Crete to London by Train and FerryFebruary 11th, 2010
After an epic but enjoyable journey by train from London to Athens I took the ferry to the island of Crete where my mother and stepfather have settled in the picturesque hamlet of Houmeriakos. Before I knew it my week was up, I boarded the high speed ferry at Heraklion to begin my long journey home by ferry and train to London.
My decision to go without a private cabin was rewarded (as you would expect) with very little sleep. The non-reclining chairs really are not particularly comfortable, and many of the other passengers were far more prepared for this than I, carrying sleeping bags and duvets with which they made cosy nests on the floor. Despite my discomfort, I was still quite amazed at the speed in which we made Pireus, and by 0630 I was on the first train into Athens, and thanks to an early check in at my hotel I was showered and refreshed with a full day explore Athens.
The Airotel Pantheon is a great 4* hotel option conveniently located across the road from the brand new Acropolis museum. Hours could easily be lost in the Acropolis exploring the treasures it holds. Just like the city itself, thousands of years of history are all accessible in a clean and modern way.
My walk up to the Acropolis was rewarded with fantastic views across the city, but also some huge crowds, so I visited some of the other sites: The Palace of Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, The Theatre of Dionysos and The Ancient Agora, all fantastically conserved so you do still feel as if you are stepping in the footsteps of Socrates. After a long day of sightseeing I was ready for an early night, and after a good dinner I retired for the night, ready for my early start the next day and the journey to Rome.
My journey started from Larissa terminal, where I bought my ticket for €9 and boarded a train for what I imagine would be quite a scenic journey, had it not been quite as grey and wet as it was, to Patras. The train was of old stock (although I did see newer trains making the return journey) with no air conditioning and it was a two hour journey which winds along between the main road and the coast until it comes to an end right next to the busy ferry terminal. Here you really do feel like you are on the furthest reaches of ‘Western Europe’, with the high wire fences and heavy security guarding the numerous lorries while groups of young men lurk, dreaming of new lives.
My ship was the ‘Ionian Queen’, and after paying my €10 port fee, I sat reading my book in the comfort of the bar and an hour or so into our voyage I made my way to the galley to enjoy some dinner. It was here that I realised that I was the only foot passenger on board, and the Purser seemed to be a little surprised when I informed him that I was not a ‘Trucker’, so sadly did not have any vouchers to pay for my supper, just Euros. The sea was rough and I was comfortable sheltering in the warm bar whilst watching the sea spray against the windows.
As the night pulled in I moved away from the window and tucked up in the quiet lounge area and caught 40 winks. My decision not to book a private cabin came back to haunt me when we docked in Igournenitsa and I was joined by twenty sleepy Albanians that snored incessantly for the next 10 hours. After 12 hours sailing we had reached wet and windy Brindisi. There is a free mini bus service which takes foot passengers from the port into town, and after a quick espresso and a short wait I was on board a busy high speed Eurostar train bound for Roma Termini, 5 hours away.
After roughly 20 hours of travelling I was dire need of a shower and some serious comfort, and the 5* Sofitel Villa Borghese did not disappoint. Located as the name suggests, directly next to Villa Borghese, it is a short walk from the Spanish Steps and beautifully warm, modern and traditional at the same time. I had a room in the corner of the building which has fantastic views across Rome. A newly refurbished rooftop restaurant will surely be one of the hotspots of Rome once reopened by Easter.
I found like Athens, Rome is fantastically laid out for visitors. I got up early that morning and enjoyed the fresh crisp morning by exploring the Villa Borghese gardens. From there I walked down through Piazza de Popolo, across the river to the Vatican City and marvelled at St Peter’s Square. Then to Castel St Angelo and on to the amazing Pantheon, stopping in Piaza Navona for a pizza and a glass of wine.
After lunch I was off again, up to the beautiful Capitoline Hill, the great victory arch, the ancient Forum and onto the huge Colosseum. We have all heard the names of these places numerous times but it is only when you see them in real life that you can understand their true greatness and power. I retired that evening for a wonderful pasta supper and a well deserved bath.
After a delicious breakfast the next morning my time in Rome had come to an end, and I took a train to Milan, and then it was time for my journey from Italy through Switzerland. After a brief passport check as we passed through Como to Chiasso, we entered Switzerland, and I couldn’t take my eyes from the scenery. The train weaved its way along the banks of beautiful Lake Lugano, and on through the snow capped Alpine peaks until we reached the equally dramatic Lake Lucerne. As the afternoon sun diminished I was treated to some amazing colours. The blues of Lake Zug and the clear winter sky were truly unforgettable.
The last night of my trip was spent in the Hotel Schweizerhof in Zurich, just next to the station where I arrived. A tremendous 4* hotel where each guest is welcomed with a hot hand towel and a glass of Champagne. I refrained from playing with my adjustable bed for too long, and spent the evening getting into the Christmas spirit thanks to the largest indoor Christmas Market at the station, tucking into Raclette and keeping warm with a couple of mugs of delicious Gluhwein.
And so came the final leg of my long trip. After a great breakfast (washed down with a glass of champagne, naturally) I boarded a train to Strasbourg, where I changed onto a TGV to Paris and then the Euostar home to London. I flicked through the hundreds of photos I had taken and amazed at all of the different places I had managed to see in my few weeks away. I felt a little sadness that I had only had so few hours in each city and that I wouldn’t see my mother again for some time, although I couldn’t wait to sleep in my own bed again.
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