Live, write on a train....

When I did my many month’s long tour of Europe, i discovered that my Eurail pass was as good for housing as for travel. Done with seeing a city, I’d take an overnight train to another, arriving first thing in the morning well-rested to see the city. That saved a lot of time and money.

The Washington Post has an article about a young German woman, Leonie Müller, who decided she’d had enough of apartment rent and landlords. Her solution was to get a rail pass and live on board. … orld_pop_b

Would that work for a writer? Maybe, maybe not. The logistics of traveling and getting meals often leaves little time or energy for writing. But if rapidly changing scenery would help your overcome writer’s block, it might be worth considering.

If you can read German, she has a blog here:

I wonder if German trains have free WiFi?

–Michael W. Perry, editor of Across Asia on a Bicycle

It sounds like my idea of hell. But then again, the German train system is a lot better than the UK one, so perhaps it’s not as ghastly as it sounds. Only a lunatic would choose to live on a train in my part of the UK! You wouldn’t get a seat, the carriage would be grubby, either the lights or the air conditioning wouldn’t be working (possibly both), and you’d spend half your time stuck in the middle of nowhere, wondering when you were going to start moving again, squashed into a corner by drunken youths all talking loudly about football and gulping strawberry Kopparberg at eight o’clock in the morning.

Quite true. In 1978, when I roamed Europe by rail, I was not impressed by what my Britrail pass offered. Nationalization had joined together radically different commercial rail systems and maintenance on most seemed poor, so poor I wondered how long most routes would suvive. The only real plus was that I wasn’t crammed like a sardine into a bus.

In contrast, Northern European trains were marvelous, although I would have hated to pay the ticket prices if I hadn’t had my Eurail pass. My first month of traveling more than paid for my three-month pass. I went from Paris up to Narvik in Norway above the Arctic circle to Finland’s chilly border with the USSR and back as far south as Geneva.

The real change in European trains, and one that would make me think twice about living on a train now, is the altered seating. When I did my roaming. all but the very high-speed trains had compartments with bench-like seating. That gave you a more privacy in the daytime and at night the seats could be converted into beds. No need to try to sleep sitting up in the airline-like seating they have today. That I would hate.

I took a lot of night trains and it was off season, so as soon as four people were in a compartment, we’d close the curtains, fold down the seats and go to sleep with as much room as when paying for a sleeper compartment. That was nice. Night travel saved me a lot of time and not needing accommodations saved a lot of money.

Recently, I’ve toyed with using today’s more complex equivalents of Eurail passes to write a book. One idea would be to see just how many miles I could travel by train in a month, stopping as little as possible. Another and more interesting approach would be to set up a way to randomize my travel decisions. I’d have a list of to-dos prepared blindly. One might say that, having come to a station, I’d take the third train that would leave, wherever bound, and ride to its fifth stop, getting off and following the next set of steps.

As a result, I’d roam Europe totally at random, doing my best to meet people. The result would be a book about that experience.

I’m highly unlike to do that, so feel free to run with the idea yourself. If you’re good at capturing the people you meet, it would be a marvelous book. If nothing else, it’d be a great adventure.

Now I’m more inclined to focus on a single city rather that blitz around. I’d like to see the cities in Eastern Europe I could not see before because of the Cold War. And I’d like to travel to them by private bus (very cheap but crowded) and spend weeks in each city, long enough to get a feel for the culture.

And of course, I’d love to find some inexpensive way to spend at least six months in London. Samuel Johnson was right when he said, “When you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life.” There’s a lot I would love to see in London and nearby (Bletchley, Churchill’s home etc.) that I couldn’t get to before.

–Mike Perry

Mike, are you familiar with the pre WW2 exploits of the late Patrick Leigh Fermur
He’s reputed to one of UKs foremost travel writers

[i]At the age of eighteen, Patrick Leigh Fermor set off from the heart of London on an epic journey—to walk to Constantinople. A Time of Gifts is the rich account of his adventures as far as Hungary, after which Between the Woods and the Water continues the story to the Iron Gates that divide the Carpathian and Balkan mountains. Acclaimed for its sweep and intelligence, Leigh Fermor’s book explores a remarkable moment in time. Hitler has just come to power but war is still ahead, as he walks through a Europe soon to be forever changed—through the Lowlands to Mitteleuropa, to Teutonic and Slav heartlands, through the baroque remains of the Holy Roman Empire; up the Rhine, and down to the Danube.

At once a memoir of coming-of-age, an account of a journey, and a dazzling exposition of the English language, A Time of Gifts is also a portrait of a continent already showing ominous signs of the holocaust to come.[/i]
:unamused:Gleaned from Amazon’s site: … igh+Fermor
Take care

Thanks vic-k for letting me know about Patrick Leigh Fermur. I’m planning to read his A Time for Gifts. Sounds fascinating.

He and I have one unusual thing in common. He wrote his best-known travel books not shortly after his trip, but as memoirs of long-past events. I’m been writing a series of books about when I cared for children and teens at a major children’s hospital a bit over thirty years afterward. What happened then seemed to have circulated in my unconsciousness, surfacing with meanings attached. Alas, in my case I kept no diary. I have to patch together the chronology.

I’m fascinated by first-person accounts of historic events. My interest in history flows from reading William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich as a kid too young for such a lengthy book. Some criticize the book for his historical judgments, but they can’t escape the fact that he was seeing what happened as it happened.

In Berlin Diary Shirer followed behind the Germany army as it raced across Belgium into France. He notes one reason for Germany’s success. Its youth had grown up vigorously and out-of-doors thanks to the Hitler Youth. Britain and France had done nothing to prepare their youth for physical demands of any sort. They were pale, weak and out of shape. The fighting was most unequal.

It’s also interestin how Shirer got the material for Berlin Diary out of Nazi Germany. Weeks before he was to leave, he filled a sturdy box with all sorts of material and asked the Gestapo to pre-approve its shipment. Near the bottom was his diary. Near the top he placed a military map that he knew could not be taken out.

The Gestapo official did a cursory exam, finding the map but assuming that no one would dare to deceive the Gestapo so boldly. When he finished, he sealed the box with a steel band and a Gestapo seal. When Shirer left Germany, all he needed to do was point to that seal to pass through without an inspection. Most clever!

Thanks again for the recommendation.

–Michael W. Perry, My Nights with Leukemia

A reason to avoid UK trains: … ost-trains

The article is actually about ‘ghost’ trains and is quite interesting.

Train fans should enjoy the article.

–Mike Perry. Inkling Books

I’ve taken a couple long-distance trains (Chicago to LA, Seattle to Boston). If you’ve got a sleeper car, it’s amazing, especially on the 3-5 day trips. That having been said, someone else would have to foot the bill. It’s about as expensive as flying first class. (Although you do get your meals included, plus access to a shower.)

Just outside of Glacier National Park:

Here’s an article about various options for crossing the U.S. by train with lots of pictures. … -just-213/

One advantage of trains is that they often travel on routes different from highways and that can mean marvelous scenery. The seating is almost always more ample than buses much less economy class on planes.

And here’s an article on Trans-Siberian Express, again with great pictures. … -for-1000/

You could write a mystery and call it Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express.

–Mike Perry, Inkling Books

When we first emigrated to Canada, my father decided that we should see the country we had moved to. So, we landed in Halifax, on the Atlantic ocean and boarded a train to Toronto, roughly a day and bit’s travel to the west. From there we took a train non-stop to Vancouver, where we were to live… Took 3 and a bit days of virtually non-stop travel…I’d never seen a country so big…
Of course, like you say, to repeat that today would be the equivalent of 2 weeks’ stay at a top resort, in terms of money…

Cool! Some friends of mine took a trip from Montreal to Vancouver by train. It took them about a week, but I’m told it was absolutely gorgeous.

It’s an amazing trip that was, unfortunately somewhat wasted on me, as a kid. I just wanted to get there, you know?