uk and european train journeys
A couple of my favourite train journeys
It doesn't take long to realise why the railways have always held an air of romance and mystery when travelling through gorgeous snow-filled valleys, along meditteranean cliffs or whilst watching the sunrise over freshly harvested European fields.
Trains are in general the most comfortable form of mass transit. Most overnight trains come with the option of a 'couchette' or sleeping carriage which can be a lot of fun when travelling in a group of 4 or 6. Otherwise the standard 6 seat cabins (with seats that pull down flat) can be just as comfortable and romantic if you can snag them all to yourself.
Travelling by train isn't just a way of getting from A to B. It's an adventure that can transport you from the heart of a big city to wide open fields whilst giving you the opportunity to meet new people and see beautiful parts of a country you had never known existed.
I have taken some beautiful train journeys as well as some rather forgettable ones. The following three of my favourites should be taken if you get the chance. These are trips I would take again just for the adventure and not specifically for the destination.
The Alpine Pass, Italy - Switzerland
In September 07 I travelled from Milan in Northern Italy via, Bellinzona, Andermatt, Lucerne and Interlaken to a small town in the Swiss Alps called Grindelwald. Due to a miscalculation on my part this trip took about 12 hours and was not the shortest route possible (Milan to Grindelwald can be done in just over 4 hours).
Even though the trip was much longer than expected it didn't really matter as the journey from one side of the Alps through to the other side and back into the middle again was breath-taking. In my opinion the best part was the trip from Interlaken to Grindelwald. The train winds its way slowly up incredibly steep mountains through tunnels and over bridges. To top it all off the train deposited us passengers in one of the most picturesque and stunning alpine villages I have ever seen, complete with sky-scraping mountains and impressive glaciers.
Switzerland has a number of dedicated 'scenic routes' that I have yet to experience. If the regular trains are anything to go by then 'The Glacier Express' surely must be out of this world!
The Train to Cinque Terre
The Train to Cinque Terre, Italy
You may have already heard of the Cinque Terre (five lands) consisting of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Italy has been blessed with many visually dazzling destinations and the Cinque Terre is among the best.
Embarking the train at Genoa in December 06 I wasn't too excited. Sure I'd heard of the Cinque Terre and I knew it was on the Meditteranean, but it was just another train trip to me at that stage. That feeling lasted for the time it took the train to meet the coast (about 15mins) after that I was glued to the windows like a lost house-fly, astounded by the beauty of the sea and the striking contrast of the cliffs which end so abruptly in the water. Through long tunnels to bridges over narrow inlets, the train journey continues to amaze and when it finally brought us passengers to the Cinque Terre I quickly understood why it is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site of outstanding value.
This journey must be undertaken, it's just that spectactular.
A Balkan Beauty, Belgrade - Podgorica
This un-assuming overnight train journey from one former Yugoslavic country to another, turned out to be a real surprise. Recently in October 08 I found myself in Eastern Europe catching one ageing ex-communist train after another. I was in Bucharest and I was trying to get to Dubrovnik, this meant passing through Serbia and Monetengro, two countries that until just recently were definite no-go areas.
The train departed Belgrade at 21:30 and was due in Podgorica just after 6 the next morning. The cabin in which I was seated was in a sad state. I spent the first 10mins of the trip re-attaching the seats to the frame after I mistakenly tried to pull it out to the reclined position.
It was about then that my peaceful cabin was interrupted by a dozen or so Romanians on their way to a wake (or was it from a wake..) Certainly not in a solemn mood and oblivious to my attempts to read my Frommer's guide, they insisted on my involvement in their celebrations of their departed friend. In the most broken of English and Romanian (and a bit of Italian) we attempted to communicate whilst enjoying the fresh Serbian air and Romanian liquor.
Somewhere along the way the rowdy bunch disembarked and left me to enjoy the sunrise over the snow topped Balkans and the beautiful untouched valleys of a prevously conflict ridden part of Europe. This trip was unsuspected for a few reasons any of which are a great excuse to take an 'overnighter' even though the train arrived in Podgorica a good two and a half hours late.
A good train journey is what you make of it, although it helps when the setting is astounding in its beauty or you just happen to meet a random like-minded traveller or bunch of locals eager to share stories. So next time you're about to embark on what you think is just another train trip remember, it could become the experience of a lifetime.
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