If Carlsberg Did Train Trips….

Whether you consider this to be the greatest train trip video ever made, or just a bunch of holiday snaps from some kind of continental scale pub crawl, depends on whether or not you were on the train. Anyway, 2 years on here’s the slide show replete with music you will find either deeply irritating or irritatingly catchy.


What is Tourisme Grande Vitesse ?

This trip isn’t a world record for cities or countries visited in a given time, e.g with a 22 day InterRail pass. Guinness seem to claim the record is 30 countries in 6 days. I haven’t a clue how you might do that. It would surely have to be based in Europe and I don’t think I could concoct more than 48 hours at an average border crossing of one every 5 hours before being reduced to barely a country a day. I am aware of a number of reports of journeys which exceed ours in length. But they are all over a much longer time scale and have included numerous stop overs in excess of 24 hours. Other than Guinness’s preposterous claim that someone has travelled solely by rail to 30 counties in 6 days, I am unaware of anyone doing anything quite at this pace with some degree of style. i.e over 1,000 km and about 2 capital cities or as good as per day for over 2 weeks, and at least some off train exposure to every country. Including the main 47 trains of the route proper, we all made over 80 different journeys on trains, trams, metros, funiculars, buses, taxis and boats.

But anything definable in a world record can’t include points for things like visiting the Arctic circle, or quantify and accept the need for “cheating” and getting a bus from Fauske to Narvik, or Ploče to Split, in order to maintain convexity of the route. Two astonishingly beautiful bus rides. Nor can it evaluate the beauty or interest of numerous journeys through the Balkan Mountains, not to mention every yard of our trip through Switzerland. Nor can it value the geeky fun of the Rødby Puttgarden train ferry, and numerous super high speed trains, and not to mention every yard of our trip through Switzerland.

And it certainly can’t take into account how much patronage of the train bar has been achieved and varieties of local beverage sampled. Or how many different types of cheeses and salamis and insanely huge sandwiches that have been consumed.

And then there are my friends, for whom no calculation is possible. Without them there certainly wouldn’t have been a party. I have stopped short of publishing the x-ray of my back that the chiropractor took on my return. I look like Richard III. I had injured myself in an altercation with an ancient washing machine just before Christmas. I thought I was cured but perhaps through too much water carrying and heavy bag helping on and off trains, it gave way round about Markaska on the bus to Split. Without my buddies I fear I may not have managed all this on my Jack Jones. They have also documented the trip in wonderful words and pictures which I hope you’ve also enjoyed during my serialisation. Every single one of the pictures used in the account of the trip, including all the station place names, was taken by one of the group during the trip. We have thousands of photos on Flickr with which to remember our incredible journey. Thank you again guys.

This wasn’t a record attempt. It was a mobile party. One travelling at over 300 kmh at times, through night and day, over and under seas, right over mountains, and more mountains, to the extremes of Western Europe. Venice and Prague are undeniably two of the finest tourist destinations anywhere on the planet, and we had a good shot at both of them, as we did Lisbon and Budapest. And boy, did we do Switzerland justice ?.

It was the most fantabulastic railway ride I could devise to be executed in a time-scale and budget manageable by almost anyone. The participants, several of us familiar with epic railway rides, have all been profoundly affected by this particular adventure.  Including Catalan in Barcelona, Basque at Irun/Hendaye, and Romanisch at St Moritz, we had 21 different local languages at stations we changed at to go with our 23 countries.  That all translates to a spectacular kaleidoscope of our civilisation. We feel like we’ve seen the entire continent in an instant. The effect has been 18,000 kilovolts of culture shock and scenery overdose to go with the 18,000 kilometres of rail we covered in a fortnight and a bit (not to mention about 600 km of road).

This works. You need to plan, and psych yourself up. Because for sure, this isn’t intended to be a conventional kind of trip. But it works. You can do this brand of extreme rail tourism in other places, notably India and Japan where they have both the infrastructure to make an intensive trip possible and the rail pass to make it affordable. But only Europe can give, at least to this European’s eyes, ears and mouth, such a range of cuisine and climate, creed and culture, landscape and railway experience.

What is the next Tourisme Grande Vitesse ?

fuhrerJapan is the next target network. Stay tuned for GCJRC in 2015. It is a spectacular country with fantastic railways. To paraphrase from, as you can imagine, one of my favourite films Trainspotting, it’s precision railways, and also it’s culture and especially it’s food, are custom f***ing designed for my needs. I will also return to my old friend India next year, where you can spend all of every day with the vestibule door wide open. If you have either been on any of my trips, or I know you, even if I haven’t seen you for decades, and you wanna do either of those epic countries TGV style with me, then get in touch ASAP. But I do not expect any railway trip I ever do to quite match what just happened in my native continent, which I now love more than ever.

To be continued ……

Day 18 – Back To Blighty

It’s early. These Renfe sleepers are so tiny that they don’t have any pull down seats in the corridors. There’s a restaurant car. It’s got seats, and big windows, and coffee.  How civilised. Out of the window we pass ramshackle villages in ravines. The place names invariably include an X and no obvious way to pronounce them. We are in Basque country.

We wind our way up the East side of the Northern Pyrenees, before bursting into an Alpine landscape. Despite witnessing just about every European mountain range worth seeing in the last 2 weeks, this is still a remarkable and delightful start to the day. The towns start to look more affluent, and eventually we arrive in Hendaye, France.

We are required to show passports to change platform. Our TGV to Paris is waiting for us on the other side of the station. There are, yet again, loads of school kids. One of them appears to be smoking a fag with his mother. A bunch more with their teacher. Grief!, what is the world coming to ?.

The usual coffee, pastries and sarnies detail is dispatched. I make a vain attempt to score a bottle of decent brandy for the final leg this evening. I return with a tarte de basque or some such. It’s a sort of Pays Basque Bakewell tart. The kids smoking fags on the platform (you can get busted for that in Slovakia you know) extinguish and we are allowed to depart on our journey through Aquitaine and homeward.

The landscape is generally flat, which is almost a relief in itself. I think one more gob smacking thousand metre rock-face and we’ll all explode. On the second half of the journey we hit the high speed track, and whoosh, straight up to 280+ kmh and we are in Paris before you know it.

One last city traversal. My back is now shot to pieces. We are all emotionally and physically trashed. At one stage I think the French haven’t got a metro at all, just tunnels you walk along between stations. We arrive at garedunord. We have 20 minutes to play with. I am now firmly in the red zone but with my final reserves of stamina and showing devotion to the cause worthy of decoration, I hurtle off to source a decent bottle of cognac for the last hurrah. Back at the station and after way too much unnecessary hoo hah and irritating queuing, making Eurostar the most difficult train in Europe to actually get on, we board. The brandy is cracked open and is demolished in two rounds, the second as we emerge onto home soil.

Photo @ Paul Clarke Photo @ Paul Clarke

At St Pancras we have a  welcoming committee, including mothers and fathers, wives and girlfriends and even an avid fan. We climb up to the John Betjeman pub where we had convened two weeks last Saturday. Drinks are drunk, and hugs are given with what strength I have left. And we are shooed away from whence we began 17 days ago ? It feels more like half a lifetime. I will reflect on the impact of all this tomorrow in the final post of this blog.

tix tix2

Start: Basque country
Train 44 continued sleeper from Lisbon
Train 45 – 12:36 Hendaye to Paris
Train 46 – 20:13 Paris to London
Finish: The John Betjeman Arm’s, St Pancras Station, London

Also on this day
Paul’s Photos http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157634765568655/
Lloyd’s Blog http://www.lloydshepherd.com/2013/07/23/day-18-back-to-the-island/
Darren’s Blog http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/home-stretch.html
Dave’s Blog http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/they-think-it-all-over.html

Day 17 – Extreme Europe

Lisbon. Our final unconquered capital. Number 23 on the list. We are at both the most Westerly and Southerly point of the trip, and as near as damn it on the Atlantic Ocean. We have ultimately run out of continental landmass.

Steve Dobson

Steve Dobson

We have all day here, several of the group know the city a little. We can give Lisbon a decent shot, but we urgently need to have a shower to make it all work. Our research team direct us to the municipal piscina, a few yards up the hill from the station. It’s a quaint but tiny little place. We don’t want to swim as such, we just desperately need to use the showers, luv. We must look a pathetic sight. Eventually she agrees we can have a rinse for a nominal fee, which I as good as double despite the good lady’s protestations.
bicaAfter half a pint of the elixir from the obliging piscina, we are ready to face 12 hours of lovely Lisbon. And what a lovely place it is. Trams, funiculars, great cafes, great views, ancient buildings, more trams, more funiculars. A shot of some cherry stuff from a quaint little booth in the main square. We end up in a restaurant. I have my espetada. Others take their pick. Darren eats everyone’s desert. The street number of the establishment is 23. It’s all part of the plan you know.

Steve Dobson

Back down the hill, and that lift. Those of us who haven’t been to Belem before, or just want to carry on tramming, catch a ride out there. The monastery is witnessed, Pasties de Belem are consumed. A train back into town is caught.

Mick Pope

The Museum of Beer had been noticed by everyone earlier, and I feel certain I will find them all sat inside the bar there. My intuition is correct. We debate what should be our final evening meal. It really should be piri piri, but somehow curry wins the day. When we get there it’s shut. But there is another just up the alley. Everyone thinks it’s great. I know not why.

Back to the station, bags are retrieved. Wine and water and some decent port is acquired. We board, and the journey home can begin.

Start: On the approaches to Lisbon
Train 43 – continued sleeper from Madrid
Train 44 – 21:18 Lisbon to Hendaye sleeper
Finish: In a bar, travelling north-west.

Also on this day
Paul’s Photos http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157634747665089/
Lloyd’s Blog http://www.lloydshepherd.com/2013/07/22/day-17-a-sense-of-an-ending/
Darren’s Blog http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/the-last-supper.html
Dave’s Blog http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/the-23rd-capital.html

Day 16 – The Iberians AVE It

I awake at crack of dawn again. We are parked but I’m not really paying attention. We are at Port Bou and we are undergoing a transformation. Gauge conversion. Our Talgo carriages can actually change the width of their axels. That news either floats your boat or it doesn’t. Through the tunnel to Cerbère and we are into Spain. Catalunya to be precise. A morning’s high speed sight seeing and lunch break in Barcelona await.

First job is to get all the bags from Estacion de Franca where we have just arrived, to Barcelona Sants where we will depart for Madrid in another 5 ½ hours. Metro passes acquired we get to shiny new Sants station and dispense with the bags. Free play is declared and those who haven’t seen the Sagrada for 10 years go to see how it’s getting on. Others go to the beach. Darren employ’s his now tried and trusted method of locating a Guinness serving pub and is subsequently overwhelmed with hospitality.

I proceed to do Barcelona’s most iconic tourist attraction with Mick, Dave and Steve. The Sagrada Familia has made great progress over the last decade, it no longer appears more building site than cathedral. If you fancy having a look and not spending most of your day in the epic queue spanning most of  the buildings perimeter, I suggest you chose a Tuesday in October, and not a Sunday in July. Museums and places of worship are explicitly prohibited in the TGV terms of issue. I would have unquestionably needed intensive care if I’d had to wait in that queue for hours. We engage in some unrewarding metro tourism by way of the funicular on the metro, which is really a launch pad for the cable car which we don’t really have the time or energy for. So we retreat to nearby the station and a shady café. Paellas are consumed, beers are sunk and we all do our best to keep going. On old Yahoo! colleague meets us in the sunshine.

Photo @ Paul Clarke

Photo @ Paul Clarke

Back to Sants and bags are collected before we have to go through airport style security to get on our next train, the high speed AVE to Madrid. It’s a very flashy train. Before long we are nudging 300 kmh according to the in-carriage speedometer. We decide to delve into the picnic supplies and then we discover a tragedy. My bags have been carried, since I forgot when, by everyone else.  I can manage to roll my super lightweight suitcase along a platform, but the two heavily stocked picnic bags are everyone else’s responsibility. Probably during the security phase at Sants one of the bags, the one with all the cheese and chocolates, has been abandoned. It is sad news, though I at least feel less guilty about troughing my way through the chocolates for my breakfast earlier while the world slept.

Lloyd Shepherd

Lloyd Shepherd

Lloyd Shepherd

The high speed views of spaghetti western country contrast with anything we’ve seen to date. The AVE zooms across precipitous viaducts at full whack. We then hit heavy rain on the plain in Spain. We have to slow down, to a mere 280 kmh. At 170 mph, torrential rain becomes sucked horizontally down the sides of the carriages. It feels like we are in a supersonic submarine. This is one very impressive train. After just a few hours of this we are at atochas, and capital No. 22 of 23. All we are fit for by this stage is to perform another station, metro, station city traversal and then hopefully locate somewhere near Chamartin station to have tapas. Which we do. Too much tapas of every variety is ordered. Everything is eaten.

We stagger back into the station and board our sleeper to Portugal. The bar is located and a few drinks are had with incredulous Australian, or were these American, tourists. Then, before you can say “back to back British winners of the Tour de France” we are all zonked out.

Tomorrow Portugal and Lisbon, our final target before we bank north for the dash back to Blighty.

Start: Port Bou on the French Spanish border having our boggies played with.
Train 41 – continued sleeper from Paris
Train 42 – 15:25 Barcelona to Madrid
Train 43 – 22:25 Madrid to Lisbon sleeper
Finish: On a sleeper bound for Lisbon

Also on this day
Paul’s Photos http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157634747403979/
Darren’s Blog http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/barca-loner.html
Dave’s Blog http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/scorchio.html

Day 15 – Lyon, Paris, Geneva, Zurich. Everybody Talk About….

We’ve stopped. We’re still stopped. What’s wrong with this train?. Oh, it’s not a train. It’s a 2 bunk 4 person mini-dorm in Zurich. We are all cracking up by now.

Our day on the rails starts at 08:32. The river front by the Old Town area is delightful at this time of the morning. The usual coffee and pastry procurement exercises are completed and we move to the platform. It’s heaving. Loads of commuters and loads of school kids and assorted other tourists. The train is a huge double decker affair. We haven’t any reservations for this one so it’s going to be tricky.

We get on and once upstairs we see two sets of 4 with another free pair behind them, ideal. After collapsing one of us notices that these are actually reserved, damn it. Hang on, I’m not sure if I do have reservations for this after all. I take out my dwindling stack of tickets and yes!, we do. OK guys, we need to be in Wagen 5. “We are already in it skip”. Cool, what luck. OK, seats 101 to 110. “Er Mark , you are sitting in seat 101”. We all freeze, it seems preposterously unlikely that on a train holding about 5,000 seats that we’ve accidentally landed in the right ones. But we have.

We set off on another traversal between Europe’s great river basins. Today from the Rhine into the Rhone. Nice day, rolling hills, a series of very Germanic medieval hilltop towns and villages are passed. At Bern, the only capital we travel to but don’t change trains at, some of us take the trouble to get off and on. Alas it is an ugly subterranean affair, reminiscent of Birmingham New Street  Over the Rhone valley watershed and into French Switzerland. The French Alps, the stuff with Mont Blanc somewhere in there, comes into view. It’s grand. It gets grander. Then POW!. Make sure you are on the left side of the train going Zurich-Geneva. The line suddenly bursts into the Geneva valley, the huge lake appearing out of nowhere. For a moment you feel like you are parascending. One of the most dramatic views of the whole trip. Now that’s saying something.

We are surrounded by vineyards. Special vineyards. Some of the finest wines available to humanity are nurtured here. This stuff hardly even gets out of this valley, let alone Switzerland. But no fear. Agent Saturno is waiting at the next station, Lausanne, with a bag full of wines, cheeses and chocolates. The best money can buy. Our saviour arrives with cooler bags, and more cooler bags, stuffed full of the best his adopted home can muster. Superb cheeses with truffles. Chocolates worthy of disputing my infuriating claim that “I reckon the Belgians have it in the chocolate department”. And a selection of these glorious wines.

The meeting with Fernando is short but very sweet. He trundles us under and round to the special international departures entrance at Geneva station. Brotherly hugs and it’s all over all too soon. Our next stop is Lyon. There’s loads of school kids again. We definitely don’t have reservations on this one. But we are getting good at this. A foursome with a table is obtained and the rest find sanctuary near by. Chief Gastronomy Officer and I investigate the booty. All the cheeses are delicately sliced into nibble size, and labelled. This identification is very important to a trainspotting food tourist. We couldn’t be worse prepared in a way, having cheesed our way round three quarters of Europe in the last fortnight. But these really are superb. CGO is actually of Belgian heritage and it’s difficult for him to admit their supremacy, but the choccies are really bloody good.

There’s still loads of kids moving about. They are about 9 or 10 years old, their teachers still trying to settle them all down. We have a spare seat in our 4 and so insist that one of them join us. We are rewarded with the most enchanting little girl. Apart from being as pretty as a little girl can be, she is delightfully confident. It’s a party, please help yourself, and she does, with gusto. Steve and I are bewitched and her every wish is our command. Outside the Rhone valley is spectacular. I wasn’t expecting Zurich-Geneva-Lyon to be especially fantastic after spending the previous day flying about at hors catégorie level. It is yet another superb day of views.

Steve Dobson

We arrive in Lyon. It’s a great place. You must come here sometime. Unfortunately it is about 200 degrees centigrade. I am now capable of walking about 10 feet without the need of an ambulance. Everyone else is physically and emotionally busted. The Tour de France is reaching it’s climax just round the corner from where we’ve just been. John locates a bar where we can have a plate of the day and watch a bit of cycling. It’s as French as we can manage.  We return to the platform for the TGV to Paris.

My jaw falls off. It’s a double decker. We are going to be travelling at over 180 miles per hour in a 20 unit DOUBLE DECKER train. Getting on is another struggle. Is every bloody school in Europe on the rails today ?. We set off and the mental calculation I had started on the platform continues.  I guestimate that the kinetic energy of this thing, full of people and at full whack of about 300 kmh, is between 500 and 1,000 lorries travelling at  60 mph up the M6. There was a train crash in France the other day. You don’t want to be in one of these when it’s flying if bad things happen. We hit full whack. It feels very fast.

Darren Foreman

At Paris Gare du Lyon we have to merely cross the Seine to find ourselves at Austerlitz. Both the tower, just, and the cathedral, can be seen from the bridge. We will cross France 3 times, and it’s capital twice.  But the Pont d’Austerlitz is as much off train sightseeing as we will manage. We locate a base in a tabac café to consume croque mr and croque mrs. And I am able to restock my depleted nicotine fluid reserves. Then off to the train.

Yet more bloody tourists, billions of the buggers. All with two rucksacks each. Since when did this become the normal way to travel ?. The girls look like they are on a pregnancy training regime. The boys like they are arriving at a hall of residence with their entire belongings. My spine twitches every time I look at them. We board. It’s 2 berth but small. But the real downer is, contrary to the implications of a number of sources, there are NO showers on ANY 2nd class European sleepers ANYWHERE. Got that ?. We will have one shower on-board on the entire trip. That is in a 1st class carriage conveniently open for our use in Romania. That’s as good as it gets.

Barcelona here we come.

Start: In a dorm in Zurich
Train 38 08:32 Zurich to Geneva
Train 39 11:29 Geneva to Lyon
Train 40 17:04 Lyon Paris
Train 41 22:08 Paris Barcelona
Finish: Somewhere in France

Also on this day
Paul’s Photos http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157634712390061/
Lloyd’s Blog http://www.lloydshepherd.com/2013/07/21/day-16-slingshot-around-paris/
Darren’s Blog http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/tourisme-grande-vitesse.html
Dave’s Blog http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/transport-of-delight.html

Day 14 – Take Me To The Stars

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”

We’ve seen some amazing things these past 2 weeks. We’ve climbed up Arctic fjords, sailed across seas with our train, crossed incredible bridges. We’ve travelled along a seemingly perpetual sequence of the Continent’s most spectacular train rides. But nothing can prepare you for today.  There are bad railways and there are good railways. And then there is Swiss Railways.  The entire route is really just an excuse to do this day. So this bloody train had better not be late into Milan!.

Lloyd Shepherd

It’s early as usual. No one is awake, and even Darren couldn’t tell me if we are late as this train doesn’t stop anywhere to reference. I gesture to the train manager by pointing to my watch. Thumbs up is the reply. As we approach Milan it seems we are actually early. Yes, Early! Forza Trenitalia!. The transfer from Garibaldi to Centrale is trivial. My troops marshalled and by now well drilled in the procedures of getting on and off trains. Centrale boasts an imposing entrance. Arguably the most substantial of the trip. We locate the platform and I am deposited, barely more than a helpless cripple at this stage, along with the bags and the huge picnic. The others disperse on coffee and pastry procurement duties. We have a whole hour to spare. We’re not quite in the land of railway heaven, but I’m feeling quietly confident now.

Darren Foreman

We pull out on time and I jam my head out of the window and let out a goal worthy triumphal cry. The day of days has begun. We soon reach Lake Como and spend the next hour skirting it’s eastern shores. The Italian Alps towering around us. “Oh! this is nice” they all coo. We then swing east and head up the valley to Tirano. The line is single track for the most part. We have to pause for incoming services, but my man keeps me updated. We are on target.

Dave Watson

Steve Dobson

We arrive in Tirano. Cross the small square and enter the small station, technically a border crossing, but we are Shengen all the way to Gare du Nord now. The open carriage-cum-truck, exclusive to the 11:20 departure, appears and we quickly deploy the picnic boxes and dump the rest of the luggage inside. Before long we are off.

Darren Foreman

We begin to tackle the endless picnic supplies. The train pulls through Tirano, it runs straight up the main street, and on and up. Round the famous viaduct on the banner above, and up and up and up. The weather isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough for me to do the whole run to the top and beyond in a T-shirt. Offerings are made to our generally shy travel companions. Eventually they understand that we have more food than we can possibly eat and we really would be grateful if they’d accept some of it.

Lloyd Shepherd

Steve Dobson

At the summit of the Bernina Pass at bernina we have the glaciers spawned from Piz Bernina flanking our left. My compatriots are genuinely stunned, almost speechless. The grappa is opened and toasts are made. I have several. Then more glacier, the spectacular Morteratsch. If there’s only one train ride you do before you die, do this one.

Steve Dobson

At moritz we have enough time for the usual coffee and a beer routine. We then catch the next gob smacking train of the day, the Arbula Line. Alas most of them are so shattered from their high altitude open top railway ride over the Bernina that they conk out just as we hit the good bit. The track corkscrews it’s way into the Rhine valley where we pick up the line up to the Oberalp. Another change is required to get to the top, at which point we discover that the Gotthard-Matterhorn Railway doesn’t except InterRail. It’s an extra 20 quid or so but it’s worth every Swiss Franc.

Lloyd Shepherd

Steve Dobson

Up and up and up we go again, right up to the source of the Rhine. And then down and down a near vertical drop to Andermatt. Change again, wait for beers to be delivered from the local supermarket, and on again down the line to goschenen. Down and down we go through a spectacular ravine. Change again. Last train, another spectacular ride, on standard gauge now. More corkscrews, how much down can there be ?, and then stupendous Alpine lakes. More toasting of Switzerland, it’s railways and our fantastic day.

Darren Foreman

Steve Dobson

I could have spent pages and pages describing all that, and still failed. Get a cheap flight to Milan. Stay the night. Catch the 08:20 to Tirano and then the rest of this lot. You don’t need to go all the way into Zurich, kip somewhere in the hills, it wont be any more expensive. Then fly home.  You can do that in a weekend. You’ll never forget it.

We arrive at zurich bang on time, of course. Which means we have 15 minutes to drag ourselves about a mile to the hostel. We make it. I am totally knackered. It’s another hostel. It’s tiny. It’s cheap. If you don’t like it go get a hotel.

Start: On the approach to Milan
Train 30 – continued sleeper from Rome
Train 31 – 08:20 Milan to Tirano
Train 32 – 11:27 Tirano to St Moritz
Train 33 – 15:02 St Moritz to Reichenau-Tamins
Train 34 – 17:05 Reichenau-Tamins to Disentis/Muster
Train 35 – 18:14 Disentis/Muster to Andermatt
Train 36 – 19:48 Andermatt to Göschenen
Train 37 – 20:08 Göschenen to Zürich HB
Finish: In a hostel in Zurich, feeling like we’ve just been into outer-space and back

Also on this day
Paul’s Photos http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157634712082362/
Lloyd’s Blog http://www.lloydshepherd.com/2013/07/19/day-14-i-have-seen-things/ and http://www.lloydshepherd.com/2013/07/20/day-15-when-only-wordsworth-will-do/
Darren’s Blog http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/hannibal-lester.html
Dave’s Blog http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/the-promised-land.html

Day 13 – Turismo Alta Velocità

A stationary bed. A shower. Another shower. It’s’ not exactly the Ritz but it might as well be. Only 2 smelly blokes to a room. Doors don’t open till 07:30, so you could always have another shower.

Steve Dobson

Steve Dobson

It’s free play this morning. Various expeditions are launched. The adjoining blogs at the bottom of each post are especially worth reading today. I am now suffering severe back problems and am trying to follow as easy an itinerary as I can get away with. I stick with Steve. We are treated to a morning with three of the most exquisite Italian hosts. Steve’s business partner’s daughter introduces us to the chefs from an exclusive hotel on the far side of the Grand Canal, opposite the fish market. We spend an hour with them in the market, looking at food,  talking about Italian cuisine, and enjoying the canal. Then we are taken round this “hotel”. It’s really just a very posh house. Like really posh. Rooms are north of £1000 a night if you fancy it.

Darren Foreman

Photo @ Paul Clarke

It’s then back through a rather more heavily populated Venice than last night. After several helpings of spritzers outside Domus Civica we are done. But not for the day. Our next train is a high speed Pendolino through the Apennines to Rome. Much of the ride is in a tunnel, but there are fine views of Tuscany, I think. It’s all gone very Romanesque out of the window anyway. The scenery and buildings become particularly interesting as we approach the capital.

In Rome we make the mistake of believing what the internet said. It is claimed that there are left luggage facilities at Tiburtina, Rome’s whopping new mega station on the edge of town, from where we will catch tonight’s sleeper to Milan. Our in-train passes through there so we decide to get off early. There aren’t any lockers or luggage counters. It takes us half an hour to come to terms with this inescapable fact. We then have to go to Termini, where the train was going anyway. There we march around in circles trying to locate left luggage office. Once done, we then hurry off in order to get the train to the Vatican so we can notch off another domain name. I then, on consultation with anyone left in the party still capable of making rational decisions, have to make a painful executive call. The Vatican is cancelled. We just cant get there and then to the delicatessen to pick up the picnic in time. Have I told you about the picnic ?. There’s 700 euros of food wine and grappa waiting at some place near Circo Massimo.

Steve Dobson

We change tack and head for the deli. Everyone is feeling a bit down beat at the loss of the Vatican. We’ve all also eaten a lifetime’s worth of salami and cheese over the last 2 weeks. And now I am dragging them off to some fancy deli and spending over 500 quid on a ruddy picnic. We get there. Volpetti’s is it’s name. It’s a tourist attraction in it’s own right. A shrine to Italian food. And we have an awful lot of food. Tension mounts but with support from my management team we pull through and concoct a plan on how we are to get 3 humongous polystyrene cooler boxes full of salami, cheese and antipasta and a massive bag of bread back to Tiburtina station, while also collecting all the bags from somewhere else. We also ask them to make up a picnic out of some of this stuff so we can eat some of it now. We are sent to a specific place to eat it, not the road side park that some want to just collapse in, but half a mile away right up a hill. I am really getting it in the neck now. Or I would be if I could be bothered waiting to listen.

rompanAnd then. We arrive at this spot, and the most spectacular view of Rome is spread out before us. The park is empty, there is a bench, the evening sunshine is superb. We have a couple of bottles of sensational Italian wine and a platter of the finest meats cheeses and breads to help it go down. Paul takes what we all consider to be the definitive group portrait of the entire trip. Everyone gets a moment to reflect on yet another mind-boggling day that started having coffee watching the Venetians stroll to work, and is closing as the Sun sets over The Eternal City. And everyone shuts the fuck up about how much food we’ve bought.

After the picnic, Steve and Lloyd return to Volpetti’s and cab it back to the station with the food. The rest of us walk down to the Circo Massimo and catch the metro one stop to go see the Colosseum.  I ain’t never seen it you see. I haven’t been disappointed once on the trip so far, but alas I am as I climb out of the metro. For Pete’s sake guys, at least roof over the bloody road. We have several Germanic sized beers at appalling expense, Darren leaves his hat, and we return to get the bags.

At Tiburtina the lads are waiting on the mountain of food. We manage to get it all aboard and the usual formalities are performed, this time with grappa.  It’s been a big day, again. My only worry now is, will we get to Milan Garibaldi in time to change to Centrale and catch the train to Tirano for what is meant to be the biggest day of the lot. If not I’ll have a shed load of food and a fat lump of miserable blokes on my hands. We have about half an hour to play with. The average delay on sleepers so far is over an hour. Come on Trenitalia, you can do it!.

Start: In a dorm in Venice
Train 29 13:57 Venice to Rome
Train 30 23:04 Rome to Milan sleeper
Finish: Somewhere in Italy

Also on this day
Paul’s Photos http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157634692917402/
Lloyd’s Blog http://www.lloydshepherd.com/2013/07/18/day-13-very-lucky-for-some/
Darren’s Blog  http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/the-great-circular-venetian-shanks-pony.html and http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/hats-off.html
Dave’s Blog http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/picnic-in-park.html

Day 12 – Transalpina

Dave Watson

We wake on the approaches to zagreb. Yet another capital city where we have just enough time to get off, find out where the next train is, get on, plug in, send a party off to get 9 coffees, pastries, and sarnies, and leave. We did Croatia yesterday in style on the Adriatic coast. Today we will spend the day in the Julian Alps in Slovenia before walking over the border into Italy at  Nova-Gorica / Gorizia, and arriving at dusk at the Mother of all tourist destinations. Venice.

This is an Austrian train. We are heading for Slovenia, the last country of our Former Yugoslavian tour. We have to change trains in order to get to Ljubljana, another ramification of the Croatians declaring last year that they really cant be bothered anymore liaising with other countries in order to run international trains. There still are cross border trains, we are on one obviously. But they are severely reduced and I suspect the host operator, in this case Austrian Railways, foots the entire bill. At the poverty stricken other end of Yugoslavia the situation is dire. You have Greece going bust at one end and Croatia blocking any kind of escape at the other. In the middle you have half a dozen separate railways, fragmented from what was once an integrated state railway.  All of them are in a dilapidated and perilous condition. If you want to see the railways of the Balkans before they collapse, go now.

Steve Dobson

But that’s all behind us. The carriages have power, the loos have bog roll, and in theory that’s the scenario all the way home now.  We change at Sevnica , and spend a couple of hours in a most politically incorrect station café. The ride from there up the Sava river valley is unexpectedly beautiful and worthy of any itinerary.

Steve Dobson

Ljubljana. Originally we had a whole night here, then when Istanbul had to be dropped that was truncated to just a couple of hours. Then the Croatians stepped in. Have I told you about that ?. We are now down to the all too frequent regime of platform drinks and sarnies. Steve makes a valiant attempt to locate a client hotel of his and returns at least with a stack of photos to make it look as though we actually went there. Ljubljana really is a great city, or so I have been told. This is my 4th time in beautiful Slovenia and I still haven’t seen the capital.

Photo @ Paul Clarke

Photo @ Paul Clarke

We have never the less seen an amazing amount of amazing scenery during our drive round Yugoslavia, and it continues today up the Sava to jesenice where we are to catch the Transalpina line through the Triglav national park and to the Italian border. Our train for the ride isa humble DMU, shamefully smothered in graffiti. But the windows open, and that’s what counts!. I spend the entire ride, along single track mountain railway, with my head, as whenever it is possible to do so, firmly stuck into the Alpine air.  There aren’t the rock faces of the last week to admire, but the ride down into novagorica through lush mountain valleys is a beautiful afternoon.

Darren Foreman

At Nova Gorica we are treated to walking over a conveniently marked border, which runs straight outside the grand station edifice, our passports now superfluous, at least till Spain. We catch the bus into Gorizia and the Italian railway system. More station café beers and sarnies, the train into Venice is late. We might not get in till 10pm, which would be after nightfall and we’d miss the view as we roll over the Santa Lucia bridge. Then it’s not so late, and by some fortune we manage not to miss it.

Darren Foreman

We arrive, as if by sea as we roll over the bridge, at . You can’t do something with Orient Express pretensions and not visit Venice. We have an evening and a whole morning here, more than anywhere else. Steve has, whilst on the trip, managed to organise a whole sequence of activities. We wont waste a second of our time here. After securing our rooms and the usual fight for the showers we set off.

A private boat up the Grand Canal followed by fantastic pizza of the back of St Mark’s at a place called Conca D’Oro. Well it is Italy, and it was very good pizza. We then have to get back at our nice cheap dorm for 12:30 before the doors are locked. Its nearly midnight. We have to walk, very fast, through the maze that is Venice, from somewhere near St Mark’s to the station area. I have been grateful for Darren’s navigational miracle machine throughout the trip, but never as much as now. Throughout the chase, my Chief Navigations Office is bombarded with demands to stray from the true path, as dictated by Google maps. He does not flinch. We arrive back at the hostel with seconds to spare after a fabulous march through a deserted Venice. Without such trust in technology we would have been kipping canal side with the pigeons.

Darren Foreman

Start: Approaching Zagreb
Train 23 – continued sleeper from Split
Train 24 07:25 Zagreb to Sevnica
Train 25 10:35 Sevnica to Ljubljana
Train 26 12:50 Ljubljana to Jesenice
Train 27 14:35 Jesenice to Nova Gorica
Local bus
Train 28 17:40  Gorizia to Venice
Finish: Speed walking through Venice

Also on this day
Paul’s Photos http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157634680434723/
Darren’s Blog http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/not-in-balkansas-any-more.html and http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/just-one-vaporetto.html
Dave’s Blog http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/croatia-5-slovenia-4-italy-0.html and http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/the-lagoon-city.html

Day 11 – Split to Split

It’s an 07:05 start on the rails today. We get three cabs from our hostel to the station. Our train to Ploče awaits. It is comprised of three carriages donated from Swedish Railways. I say donated. I do hope the Swedes paid for the transit of this shed on wheels.

Darren Foreman

Today is another “world class” train trip. We’ve had half a dozen so far on the trip. This is probably the most spectacular to date. We wind our way down through truly awesome limestone canyons. Across a plateau through Mostar, and on to the Adriatic. We are in Croatia. Not quite euro-dollar territory yet, but as of last week we are at least now back in the EU.

Steve Dobson

Next job, get the bus along the coast to splitsign. The ticket lady throws a wobbler when I ask for nine, yes NINE please, but we all get on. It’s a 3 hour bus drive along the Makarska Riviera. The views of the imposing limestone cliff face that runs the whole length of this route look spectacular on camera. They look infinitely more impressive up close , bleached white in this searing heat. The ride is actually better than I expected. It’s a big wide road, but it is still 3 hours on a bus along a very rocky coastline. My back is now definitely giving way.

Steve Dobson

We arrive at Split. It’s stupendously hot. We manage to dispense with the bags and make our way to the other side of Bacvice beach and a restaurant we can use as a base. Swimming cossie was part of the obligatory kit list, and almost all of us go for a dip while enjoying a beer and a G&T, and a beer and a G&T. There are as many voices around us from Bolton and Brisbane as there are locals. This was intended to be our beach day and it performs admirably. Once the sun has calmed down a little we go for a quick run round Diocletian’s pad and the subsequent Venetian stuff that is Old Split, and then make for the train. Everything is within 200 yards of each other.

Steve Dobson

The platform is strewn with backpacking youngsters, most of them American and all of who seem to think that you don’t just need one ridiculously over packed rucksack to go backpacking, you need TWO. Patronising rant time. Kids, you need; passport, wallet, toothbrush and a spare pair of undies. I guess smart phone is an item of utter necessity these days. Everything else you can bin. Of course all these guys now know that they brought waaaay too much shit.

Steve Dobson

The train leaves and we head off into the Dinaric Alps. The local and quite excellent plum brandy is consumed, and another successful day is chalked off.

Start: In a dorm in Sarajevo
Train 22 07:05 Sarajevo to Ploce
Bus 4 Ploce to Split
Train 23 20:10 Split to Zagreb sleeper
Finish: Dalmatian Mountains

Also on this day
Paul’s Photos http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157634663303131/
Lloyd’s Blog http://www.lloydshepherd.com/2013/07/17/day-11-12-back-in-the-eu/
Darren’s Blog http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/hey-eu.html
Dave’s Blog http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/dalmation-coast.html