Train Travelers' Tips: 2001
There's more to smart European train travel than just picking up your Europass and hitting the rails. What lessons did you learn on your last rail adventure? Tips on those pesky supplements (not covered by your train pass) are particularly welcome. Here's what you thought in 2001:
Updates and savers-
Paris- If you have that spare day on your railpass that would otherwise be wasted as you fly back home- use it to get a free RER train ride to the Paris-Roissy/CDG airport- go to the RER/SNCF ticket window at the metro stations that have RER lines, and ask for a "contramarque de passage" showing the railpass with the valid day. This is acually a ticket lookalike that operates the automatic turnstiles that let you in and out of the RER stations. A 50FF saving per person! (Non RER/SNCF metro stations sometimes have no clue about this since they are not familiar with SNCF ticketing. Preferably use a RER station which is not a main train station since ticket lines are longer there, Invalides worked great for us). ---
Oh, btw, don't buy the "Paris Visite" card for Paris transportation- use the Mobilis cards or the carnet tickets- The "Paris Visite" is a major rip-off: more expensive than the Mobilis card, 3 day is 120FF compared to less than 100FF for 3 Mobilis cards. ---
Trains to Italy from Gare Bercy in Paris may not have
open ticket/reservation windows at all for night(7pm) trains. Preferably
get your railpass vaildated(initial stamp) at Gare de Lyon some blocks away,
or as a last resort, have the conductor do it- approach him before your
train leaves, he may take care of it later- but he will let you know if
you are ok. --- In Italy- AMEX offices that used to sell tickets/reservations
for italian trains (FS) for the same price as the stations(as mentioned
by Rick) have recently started charging per connection per person-
it can add up pretty fast! Shop around for another travel agent, many still
provides this service for free or for a smaller flat fee.
Portland, OR USA 12/28/01
Allow Time and Pack Light
I just returned from a month in England and used trains for most of my travels. Packing light is SO important if you're lugging bags on and off trains. I also found that buying tickets the day before and planning at least 30 minutes between connections is a great help. It's possible that you will have to lug your bags up & down stairs to reach another platform for your next train. A lot of the smaller stations have no lifts. I've vowed to use a smaller bag next time.
Grants Pass, OR USA 12/14/01
Validating Italian train tickets
In Italy, the box-like machines to validate your train tickets are at or near where you leave the main station to go to the tracks. This is true for most other European countries as well. You can't stamp railpasses in the machine used to validate tickets. You do need to have a ticket agent validate your railpass before its first use!
Mary from Oregon
Rail Schedules on Palm Pilot
Before we left for Europe last April, I downloaded the latest train schedules into my Palm Pilot. We found it quite helpful as we were traveling the day before Easter on a crowded Italian train and were able to follow along to know when our stop was coming up and make our way to the door in time. It also allowed us flexibility in choosing trains and destinations, as I downloaded all the possible places we thought we might want to stop. The software is available at: http://www.hacon.de/hafas_e/mobil.shtml
We also found that reservations were a necessity in Italy if we wanted
to sit and very easy to make at any travel agency. Outside Italy was a
little more tricky. Most trains were not crowded, so reservations weren't
usually needed. However, trying to reserve a place on the Thalys was a
little more troublesome. We found that reservations had to be made at
a specific window in the train station (not at a travel agent), which
wasn't always open. We ended up trying two different stations before we
gave up and came back the next day. Initially, we were told that there
were no discount seats for those with railpasses on the train we wanted,
but found with a little persistance and talking to the right person, the
Dennis H. Goldsberry
Jackson, MS USA 12/11/01
Italian train ticket validation
I have been to various European countries and everywhere I've had to get my ticket to the Metro/train/tram/bus stamped or punched to validate it. It's just standard operating procedure. It isn't always obvious where to accomplish the stamping or punching, though. Can anyone describe for the Cinque Terre traveller and others in the same predicament exactly where to look in the Italian train system?
Washington, DC USA 12/04/01
Holy cow! The Eurostar is expensive! I had no idea. I should have researched more. It cost 298 GBP (over $400) to cross round trip because I went mid-week. My plane ticket from the States was cheaper. It was a nice, smooth ride, though and takes you right from London to Paris and back.
St. Petersburg, FL USA 11/21/01
well this is my first message from experience.... all 9 hours of it.
this morning i came on the night sleeper trip from Euston (lon) to Edinburgh. i enjoyed the trip immensely. it was no worse than a trip in a car, and i fall easily to sleep there. the rocking motion wasn't much different from driving on a highway with a few turns in it. but all in all the trip was worth it. i enjoyed it, and had the thrill of waking up to a bright enough morn to take a snap shots.
houston but in Edinburgh, USA 11/15/01
Rail Travel in Italy
Hey it is not that hard get that ticket stamped. This is in EVERY guide book printed. Train travel in Italy is fairly easy. Try to get a train schedule if you plan on traveling by train a lot. The kiosks at most stations offer the best guide for a single point to point route time schedule. Always carry a pen with you and write your time table schedule for your trip on the blank pages of your guide book. Tickets are not printed with a time schedule but list junctions where you catch the next train. You can get off and on anywhere between your starting point and destination as long as you do it within the time limit-4? hours for upto 200 km and 6 hours for over 200 km.
DO NOT buy a rail pass if you are traveling solely in Italy. Tickets are so cheap that you'll never spend as much on tickets as you will a rail pass. The trains are great if your destination lies along a single train route, but if you have junctions figure 30 minutes wait at each one. I've found the train system is generally 10-15 minutes late for IC trains but right on time for the milk run (regional) trains. I recommend 1st clas for IC trains going between far cites as these can get crowded, but 2nd class for everything else.
The popular IC trains are named and if you look closely at the bulletin boards you will see there is a diagram of these trains and EXACTLY where 1st, 2nd, couchette car are located and EXACTLY where the train stop on the platform.
You can buy tickets on the train if the need arises (like you are traveling late at night and the ticket office is closed) but seek out the conductor and let him know you need a ticket. The ticket will cost more if you buy it on the train.
The conductor is God on the train so don't do stupid stuff. I've seen
passengers get chewed out for putting their feet on the seats, or talking
loud etc. All in all the train system in Northern Italy is good and easy
Cincinnati, OH USA 11/12/01
Train Travel is the Way to Go!!
As first-timers to Europe, we planned an almost 3 week vacation in France, Spain and Italy entirely on our own -- with the help of Rick's Best of Europe guidebooks of course! We will travel this way again -- sure beats driving! Sit down and plan your itinerary (for the most part) before you even buy your railpass -- that way you will know which type of pass to buy. We purchased our Selectpasses from Rick because of the free guidebook he offers with each pass. We made hotel reservations entirely by e-mail and stayed in high 2 and 3 star hotels (all from Rick's guidebook). We created an itinerary folder which had our preferred train schedule, hotel confirmations and any phone numbers, mail and e-mail addresses we needed -- this folder was invaluable to us! We purchased good maps of each of the major cities we would be going to and took Rick's advice to 'pack light' to heart -- we bought our backpacks from him as well -- we had many a good chuckle about the tourists dragging monster suitcases around.
The only train reservations we made prior to arriving in Europe was for the TGV to/from Paris. We made the rest after arriving in Europe. The agents at the train reservation station appreciated our itinerary printouts very much. The only thing I would change as far as our train travel went was to make sure we made the overnight train reservations prior to arriving in Europe -- we ended up in the 2nd class couchettes instead of the 1st class sleeper cars and didn't sleep much because the window in our cabin wouldn't close.
Overall, we found the train travel relaxing and wonderful -- no stress
about reading road signs or missing turns because you didn't have a full
understanding of the language. We did not find our lack of language skills
a barrier either... my son speaks quite a bit of French and I know enough
Spanish and Italian to survive... The phrase book we bought helped us
out of any jams... and because we did not assume that everyone spoke English
we were treated with much courtesy and respect. We loved every minute
Rochester, NY USA 11/09/01
To the person harrassed about not having their ticket stamped...In Italy you must validate your ticket (I believe the same in France) and you can be fined. How much I don't know, but if the conductor gave you a reciept, it probably was legit. I have been scolded once for the same problem, but tried to look contrite and claim ignorance (which was the truth) and got off with a talking to.
Bassano Del Grappa, VI Italy 11/06/01
Interlaken to Amsterdam
If your in Interlaken and looking to go to Amsterdam, catch the overnight train.You change trains once and the last 8 hours are pretty much non-stop.Before boarding in Interlaken,buy yourself some beer at the co-op (be sure to have an opener for the bottles)Nothing like downing some brews and falling asleep and waking up refreshed and ready for some coffee and smoke in Amsterdam.Highly suggested....E-mail me if there are any questions.
Austin, TX USA 11/01/01
Italian Train Problem
An upsetting incident occurred to me and my companion in the Cinque Terre National Park on October 21, 2001. Cinque Terre park area encompasses five small, medieval towns along the coast. One can access these towns by hiking trail or train. We stayed in Riomaggiore and walked the trail to Vernazza, about 6 kilometers. It was late in the afternoon so we decided to take the train from Vernazza back to Riomaggiore. We bought two tickets in the station and boarded the train for the 12-minute, ride. When the conductor came by, I gave him our tickets. He immediately started screaming at us in a hysterical tone about not having the tickets stamped. I had no idea what he was talking about and explained that we had just purchased the tickets from the station minutes before. He said that we had to pay a fine. At first I thought he wanted 14,000 Lire but when he saw I had a fair amount of cash on me, the price went up to 80,000. I argued with him. He said he would have us arrested. A few minutes later, we arrived at our stop. We attempted to get off the train but two conductors physically blocked our exit and demanded payment. I paid them 40,000 Lire in cash but insisted on a receipt that they reluctantly gave me because, I think, the money went into their pockets. I believe we were spotted as American tourists and harassed for a bribe.
Lansdale, PA USA 10/30/01
Cheap weekend tickets in Bavaria
If you find yourself in Munich or environs on the weekend, get a DB weekend ticket. It's good on the Munich S-and U-bahn as well as regional trains (RE, RB prefixes) throughout Bavaria and to Salzburg. The cost is only 40 DM for up to five people traveling together. Compared to the 29 DM day pass for just the Munich S- and U-bahn it's a real steal.
Columbus, OH USA 10/28/01
Italy by train is a great way to go. Its cheap and on time and first class reserved seats are only a few dollars more. The American Express office in Venice no longer sells train tickets. However just down the street is Bassani Travel and they sell train tickets and they are super nice people to deal with. Rick Steves Italy guide is a must. It turned a disaster into an adventure --a pleasant one at that.
Napa , Ca USA 10/26/01
Savings on Junior point-to-point rail tickets
For an upcoming trip to Italy/France/Switzerland during the busy days around the Christmas/New Year holiday, I recently purchased point-to-point tickets and reservations (including one sleeper leg) for a family group of eight. For some reason, the U.S. based ticket outlets (raileurope.com, der.com, ...) only offered adult fares, as well as child (ages 2-11) fares at 50% off. Since our party includes some "junior" age children (age 12-25), I was able to find significant savings by ordering the tickets from the Swiss Federal Railways internet site (http://www.rail.ch). The tickets are quoted in Swiss Francs, but payment is easy by credit card. They ship the tickets directly to home addresses in the US for about a $24 fee.
Los Gatos, CA USA 10/23/01
Print out DB route plan
Our family of 4 traveled in August on a 21 day Eurail pass. We did not make any rail reservations until we arrived. Lucky for me, I did enough research on the DB (German railway web site) website and printed out our overnight selections for our trip, as well as any long-haul journeys. We flew into Brussels, but stayed in Brugge (excellent choice). Once in Brugge at the train station, I handed my printed copies of our train itineraries to the English-speaking, TI/reservationist. He was SO grateful. He was able to pull up everything immediately without questions or confusion. We booked everything and paid for it there. We booked all countries, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy with no problem and no long waiting anywhere else. Out of all the night trains, the Euro Night sleeper car, 1st class, was the best and most memorable. It was a splurge because couchettes in 2nd class were not available, but it was so worth it. It was our longest trip and most comfortable as well. Worth the extra money!
Seattle, WA USA 10/18/01
Last minute tickets: The line for trans-Europe tickets in the Amsterdam train station was very long (about 2 hours), jostling and crowded! My local friends suggested buying tickets at a suburban station. You can easily purchase tickets from a machine for local trips. I then took a 15 minute trip day trip to Haarlem & then later to Lieden. Puchasing tickets in Lieden took about 5 minutes, with a clerk who wasn't hassled, suggesting a discount method I didn't notice and who was an advertisement for customer service everywhere!
Fremont, CA USA 10/16/01
Trains & Drugs
May 2001, while travelling from Amsterdam stopping in Antwerp for the day then on to Brussels. I witnessed a group of 15 US/Canada college students on the train who apparently thought the open borders meant no drugs controls. The sweetlooking beagle and his casual owner walking to the restaurant car were actually the Belgium drugs squad! The train was more entertaining for the rest of us, but resulted in quite a substantial turnout of police when it arrived in Antwerp. Apparently the train had about 5 undercover police/drugs officers. It couldn't have been worth it!
Fremont, CA USA 10/16/01
When in Paris don't be afraid to use the metro. You can go all over town on a book of 10 tickets (called a carte) for about 85 cents per ticket. A one way trip is usually 1 ticket. It's an easy clean smooth system, easy to read maps, all the stations are marked etc.
Point to point Tickets
Before purchasing an expensive EuroRail pass, log onto the Deutsche Bahn train website. There you can price out your point to point train tickets and compare it to what you'd be spending on an all encompassing pass. We even printed out the train schedules and took them along so I'd have something to point to when trying to buy tickets at the various train stations, in the event that I couldn't communicate with the ticket salesperson.
Lancaster, PA USA 10/04/01
Do that Reservation
Its advisable to make a seat reservation if you are travelling on a long train journey. For once, I almost did not get any seat in the train from Cologne to Berlin, Germany. Thinking that I'm holding a Eurail Pass that entitles me to get on 1st class & being ignorant that it won't be crowded & pretty easy to get a seat. But I was totally wrong. It was a peak hour rush & there are pretty large crowd at the platform ready to hop on the train. Once on the train, I had to find an empty seat but it was so much difficult that I thought. After searching in three cabins, I found an empty seat but there's a reservation on it. In desperation, I just stood there & waited till nobody take his reserve seat. Once the train pull out of the station, I just took the seat & hoping that nobody will come to take his reserve seat from me. I guess this time I was lucky, I had that seat through out my 5hrs journey. So, it's better off with a reservation even though with a Ist Class train travel.
Singapore, Singapore 10/02/01
Cheap Eurostar tickets (70-75pds-RT)can be bought directly from the US by
calling the English ticket office (01144)8705 848 848 as long as you make
the reservation 14 days in advance. If you have some sort of Europe railpass
you can pay an extra 5pds & that way you get flexibility & can change your
reservation departures if necessary.You must pick up your tickets 45 minutes
before the train departs. Easy as pie!
NYC, NY USA 09/10/01
Booking reservations on French TGV trains from the US is possible,
easy & cheaper! Just call (01133)+8 36 35 35 39 & follow
the taped instructions, which will get you to an English-speaking French
agent (be prepared with a little French, particularly the numbers of your
credit card). If you have some kind of railpass you can book just the seat
reservation for approx. 20ffr/ versus paying $11.00 in the US! You will
get a 6-letter code & you just bring that & the same credit card to pick
up your reservation at the station...et Voila! Much better than attempting
to find someone to book the seat in the US, which can take eons...Bon voyage!
P.S. Be prepared w/ all your dates & times as you can get cut off automatically
by Fr. telecom after a certain period of time, but once you have the 6-letter
code it's no big deal to call back & complete the reservation.
NYC, NY USA 09/10/01
My partner and I recently returned from our first to trip to Europe this summer and wanted to share some advice with those travelling with railpasses for the first time.
1. Make sure to get your railpass validated at the TICKET COUNTER of your first departure city. We had tried fruitlessly to get our passes validated at the information window and the Thalys desk in Paris and were nearly fined for not having the proper validation when the conductor came around to verify our tickets.
2. Make sure you write in the day and date in the appropriate box BEFORE boarding the train. If not, you will be stopped and possibly fined.
3. For those slightly less free spirited or needing to arrive in a certain town at a certain time, I would definitely recommend making reservations well in advance for the trains requiring them. We took Rick Steves' advice and planned to make reservations just a day or two ahead. Too often, we needed to reserve a train that was already unavailable for passholders. Sometimes a whole day of trains were unavailable. We ended up having to pay full fare two separate times in order to get to our destination on the day we had needed to arrive.
4. Learn some of the language and be respectful. I cannot stress how handy a few words in French, Italian, etc. (Hello, thank you, do you speak English, etc.) can help you while travelling, in all situations. We found that by trying to communicate with people in their own language, we were treated in a much friendlier manner than others who didn't even try.
Travelling by train can be a wonderful experience. Even with all of our
little mishaps, we both enjoyed the rides through the rolling country,
past the glorious mountains, and along the rugged cliffs overlooking the
jewel blue Mediterranean.
Monterey, CA USA 09/06/01
Overnight journeys on railpasses--depends on the railpass. For the Eurail
flexipasses, a journey begun after 1900 (7 p.m.) can be dated for the following
day. This info is straight off my Eurail Selectpass. For more info, click "Return Home" on this website and click "Guide to European Railpasses."
Mary from Oregon
To David: No, if your train leaves after 10pm, you are not charged
for that day. It counts toward the 2nd day. About the Circumvesuvia: I was
in the region last year. Thank god for the Circumvesuvia! If you spend your
time using the bus service in that area you'll know what I mean. Driving
wins no prize in this area either. A schedule for the Circumvesuvia? Cool.
But remember you are in Italy, and connections to it are sketchy. Have fun,
Joe From Denver
Denver, CO USA 08/27/01
I just found the web site which lists the schedule for the Circumvesuviana
train in Italy. This train goes to Naples and towns nearby. http://www.vesuviana.it/orario.htm
I can't vouch for its accuracy, but I am going to print it out to bring
with me next month when I'm in Naples and Sorrento.
PA USA 08/24/01
If you are travelling by train and staying at Youth Hostels, make sure
to match, at least aproximately, train and front desk schedules. Most hostels
are not 24 hours. If you get to a city early in the morning or too late
in the afternoon, there is a big chance that you'll have to carry your bags
around or sit outside for hours before you can check in. Sometimes it is
worthwhile. I met some people while waiting for the front desk to open in
a hostel in France and married one of them two years later.
TX USA 08/23/01
The Duetsche Bahn (German Rail) website is THE BEST! www.bahn.de/pv/index.shtml
and click on "reiseauskunft" then the English button, and you can make
seat reservations, purchase tickets, and couchette reservations with a
credit card before you leave home. The next day after we ordered tickets
over the internet we even received a phone call from a DB agent in Germany
who spoke excellent English informing us our train was fully booked in
non-smoking compartment and would we want to take an earlier train. The
tickets arrived on our doorstep by mail in less than 1 week! How's that
for service? And no extra fees, and at the same rates we would have paid
at the bahnhof in Germany. They do international travel also and calculate
the supplements and add them on too. They even sold us seat reservations
for our Eurail travellers too. No extra fees like Euraide and Rail Europe.
Just wish we had made more couchette reservations before we left this
way, since several trains were sold out on the dates we wanted even 2
weeks prior (in August). You can plan your whole trip on this site, and
by clicking on the detailed itinerary they will let you know the exact
times, distances, stops, S-bahn, U-bahn, bus connections, even distance
on foot between any 2 points. The DB site is great!
David and Nancy Morgan
Puyallup, USA 08/22/01
No matter what pass you have, when you go, your location or whatever,
remember this. Italian trains are well known for being late (sometimes very).
You may or may not have a problem but be prepared to grin and bear it....I
Los Angeles, CA USA 08/22/01
I just returned from 2 weeks in Britain, using a Britrail Pass as my means
of transport. They were on sale (15 days of unlimited travel for $299!)
and worth every penny. I also purchased a book called "Britain by Britrail" that gives you suggested iteneraries based on train travel from base cities
- a great way to plan a trip. My journey was as follows: Heathrow to Paddington
via Heathrow Express (very nice way to get to the city; normal a 12 pound
ticket!). Then a few days later, London to Bath. Then Bath to Liverpool.
Then Liverpool to York. York to Edinburgh. A day trip to St. Andrews from
Edinburgh. The Caledonian sleeper train from Edinburgh to London, and then
the Heathrow Express to Heathrow. I had no problems at all; one train was
very crowded (going from York to Edinburgh the Saturday that the Fringe
Festival started!) - all other trains had lots of room. I made a reservation
for the sleeper once I got to the UK - it was a 33 pound fee, but worth
it to pack in another day of siteseeing. Travel by rail is the way to go,
if you want to get around to many places without having to drive! I'll do
Redmond, WA USA 08/12/01
If you are travelling the RER "C" line in Paris, be aware that there
is track work between Gare de Austerlitz and Invalides. SNCF is running
a bus to cover the stations, but the bus can be quite slow especially during
Kent, WA USA 08/10/01
It may be possible to make reservations through Rail Europe.com --
we had tickets and reservations through them on a TGV from Paris to Bern,
no problems. I am not sure how this would work if you already had your Eurrail
passes in hand (we weren't using Eurrail). We found that if went the day
before our scheduled travel days to stations or travel agents, we were able
to purchase tickets and to make seat reservations on trains with no stress.
I guess this isn't always possible when travelling, but it made our trip
run much more smoothly.
Columbia, SC USA 08/10/01
Just returned from a 5-day Italy, 2-day Paris whirlwind with two female friends. Since time was of the essence for all that we wanted to see, we searched the ever helpful Deutsche Bahn site for the exact trains needed to get us from place to place. Although I was all over the net for helpful information, I found most of it here (thank you!), but the one thing that puzzled me, and still does, is that it's not commonplace, and even nearly impossible, to reserve trains from the U.S. All of the trains that we wanted were Eurostar Italia, which require reservations and a supplement with a Eurail Pass. Armed with our Select Saver Pass (which we purchased from Rick-great deal, cool free stuff!) and a printout of all four trains that we needed, including arrival and departure cities and times, as well as specific train numbers, we anticipated no problems.
Wrong! The Milano Centrale station has a foreboding presence, and with good reason. It's not tourist friendly (no parla inglese-anywhere). All signs and directions are in Italian only. After several communication attempts, and one hour later, we finally learned where Eurail Pass validation and Reservation offices were. We trekked back upstairs, noticed that someone was in one of the three previously unmanned information booths, with people crowded around him for help. He told us that there was a train leaving every hour for Rome, which lessened our panic, and we went back downstairs and made our reservations.
The trains line up in the stations in BIN's. Each train is in between two BIN numbers. For the first two, before we boarded, we looked around for train personnel to check our reservation pass and make sure that we were on the right BIN, getting on the right train. We just hopped on the third train in Florence and realized we were going south again, instead of north to Venice!
IC trains, often have no air conditioning, no drinks, no comfort. The
supplements and reservations are definitely worth it for Eurostar in Italy,
especially in the heat of summer, watch your BIN's, and beware the Ides
of Milano Centrale!
Beryl E. Mahl
New Orleans, la USA 08/09/01
If you're visiting central-northern Italy in August, book a week at
a hotel in Bologna, directly across the station. We stayed at a 5 star hotel
(can't remember the name but can't miss itdirectly accross from Central
Station) for 110,000 lira (approx 60$ us, had a REAL buffet breakfast complete
with coldcuts, 6 different types of breads, fruits, etc.. From Bologna we
day-tripped out to Milan, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Rimini (excellent
beaches), Padova, Verona, and San Marino. The best part is these places
are about only 2 hours away from Bologna and as you may not know Bologna
train station is considered the hub of Italy's rail network, so you're bound
to always have a train every hour or so to any destination. And that fact
that Bologna is not on the average tourist's itinerary and that the city
, as other major cities in Italy, closes down for the August holidays you
can get an incredible deal on hotels. The city, itself, is worth a day of
sightseing, as well. This way you'll have a great hotel in a town not
overrun by tourists, a 20-second walk to the train station with direct,
quick access to and from Italy's major sights, and no heavy baggage to lug
and store in a locker. A few other quick tips, while you're having breakfast,
sneak a few rolls with coldcuts and some fruit in your daybag for lunch
and take time to nap on the train to stretch your day, i.e. leave early
and come back late. And don't worry..day trains are much safer than night
Montreal , qc Can 08/07/01
This trip I logged many miles on trains, using up a 10-day Saverpass and an 8-day Selectpass in a 3.5 month trip. Because I am a "senior citizen" I had to get first class passes. I must say, for most trains there isn't that much difference between first class and second class, except that first class is usually less crowded, so that one person traveling alone can get by without reservations unless they are mandatory. Plus the first class cars are at either the front or back of the train, requiring the longest walk from and to the station. In other words, "first class" is basically a rip-off! I sure would like to start a crusade with Rail Europe to provide second class passes for us old folks on fixed incomes. We don't have any more money than the students, and it seems unfair that we should be forced to buy first class passes!
Having said that, I strongly recommend taking the time to research the railpass section of this website for this purpose. With the Saverpass (core countries plus Austria) I basically broke even. With the Selectpass (three adjacent countries), the cost of the pass was about the cost of one RT second class fare from SW Germany to Avignon in S. France (using the TGV from Paris). This second pass definitely paid for itself.
If you're doing a lot of short hops, second class fare is definitely
cheaper. And if you're mostly within one country, they often have cheaper
in-country passes for seniors. (The best is Scanrail, the only pass that
allows us seniors to go 2nd class.) The various Eurail passes are only
cheaper if you're doing lots of long-distance travel in several countries.
Check plane fares for long distances, too. From Germany to Spain or Germany
to England is much faster and cheaper by plane.
Mary from Oregon
We have found that having a eur-rail pass for Spain and Portugal to
be a poor value. You need reservations for ALL trains in Spain which costs
a extra ¨fee¨ for the service. Skip the pass, just go. We have found that
any travel agency will make the same reservations, no hassle - but it costs
the same ¨fee¨. A good side to the Iberian train experience is they are
clean and comfortable. All the AVE trains are new. Great bar cars and service.
One mistake landed us on the wrong train from Madrid to Toledo. They stopped
the train at a station not on the line and flagged down another to pick
St. Louis, MO USA 07/21/01
We purchased a 5 day rail pass for our 2 week trip to France, Switzerland
and Italy. Our rail experience was great except that we did not make many
our seat reservations early enough. Generally, we went to the station the
day before or the morning of our trip, but ended up in smoking cars all
to frequently. On our only overnight trip from Interlaken, Switzerland to
Florence, Italy, we made our reservations first thing that morning, but
encountered three fully booked trains and were only able to get seats in
second class, smoking on the fourth and last available train. We did not
realize that we should have booked several days in advance. I was, however,
thrilled to at least have gotten seats. We were dead tired when we arrived
at our destination having only gotten an hour or two of cramped, sitting
straight up, sleep. At least our hotel room in Florence was available when
we got there. Yeah! Even though it was a miserable ride, it was definately
one of those experiences that makes a trip remarkably memorable.
Maple Valley, WA USA 07/15/01
Don't let anyone tell you that it's "no problem" to wait until you arrive
in the country you'll be travelling in to make your rail reservations.
We just returned from three weeks in Spain, France and the Netherlands
and were not able to book any of the trains we wanted. Since we had hotel
reservations and conections to make, this really put a damper on our trip.
Two months before we left I tried to make reservations for five train
trips through RailEurope (recommended by Rick Steves' Rail Dept.) and
even though I phoned numerous times to check the status of the reservations,
they were unable to confirm any of the trips. The day before I left they
did send confirmation, but not one of the reservations was correct. They
informed me (and so did a guy at Rick Steves') that I should have no problem
making the reservations when I arrived in each country. This was definately
not true. Again, we were unable to reserve any of the trains we wanted.
I can't strongly enough state my displeasure with the people at RailEurope
and the misinformation I received about making reservations in the countries
we'd be travelling in when we arrived there. As a tip: I recommend flying
between destinations in Spain. Their rail system sucks (compared to France
and Italy) and is very expensive.
Portland, OR USA 07/10/01
My tip is for subway travelers. We were traveling in a group of 4 and
at one point we were in a very crowded subway station in Paris. We decided
we should have a plan in case we were not all able to get on the car for
some reason. That plan was: Those who made it onto the car would ride
to the next stop and get off. Those who missed would get on the next train
and get off at the next stop. Once we were all together again, we got
on the next train and countinued our ride. Sure enough, the doors slammed
shut and left one of our group stranded outside later that day. It was
a relief knowing what we were to do to get back together. Of course, we
always try to stay close enough together and avoid the most crowded cars
and rush hours, but sometimes the crowds are inevitable. It's good to
have a plan. To carry this one step further, if there was a problem where
the trains didn't both stop at the next station, we would all return to
the hotel to regroup. Although that never happened, it was good to have
Daytona Beach, FL USA 07/10/01
Purchased 2 double room compartments from German Railroad for travel
Berlin-Odessa(Ukraine). The compartments were not double, but triple,
and the middle berths were occupied in our supposedly double compartments.
The conductor (Ukraine railroad) would not do anything; the passengers
had to sort out who would change compartments. Many others on the train
had the same experience. DB was selling T3 as T2. Someone else was selling
the middle berths. I asked the DB agent when I bought the tickets if he
could confirm the type of car and he told me they don't know exactly what
type of car the Ukraine railroad will provide. Kiev station is closed
for renovations. Trains are using side tracks.
houston, tx USA 07/10/01
while traveling the trains for three weeks in france, spain, italy, and switzerland i learned a few valuable lessons.
*buy a railpass and keep it in a handy place, you never know when the italian army is going to demand it!!!
*once you arrive in a country make all of your reservations for that country (especially for overnight trains)! we learned the hard way in spain when our train to madrid was booked for multiple days and there wasn't a room anywhere in paris for the night. because of this we ended up in irun (a town on the border of france and spain) for seven hours before catching a ten hour train to madrid. similar difficulty in barcelona.... (and we all speak spanish) check, double check and triple check your reservations.... we ended up in geneva switzerland instead of genoa italy on one pesky night.
*always spring for the four person couchette (especially if your more than 4 feet tall, i didn't sleep a wink in the triple bunk sandwich and i'm 5'8)
*first class is worth it....
and we still met all the characters we could have.... happy travels!
san jose, ca USA 07/10/01
American Express office in Florence: This is a not a full service office!
First of all, the lines can be long, too. (and it's only opened during
top sightseeing time) I finally made it to the counter and was very diapointed
that they could not made reservation for the neight train without the
purchace of a full ticket (we used the europass) sometimes night trains
get booked out, so it is a good idea to get the reservations way in advance.
Last thing I want to sare with you is an ugly scene in Salzburg train
station. It was already late, when a trunken man threatened other passengers
with a knive. He was finally taken away by the police. To avoid scences
like this, look out for trains that start before 11:00 pm, that when the
train waiting area gets ugly.
longwood, FL USA 07/06/01
Thanks, Gretchen for the heads up. In fact, the #14 line has been in
service for over 2 years, but some guidebooks and websites still insist
on publishing outdated maps!
My mother and I caught the CIS Alpino (a so-called premium train) from
Stuttgart (Germany) to Milan for a hefty supplement of 43 DM each on top
of our railpass. Initially I was happy to pay this as I had read that
these are fast modern trains, that you receive a complementary drink and
newspaper in 1st class, etc. What a disappointment - the train was OK
(but not as good as the German or other Italian trains) and there were
no complementary 'extras'. However the alpine scenery as you go through
Switzerland was fantastic. We saved less than an hour in travel time -
I would strongly recommend the Eurocity train for only the 5DM reservation
fee - and you would still get the scenery! On a seperate matter - in Paris
we bough a 'Carte Orange' from the metro station which gives you unlimited
metro/bus travel from Mon-Sun for 85F. This is a bargain as an individual
ticket is 8F. You need to have a passport photo to stick on the card (which
makes a nice souvenir). We had no troubles on the metro - apart from being
very crowded at times - and it was certainly convenient.
Sydney, NSW Australia 07/04/01
After booking and receiving my daughter's train tickets for Europe,
I noticed a discrepancy and I wanted to give all Rick's readers a "heads
up".The train schedules list Gare de Lyon as the arrival and departure
station for night trains to/from Paris. However, when I received the tickets,
it was listed "Paris Bercy". I called the booking agent and she told me
that Gare de Lyon is being re-modeled and that all night trains are going
out of Bercy. She assured me that Bercy was just across the street from
Gare de Lyon and that the route there would be clearly marked. Knowing
that it is always best to double-check, I looked carefully on the Metro/train
map that I had previously down-loaded. I couldn't find Bercy. I went back
to Google.com and searched until I found a much more detailed map with
every stop listed. Voila. There is a new Metro line--Line #14-Madeleine-Bibliotheque
Francois Mitterrand and that is where I found "Bercy"- one stop and a
different line away from Gare de Lyon!!
Aptos, CA USA 07/02/01
I also wanted to add a positive comment about the Paris Metro - not
to in any way make light of the scary experiences the posters below had
-- but just to express another viewpoint. During our recent five day visit
to Paris, we took the Metro everywhere. Although neither my husband nor
I speak any French, after the first one or two trips, we were able to
find our way around easily. Pick up a Metro map in your hotel and spend
a few minutes studying it. Identify what stop is nearest you and then
what lines run to that stop.(Rick, maybe you could include a color Metro
map in your Paris books) Then, when you get ready to go, decide what line
you need, decide which direction you need to go, and look for the last
stop on that line. Then, when you go down to the platforms, follow the
signs that say "Correspondance" for the particular lines and directions.
Perhaps we were lucky, but to us, the Metro seemed safe and clean. We
did encounter some rowdy rugby fans, but they were just a bit loud, not
dangerous. As long as you are wearing your money belt and remain aware
of your surroundings, the Metro is a good, cheap way to get around Paris.
Columbia, SC USA 07/02/01
In regards to the Paris Metro system, I'd like to add that I stayed
in Paris for a week and used the Metro extensively. I was travelling alone,
and had absolutely no hassles - not even any encounters with "overly-romantic
men". That's really terrible about the gang fights! I had never heard
of something like that. Overall, I thought the Metro incredibly safe and
efficient. I rarely had to wait more than a few minutes for a train, and
I thought that the direction signs were adequately marked. (They probably
could have been better, but I found my way just fine). I also took a train
from Paris to Chartres and that experience was fine as well. On the way
there, the train was great. It broke down on the return, and we had to
wait an hour for another one. But such is life. Things like that happen
in San Francisco, too. I had a good book with me, so I dealt with it.
San Francisco, CA USA 07/02/01
We too, had a scary experience in the Metro, a gang fight of some sort broke out, one man jumped onto the tracks and others began a horrible fight quite near us. We were absolutely terrified, never having seen anything quite like this. We felt that someone was going to be killed and it was literally going on at our feet. When it finally ended and we boarded our metro and returned to our hotel, my husband looked down at his pants and they were completely spattered with blood, needless to say, a relative new pair of Dockers were thrown in the trash. It was so frightening. We continued to travel on the Metro, but always felt somewhat leery.
As for the pesky supplements, we lost three days on our Eurail Pass, plus several hours seating and waiting to talk to a representative in the station, after being given a number and told to sit. We could not get out of Paris without buying a supplement and ended up going to another place in Switzerland, because the trains were booked way ahead to Lucerne and Zurich.
Then in Amsterdam, we went to get supplements back to Paris to catch our flight home, and ended up paying full fare, $130. for two, and losing a day on the Eurail Pass once again. Don't count on getting in and out of France without a hassle! I would strongly advise getting reservations long ahead and preferably from the US.
We took the Night Train from Vienna
to Amsterdam in a private compartment and it was a delightful experience.
If anyone tried to get into our room, they couldn't have because of the
dead bolts, and our attendant was an absolute joy. He told us several
times, don't forget your deadbolt when you go to sleep for the night.
I would highly recommend this means of travel, but it isn't cheap, costs
about what a med price hotel would, plus your Eurail Pass.
While staying in Paris for a week in April of this year, my husband and I relied mostly on foot-power to get us around town. When we did take public transportation, it was usually on buses so that we could enjoy the sights of the city. On the few occasions that we took the Metro, we found the path (once we were underground) to be confusing. We were never really sure that we were headed for the correct platform because of the lack of signs. We also had a most unpleasant, scary encounter on the Metro, which I want to share with other travelers. Although I'm sure that what happened to my husband on this occasion was rare, it was a very scary experience, nevertheless.
After finally finding the correct platform, we waited for the next train, feeling very lucky that the platform was not overly crowded. I boarded first and proceeded to walk toward the front of the car to find a seat, assured that my husband was right behind me because we had both boarded at the same time. However, when I turned around, it seemed that he was detained at the door for some reason. There were about six burly-looking men surrounding him, so that he was blocked from going further. The door was still opened.
As I started to walk back to see what was going on, one of the men dove and grabbed his legs at the knees and would not let go. My husband was completely taken by surprise and grabbed a bar to keep from falling back onto the platform through the open door. This scuffle went on for about a full minute while I was frantically trying to get back to my husband through the crowd. No one tried to help him--in fact, no one else even seemed to notice anything was wrong! The other men around my husband had successfully created a barrier around him and his assailant. Then, after my husband started pushing and kicking and yelling at the man to let him go, he was released as abruptly as he had been grabbed. The group got off immediately, and the train started out of the station.
After checking his pockets, etc. to see if anything was missing (everything was intact!), my husband, shaken by the experience, sat down, as there was nothing else he could do at that point. Luckily, his valuables were in his money belt and nothing of importance was in his pockets.
This whole episode remains a mystery to us, as nothing was
removed from his person during the scuffle, because, for all intents and
purposes, it appeared to be a blatant "mugging" in front of a car-load
of people. We still love Paris and will not let this one negative experience
deter us from visiting there again and again. We know to always keep our
wits about us--and, will certainly travel mostly by bus from now on when
we're not walking! We'll leave the Metro to the Parisiens.
San Francisco, CA USA 06/29/01
Although the American Express Office in Florence is open Saturday morning,
they have discontinued selling train tickets on Saturday.
Dallas, TX USA 06/28/01
I hate traveling on trains in France when large groups of young schoolkids
are going on some excusrsion. How frustrating it is to not be able to
reserve a seat, and then have to stand up through a many-hours-long trip
looking at three or four dozen empty seats which the kids don't use from
the moment they board till the moment they disembark; they are too busy
running here and there throughout the train. Just TRY to take one of those
empty seats! That's the only fault I see with european train travel.
CA USA 06/28/01
Forget the Eurail passes and buy individual tickets when traveling in
Italy. Try to buy reserved seats. I just returned and saw many miserable
Americans wandering the trains looking for seats. Also, the Italians will
try to force you out of your seats unless you have a reservation.
Austin, TX USA 06/27/01
I would highly recommend getting first-class train tickets if you can
afford them. My daughter and I traveled all over Europe and had no trouble
getting a seat in 1st class. Many of the trains we were on were packed
in 2nd class with people sitting in the aisle of the train. The trains
in Europe are so excellent and it is nice to be able to relax and let
someone else do the driving!
Tallahassee, FL USA 06/25/01
Regarding the France Saverpass, my wife and I tried to go to Provins
(a town east of Paris) one day in June. We were stopped at the turnstyle
at Gare d'Est in Paris and told that we could not go to Provins with the
Saverpass. No other explanation was provided. We then stood in two billet
(ticket) lines, with the SNCF personnel telling us the same thing. We
then went to the information desk and were told that of course we can
go to Provins with the Saverpass. However, by that time, the train had
Lewisville, TX USA 06/21/01
I just returned from Italy. I bought an 8-day flexipass for my son & a 21-day pass for myself(2nd Class). It was worth the extra money because it saved time & effort, except for ES trains. In Naples, I waited in line to make a reservation for ES train to Firenze. It was full & the next ES train was a 4-hour wait. We hopped on the Intercity train, changed in Roma & arrived way ahead of the full ES train. From then on we skipped the expensive ES & took the Intercity.
Arrive at station about 20-30 min early for best chance at a seat; often the trains are already there if it's a dead-end station. After checking the departure schedule, take a few minutes to ask at the information window if this is correct. 3 times we waited for a train that never came.
Know your geography. From Venice to Milan, the La Spezia & the Torino trains stop in Milan. I carried a AAA map of Italy to check my progress.
I liked the compartment seats better than the open car - less noise
& more opportunity to talk with fellow travelers.
San Antonio, TX USA 06/20/01
Although Rick's Italy 2001 book said I could get my train tickets at
the American Express office in Venice, when I went there, they told me
I would have to go to the train station. I don't know if this was just
that office since I didn't try it anywhere else in Italy.
Seabrook, TX USA 06/20/01
Trains in Italy have no porters or conductors, only one man who came
thru the car once, so it is difficult to find someone to ask questions
of. Also, nowhere to store luggage except overheads; if you can't lift
your bag over your head don't take it.
Gig Harbor, Washington, Wa USA 06/16/01
My wife and I just returned from a four-week jaunt through Europe. We exclusively used a Eurail SaverPass to travel through six countries and had a wonderful time.
First of all buy a Thomas Cook Train Schedule Book. It will give you great peace of mind knowing you don't have to worry about finding a train from the departure board at the station. Also it makes communicating with the reservation agents a lot easier when you have a sheet of paper prepared which includes your train number, date(s) of travel, and departure and arrival times. The agent would always give a big sigh of relief as I slid my request form across the counter.
My second tip...ALWAYS MAKE RESERVATIONS! We started our trip without
making any train reservations, but soon realized we were missing out on
the first-class luxuries the Eurailpass provides. The day we started using
reservations convinced us to continue "booking ahead" for the rest of
our visit. We were traveling from Venice to the Cinque Terra, and at each
stop the train would gain more and more passengers. We sat quietly in
our first-class seats and watched the commotion, thankful for our seats!
Dallas, TX USA 06/15/01
For those train fans who'ld like to visit lovely Sarajevo, a friend
in Dubrovnik has just emailed me that the train service between Zagreb
(the capital of Croatia) and Sarajevo (the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina)
has been restored. Bosnia is still on the State Department's warning list,
but I go every summer and have had no problems. Check the Croatian Railways
website for info.
Tucson, Arizona USA 06/14/01
There is considerable confusion concerning Eurostar train service and how to get the best prices. First of all, Eurostar is the train service using the Channel tunnel, linking London with Paris and Brussels. (I'm not referring to certain trains in Italy that go by a similar name, Eurostar Italia). For North American residents, Eurostar has designated a single agency to sell tickets (www.raileurope.com), with tickets sold up to 90 days ahead of time, and subject to a $10 postage and a $5 "special train surcharge". This site offers a $139 London/Paris one way, and a $158 roundtrip in 2nd class, plus the surcharges, which is fairly expensive for the 3-hour trip especially if you're going only one way.
Cheaper tickets are usually available to UK residents, via direct purchase there or via the Eurostar UK website (www.eurostar.co.uk). These are the Apex 14 (70 pounds, or about $97) and Apex 7 (90 pounds, or about $125), which must be purchased 14 or 7 days, respectively, in advance of travel for roundtrips (crafty travelers can use them on a one-way and discard the second coupon).
Most North American residents will not be in Britain 14 or 7 days ahead of their planned use of Eurostar, and even if they are, they may find tickets in these price categories sold out. The Eurostar UK website allows tickets to be purchased online, and will mail tickets, but only to UK addresses (you could give your hotel address, but make sure the hotel will hold the mail for you). They will hold tickets for pickup at the station, but only for tickets ordered a few days in advance, without the advance-purchase discount.
The French railway website (www.sncf.fr) also sells tickets for Eurostar (cheap roundtrip prices offered online). However, while they will mail tickets to Afghanistan or Uganda, they will not mail to North America. You can claim to be a UK or French resident and pick up tickets at a station, but reservations made far in advance will be cancelled if the tickets are not paid for and picked up fairly soon after the online reservation is made.
The DB German rail website (www.bahn.de) has no prices shown in real time for trips outside of Germany, but will quote them for you by email and then mail you the tickets for ANY trip in Europe and charge your credit card, with no postage or handling charges, and yes, even to North America (they will sell all sleeping car tickets as well; no need to go through a US travel agent or Raileurope with all their fees and surcharges). However, they quoted Eurostar prices even higher than the official U.S. Eurostar site (Raileurope), so for Eurostar tickets they offer no advantage.
Bottom line: For July 2001, the US Raileurope site wants $139 plus $15 in fees (total $154) for a one way, and $158 plus $15 in fees (total $173) for a roundtrip. The Eurostar UK site has the $97 (L 70) and $125 (L 90) roundtrip advance purchase fares plus various more costly options.
Another piece of advice for individual train tickets, seat reservations,
and sleeping car tickets in Europe OTHER THAN EUROSTAR (and not for railpasses)
is to order them directly from the German Rail site or perhaps from another
European railroad website (other than the French) to avoid fees and mailing
surcharges imposed in North America by travel agents and the raileurope
Sacramento, CA USA 06/14/01
I recently rode the rails in Europe for the first time. I learned not
to expect to love a city the minute you step off the train (besides maybe
Cologne--what a cathedral!). Train stations are rarely in the best parts
of town. As you pull into your station you will see graffiti everywhere.
You will also, of course, be lost. My advice is to not make up your mind
or be disappointed till you walk/taxi/bus to the center of your destination
city and are sitting down getting something to eat. Then just enjoy.
Westlake Village, CA USA 06/12/01
Our family just returned from a Italy and Spain, and we have a very important recommendation re: seat reservations on a multi-country route in which you have to make connections.
We purchased tickets for the night train between Venice and Barcelona. We had a reservation for the sleeping car on the Italian train between Venice and Nice. We then transferred to the French train between Nice and Montpellier, and then finally transferred to the Spanish Talgo train to Barcelona.
Unfortunately, we failed to notice that the ticket agent in Venice did not sell us a "seat reservation" on the Talgo train. Consequently, we were standing on the train for 4 hours (we did not have any francs to purchase the seat reservations--no, they don't accept Visa--and the train seats were sold out anyway). So please learn from our blunder: MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SEAT RESERVATIONS ALL THE WAY THRU YOUR JOURNEY!
In retrospect, the "upside" of our adventure was that we were not only
the people in that dilemma. We were able to converse with other weary
travelers in our same situation which added to our total journey experience.
In other words, if you find inconveniences in your travels just try to
make the best of them!
Gardnerville, NV USA 06/08/01
We traveled through 4 cities in Italy via train and overall I thought
their train system was great! We never had a train that was more than
5 minutes late. If you're buying point-to-point tickets, make sure you
buy your tix for your next departure immediately upon arrival at the train
station - this will save you A ALOT of stress.
Castro Valley, CA USA 06/06/01
An addendum to my previous post. I tried using the automatic ticket
machines for the Intercity and Eurostar trains the day of the trip and
the machines would not let me buy seats on these trains. I had to wait
in line and race to catch a couple of them, so buy in advance at the train
station when you arrive, or from a travel agent. Also, the machines were
not taking credit cards and in some cases not even cash, just some kind
of cash card you can buy, so be aware they are not foolproof.
South Lyon, MI USA 05/31/01
We spent 18 days in Italy and bought point-to-point tickets mostly on the Intercity and Eurostar trains. We didn't make any seat reservations in advance but I think it would be a good idea to make one if you are going in a busy period. We were never shut out but there is usually only one car that has open seating in it and it was a hassle to walk the length of the train to find it.
All of the trains we took left on time, except for one--which I found pretty amazing. We only had 5-10 minutes to buy tickets and catch some of our trains but we managed to get them all. It really is confusing when they change tracks on you and I always asked a few people before boarding any train if it stopped where I needed it to.
We only made one mistake and it was from not reading Rick's book closely enough. We arrived in Naples looking for the Centrale station; needless to say we were at the station but downstairs at the P. Girmbaldi station. The train left the station and I saw a sign that said Centrale, I asked the conductor where to get off and he wrote down Salerno. Luckily we were on the Eurostar so it was only 30m out of our way but very stressful. Rick's book mentions all of this but I wasn't looking in the right place for that one.
The only stressful parts of the trip was rushing to catch trains, so
try and give yourself more than 10 minutes to buy tickets and jump on
the right train. Most Italians will know which stations the train stops
at, so just ask in your broken Italian if the train stops at your station;
it is worth it!
South Lyon, MI USA 05/31/01
I just returned from our 2001 trip. Prior to going I was not able to
find any good information with respect to an overnight train from Barcelona
to Hendaye (France), and I had to take my chances that there would be
a bed available. Upon arrival in Barcelona I went to the RENFE office
and was only able to get second class sitting. So we sat up all night
with four other people--it was a long night. For those who wish to take
this train and want to insure that there is a bed available I would suggest
you try and phone RENFE prior to leaving the USA.
SAN DIEGO, CA USA 05/30/01
My husband and I just came back from a trip to Paris and Amsterdam.
We took the TVA and I would recommend reserving ahead of time if you want
non-smoking or booking first class. We upgraded to 1st class when 30 out
of 36 people lit up before we left the station! My husband is highly allergic.
We were told that 1st class just became non-smoking in Oct. This is a
great way to travel!
houston, tx USA 05/29/01
Some of the older RE trains in Germany do not have spaces for bicycles.
On holiday and weekends many Germans travel with their bikes for outings.
In the evenings they return, and if you find yourself on one of these
older, slower trains with them, you may not be able to get out right away
when you want to because they have their bikes parked in front of the
exits. On one of these trains I had to run through four cars to finally
be able to get out, and my husband had to climb over two bikes that were
actually chained to the door! We almost did not make it. My advice: sit
somewhere near an exit where you know you can get out if you find bikes
on one of these older trains.
Spokane, Wa USA 05/29/01
My husband and I buy the German Bahncard when we travel in Germany. It gives you 50% off for a year on the trains in Germany. However, the application form is in German only. You must also submit a recent passport photo of yourself (no older then 6 months). Submit this with the filled-out form and payment to the clerk at the train station. He will then give you a temporary card which is paper and the size of a train ticket and good for 2 months. You must sign this and can begin using it immediately.
The drawback: the permanent cards which are plastic and the size of
a credit card must be mailed to you, and I believe you must use a European
address (I use my parents'; they live in Germany). It takes 2-3 weeks
to receive them. Since my husband's last name is different than my parents'
or mine, we have had problems getting his permanent card EVERY TIME. The
German post office just kept sending his back so my mother had to keep
calling them. Once you have the cards, they are a big saver, however.
Spokane, Wa USA 05/29/01
When traveling by train in Europe, use the Eurostar where ever possible. The marginal increased cost is worth it for the time saved in traveling.
Additionally, if you cannot get a reservation, they don't tell you but 2 cars per train (typical #9, 10 or 11) are first-come, first-serve. My wife and I took a "sold-out" train two hours earlier than our scheduled train by getting on first.
Also, buying tickets in Italy was not problem at the station provided
that you are prepared ahead of time with where you want to go, what class
of travel, smoking or non-smoking. (Write this down in the local language.)
It is especially helpful if you did your homework prior to the trip and
know the number of the trains to the destination you want to go.
Weslaco, Tx USA 05/28/01
We were just in England for two weeks. Be careful: Reading rail station staff sold us wrong destination tickets, gave us wrong info on tracks and times. The same station won't let you enter certain areas after you disembark until you pass through a security gate and show your used tickets. There was no posting of this so we were unprepared. They held us until we could show them - nasty stuff when you are trying to make connections.
Stations and trains don't have trash cans because of security risks--implications for us with picnics.
Yes, the rail ran late and at least one strike was called when we were there. We received NO help and almost incivility from the local rail station when we asked for clarification about the strike and whether it would impact our 5-hour return ride to London. We sympathize with the Brits who suffer the delays, the accidents, and rude incompetence. On the other hand, some rail staff were great and helpful.
Travel smart; we always knew about backup bus and coach routes. We would
still choose the rail and hope that they meet their deadlines on improvements.
Ragged from the Rail
Boston, MA USA 05/23/01
My family and I just got back from two weeks in London and Paris. We took the Eurostar train from Waterloo station in London to Gare du Nord in Paris. Travel first class if you can--the coach was large and comfortable, and had roomy seats. First class gets you a reserved seat and a meal. The meals were great, 3 or 4 courses, with good service.
Try not to carry too many bags. There is a narrow shelf overhead that
you can place bags on, or under your seat, or at the end of each car there
is a small area with shelves where you can leave larger items. We carried
cable locks to lock our bags together and to the shelves. The train makes
other stops, and people get on and off. The cable locks ensure your bags
get off only with you. Also, we made a hotel reservation in advance for
when we returned to London from Paris, so we were able to leave most of
our bags there before going to Paris, and that helped a lot.
Richmond, VA USA 05/20/01
If you want to purchase seat reservations from home and find the prices
too high, try www.euraide.de. A $35 fee (for up to 5 people) and $3 per
person per trip gets your seat reservations.
I found the website http://www.railsaver.com extremely useful in helping
me choose a railpass. I had read about this website on the BestFares.com
website. Railsaver.com is so easy to use! All I had to do was tell it
where I want to travel to, and railsaver told me what pass to purchase!
Awesome tool for rail travelers.
Chicago, IL USA 05/17/01
We just returned from a 3-week jaunt to Italy and, except for a long-weekend car rental, traveled exclusively by train. Our advice is to forget the rail passes and buy your tickets singly as you go along. It saved us hundreds of dollars!
As others have stated on the tip boards, the machines in the major stations are very easy to use. Don't forget to "validate" the tickets before boarding the train! Another thing that helped us out: we bought a current 2001 train schedule book at a tobacco stand in the train station. For about $4.00, we could look up all the info we would ever need in the comfort of our pension/hotel room.
Our travel in Italy was fabulous! If you're willing to let go of the
American need to always be on top of things at all times, and go with
the local flow a little, you'll have a wonderful time and warm, courteous
and enthusiastic help will come from many directions.
Lynnwood, WA USA 05/15/01
I second the comments about printing out/writing out your proposed train
schedules. Sometimes there are long lines when you get to the train station.
The ticketing clerks really appreciate the traveler who can point them
to a schedule - especially if it is for a routing they don't often encounter.
Everyone else in line appreciates your planning ahead, too!
Portland, OR USA 05/14/01
When travelling by train, have a backup plan to cover rail strikes.
We were twice affected by Italian rail strikes last month. With reservations
and commitments, we had to find a way to move on. We finally rented a
car (very expensive on short notice). A railpass is only a bargain if
the trains run.
Bellevue, WA USA 05/13/01
We just returned from a two-week trip to Germany, traveling via flexible twin rail passes. It was our best trip ever.
One of our favorite stops was in Traben-Trarbach, a great base for exploring the Moselle. Many of the guidebooks indicate there is no train service to this town. In fact, there is a small train which shuttles back and forth to Bullay, where you can connect to the main rail system. You may wish to consider it as an alternative to sleeping in Zell. The twin towns of Traben and Trarbach are very picturesque, the TI is extremely helpful, and we loved the hike to the Grevenburg ruin. This town is really off the beaten track, with very few American tourists.
We stayed at the Hotel zur Goldenen Traube, AllmacherHotel@t-online.de, http://www.gastroline.de/allmacher/traube.html, where we were greeted with a glass of wine (at 10 a.m.--but hey, this is vacation), and were the beneficiaries of the warm hospitality of Richard and Marlies Allmacher. We had a wonderful meal in the hotel restaurant, where we were treated to an impromptu winetasting with our dinner.
The Deutsche Bahn website at http://www.bahn.de/home/typ_b_files/db_home_international_guests.shtml,
was a real help in planning our itinerary. We printed several schedules
and carried them with us, avoiding long lines at train information offices.
Longmont, CO USA 05/13/01
I have found this to be the easiest train scheduler on the net. It works
for most European nations and even includes streetcar schedules: http://www.cff.ch/pv/index_e.htm
Don't remove the cover from your railpass to save a bit of space in
your pack. The coupons are invalid without the cover. I just FedExed the
cover to my daughter in Germany to the tune of $40!
Victoria, BC Canada 05/07/01
Back from a great trip to Italy in March. I really want to thank whoever posted the suggestion to buy train tickets while at a small station (we bought ours in Assisi). If you know when and where you will be going, it works great--no lines and a friendly ticket agent.
We also found that it was cheaper for us to buy point-to-point second-class
tickets than to get a railpass. It cost us about $130 each for tickets
to Termini from the airport, then Rome-Orvieto-Assisi-Florence (with side
trips to Pisa and Siena)-Venice-Rome, and then back to the airport. Check
the website for Italian trains at www.fs-on-line.com for up-to-date prices
and train timetables. It's a great website and helped us find direct trains
and other info. By the way--Italy is great!
Pittsburgh, PA USA 05/02/01
We have just returned from a wonderful holiday in France and Italy, and traveled on our Eurailpass from start to finish. A couple of tips that we could have used:
Beware of information you get from ticket agents at the station. We were in France during the rotating strikes, and were told by one agent that there would be no train running from Arles to Nice the following day. Back at our hotel, after trying to come up with a Plan B, our hotel receptionist told us that the strike had ended three days before. Back to the train station, to a new ticket agent, who never mentioned the strike and booked our seats with no difficulty. The strike had indeed ended a few days before!
Incorrect information was given to us a number of times, but we quickly learned to check with another agent if something didn't match what we were expecting, and 99% of the time, we got the correct information from the other agent.
We also learned to check the name of the station that you will get off at carefully; some trains going into larger cities may stop at one or two stations before the main one. For example, we were going to Venice and got to a station with Venice in small letters, and Mestre in large letters. We almost got off until we realized that although we were in Venice (well, across the lagoon, actually), the station names didn't match exactly. We found that when we said the name of the station we needed to others in the train, they'd let us know if we should get off.
Watch for signs that you are on the correct platform as you wait for your train; the announcements are very quick and often hard to hear. Keep a close eye on the platform signs, AND on other people waiting. If there are only a few of you waiting and everyone else seems to be standing on another platform, check it out. And if others start moving to the exit, follow them -- this happened to us a couple of times. If all else fails, find someone who seems "local" and ask them for the train you need. People are really helpful, even if you can't speak the same language!
We took an overnight train from Milan to Paris and booked a 1st class sleeper in advance. It was terrific-- ncluded a shower, private bathroom, and a great breakfast delivered to our room. Well worth the extra cost, we got a good night's sleep and it gave us an extra day in Paris.
Overall, we would travel by train again. It was a great way to experience
these countries, and a great way to meet people!
Calgary, AB Canada 04/30/01
Obtaining reservations in France (TGV):
My wife and I just came back from our European honeymoon. We had a wonderful time, and fully appreciated the flexibility and ease of using our Eurailpasses. Germany was smooth as ICE, pun intended. France...well, France was a different story.
Half the trains that we took were TGV's, which require reservations. We could have worked out a non-TGV itinerary, but it would have doubled our travel time. The reservation cost was negligible (40 francs). The only problem was, nobody wanted to give us a reservation.
At Gare d'Lyon, we had waited in line at the "ajourd'hui" ("today") window, only to show our Eurailpasses and have the English-speaking gentleman behind the counter say that there was nothing left for today. But meanwhile, half the people in line had gotten reservations from the same man for the same train. Then we realized that the only difference was they were not using Eurailpasses. It dawned on us that maybe we should try again.
We got back in line and wound up at the window of a very friendly woman who spoke virtually no English. She did everything she could to communicate with us, and we did everything we could to communicate with her...this is where playing charades comes in handy. We did not show her our Eurailpasses. Instead, we just told her that we really needed to get out today. She informed us that there were plenty of seats in second class and gave us several options. We agreed on seats, and only then did we pull out our Eurailpasses. She gave a sort of "Merde" expression, but obliged us nonetheless.
What we took away from the experience: always get a second opinion,
don't show your passes until it is time to pay, and don't necessarily
default to the English-speaking clerk. It is a lot harder to turn someone
away for lack of seating when you have already assured them there is ample
Seattle, WA USA 04/30/01
[Editor's note: The problem may have been that if you have a first-class Eurailpass, train personnel could assume you are willing to ride only in first class. Make sure they realize that if first class is sold out, you would like to reserve in second class.]
I did a train trip 6 months ago. My first ride was an overnight from Krakow to Prague, on which I met two very nice gentleman. One of them was from Poland and spoke English well. The other was from Australia. We had an excellent three-way conversation about our lives, our countries, etc. The train personnel didn't keep track at all of who got on or off so they would wake us up about every hour, after every stop, to check tickets.
My trip also took me from Vienna to Munich, where I went to Oktoberfest. That train got quite interesting when some very high-spirited German fellas boarded.
I learned for overnighters to make sure you get to the train station
in advance in order to assure your getting a sleeper car. Also, people
in eastern Europe get on and off the trains every few minutes. Make sure
you keep an eye on your possessions at all time. And finally, be friendly,
respectful and smile. You never know--you may start a conversation and
truly enjoy the experience.
Lake St. Louis, MO USA 04/29/01
My wife and I spent 24 days in Europe last October. We bought Eurail passes and booked all but 2 hotels ourselves on the internet. We traveled by sleeper twice, from Paris to Vienna and from Nice to Rome.
Be SURE and lock your door at night. Someone tried to open our door on both sleeper trips. Also, be sure and pull down the window shade when you go to bed. The train will stop many times during the night and you could find someone with his face about 12" from your bedroom when the train stops at the platform.
Our advice: don't even consider 2nd class if you are in our age bracket (50's). You will find a significant difference in some cases between 1st and 2nd class. We had reserved seats (made in the USA), but would not reserve in advance again.
As Rick says, take water and food. Every train station we were in had a big selection to choose from and we enjoyed wine and sandwiches and watched the countryside roll by.
The train station in Nice is spooky. So is the station in Rome. The stations in Munich, Vienna, Salzburg were super. Right outside the station in Munich is a very large cyber cafe with clean equipment and food.
Our trips were a ball because it was such an adventure to us. But again,
our advice is to travel first class only.
St. Louis, MO USA 04/23/01
We have just returned from a two-week trip to France and I would like to pass on a few tips to anyone traveling there soon:
There is a strike (mentioned by previous Graffiti Wall writers) that as of April 10 was still disrupting train travel, RER service in Paris, and the operation of many museums and tourist sites. Because of the strike we had trouble getting from the airport into Paris by RER because the train stopped at Gare du Nord and then, instead of continuing within Paris as we had expected, it turned around and went back to CDG. Yes, there was an announcement in French apparently telling the passengers that, but we did not understand what they were saying.
There were many disruptions like this on all the RER lines, where the trains did not go all the way to places they were supposed to go and you had to get off and reboard in the middle of a trip. We were more 'perturbed' than the trains! After our first encounter, we avoided the RER entirely and had no trouble with the Metro.
In addition, we took the train to Beaune, via Dijon, and found that the train we were to connect to in Dijon had been cancelled, even though we had made the plans and bought tickets just the day before. The agents in Dijon told us that we would probably have to wait 5 hours for the next train to Beaune, but if we came back to the desk at 11:30, they could tell us if the noon train would make an unscheduled stop to accommodate Beaune-bound passengers.
While waiting for the 11:30 recheck with the agent and pondering our
situation, I went to study the departure board. There was a train scheduled
to leave at 11:30 that stopped at Beaune that the agent had not told me
about! We boarded that 11:30 train and were on our way, only slightly
behind schedule, to pick up our rental car in Beaune. Thank goodness we
were done with the trains.
NY USA 04/22/01
Alert! The French rail system is in disarray. We just returned from France and were unable to use the 7 trips we purchased on our rail pass.
Threats of privatization have brought on labor unrest. When the French train people go on strike, they don't stop the trains entirely, they "perturbe" train travel. This means that some trains run, some don't. Some stop short of their destinations and tell everyone to get off (our trip to Perpignon turned out to be a trip to Montpelier and no further). Our trip from Montpelier to Lyon was delayed in Avignon for over three hours (no explanation). Information windows closed suddenly, ticket sales windows closed, and information was hard or impossible to come by. Even the escalators stopped running.
While we tried to go with the flow, it was impossible to make hotel reservations a day in advance because we didn't know where we would end up. We could have rented a car if we knew the extent of the "perterbation," but every day they told us the strike would be over the next day. We had never seen any information about these disruptions even though the French people we talked to said, "Oh yes, this happens all of the time..."
We'll never buy another French rail pass. We ended up going to Germany
where the German pass worked fine, the trains ran on time and we had a
San Diego, CA USA 04/21/01
We just got back from Italy and had a great time. About half our waking hours were spent on trains; here are a few things we learned.
1) When purchasing your 1st class tickets on inter-city trains, if there are no reservations availble, you will probably have to stand or sit in the aisle for most of your ride. Buying a 1st class ticket does not guarentee you a seat. ALWAYS request a reserved seat.
2) If you can afford it, take the Eurostar train. It's wonderful, clean, quiet and fast.
3) If you cannot understand Italian fluently, check your platform sign every couple of minutes to make sure your are in the right place to catch the right train. Trains change tracks frequently depending on how off-schedule they are.
4) If you are going to be on a train for at least a couple of hours, ask your fellow passengers, "Parla inglese?" Meeting new people makes to time go by a lot faster. We met Italian students who wanted to practice their English and were very curious about the United States. We also met a woman from Russia who gave us great advice about traveling in Italy.
5) Riding the trains is like putting up wallpaper - it always takes longer than you think. Take some sort of food and water with you. Have a "plan B" so you don't get stressed out.
6) Take your Italian phrase book with you (Rick's is excellent!). In
Italy it will be your most valuable possession. Our family split up and
went in different directions up aisles to find seats. I got stuck in one
car and my husband got stuck in a different car (it was packed and you
couldn't move once the train started). Luckily, I had the phrase book
and could tell the conductor that my husband had our ticket and he was
in a car further back.
Leesburg,, VA USA 04/15/01
Everything we bought was point-to-point--and very well priced, I'd say. I didn't end up using the online ticketing service, but the machines in the stations looked very easy to use (just plug in the e-mail confirmation #), and I think the prices were the same as if you bought at the station. However, most of the machines I saw had their credit card function broken, so we had to pay cash every time (although if you reserve them online, you would have paid in advance anyway.)
I'm glad I didn't buy my tix online--because once I got to Italy my sense of how much I could do in a day and how long I wanted to stay in a city changed. Buying the tix 1-2 days in advance gave me more flexibility.
Don't worry about all the supplement business you hear about-- if you buy tix from the machine, it calculates that in for you. If you reserve a seat, it will print 2 tix (one for the reservation, and one for the trip).
If you don't get the "buy" symbol on the website, it probably means it's a slower train (I think only the faster ones have the icon, allowing you to buy online), and you have to wait until the station to buy the tickets, which I found was very easy.
I printed out from the website a list of my options on the days we were thinking of traveling. I brought it with me as a reference. It was always identical to the options presented by the machines at the station.
I went to the station (when it wouldn't be too busy, and without dragging mu luggage around) a day or two before each train trip, used the machine, and bought our tickets. We reserved seats whenever the option was available--it cost only a bit more, and was nice to have the reassurance we had seats (some were crowded, and I don't know enough about Italian schedules to have been able to predict which ones).
The machines really do look exactly like the website, in terms of scheduling. And they are very easy to use, and are in English. We had no problem getting any train, or seats. It was very pleasant traveling on the trains, especially the Intercity (IC) and Eurostar--worth shelling out the extra bucks, even for a backpacker like me. Also, 2nd class was fine every time (we took Diretto, Intercity, and Eurostar).
When you're choosing a route, take both the type of train (i.e. how long it will take you to get there and how comfy it is) and the # of transfers into account. Obviously, it's more pleasant to take a faster train where you don't have to transfer.
Note: finding trains in the station was confusing at first. Trains are listed by their final destination, which is not necessarily where you're getting off. For example, our train to Assisi was listed as "Orto." We just followed the times (not the destinations) and we were fine.
If you want to make sure, when you get to the station, there are also big schedules in plexiglass windows by the tracks, and you can find your train very easily (and figure out what its final destination is, if need be). I also used those big schedules to write down what the two or three stops before mine were, so I would know when I was getting close to my station.
You especially need to do this (as soon as you arrive) if you are transferring at a station, so you can find your next train (sometimes you have only 15-20 minutes), and go to the right track.
All in all, our train travel was the best part of our trip-- much more
reliable than the planes (at least on Alitalia!). And we missed one train,
but it was very easy to just take the next one (since it was the same
type of train--otherwise you'd have to stand in line at a window and fix
Los Angeles, CA USA 04/04/01
If you decide to take train from Florence to Pisa, there are signs posted
in the Florence train station (Santa Maria Novella) that say trains depart
for Pisa Centrale (Pisa's train station) every 10 minutes. What the sign
doesn't tell you: not all trains that stop at Pisa will say PISA on the
departure boards or binario (track) signs. We asked a ticket agent and
he explained that all of the trains to "Livorno" and "Pisa Airport" will
stop at Pisa Centrale.
Stow, oh USA 04/03/01
A couple of tips for Italy (I just returned from my second trip)...
If you are going to buy your train tickets as you go, I recommend using the ticketing machines at the stations in the larger cities. They have instructions in English and they aren't difficult to figure out.
My fiancee and I used the ticketing machines at the Stazione Termini in Rome after two frustrating experiences. First we sought train schedule help at the railway information office in the Termini. The guy sent us to a different office, where we were able to get the information, but the agent did and said as little as possible. After that, we got in a long queue at one of the windows to buy our tickets when all but one of the ticket agents decided to take their lunch break and closed their windows! So we tried the ticketing machines and found them to be pretty easy to figure out.
There are two catches, however. They only accept cash most of the time,
and you need to know the correct station name for your departure and destination
points. For example, if you type in Santa Margherita Ligure, the computer
won't find it, however, if you type in S. Margherita Ligure it recognizes
the name. It helped that I had researched the Italian Railway website
prior to leaving home: www.fs-on-line.com .
stow, oh USA 04/03/01
if you ever take the last train, or a train that will get to the next town after 11pm or 12am local time, the train station may be closed, and there may be no buses, trams or cabs. the train station may or may not have money machines, phone card machines, or anything else you need.
i got to brugge, belgium from amsterdam at about 11:30 pm, and by the time i finished looking for a phone card machine, a money machine, etc., the last bus had left, all the other passengers were long gone, and i was all alone outside a dark, nothing-open train station with no country phone card and no belgian francs. never assume the train station will have this stuff!
luckily the station patrolman asked me if i needed assistance, and called a hostel that had an ad in the station on his cell phone and got me a room. i had to talk the only cabbie left into taking the fare in dutch guilder coins, and he agreed out of pure pity. (remember, you cannot exchange coinage, no matter how large the denomination! he would have taken bills, no problem.) we ended up swinging by the town square money machine and i paid him in BF.
that's what i got for assuming! and that wasn't the only time a friendly
belgian cop pulled me out of the fire. if you find yourself in a panic
like i did, don't hesitate to ask one for help.
Houston, TX USA 04/01/01
If you don't understand the announcement but everyone on your platform
picks up their bags and heads for the escalator, follow them! Your train's
departure platform has just been changed. We are so glad we decided to
follow the crowd in Amsterdam.
Minneapolis, MN USA 03/25/01
Always be super careful, when getting ready to board any train, to check that it is indeed the one you want.
I thought I was good at this until I tried to take the EuroStar train last Nov. from Florence to Rome. It was leaving from Track 11 and was noted on the board as being late. I waited on Track 11 along with a number of other people.
The train came in and stopped. People got off the train on the other side, and I waited patiently for the doors to open on my side. I waited patiently, assuming that as the train was late they were getting the seats ready, cleaning up and so on.
The train quietly backed up and I thought it must be another train I would be getting on. But after a few more minutes I sensed things were not right. SURPRISE! I found that the people beside me on Track 11 were waiting for a different train. The one that left was the one I should have boarded! There was a SECOND track 11 named 11*ES on the side where people had disembarked, and that was where I should have been. My ticket and the train board only displayed 2 digits and did not show 11*ES.
I did manage to get the next train to Rome an hour later, but I learned
that anything can go wrong when boarding trains, even when you think you
know what you are doing. I wonder if anyone else made the same mistake
I did. I hope this will help other travelers not get caught by the "you're
on the wrong Track 11" surprise.
ON Canada 03/25/01
Annalisa is correct. Train travel in Italy is so much easier than when I was there in 1999. You can purchase advance tickets online from the USA.
However, I did not do that this time--actually found what I thought was an even easier way. Purchased tickets in Rome and in Naples from machines. They were very user-friendly and had several language options, and accepted Mastercard. Used them to inquire about schedules as well as to purchase tickets.
(By the way, I liked Italy much better at this time of year. Not as
hot, crowds were gone, and much cheaper. Had a great trip.)
WI USA 03/25/01
At Munich's Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station) and need a convenient
place to shower? The "Mr. Clean" (I think that is the name) facilities
are GREAT! They're one level below the main concourse - get on the escalators
closest to the lockers. I believe the cost was DM10. You get a near-spotless,
well-lit shower room with sink and commode to yourself, including large
towels. The attendants were very friendly and helpful. They have shampoo
and soap for a small fee if you need them. I used this place several times
as my little pension had no showers at the time.
SC USA 03/22/01
Most European trains (about 2/3, I'd say) allow bicycles on board and even have special storage place for them. You'll simply need to look for a special symbol on the train schedule (usually--surprise!--a tiny bicycle) to find the appropriate train. You'll also probably need to buy a special bicycle ticket, but that varies from country to country.
Incidentally, bicycles are easy to rent in most countries; I wouldn't
take mine on a crossatlantic trip.
Traveling by train in Italy, I learned a lot.
Number one: always give yourself at least an extra 15 or 20 minutes to get your train.
The board only shows the final destination of the train, not the stops between. For example, we were going from Naples to Rome but the train we had to get on was going to Milan. When in doubt, ask at the information desk or ticket counter.
If going to Sorrento through Naples, you will be approached by people in Naples offering you a ride to Sorrento. Remember, if someone approaches you, thay are nobody you need to talk to. Just ignore them and they will leave you alone.
If you are going to Venice, be certain which station the train stops
at. If it only goes to Mestre, you have to take another train in to the
Indianapolis, in USA 03/19/01
Reading some of the comments on Italian trains below, I thought I'd
add my thoughts. The Italian train website (in English too), at www.fs-on-line.com,
is excellent, and you can buy tickets from this site for specific journeys,
before you leave home, then pick them up once in Italy at any station
that has an automatic ticket machine (thus avoiding queues and language
problems). Check on the website that the train you want has a shopping
trolley (cart) symbol, which means you can buy it online. You are sent
a number by e-mail which you put into the machine in Italy to retrieve
your tickets. The website accepts Visa, Mastercard, Amex, Diner's and
Italian cards. Happy travels...
Siena, Italy 03/15/01
We have found in four trips to Switzerland that the best place to buy
a Swiss travel pass is at the first railway station after entry. For example,
last time we were there we arrived by train from France, obtained our
passes at Geneva, and were on our way. Ticket office staff are multilingual.
We get a first-class ticket for comfort.
Victoria, BC CANADA 03/11/01
A user-friendly train schedule is www.oebb.at The site is in German, but there is a link to the English version. The one drawback: prices are not available.
For those of you who are residents in Europe for more than 6 months
(even if you're a US citizen), you are eligible for an Interrail pass--
much cheaper, and greater coverage, than a standard Eurail.
I was researching the best rates for London to York. Although a second class return ticket can run you nearly 200 BPs, just making the reservation 7 days in advance knocks the price down to about 30 BPs.
But I found an even better deal! It is called a Fab 4 (as in the Beatles,
of course) ticket. 2, 3 or 4 people traveling together--with a few basic
restrictions that we didn't find particularly, well, restricting--cost
just 60 BPs. Since we are four traveling together this saves a bundle.
Happy traveling (and don't forget to ask the information line about promotions
Tiverton, RI USA 03/09/01
Before heading out, always know the schedule of trains available for your return trip, even if you already have a particular one in mind.
We traveled from Rome to Sorrento via Naples. When dinner ran late, we thought we could just catch a later train back to Rome. But the next train did not leave until 2 am - stranding us in Naples Station, an unsavory place after hours.
When we boarded this train, we figured it went to Termini station in Rome. When it stopped in Tiburtuna in Rome, we stayed on for what we hoped would be the next stop. However, the train kept going without a stop until we reached Florence, at 6:20 am! We were unable to sleep that whole night and were without a change of clothes as well.
Then, we jumped on the next train back, forgetting Rick Steve's advice as to what kind of train it was - we ended up with a local train that made every stop and did not arrive back in Rome until 10:20 - and were too afraid to fall asleep since the stops are not announced and we did not want to miss ours.
This basically wasted a day of our vacation. On the brighter side, being thus experienced, we did take trains for the rest of the trip with great pleasure and would do it again - this time more carefully - if given the chance.
Also, always check before jumping aboard that the train is really the
one they are waiting for, and not just the next train to pull in on the
Oceanside, NY USA 03/06/01
Unless things have changed recently, Italian train stations DO NOT accept
VISA or MasterCard--they only accept American Express. So if you're traveling
through Italy and plan to spend time on the trains, take cash or American
oxford, ms USA 03/03/01
When researching rail journeys online (such as on the extremely useful
Deutsche Bahn site--go to Rick Steves' Travel Links on this site), be
sure to check the detailed itinerary, especially if lots of train changes
are involved. While researching how to get from Grindelwald, Switzerland
to Salzburg, Austria, I spotted one that seemed reasonable for elapsed
time but involved 9 train changes. All these changes were at small towns
in Germany and several involved hiking from one station to another. I
never before knew that the shortest distance between two points was a
hiking trip through Bavaria! Lesson: computers pick up all possible combinations;
humans need to apply some common sense.
Mary from Oregon
On a recent trip to England I was pleased as punch to find that when
traveling by train you not only can chose a non-smoking car, but now you
can chose a "quiet car" which means NO CELL PHONES. This was most appreciated
because almost every teenager in England has a cell phone and the constant
ringing can be quite annoying. So keep a watch out for these peaceful
cars - they're great!
Grants Pass, OR USA 02/16/01
We waited until we got to Europe to purchase our Europass. It was our first trip and we had a difficult time in the Netherlands finding a place to buy them. So yes, you should purchase them before you go. You also get more for your money that way because more countries are covered.
We took a night train from Basel, Switzerland to Brussels, en route to Bruges, Belgium. It was an adventure. When we changed trains in Basel we had difficulty figuring out where customs was. There were no customs workers and we walked through the door without ever seeing any. [There are no customs checks between European Union member countries. -- Editor]
When we entered the couchette, we were very surprised to find how small it was. We just laughed. It seemed as if we were playing a game of Twister, but with luggage. Finally, our eyes cleared enough to see little nooks and crannies where we could stash our belongings. It was hot; there is a window to open, but it is then easy to get chilled.
I awoke at 3 a.m. to the sound of dogs barking. Looking out I saw on the platform two huge dogs attached to two men in uniform. Of course, I had to go to the water closet, even though it was against the rules to go while the train is in station. When I passed the steward's compartment there were men in uniform checking passports. All I could think was, we didn't go through customs and they have found us. The steward had taken our passports when we boarded the train, saying he would return them when we disembarked. That added to my anxiety. [However, this is the normal practice on night trains, to avoiding waking passengers at every border crossing. Don't worry, it's safe. -- Editor]
The next morning the steward told us our pass didn't cover Luxemburg, but after several anxious moments we produced the additional ticket. So try very hard to understand what you have purchased. Do not trust the ticket salesperson to get it right or to understand what you need.
Actually all the planning in the world does not cover everything that
can happen. Make sure you have enough currency with you. We got the distinct
feeling that, like everywhere else, money talks.
Murray, KY USA 02/06/01
In Germany, the BIG SECRET is the special after-7:00-PM fare of 39 DM
(about US$18) to anywhere in Germany! Check out Deutsche Bahn online,
and see what you can make of this.
The best bargain train fare I've seen lately is called the "Schoenes Wochenende Fahrschein" (Happy Weekend Ticket). You can take the whole family on a train trip anywhere in Germany (and now into the Czech Republic and back too!) for only $20 total (40 DM) on a Saturday or a Sunday. It's for up to 5 persons traveling together--a real deal for parents traveling with their children. The fare is for second class on local trains. Yes, a few take the "slow, scenic" route, but who cares? Now, there's a new generation of trains, and many routes are fast, and comfortable.
I've also used the fare traveling unaccompanied, and the $20 still beats
the other weekend prices for a single traveler. Ask for it at any DB (Deutsche
Bahn) or CD (Czech Railway) Station. They can also be purchased at Deutsche
Bahn UK in Great Britain and Deutsche Bahn France in Paris.
Fair Oaks, CA USA 02/02/01
Metro tickets in Prague, Czech Republic, are only 70 crowns (about $1.90) for a one-day pass and allow transportation on the trams and the underground. Since they are so cheap, don't try to bypass the system: validate your pass when you first enter the station. Fines are from 400-800 crowns ($10-20) and they will get you. Each time, prior to boarding, the "train police" asked for our tickets.
The same applies to purchasing the correct ticket for the zones you
will be traveling in on the Tube in London. The fines are higher there
and the tickets can be checked when you depart the train. If the zone
you in which you get off is not on your ticket, then there is no mercy.
Be careful and play by their rules.
Huntingdon, UK 01/16/01
Train travel in Italy is well worth it! Once acquainted with the system, it is cheap, efficient and very convenient. Some tips:
* If the Eurostar is an option on your route, take it. It is very clean and comfortable. Seat reservations are required in BOTH first and second class and eliminate the hassles of traveling in second class on regional trains, with unreserved ticket holders scrambling to take your seat and hovering in the doorway.
* As noted above, be prepared that even though you have a seat reservation on regional trains, in second class reservations are not required. You may need to get a helpful conductor to remove people from your seat.
* Use the ticket machines at stations to purchase tickets. You can even select your seat! After waiting 30 min. in line at a counter and finding it would take another 2 hours in line just to purchase tickets, we tried the machine. It was very easy and we got all our long-distance rail tickets in one shot. Familiarizing yourself with the Italian Rail website (fs-on-line.com) is worth it since the machines operate just like the website.
* Don't buy tickets in advance in the U.S. It is much more expensive than purchasing them there. For the same tickets on the same trains, Rail Europe would have charged more than double what it cost to buy there.
* We found trains noted as "express" and "direct" to take longer than regular trains.
To get an idea of costs, for 2 adults to make the following journies
by train it cost a total of $135 in December 2000: Milan-Venice-Florence-Pisa-Florence-Milan.
This was the first time we took advantage of European trains and I would
definitely recommend them to others.
Rehoboth, MA USA 01/12/01
When we were recently in Austria we decided to "splurge" and pay for
a first-class ticket from Vienna to Zell am See. It is a fairly long ride
(5-1/2 hours). We had the whole car to ourselves so we could spread out
and take a nap and then have a picnic when we woke up. It cost a little
more but it was definitely worth it. When we walked back through second
class, the cars were crowded, so we were happy to have it quiet. You don't
get to meet other travelers and locals, though!
ca USA 01/10/01