Sunday, October 18, 2009

10 best train trips worth taking

I personally love train travel. I've even stayed in one of those "inns" that are more of a collection of abandoned train cars than converted private cabins. I have heard a lot of horror stories about American train travel but I found my trips to be quite satisfying.
Here are two economical trips that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The San Diego to Los Angeles ride looks out toward the ocean along the western coast line. It can be a much needed break from the hustle of a convention or business meeting and a first class ticket guarantees you a seat.
The overnight journey along eastern Canada from Montreal to Halifax during the autumn months is another superb sight. If you're lucky you can book a private double berth at the occasionally offered discounted price (1/2 price) that's comparable to a plane ticket cost. The ride boasts a gradual turning of the leaves from a rich ochre into a vivid shade of crimson, a comfortable and not-overly expensive dining car, and night sky views from the observatory car.
My only train warning is the trip from Paris to Italy. I'm a non-smoker, and although all compartments are non-smoking it really is a smokers paradise. You could easily avoid this by getting a private berth, but this was years ago when I didn't have the $$ to spare.
I've hunted for recommended lists of train trips worth taking... The Orient Express among them. I've made my own list however, based more from a North American perspective... namely excluding what I've seen and what I find familiar. Please pardon my omission of the Canadian Rockies, Alaskan and Californian routes.

The fool's 10 most wished for journeys by train in the world
#1 Eastern & Orient Express, Southeast Asia
Venice Simplon Orient Express Signature Journey 6 days/5 nights.
Paris - Budapest - Bucharest - Istanbul. Price $9190 (2009) Ouch!
Although it's one of the most expensive routes, and not the original company in Agatha Christie's 'Murder on the Orient Express', (the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits) the very name and destination is synonymous with intrigue and luxury travel. Hey... it's a wish list so why think of $$$?

#2 Rovos Rail, South Africa
These trips are annually planned. The luxurious 'Pride of Africa' takes you on a 14 day incredible expedition through some of Africa's most stunning locales. Cape Town - Dar Es Salaam - Kimberley - Pretoria - Kruger National Park - Beit Bridge - Bulawayo - Victoria Falls - Lusaka and through Tanzania.

#3 Hiram Bingham Train, Peru
Although this is a rather short trip, I chose this above others because Machu Picchu is a place that I'm dying to see. Considered one the unofficial new seven wonders of the world, the Hiram Bingham train journey is a spectacular passage through the Andes toward the ancient location. Wow. You could do it a lot cheaper, but this trek includes meals and live entertainment and it's one of the most affordable.. around $300 (one way).

#4 The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, Russia
Winter Wonderland westbound. Vladivostok - Mongolia - Lake Baikai - Irkutsk - Novosibirsk - Yekaterinburg - Vladmir and Suzdal - Moscow. There is also an even more extensive 19 day trip to St. Petersberg. Okay..okay.. it's all snow and ice, but you have to factor in the historical lure of this location.

#5 The Royal Scotman, United Kingdom
The Grand West Highland 6 day journey stops in Spean Bridge, Arisaig, Bridge of Orchy, Wemyss Bay (for Isle of Bute), Edinburgh where you can sight see. Then you rejoin the train for the route to Dalwhinnie, Boat of Garten, Rothiemurchus, Nairn and Dundee.

#6 Palace on Wheels, India
A few people have complained about the smell, heat, cockroaches in this country, but I couldn't care less. What do expect, a Starbucks or Macdonalds?
A mystical 8 days /7 nights from New Delhi through Jaisalmer "Desert Fort", Jaipur the "Pink City" and of course the Taj Mahal in Agra. I especially love the name. Ha.

#7 Eastern Orient Express, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore
A very different sort of Thai experience. 4 days/3 nights from Thailand, toward the infamous River Kwai (For David Lean lovers!) and onwards to Malaysia, Georgetown before crossing the causeway over the Straits of Johor to finally arrive in the metropolis of Singapore.

#8 The Ghan, Australia
A 3 days/2 nights trip across endless sun baked terrain, beginning in Adelaide - Alice Springs - Darwin, travels twice a week.

#9 The Bergen Line, Norway
The Oslo - Bergen ride is a seven hour trip normally listed high on the lists. For me it looks a bit like Canada, but the cultural depth of Norway and gorgeous architecture in the local towns and cities are remarkable to say the least.

10. Tokaido Shikansen, Japan
Osaka - Kyoto - Nagoya - Tokyo. Bullet Train. Enough said.