Book on-line, book early, book first class (there are deals to be had), pack light and be ready for some mad dashes between platforms…..
Then just sit back and enjoy.
Train travel in Europe, while not without its challenges, can be fun and extremely rewarding as my friend Jan and I discovered as we journeyed from Paris (six nights) to northern Italy soaking up the sights (the snow topped Alps), sounds and cultures of famous cities and towns on the way.
Heaps of planning went into the trip which saw us catch an afternoon train from Paris Gare Lyon to Turin where we stayed overnight before heading to Venice (two nights), Lake Como (two nights), Rapallo on the Italian Riviera (five nights) and Milan (two nights), before boarding our plane home via Singapore.
Lugging our bags to and from and between platforms at the various stations we encountered proved our biggest challenge, exacerbated by the fact that things (as you would expect) are different over there.
Changing trains can be a virtual nightmare (we did it twice), once between Venice and Lake Como (changing in Milan) and Lake Como to Rapallo (again, changing in Milan).
Because, the incoming and outgoing trains on both occasions stop at different platforms sometimes quite distant from one another and they don’t wait, even if your incoming train is running late. That’s where the “mad dashes” come in. We did experience the drama of clambering on an almost departing train (phew we made it) and walking through eight carriages to our seat.
There are also lots of stairs and making things more challenging, to get aboard your trains, you have to climb up to three steep stairs, all the time with your bags which you leave in luggage racks near the door.
That’s where First Class with more room is worth the extra money. You can get cheap First Class tickets if you stalk the sites ready to pounce when specials come up. We did.
Very helpful advice can be gained from https://www.seat61.com/Europe-train-travel.htm. I followed this advice by travelling from Paris to Venice by doing an overnight stopover in Turin. While the train came in at one station (thanks to a lovely passing Italian couple who could speak to the taxi company on my phone and let them know where we were and where we wanted to go) it departs from the station across the road from the Turin Palace Hotel. Staying at the Turin Palace Hotel was a treat: great bed, great showers, and fabulous breakfast. This was capped off in the morning when staff assisted me with the luggage direct to the station.
There were porters available at the station in Venice who took our bags to and from the water taxis (10 Euros) while other travellers (young and older) on more than one occasion helped us negotiate some perilous stairs including those onto the trains.
From the start of our trip I had been giving a couple of Euros here and there to the homeless people we encountered and in Rapallo, after giving a man at the station some Euros, he saw us battling with our bags and insisted on helping us to the taxi rank which was some distance away. I thankfully gave him five more Euros. Everyone’s a winner.
Like the rest of the trip, pre-planning was essential and rewarding.
We booked a two-bedroom apartment at the border of the 7th and the 15th arrondissement, the Sevres-Lecourbe area and it suited our needs perfectly.
We loved the area, which was close to supermarkets and other shops as well as a choice of two metro stations, that gave us the ability to go to favourite places (the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees and Montmartre). We purchased ‘Paris Visite’ five-day pass at the information counter at the airport when we arrived.
The people we met (starting with the owner Didier) were incredibly friendly and helpful. Didier was waiting for us when we arrived jet lagged, and helped us with our bags and to provide information about the area. He even took the time to fix Jan’s suitcase which was broken as we were boarding the flight in Brisbane.
Activities we pre-booked to add to our wanderings in Montmartre and around Sunday flea markets included:
- Eiffel Tower picnic-style lunch with champagne and a great view.
- Seine river cruise with live music and lunch.
- The Atelier des Luminieres a digital exhibition of Van Gogh’s masterpieces accompanied by original music.
Hotel Ala (I have been there before) is close to St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice’s most famous church, known for its art work and history. The church overlooks St. Mark’s Square on the edge of the Grand Canal and is joined to the Doge’s Palace.
The hotel is also just a stroll from where we had a gondola ride and serenade (which we pre-booked, of course) and lots of restaurants. It impressively has its own entrance for catching a water taxi.
Hotel Albergo Firenze. Small but comfy and close to the lake. While I didn’t see George Clooney, the lake was spectacular.
In the streets surrounding Hotel Firenze there are many restaurants and shops. Exploring Como is easily done as most sights are in walking distance. I had very tasty lasagna in a nearby outdoor restaurant and around the corner from the hotel was a fruit and vegetable shop, where I bought the most delicious figs and apricots. It was a very warm and lazy day in Como so have yet to visit the other lakes. Next time.
In a last-minute change, before we left, I cancelled our plans to stay at a hotel and booked a spacious two bedroom apartment in Rapallo. What a coup, that was. Not only is Rapallo a beautiful place to spend time. The apartment felt more like a home than a holiday rental. The convenience to the railway station meant we could travel on buses and trains to go on day trips to Santa Margherita, Portofino and Cinque Terre.
Again, (like Paris), the owner, Giusy, couldn’t have been more attentive and helpful and we just loved it, particularly the wonderful balcony overlooking the town.
The closeness of a supermarket, other shops and restaurants were a bonus and we ate lunch out and dinner in.
Giusy and her daughter were such a help to us with our luggage at the station to get on the train to Milan.
Two nights at the magnificent Hotel Pierre Milan in the centre of the city saw us relax in opulence and catch our breath before heading to the airport for the flight home.
Overall, a success and job well done with planning.
Lesson learnt: next time I really will pack lighter.
Paris apartment booked through: https://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/
Rapallo apartment booked through: https://www.homeaway.com.au
Paris lunches (Eiffel Tower and Seine River cruise) and Gondola ride with serenade booked through: https://www.viator.com/
By Judith Quirk
She Society is a site for the women of Australia to share our stories, our experiences, shared learnings and opportunities to connect.