Expat Living: Discovering the Great Railways of the World

One of the truly remarkable things about being an expat is travel. But there is travel and then there is Travel!

We can get on a plane, put on our eye shades and sleep across the oceans, deplane at our destination and not ever interact with another person, and in doing so, miss out on some of our best memories.

This week as it is snowing (yet again) here in Virginia, we took in a fun movie that got me thinking about some of the great places we get to visit, live in and work from as expats. My life is undeniably richer for having traveled so much.

But more than that, this quirky film’s rail scenes brought me back to some of the old-time (and old Soviet) trains I have had the opportunity to travel on and those grand European trains still on my wish list (like the Orient Express!). Check out the trailer for the “Grand Budapest Hotel”.

Travel Within The Former Soviet Union 

The film brought back memories of one long holiday weekend when we took the Azerbaijan railroad to Tbilisi and back. Though it wasn’t snowy or misty, or remotely like the train scenes in any of the “Harry Potter” installments, crossing great rivers and chasms, it was… an experience. My recommendation? Do it once, but avoid the heat of summer.

It took a complete overnight to make the 14 hour journey to Tbilisi, though it’s a journey of only 550 km, a little less than 350 miles.  It was also not nearly as romantic or exotic as the fabled Orient Express, but it was interesting. (Though I confess, after the thrill had worn off on the trip over, I wasn’t really anticipating the same trip as much going back.)

Here’s a good link describing the journey. Great photos, and informative text.  And here’s one by a traveler who began in Tbilisi and came to Baku. Different opinions and perspectives, both interesting.

While it’s true these trains certainly have served their purpose, moving massive numbers of people across the borders, they weren’t designed to compare to some of the great trains around the world of the past from the Golden Age of Rail Travel.

However… the Soviet Union did create one engineering marvel that should be mentioned.

This video shows the famous Trans-Siberian Railroad with a particularly good section on the history of its construction from the 1:18 mark to about 3:40.

Great Railways of the Golden Age of Travel: The Orient Express (Vintage Travel Poster)

Vintage Orient Express Travel Poster

Here are some other rail trips I would like to explore:

The Orient Express   (my top Wish List choice)

“The earliest Orient-Express passengers were spies… courtesans… arms dealers… even the occasional murderer.”

“It’s fair to say that the ethical character of our passengers has improved somewhat.” Romantic train travel — glamorous carriages, sumptuous cuisine, and personal service par excellence — became available again some 25 years ago with relaunch of the opulent Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

Initially traveling between London and Italy’s canal city, the European train now includes passages to Florence, Rome, Paris, Monte Carlo, Prague, Bucharest, and Istanbul on its itinerary as well.

Given the history, the service, the opulence, to me it’s a must do at some point in my life!

[Photo/poster courtesy of Orient-Express Trains.] .

Ren Zi Bridge, Kunming–Hekou Railway  "The Kunming-Hekou Railway is part of the Yunnan–Vietnam Railway, which was built by France from 1904-1910. It is the only main narrow-gauge railway in China to use 1,000-millimeter gauge.

Ren Zi Bridge, Kunming–Hekou Railway



Ren Zi Bridge,
Kunming–Hekou Railway

“The Kunming-Hekou Railway is part of the Yunnan–Vietnam Railway, which was built by France from 1904-1910. It is the only main narrow-gauge railway in China to use 1,000-millimeter gauge.

“I was amazed when I arrived. The Ren Zi Bridge has more than 100 years of history, and is an icon of the railway. (Photographer Wang Mei)

“It’s said the construction workers would hang on a rope from the mountaintop to build the railway. With low technology and such harsh terrain, many fell and lost their lives.”

What fascinates me about this train is the country it traverses, the landscape is stunning to me. And as yet, fairly unspoiled.

According to photographer Wang Mei, China’s
rail system is one enormous mass of statistics.

“It’s 93,000 kilometers long — the third largest in the world after the United States and Russia — and according to China’s Ministry of Railways, total passenger-kilometers reached 961 billion in 2011, the highest in the world.”

Top 10 Rail Travel Highlights In Europe

If you’re more interested in European rail travel, here’s a wonderful link to a “Top 10 List” for Euro Rail travels.

The Rauma Line from Dombås to Åndalsnes (Norway) is also on my wish list.  The fjords and mountain scenery in Norway would be on my top 10 any day!  Having traveled through Sweden and Denmark extensively, Norway is on the horizon.

These few may not take a lifetime, but they make a pretty good list of rail travel wishes for me to think about and plan.

What About Your Top Travel Memories, or Wish List? 

Where have you traveled by rail, and how did you like it? Or, what did you like most/least?

Any recommendations for trips we should add to our own “Expat Approved Top 10 Rail Trips”?

I hope you’ll share some of your travel memories with everyone here.

As for me right now, I have to go help shovel snow…again!

Come on, Spring!



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