So, almost exactly two years after my last post, I’ve finally found my blogging mojo again.

I had to be coaxed into it a little; I’m along as a “plus-one” on this trip and the organiser found out I’d photographed/blogged our travels in the past and wondered if I might record their trip for posterity too… But, regardless, I’m feeling more up to it than I have for a while – plus, I’m quite excited about this trip.

We are off to Rome. Brett’s choir has been booked to sing mass in St Peter’s Basilica, so they’re all heading there for the weekend. There’s a concert on Saturday night too in another church in the city but, even for a non-believer like me, the gig in the Vatican is the main event. That’s got to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Brett and I have extended our own trip into a week-long vacation: We are making our leisurely way to Rome a day early, and we’ll be staying on for a few days after the official Choir trip concludes to do some extra sightseeing. I am aiming to blog the entire week, so some of this will be choir-focussed and some of it will be purely my own experience of The Eternal City.

A Train Journey Across Europe

Rather than it being a direct Surgical Strike via EasyJet, we decided to make the journey part of the holiday, rather than the inconvenience before the fun. We are travelling by rail all the way to Rome. We woke up at our usual time this morning, got a direct train to St Pancras International and, despite Eurostar’s dire warnings, cleared the security and immigration checks within five minutes. Having cleared the French border before boarding, it felt appropriate to indulge in a little bit of patisserie before departure – even if it was from an Italian-themed coffee chain in the heart of London.

The Eurostar journey was uneventful beyond the remarkable amount of luggage some people were carting with them. (I felt quite smug, what with having everything I need for the week – including SLR camera and laptop – in my carry-on size backpack!) Anyway, we pulled in to Gare-du-Nord bang on time and wondered off to spend the afternoon in Paris.

Brett at the top of the Labyrinth in the Botanical Gardens, Paris

Brett at the top of the Labyrinth in the Botanical Gardens, Paris

We deposited the bulk of our luggage at the Consigne at Gare-du-Lyon (where we are departing tonight). Although I am travelling light, Brett has his music and performance outfit as well, so he has a bit more gear than I do. Once we were down to day-tripper essentials though, for want of anything better to do, we walked back up along the Seine towards the Isle de Cité and Notre Dame.

Our first goal was to find a decent lunch and we kind of messed that up by not exploring the station properly before heading out into the city. There’s not a lot in the way of cafés and restaurants along that stretch of the river and it wasn’t until we came back in the evening that we discovered all the options Gare-du-Lyon had to offer. Instead we made do with a rather tough and tasteless baguette at Austerlitz. Oh, well, Strike One.

After that though, we followed the Museum of Modern Art’s pleasantly landscaped sculpture garden along the river a bit further until we came across the Botanical Gardens and spent an hour exploring them; a nice oasis amidst the rather dismal suburbia that is that stretch of the Left Bank.

After that there was another hour spent recharging (both ourselves and our devices) in a café across from Notre Dame. Hardly the cheapest coffee I’ve ever bought, but convenient and full of French ambiance despite being full of English-speaking tourists. And they did a gorgeously creamy Coconut Milk ice cream…

A couple of tourists in Paris

A couple of tourists in Paris

We were really just killing time, I suppose. We’ve both spent serious time in Paris before, so had no desire to rush to tick-off the sights. We hung around in the afternoon sunshine in front of the cathedral for a while, listening to the bells calling the faithful to prayer and just enjoying the Frenchness of it all. We walked on around the Hotel de Ville and then followed Rue de Rivoli along to the traffic chaos of Place de la Bastille. Along the way we randomly stuck our heads into the church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis and enjoyed the scale and beauty of the architecture and the painted frescos up in the tower.

Back at Gare-du-Lyon we retrieved the luggage and boarded our sleeper train to Milan.

The Man in Seat 61 had done a bit of Expectations Management but, while it wasn’t a luxurious cabin, it was at least as good as the Edinburgh Sleeper. After sorting ourselves out, we headed along to the dining car for some food. Again, our expectations had been managed so we were unsurprised by the basic facilities. Even so, though, the food was pretty tasty for all that it was potted, microwavables. (Apparently done by Sky Chef who cater for a number of major airlines.) I had a salmon terrine, duck confit and apple crumble, along with half a bottle of French red: All very tasty.

Dinner onboard the Thello sleeper

Dinner onboard the Thello sleeper

Even with the flip-down seats and café-style tables, I always feel excited eating in a train dining car. A Virgin Trains burger at your seat just doesn’t do it. I don’t need the Silver Service and linen of the Orient Express, but there’s something exotic and thrilling about eating an even a half-way decent meal with a knife and fork, sipping wine and watching the scenery rolling by the window. It’s to do with the journey, I think; the romance of travel.