It all started with the movie "Before Sunrise." I watched this film a week before joining United Airlines, and immediately envisioned a grand rail trip through Europe. On the journey, I'd meet a handsome foreign stranger, we'd engage in intellectual intercourse for hours and then skip off from the station to some remote, romantic bridge for a sunset kiss. I've never once traveled the rails during any of my international trips, so this fairy tale remains buried in my mind. Such train encounters seem less likely in today's world, where everyone's face is buried in mobile devices and laptops, yet I'd like to believe they're still possible mostly because romance and the rails remain intertwined in a lot of societies. I most recently saw it in Wolsztyn, Poland, home to an operating steam locomotive. The locomotive itself is very cool, but my attention was initially drawn to this beautiful wedding couple on the track.
1. Why are trains and the rails associated with romance? I'm not sure but the theme is pervasive in a lot of wedding photography and both old and modern films. I suppose it's because in the early days of travel trains were the only way to escape or go on a grand journey. And romance, well it's an escape from the normal pace of relationships and life.
2. The town of Wolsztyn is in the middle of nowhere, and the main attraction is the steam locomotive. Every year the depot hosts a locomotive parade, drawing visitors from around the globe.
3. Many abandoned and old locomotives sit on the tracks.
4. Sometimes it was difficult to tell which parked cars were operational and which were sitting there merely for decorative purposes. Rural parts of Poland are beautiful, so I think a ride through this area would be met with scenic views.
5. We arrived early and watched the preparations for take off. A team of hard working rail workers loaded barrels and barrels of coal.
6. The job is labor intensive, involving a lot of lifting and manual labor. I suspect the skin and clothes of the rail workers are completely blackened with coal dust at the end of every working day. And what does it do to their lungs?
7. On the platform, I met people from England and Germany who traveled to Wolsztyn simply to take a ride on the steam machine. It's quite glorious when it takes off, the roar from the motion on the rails and strong smell of burning coal penetrate the air.
8. The Wolsztyn station also serves as a museum of sorts. Behind huge and heavy barricades there are a lot of different train models. Workers and ticket operators here were friendly, but they refused to open the heavy doors behind which the locomotives sit. So, Alexander took it upon himself to do the dirty work. Here, a train enthusiasts dream. A lot of different models to inspect.
9. P.K.P. - logo for the Polish State Railways is embedded on a lot of the trains. What is this bird? I can't tell?
10. You can climb into one of the parked locomotives to inspect some mechanical parts. Engineers amongst us will likely understand what each component does to make the train move along, but to me all these knobs, measuring devices and levers are completely foreign.
11. I imagine train travel to be similar to airports, where you encounter every type of person and emotion possible. People anxious and excited to see loved ones, meet an important client, or arrive at some exotic locale. Conversely, there are sad people leaving family or loved ones, tired business travelers, and those who are just sick of the daily grind of life. I think the old woman here falls into the last category.
12. Train travel a curiosity and exciting adventure for this young lad.
13. Local gopniks? :)
14. A train was quickly approaching, but these men decided to walk across the tracks at a leisurely pace. What if they accidentally fell? Ah, youth. When we believe we're completely indestructible.
15. Bottom sign shows a man in a red circle. What does it mean?
16. A train track runs directly through my hometown of Manassas, where you will frequently see weddings in the nearby gazebo and shots taken from the station and tracks. Continuing the theme of romance and the rails right here in America. However, train travel is not a popular mode of transportation for most Americans. Almost everyone has a car, and excellent road infrastructure allows for long distance travel with few headaches. It's also expensive to take the train, sometimes not much cheaper than flying which usually takes a lot less time.
17. Another way to travel in Wolsztyn. Such charm and peace in most of these small Eastern European towns.
18. For me, there's still some intrigue associated with train travel. I suppose those with adventurous and wandering spirits are always curious about things not yet experienced, vibrations not yet felt and scenes not yet viewed with their own eyes.
What do you think? Should I take a train journey during my next visit to Russia? What should I expect about comfort and service levels on Russian trains? Is it safe?