MY TRAVEL BUCKET LIST; PROBLEMS AND PANACEAS

I think most people consider the idea of a ‘bucket list’ of things they would like to do, experiences that they would like to try or, most often, places they would like to see as part of some kind of ‘greatest hits’ highlights of their lives. Once achieved and ‘ticked off’, these things mark our progress through life like so many emotional lightning rods. They connect us to those moments when we raised our game, rose above the everyday, and went for the things that really mattered on some deep, undeniable level to ourselves, rather than just being blindly channelled and herded in some direction by the people and events swirling around us.

Trust me, travel writers are no different. The more I see of the world, the more I realise how little that I have actually seen. It’s like peeling an onion; once you begin, you suddenly realise that you’ve embarked on a mission that’s going to take forever. And, in terms of travel, that’s a shockingly good analogy- though not one I can take credit for.

The one thing I have come to realise about my ‘bucket list’ is that I am going to need a bigger bucket. I had naively assumed that, by this phase of my life, I would have ticked all my main boxes, lived my dreams, done my share of smiling in the sunshine. And, up to a point, I have.

But by it’s very nature, travel is not about standing or sitting still, is it?

So, I got to considering the things that I would still like to do and, purely in a spirit of fantastical conjecture, here are a couple of things that I’m flinging without either fear, shame, or the vaguest concept of when- or even if they might ever happen- into my bucket. Here we go….

SAILING DOWN TO RIO

Rio. Just say it. It rolls off your tongue like a Salsa parade, and tastes as damned fine as the most potent caipirinha. Sultry, alluring, sun kissed and stunning, Rio is one of the great, must see destinations of the world.

But flying there? Nah. Not for moi….

Such an epic destination should be the climax of an epic odyssey. And, of all the cities on the planet, the great sea-city that is Rio De Janeiro deserves to be approached in the most dramatic and apt way possible. From the sea….

Consider even the idea of sailing from Italy in late October, just as Europe begins to sag into yet another cold, melancholy, pre winter gloom. Take some big, spectacular Italian cruise ship and set out through the Mediterranean. Swing out west, through the Pillars of Hercules, and set course for the Canary Islands, the open Atlantic and, at the end of all that, landfall in South America.

Imagine the days getting longer, warmer and more welcoming as you unwind on board, surging south west over the Equator. And, at journey’s end, there is the hallowed, matchless approach to the great city itself. In, past the looming bulk of Corcovado, past Sugar Loaf Mountain, and into that stunning bay. An epic journey that cries out to be achieved in epic style. And, let’s face it- you can’t scrimp on something as sassy, sultry and downright dramatic as that.

ACROSS AMERICA BY RAIL

Now this one is arguably the daddy of them all…

I’d fly straight to Los Angeles, stay for a couple of nights on the venerable old Queen Mary, and take in a few days of the fresh, vital sunshine on Manhattan Beach, before boarding one of those fantastic, implausible, double decker Amtrak trains for the ultimate voyage; coast to coast, with a series of spectacular city stays en route.

Over a couple of weeks, I’d watch the vast, natural smorgasbord of North America unfold from my seat like a succession of spectacular drum rolls. Mountain ranges and rolling prairies, great gushing rivers and tracts of bone dry desert. Great, concrete forests of glass and steel…

We’ll roll across mighty bridges and into flaring purple and yellow sunsets. And, like fantastic exclamation marks, I’d take a couple of nights in, say, sultry, sassy New Orleans and cool, classy Chicago. Anyone detecting a bit of a jazzy vibe here?

There would be time in beautiful, patrician Philadelphia before the final arrival in the greatest city in the world- New York. And, as the train shuddered to a halt at Penn Station, there would surely be the feeling of having completed an epic adventure.

But that is not the end of it. Oh, no. My sense of wanderlust is a bit gilt edged these days. And, in one final flourish, I would take the Queen Mary 2 back to Southampton.

Think about that; seven lazy, languid, highly styled days on the last great Atlantic liner, making the most timeless and peerless of all voyages. Unburdened with ports of call or any other diversion, I would have seven full days to absorb the full, magnificent scale of the entire trip.

In the words of the great Al Green; simply beautiful.

So; what floats your boat, then?

QM2. Because second best is sometimes just not good enough.

QM2. Because second best is sometimes just not good enough.

YORK RAILWAY STATION AT NIGHT

York Station, just after midnight

York Station, just after midnight

I’ve always thought of railway stations as the true cathedrals of the industrial revolution of the 1800’s. Their huge scale, vast, vaulted ceilings and surprisingly ornate interiors often unconsciously ape the great Gothic masterpieces of the past on more than one level.

And truly, York is one of the grandest of them all. Located almost mid way between London and Edinburgh on Great Britain’s main east coast route, it was the largest station in the world when it first opened in 1877.  At that time, it had no less than thirteen platforms, but now it’s eleven in all.

It’s a gloriously overblown swathe of Victorian bombast, writ large in stone and steel. Normally, the place is a hive of activity throughout the day and evening, and often late into the night.

So, to capture the vast, imperious old edifice silent and deserted- that was too good to miss. I wandered around the vaulted, venerable old brute in solitary silence, picking out details, facades and nuances that I would never have been able to see in the frantic cut and thrust of the morning commuter blitzkrieg.

More amazing than anything was the sense of stillness. Acres of vast, empty platform yawned as far as the eye could see. A handful of darkened commuter trains looked like snoozing metal snakes, waiting for the arrival of day.

So- here we go. York Station as you’ve never seen it before. Enjoy!

Huge and silent

Huge and silent

The scale is incredible

The scale is incredible

Bridge across the tracks

Bridge across the tracks

Clock says it all...

Clock says it all…

Amazingly ornate lamps

Amazingly ornate detailing

A pub with no trade

A pub with no trade

The brickwork is something else

The brickwork is something else

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

Under platform tunnel

Under platform tunnel

Other side of the tracks

Other side of the tracks

Acres of empty space

Acres of empty space

A vast, imposing edifice

A vast, imposing edifice

Your eyes are always drawn upwards

Your eyes are always drawn upwards

CHOOSING THE COACH- ROAD TRAVEL IN THE UK BY NATIONAL EXPRESS

London is the premier destination for coach companies like National Express

London is the premier destination for coach companies like National Express

Long distance public travel options in the UK usually come down to a choice between rail or coach travel. While rail travel in the UK is generally faster, the extortionate fares and massively disjointed network across the country do little to inspire either confidence or customer loyalty. And across the board fare increases of five per cent, just announced, certainly do not help sugar the pill.

So, what about coach travel? Exactly how does it stack up as an alternative to rail, if indeed it does at all? Here’s a few insights into the pros and cons of using a long distance coach in Great Britain.

Most long haul coaches in the UK are run by National Express.

Firstly, the great bulk of the coaches used on the long haul runs between Scotland and London are single deckers, with pairs of forward facing seats arranged down both sides.  Each comes with a seat belt, which has to be worn for the duration of the journey. The seat in front of you has a small mesh net for holding magazines, etc. There is air conditioning, an individual reading light, and a nominal amount of recline for each seat.

The seats are actually pretty comfortable, with a decent amount of leg room (disclaimer: I’m only five foot six in height). There is a rack above your head, but this is so thin as to be totally impracticable for any hand luggage. And that’s pretty much it.

The days of on board hostesses, selling sandwiches sand hot drinks in styro foam cups are long gone. So, too, are the old overhead TV monitors that used to break down with depressing predictability. In their place is free wi fi on most coaches, and a half hour stop at some ghastly, hideously over priced service station where the spirit of Dick Turpin strides proudly through a torrent of hideously antiseptic tat that masquerades as travel necessities. Every single one of them should be flattened as a service to humanity.

And it also takes longer to reach anywhere by coach these days- around seven hours to reach London from the north east of England. That’s a long time to be stuck in one place, with next to nothing but motorway to look at for hours on end.

There is a toilet, but using it as the coach shudders and vibrates is an adventure in and of itself. But there are plus sides to using these services as well.

For a start, your luggage is stowed safely in the cavernous belly of the coach. No lugging your belongings along the length of an often packed railway carriage here. And, price wise, the coaches are hugely competitive with rail.

If you’re flying from an airport such as Heathrow or Gatwick, coach services go almost right to the front door. This makes it a lot easier for commuters than struggling on and off a succession of long distance trains and/or packed underground carriages.

Nor is a coach in general any less comfortable than a train. The real weakness of coach travel is lack of any decent on board catering options, and, inevitably, sheer boredom. Additionally, you can now buy National Express coach tickets from the Post Office. Like other forms of travel, tickets are cheaper if bought in advance. And , although still relatively cheap, fares have crept steadily up over the years.

Drivers vary widely in terms of customer interaction. Some are gregarious and affable. others are obvious graduates of the Kim Jong Il school of charm.

So, there you go. Hopefully there is some food for thought in here, Wherever you decide to go- happy travelling!

AMTRAK ACROSS AMERICA- LETTING THE TRAIN TAKE THE STRAIN

Comfort with a capital 'C' is standard on Amtrak

Comfort with a capital ‘C’ is standard on Amtrak

America is possibly the most scenically diverse country in the world. From the stunning national parks of Yosemite and the still, silent, pine clad fjords of Alaska, to the forest of steel and glass that is Manhattan, the landscape is as eclectic and engaging as it is magnificent and monumental.

Trying to see it all is about as practicaL as trying to stuff a cloud into a suitcase. But if you really do want to get up close and personal with this constantly unravelling landscape, then it makes sense to do it by train.

Amtrak is America’s national rail network and, like those of many other countries, it has its share of problems. Big investment is needed in the infrastructure- the rail tracks, bridges and stations- that are it’s backbone. And no, it’s record for punctuality is not the greatest. Key to enjoying the Amtrak experience is time and some flexibility.

But that same, extensive network permits the creation and completion of some truly epic itineraries. You could combine New York with Miami, via an overnight rail journey, or take the short, three hour Surfliner run from Los Angeles to San Diego (see previous blogs). You could enjoy an overnight run from Chicago to New York, or even swagger on into sultry New Orleans. 

So what is the Amtrak experience like, then?

The overnight trains are vast, double deck leviathans several carriages long; the first impression is of a gunmetal coloured conga line of ponderous rolling stock that seems to stretch into infinity. Once on board, you have two options in terms of accommodation.

At the end of a cross USA train journey, to be greeted by this view...

At the end of a cross USA train journey, to be greeted by this view…

Coach class seats are wide, roomy and come complete with leg rests. If you want more privacy and comfort, small and compact roomettes sleep up to two people each. These come complete with twin reclining seats that converts into a lower bed, with a second, pullman berth that pulls down at night. Showers and toilets are located in the same carriage, and the roomette option also includes all meals in the price.

Bigger still are the bedrooms, which also sleep two people. Two of these rooms can can interconnect to accommodate families of up to four. Each comes complete with a large picture window, armchair, and has its own shower and toilet. Again, all meals are included in the cost. If you can go to the expense of one of these, this is definitely the way to go.

Food wise, the dining cars serve breakfast between 6.30 and 10.00. Lunch (reservations required) runs from 11.30 to 15.00, and dinner (again, reservations required) is served up between 17.00- 21.30.  Long distance trains also usually have a lounge car that sells drinks, snacks, and offers panoramic windows for watching the scenery unfold all around you.

All things considered, Amtrak is a very comfortable and evocative way of letting America come to you through a series of amazing vistas. The coaches are also set up for wi-fi, and that naturally increases the options available for diversions on even the longest journeys.

It’s also a unique way to meet and interact with the locals in a relaxed, casual environment that no air travel could ever replicate. And the hassles of flying and airports in general are done away with in a single stroke.

But it’s the sheer, exalted notion of ‘rolling on the rails’ that really pushes all the buttons for anyone possessed of even an ounce of nostalgia. Consider crossing the entire continent. Los Angeles to New York. From sea to shining sea.  This is America, up close and personal, as generations of travellers once discovered her. Close enough to touch, and still vast enough to awe, amaze and enchant.

Nice, eh? Well, go on- get out there!

THINGS TO TAKE ON A LONG TRAIN JOURNEY

Comfort with a capital 'C'

Comfort with a capital ‘C’

At first sight, you might think it sounds obvious. A complete and utter no brainer. And yet, it’s surprising  just how much the inclusion- or indeed omission- of a single item can enhance or completely derail the considerable potential pleasures of a long distance train journey.

Clothing: 

In the haste of all that packing and preparation, please do not forget to get dressed before your journey to the station. You may, indeed, be quivering with anticipation at the prospect of a rail journey, but even the most battle hardened of rail adventurers really does not need to see all that quivering as you sit there, starkers from head to foot. And imagine the effect on the poor guard.

 

Earplugs:

For sure, don’t leave home without them. just because you happen to be gloriously ensconced in a mobiles free, ‘quiet carriage’, that is no deterrent to the potential tidal wail of a battalion of satanic, snot sucking little savages, for whom the sweetie trolley can never arrive quickly enough.

Similarly, should you have the incredible ill fortune to find yourself squashed like an emaciated straw in a carriage full of tanked up, singing and swearing post match football supporters, you’ll also find ear plugs to be a blessing. Don’t just expect their husbands to keep them in order- get pro active.

Food and snacks:

Don’t take it for granted that every long haul train will be operating a full catering service. Things can- and do- go wrong. From non delivery of actual food stocks to a chef calling in sick at the last possible moment, it’s always wise to have a little something in reserve. A bottle of wine and some plastic glasses seldom comes in wrong. And you’re much more likely to find that the prices are cheaper outside the confines of the train than on board, in any event.

The scenery en route can be something else

The scenery en route can be something else

A padlock for your luggage:

I don’t know about you, but I’m always vaguely uneasy when my luggage is out of direct sight, stashed in those open lockers at the end of the corridor. There’s a veritable conga line of humanity going past it during the journey- to the buffet, the toilet, or just people getting exercise. Most are obviously honest, but don’t give that one-in-a-hundred opportunist even the sniff of a chance. Buy a lock, and secure both your luggage and your own piece of mind.

Your sense of humour:

Please, please- don’t leave home without this. You’ll doubtless need it to a greater or lesser degree at some stage during your journey, and it will certainly help to pass the time in a more amenable way than might otherwise be the case.

FIVE GREAT TRAIN JOURNEYS WORTH CONSIDERING…

Scenery en route is something else....

Scenery en route is something else….

Tired of flying? If the thought of one more airport experience makes you start losing the will to live, that’s the time to start considering alternatives.

Rail journeys can be a truly epic adventure, especially so if it’s an itinerary you’ve always longed to go with. You’ll need more time to play with, as well as a willingness to see the journey itself as a huge part of the adventure, and not merely just as a means of getting from A to B.

With those thoughts in mind, here’s a few rail journeys that I hope might just fire the imagination…..

TRAVELLING TO THE SOUTH OF FRANCE

This is an absolute beauty. Start at London’s ornate St. Pancras station with a glass of champagne, before boarding one of the sleek, highly styled Eurostar expresses for a two hour journey through the Channel Tunnel, and straight into the heart of Paris.

If time allows, grab another glass of bubbly and some fine food at Le Train Bleu; it’s an atmospheric, belle epoque restaurant in the Gare du Lyon station that definitely enhances the experience. From here, you can board the TGV that will whisk you through the heart of France, before rolling slowly towards the coast, and eventual landfall in cosmopolitan Marseilles or beautiful, balmy Nice. Altogether a great way to arrive in a quite magical setting.

TORONTO TO NEW YORK

A thirteen hour transit starts at Toronto’s Union Station. Stock up with food and goodies for your journey before you go; the catering on the cross border trains is pretty rudimentary.

The route runs via the border crossing at Niagara, where everyone has to do customs and immigration, down on through the rural heartlands of New York State; Albany and Buffalo are just a couple of the famous names en route.

The scenery is highlighted by huge swathes of lush, rolling greenery, dotted with white clapboard villages that fly past in a dreamy blur. You rumble over vast, winding rivers and through long abandoned industrial heartlands, before a final, magical early evening arrival among the gleaming spires of midtown Manhattan.  Tip; pay a little extra and spring for one of the huge business class seats for extra comfort and personal space. It’s worth it.

Barcelona awaits at journey's end

Barcelona awaits at journey’s end

OVERNIGHT TRAIN TO BARCELONA

You can do this one from London, again taking the Eurostar through the Channel Tunnel to Paris Gare du Nord. Here, you’ll connect with the special sleeper trains that run overnight through to the Catalan gem of Barcelona.

The trains have couchette berths in a number of configurations, and these also include the cost of an evening meal with wine, as well as breakfast the following day. The journey routes through the heart of France, and then through the Pyrenees into Spain proper, before eventually making the grand entry into one of Europe’s most beautiful and swaggering cities. Quite a way to go, and quite a city to savour at journey’s end as well.

AMERICA COAST TO COAST

Either east or west, try rolling across an entire, unforgettable continent. From L.A. to New York, or vice versa. Take one of the spectacular Amtrak double decker trains, complete with dining cars and separate sleeping cabins, and savour the spectacular hinterlands of mainland America.

Pit stops en route could include a few days in sassy, bohemian New Orleans, cloud scraping Denver, and even Al Capone’s old stamping grounds in classy, cosmopolitan Chicago. Roll into proud, patrician Philadelphia before ending your adventure in the forest of glass, steel and sheer excitement that is New York. Or make up your own route, and just go with the flow.

Your American coast to coast journey can start- or finish- in iconic Los Angeles

Your American coast to coast journey can start- or finish- in iconic Los Angeles

NORTH YORKSHIRE MOORS RAILWAY, UNITED KINGDOM

Short by comparison with the other options here, but sweet in its own right. Eighteen miles of beautifully meandering scenery between the villages of Grosmont and Pickering, in North Yorkshire. A scenic smorgasbord par excellence, and all savoured from the nostalgic cocoon of a real steam hauled train, to boot.

You’ll see chocolate box pretty stations and bubbling, splashing streams that meander through lush, flower carpeted meadows dotted with idly grazing cows and sheep. Some of the runs even feature evocative old Pullman carriages, and offer some seriously indulgent at seat dining options. A lovely option for a celebration on a warm summer evening.

So; there you go. Five of the best. Or just make up your own railroad adventure, and get out there. Whatever- wherever- enjoy.

RIDING THE RAILS: TORONTO TO NEW YORK BY TRAIN

Scenery en route is something else....

Scenery en route is something else….

Over rivers burnished by the setting sun...

Over rivers burnished by the setting sun…

Sixteen coaches of gleaming gunmetal shimmering in the summer Toronto sun, the Maple Leaf Explorer shuddered into life, and began to slowly roll out of the city’s Union Station. Sprawled out in a huge, business class seat, I watched idly as downtown Toronto’s glittering, glass and steel skyline rolled slowly past my window. It was 8.30 in the morning, and some hot coffee went part of the way to reviving me after what had been a late night out.

Having always been a fan of long distance train travel, I leapt at the chance to do this thirteen hour rail journey; a sampler that will, hopefully anticipate a much bigger, coast to coast adventure in a year or so. I was curious to try and get a handle on the pros and cons of travelling on the much maligned Amtrak network. And the price- even for a huge, spacious business class seat with a spectacular amount of legroom- beat out the cost of flying by a good way. So, not being in a hurry, this seemed as good a chance as any to try the Amtrak experience.

I made a couple of basic, elementary mistakes. Firstly, the Maple Leaf Explorer is a single decker train, unlike much of the coast to coast rolling stock. There would be no dinner in the diner, or anything remotely finer for that matter. In retrospect, I should have stocked up with edible goodies while in Toronto. Ah well, too late now. You’re off…

Once we arrived at Niagara, everybody had to dismount the train for customs and immigration formalities at the U.S. border. This was less tedious than a One Direction megamix playing on a loop, but not by enough to make you want to keep on living, It took a full three quarters of an hour. Back in my seat, I was ridiculously relieved to feel the Maple Leaf Explorer resume it’s rhythmic progress towards New York.

By now, my finely honed, Clouseau-like sense of intuition had perceived that there would be no at seat food and drink service; something unthinkable on any long distance train in Europe. So, like any intrepid explorer with a hunger for more than just adventure, I set forth in search of food.

Comfort with a capital 'C'

Comfort with a capital ‘C’

The buffet car was not hard to find. My first clue was a conga line of waiting people that was slightly longer than a Bosnian refugee column. It seemed to stretch back to infinity, and it moved forward with all the speed and enthusiasm of the condemned line at the foot of an overworked guillotine.

My impatience turned to pity when I eventually got my turn. There was one poor guy behind the counter- one- serving up micro waved food, plus hot and cold drinks, for the literally hundreds of people on this run.  He moved behind that counter like a whirling dervish; serving up slices of anorexic, piping hot, cardboard pizza and things that looked like they might once have been sausage rolls. Choices were thin on the ground, and even thinner when they emerged from being microwaved. I managed to grab some cold snacks, and the last two small miniatures of Sutter Creek Zinfandel on the train. Major sustenance would have to await my arrival in New York, several hours hence.

Fortunately, a feast of a far more satisfying kind was being served up, just outside my window.  The Maple Leaf Explorer shuddered, rattled and moaned its way through the heartlands of upstate New York,  speeding through a lush, green spread of slow, gently rolling hills and meadows, where small villages peeped almost shyly into sight, before disappearing in a smeary blur behind us.

The train rolled past small trailer parks, where children played on swings and in makeshift paddling pools. We thundered past one horse towns so quiet that even the horse was taking the day off.  Rivers came and went like drum rolls; some of them tinted an amazing rust brown by the slowly setting sun up above.

There were short, abrupt stops. Familiar names came and went. Albany. Buffalo. Names familiar from American folklore. Then on, into the clamouring embrace of the rolling emerald carpet that framed the views from my window.

The views en route were real, old world Americana

The views en route were real, old world Americana

There were old, abandoned industrial buildings, with brickwork still bearing the ghostly outlines of their trade in the form of weathered paintwork, scarred by decades of neglect and apathy. Sadness and pride seemed to be etched into every brick.

The Zinfandel had combined with the splendid, surreal scenery to lull me into a kind of languid, mellow stupor. And that train seat was wickedly comfortable; easily the most commodious and accommodating I had ever sat in. It really did put most airline business class seats to shame. The hours rolled by steadily, easily. And suddenly….

Out of the window, a jagged series of unmistakable buildings clawed abruptly at a flaring, purple twilight, their lights like the glow of a swarm of fireflies. Manhattan. Proud, beautiful, and never more alluring than at that special, magical hour of dusk. The Maple Leaf Explorer slowed to a crawl, grinding almost painfully forward, before it finally slid almost reluctantly into the floodlit, artificially lit embrace of Penn Station, and shuddered to a final halt.

Off the train, and the exhilaration of being in New York blew away the cobwebs and ennui as completely as if they had never existed. Within an hour, I had checked in to my hotel, found a nearby diner, and initiated a full frontal assault on a steak about the size of Saipan. Nothing- and I mean nothing- ever tasted so good. New York. Summer in the city. Now a new phase in the adventure could unravel.

Hey, Manhattan....

Hey, Manhattan….

It was a while before I could reflect objectively on that rail journey. I’m glad I did it, and it was a definite appetiser for the coast to coast trip I mentioned at the start. The trains making that run are huge, double decker juggernauts, with couchettes, sleeping cabins, scenic cars, and a full bar and diner service.  It’s the taste of another adventure; one yet to be savoured, from sea to shining sea.

RAIL AND SAIL- HOW COULD IT FAIL?

Take the train right to the ship...

Take the train right to the ship…

Norwegian Cruise Line has joined forces with Belleair Travel and Co-Operative Travel to offer quite an enticing series of rail, stay and cruise holidays for UK passengers later this year.

Many of these cut out the need to fly altogether. For example, one package features rail travel from London St. Pancras to Paris, an overnight hotel stay in the French capital, and then onward rail connection to Marseille to join Norwegian Epic for a seven day, western Mediterranean cruise, with return from Marseille by rail. This is priced from £1,099, based on a September 12th 2013 departure.

Another features a twelve night rail, stay and cruise from Venice on Norwegian Jade, and is inclusive of rail travel from London to Venice return (an overnight journey in both cases), a three night hotel stay in Venice, followed by a seven night Greece and Turkey cruise. Prices are from £1,459, based on an October 8th, 2013 departure.

Something further north? A new fly/cruise and stay in conjunction with Belleair holidays offers a series of flights to Copenhagen from several UK regional airports, a three night city hotel stay, and a nine night Baltic cruise aboard Norwegian Star. Prices from £1,625 based on an August 29th, 2013 departure.

The programme will eventually be rolled out across five ships, and fly/cruise options will also be available for the Caribbean and the Bahamas.

Three night hotel stays allow you to see the beauty of Copenhagen...

Three night hotel stays allow you to see the beauty of Copenhagen…

The three companies could well be on to something here. There is a strong- and growing- constituency of  people who simply do not want to fly for a whole raft of different reasons. Crowded airports, security concerns, and indifferent in flight product delivery by some airlines have left people looking for viable alternatives.

Add to that the scenic allure of a rail journey through the heart of France- plus a welcome overnight break in the fabled French capital- and the appeal of these packages becomes apparent. Similarly, the rail journey to and from Venice offers an amazing panoramic feast that airline passengers simply never get to see.

For those visiting great cities such as Venice and Copenhagen, a three night stay is ample time to get really orientated with the surroundings. More importantly, it also allows passengers to arrive at the ship in a far more relaxed state than sometimes happens when being transferred directly from the airport.

A general brochure outlining all of these programmes was due to be released on July 15th.

The only thing I find curious with an otherwise good idea is the timing. It does seem a bit late in the year to roll out such a programme. However, if these trips are a trial run for a more extensive 2014 schedule- and it certainly looks that way- then it is doubtless worth doing.

As well as Venice...

As well as Venice…

This one is different, and more than a little interesting. The logistics and transfers will need to be very well thought through and handled, especially in a teeming city like Paris in the summertime. But the overall premise is fascinating, and offers a genuine, carefully considered alternative for the ‘been there, done that’ brigade.

Should be worth watching. Stay tuned.