February 23, 2018

Musings on European Rail Travel

There are many ways to travel around Europe.  One of my favorites is using the train!  Train travel evokes mythical and magical feelings in me.  Train trips always seem so exciting, serene and romantic but why?

I suppose it has to do with the fact that there isn’t much opportunity to travel by train in California.  Yes I have been on the Amtrak train from Orange County to Los Angeles (yup that was a long trip) but somehow Amtrak just doesn’t seem to compare with trains in Europe.

This infatuation could be due to all the movies and books portraying train travel as adventurous, daring and romantic.  Doesn’t everyone find love on a train?  Spies abound on trains, right?  What about those long lustful goodbyes on the platform?  Or even chasing the train to have one last glimpse. . .

European Rail Travel

by Wootang01, on Flickr

No matter where it comes from, I relish the opportunity to travel by train in Europe!

So I am very excited to be traveling this summer solely by train.  In preparation I have been thinking about past train travel and the tips I have learned along the way.

The first tip is to PACK LIGHT! I learned this lesson the hard way on my first trip to Europe way back in 1981.  For a 3 week solo trip I had one LARGE suitcase, 1 hanging garment bag, 1 overnight case and a large bag/purse plus the bags of souvenirs I collected along the way.  I swear my arms are longer today because of this trip!  The thing I didn’t know about train travel is there are a lot of walking and stairs involved.  Stairs that go down under the track, stairs that go back up to the platform and then more stairs to get on the train.  Ugh, I’m tired just remembering this.  Some of the newer trains are actually at platform level so that makes it a little easier but there is still quite a bit of walking and stairs.  So PACK LIGHT!

The last time I traveled solely by train was in Switzerland and for this trip I had a rail pass.  The pass made it extremely easy because I didn’t have to arrive early to purchase tickets so I just got on what ever train I wanted.    Just as a train ticket, the pass doesn’t guarantee me a seat.  If you want a guaranteed seat, then you need to purchase a reservation.

European Rail Travel

by Hunter-Desportes, on Flickr

The pass I had allowed me first class seats but I could sit in 2nd class if I wanted, however, it doesn’t work the other way around!  Also some trains require seat reservations so make sure to check this if you are traveling with a rail pass.

This summer’s trip is pricing out quite a bit less if I buy point-to-point tickets so that is probably what I am going to do.  The one thing I haven’t decided is if I will purchase some ticket prior to departing the US.  Any suggestions?

There is a price difference between 1st class seats and 2nd class seats and sometimes this difference can be quite a lot.  The differences between the classes are pretty much the same as in airplanes – roomier seats, more comfortable seats etc. It is my experience that if you want to travel with locals then travel in 2nd class.  One note to mention, 2nd class can be very full during rush hours so a seat may not be found.

European Rail Travel

by Hunter-Desportes, on Flickr

My last tip is to arrive early at the station so that you have time to find the platform your train will be departing from.  I hate rushing around at the station at the last minute.

Here are a couple websites I find useful for looking up train schedules and even pricing.

Deutsche Bahn (Germany)

Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB) (Austria)

 

What train experiences have you had?  Any tips you’d like to share?