I love trains

Written by  //  May 17, 2012  //  drive  //  No comments

Spownall and I love trains. Any type of train will do for him but my particular preference is for six seater compartments which convert into sleepers and a viewing carriage at the rear. The dining carriage has lamps on the tables. And one Cary Grant, sitting alone.

If a country I’m travelling through has a decent train, I’m on it. There’s a great one in Peru, between Lake Titicaca and the village at the base of Machu Picchu. Vintage 1920′s glass viewing carriage at rear and a mandatory stop in the middle of nowhere to take photos of village girls with their pom-pom wearing llamas.

Vietnam has a luxury vintage train in the far north, all first class with dedicated double sleeper carriages and tiny ensuite bathrooms. Lamps on tables, lamps in corridors. Lots of miniature and monogrammed things. Wonderful.

But I’ve also had fun in third class in Egypt, where the seats are wooden benches and the carriage will be jam packed with people and their chickens, snakes and enormous laundry bags. It’s slow, hot, it stinks and half the carriage is staring at you. The flat sandy desert dotted with palm trees meanders by, a black ox pulling a plough, a man in jellaba leading his camels. Like being in another time.

We watched The Darjeeling Limited the other night, just another reminder of how I must get to India and travel on some trains. With a large selection of matching suitcases.

There are more than a few excellent train journeys right here on our doorstep that I have yet to try.

First on the to do list is the steam train in the Douro. It’s set to recommence trips in the summer, CP tells me.

The Douro line which heads east from Porto passing through the gorgeous terraces of grape vines which line the Douro River, was constructed at the end of the 19th century to facilitate the marketing of Douro wines into the isolated provinces of Trás-os-Montes and the Alto Douro. Back then the line continued all the way into Spain, ending up in Boadilla-Fuente de San Esteban, near Salamanca. However this long extension was short lived, as upkeep on the line was interrupted by the first world war, the depression and then by the policies of the Estado Novo, which placed little priority on public transport, and railways in particular.

However, the regular train still departs Porto for Regua and connects to the narrow gauge service from Regua to Pocinho. The trip takes 3 hrs.

The 100 year old steam train and its five historic carriages runs only from Regua to Tua, and takes 40 minutes.

The last of the network of narrow gauge lines in the Alto Douro is the branch from Tua to Mirandela, part of which is used by the metro of Mirandela. The Tua line is threatened by the building of the Tua dam. Despite local groups’ fight for the renovation and reopening of old train lines, many services have fallen into disuse only fairly recently.

The Linha do Corga (Vila Real) had a decade or two of planning and investment before being shelved in 2009. Linha do Sabor was closed in 1988, the Linha do Tamega (Amarante) was closed in January this year, and the Linha do Vouga (from Espinho to Viseu) always plagued by accidents, finally closed after a fatal accident last year.

The Linha do Dao, from Santa Combo Dao to Viseu, was in service on and off until 1988 has now been successfully reinvented as a cycle track, and the same is planned for the Vouga line. The Ecopista is a 49km section of the old railway. The course takes you through tunnels, small villages, passed old stations and through countryside. Nice day out.

The CP website has a few charming excursions that seem quite worthwhile. May is the cherry blossom season, and a train trip from Lisbon to Fundão along the Beira Baixa line, plus lunch and a tour of orchards in the Serra da Gardunha is organised on Saturdays. Day trips on the Douro Line are arranged for the almond blossom in March and the grape harvest in September. Overnight adventure trips that include a few hours of canoeing, abseiling, paintball and visits to xisto villages and museums are centred around Viana do Castelo and Rodão (far eastern Beiras).

Thinking further afield, you could take the Lusitânia Comboio Hotel from Lisbon to Madrid overnight, hang out in Madrid for a few days stuffing your face with tapas and cava, and then return by the train or fly. Tickets run between €97 in tourist to €325 for a first class sleeper return.

Or how about a trip to France on the Sud Expresso train which leaves Lisbon-Stª Apolónia every afternoon and arrives in Hendaye the next morning. In luxurious gran class for €278. From Hendaye you can take the TGV to Paris. From Paris you could come back to Madrid on the Francisco de Goya Hotel Train… currently at 50% off, full board in gran class for €300.

Of course the ultimate in train holidays in Europe is the Orient Express. The once a year departure from Paris to Istanbul costs a mere €14 260 for 5 nights. Sigh. Or you could do the mini-route from Paris to Venice for €1980. Sigh again.

A 3hr sprint across France on the TGV can be had for as little as €25, Biarritz – Paris, or perhaps Paris – Aix-En-Provence in first class for €50.

Or perhaps you prefer to go slow. There’s a vintage train tour of Andalusia which makes a loop from Seville to Cadiz via Cordoba and Granada over 6 days for €2400, or there’s the Glacier Express in Switzerland… modern,  but still very slow, covering 168 miles (270 kilometers) over 8 hrs.

Possibly the most scenic trip in Europe is in Norway, on the 6hr Oslo-Bergen railway and a steal when you go with their best offer of about €26.

Eastern Europe has a pile of great train journeys, starting with the luxury Danube Express in Hungary,  the steam train on the Bohinj line in Slovenia and of course the monumental Trans Siberian and Trans Mongolian Express in Russia.

Well, I’m chuffed.

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