Nadine's UK and Europe Trip

Staff member: Nadine // Trip date: Nov 2012

We arrived into Manchester airport on the afternoon of October 29th. We flew with Qatar airways and had a very short stopover in Doha. We were very lucky to have friends pick us up from the airport and drive us to their house in Skipton.

Spending two weeks in Yorkshire we did a lot of commuting everyday via train. As they were local connections only requiring us to stay on for approx 1.2hr at a time no prior reservations were required. We were able to purchase our one way/ return tickets at the station on the day. If we found we were running late and only had time to jump on we would purchase a ticket onboard. Unlike trains tickets in Melbourne we were not able to get full day tickets so we had to purchase single and return trips based on where we were going e.g. Single ticket Skipton - Bingley.

Harrogate - Edinburgh Waverly. (East coast service)

Staying north of England we decided to take a trip up to Edinburgh using our Britrail pass. As we were in Harrogate at the time we had to make two connections, the first was Harrogate - York then York - Edinburgh. The first train was very small only three carriages. Our Britrail pass had already been pre- validated before we left so we only had to fill in our travel dates on the day. We were able to simply board the train and sit anywhere and wait for our pass to be checked. Onboard they only had overhead luggage racks which only held smaller items.

Once in York we disembarked our first train and made our way up the stairs to the departure board where it was already displaying our next platform for trains to Edinburgh. As the next train was 2.5hrs long it was recommended to pre-reserve your seats which can only be made 24hrs prior. We however made no prior reservations and had no issue boarding and finding plenty of spare seats in first class, all chairs with reservations were marked with tickets. The first class carriage offers free wifi also, within 1hr hot and cold drinks, sandwiches, chips, biscuits were offered complimentary. The train ride is incredibly scenic and very comfortable.

Skipton - London Kings Cross station (East coast service)

On our departure from North England to Paris we had to go via London. We decided to have an overnight stopover in London and do some sightseeing before making our way down to Paris. Coming from Skipton we had to take a commuter train through to Leeds which is one of the main train stations where the long distance trains depart. The commuter trains were very small and had no luggage space except overhead. Having two large suitcases and hand luggage with us we had to hold half on our laps and the other half crammed around us which made a very uncomfortable 45mins train ride. Still with our validated passes we were able to travel with no issue.

Finally out at Leeds we again read the departure board which was in alphabetical order rather than time order and found our platform. We had no reservations but boarded and sat in seats that were not pre reserved. Being a bigger train they had storage space at the front and end of the carriages also overhead. The first class carriage offers free wifi also within 1hr hot and cold drinks, sandwiches, chips, biscuits were offered complimentary.

London St Pancras - Paris Nord (Eurostar)

After our night stopover in London we made our way to Paris on the Eurostar. The Eurostar check in was much like an airport. Check in closes 30mins prior to the train departure. When we arrived at London St Pancras train station we had to make our way to the clearly marked Eurostar check in desk where the first point was to get our tickets checked, this was to see we had the correct departure date and times to walk through to the platforms. Once we were through the doors we had our suitcases scanned through security. The actual suitcase had to be lifted on the conveyor belt to pass through. Lastly was passport control, this is where we them got checked and stamped for entry into France. The platform was not announced until 20 mins prior to departure until then we stayed in the lounge area which was fitted with plenty of seating, currency exchange and 3 cafes. Boarding the service each carriage had electronic carriage numbers displayed on the side which were not very clear. Fortunately there was an attendant outside each carriage to help you find were you are meant to be. Once onboard we were able to fit our big suitcases in between carriages not inside the compartment. Smaller items were able to be placed overhead our seats. Free wifi was offered in Standard Premier class, Standard class could access it by paying a fee. Light meals, cakes and drinks were also included in Standard Premier class but not in second.

Paris pass (Museum pass, Paris pass, 4 Day Visite card and 2 Day Hop on/off bus)

While touring Paris we pre-purchased a Paris pass from Rail Plus. This was by far the best thing we had. With the pass we were able to enter monuments and museums without having to queue for tickets. We visited the Louver, Notre Dame, and The Arch de Triompe. To get around the city we used our Hop On Hop Off bus tickets, lucky for us one of the stops was close to our hotel so we were able to use it over two days to get around without having to catch a taxi to places. When in Paris it is a must see to Visit the Palace Versailles which is exactly what we did. We caught a metro train from where we were Richelieu Drovot line 8 to meet up with line RER C which is where the trains through to Versailles depart from. To get to Versailles you have to get off at Versailles-Rive Gauche. The metro was very easy to navigate around and we had no issue using the Visite pass to travel. Versailles is in zone 4 so on the visit card you would have to make sure you are covered for all zones. Once we arrived at the station there were women who direct you to the palace and try to sell you tours, we only have to flash our pass for entry and head sets are free inside so there was no need to go with a tour group. The only additional money would be if you wanted to tour the Palace garden which was €10 Euros per person.

All in all there was an endless list of things to be done in Paris but with the limited time we had there we couldn't see everything. Not having travelled to Paris before I was very pleased with not having to pay to additional tickets (except Eiffel tower) and all my travel needs were covered.

Paris Nord - Amsterdam Central (Thalys)

After four days in Paris we were heading down to Prague. The first train we had to take was the Thalys to Amsterdam. Arriving at the station we got our passes validated at the ticket window. This was just a matter of getting the pass stamped and passport numbers filled into the provide space on the pass. Once validated we made our way to the departure board and waited for the platform number to come up. This was advised 20 mins prior. Nord station is very big and has cafes, restaurants and news agencies inside. Once the train arrived each coach number was advised on the side of the carriage and each carriage had a ticket inspector who checked passes and reservations before boarding. Suit cases fitted in the space between carriages smaller items were placed over head. The first class carriage offers free wifi also within 1hr hot and cold drinks, sandwiches and cakes were offered complementary. After we passed through Brussels we had our tickets checked for the second time and whole punched to say we travelled. Not all announcements were clear onboard some were made only after we had departed from the station.

Amsterdam Central - Prague HLN overnight (City night line)

Once in Amsterdam we had to make our way through to the main entrance for our platform announcement. The departures were displayed on a couple of small TV's put together; it was getting very crowded with everyone standing around. Also it only displayed the departure and final destination station i.e. Amsterdam - Berlin with the time departure but no train numbers. So everyone getting off at Prague was not aware of this and was very confused when they did not see Amsterdam - Prague. Once making our way to the platform and having the train arrive there were no attendants to help us board the train so we found our own carriages and compartments and placed our luggage inside. At this stage the beds were already made up for night configuration. Just before we set off an attendant came to our cabin to check tickets and passes, they also advised us of the wakeup call and breakfast time (approx 1hr before arrival into Prague). There was a restaurant car onboard so you could get something to eat and drink through the trip. The cabin was quite small but big enough for two and all the luggage fit in the corner and under the bed without being in the way. We also had a shower and toilet which we used and worked fine in our cabin. In the morning they gave us a knock on the door to wake us up, the passengers next to us had departed earlier so the attendant let us sit in their room as it was made to the day configuration. After breakfast we went back to our room and slept until arrival into Prague.

Prague HLN- Munich HBF (Intercity)

After a fun filled three days in Prague it was time to head down to Munich. At Prague station the platform was released 20mins prior to departure. Walking to the carriages the numbers were also electronically displayed on the sides. At this time of the day there was only one first class carriage. When we boarded the train they had seat numbers but there were no reservations signs on the chairs so we had to kick out people sitting in our seats. Reservations were recommended but not compulsory. As the cabin was small they did not have luggage racks but empty spaces at the back of the last seats to place your luggage. There was no wifi or complementary food/ drinks.

Munich HBF - Fussen (Regional)

While in Munich we decided to use our Eurail pass and take a trip to Fussen. We turned up to the station with no reservations as it is not required on their regional trains and boarded with no issue. Once we found a seat we had our passes checked by an attendant. The train ride was two hours each way but well worth it to see the Neuschwanstein Castle. From the train station there are bus services which take you up to the Castle and back for approx €2.60 per person. They were already there when we got off the train so there wasn't any waiting around. This but only took us into a centre square so you have the choice of making the 15mins trek up a steep hill to the castle or taking a bus again. As we walked it i cannot tell you how much the second bus was. Entry to the castle was purchased in the centre square which was 9 Euros pp 8 for students.

Munich HBF - Innsbruck (Intercity)

After 3 days it was off to Austria. At Munich station it was the same process waiting under the schedule boards till the platforms were released. Munich station was very big and had plenty restaurants, cafes and fast food. When the train arrived there were no attendants to assist in boarding so we found our own carriage and seats. This service had compartments of 6 with 3 people facing each other rather than seats double side by side. The compartment was very small and could not fit our luggage in. With no attendant in sight we placed our luggage in a cupboard we found in the dinning cart, it was the only available space we could see as all compartments were full. The chairs in the compartment were very comfortable and scenery was amazing. There was no wifi of food/ drink service but you could purchase food in the dinning cart.

Innsbruck - Zurich(Rail Jet)

Leaving the sun behind us we headed down into the Swiss Alps for some snow. This day was going to be very long. The first part was the Rail jet to Zurich. Once we found our platform and carriage we boarded and fitted our suitcases in the luggage space we could find which was at the back of the carriage and overhead. We had big comfy leather seats and small screens above that let you know what the next station coming up was and also the speed. No wifi , drinks or food was provided but they did hand out Kitkats twice throughout the journey. They only had once staff member on which made cafe service very slow. Within 1.2hr or departure or tickets and reservations were checked and stamped.

Zurich -Bern (Intercity)

The next intercity train was Zurich - Bern. We had a 15min connection time which was enough time to disembark and walk to our next platform. Before our departure in Innsbruck I checked on the SBB web site what platforms my services would be arriving and departing from so I didn't have to check the boards. Fortunately the site was correct and I was able to walk straight to the next platform. There were screens that also displayed the information along the way. We had no reservations so we found our carriages in first class and sat down. There was no real luggage space so again we had to fit it where we could. Within 1/2hr of departure our passes were checked. No wifi or drink/ food provided, there is a cafe cart onboard.

Bern - Interlaken (Regional)

The last service was a small regional train to Interlaken. Luckily for us this train was departing opposite where we arrived into with a 5 min connection we made it in plenty of time. As this was a small train we have to keep our luggage in front of us. The chairs were very spacious. As soon as we boarded our passes were checked. No wifi or drink/ food provided.

Interlaken - Basel (Ice train)

Leaving Interlaken we went to the station which was only two platforms each side was fitted along with signs A, B, C if you were standing within space A that is where the first class carriages would stop when the train arrived which I thought was very helpful. This train had a mix of train compartments of 6 and also side by side seating. No wifi or drink/ food provided. The only time we saw an attendant on board was to check our tickets and passes. The seating was comfy leather chairs with plenty of leg room.

Basel - Paris(TGV lyria)

Again getting into Basel I had checked my platform prior on SBB. With a 1/2hr connection time we had enough time to wander around and get a snack at one of the many shops in Basel station. Each platform had their departures displayed on the outside and they had a main departures board to also check. Once on the platform they also had the A, B, C displayed along so you knew where to stand. Boarding the train the service was double Decker and we were up stairs so it was a bit hard to get baggage onboard and the stair space was quite small. Within the carriage we had luggage storage at the back of the last seats and also overhead. They had screens at the back of the carriage so you could see the speed and station coming up. There was no wifi but drinks, sandwiches or cakes were provided within 20mins of departure along with reservations and passes being checked. Also the seats were recliner and very spacious.

Paris overnight - Barcelona (Elipsos)

The last part of this long day was an overnight to Barcelona. We did have a bit of a wait at Paris Austerlitz station having arrived into Paris Gare Lyon we had to make our way out and across the bridge to where the train would depart. The walk across was not that long and there were plenty of people making the commute so no point to take a taxi even with our entire luggage. Austerlitz station was a lot smaller than the rest of the big Paris stations we went to. They didn't have that many cafes and it was under renovations at the time. Once our train had arrived each carriage had an attendant out the front. As we were in Gran class it was labelled clearly on the front of the carriage. They checked our tickets and took our passports overnight and handed us our dinner and breakfast coupons, they also let us know they would give us a wakeup call 1hr before arrival. When we had been let inside our compartments it was quite small, not as big as the City night line. We had hardly any space to place our bags so we ended up placing them in the bathroom. As soon as we had our bags away we went into the dinning cart and found a seat. We got in their fast as we noticed that all the tables were already filling. They handed us English menus and checked off the coupons. With our Gran Class fare we were allowed a full three course dinner and drinks. The meals were very delicious and fill us up a lot. I had Salmon fillet and my partner had a steak. After the meals we went back to our rooms which had been made into sleeping configurations, they also laid chocolates on our pillows and gave us toiletries bags. We fell straight to sleep with all the travelling we had done that day. In the morning we got a wakeup call on the phone. Still full from our 3 course meal the night before, we didn't make it to breakfast. Within 1½ hours we had made it into our final stop, Barcelona.

Summary

Being my first trip to Europe I found the rail pass to be very sufficient and easy to use. There was no security checks, check in times, or stress. With my pass all I had to do was board and sit in my allocated seat and within hours I would be in a new country. This has been such a worthwhile experience and cannot wait to start planning my future trips.

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