Please sign in to post.

Train journey London to Rome

This trip is a couple of weeks of cobbled together day leave which make up just under 2 weeks. Having previously taken a challenge to drive around western Germany and Luxembourg spending less than €100 a night (for two) and succeeded, we decided this time to forego the car and see if we could enjoy taking day trains and doing the trip as inexpensively as we could while not making many sacrifices. So far so good. I should say at the outset that, as I am a rail employee in England the vast bulk of the rail expense is met for me. This isn't meant to be representative of rail costs for most people. Due to the very low cost to us we were willing to spend longer on trains than most people might. Our train costs were: home to London, free; London to Paris £38 each round trip; Paris – Basel round trip £3; Basel – Bern CHF19 as my wife's pass doesn't cover that bit; Bern –Domodossola, free; Domodossola – Milano C.Le CHF54 for EuroCity seat reservations (equivalent to €10pp each way). In Italy we went Frecca fast trains so used MINI fares. Milano-Venezia €19 each, Venezia-Roma and Roma-Milano we snaffled €9 ones.
The other thing we have done on this trip is pretty much rely on hotel suggestions from fellow Helpline travellers rather than the usual Accor brands and Holiday Inns of most driving trips. We usually stay on the outskirts so we can have cheap or free parking – this trip we are exclusively in the middle of towns. Thanks Helpliners...

Posted by
23402 posts

First day and night were interesting. It was Easter Monday Bank Holiday so trains to London were sparse and advance publicity as sparse as the trains, even when I had inside information. We got a train and an hour later we were in Euston Station. Stayed at the Ibis across the road from Platform 17. Nothing awful about it but not much to recommend it other than price (£78) and location. I gave it 3 out of 5 at TripAdvisor. Second Day.
Up early for 6:15 check in at Eurostar for the 07:01 to Paris. We didn't know what to expect airside at Eurostar so we got breakfast wraps at the Café Nero at Euston (opens at 5:30 M-F) and coffee at Kings Cross McDonalds (24/7). Most things at St Pancras and Kings Cross are not open early enough. We learned to our cost that hot drinks are not permitted to go through security and we had to get out of line, drink quickly, and rejoin the line. Security is tougher than recently, and passport control by the French which used to be a nod is much, much stricter and slower. FYI, there are a Café Nero and WH Smiths airside so we could have waited. Easy trip to Paris, easy walk out and down the stairs to Gare de L'Est for yummy take away lunch purchase in the station and the TGV to Colmar and a seriously lovely Regional train to Basel. Nice Ibis Hotel next to the station which I gave 5 stars at TA, CHF142 plus CHF15 each for brekkie.

Posted by
23402 posts

Third Day. WE LOVE BASEL. What was meant as a quick overnight en-route developed into a love affair with Basel. We'd driven past Basel many many times and hated it. The autobahn though Basel is a motorway designer's bad nightmare. BUT, stay In town and use the free – to hotel guests – magnificent tram system and walk the gorgeous hills, lanes, and alleys and the city comes alive. Having stayed several times in Bern we now far prefer Basel. We then boarded a EuroCity train at 12:31 to Milano Centrale. We didn't expect that it would leave from the far edge of the station nor that it would be such a nice train. It was an ATR which is a brand new tilting train. We went through the BasisTunnel for the first time and while we missed the scenery of the Kandertal the run through between Spiez and Visp is seriously fast. We could look up several times to the old line. We were bang on time until the Italian border where we promptly ... stopped .... For quite a while. Despite both Switzerland and Italy being Schengen countries the Guiardia Finenza (with plenty of dog-power), the Italian Customs, the local police and several plain clothes officers descended on the train taking several people away for a while and opening several items of luggage on the floor. We got going again, only to stop twice more. Oh well, T-I-I (this is Italy).
We saw the Last Supper which was much more impressive than I had expected, and the Crucifixion on the opposite wall. Both my wife and I really enjoyed seeing the fresco both up close, really close, and from half way down the Refectory. We'd been half heartedly trying to get in to see it for 10 years but are now really glad we made the stop.

Posted by
23402 posts

We stayed at the Berna. We were put in the annex over the road without asking which was supposed to be superior. The room decorations and fixtures were very nice, and the shower in the corner of the bathroom was good with both a foot jet and normal shower, loads of storage and comfort, but the room was, even by Italian standards, very very small. About 8 inches of room next to one side of the bed and about 18 inches the other side, with just enough room for one person to walk in front. There was a nice desk and chair with reliable WiFi (once it got going). We enjoyed the Berna – especially the magnificent breakfast, which was exceptional. I have only seen so much choice at a breakfast buffet once before anywhere, that was the Maratim in Frankfurt. This one did not include the Maritim sushi, but it is the first time I have seen eggplant parmagania, pizza, 3 types of quiche, and solid blocks of chocolate at a buffet, especially an included one. They also had the biggest basket of ricotta cheese I have ever seen – at least 18 inches across. I gave it 4 at TA.

Posted by
23402 posts

Fourth day.
T-I-I. Got on the 8:35 White Arrow to Venice SL and we left on time. 500 metres outside the station we came to a sudden halt. 15 minutes later and an engineer went up and down the train resetting circuit-breakers and we eventually got going. The ride was much rougher than I had expected, very bumpy in places. But we got there. ... to be continued

Posted by
2873 posts

Wonderful to hear about Basel. I'd figured I should visit at some point but am always told that the major Swiss cities are boring and charmless. Glad to hear otherwise, will start planning at least a day trip down there soon.

Posted by
6033 posts

Yeah Nigel, you can't end a post with "to be continued" and then leave us hanging. I've been checking this board every day to hear the rest of the story.

Posted by
23402 posts

ok, ok... its coming... I had to go right back to work and I'm wiped out thinking about the next trip... gimme a couple a days... (preview - it all worked out)

Posted by
23402 posts

a quick answer - a tilting train is one that leans into corners allowing a much faster speed than if the train stayed upright. You know how when a motorcycle turns the rider leans into the turn? They get much better stability and handling and can hold much more speed? There are computerized boxes at the approach to bends in the track which speak to the train which then uses levers near the wheels to lift up the outside side gently which creates the tilt, and boxes at the exit which gently put the train level again. The Pendolinos were the first, as far as I know.

Posted by
23402 posts

... continued ... So we got to Venice, and the reason this supposedly contemporaneous Trip Report came to such an abrupt halt was due for a while to the very poor rides we had on the Freccas from Milan to Venice, Venice to Rome and Rome to Milan and onwards to Switzerland. I can only write when comfortable and happy about my circumstances. The ride from Milan to Venice was scenic enough and the train was quite comfy, once we had convinced the chap occupying our seats from Milan that he wasn't entitled to sit there. The train was reasonably busy and we had to wait while he, VERY slowly packed up his laptop and coffee. We settled in, just in time for the emergency stop mentioned above. After about Brescia I got tired of Angry Birds and prepared to write. Then the track became very poor and I found it impossible to type accurately because of all the bumping. My wife and I discussed it afterwards and we figured it must have been a homesick Roman driving the train who wanted us to have a feeling of a Roman bus on the cobblestones. That's what it felt like. I thought it was the worst ride I'd ever had on a train, and faithful readers will know I spend a lot of time on trains, - until the ride to Rome. ;-)) We eventually got to Venice Santa Lucia and as we went slowly over the causeway all my problems fell away. We love Venice. The tourist office in the station has moved out to a port-a-cabin at the top of the stairs overlooking the Grand Canal and has its own queue. We used them for our 72 hour vaporetto tickets as the line at the dock looked longer. Absolutely easy, very good queue management. On to the Number 1 (the numbering changes aren't as bad as I feared and well signed). >>> All you folks who recommended Pension Guaratto were right on the money <<<. Our first time to stay with them and we have said that there is no reason to stay anywhere else.

Posted by
1352 posts

Awesome trip report Nigel! Can't wait to read the rest! We stayed at Pension Guerrato in 2006 and loved it also!

Posted by
1261 posts

Enjoyed your report, Nigel. I assume there's more...?

Posted by
23402 posts

So, a bit more. I wrote a whole next chapter only for the system to fail posting and it was lost. A bit more about the Pension Guarrato. The staff, from the several folk who share desk duties, to the three ladies who maintain the breakfast goodies, to the maids, all always had smiles, always went out of their way to to help and make recommendations, and were sublimely polite. We had two rooms. The first one we were in for a couple of nights and was large, by Italian standards and had plenty storage and floor space. A key thing for us is the size of the bathroom sink so we can keep the laundry at bay. It was plenty big and the nice hot radiators performed the drying for us. Bed was big, room simple but had everything we needed. Despite the windows overlooking the small calle and being right near the market there was no noise. The second was a lovely room with three very large windows directly overlooking the fruit market and the Grand Canal. Wow! We loved that one even more. Truly, after P-G, we will stay nowhere else in Venice. There is no need. We discovered the Palazzo Grimani which is a newly opened Palazzo containing special exhibits. Just off Campo Santa Maria Formosa it is very convenient and unusual for a large palazzo owned originally by a Doge, because it is not on a major waterway. It does have small canals on two sides with two watergates (underwater when we were there) and we were able to hear the strains of Santa Lucia as the gondolieri took several boats of tourists past. BTW - I never understand why Roman songs are so popular in Venice. We were glad to see that Dorsoduro's Squero gelateria was functioning again but thought its quality may have slipped half a notch. Roberto suggested Alaska in Santa Croce which we loved.

Posted by
23402 posts

We finally got to terms with cicheti. Oh yes!! All'Arco very good, small, funky seating in the alley, slightly small selektion. Ca'd'Oro (fill in the rest of the name when you get home, Nigel) was very, very busy, very nice large variety but too big, commercial and crowded for us. Just a few seconds walk from the Ca'd'Oro vaporetto stop or the Traghetto though. Maybe of we had gone at lunch.... We'll need to try them again the next time. Cantionne (sp) (in Dorsoduro across the Rio from S. Trovaso) perfect. Lots of choice, cheap (ish) lots of places to put the plates along the walls, plenty of wall to put things down along the Rio. Yummy, yummy, yummy. Our fave. We walked lots but were surprised by how many folk were in Venice and on the vaporetti. We were about a month earlier than usual and it more crowded than we have seen in early May. This trip we discovered many new areas to us of Venice and revisited some old favourites such as the Bell Tower at San Georgio. <edit to insert boat rally against large ships>

Posted by
23402 posts

Do you remember that earlier I commented on the ride from Milano to Venezia? The Freccargento from Venice to Rome was worse. In addition to an absolutely horribly rough ride, so bad there was no way I could either write this trip report or even play Angry Birds (the bumps kept sending them too soon and in the wrong direction - grrrr) there were also five - yes five - emergency stops where we would be clicking along at nearly 300 kph and the train would come to a rapid juddering stop. I was in the bar car at the time of one - you should have heard the shouting when all the people had their coffees on the floor!!! I was quite surprised because I have ridden FS - Italian State Railways - InterCity, EuroCity and Regionale (even the dreaded Expresso) trains for years. It seemed that with the FreccaBianca and FreccaArgento they really didn't care, or maybe I just had bad luck.

Posted by
23402 posts

The Bianca Milan to Venice was tarted up old, quite old, stock; the Argento Venice to Rome looked better and was clearly much newer; it just rode like they wanted to go down the aisles after the train arrived and collect all the fillings which would have falllen out so they could melt them down. Got to Termini and found the buses towards Largo Argentina (I'd never taken a bus from Terminui before) very easy. The 70 especially good, the 40 and 64 both busy but neither terrible. Not nearly as crowded as the 116 electric on which an old man's hand strayed, by accident according to what he said, into my pocket rather than his. Ha! Nothing in that pocket to find.... We were booked into the Dependence at Smereldo but when we arrrived they put us into a room at the back of the main hotel instead. I don't know if that was better or worse as we never saw the Dependence except walking by every day around lunch or dinner. The room was very nice, quite large, with everything we could need including a view of the nearby church and we had nice metal shutters. We heard the bells - Ruth would have liked it. Lift was small but large enough for 2 adults and 1 suitcase. Breakfast was fine - including chocolate fillled and marmalade filled croisants. The desk staff were ok except somebody signed a name on a credit card slip that was not mine. I think it was sorted out but am still watching credit card statements.

Posted by
23402 posts

The only things we really didn't like about the Smereldo were both bathroom related. The bathroom itself is fine, plenty large, with a large sink (see above), reasonably effective and quiet toilet and bidet. Decent towels. It irritated me to see the usual "don't waste washing towels and save the world" sticker (don't mind that, and I agree) at the same time that the cleaning staff dispose of any soap bar no matter how unused and replace with a spanking new wrapped one. How hypocritical. But what really got me was the shower cubicle. I know I'm not a particularly small chap, although dozens of pounds lighter than I used to be, but it is the first shower cubicle that I have had to turn sideways to fit though, and then still scraped front and back to get in and out. And the shower head is unmovable and unajustable. So into the shower, protect my bod with one hand and turn it on with the other then hold up both hands until warmed up. Hmmph!!! and I'm not usually upset by bathrooms. The location can't be beat. The room is nice. Neighborhood has easy cheap tasty food and plenty of character - just what we wanted. Super easy bus connections. Just that shower. Gave a reluctant 4 on TA. We followed Ron in Rome's advice about the Vatican Museums and went at 1:30, but on a Monday. I guessed that the Monday 8 days after Easter the big crowds might have subsided and I was right. We breezed in, no line either at the ticket booth or at security. From the time we arrived at what would have been the front of the line until we were photographing the famous staircase must have been less than 2 minutes.