Updated: Mar 3
Recently I’ve been thinking of trains. As ya’ do.
Not packed commuter metro-trains, or subways, or trams. No, I’m picturing trains that look as if they belong in a storybook.
You know the ones, the billowing-smoke-and-steam-chugging-over-arched-bridges-snaking-through-majestic-snow-capped-mountain-vistas-or-rolling-green-fields type of trains.
Locomotive journeys evoke a sense of adventure, mystery, and wonder
In literature, especially children’s literature, that feeling of escapade linked to trains is often used by writers as a creative tool to move a plotline along at a clickity-clackity pace.
Think of Harry Potter, The Polar Express, and Emile and the Detectives.
Whenever I hear the station master’s whistle, or on the rare occasion an old-school
‘All Aboard’, this triggers in me, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, a dopamine hit straight to my wanderlust heart.
There’s something very civilized and meditative about watching the world whoosh by from the comfort of your window seat on a train. I never feel this way on a plane; shoved in like cattle, jittery at the slightest signs of turbulence, knowing that whilst it’s an incredible feat to be flying 35,000 feet above sea-level, it also seems very unnatural. People belong on the ground, or at least close to it, right?
I think of the memorable rail journeys I’ve had over the years. Many of them originated in Switzerland – the land of trains. Close friends of mine live in this breathtakingly beautiful country, and their home has been my continental starting point, my launch pad for exploring new territories. And most of these trips begin and end with a train or two – or three.
Yet, I begin all these trips on my absolute favourite train. In fact, my Swiss friends see it every day from their balcony.
Watching it appear from around the bend, no matter the season, makes you feel as if you’re living in a real-life postcard that would surely read: Wish you were here. I’m eating chocolate and cheese and I can see Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc in the distance. Ok, gotta run, my train is coming!
The little red train, as my friends and I simply call it, runs on the Nyon-St Cergue-Morez Railway line (NStCM). This small-gauge train operates from Nyon, a Roman-built town on the shores of Lake Geneva, to the French border at La Cure.
It zigs and zags across the countryside, stopping at several villages and towns that dot the stunningly breathtaking La Côte region in the French-speaking canton of Vaud. Journeying on this little red beauty, particularly in the summer, you get window-seat big-sky views of the Alps across the lake, sloping vineyards, and vibrant sunflower and poppy fields. These are the type of vistas that actually make you look up from your phone-screen.
I love this train so much that a few years ago I even showcased it in my Andy Roid series.
The back cover of Andy Roid and the Tracks of Death shows my bionic superhero propped on top of it.
It’s during train journeys that story ideas begin to flow for me. And fellow passengers often end up morphing into characters in future books - especially if you happen to find yourself in one of those old-fashioned enclosed compartments or a cosy small coach. I think of the eccentric characters I’ve encountered along the way – the ones I’ve met or the ones I’ve simply photographed or drawn (I always carry a sketchbook). They’re all travelling with their own jumble of traits, cultural mannerisms, and expectations – they constitute an overnight carry-on of images and impressions for me to draw on for my next book.
Yes, I’m thinking of trains.
And now I’m thinking of my next trip.
Where will that be?
Is there a train journey you’ve always wanted to take?
Please let me know.
Hear that station master’s whistle?
Your next adventure awaits…
Text, photography, sketches, and videos by Felice Arena.
My Swiss friend Holly just started an Instagram account featuring the little red train.
Check it out here.
More about Andy Roid and the Tracks of Death and the Andy Roid series here.
More about Nyon and the La Cote region here.
And our favourite Harry Potter train scene...