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  • Writer's picturePamela Lawton

Travels by Train

Since I'm uncertain whether or not I'll return to Europe anytime soon---I decided to take Eric on the spring break trip of a lifetime---or a whirlwind tour of Europe by train. Over the course of the 14 day spring break at the University of Edinburgh, April 7-21, I decided to extend a conference trip to Barcelona with a Eurail adventure to seven cities in 14 days! Absolute madness. The Eurail website had a sale on first class train tickets for the same price as standard, but travel had to occur before the end of May. We began by flying from Edinburgh to Barcelona on April 4th and we spent 3 lovely sunny days there. In fact the entire 14 days was warmish and sunny in every city we visited. The conference was a bit unorganized, but my talk went over very well and I met one other scholar from Brazil doing community-based education work. We took a walking tour of the city seeing sites most tourists skip, visited Casa Mila, and just saw the outside of the Sagrada Familia (I neglected to get tickets ahead of time) which was super crowded due to it being Easter holidays. We went to Barceloneta beach a short walk from our hotel in the Gothic Quarter, and took the subway to the train station.

Our next stop was Madrid and I must say the Renfre train in Spain was the best of all the trains we traveled on. In first class hot meals were served on china and the cost was included in our ticket. We enjoyed plush comfy seats and good food, wine was also included. Our apartment hotel in Madrid was one of my favorite places. Located on Noviciado Street with grocery stores and a subway in short walking distance. It also had a washer and dryer and we were able to launder our clothes. Of course I dragged poor Eric to the Prado and saw some of my favorites---Goya, El Greco and Velazquez. We then walked over to see Guernica at Museo Reina Sofia and luckily noticed that the train station is located across the street. One day I'd love to return to Spain and travel to Bilbao, Valencia, San Sabastián and Seville.

Our next stop, Paris, was the longest train trip. We started on the Renfre train and transferred in the border town of Figueres Vilafant to the French ICE train---still plush, but no free meals. It was also a double decker train. We spent 3 days in Paris and packed in quite a bit of activity. I was even interviewed about the 'yellow jackets' protests while we visited the Pompidou Center. We stayed at Hotel Fountaines du Luxembourg---close to the Luxembourg Gardens, the Sorbonne and 2 subway lines. It was an easy walk to Notre Dame. It was cloudy and rainy our first day, but we made good use of the time by purchasing the Paris Pass Lib package that provided entry to all the major museums, 2 days of unlimited subway/bus travel, a Seine tour boat ride, one day on the hop on hop off bus, tours of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. And yes, we did it all. By the time we arrived in Germany Notre Dame caught fire---I'm so thankful I climbed to the top of the bell towers and saw every bit of it I could, including the belfry (home of Hugo's Quasimodo). The Eiffel Tower was a bit scary---taking the elevator to the second floor, moving at an angle from the base of one of the 4 pillars. There was no way I'd go to the very top--maybe 30 years ago, but not now. The views were breathtaking and the French people we met were super nice---the only difficult people we ran into were Americans (no surprise). Visiting the Louvre again 42 years later was also amazing--seeing the DaVinci Mona Lisa in a gallery all to herself and Nike the Winged Victory and just being in the museum was incredible. We didn't have time to get to Versailles---so I'll have to return to Paris as well someday---and much sooner than 40 years!

From Paris we took the ICE train from Gare L'Est (a much less crowded station) where I made friends with a dog---she jumped right into my lap! It was a bit of a ride to Frankfurt, Germany and sadly cousin Michael was away in South Africa, so we didn't get to see him. But we spent 1.5 days there, it was sunny and the train station was just an 8 minute walk from our hotel, Hilton Garden Inn--which was new and they gave us an upgraded room. This was my second favorite hotel room and the breakfasts there were wonderful. We were also able to use the hotel laundry facilities to wash our clothes. There wasn't lots to see, but we walked around the Romer neighborhood a quaint village square with Tudor style architecture in walking distance to the Main River.

Our next stop was Berlin (east side) and we stayed in close walking distance to the TV Tower. It was a long walk, but we managed to visit the Neues Museum where I saw the famous bust of Nefertiti. We then walked to the Brandenburg Gate, but ran out of steam and did not get to see remnants of the Berlin Wall. We had another beautiful sunny day. Activity around the Brandenburg Gate was similar to what you'd see in Times Square in NYC---including a mostly naked blond cowboy on a podium.

The trip from Berlin to Amsterdam took a bit and the train was the least comfy. It reminded me of an old stagecoach with seating in glass enclosures with two facing rows of non-reclining seats facing each other and small tables in between. This meant we were forced into conversation with 4 other people, but as it turned out they were very entertaining Americans from Florida, which made the long trip bearable. Amsterdam was one of my favorite cities! But you really had to watch out for cyclists---I think they have the right of way. There were canals and bridges all over and great food. We walked all over the city and while I couldn't get tickets to the Anne Frank House, we did get to the Rijksmuseum to see all the Rembrandts including Night Watch. I think Eric liked Amsterdam best as well.

We took the Thalys train to Brussels which was a step up and a short ride of 2 hours. We were so lucky to have almost all sunny warm days in each city. We had a lovely hotel in Brussels in the Borse area a lot of activity--outdoor bars and music and a large park within walking distance. We didn't see the peeing boy, but I saw him 42 years ago and once was definitely enough. We didn't do much just enjoyed the weather and took a bus to Charleroi airport where we were able to spend our hours waiting in a special lounge with snacks. I was able to get us a direct/cheap flight on Ryanair but it left rather late and we arrived in Edinburgh after 11pm. Thankfully we were able to get a bus from the airport, transfer on Princes Street and get back to our apartment in safety. One day Eric will tell me it was worth it to see everything we saw---but I think that day is some time from now!

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