Regional Train Travel in Europe 8

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50 Euro and 40 cents. I think that translates to about $70 or so. Train leaves Salzburg at 9:10 a.m and arrives in Prague at 4:40 p.m., with train changes in Linz, Summerau, and Ceske Budejovice. The trains between Linz and Summerau and then Summerau to Ceske Budejovice are both Regionalzugs – regional trains. You should find time to spend some time on an equivalent train somewhere.  Not the same as the German train experience.

Regional trains are old school travel. No air conditioning. Big windows you can open up and feel the air rush through the train. The first train had normal rows of benches facing each other, two seaters facing each other on each side of the aisle down the middle. The second train had all compartments on one side of the train with the passageway down the other side. You’ve seen them in Bond movies, Sean Connery Bond movies that is. Sliding door opens into each them from the narrow hallway. Two high backed bench-type seats facing each other. Room to lie down and sleep if you’ve got a whole bench to yourself.

On a very warm summer day like today, when the train is chugging along and the wind is blowing through the cabin, its quite comfortable. When it stops at a station or out in the middle of nowhere inexplicably, it gets mighty hot, mighty fast. These are the trains that locals are using to go two or three towns over and travelers are usually carrying backpacks, not nice luggage.

And they are great.

I sat and stood in front of the open window for the entire first regional train part of the trip and just looked out the window and saw life pass by. Five minutes on one side of the train, ten minutes on the other. Small little towns passing by, and most times the term town is being generous. These tracks cut through farmland and pastures. Neatly organized rectangles of wheat, corn and hay with patches of trees interspersed in there. Most every open patch is cultivated with something, more so in Austria than the Czech Republic. Colorful two story farmhouses with deeply pitched roofs and always a nicely mowed lawn all around. Massive, neatly stacked piles of wood, tops covered with tarps to keep them dry, usually on the edge of the trees, but sometimes closer to the house. An occasional dog running around or a farmer on top of a tractor. A woman in the garden. Rolls of hay out in the fields, ready to get picked up and stacked somewhere.

And about every 15 minutes or so, the train station stops in these towns and villages. Mostly locals getting off with their bag or two in hand. I assume they’d been to some nearby shop or store a town or two down the tracks or went to visit friends and brought back some local produce and cheese. And occasional younger backpacker hopping off, for reasons unknown, as it doesn’t appear there is anything of interest around here, though it does look peaceful. The rest of us staying on the train, until it eventually stops at one of the bigger stations, so we can transfer to the next train.

And the official station person always standing out front when the train arrives, usually right under the sign telling the train passengers what station we’ve stopped at. All wearing identical red caps with black brims, navy blue pants, black shoes, a lighter blue shirt, with a red tie, which for some reason was universally tied too short and only made it down to the widest point on their belly, well short of their belt. One station, two, five stations go by and they are all there, at their post, all roughly the same age and appearance and all with identical clothes, down to the same shirt and tie, every time. It was like they’d been cloned.

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But only in Austria. In the Czech Republic the stations’ condition was more run down and more disheveled. No station masters out front. I wondered whether the stations’ condition was because there wasn’t a station master – no one was there to greet the train — maybe they didn’t have someone in a uniform in charge of the place. Maybe they needed an officious little soul that took the station under his wing (as they were all men, of course) and get it all ship shape for the passengers coming through every day and who stood out front when the trains arrived with a look on his face like this was his place, his station. The best little station in Austria. The Czech Republic needed some of those types, it looked like.

I imagine walking up and saying hello in one of the Austrian stops.

“Welcome to Gaisbach-Wartberg. My town. If you need anything, I’m the person to come talk to.”

Almost John Wayne style. With a German accent.

O well. Probably better I didn’t.

Only so many days left in your life to just get out and let life wash over you a bit. Waste as few of them as possible in an office, at a desk, or behind a counter. Those days happen 300 times a year. How many days to you get to spend on a train rolling down the tracks with all the windows wide open to the world??

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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

8 thoughts on “Regional Train Travel in Europe

  • Jools Stone

    Think you’ve missed your devotion in life Michael. You could’ve been the next Mayor of Gaisbach-Wartberg station, Foursquare or no! Great tribute to the unfussy, old fashioned freedom of rail travel here, enjoyed this, thanks.

  • Ayngelina

    Everyone loves fast modern trains but I’m more of a fan of the old slow ones that allow you to take your time and just stare out the window.

  • The Travel Chica

    I have never really done train travel. Maybe the fast train between London and Paris is the only time now that I think about it. But I think I agree with you and Ayngelina on this one.

  • Jenna

    This post brought back memories for me of when I lived in the Czech Republic. That was before they had fast trains, so the trains were either regional trains or really, really slow regional trains that stopped in the middle of nowhere for farmers. We also took some long rides to Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary, the ones you mentioned with the big windows (the smell of coal coming in) and aisle on one side. So wonderful. Thanks for this!

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