Monday, 29 September 2008

Railway nostalgia

Long railway journeys do have a certain romance to them. Now, another journey joins the Orient Express, the Trans Siberian and the Raj Heritage Train  - the Danube Express.

The Telegraph gives a glowing account of a voyage on this train. It sounds as if the worst extremes of nostalgic snobbery  on the one hand and designer fashion so sharp it will cut itself on the other have been avoided.

And this must be a fascinating journey for its Central European heritage. Decades of cold war - and fervent nationalism immediately after the fall of the Iron Curtain - obscured the fact that the area shares a common  background.  (If in doubt, ask any Central European brewer where they buy their equipment from , and what language the manuals are in. Almost certainly German.)

But I have my doubts about whether I'd want to travel this one. First of all the price tag. Over a grand for what is basically a long weekend break? After all, I can get a ticket from Paris to Madrid for just 300 euros. That's not a luxury sleeper - I shared a compartment with five noisy hen party members on my way back to Paris - but the train gets you there just the same.

And secondly, the lack of flexibility. I really wouldn't want to be limited to a few hours in Prague - I'd want to stay a few days.  And while you can do that at the ends of this route, you can't do it in the middle.

I do rather wonder whether this emphasis on luxury trains is blinding us to the fact that railways were invented as a cheap and effective means of mass transport. Yes, I know it's a big world, and there's room for all sorts of transport in it - but you never see the Times or Telegraph talking about taking ordinary trains in India or Africa.

The one I'd want to take, definitely, is the iron train from Zouerat to Nouadhibou, in Mauritania. Not one for the timid - it's cramped, there's a fight to get on, there are no creature comforts, and there's a view of 'nothing', desert all around. (Though regular readers of this blog will know how much I like 'nothing'.)


  1. I haven't travelled on this train yet, but it's certainly on my list of "must do's"