Europe’s greatest long-distance rail journey is Russian Railways Train No 17. For the past decade, this mobile dormitory has linked Moscow with Minsk and Monte Carlo en route to Nice-Ville – close to the most spectacular Orthodox cathedral in the western Mediterranean.
Fifty hours, 1,725 miles, a half-dozen different locomotives connecting many great cities: Vienna, Innsbruck, Verona and Milan.
One of its many curiosities: in Milan, the mighty trans-European Express serves a suburban station, Rogoredo, to avoid having to reverse out of the Centrale terminus. It normally arrives a good 20 minutes early at Rogoredo. Curious passengers awaiting the local train to Lodi or Pavia are warmly welcomed on board for a peek by the friendly Russian Railways staff.
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But from next Wednesday, 17 dwindles to zero. On Thursday this week the Kremlin ordered: “Train service between Moscow and Nice will be suspended until further notice [as] part of measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in Russia.” Another travel option shut down for fear of Covid-19.
Given the worldwide concern about the rapid spread of this nasty virus, it may not be a popular time to state: there has never been a better time to go travelling. But let me try.
For British holidaymakers, the world has never been so safe and so accessible. While there are a few places to which it is unwise to travel right now, the vast majority of destinations that you and I might want to visit are reassuringly low risk.
Which is just as well, because the travel industry is going to give you short shrift should you wish to cancel your carefully laid, and fully paid-for, plans. Normal terms and conditions apply, is the refrain. “There is currently no change to advice for airlines, so our flights are operating as normal and standard terms and conditions on tickets continue to apply,” says easyJet.
Some rival airlines are being more accommodating. British Airways is offering a degree of flexibility on flights to northern Italy, while its sister airline Aer Lingus is going one better with the promise: “Guests who made bookings on aerlingus.com and wish to change the dates or destinations of their upcoming flights can do so.”
Before you condemn airlines, and holiday companies, bear in mind that they are really suffering from the coronavirus. Their first instinct is to protect the interests of staff and shareholders (possibly not in that order).
Ferocious competition has driven prices down and standards up (really, trust me). But when bookings collapse, there is little room for kindness to customers.
Insurance firms, too, have neither scope nor incentive to (if I may) pander to travellers’ insecurities. They even have a special term for claims they intend to reject when holidaymakers are fearful: “disinclination to travel”.
An inclination to travel is much healthier. Going on holiday – or, if you feel your trip is more distinguished than that, setting out on a journey – enriches your spirit and understanding of the world. And cheers you up.
More importantly still, the travel industry provides a livelihood for tens of millions of people. When you stay at home, they suffer.
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