June 19, 2012

On [the pros and cons of] Train Travel.

Gare de Lyon in Paris.
One of the goals (No. 9) on my [25 before 25] list was to ride a train. A few months before writing my list, I had taken the Amtrak from Seattle to Portland, and LOVED it. 

Train travel is romantic, in the 'inclined toward excitement and mystery' definition of the word. You don’t have to wear a seatbelt like in an airplane. There are food cars! I knew I wanted it on my list because I’d enjoyed it so much before, and wanted to make it a semi-common practice in my life. 

When I wrote that list, I wasn’t sure that I’d be coming to Europe for the summer, which made checking this item off the list fairly easy. Not only do I take the tram (lightrail train) almost everyday in Grenoble, but also the high-speed trains are one of the cheapest, fastest, and convenient ways to travel around the country and continent. Last Thursday, I took the SNCF train to Paris, and while writing this post, I’m on the train back to Grenoble.

Each type of train has different pros/cons, but the high-speed, double-decker, long-distance trains are by far the best. The seats lean back further than on an airplane. Everything is roomy, and your baggage doesn’t go in compartments far away, there are shelves in each train car. That way, if you accidently pack your lip gloss, Bible, or water bottle in your "checked" bag, it’s only about ten steps away. No one throws your bags or squishes them or leaves them sitting outside to get rained on. You know where your bags are at all times.

Trains take you through spaces of land you would NEVER see apart from the train ride. I’ve seen so much French countryside during the six hours of train riding to and from Paris. It looks a lot like the Willamette Valley. Green. Numerous farms. Trees. Sheep. Cows. Even the clouds look Oregonian: Low. Fluffy. I guess this comparison makes sense, considering the comparable latitudes of Oregon and France.

Metro line RER A in Paris.
While in Paris I experienced another version of train, the underground Metro. (This wasn’t my first metro, I’ve been on the one in Washington D.C. several times.) These types of trains definitely have more cons than pros. First, the awkward people—this includes those experiencing all levels of inebriation, as well as general attitude problems. Luckily, I was with people for the most part while on these excursions, deflecting any disturbance worth noting. 

Second, the crowdedness. This is to be expected in a massive city like Paris, full of business people to tourists, and the rest of the population that falls somewhere on that spectrum. You can easily figure out the social status of any respective neighborhood based on the people getting on and off at the metro stops. Some were clearly business districts, while others were places I’d rather not venture alone at night.

Even though it takes a little longer, I think I prefer train travel to airline travel--winding through the hills and the trees, rather than winding through the clouds. 

Seeing the world at eye-level out of substantial windows, instead of from a birds-eye-view out of tiny airplane windows.

Of course, if I was an exclusive train-traveler, I wouldn't have been able to cross the ocean to be here.


  1. This makes me want to travel to Europe even MORE than I already do. My train experiences thus far have been the zoo, the L in Chicago/subways of NYC, and a several hour train ride in China which involved sleeping in triple layered bunkbeds amidst a million strangers and using a squatty while the train was moving. Your experience definitely sounds more romantic.

    1. From my personal experiences with squatty potties, I am very impressed that you managed to use one on a moving train! :) You need to see Europe!!!