It had been several years since our last holiday in Europe. We wanted to make the most of this precious week abroad and decided to travel down to Italy by train, instead of flying. There is something very special about a long train journey. Watching the landscapes and the seasons change brings a real sense of distance and adventure.
On a grey, cold morning in mid April, we travelled into a wintery northern France on a Eurostar from St Pancras, London. Emerging from the tunnel into the flat arable farmland of Normandy, the change was immediate. Farms and villages sped by, the houses and churches so unmistakably French.
Wide fields and wintery skies gave way to the outskirts of Paris, and soon we were at the Gare du Nord. A taxi ride through the Bastille area of the city took us to the Gare du Lyon and a sleek TGV Lyria train, which was to speed us down through France and into Switzerland, for a night and a morning beside Lake Geneva in the small, beautiful lakeside town of Montreux.
As the flatlands of central France gave way to the softer hills of the south, winter seemed to be left behind. Under a spring sun and blue skies, trees were unfurling their leaves and woodland floors were covered with white wood sorrel and primroses.
The train slowed down as it climbed up into the Jura Mountains and then, seeming to turn a corner, it wound down towards the plains of lowland Switzerland. Across the green land, in an early evening glow of pink and gold, the snow covered Alps were suddenly there on the horizon. It was a sight of such startling and transient beauty. A breathtaking and lasting memory.
We changed trains at Lausanne and travelled for a short while, on a local service where Swiss workers were commuting home at the end of their busy days. The train skirted Lake Geneva as the sun was setting. The first two photographs caught the sunset, reflecting gold and silver in the calm waters of the lake.
In the morning, we looked out of our hotel window to see the main street of Montreux and rows of elegant town houses climbing up the hill behind the railway station.
We climbed down a steep flight of steps and crossed a garden, to find a lakeside promenade where visitors and residents alike were walking in warm sunshine, enjoying the views across the water and the spring flowers and awakening trees.
After a wet, cold winter in England, you can imagine how wonderful it felt to be in a place as beautiful as this!
There were several pairs of grebe swimming and cavorting in courtship displays.
In the centre of the town, not far from the Casino and some elegant apartment blocks, stands the statue of Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the band Queen. He loved Montreux and the band recorded his last album in recording studios in the town. It is said that he appreciated the kindness and discretion of the townspeople as he lived amongst them in the later stages of his final illness.
We think the statue may have been moved a little, but if you know the front cover of Queen`s album, Made in Heaven, which is a tribute to Freddie Mercury, you will recognise him silhouetted against the waters of the lake.
Alpine meltwaters , from the hills above the town, rushed down into the lake.
As morning became midday, the sunlight was almost dazzling. Sky and water shone in shades of blue.
A passenger boat on its way along the lake from Lausanne.
A paddle steamer chugged into view from another century.
This friendly old cat seemed to understand my schoolgirl French!
A splash of yellow - forsythia against the lake.
In the afternoon, we caught another train. It wound up into the mountains, through the Simplon Tunnel and then down into Italy. By early evening we had arrived in Florence. We trundled our suitcases along narrow streets to our hotel, tired but happy and quite overwhelmed by all the beautiful landscapes we had seen in the space of just one day.
With thanks to Mr DW who took most of the photographs!