Traveling by train and traveling by plane are worlds apart. Many of us would prefer to book plane tickets, while some of us would instead embrace a train ride.
My first scenic train ride was in Sri Lanka.
Sipping an Earl Grey inside my cozy apartment, I would always wonder about the culture and climate which are behind my favorite tea variety. I needed answers, so I grabbed my backpack and headed to Sri Lanka (Colombo), to satisfy my curiosity as a tea-lover.
My train journey began in Colombo Fort Station as I wade through the crowd to finally get inside the train. When the ride began, I quickly befriended the passengers who were a quirky mix of foreigners and Srilankans. The closer we got to the central highlands, the air becomes more humid as the temperature drops by a few degrees. As expected, the window revealed a lush green panorama where tea plantations and forest land dominate one’s field of view. Hard-working ladies plucking tea leaves waved at us while our train continues it’s winding way through the hills. As per the itinerary, I stopped at Nuwara Eliya, where I enjoyed an unforgettable tea-break. From that day forward, I developed a deeper appreciation for my daily cup of tea!
It has always been a dream of mine to be an archaeologist who would explore lands off the beaten track and discover forgotten vestiges. Dressed in my khaki outfit, I wanted to emulate Hiram Bingham as I embarked on a train at Poroy Station in Cusco (Peru). The train ride to Macchu Picchu was made up of stunning mountainous vistas, pisco sour, and live local music. From Poroy to Urbamba and finally to Ollantaytambo, the merry atmosphere pulled me away from Hiram Bingham’s archaeology quest. When a local dressed as a sacred Inca deity approached me, it was a reminder that the Machu Picchu wasn’t far away, which brought me back on track.
It is tucked away in a geographically blessed region of Chile and always scribbled on top of my grocery list. My train ride through the Colchagua Valley arose from a love story between Chilean wine and my taste buds. I set off on the wine adventure in the south of Santiago. The window panorama depicted the terroir that manifests itself in the wine. The train ride ended at Santacruz station, where locals greeted us with traditional music and dance, as a preliminary welcome. What followed was a mouth-watering session of wine tasting paired with regional cheeses, grapes, and nuts. Even Dionysus would have envied me!
The Trans-Siberian is the longest train journey available to anyone willing to bite into a country, which is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”(Windston Churchill, 1939).
Among the passengers were foreigners, Russians, and myself. This was a twenty-day journey where Vodka forged friendships between mere strangers. From Moscow to Vladivostock, I crossed seven time zones and experienced the raw vastness of Russia. Imagine a lake that seems like an ocean (the Baikal Lake) and the Siberian forests stretching over millions of square kilometers. From my train window view, this is when the gargantuan scope of Russia’s territory really hit home from me,
My archaeology day-dreaming kept taunting me. Peru wasn’t enough. I had been stung by the travel bug, and here I was again with my khaki gear embarking on a train journey through the heart of Egypt. My train ride began in Cairo at night time, where I stepped in the Overnight: Sleeper Train. Heading to Luxor, I said goodbye to the Sphinx. The next morning, the Valley of the kings and the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut awaited us. The second part of the overnight train ride took me to Edfu, where temples of Egyptian gods were the backdrop to our day-trip. From there on, the overnight train sent us to Aswan, where the impressive Abu Simbel temple stood carved out the rock. Awe-inspiring!
My inclination for wine brought me to vineyards in the Napa Valley, California. The Napa Valley train ride was pure bliss, whereby fine dining in a vintage decor, wine tasting and sun-bathed Californian scenery, all came together to bring forth the best experience ever for any epicurean. In my opinion, the Napa Valley is a must for any wine enthusiast visiting the US.
The Centovalli train ride was a heart-pounding and jaw-dropping trip between Domodossola (Italy) and Locarno (Switzerland). It is best experienced during the summer when you can admire the Alpine landscape made up of waterfalls, deep-ravines, and snow-capped mountains notably. As the train crossed on the numerous bridges on the itinerary, I simultaneously felt enticed by the landscape and afraid that the wagon could topple at any time. This was an intentionally slow-paced train ride, where I reveled at the sight of the picturesque stone-paved villages, vineyards, and viaducts.
My personal experience led me to the conclusion that the journey matters as much as the destination. I would rather opt for train tickets, unless I am in a hurry to get to someplace.