Thanks so much for joining us for another Tips for Traveling in Europe post! We’re honored and thrilled that you’ve chosen to visit.
Let’s recap. Our first week, we discussed research, specifically itineraries, hotels and airfares. Then we went over packing, how much, how little, what to bring and why. Last week, we covered the trip itself, on the plane and while you’re there. This week, let’s talk about how to get around. Using public transportation is a way of life in Europe, unlike most of the US.
We experienced our first train ride last year when we railed from Civitavecchia (Rome) to Venice.
We learned a lot. First, conductors don’t like to be late, and if you’re the cause, look out. Second, to pack lighter, much lighter. Our latest experience was much better thanks to the lessons learned then. 🙂
For our Venice trip, we purchased tickets in advance. Typically, tickets can only be purchased up to three months in advance. During our last trip, we waited to buy tickets the day of travel, but in one situation, the price skyrocketed $100. At that point, we purchased tickets for the rest of our itinerary. If you plan to purchase tickets the day of departure, arrive at the station a bit early. If you prefer to travel with lots of space and not as much noise, you might prefer first class tickets. We were satisfied with regular seats.
We complain about security measures in US, but European train stations employ none. A bit alarming, but public transportation is a way of life. Just like the metro in DC, people use the train to get from one end of a city to another or cross countries. Stations are all so different, some small, others massive, several layers deep, like Berlin.
Just like the stations, the trains are different. But one thing they all have in common?
They don’t tarry long. If you run up to the door as it’s closing, too bad.
When you purchase a ticket, the platform number and car will be noted. Much like an airline terminal/gate, the platform number tells you where to embark. Many trains only stop in the station for a handful of minutes. Be ready to get on because they won’t wait for you.
With our reserved seats, we struggled to find the designated cars. Someone finally told us that the train cars are marked at the doors, but we couldn’t see the numbers until the train stopped. Also, terminals provide layouts of the trains, but you may not have time to find it. Ideally, locating your particular car and entering there is preferable, so you’re not dragging your luggage through crowded aisles, but not always practical. The cars interconnect, so get on anywhere and work your way to available or ticketed seats.
Snacks and drinks are allowed, but the longer distance trains also usually have a snack car with sandwiches and drinks. The seats feature a tray for eating and/or computing, and generally trains provide much more legroom than airplanes. You can purchase particular seats for a few extra dollars which helps if you’re traveling with someone on crowded trains. They don’t appear to exercise occupancy restrictions as people just keep piling in. If you don’t purchase particular seats, be prepared to move if someone shows up with those tickets. Water closets are typically near the exits and are similar to airplane restrooms.
Many of the smaller stations aren’t marked really well, and since GPS wasn’t always reliable inside the trains, we didn’t always know which station we were coming into. And when you don’t recognize the language, well, that creates a problem if you need to be ready to disembark, right? Lol. When we purchased the remaining trains in our itinerary, a very kind train attendant printed off the list of stops for each ride, so we knew where we were most of the time, which helped my stressometer. But, if not, ask. Most people are friendly and willing to help.
As mentioned, if you’re not able to lift or tote your suitcase yourself, train travel might be challenging for you. Between getting to the platforms and getting on the train, lots of steps are involved. We found that travel became much easier, more carefree, with less stuff. We’re not quite to just the backpack stage, but close. 🙂
Trains have been so accessible, we have yet to fly within Europe. Although air travel is a much cheaper option there than the US, the luggage restrictions are different from major carriers, 44 lbs vs 50 for international travelers. In the past, we packed every bit of 50 lbs in our suitcase, so flying creates a dilemma, which we intend to remedy.
During our most recent trip, one of the trains experienced technical difficulties and forced everyone to vacate with instructions to wait for a bus. We don’t know how many buses it took to transport riders about five stops down the rail, but we finally made it on the third or fourth bus, with more waiting.
Europeans take these challenges in stride, just relaxed and munched on snacks while soaking in the sunshine, such positive attitudes and always prepared. Every seat full and people crammed into the aisle of the bus, everyone laughed and joked, even when border patrol stopped the bus and inspected every person’s passports. Wish that more US citizens sported this relaxed, carefree attitude.
Might as well gear up to walk. Even so, determine when. In Berlin, Google Map indicated our hotel was a 35-minute walk from the train station. We were okay with that. Started off mid-afternoon, an hour later…When we headed out, we took a taxi. Only 12 euros. Had we known how long the walk, we would’ve taken a taxi to our hotel. Just sayin’, sometimes you gotta know when to walk and when to fold. Lol
We treasure your comments and appreciate your input, so be sure to pop in with any tips you’d like to add or what you learned from this post. Make sure you come back next week for the last installment where we’ll compare pros and cons of land tours versus cruising and share our overall experience takeaway.
How did you step out of your comfort zone last week?
Based on this post, would you consider traveling by train?
Are you an experienced train traveler? What would you add?