The no bar car and beverage cart blues

March 23, 2023

The 9:20 to Ventimiglia 
The 11:03 to Milan 

   Our second the-train-is-the-destination experience would not alleviate my mounting fear that European rail travel had caught Covid. Worse, it had come out of it the way American rail travel had come out of its own golden years. Meaning, Europe was becoming Amtrak – or worse? (Spoiler alert: there’s nothing worse than Amtrak.)

But the biggest blow came, when an otherwise affable conductor blithely informed me there was no bistro or beverage cart service aboard, even for first class.

   Was that day trip to Monaco a harbinger? Had the 9:20 to Ventimiglia become the D train to Coney Island on a Saturday? The little French connector to our Italian Trenitalia IC (Intercity line)  to Milan was crowded again this Monday. We got seats for the 30-minute ride from France into Italy, but our last views of the French Riviera were about what you could see from the Long Island RR to Jones Beach.

Ready for another day on the rails.

   But the harshest reality awaited us as we boarded the IC to Milan. Yes, it would be a near four-hour glide through the Italian countryside that would include …well, as I’ve put it already, good staring scenery. But the biggest blow came, when an otherwise affable conductor blithely informed me there was no bistro or beverage cart service aboard, even for first class. 
   Now I’ve been alive to see Amtrak devolve from freshly grilled  steak and shrimp served on bone china (I don’t know what bone china is, I just like the sophisticated way it reads) with actual silverware to precooked, microwaveable meals-on-wheels with plastic utensils. But I never envisioned riding a long distance train in Europe sans a half-bottle of chardonnay and a panini at least. 

A step back into Milan’s Romantic past.

  First was the Barcelona smack in the face, which seemed to end the magic carpet made of steel aspect of serendipitous decision making of when and where to go without any advance planning. Now, it appeared we’d be doing it like we were commuting to work!
   Well, as they say, if you break an egg, make lemonade (or something like that). We’d chosen Milan simply because it was a four-hour train ride away from Nice. But thanks to a suggestion from Carol’s niece and Italian expatriate Ginger, we happened upon one of the most charming and vibrantly captivating neighborhoods in Milan. We would arguably spend four of the most enjoyable days of our entire trip there. And remember, we’d already been to Paris and Nice and had Venice and Rome in our near future.

Doing a wash the old fashioned way in Navigli.

   So what was it about Navigly that so endeared us to this otherwise business and commerce city in Italy? I’ll start with the pleasant canal that bifurcated the cafe and restaurant district, and of which our apartment was located in a medieval alcove that ancient Milanese women brought their laundry to wash in a stream and then beat and dry upon stones under a terra cotta terrace still in existence to the present day.

Arrived in time for a beautiful sunset.

   Yes, there are other experiences available in Europe than just drinking a bottle of wine as French and Italian countryside room by. And sometimes those experiences can almost be as good. Almost.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *