A rail trip around Italy
In May 1997 we took our first trip on the new Eurostar service through the Channel Tunnel. We went for a long weekend in Amsterdam. We took the new train from Ashford to Brussels. My first impression of the Eurostar was not favourable.
Perhaps that is not surprising as it is based on the TGV, a train that I find uncomfortable and which is probably my least favourite train of all.
Back then the Eurostar was still using the old conventional track in Kent and Belgium, so the only speedy bit was the brief dash from the French side of the tunnel to Lille. I had been spoilt on the Japanese Shinkansen and found the whole experience underwhelming.
In June 1998 we decided to give it another go and we planned a longer trip via rail through the Channel tunnel and towards Italy. We caught the Eurostar again from Ashford to Lille and then changed into a Brussels to Nice TGV.
The only good thing I can say about the second trip on Eurostar was that the food was better than the diabolical stuff they had on the TGV. It was a five hour journey from Lille and they had nothing in the buffet car except for ham and cheese sandwiches. The TGV broke down near Marseille and we were over an hour late getting into Nice.
We changed there and carried on to Monte Carlo for a night’s stay.
The next day we headed into Italy. The trains got more interesting and the food improved too. We headed down to Pisa and then spent a few nights in Florence.
We had a lot of fun exploring that city and then visiting Sienna as well.
We then headed down through Umbria stopping off at Perugia and Assisi before catching an Italian Pendolino train down to Rome.
After a few days in Rome we returned north to Venice on a sleeper train. It was a good move as we arrived around 6am and had the city to ourselves for a few hours before the daily tourist invasion began. Venice is certainly at its best early in the morning.
We had a very memorable dish of pasta with octopus in squid ink sauce in Venice. It was the last meal in a whole series of really delicious Italian food.
From Venice we headed briefly to Milan and then through the Gotthard tunnel up into Switzerland. We had a night in Basel before heading all the way up the Rhine towards Cologne, Brussels and home.
The German rail network was not at its efficient best as it was recovering from the awful ICE disaster the week before. We had a few late connections but in the end we made it back to Brussels just about on time.
About 6 months later we went up to Waterloo International and sampled Eurostar for a third time. Accompanied by my brother-in-law and my mother-in-law, we headed through the tunnel once again. This time we did the whole London-to-Paris trip and rode the fast track all the way down to Gare Du Nord. The weekend in Paris was enjoyable. The trip on the Eurostar wasn’t.