A Great Rail Journey trip to Austria is in the offing for 2017. London, Cologne, Rhine, Munich (whether via Stuttgart or Nuremberg I know not), then five nights Innsbruck. It’ll be our third GRJ jolly. The first was 11 years ago to Meiringen, with trips to Lucerne, Jungfrau, and Brig (through the old tunnel). It was delightful. The GRJ guide was a deputy lay clerk at Lincoln Cathedral, so there was an abundance of gossip to be had.
Our second was to Venice and Bled. The Venice Carnival was on: not my cup of tea – sinister in fact, but the snow in Slovenia made Bled quite magical. We went out by Paris, Turin and Milan, but returned through Villach and Salzburg so I was able to point out the castle at Werfen used in Where Eagles Dare. We were beside ourselves with excitement.
Actually, that stretch of the line was not injun country. Back in about 2004, also in winter, a friend and I did a do-it-yourself trip taking in Lindau, Salzburg and Linz, so we’d seen Werfen before. The trip was memorable for two main reasons: first, the journey through the snowy Tirol in a carriage with a glass roof, and second, the stop off in Passau on the way back. Passau: setting, architecture, history. I must take Susan. There is so much loveliness in central Europe.
Susan and I had our first DIY train holiday in north eastern France: Strasbourg, Metz, Reims, Laon. Then it was Prague and Nuremberg. Next came northern Germany taking in organs in Norden and Stralsund as well as Weimar and Erfurt—we loved Erfurt. Then Lindau and Augsburg (Christmas markets featured), and finally Koblenz and Limburg with more Christmas markets.
There’s one other trip that’s worth a mention—to Kiel. A Dublin work colleague and I were off to a meeting about an EU grant application, and we decided to do it by train. Our arrival at Waterloo (as it was in those days) at 5.30 am was greeted by the announcement that the first train of the day to Brussels was cancelled. Yours truly, being not entirely ignorant of trains and timetables, marched up to the gentleman behind the Eurostar information desk, who quite clearly was still having wet dreams, to ask what he was going to do about this. Upon being told of our destination, he said, quite correctly, that Keele was in Staffordshire. Given that we were being met at Kiel Hbf at 6 pm that evening, I wasn’t in the mood for a leisurely discussion about whether or not we should trudge to Euston for a train to Stoke on Trent or Crewe, then a taxi to Keele. In complete silence I lunged over the counter, he took a step or six back, I grabbed the Cook’s continental timetable from him, turned to the appropriate page and demanded that he book us on that one to Brussels, that one to Cologne and that one to Kiel. Whereupon, also in complete silence, he did. We parted company.
We’ve reached that age when going on an organized holiday is more attractive than a DIY one. I costed both and really they’re pretty similar, so someone else doing the bookings and organizing the trips is worth paying for. Mind you, just as I’m not old enough to play golf, I’m not old enough to go on an organized coach holiday. I don’t think I ever will be.
What is it about rail travel? Spending the first 18 years of my life in sight of the Settle-Carlisle line? Langwathby school next to the station? Penrith Grammar over the road from the West Coast Main Line? Or was it the fillums? The 39 Steps, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, The Lady Vanishes, North by Northwest (coo, Hitchcock liked trains), Some Like it Hot. Ah, the wonderful, wonderful train scenes on Some Like it Hot. All of the above.
Before we settled on Austria, the Norwegian coast was a possibility. That turned out to be too long and too expensive. I have a yearning to go to Spitsbergen but that’ll be difficult by train. The Glacier Express came to mind too, but you can do that on YouTube. Places I’d quite like to visit include Kutná Hora (the other side of Prague)—it looks lovely on the pics, Karlovy Vary, though I’m not bothered about taking the waters, Bratislava, and oh yes the Italian lakes, and … and … and … We shall see.
I’ve recently discovered the novels of Barbara Pym. With great joy I’m immersing myself in them. Reading through this blog before pressing the ‘publish’ button makes me realize that in comparison they are full of excitement.