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Some arrivals are just too good to miss. Dropping down out of the skies to land at some of Europe’s trickier airports can be challenging for even the most experienced pilots. And, even from the passenger cabin, the steep glide down into the airstrips at Innsbruck (Austria) or Lugano (Switzerland) can be very impressive. Funchal airport in Madeira is also fun, with passengers often alarmed that their plane is landing on the Atlantic waves—the runway extends over the ocean, supported by concrete pillars.
Whether you’re traveling by boat, train, or rail, the eager anticipation at arriving to a new destination in Europe often makes us miss the best bit of the entire journey—the moment of arrival.
Arriving by boat
Some of Europe’s finest arrivals are by sea. There may be no great drama in arriving in Iceland on the Smyril Line ship Norröna from Denmark. Instead, there is the sheer beauty of the lonely eastern fjords and the knowledge that this is how the first settlers arrived on the island over a thousand years ago.
And Venice is really at her best arriving on a summer morning after a long ferry journey up the Adriatic. Last time we took the Minoan Lines ferry from Corfu, it crept into Venice at about eight in the morning, the giant ship dwarfing the buildings on the famous Venetian skyline. Never did San Marco look so good.
Approaching London by train
Arrivals by train offer their own peculiar theater. London has not just one but two of the very best in Europe. The last half hour of Eurostar’s run into London from the Channel Tunnel is rich in dramatic aesthetics.
The railway skirts Kentish hop fields, dives under the North Downs, crosses the Medway on a spectacular viaduct, before a tantalizing series of tunnels bring the railway back above ground for a graceful, seemingly endless, curve into London’s St Pancras station – now handsomely restored to reclaim its status as easily the most elegant of London’s railroad termini.
Speeding into Paddington
The run out of Heathrow is unremarkable, and gives no hint of what is to come. But free of the airport tunnel, the 12 mile journey on Brunel’s Great Western route into Paddington is a fabulous feast for the senses. The train storms past Victorian water towers and canals. There are art deco factories, a magnificent Sikh temple, eerie wastelands, and the back gardens of endless terraces of small houses. All of English life is laid bare for the traveler arriving in London.
True, the Heathrow Express costs a little more than the tube, but it is worth the premium fare. Few other such short journeys by train are so richly entertaining. And speed brings its own benefits. Last time we used Heathrow Express, we were enjoying a beer in our hotel room at Lancaster Gate less than half an hour after boarding the train at Heathrow.