Wednesday, 9 June 2004


Just to tell you: I just love trains. I love to travel with them, just sit and watch the landscape change and see thing you normally don't see. I have travelled quite some kilometres with trains in Europe and outside and am still not fed up with them. Yes, they have delays and yes, you might have to stand once in a while, but the atmosphere, the sounds, the views, the people: it is really my most favourite means of transportation. It is more relaxing than a car, more comfortable than a plane and faster than a bike. The only that could match it probably is a boat, but as I don't travel that often with boats, I prefer trains. My favourite train in Europe is undoubtedly the ICE in Germany. During my board year in Germany I have used this train so many times and it is fast, has good seats (so much better and larger than in the French TGV), runs on time, has a bistro or a bar, free music and great looks. It is always a real pleasure to travel with them and the routes they take are partly really breathtaking. In many countries in Europe I have travelled by train: the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Portugal, Greece, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, the United Kingdom and hopefully Albania this summer. Two routes are carved in my memory: from Munich to Ljubljana through Austria and from Frankfurt to Cologne along the river Rhine. The views, especially in winter, are just stunning and too good to be true. There are even more beautiful routes though, but they are not in Europe. Taking the train in Thailand is also a very special experience, especially if you take the train that goes up the river Kwai. It might be the surroundings, the feeling that you travel in an oriental country or just the spectacular views: taking the train there and sit with the commoners is just special. Even more if you hang outside the train in the door opening. However, all my experiences and travels by train are peanuts when compared to the mother of trains: the TransSiberia Express. Last summer a dream came true when Christina and I travelled from St. Petersburg to Beijing by train. Although the part between St. Petersburg and Moscow is not really included in the TransSiberia Express, we just started there, as St. Petersburg is a city which you are not allowed to miss when you are in Russia. Although tourists are placed in a wagon only for tourists, you can still move around and go to the commoners' wagons if you want. The first and second class wagons are mostly occupied with tourists or wealthier families; the third class is solely for the normal people. Those wagons are packed with luggage, people, animals and a smell that makes you want to vomit. If you want to experience the life of the normal russians you should not take the real TransSiberia Express, but the slower trains that stop at every little village and which have no beds or hot water. The TransSiberia Express only stops at the bigger stations and the most famous of them are Omsk, Irkutsk, Ulaan Batar and finally Beijing (although that last part after Irkutsk is TransMongolian, as the TransSiberia goes to Vladivostok). Traveling with this ancient and enormous train is something everyone should once do. It might be quite boring at some times, as forests tend to look the same in Siberia, but to see the plains in Siberia, to grasp the enormity and overwhelming beauty of Mongolia and to see the Chinese wall pass by make all up for it. To see an officer standing at every train crossing with his flag held up high so the train is allowed to pass, to see wooden villages in a further deserted landscape, to buy food from out of your window from locals at stations as the bistro on board is out of food, to have to wait 7 hours in the middle of nowhere in Russia (literally) for a locomotive to come and bring you to Mongolia, to be lifted up at the Chinese border as they have to change the wheels with a shorter diameter, to just sit and watch the landscape pass by. When I used to travel with my parents, I always read a book and never looked out of the window; this travel made me look out of my window as there was so much to see and I didn't want to miss a single thing. Words are not enough to describe what we have seen during that travel and how overwhelmed one can be by the landscape and the people. I have to do it one more time, but now from Vladivostok back to Moscow and in winter! How beautiful must that be...

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