Thursday 7 May – on train in Italy
It was 7:30pm on a glorious spring evening, early May, in Italy. I had finished work at two in the afternoon and could have got the plane back to London. I don’t fly on holiday, but sometimes I do for work if I think the trip is important enough to justify the carbon emissions. I flew from London to Rome yesterday, as I had an important meeting with the Grantham Institute for Climate Change in the morning and dinner with Chicco Tessa (see Italy, energy and travelling by train]) in the evening. However, I had no urgent need to get back to London. So I chose to spend the afternoon in Rome – which, as a city, is as wonderful as its reputation suggests – and then take a sleeper to Paris and the Eurostar back to London. Therefore, at half past five I walked to the railway station, which is right in the centre of the city. I expected to have to check in an hour ahead – as you do in London for the Eurostar to Paris or Brussels, but no check-in is required in Rome, so I had an hour to spare. I had forgotten that there is no need to go through security for trains that are not going through the Channel Tunnel. There is also a lounge for people going on the sleeper, but I opted for some pasta in a bar instead.
I could have been back in London by lunchtime tomorrow, if I take the first connection. However, instead, I have arranged to have lunch with a friend who lives in Paris, so I’ll be home about 7pm tomorrow.
The train left Rome exactly on time at 6.40pm. The first half hour is though the Rome suburbs, which are not very beautiful, then it’s countryside. After the town of Orte, it was some hills. There is no need to turn off electronic equipment, so I’m writing this sitting by the window (the seats will be turned into bunks later), listening to Vivaldi and watching the sun setting over the hills.
The ticket from Rome to Paris cost £89 and, together with the Eurostar ticket, it cost about £200. There is no doubt that flying would have been cheaper and quicker, but not as rewarding.
Friday 8 May – home
It all went very smoothly and was fun. The bunks were put down about 10pm and the other people in the cabin were friendly. I slept pretty well until about 5am. At 7.30pm, I had breakfast in the buffet car, watching the French countryside rolling past and then spent a couple of hours in the cabin (with the beds turned back into seats). We arrived in Paris at 9.45am, just half an hour later than scheduled. Paris Bercy is near the Seine, so I walked to Notre Dame, then round some of the other beautiful sites of the city. A good lunch with my friend was followed by another short walk to Gare du Nord. I got there two hours before the train left, but, when I was collecting my e-ticket, the machine offered me a transfer to an earlier one, at no extra charge. So, I took that one, went through security (about ten minutes) and after two hours and 15 minutes, was at St Pancras, London. That’s a short bus ride from my flat.
Conclusions from the experience
Going by train is much less hassle than flying, as well as much better for the climate. In my opinion, new railways should definitely be supported and the scandalous international rules that prevent taxation of aviation fuel – which is the reason why flying is so cheap – must be scrapped, and the money raised used to make rail travel cheaper. And next time I go to Italy, Spain, Germany or France, I’ll go by train, even if it’s a work trip.
However, my next trip out of the UK is to address the World Science Forum in New York in June. Train travel might be a bit tricky for that one…