Glasgow to Rome by rail
Rail journeys retain some of the romance of yesteryear without the inconvenience of, say, a horse drawn cart or walking for miles in the snow.
What’s surprising is just how good the trains are, especially if you’re willing to book a business or first class ticket. In the UK, Sir Richard Branson’s ubiquitous Virgin runs the majority of country trains. The first class carriage is not unlike the decor and service you would experience on a flight; Virgin babes doling out G&Ts and lunch options including a bacon sarnie, a fruit salad or a potato and leek soup.
I caught a couple of perfectly functional state-run trains from Glasgow to Oxenholme in the Lake District, but then travelled through to Euston Station on a Virgin train, a trip that takes around three hours.
From there, it was onto Paris on the Eurostar, departing from London’s St Pancras Station. This was the only station where I had to clear Customs which came as something of a surprise. Are they trying to make it easy for the Jason Bournes of the world to get around? Apparently so, as my passport stayed put from that point onwards.
Emotionally damaged spies aside, the journey is a seamless three hours that spits you out at Paris Nord and into the waiting hands of vultures, erm, I mean, cab drivers (I am still smarting from being charged four times the correct rate to get to my hotel).
From Paris, it was onto Zurich and Milan, and then onto Rome.
On the Italia trains, the one notable feature is the mobile espresso machine that gets pushed up the business class carriage by a overly made-up trolley dolly. No crappy drip coffee for this stylish crowd. It’s all about freshly brewed caffeine direct to your bloodstream, an aspect of the trip that only enhances the stupendously picturesque scenery you will encounter along the way. I didn’t really know what I was looking at. I was just thinking ‘Wow, these country villages have a lot of castles and vineyards’. Turns out I was admiring Tuscany. Yes, that Tuscany.
There are lots of different ways of booking your rail travel but the easiest method, by far, is to purchase a Rail Europe pass that covers you for the number of legs and/or travel days. Once your pass has been issued, you simply download the Rail Planner app and book your tickets online (much easier than trying to book at the station and you get an allocated, confirmed seat). There might be additional fees – I had to pay an extra 10 euro to book my Milan to Rome seat – but the fact that most of your travel is paid upfront makes it easier to budget.