A new perspective on travel time

Recently, I travelled by train from Split to Cologne. It was a conscious decision to try out this long-standing connection. An experiment. Previously I had flown directly or we had driven.

My travel time for the route Split-Cologne (via Zagreb and Munich) by train was around 30 hours, with a deliberately planned interruption of five hours in Zagreb to visit long-time family friends.

Are 30 hours long or short?
If you leave out the evaluation, 30 hours is just 30 hours.

I learned years ago from Thomas, my partner and life companion, that a holiday begins the moment we close the door at home and not after arriving at our destination. The latter is the generally accepted understanding, often combined with packing stress, the hassle of traffic jams, delays and thoughts about tomorrow. We usually travel after an imaginary future at our destination before we even set off. With Thomas‘ attitude it is different: mindful travelling. If I now compare the traveling time with other means of transport, the above time — from door to door — is about twice as long as by car or about five times as long as by plane, assuming a predictability.

What have I gained from this journey?
What have I lost by this journey?

In comparison, I traveled more slowly and discovered some new things. It was like traveling back in time on the first connection from Split to Zagreb. The stopovers in small villages seemed like something from another era. The differences in the landscape on an approximately 400 km long route were wonderful: from the sea to mountainous, karstic areas to dense forests and rivers through barely populated parts of the country. From the slow-moving train I could observe the landscape and was thrilled by its diversity.

The tilting train is comparable to a regional train. You have to provide your own food and drink, restrooms are available on the train, the ride is jerky, the comfort level “basic” — compared to Germany, not to India. The jerky ride quickly suggests a very outdated infrastructure, which I was well aware of before starting the journey.

Arriving in Zagreb, I enjoyed the beautiful architecture of many buildings directly in the city center. The big city with taxis, cars, trams and liveliness greeted me. After visiting some much-loved people I hadn’t seen for ages, I drove to the station well nourished — that goes without saying in this country. In the evening, I took the night train to Munich, a journey that lasted a good nine hours. When I saw the train, I briefly thought: Oh, a small train, three carriages, that’s it.

So I moved into my sleeping car. I allowed myself the “luxury” of a single compartment and was quite happy about my choice. After the first border control in Slovenia, I joined the conductor at the “counter” and we talked for a while. The counter on the train was a mini counter, behind it a small fridge filled with drinks, all on about one square meter. A characteristic travel bistro for a nine-hour journey, I thought and grinned. One could hardly hear one’s own words because of the squeaking and roaring of the (still old) tracks.

Soon I decided to go to bed. How could I sleep with all that noise? Just leave those thoughts alone and lie down, I told myself. I did indeed fall asleep at some point and only heard footsteps in the carriage early in the morning. An energetic knock at my door, federal police were doing their current job at the main station in Salzburg: checking IDs. The policeman continued to wish me a good night’s sleep and indeed I slept until shortly after five. Soon there would be breakfast, so I got ready. We were supposed to be in Munich shortly before half past six. Breakfast was served by the friendly conductor. An unhealthy long-life wrapped chocolate croissant and some kind of hamburger bun, butter and jam, a tea and orange juice. Okay, it is what it is, but not my idea of delicious. The journey came to an end, the conductor told me he hoped to see me on board again. Ok, I’ll think about it. Thank you and goodbye.

The ICE (high-speedtrain) to Cologne soon left; I found a seat and was happy. I was due to arrive home in about four hours. In the ICE, I rated the comfort level in 2nd class as luxury in comparison. I got myself a coffee with milk in the bistro and immediately noticed that the noise was barely audible here at breakneck speed. I hadn’t been aware of that before, because it was “normal” to me. The beautiful landscapes from Bavaria to North Rhine-Westphalia flew past me. I now enjoyed the speed. I was traveling — although they were so close together—through two very different worlds.

Did I lose or gain (time)? The impressions were so varied, the 30 hours flew by. The whole journey back by train felt like a journey of its own. Completely different. Everything worked, just with all the perceived differences. Slowing down, simplicity and diversity versus speed, convenience and pragmatism. In the future, I will have an additional option.

Cologne, September 2019

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