Route No. 42: “South to Sicily”

ROUTE OF THE WEEK

PHOTO: ‘Bay of Naples' posted on www.freeimages.com by user krzysiuc.

PHOTO: ‘Bay of Naples’ posted on www.freeimages.com by user krzysiuc.

As a continuing feature we will be highlighting a selected route from our guidebook ‘Europe by Rail’ written by Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries, every week.  Below is an extract from the book. To find out more, the guidebook can be purchased through our website for £15.99.

This week we are looking at: Route No. 42: “South to Sicily” which runs from Rome through Naples and Sicily ending in Siracusa.

This is a journey which ventures past the point where most rail travellers visiting Italy turn round and head back home. It gives a taste of the fiery harsh lands of Basilicata and it takes in a great sweep of the Calabrian coast. In a word, this is the finest coastal rail journey in this book – though that’s not to diminish the appeal of Routes 3 and 38, which between them lead from Provence through Liguria to Tuscany, sticking to the Mediterranean coast for much of the way.
Route 42 includes a short hop on a ferry from Villa San Giovanni, at the toe of the Italian mainland, to the Sicilian port of Messina. Five trains each day are shunted onto ferries for the crossing over the Strait of Messina. The end game is Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean (just beating Sardinia to that record). Successive invasions by Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French and Spanish have shaped the Sicilian character; the land is a strange mixture of fertile plains, volcanic lava fields and rocky desert, while Mount Etna, the great volcano, is omnipresent, smoking in the background.

Route No. 49: “A Baltic Journey”

As a continuing feature we will be highlighting a selected route from our guidebook ‘Europe by Rail’ written by Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries, every week.  Below is an extract from the book. To find out more, the guidebook can be purchased through our website for £15.99.

This week we are looking at: Route No. 49: “A Baltic Journey” which runs from Helsinki, Finland through Estonia and ending in Riga, Latvia.
Route 49 is an adventurous journey through recent European history, one that along the way links three capital cities and takes in some serenely beautiful landscapes. It is a journey that will test the patience of travellers bent on speed, for trains in the Baltic States are slow. The journey splits neatly into four legs: one by boat and then three by train, ending in Riga.

Tallinn (suggested stopover)
Over the past years, Tallinn has become something of a tourist Mecca both for Finns on booze cruises and western Europeans exploring further afield. Lauded by some to be the Prague of the Baltic States, the old parts of the town are compact, manageable and a delight to explore on foot both during the day and at night. Nightlife in Tallinn goes on into the small hours particularly on the long summer nights (the summer season is very short, so locals and visitors need to take advantage of it while it is there). Live music is common and there is a vibrant atmosphere around town. In the old part of Tallinn you will find attractive cobbled streets, picturesque painted houses, churches and fortifications. Against a stretch of the mediaeval wall surrounding the Old Town, which can be entered through a number of gates, there is a craft market, specialising in traditionally patterned fishermen’s knitwear and multi-bobbled hats. Katariina käik is an atmospheric alley tenanted by craftswomen and is lined with ancient gravestones.

Route No. 16: “Touring the Rhine Valley”

ROUTE OF THE WEEK

As a continuing feature we will be highlighting a selected route from our guidebook ‘Europe by Rail’ written by Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries, every week.  Below is an extract from the book. To find out more, the guidebook can be purchased through our website for £15.99.

PHOTO: The Hohenzollern Bridge is used by all trains crossing the Rhine to enter Cologne from the east. Cologne's great cathedral, seen in this shot, is right by the main railway station. Photo by Dirk Ziegener posted on FreeImages.com

PHOTO: The Hohenzollern Bridge is used by all trains crossing the Rhine to enter Cologne from the east. Cologne’s great cathedral, seen in this shot, is right by the main railway station. Photo by Dirk Ziegener posted on FreeImages.com

This week we are looking at: Route No. 16: “Touring the Rhine Valley” which runs from south from Cologne in Germany through the Black Forest to Zurich, Switzerland.

This is one of Europe’s classic rail journeys, as the route south from Cologne hugs the River Rhine and then, once past Koblenz, follows the dramatic Rhine Gorge upstream. Moving over the imperceptible divide from northern into southern Germany, we leave the Rhine Valley and continue through the Black Forest in to Switzerland

Suggested Itinerary:
Our starting point is Cologne, which is nowadays just a short hop on regular high-speed trains from Amsterdam (ERT 28), Brussels and Paris (both ERT 20). Travellers from Britain can leave London on a morning departure on Eurostar and, with just one change of train in Brussels, be in Cologne to start Route 16 by early afternoon. There is no compulsory seat reservation on any of the trains in this route. Holders of InterRail and Eurail passes can thus follow the entire route without paying a cent in supplements. This is, therefore, a journey well suited to spontaneous travel. Cheap tickets, valid only on regional trains, are available for all but the final leg from Schaffhausen to Zurich.

Heidelberg is the obvious place for an overnight stop. If you decide to travel from Cologne to Heidelberg in a day, we especially recommend using one of the two morning Eurocity trains which run up the Rhine Valley from Cologne. These two trains (EC7 and EC9 respectively) are both formed of very comfortable Swiss carriages and each train has an excellent restaurant car. It is a two-and-a-half hour journey from Cologne to Mannheim, where you’ll need to change for a connecting train to Heidelberg, just a dozen minutes away.

If the weather is good and time no object, think of doing part of the journey by boat up the Rhine; the best place to do this is definitely between Boppard and Bingen (ERT 914a). Holders of Eurail and InterRail passes receive a 20% discount on the regular fares on all shipping services shown in ERT 914a.

Route No. 22: Four capitals in a day

As a continuing feature we will be highlighting a selected route from our guidebook ‘Europe by Rail’ written by Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries, every week.  Below is an extract from the book. To find out more, the guidebook can be purchased through our website for £15.99.

This week we are looking at: Route No. 22: Four capitals in a day, which runs from Hamburg through Berlin, Bratislava and ends in Budapest.

The rail journey from Hamburg to Budapest can be completed in a long day. The sole direct service between the two cities takes just under 14 hours for a journey of about 1,300 km. It really does take in four capital cities in a day. Travel all the way through if you will, but the great majority of travellers will stop off en route, usually at one or more of the following cities: Berlin, Dresden, Prague or Bratislava.

Budapest
The grey-green Danube splits the city into Buda, on the west bank, and Pest on the east. Buda is the photogenic, hilly Old Town, with its pastel coloured baroque residences, gas-lit cobblestone streets and hilltop palace, while Pest is the thriving, mostly 19th-century commercial centre, with the imposing riverside State Parliament building, its wide boulevards and Vörösmarty tér, the busy main square.

Take the Budavári Sikló (Buda Castle Funicular) up to the Halászbástya (Fishermen’s Bastion). The bird’s-eye view over Pest from Castle Hill is stunning, and so is the neo-Romanesque structure that you mount to enjoy it.

BUDAPEST PANORAMA

PHOTO: By mikkamakkax (Indafotó) CC BY-SA 2.5 hu (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/hu/deed.en), via Wikimedia Commons.