Train Travelers' Tips: 2002
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 2002:
Personal Web Site (w/train cabin picture)
My wife and I took our first trip to Europe in September, and we've built a web site devoted to it. In particular, I took some time to outline our tips for first timers, and we have a picture from one of the three night train cabins we used on the trip. Feel free to check it out. http://home.attbi.com/~allisonbass
Atlanta, GA USA 12/27/02
Consider buying one way tickets rather than round trip
Consider this, when travelling via train and buying point to point tickets buy a one way ticket. I once figured if already in line to by a ticket I might as well buy a round trip ticket for all practical reasons. One of the priceless beauties of European travel is the freedom to manipulate any itinerary. For example, I'm taking a night train to Prague from Munich and figure I'll return w/in the next couple days so I immediately buy the return fare. What I didn't figure was that I would enjoy CZ so much I wasn't in a hurry to return. So my return ticket expired and I travelled on to Czecky Krumlov (Thanks, Rick for the advice; I loved it) and sat on a useless return ticket. Next time your in line to buy train tickets, consider that you might stay longer than the ticket allows or not return at all.
Rockville, MD USA 12/09/02
CDG SNCF ticket office
The long distance train ticket office in CDG airport TGV station had long lines the two times I used it in July/August 2002. This was just after morning arrival flights. I waited about 20 minutes in the lines which were almost out the door. It is somewhat difficult to see which line to stand in, so observe carefully first and ask other passengers. After the wait, service was speedy and effecient. All the TGV trains I rode on were sold out. I had reserved and charged tickets in advance using the SNCF english language phone number from the US. I had to show my credit card to pickup the tickets. If you are using a pass and expecting to get a reservation after just arriving on a busy vacation weekend you might be disapointed. Railpass holders do not have last seat reservation rights; passes are considered capacity controlled discount tickets. A full fare passenger will get the seat you don't. Also note that there is a AirFrance bus from CDG to Gare d'Lyon. It is part of the Gare Montparnasse route.
Houston, tx USA 12/08/02
Puttgarden to Rødby Færge on ferry + train, and back
If you find yourself travelling from Hamburg, Germany to Copenhagen, Denmark by train, you will most likely be going by a Danish IC-3 diesel multiple unit train. That is, all five cars are self-propelled by diesel engines. This works on the line from Hamburg to Lübeck to Ringstedt where there the line is not electrified, also the entire train goes into the ferry boat all by itself! Do *not* get off the train at Puttgarden (Rødby Færge if going south), since it will go onto the ferry anyway and you could just easily take the elevator to the main deck and enjoy the Baltic Sea crossing. Remember five minutes before landing on either side, board the train. It will leave only one minute after landing, and keep going. Reservations on this train are mandatory. First class has free self-service coffee. Miss the train and you pay an extra US$2.75 for a new reservation.
Foster City, CA USA 11/23/02
DB First Class Lounges
Keep in mind the Deutsche Bundesbahn First Class lounges in Germany aren't as plush as a first class lounge at an airport. The drinks are limited to coffee and soft drinks. Food usually consists of gummi-hands (tasting like gummibears). It's just a nice place to relax, to get out of the rain, and read the rack newspapers (Frankfurter Allgemeine, Die Zeit, Bild, Financial Times, etc). Note they are in limited locations, like Stuttgart, Nuremberg and Frankfurt/Main and a few others.
Foster City, CA USA 11/23/02
Copenhagen to Malmö by train
If you go to Malmö in Sweden by train, from Copenhagen, Denmark, be sure to note the Swedish name for Copenhagen, which is "Köpenhamn". In the IC-3 trains, the languages change from Danish to Swedish and vice versa at Malmö Syd (south). Cars are called "vogn" in Danish and "vagn" in Swedish. The Copenhagen card isn't valid from Kastrup airport to Malmö, so you would have to pay at least $8 per direction.
Foster City, CA USA 11/23/02
Copenhagen Metro subway lines 1 and 2
Anyone wanting to enhance their visit to Copenhagen should consider the automatic metro subway (remotely controlled - no driver in the train itself). You can catch this train at Nørreport, and go either to Levgrafsparken or Ørestad. Both lines go to Kongens Nytorv and Christianshavn. Stations are staffed by friendly people who speak English (but please say "Taler De engelsk?" before confirming this), and they are clean with skylights letting in light from the surface. This train is completely integrated into the Copenhagen bus and local train fare system. Visitors' tickets are completely valid, and the staff on the metro subway will check tickets randomly. I liked my ride on this train.
Foster City, CA USA 11/23/02
Paris to Chartres
On a day trip to Chartres from Paris Montparnasse station, I remembered that Rick said the correct trains to look for were the Banlieue - the suburban trains. However, to get to the trains, you have to go through a Metro gate, meaning you have to have metro tickets. Instead, follow the signs to the "Grand Lignes" up the escalator. You come out on the same platform without the metro gate hassle. Walk down the platform, find your track, punch your ticket and get on. (Hey, Rick, this would be a good tip to add to your Paris day trips notes.)
Lawrence, KS USA 11/18/02
France rail tickets -- plan your trip and buy tickets on line
For anyone planning to travel on the railways of France, I highly recommend http://www.sncf.com (official French railway site). The site can be accessed in several languages, including English, and is user friendly. You can explore itineraries and various travel options to your heart's content. There are many more options and the prices are much (MUCH) lower than the US agents (like Rail Europe). We wanted to book a T3 sleeping cabin for a trip from Paris to Venice. The US agents told me that was not possible, but using the SNCF site I found it was an available option if we traveled via Lausanne, Switzerland. (The Rail Europe agent was frustrated by my knowledge, and admitted that they don't have access to all the options.) I purchased the tickets on the website using a credit card. When I arrived in France I went to an SNCF ticket office where the agent printed my tickets (be sure to bring the credit card you used for purchase -- you'll need it to claim the tickets.) Our trip was wonderful -- the T3 cabin provided us with a perfectly restful night. FYI:I had difficulty finalizing my ticket purchases until I figured out that the website closes after 5 or 6 PM Paris time. Or, at least I had no problems purchasing tickets as long as I was on the site before 1 PM Eastern Standard time. Bon voyage!
Cambridge, MA USA 11/11/02
It's not unusual to find someone in your reserved seat in Italy. Be agressive and order them out.
Verona, NJ USA 11/05/02
Security on trains
If you leave your bags on the luggage rack at the ends of the train car you're on, it probably isn't a bad idea to use a chain lock to deter thieves. My parents and I were traveling on a train from London to Edinburgh this past weekend and about 10 minutes after the train had stopped along the way at Newcastle, the train announcer asked if my father was on the train. Since I was the one who bought the tickets and nobody knew he was even on the train, we thought this was weird. It turns out that in Newcastle, someone hopped onto the train while it was stopped, grabbed my father's suitcase, and then walked away with it. The police caught the guy in the train station (they told my father that the guy looked "suspicious") and got his bag back and put it on the next train. Pretty lucky break that his bag was recovered...but the moral of the story is (in my mind) that if you use a cable lock, a thief like the one we encountered would probably just try someone else's bag rather than fiddling with your lock. Or else just keep your bag in the middle-of-the-train luggage storage rack.
Studying in London, UK 11/03/02
Trains in Italy
Just a really small but simple tip for train travel in Italy - if you know in advance the days you want to travel and to where, you can print the exact trains off from the Trenitalia website: http://www.trenitalia.it/home/welcome.html. It's great if you know in advance what you want to do, and it saves you with a lot of trouble if you encounter someone at a train station who doesn't speak your language. You used to be able to book advance tickets on this site as well. A good resource and one that worked brilliantly for us! We managed to get our tickets in less than half the time it took others and with an absolute minimum of confusion as well! Also, just a note on an experience we had with American Express... We decided that we would get our tickets from Florence to Rome from the Amex office in Florence the day before we were due to leave. We would have been better off getting them from the train station - seriously. We stood in a queue for over an hour and a half and when we finally did get to the front of the queue to purchase our tickets, we had to then queue AGAIN for the privalege of paying cash for them. Not exactly the best set up system I have encountered... We found it easy to purchase tickets at the train stations. Nowhere near as time consuming as with Amex... Plus we spoke to a couple of other travellers we met about this and they had the same experience in both Florence and Venice. Better of going to the train station.
Sydney, Australia 10/28/02
Anticipating Italian Train Problems
I was in Venice when the the strike Traci mentions was called. Fortunately the only inconvenience for us was the loss of vaparetto service for a day. (The gondolas were still running at $80 a half hour, so much for solidarity.) However, when we later tried to leave Florence for Rome our train didn't come because of a small accident outside of town. Dealing with that became complicated due to the authorities' questionable handling of the event. If there were PA announcements we didn't understand them, and there was no notice on the boards. The information office only told me "other station, you take track 9." After talking to ticket agents I learned we had to take a local to another Florence station and try to get on a Eurostar there, along with everyone else. The surging crowds looked like the evacuation of Saigon and we worked mostly off rumors from other tourists about which train on which track was going where we wanted. We had to talk a conductor into finding us seats on the train we did manage to get on. While the Italian trains ran on time when there were no complications, we learned the value of checking on them in advance. In the future I'll be asking my hotel clerk to call over to the station as a backup.
Oak Forest, IL USA 10/26/02
Rail strike in Italy
We were in Venice, trying to get to Florence, last Friday when they had the General Strike in Italy. We had gone to the American Express office in Venice the day before to book train tickets, and the young woman who helped us told us that there was a strike on Friday, so only a few trains were going to be running, but that she would get us tickets for a 12.33 train that would be running. Long story short, the 12.33 train WASN'T running because of the strike, and we had to stand in line for an hour with all the other American tourists in Venice to get new tickets to Florence. We ended up getting lucky--there were still seats left for the 18.30 train. I guess this is more of a story than any advice, but just be warned if you're in Italy during a strike! The whole transportation system shuts down. The post office was open, but they wouldn't sell stamps because of the strike. All the museums were closed. We heard horror stories from people trying to fly out of Italy that day. Very inconvenient.
Studying in London, UK 10/24/02
In June '02 my sister and I were in Europe during the high season for the first time, so we were a bit nervous about needing to make reservations. We found we still didn't need them - until our very last train trip. We hopped on a high-speed train and discovered it was completely full. We ended having to stand by the doors for 2 hours! Apparently the high-speed trains book up pretty quick, especially ones going to the airport in Frankfurt. We also took one night train, but didn't book early enough and had to settle for a smoking car. We were blessed - since the train wasn't booked up, we didn't have any roommates that night. But I'd suggest you be wise - book your sleeping car a day in advance, or more if possible, if you need a non-smoking car.
Seattle, WA USA 10/20/02
Trains around the globe
If you are looking for train travel in Europe, or just about anywhere else on Earth, check out "www.seat61.com." The website creator has a wealth of knowledge on all facets of railroading. He has been a Manager for BritRail, and has advice, facts, opinions, etc. for trains everywhere. He will even explain the rationale behind the name "seat61."
By rail from Heathrow in UK
If you have a BritRail Pass, it may be easier to take the Heathrow Express into London Paddington, then connect with your outbound train, rather than getting a bus from Heathrow to a remote train station, transferring, etc. Heathrow Express is included in the railpass, and gets you to Paddington in 15 minutes. We did that to get to Bath. Even doubling back over nearly the same route was wothwhile, especially after a long flight from the US.
Stockton, CA USA 10/13/02
Buying Spanish train tickets online
If you are traveling around Spain via rail, consider buying point-to-point tickets instead of a train pass. (For long distance trains in Spain, you need a reservation, which takes away all the "hop on and ride" fun of a railpass.)
RENFE's TIKNET online ticket purchase website enables you to buy day train tickets at least 2 months in advance. (Night train ticket reservations can't be made yet, but are supposed to be coming sometime soon.) An English language version of TIKNET is accessible from the RENFE main page at www.renfe.es. It is operational between 7am and 11:30pm Spanish time (same as Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, etc.). There is no added service charge, unlike some railticket vendors on the web.
I used it last year to buy Madrid->Zaragoza, Zaragoza->Burgos and Jerez->Madrid tickets. The Jerez-Madrid tickets were especially critical because it was for the day after Easter, would be full of people leaving Sevilla for Madrid.
It's pretty easy to use. When you buy the ticket online, you have a printable form with your customer code. You can either: (1) pick up actual tickets from a train station (provided you do so an hour before the train leaves the point of origin). Or, (2) board the train and show the conductor the form and the credit card you used to purchase it. (For the first tickets you buy using the credit card, you must do option 1.)
Using TIKNET sure beat waiting in line in train stations, and assured
us seats on the Jerez->Madrid trip. That made it especially worthwhile.
Albuquerque, NM USA 10/07/02
Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy Train, airport, luggage
I read that Pisa is a common quick stop for travelers, and that people can check there luggage at the train station. That is no longer true. The train station has a sign posted at the info desk that notes that the ONLY place to check luggage is at the airport. You can take the bus to the airport, walk all the way across it, pay to check your luggage in, go through security, take the bus to the Leaning Tower and then take it back to the airport then back to the train station. It works out and is worth it as the Leaning Tower and surroundings are beautiful and the shopping is great, but it isn't a quick stop if you want to check in your luggage.
Mineral Wells, TX USA 10/07/02
Eurail Pass highly recommended!
My husband and I tried to price out all of our train travels as individual tickets, and the Eurail Pass ended up being about the same price for us. So we did get the Eurail Pass (Eurail Selectpass Saver - both of our names on one pass, allowing us to travel in 3 countries). It was definitely worth it in terms of convenience of not having to buy individual tickets! And all of our travel was in first class with the railpass!! :) (I priced it out against 2nd class individual tickets.)
NC USA 10/03/02
UK train information: timetables and tickets
We used an internet service to create an itinerary and purchase tickets for rail travel in England (Bath - London). We used www.qjump.co.uk. We were able to see schedules, purchase tickets and make reservations. We did pick up the tickets in London from their service at Euston Station. We found they had more local discounts and so were less expensive than raileurope, and having one site was a great help because the British rail service has been deregulated and they provided information about all the rail lines.
Boulder, CO USA 09/25/02
Tip if you fly to London and take the Eurostar...
We're about to leave for a trip to Paris, Brussels and London. There is no nonstop Denver-Paris, we got a good fare on British Airways nonstop to London (aroung $600) and decided to take the Eurostar to Paris. We didn't discover til too late that the cheaper Eurostar tickets have to be for a certain itme, so we had to book a train later than we wanted in case our plane is late into London. In hindsight, we should have flown in a day early and stayed overnight in London.
Also, we didn't realize that you can't get a cheap open-jaw ticket on
Eurostar. London-Paris and Brussels-London are the same fare, but you
can't book them round trip, so you pay a lot more. Live and learn!
denver, CO USA 09/25/02
Missing a Reserved Train
I missed a reserved train in Florence (to Rome). Next train 1 hour later - I just lined up again and explained problem and got a new reservation (Eurostar requires) with basically no problem. I don't recall a fee either. Things usually work out in the end if you are flexible, creative and patient when traveling. One (of the many) things I learned from Rick is to adapt to situations as they occur and you will succeed. Missing this train was no fun but ended up OK and a story to tell.
Train schedules online
Two years ago, my parents packed around Europe for a month. One problem they had was getting train timetables for trains running in other countries (for example, asking about Brussels->Berlin trains in Roma Termini station.
I don't know why they had a problem, because the timetables are contained in the HAFAS database accessible by train station personnel. However, before their most recent trip I showed them how to access and search the database via the Deutches Bahn (DB) website (HAFAS can be accessed from many different places on the web but I think the DB site is best). So, this time they went to a cybercafe, visited the DB website and got the timetables they needed. Pretty good for a couple of 70somethings.
Here's the link to the English query page of the DB site: http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en (I noticed Rick has this same link in his Railpass section.)
I suggest learning how to use it before you go. And when you're on the
road and don't want to remember that long URL, just go to www.bahn.de
and click the "Travelservice (Timetables)" link on the left side of the
interface. That's all there is to it.
Albuquerque, NM USA 09/17/02
Discount train fare AMS to Paris
If you plan to buy train tickets between Amsterdam and France for the Thalys train, note that they have a special "Mini" ticket that is available up to 3 months before departure. only 70 of these tickets are available per train so the earlier you purchase one, the better chance of getting it. Example-Tourist Fare is $111. The MINI fare is $78. You can log on to Thalys and purchase on-line at www.thalys.nl and then click the English icon once you get into the site. Note that these tickets are non-refundable nor can you change the date.
Almere, NL 09/17/02
Train Binario Announced 20 minutes prior to departure
We used trains almost exclusively for travel in Italy. A helpful tip. Train tickets do not indicate which binario (track) that your train departs from. A major sign overhead does but not until 20 minutesbefore departure. This info would have saved me some sweat and stress.
Glendora, CA USA 09/06/02
Train station or Pick up station
Im not sure if this should go under safety or trains? I am a single female (Houston Texas) who travels solo. I went to Italy last year and had the most wonderful time (thanks Rick for you help) and learned a hard lesson (perhaps Im niave in ways). Train stations are like single bars here in the U.S.. It took me a couple of times traveling through them, but I firgured it out pretty quick. No harm done.. but very annoying. Sooo... Ladies... If you are a friendly, talkative person... keep it to a minimun in the train stations...
Houston, Tx USA 09/05/02
Talgo Reservations Obligatory
In August '02 we couldn't get reservations for a Talgo train from San Sebastian to Barcelona. So, we jumped on the train but were thrown off in a little dirt town in mid Spain. Amazingly there were several seats available while we traversed the route for about 5 hours.
San Diego, Ca USA 09/04/02
Train Travel Tip
Thank goodness for Graffiti Wall tips, suggestions, and comments. Unfortunately it is true what many have said about the dangers (theft amongst other things) of overnight train travel. Had I not heeded the warnings I would have lost a lot of valuable things - mostly memories. Not my money, passport, or railpass because I ALWAYS keep them on my person. Bags get snatched on the streets and sometimes lockers don´t work - trust me I´ve seen these things first hand during my 3 month journey through Western Europe. KEEP YOUR PASSPORT, RAILPASS/PLANE TICKETS ON YOUR PERSON. Anyway....
As far as my near victimization, I was traveling on an overnight train from Rome, Italy to Nice, France. I was lucky enough to get a compartment to myself. Unfortunately the compartment didn´t have a lock. Initially I had considered being lazy about locking my bags because I was soooo exhausted and I didn´t believe anyone would enter my compartment without me hearing. Well it is a good thing I pushed myself to lock my bags together despite my fatigue. Somehow, someway, a guy entered my compartment very early (about 3 or 4 o´clock) in the morning without me hearing him. As he attempted to steal the smaller of my 2 bags he pulled the larger bag along with it, making enough noise to wake me up and catch him in the act. He tried to talk his way out of it (in Spanish, and I don´t speak much Spanish) calling me "Amigo, Amigo" and I kept saying "NO AMIGO, NO AMIGO, GET THE HELL OUT OF MY COMPARTMENT!" and of course he did because he could see I meant business.
Thieves that make a business out of stealing from train travelers are BOLD. Think about how bold it is to go into someone´s closed compartment and attempt to steal their things, knowing that there is a possiblity that they will awaken as I did. Very bold. I am a short guy, but I work out a lot and am very muscular and tattooed and generally intimidating looking. He took a chance on me catching him and doing serious bodily harm to him. Bold.
The point of this story is DO NOT at any point let your guard down. No matter how exhausted you are, etc., etc.... All they need is one small opening and they will take it and you will lose. Had he stolen my bag, he would have gotten my walkman, camera, and 12 rolls of film with all my (irreplaceable) memories from 3 months of travel throughout Europe - amongst other things like guidebooks etc.
I will say however that this was my only negative experience out of approximately
6 overnight trips by rail, so don´t let stories like mine stop you from
traveling at night - it definitely helps to sleep through your longer
streches of travel, and it also helps on nights when you can´t find accomodations
- just be careful, and always lock your bags to each other (makes them
awkward to carry) or the overhead rack. HAPPY TRAVELS!
Washington, DC USA 08/31/02
Validate rail pass at airport
If you are flying into Rome and have a railpass to validate, do it at the airport train station. This past summer when we arrived in Rome there was no line at the airport station and the woman seemed glad to have some business to take care of. We validated our passes and made seat reservations for all of our trains in Italy. When we arrived in the Rome train station, we could not believe the length of the line for seat reservations and tickets. Looked like over an hour's wait. And the seat reservations were worth it - all of the trains were quite full, and we had good seats.
Columbus, OH USA 08/29/02
Trains in Italy and Spain
The trains in Italy were the worst! For the trains in Spain you need reservations. And if you are going from Barcelona to Pamplona during the week of the San Fermines, book your train in advance, otherwise you can catch a bus out there for $30. Other than that, the trains in the rest of Europe were on time and clean for the most part. Keep your bag in the rack above you at all times. Met two girls from Denmark who were on their way home and ended up having their bags stolen from the luggage area on their final train ride.
Milwaukee, WI USA 08/27/02
Photocopy Thomas Cook Railroad Timetables
One thing I did that helped me and my husband on our 3-week honeymoon was to photocopy relevant pages from the Thomas Cook European Railroad Timetable. There was one day that we just wanted to head to Florence for a day trip from Rome, and it was really nice to have all the Rome-Florence/Florence-Rome train schedules at my fingertips. It also helped us at the train stations, where the trains are listed by their final destinations only, and the place where we wanted to go was an intermediate stop. Rather than take the whole book with me, I went to the library and photocopied the relevant pages, then took only the papers with us. It helped us to travel light, but still have all the detailed train info.
San Jose, CA USA 08/20/02
I can see clearly now
I spent January on several of Germany's best trains and there was much to enjoy. But, I thought, why not bring my own squeegee and some window cleaner and really be able to see out of the windows?
Bellevue, WA USA 08/15/02
Please note: in most stations in France (we were in Normandy) the storage lockers and bag consignment services were all closed due to security concerns. In Paris, if one wants to store bags and enjoy an unencumbered stroll while awaiting your train or whatever, the ONLY station that seems to have an open locker and bag consignment area is Gare du Nord. They have set up an x-ray and search area similar to airport security areas.
Alison M. Piekarczyk
castro valley, CA USA 08/07/02
Don't book with RailEurope
I know I'm not the first to say this and I wish I'd seen the warnings before we booked. We paid double for first class Eurostar fare from London - Paris roundtrip. We were travelling from Manchester, England to London and met a delightful gentleman who was in the diplomatic service and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the rail system, fares and schedules. He asked what we had paid for our fares from Manchester to London (Sunday morning travel). He was appalled that we had been charged double by the Manchester rail office. We should have gotten a standard fare and upgraded to first class on the train for $15 more. The station agent should have known not to sell us the first class on Sunday.
He then instructed us how to purchase tickets from the conductor on the train at half the price and request a refund from the rail office in London. (He even took the time to show us the ticket office at the station). As we continued to talk about train travel he inquired about the Eurostar tickets. He let us know of a sale on Eurostar tickets and we tried to pursue it when we got to London.
We were amazed to discover that the RailEurope office in London would not consider dealing with tickets purchased from RailEurope in the United States. They seemed to consider it a different company.
Overall, we had a wonderful trip. We used many of the Graffiti Wall tips.
This was the only drawback but it was an expensive one. I can't caution
travellers strongly enough to stay away from RailEurope.
My husband and I just got back from a great 2 week trip - we went to several different countries and took 4 night trains. I made all my reservations through Euraide here in the US and was glad I did. I used the DB website (the link is on this site), and found all the train times I wanted, etc. The Euraide people were able to get every reservation made - and the $35 one-time fee was worth every penny. Euraide's service was great, and our trip went by smoothly thanks in part to our pre-made reservations!
SD USA 08/05/02
ScotRail Caledonian Sleeper
We took the ScotRail Caledonian Sleeper train from London to Edinburgh and from Aberdeen back to London on our trip to Scotland last week. We got a great deal on the web with "Bargain Berths" which you can get on non-busy nights - 19 pounds from London -> Edinburgh, 29 pounds from Aberdeen to London. Cheap lodging and we gain a day we don't have to travel to get from point A to point B. They were great when the flooding in Scotland resulted in the Aberdeen -> London train not being able to get to the station. They took us to Edinburgh on a regular train ride and then put us on the sleeper train there in Edinburgh which they held for us.
Seattle, WA USA 08/05/02
Folks, believe what you hear about crime (theft mostly) on subways/metros. Wear your fanny or daypacks on your front. You may think you can tell if someone is getting inside your pack, but you cannot, unless you are the princess and the pea. these people are very skilled at opening zippers, cutting out bottoms, etc and taking your cameras, etc. I was lucky, I caught the guy while in the act, unfortunately, he managed to disappear before I gathered my bearings enough to go after him. Don't assume it won't happen to you. I've watched the natives, especially in Rome. It's a family affair. The adults get their kids on with them and distract you with either guitar playing, having their kids do something to distract you (gee, they're so cute), and bam, your stuff is no longer in your bag, pocket, etc. It happens right under your nose. BEWARE, IT'S SO EASY FOR THEM.
boulder, co USA 08/01/02
Train Reservations and Smoking Cars
My sister and I returned from a four week trip to Europe. We did not have any reservations ahead of time because they were too spendy to buy in the states. We rode on a night train from Madrid to San Sebastian. ($9 euro supplement) We also rode on the TrenHotel from Barcelona to Milano ($60 euro supplement and worth every penny!)
To save time in the train stations, I would always call and make reservations on the phone. The line to pick up tickets for phone reservations is always shorter than to make reservations.
When we arrived in Italy, I waited 30 minutes and made all of our reservations in the station for our travel in Italy. By making reservations in Europe we allowed ourselves a lot of flexibility!
The only glich we ran into was we could not get a sleeper car from Paris to San Sebastian. The Festival of San Fermin was occuring close to San Sebastian and all the trains were sold out. Rather than sit up a whole night, we found a cheap airline ticket and flew to Bilbao.
Also, never ever sit in the smoking cars. My sister is a smoker and she
recommends this as well! We rode from San Sebastian to Barcelona in the
smoking car. (That's all they had left...) It was hell on earth. There
was no air and people were chain smoking. There was nowhere to escape
either. The food car had just as many smokers! If you are a smoker, I
would recommend sitting in the non-smoking car and simply smoking between
cars or in the food car. (Both are permissible and the norm!)
Vancouver, WA USA 07/31/02
Re Train Trips
No one told me. I had tickets that I did not order. I ordered tickets on DB train site. I requested a sleeper car in the correct area (I sent email before ordering tickets to make sure I was ordering correctly which caused 1 day delay on ordering tickets) I was sent tickets for couchette for 6 people. Not the sleeper I requested. I emailed DB when I recieved tickets. This was not a mistake it was only sleeping left on train 1 day after tickets went online to purchase. DB told me the train only had couchettes for 6 person left when I ordered tickets and that is what they sent me. The 4 person couchettes were full also (3 of Us).Since the tickets we were sent were not what I requested they told me I could mail tickets back to them and get a full refund. We have now reserved a hotel for the night in Munich and have tickets for the next day.The only thing I can think of is that it was on a Friday night and that is why sleeper on train was full so soon. I did not go to rail europe because they charge more than Deutsche Bahn.
Lynnwood, Wa USA 07/31/02
RE: Train tips
Kathy, that's really hard to believe. It would have been useful to mention WHO or WHERE you were told it was sold out. I've heard of people being told by RailEurope that things weren't available when they WERE, from other sources.
PA USA 07/31/02
train traveler's tips
We are traveling on train in Sept. we could not get reservation in sleeper car 59 days in advance. They start selling them 60 days in advance . I was surprised to find it all sold out in 1 day. This was Munich to Milan overnight train.
Lynnwood, wa USA 07/28/02
French Train Travel
Trains in France are definitely the way to go...however, be sure to make reservations out of busy stations- we spent 6 hours in one Paris station waiting for our train since we had already checked out of our hotel. We got in the habit of just making the next leg reservation as soon as we got off the train- it might cost a few euros, but it was worth knowing what time to be at the stations.
Houston, TX USA 07/28/02
Theft on ICE train
Watch your back!! Really, watch your backpack. I was in Duivendrecht, Holland, changing to an ICE train. My rolling case was ahead of me and I put the backpack on my back for a few minutes to lift the case onto the train. Someone ahead of me did not move (in retrospect, he blocked me) and when I sat down and got settled noticed that two zippered sections of my backpack had been opened. A case which held my medications was missing. I notified the conductor and he asked me if I had lost my passport or money - I said no. He said it happens nearly every day either in Amsterdam Centraal or Duivendrecht. Luckily I wore a vest and had my passport and money on my body.
Buffalo, NY USA 07/26/02
advance purchasing from the US
When buying tickets and reservations in advance (from the US), purchase them in the country of use via the web or phone, and have them delivered to your hotel. I bought overnight 'gran clase' cabins in Spain for half of the cost of raileurope.com (the only way to purchase & get delivery in the US) and had the tickets couriered to my hotel for e3.50. I called my hotel in advance and they gladly accepted the tickets and paid the courier fee. The two international phone calls were worth the money saved
Baltimore, md USA 07/23/02
Train Travel in Europe
1. Reserve in Italy 2. watch the board and be careful to get on right train 3. Try to avoid busy travel days 4. Be careful of theft
Edmonton, AB Canada 07/22/02
Be Prepared to Pay More on the Trains
Trains are great in Europe and affordable but be prepared to pay the conductor more money on a train between countries--they still haven't worked the bugs out of this European Union. We bought tickets in Switzerland to Florence and I asked if all costs were included, including reservations? I was told they were complete. But all seats on the EuroStar between Milan and Florence were for those with seat reservations which it turns out we did not have--only a "reservation" for the train, but not specific seats.
The officials in the little office on the track were totally useless and only said we could not ride the train. It seemed the only option was to go stand in a long line at the ticket office--and miss the train in the process but they did not care.
I found a sympathetic conductor who said we could board (after checking his list of seat assignments) and pay an additional 32 euros for the two of us (to him, with a receipt, after we were on our way). We almost missed the train and ended up on a much slower regional a few hours later.
I was amazed at how many Italian passengers paid on the train, it was not a big deal like the bureaucrats in the track office made it to be.
Then we took an "EC" train to Munich and again verified with the ticket office in Florence that it was complete, with seat reservations? I was assured this was the case. This time, the seat reservations worked fine but the German conductor demanded a "supplement"--fortunately for only 7.20 euros which I had. He said the Italians did not always collect a German supplement. Telling him to complain to the Italians did not help (or why there even was a supplement?).
My comments are (1) be prepared to pay more, (2) don't let them bully
you, just do it and make them solve the problem, (3) give them a non-threatening
argument so hopefully they fix their system--you are not an ugly American
if you don't let them "railroad" you, (4) don't pay unless you get a receipt.
Finally, enjoy the trip.
Olympia, WA USA 07/22/02
Re: Train conductors. on a train back to Salzburg a train conductor attempted to stamp another day on my train pass. He claimed that my 7 was a 1. Another conductor had already stamped that day with the correct date--6/27. If I hadn't checked pass, I would have had to pay again down the line. I knew he was guilty when he tried to get help from another passenger. He had to write a note on the back that day 6 of my 8 days pass was still valid. Check each time a train person looks at your railpass.
Grand Rapids, MI USA 07/19/02
Rail passes-good prices and advice
We just returned from a month long trip to Europe (with our two kids) and just wanted to mention EurAide which is where we bought our rail products. Alan Wissenberg from EurAide is extremely helpful (everything is done via e-mail from Germany) with questions and advice AND he was able to save us money on some of the rail products that we bought. Some of the things (like rail passes) they charge the regular rate, but on Eurostar and Thalys and on individual reservations, EurAide was able to save us cash. Their website: http://www.euraide.de/ is not as slick as Rail Europe for example, but I value savings and competent advice more than the flashy web pages. Anyway, high praise for EurAide!
Whitefish Bay, WI USA 07/18/02
Take the train!
Train is the way to go ! Originally, my trip had included a rental car. I am SO glad that we decided to can the car for the ever present train in Spain. I cannot count how many times my husband and I turned to each other and said, "I am SOOO glad we decided not to drive here!!" Many of the best towns we visited were not meant to be driven. Streets are rediculousy narrow! The trains are clean, on time, frequent, and inexpensive. Americans: If you think we had high gas prices, just wait till you see the price of gas in Spain... Many of the areas our trains passed through were picturesque, and we could both experience the beauty without having the stress of driving. Also on the train, you don't have to worry about the designated driver...;) Have fun. GO RENFE!
NV USA 07/18/02
Thieves on board german trains! Be Careful
For years, I never thought I would need to worry about thieves on board a train in Germany. I was always comfortable leaving my stuff in the seat compartment and going to the bathroom or to the bar car. Not anymore! On my parents last trip on a German train someone stole my dads leather coat. He had just bought it for $600, took it on the train, went to the bar car and came back and it was gone. I'll be there with my germanRail pass next month. I went my Home Depot and bought a 5 foot piece of chain (.49 a foot) along with a small Master lock ($2.49). I'll be locking all of my belongings up this time.
eht, nj USA 07/15/02
I loved the trains in Italy
I just returned from a 2 week trip through Italy and I had a FANTASTIC time! Since we were both under 26 (24 to be exact) we were able to purchase youth train passes at a discount. We purchased 8 day, 2nd class flexi passes and we were so glad we did. Although most people in Italy are very helpful with the language, people at the train station were not. With the pass you can figure out your travel on your own by reading schedules and asking locals. The only train we had to pay a supplement for was the train from Venice to Florence since it was a Eurostar train. Yes, individual tickets are probably cheaper, but the convenience alone makes it worth it. Train travel in Italy was fast, cheap and clean. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS get a non-smoking car even if you are a smoker, Americans are just not used to the amount of smoke in the cars. Thanks Rick for helping us realize we could do a trip like this alone and have an AWESOME time!
Cleveland, OH USA 07/09/02
Make reservations early
We just arrived home from a fantastic three weeks through England, France, Italy and Switzerland. We were advised to wait until we were in Europe to make train reservations. While we never missed a train, our family of four (two kids ages 10 & 11) didn't always end up together, and often were left with seats in the smoking cars...yuck! If you have time, spend the extra few dollars and get your reservations before you go. You'll save headache and frustration, not to mention endless lines in train stations when you'd rather be on your way. Happy touring!
Duvall, WA USA 07/07/02
Forget cooks, forget even the eurail rail gide that comes with your pass. They are too hard to follow and don't list all the destinations from a particular city. the easiest thing to do is just go to the arrivals and departures board when you get to a station and check for the train you want to leave on. they list most of the destinations between the station you are at and the end of the line stop.
Also, when asking for information on trains don't say for example when does the next train for Genova leave? This is what I did at Milano Centrale and they kept telling me I either had to go to a different station or a really much later time. Since we wanted to go from Milano to the Riviera through Genova and Ventimiglia, I said what about a train to Ventimiglia? Then the same lady said there is one that leaves in about 15 minutes that goes to Ventimiglia and it stops in Genova!
The other hint is to make sure you can pronounce the name the way it is pronounced (and spell it too) in the country in which it is located.
If you are in a hurry, take a TGV train. The reservations are availble at any train station and even at the RER/metro stop Musee D'Orsay. Some are as little as 1.50 euros each but are usually 3 euros. You can make them anytime on your trip and should if you are really particular about what time you need to leave or arrive at a location.
Also it is hard to get a train midday compared to mornings and supertime. If the train is at an intermediate stop, get on and then find your seat or it may leave before you find the right car.
Don't forget to punch your reservation crd in the punch machine before you enter the track area (not your pass) and don't get mad at conductiors if you didn't do something correctly, even if you didn't know you were supposed to.
Follow the signs; most are bilingual with english being the other language because asking directions when you can't pronounce the locations and don't understand the language is not helpful.
Know the end stop on the RER and metro in paris because that is how the
signs are written and it is important so you end up on the right track
going in the right direction.
Janice L. Killingbeck
Saginaw, Michigan USA 07/05/02
Train Travel to Rome
When debarking at Rome's Termini station be aware that young men who have secured the luggage carts are using them to grab you luggage when you get off the train. They will start loading your luggage on their carts (actually those are anyone's carts but they hold on to them to make a few Euros). They take off like a shot and asking you if you want a taxi. Then they expect 5 Euros and will argue to get it. I outfoxed one of these guys and he was quite irate. Also the Archeobus you recommended is not too bad a deal if want to ride and see the sights. The guides do not speak english very well and cannot answer questions in english. this is a great way to ride on the Appian way, see the aquaduct, and visit the catacombs of St. Sebastian.
Chatham, Il` USA 07/04/02
Train Travel in Italy
I'm in Italy now in the middle of two months of Italian classes. I bought a flexipass for my train travel. It would have been cheaper to buy one way tickets each time in Italy (1st class, even with reservations) than I spent on the pass. And you can buy 1 way tickets quickly from automated machines in the train station with a credit card or cash. Cheaper than the pass, just as flexible, and no need to stand in the lines which move painfully slowly. However, if all of your trips are long-distance (Napoli - Milan, for instance), the pass ends up as a better value. This weekend, a RT Bologna - Genoa ticket in 1st class costs about $26 per person (just checked today). 1 day of an 8 day 1st class pass costs closer to $35 or $40. For shorter trips, or if you take some of the 2nd class only trains (with the 1st class pass), the difference between pass and 1 way tickets is more pronounced.
San Francisco, CA USA 07/02/02
Europe train rates and tips
I bought rail passes (flexisaver 5 day pass for germany, benelux and france) from Euraide (very helpful) for $294 each but found that I probably would have done better buying individual tix. We traveled from Prague to Paris through Nurnberg, Rothenburg, Bacharach, Koln, Brugge to Paris. The tickets from Prague to Nurnberg were only $35 each. The tickets to Rothenburg were only $13 for both of us on a "happy weekend pass" The tickets for the rest of the trip, including the K-D boat on the Rhine would have cost us less than $150 each. Plenty of seats in every train, and not enough difference between 1st and 2nd class to make it worth while. The Brussels to Paris high speed train (thalys) requires a $20 supplement, but you get there fast and you get a free meal and wine. (for second class, this supplement is about $10)
The local trains in Germany are great, but be ready to get off. They
only stop for a few seconds. Going from Brugge to Brussels, most trains
stop at the Centraal station (great for seeing the Grand Place and downtown),
but you have to catch the paris train from the Midi station (also called
Sud, or south) Easy to catch a train from any station to any other. We
caught a train from Paris to Chartres (Montparnasse station) - a great
half day trip to see the cathedral. When you take the RER train to the
CDG airport, the American Airlines terminal is terminal 2. Make sure you
save your RER ticket, because, unlike the metro, a conductor will check
it. Great tips in the rick steves books.
grapevine, tx USA 06/20/02
German rail tickets
Perhaps this is already well-known: for train trips of over 100km, the passenger has up to 4 days to complete the trip. Thus, it can be cost-effective to purchase a point to point ticket via the longest route possible.
For instance, just returned from a trip that took me from Frankfurt am
Main to Berlin. Rather than taking the more direct route that passes through
Hannover (4hours), I traveled via Nuernberg/Leipzig (11hours). The ticket
cost nearly the same, but afforded some of the flexibilty of a pass.
Palo Alto, CA USA 06/19/02
Buy tickets online - aviod Raileurope
Raileruope quoted us $284 per ticket, RT from Frankfurt to Berlin on the ICE. We purchased the same trip for $113 each on the Germanrail web page. It was the same price as purchasing tickets in Germany, but were able to have them before arrival so we could go directly to the train at the airport. The tickets were from the Frankfurt airport to Berlin. The price was the same as from the main train station, so we did not have to pay any extra to get into Frankfurt.
Columbus, OH USA 06/19/02
Rail Europe Insultingly Overpriced
Rail Europe charges too much for train tickets. For roundtrip TGV tickets Paris-Tours, Rail Europe charges $128.00 (including reservation fee), possibly more if they have a handling fee as well. I had a friend buy a ticket for me in Marsaille and mail it to me. She paid 50 Euros (what's that, about $47.00?). Unbelievable difference! What, is it because we're Americans or do we just look stupid!
Portland, OR USA 06/18/02
Advance tickets through Rail Europe
We purchased advance tickets for the Eurostar train from London to Paris for the Chunnel train. We unfortunately had to reschedule at the last minute due to an emergency and I was told that there is no rescheduling allowed with our ticket, and also no refunds!! I called the UK office and was told that because I purchased the tickets in the US, they could not reschedule the tickets either. Also, they have to have the tickets in their office three days prior to the departure date to even consider re-booking the tickets. What a rip-off!! I am still waiting to hear if they will let me use the tickets at all!
Redding, CA USA 06/18/02
Want to pay more? Try Rail Europe.
We just returned from three weeks in Spain and for the first time used trains for our between-city travel. Since we weren't familiar with Spanish trains/stations, we thought to ease the stress of the first few days (which included a round trip to Toledo and an overnight to Barcelona) by buying tickets from Rail Europe here in the States. We paid $15 for each one-way to Toledo and about $180 per person one way for our overnight to Barcelona. (Yeah, flying would have been cheaper but we thought the train would be more romantic.....). On the way to Toledo, a young woman sat in our compartment and when she paid for her ticket on the train, he charged her $4.80! Later, in Barcelona we asked what the overnight fare from Madrid was and they told us $78. We also confirmed the Toledo price. I knew there would be some increase in price (handling charges and all that) but between 2.5 and 3 times the price?? We were floored. I strongly advise against prepaid from Rail Europe. I don't know what the cost would be if you bought direct from RENFE online. (how's your Spanish?). All the tickets we bought on site in Spain were no problem.
Tucson, AZ USA 06/15/02
Get reservations in Europe, I wouldnt bother getting them from RailEurope/EurAide. Just returned from our 3.5 week Europe adventure... boy I didnt wanna leave! Buying reservations are cheap when bought at the train station... we never had a problem reserving seats for any of our trips. We would reserve a day before our journey and we would always have seats avaliable. Be sure to reserve a day or more in advance for the fast trains in france (thalys type). If it's your first time riding Europe's rails, relax... its a piece of cake! We mapped out our trip as we went along... night train from Amsterdam to Munich was a great night's sleep. I reccomend you to bring along a pair of foam ear-plugs for sleeping on trains...works wonders! Also be sure to reserve a few days in ahead for night trains...they fill up more quickly.
Fort Collins, CO USA 06/11/02
Reservations - Italy, Germany, Austria
We spent 2 weeks in Italy, Germany and Austria. For Eurostar Italia, reservation is required, it cost 9 Euro for 2nd class and 13.5 Euro for 1st class, actually 2nd class seats are as comfortable as 1st class, don't go for the 1st class. On one day, we planned to travel from Florence to Pisa to Rome. The fastest way from Pisa to Rome is take a train back to florence and ride the eurostar, but it cost E$9. But there are also trains from Pisa that goes directly to Rome ( non-eurostar ) and it only took about 1/2 hour more, the reservation is E$3 only.
We only reserved seats for trains that are less frequent and the duration
is longer than 2 hours. For trains that leaves ever hour, we just hop
on and there were plenty of seats to choose. Sometimes there are trains
that are not listed in the schedule that come with the Rail pass, always
check the poster in train station.
Vancouver, BC CANADA 06/11/02
something positive about RailEurope, for once
Regarding a previous poster's comments about RailEurope: I've been dealing with them for the last 2 months in regards to a trip coming up this week. Overall they've been very helpful, but I do note that the agents do vary in quality. They are also much more expensive than purchasing tickets on arrival in Europe, but the trade-off is time saved on the road and some measure of security if one's itinerary is pretty well set. They don't list all point-to-point connections on their website, but that doesn't mean they can't book a valid unlisted routing. They are in the process of converting over their computer booking systems, so if a route doesn't appear on the new system they either have to use the older one as back-up, or manually input the ticket. Not all agents may know that they have to do this (but now YOU do). And some routes can't be booked, such as domestic routes in Belgium, which are unavailable to reserve by anyone. As a division of SNCF, RailEurope uses the same booking computers as their counterparts in France, so what the French can book REG can as well.
Los Angeles, CA USA 06/09/02
Reservations not required... Really I mean it
Returned from a month trip in Europe (entire month of May). It was absolutely great. We didn't have a single reservation and made everything there. We had a total of 13 night travels. Got all our reservation done there without a problem. The only reservation I was unable to get was from Paris to Madrid; so, went from Paris to Lisbon instead (and came back to Madrid from Lisbon). Reservation are about 2.60 - 3.00 Euros when required Second class couchette cost 10-18 euros depending on where you do it. The cheapest reservation was in Germany and most expensive in Spain & Netherlands. I was surprised that the reservation cost varied between countries. Relied a lot on Thomas Cook European Rail Table. It's really a must if you are traveling a lot. Train folks (conductors, reservation people) were all absolutely great, most spoke some English. And if you have Eurail pass don't miss the freebies Rhein Cruise (Mainz - Koblenz) Cruise between Stockholm - Helsinki/Turku Lake Ferries in Switzerland. Eurail pass was pure fun. We loved hopping trains (76 in total on a 30 day journey) and didn't miss a single train.
Denver, CO USA 06/07/02
Beware RailEurope's schedules
I just made sleeper reservations for my European honeymoon in August through DER. The first company that I tried calling, however, was RailEurope. I was extremely dissatisfied with their service! First of all, the background noise was so loud that I could hardly hear what their representative was saying to me. Also, I had done some research on the DeutscheBahn site prior to making my reservations, so I knew that there was a night train going from Naples to Venice. I thought it was interesting that this particular train did not show up on RailEurope's Fares and Schedules website, but I shrugged it off. However, their agent told me that they are only allowed to make certain reservations, and for the ones that do not show up on their particular website, I would have to wait until I got to Europe to make those sleeper reservations. Well, that was unacceptable to me, so I called DER instead. Their representative made the reservation for me without any problems. I guess the important thing to note is beware of RailEurope -- they may not post ALL possible trains on their Fares and Schedules website, just the ones that they can make reservations for. Stick with the DeutscheBahn website; it is EXTREMELY accurate. All the research I did on their website matched exactly what the DER representative had. I was very pleased with DER's service and level of professionalism!
San Jose, CA USA 06/06/02
Travelling between Seville and Madrid on the AVE (high speed) train
If you are planning on going from Madrid to Seville on the AVE high speed train, be advised that when I was there in May, Sunday tickets were all sold out in tourist class five days early. This meant we had to book club tickets, with about a $60 premium. As it turned out all of the plane tickets were sold out for that day too! So if you're making this trip this summer, you may want to book your AVE tickets before you leave the country.
Tonnvane (remove "_" from Email to write me)
Seattle, WA USA 06/06/02
Train travel in Great Britain
For planning train travel in the U.K., I've made extensive use of the RailTrack site - http://www.railtrack.co.uk - to plan my travels. They provide great easy use schedules for all trains in England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland. For my two past trips and my planned third trip, I've always bought a BritRail pass which not only saves money but also the time and hassle of buying tickets there. Never needed to make a reservation, we always found a train seat just by showing up.
L.A., CA USA 06/04/02
Train Tickets for France - SNCF
I'm off for a bike trip in France needed to get to the start and back from the finish. Bought tickets online at www.sncf-voyages.com. I was able to get the tickets at a discount 30 days ahead chose special rates decouverte J30 if 30 days or J8 if less then 30 but more then 8 days. Tickets from Paris to Bordeaux and back to Paris from Grenoble are costing me 80 euros. Its also a great site interms of looking up schedules.
Seattle, WA USA 06/04/02
Overnight trains in Britain: Win one, lose one...
Last month I booked & took an overnight train from Glasgow to London that departed at 2355 on the last day of my BritRail Pass, relying on this website's assertion that an overnight journey begun on the last day of pass validity would be covered by BritRail. This is in fact the case; the clerk who sold me my berth & the conductor onboard were both well aware of the provision & there was absolutely no hassle. Be warned, however, that your £33 (roughly $50) buys you only ONE berth in a TWO-berth compartment. On my trip, even though the car was only half-full, ScotRail (the denationalized rail company in control) took great pains to make sure that every one of us had a "roommate"--& then charged anyone who wanted a "private" compartment an additional £16 for permission to move into one of the many compartments left unoccupied by this tactic.
Baltimore, MD USA 06/03/02
Trains in Italy
We enjoyed the train travel (99% on schedule!)during our stay in Italy, using Second Class the whole time with no trouble at all. Everyone we met everywhere was helpful and friendly.
Anyone booking a Eurostar chunnel return trip beginning in London should check out Eurostar's UK website (http://www3.eurostar.co.uk/index.html). Normal rates for a Leisure 14 day advance round-trip 2nd class ticket to Paris or Brussels with a weekend stay are 79 pounds per person (about $120). However, they just started a special for travel through August 14. The Summer Special rate for the same ticket is 59 pounds. This is about a $30 savings per round-trip per person from regular UK rates. It's an even more significant savings when compared to the tickets marketed in the states. I have to pick my tickets up at the station when I arrive but I almost prefer that to worrying about them.
Roseville, CA USA 05/30/02
We just spent 30 days traveling in Italy by train for almost all of it. We did have our Italy Rail Card passes and stopped three times at Travel Agencies to get our reservations which worked wonderfully well and I recommend it highly!! We did travel both Eurostar and InterCity trains and enjoyed both. We did have one 2nd class experience on a TrainItalia Promotion day -- the first class and second class tickets were the same price so all the Italians booked first class and there were no first class reservations left so we enjoyed a really really crowded six seat compartment with no room for bags because people with no reservations had thrown their bags up on top -- so we sat with ours stacked inbetween us! Thank goodness we had only one Back Door Bag apiece!
Dundee, OR USA 05/28/02
re: Italian Trains
The Italian FS website is very handy for planning and deciphering the jumble of the station train schedule. I jot down the trains leaving and connections and find my train right away. The schedule station schedule lists all of the festival and weekday trains that may not be running the day you are traveling. Also, don't plan connections too tight in Italy, not unusual for trains to run late.
Cheap tickets from London-Scotland
www.scotrail.co.uk is offering cheap tickets from London to Edinburgh and further north on its sleeper service. They go from Euston station and take the whole night to get to their destination, though some of the time is spent in the sidings. You can get a single (one-way) berth for about $40, which is very good, if you book ahead. It saves on a night's accommodation fees too. Even at the full price of about $160 for a return trip, you can see how much you could save. You get travel and a night's accomm. thrown in!
London , U K 05/25/02
My wife and I just returned from a trip to northern Italy. We purchased tickets point to point since we were only going a couple of places. Before the trip I went to www.trenitalia.it and printed out a schedule for each leg of our trip. This saved us a couple of times when a station master in small towns spoke NO English. Also, be aware that although you may be able to use a credit card to purchase tickets in the big cities the small town stations may not take credit cards. We ran into a "touchy" situation in Santa Margherita when he would not take a credit card, and for some unexplained reason the Bancomat (ATM) decided not to like our ATM card that day. Another reminder for first time Italy train travelers, be sure to validate your ticket before boarding the train in one of the small yellow boxes you will find on a wall somewhere near the platforms. Conductors can be very testy if you don't validate before boarding, including a fine. All in all, Italy's railroads work very well and are easy to negotiate. Have a great trip.
Duls, USA 05/14/02
Train Tickets in Italy
I just returned from Italy and France and used EurAid to get my train tickets. I would definitely recommend the company! Herman Wissenberg was very helpful and found our group first class Flexipass tickets for our trip. The reservations definitely provided peace of mind because all of our trains were full. One thing to keep in mind if you're using a Flexipass--> You will need to get it validated at the train station before getting aboard the train. In Rome, it's a little confusing because you can't just walk up to the ticket counter. You actually need to go to the Eurail Pass office/Customer Service office, which is to the left of the Ticket counter. Pick up a number for the Eurail Pass line. (This is important because there are two number systems and if you pick up one for the Customer Service line, you'll just have wasted your time - they'll make you stand in line again). After you get your Flexipass validated, you're all set (provided you have your reservations). If possible, take the Eurostar trains over anything else. They are the cleanest and nicest of them all.
Trains in Italy
Definitely get reservations when traveling in Italy. Especially on popular connections. I got a few hours off schedule because I could get my connection with no reservation. Even the ticket agent said you should always get reservations in Italy. Also didn't notice big difference between 1st & 2nd class sections on the eurostar trains. Slightly bigger seat. If the overhead doesn't have enough room for your stuff, you can usually store it behind your seat.
Castro Valley, CA USA 05/09/02
Pre-print your train itineray
A little research before your trip will save you unnecessary stress. I preprinted all of my train itinerary from the die bahn web site and it gave me some peace of mind during some of the stressful days that I was transferring trains up to 5 times during a recent nine hour trip from Siena to Arles. I ran into several travellers who didn't have a clue what they were in for.....such as leaving Arles for Rome at noon time....not nearly enough time (and they didn't have hotel reservations in Rome).
Surrey, BC Canada 05/05/02
I jus received my reservations back from Euraide. They charge the same price you would pay in Europe so the $35 is all you pay for peace of mind. Overall, devivery of my reservations took 10 days. The reservations are issued by Deutsche Bahn (Germain Rail); the reservation ticket also gives details about smoking/non-smoking and compartment/regular seating. Leave for Europe knowing your seat actual seats numbers and leave any frustation or worry back home!
new york, ny USA 05/05/02
Eurosar One Way Tickets
We are planning a three-plus week family trip to England and France this summer. We are doing the first part of our trip in England on our own and then hooking up with a Rick Steves tour in France for the last two weeks. One of our concerns was how to best get from London to Rouen, France to join the RS tour. We decided that the Eurostar train was the most practical way for us to get to Paris and then on to Rouen. We will not have a railpass so are not eligible for the special rates that railcard holders are offered. We also did not need a round trip ticket as we are returning to the U.S. from Paris and do not need to return to England. Ater searching many web sites, the best deal I found was on the U.K. Eurostar site. We were able to book a One Way fare for 50 british pounds ($73.47). This was a big saving over sites which tend to cater to US travelers. An equivalent leisure fare from the many US web sites was $139.00. Although,you are able to find some 14 and 65 day advance purchase Eurostar tickets they are limited in supply and when we searched they were no longer available. We would encourage everyone looking for Eurostar tickets to check out the site at WWW.eurostar.co.uk. They will mail the tickets to you or you can pick up tickets at the station before your trip.
Dwight and Nancy Nash
Jacksonville, FL USA 05/04/02
SNCF and buying train tickets.
I just purchased train tickets for the TGV through SNCF for my travel in France. I first went to their website (sncf.com) and found the train schedules that I wanted and then I called them. The English speaking number is 011 33 8 92 35 35 39. I checked out Eurorail and I couldn't believe how much they wanted to charge me for the same trains (they didn't post promotionals either). The woman was very helpful when I called and even talked me out of purchasing more expensive tickets. And, they will mail them to me at no extra charge so that I can have them before I leave the states.
Orlando, Florida USA 04/28/02
AVE train travel in Spain
Just back from traveling 2 weeks around Spain. We recommend the extra price for 1st class train travel. Luggage was always stored safely away from exiting doors and it was CLEAN and QUIET! the 2nd class travel even tho a non-smoking car, everyone was smoking. Young children did not have tkts for seats and were running all around. It was like one large party. Luggage was left near to the exiting doors where mine was tried to be lifted 2 times except I took Rick Steves advice, latch it to the rack. People crowd the exit doors before a train stop and you can't get near to your bag even if you wanted to.
Binghamton, NY USA 04/28/02
rail europe vs euraide
First of, rail europe is a fine place to buy rail passes. But they arent at all worth it for point to point or reservations. Their fee for a London-Manchester ticket was 3x what i could get it for on the train's own website. For reservations: i recently bought reservations for 5 trains for this summer with euraide. they took five days to confirm, which was discouraging, but much better than raileurope from what i hear. If youre going in a group cough up the $35 Euraide charges. The extra money will be totally worth it. I spent 6 hours standing on an italian train in august and would and never want to do it again.
new york, ny USA 04/26/02
If you are planning on traveling by train in the UK, go to trainline.co.uk I booked individual tickets for our travels for less than the cost of a railpass. If it is not possible to pick up your tickets at the station, have them mailed to your first hotel. There is no charge for this service. They do not mail tickets out of the UK. I paid no charges for reservations.
Danbury, CT USA 04/26/02
Euraide is terrific
I contacted euraide.com at the recommendation of people on this site. My FAXed request for reservations and point-to-point tickets was acknowledged promptly by Alan Wissneberg in Munich, who telephoned to ask several questions and to point out how I could save over 100 Euros by using alternate routes/ticketing. Then Alan followed up with a detailed email with specific instructions for trains on each leg of the journey, and an estimated date for my tickets to arrive at my home. Well worth the $35 charge!
Grand Junction, CO USA 04/24/02
alternative to rail travel (in Spain)?
In Spain, at least, many people prefer buses to trains. They are about half the cost, just as quick, and are very comfortable (reclining seats, movies, etc.). They also run MUCH more frequently and thus are more convenient. Plus, (even with a Eurail pass) RENFE (Spanish trains) tacks on additional fees for reservations! Worth considerings...
san diego, ca USA 04/20/02
European Train Travel
A picture is worth a thousand words, and a little planning will save a lot of trouble. My wife and I have travelled in France and Italy by rail, and I believe that because we've planned ahead, we've had VERY FEW problems. As other posters have said, look around and pay attention. Those who expect to be hand-held like we are in the US, will be sorely disappointed and frustrated. Learn a few words in the native language. It helps you understand, and it goes a long way in getting assistance from the locals. If they see that you are trying to communicate in their language they're more inclined to assist when you need help. The languages of Europe are not that difficult. Last September my wife and I took an overnite train from Paris (Bercy) to Florence and had a terrific time. Very romantic!!Dinner was great, the "Wine of the Month" was good, and our sleeping compartment was small but comfortable, and the car attendant was very attentive. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Clayton, CA USA 04/18/02
train travelers on Transsib Railway
From Russia to Mongolia to China,Transsib Railway http://www.irkutsk-baikal.com
Seattle, WA USA 04/16/02
Italy Point-to-Point Train Fares
If you're considering buying point-to-point tickets in Italy, it will pay to check out train schedules before you go using webstes, while paying very close attention to the TYPE of train you are travelling on. I'm using Bologna as a day-trip hub this summer, and checked out railfares on the Trenitalia website.
What was remarkable was the very significant difference in price between IR and EC and ES trains--and sometimes the travel times made choosing the cheaper train a no-brainer. I've even enjoyed sometimes taking cheaper IR trains (1st class) more than ES trains on some stretches--because you can pull down the windows and feel the breeze, instead of relying on the air conditioning and feeling caged in by the prefab atmosphere. For some markets the difference in price vs. travel time will probably not be sufficient to make taking a cheaper train worthwhile (ES trains can often make the most sense for comfort and convenient--particularly on super busy routes, since all seats are reserved), but for other markets it definitely pays to pick the cheaper train.
The way to check trains and schedules is to use http://www.fs-on-line.com/ or http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en and compile a list of trains that fit your potential schedule. All prices below are in Euros.
One market where you may as well just take the most expensive ES trains
is Rome-Florence--most trains are ES; there are a few EC trains but they
take 25 minutes longer, and there are even some D trains, but they take
more than TWICE as long as the ES trains (though you save HALF for the
inconvenience of travelling for 3.5 hours instead of 1.5 hours):
D 2nd 14,31 1st 22,36 (3.5 hours)
EC 2nd 21,95 1st 29,80 (2 hours)
ES 2nd 29,44 1st 42,35 (1.5 hours)
Another market, with varying discrepancies between price and time, is
D 2nd 10,12 (2.5 to 3hrs)
EC 2nd 16,53 1st 22,21 (2 hours)
ES 2nd 22,21 1st 32,54 (1.75 to 2)
But for my Bologna trip, it was amazing how markets like Bologna-Venice
had very little difference in travel time, and some BIG difference in
IR 2nd 7,90 1st 12,55 (2 hours)
IC 2nd 12,09 1st 16,94 (2 hours)
ES 2nd 18,33 1st 26,75 (1:47)
And Bologna-Rimini (cheap is a no-brainer):
R 2nd 6,30 1st 9,75(1:17-1:30)
IC 2nd 9,40 1st 12,70(1:07)
ES 2nd 14,35 1st 19,26(1:05)
And Bologna-Florence there is no difference in time--but there are significantly
fewer IC trains:
IC 2nd 7,75 1st 10,48 (1 hour)
ES 2nd 13,17 1st 18,59 (1 hour)
Bologna-Venice I'll definitely travel 1st class on one of the frequent
IR trains; Bologna-Rimini I'll avoid the ES train but might pick up an
IC train because it's faster; and Bologna-Florence I'll either take an
IC train in 1st class, or an ES train in 2nd class. In any case, IT'S
DEFINITELY WORTH COMPARING!!!!
Middleton, WI USA 04/13/02
Seat reservations and tickets online
We have found the cheapest seat reservations for Germany are available online. 2.6 euros per direction (about $2.25). Up to two trains can be included in each reservation, and you do not have to buy a ticket (this is good for passes or tickets that you will purchase on arrival.) You fill out preferences, give a credit card # and print out the confirmation. No extra mailing or handling charges. To find - go to Rick's DB travel link, click on "Help and Hints" on the upper right of DB page, then select "seat reservations only." DB will issue seat reservations for any place in Europe but outside of Germany it is only in connection with a ticket purchase.
We have also purchased tickets online using the DB page. For a round trip ICE from Frankfurt to Berlin, Raileurope quoted us $284 per person ($852 total). We got the same trip for 748 DM total (about $113 each) by booking on the DB page. DB gives round-trip and group specials that raileurope apparently does not. The tickets were mailed to our home with no mailing or handling charges.
Two years ago we bought tickets online for Thalys trains. (www.thalys.com)
Week-end specials, seat reservations included, cost only a few dollars
more than the extra fee charged to rail pass holders and no need to waste
a day of a pass. They also have very cheap advance purchase roundtrip
tickets on Thalys and youth tickets that can be cheaper than the rail
pass fee. The tickets were mailed to our home at no extra charge.
Columbus, OH USA 04/12/02
Reservations in Europe
Do not waste your money making reservations while you are still in the states! My wife and I just returned from three weeks in Europe on a EURAIL Saverpass. After seeing all the high prices for making reservations in the states, I decided to wait until we got to Europe to make our reservations and it was the right decision. Reservations on the TGV, a two person sleeper (for two), a day train from Madrid to Barcelona and a couchette (for two) from Barcelona to Ventimiglia for about $80 US! RailEurope in the states wanted $96 US just for the two person sleeper...Also, shell out the extra $10-15 US for a two person sleeper vs a couchette, the difference in sleep and security is amazing and well worth it! Lastly, made all our reservations at the booth at the Verseilles RER stop...No crowd, and very helpful French worker!!!
Colorado Springs, CO USA 04/10/02
Train reservations and Eurail purchase
1. There is virtually no help at the Kiosk at Paris Nord from the Thomas Cook employee, male, late forties, salt and pepper, grey black bamboo like corss around neck amongst other chains, mustache. I greeted him with Bonjour, Parlae Vue Englace. He said minimum. He could not help me with the trains or phone card I just purchased. We got to arguing, and guess what? he spook english with a perfect Southern USA accent. When I asked his name he would not give it. I told him he was no help. He replied, "Oh but I can be".
2. Save some time and trouble, make reservations in advance of your trip if you know exactly where you are going. The price difference from somewhere like Raileurope.com, and the actual train station is tiny compared to the energy spent on going to the train station, and trying to figure out their beauracracy.
3. The worst places to make reservations are Paris, and Vienna. The best place is Copenhagen.
4. We did not need reservations due to the time we traveled, 3/8/02-3/31/02.
But they are good for piece of mind.
Thanks to previous comments posted here, I faxed EURAID my credit card number and request for two Eurail passes. Herman Wissenburg, from EURAID in Florida, contacted me by BOTH email and phone to tell me that we qualified for the saverpass - saved us over $200! Over the next few days, we communicated several times, both by email and phone, about numerous seat and sleeper reservations. Herman was extremely helpful and responded quickly to my questions. EURAID is in the process of making all of our train reservations. Working with EURAID has given us peace of mind knowing that they will handle all of our itinerary details, and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND working with them!
Dubuque, IA USA 04/03/02
I purchased a "Eurail Selectpass Saver" for my wife and I last month on Raileurope's website. They were delivered right away. Additionally, I needed a few reservations that were not bookable on their website due to a technical problem. I called them, and the rep on the phone was extremely helpful and knowledgable. She handled my reservations for the 2 night trains I needed without any problems. There have been a few negative posts about this company recently, so I wanted to relate a positive experience. Cheers.
Orlando, FL USA 03/29/02
My husband and I and my mother recently spent 2 weeks taking German Rail around Germany, and we found the trains to be punctual and very clean. We reserved seats online through the www.bahn.de site. We printed out our itinerary (with intervening stops, so you know when your stop is next) and our seat reservations. Our online seat reservations were duly honored, so you no longer have to wait until you arrive in the country before reserving or reserve by phone. Some of the long-distance trains were very crowded (even in the off-season), so we highly recommend reservations for longer trips. The "Itinerary Plus" feature on the website gives you not only arrival and departure times, but also tells you the platform number at which your train will arrive, and the platform number from which your next train departs. This is an essential piece of information, as connection times are sometimes short and you don't have time to ask which platform you need. (Sometimes you cannot reserve seats on local trains; we were always able to get a seat on these without reservations.)
We each had a Rick Steves rolling bag plus a small carry-on or backpack.
We had no trouble finding room for our luggage, although we did have to
lift the bags overhead. This was easy at the beginning, but got more difficult
as we acquired souvenirs. Also, there is often very little time to board
the train before the doors close, so you need to be quick and ready to
get your luggage aboard without fumbling around.
Kansas City, MO USA 03/28/02
If you're planning a day trip from London to Paris on Eurostar, check out discountlondon.com. They're round trip package deal is less than half the cost of any other return fare that I could find and it includes a voucher for lunch at a "typical Paris restaurant". We paid L85 each! There are escorted tours available too.
Louisville, KY USA 03/27/02
From personal experience, get reservations when traveling long distances by train. A reservation is inexpensive, easy to make and will prevent hassles. I traveled from Duesseldorf to Kassel, Germany on the DB. It was a nightmare without a reservation! I had to stand most of the time. I have since traveled the same route with reservations and found my trip to be very enjoyable.
Modesto, CA USA 03/26/02
Rome to Florence, and back
My wife and I bought a round trip ticket Rome to Florence and back. Took 1.5 hrs to Florence. Ticket agent told us return ticket was good on any train. We pooped out and got on an earlier train. After the train left the station, the conductor told us, through helpful interpreters, that we'd gotten on the commuter train--4.5 hours back to Rome! In the dark--not even scenery to look at. . .
Spokane, WA USA 03/14/02
Tickets from Paris to Barcelona in April...
I think it was Rick who said that getting reservations on the trains wasn't necessary ahead of time (perhaps he did mean local trains or non-high speed trains, but I took this to mean ALL trains). So my two friends and I did NOT get reservations in advance of our trip to Europe last spring. (We did have the 5 day rail pass though). Well, we were very disappointed when the TGV train from Paris to Barcelona was not only full on Friday when we arrived- but it was full all the way through Monday afternoon! They told us that Barcelona was a popular weekend destination for the Parisians, since it was spring and the Barcelona beach was much warmer. We changed our plans to go to Madrid instead (however, the trains were full until Monday so we had to change our entire itinerary around!). It turned out okay, and we enjoyed Madrid, but we were really looking forward to Barcelona! (And we lost money on our hotel in Barcelona too!) So if you're planning on taking a TGV train on a weekend in the spring, make sure to get reservations in advance!
Atlanta, GA USA 03/12/02
re: cheap train reservations
I have to respectfully disagree with BJ's comments regarding Rail Europe. In making my reservations recently I thoroughly checked my options (including Rail Europe) and they would have charged me a total of $45 more for all of my reservations. So though EurAide charges $35 for their shipping and handling and Rail Europe only charges $15 for this, Rail Europe more than makes up for it (and then some) with their inflated ticket/reservation prices. And these prices differences are just the beginning, just the first of many reasons to choose EurAide over Rail Europe. The people at Rail Europe are uneducated on using the rails in Europe (ie phone operators don't have a good knowledge of ticket options, etc.). This is in huge contrast to the folks at EurAide who totally know what they're talking about and can explain it well. When you deal with EurAide you deal with someone who's right there and evidently committed to helping you at every turn.
cheap train reservations
Raileurope.com only charges $15 w/ shipping to make reservations from the US on Eurorail trains. Their time table setup is very easy to understand too. happy travelling
CHICAGO, IL USA 03/07/02
Advance Train Reservations--EurAide!
I just wanted to extend a big endorsement to EurAide (euraide.com). If you're looking for a good way to make Europe rail reservations from the US I'd highly recommmend going with EurAide. I recently completed my reservations with them and I am extremely pleased. First the fees they charge are nominal. They charged me only $35 in addition to the reservation costs. So in other words I only ended up paying $35 more for making reservations from the US (and that includes shipping) than I would have paid if I had waited until I got to Europe. I made a total of 4 reservations for 2 people and no matter how many reservations you make, it's still just $35. Plus I received the reservations/tickets (we're using rail passes, so for us it's just reservations) within about a week. And the folks at EurAid are very customer-service oriented (unlike Rail Europe). They were more than helpful in helping answer any and all of my questions even before I committed to using their reservation service. And most equally important to their apperant concern for the customer was the accuracy and superb knowledge of anything and everything rail (also very unlike Rail Europe). They totally know what they're doing. Their website might not be all that high tech, but their service is really top notch. I'll totally be turning to them for all of my future advance rail reservations. Two big thumbs up.
Eurostar (Channel Tunnel) Train Tickets: The rates charged to Americans are higher than the lower rates available in Europe. However, when I checked last summer, it was virtually impossible (no pun intended) to use the SCNF (French rail) or Eurostar sites as a North American resident. This is because tickets would need to be picked up within a short time, generally before one gets to Europe, or the reservations would expire, or one would not be able to comply with advance purchase requirements applicable to lower-priced tickets. One other tip: you can buy train tickets and get seat/sleeper reservations for almost any train in Europe (other than Eurostar) from the German Rail website. They mail tickets to you AT NO CHARGE, and the fees/prices are the same as one would pay at a ticket window in Europe. The train trip does not even have to involve travel in Germany. In some cases, you may need to send them an email requesting a price quote and they will get back to you before finalizing the reservation. So, avoid paying outrageous fees. However, Rail Europe is a good source for passes, as is Mr. Steves.
Sacramento, CA USA 02/27/02
Avoid Purchasing From RailEurope
I should have come to ricksteves.com sooner. I purchased a Eurostar ticket between Paris and London from RailEurope and was ripped off. The price is 100% higher than what I would have payed in France. The problem? I don't read French and the SNCF website transferred me back to RailEurope.com when I asked for the English translation. Not only were there additional handling charges (I didn't mind these so much) but the actual fare was double the fare posted on SNCF in French. Additionally, the SNCF website is tricky because it asks what country you're from and doesn't list the US as one of the choices. A French speaking friend discovered this for me and I attempted to return my tickets to RailEurope. Even with a 15% charge for returning the tickets I would have come out ahead. Alas, although a phone clerk assured me that I could return the ticket this was not true. It came back in the mail today with a smarmy letter from Customer Relations refusing my request. Also be aware that RailEurope is partially owned by SNCF. It may not be true but it feels like "let's get those wealthy Americans." Happy travels.
San Anselmo, CA, CA USA 02/26/02
In 2000, our family travelled through 8 countries on a 21 day railpass. After we found out how much it cost to make train reservations from here, up to $7 CAN each per seat per train, we decided to take a chance and do it upon arrival at Schiphol Airport. At the International Railway booth we were told not to bother making reservations on the Intercity trains. Only on the premium high speed trains it is mandatory. Besides it was quite a bit cheaper doing it there. Our bonus was riding in the last car of the "Salon Blue" from Interlaken to Zweisimmen. It was the only non-reserved 1st class car and our family had the whole thing to ourselves.
Surrey, B.C. Canada, USA 02/15/02
Pre-booking the Rosslare-Cherbourg ferry
If you're a Eurail Pass holder and want to pre-book your Rosslare (IR) to Cherbourg (FR) ferry, you may have some trouble. Rail Europe and DER will not book ferries. If you call Irish ferries directly, they'll prebook you, but they won't give you the discount.
The only way, it seems, to prebook AND get a the 50 percent discount
is to do it through Scots-American Travel Advisors, 561-563-2856. They
were recommended by the Irish Tourist Board in NYC. They'll prebook you
and, for a $23 fee, send the tickets by courier. Since pre-booking the
Ireland-France ferry is strongly recommended -- practically required even
-- it's worth it. Otherwise, you could end up spending more money and
time at the harbor until the next ferry leaves -- days later.
NY USA 01/29/02
Another Response to using Rail Europe
I have got to agree about Rail Europe. They need to have better knowledge of the Eurail system and how it works. When I dealt with them they ALWAYS quoted the more expensive (and sometimes longer routes) Try www.railsaver.com It's a lot easier and will give you the cheapest routes and fares available.
Honolulu, HI USA 01/21/02
Cheap german rail ticket
I learned this tip from a friend who was stationed on an Air Force base and was floored when I saw it worked. The German train system offers an incredible weekend day ticket. For about $15, up to 5 people can travel ANYWHERE IN GERMANY all day long on that single $15 ticket!! For us it was ideal, because we were borrowing our friend's car for local trips, but
Burbank, CA USA 01/21/02
Response to "Rail Europe"
I couldn't agree with Erica more. I had an experience very similar to what she describes when dealing with Rail Europe. I'm also unsure why Rick suggests using their services for train reservations made in the US. I did have much better luck with EurAide (as suggested by a fellow traveler). They seem quite knowledgeable as well as very interested in helping me get exactly what I want (and not just trying to sell me the most expensive option like I felt Rail Europe was trying to do)--I got very personal service via email. They do charge somewhat high fees for their services, but Rail Europe's fees were higher. I wish I could locate a service like EurAide without the such high fees, but until then I'd recommend EurAide.
VA USA 01/18/02
Mostly Rick's suggestions are right on the money, but his advice to check Rail Europe for advance train reservations is awful! These people don't know what they're talking about and they want to charge outrageous fees on top of that. Their website is not helpful in the least; it's at best confusing. Their phone personnel also have a poor understanding of the options and seem less than eager to help. I felt like I knew a great deal more than they did (and this is not based on one phone call, but rather multiple conversations with many different people)! Dealing with them has left me more frustrated and confused than before. I definitely won't turn to them for any further rail needs. Rick, why do you recommend these people?!
AZ USA 01/17/02
I travel to Europe often with a rail pass to avoid having to go to the ticket counters. However at times I want to make a seat reservation and may be told there are no seats available. I get on the train anyways, because 8 times out of 10 you will find a seat and if not, you can always sit on the floor by the doors if you are in one of the nicer fast trains. I have seen this done so many times, and is considered just part of traveling. Also, you may come across someone "saving" a seat, but if you notice no one sitting in it after about 15 minutes, the rules state that anyone can sit in it. I came across 2 guys that had a suitcase on the seat next to them, and after 15 minutes, I asked if it was saved. They said yes, but there was not a "reserved slip" above the seat, so I knew they were lying and asked them to remove the suitcase. They refused and started arguing with me, so the other passengers came to my rescue and stated the fact that they could not save a seat by placing a suitcase on it, so I removed the suitcase and sat down. It took some guts, but it beats having to stand. Reserved seats must have a name above the seat or on the door of the compartment. Happy travels.
Jacksonville, AR. USA 01/13/02
France now has train schedules and ticket purchasing online.
France is in the crowd now with a train website at http://www.sncf.com It's great! I'll only be in Europe for 20 or so days. Most in Vienna and few days in Paris, so I didn't need a railpass but I wanted to order my ticket from Vienna to Paris in advance. My sleeper car spot is reserved. The only negative is if you don't live in certain countries you can't have the ticket mailed to you. Since I'll start in Austria, I'm having my ticket mailed to an Austrian address. However, if you're travel starts in France you can reserve with a credit card and present your credit card to get your ticket.
South Korea and Los Angeles, CA USA 01/10/02
Rail Passes Valid on RER to Versailles
To expand about the ability to use a rail pass on certain suburban rail lines in Paris (earlier post re: airport), keep in mind that rail passes may also be used from Paris to Versailles on the RER. Of course, with flexipasses, that would require one of the travel days to be used up, and depending on the traveller's needs, might call for paying separately for this segment. On the other hand, those with extra days, or with a regular pass that allows unlimited travel over a period of time, may find this saver tip helpful (mentioned by Rick in the France guidebook
Sacramento, CA USA 01/09/02
Italian trains--Eurostar vs. Diretto
I found that, for most travel in Italy, the "Diretto" trains are not much slower than the Eurostar and are a lot cheaper, whether you use a pass or buy tickets. For instance, for Rome to Naples, the Eurostar is only about 15 minutes faster and not worth the extra money. An exception is Rome to Venice, where the Eurostar is over an hour faster. However, I had to spend 2 hours waiting in the Rome train station to get the reservation, so I'd have been better off to take the Diretto and see more of Rome!
Mary from Oregon