Saturday, 17 March 2012

London to Venice

In 2010 I made two attempts to fly to Venice, both of which were thwarted by flight cancellations due to volcanoes and strikes. Determined to get there before years-end I bought rail tickets from London to Venice.

I’ve flown several times but now it seems inconceivable to me that anyone would bother to fly as there are so many interesting & more enjoyable rail options.

There is of course the famously, luxurious Simplon Orient Express but there are many alternative standard ticket options; all requiring a Eurostar to Paris:
· There’s a TGV from Paris to Milan with a change for Venice
· There’s a sleeper train directly from Paris to Venice
· There are routes with an overnight stay in Germany
· But my option was a train via Switzerland
The cheapest standard rail tickets are very competitive with economy flying but the pleasure of the rail journey is incomparable.

Its not difficult to buy tickets over the web from European rail operators, searching hotels is just as easily and timetables are readily available but nothing beats the simplicity of ringing up a package operator like Railbookers ( & getting someone else to work out the time tabling, purchasing the tickets, booking hotels & providing backup if things don’t go according to plan.

I boarded a Eurostar at St Pancras station in central London clutching all my rail tickets and accommodation vouchers. Within half an hour the high-speed train is whisking me through Kent before diving under the channel, emerging 26 minutes later in France.

Pulling into Paris’ Gare du Nord I calculated that I’d still be in the security queue at Heathrow if I were flying. I didn’t stop over in Paris because I’ve been there many times but a glass of wine in a street café was a must.

Our high speed TGV left Paris for Switzerland just after lunch and although there’s no border the houses give it away - the bright blue and purple of France giving way to grey, pointy chalet style houses of Switzerland.

Our Hotel du Theatre was a convenient five minutes walk from the station. It was in the old town, a minute from the atmospheric cobbled street of Niederdorf – buzzing with nightlife and the best place in town for informal eating and drinking.

Next morning we were travelling south after a good breakfast and just beyond Lake Zurich the Alps begin rearing up – sharp snow-capped peaks fringed with bright green valleys dotted with black and white cows - wearing bells. Sometimes clichés really are true!

Alpine roads twist and swerve through valleys, others tower spectacularly above us on stilts disappearing into tunnels half way up the side of mountains. Several tunnels and bridges later the train descends to Lake Lugano, and then Lake Como - signalling we’ve crossed into Italy. The lakes are beautiful but these iconic lakeside towns didn’t live up to their celebrity magazine image – from the train it’s a disappointing vision of hundreds of ugly boxy apartment buildings.

Finally the train rolled into the massive Romanesque station at Milan just in time for lunch. But with only one hour before the Venice train departs there’s only enough time for a peek outside and sip a real Italian coffee.

The afternoon train raced east across rich farmland of orchards, cereals and vines and the Italian Alps can still occasionally be seen on the horizon.

Journeys end is in sight as we cross the lagoon to Venice’s Santa Lucia station. What a treat it is to arrive in the centre of Venice instead of a ten minute trog to the waterfront & a 50 euro/pp water taxi ride from Marco Polo airport, or even worse, an hours packed coach ride down the motorway from Ryanair’s ‘Venice airport’ way out at Treviso.

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