Today begins our Grand European Tour in the manner of some young Eighteenth Century English aristocrat. It will be condensed into 12 days rather than the usual 12 to 18 months required to acquaint some young Marquis with classical art and architecture.
The plan is to travel by train over 12 days visiting Paris, Zurich, Chur, cross the Alps from Switzerland to Italy on the scenic Bernina Express. Next on to Milan, Venice, Florence, the Ligurian coast, Genoa, Turin before coming back to Paris, Brussels, Bruge, Brussels again, London and Stockport. All the arrangements have been made independently with full use made of the internet and guidance provided by the excellent Man in Seat 61 and his comprehensive website. I used booking.com to arrange hotels and a combination of Tripadvisor and other sites to try to discover some worthwhile places to eat that would not break the bank.
Overall, the amount of planning undertaken and the quality of the final dossier would have probably seen me rapidly promoted as a logistics staff officer in the Wermacht of the 1940’s. Despite OH’s case developing wheel fatigue on the first set of steps and people in our seats, the train was on time, and we enjoyed a pleasant enough trip down to London . OH has decided that as stations go, Euston is not her favourite. The changeover to St Pancras was included in the price but I wondered if it was worth taking the tube rather than simply walking between stations given the stairs, elevators, tunnels and corridors.
St Pancras is a great station with civilised food and drink outlets. YS met us and bought us glasses of champagne to send us off. The Eurostar check-in was painless with a printed QR code held against a scanner and an appropriate level of security check. No need to remove my belt to check that I was not concealing a Klingon death ray machine.
On boarding the train and reaching seat 61, in homage to the great website which had been such a help in organising this trip. I was disappointed to discover it was facing the wrong way! I really dislike travelling on train facing away from the direction of travel. As I had already done the same from Stockport to London, it would now be 500 miles of looking back in anger by the time we reached Paris. Not bad though as we could have made the journey from Stockport to Paris city centre in around 5 hours with some more risque timings.
At the Gare de Nord, it was rush hour and our journey continued on a frantic metro on two overcrowded lines to Arts et Métiers, a metro stop named after the Arts and Crafts museum. Choosing the wrong exit from the underground station left us disorientated for a while until a helpful passer by showed us the way. Austin’s Hotel was small but welcoming and our room was similarly petit but with all amenities: Aircon, TV, Safe, Hairdryer, Tea-making facilities etc. The bathroom had everything we needed and the whole place was spotless. A quick spruce up and we left to sample a sunny early evening in the French capital. Ah Paris: dogs, the smell of black tobacco, Haussmann designed avenues, police sirens unchanged from the sixties recalling the film, Day of the Jackal, and no end of eccentrics. Our aperitifs of a glass of white Gascon wine and a draught Grimbergen wheat beer at the Cafe Arts et Métier were accompanied by olives and peanuts as we watched the Gallic world go by.
Later we repaired to Cafe L’Absinthe, which I had checked out online, for a nice evening meal at a reasonable price. I chose a pâté to start followed by some white fish in a tomato sauce served with a gratin of vegetables whilst the OH ate a somewhat odd Thai salad then Gigot of Agneau ( Lamb) in a cream sauce scented with garlic and served with frites. No room for dessert and after a short walk around, we went to bed early , pausing only to check the England and Ukraine World Cup qualifying result and then being thankful that I had not wasted 2 hours on my life watching another poor game on TV at home. Tomorrow we will do a little sightseeing in the morning and then move on to another country, Switzerland.
Good morning America, how are you?
Say don’t you know me, I’m your native son
I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans
I’ll be gone five-hundred miles when the day is done