“Are you crazy? The plane ride is 50 minutes!” my husband exclaimed. It might be the most rational choice and a pretty obvious one but while looking at tickets, two facts changed my mind:
- Train was cheaper even though I bought first-class
- Flying stresses me out (unless it’s not in a plane…)
Still, I admit six hours by train is a long time. So I asked myself: Do I want to be uncomfortable for 50 minutes or comfortable (probably bored) for 6-7 hours? The answer was clear: there is no way I can get bored when I have six unbroken hours of sustenance for thinking and writing. That’s why when I had to go to Stockholm for the first time I chose to take the train.
I’ve taken the train from France to Germany, Holland, England and many, many times within France. This was my first time between Scandinavian countries and I was very curious. When the train entered the platform, it didn’t have the glossy, smooth surface of a TGV. Instead it looked as if it was made with tin roofs from a slum, all painted black with the white “SJ” logo. I gave it the benefit of doubt and thought to myself “Mmm, old-fashioned”. When I got in, I was bluffed by its interior.
- The first-class wagon was cozy and elegant, combining old-fashioned and modern décor with wooden roofs, tables and walls, carpeted floors and seats from the Taggart Transcontinental.
- Seats were wide enough, allowing you to recline comfortably, lifting your butt a little.
- The hallway between seat rows was also wide.
- It was so quiet! I felt like a tourist eating popcorn at a French theater when I had my snack.
- There was a toilet in the wagon (not always the case in French trains, even first class).
I am used to clean toilets in Norway and this was no exception; there was a changing table for babies and though thin, toilet paper was abundant. I was unsure what to push to flush, but after a few monkey-taps I discovered it was the blue button (for water, dah!).
…but no Wi-Fi
- There was no Wi-Fi! Not paid, not free, nothing. Old fashioned indeed. So I decided to use my mobile as a hot-spot. I felt like I’d just invented hot water. Except after an hour my phone had less than 10% battery life. Which takes me to the next point:
- There are two seat rows: one row of single seats and one with two, four of which face each other in the mid-section. Only the seats on the single row and the ones for a “Party of 4” have electricity outlets. I was sitting behind the “Party of 4”, without an outlet. I had to borrow one to charge my phone.
- I regret not sitting next to the window. I was happy to have it on the way back, but of course the most beautiful landscape was on the other side…
- We were an hour late. The first half-hour did not matter; I was waiting in the sun. The extra half-hour delay was a punishment: we had to let two trains pass, so as not to delay them. Fair enough. So we were even later. I don’t know how often this happens, but I was glad not to be in a hurry.
When I went to the food wagon, I went through second class. The seats looked comfy, but much less than in first class. There were more people and no carpet on the floor so noisier. Also, I couldn’t see any electricity outlets at all.
Oslo or Stockholm?
It’s unfair to compare cities because each one has its own unique charm. But if you must make a choice, here is a superficial comparison put together after a too-quick-to-trust search (you be the judge):
I didn’t stay very long in Stockholm, but in less than 24 hours I managed a few things:
- I opened the wrong room at the hotel. Luckily the chain was on. I closed it quickly but then a half-naked guy came half-out and said something that did not sound inviting.
- I went shopping for hours without buying anything, except for 8 chocolate bars at the supermarket.
- I had lunch in the sun (entrée and main course) for 85 Norwegian kroner. You don’t get that in Oslo. Unless your main course is a sausage, desert replaces the entrée with an ice cream and you eat it on the street instead of a restaurant.
- I learned that Stockholm calls itself “The capital of Scandinavia”. I admire many things from Sweden: Spotify, IKEA, Volvo, Abba, Roxette… (and many more) but this slogan is not one of them. I don’t believe a city can claim to be the capital of a region where two other countries and their capitals represent totally different cultures.
- I liked the familiar feeling of being in a big city, even if Stockholm is not that much bigger than Oslo. There is a “Continental Europe” vibe. I left wanting to come back asap.
Train or plane?
Would I ride the train again? Definitely. Would I ride a second-class narrow seat for 6-7 hours? If I must… but I’m less inclined. If the difference in price is significant in favor of the plane and if I have to make the most out of my time, I would have to take the plane.
Regardless, I still prefer the train. It takes you from the warm heart of a city to another. No security lines, no extra trains or buses to and from the cold outskirts. Sure, six hours is a long time but I got to see the landscape, walk round, sit comfortably (in a seat that does recline) and watch the sunset glitter on the water, surrounded by trees dressed in yellow, orange and red. It even smelled of horse shit at some point, giving the experience an extra kick of authenticity, connecting you even more with nature (but that’s where I draw the line, seriously, it stunk!).
If I have the time and the price is right, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the train over the plane, over and over again!