The Boys on the Trains

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The Boys on the Trains

Adventures On and Off the Rails

Like many residents in the Washington DC metro area, I take the commuter train line almost every day to work from my home in Baltimore. There is something rhythmically relaxing about boarding a train and listening to the sound of the rail cars as you depart from the station. You can read, sleep, meditate or work on your computer all without the stress of driving in rush hour mayhem. It’s a different experience. You see and witness things from a perspective that you would otherwise miss by driving. You also see many of the same people each day and an unspoken sort of community is formed - greeting fellow passengers with a nod and smile.

Like many other boys, I loved train travel and railroads. Some of these boys have written a fair number of books detailing their love for, and experiences on, the rails. Here are a few of my favorites.

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

Renowned travel writer Paul Theroux revisits the exact same rail journey that he embarked upon 30 years prior and that was chronicled in his earlier book, The Great Railway Bazaar. He sojourns east, starting in London, and travels (mostly) by rail throughout the Near East, Southeast Asia, and Japan. He returns westward by way of Russia. This is a fascinating journey detailing how these 20+ countries have changed so dramatically in a relatively short time. 

Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia by David Greene

David Greene, former Moscow Correspondent for NPR and current co-host of NPR’s Morning Edition, spent a year in Russia and traveled along the Trans-Siberian Railway, a 6,000-mile journey from Moscow to Vladivostock. His trip is made up of his experiences on and off the train interacting with present day Russians who share their joys, struggles and life experiences within the “new” Russia. We see how their lives have changed whether for good or ill. One of his more colorful encounters along the way is with a group of babushkas who made world headlines as runners-up at Eurovision. Here they sang Beatles covers mixed in with traditional song.

The 8:55 to Baghdad: From London to Iraq on the Trail of Agatha Christie by Andrew Eames

Eames follows in the footsteps of Agatha Christie by taking the Orient Express from London all the way to Damascus, Syria and then on to Baghdad. This is equal parts travelogue and literary biography. Fans of Christie will enjoy this as Eames embarks on the journey that Agatha Christie herself had done. There are frequent references to Christie's life and oeuvre throughout. This is just as epic as Theroux’s sojourn .

Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo by Tim Parks

Parks, a seasoned writer of over 25 books both fiction and nonfiction, has made Italy his home. With a writer’s eye Parks capture the unique Italian character with this volume. While not specifically a travelogue or a history book, the author notes that both are in it. He paints a portrait of Italian ways by riding its trains from Verona to Milan, Rome to Palermo, and right down to the heel of Italy. By riding the rail system in Italy he discovers the impact the rails have had on this society, its people and their temperament.

Slow Train to Guantanamo: A Rail Odyssey Through Cuba in the Last Days of the Castros by Peter Millar

I conclude with Peter Millar’s recent book which takes us down to Cuba. Once a forbidden land, travel restrictions are slowly being lifted and more commercial flights are being offered. Peter Millar has traveled by train quite a few times and has chronicled these trips in his other works. This time he’s slowed it down quite a bit with this rail journey from Havana to Guantanamo. He captures a Cuba on the verge of major transformation. Something that I was unaware of before reading this book is that Cuba was the first country in Latin America and the sixth in the world to have a railroad system. Impressive. Millar highlights his journey with many humorous anecdotes.

Before you embark on your next train trip, either to commute to and from work, for pleasure, or even an imaginary adventure from home, check out one of these books. All aboard!