Aside from the occasional strike shutting things down, riding the Italian rails is all about fast, easy and comfortable transport.
But of course, there's romance in it too: that beautiful scenery, those grand stations.
And in 2023, the romance is set to be taken up more than a notch or two with the legendary Orient Express returning to Trenitalia's network after an absence of 45 years.
Renderings of the six 11-carriage trains set to reinvent the golden age of train travel, Italian edition, for a new generation show a striking homage to groovy 1960s and 1970s style. The design is by the renowned Milan-based Dimorestudio, in demand for their multi-era vintage aesthetics with the likes of Dior, Hermes and Fendi on their client list.
Fittingly named Orient Express La Dolce Vita and home-stationed at Roma Termini (where there'll be a dedicated lounge), these streaks of glamour-on-wheels will dance across 14 regions and 131 cities in Italy on one-to-three-night itineraries. Sure to be high on the honeymooner hitlist will be an additional run between Rome and Paris, as well as Rome-Istanbul and Rome-Split (Croatia).
Each train will feature 12 cabins, 18 suites, the "Honour Suite" and a restaurant carriage offering a high-end dining experience.
It's a joint venture between Trenitalia and the luxury hotel operator Arsenale in association with Accor Hotels which runs the Orient Express brand.
Meanwhile, for more plebeian travel, COVID continues to complicate. Trenitalia was running "COVID-free" high speed trains, meaning both passengers and staff were tested for COVID-19 before boarding for specific journeys, during the 2021 high season. Now, a vaccination certificate valid for nine months from the time of the most recent dose, or a a recovery certificate valid for six months since the date of recovery, or a rapid antigen test with a negative result within the 48 hours prior to journey is required. At least until March 31, only FFP2 (N95) masks are permitted on trains, not surgical or cloth masks.
But COVID's impact on train travel may cut even deeper. According to a recent Future of Infrastructure report by multinational engineering consultancy, AECOM, "Coronavirus has upended the world's operating assumptions, and it will be no different for railways. Some predictions point to a 20 per cent reduction in overall trips on public transport after travel restrictions are lifted, including a 27 per cent drop in commuter travel as the trend towards home working endures. Some people, worried about infections, may simply never return to public transport."
In that context, it makes sense to use excess rail capacity for the kind of joy luxury train tourism can bring.
Unsurprisingly, in this instance, that joy will come at a price: Orient Express La Dolce Vita will cost around from around €2000 ($A3160) a person a night.
Canberra is calling culture lovers, with three standout exhibitions. The National Gallery of Australia celebrates 100 years since master-of-composition Jeffrey Smart's birth with a major gathering of his work; Ancient Greeks Athletes Warriors and Heroes is on at the National Museum of Australia featuring artefacts from the British Museum and from January 21, Australia, Australians & Hollywood exploring the nation's contribution to international film is on at the National Film and Sound Archive. See visitcanberra.com.au
How are your hospital corners? Learn proper bed-making at the Langham Melbourne via a hands-on tutorial with Executive Housekeeper, Marian Stratford in a a new suite of complimentary guest activities that also includes a behind-the-scenes hotel tour and a Champagne tasting. See Langhamhotels.com
In case you're looking for it but can no longer find it, after a significant refurbishment, the popular Blue Horizon Resort Apartments at Airlie Beach in Tropical North Queensland has joined the Accor family of hotels and been rebranded as the Sebel Whitsundays Airlie Beach. See accor.com
Following "the most extensive and expensive makeover in NCL history – at a cost of $US100 million", as the company says, the 2018-passenger Norwegian Spirit will return to Australian and New Zealand waters from December 2023, offering eight 12-day sailings between Sydney and Auckland. The vibe promised is "adult cruiser" and "laidback luxury". See ncl.com