You can fly for two hours from London to Verona and then take the road or rail for 30 minutes or so to Lake Garda OR you could do whole trip by rail (which will take a little under two days). Which would you choose?
Probably the former, if sensible, and, like most people, limited to 20 or so paid days of leave a year. But if the travel itself is part of the fun, if you are not pushed for time, if you hate flying or hanging around for several hours at airports whilst they deal with some IT breakdown, weather delays, air traffic controller/baggage handler strikes or security scare, and if you fancy the idea of seeing the scenery en route to your destination, why not go by land?
You could drive; and some people do, but that means hours and hours on boring motorways, playing “I spy”, taking rest breaks at soulless service stations, and taking your chances with the traffic or, if you are completely insane, you could cycle, and use up an entire year’s worth of holiday just getting there. I am not going to be writing or thinking about cycling anywhere until time has dimmed my recollection of our last venture and my backside has shrunk to its normal size.
We had always wanted to visit the Italian lakes. So , that is where we went and for this journey, we thought we would try old school and let the train take the strain (as British Rail used to advertise on the days they were running).
The start of our journey, at St Pancras Train Station in London, was quite promising. You still come across queues for check in and security, but they seem to process people quite efficiently, and before long, we were whizzing along at 170 miles an hour through Kent and on to the Eurotunnel. Having treated ourselves, to what we had thought was first class travel (more on that later), we sat in air conditioned comfort in Standard Premier class and enjoyed a light lunch served at our seats. We were in Paris in Two hours and Twenty minutes.
Our taxi transfer, arranged in advance, was waiting for us, name board in hand. Queuing for a taxi at Paris Gare du Nord is not advisable for two reasons; one it takes forever and two, the station is old, filthy and seemingly full of vagrants. It is quite unlike St Pancras, which is modern and clean. Considering how clean and modern the Eurostar is, you would have thought they might make a bit more effort when you get off.
Mind you, things could be worse, as indeed they were at our next station, Gare de Lyon. Hordes of travellers crammed into a sweating concourse desperately waiting for train information, is my enduring memory of that stop. The next leg of our journey would take us from Paris to Zurich and when our train finally arrived about five minutes before it was due to leave, the masses converged onto the platform in complete disarray.
We would spend four and a half uncomfortable hours on this train. Again, this was billed as first class, but if that was first class, I would have hated to endure second class. It probably doubled as livestock freight transport. Our ‘first class’ carriage was dirty, hot and smelly. To be fair though,we were sharing the carriage with one group of sweaty people with severe personal freshness issues; the sort of BO that leaves a trail. Had they used deodorant, things might have been better. The BO brothers were also smokers, and they would linger in the doorways at every stop en route, to take a few puffs of their noxious weeds and bring a few clouds back with them as we pulled out.
Arriving in late the evening to Zurich, we took comfort that we would be fed on board. I was expecting another Eurostar type meal, but being fed on this journey means you get a quarter of a sandwich and a thimble of some soft drink. A quarter of a sandwich! who does that?! Talk about disappointing! And boring boring boring! Think where you can fly in four and half hours and then think you have made a big mistake, especially if the next day is as dull as this.
So, we were hungry when we pulled into Zurich that evening and very tired as we hit the hotel bed.
We had a few hours to kill the next morning, so took the time to have a look around Zurich by hopping on and off trams. It is a pretty lakeside city, and worth a trip in its own right.
And then we were off again. Next stop Milan.
This is a much more interesting journey of about three and a half hours through the alps, albeit part of the trip is underground, through the Gotthard pass, the longest rail tunnel in the World.
Milan Central station is impressive. It is a cross between a Roman temple and a cathedral, with murals and statues in abundance. There was a hint of Albert Speer in parts, though, which was a little disturbing and I wondered if Signore Mussolini might have had an influence on design. Apparently, it was built in 1931, so I guess that is the answer.
We had no time to explore beyond the terminus, as we headed for our final leg from Milan to Desanzano, where we arrived in the early evening and were once again, met by our transfer driver.
Using a Lorna phrase, it was an experience. It had been well planned, all connections ran on time and everything was according to the itinerary. but the consensus on arrival was that we should book a flight back for the return leg and not return by train. Which – we duly did. Return Verona to Gatwick – two hours.
As for Lake Garda itself – absolutely beautiful. Clean upmarket, cosmopolitan and very welcoming (aside from the revolting bar/bistro next to the bridge on the front in Desanzano – you know who you are!). Some pictures below.
Worth a trip, but for all its faults, I would travel by plane next time.