On short commutes I prefer the bicycle. And when going to a place far-far away flying is often the only option. But on the short distances between and inside small European countries train is my favourite mode of transport be it for a weekend getaway or on business travel. European trains get their fair share of bad publicity, especially in winter times. While this criticism is often justified, I would like to take a moment and focus on the positive sides of train travel when compared to car or plane.
Train or plane?
Flight view – more of the same
Let’s start with train vs plane. Unlike on a plane, in a train you have Space. There’s space for your legs, space for your luggage, space in the toilet and space to walk around and stretch your legs. On many trains there’s even a special place to go to for lunch, dinner or a drink. And in that space, called restaurant car, they give you an actual meal on real plates with proper knives and forks, a meal that doesn’t taste like cardboard (low pressure and dry air in pressurized planes makes everything taste like cardboard). Further on the train’s plus side – when you take the train you don’t have to show up 2 hours in advance, and you don’t have to take off your shoes before boarding. On a train you can take all your drinks or camping gas tanks and pocket knives with you (for a hiker like myself its a real issue!). Also, when you take the train, you actually arrive directly at your destination. At least, I do, because my destinations tend to be in city centres rather than in airports. When you’re flying, on the contrary, you arrive at the airport and (ironically) have to take a train into the city, a train that is often more expensive and takes longer than the flight. Finally, there’s the view. The view from a plane sucks. In Europe, most of the time the view is just clouds. Even when there are no clouds, after a couple of flights all tiny villages below look the same. And you have to bend your neck in a weird angle to try and catch a glimpse of the tiny villages and clouds through that damp small window 3 seat rows away, because window seats cost extra. I, on the other hand, am at this very moment sitting next to a window bigger than the one in my living room, passing the Dom of Cologne and castles above the Rhine. I see new people coming and going as the train goes from city to city, I wave to those staying behind at the stations, in other words, I am travelling. On a plane, I’m just bored. Enough on the plane though, you get the point by now, let’s talk about the car.
Drive or rail?
New Zealand, where parking is still fun
In some aspects, the car offers the same advantages as the train when compared to the plane – the view, the luggage, the space (unless you have a small European car, like mine). The car has a couple of nasty drawbacks though. The car is your responsibility. It’s an asset as much as it is a liability. You are the person who actually has to drive it. Which means that you can’t spend the time you’re on the road reading, writing, sleeping or watching a movie – all of which you can do on the train. Or have a few beers while travelling. Well, OK, you can, but please don’t. The real problem with the car, though, starts when you arrive. Yes, the car, like the train, can take you to the city centre.
Ahu Tongariki on Easter Island – it’s probably the most beautiful parking spot in the world
While the train takes care of itself, the car doesn’t – it has to be parked. Perhaps not a problem in a big country like Australia or Canada, but rather a big issue in European cities. Space, hence parking, is scarce and expensive. And once parked, your car, especially if it’s a rental or has foreign license plates, is a thief magnet. Bummer. I could drive all the way to Vienna or Milan. I’d much rather take the night train ,dine with a couple of wine glasses, sleep on board in a bed (not a plane chair),have my morning coffee with croissant and step out fresh and crispy onto the platform and into the morning sun.
Rail away! Wild Balkan scenery on the Belgrado-Bar route
Speaking of night trains – here comes the bombshell. The biggest advantage of a train over a plane or a car is sex. Sure, you can squeeze into the tiny toilet on a plane to join the mile high club, or have some back seat action (again, not if you have a small European car), but that’s not really classy, is it? On the other hand, on an increasing number of European train destination just a minor upgrade will get you a private coupe all for yourself and your darling, so that you can feel like James Bond (or Daniela Bianci) on the Oriental Express. Just don’t forget to order the breakfast in bed for a complete experience and I dare you to show me the car or plane that can beat that!