Planning the Getting There Is Half the Fun. And So Is the Coming Back.

I’m going to be on the east coast in June and am working on an itinerary for a couple of weeks in Italy after that.  It’s a good thing I enjoy the process because there are so many options … so many choices to be made … and every one affects how much time and money I’ll be spending.

It starts with the air fares which can fluctuate wildly depending on your departure city, your arrival city, which airline you choose and how many stops you make. I’m going to be in the Hartford area, so I started by looking at flights departing from there, from New York, from Chicago and from Boston.

 The best deal by far is Icelandair out of Boston and flying to Zurich by way of Reykjavik for a fare of $450. Turkish Airlines had a $691 fare, but that was by way of Istanbul. Most of the other airlines were around $1,000 and the American Airlines web site shows a fare of $3450! Go figure.

I picked Zurich because Icelandair flies there and because it’s just a little more than an hour by train from there to Chur. That’s the Swiss terminus for the Bernina Express, which I want to take through the Alps to Tirano in Italy.

Italy! The tough choices continue. I know I want to spend some time in Siena, but am looking for probably two additional stops that would offer some variety and be reasonably close by. Lucca has been recommended by my brother-in-law and his wife, who spent a couple of days there a year ago. And one of our regular readers here suggested La Spezia on the Italian Riviera. Look them up on line. Both seem like perfect choices.

OK, so how to get from Lucca or La Spezia back to Paris for my flight back to the U.S.? (Yes, I know I could fly back from Milan, but that would be passing up an opportunity for one more train ride.)

There are several possible routings, all involving high-speed trains, but then I came across the Thello (pronounced TELL-o) night trains. Wow! I can leave from Venice at 7:30 in the evening and get to Paris around 10:00 the next morning. And get this: they have a restaurant car with a lounge area where you can buy drinks and chat with fellow passengers. It sounded absolutely perfect!  

And that’s when I looked up the Thello train on what is, without doubt, the best, the most complete, the most comprehensive train travel web site on all the web: The Man In Seat 61. The person behind the site is Mark Smith, who operates from the U.K., and he has both a written commentary and a pretty thorough video of the Thello. Bottom line — the gospel according to Mark — is that this train is not as nifty as it sounds: old equipment, A/C that doesn’t always work, and pre-packaged microwaved meals in the restaurant car. So, as of now, my return from Italy to Paris is — well, not up-in-the-air — but the rail routing is undecided.

I’ll keep looking … because that’s all part of the fun.