Travelling by train alone has its charm. My first real solo journeys were just by train. They were years in which low-cost airlines had not yet gained the upper hand on European routes and often theonly way to move cheaply throughout Europe was still by land.
I have lived in Alsace, North-East of France at the border with Germany, for six months in 2007. Ryanair and Vueling had already arrived there, but the itinerary that they proposed was not however very comfortable. To go back to Italy from Strasbourg I had to catch a regional train until Karlsruhe, then a bus until’aeroporto di Baden-Baden. Or I had to catch a bus that within some hours brought me to Stuttgart airport. Times were long, and often not very convenient prices did not justify the fatigue. Having a day available, it was much better catching the train that crossed Alsace, a piece of France, entered Switzerland and arrived at Milan.
There was still the Cisalpine train, abolished by now. I remember the excitement of my first time on this route: I had to face a solo train journey of 7 hours, a brand new experience for me. It was June, and the morning air of Strasbourg was quite crisp.
I had put into my backpack some bretzels with salted butter, I could rely on the company of my book and of the playlist that I had prepared for the occasion.
The train left on time and started its descent along Alsace: landscapes were those that I had had the opportunity of knowing in those six months of some kind of Erasmus, but after a couple of hours horizons changed and you glimpsed the first snow-clad peaks.
The first stop-over of the journey was the train change at the French-Swiss border, at Basle. I don’t know if that station has remained unchanged over the years, but I remember the charm of that wooden platform roof and of the information plaque announcing the change of border. You got down from French train and, to go ahead on the Swiss route, you had to cross a corridor characterised by an air of start of the century: cherry-coloured wooden walls, mosaic floor, bilingual information plaques.
Sometimes passengers were waited by a policeman who checked their documents. A small passage rite, the physical crossing of a border to find themselves then in Switzerland, where bretzels were more expensive and my pockets of penniless student did not allow big purchases of food.
The second part of the journey was worth being enjoyed with the nose leant against the window of the train.
The Cisalpine owaved among very green valleys, thick woods of evergreen trees, villages with sloping roofs and snow-clad peaks of afar off Alps. I saw flowing the names of small towns that seemed invented by the Grimm brothers: Olten, Bern, Thun, Spiez. They were hours of complete surrender on a train that knew the way in my place, in a moment of my life in which the path was not yet clearly defined (and naively I thought that it would be one day!). Yet I had not to do anything but losing myself in the landscape and letting me cradle among Swiss valleys and answers arriving unexpected.
My initiation to solo journey could not be more relaxing. Since then I link a train journey to a moment all for me, during which I can take the liberty to admire quietly the landscape, to imagine people’s lives in sloping roof houses and to let my thoughts spin round on the rails without thread.