Where we end the epic journey of the Connecting Europe Express, I reflect upon the experience and provide fun facts, memories, and lessons learned.
Here we are! It’s the last day! Day 36 of uninterrupted train travel throughout 26 European countries. Many were calling it impossible, but of course it was possible. It just took a lot of commitment, a lot of organisational and logistical work, and some crazy people that would ride with it.
I believe I can read everyone’s peculiar mood today, especially the people I have been so close to during this epic journey. They must feel estranged, somewhere in between relief, sadness, and excitement. They must feel already nostalgic. I don’t want to hop off this train, at the same time I wanna go home and go back to whatever I was doing before life on the train.
It’s hard to describe. We are all beyond tired, but we all loved this incredible, unique experience so much. No one has ever done this, and the memories from this journey will remain with all of us forever. It’s a special bond when you share something this big.
On my side, I want to thank directly the main characters of this story, those who went through all, or almost all the 20,000 Km the Connecting Europe Express has covered: Desiree, Roxana, Femke, Astrid, Yvonne, Marit, Herald, Christian and Libor. Such a pleasure and fun working and travelling with you all.
There are so many other people who spent so much time on the train and working on this project, between EU institutions, private companies, rail operators and project partners. I can’t mention them all, but they all contributed to making this possible.
A special mention goes to the crews of the rail operators that provided the coaches (see post of Day 3) to put together this train, and the many workers, and drivers along the way. By the way, today’s driver between Strasbourg and Paris is a young woman, and after 36 days I feel like a little gender balance can do only good to the sector.
Here are some other fun facts: we stopped 200 times and exchanged pennants (or small flags) in 100 cities. We have used 60 electric and 5 diesel locomotives, the train had 13 technical inspections and 3 overnight maintenance activities, we slept on the train 5 times.
Interesting, yes. However, most people actually ask questions like what was your favourite city? Or your favourite moment? Or memory? What have you learned? The answers to these questions are extremely hard, but let me give it a try.
I have proof now that corn is everywhere in Europe. Seriously, no matter the country, we have seen cornfields all over the continent, at all possible stages of growth. It is really a basic food for our diet. Pop reference: Interstellar.
We take so much for granted the Euro currency, but it really makes it easier to go from one country to the other. Not to mention that sometimes we don’t even notice we are in a different country, for the simple reason that we are not changing currency. It cannot get more European than this.
It is very important to eat and pee when you can, you don’t know when the next opportunity will arise. #LessonsLearned.
Let’s start the best series, exclusively in the opinion of the person writing of course.
Best stations were Antwerp, Leipzig and Milan. Best photo shooting, and sunrise, in Prague. Best train food in Greece, Austria, Bulgaria and Lithuania.
Best food food, well, so many, but I’ll mention Croatia for the amazing Orient Express themed breakfast, and Romania for the feasts that welcomed us at every single stop. Reference: food marathon.
Best wine, désolé la France, we had it in Italy, at least on this journey. But I’ll give a special mention to the incredibly good wine we tried from Bulgaria and Slovenia, very underestimated wine countries. Keyword: discovery.
Best beer, it goes without saying, Germany and Czech Republic. Best sunrise on the train was in France, day 4. Best train views, uh so hard, let’s say the Alps in Austria, the forest in Sweden, and the hilly part of Spain and Portugal.
We were lucky to be received with local folklore, music and dances in so many places, and it was always fun. But I’ll mention in particular our arrival in Serbia, where a poor nurse had to apply a covid test on all passengers at the train station, while Balkan music was playing live and we were all welcomed in a sarabanda of hugs and handshakes. For a moment there I felt like in an Emir Kusturica’s film.
The weirdest thing happened in Denmark, where all the passengers had to be locked in the sleeping car (twice) because of some rules that don’t apply anywhere else in the EU. The most organisational problems were encountered in Switzerland and Germany, surprisingly enough.
We loved it when in Greece two old friends met after 40 years. And the Austrian lady with the EU branded dress, one of the many rail enthusiasts (Luc, Toma, Natalie…), trainspotters, welcomers, Connecting Europe Express and EU supporters.
We loved the Spanish crew shooting a short film on board, which you can find on YouTube. When Herald went running at the stop in Maribor and the mayor followed him by bike. The tour in Ostrava, kindly organised by Marcel, part-time history teacher and the only person to welcome us there. Our karaoke nights in the conference room, so many new voices for the talent shows.
There are so many weird and fun moments in a journey like this. So many things happen. It is impossible to mention them all, just like it is impossible to rank the best country or best city in Europe. It’s all a matter of the experiences linked to the memories.
The beauty of Europe lies in its diversity, its thousand years old cultures. Everywhere you go there is something to discover between nature, culture, history, architecture, gastronomy or a mix of all of this, with no exceptions. Europe is the stories and the pride of every country and city we have visited, coexisting under the same roof and going towards a common future.
During its journey the Connecting Europe Express hosted many train enthusiasts, campaigners, media, CEOs, policy and decision-makers at all levels. Many discussions have taken place on board, or in one of the many workshops and conferences organised. It is their task to think and shape the future of rail in Europe.
No one can foresee the future, but all the people and organisations which have a role in this sector, can seize the opportunity provided by the EU Year of Rail momentum, and work towards a common goal. Europe is now rethinking how to connect itself in a more sustainable way, and railways are leading the way to the future.
As for me, if I could foresee the future, then I’d like it to be filled with much easier, affordable and efficient rail travel across the EU.
We are arriving in Paris, time to celebrate. It’s the end of a journey, which only means the beginning of a new one. The EU Year of Rail will continue with other projects and initiatives throughout 2021, and in 2022 will pass the baton to the EU Year of Youth. It sounds like the most natural of things.
#EUYearOfRail #ConnectingEurope #EUYearOfYouth
Our mascot Chickee is also travelling on the Connecting Europe Express and having his own special journey. She also has her own Instagram account. Here are some of her adventures.