Featured

Welcome

Hello and welcome to this travel blog!

This is an online travel journal about the journeys I have taken. I hope you may find in it useful information about airports, airlines and hotels and their products and services. Perhaps you will also find here some inspiration for future places to visit and journeys to take.

– William

Il Duomo di Milano

The main objective of my brief stop in Milan was to visit the duomo in the heart of the city. Like St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the building is enormous. But that’s probably about as far as the similarities go. While St. Peter’s is built in the elegant Renaissance style that would later give way to the more opulent and gaudy Baroque style, Milan’s duomo is in the sombre and austere gothic style.

There is an interesting contrast between the outside of the cathedral and the inside. While the former is in bright, white stone that is nearly blinding to the eye on a sunny day, the interior is dark and gloomy and with very little decoration.

Next to the museum is the duomo’s museum, which is intersting to visit. It houses a collection of many of the figurines that once decorated the church’s interior and exterior.

And if you’re weary from all the culture and spirituality, the Galleria Emanuele Vittorio II with its glitzy shops is right next to the duomo.

I visited the duomo in the late afternoon, and there were no queues to enter the cathedral itself nor the museum.

Trenitalia, Executive Class – Frecciarossa: Roma Termini to Milano Centrale

Introduction

This visit to Rome has been quite an eye-opener for me. This is not the first time for me to visit the city, but I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it quite like this. The temperature during my stay was in the mid- to upper 30s, but it was a dry heat. Add to that the fact that we’ve had more or less nonstop rain back home in Basel, and the hot weather is a nice distraction!

The main objective of this trip had been to see some of the sights, as they say, which are otherwise only very difficult to access because of all the tourists. In as much, I think I’ve been very lucky. Althoug there were many tourists like me around, I never had to queue to enter anywhere, tickets were still available even at short notice and in the evenings I was able to enjoy the best of Italian food without ever having to wait for a table to become free and without making reservations. What I don’t know, though, is whether this is one of the few positive effects of the pandemic, or whether it is because of the summer holidays, when most self-respecting Romans tend to leave the city to head for the beach. One way or another, I’m not complaining. And I definitely want to return to Rome soon.

Getting to the station

Today I’m taking the train from Rome’s Termini station to Milano Centrale, which is a journey of three hours and thirty minutes. From the Sofitel to Termini it’s a twenty minutes walk, and there’s plenty of shade to protect me from the sun. Even so, the concierge at the hotel looks slightly alarmed when I refuse his offer to call me a taxi.

The Frecciarossa lounge

There are two lounges available at Termini: the Freccia lounge and the Freccia club. If I understand correctly, the former is for passengers holding an Executive Class ticket, whereas the Freccia club is for members of the frequent travellers programme.

The Freccia lounge is very basic. It has individual seats with small tables, as well as larger tables for groups to have meetings. There are no snacks to eat but there are hot and cold drinks available. Other than that, it offers welcome respite from the sweltering heat!

Just as a side note, the Frecciarossa is Trenitalia’s brand of highspeed trains. The word translates as ‘red arrow’. The fare system is quite complex. There are four classes of service, and for each class of service there are another four fare types that can be selected, depending on availability and restrictions. The Executive Class is the highest service standard on the train.

Boarding

There is a rear exit from the lounge through which passengers reach the ticket readers to enter the platforms.

Admittedly, the train may not look as funky as the French TGV, but this model can actually go as fast as 300 km/h, although that speed is never reached during my journey.

The seat

The seating configuration in Executive Class is 1 + 1 abreast, and there are four rows for a total of eight seats. Seats 2 and 3 face each other. The leg space on these seats is amazing.

Every seat has its own power outlet, a reading light, a button to automatically lower and raise the blinds, a foldable table, and storage space. The seatback has a good recline and there is also a leg rest that can be raised for additional support and comfort. And it really is a very comfy seat. The only drawback is that the seat covers are leather.

The crew

Interaction with the crew is minimal, which I suspect may be because of Covid. Still, they seem friendly enough and go about their duties professionally. There is also a cleaner on the train who I see passing through our carriage three times on the journey.

A sealed face mask with disinfectant gel is already at my seat, together with some still water and a sealed paper cup.

The meal

As soon as we depart Termini, the meal service begins. And it’s huge! First, there is box containing a few goodies:

In addition to another disinfectant towel and a can of sparkling water there is a packet of crackers and potato crisps.

A doubledecker tramezzino, with one layer filled with prosciutto cotto and the other with cream cheese and grilled veggies.

A chocolate and coffee cake.

And with that, the crew also bring me rather a large platter of bresoala and cheese. The meal is really good, but there’s just so much of it. It’s also a bit of a shame that the whole thing is served in one go, taking up all the space at my seat.

To drink I have a Coke Zero, but there are also complimentary alcoholic beverages available.

Arrival

After its departure from Terimini, the train makes a brief stop in Roma Tiburtina, and also calls at Florence and Bologna stations before reaching Milano, from where it continues to Torino. The train originates in Napoli.

We arrive exactly on time, despite there being a slight delay until they allow our train to enter the station. Milano Centrale is an enormous railway station. The weather here is not quite so pleasant as Rome. It’s only slightly less warm but a lot more humid.

Getting to the hotel

As I will only be staying the one night, I picked a hotel near the station, the Innside by Melià. The hotel only opened recently, as I suspect there haven’t been all that many guest staying due to the pandemic. The hotel is conveniently located five minutes away from the station on foot, close to several tram and metro lines.

The Sofitel Villa Borghese, Rome

In Rome I’m staying at the Sofitel Villa Borghese, which is perfectly located in a fairly quiet part of the city (as quiet as it gets in a place like Rome…). From the hotel it’s a twenty minutes walk to Roma Termini railway station. The Spanish steps and the luxurious Via Condotti, the Fontana die Trevi and the Vittorio Emanuele monument are all within walking distance.

The hotel’s facilities are excellent, the rooms and reception are elegantly appointed and very comfortable. What’s more, the restaurant is located on the top floor of the building and offers excellent views of Rome. Most importantly though, I think this Sofitel’s outstanding feature is its staff. Everybody at the hotel was very friendly and open, and gave the impression of actually liking their job.

The room I stayed in had a fully stocked fridge, tea and coffee making facilities and bottles of still water. The room overlooked the street leading up to the hotel, but it was still quiet enough to get a good night’s sleep.

The Colosseum, Rome

The Colosseum gets its name from the statue of a colossus that once stood near its entrance. The colossus has long since decayed to dust, but the huge amphitheatre, which is part of the Forum Romanum, still stands, and a lot of it has remained largely intact.

A visit to the Colosseum is certainly worth it. I must confess that my prior knowledge of the construction and its history was somewhat limited and relied heavily on the Gladiator film, which featured Russell Crowe strutting around, showing off his chest hair and being perhaps just a tad overly dramatic. Fortunately, as you enter the Colosseum, there is an interesting exhibition which tells you a lot about the histroy of the building and its purpose through history.

Just a word of warning though: there isn’t really all that much shade inside the Colosseum, so if you’re visting in the summer, like me, make sure to take a hat and use a powerful sun screen.

Tickets to the Colosseum and the Forum Romanum can be purchased online. Entry to the Colosseum is for a specific time slot, and the guards will only give you twenty minutes leeway to enter. For the Forum Romanum however, you do not need to have a specific time slot.

The Vatican Museum – I Musei Vaticani

Introduction

The Vatican museums house an huge collection of art that has been collected over many centuries by the catholic church. The collection ranges from ancient Roman statues to contemporary pieces by Salvador Dalì. The collection is immense, and a visit to the museum leaves you with a sense that probably there is a lot more to show but that is not on display.

The Stanze di Raffaello refers to a set of four reception rooms that were originally commissioned as the living quarters for Pope Julius II. Each one of the four rooms is decorated in frescos done by Raffaello, which is where they get their name from – The Rafel rooms. Probably the best known of these frescos is that of the School of Athens in the Room of the Signatura.

But without a doubt, the absolute show stopper of any visit to the Vatican museums is the Sistine Chapel that was painted by Michelangelo. Perhaps the best piece of advice to give anybody visiting the Vatican museums to make sure they keep looking up, because the decorations on the ceiling are truly amazing, and this is even more the case in the Sistine Chapel: in the centre of the ceiling is The Creation of Adam. And this, I must admit, left me completely speechless. Again, it’s one thing to know about these famous pieces of art and reading about them in books. But to see them for real is quite humbling. Not just because of the artistry and craftsmanship that when into their creation, but also because one cannot deny just how much these unique works of art have shaped Western civilisation and culture as we know it, irrepsective of whether or not one approves of the catholic church.

Practicalities

Tickets for a visit to the Vatican museum can be booked online. From what I’ve heard and read on the web, in usual circumstances tickets sell out fairly quickly. So it’s normally best to book as far in advance as possible. However, I visited in July 2021, when Italy was only just starting to recover from the Covid pandemic. There were quite a few visitors on the day I visited, but the facilities are obviously used to coping with significantly larger crowds. There were no queues for security and I was actually allowed in thirty minutes ahead of the scheduled slot I had registered for. Upon entering museum, you first need to exchange your online ticket for a paper ticket, simply to let you through the turnstile to enter the exhibition.

Photography, as well as video or audio recordings are not permitted in the Sistine Chapel. The photos below are all from the actual musem and not the chapel.

St. Peter’s Basilica

Introduction

Michelangelo’s Pietà is a marble statue of Mary holding the body of Jesus after the crucifixion. It is, undoubtedly, one of the most important sculptures from the Renaissance period. Upon entering the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, the Pietà is located immediately to the far right of the edifice.

Without a doubt, most of us have already seen pictures of the sculpture in films or photos. I consider myself fortunate enough to know, now that I have seen it with my own eyes, that none of the pictures even come close to doing it justice.

I am not at all a religious person, must I must admit I was moved by the sculpture, and found it difficult to walk away from it. It’s not just the realisation that you are standing in the presence of such an important piece of art, nor inconceivable talent of Michelangelo’s craftsmanship, or the amazing accuarcy and detail of the sculpture that leave you speechless. I think, what moved me was the immense look of despair on the face of Jesus, and the solemn, despondent sadness in Mary’s. She sits there, with her murdered son in her lap. Her left arm is slightly raised, with the the palm of her hand facing up, in a gesture that suggests the silent question that all of us ask ourselves when we need to come to terms with the loss of a loved one: why does it have to be this way?

The Basilica

Visitors are free to enter the Basilica without a ticket, as it is still an official place of worship. However, visitors are expected to behave with the necessary decorum befitting such a place. Short shorts, sleeveless tops and a big cleavage are nor permitted – on men or women – and guests will need to cover up before they enter.

Apart from the previously mentioned Pietà and the oppulence of the decorations inside, it is the sheer size of the Basilica that impresses the most. To begin with, you’re not even fully aware of it, until you find your bearings and see just how much the people in the Basilica are dwarfed by the height of the ceiling.

Singapore Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 350-900: Copenhagen Kastrup to Rome Fiumicino

Introduction

I’m guessing that the more frequent visitors to my travel blog probably knew exactly what I was planning the moment I mentioned catching a plane from Paris to Copenhagen. As the result of decreased demand for air travel between Singapore and Europe, Singapore Airlines has merged its routes to Copenhagen and Rome into one flight. Flight SQ352 routes SIN-CPH-FCO and then back the same way. What is interesting about the flight, is that the aircraft and its crew spend a total of thirty hours on the ground in Rome. It then returns home with the same crew. And the airline has secured fifth freedom rights between Denmark and Italy!

Getting to the airport

I spend the night in Copenhagen at the Comfort hotel at Kastrup airport. The facility is fairly new, and I’m quite sure I’m the first person to spend the night in that room. Everything looks new. Other than that though, the hotel is a bit meh… service is not something they do well in Scandinavia. The nice thing is that the hotel is only about three minutes away from Terminal 3 on foot and has some great views!

Check-in

At this point, I really want to argue the case of the airlines, because I don’t think it’s at all fair the way they are currently being treated. And the entry requirements into Italy are a good example of that. I check in online for the flight to Rome. Then one day before departure, I get another mail from Singapore Airlines with a link to the ELF, which is the system the Italian government is using to track all arrivals into the country. You need to create a login and the whole process is just one huge pain in the ass.

Then when you arrive at the gate for boarding, you are handed another form that you need to complete and hand over to the authorities upon arrival in Rome. Only, when eventually I land in Rome there’s nobody there to hand my form to. My point is that a lot of restrictions and rules have been imposed on the airlines that a) do not apply to ground transportation for no apparent reason, and b) are then secretly removed without anybody bothering to inform the airlines about the changes.

The SAS lounge

As a member of the Star Alliance, Singapore Airlines uses the SAS lounge in Copenhagen, which is in the Schengen area. The lounge is divided in two floors. Normally, the upper level is for gold passengers, while the lower level is for regular Business Class passengers. However, with the lower demand for air travel, the lower floor has been closed off, and now all passengers use the upper level.

The design of the lounge is very nice and has a nordic feel to it. But that may just be an impression caused by my own cultural biases!

The food offerings are adequate and make for a nice breakfast spread. However, what I remember from my previous stay is that the selection does not change throughout the day.

Boarding

This is where the fun part begins: the non-Schengen concourse is on the C pier, which is where the flight from Singapore ends. Passengers making the journey from Singapore to Rome have to go through immigration in Copenhagen. And then from there, the flight continues as a Schengen flight to Rome. As the C pier is not equipped for dual Schengen/non-Schengen ops, this means that boarding for the flight to Rome is from one of the bus gates on the E pier, which is really out in the booneys. As my luck will have it, boarding is through the rear door. Oh happy day…!

The load in Economy Class and Premium Economy is not too bad. In Business Class there are six passenger, from what I can tell.

The cabin

Singapore Airlines has its own signature scent for its aircraft, and the familiar smell hits me the moment I step aboard.

The Business Class seat is fairly large and bulky and looks nice. There is also a lot of storage space available in the seat. Other than that though, I really can’t say that I’m a fan of this seat. First, because I don’t think it’s all that convenient if passengers need to stand up and get out of their seat to convert it into a bed. Second, I think the fact that Singapore Airlines seems to see the need to show a video on how to operate the seat says a lot. Third, it’s difficult to find a comfortable lounging position without having to turn the seat into a bed. And finally, speaking for myself only, I have tendency to align with the bed I’m lying in when I sleep. As such, the necessity to lie at an odd angle to fit into the bed is inconvenient. Still, for a flight of two hours it certainly beats the floating turd in the waterpipe otherwise known as Alitalia, and any SAS narrowbody.

The cabin crew

This is where Singapore Airlines really shines on this flight. The crew are just so polite and properly trained. Their manners are impeccable and they are personable and friendly. Which is even more amazing considering that they’ve already been on this aircraft for about ten hours, having come all the way from Singapore. When I reach my seat, there is a bottle of water, a sanitary pack and a set of earphones waiting for me. The crew help me with my luggage and then bring me a glass of orange juice.

Originally, I’m on 12A, but 11A appears to have had a bath in some dreadful aftershave that’s making it hard for me to breathe. So the crew help me to resettle on 16A, where I have loads of peace and quiet. Throughout the flight, the crew address me by my family name and take good care of all the passengers.

The meal

Just before departure, one of the crew comes to take my order for the inflight snack. There are no menus, but she tells me there is a choice of some sort of portobello mushroom sandwich or a smoked salmon focaccia. I go with the latter.

The meal is a bit of a let down. I mean, I wasn’t expecting a full on Business Class hot meal, but I think they could have done a bit better than just a cold and soggy bit of bread with salmon.

After the tray is removed, the crew pass through the cabin with a snack basket and champagne twice. I request and coffee and some lovely salted almonds.

Arrival

And then all too soon we’re descending into Rome. The weather outside is lovely, and the pilot reports they’re expecting a temperature of 36 degrees upon arrival.

The airport is quite busy when we land. We come to a stop at the newest pier in Fiumicino and I disembark into the heat. From our gate it’s a fairly long walk to customs and arrivals, and as I already mentioned, nobody checks my passport, temperature, certificate or anything of the sort.

Getting into town

To get into town I’m taking the train. The Leonardo Express is the nonstop train that runs to Roma Terimin in just 30 minutes. There is a surcharge in this train, which is why you need to get a first class ticket for EUR14. Tickets are only valid on the train selected at the time of purchase. There are cheaper trains, but they take much longer and stop at basically every hay stack in between the airport and the city.

The station at Fiumicino is two floors up from arrivals and well signposted.

Air France, Economy Class – Airbus A 318: Paris Roissy to Copenhagen Kastrup

Introduction

On Sunday morning I have an early breakfast and then head out for the palace just after eight in the morning. I want to make the most of my stay and visit the palace grounds again. The palace building does not open to the public until noon on Sundays, but the gardens are open already and they are deserted at this time of day, save for a few keen joggers.

Getting form Versailles to Paris Roissy airport

For the next leg of my grand tour, I will be taking a flight from Paris to Copenhagen. As Versailles is to the south of Paris, while Roissy airport is to the north, I figure I better spend the night at a hotel close to the airport to avoid an early start. Normally, the journey from Versailles to Roissy is quite straightforward: first, take an RER C train from Versailles Les Chantier to Massy-Palaiseau and then from there catch an RER B train to Roissy airport. The journey should take about 90 minutes. However, this summer somebody had the bright idea of doing maintenance works on both the RER B and C lines simultaneously. As a result, parts of both lines are disrupted. And so, I end up alighting at Massy-Palaiseau but then taking a replacement bus service to Les Baconnets, and then from there catching another train to the airport. I depart from Versailles Les Chantiers just after 16h. All in all, the inconvenience is minimal and only adds thirty minutes to the whole journey, so that I arrive at the hotel just after 18h.

Getting from the CitizenM Roissy to Terminal 2

At Roissy airport I spend the night at the CitizenM, which is located at Roissypole – the airport’s main transport hub that is located midway between Terminals 1 and 2. An automated shuttle runs frequently between the terminals.

Generally, I rather like the CitizenM hotels. They’re easy to use and very convenient. I also like that their lobbies are a nice showcase for Vitra design furniture.

The hotel is only a short three minutes walk from Roissypole station.

And from there, the journey to Terminal 2 takes about four minutes.

Check-in

I’ve already checked in online, but I still need to drop my bag at the SkyPriority counter. The check-in agent is friendly and swift. Access to the fast track security line is right next to the SkyPriority check-in area.

The Salon Air France in Terminal 2F

I just love the design of the airside area of Terminal 2F. By the time I’m through security, I still have a little less than an hour to go before boarding, so I figure I might as well visit the lounge.

The lounge is quite busy, which is why I don’t take many pictures. They have removed some furniture to make space for more socially distanced seating. And I also think they’ve reduced their buffet offerings, because the buffet area is looking decidedly empty!

Other than that, I am considering writing a letter to Air France to suggest they ban families with children from the lounges. The kids usually aren’t even that much of an issue, but sometimes you get the impression that their parents just don’t know how to behave around their own kids in the presence of strangers.

Boarding

There is a separate lane for SkyPriorty passengers to queue for boarding, which is nice and helps to avoid the usual rush for boarding once the flight’s departure is announced. Today’s flight is operated by an Airbus A 318 and it appears to be full.

The cabin

The cabin looks neat and tidy. Luckily, I was able to secure a window seat on the exit row. So the leg space is simply brilliant on row 10.

On each row of three seats there are four USB powers sockets. The aircraft is also equipped with wifi. The use of the network for receiving and sending messages is complimentary. For writing mails or surfing, there is a charge of EUR15 in Economy Class.

The crew

As usual on Air France, the three cabin crew members are very nicely turned out and put together. It always impresses me how much more professional they manage to look than some of the vapid flight crews you get on SWISS sometimes. I mean, the ugly SWISS uniform is not really their fault, but I do think that somebody should tell them that a foulard around the neck is really not the height of sophistication, and neither is the lipstick laid on so thick that it ends up sticking to their teeth and makes them looks as though they have a severe case of bleeding gums.

Upon entering the aircraft, the crew hand out surgical face masks to all passengers wearing one made out of cloth. Apparently, it is a legal requirement in France for it to be a bona fide surgical mask that has to be worn aboard an aircraft. The cloth masks won’t do.

The flight time is announced as one hour and 25 minutes.

The meal

The meal service consists of a packaged croissant and a very limited selection of hot and cold drinks. As airline coffee in Economy on European short-haul flights usually leans towards the crap instant variety, I only ask for a cup of water. Other than that, I think the only other cold option is orange juice.

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Copenhagen on time, just before 10h30. Unlike Paris, Copenhagen airport looks fairly quiet. What’s more, half the shops appear to be closed, which makes the whole place really look kind of sad.

Fairly quickly my suitcase arrives on the luggage belt. And then I’m off to explore the city.

Getting into Copenhagen city

Probably the most convenient and cheapest way to get into the city is via the Metro line M. The station for the metro is located right at the far end of the main terminal building. Trains run frequently and only take about 20 minutes to make the journey from the airport to the city centre, the sights and the shops.

Le Palais de Versailles

Introduction

Shortly before his death in 1643, King Louis XIII expressed in his testament that a council should be put in place to rule on behalf of his underage son, who would later become Louis XIV. However, upon his death, his newly widowed wife, Queen Anne, had the testament annulled. She had most of her husband’s former ministers sacked or exiled, declared herself her son’s regent and appointed the mercenary Cardinal Mazarin as her minister toversee the affairs of the state.

Queen Anne successfully expanded the range of the crown’s power with the help of Mazarin. She appears to have held the unwavering belief that the crown’s entitlement to rule was divine providence, and in her view that meant that the monarch was destined to reign supreme. In as much, a lot of the decisions she took as regent were aimed to secure her son’s reign by increasing his powers.

Eventually, Louis XIV assumed control of the government upon the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661, at the age of 23. It had been expected that he would appoint a minister to oversee the government of the state, similar to the way his mother had with Cardinal Mazarin and his father before that had with the ruthless Cardinal Richelieu. But Louis XIV was his mother’s son, and believed that it was his duty to shoulder the divine burden of ruling the country by himself. And so the young Louis proclaimed to his astonished parliament that ‘l’état, c’est moi ‘-‘I am the state’, and assumed control of all affairs of the state.

Louis XIV went on to rule the French monarchy for 72 year. His reign saw the rise of absolutism in France and in Europe, which firmly placed the monarch at the very heart of political power.

I mention this all here, because the château de Versailles played an important role in fostering the image of the King who ruled by divine appoinment. The building is imposing, to say the least, and its dimensions are difficult to grasp, even from close quarters. Clearly, its main purpose had been to impress and to indimidate, to make sure the Roi de Soleil’s claim to power went uncontested.

My visit in July 2021

Today, the palace and its grounds are open to the public and are undoubtedly one of France’s major tourist attractions. The palace sits on a vast domain of land that sprawls over an area of more than 800 hectares. My plan had been to visit the palace during the Covid pandemic, in the hope of avoiding the worst of the notorious crowds that are usually lining up to enter the building and its grounds. And I think I managed that rather well. I purchased a ticket in advance with a jump the queue option. And indeed, I was able to enter without delay. There still were quite a few people. Nonetheless, it was still possible to amble through the palace and enjoy it at my own pace.

Where to stay

I stayed at the MGallery The Louis in Versailles itself. MGallery is one of the many brands of the Accor group of hotels. Usually, I rather like their properties. But sadly, The Louis is certainly not one of them. The infrastucture is a bit dated and the staff could really do much better. However, what The Louis has going for it, is its excellent location only 200 metres away from the main entrance to the Palais de Versailles.

Conclusion

Below I have added some pictures taken during my visit. However, I am painfully aware of the fact that they do not really do the place justice. I also don’t think I would be able to fully describe the grandeur of the place in words. So I’ll just say that I’m glad I visited the Palais de Versailles. Not just because I wanted to tick it off the bucket list, but because it really is a truly very impressive sight to behold that is so closely linked and so prominent in the history of Europe.

The Salon des Glaces

TGV Lyria, First Class: Basel SBB to Paris Gare de Lyon

Introduction

Welcome to the first installment of a series of posts that form part of my grand tour of Europe. There are a few places that have been on my bucket lists for a very long time, but that I never got round to visiting. It’s not even that I never found the time to visit. Rather I was put off by the horror stories one hears of having to queue for three hours in the sweltering heat to enter Versailles or being ‘processed’ through the sistine chapel without ever managing to see any of its exhibits.

As travel to Europe is still very restricted by the Covid pandemic, I figured I might just get my chance this year, if I play my cards right. Without the American and Chinese tourists to contend with, I reasoned that my chances of a hassle free experience, or a least a less cumbersome one, were as good as they were ever going to get.

Getting to the station

The first leg of the grand tour sees me taking the TGV Lyria from Basel SBB to Paris Gare de Lyon. As I live close to the station, I leave my flat six minutes before the train’s departure at 08h34. After a brief spell of nice weather, we’re back to the rain and the grey here in Switzerland.

After a long restoration that lasted a few years, the French railway station that is adjacent to the Swiss station has been reopened. In the picture below you can see the hall connecting the Swiss part of the station to the French part.

Boarding

Today, only trains originating their journey in Basel and heading for France use the French station. My TGV will be departing from the Swiss sector, as the train originates in Zürich and only transits through Basel.

The train is departing from track 9.

The cabin

TGV Lyria is a joint venture between the French SNCF and the Swiss SBB, who jointly operate the services between Switzerland and France by TGV. Currently, the Lyria service operates to Zürich via Basel, Geneva and Lausanne in Switzerland. With the change to the winter schedule of 2020 in December 2019, all services between Switzerland and France have been shifted to trains with twin deck carriages. On demand, two trains sets are merged together. I always prefer sitting on the upper deck, simply because the view is better.

The seats are in a 2 + 1 abreast configuration, and there are several options to choose from: single seats facing backwards or forwards in an airliner style layout, twin seats next to eacher other or facing each other, and sets of four seats for larger groups.

There is also ample space to store large and small pieces of luggage. There is a power outlet at every seat and there is also a bistrot car in between the First and Second class sections serving snacks and drinks.

The seats are plush and offer a level of comfort that is simply unimaginable on a short-haul airliner in Europe these days. The seat also has a good recline, which is operated electronically by means of a switch in the arm rest.

The 08h34 service makes the journey from Basel SBB to Paris Gare de Lyon in three hours and four minutes and only calls at two stations on the way, in Mulhouse and Bélfort. Up until Bélfort, the train uses the regular train lines and goes at what I would call a normal speed for a train. However, no sooner does the train pull out of Bélfort station, that’s when the TGV comes into its own, as it accelerates up to speed of 300 to 322km/h on its own dedicated track.

As far as I’m concerned, the TGV is nothing short of amazing. The speed at which it goes is impressive and the comfort inside the cabin is exceptional and so much superior to an airplane. Usually, I read a lot when I travel. But on the TGV, I never seem to be able to concentrate, distracted by the rapidly changing views outside.

Arrival

Eventually we pull into the Gare de Lyon on time, at 11h38. While I wait for the platform to empty and passengers to pass through the barriers, I take a moment to take a few pictures of my chariot.

In the picture above, my train is the one on the right. The train on the left is an older generation TGV, but no less impressive.

Getting to Versailles

So the first stop on my grand tour is going to be the palais de Versailles. The quickest way to go is to exit the Gare de Lyon and then walk the short distance across the Seine river to the Gare d’Austerlitz. Normally, there is a direct train, the RER C, to Versailles Rive Gauche. However, due to construction on the line, I will have to first take a metro line 10 train to Duroc, change there to a line 13 mentro to the Gare de Montparnasse, and then from there catch the Île de France N train to Versailles. I know it sounds a bit inconvenient, but public transport in Paris is easy and trains are frequent.

So let’s see what happens next… In the meantime: get your vaccine as soon as you can. Get your vaccine as soon as you can, not just to protect yourself, but to protect others too! It is your civic duty.

Stay healthy, all of you!

William