Red letter daysWritten by Roger Holliday Claudia Fischer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re about letters today. One from a reader. And a big red one.
Let’s start with the reader’s question. It’s from Richard P. of Cleveland …
Q. My wife and I are planning a trip to Europe in November. We’ll fly into London. Then travel on to Florence and take day trips to Siena and Venice.
Next stop will be Milan. And then Provence. Before heading back to London. And home.
We’ll travel entirely by train (as advised in your columns) and have already picked out our hotels. But would appreciate suggestions on some “must-sees” and we wonder whether a rail pass is a good idea for the eight train trips we’ll be taking.
A. As huge train fans we obviously think using the railways for your journey is the best idea. There is frequent daily service between all of the cities mentioned. And you’ll be able to save not only money but aggro. No hefty parking fees. No $7 a gallon gas. No motorway tolls. No map reading. No getting lost.
For rail pass information and schedules, contact Budget Europe Travel Service in Ann Arbor. 1-800-441-2387 or www.budgeteuropetravel.com. They’ve been solving travelers’ rail problems … including ours … for over thirty years. They’re thorough. Always up to date…and an invaluable resource.
As for the trip itself, we think that “doing” Venice as a day trip would be a mistake. It may only be a couple hours’ train ride from Florence but you’d miss much of the ambience that overnight stays provide. In our view, it’s a 3-day stop. At least.
To get a really good feel for this canalized gem before you go…read some of Donna Leon’s many mystery novels about Venice and her cerebral detective, Guido Brunetti.
Our favored base cities for Provence would be either Arles or Nice. Preferably both!
Arles is within easy reach of Avignon, Nimes, Aix and that 1st-century Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard.
And while it may not have the very best train connections it does have its own Roman amphitheater, several museums, exquisite town squares, a twice weekly market and a surfeit of excellent eateries.
Nice is another good choice.
It’s a lively, livable and quite lovely city with dozens of of daily trains covering the length of the Cote d’Azur. Have a ‘salade Nicoise’ in the Cours Saleya market. And make sure to take the narrow gauge Pine Cone Train into the mountains above Nice. Go as far as the enchanting village of Entrevaux…stop for a leisurely lunch and ride the train back down.
In preparation for Provence, look for Carol Drinkwater’s books about the area…and her restoration of an olive farm. Carol played James Herriot’s wife in the TV series “All Creatures Great And Small” and is as accomplished a writer as she is an actress.
In general, avoid too many daily moves. Stay several days in each destination. And above all, travel light. A single 22″ carryon bag for each person will ensure a smooth and enjoyable rail journey.
And, of course-Bon Voyage!
We can’t let February 23rd slip by. It was a “Red Letter Day”.
“Red Letter Days” were originally so called because church holidays were once marked on calendars in red ink, but mine is marked by a single stamp in a dog-eared and long expired passport reminding me that it was on that day…50 years ago…that I set off from London on my tiny Lambretta motor scooter heading for a job in Stuttgart, Germany…3 days and 600 miles away.
Not many souvenirs of the actual ride remain.
Just a tattered school scarf. Some black and white photos to illustrate a story I wrote. The “stempels” (stamps) in my passport as I crossed the Belgian and German borders. And the very distinct memory of some tearful farewells, clearing London’s dingy southern fringes, and then opening up the bike to its flat out 50 mph…as I buzzed through green and pristine countryside on my way to the English coast…and a journey that was destined to last a lifetime.
Well, at least the next 50 years!