There was a moment before our summer holiday this year when I wondered whether we had gone mad.
Travelling around Europe, from Switzerland to England via Paris, on to Wales and then back to France with three children. What kind of a holiday was that? I imagined long delays, interminable cries of "are we there yet?", endless bickering and bits of food stuck to our clothes. I was almost looking forward to getting back to work before we'd left.
But the thing I had forgotten about Europe is that it has this incredibly civilised and rather wonderful thing called a rail network. It means that you can get from one country to another without even visiting an airport. There are even books about it, such as the rivetingly titled Travelling Europe's Trains by Jay Brunhouse (Fifth Edition). After three weeks of doing just that I feel compelled at least to write a column (First Edition). Having spent around 30 hours on them, I have decided that Europe's trains are truly marvellous things. They are fast, clean and filled mainly with rather pleasant people. Just the views of the countryside are enough to make the trip worth it.
There is also something rather romantic about a train. There is a promise of adventure and a pleasant journey as opposed to just a way of getting somewhere. Is this because of films like Brief Encounter (for adults) and Harry Potter (for children)? The trains even seemed to have a calming effect on the ferals who played "I spy" endlessly and made countless friends on our travels. I even made a friend, a French lady who had lived in Sweden (she heard Bea being ticked off for throwing in an "I spy" in Swedish when she ran out of English words). I can't imagine making friends on an airplane, but I think trains bring out the best in people. There is a jollier atmosphere somehow. There are picnics and beautiful cities and reclining seats that don't need to be put in upright position before arrival.
One journey we made was over seven hours; Eurostar from Paris to London and then London to deepest Wales. This was the journey I had dreaded the most. But it went amazingly quickly. First there was the excitement of going underwater (better than Atlantis apparently and certainly cheaper). Then seeing England (and rain) again for the first time in two years. Once we were on the Virgin train to Wales, the ferals watched Shrek 1, 2 and 3 while my husband and I shared fish and chips with our neighbours. I took advantage of the free Wi-Fi that had somehow seeped out from the first-class carriage next door to ours.
When I was growing up in England British Rail as it was then had a slogan that ran "Let the train take the strain". Now that British Rail has ceased to exist I couldn't agree more.
The family travelled from Paris to London and back courtesy of Eurostar. For more details, go to www.eurostar.com