August 21, 2017

Four Reasons to Use a European Rail Pass

I’d be willing to bet that every new traveler to Europe dreams of traveling by train.

Is that because the movies have made it seem so romantic?  Or are the very expensive gas prices the culprit?  Or do we just want to travel in a new fashion?

Sevilla Spain Train Station with High Speed Trains

Sevilla Spain Train Station with High Speed Trains by Martin Kers and Eurail

Well traveling by train might not be all that romantic ( face it, the rigors of just traveling aren’t romantic!) but it is a fun, easy and exciting way to travel while visiting the many European countries!

So you’ve made the decision to visit Europe and travel by train, now comes the decision whether to buy individual tickets or a rail pass.  Here are 4 reasons to travel using a rail pass.

1. Convenience

With a rail pass all you do is hop on any train.  Most trains do not require seat reservations; just sit in any open seat.  There are exceptions such as high speed trains (TGV), scenic trains (Glacier Express) or sleeper trains that do require a seat reservation or upgrade.

2. Fits any Itinerary

Rail passes can be purchased for a single country, multiple countries or even as a Global pass covering all 23 countries that participate in the Eurail program.  Once you’ve set an outline of your itinerary, calculate the number of days you‘ll be traveling by rail to determine the best pass for you!

Furka Railway Switzerland

Furka Railway Switzerland by Martin Kers and Eurail

3. Fits any budget

You can purchase 1st or 2nd class rail passes.  Keep in mind, 1st class pass holders can sit in 2nd class but this does not work the other way around! The individual rail passes are great but if you’re traveling as a group of 2-5 you may want to purchase the discounted saver passes.  With the saver pass you must always travel on trains together!

4. It’s just plain easy!

Just check the rail schedule and go!  It really is that easy.

Once you decide a rail pass is your best option, Eurail passes can be purchased at RailEurope or Eurail.

German Rail Station Platform Germany

German Rail station platform by Martin Kers and Eurail

When I am researching train options, including connections, I look at the Deutsche Bahn (German) website or OBB (Austria) website. They both have English options and are fantastic sites to help plan your European trip.

Remember, Eurail passes are only available to those living outside Europe and must be purchased prior to your departure.  EU residents have their own pass, InterRail passes!  If you’re an EU resident, Alma Books is offering a chance to win a 5-day InterRail Pass.  For details visit Alma Books.

 

What has been your experience traveling with a Rail Pass?

A Year at European Travelista

Today is the first anniversary for European Travelista!!!

It’s Been a Year and What a Year It’s Been!

As I looked back at the year, I discovered that during this time I’ve written 134 posts which received 2,868 comments.

Together we’ve visited 18 of Europe’s countries!

The countries we’ve visited include France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  Along with those we’ve also touched ground in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Holland and even Estonia.Views walking up the hill to Gruyeres Switzerland

We’ve looked at food, aperitifs and experienced European wine beer and beer festivals!

Our journey has been by train, feet, bikes and post bus crossing rivers, bridges and scenic routes. We’ve taken a look at the awesome waterfalls in Europe along with some festivals, even if they are a bit crazy!Budapest and Danube River

Because I had a hard time telling the difference between Baroque, Gothic or Romanesque, we spent some time learning a bit about all that wonderful architecture found in European capitals.

I’ve shared my love for Germany and in particular Bavaria.  Heck one of my first posts was titled “Bavaria, Bavaria How do I Love thee?”.  That should have been your first clue 🙂

Hohenschwangau Bavarian Castle

View from Hohenschwangau

Together we delved into my passion for those small little quaint charming picturesque mountain villages.  Yes you know that I am a mountain girl!

We’ve spent time in castles, feasted our eyes on jewels, taken drives and just dreamed.

Cesky Krumlov Castle Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov Castle by Docsj

Yup it’s been quite a year!

And it’s not going to stop yet!

I have many more adventures lined up for 2012 but I also want to include some of your interests.

Where do you want to go?

How do you want to get there and what do you want to do once you get there?

Where or where in Europe shall we go during 2012?  Help me out by leaving suggestions in your comment!

 

Before I go, I want to send out a BIG thanks to you all for making 2011 such a great year!

Gracias.Köszi.Merci.Takk.Grazie.Obrigada.Danke.

 

All I Want For My Birthday . . .

Reading through the posts here on European Travelista you can very easily pick up on how much I love Germany!  So this next statement will not come as a surprise to many readers.  One of the things at the very top of my Bucket List is to spend my birthday enjoying the Christmas Markets in Germany!

What is probably most amazing is that I haven’t made it yet.  I’m even amazed by this fact but it is sadly true, I have not been to a Christmas Market in Germany or any other foreign country.  Now that we are in the Christmas market “season”, I have once again been dreaming about my visit!

Erfurt Christmas Market Germany

Erfurt Christmas Market by Neumann, Barbara

I am lured by the quaint stalls all dressed up in holiday splendor and the smells of baked apples, cookies, and gluhwein!  Of course another draw is the seasonal festbier.  Besides food there are nutcrackers, Christmas ornaments, hand carved nativity sets, hand painted blown glass baubles, music and much, much more!  It all has been calling me for too many years.

There is one problem, with over 2,500 Christmas markets in Germany which ones should I visit?

Of course I’m always up for a trip to Munich where you can enjoy daily live alpine music as you wander the Marienplatz or Nuremburg would be awesome with its medieval atmosphere and wonderful bratwurst and roast almonds.  Cologne would be magical with the cathedral as the back drop but I really want to experience some of the markets in smaller villages too and since Christmas traditions vary by region traversing the country would be special!

German Christmas Market in the Harz

Christmas Market in the Harz by Goslar Marketing GmbH

A journey to the east brings you to the Christmas market at Dresden, home to the oldest Christmas market in Germany.  Dating back to 1434 this market is named after its famous cake or stollen.  Look for carved wood items, pottery, lace and gingerbread all made by locals! Or maybe a trip to Lauscha which is the birthplace of the glass ornaments that decorate so many of our trees.  If a ride through the snowy countryside in an historical carriage pulled by a steam engine on the Harz narrow-gauge railway would be appealing, then a visit to Wernigerode and its timber framed houses may be for you.

Lubeck Christmas Market View Germany

Lubeck Christmas Market View by Kruger, Norbert

For a more nautical theme, head north to the markets in Husum or Rostock.  Romantics will enjoy the market at Glucksberg Castle where a decorated bridge leads across the moat to the courtyard where you’ll be enchanted by the more than 70 stalls sitting near the Christmas tree.  By the way, the castle is open to visitors too!  Or visit Lubeck for the Iceworld Snow and Ice Sculpture festival.

Trier Germany Christmas Market

Trier Germany Christmas Market by Cowin, Andrew

Traveling west brings us to Schwalmstadt where you will find a Christmas market steeped in fairytales!  Schwalmstadt is where the Brothers Grimm wrote some of their stories, including “Little Red Riding Hood”.  Enjoy needlework from local artisans and local food specialties.  Lanterns and candles make the market at Broich Castle seem very medieval!  Enjoy storytellers as they wander town reenacting scenes from the Nativity while sipping wine and mead.  For a very international market, stop by Rudesheim am Rhein.  The market in the old quarter contains stalls from 12 countries who share their Christmas customs with visitors!

Ludwigsburg Germany Christmas Market

Ludwigsburg Christmas Market by Ludwigsburg/Neckar Stadtmarketing u. Touristik GmbH

Southern Germany is home to the Romantic Road and there are many villages near Rothenburg ob der Tauber that would be of interest.  Busy Rothenburg is one of my favorite villages and I would love to see it all lit up and decorated for Christmas!  Others villages that may be worth a visit include Prien with its Christmas market on an island in the middle of Lake Chiemsee!  A trip around Lake Constance on the Christmas ship would be equally amazing.  Also luring is Altotting with is celebration of Alpine Advent songs complete with alphorns!

Whew, too many Christmas markets for one trip or maybe even a lifetime!

 

What German Christmas markets can you recommend?

Night Train to Paris

As I prepare for my trip to Europe, I wanted to share this guest post with you.  Jesse Langley will transport you with him as he takes a night train to Paris!

The sun hung hot in the late afternoon sky and my clothing clung to me with varying degrees of dampness. Even my linen pants were moist. I had escaped the cold gray drizzle of Amsterdam the month before. After a detour into Germany to visit some old university buddies for a week I had continued south through France until arriving in Montpellier. Three weeks of studying French had given me a case of verb conjugation confusion and a serious addiction to mussels covered in stinky cheese. Besides, I had played hooky long enough and had some serious academic work cut out for me in Edinburgh. But Edinburgh wasn’t going anywhere any time soon and Paris was sort of on the way. Besides, not stopping in Paris when I was this close would be a crime.

 St-Clément Aqueduct Montpellier France

Montpellier Aqueduct by jparise, on Flickr

As I walked past the old Roman aqueduct under the load of my heavy backpack I stopped long enough to wipe sweat out of my eyes and admire the aqueduct’s engineering. I looked at the sturdy Roman lines and the pristine condition of the aqueduct and briefly wondered why we still have problems building sturdy roads in the states. I limped into the train station determined to never load so much into a backpack. I guess that’ll require a smaller backpack. The gendarmerie was trying to inconspicuously scan for suspicious passengers from the balcony in the train station but the German Shepherds kind of blew their cover. The French police don’t do inconspicuous well, but at least they’re better than the Italians.

I waited for the one o’clock to Paris in the shade of the station. When it pulled in and was ready for boarding I was the first one in. I had learned the hard way on the stretch from Cologne to Montpellier that stragglers with enormous backpacks will always suffer if the luggage rack in the corner of the train car gets full. There is no humanly possible way to stuff seventy-five pounds of pack in an overhead bin. I got my backpack securely stowed, found my seat and plugged in my headphones. As the train left the station Bob Dylan was mumbling his way through Stuck in Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again and Montpellier began to recede into the distance.

Eiffel Tower Paris France at sunrise

Eiffel Tower by Tristan Nitot

I fell asleep and when I woke the sun was hanging just over the mountains to the west painting the peaks in brilliant shades of oranges and pinks. I made my way to the bar car for a drink and sat near the bar sipping a glass of wine and watching the sun through the bar car window as it slowly sank below the mountains until they were silhouettes. I finished my wine and made my way back to my seat. The train car was quiet except for the soft snoring of passengers so I worked for a while with my dissertation on Joyces’s Ulysses until my eyelids got heavy again. I opened my eyes as the train began to slow coming into the Paris Gare du Nord station.

I collected my backpack and hailed a cab. The taxi driver’s English was actually worse than my French, and I was pleased that he understood the hotel directions I gave him on the first try. We chatted as much as my horrible French would allow until we got to the hotel. Upon arrival I paid him an extra four Euros for putting up with my mangled conjugations. The interior of the hotel lobby was high-ceilinged and airy. I waited while the young woman behind the counter checked my name against the reservations before producing a gigantic old fashioned skeleton key. I thanked her and headed for my room. Inside the hotel room large windows were open outwards and a light breeze blew softly and rustled the pulled back linen curtains. Just visible in the distance the Arc de Triomphe glowed against the night sky lit from underneath with spotlights.

Arc Triomphe Paris France at night

Arc Triomphe by Benh LIEU SONG

I took a quick hot shower and wiped the steam off the mirror for a quick shave. I rooted around in the backpack until I found a pair of linen pants with the fewest wrinkles. I put on a clean white oxford and stepped into a pair of bright red espadrilles. After a quick look in the mirror I wiped a wisp of shaving cream off my ear and put the skeleton key in my left pants pocket where I noted with disapproval that it caused the pocket to sag under its weight. I walked out past the check-in counter and noticed that the young woman who had given me my key had a pixie haircut and looked like a young Audrey Hepburn like so many French women do. I had a hankering for a croissant and a good cup of coffee, so I continued out the lobby into the balmy Paris night to look for a late night café and a conversation.

 

Ah Paris, Tell us about a favorite memory you have of Paris!

 

Jesse Langley lives near Chicago. He divides his time among work, writing and family life. He is an advocate for online education and has a keen interest in blogging and social media.

Photogenic Lucerne Switzerland

Lucerne is one of the most photogenic cities there is in Europe.

View of mountain from Lucerne Switzerland

Mountain view from Lucerne Switzerland

Located in the center of Switzerland, Lucerne offers a sampling of what defines Switzerland – lakes, meandering rivers, mountains, charming bridges, flowers, boats, frescoed buildings and a medieval old town.

Lucerne Switzerland along the River Reuss

Lucerne along the River Reuss

Lucerne is a great city to wander charming cobblestoned streets or stroll along the river promenade stopping at cafes that dot the River Reuss.

The Kapellbrucke is probably the most famous bridge and sight in Lucerne.

Kapellbrucke Lucerne Switzerland

Kapellbrucke Lucerne Switzerland

To enjoy Lake Lucerne, spend time at one of the beaches or enjoy a steamer to marvel at the scenic mountains, stately homes and castles or even enjoy a wholesome breakfast.

Leave some time to enjoy the Swiss Transport Museum.  This museum displays many forms of transportation including train cars, planes, cars and ships.  You can also see the oldest steamboat in Switzerland and there is a model depicting the crossing of the Gotthard Pass.

Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

Mt. Pilatus is one of those Swiss mountains steeped in history and myths that comes with incredible views.  Part of the adventure is the transportation getting you to the summit and returning you to the floor.  To begin your trip, take a steamer to Alpnachstad where you will transfer to the cog railway that will whisk you to the top.  This cog railway is the steepest in the world with a 48% gradient.  Your return can be by a pair of cable cars or via the cog railway.

Clouds below Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

View from Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

At the summit, besides marveling at the panorama unfolding before your eyes there are many hiking paths and restaurants.

The William Tell Express, one of Switzerland’s scenic rail trips, begins in Lucerne.  Board your steamer to Fluelen where you transfer to the scenic train for the remainder of your trip to Locarno.  But this is for another day. . .

 

Have you been to Lucerne?

What is the most photogenic city you have been to?

 

 

 

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Scenic Trains in Switzerland – – Glacier Express

Switzerland is known for many things including beautiful mountains, meadows teeming with wildflowers, many rivers and lakes, glaciers, chocolate and cheese.  Another that belongs on the list are the Scenic trains.  There are a number of scenic trains that traverse Switzerland from all angles.  One of the most impressive, and well known, is the Glacier Express.  I have a feeling that most everyone has heard about the Glacier Express but if you haven’t been able to enjoy a ride on this train, I can tell you it is as spectacular as everyone says.

Bridge along Glacier Express Switzerland

Bridge along Glacier Express

The Glacier Express first began running in June 1930 and continues running year-round today from St. Moritz to Zermatt (or vice versa).  An option is a seat on the panorama train car which were put into service during 2006. The Glacier Express journey takes about 7 hours and, according to glacierexpress.ch, takes you through “ . . . untouched mountain landscapes, glamorous health resorts, deep gorges, delightful valleys, 91 tunnels and across 291 impressive bridges.”  From your window seat you will be able to see the charm of the Swiss Alps rising high above the quaint villages.

Barn along Glacier Express Switzerland

View from Glacier Express

Scenery along Glacier Express train Switzerland

Scenery along Glacier Express

Glacier Express meadow Switzerland

Meadow from Glacier Express

I had heard that usually this train is pretty full but as we boarded our train in St. Moritz and settled in for our journey I noticed that our train was not very full.  We were very lucky because, on this October day, we almost had the car to ourselves and were able to go side-to-side as the scenery passed by.

Spectacular vista from train window Switzerland

Spectacular views in Switzerland!

Switzerland is a beautiful country and this train trip is an excellent representation of its stunning landscape.  During the trip, the scenery I saw from my window was bewitching!  As we crossed the countryside, I was in awe of the shear beauty of what was passing by my eyes.  The deep chasms running down each hillside where water had run off is awe-inspiring.  The power of water is incredible and you can see it first hand from your train car.  As our train crossed the Swiss heartland I was amazed by this immense and spectacular landscape.  From the lakes and forests to pastures filled with cows and wild flowers, beauty is everywhere. Equally amazing are the glaciers visible as the train makes its way towards its destination.  As we traveled along, I remember thinking “Who turned off the movie?” every time we passed through one of the 91 tunnels – – especially the longer ones.

Glacial river from train in Switzerland

Glacial river flowing beside Glacier Express

The train is 7 hours long and upon our arrival in Zermatt, I can’t say I wasn’t ready to get off but I also did not regret one minute of the trip.  In fact, I can’t wait until I am able to enjoy another of Switzerland’s scenic trains.

Stunning views from Glacier Express Switzerland

Stunning views from Glacier Express

Have you been on the Glacier Express?  I’d love to hear about your experience.  Have you been on any of the other scenic trains?  Which ones did you like best?