Rail Adventure Italy
Rail Adventure Italy: My mother doesn’t fly and twice a year I travel with her by rail from London to Genoa, which for several reasons is real adventure travel.
I escort my wonderful 84-year-old mum home to Italy so that she can spend the summer months with her friends and family. That may not sound like much of an adventure but actually it’s not an easy trip because it’s a journey that we have to battle with.
My mother doesn’t fly. She’s terrified of planes, she hates heights and she has the most vivid imagination imaginable! Fact may be stranger than fiction, but my mum has imagined all sorts of accidents that haven’t happened yet. I cannot imagine ever putting her on a plane.
Actually her fear of flying is more complex than you might think. It is embroiled with horrendous childhood memories of the war in Italy. My mother remembers the bombers flying over Rapallo, her hometown, and can actually recall the face of a pilot – as he was so flying so low and his eyes have lived with her forever. So have the memories of the destruction. So she just hates planes.
So, we travel to Italy overland. The French trains are great. They are fast, clean, comfortable – bullets! Well until we hit the channel tunnel that is! Thankfully, she usually sleeps because we have a very early start.
I have been lucky because we have been doing this since the Eurostar first opened to passengers, and she has been asleep each time! We’re usually almost approaching Paris when she asks –‘have we already been through the tunnel?’
How you can get from St Pancras to Paris in three hours is difficult to explain to someone who used to tackle the journey to Italy, with 2 young children, 60 years ago. It used to take all day to get to Paris and around 48 hours from Victoria station to Rapallo, which is on the Ligurian coast.
I remember that journey so well. I was very, very little but I can vaguely remember the steam trains and their particular smell! The rough channel crossings on boats that were packed to the brim only got worse as I grew older – obviously Health & Safety had not yet been invented! I remember huge suitcases, packed carriages, no reservations. I remember people travelling to London carrying live chickens or pigeons in cages, and all sorts. Totally unaware that they would be confiscated at Dover’s Customs and Excise. One man asked my mum to hide his ferret in one of her suitcases! I remember one very beautiful lady had her wedding cake with her, which was also confiscated! That was second-class travel. I always wondered what went on in the third class carriages made up solely of wooden benches!
I remember that journey knackered us all out, young and old, and it is still a part of me. To this day I brace myself when it’s time to go to or from Italy by rail!
We rejoiced when the tunnel was ready – we really did, because it makes the journey for our mother much easier, much more comfortable – a very pleasant way to spend 3 hours.
However, when we arrive in Paris, she holds my hand a bit too tightly, anxiety rising as she leads me to the taxi rank. She doesn’t travel on the underground ( did I told you this was always a tricky journey!) The taxi ride is pleasant and despite her worries, we always arrive safely and in time for our connection to Genoa at the Gare De Lyon.
This year, however, was different. In order to avoid that very early start in London, we’ve decided to spend the night in Paris. It will be great I’m sure. I have found a small, clean, 3 star hotel right across the road from the station. We’ll probably have to confront the tunnel with both eyes open, but we’ll just have to cope with.
Next, we’ll board a train to Turin. French trains are great; clean and fast. It will take about 6 hours, which is amazing considering how huge France is. In between snoozes we’ll play cards and attempt a crossword. We’ll arrive in no time.
In Turin, my mum, will at last start to visibly relax as we’ll have arrived ‘home’. This never ceases to amaze me because she has lived in London for 60 years! The connecting train from Turin to Rapallo does not fit well into our itinerary, which means that we’ll have a 3-hour wait in Turin.
Spending time in Turin is fine because it is a wonderful city. It is a major business and cultural centre and the capital of the Piedmont region. It’s on the River Po and surrounded by the Alpine Arch. You get a fantastic view of the mountains from the city and the locals are so lucky to be able to escape to the ski run in a couple of hours. It is elegant and chic and well worth a visit. We’ll sit in a bar and while away the time watching the beautiful ‘Madamin’ (young ladies) pass by dressed in the latest fashions and haut couture!
This is where real ‘Rail Adventure Italy’ starts! The worst part of the journey will be the final part. The Italian train will be quite dirty and probably slow! However, it will be very cheap! We are travelling first class for 3.5 hours for €18 each. Second class can be tricky on these intercity trains because they get crowded and hot. The trains are busy because they are so cheap, and petrol in Italy is very expensive. The toilets leave a lot to be desired too. Some things haven’t changed since I was a little girl!
The journey was an ordeal for my mum when she was young and it hasn’t changed much in that respect. All in all, my mum deserves a medal because she truly doesn’t like travelling and all those holidays in Italy haven’t changed that. It is strange that she has done so much of it and never grown to like it. She has had to face her fears over and over for years and has proved time and time again that she is a great adventure traveller.
Rail Adventure Italy
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