When I write about my railroad journeys around the world, whether it’s crossing Canada by train, taking the Orient Express, or going almost all the way to the North Cape, the eyes of readers fill with longing and yearning. Some consider train travel for the first time. Others quit their job right away, in order to set off next Monday with the suburban train one last time, on a train journey around the world.
But this is an honest and realistic travel blog. That’s why I don’t want to hide the fact that train travel also includes moments when you find yourself at the train station in Žiar nad Hronom in Slovakia before 6 o’clock on an October morning, waiting for the train to Šurany and for the sun to rise.
Once again, I noticed: The people who get up the earliest are railway workers and students. And of course travelers like me, who prefer to leave extremely early, if only to buy time to take it slow during the day, with spontaneous breaks whenever I feel like it.
By the way, the combination of getting up early, fresh air and chilly temperatures makes you both awake and puts you in a happy, energetic mood. Highly recommended!
And if you do need a coffee in order to wake up properly: The restaurant in front of the train station in Žiar nad Hronom is of course already open by 6 am. Of course I could also step inside the train station, with its warm waiting hall.
In many countries in Eastern Europe, the railway infrastructure is heaps better than in most other parts of the world. Even smaller stations will have opening hours either “from 4 am to 11 pm” or at least “always 30 minutes before the departure of a train”.
And at every station, even the ones where the train doesn’t stop, the stationmaster steps out of his cozy home to pay tribute to the passing train, his coworkers and the passengers.
Well, that’s how beautiful we could have it everywhere, if we hadn’t starved the railroads to death, depriving them of any investment. In many countries around the world, the railroad is a mere shadow of its former glory, with more and more lines being given up, stops cancelled, railway stations abandoned.
There are parts of the world where you could travel faster by railroad 100 years ago than you can today. And many connections are totally defunct, most famously the Berlin-Baghdad Railway and the Hejaz Railway.
We should regard the railroad as a public service and as the veins that unite the nation and the continent, not as a profane corporation. In Slovakia, this almost philanthropic approach can also be seen in its prices. They charge about 5 euros per 100 km, and pupils, students and seniors can take the train for free. This also applies to foreign seniors, by the way, in case you were still looking for an affordable holiday destination.