Saturday, August 25, 2012

All aboard for a (not so) brief encounter

When people first heard what I was doing there was a mix of "are you mad" and "can't you just fly across"? But this, my friends, misses the very essence of why I was doing it. It wasn't the destination that was important. Although, plainly, that's underselling Sydney. In my humble opinion one of the world's greatest cities. What was important to me was the journey. What I'd experience whilst I was getting there.

"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." -- Robert Louis Stevenson

And, if truth be known, I was kind of compromising. Given that the actual epic train journeys on my list were the inimitable Trans-Siberian and also the Canadian Rocky Mountain train. So, 4 days would be a cinch. Wouldn't it?

Having been dropped off and saying my goodbyes to Doug, I rolled out of East Perth train terminal at 11.55 on a Sunday morning. My first thought was, this carriage looks a little more crowded than I expected. My second thought was, damn, I have a seat mate. That said, the lady from Germany was nice enough and didn’t talk much. My ideal travel companion. She only piped up every now and then with very bizarre questions. I could deal with this.

A few facts about the train and the journey. For a start, the whole trip takes 65 hours, covering 4352kms. Leaving Perth every Sunday through winter and arriving at Sydney’s Central Station at 10.20am on a Wednesday. There are 41 carriages plus the locomotive engine. The symbol of the train is the wedge tail eagle, Australia’s largest, with a 2m wing span.

There is a range of services, the most expensive being the Platinum and Gold, where you have your own cabin and fold down beds. Having spent all my money on a business class flight to get here, I was in the more parsimonious Red service. Plain and simple, but fully reclining seats. With a shower and 2 toilets for the whole of this carriage. You did get provided with a towel though.

For food and drinks on board the Red service carriage, there was the Matilda café, open between 7am and 10pm serving hot meals, freshly made wraps and sandwiches, hot meals, hot and cold drinks and the all pervasive meat pies. Probably the most sought after item in the café though were the 2 power sockets. As the whole of the Red carriage didn’t have any, there was a fight to secure the opportunity to charge up the multitude of devices that we all seem to travel with.

I managed to somehow circumvent this by getting access to the Red Lounge, a place where you could pay $10 a day to be able to sit in large comfy seats and have access to unlimited power sockets. And I got access for free. One of the chaps working in the Matilda café recognised my Northern accent and told me his mum lived in Pontefract. We reminisced about the sweet factory and the locally produced Pontefract cakes. After that, I got free coffees and when I asked to buy a wristband giving me access to the lounge, he gave me one without charge. I certainly wasn’t complaining.

And the time passed ever so blissfully. How relaxing is train travel. Sat in your carriage, rocking across the Nullarbor Plain for endless hours. I was not even yet at night 2 and strangely don't want the trip to end, what is that? A world within a world, without the constraints of daily life.

In the morning we hit Adelaide (south Australia) and my German friend left the train and was replaced by a lady going to Broken Hill (New South Wales to stay with her daughter and her family for 3 weeks. I was tempted to hide the “Cheesecake Factory” box that she said was for the grandchildren.

The day passed in a haze of reading and napping, and once dinner was served I had a final nights meal of Australian lamb and a couple of glasses of Riesling. Retiring to the carriage, and having dropped my seatmate off at Broken Hill, I now had 2 seats upon which I was able to spread out a little. I’d like to say I slept, but snoozed is probably a better description, waking to an early sunrise, and after a final few hours, rolling into Sydney Central Station.

The next stage of my adventure starts here.

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