Originally, plans had us hopping a train from Barcelona to Geneva for a few days in Switzerland before Italy. Originally, until the maitre'd of ticket taking at Gard du Nord looked up from his ever-clicking computer and said, “Non.”
What do you mean, “Non”? We have Eurail passes. I'm booking a week in advance. All the books say that should work. How can you go against the dictum of Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, and Rick Steves? Even if you are Parisian and have a little black mustache?
“Non.” Only one train going, and that one was full. What to do?
Point to a dot on the map roughly halfway between Spain and Italy, and say, “There. We're going there for two days instead.” And really, who could resist a hotel that promised on the website, “We decorate like the five continents, so your stay will be in another universe.”
Woeful geography aside, two days in a colorful hotel and a peaceful town ended up the perfect break after Barcelona. Besides, Toulon inadvertently fed my obsession for Les Miserables. I could, and did, roam the street at dusk and imagine Jean Valjean loading the prison ships on the waterfront. Not Switzerland, not planned, but not bad.