by Robert Lidster
For a long time I had thought about alternative ways of joining cruise ships abroad other than flying, although I am a great fan of flying I wanted to try something, well a little more romantic. So I put together a cruise out of Venice with travel from the UK to Venice by train.
As the 08:57 pulls out of Thorpe-Le-Soken train station bound for London Liverpool Street I am struck by the significance of this rather unremarkable start to my journey. This is a journey that will take me across Europe to one of the most romantic places on Earth…Venice!
The one and a half hour journey is one which I have done literally thousands of times so holds little surprise for me, however, it is a bright sunny day and as we make our way through the Essex countryside I rest and contemplate the journey ahead.
On arrival at Liverpool Street I make my way to the underground in order to get to St. Pancras station where I am to catch the 12:29 Eurostar train to Paris. I arrive at St. Pancras at 10:50 so I decide to spend the spare time I have exploring this recently renovated station, top of my list of things to see is the famous ‘Champagne Bar’, I look but don’t sample as it is still pretty early in the day.
Check in for Eurostar was quick and easy and once through into the departure lounge I found plenty of seating area with a shop and places to get something to eat and drink. The train left one minute early and was very nearly full, we stopped at Ebbsfleet, Eurostars’ newest station to pick up more passengers. The train was comfortable and had a buffet car where you could purchase food and drink. We arrived at Gare Du Nord on time at 15:50 C.E.T. after what was a quick and efficient albeit a somewhat unremarkable journey.
From Gare Du Nord I had to get across Paris to Gare Du Bercy, I chose to use the Metro which entailed changing trains at Gare Du Lyon, anyone not confident with using the Paris Metro would be better off hiring a Taxi. Gare Du Bercy is a rather unimpressive train station with very limited facilities so as I had some time to spare before my overnight sleeper train to Venice departed at 18:55 I went to a nearby café to have a drink and watch Parisian life pass by.
I had booked a basic four berth couchette which just happened to be at the front of the train so a very long walk along the platform, I did start to count the coaches but I gave up after a while, all I know is it was the longest train I had ever been on. The compartment was basic with two upper berths and two lower berths, it was originally designed as a six berth so plenty of room, and at 80 euros each way it was value for money. There were more expensive berths which had more room and more privacy but if you are on a budget and you don’t mind sharing with strangers, the basic couchette is fine.
There was a restaurant car but as I had already eaten I remained in the compartment and spent the next couple of hours in conversation with my travelling companions who were a middle aged French couple on their way to Venice for a holiday and a younger Frenchman who was on his way back to Milan after visiting his family in Paris, as my French is almost none existent the conversation was in English. Once all conversation was exhausted we each made up our beds with the bedding provided. Sheets and pillow cases came in sealed plastic bags and looked clean and fresh, I had one of the upper berths which proved to be surprisingly comfortable once you got use to the movement of the train and I slept reasonably well.
Next morning after a wash and brush up in the washrooms provided I made my way to the restaurant car for breakfast. Breakfast consisted of a bread roll, marmalade, two slices of cake, yogurt, fruit juice and coffee all for just 7 euros. After breakfast I returned to my compartment in time to watch as we crossed the long causeway which links Venice to the mainland. What a magnificent sight to see Venice appearing in the distance with water either side of the train. We arrived in Venice on time at 09:39, allowing for the one hour time difference it had taken me almost exactly 24 hours to get from my home in Thorpe-Le-Soken to Venice.
The Port of Venice is about 2 Km from St Lucia train station, now the sensible thing to do and what I would recommend to anyone else is to take a water taxi which will take you directly to the port. However, I decided to walk as I had plenty of time before boarding which was 11:30. It took me about forty minutes but that was with a break halfway for a rest, 2Km may not seem very far but when you have luggage and you are in Venice with all those bridges it is longer than you think, it was also a very hot day. Still, it was worth it for when the port came in sight with three cruise ships in port it truly lifted my spirits and to see ’The Splendour of the Seas’ the ship I was to cruise on in the early morning sunshine was a beautiful sight. Check in was ridiculously easy, with my luggage taken off me as I walked to check in and check in itself taking no more than ten minutes and I was onboard by 11:30.
This proved to be a most acceptable alternative to flying and was certainly more interesting. When the time came for my return to the UK at the end of my cruise, I had a whole day in Venice as the train didn’t leave until the evening and I had even more time in Paris than I had on the way out, so plenty of time for sight seeing. I would recommend anyone with an adventurous nature to consider this means of transport for their next European cruise.