G.K. Chesterton once said the only way to be sure of catching a train is to miss the one before it. Well that’s precisely what I did in Helsinki – and the experience was delightful.
I should preface my story with a disclaimer: of all the ways to travel the world, trains are by far my most favorite. I love the bustle of the stations, the random queuing on platforms. Unlike air travel, I thoroughly enjoy the process of settling into my seat, laying out my sketchbook and whatever current novel I might be reading on the table in front of me. Whether in the passenger, dining or sleeper car, train travel is, for me, more than simply a refreshing way to get from point A to point B: it’s a welcome change of commuting pace. My life, like everyone else’s, has grown increasingly busy, with clients demanding projects be done faster with quicker turnaround. I am constantly pushed to get to location quicker, work faster, and deliver ahead of schedule. Given this, coupled with planes that move me ever faster toward my destination, the gentle pace and rhythm of train travel is a welcome alternative. Watching the landscape glide past from the comfort of your seat, one is reminded that life actually exists between the point of origin and the destination. Rolling fields, mountain lakes, cities and villages large and small – it all plays out in a wonderful show that leaves me feeling invigorated.
But enough of the poetic fluff. On a recent assignment, I had landed in Helsinki late in the evening and was scheduled to begin filming at a location three hours away in Lappeenranta the following afternoon. My crew and I checked in to a small hotel near the airport with the intention of hopping the 7:20am train the next morning. When asked how early we should plan on getting to the station, the girl at the front desk kindly informed me that we’d need no more than 10 minutes to get our tickets and board. Of course, what she failed to take into account – even though she helped us pack it all into their storage room – was the fact that we were travelling with roughly ten large cases of equipment and personal gear. Arriving at the station at 7:00am, we quickly discovered there was no way we were going to get our tickets, lug our gear to the farthest platform (of course) and board the train in time. We waved as our train rolled out of the station. It was three hours until the next one would arrive.
Now to some, this slight kerfuffle would be a catastrophe, an eye-rolling groan of a delay that signaled a rushed and ruined day. Not for me. One important rule of travel: delays happen; plan accordingly. Whether plane, train or boat, delays invariably come up – never plan for activities (and especially work obligations) too close to a scheduled arrival. If you’re on time, you have a little breathing room. If you’re delayed, scheduled events aren’t compromised. I had intentionally planned on catching the early train for just such reasons. A three-hour delay was a manageable adjustment.
Perhaps more importantly, the delay allowed my crew and I to relax, take a breath and slow our pace down. The previous shoot we were coming off of in Madeira had been a madcap race of improvising and overcoming a variety of obstacles – a few hours of downtime on the train platform in the morning sun turned out to be a welcome treat.
Once onboard, I have to say, I was greatly impressed. Essentially a commuter train, the cars were spotlessly clean, quiet and wonderfully equipped. We had fast, uninterrupted (and free) WiFi for the entire two-and-a-half hour trip. And while it wasn’t the Orient Express, the dining car was nicely appointed and offered a good selection of both sandwiches and hot meals, as well as a handful of wines and local beers. There was a car for families with children, complete with stroller parking and a play area. There were also a number of bike “lockers” throughout the train for those cycling to and from the station. And of course, the view of the Finnish countryside rolling by was delightful. Well thought out, well laid out, the train ride was one of the highlights of my travels. I only wish I could have spent more time riding the rails. I think a dedicated train trip is in order.