PARIS – MILAN: the slow-fast train

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Jan 092017
 

I go to Italy by train every couple of years, as one of my best friends lives in Liguria. It’s a great train destination, as there are so many options, most of them scenic.

The fastest way by train is with the Paris – Venice Sleeper: this tips you out at Milan about 5am, which means you can get to much of Northern or Central Italy by 9am. Recently, we took daytime trains to Milan and realised how scenic the Paris – Milan route is.

A big factor in my train planning is how far you can get in a day, starting from Bridport: I’ve coined the term DJD’s (Day Journey Destinations) for this. A favourite DJD if travelling to Germany or further east is Aachen.

Heading to Italy, the 7am bus from Bridport to Dorchester meant we reached Paris Gare du Nord at 1547. Nipping briskly onto RER Line D, we caught a TGV from Gare de Lyon at 16.45.

TRAVEL TIP: if you book well in advance, First Class on TGV’s is quite cheap. We paid 35 euros each. You get huge comfy seats and more peace and quiet.

Centre ville, Chambery

Travelling to Italy, I can recommend Chambéry as a DPD. It’s a pretty, small cathedral city on the edge of the French Alps. The old town is car-free, with lots of beautiful old buildings and nice places to eat: we arrived in time for a late dinner.

TRAVEL TIP: The Hotel Ibis Styles is two minutes’ walk from the station, and for an extra few euros you can get a bedroom overlooking the railway!

The next morning, we joined at Chambéry one of the special Paris – Milan TGV’s, which run three times a day. They’re more spacious than most French TGV’s, and in First Class you get at-seat service for food and drink.

TRAVEL TIP: Book well in advance and you can get First Class seats cheaply. We paid £31 for the four-hour trip from Chambéry to Milan. Note that these trains terminate at Milan Porta Garibaldi, so leave time to get over to Milano Centrale where most onward trains depart from.

Climb to Modane, photo courtesy of SCF

As the train heads south-east from Chambéry, it’s climbing into the Alps, heading for the long tunnel near Modane which crosses into Italy. The railway follows river valleys which get narrow, tortuous, full of waterfalls. There are frequent small tunnels, with great views of the mountains between them.

The climb each side of the Modane Tunnel is really steep, and there are banking locomotives at Modane and on the Italian side at Bardonecchia. The descent into Italy is equally dramatic. At first the line is at the bottom of a narrow valley in a huge gorge, then the valley widens and drops dramatically, and the railway winds down the hills to catch up with it.

The train stops in Turin, which I can highly recommend as another stopover point. It’s an outstandingly elegant city, with a fresh semi-Alpine climate, and great ice cream (it’s the home of GROM, for starters).

Train Lovers: The London Underground as a spiritual map

 Train Lovers  Comments Off on Train Lovers: The London Underground as a spiritual map
Jan 282016
 

It was in a lull on a retreat group recently that I realised I was musing on the spiritual significance of the Northern line at East Finchley.  This is where, after twenty-one miles of tunnel, the Tube emerges into daylight: much as a travailing soul find illumination after the long darkness…

This blog is intended to appeal to spiritual travellers and railway lovers, though it may deter both: give it a couple of paragraphs.  The Tube Network can show us a lot about aspects of our spiritual quest.

Take the Circle Line: going repeatedly round the same circuit, at shallow depth, is like our daily routines, which mindfulness urges us to notice and value, not just rattle through them.

The Central Line and Piccadilly Lines are rich in symbolism. The Heathrow loop reminds us how our deep journeyings can lead to high places, exotic destinations: but if we miss our stop, we head back round into the depths.  Whereas the Hainault loop offers an image of the segue from deep stuff into a rambling rural idyll, and back again.

Underground blog 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

The transition from deep dark to conscious light

Sometimes part of our psyche may become run-down, decrepit, in need of renewal.  The Docklands Light Railway shows how new routes can help such regeneration, and it doesn’t always need heavy excavation to achieve this.  Imagine your new initiatives prancing lightly across the skyline as new high-rises emerge from the grunge.

You’re doubtless familiar with the idea of neural pathways: how repeated thoughts or feelings create repeating patterns in our brain.  So imagine the famous Tube map as pathways in your brain: what rich complexity, with so many access points and interconnections; and it’s good to realise new routes can be created, and new connections like Crossrail or the Jubilee Line.  But the effort and upheaval can be major.

Underground blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new route means deep excavations …

I have a soft spot for the Metropolitan Line, helped by John Betjeman’s ode to it. In this exploration, it shows how a starting point deep in the centre can be linked to far-flung, rural outposts of our psyche, like Chesham and Chalfont. It also reminds us how our spiritual travels can be in style: there used to be restaurant cars on this line!

It’s fascinating to me that there are whole stretches of tunnel, and stations like Aldwych, now disused.  Surely there are echoes here, of the neglected backways of our psyche?

If I lived in London, I might hate the Tube, or take it for granted… As a visitor, I love the speed and ease.  And as a map of the spiritual life, it’s exciting to realise how many connections, and possibilities are within easy reach, and how accessible and useful the deep places can be.