It's no secret that I have a masochistic fascination with train travel - see my December posts on my attempt to take the train home for Christmas for reference. I can make my mother hang up on me by merely mentioning that I'm taking the train home for Christmas again; my father gladly aids and abets. In my plans (as I tell my mother), this year I'm taking the train west to California, where I can then take a Southern route to Atlanta, rather than having to go to Chicago, the only direction trains go from Denver. I figure this way I'll run into less bad weather (in case you missed my Christmas train adventures, metal tracks contract when they're cold), which I thought would make my mother happy. My father and I have now progressed in our machinations to him flying to California to meet me, and then we'll take the train home together from San Francisco. So, if this winter is as bad as they're predicting, my dad and I will be spending Christmas in El Paso. My mother's silence is filled with anger.
While I was in England I took the opportunity to take the train from Bristol to Birmingham. Granted, it was just a two hour trip, but nowhere in England is actually more than a few hours away (unless you're trying to drive, where upon you realize that their roads don't go anywhere useful and they don't have road signs telling you where you are or where you're going). Meanwhile, I've always heard that trains actually work in England/Europe, and I was ready to test this hypothesis.
Firstly, I found the train situation very confusing – the trains don’t have numbers like planes and US trains, they have final destinations and departure times. Birmingham is not the end-of-the-line for any train. After a week of drinking and very little sleep, this was quite daunting. There also weren’t any employees on the platform to point clueless Americans in the right direction. Luckily I happen to glance my destination on the list of stops for the Edinburgh train, so I cast my dice and got on that train. On the platform I was instantly faced with the painful realization that neither the outside or inside of my train looked like the Hogwarts Express, and I died a little inside. All British trains should look like the Hogwarts Express by principle - have they no national pride? The cars on the train also aren’t labeled, and all I had was a seat number, so I went in and out of several cars before I found that some man was sitting in my seat – at that point I figured it was just a free-for-all. Sitting on the train in the station I realized no one had yet checked my ticket; apparently I didn't need to buy a ticket after all and England is run on the honor system. Excuse me, honour system. I could have just gotten on any train I had wanted to without ever buying a ticket, in fact I seriously contemplated staying on the train and just continuing to Scotland. I could have gotten better prices on Scotch there. However, after a few stops someone finally came around to check tickets, so I guess I would have been busted…or could have just hidden in the bathroom. Sometimes it's just too easy it's not even worth it.
On the train, I was sitting across from an old man who didn’t realize I couldn’t hear him if I had headphones on and started drinking Guinness at 10:30am. What can I say, I liked him...even if we didn't understand each other very well. But towards the end of my trip he started telling me that we were taking an unplanned detour around the city and were at least an hour behind schedule. I immediately lost all faith in the British rail system and considered all trains a failed way of travel. I also started texting my friend meeting me in Birmingham that I was going to be late. Five minutes later we pulled into the station on time. I regained my faith in non-American trains as an acceptable way to travel, but learned to never trust people with accents.