Planes, Trains & Automobiles was a popular 1980s movie that I was too young to appreciate, let alone allowed to see by my parents. Yet my life from May to the present has consisted of all three modes of transportation. You can throw in a boat for good measure, if you would like. For those Stateside, many are only familiar with their personal SUVs, trucks, and muscle cars with the occasional plane ride mixed in for the winter getaway to the Sun Belt or a Mexico holiday. Unless you are Amtrak Joe, you likely have had more time playing with a train set at Christmas time, than actually riding one with any consistency.
Before I ventured across the pond, (yes I will overuse that phrase in the years ahead), I took a twelve hour jaunt from Boston to the Washington DC area. In a previous post I might have said eight, but what’s a few hours among friends with a three hour bus ride thrown in for good measure? The point being that if you were around me after my train ride and the thousand stop journey, including a point where I thought I would have to get out and push (somewhere across Long Island Sound), you would know I flew back to Maine not wanting to see what punishment the train could cause to the other side of my neck for a return trip.
I also was quick to point out to anyone that would listen that Poland trains were far superior to anything the USA had to offer and I would be content riding them whenever that might be. Fast forward to the present and three separate round trip journeys. I went three hours north to Warsaw to spend time in my favorite park. That was a disappointment between the unkempt trees, the added graffiti, and a restaurant that was long shuttered and left for squatters. My trip was saved though with an early morning run through Lazienki Park and glimpses of royalty and a palace that I had overlooked on previous trips. I loved the entire scene, even with the light chilly rain that fell throughout my jaunt. The only part missing was a partner in crime to stroll with in some Victorian recreation.
There was a point here somewhere, aside from the fact that also on that run I smiled at the anti war messages painted roadside in front of the Russian embassy, and that point was that riding the train was not how I remembered.
The wagon or carriage, whatever we want to call it, was clean and that was a given. First class where one paid a few extra Euros for the right to share a cabin with five strangers as opposed to an open seating area with others was underwhelming. I think I was hoping for either a cabin straight out of Harry Potter or one that’s so common in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc with the four sleeper racks. It might also prove my age that the last time I was on a real train that didn’t serve only as a city’s metro system was from Yaroslavl to Saint Petersburg for an overnight journey. This was during my undergrad years.
As for the train from Krakow to Warsaw and back, the seats were comfortable enough. I had a corner seat, thankfully so I didn’t have to be wedged in between anyone. Granted it’s not like I’m dealing with Americans on these trains. Obesity is nowhere the same in this country so the uncomfortableness some people feel say on planes Stateside has not been my reality here thus far.
The only issue in the shared quarters is people having to negotiate where they put their legs and their bags. Certain individuals who I can’t name because well I simply glared at them in disgust have no issue lugging their oversized wheeled bags into the cabin and leaving it in the middle as a stage prop. There is no qualms about throwing multiple bags on the rack above our heads even if it looks like there is only space for one bag per person.
Once people get settled there is a wide cross section on the proper dos and don’ts that depending on one’s age dictates certain protocols. I believe that people expect it to be quiet in the carriage but then again that doesn’t stop some from taking phone calls, watching movies without earphones, and playing music. Granted this is usually done when people don’t expect their cabin buddies to return.
I had that blessing when I went for a bathroom trip on my return ride from Jaroslaw. I was gone a few minutes and this older woman was blasting her phone to Tik Tok videos. After a death stare, and the fact I mouthed some choice words whether she understood them or not, she put the phone away and went on to read her Vogue magazine.
While it’s slightly off topic at this junction another older woman was looking for her seat. I don’t know if she was blind or just confused but the seat numbers are to the left of each door. After the conductor checked our tickets and identification, a minute or two passed and the conductor returned with this same woman. She pointed to the far window seat where my Tik Tok wanna be had transplanted herself.
There was a weird exchange, because clearly my buddy had taken the wrong seat on purpose. She planted her three bags above her head and her coat as well. Begrudgingly she slid over, directly across from me. She wouldn’t even move her bags without some prompting. I watched the entire exchange and wondered why she thought she was better than the others in this compartment. Come on now why can’t she have the window seat?
The blind bitty, left and then returned two times with a multitude of bags. My favorite part was when she unceremoniously extended the table and plopped her reading material down. I swear she gave a cross eye to the Tik Tok lady. I might have wanted to see a cat fight but aside from a snarky “Dzien Dobry,” it was rather mellow. Things went quiet after that with eventually naptime ensuing for the elderly in my area. Look at the ingenious way to keep out the light in the photo below.
I wouldn’t trade this train ride with Warsaw or my trip to Lubliniec because for once I didn’t have to hear the banter of couples who decided the hallway was the best place for a two hour long conversation. Or did I have to watch those same passengers linger in front of our window to stretch their legs.
But best of all, or should I write “the most classic moment” is that I didn’t have to sit across from two guys who decided that finishing the bottle of vodka before 11am on our way to a pilgrimage site was a good idea. Those old timers started with soda and then changed over using two small plastic cups for cover. The best exchange was watching one of them debate on where to throw out the 1 liter bottle.
Riding the train is eventful that’s for certain. There are informal rules but already I have seen them broken by many. Nevertheless, I prefer this method of travel. Where else can I enjoy the views of the countryside and see a country I never truly explored from the vantage point of a leather seat?
I imagine there is more to discuss on this topic but like my train rides time goes quickly. I promise a part two to trains, but we’ll get off at this station and plan for another ride together in the near future. Till next time.
Eighteen plus years as a published author, Jonathan has been independent the last eleven. With readers across forty-seven countries and six continents, he has readers around the world. Writing across genres, he loves good dialogue and flawed characters.