I’ve noticed, after traveling Europe for a little bit, that there are often more railways than motorways. Compared to the U.S., the rail networks in Western and Central Europe are wonderfully developed and maintained, they cover more land area, and they just have their shit together.
I spent a decent amount of time in Europe standing in the Firenze Santa Maria Novella Train Station. I bumped into young people wearing large backpacking packs on their way to the next country, locals heading out on day trips, and other students studying abroad who were, like me, using the weekend to explore all that the new foreign country had to offer.
Traveling on the train forced travelers and locals to sit together in metal cars. Different languages flew through the air filling up the train with interesting conversation. The people were as diverse as the crowd that gathered at the International airports. They walked the platforms, arriving and departing, with suitcases, purses or briefcases in hand and the trains kept chugging on.
Traveling by train gave me the chance to really see the Italian countryside. I was able to look out of the window and be greeted by a sea of yellow sunflowers swimming among the tall green grass. Beautiful country farmhouses were scattered about serving as a point of reference for the galloping horses towing Italian butteros on their backs.
I met and spoke with wonderful people who communicated in broken English. I ended up learning new Italian words from fellow passengers or from the recorded voice speaking from overhead. I would attempt to read the Italian magazines and newspapers stuffed in the pockets that were located behind the seats, and occasionally, I would drift off after being lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the train.
I learned from riding the train that you should never buy a rail pass, unless you are going to be on the train more than you are experiencing the sights. I learned, while watching people interact with each other at trains stations, that not all of the Roma people are criminals, but that there is enough coverage on in the media of the ones that are which taint the entire community. I heard stories from travelers about all sorts of things and, after traveling by train; I realized that I could add to the long list of adventures that took people all over the world.