Megan's rail holiday through Europe!

Staff member: Megan // Trip date: Nov 2010

Megan's rail holiday through Europe!

October 2011

Oyster Card - London

After our flight arrived late at London Heathrow and all the dramas we had going through immigration, we finally walked out of the airport and to the bus stop as we were catching two buses to get to where we were staying out in Kingston. We just used the £10 Oyster card that we bought at Rail Plus before we left Australia. It was so easy; when we got on the bus we just swiped the cards and sat down. There was no hassle of having to line up and buy tickets, we just got straight on and found a seat.
As Kingston is out in zone 6 it was a 30min train ride into the Waterloo station, (however from where we were staying it was also a 20min bus ride to Kingston train station). The trains out of Kingston are the over ground and are ran by South West trains, we were able to use our oyster card; again it was a matter of swiping and walking through. It cost us about £8 a day on our card for a return train and bus. When we did need to reload our cards, we had to go down to the London tube part of Waterloo station to do it. But once we found the machines, they were so simple to use, that it took less than a minute.

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Eurostar - London/Brussels

After the best four nights in London it was time to move on, Brussels was our destination and to get there we once again got on the bus and the train to Waterloo that we had become so familiar with. Then it was down to the rabbit warrens that make up the London tube. We had to go from Waterloo to Leicester Square, were we had to change train line to get to Kings Cross. I think we were lucky that we had someone who knew where they were going, as it would be really easy to get lost. The trains that ran in the underground we frequent and again clean, however everything including the trains were quite narrow, which surprised me.

Arriving at Kings Cross it was a matter of following the signs over to St Pancras, then to the departures. At the departure gate, if you have an e-ticket you have to print out your ticket, the machines are directly opposite. We had to go through the manual way, as our tickets did not have barcodes on them that you need to scan. They checked our tickets, we went through where they then checked and stamped our passports. Once through security, we were at departure gate, we had about 45mins before our train was due to leave, so we took a seat on some really comfortable chairs and took advantage of the free wifi. About 20mins later they called us for boarding, so up the ramp we went and on to the platform. There were staff everywhere pointing you in the right direction and helping people to get on, however we still managed to walk past our seats. When we did work out where we were meant to be, we put our backpacks on the luggage racks behind us, and settled in for the ride. We traveled in second class; our carriage was quite full, with only a few empty seats. Before we knew it we were traveling through the tunnel and about 20-25mins later we were in France, then after 2hrs on the train we arrived in Brussels. Given that we were only traveling 2hrs second class was fine for us, as far as the train ride it was fine.

IC regional train - Brussels/Brugge return

The next train for us was IC Belgium regional train out to the old town of Brugge. This train was so easy to catch. We had Eurail Select Passes, once we arrived at the Brussels Central train station we checked the departure timetables screen to find out what time the next train was, we made our way to the right platform, when the train arrived we got on and found a seat. When the conductor came through we just presented our Eurail Passes, which we had filled out the date on. The conductor looked at them said thank you and moved on to the next person. It was so easy, no seat reservations need. The day itself in Brugge was fantastic. This little town is known as the Venice of the north and dates back to the medieval time. We did a tour through the canals and ate some really yummy locally food, including chocolate. It was time to leave when we were full and our feet hurt, so we walked back to the station and got on the next train back to Brussels, again with no reservations, only our Rail Pass. This was a day very well spent.

Thalys - Brussels/Amsterdam

After our fantastic day in Brugge, it was time to move on again to our next destination Amsterdam. To get to Amsterdam we were catching the Thalys. I was really looking forward this train. Our train was booked for the afternoon, and we had first class tickets. At Brussels Midi there looked to be a Thalys lounge, but it was closed. Our train arrived on time; we got on, again putting our luggage on the racks and then found our seats. About 20mins in the conductor came through, we showed our tickets and passes. Then the first offer of food and drink came through. All food and drink (including alcohol) is included in the fare in first class. And it did not disappoint. The food and wine was really good, and they kept offering it, for the whole two and half hours it takes to get from Brussels to Amsterdam. When we were not indulging in the food, there is free wifi in first class also. I only had my IPod touch with me, and had no issue at all connecting to the wifi and using the internet. I even managed to send an email to work, letting them know how much I was enjoying the wine!

IC Train - Amsterdam/Berlin

After exploring Amsterdam it was once again time to move on again, our next destination Berlin. This was a about a 6hr journey, leaving from Amsterdam Schphol station (the airport station). As we were staying a 3min walk from Amsterdam Central station we had to make our way out to Schphol. As this was the metro system, we just used the ticketing machines to buy a ticket; they were very easy to use and in English, you just need to make sure you have coins on you, as they did not take notes or our credit cards, the tickets were €4.30. The train took about 20mins to get out to Schphol, we were early so we found a café, and I left my things with my sister and had a look around. As Schophol is the airport station there were not only arrival and departure boards for the trains, but for flights also. There was an information desk in front of the ticket windows, so if you had a question about something you could ask before buying your tickets and there were staff everywhere. About 30mins before our train left we checked the departure board for the platform, and then made our way up the ramp. Once on the platform we checked where we needed to be standing on the board, and then waited for our train. When we got on to our carriage and were finding our way to our seat, the seating plan for our carriage was strange. We had first class reservations on this service, however they are not compulsory. As we walked through down the carriage, half of the carriage had an open seating plan of a row of two seats and a row of single seats, the other half of the carriage had compartments with six seats and a door that closed. We were lucky as we had the whole compartment to ourselves for the whole journey. As this service is a long day, I would suggest 1st class just for that extra room; also if you are on a budget you might like to do what we did and buy some snacks to take on the train with you.

CNL Train - Berlin/Munich

After 3 nights in Berlin, it was time to go (not because we wanted to, as we could have stayed another week) to our next destination, Munich. Before I let you know about the City Night Line service we took, I just want to also let you know about the Free Walking tour around Berlin. This leaves from the Brandenburg Gates 3 times a day and takes about 3hrs. This tour was highly recommend to me by my sister and a colleague, and now I tell everyone, that if you are in Berlin you need to do the free tour, best way to see Berlin.

This train left at 2103 and arrived in Munich the following morning at 0705. This service needs a reservation made. If you are traveling with a Rail Pass, the reservation is an extra cost on top of the pass. We were confirmed in the two bottom beds in a T6 Sleeper (also known as a Couchette). When we found our room there was already people in there. We put our bags under our beds (we only had back packs) then just lay down on our beds and waited for everyone else to finish what they were doing so we could make our beds up. Sheets and blankets are provided but the beds are not made up. There is not a lot of room in the 6 berth sleepers so you do need to keep that in mind when you are booking. Toilets and showers are located at each end of the carriage, however I would not have a shower unless you really wanted to. My sister who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat found the journey really good as she slept through most of it. As for me I am a very light sleeper so I was awake most of the night. However I did have a book and I did take a torch so I was set (there were no reading lights in our room). Our train did arrive 2 hours late as it was held up along way due to night works on the track.

German Regional Train - Munich/Fussen/Schloss Nueschwanstein (Disney Castle)

On one of the our days in Munich we went out to Schloss Neuschwanstein (or the Disney Castle). To get out to the Castle we had to catch a train to Fussen then a Bus from Fussen to Hohenschwangau. There are direct trains between Munich and Fussen, but they are few and far between and Fussen was just over 2hrs away. As I wanted an early start so we could spend most of the day looking around the Castles (there are two) we left early and took an indirect train with one change. We had to change trains in a small place called Buchloe, and this was the easiest train change we had, as we got off our train from Munich crossed the platform and 2mins later our connecting service arrived to take us to Fussen. On both these service there were 3 ½ carriages of 2nd class and 1 ½ carriages of 1st class and on both trains there were only ever 4 people in first class, so it was really quiet. As far as the scenery went this train was one of my favorites because we were not traveling down a major train line and we saw countryside with farms and small villages. Once we arrived in Fussen, you just walk out of the train station, and there will be a bus waiting to pick you up and take you to Hohenschwangau. Your pass does not cover you for the bus so you have to buy a return ticket for €3.80. The bus took about 15mins and was packed. When we arrived in Hohenschwagau we could not see the Castle, not only because we had no idea where to look, but also because of the fog. So we just walked up the hill a bit to buy our tickets and book a tour. A couple of tips:

  • Make sure you buy your ticket before you go up the hill, as you cannot buy tickets at the castle, only in the village of Hohenschwangau.
  • There is a shuttle bus that runs some of the year otherwise it is a 45min walk up the hill so it is long walk back down if you don't have ticket.

This was a highlight of our trip of me and once the fog cleared the views were amazing. The trip home was easy as the bus picked us up were it dropped us off in the morning, 15mins back to Fussen, we again changed trains in Buchloe, then back to Munich. It was defiantly a day well spent and the best part was that as we had rail passes the trains did not cost us anything but a day off our pass.

German IC, ICE and Swiss IC - Munich/Lausanne via Stuttgart/Zurich

Our next destination was Lausanne in Switzerland and to get to Lausanne from Munich we had to catch 3 trains. It was the biggest day we had with catching trains and it started early.
The first train was a German IC train to Stuttgart. When we arrived at Munich HBF we checked the timetable board to see what platform we were leaving from, it said Platform 19, however on the departure board above the platforms it said our train was leaving from platform 14. We walked down to platform 14 and the board above the platform had all our train details on it, about 25mins before the train was due to arrive. So for whatever reason the platform had changed from what it normally is. This was a nice train, there was hardly anyone in first class and we were able to charge our IPods. Also if we wanted anything to eat or drink it was served at our seats. The only issue we had was we were not able to find any luggage racks in our carriage, and our backpacks were two big to put above our heads so it was a good thing that we were in first class as we had heaps of room around our seats for our bags.

Once we arrived to Stuttgart we had a just under an hour before our next train to Zurich, so we just stayed around the station and got something to eat as it was lunchtime. Our train arrived on time and was an ICE train. I was looking forward this train, as ICE trains are meant to be the best trains in Germany and I was not disappointed. The seats were leather and a lot of space, again you could order and buy food at your seat and the ride itself was smooth and really fast. We had seat reservations but again they are not compulsory on this service with either passes or point to point tickets.
As most Swiss trains do not need seat reservations, we checked the departure time for the next service from Zurich to Lausanne (10mins later) and made our way over to the right platform. The train was waiting so we got straight onto one of the first class carriages and just found a seat. As none of them were reserved we could sit anywhere. When the conductor came through we just showed him our pass.

The Chocolate Train

As we were stayed in Lausanne (it was cheaper) we had to make our way Montreux. This was really easy as again we did not have to book seats. We got to the station and got on the next service to Montreux. Montreux station is made up of 5 platforms and a really great view. It was not hard finding the Chocolate Train as the train is gold so you can't miss it. After getting some photos we got on the train to get out of the cold. My whole trip was booked around being able to go on this train, and I was not disappointed, it was amazing. Montreux is on Lake Geneva, so to get to our first stop of Gruyeres we had to make our way up and around the hills. The views of the snow capped mountains were amazing. Just over an hour later we were at our first stop of Gruyeres where we were going to have a look around La Maison Du Gruyere, this is a cheese factory where they make the world famous Gruyere cheese.

To get to the factory we walked out the station and across the road to the front door. The tour is an audio tour and it starts with a brief history of the area, then you go through to a viewing platform were you can look at the factory floor and see how they make the cheese. When you have finished you get a couple of samples. It took about 35mins to do the tour, and there is also a gift shop where we spent some money, but not on cheese. We then were loaded on to a bus and taken up the hill to Gruyere castle.

This little Village was like stepping back in time, from the cobble stone, to the flower boxes in the windows. With our train ticket we were able to go and have a look around the Gruyere castle, the inside of the castle was not much but as the castle was on top of a hill, the views looking down on the flats were amazing. I surprised with how built up the area was around Gruyere. After a look around the castle it was time for lunch and what else would you have for lunch in a world famous cheese area in Switzerland but cheese fondue. We found a small café and very much enjoyed it. The Café you eat at made their own cheese and mixes it with a local Gruyere, it was very nice. The view from the window we were sitting next to was also great. We had almost 3 hours to look around the village of Gruyere and have lunch. We then made our way back to the village entrance, were the bus was waiting to take us to the most important part of the trip. The Masion Cailler - Nestle CHOCOLATE FACTORY in Broc
.
The bus ride was about 15mins long and dropped us off right out the front. We all rushed off the bus and into the factory. First we did another auto tour, this tour went through the history of chocolate and where it came from and how / when it ended up in Switzerland. It also went through the history of the factory. When the auto tour finished you walked to the room that went through all the different types of cocoa beans they use for their chocolate. We then walked down a hallway and on one side was a wall but the other side had viewing windows into to the factory (nothing like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory) and at the end of the viewing window you were given a small piece of chocolate straight off the production line. We then had to walk down another long hall way, then through some doors to the most important part of the whole tour (and my trip) the TASTING ROOM! There were 35 samples of the chocolates that they make in the factory and they only had two rules.

  • What was in the tasting room had to stay in the tasting room
  • You can eat as MUCH as you like.

I tried one of every sample (some people were taking more than one) and out of the 35 there were 2 I didn't like. Let's just say that I did not feel too good after trying all the samples but someone had to do it. After the tasting room you walked out into the factory shop were you could buy the chocolate you had just tried. Then we had to meet back at the train about 2hrs later. Back on to the train we were given some cheese samples and then we headed back to Montreux. This was a day well spent and a highlight of my trip.

Private Paris 2CV Car Tour

In Paris we did a private car tour in one of the original Citroen 2CV cars. As our hotel was located in central Paris our driver BJ picked us up out the front in Louisa, a cute as little green-ish convertible Citroen. BJ explained that all the cars have names. We did 'The Essential Ride', this tour was 1.5 hours long and took in all the major attractions of Paris and some hidden things I did not know about. BJ was also the guide and I found him really nice and informative, happy to answer all and any questions. It was a nice introduction to Paris as we did the tour the day after we arrived.

Paris Metro Card

While in Paris we also has a Paris Metro Card, (5 Days Zones 1-6). Everyone needs to have one of these if they are planning on spending more than 2 nights in Paris as taxis are expensive. What you buy from Rail Plus is the actual ticket so when you turn up at one of the metro stations you just insert it straight into one of the machines and the barrier opens and you go through to the platforms. There is no need to line up and exchange anything. All of the metro lines are color coded so once you have found the color you need you then need to work out the direction of the train/line. All the lines are named after the last station on the line so it is quite easy. As we had zones 1-6 we used our cards to travel out to Choteau De Versailles on the shuttle bus (they can also be used on the trains out there) and out to CDG Airport.


Conclusion

This was my first time not only to Europe but the first trip I have done that has not been an organized tour. The trains were so easy to use and there were also people around to help. We found that most people at the stations spoke some English and were also very helpful. Most of the stations were located centrally in the cities and those that were not were easy to get out to with the metro systems. For my first time traveling on my own, it was really easy to do.

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