Travelling on trains

Across Mongolia

Across Mongolia

I am about to start on a 3 week trip to the North Island of New Zealand which includes a train trip, the Auckland Wellington Northern Explorer, described by The Man in Seat Sixty One as epic 681 kilometre (423 mile) journey right across the interior of the North Island, taking you in a single day past every kind of scenery there is, from coastline to volcanoes to mountains, from lush green farmland to thick New Zealand rainforest.

This has made me think about the train journeys I have done and why I am so enamoured of travelling by train.

The first was on the Tasman Limited from Hobart to Launceston Tasmania when I was about 12. The trip was about 4 hours and a hostess in a green uniform with green check cap came and took your lunch order and bought the food back on a wooden tray. Passenger trains no longer run in Tasmania and one line in Hobart is now a bike track.

Then there were the trips to Melbourne when we first moved to live in Sydney, always at night and sitting up. The most memorable was with 2 children under 5, Emma at 18 months with a throat infection. What were we thinking? Seemed to be the cheapest way to get to Melbourne to go to Hobart for a wedding. Doctor prescribed Phenergyn to help her sleep. However in our case it woke her up and we took it in turns to walk up and down the train with a wide a wake toddler all night. The Phenergyn was thrown away for the return trip and I guess we all slept as I have no recall of that trip.

Obviously I did not learn as with Emma aged 3 I set off to my brother’s wedding in Perth on the Indian Pacific, I did not have to pay for Emma and we topped and tailed a single bunk in a tiny cabin. That went very well. The restaurant staff put us at the early dinner with another woman who was travelling by herself with a small child and the trip was great.

Next was a trip on The Ghan in 2003 from Alice Springs to Sydney, the line did not go to Darwin then. I really enjoyed this trip but my companion was quite sure the train was going to leap off the tracks as it was not a smooth ride. Later this year I plan to return from Perth on the Indian Pacific. The carriages seem to have little changed since my trip in 1979 but the food is terrific and the scenery wonderful.

The next train journey was the Trans Mongolian Railway from Hong Kong to St Petersburg. As I was to be so close to Europe I continued on by train to St Pancras in London. This trip only wetted my appetite for more train journeys.     So many great experiences.

The most extraordinary was on the train from Guangzhou to Xian, a trip of about 30 hours. Our group were in 4 bed ‘soft sleepers’, 3 group members in my compartment and one couple who had a compartment to themselves. I awoke in the middle of the night to a stationary train and 2 members of our group packing up. The couple in the compartment to themselves had refused to allow two Chinese travellers access to the compartment they were in. The train did not move, more and more officials arrived with more and more gold braid and the makings of an international incident. Then one of our group negotiated with the aforesaid couple that 2 of our group could share the compartment. By this time the first Chinese travellers were placed in another part of the train. My companions moved, the train moved and I went back to sleep.

I awoke the next morning to soft noises and saw him in the bed across from me.

Baby in next bed on train from Ghanzhou to Xian

Baby in next bed on train from Guangzhou to Xian

He was accompanied by his grandmother, sharing the bed and his father in the bunk above. I then had a fascinating time communicating with the grandmother, who I initially thought was his mother, and who spoke no English. I held the baby while she went to the bathroom and I showed her pictures of my grandchildren. I felt I was the winner in the potentially unpleasant situation in the middle of the night.

PS. The travel documents explained clearly that it was not possible for 2 people to have sole access to a compartment on this train.


Filed under Travel

13 responses to “Travelling on trains

  1. elephantwoman

    I loved this post Pat and of course, completely understand your love of train travel, though Sydney to Melbourne on a slow train seems unthinkable these days! I had really wanted to do a huge cross-continental train trip this year but it’s not feasible, though I have travelled an awful lot on trains in Europe this year and it’s been wonderful. I particularly enjoy listening to music and looking out the window, or otherwise writing letters. I do have a few more train trips coming up in Italy as well as France soon, you’ve inspired me to write a post about train travel too sometime. Hope you enjoy the trip through the North Island!


    • Thanks Sheila. Air fares are so much cheaper these days but after spending nearly as much time checking in and going through security as it took to fly to Auckland I yearned for trains


  2. Liz Posmyk of Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things

    Hi Pat… I don’t seem to be getting your posts, please would you add me to the list…

    I need to scroll through your stories, as I am keen to read about your travels! Hope this latest journey has gone well for you xo


    • Hi Liz
      Thanks for visiting. You will need to click on the follow link on right side bar and enter your email address to receive emails.
      I get so much pleasure from your blog. Good luck with the changes.
      I am not sure where I am going with mine as it was started to keep a record for family but it is others who comment.


  3. Mike

    As one who accompanied you between Beijing and St Petersburg in 2008 (unmistakeable photograph!) I wish you a great train journey across North Island and a happy stay there. I, too, am thinking of travelling on the Indian Pacific (Eastbound) but early next year. Meanwhile, some more Spanish rail travel is lined up for July …


  4. Sue

    Looking forward to the travel tales!


  5. Pat, I love train travel too 🙂 I think it’s the early life modelling that helps. I still rejoice in our own small journey to/from Sid-an-ee. And am thinking toward my first Indian-Pacific sometime this year…


    • The trains are an important reason why I live here. The Indian Pacific lets you see Australia from a different view and for me it is also illustrates the vastness of country.


  6. LaVagabonde

    There’s something nostalgic and even romantic about train travel. What an amazing experience the Trans Mongolian route must have been. I love the photo. Have a wonderful time on your trip. 🙂


    • Thanks for your comment Julie. You have been and stayed in so many terrific places. Sometimes there are aspects of train travel where it can be hard to see the ‘romantic’ but even then much more so than planes.


  7. Julie Hutcheson


    can you please update my subscription email? Or I will miss out.

    ta J


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