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.