Summer of '76

Does this train have a name?

Backpackers looking out an open train window

The 1976-77 edition of Europe On $10 A Day (yes, you could still do Europe on $10 a day for lodging and meals back then), described the trains in Europe like this:
“European trains tend to bunch themselves into two categories: magnificent and awful. There is no middle variety.” The author went on to say that there were only about 40 trains, all with names like The Simplon-Orient Express or Golden Arrow that were in the first category and worth traveling with. The rest was to be avoided.

I am sure that was the advice some people wanted to hear and it made them feel more comfortable. But then again, those travelers were not necessarily trying to make it on a mere $10 per day (or less, if possible).

The reality was that there were thousands of trains criss-crossing the European continent each and every day. Some were Trans Europe Expresses with the best in ride comfort, but unfortunately off limits to young people traveling in 2nd class on Interrail or Eurrail Youth Pass. Still, that left the bulk of the trains, that connected both the major cities and some downright faraway places. In the ‘70s, shunting of cars between trains was common, so you could easily find a train car that got you from point A to point B without you having to change your seat.

Of course, the standard of the trains varied a bit. You could one day ride in a brand new train car with reclining seats and plenty of space (one where that new train car smell still lingered) and the next day find yourself in a train car that was still running, but definitely of pre-World War II vintage, where everything, including your teeth, rattled in time. Most trains were somewhere in-between, plenty comfortable and clean.

For the most part, that mixture made the journey all the more fun and different, especially if you came from not having ridden many trains at all back home, as was the case for may Americans. The main thing was, we all got to where we needed to go (for the most part on time, too). For all the young backpackers who cheerfully ignored the guidebook section on trains, the reward was good, efficient transportation, fun travel, chance meetings with new people, and knowing that you could get almost anywhere in Europe you would want to go. There was enormous freedom in that.

This entry was posted in blog, Europe, train travel. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • archives

  • categories

  • recent posts