In a railway carriage with Maria Kofou
Trains, train rides and people who love both. A confession.
Maria Kofou is lucky enough to have turned her hobby into a profession. Since she always loved writing, she decided to study at the Journalism Department of Panteion University. Her postgraduate studies in digital media and communication in Milan were parallel to the creation of her blog. Travel blogging is now her main occupation and the new destinations that she wants to discover are her leading business plans. In fact, if they include a train segment, the greater they are.
She has already crossed 1/3 of the globe by train, while her following plans include some of the world’s most famous train routes. After all, travelling is an important part of her life and she states that travelling by train is her favorite way to visit places unreachable by car.
How did you come up with the idea of your travel blog?
My blog was literally “born” onboard, in a two-hour journey from Desenzano to Milan. The first name I came up with was TrainStories from my world, including stories from my everyday 4-hour train rides; Stories from my fellow passengers, various thoughts and funny events. In a way, the blog was my way to express myself and at the same let my people know about my life abroad, as I was living in Italy at the time.
What’s the first train ride memory that you can recall?
I was at 11th grade and it was the first time that I was travelling alone. I was heading to Thessaloniki, in order to spend a few days with family friends. As a matter of fact, that’s where I wrote my first poem, and it was dedicated to the city. Now that I think of it, I realize that trains have always been an inspiration to me. I recall myself being ecstatic as I looked outside the window at the landscapes passing me by, while one of the best parts of the journey was to study the people around me and create imaginary stories about their destination.
What do you enjoy the most on a train ride?
I love the route that it follows; the fact that you can travel from one point to the other, having a complete view of the mountains, plains, cities and villages that you leave behind. The landscapes that pass right by, the rhythmical lullaby of the rails, the stops at the small villages that are hidden among forests, the picturesque platforms… I’ll never stop saying it; No matter how high the speed, trains will always carry a romantic flair from days gone by.
You have also travelled from Russia to China on the Trans-Siberian. What have you kept from that experience?
Riding the Trans-Siberian was a childhood dream to me. Since none of my people wanted to follow, I decided to take this journey on my own. On July 2015 I set foot on the Moscow Railway Station’s platform. I stayed on board for no less than four days without ever going out, until I reached Siberia. I remember the landscapes, that would vary from large cities to small, colorful wooden Siberian houses. When I arrived at Irkutsk I changed for the Trans-Mongolian, with direction to the Mongolian steppe. Among the most favorite moments, I cherish the memory of enjoying the sunrise and sunset with a cup of hot coffee at hand, amazed by the landscape, wondering which time-zone I’m in (we changed seven time zones – after all, we crossed 1/3 of the planet!). And after the peaceful landscape of the steppe, there was the thick green Chinese regions and then the hustle and bustle of Beijing. And in between, long chats, vodka shots, sharing food with local Chinese, Russians and Mongolians, and conversations via google translator. This trip was a great revelation to me, a personal challenge of getting out of my comfort zone and trusting my instinct and the people around me.
What’s the next train challenge that you plan or dream of?
My next rail trip shall be the Inca rail in Peru, the one that climbs the Machu Picchu. My future plans also include the legendary Orient Express, from Venice to Istanbul, the Devil’s Nose Train, which crosses the Andes in Ecuador, and the Bernina route between Italy and Switzerland.
Is there something that will facilitate train journeys in the future in your opinion?
I hope that Greece soon will enjoy more routes, faster trains and more choices so that travelers can travel by train to Europe without having to fly or sail first. Special offers and discounts on holidays and festivals would also help a lot so that more and more travelers are attracted to train trips.
What would be your special advice to train travelers?
When I travel, I always carry my favorite music, a good book – ideally dealing with trains – and sometimes even my tablet, loaded with train movies. Carrying a small travel pillow is also very helpful and provides extra comfort. If the trip is long, it’s important to get up often and take small walks, while the bar - restaurant is always a great place to meet people and a pleasant way to spend time until you reach your destination.
You can read more about Maria’s stories in her blog, tstories.gr (there is a train-stories section), as well as in instagram (#tstoriestrains, #mytranssiberiandream1 and 2, #tfortrains).