Heritage Train Tour Leaders Q&A with Bernadette Eichner

  • Tell us a bit about yourself? 

I’m a farmer’s daughter, the eldest of 6 children and grew up in regional South Australia – like most of my generation, that included a stint at boarding school, which I associate with piquing my interest in what else the world had to offer. I’m a trained psychologist, businesswoman, lover of the arts and nature and a writer at heart.  It would be fair to say that prior to meeting Scott McGregor and joining the Railway Adventures family, my travel choices were influenced wholly by my passion for sociology, people, the arts, culture and the natural world.  I can now add trains to that!   

  • What attracted you to the love of train travel?

I’ve always liked travelling by train – the whole low carbon footprint thing, the ease of access when in a new place, the ability to immerse yourself in the scenery as you roll along, and the conviviality that happens on trains are all great incentives when I’m travelling.  But when I met Scott, while the interest in the mode of transport didn’t change, my understanding of trains did. The advent of trains changed the world forever – economically and socially, and since being part of Railway Adventures, I’ve come to better appreciate the history and culture of train travel a lot more.  And while I can now tell the difference between a steam and diesel locomotive, I’m still not up on the rivet count!

  • Favourite country in the world, and why?

This is a tough one!  Apart from the fact there’s still more countries I’ve not been to than those I have, every country I’ve travelled to so far has its own charm, unique history and cultural character, and its own particular challenges as a travel destination.  I’ve found over the years that I’m very drawn to countries that have risen above adversity and fought hard in the face of war and deprivation to rise above their history and regain their sovereignty – Cambodia, Japan, Poland, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bosnia are just a few examples.  Perhaps that appeals to my interest and training in social psychology.  But then I also Iove the rich history and culture of Europe too, and the stunning natural world offered by countries like Norway, Canada, the USA, and of course our own back yard, Australia.  But my favourite so far?  I think I’d say South Africa.  It ticks all the boxes in terms of rising above adversity, a fascinating (though sometimes very bleak) history and culture, stunning landscapes (the ‘biggest sky’ I’ve ever seen is there), and of course, there’s the magical wildlife.

  • Where haven’t you visited but is on the bucket list?

How long have you got!  It’s not flavour of the month right now, but exploring Russia is something I’d love to do if I ever get the chance.  I guess we shall have to wait and see.  Interestingly, I’ve never been to Turkey or Greece – I must be one of the only Australian baby boomers who hasn’t, so they are still on the list.  Others in the wish bucket include the ‘Stans’, Iran, and Jordan.

  • How long have you worked with Railway Adventures?

It’s been 7 years since my first tour.  I joined Scott and his group halfway through the Scandinavia by Rail, Road and Sea tour of 2016 and have never looked back!

  • Your Favourite Railway Adventures Tour?

Again, this is a tough one! For the same reasons I said before!  Every tour has some ‘favourite’ elements.  But I’m being asked to choose one, so it would have to be Sri Lanka by Private Train.  It’s a fascinating country with a rich cultural history that it’s fought hard to protect, the people are some of the most joyous and generous I’ve met, the food is great, the scenery and animals are so very special, the hotels we use are 5-star, and of course we have our own private train to get us from one place to the next.  One of my greatest memories is travelling under steam down the beautiful Sri Lankan coast from Colombo to Galle with every village coming out to meet us along the way.  And because of the inclusions this tour offers, our guests barely need to put their hands in their pockets at all – something that makes me as a Tour Leader very proud of.

  • Your most memorable Railway Adventures Tour?

This one is easy.  Scandinavia 2019.  I was the Tour Leader on this tour and while it turned out to be a great tour (if the number of repeat travellers it spawned is anything to go by), it wasn’t without its challenges!  Things went swimmingly until we got to Norway, only to discover that the Norwegian Railways were in the middle of a major overhaul of their track system, the result being that nearly every one of the trains we were using had either been replaced by something different, rerouted, or in one case, cancelled completely!  It turned out they’d been sending us emails about it for weeks beforehand but because the emails were in Norwegian and part of a ‘bulk’ approach to advising customers, they all went straight into the Spam bucket at Railway Adventures, so no-one was any the wiser. And we weren’t the only ones – apart from the locals, no other travellers seemed to know what was going on either! 

As the Tour Leader, I wasn’t going to have any of my people not get on any of the trains we needed to be on!  The 10-hour trip from Bodo to Trondheim was the most memorable day – not least because of the epic journey but because I hadn’t realised that the train sitting in the station was not the Sleeper Train with Dining Car and our First-Class seats that I thought we were getting but a local train that had been substituted.  One of those days when I wished I had learned to count the rivets!  So, no reserved seats were being honoured at all and there was no dining car.  I channeled my best version of a school mistress persona and everyone in the group learned very quickly the meaning of ‘possession is 9/10ths of the law’ – if you have a ticket, just get on and sit down – ask no questions and let me do the talking!  Unfortunately, the food and beverage situation wasn’t good news either.  There were only two vending machines on board and the Wi-Fi wasn’t working, so only cash could be used and none of us had much of that given the non-cash society that Norway is.  

But what could have been a travel story from hell actually turned into one of the best days of the tour. In typical Aussie style, we decided to approach the whole thing as an adventure.  Fortunately, everyone had a bottle of water with them, so we pooled all our snacks and small change and doled out ration packs for everyone.  Our very friendly and helpful conductor told me he had a friend who worked in a pizza parlour a bit further along the line and that we’d be stopping at the station for 2 minutes if we wanted to order pizzas for delivery.  He would facilitate the transaction for me, but the risk was all in the timing – if the pizzas (at $AUD$100 each) weren’t at the station when we pulled in, the opportunity and my money would be lost.  I took the risk and ordered 10 Family pizzas.  The best sight ever was that of a delivery boy, in full livery, running down the platform as the train started to pull out and handing the pizzas to me through the open doorway just as the train picked up speed.  It was like something out of a movie!  We were able to feed not just our group, but the whole carriage, creating much humour and gregarious interaction for the rest of the journey.

  • What is your favourite international cuisine?

If it’s fresh and cooked by a local, I’m in!

  • What are your top 5 packing essentials?

Apart from my passport and credit card you mean.  Phone, computer, power cords for both, and my Tour Leader’s Run Sheet!  Everything else is secondary.

  • Tell us why you love your job!

Variety is the spice of life, and this job has it in spades!  The destinations, trains, people, food, culture, history and unexpected local surprises I get to experience make every day on tour special.  More than any of that though, are our travellers themselves – maybe it’s the train thing but we seem to attract really interesting people who are curious travellers and know how to roll along with everyone else, so it’s just a real pleasure to be in their company.

Bernadette will be co-tour leading Vintage SloveniaThe Balkans by Private TrainThe Central NSW Rambler to the Trundle ABBA FestivalThe Elvis Special and Cambodia by Private Train.

Scott McGregor’s Railway Adventures tour is more than just a holiday, it is a unique way to experience the world. By train you are completely immersed in culture and adventure, exploring the most scenic corners of the world in the comfort of a luxury train. Whether you are an experienced traveller or just beginning to explore this wonderful world, Railway Adventures have something for everyone. Transform your holiday into the most unforgettable adventure of a lifetime with Railway Adventures.


Call 1300 800 977 to request a brochure on our tours in 2023 and 2024.

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