Even by modern traveller standards, I consider myself a train veteran. In my pre-blogging days, I once spent a summer travelling on trains around India. As a kid I had a fascination with trains – I wanted to be a train driver until I was 8.
More recently you’ll remember my three week trip across Russia and Mongolia on the trans-siberian railway. I got around China almost exclusively by sleeper train. The first thing I ever did in Vietnam was get on another sleeper train, from Lao Cai to Hanoi.
Indeed, Adam’s Grand Tour started with a train journey, on a very comfortable Virgin Pendolino from Liverpool to London.
I’ve had good and bad train experiences. From the uber-comfort of the high speed Shanghai to Beijing sleeper train, to the rock-like beds of the Hyderabad to Hampi express; from the quiet circumspection and expensive coffee that accompanies a Virgin train ride from Lime Street to Euston, to the cabin fever of three days munching oversized pot noodles between Moscow and Siberia. I guess there isn’t much I haven’t experienced where trains are concerned.
Perhaps today, then, I completed my collection. Because today I zipped along the train line from Kyoto to Odawara using the famous high-speed bullet train – or to use its actual name, Shinkansen. The 380km journey took two hours. Which really isn’t bad going at all, when you think about it.
Considering this was one of the world’s most famous forms of train travel, the whole thing was conducted rather without fanfare. Whilst waiting for our train in the station, a dozen other Shinkansen pulled in and out again. Our train arrived, we boarded in usual fashion, and then bolted off towards our destination. The whole thing was done with very little sense of event.
I suppose the Japanese waiting to board the train must have eyed me with considerable amusement as I excitedly took pictures and videos of the train arriving. For them this is just a completely ordinary every day thing.
On board the bullet train it’s like… Well, it’s quite a lot like being on a train, I suppose. People slept and people read books. Some people listened to music. Other people looked out of the window.
What was I expecting? A cocktail party? A jazz band and champagne? Jugglers? This was a train, and so people did train things. It was the most normal thing in the world.
I still utterly enjoyed it, though. Watching Japan zip past the window as the speedo tickled 180mph (I rather nerdily downloaded an app to my phone to monitor the trains speed as we went) was a thrill, even if absolutely no-one else seemed to think so.