The disOrient Express
London to London in 2 weeks, via (almost) every capital city in Europe, and a whole lot more.
I like organizing train trips; very, very long train trips involving lots of trains, taking lots of people, and done in a timescale manageable by anyone. I organized The Great Circular Indian Railway Challenge last year (https://gcirc.wordpress.com). The trip was such a success that my friends and I thought of applying the same idea to Europe. On the face of it, Europe doesn’t have the travel wow factor of India. There won’t be guys calling chai-chai-chai-chai, or the chaos of, well, any principal Indian station.
Once we looked into this we discovered that our native continent can provide railway adventures like no other. Only Europe, birthplace of the train, has such a spectacular array of train rides; the beautiful and spectacular Bernina Pass, sleeper trains in Iberia of the highest quality, sea spanning tunnels and bridges in Scandinavia, the world’s fastest trains in Italy and Spain, and a train ride deep inside the Norwegian Arctic.
What other part of the world can serve up a two-week, 10,000 mile train journey, featuring places of the stature of London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Oslo, Narvik (150 miles inside the arctic circle), Stockholm, Hamburg, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Bucharest, Sofia, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Split, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Venice, Rome, St Moritz (via the roof of the Alps), Geneva, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon and Paris ?. At a few of those we won’t really have much more time than just to have a local beer and change trains. But in just about all the others we’ve got at least several hours or more. We have overnight stop-overs in just five places. We’ll capitalize on our midnight arrival in Berlin to enjoy this most hedonistic of destinations. We’ll make excellent use of a 24-hour vaporetto pass in Venice. And the sun won’t set on us for our ‘night’ in Narvik.
Along the way, as we rarely will have time to sit down in restaurants, we will be taking on board train picnics to die for. This aspect has taken almost as much research as the train timetable itself. Copenhagen and Budapest have food markets that are destinations in their own right. Brussels boasts some of the continent’s finest fromageries, charcuteries and chocolatiers. Stockholm has a dish called a smörgåstårta which is nothing short of a picnic-sized sandwich. We have ideal timings for tapas in both Barcelona and Madrid. Throughout Europe our continent’s alfresco cuisine will be celebrated, and toasted, with style.
We’ve christened this form of travel Tourisme Grande Vitesse. If you’ve already done most of Europe, but would like an excuse to go on a stupidly long train trip and take a photo of just about every famous building on the continent while you are at it, this approach might appeal to you.
Costs: The whole ticket, including 2 buses in the Balkans, and a short flight in the arctic to tie it altogether, and all sleeper and TGV supplements, costs just over £1,000. That’s sensational value. Our five overnight stops cost a total of £100. £30 each, times 13 mouths, gets you a heck of a lot of picnic. So the food bill is estimated at about £500 each. Alcohol consumption is more difficult to predict.
There are 13 of us circulating the whole 360°, and we’ve a few other people tagging along here and there.