Standing on the platform in Paris-Gare de Lyon, I watch my husband get onto the train and disappear along the corridor. I grip the handles of the pushchair and try once more to get it onboard, but the wide front wheels jam against the edges of the door. My parents and brother have gone to their cabin too, leaving me alone on the platform. I feel the tears springing to my eyes.
It feels like a lifetime since we were eating chocolate chip muffins and watching the Scottish countryside fly by, but in reality it’s only been twelve hours since we left Lockerbie. Since then, we’ve carted two suitcases, a changing bag and the pushchair on and off three trains, not to mention the one hour sprint across Paris to get to this station. Now, unable to even get onto the train, I’m beginning to wonder whether my cousin’s wedding is really worth the trouble.
“Why Italy?” I grumble. “Why couldn’t she get married in Glasgow?”
My nine-month-old son glares up at me from the pushchair. It’s been a long day for him too. I hold out his ‘Dear Zoo’ buggy book but he’s not interested, and I don’t blame him. He’s already seen it twenty times today.
When the invitations came through in the spring, we went through all our options.
“No way. I’m not flying anywhere. It’s not safe.”
“It’s safer than driving.”
“At least if we’re in a car and something goes wrong, we’ve got a chance of getting out alive. And we could stop whenever the baby gets restless.”
“I’m not stopping at every service station between Scotland and Tuscany.”
After a lengthy debate on scenic driving routes, car hire prices and the cost of petrol in Europe, it was decided – we would go by train. There would be five adults to one infant – plenty of people to take turns reading to him and to help him toddle up and down the aisles, and he’d sleep most of the time anyway. It would be easy. Enjoyable. Romantic.
“Romantic,” I mutter, stroking my son’s head. He starts to cry and pulls away. “Dad’s coming,” I say, hoping it’s true.
This is typical. All day we’ve been surrounded by people wanting to chat to our chocolate-button-eyed boy and tickle his bare toes, but now that I need help, the interested passersby’s have evaporated. I feel like an idiot – a tired, aching idiot. I had every opportunity to make an excuse and stay at home. All it would have taken was a quick email: ‘Sorry but we can’t make it. It’s too awkward with the baby, and besides, we can’t really afford it now I’m not working. Have a fantastic wedding. We’ll invite you across for a coffee once you get the photos.’
I can’t even fit through the door.
One hour later, the overnight train is whizzing away from Paris and through the heart of France. Our cabin is small but clean and well-equipped. There are two bunk beds, a sink and just enough room for our luggage. Nappies can now be changed with relative ease on the bed, rather than in a two-foot-square space while attempting to hold the baby, fasten the nappy, and stop the changing bag from falling into the toilet. There will be no more swapping between trains, fighting for seats or asking for directions. This is our space for the night.
Having stowed everything away, the three of us make our way to the dining cabin. My parents and brother are already there, laughing and discussing the events of the day over risotto and glasses of complimentary wine. We find a table near to them, and turn our bloodshot eyes to the menu. It’s disappointingly similar to our local takeaways at home, presumably catering mostly for English-speaking tourists, but even a lukewarm pizza with chewy ham cannot get rid of my happiness at having made it this far.
As the sun sets on the blurry hills, things start to calm. For the first time all day, my stomach relaxes and I can eat. I sip my wine and watch my husband making silly faces at our little boy, and showing him the lush vineyards going by the window.
Later, back in our cabin with our son dozing on the bunk bed, my husband puts his arm around me and kisses my forehead.
“This is nice,” he says. “Imagine how stressed we’d have been if we were driving. At least this way we can both enjoy the views.”
I cuddle into him. “You don’t wish we’d flown?”
“It would have been a lot quicker,” he says, and laughs. “But not as much of an experience.”
That night, I lie on the bottom bunk next to our son as the train jiggles its way through the night. Part of me still wonders why I thought it was such a good idea in the first place, but a sense of satisfaction is also beginning to surface. If I can do a journey like this with a nine-month-old baby, then surely I can do anything.
I close my eyes and drift into a light sleep. In a few hours time I will wake up with the sunrise flooding in around the edges of the window blind. I will pull it back and see Italy for the first time, but hopefully not the last.