“And the sons of pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their fathers’ magic carpets made of steel
Mothers with their babes asleep
A rockin’ to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.”
My dad loves trains. When he was young, his house was only a few hundred feet from the railroad tracks. Many of his childhood stories have to do with that train, like how he’d put pennies on the tracks so they’d get smooshed, or how he’d feel his bedroom walls vibrate whenever the train passed in the night. He tried his best to pass on his love of trains to us kids. Sometimes when we were on vacation, we would stop at railroad tracks and walk along the rails. I remember being about four years old, holding my dad’s hand as he balanced me on a rail. I remember feeling terrified, imagining that somehow if a train came I’d never have time to jump off the tracks. I was terrified.
As well I should have been. In my lifetime, I’ve had two friends killed by trains — one in a car when her boyfriend tried to beat the train, the other, taking photographs, caught on a trestle — and a few years ago I was on a train that hit a pedestrian. I have a tremendous respect for trains.
But my dad did succeed in instilling a love of trains in me as well. When I lived in West Bend and the train still came through town, sometimes I would hear the whistle of the train coming in from the south, and I would jump in my car and race to the trestle on the north side of town. I could always make it just in time to stand under the trestle and feel the pulse of the engine as it picked up speed on its way out of town. In Slinger I could stand on the road at the top of the hill in my subdivision and look down on the trains waiting to cross the road below. Some nights I could even count the number of trains waiting their turn, as indicated by bright lights glowing in the summer haze.
Now I live near tracks again but rarely hear the train unless the wind is blowing just right. It never whistles its way into town, so when I do hear the urgent “Whoo! Whoo!” my heart sinks, wondering if there’s someone on the tracks. I don’t think that fear will ever go away.
I’ve always wanted to take a train across America, through the mountains to the west coast, or even ride the City of New Orleans to Louisiana. So when I had the chance to come to Prague (and I saw the prices of airline tickets to get there), my first impulse was to check prices to different cities and see if I could get a cheaper flight and then take the train from there.
As it turned out, it is costing me about the same amount of money to fly to Paris and take the train to Prague as it would have to fly directly to Prague. But then I couldn’t see the landscape of five countries. And I would have been in the sky longer. (Did I mention I like to keep my feet closer to the ground?)
When I got on the train in Paris, it occurred to me that the four hour journey to Mannheim, GR was going to be just as long as a plane flight from Milwaukee to LA … and I always dread that trip. But as soon as I got on the train I glued my face to the window, and time just flew by. It didn’t get dark until 10 pm and my nose didn’t leave that window. We reached Mannheim by 10:16, just in time for an awesome thunderstorm.
At Mannheim I had an hour and a half wait for my night train to Prague, so I found a little lounge where I ordered a Claustheimer (they didn’t have alcoholic beer, go figure! What’s up with that, Germany??) and plugged in my computer to start writing this post. A very nice German couple did their best to chat with me, although their English was poor and my German non-existent.
My train finally came. My car was at the very end of the platform, but once I got there I was helped aboard and ushered into a very nice, quiet sleeping car. It was my first-ever experience in a sleeping cabin, and it was first class. (It was cheaper than second class, and considering I might have otherwise spent money on a hotel, I figured it wasn’t too bad of a deal to both travel and sleep.) And I’ve gotta say, it was worth it. Outside of the baby in the cabin next to me who hacked and sneezed all night, it was very pleasant. I loaded up on vitamin C and took an Airbourne tablet and all my vitamin supplements first thing.
And I got to see some guy walk through the train to the bathroom wearing just briefs. To think I could have missed that!
The scenery was awesome, but I’ll write more about that in a later blog post. I’ve still got many more train miles to go.