We’ve always loved train travel – as much for the opportunities it gives us to sit back and simply reflect, as for the chance to take in scenery you don’t get to see from the seat of a car, bus or plane.
We’re trying to travel by train as much as we can, in keeping with the sustainable and slow travel themes of Grantourismo – but only when it makes sense, which means when it doesn’t take more than 24 hours to get from point A to point B, a luxury we can’t afford on our grand tour.
We travelled overnight from Jerez to Madrid on the superb Trenhotel, where a three course dinner and wine is included when you book the sleeper; we took a charming old antique from Barcelona to Perpignan; caught the super-fast train from Perpignan to Paris, although unfortunately during the chaos of the French train strikes; and we just recently spent a day taking three trains to get from Alberobello to Venice, via Bari and Rome.
From Alberobello to Bari, we took a private Puglian train with plenty of people-watching opportunities – Italian teenagers flirting, mucking around and cramming for exams – and from Bari to Rome and Rome to Venice, we travelled first class on the high-speed TrenItalia Eurostar trains, thanks to our friends at Rail Europe.
The interior of TrenItalia’s Eurostar trains (oddly, no relation to the Channel Tunnel train by the way) is very sleek and stylish, with chocolate seats that are comfier than those on most airlines, good-sized tables to work at, powerpoints to plug in your laptop, and (a wonderful surprise) complimentary refreshments, which included a glass of Prosecco and crackers – also more than you get on many planes these days!
The people-watching opportunities were just as fascinating as our train from Alberobello too – Italian business-people in smart suits doing the commute between regional capitals, affectionate Italian couples (young and old) heading off on weekends away for romance or to catch up with family, and affluent foreign travellers in Birkenstocks, from college-aged American kids to sun-tanned retirees from Down Under.
But despite the amusing distractions and the conveniences that gave me no excuses for not working, I couldn’t help but spend most of the journey simply gazing out the window at the countryside rolling by. When we drive in Italy I’m too busy navigating, identifying the routes we need to take, and figuring out directions and parking for the next town, and Terence, the driver on our team is obviously preoccupied.
With train travel, there’s none of that, just opportunities to savour the scenery, to take in the variety of landscapes, to reflect upon the very nature of travel itself, and to make meaning of the insights we’re gaining with each glimpse we get into people’s lives… farmers working the fields, housewives hanging up the washing, teens kicking a football around, kids playing in their yards, and, inevitably, people gazing at computer screens…
I know what I prefer to be gazing at.
* Thanks again to Amanda and our friends at Rail Europe for expertly taking care of our train travel so far this year: we’ve greatly appreciated the ease of communication, the updates on their Twitter account and assistance during the French train strikes, not to mention the tickets arriving on time!