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The journey begins

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We wake early and it's still dark. We gather our things and go to check out. We're low on euros and know we'll need them so we try to pay by card. We try everything we've got but they're all declined. In broken English the receptionist directs me to a bank down the street. Time is getting on so I run down the stairs and out only to find the machine is not working either - a message about a network link failure confirms we have a big problem.

Run back and up the stairs, trying to think what to do. He agrees to accept dollars so we can keep our few euros. We don't get a good exchange rate but we're desperate.

We make it to the station to find people waking from a night asleep on the floor. We're glad we took a room for the night but wonder where we'll be sleeping tonight. Queues have already formed ready for the ticket windows to open. It won't be long before the panic and chaos of the day before returns.

Our train is waiting and already almost full. We have assigned seats and sink into them ready for the five hour trip. Big suitcases litter the aisles. None of these people were expecting to travel by train.

During the journey I overhear a French family saying they are going to Paris via Marseilles. We decide to follow them. I watch one of them laugh his way through several episodes of Mr Bean on his laptop. Mr Bean still seems very popular in Europe - we've seen his face in many places.

The scenery outside is not particularly interesting as several small towns pass by. At Pisa we pick up many more people and several are reduced to standing. As we approach Genoa we get our bags ready - we don't want to get stuck at the back of a queue for tickets.

The train stops and we disembark and move quickly. There is a small queue for tickets and we start to wonder where everyone else is. We realise this is the first of two stations in Genoa and we've got off at the smaller one.

We reach the front of the queue and ask for tickets for Marseilles. The deep sigh from behind the desk doesn't sound hopeful but there are tickets available. However, it's now 11am and we realise we won't make it to Marseilles until 9pm. We have booked a ferry to Portsmouth from Caen the next morning and we now know we can't get there on time. Our gamble has failed and Dani tries to cheer me up. "At least we're still moving," she says, but all I can think about is the money we've thrown away and wonder when we can get another ferry.

We sit on the steps outside the station and wait for an hour for our next train. We exchange text messages with my mum and she starts looking at train connections and different ferry companies. She tells us that there all still spaces on ferries from Le Havre the next afternoon. Now we have a destination again.

The train from Genoa to Nice takes us along the Adriatic coast and through some gorgeous towns and villages. Beautful harbours and beaches, small rocky islands off the shore. We're too tired to take more pictures though.

Just before the border with France we change trains at Ventimiglia and see familiar faces from our train that left Rome that morning. We obviously haven't lost any time from getting off at the wrong stop in Genoa.

Now we enter the French Riviera and the towns slowly look more wealthy, the houses better kept. At Monte Carlo, we see nothing - a tunnel escorts you in and out of the principality without ever getting a glimpse of the riches above.

We have to change trains again in Nice. We get off hoping to find something to eat but a swarm of people have devoured almost every edible scrap within the station. We have little time to explore further but I try in vain across the road and find a small sandwich shop with no sandwiches and a kebab shop with only the thinnest slivers of meat left on its skewer. We eat more from our bag of pretzels and dream of proper food.

At about 5pm we take the train from Nice. It is very comfortable and we sit in a fairly empty carriage at the back. Everyone else seems to want to pile into just the first couple of carriages together.

We both have headaches forming and accept that we will be staying in Marseilles for the night. My mum has told us that we can get a train to Paris at 6.30 the next morning. We could continue on to Paris that night but we would get there too late to leave for a ferry port and so finding a hotel in Marseilles seems the better option.

It's almost 9pm when we arrive and already all the cafes have shut - even McDonald's is closed. We book our tickets for Paris and say goodbye to another large amount of money. Then it's time to tackle the problem of accomodation.

We find an information desk that specialises in being unable to give information. I ask in French for directions to a hotel but the man seems unable to understand why I don't know the name of the hotel that I want. I try to explain that we just need any hotel nearby but he doesn't know where that particular one is.

Across the street from the station is an Express by Holiday Inn. As we wait for a receptionist we try to study the postage stamp behind the desk that contains the room rates. We didn't bring a telescope so can't read it. When we're informed that it is 155 euros plus tax for the night we wonder how much their prices may have risen over the last couple of days.

Further down the street is a very dark looking hotel. We interrupt the receptionist watching TV and smile happily when we're told it's 50 euros. We shower and collapse into bed exhausted. We're hungry but too tired to care.


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The Journey Home 17/4 - 19/4

Rome/Genoa/Nice/Marseilles/Paris/Le Havre/Portsmouth/Ryde