Fondue in Zurich. Chocolate-box scenery in the Rhine River Gorge. Leafy Koblenz where the rivers meet and the city-centre restaurants bustle late into the night. Cologne and its cathedral puncturing a shimmering spring sky. Beer, beef and frites on the aptly named Grand Place in Brussels. Favourite times from my last visit to Europe.
The longer I think, the more vivid the memories, each melding into the next, as fluid as my movement across the continent. Stress-free and on time, comfortable and relatively cheap. No queuing, no luggage weighing, no boarding passes or turbulence.
I saw countryside, not clouds out of the window; there was room to move and all at a pace, a rhythm marked by the clickety-clack of wheel on track - a soothing sound, a tune to muse by as I planned activities in the next city. From Zurich to London, five days on the move. No early-morning check-ins or late-night check-outs. Civilised, secure, comforting and reassuring on Europe's expansive and supremely well-organised train system.
The only plane I saw was in the sky near Karlsruhe, a flight angling upwards from the Baden Airpark. I remember thinking of the passengers on board that 737 and how they had cramped seats and cloud ahead of them while I gorged on the rust, golden, green and purple foliage of the Black Forest in late October.
I saw old church steeples prick the horizon, watched fascinated as we skewered the heart of Karlsruhe, Mainz and Worms, then traced the bank of the Rhine indulging in another gorge - the geographical kind, UNESCO Heritage-listed, and with its fortresses, quaint towns and vineyards sweeping low to the river.
It is said the journey is half the fun but rail trips, to me, are far more. The act of getting there switches from nuisance to experience and by the time one arrives (on time), it's often virtually at the front door, given train stations tend to be at a city centre rather than miles out of town like many airports. Whether it's in Europe, North America - where the Rocky Mountaineer snakes into the Canadian Rockies to Jasper, joyous in the white winter - or India, across the great expanse of Australia or in New Zealand, a rail package can be an experience in itself with the stops almost bonuses.
One of my favourite Saturday mornings came in the icy wilds of British Columbia. I'd boarded the Canadian Snow Train, essentially a transcontinental service, from Vancouver to Montreal, but with sleeper compartments, a dining service and glass-top scenic cars. We pulled out of Vancouver's Pacific Central Station, rolling through a cityscape typical of that traversed by railway tracks the world over. Dark and silent warehouses sprawled on either side, semi-trailers hitched up idly by corrugated wire fences, before the train picked up speed and eased out into the suburbs.
As the lights became fewer and then disappeared, I was lulled to sleep by the staccato of wheel on rail. An unchanging rhythm, the perfect soundtrack for sleep.
I awoke at 7am with breakfast on my mind to a sun the colour of raw egg yolk smeared through the thick cloud, which met an icing-cake-white horizon as we crossed frozen lakes hurtling ever eastward. I drank in the wilderness, the remoteness so evocative, knowing that if it were not for the train, I wouldn't experience this landscape, for we didn't cross a single road until the outskirts of Kamloops, where we trundled through a level crossing, past a group of cyclists waving with mittened hands.
I got off to stretch my legs at Kamloops North, where the snow was piled knee-high against a simple station hemmed in by carparks deserted and frozen. I tried to imagine the scene during Kamloop's hot summers, when the town attracts hikers, mountain bikers and golfers.
Rail is rousing. It makes me feel and allows me to ponder and then store away memories to draw on as the years pass. I'm not sure why I remember it was a Saturday morning that I awoke to that egg-yolk sky and lonely little Kamloops. Perhaps it was part of the storing of the memory but it seemed appropriate, for it was relaxed and leisurely.
It's never been easier to combine various rail routes for pleasure, there are companies that offer tailor-made trips, timed to perfection with accommodation and tickets pre-organised and cities selected to suit. With bespoke rail trips to almost anywhere where there's track, the combinations are myriad.
To whet your appetite, we blow the whistle and ease off on journeys through New Zealand and the US, around northern Italy and across the water in Sardinia.