Jenny's 1st trip to Europe

Staff member: Jenny // Trip date: Sep 2008


As a first time traveler to Europe, I must say using the trains was very easy and efficient. Not once did we need to catch a taxi, wait to check in or wait for our luggage. They were fast, on time, and really gave you a scenic view of the countryside.

HEATHROW EXPRSS

Heathrow to Paddington second class.
The Heathrow Express was really great and I would definitely recommend this to anyone. It was really easy to find (considering how big the airport is) fast and trains came every 15mins. Once you collect your luggage and come out to where everyone is waiting you just turn left, there is a big sign to direct you where to go. You pretty much walk underground from there and take a lift to the platform. You do not have to have the ticket validated or sighted before boarding the train. There is ticket machines located on the way. On board the train the luggage area is at the entrance and there is also space above the seats. Everything is new and modern with air conditioning, there is a flat screen TV which shows BBC news and information about the Heathrow Express. The ticket inspector comes around with a machine that looks like what a parking inspector uses. They scan your tickets and for people who purchased there tickets at the airport they just get stamped.

OYSTER CARDS

I would also highly recommend an Oyster card when traveling around London on trains and buses. We got the 15 pound card and that lasted us about 4 days. The tube is really easy to use as all the lines are colour coded, there are maps on the train that show which direction the train is going and all the stops and best of all you never have to wait long for a train to come. You need to scan in and out of each station with you card, if you don't do this properly you will have to pay for the full amount of the fare which is much more expensive. All stations are clearly marked with the Tube symbol and they are located near all the main tourist attractions. At times you may feel like you are walking in an underground maze to get to the platform but it is a great system that works very well, much better then our public transport system in Melbourne.

LONDON TO PARIS (EUROSTAR) in second class

Checking in on the Eurostar is abit like checking in at an airport. We arrived at London St Pancreas and had to go to the check in counter. Then we went through Customs where they check your passport and scan your luggage. Once you go through, there is a waiting area with TV screens that display the different trains and what platform they depart from. On the platform the carriages are numbered on the floor so it's quite easy to find. On the train the seats are arranged two by two with one set of fours facing each other, toilets were at the end of the carriage. Large luggage space is at the entrance while there is also space above the seats. There are also tray tables, coat hangers, foot rest, directions to the snack carriage above the doors with a symbol of a cup. They also give out the menu with prices. Sliding doors allow you to move from carriage to carriage. The announcements are made in English and French. When we arrived at Paris Nord we discovered it was a very big station, luckily there was an information guy at one of the maps who was very helpful in speaking English and guided us in the right direction to our hotel.

PARIS VISITE CARDS: Zones 1-3

We purchased a 3 days, zones 1-3 Paris Visite which covered us for all the main attractions in Paris. At first and maybe second glace the Paris metro train system seems very confusing as there are many different lines, different colours, and all with French names. However once you get your head around it, its quite easy and bit like using the Tube in London. We never had to wait more then 5 mins for a train. You pretty much have to decide where you are going, find the nearest train station, and look up which line and which direction you need to go. They are abit old and the doors slams on you if you are not fast but overall they are very good. With your ticket you need to put it through the machine to validate it every time you use the metro. If your going to buy your Paris Viste cards over there, the ticket machines are all in French and quite confusing. You are better off to buy it before leaving Australia as the ticket you get is the one you use. There is no exchange needed in Paris.

PARIS TO NICE (TGV) in first class

Train platforms are displayed 20mins before departure, so you don't really need to come early. The lay out of this train was single seats facing each other on one side and double seats on the other, with some four seats facing each other with tables in the middle. Our train had two levels and the top was the same as the bottom level except the seats were a different colour. There was also a snack carriage with standing room and large windows. Luggage area was at the front and back of the carriage, with space on top of the chairs too, also coat hanger, sliding table, power point, foot rest and lots of leg room. The announcements were in French which was difficult to understand however you could just make out what the next station was. The ticket inspector came around about an hour and half into the train ride and checks and stamped everyone's ticket. Toilets are like the ones on planes. Dogs are also allowed on these train, we had one in front of us and it slept the whole way through.

In 2008 if you look in your Travelers Guide in France you can get 50% off the Bateaux Parisain. Usually 11Euro each, all you have to do is present your Pass when buying the tickets. It's a nice relaxing river cruise that lasts for 1 hour. It takes you to all the main attractions giving you the brief history of the city and its attraction. You get a large hand held ear piece (gets heavy after awhile) which has commentary in French, English, Italian and German. You can purchase these tickets by the water near the Eiffel Tower.

NICE TO MONACO (regional train)

As we had a pass we just checked the time of the train, jumped on and sat anywhere. When using Regional trains with a pass you must fill in the date. In our case ticket inspectors came straight away, we had not filled in the date on our pass and we got a fined on the spot. The cost was 35 Euros each (no credit cards payments) or they would take our passes. They told us we had to fill in the date before we boarded the train and that all conditions were on the cover, so unfortunately we could not get out of it.

SWISS PACKAGE, GLACIER EXPRESS (Zermatt to St Mortiz)

Before you board the train you must go to the ticket counter and validate your pass. The person behind the counter will check your passport and fill in the number on the pass, he also validates the pass with his stamp. You then have to fill in the travel calendar.

As part of the Swiss package you get two transfer tickets and accommodation. The transfer ticket is from a border town or airport station. We caught the Regional train from Geneva (which even though not an airport station we were still able to get on here), as there was no direct train to Zermatt so we had to change trains at Visp for a connecting service. The train from Visp to Zermatt ended up being a panoramic train with large windows (similar to the Glacier Express) which was a really nice ride. The ticket inspector came half an hour into the ride and checked and stamped our tickets. He also checked our passports.

We stayed at the Sarazena Hotel in Zermatt which is a 3 star property, very nice hotel, not even 5 mins from the train station and great location near all the shops and restaurants. Once you come out of the train station its pretty much right in front of you to your left, but you have to look out for the hotel sign (it's quite small) then you have to go down a narrow path to get to the hotel, its right next to the train that goes up the mountain. Rooms were very big and spacious (compared to all the other hotels we stayed in Europe). Our balcony had a great view of the Matterhorn mountain and continental breakfast was included in the package. I would highly recommend this hotel in Zermatt.

The next day we caught The "Glacier Express" train in first class at 9.13am-4.58pm. The entrance to the Glacier is next door to the station (if your facing out it's on your right). There is a big sign and the display screens show the train platforms and time of departure. The luggage area is at the front and back of the carriage but there is not much space, however there is also space behind the seats. There are coat hangers in this area too. Brochures and ear phones are on the table when you arrive, they have all the information about the train including the menu. It states things like no animals on the train, no use of electronic devices during meals, no food from outside, etc. You can pay by credit card with min CHF20. There are display screens at the end of the carriage they show the carriage number and the next stop. Ear phones by each seat connects you to the commentary, they also come in 6 languages with 2 music channels. The crowd in first class was older (over 40's) while second class was younger. There is a panoramic carriage in the middle, where you can stand and admire the views, also in that room is a map of all the stops and some history about the train. Ticket inspectors came about 5mins into the train journey to check your seat numbers and stamp your ticket. A waiter also comes around and gets your lunch order so the kitchen can have it ready by 12.15 when lunch is served at your table. You can keep ordering food or drinks throughout the train ride as you pay towards the end of the trip. The menu is pretty expensive, on average our lunch was about $10 for entrée $30 for main, soft drinks were about $5 for a bottle. Toilets were big and clean, they get cleaned half way through. There is also a gift trolley that comes around with souvenirs. Second class seating had two by two seats facing each other, less leg room, they also had meals. First class had two by two on one side and one on ones facing each other on the other side. The train stopped at Disentis for 10mins so that we could stretch our legs and also to drop of people. Overall the train was very nice, the large windows gave you great views of the landscape and rivers, during the time I went there were no glaciers yet, however you could see snow on the mountains further away.

In St Moritz we stayed at the Hauser Hotel, 3 star which was also a good quality hotel. Here are some directions to finding the hotel as the map was a bit deceiving due to the different levels. If you are facing away from the train stations, you need to turn left and walk towards the bridge, keep walking through the causeway until you hit a set of lifts which is on level 3, go up to level 4, this is a carpark. You have to walk across the car park to the escalators which will take you up to the main street level with all the shops. From there turn left and walk until you reach the roundabout. There you will see the hotel across the road. It took about 10-15mins to walk so not too bad. The hotel had big rooms with separate toilet and showers, free internet and not far from shops and restaurants.

We used our other transfer ticket from St Moritz to Tirano. This was just a regional train, not the best quality as they were old trains, however it went on the same route as the Bernina Express (except stopping at more stations) which proved to be just as scenic as the Glacier express. It did not have the panoramic windows however the windows were big enough and you could stick your head out to take photos if you liked.

TIRANO TO LUGANO by bus

Continuing on the same route as the Bernina Express train we went from Tirano to Lugano by bus. When you get off the train the bus is waiting right next to the station with a sign "Tirano to Lugano". Ticket inspectors check your tickets before you board the bus ticking your name and seat number off their list. The bus ride was about 3 hours. We stopped half way through for a 15min toilet break as there is no toilet on the bus. Not much room on the bus, your big luggage is stored under the bus and only small bags can fit above the seats, and if you get seats behind the bus driver there is even less leg room. Going on the bus gives you a great opportunity to see the local streets and thing up close however the roads in Italy are very narrow and what you thought was a one way street turns out to be two ways. At times you are more focused on the roads then you are of the scenery but amazingly the bus driver manages to get through. Quite an interesting experience I must say.

LUGANO TO VENICE (ITALIAN INTERNATIONAL) in first class

We wanted to change our tickets to an earlier service which was not a problem at all. We just went to the ticket counter and asked if we could change, paid an extra amount of about AUD$12 and we were issued with a new set of tickets. The set up to this train was different to the Eurostar and TGV trains. First class had separate cabins that seated 6 people. Very spacious, with luggage area above the seats, power point, you could also adjust your head rest, lights and temperature, and you can close the curtains if you liked too. Announcements were in English, Italian and German. Ticket inspectors came and checked our tickets straight away and then another 2 times, when we reached Chiasso customs came and checked our passports and asked us if we had anything to declare. The police also came on the train and asked which country we came from. There was also a dining area.

VENICE TO FLORENCE and FLORENCE to ROME (ITALIAN DOMESTIC) in first class

This was a Trenitalia Domestic Train, the seating was two by twos facing each other with a table in the middle and singles on the other side. You can adjust your headrest automatically. Complimentary drinks, biscuits and refresher towels are given out, dinner is also available in the restaurant coach and a waiter comes around to ask if you want it.

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MAP OF JOURNEY
Jenny's 1st trip to Europe map

Photos

Heathrow Express
Heathrow Express

Paris to Geneva on the TGV
Paris to Geneva on the TGV

Glacier Express Train - Zermatt to St Moritz
Glacier Express Train - Zermatt to St Moritz

Sarazena Hotel in Zermatt
Sarazena Hotel in Zermatt

Hauser Hotel in St Moritz
Hauser Hotel in St Moritz

Bus from Tirano to Lugano
Bus from Tirano to Lugano

Lugano to Venice
Lugano to Venice

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