Ah travel — it sets my brain alight in the planning stages and sets my heart afire as it unfolds.
There are so many ways to make travel viable, enjoyable, and relaxing — but for me personally, rather none of that involves travelling via airplanes nowadays since I am not one of those gilded creatures with access to a private jet and Business Class is not an option for our budget. From overcrowded planes to overzealous ‘security’ measures to unexpected volcanic eruptions, for many of us travel by air has become either drudgery or dreaded or both.
During the week of Christmas, my husband and I took a much needed 5 days away from our normal life in a small village in Central Victoria in Australia. We travelled back to Melbourne, a marvelous city that we formerly lived in until we moved up here for a ‘tree change’ (in contrast to the oft-desired Australian dream of a ‘sea change’) and the entire trip was an exercise in relaxation and ease.
After driving for a half an hour, we parked in the free parking lot, took our 2 pieces of small rolling luggage plus one tote bag, and entered the gorgeous old 1800s-era Ballarat train station.
Within 15 minutes of our arrival and ticket purchase, one of the clean and very new V-Line trains pulled up and we walked quietly aboard in an unhurried manner and found our seats. We each pulled out the book that we planned to read on the short journey and a mere 10 minutes later we were pulling away from the station.
Our part of Victoria is perched up on the Great Dividing Range and Melbourne is hundreds of metres lower, right at the edge of the harbour which faces Tasmania, so the descent via train is an interesting contrast in landscapes — interesting, that is, until you get to the flat, flat, dead-boring-flat western edges of the Melbourne metro area. Things perk up a bit visually once you get to the outside rim of Melbourne and begin to enter via the suburbs and the gritty but tantalising old industrial district.
One and a half hours from Ballarat to Melbourne in complete comfort and we arrived right on time at the Southern Cross Station.
If you are even remotely a fan of contemporary architecture, this is a stunning building with swooping waves for a roofline and it definitely has the ‘Melbourne vibe.’ There were lots of grumbles when it was under construction about how well it would fit into the cityscape, but it has certainly succeeded beautifully.
Strolling straight out of the station on that summer afternoon and into the surprisingly mild temperatures outside, we walked a mere 2 blocks before we crossed onto Collins Street and hopped aboard one of the Metlink trams. Minutes later we stepped off and walked the 1 and 1/2 blocks to the loft apartment that I had reserved for the holidays.
For 5 wonderful days we lived a very urban lifestyle — walking everywhere we needed to go most of the time, catching the occasional tram for longer distances, and never once missing our car. We felt happier, healthier, and more alive and it was actually quite hard to come back home.
Not once did we feel pressured or rushed or harrassed and that certainly is a stark contrast to the unfolding news from the USA that their TSA employees are making conditions nightmarish for anyone trying to fly in or out of the USA. For us there was no standing in long lines to check in luggage, no security folks rifling through our cases, no walking through scanners or being bodily frisked, and NO being made to feel like a criminal when all you are trying to do is get from Point A to Point B.
There is a growing movement in Europe away from taking bare bones and cheap airlines to and from various countries and there is a huge surge in train travel once again. Much of this is due to the stresses of air travel and the absurd overreaction to every single security ‘incident’ that provides spurious justification for treating each passenger on a plane as if they were a potential terrorist. The other pressing concern is that it is now acknowledged that all of those cheap flights have contributed to the destruction of the global environment and train travel produces a much lower carbon footprint.
I consider this embrace of the slower, more scenic, and less stress-producing options to be an enlightened approach to travel and, disasters like the snow-related Eurostar fiasco notwithstanding, rail travel still retains the more gentle and civilised feel of times gone by.
Now — if they would just bring back inexpensive around-the-world passenger ships. Those lovely old-fashioned things had scheduled meals and gentle entertainment, but rather a lot of time was spent sitting in a deck chair quietly observing the ocean or tucked away in some cozy spot reading a book. About the only way to find that sort of travel today is in the scaled down comfort of the handful of cabins available on freighter ships that deliver containers full of goods to global ports.
Still dreaming though — still planning.
(NOTE: All photos courtesy of wikipedia except for the V-line photo from www.vline.com.au)
(NOTE: This article was originally posted on the 21st of December 2009 on my other blog, Multiversal Musing under the title “Travel Can Be Fun If You Stay OFF The Planes!”)