Diandra travels through Europe by Train

Staff member: Diandra // Trip date: Mar 2014

 

I started my European adventure off in the early hours of a Friday morning in January. Flying into London Heathrow via Kuala Lumpur and Dubai, I arrived into London around 6.20pm.

It took around half an hour to clear passport control, on the flight they give you an arrival card to fill out and when you get to customs, they may ask many questions about your trip (so be prepared).
Once I had collected my bags, I made my way out to find my UK transfer that I booked with Rail Plus prior to leaving Australia. It was very easy, you walk straight out of customs and near the escalator they wait with the lead passengers name on a sign. I handed my Rail Plus voucher over to the representative, who took care of my bags. We had to quickly validate his parking ticket before heading to the van. I booked the shared transfer and was lucky enough to have it all to myself; it is very spacious and fits about 6 people plus the driver. Traffic wasn't too bad heading into the city of London itself and I was at my accommodation in no time.

The next six days or so, I spent exploring the City of London. As it was my first time here, I was being a tourist and loving it!


Madame Tussauds Fast Track


Even though it was winter, Madame Tussauds was very busy. Getting the fast track entry is definitely recommended. You can buy a program when you enter for about £6


London by Night Tour

This tour departed from the Victoria Bus station from coach stop 3. It is best to get there 15-20 minutes earlier just in case. There is a cafe, restaurant and subway there if you need any last minute things to eat. Upon boarding the bus, they check the voucher issued by Rail Plus and you can choose where to sit. It is a panoramic tour and it was a bit chilly so I stayed inside but this doesn't stop you taking photos.


Day trip to Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge


I really enjoyed this day trip although it was tiring by the end of the day. You depart from Victoria Bus station Coach Stop 3 at 8.30am and return to one of three destinations at around 7pm. Even if it isn't your first trip to England, I would recommend this tour. It has been well planned out.

 

London Eye Fast track

 

The day I went to do the London Eye it was closed for technical reasons. I just took my voucher to the booking desk where I was given a piece of paper explaining my options. I went back the next day and really enjoyed it.


Panoramic Tour of London with St Paul's Cathedral


I also booked this tour through Rail Plus; there are two options, either the half day Panoramic Tour or The Total London Experience. During winter, the Changing of the Guard only happens on alternate days so enquire further if this is a must see for you.

 

Jack the Ripper Walking tour


This tour was amazing and very informative. You walk to all the places where incidents happened and hear the many different opinions people had at that time. I was the only one booked on the tour and my guide Giles was great. If this particular time in history is of interest to you I would definitely recommend this walking tour.

 

Eurostar - London to Brussels


I boarded the Eurostar in London for Brussels; I caught the tube from Victoria station to London St Pancras. It was very easy to find and navigate where I needed to be for the Eurostar. There is good signage directing you and if you do get lost there is always help around.


I arrived about an hour before my schedule departure just to be safe. You need your ticket to get through to their security check, which is just like airport security. Once cleared, you go through to passport control where you get a stamp and you're on your way. In the lounge there are power points, cafes and wifi.


About 20 minutes before your scheduled departure an announcement advises what platform your train is departing from. When you get to the platform, you just need to find the coach you've been reserved in. They will check your ticket before boarding. Once onboard there is luggage storage at the end of the carriage, above and even sometimes behind your seat. At the end of the carriage is where the toilet is located and where you can get the local newspapers/magazines. I was in Standard Premier, about 39 seats with the seat configuration of 2x1. Some seats have tables in between them, so you can face your fellow traveller. At your seat there is a power point, rubbish bin, reclining seat, seat pouch in front and a fold-down table. When the train departed from London St Pancras, the train attendant came around to take orders for a light meal or drink. The meal consisted of a roll, croissant, jam, yoghurt, juice, coffee and an alcoholic drink.

 

Regional - Brussels to Brugge to Brussels


Once off the Eurostar from London, I had to get my Eurail pass validated. As I wasn't sure where I had to go, I asked a station attendant who directed me to the office. I had to show my Passport and have my Eurail pass stamped for validation. Once my pass was validated, I was ready for the train from Brussels - Brugge. I had missed the regional service I was hoping to catch so I went to the information area and received directions for the next departure. Half an hour later, the next service arrived and it was a double decker train. I did have luggage so decided to stay on the lower level. There is no luggage storage on regional trains so everything stayed with me. The regional trains between Brussels - Brugge and return are like any normal city trains. They don't recline and there is no buffet carriage on-board.

 

Brugge


Brugge is a medieval city filled with canals with there being many things to do. I took a city tour from Markt, this is very central and easy to find. It leaves every hour and goes for about 55 minutes, taking you to all the highlights the city has to offer.

 

Thalys - Brussels to Amsterdam


Hopping off the regional service, I located the Thalys departure area at Brussels Midi station. It was very easy to find and was near the office where my Eurail pass had been validated. There is a desk specifically for Thalys departures if you need help.


Arriving at the platform you see where your coach will stop for boarding. The train arrives 20 minutes prior to departure allowing time to check tickets before you board. Attendants do help with loading your bags if you look like you're not coping well. Luggage can be left at either the end of the carriage, above your head or behind your seat. Toilets are located at the end of the carriage where you can also grab a newspaper/magazine in English, Belgian or Dutch.


The seats automatically recline with a footrest, there is a hook above your head to hang your jacket, a rubbish bin and in first class, you have access to free wifi. The seat configuration is similar to the Eurostar with the 2 x 1, with 2 seats near the ends of the carriages and space for luggage.
I was seated in first class and once you're underway, a choice of meal is brought through the carriage for your selection. This is included in your ticket price and there is an option of a meat/seafood or vegetarian option that included a bread roll and a drink of wine or tea/coffee.

 

Amsterdam


Even though it was winter, Amsterdam was filled with locals and tourists. There is so much to do in Amsterdam. While I was there I visited the Anne Frank Museum, went on a canal cruise and a day trip to the Dutch countryside with a city tour of Amsterdam.

 


City Night Line - Amsterdam to Munich


It was quite easy to navigate Amsterdam CS as they put the departure platform for the trains up around 30 minutes prior. As my train departed after 7pm and arrived in after 4am, I only used 1 day of my pass. The overnight train arrives into the station quite early and luckily Amsterdam has a lift otherwise it would have been a few stairs.


On the door of the train it has the coach number and where the train is going to/from. As some train carriages will be left at some stations to go onto Switzerland or Czech Republic etc. Once onboard your carriage the train attendant comes around to go through the set up of your room and where everything is located.


Once the service had departed they come back to check your tickets and will take your pass and seat/sleeper reservation with them to validate. On this service I was booked in a T3 deluxe compartment, which is gender specific. When they come back, they ask you what time you would like to be woken up, if you would like red/white wine (complimentary in deluxe compartment) and if you wanted breakfast onboard or to go.


It was a very comfortable ride; I had my own compact shower and toilet in my compartment. It has plenty of space to fit suitcases and you can lock the door for safety.
Breakfast in the morning consisted of a croissant, rolls, butter/jam, orange juice, coffee and tea. If you want, they can bring in a table for you to have breakfast, making it easier than trying to eat on your bed.


Munich


On the train into Munich I caught my first glimpse of snow in Europe and it was amazing. It was also considerably colder than Amsterdam. Whilst in Munich I did a free city tour that provided the history of the city and also a day trip to the Royal castles.

City Night Line - Munich to Rome


This service was very similar to the overnight train I took from Amsterdam - Munich except I couldn't find my coach. I saw some train staff nearby and asked them. For some reason my coach wasn't running so they directed me to the right coach for this service.


On this train I had booked a single sleeper deluxe, so I knew I was by myself for the entire ride. In my cabin I had a compact shower, toilet and sink.


Breakfast was exactly the same as that on the previous night train.


I was shown around my sleeper, asked what time I wanted to be woken and if I required breakfast. On this service they took my sleeper reservation, Eurail pass and also my passport. I was a little taken aback when they requested my passport. You're welcome to keep it with you but will then be woken during the night for the passport checks that take place.

 

Rome


It was pouring with rain upon my arrival so I caught a taxi to my hotel about 10-15 minutes away. This cost about 10€. Once I had checked in, it was time to start exploring using the Hop on Hop off bus. This can be purchased through Rail Plus and takes you to all the main sights in Rome with commentary included along the way.


In winter, Palantine Hill and The Roman Forum may be closed due to weather.

 

Eurostar Italia Frecciarossa - Rome Termini to Florence SMN


This was my first Italian train and they don't put the platform information up on the board until about 10 minutes before departure. If you're in 1st class a lot of the time, you will be racing to the other end of the platform. I got there with time to spare. It was a very nice train and I was seated in a 4 seater with a table on the window. There is a small TV screen that displays train information including how fast you're travelling. You can store luggage at the end of the carriage, above your seat and also behind some seats.


As I was seated in a 4 seater, I didn't have a foot rest this time but did have a table in front; power point sockets were available, with a hook for your jacket again. Seat configuration was 2 x 1 and towards the rear, 1 single seat and luggage space.


Once you've boarded, the train attendant enquires whether you would like a drink and either a sweet or savoury snack. Later on in the service they return with a newspaper trolley.
About half an hour or so into the journey the train attendant returns again to check your tickets.


Florence


Florence was a beautiful city that I want to go back to in the Summer/Spring time for the flowers. While I was there I did a city tour of Florence, which included the Accademia Gallery (Statue of David) and also a day trip to the Tuscan region.

 

Eurostar Italia Frecciargento - Florence SMN to Venice Santa Lucia


This service was very similar to the one from Rome - Florence except it looked a bit older. Toilets are located at one end of the carriage, in 1st class they come around and offer you a drink and either a sweet or savoury snack. Luggage is again stored at the end of the carriage, as well as above or behind your seat.


On this service, I had reserved an individual window seat. I had a rubbish bin, power point socket and a table in front of me. The seat configuration was the same as the last train from Rome - Florence, 2 x 1 with 1 seat and provision for luggage at the rear.


Venice

 

It was raining when I arrived in Venice Santa Lucia but still beautiful. It is full of canals, bridges and shops filled with Murano Glass. You can look at catching a water taxi if your hotel is a bit of a distance away or even walk. I would recommend looking at a walking tour in Venice, this explains the history and you visit the San Marco Church.

 

Eurostar Italia Frecciabianca - Venice Santa Lucia to Milan Centrale


This train was probably the oldest one I travelled on in Italy but is still a great service. Very similar to the other two trains I caught in Italy. There were luggage compartments at the end of the carriage, above your head or behind your seat. Toilets are located where you store your luggage at the end. Attendants come through regularly asking if you would like a small snack/drink or a newspaper as well as checking your tickets.


On this service I had again booked a window seat, with a table in front and the opposite seat facing me.


Milan


I was only in Milan for an afternoon as I was catching the morning train to Paris the next day. Once I had checked into my hotel, which was close to Milan Centrale. I made my way into the Duomo for a quick look before heading back.


TGV France/Italy - Milan Porta Garibaldi to Paris Gare de Lyon


It was an early morning start but definitely worth it. A beautiful scenery unfolds before you and as I neared the border of Italy and France, I again saw snow. My reserved seat faced the opposite way to the train although I could have changed seats because there were other empty seats available.
I had a small rubbish bin, fold down table, power point, button to recline my seat and a hook to hang my jacket. Luggage was able to be stored behind your seat, above your head or at either end of the carriage. A toilet is located the end of the carriage for convenience.


This service is a Duplex (double decker) train for the majority of the departures and my seat was reserved on the upper deck. A buffet carriage is located in the middle of the train and when it opens, an announcement is made via the PA system.


Just after leaving Milan the train attendant comes along to see if you want breakfast at your seat. It is additional cost of about 8€ and consists of a croissant, rolls, coffee and juice. It was quite a long train journey but you do get to see the countryside and you arrive into Paris with the afternoon to spare.


RER/Paris Metro - Paris Visite


The RER and Paris Metro are easy to use and as long as you have a map, you can find your way to where-ever you need to go. If you need any help, there are always information desks or station attendants


Paris Disney


Paris Disney was easy to find and depending on where you stay you may even have a bus service to/from the parks.
I caught RER line A to Val d'Europe, one stop before Marne La Vallee (station for Paris Disneyland).


Paris


There is so much to do in Paris, Museums, Eiffel Tower, shopping, parks/squares and river tours. If you haven't been there before, I definitely recommend staying in Paris for a few days. The weather when I was there was very windy even when the sun was out. If you have a Paris Pass or a Visite card it makes getting around Paris very easy.


Paris Pass


I definitely recommend doing something out of the ordinary. Of course visit the main attractions but also find something different. The Paris Pass is very good and contains lots of helpful information. I booked this through Rail Plus but you do need to pick it up locally, close to the Bonne Nouvelle stop. Also included are the Paris Museum Pass, Hop on Hop off bus ticket, Seine River Cruise, Paris Visite card and the Paris Card. When you exchange your voucher, they give you a map and a guide that contains the information about the Pass.

 

Paris City Tour


On the first morning in Paris I had booked this tour through Rail Plus hoping to get a feel to the city and find my way around. The commentary throughout the tour provides the history behind the points of interest as well.


Paris Illuminations Tour


This night tour was absolutely amazing and definitely worth booking. You see the city lights of Paris and are given the opportunity to get out and take some photos. You see all the main sights of Paris including Notre Dame, Concorde Square, Champs Elysees and they ensure your arrival at the Eiffel Tower on the hour to see it sparkle!

 

TGV France/Spain - Paris Gare de Lyon to Barcelona Sants

 

Another early morning but again worth it, this time, travelling down south to Spain. Onboard the train the announcements were in French and Spanish but fortunately towards the end of the journey they were also in English. I was travelling on the duplex and was seated in the upper deck, which was amazing.

This service was similar to the train from Milan - Paris with the Buffet carriage located in the middle of the train.

Again I was booked in first class and my seat had a reclining option, a footrest, and rubbish bin, a hook for a coat or jacket and space to put your hand luggage above you. Throughout the journey train attendants regularly bring a food/drink trolley with snacks available for purchase.
Nearby are a few stairs and space to store your luggage. Toilets are close at hand and there is usually a food coach not too far away.

 

Barcelona

 

The weather in Barcelona was lovely compared to everywhere else I had been on this trip. Unfortunately this was to be my last stop. My hotel was centrally located near Catalunya Square. It had been a long trip from Paris. I checked into my hotel and went for a walk around to get my bearings. Couldn't help but do a little shopping as well! Nice and refreshed the next day, I did a Barcelona bike tour that lasted about 5 hours and took me to many sights including La Sagrada Familia where lunch by the beach was provided at extra cost. This was a truly enjoyable day.

 

Overall I would definitely recommend taking trains within Europe; all stations are centrally located in each city. It is much easier then having to get to the airport, check in hours beforehand and then have to wait for your flight etc.


It is best to arrive at the stations about 15-20 minutes prior to departure just to be safe. You arrive at each destination far more rested and relaxed and, unless travelling at night, you get to see some beautiful scenery along the way that is also very interesting.

 

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