Train of events across Europe
My husband and I began a much-anticipated European holiday after a conference in Brussels. We set off by rail to Bern; seeing the Rhine River and fairytale castles from the comfort of our compartment was even better than we had imagined. Our B&B in Bern introduced us to that well-known Swiss efficiency, as did the faultless Swiss railway system. We visited Zurich with its cobblestoned streets lined with overflowing flowerpots and then on to beautiful lakeside Lucerne, staying with friends whose home overlooked the glistening water.
We continued our journey by train on a scenic route through the Alps and beside the Italian lakes to captivating Venice. Reluctantly we left after a two-day dalliance in a funny little hotel and took the train to Florence where seeing Michelangelo’s statue of David was a dream come true, as was visiting the Boboli Gardens and the treasure-filled Palazzo Pitti, ancestral home of the Medicis, and the Uffizi Gallery Museum, home to all those magnificent, and familiar, works of art.
We enjoyed our next rail segment, to Paris, aboard a wagon-lit, or sleeping car, and what a joy that was. We had reached the final day of our rail travel passes so decided to go to Chartres, about 90km southwest from the capital. We walked to the appropriate platform at Gare Montparnasse to hear the automatic gates click shut and see our train starting to move off. So we jumped the metal barrier and, fortunately, a kind Frenchman opened a carriage door, which allowed us to leap aboard with passengers and people on the platform clapping and cheering our bravado.
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cathedral of our Lady of Chartres, completed in the 13th century, is a fine example of French gothic architecture, and as we entered we were struck by its size and shadowy darkness. Just as we began to adjust our eyes to the glorious stained-glass, the pure voices of a congregation of monks filled the air with a soaring Gregorian chant. The magic of the singing and the majesty of the filtered light blended into an unforgettable experience, later repeated when we returned to see the afternoon sun piercing the windows to create a vivid new show of colours.
We were silent as we rode the rails back to Paris, reflecting on the holiday of a lifetime. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: email@example.com. Columnists receive a pack of Maine Beach products created using certified organic extra virgin olive oil from the McLaren Vale region of South Australia; includes Olive Oil Duo (hand and nail cream; body mousse) plus mini hand and nail cream and body wash. $84.90. More: cocco.com.au.