Sunday, February 6, 2022 | Written by Claire
Traveling every weekend across Europe, I’ve found myself on trains more often than not, hopping from station to station and watching the world fly by at the blink of an eye. Whether it’s an early morning ride or a late-night trek, the time on the train becomes a bubble, shielded from reality. Traveling at over 250 kilometers per hour on the TGV trains feels a lot smoother than I thought. Aside from the occasional bumps from a track change or a wobble from the rush of a passing train, the feeling of stability and versatility is like no other. As the views from the window slowly merge into a blur, I find myself thinking, leaning back into my seat, and letting my thoughts run wild.
The train itself is a portal, transporting itself in and out of society as it roars past small towns and big cities. With each station, I catch a glimpse of daily life along the way. From one to another, minute details begin to emerge that make these small cities so different yet so close together. The architecture, featuring brown and red patterns that crisscross roofs and windowpanes, make small villages distinctly German, while the yellow façade of stone walls next to cobblestone streets highlight French taste. The surroundings that lie beyond the cities also provide clues into daily life. Whether it’s a large stretch of farmland clustered with cows in rural areas, or small stables of miniature horses huddled together in the snow, every scene is a reminder of the intricate and complex nature of cultural relativity and their relationships within societies across the globe. As I sit against the window, just watching the last flicker of light before the sun dips under the horizon, I find myself in awe at the beauty of humanity and the sheer differences that have developed over time. Back at home, it’s difficult to see so many defined cultures within borders in back-to-back succession; yet here, on each train ride, those occasions are far from rare.
As the world fades into darkness, I start to notice the people around me: the man dressed in the trench-coat on the phone, the woman completing a sudoku puzzle on the table car to the right, the girl frantically typing away on her laptop. I start to hear the myriad of different languages that travel throughout the car: to my left, a man takes a call in English, complaining about his broken thermostat at home, to my right, a woman chats away in French with her friends, and to my rear, a man mumbles away in German. The exposure to so many different cultures and languages in just one small train car presents the global connectivity that makes up Europe today. It has become a hub where people blend into one, united in mutual respect and understanding for each other’s differences. To me, this cultural mix is one that is vastly different from the “mix” I’ve seen back at home. Here, while people are together as one, they are still defined by distinct nationalities, experiences, and perspectives that make them utterly unique from those sitting around them. After experiencing such interpersonal relations with so many people, I’ve come to see the reason for such fragmentation in Europe and how they’ve remained dignified in their own social schemes for centuries on end.
But what boggles me the most is that among the millions of people that traverse the trains, each person has a story, a life behind the mask that hides their face from the rest of the world. Each person has a name, an experience like no other. It’s a reminder of how small I truly am, a speck among billions, a mere contribution to the globe. As I near the next station, I hear the jingle of the announcements and the screech of metal against metal as the train slows to a halt. The technological innovation of the high-speed train itself works wonders, a feat beyond my comprehension. The internal mechanism that hauls hundreds of thousands of tons is an engineering marvel like no other. Quiet and stealthy, shooting along the tracks, the high-speed trains cut through the air like a feather, plowing through rain, ice, or snow. The tracks themselves crisscrossing like a maze that sets the journey onwards. Just a slight tilt away from the platform brings us across mountainous terrain and rolling hills. Yet, I sit stagnant, inside the train car in places I could never end up myself. With the train speeding across the country land, I can’t help but be thankful of an opportunity like this to simply step off the platform and into a new dimension where I could end up thousands of miles away in a blink of an eye.