Friday, May 19, 2006

Train 15: travelling together again

Part of being an annoying boyfriend requires an ability to know the answer to everything that your partner would ask you in an arrogant tone of voice that gives the impression you're not making it up. As we pull into our first station stop at Truro, BMM asks me exactly where Truro is. I'm on the verge of bluffing an answer to hide my apalling lack of knowledge in eastern Canadian geography when the train comes a convenient halt alongside a map of Nova Scotia, painted as part of Truro's colourful station mural. A useful 'You are here' arrow comes to my rescue.

For the last three weeks I've been travelling on my own. I've always been an independent traveller, and this has been a wonderful voyage to make as a solo traveller, because there are always other friendly passengers around to pass the time of day with. However, today, I'm seeing the train in a different light, travelling with my long term and long distance girlfriend. We've lived in different countries for almost two years now, not entirely out of choice but out of a commitment to lead our own lives until such time as our paths cross more conveniently - that being this autumn, when I return to the UK.

On all the trains of this trip up to now, I've passed the time reading, listening to music, talking to other passengers and just looking out of the window. Surprisingly, it's the last of those activities that occupies the two of us for much of the afternoon, as we enter New Brunswick and race towards Québec. The 'Ocean' takes a very elongated route between Montréal and Halifax, describing a huge arc that remains inside Canada rather than following the more direct route (as plied by the now extinct 'Atlantic' train) through the state of Maine, which juts up into Canada. So we have plenty of time to curl up together and just stare out of the window. We have some newspapers (including a precious copy of the Independent on Sunday brought all the way from London) and books to read, but time after time I find we are both staring out of the window. This is the joy of the train. There are, realistically, very few people who are in such a rush, or who value their time so highly to take a plane on such a journey. Twenty hours might seem like a long time compared to travelling by aeroplane, but then that's how long it takes, and how long it should take. This month long trip has proved to me that I really do enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

There have been individual days or hours when I have been very tired with the train. Approaching Toronto, for instance, or crossing northern California, on the last afternoons of long distance train journeys, I have experienced the frustration of a train journey that took longer than I was mentally prepared for. But overall, as I head towards my thirtieth day 'on the rails', I am still a passionate fan of the train, and would take one tomorrow to another far flung city. It is, as VIA Rail describe with their company motto, the human way to travel.

From this point on, I will be doing everything I can to avoid having to travel by commercial aeroplane ever again. As a student, I can afford the time, and as someone sensitive to the environment, I can happily avoid pumping thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by not taking the train instead of the plane. I have more room, less stress, and more time to think.

Besides... this is more fun.

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