Naomi's Europe Trip

Staff member: Naomi // Trip date: Jan 2011

I began my Europe trip by getting to Tullamarine at about 8:30pm for my supposed 11:30pm flight with Qatar Airways to London Gatwick with a stopover in Doha.

The flight ended up being an hour late so by the time I boarded at 12:30am, I sat down and went straight to sleep. It was great as I normally struggle to get comfortable enough to sleep. Doha to London was 6 hr and 55 minute flight time and we had breakfast again.

London Oyster Card

I had a London Oyster card which is the best and cheapest option for travelling in London. They have recently changed it in the past year or so where it is now valid on most overground trains as well as the underground (tube). All you have to do is swipe on at the beginning of your journey and off at the end of the journey and it will calculate the best fair. The easy thing about it is that you can top up at the station, online or at newsagents/convenience stores. Because I spent a fair bit of time in London, I probably spent a bit on topping up, but it was still the cheapest option.

So after arriving at Gatwick and going through customs, I made my way to London Victoria where I caught the tube to my accommodation in Hammersmith. Here I stayed at St Christopher's hostel before I was due to catch the Eurostar to Lille, France.

LONDON TO LILLE ON THE EUROSTAR Standard Premier Class

I made my way by tube to London St Pancras for my 14:34 Eurostar train to Lille, France. Because check out from the hostel was 10am and I had my bags, I arrived at the station quite early so just looked around and had some lunch. Check in is an hour and a half before departure time and you must check in NO LATER than half an hour prior to departure time. The travel time was an hour twenty minutes so we were due to arrive in Lille at 16:54 (Europe being an hour ahead of UK). The train was very comfortable, with plenty of leg room and had 2 seats together, or four seats facing each other. There was room to store your luggage at the end of each carriage or alternatively for smaller items there was overhead storage racks. We were served a small meal of smoked salmon, dried (or Parma) ham and a custard tart type dessert with a macaroon on top. It was very yummy!

We arrived at Lille Europe station on time, an hour and 20 minutes later.
I headed out of the main entrance of the station in search of my hotel, realised it headed out to a freeway to nowhere so did an about turn and crossed a street realised this also was on the road to nowhere so asked for directions. No French lessons meant that I struggled to understand the directions given. I did, however, mange to understand to take the first street left. This was enough to help me find the town centre and also two French boys at the ATM who waited for me to get money out and directed me (well lead me) to the place I needed to go! Thanks boys!
I spent a bit of time sightseeing before an early night. I had a full day to do more sightseeing tomorrow. In the main shopping strip there was a Galleries Lafayette which is where, with the ticket covers for your tickets, you receive a discount. This is good thing to know if you have some spare time in Lille. There are two stations in Lille and both are very close to the town centre. Lille Europe, which is where I arrived and departed from, and also Lille Flanders, both of them are quite big stations. Lille is a small place and is very pretty, with a nice church, plentiful shopping strips and a theatre. It is a good place for a short stopover to break up your journey. There are plenty of places to choose from to eat and it isn't hard to find a yummy French baguette at a reasonable price.

LILLE TO LYON, FRANCE

Lille station jpg

Wandered up to station and again was quite early with 50 minutes to go before train time, the TGV train to Lyon Part Dieu. Tried to keep warm standing by the stand up heaters they have and made sure I got some space as that is what everyone was doing. Waited until about 20 minutes before train time for the platform to be announced on the big board and then headed down the stairs (too many people waiting for the lift) to the platform and walked to the end of the platform to my coach, which was coach 1.

Realised my seat was on the top level of the train so hoisted my bag and clambered up the steps. Again a very comfortable train with plenty of luggage space at the end of the carriage as well as overhead racks.

Looking out the window of the train and all I see is grey, it is yet again a cold day. There is frost on the grass outside.

The French speaking train manager speaks English with a very thick French accent. We were advised that the buffet car was in coach 4, and that this train was to Lyon Perrache, stopping at Lyon Part Dieu on the way.

A 3 hour train journey and it is arrival time at Lyon Part Dieu, announced about 5 minutes prior to arrival to give everyone time to organise their belongings and make their way to the exit.

This station is massive and it was jam-packed with people walking to catch trains, people walking out of the station and a million people hanging about waiting for the trains to be announced on the board. Escaped the mayhem and followed the signs to the bus. The metro was right outside the platform but my hostel was close and so it was the bus for me. Took the bus to the last stop, where I managed to work out I had to get off after noticing everyone else getting off and asked directions to my hostel. Pretty easy to find and walked up the massive hill to my hostel and great views of Lyon.
I loved Lyon, and could have stayed there for a long time. The cobbled streets and the pretty buildings as well as the rivers Saone and Rhone made for magical photos, especially as the sun was out briefly and shimmered off the water. It would be a great place to stay if you were writing a book as it was scenic and a great place to relax and enjoy the views. It was also home to a cafe that did the best crepes. I had a Buckwheat crepe with ham cheese and béchamel sauce with a fried egg on top. It was so tasty and so good. They also have the ''Lyon Eye'' which makes for great views of the city, several museums that are a short metro ride away and the Notre Dame Basque. Definitely a place I would recommend and would reconsider another visit to.

LYON TO PARIS ON THE TGV

After walking to the station from my hostel as I had plenty of time before my train departed, 1340 comes around and the big board at the station announces that my train to Paris will be departing from Voiu (Platform) B. so I made my way up the stairs.
The little diagram of the train showing what coaches would appear at what part of the platform was very beneficial and prevented a mad rush for when the train arrived to get to the right area of the platform. The platform was in sections as well: i.e.) area A and B etc.

Eventually I boarded the TGV train which was again a split level train (so up the stairs again) to Paris for 1 night and 1 full day. Again this train had the same sort of luggage storage so this meant plenty of space and leg room. I was really enjoying these trains as they were a lot more comfortable and spacious then any aeroplane. I discovered on this train the importance of reading all your documentation and ticket covers carefully for the rules and regulations of the tickets. Although I couldn't understand the language, as they were speaking French, it was obvious that someone was getting in trouble for having the incorrect ticket. There was a lot of hand gesturing going on both by the passenger and train manager and then a credit card and machine came out. So please, please, please ensure you read everything carefully and fill out the pass cover correctly. I cannot stress that enough. It is simple to do.

Just under 2 hours to Paris. Arrived at Paris Gare de Lyon at 4pm and made my way to the end of the platform and to the Metro station that was adjoined to the main station. I had Paris Visite cards which are very handy as you can get one trip, then daily to 5 days. As I was central I only needed zones 1 to 3.

I caught the metro to the hostel where I was staying. The metro was easy to navigate as it had boards up at each platform for where you are going and what line you were on. This is the same for most cities in Europe.

My day in Paris consisted of meeting some new friends on the Paris walking tour which was very interesting and I learnt a lot of new facts.

PARIS AUSTERLITZ TO MADRID CHARMATIN - ELIPSOS (TALGO NIGHT) GRAN CLASS

After arriving at Paris Austerlitz metro and making my way around the corner to the main station, checking my ticket at the little validator checkers I am now on the Talgo Elipsos (hoteltrain) overnight from Paris Austerlitz to Madrid Charmatin. Said HOLA to the train manager, and was advised that I could have dinner at 8 or 10pm. I chose the 10pm as I wasn't hungry enough to eat at 8pm (which was 15 minutes later).

I am in Gran class and this train reminds me of the Ghan. This train was very nice and very cosy. It may be small, but it was comfortable and I had my own ensuite. Am very much looking forward to my 'Gourmet Dinner' and 5 star breakfast in the morning. I am in coach 67, seat/bed 41. 45 is the top bunk / left hand seat.

elipsos jpg
The train manager came around at about 9:30pm to advise I could go for dinner. What a gourmet delight. It was hard to choose from the yummy sounding menu. Eventually I chose duck for entrée and Sea Bass for main with chocolate slice for dessert. It was delicious and very filling. Also asked for a Rose to drink, and as it was just me I had a 375ml bottle. This would have to be one of the best meals I have ever had.

After dinner I headed back to the cabin to sleep, the bed had been converted and there were chocolates on the pillow. It was quite comfortable and was nice to sleep to the rocking of the train. It was nice and dark so quite easy to sleep.

Woke up at about 6:30 or so in the morning and it was still dark outside. Had a shower (this is in your cabin in Gran Class), got a wakeup call and was reading and then the train manager advised that we can go for breakfast at any time. It consisted of a yummy bread with Jam, pastries and croissants and a yummy tasting omelette. We arrived into Madrid at about 9am and I made my way to the Metro which adjoined the main station. The Metro here was easy to get tickets and was clear which line correlated to which platform, so very user friendly.

Madrid is the shopping mecca, I spent most of my time shopping as well as seeing the Plaza Mayor and the many street performers including a fat Spiderman and 3 guys who were hiding under a table, with their ghoul like made up faces scaring many a passerby.


MADRID TO BARCELONA

Caught the AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona, yet again 1st class comfort, plenty of luggage space and the seat configuration of single and double as well as a couple of fours ( with two people facing each other). Lunch was served which consisted of chicken breast, veggies and a soup broth, all very tasty. At the end of each carriage it had the time, the temperature and the speed of the train. At one stage we were going 300km/hr. I spent some time gazing out at the scenery and reading my book and the time went quite quick. We arrived into Barcelona right on time.

I stayed in Barcelona for 3 nights and it was one of my favourite cities. From La Rambla to Mountjuic (Jewish Mountain) to the Catalunyan history, it was very picturesque and there was knowledge to be had. Everything was in walking distance for what I wanted to see and I enjoyed each minute of each day. I could definitely visit Barcelona again.

MUNICH

I flew into Munich and caught the DB train to the city and to Munich HBF station. My hostel was just around the corner from the station. The station was big, well signed and had a little eatery area with different options of yummy food. My time in Munich was a city tour, yummy German food and beer at a Bier haus and getting to know some new friends. It was very chilly at minus 11 and there was snow everywhere. There was light, fresh, snowflakes whilst I was there; I wish it had of snowed more. Munich would be on even par with Barcelona as my favourite city. It was magical. The Glockenspiel, the cathedrals, the market/beer garden and bier halls meant plenty of things to see. Hearing about Hitler whilst being in the same spot, was quite surreal.

I also learnt more about the May poles and the Bavarians love for a beer. I also learnt about crazy King Ludwig. I missed out on doing Dachau so will definitely need to make another trip to Munchen.

MUNCHEN HBF TO KOLN HBF

ICE jpg

My train to Koln was at 13:23 on the I.C.E, arriving into Koln at 18:05. There were only overhead racks for your luggage and as my bag had increased in weight since the start of my trip, someone helped me put it up and also get it down on arrival into Koln. This train was also very comfortable, plenty of leg room with a row of single seats and two seats on the other side. This was a train that split at Koln so you had to make sure you were in the right coach, as coaches 31 - 38 terminated at Koln.

At the start of the trip the train manager handed out a brochure with info on the trains. For first class, food was served to you at your seat, but you had to pay for it. For 2nd class there was a buffet car.

Again we arrived on time into Koln. My hostel was very close to the station and was easy to get to. My time in Koln was spent sightseeing including the Dom (catherdral), and walking up the 533 steps of the Dom and back down and crossing from the old side with cobble stone streets to the new side with big, new, shiny , modern shops. The Dom was amazing and the view was nice, even that it was a dull cold day.

KOLN HBF TO BRUXELLES MIDI

The platform that I took the Thalys train from had two trains departing from it within minutes, so it sort of split into two, with the TVs to show what train was coming. It also had a diagram of the trains on a board that was very helpful. It showed the sections of the platform where each train would be and each coach would stop.

Thalys jpg

Again the train was very comfortable, with twos and fours on one side and single seats on the other side, the seat numbers were a bit random, but well marked. There were complimentary snacks and drinks served on board, such as little rolls, cake and stewed apples, soft drinks and alcohol.
The train arrived into Bruxelles Midi at 18:32 and it was quite a big station and had the Metro adjoined.

My time in Bruxelles was spent sightseeing and buying chocolate and tasting the crepes. I visited the Manneken Pis, St Nicholas Church, the Grand Place and Grote Markt.

BRUXELLES TO LONDON ST PANCRAS ON THE EUROSTAR


Another Eurostar and another small meal, this time a type of quiche/terrine, a type of Rye bread, apricot pie, wine and water, it was delish.


Overall the trains were very comfortable, relaxing and had plenty of leg room. They were all on time and arrived at their destination on time. It is definitely a great way to travel. There is something about looking at clouds when flying, but with trains there is always varying scenic landscape.

LONDON PASS

I had a one day London Pass that gave you value of up to £70.00 to many sights and attractions in one day. You need to go to the Britain Visitors Centre on Regent Street very close to Piccadilly tube station to exchange the voucher for the pass which is like a credit card. You also receive a booklet with a map and all your options. You activate the pass at the first attraction. Along with the pass there is a book that you get which has plenty of discounts from 15% upwards at restaurants, cafes, sightseeing options and the like. It is definitely worthwhile as you get priority entrance and avoid the queues.

The attractions I saw was the home of Henry and William VIII, Hampton Palace and gardens, the stunning and famous Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral as well as doing the London Bridge and the London Tombs experience (combined) which was very interesting, but not for the faint hearted.

The London Pass by itself is definitely a great purchase as along with what I did, there are still loads of other attractions to choose from, including Lords Cricket Ground, Chelsea FC or Wimbledon Tennis courts, Kew Gardens and much more. Add the discount vouchers and it is definitely money well spent

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