I caught trains across Europe to impress a hot man and to try to save the world | Brigid Delaney

Sure I could get to Rome in an hour, but what about the journey?

Last year I met a real hot babe while swimming in a bay off a Greek island.

Drying off, we got to talking, then walking along the cliff, before finding somewhere nice to sit down for a drink.

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It was golden hour, the sun was going down over the sea, and all was right in the world. Then we started arguing about climate change.

I told him about my trip so far, and he thought it was DISGUSTING the amount of flying I did. He had arrived in Greece by train and boat.

But that would take six weeks from Australia! I protested.

Nonetheless, I decided that next time I was in Europe I would travel overland. So I am getting the train and bus from Berlin to Rome.

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Costing 300 (plus accomodation along the way), the journey took 18 hours.

It would be too late to impress the guy but maybe, even better! it would help the planet.

Berlin to Munich

I think Im sitting in the wrong seat but I cant be sure. According to my ticket (110, double the cost of flying to Milan from Berlin) Im meant to be in something Carte 22 and this is a carte I just got on randomly.

I immediately feel ill at ease. There must be a German word for this discomfort you feel on a train when you are in the wrong seat.

In Nuremberg a man looms over me and says: Das ist mein platz, den du bist! or words to that effect and so I move to a nearby seat, and the cycle of discomfort begins again.

My new seat offers only a partial view of the scenery because the passenger in front, who has the full window, shuts the blind. To get a glimpse of the scenery, I have to look across the aisle. But those seats are occupied by a couple who are grinding each other into paste. His tongue is in her ear, her hands are down his pants. To look at the scenery, I have to look at them, or at least near them.

I resort to glances out their window (a castle, a warehouse, a light industrial area) but that is somehow worse, more furtive, than staring past them.

Munich to Verona

Next morning, the bus. What bus station is not grim? Its as if they punish us bus people for being poor, while the richer people get the nicer ceilings (often glass, often cathedral) in train stations.

Bus terminals tend to be at the back of something; hidden, unlovely, sad. A vending machine provides the only snacks. Theres no coffee. There are no ceilings.

But as we drive from Munich through the Alps into Austria it is stunning.

At the border, near a dramatic mountain range, we stop at a McDonalds.

This McDonalds is super nice. The enormous windows look out on to a meadow and the Alps, snow-capped even in summer.

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The view from the McDonalds. Photograph: Brigid Delaney

Back on the bus, as we wind down into a valley, I notice we have a police escort. We turn into a large concrete yard where men in high-vis vests are waiting for us.

This will take an hour, the man sitting beside me says, shrugging.

Police enter the bus and ask for our passports. I had thought there was free movement between European borders and one of the attractions of overland travel was to skip security, but no. These checks are thorough.

Our documents are taken away and we are told to get off the bus and remove our luggage, then stand in a line, away from our luggage, while it is searched, using dogs. Its hot out in the yard. The man who said This will take an hour is moved off the line and taken away. He returns and for some reason I am very relieved.

After our bags and documents are checked we are allowed back on the bus.

After 10 minutes in the hot, stationary bus, the police return and call out a name. The only guy on the bus wearing a suit stands up.

Another police officer takes his luggage and hes taken off the bus.

When flying, the vast global complex that governs controls of borders is often hidden from most of us in plain sight. It takes place in small rooms. Or before we even get to the airport with a denial of a visa. We move around airports and through passport control like parts in a factory. Everything is designed to keep moving, to pluck off the defective pieces efficiently, without causing too much fuss, scrutiny or anxiety in others.

We usually dont see people being taken off planes. Plane passengers arent asked to line up on the tarmac as their luggage is searched. There are hundreds of people on planes and our time with them on short-haul flights around Europe can be brief.

But sit all day on a bus with 20 people pass around snacks, make eye contact and wonder about their life you notice when one of them is pulled off and taken away.

The engine starts, the air con comes on, which is a relief as its 34C. But surely we wont leave without the guy in the suit? What will happen to him?

Out the window I see his luggage being loaded off from the hold. We roll out of the yard into this almost surreal postcard landscape.

Verona to Modena

By bus, again. This two-hour trip goes through the Emilia-Romagna countryside flat, green and crumbling castles in the distance. Even though there are only four of us onboard, the driver tells me Im in the wrong seat and I have to sit in 15C, a bad seat in the middle of the bus, on the aisle.

I ask the driver for wifi but he doesnt understand my accent, so I have to pronounce it the Italian way: Wee fee? Allora? You have wee fee?

Modena to Bologna to Rome

Italy (and also Japan) must be the only countries where train station food is not a depressing phrase. For a couple of euros I get this delicious thing filled with ham, rocket and a soft creamy cheese (fresh mozzarella?), and a cappuccino.

But Bologna station is awful a vector of stress. People with crying, distressed children and enormous luggage and massive wheels of cheese are trying to cram into elevators or perilously balance things a finger on each massive piece of luggage as we go down an escalator.

Then I have a dark thought: imagine trying to be noble and stop climate change then being killed by a falling wheel of cheese.

Travelling overland feels more like travel in the old sense. Flying gets you there quicker but compared with the bus its so antiseptic. On the train and bus, theres more time to think, there are more things to see and, when I finally get to Rome, theres a greater sense of having undertaken a journey.

  • Brigid Delaney is a Guardian Australia columnist

Original Article : HERE ; The Ultimate Survival Food: The Lost Ways

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