3. Staying In An Apartment
Apart from when on a school exchange visit to Brittany in 1980, up until 1998 I had only ever stayed in a youth hostel or hotel or slept on a train whilst abroad. This changed in the summer of ’98 whilst on a work trip to Athens. To cut costs my two colleagues and I rented an apartment in Voula on the coast outside the Greek capital.
I was hooked. I felt like a local, shopping in the supermarket and relaxing with a beer or four in our large lounge or on the balcony overlooking the Aegean.
After getting married in 2000, we decided to spend our first Christmas in Paris in the Montparnasse area. Our top floor studio flat had marvellous views over the rooftops of the city. We loved everything about our stay.The PIN entry gates, the building courtyard full of plants, the ancient lift that clanked up six floors, the parquet floor, the rustic stove.
Arriving on Christmas Eve, we made the place our own with a few homely objects and plenty of candles, we shopped for fresh shrimp, Toulouse sausages, multi-coloured fungi and newly baked bread in the local markets and boulangerie. We rubbed shoulders with the Parisians and felt utterly at home. The feeling was brilliant.
That night we walked to Notre Dame for midnight mass, stopping in bars en route for warming calvados. It was a magic time.
We have repeated this format many times since. Hotels are fine, but somehow living for a few days in an apartment gives a wholly different and more authentic city experience.The advent of fabulous Airbnb has made staying in an apartment even easier and far less expensive. It just has to be done. 2. Overnight Train Journey
Readers of my blog will know I love an overseas train journey. The thrill of falling asleep to the sound and motion of the train in the knowledge that you will wake up somewhere new is marvellous. Of the 200+ foreign journeys, 10% have been overnight.
My first one in a proper couchette from Leipzig to Warsaw lives in the memory and for various reasons Sevastopol to Lviv, Hue to Hanoi and Bucharest to Chisinau are also favourites.
Overnight train memories in Turkey, Moldova & Armenia
My number one however is Paris to Copenhagen. As we approached the northern German port town of Puttgarten, we were woken by the guard around two in the morning. Not only did we need to get our passports ready, but our train was to drive directly onto the ferry.
With all the shunting, sleep would have been impossible anyway. But what fun! The train was divided into two and we were soon in the bowels of the ferry bound for the Danish port of Rodby.
We joined together again in Denmark, cue more aggressive shunting. Further on we traversed a huge bridge crossing more sea to join us to the main Danish island of Zealand and onwards to Copenhagen.
I have experienced the ‘train going onto a ferry’ since in Malmo & Sicily, but none could match that first experience.
1. Seated Buffet Car On A Train
When I was growing up there used to be a travel related programme called Whicker’s World. Hosted by English gent Alan Whicker, this usually centred on Alan travelling to far flung places, invariably with a classic train journey featured along the way.
Whicker came across as a Thomas Cook type, aristocratic and slightly eccentric and the TV forefather for the likes of Michael Palin and Michael Portillo.
I was transfixed as he rode the Orient Express, the Singapore to Bangkok flyer or the Blue Train in South Africa. Alan was generally adorning a tuxedo, sipping champers and joining in piano singalongs. Although this was not to be my cup of tea, the train restaurant car definitely was.My favourites have been on long eastward journeys in Turkey. The sense of going somewhere a bit different, deciphering alien menus and watching the world speed by as you relax over your breakfast, evening meal or beer with nibbles. Just wonderful and not a bow tie in sight!