourismo – but only when it makes sense, which means when it doesn’t take more than 24 hours to get from point A to point B, a luxury we can’t afford on our grand tour.
We took a charming old antique from Barcelona to Perpignan in France, then caught the super-fast train from Perpignan to Paris (although unfortunately during the chaos of the French train strikes), and we just recently spent a day taking three trains to get from Alberobello to Venice, via Bari and Rome.
These journeys have reminded us why we love train travel so much…
From Alberobello to Bari, we took a private Puglian train with plenty of people-watching opportunities – Italian teenagers flirting, mucking around and cramming for exams – and from Bari to Rome and Rome to Venice, we travelled first class on the high-speed TrenItalia Eurostar trains, thanks to our friends at Rail Europe.
The interior of TrenItalia’s Eurostar trains (oddly, no relation to the Channel Tunnel train by the way) is very sleek and stylish, with chocolate-coloured seats that are comfier than those on most airlines, good-sized tables to work at, and powerpoints to plug in your laptop.
But best of all, and a wonderful surprise, there are complimentary refreshments, which included a glass of Prosecco and crackers – also more than you get on some planes these days!
The people-watching opportunities were just as fascinating on our train from Alberobello too – Italian business-people in smart suits doing the commute between regional capitals, affectionate Italian couples (young and old) heading off on weekends away for romance or to catch up with family, and affluent foreign travellers in Birkenstocks, from college-aged American kids to sun-tanned retirees from Down Under.
But despite the amusing distractions and the conveniences that gave me no excuses for not working, I couldn’t help but spend most of those journeys simply gazing out the window at the countryside rolling by.
When we drive in Italy I’m too busy navigating, identifying the routes we need to take, and figuring out directions and parking for the next town, and Terence, the driver on our team, is obviously preoccupied.
With train travel, there’s none of that, just opportunities to savour the scenery, to take in the variety of landscapes, and to reflect upon the very nature of travel itself.
With train travel, there’s time to make meaning of the insights we’re gaining with each glimpse we get into people’s lives… farmers working the fields, housewives hanging up the washing, teens kicking a football around, kids playing in their yards, and, inevitably, people gazing at computer screens…
I know what I prefer to be gazing at.
If you’re heading to Europe for the summer, don’t miss our guide to Europe’s best summer train trips.
Is train travel the best form of travel for taking time out for reflection? What do you think?