Train travel all over the world is almost limitless, and there is something mysteriously alluring with a whiff of romance (or at least foreign intrigue) in the puff of a train. Some are expensive and luxurious, like rolling, well-appointed 5-star hotels with exceptional staffs and food, but many are basic and good choices for the budget-minded. In addition to saving the cost of hotels, overnight trains deliver the thrill of waking up in a new city or even a new country.
Colossally fascinating and endlessly-intriguing, www.seat61.com is the cryptic name for the website for train travel throughout the world. Get schedules, costs, connections, and every inch of train travel in Europe including such off-the-beaten tracks as those in Macedonia, Cyprus, Andorra, and Belarus AND onward into Iran, Cambodia, and even Cuba (the Ferrocarriles de Cuba. which offers no official website and no toilet paper.) Tap into this site and run the risk of getting lost in it!
The Good Web Guide UK says www.seat61.com “…has all the mystery of a Le Carre epic. Who is this mysterious man who always books Seat 61 on the Eurostar and why has he set up a site devoted entirely to world rail travel? His name’s Mark Smith and he is passionate about long-distance rail travel….”
Alaska: For mesmerizing, non-stop beauty, check out the award-winning upper-deck domed window cars of the Denali Star during the 12-hour trip between Fairbanks and Anchorage. www.alaskarailroad.com
The Alps: Rocky Mountains Highs
In Switzerland, the Rhaetian Railway offers the highest rails in the Alps: the Albula and Bernina lines which are stellar examples of technical, architectural and environmental brilliance. In the northwest, the Albula pass wends through 42 tunnels and over 144 viaducts and bridges. The Bernina train “sails” through 13 tunnels and over 52 viaducts and bridges. And the gorgeous (usually snowy) area between Thusis, rich in forests, rivers, glaciers and gorges, and the tiny town of Tirano in northern Italy has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Click: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1276
P.S. Don’t forget the train trip between Switzerland’s two top ski resorts, St. Moritz and Zermatt, is simply a glorious 7-hour whiteout ride on the Glacier Express. Click: http://www.glacierexpress.ch/
From Adelaide to Alice Springs to Darwin, the Ghan crosses the spectacular transcontinental heart of Australia, north to south, in a 48-hour one-way ride with two nights on board. www.gsr.com.au
Although many trains stop running during their freezing winters, others chug along splendidly through great drifts, mounds and mountains of ice and snow.
Out west, the award-winning Rocky Mountaineer toot-toots through the Canadian Rockies on a variety of wintry routes. Phone 877-460-3200. www.winterrailvacations.com.
In Eastern Canada, look into the Agawa Canyon Snow Train which starts in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario – for a 4-hour, 114-mile rail cruise through rugged snowscapes and “diamonds of ice,” wildly colorful fall foliage as per season; chug 500 feet down over 10 miles to the floor of the billion-year old Agawa Canyon. To know more, phone 800-242-9287 or www.agawacanyontourtrain.com.
VIA Rail operates about 480 trains per week over a vast 9,000-mile network that spans and links all of Canada. This is huge. Excellent website makes it easy to navigate their fascinating network. http://www.viarail.ca/trains/en_trai_tous.html
India anyone? The royally luxurious Deccan Odyssey departs from Mumbai and visits towns and villages all along the gorgeous coastline of the Arabian Sea for 8 days, including hottest beach spot on the subcontinent, the intensely sensual sandy city of Goa. http://www.deccan-odyssey-india.com.
…and stay tuned for more…