Helen's European Trip

Staff member: Helen // Trip date: Apr 2012

Copenhagen

After a gruelling 30 hour flight from Melbourne, we finally arrived at Copenhagen Airport. You can catch a train directly from the airport to the city using your Eurail Pass, we opted to use our pass once it was activated by the rail staff but you can also purchase a ticket from the many automated ticket machines or service counters. The trains run every 10 minutes with a trip taking approximately 20 minutes. The train itself was quite comfortable, with seating rows facing one another around a small table. Through the large window, we could see the urban landscape as we made our way to the city. Arriving at Copenhagen Central Station, we found it easy to navigate our way out and walked to our hotel as it was only a short distance away.


Helsinki overnight to Rovaniemi

Helsinki was a charming city with its own unique architecture but we also wanted to travel north to experience the Northern Lights, the Sami culture and the visit the world renowned Santa Village. Rovaniemi is a 12.5 hour trip from Helsinki on the overnight VR train. Out of all the overnight trains I took in Europe, I found this one the most spacious. The first class carriages themselves were of a double decker style, equipped with communal toilets and bathrooms with the two levels serviced by stairs on either end of the carriage. Our room (which was a double) felt spacious when compared to other trains; which was very handy when manoeuvring luggage. Another convenience was a recessed compartment next to each of our beds which housed ample power points, an alarm clock and a fixed reading light. We also had access to a wash basin in our room with a hand towel provided. We slept reasonably well and visited the Bistro Car in the morning for coffee and a basic breakfast at our own expense.

Munich to Fussen

After arriving in Munich at night, we decided that for the next day we would take a day trip out to Fussen to see the fairytale Bavarian Castles first, leaving the sights of Munich until the following day for itinerary reasons. Travelling to Fussen to see the castles Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau was easy, taking a 2 hour train from HBF Station. Once again, you have the choice of using your Eurail Pass or buying a Bayern Ticket which allows you travel on local Bavarian trains from 9am onwards. We found this train trip one of the most scenic, with breath-taking vistas of valleys and mountains as if taken straight out of a postcard. Upon arrival at Fussen, it is necessary to complete the journey to the castles by bus, which can be boarded outside of the station. This is only an additional 10-15 minute trip.

Munich to Prague

After a long day of sightseeing Munich, the intercity train to Prague was just under a 6 hour journey. If using the Eurail pass, no reservation is required. We had first class seats which offer more leg room, a personal power point and a small rubbish disposal recess. Conductors made sure all passengers had the appropriate seating placement. A second class passenger had attempted to seat themselves in first but was promptly sent to the appropriate carriage. Passengers were also warned before boarding by loudspeaker announcements on the platform and signage both on the train and the station that the train would split into two at a certain point. It's extremely important that passengers board the correct carriage to avoid travelling to a different destination.

Prague to Berlin

The trip from Prague to Berlin was a little different in that it was both a shorter trip (only 4.5 hours) and instead of being seated in a recliner, we were in a closed seating compartment which offers more privacy due to the tinting of the glass and giving you control over things such a temperature settings and lighting levels. Since we were travelling during the off-peak season, we had the compartment entirely to ourselves. The seats also had the ability to fold out flat into something like a day bed.

Berlin to Amsterdam

The overnight train to Amsterdam from Berlin was aboard the City Night Line (CNL), a 9.5 hour trip and although similar in some respects to other overnight night trains, there were a few differences of note. There was less standing room available, and we found that our luggage occupied pretty much all of the floor space available. There was a wash basin and hand towel in the room with the same kind of communal toilets and showers offered as on other trains. A Breakfast Kit was also provided which contained a croissant, a sweet bun, some spreads and a fruit box. Coffee was brought in by staff. A wake-up call service was also provided which is offered upon the checking of your ticket.

Amsterdam to Paris

The Thalys is a high speed train we used to travel from Amsterdam to Paris. Our plans went a little awry when we discovered that as Belgium had a train strike we would not be travelling until the following day. Our tickets were replaced without any fuss; we did however have to find a place to stay for the night. This allowed us to enjoy the sights of Amsterdam for a little longer. The following morning we boarded our train which we found be very comfortable. Morning tea was provided and usually you would also have free Wi-Fi in first class but as luck would have it, it was not working on this occasion. We arrived in Paris on time, some 3 hours later after a relaxing and enjoyable trip.

Paris Pass (Combined Paris Museum & Metro Pass)

We purchased a 4 day pass from Rail Plus for our stay in Paris which included a 5 day, zone 1-3 metro card for travel on trains and buses. With this pass we had free entry to most attractions including the Louvre Museum, Arc de Triomphe, Palace of Versailles, Notre Dame Cathedral and Paris Bus Tour. You can also use your Paris Pass to receive discounts at restaurants and shops, our favourite being the 10% discount on your in-store shopping at Galeries Lafayette when you spend over 100 Euros.

Paris to London

The Eurostar is another premier high speed train we travelled on for our journey to London. It is important to arrive at least 30 minutes before your departure time as you have to clear customs. We travelled in Standard Premier Class which has larger more comfortable seats than Standard Class. Soon after we boarded, we were served lunch which consisted of quiche, salad and panacotta for dessert. A selection of drinks is also made available which included juices, soft-drinks, beer, wine, tea and coffee. In a little just over 2 hours we arrived in London.

Oyster Card

As Oyster Cards are fully transferable, I borrowed a colleagues' card which I had to top up with credit before my first use. This was easy to do and overall Oyster Cards are very user friendly and valid on the Tube, DLR, tram and buses. The card also has a price cap, so you never pay more than the maximum daily rate, regardless of how many trips you make in 1 day.

Madrid-Granada

This was one of the trains we had not pre purchased seat reservations for. We arrived at Madrid Atocha station early in the morning and purchased our tickets to one of the two daily services to Granada from Madrid. This trip took a total of 4.5 hours. It was an enjoyable trip with ever changing scenery and tasty brunch served by the lovely staff on board. I found the service to be much like you would expect on a flight with staff handing out hot towels and headphones with which you could watch TV with if you wished (although we found the stations to be all Spanish speaking). Magazines and newspapers are also provided, but again only Spanish speaking. I took one nevertheless and attempted to read it before settling on doing the Sudoku puzzle.

Granada-Barcelona

After an amazing day exploring Granada and the Alhambra, we collected our luggage which we had stored at ilocker Granada (Hand luggage: 3 Euros / Suitcase: 5 Euros) and headed back to the train station to catch the last of our overnight trains towards Barcelona. We had booked a double sleeper and were looking forward to getting some rest. Again the sleepers are not very spacious inside but we did have toilet and bathroom facilities all to ourselves. In addition we were also provided with a toiletries kit containing soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb, shaver, sewing kit and earplugs. Another important note is that as our departure was not till after 9.30pm the 7pm rule applies so the date written in your Eurail pass must be the day of arrival. Once our tickets were checked by the conductor we settled in for the 11 hour journey to Barcelona.

Lauterbrunnen-Schilthorn

Whilst we were visiting Lauterbrunnen we decided to go up to the top of the Schilthorn. Our Swiss Pass allowed us to purchase a half price ticket which was handy. We went up via the Grutschalp cable car, then along the scenic train ride to Murren. After a 10 minute stroll through the village we arrived at the Schiltorn cable car station which transports you up to Birg and then Piz Gloria, the world's first revolving restaurant at the top. There we enjoyed the wonderful views across to the Eiger, Jungfrau and the rest of the Alps over a cup of coffee and cake before making the trip down to Lauterbrunnen again.

Glacier Express-St Moritz to Zermatt

Most trains in Switzerland do not require seat reservations, with the exception of the Swiss Scenic trains such as the Glacier Express. This famous and memorable scenic train is a 7.5 hour trip passing through the resorts of Chur, Andermatt and Brig through 91 tunnels and crossing 291 bridges. We had A Swiss Pass which covered the cost of the ticket but seat reservations must also be purchased. These are cheaper in winter than they are in summer and we booked ours through Rail Plus. We were seated in the first class panorama carriage and soon after we set off, staff came to take our orders for lunch which we ordered off the menu provided. You have the choice of the set menu or you can select your own courses. We opted for the set menu as it worked out to be significantly cheaper. The three course meal was of restaurant quality. Over the duration of the trip we also had commentary at points of interest which passengers could listen to through headphones provided. There would be an alert through the PA system advising passengers to place their headphones on if they wished to listen to the commentary. I would recommend this trip to anyone visiting Switzerland.

Italy

I took 3 different services in Italy; Florence to Rome, Rome to Venice and Venice to Milan. The first 2 were in First Class with the latter in Second Class. Seat reservations were required for all of these journeys as they are on the high speed trains. First class passengers receive a free snack and drink served at their seat. These trains are modern and comfortable to travel on regardless of which class you are travelling in and an ideal way to see the Italian countryside.

Final Comments

Overall my experience travelling through Europe on trains was mostly enjoyable and relaxing. I found train travel to be efficient, fast and inexpensive when comparing it to air travel when you factor in time spent at airports and transfers getting into the city. The Eurail and Swiss Passes that I used were convenient and allowed for flexibility in any itinerary changes. Aside from a couple of issues such as industrial action in a couple of countries, I found that the Eurail network ran smoothly with minimal interruptions and helpful staff. I would highly recommend train travel in Europe to anyone.

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