I’ve by no means been to Paris earlier than, but it surely’s residing as much as its fame to date. I solely arrived a couple of minutes in the past and have parked myself in a fancy Nineteen Twenties-style cafe throughout the street from Gare du Nord, the place the Eurostar practice deposits Channel-hoppers like me.

I’m right here to start a three-week grand tour throughout the continent: from Paris to Naples through Good, Florence and Rome. I’ve by no means travelled to mainland Europe earlier than. I haven’t been capable of afford it, and even when I’d had the cash, nervousness would have saved me residence as I endure from gentle journey phobia. So, in addition to a vacation, this journey can even be a type of aversion remedy.

On the ingeniously named Café du Nord, a waiter in a black waistcoat, bow tie and beret brings my café au lait and croque monsieur on a small spherical tray, then departs with a nod and a “bon appetit”. It’s all very elegant. I eat, drink, tip, wave au revoir and depart for my lodge, a finances affair close to the Bastille.

I solely have three days in Paris, and intend to take advantage of it. Some Parisians declare the most effective factor to do within the metropolis is develop into a flâneur and wander aimlessly. However that entire idea might describe my life up to now, so I resolve to see the sights.

I grudgingly board an open-top bus tour. After I lived in London, I used to deride the gawping day trippers who’d view the town one monument at a time by tiny rectangles. However it’s a great way to see an unfamiliar metropolis and get a potted historical past through the complimentary earphone commentary.

La Promenade des Anglais in Nice
La Promenade des Anglais in Good. {Photograph}: Studio Barcelona/Alamy

I additionally go to the Eiffel Tower: it’s similar to Blackpool Tower solely greater, and in France. Then I’m going to see the Mona Lisa within the Louvre – it’s all proper, however I don’t actually see what all of the fuss is about. Tomorrow I depart for Good.

The primary a part of the practice journey to Good is thru scorched farmland, however after departing Marseille it takes in spectacular vistas of the French Riviera. To my left, misty mountains fill the horizon, lush vineyards lie trackside, and sandy-walled villas with sun-kissed copper roofs pepper verdant hillsides. On my proper, there are clusters of unique timber – palm, pine and olive. Past them is the Mediterranean, shimmering within the solar. I’ve to pinch myself: all this distance and wonder for lower than £50.

Good is good, however that’s so far as it goes. Once more, the bus tour is value doing, however the outdated city is the factor to see: a set of fairly buildings the place you may lay our a fortune in a fairly cafe on a fairly alleyway and have a look at statues perched in the midst of marble fountains. I then head to the Promenade des Anglais the place there are ice-creams, browsing and different coastal pastimes on its pebbled seashore.

The author in Place Massena, near the seafront in Nice.
The creator in Place Massena, close to the seafront in Good.

In case you’re fair-skinned like me, the large disadvantage about visiting the continent in August is that it’s baking sizzling. I find yourself trying like a soggy sundried tomato, which is extra demoralising than traditional given the variety of olive-skinned beauties waltzing about in shorts and vests.

I’m presupposed to be heading to Italy, however I’ve left my telephone within the taxi I took to the practice station. As of late shedding your telephone is like shedding a limb, so I’m panicking and contemplating visiting the British consulate and calling this entire factor off.

On the Discover Me app on my laptop computer I watch my telephone do circles of close by Monte Carlo. I resolve to get one other cab and instruct the driving force to comply with my telephone icon. Sadly, the app is unreliable, so I return to the station and in some way contact Uber and the driving force, who returns my telephone hours later. That’s 5 hours of my life and £200 I’m by no means getting again, however lastly I board the practice to Genoa, and from there change to a different heading south into the Tuscan hills.

The Arno river in Florence.
The Arno river in Florence. {Photograph}: Sergey Borisov/Alamy

“Ahh, Florence,” I hear myself say greater than as soon as as I gaze on the opulent structure, romantic streets and renaissance artwork. I really feel genuinely emotional after I set eyes on the Piazza del Duomo and Florence’s 14th-century cathedral.

The enjoyment is sapped barely by the roving teams of vacationers. I’m a hypocrite, after all, as a result of I’m considered one of them. Central Florence, a minimum of after I go to, seems like an property agent has curated it. It’s spotless, and boy are you being bought one thing. That one thing being a model of Italy seen by the lens of a Dolmio advert. The eating places play the Godfather soundtrack on a loop and serve pizza, pasta, gelato and extra pizza. At one restaurant, a slight man wanders up, units an amp down and mimes to Pavarotti, wild gesticulations and all.

My subsequent cease is Rome. It’s an ethereal place. It feels as if I’m being ambushed by historical past – historic fountains, the Colosseum and the Spanish Steps – with manicured cypresses, broad umbrella pines and plush palm timber showing round corners with no warning.

One of the best ways to see Rome is on an electrical scooter within the early hours of the morning. I whiz round empty cobbled streets, and the town’s landmarks look much more dramatic lit up.

The one factor I’ve to see in Rome is the Sistine Chapel. To gaze up at Michelangelo’s ceiling, I’ve to purchase a ticket for the Vatican Museum, and like many museums and vacationer points of interest on this journey, that needed to be organized by an pointless intermediary. This includes visiting a tobacconist just a few metres from the museum, the place a tour information picks me up, walks me to the museum entrance, palms over the tickets, then leaves. (I later study that I might have booked a slot on-line.)

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I stroll by a number of galleries on the best way to Michelangelo’s masterpiece, however they’re greater than value it. The gallery of maps is spectacular – with its gilded vaulted ceiling and lovely frescoes. Painted topographical maps impressed by Ignazio Danti’s drawings adorn the partitions and large home windows provide gorgeous views of the town.

The ‘awesome’ Sistine Chapel frescoes in the Vatican
The ‘superior’ Sistine Chapel frescoes within the Vatican. {Photograph}: Daniel Lavelle

I lastly get to the primary occasion. It’s critical right here. No photographs, no shorts or vests, and the Vatican calls for silence, which after all, everybody ignores. The ceiling is an superior feat, however I discover the work disturbing. Many frescoes depict struggling and trauma; a complete wall reveals demons dragging bare individuals to hell on one aspect, and angels carrying individuals to heaven on the opposite. Additionally, it’s unimaginable to expertise the chapel as Michelangelo supposed – recumbent and in silence – as a result of the place is heaving, and safety can’t wait to get you out once more.

I had deliberate to finish my journey with just a few days in Naples – for the pizza and ice-cream. However as that’s all I’ve eaten since arriving in Italy, I resolve to not go on south. In case you’re , the most effective pizza I had was at Mister Pizza, subsequent to the cathedral in Florence. And the most effective ice-cream was in Through del Boschetto, a stylish avenue close to the Colosseum in Rome.

This was a anxious journey for me however I’m glad I did it. In reality, I want I’d had the braveness to do that years in the past.

Option to go

Getting there
Crossing the Channel on Eurostar prices from £69 one-way, Paris to Good prices from €55, Good to Genoa from €19, Genoa to Florence from €19 and Florence to Rome from €15.

In Florence, Casa Regina Santo Rosario (single rooms from €50 B&B) is a convent guesthouse the place rooms are small and amenities shared, but it surely has a stunning backyard, could be very clear and quiet, and the nuns are pleasant.

In Rome II Covo B&B (doubles from €90 B&B) is close to the Colosseum and has excessive ceilings, opulent decor and a roof backyard.

In Paris I loved the most effective Greek meals I’ve ever had at La Maison de Gyros close to the river within the Latin Quarter. The souvlaki (€6 with chips) was scrumptious and the inside is all higgledy-piggledy chairs and tables, barmy art work, books and different ornaments.

In Florence I beloved the pizzas (from €8.50) at Mister Pizza and ravioli (€12) and lager at Le Botteghe di Donatello, each close to the cathedral.

In case you thought you’d eaten each pizza topping going, take a look at the day by day altering menu of takeaway slices at Bonci Pizzarium close to the Vatican in Rome. There might be cod and potato pizza, or pumpkin puree and octopus, all from €4 a slice.