As I write the lead for this blog, I am riding in the front car of a high-speed Swiss train from Zurich to Geneva, on a grassy bank alongside Lake Neuchatel under a partially overcast spring sky. By the time I’m composing the fourth or fifth paragraph I will be on a different train somewhere else in Europe, or Asia, or the Congo, or if I’m desperate, Western Pennsylvania.
You think me mad? I am not. The Internet has electronically opened our world in a myriad of ways, some of them wonderful, some of them banal, and too many of them creepy, but sometimes you stumble across something you didn’t know existed that speaks to you in a way you didn’t even realize you like to be spoken to. In my case, it is a series of hi-def, no-cuts, YouTube train ride videos.
I’ve always been a secret admirer of trains, and train travel. To this day my parents insist that one of the first things out of my toddler mouth was “Beep-beep, tikka tikka!” when we drove under a railroad bridge one day that had a train passing over the top. A set of tracks for a New York City to points north Amtrak line passed through woods in my home town outside of Springfield, Mass., and me and my friends used to love walking them for half a mile or so any chance we could get. I even had one of my high school senior photos taken standing on those tracks, white denim jacket slung over my shoulder like a bad 1970s fashion model.
I’ve enjoyed watching videos taken from front seats of terrifying roller coasters for quite a while, but those are short and often make me queasy. Anyway, while watching one of those recently I noticed a side link to this Zurich to Geneva ride pictured at he top, two and a half hours in length, and I was hooked.
Now there’s no way I would sit and watch a video like this in one sitting; regardless of what you may have heard, I do possess a life. But fifteen minutes while flossing my teeth late at night? You bet. Keep it going in the corner of my screen while I work on an Excel file or something mindless? Uh-huh.
But sometimes I just want to be on a train that goes a bit faster, so thankfully there’s this high-speed rail journey in Taiwan that lasts 90 minutes and for most of the trip reaches a speed of just under 300 kilometers an hour, accompanied with goofy speed graphics and robotic announcements. The beauty of most of the videos I’ve found is that they have no narration and virtually no announcements, just the occasional clicks of the driver’s controls and soothing sound of wheels on track.
For the true intrepid cab ride train traveler, there is also this marathon, 7.25-hour trek from Bergen in western Norway, across most of the country to Oslo. I just watched the first 45 minutes and I can’t even begin to count how many tunnels, bridges and scenic rivers were part of the route.
Oh yeah, the tunnels. One needs patience when inside those. Sometimes they’re mercifully short, sometimes a bit long and the train has no headlights and it’s a little like riding through a tomb. But the good news is that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel and it’s always a thrill when you re-emerge.
Need a starter set? Okay then, here’s a sweet, 30-minute shorty, from Malmö to Copenhagen, Denmark. There are plenty of others in Spain and Germany to choose from, and even an hour and a half freight train ride from Pittsburgh to Connellsville in icky lo-def that’s going about as fast as my Saturn does in L.A. city traffic.
The prize so far? Without a doubt, it’s this breathtaking epic, the final three-hour leg of a ten-hour journey on the Nordland line from Trondheim to Bode, Norway, a trip that takes you along fjords and up and down mountains and through woods and fishing villages and across a neo-Arctic plain flanked by sun-kissed peaks on both sides, everything covered in virgin snow that gives the train’s wheels a rolling, silky sound and is a more relaxing thing to watch before bedtime than anything else I can imagine. You don’t believe me? Go ahead. Put it on, advance to the 50-minute mark, and just try to turn it off. Just try.
Sweet dreams, travelers…