Some train journeys I don't remember. Thankfully not for the same reasons as the protagonist of The Girl on the Train — in my case, I was simply too young to recall the first time I ever got onto a train (a trip from Durban to Umhlali in South Africa, I'm told). I don't remember my first truly dramatic journey either, from Milan to Lake Como on a family holiday when I was four. Some train journeys, though, stick in the mind.
1. Rabat to Meknes, Morocco
When I was 18, I traveled to Morocco, where I was to spend three weeks working and traveling with other students, a kind of cultural-exchange program. I flew to Rabat, where I boarded a train to take me to Meknes. I was alone at this point — I hadn't met up with any of the other students — and I was nervous, still very much in European mode, not comfortable squeezing myself into an already-crowded carriage. But over the course of the three-hour ride, creaking slowly along a track which runs between the Atlas and the Sahara, I started slowly to adjust to a north African rhythm. I made friends. I chatted in very bad French to the elderly women next to me; the family with two small children shared their food, passing around boiled eggs and oranges and bitter coffee from a flask. It was an introduction to the kindness of strangers so often shown to me on that trip.
2. London to Paris (many times)
After Morocco, I moved to Paris for a year. It was the first time I was going to live away from home, and I was itching to get away. I dreamed of the quaint rooftop garret in which I would spend my evenings writing and drinking red wine, of the handsome French painter with whom I'd fall in love. I ended up in an apartment in a tower block and the photographer I fell in love with was English, but I never lost the frisson of excitement I got boarding the Eurostar at Waterloo Station, the thrill of that dark descent into the Channel Tunnel, the fillip of excitement when emerging on the other side, speeding through the French countryside towards a Paris full of possibility.
3. Brussels to Vienna
Much later, in love with an English journalist this time, I moved to Brussels to live with him. We had been there several months when the journalist in question, in pursuit of a complicated story involving a Russian Mafiosi, had to take an overnight train to Vienna. Our relationship was foundering at this point, and I decided to go with him, thinking this would be the perfect romantic trip. I had visions of us in our own private sleeper carriage, dressing up for dinner, drinking champagne. Later, lying in our cozy bunk, we'd watch the snow fall on the tracks outside. In reality, we shared a miserable 12-hour journey in a carriage with six strangers, with nothing to eat and — worst of all — no bar car. Saddest of all was the knowledge that, had that happened in the early days of our relationship, we would have laughed at the situation; it would have become a funny story to tell. Instead we bickered and went grumpily to our claustrophobic bunks, where I lay awake for most of the night, listening to the breathing of strangers in the dark, knowing that we had reached the beginning of the end.
4. Edinburgh to London
I'd been to Edinburgh to see an exhibition at the Scottish Museum of Modern Art; on the day I was due to leave there were terrible storms in the south of England and all the trains were canceled, so I had to stay an extra night in Scotland. I got up at dawn the next morning to catch the train. As the train sped along that dramatic stretch of coast between Edinburgh and Newcastle, the sun was rising over the sea; and while I drank my coffee and ate my bacon sandwich, I took in Berwick-upon-Tweed and Bamburgh Castle, Holy Island, and Alnmouth. I knew that there was no point in taking photographs, because they would never capture how beautiful it all really was, and in any case, that wasn't what mattered. What mattered was how it felt.
5. Finsbury Park to Harringay
Not a long journey this one, just two stops in north London — most times I don't even bother to sit down. But I'm always in a good mood when I take it, because when I hop off the train and walk up the hill, I know that it won't be five minutes until I'm sitting across in the kitchen at my best friend's house, glass of wine in hand, putting the world to rights.