Train of events across Europe

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Europe - FELIC­ITY ROONEY

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: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. 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.

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