Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fun on trains

One of the few redeeming aspects of the recent spike in oil prices is that it might finally force a critical mass of Americans off of the road and onto the rails. I have been an avid train fan since I was 5 years old, and I still get a huge kick out of traveling by train. Currently I am in a brand new, state of the art sleeping compartment that I have all to myself on an overnight train trip from Vienna to Rijeka, a city in northern Croatia. Even though Croatia isn’t even in the European Union and was engaged in a horrible war until about 1995, this is a nicer sleeper car than you would find anywhere in the USA.
Another thing I have often enjoyed about train travel in Europe is that on some trains, you can pull the window down and stick your head out, like a golden retriever in a car. Now of course there are signs on the window saying you shouldn’t do this, and I’ve heard of at least one person being killed this way, but who cares- it’s one of the greatest feelings of freedom in the world to do this. Generally speaking, if you want to lean out a window on the right side of the train, you should wait until the track curves to the right somewhat (and the reverse is true for the left side). This way you can see what obstacles could be in your way (e.g. trains in the other direction, trees, poles, etc.). Then, once your head is out the window, you can typically see obstacles in advance even when the train is going straight ahead or curving to the left a little bit.
Americans might find it odd that this is still possible in 21st century Europe, since the legal risks this pasttime presents meant that it would be impossible to even contemplate being able to do this in the USA. But while Europe (and especially Austria) can be overly bureaucratic, it tends not to be overly legalistic, like the USA. So you can still get away with sticking your head out the window and letting your cares fly by.

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