An Ode to Slow Travel - Trains of My Past & Future
For all of you who were around at the beginning of my blog in July 2014, you witnessed the fact that I went on a three week, summer road trip from Miami to Boston and back. I got to see plenty of old friends in DC and Boston, had a family reunion on Long Island, experienced the best dinner of my life with my boyfriend in Manhattan, and then went with my Dad to visit his alma mater in upstate. It was an amazing (and exhausting!) adventure through America, all seen out of my bug-splattered windshield.
That was one of many road trips I've taken in the past five years. If you can't tell, I love slow travel. Buses, cars, trains, motorbikes, boats, bicycles, my own two feet. I enjoy being able to witness the changing scenery. To feel the wonder that comes with realizing I'd driven through twelves states, just me and my Toyota and the road, is a beautiful thing. Cars are clearly the easiest mode of transportation in America, but it's trains that have stolen my heart.
The First Love
I've been intrigued by train travel for close to a decade now. At the age of 16, I decided to go abroad for a year as a foreign exchange student in Germany. When I flew into Frankfurt on that first day, I was so jet lagged that I only had the energy to get on the ICE train towards my host family's home in Wuppertal and then abruptly fall asleep.
Halfway through the train ride, I awoke to pure magic. The Rhine was flowing beside me, and lush, winery covered hills rose up steeply around the river valley. Picturesque villages dotted the landscape, and the ruins of ancient castles perched upon the tops of surrounding mountains. These were the first moments that I laid my eyes on Germany, and it was unforgettable. I was hooked.
A train ride like that at such a young age does something to the soul. It makes you crave more. More beauty. More adventure. More breathtaking moments of feeling truly alive. And that's what's wrong with me now. Nothing back home in the US, sitting in one place, ever feels as good to my heart as traveling does. I've been blissfully ruined, and I wouldn't change a thing.
The Wild Fling
Fast forward to the summer of 2012 when I'd just finished college. I decided to become an English teacher in north Vietnam as my first, post-graduation job. But this ode to slow travel isn't about my day-to-day teaching life- it's about the thrilling transportation experiences that I encountered all throughout this mesmerizing, Southeast Asian country.
Based off of my time in Vietnam, I'd have to say that it's not a place you go to relax. Rather, it's a country to visit if you'd love to assault your senses. You'll have the most delicious food of your life here sitting roadside, cooking BBQ on a tiny grill as hundreds of scooters roar by throwing exhaust in your face. And you'll have about 259 beautiful epiphanies about life as you motorbike past bucolic rice fields and lush hillsides. The wind rushing against your face, bugs splattering onto your body at high speed... it's quite the experience. This country is passionately seductive and insanely abrasive, all at the same time.
But the trains. Oh, the trains. These glorious, terrifying forms of Soviet-era transportation are the perfect microcosm of Vietnam. On my first 10-hour ride down the coast along the South China Sea, an ancient woman with a cage full of squawking chickens on her seat decided to stick her bare feet upon my shoulder and get cozy in my personal space for half the trip. On one overnight ride, I got the interesting experience of having to bunk with two Vietnamese men who basically set up a gambling ring in our room and communicated jokes to me through crazy hand gestures.
The train's toilet is a once-in-a-lifetime experience in itself. No bowl or platform to sit on, you just grab onto a metal bar for balance, squat precariously over a hole, and pray that the train doesn't sway too much. At any second, Vietnamese trains sound like they're going to go careening off the track into a mountain. So you can imagine that bathroom sloshing is essential to life in Vietnam. It's part of the charm of slow travel. Ridiculous stories and laughs all around.
The Sweep Me Off My Feet Romance
Though it hasn't happened yet, this morning I'll embark on my longest and most epic train trip yet! I begin my dream ride in San Francisco and will cross through 18 states on my way back home to Miami. It'll take 5 whole days, and the train will climb up the Sierra Nevada Mountains and then go through the Rocky Mountains a couple of days later. I'll see deserts, plains, and the Great Lakes. I'm going to meet other interesting travelers who are just as crazy as me.
I literally couldn't be more excited! With driving, you always have to be alert- but as a train passenger, I can drink wine while reading a book and looking out over gorgeous scenery. I'll post more about the experience once it's over, but I can't wait to show you what my minuscule sleeper car looks like. Also, there will be many train tips to come for those of you who've never considered vacationing on Amtrak and are curious about how to do it!
I hope through this post you could feel how much I love slow travel. It's a completely different way to experience a country- more romantic than air travel and more relaxing than driving a car. I would totally recommend a train trip to anyone who enjoys the journey more than the destination. So have you ever gone on an epic train ride? Tell us more about your slow travel experiences in the comments below!
See you back in Miami next week,