Through the mountains

I wrote this over a month ago but between the jigs and the reels I’m only posting it now. The running is still going well although I think a magic coffee is required for running over 20 miles un-fuelled (I had a 22 miler a few Sundays ago with a fairly dodgy last mile):

With a title like the one for this blog post you’d almost expect it to be about (as our colonial ultra-running cousins would say) hitting the trails. I wish it were so, I wish it were.

No, this is another post about me prolonging the memory of my summer of hobo-ing around  Europe with my financial commitments (i.e. family).

In the arbitrage that preceded the decision to go inter railing I conceded the option of travelling first class. I’m not sure what the logic behind this was, I think it was something to do with the fear (not mine) of having to share a seat with a chicken in a cage.

In hindsight I should have put a bit more thought into first class option. Trying to keep three restless children reserved and calm amongst the wealthy pensioners and businessmen of Europe proved to be a task beyond my (as the post-pubescent youths who pass as recruitment consultants would say) core set of competencies.

If you live in Ireland the longest train journey you’re likely to take will be about 3 hours. This will take you from one sprawling metropolis (small city) to another (Dublin) and will have you endure the tailings of society who for one reason or another are on the train. The core train travellers in Ireland are students, pensioners with free travel, criminals, mint sucking nuns, people coping with more than one version of reality and public servants.  Sometimes most of these can be concentrated in just one individual – an elderly nun who runs a school.

Our trip from Berlin to Brisighella would involve 24 hours on 5 trains. To say we were ill prepared is an understatement. Still, in for a penny, in for a pound. A simile you might understand (if you have a crippling need to read about running) is that we had only ever experienced a 5k race and we had just entered the Spartahlon.

So, after a load of hugs and a big goodbye we slumped into our first class ICE seats to Munich. The stilted air of sobriety didn’t sit well with our now near feral kids so we spent whatever spare change we had buying cake and hot chocolate from the buffet car. We could’ve exploited the waiter service but then our kids would have been both restless and hepped up on sugar.


We pulled into Munich around tea time, ditched our bags and caught a U-bhan to Marienplatz (a very catholic bunch in Bavaria). Looked around, mooched back to the train station, grabbed some pizza and climbed aboard the best train of the trip – a couchette through the alps.



Now, if you’re my 7 year old son then the Italian red arrow that zips along at 320kph with electric leather seats and free sweets is probably a better train than an old couchette that stops and starts and changes carriages and engines and betrays the integrationalist aspirations of the European Union. But if you’re his dad then the couchette train is to the superfast bullet train what 35mm celluloid is to digital cinema; what vinyl is to MP3s –  technically worse but infinity better.

All aboard!

All aboard!

There is something indescribably satisfying being drawn through the mountains, watching the locos change over at midnight at the Brenner Pass and then waking up in Verona to the blazing dawn of another hot Mediterranean day. In our vicarious world of google maps and real time postcards via WhatsApp there is a simple pleasure in falling back into the old way of doing things……being rocked to sleep by the train, the cool alpine air, being woken up by a throbbing hangover, having a Japanese tourist burst in on you having whilst having a leak and having three cranky kids and their cranky mother. And still 3 more trains to go.

The Brenner Pass

The Brenner Pass




Nearly there



As we rolled into Milan the euphoria of the mid-section of our journey was wearing off us. It was like cresting the 60% stage of an ultra marathon. The runner’s high was wearing away and it was now a case of hanging on until we crossed the line. In our case Milan train station involved eating biscuits for breakfast and “minding the bags”.

No more sleepers

No more sleepers

Minding the bags is the part of inter railing nobody tells you about.

Milan to Bologna was via the first class compartment of the red arrow (a 360kph Frecciarossa)- I missed most of that journey as the pig skin seats and perfect air conditioning were enough to send me to sleep.

As our journey moved into the slow death march phase we pulled into Bologna station;  a pan handler’s dream. It’s  crowded , full of narrow sub-platform corridors and stiflingly hot. Still, it would not defeat us! With lots of holding hands and avoiding eye contact we made it to our penultimate train to Faenza.


Faenza – how many more trains?!!

We hopped onto ever smaller trains until we made it to Brisighella – at 38C the initial euphoria was long gone and we were glad to have made it alive and still talking to each other!





Now, if that doesn’t  make you want to go inter railing nothing will.

After an afternoon and evening of good wine and good food (in that order) and a great night’s sleep we were fully refreshed. I went for another run with my daughter and while the distance and pace were not up to much the joy of the running under Italian sun with the song of the cicadas ringing in our ears was a lifelong memory.

Then the pool!




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