You know why I like to travel?
I like to travel because it makes me think. Oh sure, I think when I’m at home, but it’s usually about things like why the fridge is making that weird noise.
When I travel I think Big Thoughts.
The pandemic gave me wanderlust like a rash so I’ve been getting out and about again. Three big thoughts unpacked themselves while on a recent trip. One is attributed to Al Gore. He made the observation that air travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo. This grim insight is shared by just about anyone who’s been on a flight of more than five hours duration. Flying ain’t what it used to be.
Air travel is nature’s way of making you
look like your passport photo.
Next in the queue for consideration was a remark by Mahatma Gandhi: “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” And finally, I pondered a pronouncement by one of the great sages of the modern era, Bugs Bunny: “You’s gotta unlax.” This is the advice Bugs offers to Marvin the Martian in his frantic efforts to escape the Tasmanian Devil, and aren’t we all, in some way, trying to escape a Tasmanian Devil?
These thoughts occurred to me because I was traveling by train.
Specifically, the two day, one night, Rocky Mountaineer ‘Rockies to the Red Rocks’ train route from Denver, Colorado to Moab, Utah. These thoughts arrived while I was sipping a glass of prosecco, keeping an eye out for bighorn sheep, counting fly fishermen, and trying to come up with adjectives to describe the shimmering golden aspen that provided a counterpoint to the Windex-blue sky. Blissfully exasperated, I would stretch out my legs and return to my book while my glass was refilled as if by magic.
I would not have had these thoughts on a plane.
A very different, recent trip was bookended with 5 a.m. check-in times for 8 a.m. flight departures, interminable security line-ups, connections in distant terminals, and seven hour layovers. The flight itself was something to be endured, pretzels be damned. Al was right: I looked worse than my passport photo when I arrived – and that’s saying a great deal.
“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
You can drive from Denver to Moab in about eight hours, but why would you want to? The Rockies to the Red Rocks train route takes the long, luxurious, relaxing way, weaving through lush valleys and spectacular canyons while sedately cutting over the spine of the Americas, the Continental Divide. This is travel on a human scale. Conversations develop over fine meals and white linens. Shoulders unknot and a kind of rapture settles in. Gandhi was right: there is more to life than simply increasing its speed.
When flying, I tend to get quite excited when the pilot comes over the speakers with information about something visible to ‘those of you on the right-hand side of the plane’. I am, invariably, on the left-hand side. That doesn’t happen on the train. Glass domed railway coaches bestow unobstructed views of some of the most iconic scenery in the world and a railway raconteur provides a running commentary on the history and geography; the legends and lore that accompanies railway tracks. You close your book and imagine other times, other lives. You’re taking Bugs’ advice: You’s is unlaxxing.
“You’s gotta unlax!”
Vancouver’s own Rocky Mountaineer is one of the frontrunners in the global railway revival. New routes are opening up everywhere. To reduce carbon footprints, there’s talk of restricting domestic flights in Europe where the destination is available by train inside of 2.5 hours. But outside of environmental concerns, rail travel offers a return to comfort, a return to a sense of a splendid journey.
Given the choice, I’ll take the train.
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This week’s question for readers:
WHAT ARE YOUR TRAIN TRAVEL EXPERIENCES? HAVE YOU TAKEN ANY OF THE LUXURY TRAIN TRIPS?
Submissions to last week’s question:
What makes a good houseguest? Any horror stories to share?
Our two bedroom home in the Okanagan was already strained with three active youngsters, but you couldn’t say no to Albertan friends (with their three active youngsters) who were travelling with a tent-trailer and asked if they could park in our backyard. What we didn’t expect was that they, in turn, would be having guests! As the week wore on, two pup-tents appeared as their relatives arrived from the coast. All very jolly. The communal meals we managed but I remember quite a lineup for the one bathroom we had.
Hosting house guests and being a house guest offers unique insights into the world. You learn so much more about a place and a people when you embed yourself with a resident. My family used to host exchange students. I learned so much from them about their cultures. Maybe the world needs more of this sort of thing?
The problem of overstaying as articulated by the greatest punk Texas Swing band of all time: Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks:
‘How can I miss you when you won’t go away?
I keep telling you day after day
But you won’t listen, you always stay and stay
How can I miss you when you won’t go away?’
Moving from Toronto to the Okanagan in the 1980s was a revelation with regard to houseguests. The best connected weeks before they arrived, double-checked a week or so before their arrival, asked what they could bring and inevitably arrived armed with treats to be enjoyed together. They were welcomed with open arms and invited back, year after year, not just because of their good manners but because they understood how much effort goes into hosting and were only too happy to share the work.
Long ago and far away, I do remember making breakfast for two children while their parents stayed in bed!
My wife trained me well. After her tutelage, one host said I was the best guest they had ever had! My wife was very happy.
1. Bring a gift – personal touch is welcome
2. Pitch in – cook; clean dishes
3. Give space – have your own schedule. Hosts are not your designated tour guides unless they desire
4. Be considerate – if returning late or an early AM flight – quiet as a mouse!
5. Chip in – your treat meals out/delivery
5. Leave it spotless – change the sheets, clean the bathroom – better than when you came