The first impression of any city you visit (by rail) is most often volunteered by its main train station. This structure provides the first port of call and welcome to the namesake cities. Sometimes, this impression is somewhat hampered by a grotty, unimpressive station; but a lot of the time it does the opposite and makes you fall in love with the city before you have even stepped on its grounds.
One of the many things the British public love to talk (moan) about is our national train service. Sure, some fares have increased by 200% since privatisation in 1997, you can always expect a slight delay from what would seem the least nefarious of “incidents” (leaves on the tracks anyone?) and on some journeys you are effectively paying to awkwardly squat near the toilet with three other seatless passengers.
However, there is something about trains that equally fascinate and enthrall Britons. Only the other week, The Flying Scotsman ploughed through Southampton, prompting the arrival of many eager onlookers at various stations across the city. Sometimes, you can be lucky enough to be part of a ripple of laughter in your carriage as a particularly chirpy conductor does his rounds or announcements with added gusto, employing jokes and light compliments to passengers – just to make the ride a bit more memorable. Once, a kind conductor even let my baby sister blow the whistle on the platform.
As well as being the first point of call stations are, also, the last goodbye. Your departure platform acts as a farewell – the last thing you see as you leave the city. It is only expected then, that the beginning and end of the journey concrete your experience.
Having experienced my fair share of delays and overestimation of journey times to and from various stations, I have frequently stopped to smell the roses. The roses in this instance are the little perks and thrills in a station, such as beautiful, intricately patterned ceilings (see pictures) and gorgeous, antiquated clocks that lace together a station’s architecture akin to the way in which the stars lace a night sky.
Major train stations, also, provide the feeling of familiarity for which travellers, holidayers and commuters alike yearn when returning home. For example, as well as always being able to rely on several Starbucks and Pret a Manger outlets being in London stations, you can always count on a quaint Lola’s Cupcakes stand to be there at most, and I can’t think of a warmer, more delectable welcome than their salted caramel brownies…