Travelling across Europe by train, I am always reminded of Kraftwerk's "Trans Europe Express", a tribute to the notion of international travel well before the emergence of low-cost airlines that allow you to travel across Europe at a price our parents could not have imagined. I have to admit though, that I still cling to the notion of a means of travel less banal than Ryanair and less inconvenient than having to beat my way out of the city, check in an hour or more before my departure time, wait for my luggage at the other end, and then beat my way back into the city again.
And so, yesterday morning, I checked out of my hotel in Brussels and, forty minutes later, was in my comfortable first class seat as my ICE train to Köln pulled out of platform 4 at Gare du Midi. It is, it must be said, a very pleasant experience, with a steward to bring you drinks and snacks at your seat at reasonable prices. And, if you sit in the 'quiet zone' in the front carriage, you can see through the driver's cabin as the train dashes through the countryside.
At Köln, the staff at the Deutsche Bahn lounge will even bring you free beer and soup to sustain you between trains. It is all very civilised.
Köln to Berlin's Hauptbahnhof is just four hours and thirty minutes without ever really getting up to high speed, but a mid-afternoon ice cream meets the need for a sugar hit, and you get to see places like Wolfsburg, which you would never see if you flew instead. Admittedly, Wolfsburg appears to be an enormous Volkswagen factory with a town (with a decent football team) attached, but you can't have everything.
And, at the end of it all, Berlin, a city with so much to see and do. I'm here to visit the zoo, take in a concert at the Potsdam Sanssouci Festival, eat pork and drink beer. The sun is shining, and I can see an okapi, so if you'll excuse me...