Ethical Man - London, Milan, Trento
- 8 Dec 06, 06:55 PM
I seem to have sparked a very healthy debate about turbines and green electricity on the blog. We’ve even had a contribution from Ian Pearson, the Minister for Climate Change, himself.
I have to admit I’ve taken a bit of a back seat. That’s because my wife Bee and I have been on an “ethical excursion”. We’ve been to a conference in the beautiful medieval town of Trento.
Trento – in the foothills of the Italian Alps - was home to the great theological conference, the Council of Trent. It was the forum at which the Catholic Church attempted to reformulate its doctrine in the face of the challenge of the Protestants. The Council began in December 1545 and ended 18 years later in December 1563.
Our conference was considerably shorter – just two days – and a little less portentous. I was invited by the Council of Europe to participate in a discussion on the role of the media in promoting more “ethical” lifestyles.
It sounded like an interesting event with speakers from across Europe but at first I had to refuse because it would mean flying.
Fortunately the organisers said they would be happy to pay for me to travel by train. Not only that, because she’s an integral part of the project, they said they’d pay for Bee to come too. What’s more they offered us first class tickets.
We decided to accept the offer and to take baby Elsa along too.
Taking a train across Europe is certainly more exciting than catching a plane at some over-crowded airport. We’d checked in and were through customs within minutes of a arriving at Waterloo. We settled back into our seats, sipped a little complimentary champagne and before we knew it we were in Paris.
Struggling to Bercy station by RER and then the Metro with two heavy bags and Elsa in her enormous pram was not much fun but making ourselves at home in our two-bed couchette certainly made up for it.
There is still the whiff of the Agatha Christie novel about overnight train travel. We enjoyed dinner and a glass of wine in the dining car as the French night rattled by outside.
I’d like to be able to report that we all then enjoyed a blissful sleep. Elsa slept like the baby she is but Bee and I had a fitful night. The motion of the train was restful until it would lurch to a halt in some rural siding, wait a couple of minutes and then shudder off on its way again.
Just before dawn I fell into a deep sleep and was woken by the guard bearing two freshly frothed cappuccinos. Despite feeling a little battered, sipping hot coffee as the Italian countryside slides by outside is a very pleasant way to start the day.
Of course it all cost far more than hopping on a plane and took far longer – 21 hours door to door instead of about 5 hours but I reckon we emitted roughly a third of the carbon dioxide of catching a plane.
Not bad, and on the way back we got a glimpse of what really committed investment in the railways can achieve. We caught the night train from what must rate as the most spectacular station on earth: Milan Central.
It is a temple to fascist hubris. The great vaulting ticket halls are bigger than the nave of a medieval cathedral. It is fabulously decorated with extraordinary mosaics including the signs of the zodiac. There are huge bulbous statues and the great steel and glass canopies over the platforms cover a whopping 66,500 square metres.
In fact it is a wonder Mussolini had any cash left to spend on the actual trains.