About a year ago we booked holiday accommodation for this summer in Tuscany. Terribly middle class of me and I am somewhat ashamed given that both Tony Blair and David Cameron have also holidayed there - not the sort of company I'd be keen to keep. They didn't stay where we'll be staying. Our place is much nicer (I wish).
Whilst the accommodation was sorted we didn't know how we were going to get there and last January the flight schedules for 2014 were a tad non-existent. So in the midst of a dank, wet January this year my thoughts turned to sunnier times and how exactly we were going to get there.
I looked at flights and they were all rubbish. Aside from being expensive (the Blair/Cameron effect no doubt) they were at very silly times of the day. I knew we'd also have to book a hire car and I hate hire cars. Hire cars smell.
I thought about driving. Google says it would take 15 hours and 50 minutes. Google always underestimates the time to cross the channel, even if we go through the Chunnel so I'd add an hour at least. And then there's the time difference, that's another hour of perceived, although not elapsed, time. And then there's the lack of consideration for traffic jams and the M25, add another couple of hours. So that's 20 hours. We'd need to sleep somewhere and I once made the mistake of booking a Formula 1 hotel on a long trip through France - never again! It was vile. The next time we needed a stopover I booked a proper hotel which was better but more expensive. But I don't like hotels as a rule.
So to arrive on a Saturday we'd need to leave at the crack of sparrows' on a Friday and we'd be knackered by the time we arrived. The kids would have fought so much in the back of the car they wouldn't be able to bear the sight of one another and Dave and I wouldn't want to see either of them because we'd have been sick of the fighting too. Dave and I would probably be grumpy because there would have been times when we wouldn't trust the satnav and would have resorted to maps. That's never good. Oh and food on long journeys like that is cruddy service station fodder - bleargh.
I was beginning to regret the holiday booking and then I looked at trains.
I found AutoSlaap Trein in the Netherlands. I have always wanted to travel by MotoRail and this was it! From s'Hertogenbosch on the Dutch/Belgium border down to Livorno in Italy. Livorno is just a couple of hours drive from our destination. The trains have private sleeper cabins and all food and refreshments are provided. If you want to you can book a posh meal in the restaurant car as you travel through the Rhine valley or you can eat the standard fare in your cabin. And the best bit is that the car travels with you on its own special bit of the train.
That worked but how would we get to s'Hertogenbosch? Well, s'Hertogenbosch is just over an hour from the Hook of Holland which just happens to be a destination for ferries that travel from Harwich. Ferries have lovely cabins for weary people to rest their heads. Harwich is a stone's throw from home and avoids the nasty M25. Well it sounded very much like a plan, especially when I put the times together and everything slotted in place perfectly.
So one evening we'll drive to Harwich and hop onto a ferry. We'll sleep while we travel to the Hook of Holland and after we've woken up and disembarked we'll have oodles of time to get to s'Hertogenbosch. We might even do some sightseeing. After lunch we'll park our car on a train and find our own little cabin and, after dinner, we'll sleep our way through Switzerland and into Italy. Just before lunch we'll drive our car off the train and head to our final destination.
The kids are excited because they love the idea of the massive ferry and the Harry Potteresque train compartment, and I can't wait because I've always wanted to take my car on a train.
The cost is about the same as flights and a hire car. I'm excited.