Ginny Prince takes the night train from Rome to Paris.
It’s 7:30 on a Friday night at Termini station and I’m pushing and shoving my way onto a night train to Paris. All my friends (Italian and otherwise) have told me I’m crazy to spend 15 hours on a train, “it’s too long”, “it’s not safe”, being just a couple of words of warning. But nevertheless a romantic vision holding firm in my head and I’m doing it. Growing up in Canada I had a lot of car trips so trains are a new experience.
Image yisiris by Flickr
The first thing I noticed is that the night train has an interesting cross section of people. There are many Italians, but also lots of Africans and a few people from India. Everyone is hauling as many suitcases as they can, apparently there’s a limit of 2 per person but I see a few ladies with at least 5. I subsequently found out that it is normal and people who have a ton of luggage take the train instead of the plane. There’s a lot of swearing in many languages as people try to cram themselves down the narrow hallway and into the tiny compartments.
As I try and find my compartment a train employee comes by and explains to me that they have accidentally sold me a seat in the cabin designated for employees. She lets me in and I’m joined shortly after by a train employee. He’s quizzing me on what types of pasta are my favourite and from his lunchbag keeps bringing out more and more containers of food. He has me taste each and every single one before telling me to finish the one that I like the most (saffron rice with calamari). He also leaves me half a roast chicken (“for later”, he says) as he gets off the train at Florence.
No sooner has he left than I’m joined by a couple. He’s Italian, she’s Russian-Israeli-Italian. I’m a bit surprised because in general train compartments are divided by gender, but apparently not on this train. They have a giant bottle of beer which they offer me to join them but I politely decline, pointing to my juice box full of white wine. We ended up talking until around 1am about politics, travelling and life.
It’s 4am and two men have been screaming at each other outside our door for fifteen minutes. I have no idea what language they’re speaking; it’s not English, Italian or French. My one cabin mate decides he’s had enough, launches himself off his top bunk (completely ignoring the ladder) and asks them in English and Italian to move along. They do, and we all go back to sleep.
We all wake up at 6 am with the sun. I head to the bathrooms…. they’re quite nasty by this point, even for a girl who grew up using outhouses in the backwoods of Canada. I get in and out as quickly as I can. My cabin mates go in search of coffee and come back with a tiny thimble cup which they offer to share with me. The train is quiet at this point and it’s quite lovely to sit and watch the French countryside fly by next to us.
Image PhilipC by Flickr
As we roll into the Gare de Lyon, I’m definitely a bit tired, but no more so than if I had taken an early morning flight and had to get up early.
Image Creative Commons Wikipedia
I meet a few friends and then it’s off for a day in Paris. After coffee the first stop is the Musee d’Orsay. Yes, it’s busy but let’s face it; Seurat, Monet, Manet, Courbet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne….. all amazing plus the building (an old train station) is divine.
Image LWY by Flickr
After a spot of lunch the Musee de l’Orangeri is next on our list. This museum can be visited through a combined ticket with the Musee d’Orsay. The two rooms with the eight water lily canvases are simply spectacular and they alone are worth a visit.
Image sokref1 by flickr
The final museum stop of the day is the Musée d’Art moderne. This museum has it all: Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Modigliani… and the permanent collection area is free to enter.
Image edwin.11 by Flickr
After three museums we were all ready to eat and unwind. So we hopped on a metro up to the Montmartre area and grabbed a roast chicken, bread, cheese, fruit and wine for a picnic in the Jardins des Tuileries – a perfect ending to a great day, ah Paris.